Tuesday, November 23, 2010


My wife's birthday is coming up and she wanted to see a movie for her birthday.  With two kids, we don't go out much by ourselves.  So, we picked the theatre and used that as a way for us to choose a restaurant.  Well, things didn't go the way we planned and we got to the show late.  That meant that we had to choose another movie time and hope that we could get in and out of the theatre and home before we turned into pumpkins.

The nearest restaurant was Milestones.  I prefer not to eat at big box restaurants for a variety of reasons, most not about the restaurants themselves but about other options.  I am still trying to figure out why people choose big box restaurants.

The server was sure that they could get us in and out within 50 minutes.  In fact, it was one of the first questions asked when we sat down.  We each had a glass of wine and a main.  My wife had a California burger and I had two chicken breasts with harissa served spicy.  There was nothing wrong with the meal and the wine was good.

Any big box restaurant has a few very good things going for it.  If you are looking for solid fair, say a good steak or burger, then they may be the best place to go.  Restaurants like the Keg cooks hundreds of steaks a night and will be able to cook the steak to order perfectly seasoned.  They have timing down pat and can provide a quick efficient service.  Sometimes that service may appear a bit scripted but that is always better than poor service.  Often, an ordinary dish will introduce some novel ingredients such as harissa or pomegranate syrup.  This provides mildly adventurous diners the chance to experiment with the training wheels on by having comfortable place without food that cannot be understood or enjoyed.

Yet, all this leaves me personally, a little flat.  If I am looking for a steak, burger, or a straight forward classic, I may be tempted to dine at these restaurants but they often seem like a department store in some ways.  Mass produced goods that mimic what some of the couture shops are doing without all the handmade gewgaws and flourishes.  Hey, I tend to buy my socks and underwear at these type of stores.  But you will rarely find the daring risk taking of a chef or avant garde fashionista at the places; it is not their purpose.

My preference for smaller restaurants is more about the risk taking.  You may go to a small restaurant and have a great meal due to the small additions and flair of the chef or cook.  That is strictly forbidden at the box restaurants as all recipes are parsed at headquarters and ingredients are measured for cost.  While the small restaurant is also concerned about cost, it seems the possibility for creativity and inconsistency to the positive is available.  Granted, the possibility for horrible food is more often the case but when it reaches its' heights...

The meal cost $70 all in and was reasonable for what we wanted -- a quick meal that was pleasant and tasty before the show.  Would I recommend it?  Depends if you are looking for socks, underwear, or tshirts.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Queen Margherita Pizza

A new pizzeria opened in our 'hood in early 2010 and we always remarked that we should go with the kids sometime.  Fall rolled around and we could no longer just walk in; a reservation was required.  Having kids meant we weren't going unless we undertook a major planning session to account for grump gauge, hunger meter and timing with all the other activities happening during the time under consideration.

So, a friend visiting from Germany gave us an excuse to call Grandma and Granddad and try Queen Margherita Pizza.  It was packed when we went in.  The decor is vaguely warehouse and the noise levels match the surroundings.  My wife was sure that she was not coming back here as she could barely hear conversation spoken at normal volume.

When our friend arrived, we all decided to try the prix fixe ($25).  We started with a charcuterie plate and an arugula salad.  While the charcuterie plate was not made in-house, it pointed out that meats having a good quality will always trump poorly made meats on premise.  How did we know it was not made in-house? There was a texture to the meat that would be hard to reproduce in a freshly cured product.  Also, the taste reminded us of products we had tried before in good italian delis.

We ordered two different pies; a diavolo and an arugula topped pizza.  It seems sometimes there are stereotypes for a reason, as my wife ordered the pie with salad on top while the two men stayed with a meat heavy dish.  Both our friend and I have been privileged to have tasted pie in different parts of Italy.  This tasted like a good italian pizza.  Reminded me of a pie I had in Florence by the vineyard.  I know, sounds pretentious, but it really happened.

The crust was crisp on the bottom with a rich tomato sauce accented by reduced San Marzano tomatoes and topped with minimal ingredients.  The meat was italian spicy but not overbearing.  On the arugula and cheese pizza, there was not a tomato in sight.  The simplicity of the crust allowed the ingredients to shine with no element overpowering any other.  Like a good sandwich, it was well balanced and delicious.  At that point, my wife began reconsidering her hastily made promise not to come back.

The service was excellent.  I haven't mentioned anything about them because they were that good.  No interruptions but quiet and efficient. 

We finished off with two tiramisu and one fruit salad.  The tiramisu was solid but not the star of the show.  It was well balanced coffee and chocolate bitterness with sweet creaminess of the filling.  We left with the idea that we would come back with the kids but maybe during the day when it may be a little more quiet.  This may be a destination spot for pizza in Toronto.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Toronto Municipal Election and Food Security

In Toronto, we will be going to the polls in a weeks' time to select a major and city councillors.  Food issues are not being addressed by many candidates.  Food, shelter, and clothing are considered basic needs but shelter in terms of homeless and affordable housing is the only one being mentioned regularly. 

Food secuity is having adequate amounts of available and nutritious food accessible for all.  It is a tribute that we, as a city, believe that this is not an issue.  Do voters really believe that all Torontonians have enough to eat?  

If food security can include considerations of food safety, then all of a sudden we have a different issue.  How many days could Toronto, as a city, survive a disruption in food supply?  We are not a self-reliant city but no city is expected to produce its' own food.  Just as food security can be looked as an individual issue where poverty is the cause of food safety, collectively, transportation, reliance on fossil fuels and the continual creep of processed foods can be looked as threats to a city's food security.  It is never a bad idea to plan or at least consider the worst case scenario.

With the growth of the local food movement, reduction of reliance on fossil fuels (consider fertilizers), food miles, greenhouses, rise of environmentalism and desire to eat less processed foods, maybe it is time that the level of government that is closest to our basic needs begins to pay attention.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Local Kitchen and Wine Bar

A friend and I went for supper at this new 'it' spot in Parkdale. The Local Kitchen and Wine Bar is an interesting place with a suburban basement feel circa the 1980's. The decor may be trying too hard. Some of the small touches such as presenting the menu on clipboards and serving platters using cutting boards make you wish that the decision was to allow the food to speak for itself.

I probably should have been taking better notes on the food but I tend to have a good memory on this kind of stuff. My friend started with a traditional tomato, cheese and basil salad with the claim that the tomatoes were very local. While the flavour was intense, as only a backyard vine ripened tomato can be, it was priced to be more than pedestrian.

We also shared the salumi platter which had us confused when ordering. There were three different prices when we dined that night. The only difference was the number of slices, so we took the one with the least amount of meat. There were two standouts on the aforementioned cutting board -- a prosciutto and and a wild boar sausage. There was a total of six different meats but only two were standouts. The prosciutto was silky with a bit of herb and spice at the end, and an almost nutty flavour. The wild boar had the texture of a ground meat with a little tooth. The flavour was spicy and rich. Unfortunately, this platter was served with a caponata that was Grandma's own recipe and didn't add anything.

For our second course, we had the ziti with pepperoncini and the smoked gnocchi. Both these pastas were made with love. They were made like all pastas should be made. The gnocchi were fluffy and took the accoutrements of taleggio and greens well, while the tomato and pepper sauce complemented the ziti. It seems such a shame that it takes solid food to make you wonder why when something is done the way it is supposed to be makes a great restaurant when you should be getting this as a minimum quality at every restaurant.

Mains were the steak, tomatoes, zucchini and pesto. My companion did not enjoy the pesto. I had no quibbles with the things on the plate other than I felt that the ingredients didn't talk to each other. That is just a fancy way of saying that the pieces were too disparate. While the steak was cooked perfect and seasoned great, you couldn't take a mouthful of all the items and make it make sense. I have often had some version of steak and tomatoes but this didn't work together.

We then went on to dessert but it was unremarkable. For the two of us including wine it was around the $140 mark. This is not a destination spot. If you live in the area and are hunkering for some salumi, then by all means go for it. I felt as if it was like spending time at an Italian Grandma's at the kids table in the basement. It was good food but maybe not at this price point. I hope they keep working at it and just get a little more cohesiveness on the plate. Oh and stop playing it hip, it comes off too cute, the food deserves better.