Thursday, April 15, 2010

Say hello to Toronto's first Irish steakhouse!

Thursday, April 15, 2010
Okay, so Toronto has Irish pubs obviously (a good chunk of which Gavin Quinn's family owns, in fact) but last night Mark and I visited Toronto's first Irish steakhouse: Quinn's Steakhouse & Irish Bar.

This place is serious about its whiskey - Quinn's has about 150 different types! But if whiskey isn't your thing, there are quite a few beers on tap and some great cocktails - I really enjoy the Corcair (Gaelic for "Purple") which has Chambord, Smirnoff Vodka, cranberry and pineapple juice.

In terms of food, here are the highlights:
  • Smoked Clare Island Organic Salmon on Irish Soda Bread: The salmon is smoked in-house and the soda bread has a nice sweetness to it - the texture was neat, it sort of melts in your mouth. You can find soda bread dishes like this nearly anywhere you go in Ireland - very authentic.

  • Irish Beef & Guinness Stew: Love the flavour the root veggies bring in, especially the parsnips. Meat is very tender. Guinness taste is not as noticeable as I would've liked, but the dish was tasty overall.

  • Prime Rib au Jus: Mark ordered this dish and, upon reflection, we think we would've liked the New York Striploin better, but we can't complain: The portion size is good and the multiple accompaniments that come with it are nice touches. The roasted garlic mashed potatoes are smooth and flavourful - I'm Irish AND obsessed with mashed potatoes and I really enjoy Quinn's take on them.

  • Cheese Board: We sampled both Irish and Canadian cheeses - in the Irish camp there is Cashel Blue, Dublin Cheddar and Guinness Cheddar. In the Canadian camp there is Blermite, Ewenity Cru (a sheep's milk cheese) and Firecracker Horseradish Cheddar; the latter is our favourite. It is soft and spreadable, and has a nice horseradish bite to it. The board also has some truffled honey drizzled over walnuts - the truffled honey must be what gives such a unique flavour, and it goes nicely with the cheeses.

  • Chocolate Brownie: It has a chocolate espresso glaze and a raspberry sauce - probably one of the best brownies I've ever tasted. The chocolate was rich and the brownie was dense - very decadent!
Did I make you hungry? :)
Yours in food,

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Maple Madness at the Drake

Sunday, April 11, 2010
Spring is here (sort'a)! What better way to celebrate the changing of the season than to partake of that most quintessential symbol of Canadianness, maple syrup? We sauntered to the Drake Hotel for their Maple Madness Festival, featuring boundless maple goodness.

Our first stop was the Drake's General Store next to the hotel to try some Maple Cotton Candy. The cotton candy had the most intense maple smell you'll find. Spinning maple sugar does wonderful things that tickle your senses. Mmmm, that would definitely bring out the kid in anyone. A touch of heaven in clouds of sugar with with a twist.

Into the hotel we go for some cocktails and our maple meal.

We had an Apple Jack Rabbit (Calvados, fresh lemon and orange juice + maple syrup), and a Maple Me Tipsy (fresh ginger, maple syrup + bourbon). Both drinks were yummy and went well with the food, though Stacey insists that the Maple Me Tipsy was a "man drink" due to the definite kick of Jack.

The most decadent sandwich I have ever tasted comes in the form of the BSBFG (brown sugar, bacon + foie gras). Anything with foie gras is an uber-delight anyway, but this takes fat and sugar worship to new heights. I couldn't help but think this sandwich was giving me a foie gras.

Oh and the dip. The BSBFG came with a really dark, sweet and rich maple syrup, which must've been reduced since I've never had it that strong.

Nom, nom, nom. Speechless... speechless!

For the main course, if you could call the previous item an app!, we had Maple Glazed Brisket (w/ three cheese mac n cheese). Brisket is one of those cheap cuts of meat that is really not good enough for haute cuisine, but ironically offers the most satisfying flavour. You gotta love the fat! If a croissant were made of meat, it would be brisket. Honestly the meat was a little dry, but who am I to complain when I my palate was being bombarded by sweet maple and melt in your mouth bovine fat with a thin bittersweet crunchy crust.

Dessert was Maple Sugar Pie (molasses + maple syrup). It looks a la mode, but it's not. We figure that white stuff was probably sour cream with either whipped egg whites or mascarpone. An interesting contrast of sweet and sour, although judging by sweetness of the rest of the meal, maybe dessert should've been the first thing to be served and the BSBFG last.

Wow that was good. Time for a leisurely walk along Queen West to assuage the guilt and stave off duck liver nightmares.

Maple Madness: Thursday, April 1 to Sunday, April 18, 2010

Click here for more photos at The Drake Hotel

The Drake Hotel is located at 1150 Queen Street West (between Dovercourt and Dufferin). Visit or call 416.531.5042 for more information.

View Tasting Toronto in a larger map

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Part III: Secondo - "The Edible City" Book Review

Thursday, April 8, 2010
I got a chance to put my reading hat back on - thus I now bring you my summaries/thoughts on the current Toronto food book I'm reading called "The Edible City."

If you want to catch up and read about the book's launch + part I and part II of my "The Edible City" reviews, click here. Also note I've had to stop tagging every authour 'cause my blog engine doesn't like over 200-characters worth of tags! LOL

The next section of the book kicks off with John Lorinc describing his family's walks around town, mostly in pursuit of Hungarian food given his background. He helps in part to document which Hungarian restaurants in which parts of the city were best, which are gone, and which are still around (Country Style at Bloor/Bathurst being the most notable). He also says something about the urban experience that I fully agree with: "The only way to properly experience a city is to walk its streets, because only the pace and perspective of pedestrian movement allows one to absorb the tastes and smells of an urban neighbourhood, with its workaday shops, the easily overlooked quirks of its architecture and what Jane Jacobs describes as the 'ballet' that occurs on the sidewalks."

Gary Wilkins looks at how the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority has had to change its mandate to stay relevant - no longer can it do short-term leases of land plots to traditional farmers. It is being revamped to find a way to relate to the near-urban landscape it serves (i.e. community gardens, summer employment for students, and more). What I found particularly interesting is how TRCA looks at community gardens from a multicultural perspective - so rather than planting "traditional" cash crops like corn, soybean, etc., their urban agriculture project in Brampton is growing okra and chilies to serve the South Asian community that lives there. Very cool in my opinion!

In a piece on Colony Collapse Disorder and what a decline in bees means for the way we eat, Stéphanie Verge says Canadian hive losses have nearly doubled over the past few years. Why is this a problem? Well, honeybees represent $1.7 billion to the Canadian fruit/veggie industry. If their populations continue to decline, pollination will decline, and thus fruit/veggie production will decline. Stéphanie also discusses "urban beekeeping" - though banned for any areas in Toronto that are within 30m of a residence, some Torontonians are still giving it a shot, like The Royal York's executive chef David Garcelon. His garden/apiary is on the rooftop of the hotel, so it satisfies the 30m rule.

Mark Fram looks at greenhouses and market gardens past in Toronto and says nowadays it's not just real-estate values that doom the local veggie patch - market gardens/orchards and greenhouses are classified as industries (and/or environmental hazards) and as such are not allowed near where people live. His piece includes a comprehensive business directory map of where these "market gardens" were once located and he makes the point that some adaptation of the market garden concept would make it relevant to folks today.

Iara Lessa
and Cecilia Rocha, both immigrants from Brazil, assess the role food plays in the lives of new immigrants to Toronto. Their lens is particularly interesting (click their names for more info on them): they look at food's role in narratives of loss and longing, and in the practices by the diaspora to re-root. They also mention food (w)as something that singles new immigrants out (ridicule in the workplace over lunches, etc.) Luckily nowadays, given Toronto's multicultural make-up, I'd say most ethnic ingredients are easy to find in the city and people in Toronto are actually interested in these foods and actively seeking them out, no matter what their background. So was it tougher 50 years ago for immigrants to re-root? I'd guess yes - they had less of their key ingredients available to them and were certainly "singled out" more for their food choices, to use terminology Iara and Cecilia might use.

Kate Carraway and Peter Maynard write about Toronto's generally poor front-of-the-house staff doing a disservice to our talented kitchen staff and points to this as one of the reasons Toronto feels insecure and is unable to compete as a world-class restaurant city. It's also difficult to get a service standard when there is no rating system to guide good service, and when restaurants and cultures vary so much that service is all relative.

Hamutal Dotan was a vegetarian for 3 months until a good burger came along and turned him into a carnivore again. But he developed a set of rules for the meat he ate: it had to be local, free-range, and void of antibiotics. So rather than thinking the only way to be "moral" about meat was to not eat it at all, Hamutal applied a set of rules to meat that made it an ethical alternative to vegetarianism. He also takes a look at abbatoirs in the Toronto area and the pressures they are under to produce.

Jason McBride talks about the end of the "food bank" as we know it using The Stop Community Food Centre as a primary example - though it started as one of the first food banks in Canada, it is now much more. Essentially it is a non-profit that has programs to fight poverty through food and believes access to healthy, tasty food is a basic human right. In fact, just last year The Stop opened The Green Barn, a sustainable food production and education centre with a 10,000-square-foot greenhouse, commercial kitchen, classroom, sheltered garden and composting facility.

Shawn Micallef declares that eating out is as much about the experience as it is about the food. Through analyzing the way restaurant architecture in Toronto has evolved over the years, Shawn is able to explain how architecture and interiors influence a diner's experience. His story particularly focuses in on how restaurants like The Keg Mansion on Jarvis St. and the many Spring Rolls restaurants are meant to look "high end" but ultimately offer the common diner relatively affordable access to a higher-end experience. One fun fact I learned from his story: Bangkok Garden on Elm St., a restaurant I enjoyed the two times I've been and am itching to go back to, was blessed by actual monks when it was opened!

The chapter ends with RM Vaughan's "I, Rat" - a quirky and playful narrative from a local rat's perspective. Ultimately it aims to, ummm, build better relations between people and rats? Jokes, jokes - Essentially I *think* the authour is getting at humans making a truce with nature - we'll all be in trouble "when the very dirt stops making grain" as RM says, and are going to need to set some kind of "truce" with all living things, which the rat in the story offers up. Whether or not I interpreted the message of "we're all in this together" correctly, the rat becomes a character to me, with a funny language that's actually kind of cute, and the eclectic tone and illustrations are a refreshing way to end the chapter.

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