Rude, Ruder, RUDEST

24 11 2010

A few weeks ago, my co-workers and I headed over to the Rude Native in Waterloo for a get-together après-work.  Having been to the Rude Native before (and having tasted their sub-par offerings) I was sceptical but decided to go with an open mind.  Sometimes, giving a restaurant a second chance can be a good idea.  Unfortunately, this experience turned out to be much worse than the first.  I daresay that this was, quite possibly, THE WORST restaurant experience ever – even worse than the Jack Astor’s fiasco.

It was ruder than this - gasp!

Here is why I will be able to get away with my grammatically-incorrect title for this post:

  • The 13 of us arrived just before 5 pm on a Tuesday night; there were maybe 8 other patrons in the restaurant so I wouldn’t call it “busy” by an means – this was good
  • Our waiter arrived promptly and provided us with menus while he simultaneously took our drink orders – this was also good
  • It took about 20 minutes to get our drinks, and two wines on the menu were unavailable – this was fine due to the size of our party as well as the fact that it was a Tuesday
  • Once we ordered our appetizers it took about 1 hour for them to arrive – this was not so good
  • The appetizers were actually pretty good! – this was a nice surprise
  • But then some of us decided to order actual meals – uh oh!
  • Several food items on the menu were unavailable – WTH?
  • It took FOREVER for this food to arrive – eye rolling (and starvation) ensued
  • Someone ordered mussels and they were “bad”, the kind of bad you don’t want to eat for fear of food poisoning – seriously?!
  • I ordered Bruschetta with Balsamic Glaze but someone forgot the glaze – WTF?
  • Someone else ordered Bruschetta with Balsamic Glaze and had glaze on their order – ha ha ha!
  • A third person also ordered Bruschetta with Balsamic Glaze because the item they originally wanted was unavailable and the Bruschetta never arrived – Oh My G.O.D
  • By this point it was close to 8 pm and I had consumed a small portion of my very mediocre and glaze-absent Bruschetta – I loudly questioned why had it taken almost 3 hours to get to this point
  • I decided to head out at that point – it took 20 minutes of waiting “in line” to pay my bill since the waiter never arrived to put it on the table (there was only one couple in front of me; they were also waiting to pay since the bill never arrived on their table either)
  • When I FINALLY got to pay, the waiter couldn’t find a pen for me to sign my receipt – first you can’t find some balsamic glaze, then you can’t find a pen, puh…leeze!
  • As I walked out of there, I was laughing all the way to my car – that was the highlight of the night

 BUT, I have saved the very best for last…

  • According to those who stayed behind, our waiter at the Rude Native (who, it turned out, had only worked for two days) was so distraught with the utter lack of organization in the restaurant that he QUIT ON THE SPOT!

I do believe that this experience takes the cake (but don’t go asking for any Balsamic Glaze!).

Pictures courtesy of the internet.

Advertisements




Gripes about Granola

11 11 2010

What is it with granola these days?

I don’t mean the long-haired, rose-coloured-glasses-wearing, herb-digging kind.  I mean the sweet and crunchy oatmeal-based mixture traditionally studded with dried fruit and other healthful ingredients.

Good granola is all you need.

My issue with granola essentially lies in the fact that this once nutritious concoction (famously consumed by hikers, hippies and other outdoorsy types) has been overshadowed by a variety of products that are a complete abomination of the original idea.  And although I’m sure most people would love to have more of the hiker/hippy/outdoorsy type in all of us, we won’t get that feeling from the average granola nowadays.

The trend in granola (that sounds like an oxymoron to me!) seems to have completely shifted away from the original idea.  It has become an overly sweet, sugar coated collection of what appear to be rejected cereals, fake fruit pieces, and nuts obtained from the bottoms of bulk bin stores.  All it takes is a few minutes of label reading to realize that the typical granola cluster, bar, or bag of said product is galaxies away from what it is being marketed as; which is to say, a healthy substitute for breakfast or a balanced snack for those on the go.  For example, the type of granola bar most of us are familiar with usually has the same amount of sugar as a chocolate bar – and most people I know prefer not to eat an Oh Henry! for breakfast.  In the aforementioned “granola bars”, I frequently see apples masquerading as blueberries (with plenty of assistance from flavourings and dyes), every incarnation of sugar imaginable, incredible amounts of salt, and as always, the ever present preservatives.  In case I haven’t listed enough unnecessary additives, there’s always the option of purchasing granola bars dipped in chocolate or yogurt (which never seems to go bad).  If apples can be blueberries in the world of granola, I really don’t want to know what’s behind the “yogurt”.  And what about all those granola bars that stay soft, moist and gooey for eternity?  Despite all of this, consumers are fooled everyday into thinking that granola is good for you.  Generally speaking, it most definitely isn’t.

This...

... vs. that.

Luckily, granola, cereal bars, and oat clusters are relatively easy to make.  The beauty of making your own, of course, is the fact that you can control the entire process and have a finished product within approximately thirty minutes.  If you decide to take the dive and make it yourself, homemade granola has the added benefit of containing good quality oats that you could mix with a plethora of actual dried fruit such as blueberries, apples (notice, dear reader, that these are actually two different types of fruit – gasp!), cherries, currants, raisins and the list goes on.  To that you can add some crunch with the help of peanuts, almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts or perhaps coconut.  You can sweeten the mixture as little or as much as you like (and trust me in saying that no matter how much you sweeten your granola, it won’t even come close to the amount of sugar in the store-bought variety) using honey or maple syrup or even brown sugar.  Finally you can bring it all together with juice or water or even shredded fruit (I actually used grated apple when I made granola bars and it held them together very well).  The combinations are endless and much, much, much better for your body.

So it’s really no surprise that homemade granola has the uncanny ability to remind us of the good ol’ days.  The homemade stuff fits in nicely with the original (and brilliant) idea behind this snack too – a delicious, satisfying, healthy and portable food for anyone on the run.

So give homemade granola a chance; it’s groovy baby!

All pictures courtesy of the internet.





Down the Rabbit Hole

28 10 2010

Let me put that title into context.

This was the setting:

Lovely Langdon

This was the food:

Scones

Sandwiches

Sweets

This is what it reminded me of:

Alice

 

And the occasion was my 29th UN-Birthday!

 

And speaking of Alice in Wonderland, this is what was missing:

Bad Girl

I’m kidding!

In reality, Langdon Hall is indeed a bit like Wonderland.  It’s a beautiful manor tucked into the middle of Cambridge, just off of Blair Road, and it is totally unexpected.  As me and my companions made our way up the long, winding road it felt like we were driving into a different world.  Gently sloping hills dotted with tall trees surrounded us and as we reached the crest of the main hill, the elegant and absurdly large façade of Langdon Hall greeted us with its white columns and stately presence.  The parking lot was full of cars one was more likely to see at an auto show yet I kept thinking that it would have been perfectly appropriate to arrive in a horse-drawn carriage.  Once parked, we made our way to the entrance, bypassing the garden walls through a “secret” walkway.  The resemblance to old English fairytale settings was uncanny.  When we arrived, we were told that it would be a few minutes wait and were directing to the sitting area where several antique chairs surrounded a wood fire which was snapping and popping away in the enormous fireplace.  Said fireplace was festooned with a deer sculpture or two and some large oil paintings.

After a few minutes, we were greeted by our waiter who was dressed in black and whites complete with a bow tie and gloves.  As he led us to our table in the tea room, we passed through a beautiful billiard room which faced the gardens as well as a living room (with another fireplace) and finally a red walled dining area that was set for a very formal dinner.  The only question that came to my mind was:  “Was it Professor Plum, in the Billiard Room, with the pipe?”

The place was certainly big enough to host a murder mystery dinner and definitely had enough nooks and crannies to make it both soothing and spooky, depending on the occasion.  The tea room, however, was far from spooky.  It was a beige panelled room at least 20 feet long with three separate seating areas and, of course, another fireplace.  We were directed to the white wicker chairs which surrounded an elegant coffee table that had been covered with a *real* white tablecloth and set with white china and silver cutlery.  As we settled in, the sunlight beamed from the sky through the trees leaving interplaying light and dark shadows all around us.  Classical music whispered in the background.  Instead of leaning back into our seats, we all felt the need to sit straight and fold our hands in our laps; after all, this was High Tea.

(Did anyone else happen to read that last bit in an English accent?)

We read through the tea options and each picked out a flavour.  I chose Black Tea while my companions chose Peppermint and “Old Blue Eyes” – a mixture of various berries – respectively.  We then read through the High Tea tasting menu.  If there was one “flaw” in this menu, it was the complete and utter devotion to all things baked and wheat-flour based; definitely not a good choice for someone allergic to gluten, but it was absolutely scrumptious!

I’m not a tea drinker, coffee is my preferred beverage, but the tea that was served at Langdon Hall made me understand why.  This tea was absolutely unbelievable and anything from a tea bag, no matter how expensive, could compare.  The tea that I was familiar with was probably the reason why I disliked it in the first place, but this experience converted me into a fan (of fine tea, mind you).  My drink arrived in a tea pot in its original form: dark, whole leaves that reminded me of bay leaves.  The hot water surrounding them was amber and full of flavour.  The taste was powerful and fresh yet totally familiar at the same time.  The peppermint tea arrived in a tea bag but I tasted it anyway; I strongly dislike anything minty but this, again, was very different.  The flavour was delicate yet powerful at the same time.  Old Blue Eyes was superb; the berries floated in the tea pot giving the liquid a rosy hue.  The flavour reminded me of fresh berries but in a richer, more serious format.  We sipped and savoured for a few minutes waiting for our platter of sweet and savoury delicacies to arrive.  And when they did, we dug right in – a silver, three tiered platter presented the deliciousness we were about to consume in a lovely way.

The bottom platter featured two types perfectly tender yet flaky scones – orange/ginger and cranberry – that were fresh out of the oven.  These were accompanied by homemade apple butter (ridiculously good), a berry preserve (a nice balance of tart and sweet with pieces of real fruit throughout), and clotted cream (need I say more?) which were served on the side in a simple, triple-bowl dish.   The centre platter held a variety of desserts including soft and buttery orange-flavoured Madeleines, chocolate squares covered in ganache, and miniature red velvet cupcakes with the most amazing cream cheese frosting ever.  This particularly delicious frosting was sweet but also tangy and speckled throughout with real vanilla bean; it was definitely low on sugar and high on flavour.  The top layer of the platter featured a collection of miniature sandwiches – mustard swirl bread with sweet chutney filling (spicy and sweet and absolutely amazing), pulled organic chicken on homemade white bread (not my favourite but still very, very good), trout tartar tartlettes (delicately flavoured and wonderfully refreshing; a runner up to the chutney sandwiches which were my favourite), and of course, cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches (with crusts!).  Oh, and there was also the seemingly endless supply of excellent tea.

We laughed at the seemingly small amount of food on the platter (all three of us could be classified as “serious eaters”) but once we had devoured it all and drank our tea, we were quite full.  And it was the kind of calorie consumption I had no worries about because it was WORTH IT!

When food is delicious and company is delightful and the setting is one of absolutely dignified elegance, one can’t help but think of Wonderland – no hookah pipes required.

A very merry un-birthday to me indeed!

If I'm Alice, who's the Mad Hatter and who's the Hare???

Images courtesy of the internet, thank you.





Howling for…Chocolate

27 10 2010

“I must admit, I can’t explain, all these thoughts racing through my brain –

it’s true, baby, I’m howling for you…”

I would like to thank the totally awesome band, The Black Keys, for the words that inspired this blog because basically, this is how I feel about chocolate. I guess I must also admit that I can be a bit of a chocolate snob.  Once upon a time, I never used to read chocolate wrappers as obsessively as I do now, but lately, I’ve noticed just how bad much of the easily accessible chocolate tastes, hence all the reading…and obsessing.

Not chocolate, but almost as good.

When seeking out this precious treat, I am always willing to go the extra mile.  Literally.  Take, for example, my trip to Paris when my friend, Kat, and I decided to visit one of the world’s most famous chocolatiers.  We researched the location and devised our travel plan, executed the rather complex route we had to take via metro, and then proceeded to walk forty five minutes through some little-known neighbourhoods in the city of light – in the middle of February.  Was it worth it?  You bet!  The chocolates were definitely one of a kind and something we would probably never get to eat again.  The candy had that perfect snap to it and the fillings were complementary elements to the cocao which, mind you, was that perfect mix of bitter and sweet.  There were absolutely no cloying sweet, sugar saturated, fake fruit, tasteless truffles in sight.

Tres bien!

In my younger days, my brother and I would scour the house for any chocolate that might be hiding from our greedy little hands.  My mom actually had to stash the stuff in new hiding spots every week so that we wouldn’t devour it all in one sitting.  Times haven’t changed all that much, but the chocolate I grew up with has morphed quite a bit.  I remember the days when Poland was importing some very good chocolate to the Polish stores around the GTA.  Wedel was definitely number one in terms of taste and repertoire.  Sadly, some evil chocolate moguls of the North American variety (where reading a few labels reveals that “chocolate” seems to mean sugar, sugar, sugar and some cocao flavour) bought Wedel out.  This forever destroyed the fabulous taste and most famous name in Polish chocolate.

Wedel - not what it used to be.

Thankfully, Poland hasn’t got it all wrong (after all, they are relatively close to the Swiss and Dutch who are world famous for their chocolate and cocoa respectively) and there are still a few brands I trust; and that taste the way chocolate should taste.

In this...

...chocolate...

...we trust.

Thankfully, there are actually several brands of chocolate which are readily available in North America that are absolutely excellent as well – so perhaps I am not a complete chocolate snob after all?  😉

For example, I adore Kinder (although they’re actually a German company) and nothing beats the Kinder Surprise egg with the dinky toy inside.  Also, if you haven’t tried Kinder Bueno, I recommend it.  I also tend to visit the Lindt warehouse store fairly regularly where I like to bulk up (I mean, buy in bulk) various types of chocolate (although Lindt is actually a French company that uses Belgian chocolate).  When I am forced to buy chocolate from a vending machine – God forbid – I always end up choosing Snickers.  If I’m in a real bind, almost any chocolate will do – even the white stuff – although that has cost me many pointless calories over the years.  Independent chocolate shops are a favourite place to discover new combinations of flavours and any place that serves “real” hot chocolate – ie: chocolate and cream melted together and poured into a cup – makes me grin like a Cheshire cat.

Grin

So, I’m constantly on the lookout for better, more accessible, crazily flavoured chocolate for my palate.  I’ve tried hot chili chocolate (love!), garlic chocolate (not my thing), any chocolates containing alcohol (yummers!), salt chocolate (different and complex), 99% chocolate (an acquired taste but still good) and chocolate with flowers in it (rose and lavender to be exact).

So, have you had any good chocolate lately?

Note to readers: One of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to chocolate is when it is stored improperly.  From the little that I know about this amazing confection, tempering is the process by which chocolate is melted with other ingredients and then solidified slowly to create specific shapes and densities.  The most common way to temper chocolate correctly is by melting it slowly over a double boiler and then tempering it on a marble slab.  Melting chocolate in a microwave or storing it in the fridge is actually the worst thing a person can do to chocolate.  Almost instantly, the silky texture disappears and is replaced by a crumbly, waxy mess.  I have witnessed this chocolate brutality in some stores and even in private homes where chocolate is stored in the fridge to “keep it fresh”.  Be kind to any chocolate you buy or receive – keep it in the cellar, cool room or even a wine fridge (turned up to a nice 10 degrees Celsius or so).

Pictures: from the internet – thank you to all these wonderful photographers.





They’ve Got (Cheesecake) Balls!

19 09 2010

On a somewhat recent excursion to a local restaurant that almost everyone in town believes is the place to go, five of us arrived at Wildcraft on a Friday night in hopes of glimpsing some date-ables while eating a delicious meal.  Considering this was a Friday night at the “hot spot” in town, there were actually very few date-ables.  In a cruel twist of fate, most of the restaurant patrons were women in their mid to late thirties hoping to see those exact same, albeit elusive, date-ables.  But I digress.  Considering, also, that Wildcraft is a well-known spot in the area (marketed as semi-formal dining), the elusive perfect meal was also absent, but in the end there were some highlights…ok, there was one…the balls.

The establishment is a nice one, I won’t lie.  It’s in a new building with a nice, modern patio; it has a beautiful (and enormous) two-storey wine cellar with glass sides that greets you at the front door, and the staff appear polished and professional.  The dining area has cushioned leather seating and good lighting (dark, but not so dark that one can’t read their menu).  Not only is it comfortable, but it’s also a little fancy.  The name of the restaurant itself is quizzical, however.  What is a “wildcraft” anyway?  It makes me think of wild boars or witches or maybe even uncontrollable boats – but not food.  It is owned by the same big wigs as a few other well-known restaurants in KW: Martini’s, Charcoal Steakhouse and Del Dente.  I have been to all three and they are the reason I started this blog, but that’s a story I will save for another day.

On this particular night at Wildcraft, our waitress arrived shortly after we were seated and asked us how we were doing.  She filled our glasses with icy water and began handing out menus.  In doing so, she accidentally spilled one of the glasses of water.  “No big deal” we all thought, until it happened again, and again.  Throughout the course of our meal, a glass of water was tipped, knocked, bumped, what-have-you by our waitress not once, not twice, but thrice.  It was an interesting experience to see something like that happen over and over.  We could practically predict it.  After choosing our food items, we spent some time discussing this phenomenon and couldn’t figure out why it kept happening:  Were we scary? Intimidating?  Too hot to handle?  We mutually agreed on the third and patiently waited for our orders.

The menu at Wildcraft is based on standard dining items with an upscale twist to them.  We had a few starters but the standout was the Warmed Goat Cheese.  Having been to Wildcraft a number of times before to take part in some appetizers and alcohols, we were familiar with this wonderful rendition of chevre.  The little log of creamy goodness arrives coated in a Balsamic glaze and is served with a fresh tomato salsa, a mushroom medley, and toasted slices of baguette (of which there are never enough).  The warm and tangy taste of the softened goat cheese, spread on crunchy baguette and then topped with either the deep, earthy flavours of the mushrooms or brightened in the most delicious way with the tomato salsa is mouthwatering.  One member of our group loves this app so much she orders it EVERY SINGLE TIME and then trembles with anticipation for its arrival.  It’s love on a plate for her 🙂

For the mains, we ordered a variety of items.  There was a pasta dish, a couple of meat plates, fish for myself and a vegetarian eggplant meal for another group member.  If we had been at a casino doing some gambling or perhaps had some money in a pool betting on a sports team, three out of five aren’t the worst odds, however, I’d say they they’re pretty bad when it comes to restaurant food and meal satisfaction.  The pasta and meat meals got rave reviews from our group of diners but my fish was bland and boring.  The restaurant had a feature seafood menu at that time and I had chosen off of it.  You’d think that advertising such a feature would indicate the most stellar seasonal options would be served but I was disappointed.  However, my fishy feast was actually alright compared to the long strand of human hair that accompanied the vegetarian eggplant dish.  The eggplant was delicious and we dug right in, tasting and testing it out, all the while admiring what a good tomato sauce can do for the vegetable with the strangest moniker, but we all stopped dead in our tracks when we found the hair embedded beneath the cheesy topping.

We notified our server as she was mopping up the table after the third and final water spill.  She apologized profusely (although not sincerely) about the hair and even had the manager come out to say sorry.  A new eggplant dish arrived promptly; we were also told that dessert would be on the house.  Now, in the world of dining, prompt service is important but one also has to take the food into consideration.  Eggplant is one of those tricky vegetables that cannot be prepared quickly.  It is naturally bitter and when one slices up eggplant for consumption in any form whether it be fried (for Ratatouille), baked (for Eggplant Parmesan) or grilled (for a grilled veg sandwich), it requires about half an hour of salting and sitting, followed by a good washing under running water, before it can be utilized.  The salt works to draw out the moisture in the eggplant which is where the bitterness occurs.  In their rush to accommodate their mistake, the kitchen quickly threw out a new serving of eggplant.  It was hot, it was fresh and it was bitter as can be; in other words: inedible.  Believe me, we all tried.  So as we polished off our plates, one member in our group picked at whatever was surrounding that eggplant and sighed repeatedly in frustration.

Sighs of frustration turned to sighs of wonder when dessert was served.  True to his word, the manager brought out some cheesecake balls.  There were ten of these miniature wonders served in two rows of five on a long wooden platter.  The various flavours were rolled into little spheres (about the size of Timbits), perched on sticks and made to look like lollipops.  We chose two flavours each and dug in.  The cheesecake was gone in a matter of minutes but we were much happier diners after we had had our fill of those delectable desserts.  My personal favourite was pink coconut but there was also a chocolate hazelnut flavour that was absolutely delightful.

The balls looked like this...so very delicious!

Overall, our experience at Wildcraft was a disappointment, however, I was glad to see that when a mistake occurred, they were willing and able to fix it as well as to make you forget about it by providing free sugar.  Yay to those (cheesecake) balls!

Image courtesy of the internet.





QV and Me

9 09 2010

I’ve recently ventured into the world of quasi-vegetarianism (QV).  I say quasi because I am not a strict vegetarian by any means; I’ve simply come to the conclusion that meat is over-rated.  I know many, many people would disagree with this statement but I think the main reason why most are so vehemently opposed to going “veg” is because they haven’t had the pleasure of partaking in a really excellent, meat-free meal.

Bugs Bunny - VEGETARIAN

Not too long ago, vegetarian meant bland, boring, and over-cooked; a mushy and typically unpleasant selection of plants with no flavour and, obviously, no fun.  But with the recent craze related to organic, locally grown produce, people are slowly discovering the benefits of eating less meat.  This is a new-ish concept for North American culture but is an old world custom on other parts of our planet.  In fact, some of the healthiest, most long-lived cultures in the world are vegetarian.  In a nutshell (pun intended since nuts are a good source of protein) there seems to be a proven benefit to eating only plants.  Ok, you may go ahead and roll your eyes now.

Anne Hathaway - VEGETARIAN

When I decided to become a QV, the goal was not necessarily longevity or even better health, but rather the fact that not eating meat was more affordable.  I was living alone at the time and cooking for one.  I was also working a mediocre job while paying for rent as well as all the fantastic expenses that come with living in ones’ own apartment.  I noticed that I would only eat cold cuts once in a while for lunch and occasionally have some ground turkey in my lasagna but I never really “craved” meat.  I was also becoming more and more adept in the kitchen so one way of challenging myself was to undertake a new style of cooking.  Enter the” Veganomicon”: a gift from a fellow foodie who was also experimenting with reduced meat intake.  A vegan cookbook was something I had never seen before.  As I rifled through the pages of recipes, I couldn’t understand how one could bake a cake without milk or eggs, or make a nutritionally balanced meal with no butter, no fish, no cheese – basically, no anything related to animals!  But I decided to accept the challenge, even though I was pretty sure that going all the way (ie: vegan) was not something I wanted to do.  I picked something easy at first – Carrot and Curry Dip (delish!) and then made something semi-complex (Mushroom Pate; could’ve fooled me!).  Finally, I tried Non-crab Crab Cakes.  These were more challenging since I couldn’t get them to hold together in the frying pan but they were absolutely scrumptious.

Linda and Paul McCartney - VEGAN

Pleasantly surprised with the results, I threw a dinner party and served vegetarian/vegan food.  No one seemed to mind; the food disappeared along with the wine.  I had friends over for dinner another night and no one complained; plates were licked clean and my guests begged for second helpings.  So, when I moved back home to start saving for my own place instead of spending on rent, I decided to test my new cooking skills on my Eastern European, pork-loving family.  At first, there was resistance, but only because of the concept.  No one found anything wrong with the actual taste of the food.  In fact, I got rave reviews.  All of sudden, cooking three vegetarian meals a week was no big deal.  It started with Black Bean Burritos which evolved into Lentil Soup, which transpired into Tofu Stir Fry, which became Vegan Banana Bread, which eventually led to my piece de resistance: Non-Chicken Pot Pie (with a home-made crust).  No one even noticed the meat was missing and it was ridiculously amazing (thank you, Martha!).

Common - VEGETARIAN

One year later, this process is still going strong.  I’ve even gotten to the point where I actually make up my own vegetarian recipes.  I’ve also devised ways by which to include meat with meals but in a way that I can avoid eating it myself (this usually means throwing in a can of beans amongst the meat, cutting up animal protein in ridiculously large pieces, and cooking meals where veg are the stars of the show and meat takes a backseat.  For example: creamy mashed potatoes with roasted cauliflower, caramelized brussel sprouts, a fresh, multi-vegetational salad and…oh yeah, roast.  I love this way of eating and it makes my body feel lighter, happier and healthier.  Now if only I could devise a similar plan for pastries and chocolate!

Random Hot Man 😛 - VEGETARIAN

So there’s my plug for vegetarianism/quasi-vegetarianism.  Discuss  🙂

Pictures courtesy of all kinds of internet websites.





In The Village and In the Village

22 08 2010

Summerlicious is a food festival that occurs in the wonderful city of Toronto during the hot and sticky month of July.  Restaurants sign up to join the celebration and as a result, offer three course lunch and dinner menus at a fraction of their regular prices.  For foodies like my friends and I, this was a great excuse to get in the brand new Rally Blue Subie – that’s a Subaru Impreza for non-petrosexuals 😉 – and cart our behinds down the 401.  Well, that and the fact that some great bands were also playing live for which we had tickets.

Our first Summerlicious experience was also Bon Jovi night at the Skydome (I refuse to call it the Rogers Centre because that says nothing of the fact that when Skydome was first built, it was the only stadium with a fully retractable roof – and is possibly still be the only one – as a result, I think the name Skydome is far more appropriate than plain ol’ Rogers Centre, ‘nuf said).  Anyway, back to the original plot line.  Day one of Summerlicious had us traipsing around downtown in the gay village.  We were looking for a restaurant named Fuzion which served fusion cuisine; fairly self-explanatory.  Along the way, we witnessed many wonderful things.  Firstly, the way people dress in The Village.  The styles vary so greatly that there isn’t really any particular style in the first place which I loved and found to be a real treat for the eyes.  Compare that to Bay Street in Toronto where approximately 90% of people are wearing black suits and you get the idea.  The other was the fact The Village had plenty of lovely parks and places where people could sit and chat, complete with cafes attached to large outdoor patios located in front of the various establishments, like one might see in Europe.  Lastly, we could not help noticing the dog pairs.  I am not making this up.  It seemed that everyone (ok, not everyone, but thereabouts) had two of the same dog on those hilarious split leashes one only gets to witness in kitschy 50’s movies set in New York.  In total, we saw three pairs of canines within the span of an hour.  Two little white Poodles, two beige Pugs, and two black Cocker Spaniel-types walking side by side like optical illusions.  Hilarious!  And apparently, only in The Village.

We arrived at Fuzion after some walking in the heat and were politely welcomed, then offered a table on the elaborate patio which was surrounded by trees and flowers and had pretty tables with *real* tablecloths on them!  The waiter seated us and asked what we wanted to drink, while in the same breath, deftly suggesting white Sangria.  We all looked at one another in delight and immediately affirmed our need for that delicious and perfect summery drink mix of wine, juice and fresh fruit; very refreshing yet still quite potent.  Our Sangria arrived just as we got settled and it was oh-so-scrumptious.  White wine combined with white cranberry juice topped with sliced apples and served in a glass filled with just enough ice.  I tried not to down mine in 30 seconds but was unsuccessful.

We announced that we were here for Summerlicious so the waiter brought out those specific menus and gave us time to decide what we wanted to order.  The beauty of Summerlicious is that even though the menus are limited, one still gets at least three choices per course.  In this case, two of us chose the radicchio and pancetta salad to start and one of us chose the savoury watermelon soup.

Who knew this could work?

The salad was very bitter, which was unfortunate, and the dressing did nothing to conceal this as it was acidic.  The watermelon soup, however, was a smash hit.  It was not sweet at all but rather peppery and savoury.  It was refreshing and lovely but very difficult to describe.  For the main, we each chose one of the three options: roasted quail, goat cheese gnocchi and a fish dish, respectively.  The quail was beautifully cooked with a lovely lavender sauce surrounding it.  This seemed strange when we read it on the menu but was such a delicate flavour and only hinted of lavender when eaten with the poultry.  Lavender cakes and delicacies have been eaten for many, many years in Europe but this pretty purple flower utilized as an herb is a newer concept in North America, which is unfortunate.

Small poultry...

The gnocchi was soft and warm with a hint of goat cheese flavour which resulted in a very smooth, noodle-like consistency.  It was surrounded by a mushroom and spinach sauce which complemented the Italian dumplings quite well.

...large noodles.

The fish, which was my choice, was (unfortunately) not very good.  I felt it was dry and rather boring although the crispy potato cake which surrounded the fish was quite wonderful and reminiscent of French fries (fish and chips are a classic combination, after all).

Nemo? Is that you?

After sharing our meals with one another and exchanging comments, we completed our meals with dessert.  Once again, we had three choices and each of us chose differently.  The chocolate mousse cake was good (but not great) and the other two choices – both simple sponge-type cakes surrounded by fruit and whipped cream – were definitely subpar.  I didn’t even finish my serving and I adore dessert at the end of a savoury meal.

It's like a mirage......deceptive :(

In essence, our experience at Fusion was alright but not quite what we were expecting for an event like Summerlicious.  We left satiated but somewhat disappointed, although the Sangria was top notch (but then again, anything with wine always is in our eyes!).  Thankfully, the Bon Jovi concert was a whole lot of fun mixed with some great rock tunes and plenty of nostalgia.

Our second Summerlicious experience was, ironically, out of The Village but at a restaurant called Sotto in the Village (no joke).  This was an Italian eatery in a historic part of East Toronto.  It was an unassuming place on the main street strip surrounded by quaint little shops and lots of very expensive automobiles.  The restaurant was tiny but cozy and elegant with lots of old Italian posters and decorations.  The music playing was a selection of classic Italian songs from the 1950’s – we felt like we had stepped back in time.  Our waiter (the only one in the entire place) greeted us warmly and with his rather thick Italian accent explained the specials.  We peeked at the menu and both chose Panini sandwiches.  These arrived rather quickly, but obviously freshly made.  The Panini’s were served with side salads as well as the most ingenious way of cooking potatoes I had seen in a very long time.  It was like they had crossed chips with French Fries – fresh potatoes sliced thin on a mandolin and then fried until hot and crispy.  These were delicious and were served plain with no salt and no ketchup so we could really appreciate the taste of the potato itself.  The side salads were also very fresh.  Mine arrived with a light coating of vinaigrette (thankfully not from a bottle) while my dining companion asked for a Caesar salad instead.  The waiter explained that this was something they don’t normally do but graciously accommodated her request.  The Caesar was not particularly exciting but was still very fresh; we actually caught the waiter making it in the kitchen which was quite charming!   The two Panini’s we chose were a daily frittata option (in my case it was a lovely combination of peppers and mushrooms) and the other was a Prosciutto option.  The frittata was hot and light with just enough mushrooms and peppers.  The prosciutto was surprisingly spicy but had just the right amount of heat, which was a nice surprise.  We gobbled up the fry/chips and crunched down our salads.  Our waiter was attentive and charming which added to the Italian flair of the restaurant; belissimo!  Overall, we had some really great yet simple food (which can be so difficult to find) and agreed that we would be back.

Check out those chips!

Once we had completed our meals, it was time to head to the Molson Amphitheatre to see the Kings of Leon boys from Tennessee rock the night sky, which they did with aplomb along with multiple comments about whisky.   A great night was had by all.  Rock on!

Pictures courtesy of moi.