Sunday, September 27, 2009

The "F" Word and a Nipple-licious Bellini: Joey Don Mills Restaurant Opening and Interview with Chef Chris Mills

Sunday, September 27, 2009
Mark and I headed out to the opening party for Joey Don Mills this past week. I must start by saying The Shops at Don Mills are pretty neat - it was my first time there. I'll be back to check out McEwan's new supermarket soon... but I digress. Okay, so here's the view of the restaurant from the outside.

Now before I talk about the event and the restaurant itself, let me start by saying Chris Mills, the Executive Chef of Joey Restaurant Group, was pretty fun to interview. I got to chat to him on the phone before the actual event and he fully embraced my weird request to have him answer our "You + Food: 10 Questions" thread on our Facebook group, where I've posted his answers on his behalf.

The long and short of it is that I like to see Canadians like Chef Mills doing great things. Joey Restaurant Group has 18 locations spread throughout B.C., Alberta, Manitoba, and even Washington in the U.S. Chef Mills has a global perspective and has done a lot of traveling, which heavily influences his cooking, but don't you dare drop the "F" bomb when trying to describe his signature style - he says what he does is certainly not "Fusion." He explained to me the word "Global" better describes his food.

I also think those of us who love food to the extent that it's creepy are always trying to pinpoint WHEN this love of food started. Was there a moment? Is it ridiculous to even try to pinpoint said moment? I have no idea when mine was, but Chef Mills remembers picking up one of his mother's cookbooks and baking bread when he was about 14 years old just to have the smell of freshly baked bread in the house. If there is such a thing as said pinpointable moment (yes, I said pinpointable, I make up words as I go), I'd say that sure sounds like his.

I met Chef Mills at the restaurant opening and he gave us the grand tour - men, don't miss the awesome "fireman shooting his hose" image above the urinals - I hope they have extra cleaning staff, as that picture could encourage some messy yet creative urination... We also saw what will be the patio by Spring 2010 - I think it'll be great once it is finished. They also had some great light fixtures which helped give a nice warm ambiance... All in all, the decor was what I expected - it was nice, though it felt a little suburban to me somehow as well, but who am I kidding - I'm not here to talk about decor, I'm here to talk about FOOD!

We visited a couple food stations where we tried the Panang Prawn Curry Bowl and the Bombay Butter Chicken (neither of which blew me away, though neither were "bad" by any means - they were just standard in my humble opinion). We also tried some of the samplers the waitresses were passing out. My favourite was the Ahi Tuna Taco, which had a square of lightly-seared sushi-grade tuna atop a sesame ginger coleslaw topped with wasabi-lime aioli. The taco was nice and crunchy - I liked the contrast it gave. The Lobster Grilled Cheese was my second favourite (a little on the greasy side, but if anything on this earth is allowed to be a little too far gone on the greasiness scale, it's grilled cheese).

As for drinks, Joey Don Mills has a really innovative wine serving system that preserves freshness and, as a result, gives them more flexibility to create paired tasting menus. We also had a few delicious bellinis at the bar - I think it was, in fact, the best bellini I have ever had. Sidenote: I don't have any reasonable explanation for why the bellini looks like a nipple... My goodness, with all the "F" bombs and nipples, this blog is getting a little X-rated...

And that, my friends, is my cue to call it a night!

Yours in food,

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Toronto Ukrainian Festival

Tuesday, September 22, 2009
After the Miracle Fruit foodiemeet, we hopped on the subway to Jane station to check out the Toronto Ukrainian Festival at Bloor West Village, between Jane and Runnymede.

There were a variety of dance and musical acts on stage, a beer garden serving-up some Ukrainian brews, arts & crafts, as well as other displays of Ukrainian culture.

Now onto the food. We had a combo of sausage, perogies and sauerkraut, with a slice of rye bread, and sour cream on the side. That hit the spot. It felt healthy and comforting. It's a good thing the Miracle Fruit we had earlier had lost its effect. I wanted to taste all the flavour of the sauerkraut. I like perogies prepared this way, all moist and slippery, in contrast with fried and dry pub perogies. I would've liked to also check out the Polish Festival happening that same weekend on Roncesvalles, but this will have to be my perogie fix for now.

Walking east on Bloor, we spotted a sandwich board for Sweet Flour bake shop advertising muffin tops (yes you Seinfeld fans, they sell muffin tops in Toronto). We had to try one, as well as a Ukrainian sugar cookie with a smiley face on it. The muffin top tasted like a normal muffin, though I would've liked a little more crunch on the crust. The sugar cookie was really good.

Further down the street, I spotted my favourite of all Toronto festival food, Ecuadorian pulled pork and potato omelettes from La Fiesta Catering. Too bad I had no more room in my tummy for the day.

Wait, they're not Ukrainian... and neither is Bob's Bloomin Onions nor Tiny Tom Donuts further down. No matter, they all add to the wonderful festive summer street feel, along with the same midway rides they had at the Taste of the Danforth.

Another festival concluded... Welcome fall!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Miracle Fruit

Monday, September 21, 2009
We went to the National Film Board this past Sunday to partake in a Miracle Fruit foodiemeet, organized by Andrea Chiu (@TOfoodie) and Suresh Doss (@spotlightcity). We saw a couple of familiar faces Jess Bennett (@jessbennett) and Nina Popovic (@popNina ), and were looking forward to finally finding out what this Miracle Fruit was all about.

We cleansed our palates with some Cave Spring Chenin Blanc, sparkling white, and couldn't wait to get started.

Miracle Fruit (Synsepalum dulcificum), a.k.a. Miracle Berry is native to Ghana in West Africa. It was first documented in 1725 when explorers noticed the locals eating the berries before meals. Miracle Fruit contains a glycoprotein called Miraculin, that binds to taste receptors on the tounge and is activated by the presence of acids.

We were presented with thawed out berries, as the freezing prevents the Miraculin from degrading after the berries have been picked. We were instructed to place the berries in our mouthes for a couple of minutes scraping the flesh off the big seed in the middle of the berry without eating the seed. The berry's effects should last 30-45 minutes, so we started testing various foods and drinks.

The Miracle Fruit tasted and looked a bit like cranberries. For something that's supposed to shield us from sour tastes, it oddly enough tasted sour. However as we continued to roll the berries in our mouths the the sour taste began to dissipate, and we were left with a sensation akin to eating a lychee. That done, we rid ourselves of the seeds and started trying out sour foods starting with wedges of grapefruit and lemons.

The first bite into the lemon was a thrilling feeling. We could not taste a hint of sourness, yet our mouths watered and puckered-up. That was really weird! There was a sensational void, like stepping out of a noisy club into an empty alley... white noise for your tounge. It tasted like a sweet refreshing lemonade. The bite into the grapefruit was even more heavenly. That was the best citrus taste you'll ever have, I kid you not! The grapefruit was sweet, and had flavours exposed that were normally overshadowed by its sourness.

Next up was the real test: Shots of vinegar.

Gah! I let out a small cough as the white vinegar seared the back of my throat and crawled down like a gulp of bathtub moonshine. I'll get the hang of this yet. I found out that it's better sipped like a fine whiskey. That actually tasted good, sans the alcohol vapour. An even better swig was the apple cider vinegar. If the white was vodka, the cider was a single malt. Something tells me we'll pay for this later. Who drinks vinegar? Isn't it a household cleaner?
I thought we better start putting some solids into our stomachs to mop up all the acidic swill. We grabbed some chips and started munching. "Hmmm, tastes like regular chips. Wouldn't it be cool if they served us vinegar flavoured chips?," I mused. It turns out they were Miss Vickie's Sea Salt and Malt Vinegar chips. Ah silly me. Like I'd taste vinegar at that moment. There was also a BBQ flavoured chip, but that tasted quite normal.

We then had some vegetable cocktail to wash the chips down. That was quite nice and went down easily. Tomato juice seem to react well to Miracle Fruit.

I wonder what stout would taste like? We tried some Guinness... and voila... Guinness Lite. We couldn't believe that it would make one of the heaviest beers light and refreshing. Strange indeed. It was smooth and thirst quenching like an iced cafe Americano.

Better yet, how about some Rickard's Honey Brown. The ladies loved that one. It tasted caramelly, as if Skor made a soda.

Oh we missed the lime. Why not some of that, chased by a kiwi? That sounds odd, but it's an odd food event. The lime cut right through. Wow that didn't work. Maybe a little? The miracle fruit definietly reacted better to the other citrus fruits, not to mention the vinegar. The kiwi tasted like kiwi, but maybe a little sweeter.

And a pickle? Pickly... is that a word? Just a little saltier and blander, but not much different from a normal pickle.

Let's go Tabasco! What, slurping Tabasco after shots of vinegar?... not good. OK that wasn't any less hot! I love Tabasco. I drench my pizza in it all the time, but strip the sour from it and it's all burn. Where's that Rickard's? Lineup... let's just squeeze some lemons into a cup of water... mmm lemonade.

Haute cuisine plating below: before I tried the Tabasco again, but this time on goat cheese and a cracker. Not an advisable combination, but it was suggested to us as an experiment. The cheese extinguished the heat, but it didn't taste so good. The goat cheese alone on a cracker however was rich, creamy, and delectable.

My hors d'oeuvre creation below: Yummmmy!

The grape tomatoes tasted good, but they weren't that acidic to begin with.

The Miracle Fruit was wearing off. Might as well, we were getting full. There were a lot of items to try. It's intriguing how different foods react to Miracle Fruit. It neutralized most sour notes, except for the lime, and seemed to heighten, or at least uncover the sweetness hidden in many foods. It is indeed a miracle.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Veging out at the Toronto Vegetarian Food Fair

Monday, September 14, 2009
We're omnivores at Tasting Toronto and enjoy meat quite a bit. So what were we doing at North America's largest vegetarian food fair? Well it's still food in Toronto, worthy of investigation, and we're here to share our findings.

The sight of Buddhist monks is auspicious, and says that we've stumbled upon something of import.

Our first stop turned out to be the best food we'd have that day. We picked up a sample platter from Hearty Catering. There was a vegan filo cup with a spicy cauliflower curry, a raw apple fennel salad, and a vegan filo cup with Moroccan chickpeas. The filo cups were yummy with a good textural contrast between the layered pastry and the soft hearty fillings. The apple fennel salad was also a treat from the crunch of raw fennel, to the softer juicy apple, then to the squishy tart punch or cranberries.

The platter also had a grilled tomato with a tofu basil pesto, garnished with a carrot beet salad. This was my favourite item. The tofu was reminiscent of ground beef and was heavily seasoned. It was so laden with flavour as it was, and to be sitting atop the juicy acidity of a grilled tomato was scrumptious. There was also a vegan red and white quinoa salad with broccolli. Again, well seasoned and garnished... delish. Ah and not to forget the dessert, a perfectly moist vegan carrot cake. I'm feeling healthy all over here, and we've just started.

We moved over to the Magic Oven booth where we sampled an all gluten-free selection. We had the chickpea power soup to start. A little hot and hearty soup is always good to get the tummy ready. Our main course was a serving of infused tofu bites and an organic spelt spinach pizza. The tofu bites were a little different from what was commonly served elsewhere. They were firmer and were a little bit like cheese bites.

The pizza was decent. I usually like my spinach a little more cooked, but it was good. We found the gluten-free spelt crust fascinating. It was ultra thin, and had a cracker-like bite. Oddly, we found that topping the pizza with the tofu bites was actually pretty good. For dessert we had a gluten-free chocolate cake... major kudos for making a GF cake that doesn't suck. That was impressive, maybe they cheated? Just kidding, the cake was good.

There was a lot of food on hand from the Indian subcontinent. We tried a combo of masala dosa, a couple of tiny onion pakoras, and a veggie samosa.

Our last full-meal stop was at Zara's Gourmet Kitchen. Vegan chicken? We've gotta check this out.

We ended up ordering a multi-curry combo of vegan lamb curry, vegan chicken curry, spinach and tofu, basmati rice, naan, and veggie pakoras. The lamb was actually a tough soy product. The texture was close to meat, but the sauce was so-so. The spinach and tofu wasn't bad, but since it looked so richly green and healthy, I persuaded my Popeye self to eat it all for nourishment. The basmati rice was fragrant, and a perfect side to the curries. The pakoras were good and a cheap add-on to our combo. The last place had really tiny ones. But most impressive of all was the vegan chicken. The sauce was yummy and all, but the texture... It pretty much looked and felt like chicken. Well about 90%, but for a soy product that's pretty darn good.

We scoped out the Brigantine tent for the rest of the vegetarian exhibit and found a mini trade show with purveyors of drinks and snacks, as well as displays for vegetarian and vegan information, massages, and other related products. One thing stood out that we didn't quite like. There was some hemp milk that just tasted horrible. I can't imagine anyone drinking that casually just for fun. My thoughts immediately wander to a greasy nappy-haired man, reclined on a furry couch in a smoke-filled basement, but I digress.

Our last stop was ice cream, or sorbet, or whatever you call this gluten-free, low glycemic index, soy based dessert from Soy-N-Joy. It's a good alternative to regular ice cream if you're on a health kick. We had a chocolate-mint and a lychee flavoured sample each. The chocolate mint wasn't the normal bright green, but tasted nice and minty nonetheless. I liked the strong lychee flavour in the lychee ice cream, but it left a noticeable soy aftertaste. Soy-N-Joy makes a good, light and healthy dessert.

That's it, the final food extravaganza at Harbourfront for the summer. We leave you now with some parting Harbourfront pics.