Monday, July 30, 2007

Cutest Dinner Ever

Tonight Darcy went to see Zappa Plays Zappa with his friend Jeff at the Hummingbird Centre, so he made dinner and left a plate for me in the fridge all ready to microwave. I was so exhausted and hungry with a splitting headache, so it was such a nice surprise. And it was yummy. Oven-fried chicken (Darcy's secret recipe), mashed potatoes, and green peas. Yum.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

World's Longest Brunch at Mildred Pierce

Today, my favourite food-loving friends and I went to the eagerly anticipated World's Longest Brunch at Mildred Pierce. It was an event put on to mark the closing of the restaurant after 17 years in business as well as an attempt to break a Guinness world record for having the most people seated at the same table for brunch.

You would think that serving brunch to 400 people at the same table would be a nightmare, but as usual they made it look easy and beautiful. It was one long, continuous table (stretching down Lisgar Street), but logistically it was organized into sections of 8. All of the food was served family-style from common platters and self-serve coffee stations were set up, so reliance on waitstaff was kept to a minimum. The table was covered with checkered plastic tablecloths, decorated with gorgeous sunflower centrepieces, and shaded by lovely white awnings.

We started with freshly-squeezed orange juice and baskets of scones and biscuits accompanied by homemade strawberry jam. There was enough for everyone to have one of each. The scones and biscuits were basically butter with a little bit of flour, I think. So, so buttery.

Next came the Tomato, Basil and Asiago Tart served with lightly dressed mixed greens and crispy bacon. The tart was fanastic. I had seen this tart on the menu many times, but I always had to have the Veda's Choice (eggs benedict), so I never got to try it. It was basically a quiche, but one made in heaven. The egg custard was soft and velvety, mixed with generous amounts of Asiago and touched lightly with tomato and basil. I loved it. And how they were able to get it to all 400 of us while it was still warm and perfect, I have no idea.

If you can believe it, the next course was those enormous, impossibly fluffy blueberry pancakes. They put platters down with enough so that everyone could have one, but they were more than happy to bring more upon request. The people in the 8 next to us didn't show up, so there was an entire plate of pancakes that were in danger of being cleared and perhaps thrown away. Earlier in the morning, Darcy had said that if there were any leftovers, I should bring them home. So, I was prepared. I had a Tupperware container as well as a few large Ziploc freezer bags in my tote. The large Ziploc bag was the perfect size to hold all those pancakes. They're living happily in my freezer right how. I also made away with the rest of the jam and maple syrup that Michael discreetly poured into an empty water bottle. Shhh. No telling.

Even after all that, there was a dessert course. It was delicious, fresh watermelon and pecan squares that they thoughtfully served in a takeaway box (perhaps assuming that people would be too full to eat them). We rose to the occasion, of course, but I did end up taking 3 pieces home with me (which, as I write this are long gone). I had the pecan square in the restaurant a few months ago and like then, it was to die for. Fresh pecans, buttery (again) crust. Too good.

Just as I expected, Mildred Pierce put on an amazing event and managed to make everyone feel taken care of even with 400 guests. What always pleasantly surprises me is their attention to small details and unarguable quality of food and service. I know that Donna Dooher and Kevin Gallagher are going to open a new restaurant in the fall, so I won't be too sad, but I will miss Mildred Pierce. Today, we decided that we would have a brunch party before the summer was over where we would make things from the Mildred Pierce Out to Brunch cookbook and watch the old 40s movie that the restaurant was named after. Perhaps we should make it a monthly event to tide us over until the new restaurant opens.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Just for Laughs Toronto: Craig Ferguson Gala

Tonight, Darcy and I went to Massey Hall to see one of the Just for Laughs galas hosted by Craig Ferguson, who you probably know either from The Late Late Show or from the Drew Carey Show back in the 90s. Funny thing is that I lived in Montreal for about 5 years, but I never went to the original Just for Laughs festival there. I think it's about time an offshoot started in Toronto since it doesn't make much sense to have an English comedy festival in an increasingly French city.

We got out of the subway at Dundas and walked south to Massey Hall. I had no idea that Yonge Street in that area was closed for the festival. There were tonnes of people walking around, enjoying free comedy shows at Yonge and Dundas Square, and being randomly harassed by Cirque du Soleil-like clowns.

We had the most fantastic seats. Right side balcony (RSB), row J, seats 67 and 68, which were directly on the middle aisle at the very back row of the balcony (note: this is NOT the 'Gallery'). When looking at the seat map, you might think these seats are too far back, but they aren't and you have a great view of the entire stage.

Craig Ferguson was fabulous. And I think he was kind of sauced up. In any case, it worked for him and he was really funny. There were 6 comedians on the bill, including Tom Papa, Dom Irrera, Derek Edwards, Greg Giraldo, Elvira Kurt, and Russell Peters who closed the show. I can't believe how popular Russell Peters has become. He's been performing in countries all around the world, including England, India, South Africa, and Australia and selling out wherever he goes. I guess that's the great thing about YouTube: anyone in the world can see you perform and become a fan. It was a great show. I'm glad Just for Laughs has come to town.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Apache Burgers in Etobicoke

Darcy and I have heard great things about this place, but we'd never gone until today. You'd think after the ribfest that we'd want something light, but this is me we're talking about.

My sister got the banquet burger (with bacon and cheese) and Darcy and I both got cheeseburgers. It was set up like Harvey's so you could get your burger dressed as you liked. Possible condiments were mustard, relish, BBQ sauce, ketchup, and mayo, and the toppings were pretty standard: lettuce, tomato, onions, dill pickles, and hot peppers. On the side, we shared a couple of orders of fries/onion ring combos.

The burgers were pretty good. They had nice, fresh toasted buns. The patty was pretty thin though. It reminded me of a fast food burger, but better. The fries were nothing great, but the onion rings had batter similar to fish and chips (yum). Overall, it was good and really hit the spot at the time. Very late night munchies kind of food. And it's been operating since 1969, so you have to feel good about a place like that.

J-Town: Japanese Supermarket

We spent even less time in J-Town (Japan Town) at Victoria Park and Steeles than we did in T&T because we got there 10 minutes before they closed, but I took a couple of quick pictures. We stocked up on rice, soba, Pocky, and some junky instant noodles (yum).

T&T Supermarket

On the way home from the ribfest, we stopped in the T&T Supermarket since we were in the neighbhourhood. I couldn't believe how big it was. It was like Loblaws, but with all Chinese food. It was also super crowded, so we just did a lap, took some pictures, and hightailed it out. Here are some pictures:

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Markham Ribfest 2007

Now, we didn't originally plan to go to the Markham Ribfest. My sister saw my pictures from the Toronto Ribfest and, like Darcy, she loves ribs so she came all the way down from Montreal this weekend and we went.

It wasn't the best day for it. It rained quite heavily for most of the time that we were there, but the line-ups were very short so it wasn't so bad. The event was smaller than the Toronto one, but it was charming and very well-organized. There were 7 ribbers there, including Blazin' BBQ, Tennesse Fatbacks, Bone Daddy's BBQ, Bad Wolf Barbecue, Camp 31, Bibb's BBQ, and Billy Bones BBQ.

We started by getting a pulled pork sandwich and a half rack from Camp 31 and another half rack plus baked beans, coleslaw, and hush puppies (corn fritters) from Tennesse Fatbacks. The pulled pork sandwich was absolutely fantastic. It was better than the ones at both of the places we tried at the Toronto Ribfest (Bad Wolf Barbecue and Silver Bullet BBQ). The meat was amazingly tender and was lightly dressed with tasty sauce that wasn't too vinegary or rich. I loved it.

Darcy said that the sauce on the Camp 31 ribs was too sweet for his taste. He and my sister liked the Tennessee Fatbacks ones better because both the meat and the sauce were flavourful and nicely spiced. The beans and coleslaw were nothing to get excited about. I thought that they would make beans from scratch, but they were obviously canned. The hush puppies, however, were fantastic. The dough was light, sweet, and studded with whole corn kernels. They were deep-fried, but not greasy, and sprinkled with a little powdered sugar. Delicious.

We took a break for a couple of hours and went to visit my old friends who are now living in Stouffville. At about 4:30, we subtly excused ourselves and snuck back to the ribfest to pick up dinner before heading back to the city.

By time this it was both windy and rainy, but we perservered and picked up half racks from both Bibb's BBQ and Billy Bones BBQ as well as a pulled pork sandwich from Tennessee Fatbacks, some fresh cut fries from the chippy van, a roasted corn cob, and a bag of Tiny Tom's donuts. Oh, and we got soft serve cones to eat on our way out. We could be on one of those Life Network shows about people who eat 10,000 calories/day.

We headed back to the city, stopping on the way at T&T Market (enormous Chinese grocery store; more on that later) and J-Town (Japanese grocery store) just because we were in the neighbourhood. We picked up a movie and went home with the BBQ.

The Tennessee Fatbacks pulled pork sandwich was also excellent. I think I liked Camp 31's a tiny bit better, but this one was great too. Not to vinegary or gloppy. The meat was shredded in tiny pieces while Camp 31's was in bigger chunks, which I like better. Bibb's ribs were tiny, but tasty. I think I liked them the best. Billy Bones' ribs were big and meaty with a very peppery, spicy sauce. Darcy liked these ones the best of all the ribs he tried at both ribfests.

Well, guess what? Next weekend is the Mississauga Ribfest, so if you haven'e gotten out to one of these yet, here is your chance. These ribfests go on all summer in any town that has a Rotary Club, which is pretty much everywhere so there are plenty of chances to go if you have a car. I'm ashamed to say I already know that there will be another one in Scarborough the first weekend in August.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Our First Toronto Argonauts Game

The President & CEO of my company very generously gave me tickets to see last night's Argos vs. Stampeders game at the Rogers Centre (formerly the Skydome). The Argos kicked the ass of the Stampeders 48-15 and the game was full of action: 7 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, and a huge bench-clearing brawl.

I think all the people around us were long-time season ticket holders, so they all knew each other from attending these games. That's such an interesting relationship. I love seeing the superfans who are decked out in facepaint and wigs and wave homemade signs, hoping to get on the big screen.

Darcy and I don't usually follow much CFL, which is a shame. We're huge NFL New England Patriots fans. We watch NFL football every Sunday during the season and are consumed by each game. We tried to figure out why we're crazy for the NFL and a team that is in Boston when we have a team right here that we could get tickets for at any time. I think it's about the how the NFL promotes the league and its players. You really get to know the players and coaches and get invested in the team. I suppose I could do the same for the Argos, couldn't I?

It was a fun game. The Grey Cup is going to be in Toronto this year. I'm no CFL expert, but if last night is any indication, we could go all the way.

New Adventures at Pho Pasteur

Before we took in the Argos game, Darcy and I went to our favourite pho place: Pho Pasteur. Darcy had his usual favourite pho with lean rare beef, but I felt like trying something completely new so I had 'Vietnamese sausage with flour rolls'. I was all set to have something potentially heavy and greasy, but it turned out to be incredibly virtuous. The 'sausage' was a kind of lean Vietnamese bologna called 'cha lua' and the 'flour rolls' were steamed rice paper wrappers rolled into tubes. Alongside was bean sprouts, pickled carrots, mint, lettuce, chopped peanuts, and a vinegary dipping sauce. It was a fresh, greaseless, and delicious meal.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

I can't believe I went to see Weird Al. He was fantastic.

Okay, so it was totally Darcy's idea to go, but I had an amazing time. Weird Al played for two solid hours, had like 20 different costumes, great effects and lighting, and hilarious interlude videos that played while the set/Al was being changed. What I don't think people realize is that he's a great singer and performer. He has a distinctive voice, but he changes it to mimic every song and he's always pitch perfect. And his lyrics are brilliant.

The crowd was a mix of people of all ages. I loved the superfans who made their own fan t-shirts and knew even the most obscure stuff. It's so heartbreaking, in a good way, to see people really enjoying themselves at a performance. Song parodies might seem silly, but it makes for a fantastic show. If nothing else, you should check out to his medley of pop songs called 'Polkarama' done in polka style with accordian music.

I was concerned when I bought the tickets that they were 'obstructed view'. They turned out to be really great seats. We were in the right side balcony (RSB), row I, seats 100 and 101. These two seats make up the entire row so you don't have to climb over anyone and no one has to climb over you (perfect for Darcy). You can see 85% of the stage really well and centerstage is always visible. I'm going to seek out these seats every time I go to a show at Massey Hall.

Sen5es Bakery & Restaurant

I couldn't face my packed lunch today, so I coerced Tanya into going to Sen5es Bakery & Restaurant at Yonge and Queen. I'm not sure how long this tiny branch has been open, but I just noticed it a couple of months ago when I was walking by. It is at 2 Queen Street East just inside the restored Bank of Montreal heritage building that was originally built in 1910. It's a tiny establishment that comprises just three luscious display cases of sandwiches, pastries, and cakes as well as seating for approximately 40. They are set up for takeout there, so it looks cafeteria-style, but they have very attentive table service as well. Our waitress catered to our every need and was incredibly friendly. Click the photo to enlarge the menu.

We both started with 'press├ęs' that are made and bottled by Sen5es, which I thought were a pretty good deal for $1.95. I had a lime one and Tanya had elderflower. They were light, refreshing, and not too sweet. I ordered the Queen Street Cobb Salad, which was delicious and very filling. It had arugula, corn, caramelized onions, avocado, boiled fingerling potatoes, perfectly hard-boiled eggs, green beans, bacon, tonnes of tea-smoked chicken, spicy yogurt dressing, and a sprinkling of yummy root chips. It was the perfect dinner salad. Tanya had the sandwich special, which I think was very similar to my salad, but with foccaccia wrapped around it. She said it was also very filling.

Even though we were both stuffed, we had to have dessert because how can you not? All desserts in the showcase were $7 and included coffee, tea, or bottled water. Tanya had the Chocolate Blackout, which was a small, round cake with layers of dark chocolate sponge and caramel. On top, it was dusted with cocoa and had small, peppercorn-looking things that turned out to be tiny biscuits. I loved it. Next time, I'm getting that. I had a Tuscany, which was a dense, hazelnutty, four-layered cake topped with chocolate ganache and berries. It was good as well, but so rich I had to take half of it with me. I prefer spongey cakes.

Even though it's at a prime location with excellent food and service, it was only about 3/4 full during peak hours. It was a lovely, peaceful place to go for lunch and imagine that you have all the time in the world.