Friday, November 16, 2007

Gourmet Food and Wine Expo: a boozy, boozy time

On Friday afternoon, Jane and I cut out of work a little early and took in the Gourmet Food and Wine Expo at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. We arrived at about 4:30 PM and in a couple of hours, we'd be so glad that we did. After buying $20 in 'sampling tickets' (currency used to buy samples of food and drink), we were all to set nosh and guzzle.

Eco-friendly Tasting
Upon entering the large, stadium-like room, we were given actual glass wine glasses for tasting the wine, beer, and spirits. This was great since the number of plastic cups needed for sampling would have been astronomical. There were rinsing stations set up around the place to keep your glass fresh. It was yours to keep, but upon exiting you could choose to leave it behind and the show would donate $1/glass to Second Harvest.

Food Glorious Food
By pure luck, we started in exactly right place, which was with the food. I wanted to take pictures of the things we ate as well as take notes, but it's really hard to juggle a wine glass, shoulder bag, notebook, camera, pamphlets, and plate of food at the same time. A lot of the pictures came out blurry.

Friendly, Helpful, Blog-friendly Vendors
What was fantastic about the Gourmet Food and Wine Expo compared to the Good Food Festival and the One of a Kind Show was that all the vendors were super friendly and very agreeable to talking about their products and having pictures taken (of the food as well as themselves). They were awesome.

Batifole Restaurant: Profiteroles stuffed with ratatouille

The first thing I tried was a profiterole stuffed with ratatouille from Batifole Restaurant. Batifole is located in the predominantly Chinese Broadview and Gerrard area, which is why they call themselves the "Best French Food in Chinatown". I haven't been there before, but it is right across the street from my beloved Simon's Wok. My friend Darryl raves about it, so I must go someday. The profiterole was lovely and crispy with warm ratatouille in it. This was some sort of cross-promotional thing because there were posters for the animated movie, Ratatouille, everywhere.

Queenston Heights Restaurant: Smoked salmon and greens with ice wine vinegar

Next, we had some delicious smoked salmon and greens made by chefs from Queenston Heights Restaurant, which is located in Queenston, Ontario very close to Niagara on the Lake. Before we ate the salmon, the chef gave us samples of ice wine vinegar from Aceto Niagara, Inc. We literally drank the vinegar out of little cups and it was sweet and delicious. If you follow the link to the Aceto Niagara site, they have a list of stores in Toronto where you can buy it. It's amazing. The smoked salmon and greens were drizzled with it and it was a sweet complement to the salmon.

MacGregors Meat and Seafood Ltd.: Boutique Day Boat Scallop Ceviche

Jane and I agree that the most impressive thing we ate at the entire show was the ceviche made by chefs from Far Niente using scallops and Kona Blue Kampachi fish provided by MacGregors Meat and Seafood. I had the scallop ceviche and Jane had the Kona Blue. The scallop ceviche was served with a kaffir lime and coconut sauce along with slices of avocado on a bed of Boston Bibb lettuce. It was incredible (and it's on the menu at Far Niente, so GO! GO!). I'd never eaten scallops like this before. They were cold, sweet, and firm. Glenn, from MacGregors, told me that they are harvested in small quantities in day boats. This means that the fishermen only go out for a few hours, so the scallops are brought back to shore fresh and sold the very next day. No freezing. It really was sublime. I didn't taste the Kona Blue Kampachi fish, but Jane said that it was like butter.

Bright Pearl Seafood Restaurant: Radish cake and spring roll

Bright Pearl
is a very noticeable, very large Chinese restaurant right in the heart of Chinatown at Spadina and Dundas. I had been a few times for dim sum, but not recently. They had loads of deep-fried goodness on offer at their booth and I couldn't resist. I had a radish cake (starchy pan-fried cake with bits of Chinese sausage and brine shrimp) and a spring roll, which was happily stuffed with shrimp. Completely unnecessary indulgence, but I am hopelessly devoted to radish cake.

Arvinda's: Chickpea and pumpkin curry

I came across Arvinda's for the first time in April at the Good Food Festival. Back then, I bought some Curry Masala (for vegetarian curries) and Tikka Masala (for marinating chicken and meats) and they were so good that I completely ran out. They are dry spice mixtures, but they have a little bit of moisture in them due to the fresh ginger and garlic. They complex, layered, and really spicy. I love them. After sampling some chickpea and pumpkin curry and chai, I bought one tin each of the Curry Masala, Madras Masala (for meat curries), and Whole Spices (cardamom pods, star anise, cinnamon bark, black peppercorns, and cloves). The lady at the booth said that you saute some of the whole spices in oil as the first step in making a curry and then add onions and one of the other masalas. For company, you might want to fish the whole spices out since they aren't really supposed to be eaten, but otherwise you can keep them in.

Shay Cheese: Highland Blue, Port Cheddar, Cendre de Pres

While I was loitering at Arvinda's, Jane was sampling some amazing cheese at the Shay Cheese booth. Shay Cheese is a sort of 'cheese of the month' type service where every month Andy Shay selects 5 artisanal cheeses and delivers them to your door. I think this is a fantastic idea. With shops like the Cheese Boutique, Pusateri's, and Whole Foods, Torontonians are spoiled for choice, but picking a cheese can be as complicated as choosing a wine. I'd love to get advice from an expert. The cheeses that Andy was offering at the show were Highland Blue (a really gnarly-looking, but heavenly, salty blue cheese), Port Cheddar (substantial and savoury), and Cendre des Pres (a soft cheese with a ribbon of maple ash). They were served with some baguette and a slice of dried apple. It was so good that I forgot to take a picture of my plate before I devoured it. My only question is, how does Andy Shay stay so slim being around all this cheese?

Booze, booze, booze everywhere
After the cheese, we sort of hit the wall as far food was concerned so we decided to start drinking. We walked from booth to booth and realized that this really should have been called the Gourmet Wine and Food show since it was probably 75% wine and 25% food. I'm defnitely no expert on wine or beer, so we just dabbled around trying this and that, which included ice wine from Mountain Road Wine Company, box o' chardonnay (in Tetra Pak) from French Rabbit, Chimay Premiere beer (got hooked on this at Beerbistro), apple pilsner from Better Bitters Brewing Company (Burlinton micro-brewery), and pinot gris from Mike Weir Estate Winery (yup, the golfer).

Blackfly Coolers: Vodka Infused Spiked Ice
One of the last things I tried was a Spiked Ice, which is a basically an adult popsicle made from a blend of vodka and real fruit juice (cranberry/blueberry, strawberry/rhubarb, black currant/blueberry). The very friendly and helpful guy at the booth said that both the coolers and popsicles made by Blackfly
are made from all Canadian ingredients and include no artifical sweeteners. They pride themselves in offering a product that is more natural and less sweet than other cooler products. When I tried to take his picture for this blog, he insisted I be in it so his booth buddy took a picture of the two of us in front of the signage. Let's just say that I didn't look so good after having 7 drinks, so I'm keeping that picture to myself. Great popsicles though. Not too sweet. You can buy both the popsicles and coolers at the LCBO.

So glad we went early
When we staggered out at 7:30PM, the place was starting to get congested. We went out in the hallway and saw what looked like over a thousand people waiting in line. I don't know how they were all going to fit in there. Next year if you go, take Friday off and go during the day.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Spring Rolls has good har gow, who knew?

On Tuesday, my dearest manager Marcelo (who travelled to India with me last year) took our team out to Spring Rolls at Front and Church to tell us that he is resigning. We're all devastated, of course (Marcelo, are you reading this?), but we're happy for him and hope he likes his new company. To get my mind off it, let me talk about the food.

I've been to Spring Rolls many times and it's definitely a decent place for Thai/Vietnamese/Korean, but it's a chain so it lacks a bit of charm and personality. Don't get me wrong, the food is good and you'd enjoy it, but it's no Salad King.

Marcelo and I ordered some har gow (dim sum shrimp dumplings) to share and we both got the Pho Saigon (Vietnamese rice noodle soup with rare beef, meatballs, brisket, bean sprouts, and basil). Now, since this isn't a dim sum restaurant, I can't see them back there making the dumplings from scratch. They must be frozen, but that's a complete assumption on my part. Nevertheless, they were fantastic with a generous amount of mustard and hot sauce for dipping. There aren't any dim sum places right downtown, so the har gow at Spring Rolls will definitely do in a pinch.

The Pho Saigon was ok. The rare beef, meatballs, and brisket were just right. They bury the bean sprouts at the bottom of the soup instead of serving them to you on a separate plate like in real pho places. The basil is also placed in the soup instead of on the side as it usually is. But, they do bring you limes, oyster sauce, and hot sauce on request. The real failure of that particular pho was the rice noodles. They were the really wide kind and they got very mushy very quickly. But similarly, there aren't any pho places downtown, so the pho at Spring Rolls will do in a pinch.

Marcelo, don't leave me.

Spring Rolls Restaurant
85 Front Street East
Toronto, ON
Mon-Sat: 11-11PM
Sun: 12-11PM

We Will Rock You: I am now obsessed with Queen

On Tuesday night, my company treated us all to tickets to We Will Rock You, the musical based on the music of Queen. Now, I know as much Queen as the next person (We Will Rock You, We Are the Champions, etc.) but I'd never owned an album. Since the show, I've been constantly on YouTube and Wikipedia watching videos and reading about Freddie Mercury.

This may be one of those things that everyone knows except for me, but did you know that Freddie Mercury is actually Indian (Parsi, specifically, which I thought was such a coincidence since I just went to a Parsi restaurant for the first time yesterday) and didn't move to England until he was 17? His real name is Farrokh Bulsara. He'd been quite secretive about his ethnicity during most of his career. I watched a sequence of YouTube videos about his life and he looked so Indian as a child, but even now that I know, I can't see it in him later on. I'm amazed that he was able to assume a new (white) ethnicity simply by not talking about his origins. When I think back to my sister and I being 2 of only about 6 Asian students in a high school of over a thousand in Nova Scotia, I know that if I had the chance to do that, I would have. Not now, of course.

The leading actor in the We Will Rock You musical, Yvan Pedneault, is French Canadian with a definite Quebecois accent, which makes him a very interesting choice for the role. I thought he was incredibly charming and an amazing singer. If you are a Queen fan, you're going to love this show. No lighters allowed, however, for the slow numbers. They sell glowsticks for $2 a piece for that reason, but be sure not to snap it in too many places (it'll leak glowy fluid on you -- ahem, lesson learned). The storyline is quite lame, but it's really just segue between the songs, which are definitely worth the price of admission. I got chills.

The show runs until January 28. 2008. You should go. You can buy tickets online here (I know I sound like I'm being paid to plug the show, but I'm really not).

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Parsi Persian Food Restaurant: Luxury for less than $20

My friend Diane heard about this place on Catherine Jheon's CBC radio segment, Beyond Burgers, so we went tonight with our peeps and weren't disappointed. Delicious appetizers, mains, tea, and dessert came to roughly $20 per person, including a generous tip.

Parsi Persian Food restaurant is like two restaurants in one. On one side of the room, there is a cafeteria-style counter with a long steam table and a large, food court-style board above it showing pictures of the entree combos (meat, rice, salad). On the other side is a dining room that can seat at least 30 and has table service in the evenings.

I looked up both Parsi and Persian on Wikipedia and it said that Parsis (people) are members of the Zoroastrian community based primarily in India and descended from Persian Zoroastrians who emigrated to India over 1,000 years ago. Persia is basically what we now call Iran.

We started with the Mixed Appetizer Plate, which included dainty portions of Mast-o-kiar (yogurt and cucumber salad similar to tzatziki), Baba Ganouj, Kashk-e Bademjan (smoked eggplant with mint), Mirza Ghassemi (smoked eggplant with tomato and garlic), Falafel, Dolmeh (grapes leaves stuffed with rice), and toasted whole wheat pita bread. Many of the items were very familiar and had a Greek/Lebanese feel, but I suppose that many Middle Eastern/European countries share the same types of food but with subtle variations. I especially liked the smokey eggplant dishes and falafel. One plate cab be comfortably shared between 2-3 people leaving you with enough room to enjoy a main.

The mains were served like single complete meals, but we had to sample as many things as possible, so we ordered 5 different ones and shared. We had the Koobideh Kebab (charbroiled ground beef), Chicken Kebab (charbroiled saffron lemon chicken), Ghamieh (stew with tomatoes, split peas, and beef), Baghali Poli (slow roasted lamb shank), and Kashk-e Badmjan (same as the app). Most of these dishes came with saffron rice, but one came with cranberry rice and another with rice mixed with broad beans and dill.

Before the mains, they served us a simple iceberg lettuce and tomato salad with a lemon/olive oil dressing (the other choices were Ranch or Italian - um, no). The dressing was very virtuous: lemony with very little oil. It was pretty bland, but it was nice having something light before all the upcoming meat.

All the entrees were amazing, but I especially liked the lamb shank and Ghamieh (curry-like stew). The lamb shank was impossibly tender and delicious. The stew had really interesting and slightly sweet spicing that contrasted well with all the other charbroiled meat dishes. While the cranberry rice and broad bean/dill rice were tasty, I prefer the plain saffron rice as a more neutral accompaniment (not that saffron is plain by any means).

Afterwards, Michael and I indulged in some baklava and tea. They had two kinds of baklava: one with walnuts and one with pistachios. Both were crisp, slightly warm, gooey, and dripping with honey. Sigh. This may be the heaviest dessert in the world, but it's so good.

Parsi Persian Food restaurant really is a gem. The food is good, the service is friendly, the atmosphere is comfortable (not too casual, not too fancy) and it's so affordable. You must go. For more pictures and the complete menu, click here.

Parsi Persian Food Restaurant
141 Spadina Avenue (at Richmond)
Toronto, ON
Mon-Wed, 11-9 PM.
Thurs-Sun, 11-11PM /p

Monday, November 12, 2007

Simon's Wok: Food fit for the Dalai Lama

On Friday night between my sister's two conferences, we made the pilgrimmage to Simon's Wok at Broadview and Gerrard because we just couldn't stop thinking about tofu. I've been to Simon's Wok a few times since my friend Jane introduced me to it back in January. It is by far my favourite Chinese food in the city.

Since it is a Buddhist vegetarian restaurant, they do not cook with garlic, onions, or green onions, but you never miss them because everything is tasty, colourful, and ungreasy. They have lots of mock meats, including vegetarian duck, goose, chicken, and squid. These mock meats are by no means reasonable facsimilies of the real thing, but they are delicious in their own right. The vegetarian goose is basically yuba rolled into long cigar-like tubes and deep-fried so that the outside is crisp and the inside is layered and juicy. Yum.

So, in addition to the vegetarian goose appetizer, we ordered one spring roll, an eggplant and tofu 'casserole', the olive leaf fried rice, and something called ARHAT Delight.

The eggplant and tofu casserole was divine. It was a steaming, bubbling hotpot filled with large chunks of fried tofu, meaty pieces of eggplant, some green pepper, and onions. This is so my kind of thing. I could eat this every day.

I've had the olive leaf fried rice before and it is far and away the most delicious fried rice I've ever had. All the ingredients taste fresh and there is barely any grease. The olive leaves are salty and lend a subtle olivey flavour without being overpowering. There were small bits of veggies and firm tofu in it as well.

We didn't enjoy the ARHAT Delight as much as everything else. It was fresh, nice, and chock full of goodness (gluten, baby corn, snow peas, shiitake mushrooms, and fungus), but the sauce was a red, tomatoey type that we both didn't really care for. But, that's just personal preference.

For all that, our bill came to $25. I love this place. If I lived anywhere close to it, I'd go every week.

Simon's Wok
797 Gerrard Street East
Toronto, ON
Sun-Thurs 11-9PM
Fri, Sat 11-10PM

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Beerbistro: Dinner in lieu of blogging

Well, so much for the quiet weekend of blogging. Yesterday turned out to be a whirlwind of activity that involved a trip to St. Lawrence Market, a 2-hour workout at the gym, and dinner with 5 pediatric anesthestists, including my sister, at Beerbistro. Originally, I had planned on ensconcing myself in the hotel room with takeout sushi and my computer, but a couple of people pulled out of the dinner so I went to keep the numbers up.

Great Choice for Dinner Downtown
My sister had asked my opinion on where to take these doctors for their one dinner out in Toronto. She received some suggestions from friends, which included the usual trendy/celebrity cheffy kind of places like Lee, Bymark, Thuet, etc. While I'm sure they are good, they're all a cab ride from One King West, so I suggested Beerbistro and I'm so glad I did. It was fantastic.

Biggest Beer Ever
We started by sharing an enormous (1.5L) bottle of beer called Chimay Grande Reserve from Belgium, which I hear is made by Trappist monks. It came in a huge bottle with a cork that popped out just like champagne. I'm not absolutely sure, because I didn't see the bill, but I think the bottle was $45. The beer was delicious, dark, and fruity with absolutely no aftertaste. Is this what good beer is like?

Starters: Corn Dogs and Smoked Salmon Sliders
For starters, my sister and I shared an order of Corn Dogs and an order of Smoked Salmon Sliders. The corn dogs were basically fancy Pogos with shredded duck inside instead of a hotdog. As silly as it sounds to parody carnival food in a restaurant, they were delicious. The duck was tender and full of flavour and the outside crust was crisp and perfect. They were served with pineapple mustard and cherry beer ketchup, which were both tasty and not too overpowering. The sliders were little smoked salmon sandwiches that were fresh, but not too exciting. Get the corn dogs.

Main: Applewood Smoked Suckling Pig
For my main, I order the Applewood Smoked Suckling Pig, which is only available on Saturday nights. I was so glad I did. It was impossibly tender, smokey, and delicious, layered on top of a bed of thinly sliced zucchini. On each side were halves of twice-baked potato that were crispy on the outside and stuffed with fluffy, creamy potato on the inside. It was a generous amount, so I couldn't finish it, but I made sure to take the precious leftovers with me. I have a amazing pig sandwich in my future.

Dessert: Beer Scream
For dessert, my sister and I shared the Beer Scream Platter, which was a sampling of three beer-based ice creams. I asked our server to pick the flavours for us and I didn't write down the names, but there was a chocolate chip, a berry sorbet, and a dreamy caramelly one. If you only want one, get the caramel. They didn't taste like beer at all, just goodness.

The entire experience was perfect. The food was delicious and original, our server was attentive and friendly, and the atmosphere was lively, but not too loud. If you're in need of a reliable, good time downtown, I don't think there is anywhere better.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Eloise at One King West

My sister is attending a couple of conferences in Toronto this weekend, so I'm crashing at her suite at 1 King West. Darcy is playing Halo 3 all weekend with his buddy, so I think I'm going to order room service, take baths, watch movies, and catch up on some blogging. Since I last posted we went on a great trip to Boston where we visited some dear friends, ate fantastic food, and saw David Sedaris so I'll have to tell you all about that. Have a great weekend everyone.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Dalai Lama was fantastic

I had such great plans to write a long, well-thought out blog post on the Dalai Lama talk I went to tonight, but there is just too much to say and I'm so tired that I couldn't do it justice. I took copious notes and I plan on writing a longer piece as soon as I can (maybe tomorrow). In the meantime, I just wanted to say that I loved him. He was charming, warm, funny, pragmatic, and intelligent. I expected him to talk about Buddhism or touch on the political situation in Tibet, but he focussed on simple, fundamental concepts of individual and global happiness that sound obvious, but were explained so well.

He started the talk by saying that he is nothing special. He said he has nothing to offer us, so do not expect much. He's right in that the talk was very down to earth and easy to understand, but its clarity, completeness, and genuine warm feeling were out of the ordinary and I'm glad I got to see it firsthand.