Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Toronto: Tavoos

where there is ruin...
:College + Dufferin:

Jimmy never tells me where we're going. It's always a surprise and as much as I don't like surprises, he's always opened my eyes to the good in the bad, the beautiful in the ugly, and of course - the culture in the food.

Far west on College, where I rarely venture, he showed me there is a treasure. Takht-e Tavoos, an Iranian gem, is the sister restaurant to The Pomegranate and Sheherzade, both of which are further east, at College and Bathurst.

Restaurants in Dufferin Grove are rarely elaborate, not that Tavoos is. It's actually pretty simple, but you feel a lot of culture in the little things like murals, beautiful pottery and 'Persian' rugs.

Jimmy insisted we go picnic - so I took a seat on the 'Persian' rug. It was  awkward in a dress, but I managed, and it was so comfy I could have taken a little nap.

Tavoos is only brunch, and it's really good. 

  • The olives are delightful - coated in a walnut and pomegranate paste. 
  • The bread is really good - crispy and chewy.
  • The feta is divine - creamy, oh so creamy and less salty than most - my preferred feta.
Jimmy had a pair of sunny-side-up eggs on a bed of crispy fried potatoes, topped with creamy homemade feta, olives and bread:

Same as Jimmy's minus potatoes plus smoked salmon and sauteed haloumi.
Remember, I f*cken love haloumi.
The only thing I didn't like on the plate were the greens. Mint and parsley. Blech. Mint in mojitos? Okay. Otherwise? Blech. I feel the same way about parsley. If it's chopped up like garnish and therefore too tedious to pick out, I'll eat it. Otherwise? Blech.

Greens aside, Tavoos is a bit of tradition to go with your morning eats. Even if you're not one for ceremony, you've got to like eggs and good eats?

Sidebar: Iranian tea. Beautiful glassware, warm, light and inviting.

Takht-E Tavoos on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Montreal: Lola Rosa Park

now break bread


Memories of Montreal. Did you know the best empanadas come out of this city. Of course I had one. Still perfect. So I took a dozen to go for me and the sister. I feel like a bad daughter since I didn't save any for Momma GG. But shhh, let's not tell her.

Thanks to the sister's friend, Greenthumbs, I also ate at Lola Rosa. A vegetarian bistro in the plateau that I likely would not have found without him.  He has great taste - in fashion and food - and low/no? tolerance for anything substandard. 

Lola Rosa is easily described as a non-vegetarian's favourite vegetarian restaurant. I am an insatiable and unforgiving carnivore and I liked this restaurant...surprisingly, a lot. They have the cutest terrace, and the service is warm and pleasant.

They don't have a big menu but it's diverse and almost everything can be made vegan or gluten-free. It's really well-priced and above all, it's delicious. My fellow carnivore Cracker loved it, as did our vegetarian, Piripiri.

Demi nachos
Colourful and tasty
Everything on my plate - delightful - from the salad and vinaigrette to the spinach bechamel (at least that's what I think it was...)

The nachos are back for an encore...
do you want more?

Lola Rosa Park on Urbanspoon

Montreal: La Belle Province

michelle ma belle

Montreal is my favourite Canadian city. I could count the ways, but there are too many. One is the food - from dirty eats to the finest French fare.

Here is my favourite anytime snack - pootine. This picture does not capture how BIG this portion is. But for $7, it ought to be:

Soft cheesy curds + Rich warm gravy
Frite Alors is still my favourite but we were hangry and La Belle was right there. I liked it better than La Banquise. That's something.

Restaurant la Belle Province on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

New York: Pok Pok NY

generation eat

Final NYC Summer 2013 post. Best for last.
Bon Appetit releases a list of the 20 most important restaurants in America. Why should you care? Because I read Bon Appetit. Not because of my Knowlton crush, but because whether or not I agree with everything they say, their content is solid - well written and thoroughly researched. I've eaten at a few places on the list, there was one (or two) I disagree with, and then there were several that piqued my interest - the one that stood out the most is pok pok NY.
So let's say you don't care about the list, chances are you care about Anthony Bourdain - perhaps the most outspoken mutherfudder in the culinary world. He's refreshingly blunt and I love his show(s), as do my friends, and their friends. They just appeal to my generation. In the finale of No Reservations Bourdain goes to Pok Pok with Chef Eddie Huang. (FYI Bourdain's new show is on CNN.)

But say none of that appeals to you. Then I offer you the truest literary form. An article in New York magazine. It's personally my favourite review of Pok Pok.

What do you need to know about Pok Pok? Perhaps that the reason it's such a phenomenon is because American Chef Andy Ricker has succeeded where Americans and Canadians have failed. Bourdain said "of all of the reasonable things you could do in this world, why would you embrace a cuisine that just about every Western guy who every tried to get it right completely f*cked up?".

I'm guessing Ricker did it because he knew he'd get it right. As I tell the sister, the key to success is keeping it real. In life, or on the plate. Then I do a Celine chest bump. 
Minnie and I got to Pok Pok at 5. We were the only ones there. What about the lines? Well, by 530 we were seated (inside because I was melting in the humidity) and at 545 inside was at about 70 percent capacity and
the garden shed was full.
It's a Tuesday by the way. A New Yorker we met outside told us it's still almost impossible to get a seat on weekends - consistently long lines, people being turned away. I guess it's as dramatic as they say.
Ricker, 2011 James Beard Best Chef Northwest, serves northern and northeastern Thai food with other influences including his own. It's a beautiful vision - to showcase the world class flavours of Thai food - a far cry from pad thai. Pok Pok is awesome, inexpensive, and delicious.
The servers are one with the menu, and they're happy to guide you in your decisions. The dishes are served up like street food - no frills, no pretense. Just plates/bowls/pots of intense, complex and intricate flavours. What do I mean by that? Just that every detail of every dish was thought out. The end result? Deceptively simple and truly delicious food:
Papaya Pok Pok - Spicy papaya salad:
Fresh and spicy and addictively delicious
Ike's Vietnamese Fish Sauce Chicken Wings:
Marinated in fish sauce and palm sugar. They are fried and have a caramelized coating. Really good. (In case you're curious, Phnom Penh is still my number one lover.)
Kaeng Hung Leh:
North Thai sweet pork belly and pork shoulder curry - it's a rich brown (tamarind) and smells so intense - garlic, Burmese curry powder, tumeric and ginger all hit you at once. Exotic and yummy and eaten with sticky rice.
Loved the meal. Loved the service. A win for the white guy.
Pok Pok NY on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

New York: Eileen's Special Cheesecake

just beat it

Warning: The website opens with an annoying show-tune jingle. It's muted right now because I can't take it. 

Minnie loves cheesecake.

Me? Not so much. But Minnie doesn't make foodie requests often. So Eileen's Special Cheesecake was a NYC priority. It actually turned out to be the perfect pit stop on one of our many 12 hour walks. As we turned the corner there she was, just sitting on a corner of Petrosino Square, calling to us.

Just as we walked in, my favourite Havaianas broke. What are the odds? Story gets better. Minnie had an extra pair of flops in her purse. Again what are the odds? House rules. Which is why I slipped on Minnie's extra pair and my delicate feet never touched nasty New York street.

So one less flip flop and three cheesecakes later:

Pineapple and strawberry.
Creme brulee - like the real deal, only not.

As someone who doesn't like cheesecake, I can objectively say Eileen's are good. The sister probably wouldn't like it as much since she loves New York style cheesecake. Eileen's are rich, yet light and almost fluffy - like there's a bit of air in them. I thought maybe she used a ricotta-cheesecake mix, but then I saw this.Whipped egg whites. Huh. I must adopt that technique in one of my baking experiments. 

If you like cheesecake, I highly recommend Eileen's. For $3.50, I dare you to beat it, beat it, beat it. She also delivers anywhere in the continental US - overnight. Cheesecake delivery. Genius. 

Eileen's Special Cheesecake on Urbanspoon

New York: Balthazar Restaurant



Someone once told me Balthazar was a NYC institution. What does that mean really? It just means there are some restaurants you go to for nostalgia or the quintessential experience. Balthazar is where authentic NYC diner meets fake Parisian bistro. It's not amazing, it's quite expensive, but it is a genuine big city experience -it's bustling and busy. 

My advice would still be to skip it, unless you want to rub elbows with tourists and a handful of regulars while munching on average food. If you manage to get a table without a reservation, grab a quick bite and go. After all, outside those doors is the wonder of SoHo. When in this borough, I embrace the streets more than the eats. But we needed a quick lunch before we ran a muck in SoHo toward Tribeca, then further south to Wall Street and to the bridges. A long impending journey calls for mac and cheese:
Cast iron skillet and gratin top.  I could have done with more fire on that...couldn't you?

And one of my favourite salad types - the always delicious niçoise:


Balthazar's take on this French composed favourite was on the greasy end, but the anchovies were a nice touch and about 10 minutes later I ate it all. It must have been good? But it's over now. It must have been good...

Sidebar: I find myself wondering these days if my music references are lost on my readers since they're kind of all over the map. I give you some One Direction, a lot old school hip hop, and then a throw in a little Roxette...oh, music - it's the gift that keeps on giving.

Balthazar on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 22, 2013

New York: Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca

tween angst
:Greenwich Village:
I've been waiting a long time to eat here. In fact, it took me ten years to get here. It didn't completely disappoint, but it wasn't close to anything I had imagined.
My New Yorker friends didn't praise Babbo to begin with. They had medicore experiences with both food and service. I'm inclined to think it's maybe going through some 15 year angst. It's been around long enough that they've lost some of that early romance, but not yet old enough to be embraced with unconditional respect.
Let's start with the strangest thing that ever happened to me. As I was about to enter the restaurant, another patron came out and spat on the door. No seriously. I wish I could share the drama, but Babbo's servers didn't dish out any details. In fact, they just smiled when I told them and quickly had someone clean it up. It's too bad their professionalism didn't quench my curiosity.
Babbo's parents are Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich. If you watch Food Network you know these two well. Babbo is tucked away in Greenwich Village on a quiet dimly lit street. It was once a beloved Italian eatery and enoteca, but I would say it's fine Italian dining in a quintessential New York atmosphere - attentive and cordial table service.
The dishes were beautifully and expertly presented. Our server knew the food, although his explanation sounded much more like a product or regurgitation and repetition than passionate appreciation.
We liked the food. And I think Babbo's prices are also the appeal. It's a well-priced menu of thoughtfully crafted dishes made with some of the best proteins, freshest produce and finest pantry items. I would say that their serving sizes actually work against them since we weren't guided by our server. I specifically asked him if our selection of antipastis, primis, and secondis  would be too much food; he dismissed my suggestion. It clearly  was too much. How is that a bad thing? Answer, when you are too full to enjoy your outstanding main. And in the case of my main, it was a shame I couldn't eat it all. I genuinely got choked up because tourists forgo doggie bags since the food will just go to waste. Yes, I left a lot of it behind.
It was obvious by the end of my meal that there was only one clear standout - a single dish that made me happy I finally made it to Babbo. To say that only one dish made the cut is sad, but one is better than none. 
Scroll to end if you just can't wait.
Roasted Beet Tartare with Chianti Vinegar and Ricotta Salata  $14
Black Spaghetti with Rock Shrimp, Spicy Salami Calabrese and Green Chilies  $27
Everything (and there's a lot going on here) seamlessly worked together to make every bite.
Chianti Stained Pappardelle with Wild Boar Ragu  $23A bit too gamey and rich for me.
At last, drumroll please...

Whole Grilled Branzino with Mixed Radishes, Olives and Lemon Oregano Jam  $29
Top 5 fish I've ever eaten in a restaurant.
It was without a doubt, spectacular.Perfectly grilled, moist, tender, flaky, meaty, and so delicate. Loved it.
I would go back to Babbo for that branzino. It alone made Babbo worth it. Take it out of the equation, and -- . 

Remember, my silence is golden.

Note: The bathroom upstairs is one of the worst. It does not belong in an award winning, critically acclaimed restaurant. How so? Well, the toilet is so close to the front wall that one can barely get their legs in. No joke. Joke's on me...welcome to a gastronomic superstar restaurant, please use extreme caution when using facilities. In the words of Momma GG, c'mmmmooooonnnn.

Babbo on Urbanspoon

New York: Big Gay Ice Cream

finding unicorns
:East Village:

Finding a soft serve ice cream I like is as rare. Not impossible, but definitely difficult. I'm not much of an ice cream person. Recall here

After Crif's we needed something sweet. It was fate then that Big Gay Ice Cream was just around the corner. It was about 25 minutes from the time we stood in line to the time I was eating a Salty Pimp. I'm never going to get sick of saying it. Makes me laugh every time. It was also the most appealing because I don't say no to dulce de leche.

I first read about Big Gay Ice Cream when it was just a truck - the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck. Then they opened a store and called it Big Gay Ice Cream. G*awd, I love their simplicity. 

Friendly staff to keep you company as you wait in line.
The line goes fast, as each ice cream is made to order.
Be patient. It's ice cream. It's meant to be a happy experience.
Their menu starts with simple soft serve - vanilla and chocolate - as the base for some wacky and wonderful toppings like Nilla wafers, sea salt, cayenne pepper, etc., to create some sinfully good treats blessed by gay-friendly names like Bea Arthur, Mermaid, Mexican Affo'gay'to...

Did I already say I got the Salty Pimp. I did, didn't I. I'll say it again...Salty Pimp is vanilla soft serve injected with dulce de leche, sprinkled with sea salt and dipped in chocolate. You want a Salty Pimp don't you? You probably even just said it out loud didn't you? It's okay, say it again, no one's listening.

Salty Pimp
It was like eating ice cream under a rainbow with munchkins and fairies. Magically delicious.

Big Gay Ice Cream Shop on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 21, 2013

New York: Crif Dogs

embrace the weiner
:East Village:

I'm a lover of hot dogs, especially Toronto street meat. Nothing compares.

Course I'm also a fan of fun weiners, and by fun I mean toppings that make you go uhhhmaagawd. 

Crif Dogs is that kind of place. A sub-ground level dive with a private speakeasy (PDT) for those in the know and anyone who can read the internet (no longer for the elite, and more a way for anyone to impress him, her or them). 

So my advice, skip PDT and just go eat a hot dog, they have a long list of endless dog combinations:

temptee dog
new yorker
jon jon deragon
good morning

Every dog can be customized your way so you're bound to find something just for you. It's cheap, it's cheerful and they have a kick-ass playlist. Crif is by far my second favourite dog.

I had the chihuahua - bacon wrapped dog with avocado and sour cream plus a side of cheese fries.  

Dirrrtyyyy good.
Every bite was a mix of crisp bacon and plump juicy weiner with creamy avocado and tart sour cream.
Minnie had the sour cheese dog - sour pickles and cheese:

I recommend the wrapped weiners. Safety first, haha. No seriously, it's a safer bet - they're damn good and the dogs stay juicier inside layers of bacon or ham.

And don't forget the sides - you have to try at least one. Tater tots, or in my case, I had the waffle fries with cheese - crisp potatoes with melted cheese. Don't count calories, count smiles.

Crif Dogs on Urbanspoon

New York: Fatty Crab

fell a little flat
:West Village:

Fatty Crab has been on my list since 2009. I love that they characterize themselves as a joint because that's exactly what it felt like and that is something I am down with. In theory, I'm also down with the Malaysian inspired food, especially after the BFF introduced it to me in Australia. But the two dishes we ordered from Fatty Crab weren't awesome. They looked awesome, but fell short.
The noodles we ordered were borderline inedible. They were so salty we couldn't get past two bites. And I hate to waste food but the garbage was where it headed. I eavesdropped on the table next to us (they ordered the noodles too) and they felt the same way.
Seasoning fail.
Their specialty chili crab was much better. It was also a tad salty but it was as flavourful as it was messy. Still, it was a far cry from the mud crab I had in Australia. Comparing the two is stupid,but I'm not feeling so smart today.
Scale of 10? 5.
If you're looking for a wannabe-dive spot serving ethnic eats, Fatty Crab is perfect. Just be careful of what you order. The restaurant was full and almost everyone looked happy which makes me think we may have just ordered wrong. It has the potential to be really good, especially the fatty duck. The table next to us had it and it looked pretty awesome.

Fatty Crab on Urbanspoon 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

New York: Doughnut Plant

counting doughnuts

I love doughnuts. This is nothing new, unless of course I'm new to you.
It takes about 60 minutes of being my friend to discover I f*cking love doughnuts. Homer ain't got nothing on me. On my trip to NYC I really, really, really wanted a Cronut. Badly. But not bad enough to buy it off the black market. And since I missed my chance to pre-order, the other option was standing in line at 700 am...no thanks.

Doughnut plant was my attempt to make up for no cronut. I've had Doughnut Plant's doughnuts before - in Korea. They're solid - great dough - fluffy, nicely fried, innovative and traditional flavours, and all whimsically put-together.
My lil' salted caramel nugget:

Cute as a button and tasty too.
 Minnie's key lime and coconut: 

They're really, really good, in fact they're f*cking damn good doughnuts. Sorry, I apologize for the profanity, but I can't help it. When it comes to doughnuts, I do not f*ck around. 
Doughnut Plant on Urbanspoon 

Friday, July 19, 2013

New York: Bleecker Street Pizza

we meet again. till we meet again.
:West Village:

Fresh, tasty and space to sit. Service with a twinkle in the eye and cheap.

White Pie - that ricotta...so creamy, so soft, so mmmmmm.
Simply delicious.
Really, don't disagree with me. 

Bleecker Street Pizza on Urbanspoon