Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Gabardine

Service announcement: I'm going to be visiting family for the next week, and wont be able to paint! Drawn and Devoured will return in the new celebrate its first anniversary! Yay! Happy New Year everyone!

I like that I work downtown now. Everything is so much closer when you're right on the subway and tram lines. Just walking anywhere is so easy. Compared to my commute of a month ago, walking anywhere is FAST, too! In a way I feel like I've rejoined civilization, with all the luxuries that that entails- like having a restaurant as lovely as The Gabardine (372 Bay St) in spitting distance. I could go there for every lunch if only I wasn't the kind of workaholic who doesn't break for lunch! Over their polished glass window is a glowing emblem of a pigeon who has stared at me with a playful mockery for the last few weeks, as I've adjusted to the new pace of this new life, knowing that a good dinner must be right around the corner.
Could I get used to the Bay Street life of cocktails at 5, after a hard days work? Could I become used to pickles and devilled eggs and hot olives as a matter of course? Dangerously, yes. My friends, a new chapter may be starting here.
But I digress.
On a  Friday a reservation is a must- while I know that, I usually neglect to take care of the basic practice. So we sat at the bar, which is deep and white and marble. Raw tungsten zigzags under odd shapes bulbs illuminated the white walled room dimly. I thought maybe I would run into Nucky Thompson or one of his cronies. Was it the wide bar or the beach white that made me feel like a sneak on a 20's set? I like it here. They have good cocktails (though I opted for beer), and the servers are friendly, jovial. I don't know if the dress code is plaid, but all but two of the staff wore it. Molly, Pietro (also wearing plaid) and I shared the bar with a few ladies who were clearly friends of staff, ladies who were slyly served dishes not offered on the menu. I would have ordered a tamale if it had been an option! The menu items we are given to choose from are super enticing, fortunately.

I twisted Molly's arm into sharing some devilled eggs with me, and she twisted back so that we also got warm olives (you can imagine just how hard we had to wring, ie: not at all). I love bar snacks. They're the perfect size, and excellent for sharing. Devilled eggs are by far turning into a small obsession, a late-night craving which is now easily met at a couple places in Toronto. These devilled eggs ($4) are briny soft, very creamy without tasting heavily of mayo, a touch of dry mustard, four halves to a serving. They're classic, nothing ventured, and they please even if they don't astound. The warm olives ($5) are in the same boat. Warm, succulent, perfectly salted. No fancy tricks, just enjoyable fruit...for the most part. There were two stand out olives in the bowl of assorted sizes and colours. Two green buttons stuffed with lemon rind. An amazing kick in the teeth! It's so good it makes me wish I had a martini in my hand, even now.

In tandem with beginning a new job, with the upcoming new year, I am attempting to turn over some sort of new leaf. It's tough when you love food like I do, but I'm trying to be...well...healthier. Knowing that I would have a salad as an entree, I revisited my cruel arm-twisting-technique I connived to share some rabbit rillettes ($9) with M&P. I'm not sure which blogger I'm reading who keeps raving about rillettes, but someone is out there tainting my mind with desires. These were a first for me, so for those of you for whom it will also be a first, let me explain: rillette is a pate made without liver, to put it crudely. It's a fat-cooked tenderized meat paste, and it is delicious. The rabbit keeps a bit of game to it, but is mostly tamed by smooth fat. The paste is served with fresh, flaky crostini, which are salted with clear and sharp flakes of sea salt, or rock salt. There is something noticeably potent about the salting in all the dishes. It isn't heavy, I mean - it's just that the salt has a palpably high quality. The crostini are airy, and the rabbit rillette happily stuffs the pockets of air. Add puckering sweet-sour cherry preserve, and we have a winning dish.
So, a salad. The Gabardine has a pleasingly imaginative approach to their herbivorous selections, which is great to see. Garden, Greek and Ceasar salads just don't turn me on. I love sweet peas like a kid loves cake, so I let out an internal cheer for the salad of crushed sweet peas on bread with bufala mozzarella ($12), which combines some of my favourite things- bufala mozzarella is a big love of mine. They're all different though, aren't they? This mozzarella had a way stronger personality than what I'm used to. Even with a strong minty lemon garnish, with fresh baby pea shoots, this mozzarella was running wild. I think it mated with a blue cheese somewhere down the line. Oh, on the outside it looked like a cloud of sweetness, like a proper mozzarella, but that FLAVOUR! Yes, a little musky. A little unexpected. The rest of the salad was also surprising. The bread was not very big, and I think this should be moved into the appetizer section of the menu. The crushed peas were piled high, and were freshly cooked, not from can, freezer or dehydrator. Delicious- but light. Lightly oiled, sparked with the same perfect salt. There was not much greens under the bread display, so it was less of a salad than an open face sandwich on a baguette spear, which itself was artfully charred, char which penetrated each mouthful.

I did not try the club house sandwich ($12) which Molly had, but it looked inviting. Two slabs of pancake-fluffy Texas toasts were lightly golden, kissed by a frying pan, holding everything together. The chicken was generous, the bacon visible in fine strips. I'm told it was rather lemony. With fingerling potatoes and a heap of juicy greens, it made a lovely sight, and all was eaten but the crusts.

Pietro was also going to have the club, but these two are wonderful and obliging friends who have come on enough blog dates to know I thrive on variety. He opted instead for a big ol' skirt steak ($23), grilled medium. There's a twist on this steak which is something I appreciate seeing, especially since I spent a good deal of time at backyard barbecue's eating grilled peppers with chimichurri sauce this past summer. A chimichurri thick as chutney was lumpen atop the fat and proud steak. It was grainy and grassy, full of herbs. I love chimichurri and think it goes great with fresh red meat. The steak was robust, with loose marbling. I don't know if it was parsley of cilantro in this home variation of chimichurri, but Pietro doesn't like cilantro (one of those soap tasters) and pushed the sauce aside. A tragic waste! I like the zing and lime of it seeping into the meat. Their fries are good, too! Shoestring with the skin on (need I again mention that yummy salt? Well, once more won't hurt).

We'll see if the Gabardine keeps me coming back for dinner or lunch. I think they're likely catch me for breakfast (seriously they open at 8am, right before I start!) and after work drinks. The area holds many unexplored gems, and city, I'm ready.

Email Katherine

The Gabardine on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Grand Electric

Like a bolt of hot pink lightning from the sky, everyone is jittering with the words GRAND and ELECTRIC (or so it seems to me). When did this happen? Even before they opened their doors at 1330 Queen West, the new hot house of heavenly food was bursting with good reputation. I will spare you the repeat of Grand Electric's history, which can be summed up better by mind with more knowledge of what happens behind kitchen doors. I'm here to talk about food.
I'm also here, briefly, to talk about type. I never thought much of illegible lettering until Michael DeForge (a talent who exploded into recognition the last couple years in the comics realm) wrote a bit about it, and his own experiments with the tough lettering. It gave me a new appreciation for words you have to work to enjoy, but I never felt I have a good chance to try it out. Drawn and Devoured is about food, and drawing, and it is also intended to give me room to practice my lettering. I enjoy it but have a long way to go to achieve any great skill. With their punk music and their in your face attitude, Grand Electric presented me with a muse for aggressive letters!
You should call and listen to the voicemail. Sassy.
By now menus in the form of photographs and word of mouth have filtered out into the universe of people with their ears and eyes open to what's up with Toronto food. I went to Grand Electric not really knowing what to expect other than a very, very long list of bourbon. The menu, modest in size and promising in turn of phrase, is Mexican inspired, with some Canadian ingredients thrown into the mix to add a little local love. This Guac + Chips was good and simple, very unassuming. The chips were floury and hard, oil and crisp. These are good things, but different. I could really taste the corn. Both the pico and guac themselves were very traditional, just a hint of cilantro added to make them more than just tomato, or more than just avocado. The pork rind was sweet, salty, puffy and delightfully smoky.

This picture is a bit of a misrepresentation! You can get one Taco or three in a go at Grand Electric, and they're small softies, their shells gently cradling a variety of fillings. you can choose beef cheek, baja fish, arbol chicken or pork belly al pastor. We ordered one of each, but wound up with two beef and no fish, so that was kind of too bad. The dimly lit restaurant IS still in it's first month, and is inundated with people vying for attention and food. We could also have asked for a correction I suppose, but instead went ahead and ate what we were given!

The tortilla has the most pronounced flavour out of all the ingredients of each taco. It's yellow and corny, and goes great with the house salsas on the table. They're surprisingly flaky and elastic at the same time. When eating these tacos, the flavours do melt together very easily. The pork belly has a spicy aftertaste, and mostly taste of cilantro and sweet ingrained bbq sauce. The beef cheek is FATTY and tender, but could use a little more kick. It taste very simply of beef, and gets overpowered by the waxy wedges of avocado it comes with. The arbol chicken is the winner for me. It's extra hot, the heat hitting like a clear sunny day, it tastes bright. There's something musky like a stinky cheese or natto which really surprises me, because it works. I don't really think there was natto on this taco, but it's what I tasted.

The salad itself is nothing to get excited about. It's very plain, the buttermilk dressing like a less adventurous, tame ranch dressing, the salad itself little more than succulent and meaty Boston lettuce leaves with spears of radish. It's refreshing, but by itself would be disappointing. It comes with this LOVELY croquette of pulled pork, fried to crunchy perfection. It's great broken up on top of the leaves. The pork flakes away in chunks. It tastes like it's been tenderized by sitting in some evil, dark dieu du ciel beer. La fin fu monde! Pas de tout, c'est si delicieux. Pardon my French. The coke reduction is very strong, and the toasted pepita's offer a fun crunch, better than croutons.
I'm a lover of ceviche. It's the fish that science invented! And it usually tastes fresh and tender and mind blowing. It CERTAINLY did here, and for me this was the best dish of the night. The tostada that the fish and sundry vegetables nested atop was flaky and fried, very corny and homey tasting. It's salty body soaked up the ample amount of SUPER garlicky aioli (so good). There were pickled beans, crisped onions and slivers of jalapeno and deadly Chinese peppers (there is an official name for them that less conveys their evil heat, and it avoids my memory in this moment). The fish is light, translucent, and mellow. It's perfect.

Here's is a little peek at the menu. It's missing some items, like the soup that is apparently the ONE thing you HAVE to get at Grand Electric, and is naturally the one thing we did not get. This key lime pie in a glass jar will take away my sorrow! Dense whipped cream with bright little stars of candied lime rind shaved over it is a good start, and then you get to the filling, which is more custardy than limey. It's refreshing but also very rich, and doesn't taste fake or over the top. The graham crust at the bottom adds just the right amount of sweet comfort, and a touch of vanilla.
Email Katherine Grand Electric on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Pizzeria Libretto

It maybe a surprise, but I've never been to Pizzeria Libretto. It may yet be one of my sweet city's most lauded hot spots, standing the test of time. I should add that last tentatively, since they've been open just a short 2 years now? And the throng stays strong! In fact, the popularity of the contemporary neapolitan pizza place is such that they recently opened a second location at 550 Danforth Avenue...just a hop, skip and a jump away from me, wouldn't you know! The two menu's have different items available, so what you're used to eating at Ossington may not be what you get at Danforth! I would really like to try the rapini pie in the future, but I think Danforth might have the sexier dessert menu (we were too full to try).
To taste the Danforth pies, I teamed up with one of my blogging inspirations, and collaborator on the "One Cup Sketch" series (to return in the new year), Yasmin Seneviratne- she runs Le Sauce. Very worthy of a visit!

Salads to start, as we planned on having a slow and enjoyable meal. With a pizza each, the greens were a light way to begin. This one, the Endive and Grapefruit ($11) was small, served in the center of a big white dish, creamy vinaigrette hardly denting the flavour. When you have rosy, meaty grapefruit, sauce isn't that important. Even though the endive is a headliner, I found the traces of golden beet to really take over, with their sweetness and memory of fresh dug earth. I like this salad because it is watery and refreshing, and the walnuts are candied, toasted to make a nice sweet crunch.
It's probably the signature dish at Libretto, that big-name baller that every meat eater has to try on a kind of gut level. It has confit duck? I am getting THAT! we cry out upon perusal of the menu in its fancy italics, eyes hanging on the promise of fat fowl and tart seasonal fruit. The Duck Confit ($17) pizza really delivered, though it wasn't quite what I expected. It was not so fatty, the duck meat reduced to a tender ragu. It took me some time to place it, but the flavour if like Christmas on a crust. Stuck without family this holiday? come to Libretto, it tastes like turkey, but sweeter and more tender. These pizza's are seared in a whopping 900 degrees. The dough cools fast because it's thin, but remains elastic, full of personality. It's delicate flavour is an unassuming vessel for shards of equally humble pear. The duck is a salty attention hog- as it should be. The salt tastes bright, brought to this clarity by the perfect amount of fresh olive oil. The mozza cools and solidifies pretty quickly.
It makes delicious leftovers, as in the end it was more than I could eat.

I was not alone desire to start with something fresh! Yasmin also got a salad. I'll take a moment here to talk about the service. It's a very hipster joint, I was really surprised. The staff look like they all come from OCAD (I would know!), all laid back and cool, and surprisingly attentive. I mean. For hipster staff. What does that even mean anymore? Hipster? Isn't that pretty much the majority now? I'm probably a confused pup. They keep a good eye on their tables, though! No sooner than the last crumb of blue cheese left the plate, and our pies were in the over, and 90 seconds later, at our table. Kudos! Our glasses were always full.
So, this salad! I tried a little, and it was what you would expect of a carefully handled fruit and greens salad. Refreshing, crisp, the pears adding a little acidity, but mostly crispness. Yasmin and I both fawned over the figs (so many tastes in a common!). They were fat little guys. The blue cheese was very musky, with evil blue veins. the dressing was a lightly salted oil, which quietly let the fruits do the talking.

And finally, the last pizza! Even though this one is named the Quattro formaggi ($18) for it's buffala mozzarella, montasio, moliterno and parmigiano reggiano, Yasmin summed it up more aptly: "the truffle pizza". The almost liquid black fungi pools look ominous, and taste amazing. I don't think I've honed my taste buds to truffle though, and I felt overwhelmed by the amazing and complex mix of cheeses. It was strong, with pleasantly stinky mozarella, dry and wakening parmessan, and a creamy blend of moliterno and montasio. I think I have a lot to learn about cheese, actually, and may wander of to Cheese Magic to experiment with flavours. In the end, I think what I loved the most here was the clear fresh tomato sauce, as simple and as enjoyable as the day.

Email Katherine
Pizzeria Libretto on Urbanspoon

Pizzeria Libretto on Urbanspoon