Thursday, January 21, 2010

French microbrews at The 3 Brewers

Thursday, January 21, 2010
Don't let this little microbrewery fool you. The 3 Brewers or Les 3 Brasseurs is not the small pub out of Quebec that some who've visited its Montreal location may believe. It is in fact a chain from France, bringing the old European tradition of fresh non-pasteurized beers brewed on site to it's Yonge-Dundas location. The simple yet tasty menu includes brasserie fare and bistro dishes, culminating in their specialty flamms. The Flammequeches, flamms for short, are pizza-like Alsatian-style open faced pies with various toppings. Though calling them pizzas is like calling this French brasserie a British gastropub... same difference.

What better way to start the evening than to have a pint of craft beer. We just missed the regular brewery tour that they offer, but maybe next time we'll catch the brewmaster in action. We had the Virago and the Amber Passion. The Virago's rich profile comes from a unique blend of malts, caramel, chocolate, and a hint of coffee. The Amber Passion is a vibrant and well balanced beer brewed with a special blend of pale malts. The beers were nice and fresh, full-bodied and very flavourful. They were a little flat for my liking though. Maybe I have grown too fond of megacorp Interbrew's Belgian offerings, as I expect the top of my tongue to be assaulted while the bitter flavours mellow in the back.

As pub food goes, The 3 Brewers fills a unique niche in this city's foodscape. The flamms are simply delectable. We had the Smoked Meat flamm: smoked meat a l'ancienne, gruyere cheese and pickles. Though it was a little odd eating it with huge pickle wedges, the flamm was awesome. The smoked meat was definitely Montreal. I wished they put a lot more on. The gruyere was deeply fulfilling, and made us think that maybe other pizza places should really take a look at using this cheese. Yeah we know it's expensive -- if you build it, they will come.

We also had the other house specialty, the Beer-braised pork shank, served with a salad, baked potato, and sauerkraut. This might need getting used to for some people, as pork hocks are not the most appealing sight. At first all you see is hairy, gelatinous skin, fat, and bone. I knew however that this was gonna be good. Filipinos have a similar dish called Paksiw na Pata, and my Eastern-Euro friends attest that pork hock is a beer garden staple.

The staff advises newbies to flip the layer of fat and skin over to reach the juicy, succulent, flavour-soaked meat inside. The meat was great, but I also treated myself to bits of the skin and fat, eaten with the meat and sauerkraut. An acquired indulgence that some may be squeamish of.

For dessert we had a flamm with apple and chocolate sauce. That was really good. It was like a crispy, flaky crepe with crunchy slivers of apple, a rich chocolate sauce and dollops of whipped cream.

The 3 Brewers is a delightfully casual place to have a beer and simple yet yummy food in a bustling touristy part of town. It's actually quite spacious inside despite the small street facade. I highly recommend the flamms. The wide variety of flamm toppings makes The 3 Brewers a definite food stop.

Click here for more photos: The 3 Brewers

Posted by: Mark Rodas

The 3 Brewers275 Yonge Street, Toronto, Canada(647) 347-6286

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Captain John's Seafood and the good ship Jadran

Wednesday, January 20, 2010
For as long as I’ve lived in this city, I’ve wondered what it was like inside that old ship moored at the foot of Yonge Street. Like the CN Tower, Captain John’s Seafood was just one of those places the locals took for granted since it’s presence displaced not only water, but any notion that it would go anywhere else other than where it was berthed. Why go now when it’ll always be there?

The ship may remain, but alas Captain John is set to retire. So we scurried to his boat on a blustery winter day to get a final glimpse of this Toronto institution before it closes its doors for good.

A driving force in closing Captain John’s Seafood besides the passage of time is that the city considers the ship a structure, and hence subject to hefty property taxes. The actual vessel may remain where it is, while prognosticators and potential investors speculate upon the ship’s reincarnation as a fancy club or some other extravagantly themed venue.

As we approached the boat, we noticed that it certainly had seen better days. Random patches of mismatched paint covered swathes of the her hull. Not to be deterred we entered into a kitschy waiting area loaded with marine paraphernalia.

We waited for a maitre’d and were greeted by a charming old man in a bright blue nautical blazer. He escorted us to our seats in an elegantly dated dining room that screamed old folks home. This room was surprisingly comforting, not unlike visiting your grandparents. It's as though we fell through a rift in space-time. Neither did it feel like downtown Toronto, nor did it feel anywhere near 2010. “This is nice,” we thought, as we looked forward to our meal.

On our table was a photocopied menu with the life story of “Captain” John Letnik, and the good ship Jadran.

From humble beginnings in Slovenia, Captain John escaped poverty via Austria to finally find himself alone and penniless standing outside Toronto’s Union Station at the age of 17. Luckily, a young couple sensing his dilemma struck up a conversation with him in German no less, the only language the three had in common. John soon had a place to stay and a job as a houseman at a golf club. Through hard work at various kitchens, he finally scrounged up enough to buy his own restaurant. Later on, he got caught up in the idea of opening Toronto’s first floating restaurant.

In November of 1975, the MS Jadran (Adriatic in Yugoslavian) finally arrived from her transatlantic voyage to dock at it’s current location. Purchased from the Yugoslavian government in the fall of 1975, the Jadran has 5 levels, 355 staterooms, and a capacity of 700 people. We later found out from one of our sources that the ship used to be Marshall Tito’s personal yacht! Who knows what cold war mysteries she hides?

We ordered the combination platter for two: “A delicious array of Crab Clusters, Shrimp a la Scampi, Fried Shrimp, Sole, Scallops, Chicken and baked Fish. Served with rice and fresh cooked vegetables, with soup” for $31.95.

We munched on some really yummy, garlicky, butter soaked bread while we waited for our order.

Next up was the very satisfying Manhattan clam chowder. Unlike most chowders we’ve had, it was less creamy and very tomatoey. We loved the huge tomato chunks.

Between the rich bread and hearty soup, we were already feeling sated before the main course had arrived. And then it came... the seafood feast.

As you can see from the photo, there was an abundance of seafood, and we wound up quite full. There was a lot more crab and baked fish than we expected, and we were very happy with our meal.

Captain John’s was a good experience. It’s not haute cuisine, so if that’s what you’re looking for, we suggest you look elsewhere. It’s a cozy and laid back place for families or couples to enjoy a decent seafood meal in the heart of the city.

Too bad it’ll be gone soon. If you’re interested in carrying on the legacy yourself, the Jadran can be yours for a paltry $1.5 million here: MLS listing

Click here for additional photos: Captain John's Seafood

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Part II: Primo - "The Edible City" Book Review

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

We're onto the next course as we munch our way through "The Edible City." Here's what the "Primo" section of the book brings us.


Pamela Cuthbert kicks it off by asking readers to take stock of their kitchens - could you provide food for your family in an emergency? What if borders closed and the food supply was on lockdown? How would we hold up with our "delivered-just-in-time" grocery model? I agree that food security is one of those things we never think about until it presents itself as a pressing issue. Pamela outlines the importance of food security (especially among those less fortunate than us) and the work that is being done on an ongoing basis to try to keep it top-of-mind.

As if a partial answer to Pamela's story before it, Lorraine Johnson writes about urban gardening past and present - she mentions Victory Gardens for the war effort / during the Depression where food security became something the entire country focused its attention on. She also mentions the potential the city has for urban gardening, making particular note of the uproar over planting fruit trees in Ben Nobleman Park across from Eglinton W. Subway Station. I think it's a neat idea - I'm planning to make a visit in the summer to see said fruit trees.

Mary F. Williamson follows the history of the Webb family, who was well-known for their wedding cakes, their catering business, and their restaurants and bakeries. She paints a picture of lavish catered events of a bygone era, including a swanky party thrown in Toronto by the Earl and Countess of Aberdeen in celebration of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. The story even contains an old menu from one of the Webbs' catered events. Can't say I miss the aspic craze though - one of the items mentioned in the story is tongue in aspic (it's not the tongue that throws me off, it's the aspic part! I digress a bit here, but I had a Filipino dish with cow tongue at Christmas and thought it was pretty good - it's a lot softer than I figured it'd be).

Katarina Gligorijevic explores "The Toronto" - a cocktail that, oddly enough, many Torontonians have never heard of and that has no traceable connection to Toronto whatsoever!

David Alexander, executive director of the Toronto Vegetarian Association, gives a bit of insight into how far vegetarianism in Toronto has come from 1945 until now. I wasn't much into the story itself (it read like more of a promotion for the TVA) but I loved the Vegetarian Food Fair at Harbourfront last year and plan to go back again this year - despite not being a vegetarian, there was some great food there.

Ilona Burkot, Laura Burr, and Jane Lac look at how much it costs to eat healthily in Toronto, complete with a map of Toronto showing the cost of healthy food as a percentage of average income by neighbourhood. They also give some tips for saving $ at the store (buy in season, buy in bulk, etc.)

The former chef at The Stop Community Food Centre, Joshna Maharaj, explains the political and social power chefs can have while stressing the fact that affordable, yummy and healthy food should be accessible to all; having a trained chef in The Stop's kitchen really gets that message across.

Jamie Bradburn talks about bread bakeries in Toronto. I love the images of bread advertisements from 1900.

Liz Clayton talks about the specialty coffee scene in Toronto, and asks whether it's anti-nationalist to skip over Canadian icon Tim Horton's in favour of your local neighbourhood coffee bar.

Erik Rutherford talks to the city's top French chefs to find out what they think of their customers here in Toronto - are they too picky? Too quick to fall for fads? Do they properly appreciate the art of French cuisine?

Karen Hines colourfully recalls the days where food safety (and germophobia) wasn't nearly as much of a concern through her entertaining tale of her "filthy hand."

Stay tuned for more from The Edible City!

Click here to read our reviews of the other (antipastisecondocontorno, and dolce) of the book!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

WinterDelicious il fornello, in support of Daily Bread Food Bank

Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Il Fornello has launched a Three-Course Prix Fixe Winterdelicious Menu for $25 from January 12 to February 11 at 7 GTA locations.

No that's not a typo! It is Winter... De... licious. Not to be confused with the concurrent Winterlicious program run by the City of Toronto.

Being a chain, Il Fornello does not fit the criteria for the city's program, although many folks may be forgiven for forgetting that it is one. It has managed to remain integrated into the neighbourhoods it serves, with a relatively low key independent restaurant feel.

But wait, it's not just a decent meal on the cheap. Il Fornello will donate $0.75 from each prix fixe dinner sold to Daily Bread Food Bank.

Il Fornello diners will enjoy an authentic Italian style comfort menu designed by Chef Steven Silvestro, who is excited about the Stone Soup appetizer.

Chef Silvestro: "It's the ultimate winter comfort food, served with a drizzle of olive oil, some crusty bread and a glass of wine. It covers all the major food groups: vegetables, grains, legumes, and protein. Since learning this recipe 15 years ago, I've come to appreciate the lengthy flavour-building process, which reminds me of my Nonna, who always had something simmering away on the back burner."

Chef Silvestro's Stone Soup is a dish rooted in folklore and tells the story of a hungry traveler who persuades famished villagers to work together - and contribute one item from their own food supply - to create a delicious soup which feeds them all. "The story of 'Stone Soup' is a perfect example of how a small amount from many can benefit the whole group" says Ian Sorbie, President of Il Fornello. "We're pleased to partner with Daily Bread to raise both awareness of, and funds for, the good work that they do. In addition to donating $0.75 for each Winterdelicious prix fixe dinner, we will also be donating $0.75 from every à la carte Stone Soup we sell". Gail Nyberg, Executive Director of Daily Bread Food Bank agrees. "Every little bit helps," says Nyberg: "I'm glad to see businesses like Il Fornello getting involved and giving back to their community. It has been a very difficult year for food banks and Daily Bread Food Bank is grateful for their support."

Tasting Toronto had the opportunity to enjoy an intimate dinner with Ian, to sample the nine items on hand for the three-course prix fixe menu. Naturally, we had smaller servings than you'd expect if you were only ordering three courses.

Stone Soup with pasta, beans and vegetables
Grilled Calamari with roasted red pepper coulis and basil sauce
Crostini topped with celery root purée with grana padano and truffle oil
Pizzette with potato, fontina and crispy shallots

Veal Stew with gnocchi
Papardelle with vegetable ragu finished with grana padano
Chicken Parmigiana with linguini pomodoro
Gourmet Pizza with mushroom velouté, pancetta, eggplant and mozzarella

Chocolate Zabaglione with toasted panettone

If we had to choose, we'd get the crostini, papardelle, and chocolate zabaglione.

You can smell the truffle oil on the crostini before it landed on your table. The celery root puree under the salty slivers of grana padano was delectably comforting. The papardelle was perfectly cooked, with just the right firmness. The chocolate zabaglione was heavenly. Yup, chocolate overload.

The calamari was also good, and so was the pizzette with potatoes and crispy shallots. It's a good thing we didn't have to choose. But lets not forget the soup. If that crostini wasn't there we'd choose the hearty stone soup.

Have the prix fixe at Il Fornello, and help a good cause. If you're not getting the prix fixe, have the soup. Every little bit counts.

Click here for more photos: WinterDelicious il fornello

For Winterdelicious information please visit the Il Fornello's Winterdelicious microsite:

About Daily Bread Food Bank
Daily Bread Food Bank is a non-profit, charitable organization that is fighting to end hunger in our communities. Daily Bread serves people through neighbourhood food banks and meal programs in its 171 member agencies and there were over 758,000 client visits to those agencies last year. Daily Bread Food Bank fights hunger by providing food and resources for hungry people; mobilizing greater community support and creating social change through research, education and advocacy.