RSS
 

Archive for March, 2012

ND Sushi and grill

28 Mar

A lovely new discovery on Baldwin Street (of all places), ND Sushi and Grill is owned and operated by a charming, soft-spoken and very talented couple. Went there for the $50 omakase just the other day. It was awesome value and we had the room to ourselves.

I shall be reviewing it in Zoomer this summer, but this is to tip you the wink.

Call in advance to order omakase. 3 Baldwin Street (the McCaul Street end). 416 551 6362.

 

Jour du Macaron

19 Mar

Macarons at Patisserie La Bamboche - so pretty, so scrumptious

I had an email from Marc Thuet the other day reminding that tomorrow – Tuesday March 20th – is Macaron Day! In Paris, New York and in Toronto, this is the day when fabulous French patissiers and their brilliant rivals try to out-macaron one another, when customers can score free macarons and when people who buy macarons will be actively supporting a very worthwhile cause – the Red Door Family Shelter (www.reddoorshelter.ca).

 

But don’t just take my word for it. Here is the press release with all the details:

Five years ago, when Michel Firanski introduced French macarons to his lineup of fine patisserie, the owner of La Bamboche located in mid-town Toronto remembers very few people knew what they were – often confusing the French macaron with the sweet, coconut based macaroon. Fast forward to today and the organizer of Toronto’s first city-wide Macaron Day will tell you that there is an absolute frenzy taking place among aficionados in anticipation of Macaron Day TO taking place on Tuesday March 20th, 2012. “Enthusiasts have been contacting me since we announced Macaron Day – some are even taking the day off work or renting cars, in order to visit all 18 locations.” said Firanski.

Coinciding with Macaron Day taking place in Paris, NYC and other cities, Macaron Day in Toronto celebrates the delicate macaron confection in support of a local charity. On Tuesday, March 20th, 2012, eighteen participating patisseries across Toronto will come together to offer one free macaron to customers who mention they are celebrating Macaron Day TO (with quantities limited by location). And, 25 percent of all additional macarons purchased on this day will be donated to the Red Door Family Shelter

The pride of France, the elegant macaron is made of two round meringue based cookie shells, held together by a soft filling, such as buttercream or ganache. Very fine almond powder, egg whites and sugar are combined with mastery, to create an initial crisp and airy experience, leading into the macaron’s filling – featuring whatever humble or exotic flavour can be imagined by the inspired pastry chef.

French chef Marc Thuet started making macarons in France 30 years ago and now offers them at his Petite Thuet locations in Toronto. “Over the years, I’ve tasted many macarons across France and the quality of the macarons prepared in Toronto is as good – if not better than any I have experienced.” said Thuet. “It’s great to see this kind of collaboration taking place among our talented Toronto based pastry chefs, not only for the love of macarons, but for a great cause.”

For further information, please contact: Michel Firanski 416-464-1587 or visit www.macarondayto.com .

Participants in Toronto’s first city-wide Macaron Day TO, 2012 include:

La Bamboche 4 Manor Road East 416-481-6735 and 1712 Avenue Road 416-224-5595 www.labamboche.ca

Petite Thuet 1162 Yonge Street 416-924-2777 and 1 King Street West 416-867-7977 www.petitethuet.com

Patisserie La Cigogne 1626 Bayview Ave 416-487-1234 and 1419 Danforth Ave 416-466-2345 www.patisserielacigogne.com

Butter Avenue 3467 Yonge Street 647-341-8686 www.butteravenue.com

J’adore Cakes Co. 3308 Danforth Avenue 416-691-4554 www.jadorecakesco.com

Rahier Patisserie 1586 Bayview Avenue 416-482-0917 www.rahierpatisserie.com

Patachou 1120 Yonge Street 416-927-1105 and 835 St. Clair Ave West 416-782-0122

Moroco Chocolat 99 Yorkville Avenue 416-961-2202 www.morocochocolat.com

Bobbette & Belle 1121 Queen Street East 416-466-8800 www.bobbetteandbelle.com

Ma Maison 4243 Dundas Street West 416-236-2234 www.ur2busy2cook.com

Ruelo Patisserie 4-6 Erskine Avenue 416-486-1800 www.ruelo.com

Cake Opera Co. 1136 Eglinton Avenue West 647-347-2626 www.cakeoperaco.com

Daniel et Daniel 248 Carlton Street 416-968-9275 www.danieletdaniel.ca

The Sweet Escape 55 Mill St. Building 47, Suite 102 416-214-2253 www.thesweetescapedistillery.com

Julio Bonilla 623 Mount Pleasant Road 647-716-3749 www.chefjuliobonilla.com

Frangipane Patisserie 215 Madison Ave 416-926-0303 www.frangipane.ca

Patisserie 27 401 Jane Street 416-762-2103 www.patisserie27.com

The Wedding Cake Shop 859 College Street 416-916-2253 www.theweddingcakeshoppe.com

 

L’Ouvrier

18 Mar

“And the soup tonight is butternut squash…”

Oh please… What is this, 1989? Butternut squash soup? The single most boring and ubiquitous cliché of Canadian restaurants for 30 years!

And the restaurant was doing so well up to that moment. This is a place called L’Ouvrier, on Dundas, between Markham and Palmerston. DIY décor – everything painted white except one of the tables which is red (the key), cement floor, white bucket plastic chairs which are too low for the tables, home-made-looking art (Ziploc baggies full of bits from the reno, attached to the wall), a central bar overshadowed by lights that seem to be classroom models of the atom. And yet… it’s spacious and comfortable and not too loud and the music’s okay if you like Coldplay and the art kind of grows on you and the server seems to knows what’s what. The tap water is decanted into an old Bulleit bourbon bottle, which strikes me as a nice touch.

But butternut squash soup? Oh I see… The kitchen is being ironic. L’Ouvrier means “the working man” and the choice of soup is deliberate – the most mundane workhorse known to frugal chefs, proudly proletarian. Or then again, maybe it’s sensational soup – the apotheosis of butternut squash purées, a potage that will change my view of the dish suddenly and forever. Should I try it, just to make sure? Nope. Let’s move on to printed matters. I don’t ever remember seeing a menu that began with a burger but also offered a six-course tasting menu ($50pp). Unfortunately, you have to book it ahead, so first-time visitors like me can never experience the chefly magic. Never mind, there’s plenty to be going on with.

We start with half a dozen small, smooth, briney oysters from New Brunswick’s St. Simone Bay. They are lovely and don’t need any amelioration so I end up tasting the black pepper mignonette, the horseradish, and the sambal of red pepper, garlic, shallots and sugar all on their own – and very good they are, too. I’d like to take home a jar of that sambal.

The list of starters begins with duck confit croquettes which are salty but delicious – forked duck confit meat, mashed up and fried. Chef (and co-owner) Angus Bennett serves them with crunchy, gently pickled Jerusalem artichokes shaped like little bricks (a brilliant idea), a well-dressed watercress salad and St. John’s chutney. This is not a Newfoundland recipe – it comes from Fergus Henderson’s restaurant in London, England, called St. John – or more precisely from Henderson’s cookbook Nose to Tail Eating (page 192) and is a tangy compote of apples, tomato, shallots and spices. It’s good with the croquettes and it also underlines the philosophical allegiances of Bennett’s kitchen more subtly than the restaurant’s name or the giant photograph of no-nonsense World War Two army cooks on the wall. To further prove his loyalty, Bennett offers a smoked ham hock terrine – rich, salty, glossy as spam but much more delicious, cut into thick slices and served with crostini, a mild picallili relish and a clump of celery hearts and pea shoots – green, earthy flavours that are a perfect counterpoint to the terrine.

Main courses are no disappointment. Ontario farmed rabbits taste like chicken when compared to wild Newfoundland or English animals but L’Ouvrier’s rabbit leg is notably tasty and tender – the best bunny I’ve had in ages. Bennett pairs it with a soft wild mushroom risotto that is quickened with greens and parsnips both roasted and fried as crispy ribbons. He also knows what to do with great big Qualicum Bay scallops, searing them and then surrounding their delicately flavoured, opulently textured personalities with the intensity of chorizo and preserved lemon, a salad of fennel, parsley, tomato and black olives, and a mound of Israeli couscous in a sweetish tomato sauce.

Yes, there’s room for dessert. We share a toblerone mousse that comes in a Mason jar topped with red berry coulis, whipped cream and chocolate chips. The presentation is deliberately blue-collar and so is the idea of taking a candy bar and deconstructing or resurrecting or reconfiguring it in some cute way. Like butternut squash soup, it’s a cliché that has lost any charm it once had. Still, chocolate mousse is easy and can be made well in advance of service. I just think dinner at L’Ouvrier  deserves a more interesting epilogue. It’s a pleasant room and the food is good. I’ll be going back.

L’Ouvrier offers brunch on Saturday and Sunday, and dinner every evening except Mondays. Find it at 791 Dundas Street West (at Markham), 416-901-9581. www.louvrier.ca

 

The Iron Sommelier

03 Mar

Canada's three Master Sommeliers, Jennifer Huether, John Szabo and Bruce Wallner

On Tuesday night, the disconsolate blue-and-white crowd that streamed out of the Air Canada Centre and past the soaring glass façade of Aria Ristorante were unaware that a contest was under way, behind those lofty windows, of a much more subtle and hard-fought intensity than anything the Leafs have provided of late. The Iron Sommelier competition, 2012, came folded into a VISA Infinite dining event – and that meant good times for the audience of 150 eager food-and-wine lovers. Not only would they have a superb meal at the hand of Aria’s Executive Chef, Eron Novalski, they would also taste the wines chosen for each course by Canada’s three Master Sommeliers and then vote on which of the three deserved the title of Iron Sommelier.

I was to share the MC duties with the excellent and always amusing Nick Keukenmeester from Lifford wine agencies which had provided the portfolio of dozens of spectacular wines from which the competitors could choose their matches. By some deft and ruthless manoeuvring I was able to shuffle off the lion’s share of the work onto Nick’s shoulders, leaving myself with a single duty – to describe the dishes themselves.

And so we began, milling about in the restaurant, sipping 2002 Feuillatte Grand Cru Blanc de Noirs Champagne and nibbling on Chef Novalski’s awesome canapés: confited duck tongue with duck egg aioli… Green olives stuffed with duck meat, veal and sausage then breaded and fried… Wicked little duck breast spiedini with orange sea salt (“speedies” are all the rage in Western New York State’s more fashion-forward bars these days, and are certainly coming soon to a restaurant near you.)… Duck prosciutto crostini with apricot chutney and shaved foie gras… Have you spotted the theme? Yes indeedy. Every course was to feature duck and of the potential wines available to the sommeliers, the vast majority were Pinot Noir. The white Pekin ducks, incidentally, were generously sponsored by King Cole of Aurora, Ontario, a hugely successful, righteous farm that lets the birds lead clean, happy, outdoor, organic lives.

Nick introduced Canada’s three MSs, and I was delighted to see that he was perfectly prepared to take the mickey out of them, as they were out of each other. So it was a merry contest from the outset and I was left free to torment Nick whenever I could think of something. John Szabo MS (uber-consultant, whose latest project is STOCK restaurant in the Trump tower)  looked splendidly virile in the black, embroidered dolman and pelisse of a Hungarian hussar, though he had left his shako, boots and sabre at home. Jennifer Huether MS (o.i.c. MLSE’s wine program next door at E11even, the ACC, and everywhere else) was all charm and good-magical-energy but with a rapier for a palate and cool acuity where the public’s preferences are concerned. Bruce Wallner MS (lately of Paese) was the joker of the pack tonight, though he is a man on a serious mission to turn Ontario on to excellent wine.

Course number 1

 

Ma foie...! (image marcpolidorophotography.com)

 

Chef used duck foie gras to create a slightly Italianized version of a classic French foie gras mousse, served in a most original way. That Italian component comes in right at the beginning when he marinates the whole foie gras not in Cognac or Armagnac or Calvados – but in a grappa that has been aged in port casks. After an hour or so he strains the grappa off into a pan, pours in some chicken stock, adds bayleaves and peppercorns and brings it to the boil. The cool pink foies are lowered into this hot bath to relax for a while. Then they are separated again and allowed to cool down to room temperature before the foie is put back into the liquid and they go into the fridge. It all sounds like some elaborate day at the spa. Then the foie and its fat is buzzed in a food processor together with a great deal of butter – to be finished in a pacojet. By now it’s a mousse – you would be too if you had endured such treatment. Eron spreads it out across the whole plate like hummus and then adds crazy extra flavours – orange peel that has been dehydrated and then ground to powder; crispy sage leaves for earthiness and baby shiso leaf for mentholated tang; crispy duck skin, deep fried then crumbled over the top; and dehydrated cherry, like the weightless, chalky “berries” you get in a packet of cereal, partially powdered, partially crumbled over the top.

I was able to pass on instructions about how to eat it. Eron had baked some foccacia and turned it into crostini. He suggested we all just broke a piece off and wiped it right through the plate so it picked up a little of everything. Pop it in one’s gob – and while the flavours are still ringing and resonating around the palate try one of the wines and pay close attention to what happens.

All three MSs chose a Pinot Noir – each wine a star in its own right. Jennifer went for Barnett Savoy 2010 from California’s Anderson Valley. It was far more sophisticated than I expected with complex swirls going on under and around the vibrant cherries. It was such a good match it seemed to disappear in the welcoming embrace of the foie. John’s Pinot was a magnificent old Burgundy – Louis Jadot Corton Pougets Grand Cru 2002 – the most delicate red Corton of all. He urged us to think about texture and he was right – silk on silk – heavenly but, again, so perfect a dancing partner for the mousse that I lost sight of the wine behind the foie’s broad back. Bruce’s wine came from Niagara – Malivoire Mottiar Vineyard 2009. Cherries all over the place, but there was a distinctive Niagara vibrancy to it – an acidity that was different and alive – as if this wine was playing an electric guitar while the other two were playing in the strings section. It was a great match but it also let the wine stand out in its own right. It got my vote.

Course number 2

Duck consomme (image: marcpolidorophotography.com)

Our next dish was a (possibly unintentional) homage to the Marx Brothers and their immortal movie, Duck Soup. A great consommè always begins with the bones, of course – in this case, roasted and then boiled into a brown duck stock with a mirepoix of carrot, celery, onions, cinnamon, allspice, rosemary and thyme, all simmered over eight hours. Chef let it cool, then strained it, then boiled it up again, this time adding a little gelatin, orange zest (one of the ubiquitous secondary flavours of the evening) and some pat chun sauce (like a tangy, citric hoisin). To clarify it, he froze the soup, wrapped it in cheesecloth and let it slowly thaw at room temperature, drip-drip-dripping through a perforated pan. The result was a beautiful consommé, clear and the colour of dark honey – like the chunks of topaz shoeless children try to make you buy in the Atlas mountains – and with layers of flavour that go on for ever.

Three tortellini bobbed about in the soup, filled with a smooth mixture of confited duck, grated parmigiano reggiano and a pailful of porcini mushrooms that had been cooked down with roasted garlic and puréed. He finished the dish with some chopped chives and just a droplet of truffle oil that created an invisible, intangible ambience of truffle hovering in the air about a foot above the bowl.

Soup is a notoriously tough match for wine (cold and hot liquids rarely work well together) but the MSs were unfazed. John began by pointing out that the consommé was basically an umame bomb but that the tortellini might be the key bridge. “There is also umame in wine,” he opined, “when grapes are perfectly ripe or even over-ripe…” His choice was a white Alsatian show-stopper, rich and heavy, sweet and complex, the Zinck Rangen Grand Cru Tokay Pinot Gris 2007. A gorgeous wine, but I found it too big and sweet for the surprisingly delicate soup and the subtlety of the tortellini. Bruce took a totally different route, using a very rare and prestigious sparkling rosé from Franciacorta, the Ca del Bosco Anna Clemente Rose 2004 (a wine that retails at $219.95 a bottle). It showed magnificently and was brilliantly refreshing with the dish, and perfectly capable of singing its own song clear and true against the complicated orchestration of the dish. But did it actually add anything to the moment? Was there a sublime epiphany? Not so much. Jennifer took yet another route into the soup, picking up on the savoury, umame, mushroom, truffle components in the consommé with a classic match – a mature Burgundy with its own delicate, earthy, mushroomy notes, the Louis Jadot 1er Cru Beaune Theurons 2006. Bingo! A great balance of texture and intensity. The Beaune got my vote.

Course number 3

Pasta - basta! (image marcpolidorophotography.com)

The pasta interlude. The pasta in question was hand-made cavatelli, one inch long, sturdy and filling. The sauce…? Well of course it was all about the sauce. Chef Eron made a marvellous duck ragu, first roasting whole ducks until they were brown then braising them slowly for six or seven hours in a mixture of red wine, veal jus, tomato paste and a mirepoix of vegetables. When they were done, he took of the duck’s skins and forked off all the meat from the bones, He strained the braising liquid and added it to the meat, then passed the vegetables through a mouli and added them, too. Then he started a new sauce with onion and garlic and fresh tomatoes, folded in the ragu and just before serving added a couple of spoonfuls of mascarpone to add extra richness and silkiness of texture. As a final flourish he roasted chestnuts, froze them, then grated them over each dish as it went out.

John declared this rich ragu to be the toughest match of the evening, though not the most complex. He chose a Carrick Central Otago Pinot Noir 2009 from New Zealand – a smooth, perfectly balanced Pinot Noir that seemed to slide gracefully over the surface of the food without ever making much contact with it. Bruce also went to Otago for his Pinot, the Felton Road Cornish Point Central Otago Pinot Noir 2010, a wine that still showed the clumsiness of youth, needing time in the bottle to achieve perfect integration. That clumsiness, which revealed itself as a separation of the wine’s components – glorious cherry and berry fruit up front, acids and tannins swirling in a little late to the party – was exacerbated by the dish but I thought the match was actually more interesting with the tannins and acids managing to penetrate the textures of the dish, letting the fruit reach out to the sweet duck and spices. Jennifer found a Pinot Noir from Sonoma, the Freestone Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2008. This wine is another beautifully knit smoothie with a great balance between the tangy, ripe red fruit, vibrant acidity and minerality. That vibrancy managed to handle the richness of the ragu – in my opinion, the best match of the three.

Course number 4

The breast (image marcpolidorophotography.com)

The main event. Someone asked me, “Why ducks on the menu tonight?” I tried to explain by asking her to imagine the shoreline of a great continent, the place where the land of food meets the ocean of wine. Armies of foodies ceaselessly roam the land; great navies of wine aficionados bob about on the seven seas. But in between lie vast tidal flats – lonely  and unvisited places, silent and wet under the infinite sky. But look there…! Far away across the miles of shining mud – distant figures are at work. It’s the sommeliers. They make their living where food meets wine, filling their string pouches with the glistening treasures they discover, collecting unique knowledge and original ideas. It can be a solitary place and they find companionship where they can – especially with the shore birds – the eiders and harlequins, the velvet scoters, the oldsquaws and goldeneyes – all the marine ducks – like the sommeliers, as comfortable on the water as on the land. I’m sure that’s why we had a duck menu.

And why, for our next course, Chef Eron worked with the breast, rubbing it with a dry marinade of liquorice, allspice, cinnamon, pepper, thyme and bayleaf and then sealing it in a vacuum for a couple of days to contemplate the error of its ways. When the meat was truly contrite, he cleaned it and then rubbed it with a second, fresh marinade of the same spices, but this time they had been toasted to mellow their pungency. Then the breast was quickly seared and sliced and the meat was arrayed over a velvet cushion of puréed celeriac and Gala apple, enriched with cream, thyme, bay and peppercorns.

There was also a tiny perfect brick of polenta that was mixed with butter and Parmigiano when it was still in its stirrable infancy. Eron spread it out onto baking pans and put it in the fridge to solidify. Then he cut it into rectangles and pan-seared them to reactivate the cheesiness.

As the evening’s token vegetable we had fennel poached in milk, then laid gently onto the polenta cake, only to be smothered in breadrumbs and cheese and gratineed under the merciless flames of the salamander. The sauce was a Veal jus with cocoa in it that was rich enough pass for a mole. There was a dusting of pink peppercorn powder around the plate and a final crumble of raw cocoa nibs – primal chocolate as a dark, savoury spice.

Such a complex, profound, tricky dish, with so much going on! The MSs did not let us down, working with three very serious Pinot Noirs. Jennifer chose an Australian star, the Kooyong Mornington Peninsula Estate Pinot Noir 2010, a very smooth and well-integrated wine that relied on fruit to make its statement. Bruce chose a huge Pinot, the Sequana Pinot Noir Dutton Ranch 2008 – a great wine in which he detected even caramelized notes. To me, the food exaggerated those hints, making the wine oddly sweet. This time John aced the round with a wine he described as “the most old-world of the new world Pinot Noirs,” Adelsheim Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2009 from Oregon. This time the food gave the wine a leg-up and then they continued to climb towards the sun in a slowly turning gyre.

Jennifer Huether, Iron Sommelier, 2012

So who had won? My vote was just one of 150. While the numbers were tallied we feasted on. Debbie Levy of Dairy Farmers of Canada introduced a cheese course of aged Lankaaster (Ontario), Le Mont Jacob (Quebec), Avonlea clothbound cheddar (P.E.I.) and Bleu d’Elizabeth. I had lots to say about dessert – a layered verrine called Ciocolatto e Caramello created by Aria’s pastry chef, Melanie Harris. She loves salty things almost as much as sweet and this delectable little item reflected that. Layered from the bottom up was salted caramel-white chocolate mousse; pure salted caramel; a 77%-cocoa dark chocolate mousse then a very dark (99%) ganache. On top was a chapeau of espresso-flavoured whipped cream and on top of that a magic white powder, soft as talc, made from pure olive oil. Only a total dessert nerd would attempt to consume this layer by layer. Most people just dug in, enjoying it with a dazzlingly well-chosen drink – Bowmore 12-year-old single malt whisky, Islay’s most elegant malt.

Ah, but by now the results had been tabulated. No 2nd and 3rd was announced – just the name of the winner: Jennifer Huether. It was a most satisfactory conclusion to a fascinating evening.