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Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

I’ll be in a casting session for most of the day so, today, I hand things over to Akemi and her very first popcorn-making experience…

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Slowly but surely, I’m reconnecting with my former Toronto friends and/or acquaintances.  The other night, for instance, I got together with my long-distance nemesis and occasional script collaborator Tara Yelland for dinner at one of my very favorite restaurants: Buca!

Since Tara was working on a production, we ended up sitting down to dinner at a little after 9:00 p.m. – so late that I’m surprised they weren’t offering breakfast specials.  Okay, granted, many people eat at 9:00 p.m. EST…but they’re usually in a different time zone.  For her part, Tara (who clearly keeps all sorts of crazy hours) promised that, next time, we would eat earlier so that I could take advantage of the early bird specials.

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We perused the menu and Tara informed me that pig’s ears and brains were out. Also pancetta and any of the offal dishes.  And all the meat dishes.

I completely forgot she was a vegetarian.  No wonder we’ve never gone to dinner before!

In the end, all of the plates we ordered were meatless – and excellent – among them…

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This terrific mushroom pizza that Tara liked…except for the mushrooms which she picked off and left on her plate (Come on!!!).

The dinner conversation was our first extended communication that didn’t involve email.   Over the course of our two hour discussion, I found her endlessly entertaining – but, in the end, surprisingly enigmatic, like the first 50 minutes of an old episode of Murder She Wrote.

She decided to pass on dessert but I convinced her to have a taste of my tiramisu. Apparently, convinced her too well because she almost polished it off all on her own.

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The tiramisu proves as hard to crack as my mysterious dining companion.

Despite the absence of meat, a very tasty meal.  And terrific night overall – until, I think, I partially separated my shoulder on the walk back to my place.  I’m not sure how she did it, but I do hold Tara responsible.

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A couple of days before my departure for Toronto, I received an email from Chef Rob Belcham (formerly of Fuel and Refuel and Fat Dragon, presently of Campagnolo and Campagnolo Roma – all in Vancouver) informing me that he would be in town for a special one-night only dinner at Porzia Restaurant ( 1314 Queen St W.).  I immediately booked a table for two and last night was the night.

Chef Belcham (right) joined forces with three other chefs to create the evening's special menu.

Chef Belcham (right) joined forces with three other chefs to create the evening’s special menu.

Chef Belcham was joined by three other chefs (his former cooks) to create the special six course menu…

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Snacks: live scallop caviar & cream, soft egg and white soy, horse mortadella, and herring on toast.  The clear winner here was the scallop – and fresh and flavorful bite.  I’m not a fan of herring but Akemi is, and that particular entry was right up her alley.

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Schmaltz Candle: Schmaltz (chicken fat) shaped into a candle and allowed to melt down and mix with what I believe was crisp, seasoned chicken skin (I’m guessing here because our waitress plunked the plates down in front of us without offering an explanation), served with dipping bread.  Damn tasty.  Akemi and I waited patiently for the candle to render down completely before really digging in – only to have our waitress whisk the plate away, leaving me clutching my unanointed bread.

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Squash carpaccio with from age fraiche and smoked chestnut.  When I saw this on the menu, I was instantly dubious – but I was pleasantly surprised.  Very pleasantly surprised.  Believe it or not, this sweet and savory, multi-textured vegetarian entry was my favorite dish of the night.

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Chef Rob’s albacore tuna with veal bone marrow, capers & parsley.  The tuna melted in our mouths.  Akemi’s sole quibble was the lack of rice which, she felt, would have made the dish perfect!

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Dandelion agnolotti with ricotta & parmesan brodo.  Delicious, but quite over seasoned.

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Veal sweetbreads with shaved shank, walnut tarator, spiced jus.  Akemi wasn’t a fan of the walnut mousse and I wasn’t sold on the shank, but the sweetbreads were perfectly prepared.

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Brown butter crepe with pumping maple & mascarpone.  To be honest, this one felt like two different desserts – the crepe and the interior cream-stuffed tuile.  Both very tasty but a texturally bizarre combo.

 A fun outing – and it was great to see Rob.  Now, if we can only convince him to open a Campagnolo outpost here in Toronto…

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Our first night in Toronto was, in a word, “horrible”.  The bed is too small, it’s too hard, and the curtains are insufficient and, in parts, non-existent so that the street lights (and, at approximately 2:30 a.m., the flashing police lights) streaming in to our bedroom made sleep almost impossible.  ALMOST impossible because I was so exhausted I could have fallen asleep – if it wasn’t for Jelly’s crying keeping me up. Eventually, I had to set her down behind the bed to shield from the light so that she eventually dozen off – at just after 3:00 a.m. – only to wake up with the sun.  Of course.

Today, we were off in search of tape and black material so that we could create our own blackout curtains.  And also some winter coats.  And boots.  It’s cold!  4 degrees celsius/39 fahrenheit.  WTF?  Toronto was actually warmer than Vancouver – until yesterday when the temperature suddenly dropped to near freezing – coincidentally, on the day of our arrival!  The fates continue to conspire against me.

C-c-c-c-c-cold!

C-c-c-c-c-cold!

Thanks to everyone that offered advice on dealing with Bubba’s separation anxiety.  The problem has sort of sorted itself out for the time being.  The poor little guy has howled himself hoarse and now just squawks -

On the bright side, a full day in and the eating has been good.  For lunch, pork belly buns at Banh Mi Boys -

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And then back to Buca for a thank-you dine with Jeff -

Hand-cut blood pasta.  I was honestly leery, but it was delicious.

Hand-cut blood pasta. I was honestly leery, but it was delicious.

Sweet corn gelato topped with finishing salt.

Sweet corn gelato topped with finishing salt.

And the house tiramisu

And the house tiramisu

Speaking of Jeff who is flying out tomorrow, he dropped by to say goodbye to his flying companion and new best friend -

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Heading into the office tomorrow.

Wonder what we’re having for lunch…

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October 9, 2014: Toronto dining!

“Whatever you do,”said my writing partner, Paul, clearly concerned about my penchant for adventurous eating, “don’t order the brains.”

“When was the last time you saw brain on a menu?”I scoffed.

And then, there it was, in the appetizer section: lamb brains.

In retrospect, it shouldn’t have come as that big of a surprise.  After all,  we were dining at Buca, my favorite Toronto restaurant, known for its creative offal offerings.

“No innards,”Paul reminded me as a we perused our menus, squinting to make out the tiny print in the darkened room.  Finally, I gave up and used the flashlight app on my phone.  Yes, I felt old – but not quite so bad as the evening progressed and about a half dozen other diners followed suit.  “Just go ahead and order for us,”said Paul, obviously too proud to use the flashlight function on HIS phone.

There were a lot of very intriguing menu options, but many fell foul of the “no innards” edict.  Eventually, I decided to split the difference by reading aloud slightly altered versions of the dish descriptions.  For instance, the pasta with duck offal ragu became “pasta with duck ragu”!  The revised descriptions proved more palatable to my squeamish writing partner.

A couple of the highlights…

1The nod ini: warm bread knots with olive oil, rosemary, garlic, and sea salt.

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The crispy pig ears.  Yeah, yeah, I know, but it’s not brains and, technically, not an “innards”.  It’s more of an “outard”.

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The bianca pizza with gorgonzola and duck eggs.

And various awesome pasta.  Love that place.

Then, last night, we met up with Brad Wright for dinner at another Italian restaurant in the neighbourhood.  My review: Pizza good, pasta okay, service excellent, slight urine smell.  Not sure about that one.

I was walking the neighborhood today, shopping for necessitates – socks, underwear, towels, a soda stream shaped like a penguin – and noticed A LOT of intriguing dining options in the area.

Tonight, it’s oysters with the director of our first two episodes and then, tomorrow morning, I’m homeward-bound.  And none too soon.  Akemi tells me that Jelly has been restless since I left, up and panting through the night, and has taken to following her around.

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I’m off to Toronto tomorrow, returning Friday.  That gives me eight dinners, roughly fifteen meals (minus the turducken/piecaken extravaganza I have planned for Canadian Thanksgiving next Sunday)  to enjoy in Vancouver before I leave it – for seven months!

Last night, Akemi and I got together with our foodie friends, Nicole and Lan, for the first of our many farewell feasts.  Rather than visit an old favorite, however, I decided to try somewhere new – The Union in the city’s Strathcona district – partly because the menu intrigued, and partly because it’s located steps from Crackle Creme and their varied creme brûlées.

The Union is very casual.  Menu items range from spicy wings to Singapore Laksa. Perfect for sharing.  We ended up ordering – well, a lot.  Some of the highlights…

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The Cha Ca Hanoi: fresh snapper, market greens, turmeric chill coconut milk, dill, rice vermicelli, nuoc cham, fresh herbs and scallions.  So good I had to resist the temptation to drink the sauce.

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Sweet & Sour Pork Crepes with marinated pulled pork and spicy pineapple slaw. Akemi loved these so much she couldn’t stop talking about them.

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Sweet & Sour Fried Fish Banh Mi with spicy sriracha aioli, jalapeños, daikon and carrot pickles, cucumber, and cilantro.  This was the first time I’ve tried a fried fish version of the Vietnamese-style sandwich – and I was completely won over.

In truth, pretty much everything we ate was terrific (crispy pork belly banh mi, Hawk thai chicken wings with sweet and spicy nahm jim glaze, fried pork dumplings with scallion soy dipping sauce) with the exception of the bland Nasi Goreng.

Rather than sample dessert (which I’m sure is excellent), we walked over to Crackle Creme for an assortment of creme brûlées…

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Owner Daniel Wong fires ‘em up!

1Flavors – clockwise from left to right: Madagascar vanilla bean, lemon basil, ferrero richer, black sesame-matcha cheesecake with mango sauce, Guinness-espresso topped with roasted marshmallows.

While I’m away, I’ll have to enjoy my Vancouver meals vicariously through this site – my favorite local food blog: http://dennisthefoodie.com

The Union: 219 Union St, Vancouver - 604-568-3230

Crackle Creme: 245 Union St, Vancouver - 778-847-8533

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