Saturday, June 30, 2007
This was our first time so we didn't really know where we were going, but you honestly can smell the barbecue goodness a mile off. Before you can get to the rib area, you need to go through the small midway set up with carnival rides, games, and lots of food that will stop your heart (cotton candy, donuts, french fries, corn dogs, sausages on a bun, funnel cake, caramel corn, bloomin' onions, etc.).
The rib area was fabulously organized with all of the stands next to each other facing the same direction with plenty of space in front for long lineups to form. Every stand served the same things (ribs, chicken, pulled pork sandwiches, beans, cornbread, coleslaw) for the same prices so all you needed to do was make a completely superficial and uninformed decision on which one to try.
By eavesdropping on conversations, we learned that some people went wherever the line was the longest (because that must mean it's good) while others went to the shortest because they couldn't wait. We scanned the signage and tried to let the advertising lure us in ('Cooked Over Open Flame', 'Bone-suckin' Good', 'Voted Best BBQ in the United States', 'Put Some South in your Mouth', 'Best Butt in Canada', 'Slow Smoked Texas Style'). I got seduced by one that said it was 'a K.C. Legend - Best Ribs in North America'. In truth, this 'Kansas City' joint is actually from Toronto (Bad Wolf Barbecue), so don't believe everything you read. But, I think every place is pretty decent so you can't make a wrong move.
We got a half rack of ribs for Darcy and a pulled pork sandwich for me. The pork in my sandwich was delicious and velvety soft. Definitely the best I've ever had. The sauce was maybe a tiny bit too vinegary for me, but the meat was dressed lightly so it was okay. Overall, excellent sandwich on a nice fresh bun. Darcy really enjoyed his ribs as well.
After taking a walk around the grounds, we went back for more. This time we went for the Texas-style BBQ (Silver Bullet BBQ), which didn't have much of a line-up but proved to be excellent nevertheless. I was too full to get another pork sandwich, but I wanted to compare so I asked for a little bit of just the pork with my half rack, which she sweetly gave me for free. Darcy liked these ribs even better than the other ones. I had a couple and they were very tender with a nice, spicy sauce. The pork had a great, spicy sauce too. I would have loved to have the shredded pork from the first place combined with the sauce from the second.
Afterward, to cleanse the palate, we got a roasted corn on the cob. They had heated vats of melted butter that they would dunk your cob in of desired, but I need a break from grease, so I had it au naturel and it was sweet and delicious -- a very nice tonic after the heavy meat and sauce.
We ate at about 3PM, but Darcy didn't have anything to eat for the rest of the day. It really is all you need. I wish I could say I didn't eat again tonight either, but skipping meals makes me uncomfortable. I'm going to have to go for an extra long run tomorrow. But, it was worth it.
Monday, June 25, 2007
On Saturday night at Diane's dinner party, my good friend Darryl lent me a book written by Andrew Kaufman (brother of his 'crazy friend Liz') called All My Friends are Superheroes. This wonderfully original and hilarious little book (106 pages) is published by Coach House Books, which is a miniscule independent publishing house that operates out of an actual old coach house in the Annex. After a little research (aka surfing), I learned that they published early works of Michael Ondaatje and Guy Maddin (crazy Canadian filmmaker).
I started reading this little treasure on the long subway ride from Victoria Park to Runnymede and I was engrossed. In a nutshell, the story is about a regular man who marries a superhero, The Perfectionist (her power is making everything perfect), but she is hypnotized to believe that he is invisible so she thinks he has abandoned her. The story is about trying to get her to see him before it's too late.
I won't spoil the story for you, but there is a fun part where he talks about you, the reader, finding your own superhero name. You need to boil down your personality and abilities into one phrase or image even if it's what you hate the most about yourself. That's tough. I'm not sure if I can come up with my own original one, but I think I resemble The Sloth the most (see page 74). You should read this book. It's amazing.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
I was all set to love this place and I did. We were both starving, so we ordered a feast including gyoza, crab and cucumber sunomono, and a mess o' sushi.
You can't really go wrong with gyoza. My mom makes it with ground pork and tonnes of vegetables like garlic chives and Chinese cabbage, and she pan-fries it before finishing it off with steam. Like most places, Ematei's gyoza is mostly meat and they deep fry it, but even so it was yummy.
The sunomono had such an interesting presentation. I was expecting a mixed crab and cucumber salad, but instead it came as a kind of salad maki sushi with ginger, shiso, and crab wrapped with a long, paper-thin slices of cucumber. It was beautiful and delicious, bathed in a light vinegar dressing.
The sushi was fantastic. The first piece I had was the tamago (egg) and I couldn't believe how light, fluffy, and eggy it was. All of the fish was exceptionally fresh including the roe, which was mild and only faintly salty. We actually ordered a bit more than we could handle (a first for me with sushi) and we had to sadly leave a few pieces behind. I love love loved this place and it has catapulted into my favourite Japanese restaurant in the city.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
When I got home tonight, the black chicken was already roasting in the oven after getting a simple rubbing of vegetable oil. We wanted to keep it really plain so that we could taste the meat. I called Darcy from work this morning to ask him to slit the skin somewhere and take a picture of the uncooked meat. When raw, the meat is a dark, purplish colour like the raw skin.
We didn't know how long to roast it and we definitely didn't want to undercook it, so we kept the 1-1/2 pound bird in at 350 for 55 minutes. It smelled just like white chicken and was making lovely sizzling roasting sounds.
Even though the head and feet were long gone and the bird was roasted and smelling like food, I still felt strangely close to this chicken. It was like we had gone through something together, so even the cooked carcass seemed to have some residual personality.
When I managed to cut into it, I was a disappointed to see that the meat actually turns white when cooked. In my imagination, I pictured cutting into a jet black bird with jet black meat and bones. I think I was a bit naive. The bones also are not really dark either. The only dark parts are the skin and connective tissues, which are a sort of blue black colour. It looks like the black connective tissue sort of stains the bones so they are darker in some places and quite light in others.
The meat tasted, well, like chicken (sorry, couldn't resist). It was very lean, a bit on the dry side, and very mild. I expected some gaminess since it's such an exotic bird, but it was pretty plain. I can see why it is better to stew it or put it in soup. I ate two tiny slices of the scrawny breast and a little bit of a leg and then called it a day. Darcy couldn't eat any because he was so put off by the colour.
When Marcelo and I were talking about the chicken yesterday, he wondered why our city's frou frou Asian fusion cooks don't use it as an ingredient for its visual appeal. I can see now why they don't. It's pretty ugly. The purplish skin makes it like eating a bruise. It takes some getting used to. So, I guess this chicken is eaten mostly for its nutrients rather than its taste. That's an excellent reason to eat something, but I don't think I'll be having another one soon. But, what an adventure it has been.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
When I'm in Chinatown, I like to try to blend in and pretend I'm Chinese, so I just keep quiet and make like I know what I'm doing (so far from the truth). The black-boned chickens (they labelled them Silky Chicken) were in a display case just like any supermarket and I was relieved that I didn't have to ask the butcher for it (so I could keep up my charade). It was in styrofoam and shrink wrap just like any little chicken anywhere. Next to the shrink-wrapped ones were some in plastic bags that obviously had their feet as well as their heads. I thought to myself, "thank goodness there are these nice, pre-butchered ones." I proudly carried my purchases in white Hua Sheng bags and hopped on the Spadina streetcar, looking for all the world like a Chinese girl.
I got home and started Googling recipes. I think that since these birds are so small and lean, they need to be stewed or made into soup rather than being roasted. I wasn't about to face cutting up the entire carcass, so I figured I'd just roast it anyway and see what it looked/tasted like.
So, remember how glad I was that MY chicken was pre-butchered and had no legs, feet, or head? Um, well, actually, the legs/feet were tucked in the south cavity and the head was folded under and flattened against the styrofoam backing. And I'm all like, "hey, I can do this. I love food." I pulled the first foot out of the cavity and I literally shrieked. It was under tension inside that cavity so it sort of boomeranged out at me and it was ENORMOUS with big, black claws. When I bent the knee joint to put the foot back in the cavity, the fingers flexed like they were gripping something.
I was sweating. What do I do? I can't do this. Should I throw it away? Should I bring it over to my neighbour even though she just bought one yesterday? I wrapped it up again, put it in a plastic bag, and tied it up tight as if it might get out.
I was all alone because Darcy was at soccer and I needed to talk to someone, so I called Marcelo who I knew was at a stag night. Thankfully he answered, but it was really loud where he was so I basically bellowed this whole story to him at the top of my lungs. I confessed to him that I might have to bag the entire operation and he countered that I HAD to get through this. My good friend Amanda was at the stag too so he passed me to her. After hearing the story, her sage advice was to take the bird to a butcher and have him cut off the head and feet for me. After I hung up with her, I called my mom thinking she must have cut a head off a chicken before, but she hadn't. Her equally sage advice was to just keep the feet and head on and roast it as is. I know what this sounds like. How may chickens have I eaten in my life and never considered as animals who used to be able to eat, sleep, and flex their feet? This is a great lesson for my Canadian, sanitized, spoiled self.
So after drinking some whiskey (I rarely drink at home, but I really felt like I needed it) and watching 2 hours of Last Comic Standing, Darcy came home and we cut off the head and feet together. He'd never done it before either, but he's much less of a wimp than me. He found the appropriate points and applied the extra force needed to cut through the bones. I feel like we've crossed some kind of threshold. As soon as the head and feet were gone, it looked so benign. Just like any other chicken, but black (purplish really).
It's 1AM now so no black chicken for dinner tonight. I'm toasting an English muffin and calling it a day. Tomorrow, we're cooking it. I'll tell you all about it. I couldn't resist posting this last picture. Doesn't it remind you of Gollum from Lord of the Rings?
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
I did a little cursory research and I read that they've been raised in China for the past 2,000 years and now there are several different kinds. Some have black feathers; some have white, but you can tell if its bones are black by looking at its tongue (black tongue = black bones). Their feathers are silky, almost like fur, and in the States among other countries they are kept as pets. Silly Americans.
I've never seen anything like it before. It was so cool. I can't imagine what black meat and bones look like. If you're curious and want to try one, Jasmine bought hers at Hua Sheng Supermarket at 293 Spadina Ave. I may have to go get one myself.
Thursday, June 7, 2007
We're partial to the fish and clams, but they also have scallops. Darcy had a two piece fish and fries, I had a one piece, and Koto had clam and fries with a piece of fish on the side. When the waitress brought us our food, she assumed that the one piece was for my tiny sister and the overflowing plate was for me. :( Very honest mistake. Who are we kidding here.
Everything was sublime. They change their oil often so everthing always tastes fresh and crisp. The fries are homemade and the fish is moist and juicy (so much better than the monkfish the other night at the 'nouvelle cuisine' place). On the tables they have copious amounts of all the condiments you would need: white vinegar, malt vinegar, ketchup, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Tartar sauce and coleslaw comes with everything.
If you're looking for fish and chips around here, there is no place else that comes close.
Tuesday, June 5, 2007
Right off the top, I have to say that I must guard this blog from my new personal trainer with my life. If she knew what I've ingested and how lazy I've been for the past five days, I think she'd discharge me from her care. So, if you see her, remember that you know nothing.
Zen Chinese Cuisine - Dim Sum
Immediately after getting off the plane on Saturday, Mom, Dad, Darcy, Koto, and I went straight to Zen Chinese Cuisine in Clayton Park for dim sum. We've been going there for something like 10-15 years and it used to be the best dim sum in town, but we think the chef has changed and it's not nearly as good as it was. But, mediocre dim sum is better than no dim sum at all.
As usual, we had fried taro (mashed taro and pork deep-fried like a croquette), Chinese broccoli with garlic, a spring roll (for my sister and Darcy), black bean spareribs, curry squid, pan-fried radish cake, rice rolls with shrimp, tripe, shumai (pork dumplings), bbq pork buns, sticky rice (wrapped in banana leaf), bean curd wrap (pork filling wrapped with tofu skin), and shrimp dumplings. In addition, we thought we'd strike out and try something new: chicken feet. They were okay, but fatty and a lot of work (many bones). The steamed things like the shumai, shrimp dumplings, and bbq pork buns were very good. Some other things were tasty, but I think they were sitting around for a while so they were lukewarm (e.g. the radish cake, rice rolls). And other things weren't very good at all like the squid (watery sauce), tripe (no flavour), and the sticky rice (bland). They forgot one of our dumpling orders, so the owner gave us some free egg tarts, which are basically a heart attack waiting to happen (lard crust and egg yolk custard), but I loved them and ate two (blush). So, overall not the greatest. If we have time next Saturday before we go, we're going to try a Northern Chinese place or The Great Wall.
The Deck - Ice Cream
Immediately after that we went, luggage and all, to visit the house that my parents are having built on a piece of ocean front land about an hour or so outside of Halifax. It's in a tiny fishing community with people who have lived there so long that the streets are named after them. It's completely quiet and peaceful out there and there's nothing but a combination coffee shop/post office/ice cream stand/movie store. So, of course, we got ice cream. Coffee flavour - yum. The house is coming along and hopefully we'll be able to spend long, lazy days out there starting this fall.
Clearwater - Lobsters
On the way back home with luggage still in the trunk, we stopped by at Clearwater to buy lobsters for dinner. Clearwater has been around for as long as I can remember and they're definitely the most famous seafood retailer in Halifax. They're pretty glitzy now and they have a location at the airport where they can pack lobsters for you to take on your flight to your land-locked destination. They have a huge multi-chambered tank with lobsters sorted by size. It didn't come out very well in the picture, but some of the lobsters were the size of a robust chicken. We usually get the smaller ones. They're tastier, I think. At the checkout, my dad got a little miffed with the customer service, so we didn't buy anything and went down the street to the Fisherman's Market instead.
Fisherman's Market - Better Lobsters
Fisherman's Market is a much more down-to-earth place and it was packed with people. And the lobster was $3 less per pound. AND we got served by an adorable, very fishermany, young guy. It was win-win. When we got home, we boiled the lobsters and had them with melted butter and lemon. This is really the only way to have lobster. Well, except for lobster rolls; they're good too. On the side, we had asparagus with parmesan and fried eggs on top. I think this is a French recipe. My uncle visited us a while back and made this for us (he was living in Paris). You just steam the asparagus, fry some eggs so the yolks are still runny, put them on top, sprinkle with parmesan, and then cut the eggs into pieces so that the yolk and cheese run everywhere and cover the asparagus. So good. And fat free! Kidding, of course.
Soba with Mom
The next day, I was absolutely exhausted, so I opted out of golf. Koto, Darcy, and Dad left at about 9AM to drive to the valley. I, on the other hand, stayed in bed until 12:30 (14 hours of sleep) and stumbled into the kitchen where my Mom had yummy hot soba noodle soup made for the two of us. This is one of my favourite things in the world. It's a fish stock base (very healthy) with buckwheat noodles, green onions, thinly-sliced pork, and a boiled egg. Sprinkled on top is something called 'shichimi', which Wikipedia says is a combination of chili pepper, mandarin orange peel, sesame seed, poppy seed, hemp seed, nori (seaweed), and sansho (Sichuan pepper). My mom brought the noodles back from Japan last week and they were really nice and substantial. Yum. I could eat this every day. I also had some pretty rice crackers (also just brought back from Japan). Some were sweet; some salty.
Chicken Karage and things
After those guys got back from golf, we had chicken karage which is basically Japanese fried chicken. The chicken is coated in a thin layer of cornstarch, deep-fried, and then topped with a sauce made of vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, and green onions. The cornstarch layer is so thin that the chicken is really crispy without being greasy. On the side we had typical Japanese things like silken tofu with ginger and green onions, sunomono (seaweed and cucumber vinegary salad -- I'm hopeless at making this), spinach in fish stock, and broccoli.
Gourmadises Avenue - Birthday Cake
For dessert, Mom got us a birthday cake from Gourmandises Avenue which is a French patisserie in Cow Bay. Koto and Darcy's birthdays just passed and mine is coming up, so it was a joint unbirthday cake. The patissiers at this bakery are from France and have worked in 5-star hotels and Michelin-rated restaurants. I'm not sure how or why they ended up in Cow Bay, Nova Scotia, but we're lucky they did. They sell their desserts at the Halifax Farmers Market and I hear that they sell out every week. Their cakes are very complex with lots of layers, flavours, and decorations. Our birthday cake was mango coconut. It was too sweet for some of our tastes, but it was good. And it had lots of yummy white chocolate pieces on top.
Okonomiyaki for Lunch
The next day, Mom and Dad slaved away to make us okonomiyaki for lunch. Okonomiyaki is basically a kind of pancake where the batter is mixed with cabbage, pork, and shrimp (or anything else you want to throw in). Once cooked, the whole thing is topped with a savoury sauce and mayonnaise and sprinkled with bonito (fish) flakes and aonori (seaweed). It was awesome. It isn't too difficult to make at home, but if you want to try it somewhere first, Okonomi House in Toronto has good ones (but not as good as my mom and dad's).
Puppy for Dinner
Just kidding. Later on that night, Darcy and I went to visit his brother and they have a 9-week old chocolate lab puppy. She was very adorable and full of energy. And it turns out that she likes beer. Darcy fed her a little bit and she couldn't get enough. Then she had puppy beer breath.
Best Rhubarb Cake Ever from Darcy's Mom
Earlier in the evening, we visited Darcy's parents and his mom made this rhubarb cake that was a soft biscuit crust (half white flour; half whole wheat) topped with rhubarb, cinnamon, white and brown sugar. It was to die for. I loved it so much. At their house, I ate a piece the size of a generous serving of lasagna with vanilla ice cream. We brought some more home for my parents and I had a couple of more small pieces. If I had this cake at a bakery, I'd buy it every day. I think it's my favourite dessert in the world. I guess it's a good thing that I won't have further access to it.
Cora's Breakfast and Lunch
On both Tuesday and Wednesday I had brunchy dates with old friends at Cora's Breakfast and Lunch. Cora's is a chain that started in Montreal, I think. I remember a location there back in the early 90's when I was going to university. It has since expanded across Canada from Newfoundland to Alberta.
You know, if I ever wanted to open a restaurant, I would have a brunch place. People LOVE brunch. The menu is simple, the food costs are low, and you close at 3. And honestly, the quality doesn't have to be that good to please people. Don't get me wrong. Cora's is a great place for brunch with lots of fun, decadent things on the menu. I love going there. But, my advice is to stay away from anything fresh (fruit, salad, etc.) because the produce is a little suspect. It may be crisp if you get there on the right day, but at times it is wilted.
Regardless, I had some yummy things here. When I met Annette, we both ordered the Decadent (or was it Delectable?) Salad, which was mesclun, apple slices, cheese, strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, and hard-boiled egg with sliced crepes (ham and cheese; spinach and swiss) on the side. It came with bottled water and we both had the fruit cocktail of the day, butI totally forget what was in it. It was a delicious brunch and even semi-healthy.
When I met Paula there today, it was sort of early (and we were planning on playing golf later) so I dove right in and had Eggs Benedict with potatoes and fruit. The thing about Eggs Benedict is that it really can't be bad. Runny poached eggs, salty ham, English muffin, and buttery Hollandaise. Yum. The potatoes were sort of undercooked and burnt at the same time, but not so much that I didn't eat every single piece. Koto had the 'Gargatuan Feast' (two eggs, bacon, ham, sausage, pancake, creton a.k.a. pork spread, toast, and fruit). Darcy had the 'Construction Plate' (3 eggs, 4 sausages, potatoes, and toast), and Paula had something I can't remember the name of but it was brioche French toast with an egg, bacon, and fruit on top. Brunch is happy time.
Fid Cuisine Inventive
Last night, we all went for dinner at a 'nouvelle cuisine' place in Halifax called Fid. My mom met the chef a while ago because he is always at the Saturday Halifax Farmers Market. I've been having a little ethical struggle lately about criticizing restaurants. I mean, who am I to go to a place and judge every little thing? I suppose that going out to dinner, especially to an expensive place, is kind of an investment in money and time, so I appreciate finding out beforehand what people really thought of the place. But, it makes me feel a little guilty about dumping on someone's honest efforts to create and serve food. I also feel bad when I go for a meal with someone and we have a nice time and then they read later in this blog that I actually hated the food. Or, if it is someone's favourite place and I poo all over it. That being said, here is what I thought about Fid.
The chef, Dennis Johnston, wasn't in the kitchen last night. The waiter told us that he was out for dinner somewhere else. Apparently, he is usually there every day and we were just really unlucky. But, a mark of a good chef is if you can train your staff well enough so that your absence is unnoticeable. Um, I'll get back to that later.
Before our first course, they gave us an amuse bouche (free tiny appetizer). It was basically a fresh salsa made out of itty bitty diced cucumber and peppers, topped with an almond and some sort of leaf, and served in an Asian noodle soup spoon. It tasted like watery cucumber.
For my appetizer, I ordered the fish soup special, which I think is made from a classic French recipe. It's a rusty coloured puree with condiments on the side like grated cheese, croutons, and rouille (tomato garlic mayonnaise). There was a terrible bone in it and it was lukewarm, but it was tasty.
Between courses, they gave us some sorbet to clear the palate, I suppose. It was flavoured with orange and thai basil and it was pretty bad. I don't think they added any sugar to it at all, so it tasted like watery, frozen basil.
For my main I thought I would order a local fish since this is the Maritimes. I had the monkfish with fiddleheads, chanterelle mushrooms, and quinoa. The quinoa (at least I think it was quinoa) was very light, fluffy, and delicious. The fiddleheads were nice too and didn't taste like dirt as they usually do. The mushrooms were grilled, but tasted burnt and the fish was tepid.
For dessert, we shared an apple tarte tatin with vanilla ice cream and a parmesan crisp on top. I think the glaze was supposed to be caramelized, but it was overcooked so it tasted acrid. My mom thought the presentation made it look like Hiroshima (i.e. nuclear bomb mushroom cloud).
After dessert they have us some free homemade caramels with tiny almond cookies. Um, are caramels supposed to be grainy with sugar?
Anyway, my parents have been to this restaurant at least 5 times and apparently it's their friends' favourite place, but I can't see why. Maybe when the chef is in the kitchen, it's completely different. We were one of three tables occupied, so it's not like they were busy. It was an open kitchen and I think that the number of cooks was roughly the same as the number of patrons. If you want to go out for a semi-fancy dinner in Halifax, I think you're better off going to Jane's on the Common.
Fong's Chinese Restaurant - Chinese Food in Cole Harbour
After golf today, Mom and Dad had an appointment so we were on own for dinner and we failed miserably. Possibilities were either to drive out to Musquodoboit Harbour and have fish and chips, have a barbecue in the backyard, or go to Fong's for some dirty (i.e. good but nasty) Chinese food. I was outvoted (I wanted to BBQ), so Fong's it was. Now, it's not that I'm too good for it (far from it), but I've been feeling very guilty about my nutrition and Fong's is one of the only Chinese places that has almost no vegetables on the menu.
We got the dirtiest thing on the menu, which was Combo #5 -- chicken balls (yup, I know), chicken fried rice (not even a green onion in it), and egg rolls that basically have dog food in them. The good news is that Koto and I shared a combo, so at least we didn't eat a lot of it.
Well, now we're all caught up. And I'm 5 lbs heavier. Before I come home to Toronto, there is still fish and chips to be had as well as Japanese food at Doraku Japanese Cuisine. Since last month, Doraku is being operated by some old friends of the family, so we want to check it out. I bet it's good. I'll tell you all about it.