Another delicious birthday feast

The start of March, the start of a new year for me.

After sparking wine and ceviche over at Sandy’s (darn, I knew I forgot to take some pictures) we headed off in a taxi… I was kept in the dark until we pulled up to Rock Lobster on Ossington, just north of Queen. I clap my hands with glee – I’ve wanted to eat here for a while, but it’s <whine>such a long streetcar ride from home</whine>. Never mind that: we’re here now.

We open the door – the place is rocking! quite full, they’ve got a table in the back we can have (which is great, because the music volume was a little lower there). I like the tunes they were playing all night: mix of 60s-70s-80s pop and rock.

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OMFG. We hit a new level with the birthday dinners.

Last night Sandy, Betty and I hit Bar Isabel.

Lest you think that we’re just jumping on the bandwagon, we booked the dinner on October 9th — before the En Route list of the top new restaurants came out, and waaaay before the Globe and Mail list of top restaurants was published on Friday..

And damn, this was one fine birthday dinner for Betty. First thing? I booked in October, and they called me to reconfirm the booking on Saturday morning. That made me really happy, because I get really sad when I call to reconfirm a booking and discover it has been lost. This was the first Brownie point in their favour.

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Tasty Tabule

It’s (almost) summer, and I love Mediterranean food in the summer. I’ve reverted to having hummus for breakfast (home made, of course). Today for lunch I finally went to Tabule, which opened a little while ago where the Riverside Cafe had its first home, on Queen Street East, just west of Degrassi.

Lunch time… I thought I might get one of their interesting Caesar’s to drink (hmm, harissa in a Caesar! Why not?); alas, out of clamato juice. Continue reading

Birthday dinner yet again! Edulis excellence.

Edulis. As in Boletus edulis — my favorite mushroom, the porcini. I love them fresh, I love them dried, I grind dried ones to a powder in my granite mortar and turn them into a special umami touch by sprinkling the powder on scallops, or pretty much anything else I take a shine to.

But this time? Edulis is Edulis Restaurant, on Niagara Street in Toronto. A chilly night to be walking from King & Spadina area: thankfully, we weren’t walking further than this. Last year we did some longer walks, but it was warmer, dammit.

From the outside, Edulis, like a lot of Toronto restaurants, really isn’t remarkable.

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It’s not about the bricks and mortar (although it’s really neat to have a restaurant in an old house — The Beast is similar).

It’s about the food and the people and the ambience once you get indoors.

I arrived with Sandy, Betty, and Gail for dinner. Choices on the menu looked very tasty indeed — but it was pretty much a unanimous decision to go for their Carte Blanche — their tasting feast. Oh my, the large one.

They don’t offer flights of wine with the Carte Blanche, so Sandy, our resident wine expert, chose a white for the earlier courses and a red for the later ones.

Our first wine was an Alsatian Auxerrois. Light, a little acidic fruit which paired well with the foods.

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And then, the foods started coming. I have to praise Tobey Nemeth for the way she and her staff paced the meal. We got there at 6, and were back on our way at 9:20: we were never rushed, never wondered when the heck the next course would be served.

We started with some beautiful homemade bread. I like the presentation:

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One great thing about serving bread this way is that it doesn’t get all stale and dried out. We received a complementary amuse of gildas to munch as we broke bread (right amount of tangy sourdough taste and structure and crunchy crust). The gildas were little croutons of bread soaked in a rich, fruity, spicy Spanish olive oil. I should have asked if they import the olive oil directly or if it’s available off-the-shelf somewhere here in Toronto. Also on the picks were crispy green fruity olives stuffed with anchovy. I think it was paste, not fillets, based on the smooth creamy texture that exploded from the fruit. They really set the mood and taste for the night.

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We discovered, while plotting the dinner requisites, that Gail hadn’t had truffles other than truffle oil and the like. Betty regaled her with the story of the shaved truffles I had at Ristorante los Nina on freshly made pasta. There was no choice — we had to order a truffle dish, in addition to the 8-course meal we’d just subscribed to. I thought — since it was Gail’s first encounter, and we were early in the evening, that the Crostini would make a good introduction.

A lovely set of four crostini arrived.

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This is mine, all mine 🙂

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This is Gail’s face after tasting shaved black truffle for the first time. Sorry, it was really dark, so it’s a slow shutter speed. But I think you can sense what’s going on.

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Gail discovered that there is food more toe-curlingly seductive than chocolate. Where do you go from there? Upward, ever upward!

We hadn’t even got into the official dinner yet!

Next up were a couple of dishes that display Continental roots, but, I suspect, a thoroughly modern take. Well, the potato recipe could have started with a warm German potato salad, but was stripped to its essentials:

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Rich slices of warm creamy potato in a Dijon mustard sauce with some perfectly snipped chives. I want to eat this. A lot. I’d read recipes of warm German potato salad with mustard in them, but they never turned my crank. I didn’t know what I was missing. These ingredients are so good together: richness, tangy mustard, comfort and formality. Wow. And that was only the side dish to accompany the herring “a l’huile”; these items were served family-style, so we unloaded from the pot to our plates:

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Lightly smoked herring fillets, still a bit of crunch to them, confitted with some heirloom carrots (likewise, lightly done so there was still texture and beautiful translucent colour. Here’s my plate.

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There was more food in this dish than we expected. We each started off with one fillet…. then took another… and I think we might have done a third round, too. This was seriously good herring. And hey, my Mom pickles her own, so I think I have a grasp on herring 🙂

Next up was a country-style rabbit terrine with black trumpet mushrooms. Coarsely ground, it was matched with a ribbon of smoky apple sauce and an exclamation point of grainy mustard.  This dish, paired with the Auxerrois wine, had me dreaming of being out on the road, enjoying a European-style picnic.

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Except I want these plates. They were decadent. We mused about being drunk or stoned and just staring at them, rotating them, being hypnotized by them.

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From this dish, we went again to the sea — this time, it was meaty seared albacore tuna, with beets prepared 3 ways: thinly sliced and raw, roasted, and (alas, it doesn’t show in my photo) a rich gem-toned purée underlying the tuna. The tuna was spectacular: meaty, rich, and buttery. No knife required. Just a very thin edge of sear on the outside. The meatiness of it went well with the beets: roasted beets matched it most; raw beets provided a contrast, similar to how pickled ginger gives a contrast in sushi, but not quite as far in the range. The purée underneath was smooth and sweet: I never would have thought of raw tuna and beet puree together, but the combination worked. Candy cane, golden, and red beets. Pepitas for crunch. Salsa verde added some acid and grace notes. Same type of plate as the terrine, but this time, because the food had all the colour, the plate was more simply toned.

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 Our next dish married the sea to the land. Halibut cheeks, and pork belly (hmm, might have been jowl, but I don’t have notes). Matched with some celery leaves and shavings for contrast, and then an exquisite amber broth of candy cap mushroom and black garlic was poured over them table-side. The broth provided salt and umami. The fish was clean tasting, the pork provided richness, and the celery cleaned the palate between tastes.

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Time to switch wines! We’ve traversed from the land of lighter dishes and seafood and we’re about to head into meaty goodness. Sandy chose Norman Hardie‘s County Cab Franc – syrupy, rich, we just all fell in love with it.

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And it was the perfect wine for our next dish!

Our next dish was rabbit sausage served with slices of a torchon of foie gras, mache, sliced almonds, and black trumpet mushrooms. It was so tasty. The sausage was lean, and the foie gras added the fat to complement it. Mache is something I’ve only had cold as salad before, but it worked really well (and it hadn’t been cooked that much) Slightly bitter greens. The rest of the ingredients all added up to provide a memorable dish of rich flavours that were just inside the bounds — we weren’t overwhelmed, just very pleasantly whelmed by this family-style dish:

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And here’s my plate of ingredients!

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Next up was our final meat dish of the night: three kinds of beef. There were thin slices of slightly smoky veal – barely cooked at all. Tender and juicy. Augmented by roast beef, slow cooked over a barbecue, by the taste of it. Mellow, rich, strongly flavoured. And then — some sweetbreads. Crunchy on the outside, tender and creamy inside. Some celeriac purée, caramelized celeriac, white kidney beans, and fried sliced almonds provided us with more creamy sweetness to pair with the dish, which was also served family style.

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And again, here’s my plate:

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We finished the night with what looked like a creme brulée, but was much lighter — almost a foam under the crackle of caramelized sugar. Buried deep were some slices of blood orange and some blood orange gelée – little gifts in a light finish.

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 Chef Michael Caballo, Manager Tobey Nemeth: thank you so much for a fulfilling evening. You and your staff are truly excellent professionals.

A bazillion and one thanks to my awesome friends Sandy, Betty, and Gail for treating me to this feast for my birthday!

It was that time of year again!

January 20th — it was the 11th anniversary of the day I quit smoking, and the 10th anniversary of when Lyne quit — this year’s about the 25th for Betty, and Sandy stopped smoking a long time ago.

So once again, we were off to Rodney’s to celebrate our taste buds and brimming wallets (hah. Well, at least we’re not paying $10 a pack for cigarettes). But before we went, I happened upon a link that Rodney’s posted from their twitter accountThe 7 Things You Need to Know About Oysters. So we went, armed with new information, to Rodney’s on Jan 19th.

 Careful reading of the menu showed us a range of east and west coast oysters, plus other must-haves!

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One thing we all love, and that Rodney’s tends to run out of (because other people love them too, fancy that) is smelt. They were on our first order, along with 3 types of oysters, and some tuna tartare.

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Jewel-like tuna tartare served with arugula salad.

 

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French-fry sized smelt: eat the whole thing!

We ate some other cooked foods, too — I think we each had a bowl of soup, but different ones. Lobster bisque, oyster bisque, the night’s special, and I had some traditional clam chowder (with a bunch of oyster crackers! Oooh, I have not had those in a loooong time):

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Clam chowder with lots of oyster crackers on top

We also commandeered 2 orders of deep-fried oysters (that’s one for each of us). It’s really amazing the difference in flavour between a raw oyster and a cooked one. The flavours leave the ocean-side, and become richer and creamier.

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Deep fried oyster beauty

And then there were all the raw oysters. I think we had 3 or 4 platters. I have pictures of all of them, but I’m not thrilled with the focus (I think I need to work on that). So here are some pictures — one platter picture, and a number of single oysters.

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Three types of oyster, and one for each of us. The heavily ruffled shells in the front are Beach Angels from the west coast. The other two types may have been Mystics and Cotuits, Atlantic oysters. In the back, behind the oysters, you can see the lobster bisque.

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This is how I eat my oysters. Just a pinch of horseradish.

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Naked oyster.

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Beach Angel shells — ah, empty. It’s the end of the night.

Thanks again, Rodney’s — and we’d like to thank our server, who was awesome and timely.

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Toronto’s newest Spanish restaurant: Patria

Patria is located on King St. West, between Spadina and Brant Street. You can’t see it from the street: you really have to know where you’re going, and wander down a strange alleyway/hoarding/construction area to the restaurant itself.

Sandy, Betty and I tried it out last night to celebrate Betty’s birthday. What a feast!

It offers Torontonians some proper tapas — small dishes to have with a drink — as well as larger dishes of food to share. We indulged in both.

We started with Sangria — harkening back to earlier days when we had pitchers of them at McGinnis Landing in Waterloo… many many years ago.

Sangria to start

We chose a number of starters from the menu:

First off, a plate of ham from Spanish acorn-eating pigs and a marvelous chorizo sausage:

Chorizo and ham etc.

The smoke flavour of the sausage was really delicious – it didn’t overwhelm, but it was warm, gave bite, and went so well with the fat in the sausage that we were all craving more.

Next came a couple of perfectly fresh and grilled sardines. No fishy smell or flavour, these were almost as sweet as smelt. Bonus: they had been boned, and there was dill in their bellies as well as the wonderful herb sauce along side of them.

Grilled sardines

While we were in a seafood vein, we also had some very tender slices of octopus served on fingerling potatoes, olive oil and smoky paprika swirling around the little islands of food.

Octopus on fingerling potatoes

Potatoes — in Quebec, you had poutine. Then poutine came to Ontario. In the same way that it has become a standard of sorts, with customization, patatas bravas are the ubiquitous Spanish bar food that bears the bar’s signature. Here is the delicious version at Patria:

Potatoes, Spanish style.

Break the egg yolk and spread it around, then eat. Oh yes.

About this time, we ran out of sangria: what to do, what to do? We ordered a bottle of wine, Muga Rioja, Reserva 2008. Rich, dark fruit, moderate tannins, chocolate, and some eucalyptus.

Muga Reserva 2008

It was about this time that our waiter returned to tell us that there was a problem with the paella we had ordered: the chef wasn’t happy with the way the rabbit was turning out — it was too tough. We were asked if we could be served the seafood paella instead and they’d comp us desserts by way of apology. How could we say no? We sighed and agreed.

And then we started eating the amazing dates with Manchego cheese and thin green pepper, rolled in some of the deliciously smoky Iberico bacon. Wowza. I’m not a date fan, but these really were amazing. The combination of date, cheese, and smoky bacon worked magically to create something that wasn’t appetizer or dessert or main course, but something that just stands on its own, and can claim its spot in the room at any time of day.

Dates stuffed with mantega cheese, wrapped in bacon

The meaty goodness of the wrapped dates served to introduce us to the awesome flank steak, which was the next item served. This really should be the signature dish of Patria — it was rich and tender, and the red pepper sauce that it laid upon was stellar — had those umami flavours that you really want accompanying beef, and was slightly sweet, due no doubt to the peppers, but also had a demiglace richness and depth of flavour that had us wishing we had spoons or bread to soak it all up.

Flank steak

One more dish remained! The paella. How would the seafood paella measure up?

First they brought the trivet for it. I think that this is the kind of thing that Lee Valley should be selling (although they have some pretty cool trivets already, the movable blocks on this one amp up the geek factor).

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The waiter returned with the paella pan, arranged the sticks and blocks to keep the pan from burning the table, and served us each a healthy helping of rice, mussels, scampis, shrimp, monkfish and cuttlefish. Delicious selection of seafood and lovely sweet green peas in their pods.

Seafood paella

It was a big dish. We couldn’t finish it (but we did pick all the seafood pieces off the rice and eat them). We knew we had dessert to come. We don’t usually order desserts at our birthday dinners: we’re more likely to choose a cheese plate (which we had eyed on the menu) or we’ve also been known to pick up pastries from an awesome Portuguese bakery on Dundas and then head back to Sandy’s to eat them.

Our desserts began arriving. Chocolate pudding surmounted with a small sugar globe filled with olive oil. This is a challenge greater than getting the caramel in the Caramilk. How did they do that?

Chocolate pudding with olive oil in a sugar bubble

Crack the sugar globe and release the fragrant oil on the pudding – you really must go experience this. They call it pudding. I call it ganache. It’s wickedly good, and best friends with the olive oil. So dark chocolate and olive oil — this is a health food, right? Well, until you pair it with the churros, which came with a little puddle of dulce de leche.

Churros

Dip a churro in the dulce and then into the chocolate pudding. For a non-dessert person? This is an awesome dessert combination.

Then the waiter brought the third dessert. Thin brittle wafers with a toffee/coffee ice cream in between… softly whipped cream, a couple of flower petals, and some tapenade (I love how olives go from appetizer to dessert).

Third dessert!

Did we want a coffee to finish the evening? Oh no, my dear, we’re really done. Toasted. Filled. No room for anything else. We walked back to Sandy’s, drank some water, then caught the TTC home in our respective directions.

Another excellent dinner night out.

Revisiting Goods & Provisions

Sandy and I took Gail for her birthday. It was very dark.

I couldn’t stay away: I went back, sat in the sunny front window, and took pictures to my heart’s content while I ate delicious food.

If you get there early, they’ve got buck-a-shuck oysters. I got a dozen.

Buck a shuck

Following that, I couldn’t resist the marrow bone and parsley salad. The salad provides a good counterpunch to the richness of the beef marrow: some pepperiness, acidity, and saltiness with the capers. Absolutely delicious.

Marrow bone, parsley salad, and Maldon sea salt

I ended up with some of their tacos — one of pork, one of ground beef — last week’s Gastropost challenge was tacos, so it fit in well with that.

Pork and ground beef tacos

The pork taco is on the left: it was sweet and smoky and had a bit of spice to it. The ground beef, on the right, was milder – the cilantro added some interest to the flavours of the meat and lettuce. Both of them benefited from a squirt of lime.