Sunday, February 18, 2007

Brunch at Mildred Pierce, Japanese Design 100 at the Design Exchange

To celebrate my dearest Darryl's birthday and upcoming trip to New Zealand and Australia (he leaves tomorrow at 9AM), we met for the most decadent brunch at Mildred Pierce.

Mildred Pierce is sort of a quietly famous Toronto restaurant that is just celebrating its 15th anniversary. I can't seem to find any succinct research on its history, but I know that its reputation and success was built by Donna Dooher, a now famous chef, cookbook writer, and FoodTV host. In the same building is Donna's cooking school called The Cookworks, which Diane and Dennis attended and said it was excellent (they learned how to properly debone a chicken -- apparently it's easy if you know how).

The restaurant is in a very out-of-the-way, secluded street parallel to and south of Queen at Dovercourt. This morning I was running late, of course, and I realized that I had left the house with only a vague idea of how to get there. I got off the streetcar at Dovercourt and saw Darryl's familiar form in the distance and ran like crazy to catch up with him before he disappeared down the rabbit hole. It turns out that I only had to go straight and the place was right there. They don't take reservations for Sunday Brunch, so we got there at 9:30 in anticipation of the doors opening at 10.

While we waited outside in the freezing cold and wind, the loudspeakers outside the restaurant were playing Beastie Boys -- very odd. Maybe that's what the cooks were listening to in the kitchen while they were prepping? We were the only ones in line until about 9:45AM when streams of attractive, affulent, apres-ski-looking folks started pouring into the parking lot.

They opened the door promptly at 10 and we got what I think is the best table in the place -- a round one in the corner to one side of the door so there was natural light, privacy, and a good view of everyone waiting to get in (yes, I know, schadenfreude).

We started with delicious freshly squeezed orange juice, which actually was freshly squeezed from actual oranges. In addition, Darryl and I had Lemon Ginger Fizzes, which were tall glasses brimming with ice, lemonade, soda, and ginger syrup -- yum. The combination was delicate and refreshing -- almost as good as those sublime fruit drinks Marcelo and I had to Goa in December.

Next we all had either scones or buttermilk biscuits. I saw scones being made on TV once and I was surprised by how heavy they were (cream, butter, etc.). I had them on only two other occasions before, I think -- once at the King Eddie for high tea and once at a high tea-themed dinner party hosted by a friend who is a former pastry chef. The ones I had before were soft and smooth, much like Darcy's biscuits. These ones at Mildred Pierce were SO heavy and full of butter. One order comes with two scones and I'm so glad that Michael and I decided to split it. They were so buttery that it really was like eating a croissant in a different shape. They were delicious, of course, but kind of obscene -- like eating deep-fried bacon. I think I actually prefer lighter ones.

As for the entree, my heart wanted the Eggs Benedict on croissant with smoked salmon, but Michael and Diane were getting that and I wanted to see a variety of things on the table. That was a mistake. Michael's Eggs Benedict was the most decadent, delicious thing I have ever eaten (he sweetly let me have quite a bit of his since I was eyeing it so jealously). The croissant was homemade (also very buttery), the yolk was runny, and the sauce was incredible. If you are someone who enjoys savoury dishes for brunch (as opposed to French toast, pancakes, etc), you must not order anything else. It was outstanding.

As for me, I order the Green Eggs and Ham, which was scrambled eggs with spinach accompanied by a small ham steak, fried potatoes, and a buttermilk biscuit. I had expected the eggs to be flecked with spinach, but they were actually completely and uniformly green. They must have mixed the eggs with spinach juice. It was very surreal and sort of Alice in Wonderland, which was fun. The eggs didn't taste like spinach at all though. The potatoes were deep-fried and the biscuit looked more like puffed pastry due to all the butter. I ate everything except the biscuit (I took it home in an adorable doggy bag) and I felt like I had enough fuel to climb a mountain.

Dennis and Darryl had the cinnamon brioche French toast and Louis had the omelette of the day (goat cheese, mushroom, and spinach, I think). I noticed that they made Louis' omelette just like professional cooking schools tell you to make it. I took a food theory course at George Brown a couple of years ago and they said that the proper, traditional, French way of making an omelette is to cook it so that the egg doesn't have any browned areas and is completely yellow. Louis' omelette would have gotten an A+.

Darryl said, while we were waiting in line, that Mildred Pierce is so over the top (in decadence), but they do it so well. That is exactly right. The food was heavy and buttery, but expertly made. And the portions are just right -- not too much; not too little. They really know what they are doing. I'd recommend brunch at Mildred Pierce to anyone, but be prepared to abandon any heart healthy ideas you might have. And get there early. 9:45 should be fine.

Afterwards, I went all by my onesy to the Japanese Design Today 100 show at the Design Exchange. I had invited everyone to come with me, but no one was into it and it was just as well since the show was quite underwhelming. I had gone to the Italian Design show at the ROM in January, which was fabulous and really showed, I think, pieces that reflect the magic (I know that sounds corny) of Italian design. This show looked like a collection of 'All the Japanese Things That We Can Find Without Looking Too Hard'. They had 100 pieces that were supposed to represent the best of contemporary Japanese design in everyday objects (furniture, dishes, electronics, etc.), but I feel like I saw cooler stuff when I went to an ordinary electronics store in Tokyo in 1994.

The show didn't come close to capturing what is great about Japanese design, which I think is understatement, efficiency, and a kind of sensitivity. There weren't any pieces that struck you as particularly novel or ingenious (although the salt and pepper shakers pictured here were cute). One really great Japanese design that has been copied all over the place is the Akari lights by Isamu Noguchi. He made many, beautiful light shades (basically light sculptures), but in this show they only had one, which they displayed on the floor cluttered with lots of other things (and ironically, my picture of it came out blurry). I think what made this show so unimpressive was both the selection of objects and how they were displayed. I can see now how difficult it is to design an exhibit because how things are presented really makes a difference, but you don't notice it until it's done badly (I guess that's the case with everything). I took lots of pictures though, if you'd like to see him. Maybe I'm just jaded. Tell me what you think of the show.

I had arrived at the Design Exchange pretty much at noon on the dot (when it opened), so for the most part I had the place to myself. By the time I left an hour later, there were at least 15-20 people there, I think. I'm glad to see that people come out for these shows, but it's too bad that this one didn't do the subject justice. I hate to end on such a sour note. On the upside, there were these really cute elephant sculptures across the street.

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