Thursday, March 31, 2011

dining etiquette + children part 1: crying babies

Back in the good old days when children were 'seen but not heard' dining out had one less distraction. With the exception of Chuck-E-Cheese's (and some other family friendly restaurants) there is no place in an adult oriented restaurant for a crying baby/child.  Somewhere along the line parents forgot how to deal with the situation when it arises, allow me to refresh your memories:

The solution here is easy, when a small child starts to fuss, count to ten in your head, if the child continues to makes unpleasant noises beyond these first ten seconds, stand up, pick the child up and REMOVE YOURSELF FROM THE DINING ROOM!  The allowable time frame does stretch a little when you are in a noisy diner or a family restaurant, but in casual fine dining establishments or above, allowing your child to cry in the dining room is unacceptable.  You may be used to the sound, but that couple having a romantic dinner at the table next to you are not.

This goes for a child of 3-4yrs as well.  Sitting in a pleasant coffee shop with a child who is acting up and trying to discipline your child while remaining there is unfair to the other patrons.  The key is to remove yourself and your child from the area where other people are paying for things (I can't stress this enough!).

You may not realize, but you could even cause a fine dining restaurant to lose money.  Due to your screaming child some people may choose to leave before dessert that they otherwise would have had, or even worse, the server may have to comp part of the meal (or all of it depending on the severity of unpleasantness).

Personally, I understand that part of the cost of dining out is paying a babysitter, I encourage other parents to adopt this same philosophy.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

it's simple.

There are any number of reasons to dine at Simple Fish & Chips.  For take away or eating in, it keeps me coming back again and again, and I feel good about it!

Let's talk sustainability, because if we intend to continue to eat good quality seafood (or seafood at all) we have to pay attention to the over-fishing and habitat destruction that happens with most commercial fishing.  Simple does this!  They have begun hosting 'sustainable seafood dinners' on Monday nights, if you haven't made your reservation yet, I recommend you call soon as spaces are limited.

With a wide variety of fish on the menu, haddock, halibut, perch, pickerel as well as a brand new all lobster menu among other tasty dishes, available even with gluten-free batter (or tofu 'fish and chips' for the veggie), it's nigh impossible to leave unsatified.  The batter is crispy, golden perfection - almost potato chip crispness without being over-done or over-thick.  Fries are thick cut with just the right amount of seasoning or for those of you watching your waistline go for a simple salad with balsamic vinaigrette.  Coleslaw is delightfully creamy and you can't find better tartar sauce anywhere!

For years Madelyn's Diner has been touted as the best fish and chips in town - but look-out, Simple is surely going to claim that title.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

corporate whores!

Why would anyone in Stratford eat at a corporate restaurant?

Not meaning to trash talk specifically, but in a city so blessed with independent operators in just about every category of dining, WHY?

Corporations like Kelsey's & Boston Pizza offer little more than mediocrity, they are the BIG BOX stores of restaurants. Yet, despite our aversion to Walmart, the dining rooms of the corporate places are sometimes bustling while the independent restaurants such as The Annex, Foster's, Bentley's, Pazzo, Simple Fish & Chips etc. have quiet nights through the winter.  Where is our support for community on a larger scale?  There is a nice tidy little group of people who support the independent operators but what about the 34,847 other people in this town!?

Your average corporation employs cooks who don't care so much about quality food as they do about food cost bonuses, and the servers are usually just passing through - not truly in tune with the needs of a guest.  Why waste your money on a frozen pizza, or vegetables microwaved from frozen in a bag and dumped onto your plate beside your over salted (hence the intense savoury flavour) sauce (also from a bag) slathered on your chicken breast (raised ethically? I think not).  That cheap T-bone advertised on the Crabby Joe's sign - where do you think they get that meat from? Perhaps the steak at Foster's is a little more expensive but at least they know the supplier!

The average person tends to default to the corporations, grandma prefers the festive special at Swiss Chalet because she has been conditioned to feel this way.  Birthday parties are booked at Boston Pizza because there's a free dessert and they sing and clap and there's a great deal of hooplah.  These are not valid reasons!

Some people cite "price point" as their reason for choosing corporate, let's do a comparison shall we?

Boston Pizza dinner for 2 sharing a pizza, water to drink:
- Caesar salad $5.49 (starter size) be careful though, the bacon costs extra
- Rustic Italian Pizza $16.49 (10" serves 1-2)
TOTAL = $21.98

Pazzo Pizzeria dinner for 2 sharing a pizza, water to drink:
- Caesar salad with Italian bacon $9
- Za Za Gabor $15.00 (approx. 12" serves 1-2)
TOTAL = $24.00

The bacon alone is worth the extra $2.02, not to mention the atmosphere, service, quality & the fact that you are supporting a local independent restauranteur.

My dear Local-Come-Lately, where's Chew?  I can tell you where I'm not!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

me love sushi longtime ~pearl vs. mr. kim~

Pearl Sushi was recently taken over by new management, and they do serve some fine sushi. But, we are lucky in this town to have options when it comes to all things food so it is necessary to compare the sushi from both Pearl and Mr. Kim (the General Store).  In reality it's more a comparison of the Maki rolls served at both places, and I am comparing take-out.  I'm pretty sure for ambience that Pearl would win quite handily, so we will try to remain objective.

Comparison of Dynamite Roll, Unagi Roll, Spicy Tuna Roll and Edamame:

MK = Mr. Kim
PS = Pearl Sushi

Price/Wait time:
MK - $28.75 total / 20 minutes
PS - $32.65 total / 20 minutes

Dynamite Roll:
MK (Deep fried shrimp, avocado, cucumber, crab) - roll is a good size, texture of rice is just right, flavour is good
PS (Deep fried shrimp, avocado, cucumber, caviar and sauce) - colours are vibrant, roll is drizzled with a sweet white sauce (coconut), taste is fresher and fuller

Unagi Roll:
MK (BBQ eel, avocado and cucumber)- toasted notes from the BBQ eel are extremely pleasant, slightly sweet as well and a generous size
PS (Eel, fish, egg and cucumber) - roll was poorly made, sloppy and small, slight fishiness to the eel, not their best effort

Spicy Tuna Roll:
MK - focus on the spice, roll is well formed with a top of crunchy tempura bits mixed with spicy sauce, great texture but the tuna is somewhat lost
PS - focus on the tuna, nori is wrapped on the outside of the rice, tuna and spicy sauce in the centre, spice doesn't come through strongly enough

MK - look and texture of the pods are overdone (microwave?), baby beans inside are quite delicious and firm
PS - pods looks great, bright green and firm (steamed), beans are a quite fresh and al dente, perhaps too much so?

MK - ginger is natural in colour, tastes less commercially made, wasabi is good and hot and is nicely piped with a swirl pattern, soy sauce is slightly sweet
PS - regular pinkish ginger, wasabi is hot (though less so than MK) and is plonked down without much presentation, soy sauce is saltier

Somewhat a split decision: for the simple fun enjoyment of some filling Maki Rolls it's gotta be Mr. Kim's.  At a slightly better price and significantly larger portions he's the better choice.  But for more 'serious' sushi with a focus on the fish instead of the extras Pearl has some winning notes as well.

Friday, March 25, 2011

allow me to introduce your kitchen staff...

If anyone has read Kitchen Confidential you will know that Anthony Bourdain paints a very frightening picture of most of the kitchens he has worked in.  Descriptions of cooks passing out on the line and having to be dragged to safety until they recuperate, plenty of drugs - from marijuana to heroin - and far more sex on the flour bags in dry storage than one would like to consider!  Can this really be true? Surely not!

Now, to be fair, I haven't worked in every kitchen in this town but the ones I have been in certainly are not this extreme.  Stratford has a reputation for being serious about food, and it really does extend into most of the kitchens around the city.  Though to a degree Mr. Bourdain is not that far off, the difference being that the drugs don't extend so far into the hard stuff, most kitchen staff stick to weed/alcohol and the sex happens after work, though often with the co-workers who would otherwise be taking it on the flour sacks.

In the midst of battle, on a hot day in August, a kitchen can reach temperatures in excess of 40 degrees Celsius.  And its not just about the heat, there is the humidity to deal with - sometimes the ceilings drip, mingling with the sweat on the brows of those hardworking men and women who slave away to provide delicious meals for hasty demanding guests.

The relationship between the front and back of house is an odd thing.  There is no shortage of physical contact between the two but somehow there is a huge gaping chasm that is nigh un-crossable at times.  Chefs, cooks and commis alike have a certain smugness about them when they are behind the line, they are king of their castle, captain of their ship and in the midst of service they really do control the flow of the restaurant.  For better or worse the front of house staff depend desperately on their kitchen and the kitchen staff know this.

Somehow, during the shift towards equality, and better workplace standards, the world of kitchens got left in the dark ages.  Breaks are few and far between and your boss is more likely to 'discipline' you through yelling and throwing things or calling you names and forcing you to endure hard manual labour than speak sensibly.  It's often a thankless job, where the servers take all the glory for great food and rake in all the money that comes from a job well done.  But hey, minimum wage makes it all worth while!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

tipping out

You're a good tipper right?  You're a generous individual who appreciates good food, service, atmosphere, etc.  You may have just experienced life changing service, your day was brightened, there was playful banter and yet somehow every single possible need was deftly handled by your server, you almost didn't notice him/her except when you needed something, there it was.  So, you leave a large tip.  Where does it go?

Every restaurant is different but the theory is that the more 'support staff' a server has at their disposal (bus people, host/hostess, floor manager, bar back, food runner, etc.) the more they will tip out.  The range is anywhere from 1.5% to 5% in fact there is tell that a restaurant in town, that will remain nameless for now, takes the tip completely.

Most places base the tip out on server sales, which means that the size of your tip doesn't affect the amount tipped out.  The more you give, the more the server directly taking care of you gets, but if you give nothing, the tip out still remains (read: your server pays to serve you).  Now this is no fault of the guest, sometimes the service sucks, and ultimately your money belongs to you.  The servers understand this fate before signing up.  This is merely meant to be informative.

The only time this becomes very important is with very large bills.  You may be a large party that has racked up a $500 bill, or perhaps you're like me and you're just a little gluttonous and your table for two can reach into the hundreds of dollars as well.  Now is when you should consider the tip-out.  Let's say the average is 3.5%.  Of that $500 bill your server will pay $17.50 whether you leave a dime or not.  So when you think a $20 is enough be aware that the person who just took care of your unruly large group (a topic for a later post) is getting $2.50.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

~ chocolate barr's vs. rheo thompson's ~ (the minty debate)

Disclaimer: neither of the two candy makers in this blog have given me any kind of information regarding this topic, it is merely hearsay and speculation - but interesting none the less!

The story goes something like this...

Once upon a time a local candy maker, famous for his smooth mint chocolates, began to age.  Shall we call him Mr. T? As age wore on, Mr. T began to consider selling his candy empire to an interested party.  This interested party, though keen on the purchase of the store and all its recipes was not so interested in the current chocolatier, or perhaps the chocolatier was not interested in the new ownership.  Through a series of events, the chocolatier packed his things, donned his chocolate maker's hat and stepped forth into the world, intent on finding a new outlet for his love affair with chocolate.  After a short amount of time, this young chocolatier began an empire of his own, which includes a smooth chocolate mint.  And they lived competitively ever after.

On an obviously unrelated note, I have conducted a blind tasting of both light and dark versions of the Rheo Thompson Mint Smoothie and the Chocolate Barr's Minties...the results are as follows...

RT = Rheo Thompson
CB = Chocolate Barr's

RT - 1 pound box of milk and dark "mint smoothies" retails for $16.95
CB - 450g mixed "minties" gift box retails for $16.75

RT - the chocolates have a uniform, moulded look with a glossy finish.
CB - chocolates appear individually hand-made (which shows a great deal of care and personal attention), and have a matte finish.

Milk Chocolate:
RT - the filling and outer shell are perfectly integrated, first bite offers a delicate minty-ness that is wonderfully creamy.
CB - outer coating is distinct from the creamy centre, flaking slightly with the first bite, overall meltability/mouthfeel is glorious when eaten all at once.

Dark Chocolate:
RT - slight brittleness from the dark chocolate coating, mint is pleasant but seems somewhat lost behind the chocolate.
CB - perfection! the front-runner of all four chocolates, texture is creamy and decadent, mint begins softly but sharpens for a refreshing finish, flawlessly balanced with the dark chocolate.

A slight overturn for the 'newcomer' to the chocolate world - Mr. Barr wins the tasting via his dark chocolate minty.  Now for the true test, to see which my mother likes better.

Chocolate Barr's is located at 136 Ontario st. Stratford ON.  

Check out a great story on Derek Barr's chocolate making style written by the Local-Come-Lately:  From Cocoa Beans to Chocolate Barrs

Monday, March 21, 2011

lunar effect = lunacy

'Full Moons are traditionally associated with temporal insomnia, insanity (hence the terms lunacy and lunatic) and various "magical phenomena" such as lycanthropy (becoming a werewolf).' ~ excerpt taken from wikipedia

There have been many times during my career as a server that guests are difficult, but sometimes at the end of the evening you have to ask "what the heck happened?"  So often when a service goes completely wrong, when your ordinarily reasonable chef yells at every little mishap and the customers are unpleasant to say the least, it turns out to be a full moon.  On nights like this there seems no explanation other than the moon.  All the hype surrounding this most recent extra-large full moon didn't seem to help either. 

It's hard to put your finger on exactly what is different about the guests; they seems distracted, irritable, overly demanding and no matter what you do to give them great service the tip percentage during a full moon drops by almost half.  It's during this monthly phenomenon that people suddenly think it is okay to yell across the room at their server, to ask for a discount on their discounted food, to argue with the bartender over a free refill.  Even the most sensible people become little werewolves during a full moon: the coffee is too 'hot' - the soup not hot enough.  Everything is personal, the server is out to ruin your evening for sure!

Friday, March 18, 2011

organic? local? free range? grain-fed? what do these terms really mean?

Our city is very focused on the terminology of food, we are blessed to live in the abundance of Perth County, surrounded by local farmers and artisans who offer superior products, but what does it all mean?

My grandfather was a pioneer of organic farming and though he was rather brilliant, his timing sucked.  He was too early and didn't get a great response from buyers as his products always had a shorter shelf life than the non-organic producers.  Now that 'organic' has grown in popularity new challenges face small organizations.  In 2009 the federal government took a stand on what could be labelled certified-organic.  This offers some guarantee to the consumer but creates plenty of difficulties for the small farms who have to shell out significant amounts of money to have their products labelled as such.  It also causes some confusion - does the average consumer know the difference between "certified" and ordinary organic?  It's all in the labelling.

'Think Global, Eat Local' right?  Of course during the growing season and beyond into the harvest there is nothing like local produce.  But during the long harsh Canadian winter everyone loves a juicy apple, or a little guacamole now and again, it's hard to last 5-6 months eating only rutabaga and preserved veggies.  "We have greenhouses, technology!" the people shout, 'but what of the power sources to run such operations?' I reply.  There are some who say that there is less negative impact on the environment from shipping Florida fruit to Ontario than there is from growing it in greenhouses in sub-zero temperatures.  At least we will always have luscious pork year round!

Upon hearing this term everyone's heart warms at the thought of bright yellow chicks pecking at springtime bugs in a lush green meadow, I too feel hopeful of this.  But the reality is that free-range means that an animal has access to an outdoor area for an indeterminate amount of time and there may or may not be grass in that area.  Very few strict rules have been attached to this term, it falls in with things like 'ethically raised', 'free-run', 'artisanal', 'natural' etc. which all have lovely connotations that terrible corporations take advantage of.

There is one very important thing about this term and that is: an animal cannot be labelled 'grain-fed' if it has been fed animal by-products, and that is a good thing!  Who am I kidding, that is a GREAT thing!  Here comes the but...BUT unfortunately it can also mean that the animal in question is fed only grain (usually corn) which is not a healthy alternative to grass.  Even the term grass-fed is deceiving as it can mean an animal was started on grass but ultimately fattened on corn.

Fortunately for those of us living in Stratford and the surrounding areas we can have a REAL connection with a lot of the producers who provide our food.  From Perth Pork Products and Monforte Dairy to Soiled Reputation and beyond!  We are also lucky to have such incredible events such as Savour Stratford that allow us to meet these producers and even sample some of their products.  So forget the labels and get to know the people so you can build a relationship and maybe even meet your dinner before it gets to your plate.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

may the grass grow long on the road to hell for want of use

Here's to being Irish, if only once a year, to clasping hands and sharing your table with anyone in need of a chair.  To luck being on your side, and a fine lass being at it!

Here's a couple of useless facts to enjoy with your Guinness today!  I'll drink a few for me and a few for those who have to work at an Irish Pub (or any pub for that matter) on such a day as this.

On Guinness:
1. The St. James's Gate Guinness Brewery was leased for 9000 years at an annual fee of £45! This lease includes fresh water rights.

2. In 2006, more Guinness was sold in Canada than in Ireland.

3. Over 10 million glasses of Guinness are sold every day.

4. Guinness contains only 198 calories per pint. That is less than most light beer, wine, orange juice.

5. The perfect pour should take 119.50 seconds. It is a result of a double pour at a 45 degree angle. The result a creamy head on a smooth dark beer served at 6 degrees Celsius.

'Pubs' in Stratford to enjoy a pint o' the good stuff: Molly Blooms, Bentley's, Boar's Head, The Parlour, Pour House and Foster's.  Of course Molly's has the luck o' the Irish on their side, so I'll be seeing you there, after the parade of course. 

Irish Proverbs to ponder whilst drinking:

May those who love us love us.
And those that don't love us,
May God turn their hearts.
And if He doesn't turn their hearts,
May he turn their ankles,
So we'll know them by their limping.

The reason the Irish are always fighting each other
Is they have no other worthy opponents.

May your glass be ever full.
May the roof over your head be always strong.
And may you be in heaven half an hour before the devil knows you're dead.

St. Patrick was a gentleman
Who through strategy and stealth
Drove all the snakes from Ireland.
Here's toasting to his health.
But not too many toastings
Lest you lose yourself and then
Forget the good St. Patrick
And see all those snakes again.

Health and a long life to you.
Land without rent to you.
A child every year to you.
And if you can't go to heaven,
May you at least die in Ireland.

And of course, a little music to get St. Patty's Day started off right:

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

please inform your server of all dietary concerns (real or imagined)

Are you allergic?  I mean really allergic?  Is there some kind of food that even if its nearby will send you into anaphylaxis?  Your wind pipe immediately closes, your lips/tongue/throat swell to twice their normal size and you break out in hives from head to toe - the only thing that will save your life is an epi-pen and an ambulance to the hospital.  If so please leave the restaurant, it's really not safe.

For everyone else, call ahead!

First off, there is something that people with allergies should know - particularly for the more severe allergens (nuts, shellfish, gluten) TELL YOUR SERVER!  This should happen prior to ordering/consuming your dinner (preferably when you make your reservation).  A chef certainly does not detail every ingredient that he puts into a dish, and most cooks don't know what ingredients are in the pre-packaged foods they serve you.  Do not dive into your tasty looking dessert and when you get to the oh-so-delicious crunchy centre, turn to your server and ask "Are there nuts in this?".  Even if the answer is no, there are probably nuts somewhere in the kitchen, those nuts were possibly on the cutting board that your over ambitious apprentice chef just chiffonaded that lovely mint garnish on.

However, if it's not really an allergy, don't pretend!  You'll probably end up missing out on something delicious.  For example: stocks are used as the base to most sauces found in a restaurant and stocks are made with onions.  So if consuming an entire raw onion causes a little unseemly late night flatulence, then tell your server that you "don't much care for onions - but it's not an allergy".  This will allow the server to properly communicate with the kitchen - they will remove all large quantities of onion but you will still get the red wine demi-glace that makes your prime rib so wonderful.

Be an informed guest.  If you are allergic to an onion then it is likely you must also avoid shallots, leeks, garlic, chives and scallions.  With a 'nut' allergy, there is often a significant difference between legumes (peanuts) and tree nuts (walnuts/almonds/cashews/hazelnuts/pecans/macadamia nuts/chestnuts/pine nuts/pistachios).  Does your shellfish allergy include both crustaceans (shrimp/crab/lobster) and mollusks (clams/mussels/oysters/scallops), or just one set or the other?  Have celiac disease?  Don't assume you know what to look for, there could be Guinness in your ice cream, or your pork ribs could have Ale in the the BBQ sauce!  And don't forget, if you say you're allergic to dairy that can include butter, goat/sheep/cow cheeses, yoghurt.

In short, information is key, no server wants to be responsible for someones untimely demise, but the more often the word 'allergy' gets thrown around, the less we believe you. Stop crying wolf!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

separate cheques, please!

Some restaurants vehemently deny even the remote possibility of offering separate cheques to parties larger than 4; others graciously promise that, even at 7:45pm with a packed house heading to the theatre, it's absolutely not a problem. 

Now, if a server is organized to the point of anal retention and the POS system (cash register) is set-up perfectly and everyone at the table has ordered for themselves (read: no sharing of wine/salad/etc) then it's easy.  Also, if it's quiet in the restaurant, not at a peak time, and your server is organized at all and they have the use of some kind of POS system then it also shouldn't be a big problem even if there are shared items.  BUT: when the restaurant is packed there just isn't time!

Imagine it takes only 45 seconds per split cheque (which is pretty quick), multiply that by the number of separate cheques, then add 2 minutes per cheque (to process a credit/debit card or make change).  Let's use a table of 10 for easy figuring, say 4 couples and 2 singles.  That is 6 cheques right? That means it will take your server a total of 16 and a half minutes to take care of your cheques - who is taking care of the other tables in your server's section? What if there is another table who wants to split their bill?

Would you like to be ignored by your server for 16.5 minutes while the panic rises in your throat that you're not going to make it to the theatre on time!  You don't blame the table across the room who is taking up your server's time, you blame your server, hence their disdain towards separate cheques.

Here are some basics if you feel the need to request separate cheques:
A. let your server know ahead of time: don't blindside them when they approach the table with the bill
B. no musical chairs, we don't know your names or faces so we organize you by seat - stay in it!
C. if you want cheques by couple: sit together
D. know what you had but don't nit-pick; if you've shared something with another person at the table who is on a different cheque and you get a larger portion of the cost of that item, just pay for it (the difference of a few dollars - or cents - isn't worth the hassle).
E. we can split items between people (eg. equal parts of 3 bottles of wine split between 5 people) - but please specify in advance.

This might all seem complicated, but if you follow these guidelines, the average server will be able to keep everything moving well - but think for a moment about this: if you don't like the people you are dining with enough to split the cheque evenly, even though there may be a small difference in the price, maybe you shouldn't be sharing a dining experience with them.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

foie gras - beyond the controversy

I'm going to set aside the great debate over the process used to create foie gras and focus on the fact that it is somewhat irresistible.  When prepared properly foie gras is unbelievably delicious (though a low grade can taste/smell musty - kind of like wet dog).  The buttery richness of it remains somehow delicate and when paired with the right flavours it can be one of the most exhilarating things for your mouth.

Basically this is a comparison of foie available in the city, which basically consists of only two examples, so to round the list I have included some presentations from other cities: so in no particular order...

Foie Gras Torchon Brulee w/ stone fruits and brioche toast points $30
~This was a gorgeous (and generous) example of foie gras torchon, delicately creamy with a slight hint of nuttiness.  The top of the foie was dusted with sugar and bruleed to create a sweet/crunchy element to the dish.  Simple accompaniments of perfectly ripe peaches and cherries allowed the foie to shine through. (One Restaurant - Toronto)

Quebec Duck Foie Gras w/ duck confit cakes, barley and banyuls vinegar sauce $40
~The foie in this dish was served in two pieces, scored and perfectly prepared and this precise execution carried throughout the dish in every element.  Unfortunately, though each individual element was technically perfect the dish as a whole was a let down.  The consistency of the duck confit and mashed potato cakes was too mushy to contrast the foie properly, as was the barley.  All the elements were very rich, which ultimately made the foie gras itself seem lacking - I feel this would have been better as a winter dish. (Rundles Restaurant - Stratford)

Quebec Foie Gras w/ black pudding and mango $29
~At first, the description of black pudding ('boudin noir' was the French version they were using) was rather disconcerting, certainly not for the faint of heart.  But as a dedicated foodie, I will try anything (and am often pleasantly surprised).  This surprise was very pleasant.  The foie was scored, seared and placed precariously on top of the boudin in the centre of the plate, surrounded by cubes of mango prepared in different ways.  The flavours balanced each other perfectly!  The richness of the pudding complimented that of the foie and the mango was there to be the sweet/tangy contrast.  Exquisite.  (The Church Restaurant - Stratford)

Foie Gras Croquettes $4 ea
~A simple delicacy, Chef Nick has taken the famous Chef Picard's foie gras bites and made them his own.  The pastry that envelops the decadent little nub of foie is perfectly soft/light/crispy.  These are dangerous little morsels, you could easily sit down with a bowl of them and pop them in your mouth one after another!  Perfect as an amuse or perhaps an additional course somewhere in the middle of dinner. (Nick & Nat's Uptown 21 Restaurant - Waterloo)

I love foie!  Rarely do I pass it up when I find it on a menu.  It can be prepared in a plethora of different ways, from poutine to a simple slab placed atop your beef tenderloin.  It adds a certain decadence to things that is hard to find in any other food.  I can only hope that more restaurants in the Stratford area will put foie on their menus more often.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

eat @ Pazzo

The only thing that is unfortunate about Pazzo is that the ristorante doesn't open for another couple of months.

Pazzo is the perfect place for any occasion. Whether it's a romantic dinner or just grabbing lunch with a friend.

The wine list is just extensive enough to satisfy without reaching to pretension and the mark-up is reasonable. Cocktails are innovative and original - try the farmers' martini, you won't be disappointed.

Meaghan and Amanda do a lovely job directing the staff in the pizzeria and ristorante respectively. The service is capable and attentive though sometimes a bit unpolished (which seems part of the charm) and it's great to see the owners of a restaurant so involved.

During peak season I recommend anyone local should aim to go for dinner around 8:00 to miss the tourist rush.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

sit up your mama taught you

Dear Sir,

I truly admire your perfectly tailored three piece suit;  The 3 blackberries attached to your hip are a nice touch as well;  And I know you are probably a COO or a CFO or some combination of letters that make you feel important.  But, please, if you don't mind, pull your chair in, just a little!  Stop leaning back like a frat boy waiting for a blow job.  Your server is trying to get behind you!

Your Server

don't touch the olives...

I used to like a good dirty martini, now I can't drink them.  Though some will dispute that the gin (or vodka) is being polluted by the brine, I enjoy the salty/savoury addition to the cocktail.  But it's hard to get a 'clean' dirty martini.

Bartenders and servers everywhere are sticking their dirty fingers in the olives.  It's not so much about the couple of olives they pull out, it's about what is left behind.  Your bartender touches your ice, your straw, your fruit, why not your olives, right?  It's all about the brine.  Every time someone shoves their dirty bartender's fingers into the olive jar they leave 2 little somethings behind - bacteria & natural oils.  This bacteria/oil combo starts to react with the brine, forming little white things - we'll call them 'fat globules' - and when someone orders a dirty martini these 'fat globules' end up in the drink. Gross.

Unfortunately, this phenomenon is not limited to low grade restaurants.  It's surprising how dirty most olive jars are.  So the next time you have a dirty martini, drink it at home.