Dem Doubles Do’ - Danforth Roti Shop

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I have been on a quest. An epic search, if you will, for doubles that make me weak in the knees and are even remotely as good as my mom’s. I have traipsed all around Toronto. I went from South to North, West to East in search of doubles that were swoon-worthy. I even recruited people to go with me on my food-eating adventures. When I finally found doubles that I felt were worthy, the moment was triumphant. Eating these doubles was an experience that left me breathless and thinking about that interaction long afterwards - like the most delicious first kiss.

Doubles are deceptively simple looking. This snack food from Trinidad is ubiquitous and is made up of two distinct components: 1) two palm-sized discs of dough, fried until just kissed by golden colour, called bara; 2) curried chickpeas that act as the filling for the “sandwich.” What really takes doubles over the top is a 3rd component and an absolute necessity - sauce(s). More on this later. It’s important to note, that not all doubles are made equal. But the doubles from Danforth Roti shop are the fucking mic drop.

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Omatee, chef and owner of Danforth Roti Shop, knooowwwsss doubles. She is warm, friendly and we easily chat the entire time I’m watching her make doubles. We talk about Trinidad, the importance of food in our lives and share stories about our families. She opened up Danforth Roti Shop 14 years ago after working as a cook in a few other Caribbean restaurants. Prompted by friends, family and customers, along with the support of her husband Tony, she opened her own spot as a way to feed people the kind of homemade Trinidadian food that she believed wasn’t being offered anywhere else. She was absolutely right.

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The bara dough that she makes is yeast based, making the dough pliable, soft and feather light. Omatee divides the butter-hued dough roughly into kiwi sized balls. She presses them out into impossibly thin rounds without tearing a. single. fucking. one. You could actually read the fine print of a legal document right through the dough, if you were so inclined. With deftness and precision she works the dough as someone who has done this thousands of times over. Each bread, fried individually, spends less than ten seconds in hot oil before being speedily whisked out to drain. If you let the dough cook too long and they become dry and hard - better for ultimate frisbee than for eating.

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While Omatee is frying dough, there’s a massive pot on the stove full of dried chickpeas that have been soaked overnight and are now bubbling vigorously. Foam has risen to the top which will be skimmed off before being flavoured with celery, curry, parsley, cumin and green seasoning - a Trinidadian staple used as a marinade, sauce or dressing. Green seasoning is made by blending water, sharp vinegar, fresh green onions, pungent garlic, bright shado beni (culantro) and/or parsley, salt and pepper. These chickpeas will become the filling for the doubles that I will have the pleasure of eating again later.

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Sauces on offer usually include sweet and tangy tamarind, hot and stinging pepper sauce, and sharp and herbaceous green seasoning that add to the flavour and complexity of doubles. Sometimes, you’ll find freshly grated cucumber, or kuchela (another Trinidadian condiment made of shredded green mango cooked with amchar masala, garlic and hot pepper) which provides additional oomph. Each cook has his/her/their own combination of sauces and condiments that make their version distinctive.

At Danforth Roti ask for a combination of their three sauces - tamarind, pepper sauce and green seasoning. The sauces make these doubles a religious experience. But, I recommend caution with the hot sauce. I accidentally ate a spoonful of it and regretted it as it burned in my chest for a full hour afterwards. If you were ordering these in Trinidad - you would order “doubles with slight peppa’”.

You really need to eat these doubles. They are anything but ordinary. When you first bite into these doubles, the dough greets you with softness, a gentle and slightly stubborn stretch, and a barely-there sweetness that’s reminiscent of challah. The chickpea filling is delicate in curry flavour and doesn’t overpower the bread. There’s precise balance between the filling and the bread. The texture of the chickpeas is creamy, thick and suede soft - retaining its integrity as you eat it. Each sauce adds flavour, heat and freshness, in exacting proportion. In about six bites, the whole experience is sadly over and right now, I’m thinking about eating another one.

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A Tribute - Anthony Bourdain

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I will always remember exactly where I was on June 8th, when I got the news. I was sitting on the floor in a brand new meeting room at the Waterside Campus at Northampton University in England. I could smell the new carpet, fresh paint and chemical-y plastic of recently unwrapped office furniture. I had just received a text from my partner asking how I was doing. And, after reciprocating the compulsory questions and answers, I received a website link asking, “have you seen this yet?” I read the link and saw Anthony Bourdain’s name. My first thought was “oh gawd, please don’t tell me he’s dead.” I opened it, and it was exactly as I had feared. The tears that slowly rolled down my cheeks were involuntary. As I sat on the floor in the middle of a workshop, I searched for some Kleenex in my bag trying my best not to draw attention to myself. But, it was inevitable; people would notice my crying and eye dabbing during the prosaic session.

I think about Bourdain’s death and I feel a wave of dull sadness. He was the first food/travel writer and television personality that I saw who categorically embraced the experience of being in other countries, cultures and socio-political circumstances. As he moved through each destination, he did so without criticizing or judging the people, places, cultures or even the foods that he encountered. He was courageous in his consumption. Beating cobra heart in Vietnam, done. Balut in the Philippines, sure, why not. Warthog anus in Namibia, eaten with valiant effort. It amazed me and still does. It was a fearless act of diplomacy that I haven’t seen duplicated by any other globe-trotting food personality on TV.

But, it was Bourdain’s prolific and brainy prose that I truly admired. I was consistently dazzled by his extensive vocabulary and his unapologetic politics. He embraced emotions often ranging in a single episode from empathy, sadness and compassion, defying the prerequisites of standard masculinity. He saw and deeply felt the injustices and inequalities of this world. He freely commented on the structural inequalities and systematic bias that made life hard, unfair and unsafe for so many people. He continually recognized and ardently defended the black and brown bodies that toiled in the hot kitchens in North America who were never recognized for their backbreaking labour in the restaurant write-ups in magazines, newspapers and blogs. Not a small or insignificant recognition when he was someone who readily benefitted from that system.

As a way to commemorate the profound passing of one of my culinary heros I took to food and writing. A no brainer. I was gifted a copy of his last cookbook - Appetites: A Cookbook, two Christmases ago and I had yet to make anything from it. One of my close friends, another Bourdain fan, had suggested we make a dinner dedicated to him. And that was exactly what we did. We earmarked the recipes that we wanted to make, over a dozen in total. Ultimately, we narrowed it down to just four items: iceberg wedge salad with stilton (I used gorgonzola because that’s my preference) and pancetta, deviled eggs with sardines, fried polenta crescents (which became something else entirely), chicken milanese (though the recipe called for veal, again, a personal preference). This meal ended up being one of my favourite meals I’ve made in ages - stomach distending and deeply gratifying.

THE TRIBUTE - A QUADRIPARTITE MEAL

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DEVILED EGGS

They may have fallen out of fashion for some, but not for me. Deviled eggs are simple and delicious despite their pedestrian appearance. This recipe offers a rich, fatty and salty trifecta of deliciousness. The egg yolk was amped up with creamy mayonnaise, salt, pepper, parsley and anchovy. Each egg white half received an overflowing amount of soft, creamy yolk filling, topped with a half of an anchovy in all of its lubricious and briny glory. Parsley was exuberantly sprinkled all over for much needed freshness, balancing out the decadent and fatty filling. Each bite was followed by uncontrollable “mmmmmmm” sounds. I couldn’t even help myself.

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WEDGE SALAD

This salad was a distinctly good decision. I would *hell yes* make that salad again. People hate on iceberg lettuce because it’s mundane and has “no flavour.” What it lacks in actual flavour it makes up for tenfold in texture. Crunchy, sweet, rigid, water swollen leaves are perfect for cutting into wedges to be dressed with literally any pungent dressing you desire. That night, however, there were specifications to meet: meaty and salty cubes of pancetta that had been fried to crispy perfection and, deep fried crispy shallots offered perfectly light and airy crunch that added sweet depth and flavour to a very simple dish. And, the star, a gorgonzola dressing that literally made the whole dish sing like Measha Brueggergosman. My entire body was delighted and entranced by this combination of flavour and texture.

Fried shallots

Fried shallots

POLENTA - WHATEVER YOU WANNA CALL IT

This was a polenta adventure that went from upset to success. Our goal: fry polenta crescents, as the name strongly suggested. It never happened. The polenta should have been cooked longer, so that more of the liquid evaporated. Even after cooling down the mixture in the fridge for a few hours only polenta gloop remained. Not at all how I imagined my food tribute. I was feeling like I had failed and my tribute meal was going awry. But I could hear Bourdain in my mind, “fuck it! It doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to be good.” It was an opportunity to doctor that mess into something good. No. Better than good. Something magically delicious. The too wet polenta was poured into a hot, buttered cast iron skillet and baked for 45 minutes. When it was done, it was flipped out of the pan to reveal this beautiful, crisp, perfectly browned crust. The polenta cake was cut into wedges and served. The crisp and creamy cake was saturated with rich butter and nutty parmesan flavour. My teeth cracked the exterior of the polenta and it gave way to a soft and creamy interior. Not at all what it was intended to be, but it was a delicious mistake rectifying the initial disaster.

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Polenta cake-thing-brown-disc-of-deliciousness

CHICKEN MILANESE (THE RECIPE CALLS FOR VEAL, BUT I CHICKENED OUT… AYEEEEEEE!)

Chicken milanese is the kind of thing you make when you like someone. Like, really, really like them. Chicken pounded until thin, coated in flour, egg and panko makes for a delicious fried dish. Fried chicken in whatever form is never really a bad thing, is it? Crispy, juicy and delicious. What more do I really need to say about it? Except, that I felt that our efforts had truly come together in a successful tribute when I had completed frying two pieces of chicken, one came out in the shape of a heart and the other, a penis. An accurate and spot-on reminder of who Bourdain was. A man who loved fiercely and never shied away from euphemisms or references about sex.

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With that I leave you with a quote:

“I'm asked a lot what the best thing about cooking for a living is. And it's this: to be a part of a subculture. To be part of a historical continuum, a secret society with its own language and customs. To enjoy the instant gratification of making something good with one's hands--using all one's senses. It can be, at times, the purest and most unselfish way of giving pleasure (though oral sex has to be a close second).”

Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly

Bourdain I miss you terribly. I hope that you finally found your peace.







England, thanks for the memories!

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I had the most eventful June. I was selected to participate in a university exchange program, called the SocialxChange between Ryerson University and the University of Northampton in England. Before this program, I had never even heard of Northampton. However, this didn’t dissuade me from applying to the program. Two factors that motivated me were: 1) it sounded so cool - a program for people who want to become changemakers i.e., people who make a difference in this world. 2) I really wanted to travel, because travelling is awesome. And, even better, when it’s on someone else’s dime. I really love travelling, it, without a doubt, forces you to see the world differently; it forces you to think; and, it makes you realize how insignificant you really are in the grand scheme of things. A humbling life lesson that almost all of us can use from time to time. This lesson about our own relatively inconsequential existence was often echoed by Anthony Bourdain, who passed away on June 8, 2018. He is a person who constantly inspires/inspired me. Not only to travel but to be open in life and to write about food. My next blog post will be dedicated to him. I’m still reeling and I need to take some time to think about what I want to say. I have never been one to be reactionary in times of sadness or anger. I want to treat this with the thoughtful reflection, empathy and honesty it deserves. His passing has been very consequential to me.

Travel has truly been a lifelong passion for me. As children, my parents would take me and my brother to Trinidad on vacation to visit family. I always, always loved these trips. Even as a child I was eager to go somewhere new, see something different, and meet new people. I loved the feeling of the delicious humidity on my skin and which would inevitably make my hair spiral up from it’s loose waves into tight curls. I was beyond excited to eat untried delicacies. I would bawl my eyes out every time I had to leave Trinidad to come back to Toronto. It broke. my. heart. I think, at that time, I hadn’t realized that vacation is just vacation. It is not real life. The joys and pleasures of vacation only exist as a microcosmic reality.

Being somewhere new, that’s a little uncomfortable and a lot of unknown gives you insight into you. Traveling isn’t simply a way to open your mind. It’s also a narcissistic exercise in learning about who you are and what you’re made of. Traveling is also an excuse to eat, eat more, and eat often. Within the last year, I have been thinking a lot about how food can be used as a tool to help grow empathy, gain insight and understanding about people and cultures. Think about it for a second, food is one way that we form social bonds, deepen relationships and find kinship. It’s the basis of my current research, and the reason that I was selected to participate in this exchange. England did not disappoint me in terms of its cuisine, thanks to its immigrants. The food that wowed me and that transported my tastebuds were Indian and Middle Eastern/Israeli. I would have loved to have eaten more and delved into other cuisines, but what I did eat, was incredible.


Balti Central restaurant in Northampton
http://www.balti-central.co.uk
15 Mare Fair, Northampton NN1 1SR, UK

First was Balti Central restaurant in Northampton. What is Balti you ask? Well, fuck, I’m not really sure. I had to Google that shit. I found Madhur Jaffrey discussing it and she thought Balti cuisine, which was conjured up in Birmingham in the 70s, was a passing trend. The term Balti references the cooking vessel in which the dish (usually meat) is cooked in. Jaffrey “dismissed the dish as 'a craze' with 'no authentic origin' and predicted 'it will slowly die' in this country.” But questions about authenticity aside, the food was fucking delicious. The restaurant produced family sized naan, which would have been more aptly named, city-sized naan. The fucking thing was massive and could feed a Dothraki horde. The curries were rich, flavourful and were so good they brought tears to my dinner companions’ eyes (*name withheld to protect their identity). I do wish that the food had more heat (spice, not thermal). I really do like it when my Indian food bites back. However, I have to remember that this is England, and their intended audience is white and British. The dish that made my taste buds sing and nearly weep with joy was their Balti Central Spicy Rice. It was like an Indian version of fried rice with the addition of hot green chilies and spices. Need I say it again?!? #riceisbae. And, this dish, is my number one true love. It was everything I could ever want in a dish. Spicy, fragrant, perfectly cooked rice with sharp bits of green chilies that sent my sinuses into overdrive and made my mouth water instantly. I still think about that rice. It was everything I ever wanted and needed in a rice dish.

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Honey & Co.
https://honeyandco.co.uk/
25 Warren St, Fitzrovia, London W1T 5LZ, UK

The next place I ate at that I feel is more than worth mentioning is Honey and Co. It feels like walking into your friend’s home. The staff greeted me, a lone diner, with the warmth of an old friend. I sat in the counter window where I contemplated that menu for what seemed like forever. The thing about dining alone is, I don’t get to share food with anyone. If I make a choice and I don’t like it, I’m stuck with it! Fuuuuck me. I don’t like having limited choices… I sometimes think about if I ever got sent to prison (not suggesting that I’m on some self-destructive path to get there... but, you know, life is unpredictable and who knows what life has in store for any of us) how I would be subject to a new kind of suffering. One predicated on routine and shit food, day after day until my sentence was over. But, I digress. This experience was definitely not that. This was magical. This was eating in a way that made my whole body and mind happy.

At my server’s suggestion, I ordered the Pomegranate Chicken with a cracked wheat salad. The chicken was flavoursome, moist, and tender - generally a beautiful bonus of using dark meat. The marinade was rich, slightly sweet from pomegranate molasses and warm with spices. The salad was one of the best I’ve ever had. There are few salads that rival this one. The cracked wheat was tender and chewy. The salad was smattered with toasted pistachios and almonds, fresh mint and sweet, tart, ruby red pomegranate seeds gleefully burst as I chewed. The addition of currants provided a sweet earthiness that rounded out the salad. A wonderful contrast of textures and flavours that I did not get tired of eating.

I ate the entire dish. This is an unusual occurrence for me. I guess between the insane amounts of walking and the general desire to eat everything, I was primed for this meal. But, in all honesty, it was so good that I HAD to finish it. It was fresh, filling, healthy and so, so tasty. I completed my meal with rose petal and cinnamon tea. A must if you decide to eat here. It was the perfect cap to a truly delicious meal.

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Ottolenghi's in Spitalfields
https://ottolenghi.co.uk/spitalfields
50 Artillery Lane, London E1 7LJ

On my last Sunday morning in London I had woken up ravenous and lazy. I had a hankering for a meal that was last-day-in-London-worthy. I am normally not a brunch person. I think brunch is such a waste of money. TBH, (not to brag or anything) I make way better eggs at home.

However, I wasn’t about to make my own breakfast that day. I was staying at an Airbnb in Shoreditch just off of Bricklane and I had my eyes set on The Breakfast Club. It was close to where I was staying and it had decent reviews. However, the long-ass line to get a table dissuaded me from waiting around. And, I am so, so glad that I ended up where I did. Sometimes, if you follow your gut (a.k.a. hunger pangs), you just end up in the right place.

Ottolenghi's is located in close proximity to The Breakfast Club. I walked up to the entrance and it was bathed in morning light. The simple, clean lines of the spacious and airy room were a welcome reprieve from the chaos and busyness of London. Smiles from the staff broke the morning cobwebs from my brain and made me a little less pre-coffee crotechty. The floor manager and I chatted and the fate of my breakfast was decided by coin toss, I was either going to have the shakshuka or the Welsh rarebit. The coin somersaulted through the air and revealed heads. Shakshuka was the decided breakfast. She told me that people had travelled from Israel to try that dish and after eating it, I understood why. I would travel from anywhere to eat that dish. It has changed all expectations about what a really good shakshuka should be. It was absolute perfection. Braised peppers and onions, cooked until soft, sweet and jammy. The rich tomato sauce flecked with crumbly, crunchy bits of freshly roasted cumin and other earthy spices. The dish was topped with rich and cool, tangy labneh. Verdant cilantro offered brightness and sparkle to the rich dish. The grilled focaccia served was the contrasting textures of crisp and chewy carbohydrate-y goodness. As I think about it now, I’m salivating.

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Being able to travel, learn and immerse myself in another world while still a student is a luxury that not all can afford. I recognize my privilege here. I am so grateful for this opportunity. I saw, did, and ate incredible things. I clearly haven’t written about everything that I’ve eaten. It would turn this blog post into a novella. But, I have to give honourable mention to the most unreal spring rolls I have ever eaten, in Northampton at Eat Saigon. Or, the amazing gin cocktails that I drank many of at various establishments, but I was particularly fond of Market Tavern Pub & Kitchen Northampton. Or, the most satisfying vegan pie and cheesy mash that I ate in Oxford at the Pieminister. And, last, but not least, the incredible steak dinner that I ate at the Porterhouse Grill in Oxford.

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Thanks for the memories!
 

That's B for Badass Mom

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Stories of badass women who chase their dreams and build their lives through grit, perseverance and iron-clad will, will forever inspire me. I didn’t know that when I posted my last blog post about my own mom, I would have another opportunity to write about someone else's mom. I have been lucky enough to meet a friend's mom who has a food story worth telling.

On Facebook, my friend was reaching out to food bloggers in Toronto to cover her mom’s new spot. She told me that her mom just took over a restaurant called The Fresh Italian Eatery. She promised me scrumptious eats and delicious conversation. An offer that I could not refuse. It’s winter in Toronto and the only thing worth eating right now is carbs, amirite? Normally, a restaurant opening of any kind wouldn’t elicit from me any response other than “oh, cool!” But this time was different. Ms. Kim is a Korean woman who decided to create Italian food in downtown Toronto. Whoa. I was undeniably intrigued. I was certain there had to be an interesting backstory to this cultural mashup. This wasn’t going to be a story of some white dude who decided to open a taco joint because he really likes tacos and stayed in a resort in Mexico *that one time*. I was stoked to find out about how Ms. Kim came to be an owner of The Fresh Italian Eatery.

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When I arrived at The Village by the Grange, Ms. Kim’s smile literally beamed. Some welcome warmth from the blustery winter cold. If you know nothing about The Village by The Grange - know that it’s a great food hub. It’s located close to U of T, 52 Division, OCAD and the Art Gallery of Ontario. If you’re in the neighbourhood, you certainly should make a point of popping in. You can find all kinds of delectable goods in this little complex with a random mix-up of fare. If you don’t believe me, check out this blog post from BlogTo - Village by the Grange is Toronto’s Most Underrated Food Court (Note - that some of the tenants have changed since this was posted in 2016).

Ms. Kim and I didn’t do a whole lot of conversing. But, it is overwhelmingly evident that Ms. Kim is warm, generous, and kind-hearted. I would also eventually discover she can make a meeeeaaaan lasagna. Ms. Kim decided to purchase The Fresh Italian Eatery after a terrible fiasco with her former sublessor to whom she diligently paid rent, but who readily took her money and had failed to pay the landlord, for two whole years. The small space that she was subletting was in arrears and she lost her business, as she had no rights as a sublessee. This was an unimaginable position to be in. She was responsible, hardworking, and had always paid her rent on time. She had done everything right. But, an unscrupulous asshole pocketed her hard-earned cash, leading to the demise of her little business. When shit hits the fan what do you do? You can cry and wallow for a little while. You are definitely allowed to feel all of your shitty feelings. But, eventually, you have to pick yourself up and figure it out. 

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In 2012, The Fresh Italian Eatery was opened by Marco. He prepared his nonna’s recipes including fresh and well made pastas, beautiful eggplant parmesan sandwiches and homemade chicken noodle soup. However, in just a few years after opening, he had a change of heart and decided to sell his business. And, this is where Ms. Kim came upon her next business venture after her devastating loss. This time, however, she had an opportunity to own her very own business where she had autonomy and control.

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As mentioned earlier, Ms. Kim is Korean, born and raised. She had literally zero reference point for the flavour of marinara sauce, ravioli and eggplant parmesan sandwiches, far less how to prepare these carbolicious delights. But, she learned how to create these Italian recipes from Marco via his nonna, and perfected them with the help of her friends and family who happily taste tested and provided feedback along the way. Wonderfully fresh sauces full of juicy ripe tomato flavour, pastas cooked al dente, and, a mouth-watering lasagna that I bought two containers of, to share with my partner and friend. It was saucy, cheesy and beefy. Each bite was delicious. If you find your way lingering around Dundas and McCaul - I highly recommend visiting Fresh Italian Eatery. Or, eating your way around The Grange. This is mall food I can get behind.

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Goodbye 2017 - YER MOM! Actually... my mom...

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We are winding down the last bit of this shitshow of a year. I’m eager to say goodbye and good riddance to this bullshit called 2017. All my bad feelings felt through 2017 were placated through the magical powers of food and booze. A special shout out here to red wine, whiskey and pho. You truly made 2017 bearable.

This year I ate at my favourite places, new places, cheap places, fancy places, local places and international places. I ate like my life depended on it. I ate with reckless abandon fueled by gluttony, hunger and desire. I ate and regretted nothing. However, the one thing that I missed more than anything during my crazy busy piece-of-shit year where I left a job, started grad school, traveled through Ireland and Scotland and dealt with the shit that is life in general, was my mom’s cooking.

My mom is a fierce, tiny brown lady, with short hair and a Trini accent that becomes most perceptible when she’s speaking with close friends and family. She moved to Canada about 50 years ago from a small town near Sangre Grande in the northern part of Trinidad. When I’ve asked her why she chose Canada, she nonchalantly replies that it felt like it was the best option.  She knew she wanted to leave Trinidad because she saw no real future for herself there. She had no interest in moving to the US (thank fuck!) and she wasn’t sold on England. So, here we are, in Toronto, Canada, in -20 weather freezing our balls off.

My mom making rotis, circa 1970's

My mom making rotis, circa 1970's

Two things that I can definitely say about my mom, first, she is my biggest supporter and fan and two, she. can. cook. She can conjure up doubles, rotis, curries and provision soup at break-neck speed. Her adeptness in the kitchen is both admirable and awe-inspiring. Everything she makes is delicious (except pelau with pigeon peas. Because pigeon peas taste like what I imagine pigeon shit to taste like). I have yet to see her use a recipe for anything she’s ever made (except cheesecake). Her homemade pepper sauce is the standard that I hold all hot sauce to, a balanced, flavourful sauce that is blazing hot, with the requisite fiery aftermath that will make your toilet cry. Her ability to make the most boring ingredients into something mouth wateringly delicious is a gift. If anyone wonders where I got my love for food and eating, it is without question, as a result of my mom’s cooking and incessant need to feed. If you go to her house, she will strongly encourage you to eat. You, in fact, can’t leave her house without eating something, unless you want to cause great offence. Consider yourself warned, if you are eating at my mom’s house make sure you wear your “fat” pants.

Doubles

Doubles

I have many food memories from my mom’s kitchen. Like stealing pieces of stewed chicken simmering on the stove. Or, arms dripping in juices from picking apart curried crab that was served over dumplings. Or, shoving hot, torn pieces of freshly cooked buss-up-shut (a flaky, layered roti, usually served with some type of curry or my personal fave, pumpkin) into my mouth, after being “clapped” and busted apart. When I was in my teens, I would sometimes sit on the counter and watch my mom move about the kitchen dropping aromatics into sizzling pots, rolling out rotis into the most perfect rounds or making currants rolls (a flaky pastry, sprinkled with currants and sugar and rolled up and baked until lightly brown). I found comfort and enjoyment in being there. She and I chatted and connected through these moments in the kitchen. Most of the time I would help her out, but sometimes I liked just sitting in the kitchen with her. What I understood food to be early on, was love, comfort, connection, and nourishment.

Being in grad school full-time has cost me my evenings, weekends, a social life, working out, and being carefree and unencumbered. I’ve had little time for anything, like going to my mom’s house and leisurely eating my way through the various Corelle serving dishes filled with different stews, meats, veggies and carbs. But, eating at her house during Christmas is an experience. I usually put in my request for my favourite thing, doubles beforehand. I wouldn’t want to be remiss of this treat. This year was no different. When I departed her house on Christmas night I had a large reusable grocery bag filled to the top with her delectable goods. Which I have been eating this entire week. Eating my mom’s food at the end of this year felt like the soul, energy and psychic repair that I needed after what has undoubtedly been a challenging and stressful year.

Christmas dinner 2017

Christmas dinner 2017

Now that this year is finally coming to a close I send a special shout-out to my mom, because she is the best. I hope that everyone finds their peace and gathers their energy and positivity to step forward into 2018.

Have a wonderful, safe, joyful, fun and truly magical end of year. I hope that 2018 makes you happily forget 2017.

Happy New Year, friends.

R&B love song

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Brothers Food and Wine
1240 Bay St (Bay St/Bloor St)
416-804-6066

I am writing this review, or should I say ode to Brothers, unexpectedly, today. I had all the intentions of writing about whisk(e)y for this blog post (which will come, I promise). But, last night, I had a glorious meal that left me *shook*. For months, I have been planning on eating at Brothers Food and Wine. I have read about it, most notably, in the NYT: A Toronto Restaurant Both Simple and Iconoclastic. And, with all my reading and research about Toronto restaurants, Brothers was right on the top of my list of restaurants I must patron.

Reading about food can be a challenge of sorts. It definitely tells you about how good (or not so good) the food is, but until you eat it, you just can’t know. It’s the equivalent of reading an article about Bali. You can read interesting facts and figures, see beautiful images of the rice terraces and stretches of black sand beaches with hammocks hung between giant palms, but you can never really know what it’s like until you go there. But, what reading about these things can do, is give you a sense of what it is like and inspire the fuck out of you to visit that place. The way I was highly inspired to go Brothers. Food is the luxury that some of us can afford. It’s undoubtedly more affordable than traveling to Bali.

I arrived at Brothers one hour earlier than my reservation time. I had finished an appointment and thought I would grab a cocktail somewhere. But, on a whim, I decided to pop by the restaurant to see if they could accommodate this party of one. They did so with open arms, quite literally. One thing you will observe is the warm invitation to the steady stream of guests who enter the restaurant. Sometimes arms outstretched, handshakes offered, and always with a warm and gracious smile. I’m of the opinion that Torontonians are often haughty and unfriendly, but this is certainly not the case here.

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The restaurant has long, clean lines. White subway tiles frame the back wall of the bar, which cheekily pay tribute to the not so clean or beautiful TTC station next door. I sidled up to the long, wooden bar to one of the most delicious wines I’ve had in ages. It was a 2012 Grenache Noir from Boulevard Napoleon, Languedoc, France. #ohmyfuckinggawd. This wine was expressive and fruit forward. Think ripe summer berries. It has low tannins and light acidity. It was sophisticated, interesting, and fills the mouth with a big juicy flavour, but balances with a toasty and ever so slight bitter finish.

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I sat attentive to the room around me. I was ravished by the scents. Hot plates drifted by offering intoxicating aromas of butter, cream, charred bits and garlic. The pace of the restaurant was decidedly unhurried. The dim lighting and excellent selection of music were juuuuuust right.  Featured artists that night included D’Angelo and Frank Ocean. It put me in a super sexy eating mood.

Our first plates arrived. Crunchy, fresh puntarelle with umami anchovies and pungent garlic. Perfectly fried sweetbreads, soft with a little bounce, paired beautifully with sour cabbage and bitter, but tender radicchio. And, last, but certainly not least, rich but fresh mackerel crudo with acidic and sweet green grapes, fresh sprigs of dill and pebbly crushed black pepper. All the plates, completely destroyed. So. Good.

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We shared two mains. First was a plump portion of Halibut which fell apart at the gentlest probing served with a beautiful beurre blanc that was decadent tasting but, still light and silky smooth. The counterpoint to this rich dish was grilled hispi cabbage adding a lovely depth with its charred leaves and bitterness. The pork was a massive meat chop with cross-hatched skin for maximum crunch. The skin crackled and reluctantly gave way to my teeth as I ate it. The fat from the skin rendered as I chewed. It was like the very best chicharon. The sides were a succulent creamed corn, with sweet, crisp kernels and a green sauce - a concoction of mixed herbs that added some needed brightness to the heavier meat and cream. We destroyed both fucking plates. Left nothing. Not a morsel nor a crumb. My mom would have been so proud of me. Gold star for finishing my food.

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I didn’t really need to eat more, but I did. Fuck, we were already here, we would be remiss if we left without trying dessert. In front of me was a slice of exquisite pie. A ricotta tart served with stewed plums. Each fluffy and decadent mouthful was superb. The crust was rich and crumbly, if just a little too heavy on the edges. The filling was thick, soft and moist with an ever so slight crumbly curd synonymous with ricotta.

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The meal ended with me in a state of elation. I got home, showered, and fell into the most magical food coma. Like a travel book that inspires you to board planes and escape the monotony of life. I hope Brothers inspires you to quit the banality of the every day for a few hours and dwell in a warm place and a good meal while D’Angelo serenades you.

Memories of Ireland: Meat, Potatoes and Batty Blinks

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A fair number of people had warned me about the food in Ireland, tossing around adjectives like basic, boring and bland. I was a tad wary, but somehow I was mostly optimistic. I could fathom a fairly educated guess that the food in Ireland has evolved significantly in the last decade. Things like international travel, media, global influence, immigration, the expansion of foodieism – specifically those of us who travel to eat would not have gone unnoticed to anyone with eyes or ears in the food world.

That said, I still had a modicum of skepticism. It lingered like a noxious odour and sat uncomfortably in the back of mind. Could all the warnings be true? (No) Could the food scene be an absolute shit show? (Not at all) Will I be eating potatoes every day? (Yes, but mostly by choice) Like all foodies, finding great food in any place is a challenge accepted. Throw me anywhere and I will make it my personal undertaking to have the best fucking meal in the whole fucking place. I will read, research, scour all the websites, blogs and articles for information. I will personally reach out to bloggers in a given city for recommendations. I will talk to random strangers and hotel guests as well as anyone who seems like they wouldn’t mind chatting with me to provide their personal suggestions. My incessant prodding is undoubtedly rewarded.

While what is deemed good food is a matter of personal taste, there are, however, prerequisites and conditions that are universal and inescapable. Quality of the ingredients, expertise in preparation, the thought and skill of combining flavours, textures, ingredients and of course, the sheer beauty of a dish. However, it takes more than good food to make eating out worthwhile. Excellence in service, ambiance, and overall experience all count in the dining world. And for me it counts for a fucking lot. As someone who pays for all of her meals, if I’m throwing down cash to eat, it better be worth it.

Travelling to Ireland has been a hundred percent worth it. I had some spectacular and memorable meals. Some of these meals could be legacies of the chef, restaurant or city. They were worthwhile eats, for damn sure. And, I feel so lucky that I have had the opportunity to dine in these places.  My first stop, Dublin.

The Old Spot
http://theoldspot.ie
14 Bath Ave., Dublin 4, Ireland
35316605599

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When I arrived in Ireland, I had just journeyed across land and ocean, engaged in nearly every revolting mode of public transit, and, I survived economy class on Air Canada. I was famished and desperately in need of an alcoholic beverage. I needed to satiate my desires somewhere that felt both celebratory and comforting. I had done the work, looked into potential options and the Old Spot was the chosen one.

The room is warm, inviting and a hub for locals. It’s a wonderful respite from Dublin City Centre and Temple Bar. But not so far away that it feels like an onerous trek. Really, just jump in a cab and in a quick 10 minute ride you're there. The service is outstanding – generous and skilled. The bar has a solid selection of draught and a notable selection of whiskey (take note that the Irish spell Whiskey with the “e,” unlike the Scots. But, more on Whiskey/Whisky/Scotch another day). Also available is another notable tipple called poitín. If you have not yet suffered this poison, you really should give it a go. It is the distilled alcohol captured before being aged in oak barrels to become whiskey. It is reminiscent of swallowing a fiery hot coal and the aftermath is Chernobyl-like radiation emanating from your oesophagus. It’s an experience. But, I drank it more than once, so how bad could it be, right?!?

For dinner, we ordered the heirloom tomato salad with basil, burrata, black olives and parmesan; stuffed squid with romesco, crispy calamari, olives and aioli; and The Old Spot cheese burger served with fries. This is my kinda threesome. The food was well executed, flavourful and seasoned. The salad was fresh and the burrata was buttery, creamy and soft. The burger was big, beefy and savoury.

The star of the show, however, was the calamari. It left me weak-kneed and swooning. It was stuffed with a mouthwatering filling of breadcrumbs, sultanas, squid heads, lemon zest and parsley. I am going to be honest here. I failed to inquire about this at the time of my meal. Something I would normally would not do but, I was so enamored with it while I was eating, I forgot to ask #nolie. I understand my failings reporting on this, but fuck, it was delicious and I was enjoying my fucking meal and I was a few drinks in at this point. So, I had to email the restaurant under the guise of allergy considerations. They graciously responded and informed me about squid stuffing. Reinforcing how excellent their service really is.  

The romanesco sauce was rich and aromatic but gave the dish levity with its acid and freshness. The crispy calamari that was scattered around the plate lacked any greasiness characteristic of deep fried foods. The aioli was pungent with garlic and added silkiness to the dish. Not a morsel of anything was left behind.

Pho Viet
http://www.phoviet.ie
162 Parnell Street, Dublin
01 8783165

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I don’t know if you know this but Ireland is fucking cold even in August, much to my chagrin. I understood that the temperatures were cooler, but I had NO CLUE that I was going to be freezing my tits off. So while in Ireland, I had to buy multiple sweaters a.k.a. jumpers, if we’re using the appropriate vernacular, to insulate myself (and my tits) from the cold. You may have also heard, it also rains a fucking tonne too. On one of those cold and rainy days I decided that I needed something warm, comforting and non-potato. Pho was summoning me. The pho was unbelievably delicious. The last thing I expected to be eating and singing the praises of in Ireland, was pho. But, this was so damn good that I had to write something about it.

The restaurant is what you’d expect of an inexpensive pho restaurant. It’s got  bamboo chopsticks, functional tables and an extensive menu. The service is brisk, polite and efficient.

But we came for the broth and it is the most magical mindfuck. It was perfectly clear, light tasting, yet, complex and flavourful. You taste the richness of bones and catch the fragrance of anise. It is a steam bath for your face and a warm, satisfying hug for your belly. I ordered the Veg Pho because sometimes I actually #adult and eat my veggies, which were aplenty and cooked to the prerequisite al dente. Whole mushrooms, cubes of tofu, broccoli, carrots, spring onion, mint, cilantro and fresh sliced chilies for good measure. It was one of the best things I ate when I was in Ireland or, anywhere, ever, for that matter.

~  Intermission for descriptions of things other than food ~

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We travelled many frightening, winding and exceptionally constricted roads to get to Dingle. In all honesty, portions of the drive were death defying. In Caribbean terms, it made my *batty blink* (translation: when you involuntarily clench your ass in fear/self-preservation) more than once. That said, in all of my travels, Ireland, without question, has some of the most striking and magnificent sceneries I have ever seen. The Slea Head drive was postcard perfect. Rugged black cliffs etched over time by rough and nebulous blue waters. Sheep that dot the verdant and expansive rolling landscape. I was awed. I was humbled. I doubt I will ever be present somewhere as beautiful, ever again.

The Skipper
No website
Main Street, Ventry, Co. Kerry, Ireland
+353 66 915 9853

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The white knuckle, batty-blinking drive around Slea Head, left me famished. Shortly after exiting our B&B, we ran into a lovely older English couple. A short but sweet conversation ensued. They mentioned a rustic and magical seafood restaurant aptly named The Skipper where they ate on  two consecutive nights because the food was so damn good. They said the chef was French and the seafood was spectacular. Fuck yea – all the seafood for me!

Ireland has some astonishingly, fresh and diverse seafood offerings. The Skipper, offered just that and had the bonus of a gorgeous view of Ventry Beach which is located just a few meters away. After carefully selecting the wine and vigilantly examining the menu, we ordered grilled lobster (obvs), pan-fried ray wing (as in sting ray) in a caper cream sauce and a necessary fresh green salad accompanied by warm baguette oozing in sexy, creamy, decadent brie cheese. If there was ever a cheese porno, Ms. Brie Rotic would be the slutty star.

The lobster was transported to the table in full glory. It was severed down the middle and presented on a platter with two ramekins of liquefied butter, along with sections of lemon, and a few wedges of potato. It needed nothing else. It was simple, delicious, and sweet. The delicate smoke offered from the grill was the perfect enhancement to the moist and easily ribboned flesh. We ate every morsel in near perfect silence.

I had never eaten stingray wing before and I had no idea what to expect. It was delectable, moist, white-fleshed with cartilage that ran through the middle of the wing. It was remarkably tasty and delicate. The subtle cream sauce and briny capers added the necessary salinity and richness. The flesh and sauce were unctuous and worked in harmony.

This restaurant perfectly encapsulates for me what eating in a different country is all about. It had scenic views, a lovely wine list, adept service and food that was anything but ordinary. The act of eating at the restaurant felt like an experience.

Ard Bia at Nimmos
http://www.ardbia.com/
Spanish Arch, Long Walk
Galway, H91 E9XA

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One morning after a night of drinking and debauchery I, by some miracle, managed to wake up early enough, hungry enough, and sober enough to want breakfast. My travel companions, however, did not. They missed breakfast altogether. A real misfortune. In my last day in Galway I was motivated to eat something memorable and guaranteed to be delicious, so I strolled over to Ard Bia at Nimmos, a former boathouse located next to the Spanish Arch which was built in the 16th century. The cool grey granite with a single red door beckons all to come in.

Upon arrival at Ard Bia at Nimmos, I was seduced by the scent of freshly baked goods, fresh coffee and a counter full of glorious pastries, pies, cakes, breads. My mouth watered with desire and anticipation. I wanted to eat ALL THE THINGS I saw. Instead, I opted to dine in for breakfast at a long, wooden communal table in a cozy and inviting dining room and ordered from their succinct brunch menu. At the server’s suggestion I selected the Colleran’s honey baked ham which consisted of three generous slices of ham, served with two exquisitely poached eggs, a sweet and savoury tomato relish, sautéed spinach, a herbed hollandaise all atop a toasted English (or I guess, Irish???) muffin. Breakfast bliss.

This brunch was the amalgam of all the right things. I left the restaurant completely contented.

"The ice-cream man puts boogies in your ice-cream!" and other lies my mom told me.

My ears would immediately perk at that tinny, tinkling of childhood music on loop that is synonymous with ice-cream trucks. That music would beckon me. I would immediately bolt over to my parents to beg and plead for a one dollar bill that had been haphazardly shoved deep into a pant pocket or purse. The bills pressed into my palm would often still be warm, soft and crumpled. That dollar bill meant the world to me. I would run full tilt like a doped-up Ben Johnson for that truck. Everything that meant anything to me in that moment came in a chocolate/vanilla twist on a basic bitch cone.

My request for a dollar was not always an easy solicitation. It sometimes took expert level CSIS-like negotiations with my Trinidadian mom, who, without fail, would readily attempt to dissuade me from acquiring said dollar and consequently, my ice-cream. One of the many childhood lies she told me was that, “de ice-cream man put he boogahs in de ice-cream!” This statement would ultimately be followed up with the rhetorical “you want to eat dat?!” I would react as children do with the standard *epic eyeroll* and also a “Yasssss mom, I want ice-cream!” Sometimes, my mom would get extra creative. In a succession of lies that got more and more questionable, she would up the gross factor to “when de ice-cream man use de batroom - you tink he washin’ he hands?!?! You see a sink in dey?!?!”  My response would be something like, “Moooooommmmm - stop! I don’t care! I WANT ice-cream!” All I wanted was that sweet, dairy-laden, fluffy, soft, swirly dream in my mouth.

I don’t care that you *think* that there are boogies in the ice-cream. I don’t care if he didn’t wash his hands after going to the bathroom. I don’t care that I will ultimately drop melted ice-cream on my lap or on my freshly laundered outfit. And, I don’t care that it’s going to melt all down my arm and dry into a sticky and uncomfortable mess. I. DON’T. CARE. I. WANT. ICE-CREAM.

And, those were the beginnings of this ice-cream aficionado. I have been honing and vehemently defending my ice-cream eating since childhood. I have developed a deep appreciation for the cold, creamy, and sometimes “radically” flavoured treat. My tastes have matured and the kind of ice-cream that I now eat, is more than just soft-serve from an ice-cream truck. Though I’m not too big, too sophisticated or too fancy to eat that too.

I’ve eaten more soft serve ice-cream in the last few weeks than you can imagine. Different flavours, textures and varying degrees of deliciousness.

My criteria for soft-serve is: the product is sweet but, not cloyingly so. The texture is silky and smooth. There’s something interesting, perhaps even novel about it (otherwise, I would just chase a truck). The flavour is as advertised. If you say that something tastes like strawberry - it better fucking taste like strawberry. And, lastly, if I’m eating it, I actually want to continue eating it.

In no particular order:

iHalo Krunch - ube/coconut charcoal swirl on a charcoal waffle cone
http://ihalo-krunch.business.site
915 Queen St W (Queen St W/Strachan Ave)
647-505-3777

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Not only does this spot produce contemporary art-like ice-cream, they make flavours that are dream-tacular. And, while I like vanilla and chocolate just fine, I’d much rather eat ube and coconut! I ate this ice-cream with reckless abandon at Trinity Bellwoods Park. As I sat on the bench, happily licking my ice-cream it began to melt. A giant blob of this sticky purply-black liquid landed right on my crotch… like, RIGHT ON IT. I didn’t even give a shit. I just kept eating my ice-cream because it was creamy, decadent and so fucking good. What made it truly outstanding was that fresh, light, slightly sweet, crisp waffle cone. It was like eating the bestest, freshest fortune cookie in conical formation. The cone paired with the tropical and luxurious ice-cream is heart emoji eyes forever.

Tsujiri - Green Matcha Tsujiri Sundae
http://tsujiri-global.com
147 Dundas St W (Dundas St W/Elizabeth St)
647-351-7899

Smooth and soft-like suede is how I’d describe this matcha ice-cream. Definitely present are the fresh, grassy, toasty and herbaceous notes that matcha is known for. This sundae gets added texture and flavour from mochi, roasted chestnut, dry cereal and sweet adzuki beans. All of the elements are jewels that enhance the ice-cream rather than complicate it. I’m so into this ice-cream.

Charidise - Mango Waltz Sundae
https://www.charidise.com
27 Baldwin St (Baldwin St/Henry St)
647-351-6555

You may be recognizing from my selection so far that I like an ice-cream upgrade. This sundae had #allthethings. It was sweet, creamy vanilla, soft serve, studded with morsels of pillowy, tangy, housemade cheesecake, crumbled feuilletine and a thick, juicy mango sauce. It was #sofuckinggood. It was well balanced and exactly what I was hoping for. I stumbled upon Charadise as I was walking to another soft-serve destination. The promise of mango stopped me dead in my tracks. I went to Charadise instead of the other spot I had planned on. I regret nothing.

La Diperie - L’Après - Match - Dark Chocolate, Salted Pretzels, Caramel Ganache
http://www.ladiperie.com
372 Danforth Ave
416-901-7130

La Diperie was the place that I felt I could most authentically express my inner glutton child. The shop has bright robin’s egg blue walls with a few blackboard walls with their extensive menu scrawled in colourful chalk. That ice-cream made my day. It was a mini cone and it was absolute perfection. The sweet vanilla soft serve got a bolster of flavour from rich dark chocolate dip, thick, sticky caramel ganache and crunchy, salty pretzels. The flavour and texture were delicious and well-balanced. I would eat this again in a heartbeat.

Grk Ygrt - Cherry Cheesecake
https://www.grkygrt.biz
291 August Ave (Agusta Ave/Oxford St)
647-345-0136

I fucking hate when people ask, “you wanna go for frozen yogurt?” My response is usually something like, “Fuck no. No, I don’t. Why eat frozen yogurt when I can just eat ice-cream?” Needless to say, it’s a one-time question from the person asking. However, there is ONE place I will break this rule for. JUST ONE. Because it is some damn fine frozen yogurt goodness. Grk Ygrt gets my full #respect. I had their cherry cheesecake parfait/sundae (I’m not sure what to call it). The yogurt was sweet and tangy,  refreshing and indulgent. I would have just as eagerly eaten this frozen yogurt without any accoutrements and it would have been just as glorious.   

 

    

 

 

    

 

Rice is Bae

kimchi fried rice with fried egg

An obvious truth - water is wet. Obvious truth number two - I fucking love rice. I have a few favorite go-tos after a night of partying. There are the usual and expected standbys, such as pizza, poutine and street meat. However, there is one that reigns supreme - Chinese food. I, like so many others, have undoubtedly tripped, swayed and staggered my way into an all night Chinese eatery post-party. They are safe havens after a night of debauchery. No matter what time or, how booze infused I am, a Chinese restaurant is open to serve me (and every other drunkard) piles of steaming, cornstarch varnished, soul-satisfying delectables. Rice is a cotton ball for your liquor-filled gut. It has the ability to save you from a desperate and shameful night of toilet bowl clutching, projectile vomit exorcism. Or, not.

But, as a lifelong rice eater, I would like to present fact number three, not all rice is created equal. I hate garbage white rice. Even worse, that shit that comes in a box with the bald guy on it. Dafuq?! That’s not rice. THAT’S NOT RICE. Rice, growing up in my household, came in giant bags that took two people to load onto the bottom of the cart at Knob Hill Farms. Then you filled the two black boxes on that top of your cart with all the meats, veggies and legumes that were inevitably be served atop all that rice.

Rice can save lives. Rice is goddamn delicious in all of its iterations. Rice is often among my first thoughts when contemplating what I want to eat. It is my soul food, my comfort food. Some people desire mac and cheese, fried chicken or burgers. Not me. Nuh uh. Those food items do not speak to me the way rice does. So, when I need carb loading/loving rice, there are some places in Toronto that are truly exceptional and where rice is the show.

In no particular order some of my favourite rice in the city:

Jackpot Chicken - Schmaltzy Rice
http://www.jackpotchickenrice.com
318 Spadina Avenue (Spadina Ave/Dundas St W)
416-792-8628

The first time I ate the rice at Jackpot chicken I stopped talking, sat in silence and marvelled at the rice. I think I repeated *at least* a dozen times while I was eating, how good the rice was. I was rice-notized. So. Damn. Good. What makes this rice delicious, no doubt, is the schmaltz and the fragrant pandan leaves. It is damn fine rice. The schmaltz adds body and rich savoury flavour which pairs perfectly poached haianese-style chicken.  Thank you Jackpot for your contribution to my #ricelife.

Baro - OG Duck Chaufa
http://barotoronto.com
485 King St W (King St W/Spadina Ave)
416-363-8388

I thought I KNEW the best fried rice until I ate THIS fried rice. This fried rice changed everything. I sat eating this fried rice simultaneously wanting to eat ALL of it in one sitting, but also wanting to hoard it for future me for fried rice snacks. I couldn’t get enough of this rice. I would honestly go to Baro just to just eat this rice. This fried rice is a concoction of duck confit, edamame, egg, some kind of voodoo magic called papi kung fu, chili and tobiko. It’s savoury, slightly sweet, chewy, umami and the rice is cooked perfectly. The tobiko lends textural contrast with little *pops* as you chew. Duck confit in fried rice, genius. Fucking genius.

Miss Korea - Rice Cakes
https://www.facebook.com/MISSKOREATORONTO/
687 Yonge Street (Yonge St/Charles St E)
Toronto, Ontario, ON M4Y 2B2

Thick, chewy rice cakes in a luscious, spicy gochujang sauce. The spice level is perfect - enough heat to prickle your tongue and make your nose run. The humble rice cakes are filling and absorbent. If you have not sunk your teeth into these fiery, fat, chewy pillows, you must. Chewy rice cakes + spicy chili + beer = emoji heart eyes X 1000. They are the most perfect drinking food.

Kiin - Rice Salad
http://www.kiintoronto.com
326 Adelaide St W (Adelaide St W/E Peter St Adelaide)
(647) 490-5040

If you have not eaten here yet, you really should. The food is not just good, it’s stunningly gorgeous and incredibly satisfying. Every morsel is a dazzling work of art. Chef Nuit brings exceptional talent and beauty to her creations. The Rice Salad here is an exquisite and colourful composition of all vegan ingredients, including fragrant lemongrass, punchy pomelo, lingering heat from chillies and textual contrast from peanuts, toasted coconut and cucumber. You need to eat this shit, pronto.

Congee Queen - Corn and Taro Congee
http://www.congeequeen.com
Various locations around the GTA

When I need some extra deep lovin’, I head to Congee Queen. It is thick, rich and satisfying bowls of warmth. As an avid rice lover, this form of porridge-y rice is perhaps, not for everyone. But then, perhaps, you are not for me. If you can’t get on board with a rice soup that is creamy, gorgeously flavoured with ginger, sesame and scallions and perhaps, a heap of chilli oil, then you got #problems. They delicate flavours of this soup makes it a favorite for me when I’m sick or when it’s cold, or when I just need some extra TLC. I often find myself drawn to the veggie options, especially the Taro and Corn version. It is thick, white, warm liquid that just glides down your throat… I’ll leave that riiiiight there.

 

 

I got crabs... to eat, I mean

market crabs

I was an oversubscribed child of immigrants. I was registered in ALL the classes within a 10-kilometer radius of my house. I’m certain my parents wanted to ensure that I didn’t end up a degenerate – immigrant parents’ collective nightmare. So, as immigrant parents do, they put me in everything that they could afford - ballet, karate, swimming, piano, figure skating and Kumon, so that I never had to engage with the rest of the riff raff (read: normal children) that would undoubtedly lower me to the depths of social and moral depravity. For the record, Kumon didn’t help. Decades later I still get math headaches and sweat when I have to fuck with numbers and an Excel spreadsheet. However, my need to be constantly engaged in some kind of activity hasn’t changed.

It’s the long weekend and I need to get out and do stuff. More specifically, I need to EAT stuff. Long weekends are an opportunity to capitalize on downtown closures and head out to the ‘burbs’ for delicious sustenance. I have a hankering for seafood and pungent flavours. Today’s road trip takes me to Fishman Lobster Clubhouse Restaurant on the Scarborough/Markham border. (#ScarboroughRepresent) It’s time to enjoy the cuisine of the Chinese immigrants who know how to perfectly crispy fry shellfish and assemble them into towers that look like architectural feats.

I turn into a heart-eyed emoji face every time I see the images posted on Instagram and Facebook. I have been waiting to go here for some time and today is my *big day*. Fuuuuuuck yeeeeaaaaaa! However, there are only two diners at my table today. So, towers of lobster to feed 50 people is not happening. Instead, I turn my eye to my actual favourite sea creature to devour. Crab. Crab wins on every front for me. You crack open that mean, shrapnel-like shell to reveal fibers of sweet, tender white meat. Something about crab is just so much more satisfying to me than lobster. Maybe I like how hard I have to work for it. But, mostly, I am enamored by its ability to stand up to robust flavours and searing scoville heat despite its delicate flavor and texture.

After you’ve placed your order, the server brings you the sea creature that is ultimately sacrificed for your gluttony. It’s alive and wriggling and so, so fresh. I see it and say a silent thank you to the crab and literally cannot wait to devour it. We wait. And, we wait. And, we wait some more. It takes waaaay too long for my ass. However, as I’m waiting, I have time to observe that the room is crowded with boisterous diners. The look of excitement and absolute astonishment never stops as tables get their food. Two servers are required to hoist a giant platter onto a nearby table. TWO SERVERS! Then, soon afterwards, without any pomp or ceremony, my little crab heap for two appears. But, fuck, it looks so good.

crab

It’s smokin’ hot, the crab is piled atop e-fu noodles, with lots of tender greens and whole cloves of powerful stir-fried garlic. This dish is small, but it’s mighty. I can’t wait to sink my teeth into the delicious crab bits. And, without fail, it’s like an R&B love song in my mouth - all sexy and shit. This crab is perfectly cooked, deep-fried and lightly greasy on my lips. We eat the entire meal in virtual silence. Stopping only to mutter from time to time how tasty the crab is and to take a swig of Tsing Tao beer the perfect beverage for this meal. 

crab and e-fu noodles

The e-fu noodles, however, leave a lot to be desired. I know noodles are simply flavour absorption devices. But, damn, carbs are so fucking good – don’t mess with that shit. The noodles were pale, overcooked and limp. They lacked the spring and the characteristic yellow hue of egg noodles. The greens, however, were delightful. The side dish and the stir-fried greens in the crab dish offered bitter and refreshing bites, contrasting beautifully the sweet and oil slick crab.

side greens

Dessert is warm sweet black sesame soup, but it falls flat. It lacks viscosity and the rich toasty fragrance of sesame. I guess after eating excessive amounts of seafood, dessert isn’t most peoples highest priority… unless you’re me. I want to be dazzled and shit. I didn't even take a picture because it was really rather underwhelming.

Things to note if eating here, the restaurant takes debit and cash only. The menu is a bit pricey – so if you’d like to save a few bucks, go for lunch and order off of the lunch menu. It’s best to go with a group, but that said, I thoroughly enjoyed going as a party of two. I would definitely come back because the seafood is so fresh and well prepared, but the next time it’s going to be with a whole crew of people to take on that lobster tower.

 

 

 

Self-care with Booze and Patios

Work. It’s another day of absolute fuckery. Inevitably, it’s the kind of day where other people’s bitching and complaining leave me rolling my eyes and swearing under my breath. I steel up and grit my teeth through another stressful day. I wish I had a flask full of bourbon in my desk. I. Fucking. Wish. But it appears that things like “policy”, “rules” and “civility” stand in my way.

My imagination is my saviour and I am transported to far more delicious places. My thoughts inevitably land on draaaanks. No. Not fucking drinks. DRANKS. It’s a vulgar colloquialism, but my term of choice here. For example, “let’s end this piece-of-a-shit-day with a proper drank.” Dranks, to me, refer to the kind of beverage that will help you forget, or, at least, soften the blow of a bullshit day. This is not a swirl-sniff-sip relax and unwind kind of day. It just isn’t. This is a day that requires delicious poison poured into a lowball glass served neat to help take the edge off.

There is only one thing that can improve this hooch running down my esophagus. A patio. Celebrating summer with drinks on a patio is the BEST. Patios are indicative of warm temperatures, fewer clothes, and the city, alight with life. The parks become retreats for every apartment, condo, and tiny-adobe dweller. People are finally out talking, drinking, eating, spending time connecting, and being community. I fucking love this city in the summer. The *ultimate* summer Toronto pastime is people watching while having a drink on a patio.

If I were to tell you my 5 favourite patios to drink fine tipple and watch gorgeous people, it would be these establishments listed below (in no particular order):


Rasa
http://rasabar.ca/
196 Robert St (Spadina Ave/Harbord Ave)
(647) 350-8221

People-gaze and have a cocktail on this wrap-around patio. Every time I walk into this restaurant, I instantly relax. It feels good to be here. The service is always warm, knowledgeable and gracious. The food is fabulous. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention their chopped salad, which is an utter textural delight, and of course their gloriously delectable burger. Beyond their food offerings you can always rely on a delicious and well-executed cocktail from their bar.

The best day to go is a Monday. They have a $40 set menu for dinner and wonderful things to drink, like $5 wine and spirits, and $6 beer (selected menu). They often have a live performance. Take note, their patio is no reservations, so get there early to take in all the delicious sights.

El Rey
http://elreybar.com/
2A Kensington Ave (Spadina Ave/Dundas St W)
Phone # N/A

Your secrets are just NOT safe here. The smoky and mysterious cousin of tequila, mezcal is the drink of choice at this bar. Mezcal, according to Wikipedia, is distinctive because it is produced from the heart of the agave plant, whereas, tequila is made specifically from blue agave. But, who the fuck cares? All you need to know is, it’s delicious, smoky and intense. If you fancy a cocktail, they have that too. But, I generally like to drink some mezcal chased with beer. What can I tell you – it’s been a hard day and the wooden benches and chill servers aren’t judging me.

You’ll definitely need some food to sop off that mess of liquor. I highly recommend the scrumptious chorizo sopé and magical mushroom empanadas. And, no lie, for some reason, I can’t stop ordering the food item called “crispy things.” I think it’s the hot sauce. No. For sure, it’s the hot sauce.

Northwood
http://northwoodto.ca/
815 Bloor St W (Bloor St W and equidistant to Christie St/Ossington Ave)

This patio has seen me drink a LOT of delicious alcoholic beverages. I have had some drunken naps in Christie Pits Park post-Northwood drinks. No lie. I do NOT recommend this, as the raccoons like to spoon. And, believe me, they are always the *big* spoon.

The cocktails here are FANTASTIC and the service is cool and adept. I almost always order an Old Fashioned, but their extensive cocktail menu is a brilliant ode to spirits. The Lady Earl Grey is magnificent rye and lemon cocktail. It strikes the perfect balance of pucker and spice. The Northwood website boasts that it is the only cocktail that has made it through every menu iteration.

Bar Raval
http://www.thisisbarraval.com/
505 College St (College St and Bathurst Ave)
Phone: 647-344-8001

Bar Raval is a summer staple for me. I love seafood, tapas and cava. The standing room only patio is small and lively. It feels like a bit of a getaway every time I’m there. Which is always a nice reprieve after a crappy-ass day.

The Absinthe Minded cocktail is clearly one way to forget. I really love absinthe, I like the way it smells and tastes, and I really like the way it makes me feel - like a fucking fairy. You are in capable hands here. The bar and in the kitchen produce lovely concoctions. The Spanish menu is meat, cheese and seafood heavy, as one would expect. The kitchen bread is luscious and umami, the blistered shishito peppers (if they’re on the menu) are fresh and slightly bitter bites. But, one of my absolute favourites, are the razor clams. Part of it is simply that I’m partial to razor clams. But, the other part is, they are just so damn good.

Cold Tea                
Website: N/A
60 Kensington Ave
Phone: N/A

Cold Tea will probably always and forever be one of my favourite watering holes. It’s the gritty nonchalance, masterfully crafted cocktails, dim-sum counter, and unsuspecting location that make it an experience. It feels true to Kensington Market and, it makes my heart pitter-patter. When I order a drank here, I usually tell them my spirit of choice and let them create whatever they like. Despite the extremely casual nature of the joint, expect expertly made drinks with prices that reflect that.

The patio in the back is relaxed and always packed. Cold Tea is the kind of place where people like to say they’ve been and know about, so it’s usually bumping. The constant ode to hip-hop and the excellent drinks keep the usuals, usual. They also do brunch on Sundays, so check that shit out. I like to grab a drink after work on a Friday in the summer. Not too many people are here straight out of work, so it’s a good place to grab a stiff one and sit outdoors and mull over the bullshit that is life.