Toronto, at the moment
Posted 18 March 2012 - 04:05 PM
The confusion on the blogs about what kind of food the place serves is unsurprising - we're further up the blade here. This city, increasingly chaotic culturally, is searching for an identity. Toronto lacks the French-Canadian tradition of Quebec and the working class assurance of Chicago. Home to finance, law, and high culture, it lacks the money and energy of New York, or, home to multiple universities, the academic conservatism of Boston. But good things come from the churn, like the early courses - new Nordic plating on stone coloured new Nordic plates with interesting "new Nordic" flavours of earth and sea. Seabuckthorn appears at least twice on the menu. Gnocchi are light with potato cream, shad row, and seaweed poweder. Mackeral is cured and chared, scattered on a plate with celery root remoulade, crisp bread, and dill shoots. Both are aggressively flavoured and would be comfortable on a white table cloth, or at least in a quieter room.
Then some confusion sets in. A chinese inflected dish of pork neck, braised cabbage, oyster, and XO sauce would be great a mile east in Chinatown. Here, the pork is tough and disappointing. A frenchier cod dish is much better. King enoki and fish and cream make for a good bistro dish, if one from a different restaurant. The sauce is a bit runny though.
Let's not judget too harshly though. This is an admirable project not yet two weeks old. Each dish has strong clear flavours, perspective, and direction. The kitchen is getting settled. It's even a little bit exciting. My question is, in three months, when they're no longer groping, is where will Chantecler stop spinning? The service is good, the room is good, but what kind of food does chef Poon want to serve? I'll be back to find out.
Posted 19 March 2012 - 08:15 PM
Posted 19 March 2012 - 08:15 PM
He is SO Canadian.
Posted 21 March 2012 - 07:38 PM
Lean on Me - the birthday girls start singing
Stand by Me
(the off duty cooks have the ipod)
I Want to Dance With Somebody*
Don't Stop Believing - volume increases, conversation difficult, we're eating now anyway
Sweet Caroline - most of the bar is singing
(the waiter feels a little bad, but not too bad, the restaurant is comped dessert. Very good by the way)
Maneater - there are now eight or so girls dancing. Two tables have come together
Sweet Dreams - off duty cook joins the party, starts dancing with one Forrest Hill girl, others look "jealous". We leave.
That's how. Oh, the meal? Excellent. Really. Like a better Enoteca Sociale. Bone marrow's fat is cut (yes, cut) with braised beef cheek, burrata is served with roasted grapes, a buckwheat pasta with black potatoes tastes of oil and earth, trout is slightly overdone with a smooth smoked cauliflower puree, and sweet potato raviolos are filled with smoked cheese and topped with lemon zest. The quality of the food was the part of the night that was not an anomaly. But arbiters of coolness, tell me: IS THIS COOL?
*posthumously, this song has been elevated into the top three of the fratty drunk bar songs, displacing Livin' on a Prayer but still well behind Sweet Caroline and Don't Stop Believing.
ETA: I'll add here, because I'm not going to write it up elsewhere, that Bellevue in Kensington is a delightful option if you're in the area.
Posted 26 March 2012 - 09:11 PM
Posted 31 March 2012 - 02:44 PM
Posted 27 May 2012 - 03:05 PM
The Black Hoof, now under Brandon Olsen, is still chugging along, doing well by cooking good. We were going to go next door, to the new Hoof Raw Bar, but the original's patio was too tempting on a hot summer evening. Olsen's charcuterie may be even better than Van Gameran's. Head cheese was about as good as I've ever had, braised beef cheeks compressed into a terrine was rich and soft, nduja salami was pretty much perfect - a bit too salty, but can nduja really be too salty? Mains were good, not wow good, merely good good. Okay, the blood custard with pears was wow good. Dark and rich with sweetness and acid, as good as the Hoof gets. Beef tongue with mussels was a good dish sabotaged by a sandy crumble and expertly smoked mackerel was served with a bit too much of the nduja. The dessert far exceeded expectations: olive oil cake with a grapefruit foam. Beaujolais with dinner and cocktails at Hoof cocktail bar afterwards made for good drinking. I feel like the cocktails don't quite come perfectly together across the street - I had an aviation, the girlfriend a Manhatten variation with Benedictine and cognac (I think) - but when you drink them on the tiny, hidden in plain sight patio, who cares?
Hopgoods is still on the regular rotation. Currently there's a pretty great dish of scallops, peas - some pureed and some steamed - ham, and a garish (this ain't the fresh guys from Perigod in case you were confused) but still tasty truffle gastrique.
Also, the best meal in the city may a tostado from Agave y Aguacate brought over to the patio around the corner at Ronnies. My antagonists from upboard my object to ordering from the hipster chef cooking on hotplates at the back of the bodega and carrying to food to a grimy patio, I call it romantic.
There may be no better way to spend $9 in the city than the hamachi collar at Wow! Sushi on Charles Street. It's off menu and served with ponzu sauce.
Oh, and Zocalo cooks simply, inexpensive food with unexpectedly loud flavours. And Quebec cheeses. And cheap pints of good beer (Beau's). So I'm there a lot. So while there's no reason to make it a destination, it's a happy restaurant and, if I'm going to give shout outs to the other guys, they deserve one too.
Posted 04 June 2012 - 12:31 PM
Porchetta and Co. is a total knock-off of Sarah Jenkins' joint, which is fine because the East Village is an hour-and-a-half away. The menu is nearly identical with the exception of the truffle sauce they want to dump on the pig. I declined, the sandwich was good.
Wilfrid would love The Oxley from the Queen and Beaver guys in Yorkville. A lower key, more refined place for a pint than its neighbour down the alley Hemmingway's. It also has much better beer - two cask ales at all times - and looks to have much better food. I wouldn't really know: the "dry aged" burger didn't taste particularly dry aged but was very good by Toronto standards and the fries were thick and crispy. No TV downstairs or on the patio, but one in the lounge upstairs just in time for Euro.
I usually avoid posting about the mediocre and the bad here unless it's noteworthy bad. It strikes me as unfair - my sample size is small, and what's the point? Zucca, a former uptown favourite, was noteworthy bad in a kind of sad way. I used to love it here. A mainstay on Joanne Kates Top 10 in the city list, this is last year's restaurant. Five years ago, this was probably the pinnacle of Toronto Italian food, certainly in the trattoria category. Now, it's been well passed by the young 'uns downtown. Sad salad to start is under-dressed and bitter. We thought that the lightly fried sardines would be those tiny little guys you eat whole, the world's best bar food. Instead, you were supposed to eat these large, bony beasties whole. A painful, deeply unpleasant experience. Spring cavatelli had slightly undercooked fava beans and spring onion and some prosciutto, fine, but a dish of tagliatelle had a bizarre fishy sauce augmented by exceedingly bitter rapini. Dessert was supposedly a lemon-ricotta cake with rhubarbe, but was more of a white cake than anything else. All this is a room that feels increasingly staid. Beside us, a father and son had the famous whole grilled fish (can a whole grilled fish really be famous). It looked fine except for the sad, soggy fried potatoes and vegetables on the side. This city's come a long way in five years; Zucca is now a fossil.
Posted 14 August 2012 - 02:35 AM
So you're all chatting about Mission Chinese Food, and like "right Ori!" and "Sneak kind of has a point" and "Wilfrid is Wrong", and then I remember "whoa, I really like Grand Electric". And that's an issue. Why?
First, do your homework. (FYI Kates, do your homework - learn what a tostada is)
This is the hottest restaurant in the city. Still. I've mentioned this before - it's a Mexican restaurant run by white chefs that doesn't take reservations (three hour wait on a Saturday! And people do it!) and plays 1990s hip-hop in a recently gentrified area. And I really like it but it's also, kinda sorta, not that good. I mean it's good, it tastes good - the fish taco is so delicately fried and pork belly al pastro is a bit wrongheaded because it's not cooked on a spit but is also a bit really good as is the tuna tostada with big hunks of marinated tuna and some shaved coconut - but it's also like not that good in a North American outside of Mexico or California Mexican context. It's not as good as Agave in Kensington. The tortillas aren't corn and the food is a little jokey, a little coarse. But it's so much fun and such a party and it's inexpensiveish.
And this is where the board folds in on itself a bit. The problem, the big problem here, is that the restaurant doesn't know who the joke is on. Is the joke on the women in their Holt Renfrew duds who've made the trip from Rosedale to spill salsa on their hands and listen to GZA? Or is it the joke on the blogTO kids from liberty village who order guac and pick off the cilantro (because, ew!)? Or is the joke on the hipster kids who don't realize that the place makes them big game in a cultural safari for the others? Is the joke on me because I've been seduced by how easy and fun the place is on a week night?
Or, and here's what worries me, what worries me about all these places: I've said that all great restaurants are love letters - even a guy like Picard, for all his humour and grossness loves Quebec - and that love, you'd think, should traverse ethnicity. Monis, down in DC, is a white guy cooking the best Thai food around because it matters. The problem here is, and this is where the joke might really be, is that the Grand Electric (maybe some of those guys on the NYC board as well) don't really love tacos, they really love being cool. And they're pretty good at it, so good for them. But that makes it a nightclub, not a restaurant.