Sunday, November 27, 2011

The County General

One of my favourite things to do in Toronto pre-blog was go to Oddfellows taco night. I was sad to hear that they closed. I was and am very happy with who's moved in to replace them (though I will miss that tangy black bean paste!).
The County General is right at the corner of Shaw and Queen, where the street is quiet enough that you aren't being pushed along, but still pulses with the anticipatory feeling Queen West embodies. It's lively. It's a long ass wait to get in. That's what you get late on a Friday at a place that doesn't take reservations- they know they don't need to.

It's a fun shape for a restaurant, long and narrow. There uses to be a skinny, all-encompassing communal table in the spots previous incarnation, but the General has move things in a more traditional direction, somehow squeezing many small square tables into the dining hall. There isn't much wiggle room. Ever yet en vogue wood is on everything, wood lining the ceiling, a wall of wood ends jutting out in a way that is both artistic and disconcerting. We sit at the bar, which somehow stretches nearly the full length while leaving room for tables. It's spacious enough to eat at, and it's nice to get to watch Steven make drinks (he's a familiar face from my days working at the Drake, but I did feel like we should have been ordering with a server and not him! He had his hands full making some really ballin' cocktails. They have house pickled cherries for the Manhattan's yes).
More and more often lately I've been feeling less meaty, and the menu, despite it's barbecue bent, is very accommodating. The deviled eggs ($1.50) were fiery little devils, served in a bowl so deep I wondered if they needed to be kept from escaping. There was some hot mustard in the yolk, and thank goodness they went easy on the mayo. It's too easy to get heavy handed with devilled eggs. The mustard tasted like Kozlicks to me, and I approve. There were shards of red onion and chive to add crunch and juice, and just a dash of paprika for effect. Nicely done!
There was a bit of a wait before all our party got together, so I also got some kimchi ($3.00) to nibble on. It was a plentiful bowl! The cabbage was strong, crisp just at the thickest part of the leaf. The rest was lightly cooked, spicy and tangy, but very salty. It was overpowering in that respect, and needed to be eaten slowly, in between bite of other things. There was too much salt, which is a shame. I usually adore kimchi.

Over salty kimchi is the only thing that didn't stand out in a meal of well-crafted and enjoyable country sandwiches. The menu was made up of southern inspired nosh, with distinctly Toronto twists. Take our strong vegetarian and vegan eaters, here represented with a very well put together 'meatball'. The white bean meatball sandwich ($10) was more decadent and authentic than I really expected. It resides somewhere between the taste profiles of an Italian fried sandwich, luscious and virgin tomato sauce adding the strongest flavour, with a hint of the old South, with a crisp and oil deep fried shell, and a thick slab of soft bread. Also, there were FOUR sizable nonmeatballs, the beans just firm enough in the centers to hold this bad boy together, and make for a hefty little meal. Served with a leafy salad of Boston lettuce.

Trevor has become a lover of the steamed bun, it would seem. When last we dined, he tried his first banh-mi, and I think it has made him a kind of convert. Again, here the General takes a southern dish - smoked pork belly ($10), and gives it a Toronto twist, incorporating our love of Asian food, maybe in homage to our big and bustling Chinatown. The barbecue rich pulled pork, dry smoked and grainy, is sandwiched in steamed bun sliders, chewy and floury, with the gummy skin steamed bread gets. Three kinds to enjoy, avocado, apply slaw, or spicy Korean kimchi.

Such height and grandeur! Are you catching my horrible puns today? Has anyone else here seen King of the Hill? Once upon a time, my sister was obsessed (many years ago, please friends, do not judge!). Here is a fried chicken thigh sandwich ($12). This little guy made up for his diameter in height, even taller than the tumbler of greasy, crunchy fries he came with. I like a fluffy and absorbent bun with greasy chicken! Made all the prettier with black and white sesame sparkles. I can't describe it more, because Jenn devoured it quickly, in a hard work induced famine.

This is a way I've never seen an apple pie ($5 + $3 a la mode), served wide and thin, the apples sliced thickly, stuck into the pastry with glutinous love. It seemed on the surface like a stuffed dessert pita bread, but seemed more robust in consumption. I was assured that is was incredibly delicious!
My darling, let's get married. I was gone with the wind when this sticky dark lover arrived on my plate, oozing salted caramel. What forbidden indulgences! What buttery topping! Oh love! I am very glad the cupcake ($3) was slightly larger than a thimble, because such richness and decadence can only be enjoyed in about two bites. Butter cream added height and was spiced in a way I am hard pressed to describe.

And addendum to this incredible meal: if you find a small yellow notebook detailing in ecstasies the delights of the county general, please call me. It's brand new, and I've lost it, alas.

The County General on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Foodwares Market

Recent events have had me lurking underneath The Bay at Queen Street a few times last week, like some high end alligator, maw open wide. Since I was there and found myself suddenly dinner dateless, I thought it would be a nice chance to check out the very Canadian Bannock, a restaurant by Oliver and Bonacini. Navigating the PATH can be a little confusing. In this case, Bannocks grab and go section is located somewhere over the subterranean exit of the of them, anyhow. Turned around by the lack of daylight and the ensuing destruction of my sense of direction, I found myself stocking up on items at a place called Foodwares Market, though their lack of signage on half the cafe had me believing I was, actually, at Bannock. It was only after getting the receipt for a haul that would provide a days worth of meals that I saw the title of the cafe I had just raided. Well! No need to turn back. Though Food Wares doesn't share Bannocks notoriety or appealing name, it turned out to be a happy mistake. It's a cafeteria worth visiting for Toronto's Bay Street workers.
My plan was to have lunch there, and also get some take out items to keep me going through the day. I got to try many things! Ah, the joys of eating by oneself. Breakfast started with a not-super healthy Banana Chip Muffin ($2.23). Once upon a time, the muffin was a modestly sized healthy alternative to breakfast danish and doughnut. Things evolve wickedly, don't they? These muffins are pretty sinful. They aren't the largest I've seen, and the muffin tops aren't towering, but there's more than a couple cubic inches of sweet dough that makes them. Most delicious about them it that their fluffy little hearts are gooey with butter. Have you ever had a cookie from Le Gourmand? Imaging that cookie as a muffin. Decadent, warm, creamy, and just enough bitter dark chocolate to make the sweet dough sing. It went damn well with their Illy coffee (not my favourite brand, but nothing to turn ones nose up at).
I was back for lunch before hopping onto the subway with some bagged items in tow. Since I had a little time to sit and eat, I got soup and a wrap. The soups come in three sizes, so you can choose if you just want a taste, a hearty bowl, or a meal-sized portion. I went for the middle size, and there were four hot soups in cauldrons to choose from, each piping and appealing. Since I adore my seafood, and rich dishes, the Shrimp and Lobster Bisque ($3.79) piqued my interest. It's not a bad price for such a dish either, though it only comes with a little pack of saltines. A hunk of rustic bread costs another dollar. The soup itself was a bit dull. I am tempted to say that that is the error of my taste buds, who were dampened with a hint of the flu on this day. The tomato and cream were smooth and not overwhelming, though the thickness of the soup was palpable. The shellfish had mostly been blended into a pulp, with only a few solid kibbles of shrimp floating throughout. Though savoury and pleasantly hot, I would try something else next time.
After the hot soup I had a vegetarian wrap. There are a few nice veggie options at Foodwares Market, which is great! I sometimes wind up getting a quick lunch at grocery stores or markets, and the only veg option is usually a mayo-laden egg salad sandwich. Yucko. This Wild Mushroom, Brie and Boursin Wrap ($6.99), comes pre-packaged and ready to go. I think they're made fresh in the morning, eliminating the problem of how quickly wraps get soggy.  Thanks to the less-moist ingredients, the wrap was the right mix between juicy and dry, the lettuce coiling within the pita bread to add a crisp layer around the filling. It mostly tastes like fresh dark green lettuce, crunchy cukes and basil leaf, balanced with the luscious cheeses. Between the mushroom and lettuce, and earthy rind from the brie, I was strangely reminded of damp pines after rain, a foresty freshness. With two creamy cheeses though, all that was hard to notice. It would have been nice to know what kind of mushrooms they are, or to know if they're a blend. Perhaps I shouldn't say it was balanced. It's overwhelming with cheese!
Later on in the day, dinner was a thick piece of Vegetable Foccacia ($) that I brought with me. It didn't fare the journey too well, it's juicy garden top having smashed against the roof of the paper bag, a debris of zucchini and onions everywhere. Still, there were loads of veggies still clinging to their spots in the tomato paste, entrenched into a bread that was as airy as it was rustic. Such a contrast between dry spongy crust, dense and a little charred, and the angelic interior, so light. It was pleasant, and the blackened bread made the herbed sauce all the ore refreshing. Pungent onion, mushroom, tomato slices, zucchini and red pepper made for a juicy meal. I'm sure this is even better without suffering the strains of travel, and next time I will have to try it right from the market.
To end on as sweet a note as I started I kept a delightful Gateau de Basque with me until late in the night. It preserved quite well from the morning baking, and wasn't stale by the time I got to it. The cake is a sponge, like angel food with heavier grains, the edges and bottom dry and crumby. It's kept moist in the interior by this amazing layer of custard tucked away in the centre, which came as a surprise to me. I think this must be a French kind of doughnut, better than a beignet, more refined and decadent, without a heavy handed coating of glaze. No, here was a darling dusting of powder sugar, as nice to look at as to taste. With a cake not so sweet, it added just enough extra tongue-pleasing sugar. The custard in the cake was the real winner for me, exhibiting all the richness and glue of a Portuguese custard tart. Despite the size of the cake, it didn't sit like a heavy dessert, leaving me satisfied but not bloated.

Email Katherine

Monday, November 14, 2011


Coffee starts with breakfast. No. Stop me, it's backwards. Breakfast starts with coffee, and without it I sometimes don't know my way around. Never mind that I'm writing this at 9 in the evening.
I wanted to wrack up a big appetite when I went to meet Willie at Sadies Diner (whose website exists in the Dark Ages of myspace) for brunch. It's a fair 6km from my house to the oldtimey vegan diner at Portland and Adelaide, and though I wasn't walking fast it did the trick to make my stomach growl, and for the last half of my trip I flat out craved that hot coffee!
And when it hit my tongue I was left with a strong and memorable impression of meh.
Sadly, it went for the whole meal. 

The brunch wound up with a funny vegan Tex Mex angle. Understand, Sadie's is in no way a Tex Mex place. It just so happened that on this occasion our appetites had migrated, as the geese do, to the south. Can't blame them. I had the vegan Huevos Rancheros (10$), one of my favourite brunch dishes usually. Willie got to tell me a bit about different soy based cheeses, since I am a blank slate. I know nothing. Do they pair well with wine? I am told, no, they don't. They don't melt, either...except for Daiya cheese, which is why it is a BIG DEAL for vegans. Sadie's uses Daiya. I did like it, too, though it is stiffer than milkcheese. It has a similar taste, but floury. That interesting newness aside, I don't think the tortillas were good. The tofu 'egg' was cold, and hadn't really been made 'eggy' in any way. It just tasted like tofu. Cold tofu, in big dry clumps. No turmeric to turn it yellow, even! I know that a lot can be done for vegan scrambled eggs, and this was a bottom line effort. You can't go too wrong with brown beans and a crunchy tortilla at least.
In instances like this, I praise my love of hot sauce, and soak that dish.

Keeping with a deep south theme, Willie went for a more lunch like nosh, and got the Quesadillas (9$). A mix of predictable veggies tasted good, but didn't open our eyes to anything new and delightful, and weren't handled in a way that made the stuffed tortillas seem rethought. It wasn't delicious, just plain. I complain a lot about the lack of inventiveness in the zucchini-eggplant-peppers trinity vegetarian dishes tend to favour, though it's most often a symptom of the token vegetarian menu item on an otherwise meat loving menu. Sadie's is mainly vegetarian and vegan! They should be doing something exciting- it's what I expect. So even though I like the Daiya cheese, and there was a fair amount, I think this dish could have been more inventively veganized. One could not even taste the sambal alleged to be in their vegan mayo! One thing I did like was that corny, soft tortilla- I wonder if it's actually made in house?

(You can read Willie's review here).
Email Katherine
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Tuesday, November 8, 2011


The restaurant Acadia (50 C Clinton St.) takes its name from the coastal region of North America, from the Canadian maritime down past Maine. Before we had these countries and all! The food of the region is traditional with French roots, and laden with seafood, corn, and flavour- that is about as much of a sub par history lesson as you'll get from me. 

Even though Acadia talks about doing southern inspired food, there's a feel of uncomplicated maritime fare on their menu, and a downplayed sense of spice (read: heat) in what we order. You won't find big meaty wedges of fried chicken, either- at least not on this weeks menu. Buttermilk, corn and sea creatures are what bring it home.

The space is modern and very minimal. Off white walls, soothing sea grey accents, and deep mood lighting save it from the hyper-modernism of the all white, an uncomfortable look I cannot enjoy. It's intimate here even with the wide open eating area, no dividers keeping tables secluded from one another. It's loud, almost entirely from conversation bouncing along the painted paneled walls, little coming from the open kitchen. The usual clatter and clank of utensils and grill don't reach us, and the spot Jason and I have by the door is surprisingly comfortable.
I have been fantasizing about this menu for a while. It changes regularly, with the seasons or the whim of the chef, but the menu I've been perusing the last couple days and preparing for sounds terribly enticing. Sometimes I'll come to a new place with a strong preconception of what I want, and what will be best- and I hope that my dinner guest will cater to my wants! By some stroke of serendipity all the same things struck us. I've never had grits, Jason suggested them. He wanted to try the chow chow and mirliton, I thought halibut cheeks sound amazing (I am all for a greater use of the under appreciated bits of a beast). Ordering was simple, our overattentive waiter often at our elbow to take orders for food or drink, and easily convincing us to start with some hot house cornbread.

While waiting for the mains, a pickled selection of vegetables was delivered to us to snack on, and whet appetites that were already roaring from waiting for our 9pm reservation. I've said in the past that a simple litmus test of the quality of a restaurant is if they provide complimentary bread as an amuse bouche. This is like that, but so much more inventive! I'm becoming very fond of pickles in forms sweet, sour or salty. This was a selection of crunchy vegetables brined in an acidic soup, with yellow carrot, okra, scapes, celery, fennel, green beans and I think sea asparagus. A wonderful bouquet of texture and taste! They all maintained a strong sense of the flavour of fresh veg, which was remarkable, while having been infused with a new tang.
Dreamy, the Acadia Cornbread (7$) arrived steamy and succulent to our table, shallow loaves incredibly moist and airy. Every table has their bread baked to order, and it still arrived quickly. Incredibly hot! My father used to make johnny cake from scratch that had this Aunt Jemima quality, but better. The texture was just like that, without the over sweetness of johnny cake, which to my palate was perfection. The whip-cream textured pumpkin butter it came with tasted more simple than was implied, the gourd far from overpowering. Jason suggested pumpkin is too often used as a gimmick (think Starbucks revolting pumpkin spice latte). I think that pumpkin should be celebrated for its uses outside of pie! However in this the butter was butter, but better. There were flakes of sea salt that added pops to the whole delicious platter.
Cheeks are round, or so I thought. Looking at a fish head in the market, I would have thought that they would be shallow dollars of feathery flesh, tender but firm altogether. The chunks were actually big! The Halibut Cheeks (12$) came with blue cornmeal crust, pickled prawn, sugarcane chow chow (I had to look this up, it's a relish from the maritimes with cabbage as a main ingredient), mirlitons and buttermilk. I thought the buttermilk sauce tasted lightly cheesy, and hardly noticed the chow chow. It hid under the mantle of the fish and pickled prawn, as a solid and not-saucy base. The fish meat itself was delightful, and I don't understand why cheeks aren't served more regularly. The cornmeal was very salty, maybe over salty. What really caught my attention was the pickled prawn, which was served like a cake of crustacean, pressed into a mold and cut into triangular shapes. It was spongy, light in flavor, a bit like a jelly. The mirlitons were like a sweeter radish, circular flakes.
It wasn't an express intention to choose a meal made mainly of appetizers, but seafood calls and can't be denied. Here arrived the Shrimp Grits (13$), an experimental dish for me. I have heard grits described as horrendous, and as salty oatmeal. I expected a texture of mushy polenta. Not so! The oatmeal association is probably the closest to it's mark. They are smooth, and like everything we've had, piping hot. There is so much texture here I could not have been prepared for. They are creamy and hearty and not at all gritty. Who named this dish? What a misleading nomenclature! These grits are flown in from the Carolinas, and are the best of the best. They are skulking under a thick and heady lagoon of ham hock consomme, and the flavor nearly floors me. We're agreed: these grits are a taste of heaven. Everyone should experience a beautiful flavour like this! A sweet corn taste teases the meaty shrimps from their hiding places in the grits. It all goes together well, the mushroom and cheese taking back seats to the bolder fleshy flavours.
For a hungry start we slow down quick. The dishes aren't large, but they aren't light- I am very impressed and happy with these apps. One last thing hearkens from the menu before we fold our napkins and call it a night, foregoing dessert: the Vidalia Onion Tart (16$). I am always happy to see the token vegetarian item on a menu attempting to do something new. I get so bored of seeing the snore inducing trinity of eggplant-zucchini-red pepper most menus supply. You wouldn't find that on an Acadian menu, anyhow. Instead, you can have this tart, the crust rolled thinner than any I've had in Toronto, floury and delicate as lattice. I'm amazed it holds the onion in. The onions are cooked to a noodly consistency, mild, pungent, moist. One of the appeals that had us order the tart are the caramelized hops and julienne green apple. While the apply mixes in with the greens and Gruyere to top the tart, adding a needed awakening between mouthfuls, the hops are hard to notice. It's a nice little tart, but between light crust, soft onion, and feathery greens, is not very substantial. My one wish is that it had something to weigh it down and suggest more body. Please understand: this criticism is no more than me picking nits, and this meal was wholly divine.

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