Monday, December 23, 2013

Grand Central cuisine

We had just left Radio City and had only enough time for lunch before heading to the airport so thought that one of Grand Central's eateries would be a good thing to do as our hotel was pretty close by.  As we wandered into the main atrium we saw the sign "Cipriani Dolci" on our right and thought it looked pretty nice and chic and probably a good place for a cocktail and a casual lunch.

I think Americans on the whole make very good cocktails.  Better than British bartenders at any rate.  And Cipriani's made very good cocktails indeed -- Viv had a Negroni whilst I settled for a simple vodka martini with olives.  Both were very well executed indeed.

As for the food, I had a lovely home made pasta dish with veal ragout whilst Viv settled for calamari with another light and lovely fish dish.

Terrific location and view over the central hall of the great station.  The service was excellent and the food all round very good indeed.  So good that Viv and I agreed we should go to the big restaurant on 42nd Street next time we're in New York.

Oh yes, the dolci.

Very nice espresso macchiato

Cipriani's Dolci
89 East 42nd Street
New York 10017

Tel: (212) 973-0999

The First

I'd discovered that Delmonico's Restaurant was near to the office where I had a meeting in New York's financial district.  It was on one of those 3D type diorama maps that picked out half a dozen landmarks. I was excited because Delmonico's was in every book about old New York and in every movie or TV show about old New York.  The bigwigs would always end up going to Delmonico's for a steak.

Some old time New York bigwigs

I'd thought it had closed down years ago so this was worth investigating. This is what the current Delmonico's say about themselves:

"Before Delmonico's opened, diners ate at cafes and boarding houses (inns), where the food was simply the food available that day from the farms. Diners had no choice of dishes but ate the food that was served. Delmonico's changed all of that."

Now who doesn't like the sound of that?

But first Viv and I had to get there from our Times Square theatre.  Endless subway journey and thankfully brief stroll down Broad Street to Beaver Street through the blizzard that was dumping snow on New York all day.

It was worth it though.

Delmonico's list of firsts is very lengthy.  I liked the stories of how they'd changed the name of one signature dish -- Chicken a la Keene to Chicken a la King -- as it sounded classier and besides Mr. Keene was a thorough rascal.  The Delmonico brothers also did that to a ship's captain called Captain Wenburg whose lobster favourite became a staple.  Trouble was they fell out over something so banned Wenburg but the clients still demanded the lobster so they changed the name from Wenburg to Newburg which of course is how Lobster Newburg got its name.  So there!

The signature steak is the Delmonico steak which is an aged rib eye.  This is my favourite cut so I had no problem making my classic selection.  Viv chose the special steak -- an aged Porterhouse.  And of course the Caesar Salad to start -- and no, not a Delmonico creation.  It was still very good.

The signature Delmonico Steak
Only trouble was that our table was not out front in the iconic part of the dining room, rather it was through the bar, round the corner and on a table next to a couple of other diners who'd under estimated the size of the dishes and had ordered 4 or 5 sides, so much food in fact that they couldn't fit it all on the table and which they ended up taking home.

Good steak though.  Very tender and delicious.

Delmonico's Restaurant
56 Beaver Street
New York 10004

Tel: (212) 509-1144

Wall Street Chop House

Our meeting was in Broad Street in downtown Manhattan.  Broad Street runs from the very bottom of Manhattan up through what is now the financial district ending at the New York Fed building on the corner of Wall Street -- the other corner of which is the New York Stock Exchange.  After we'd finished Ken suggested we go to lunch.  It was 11.00 am.

"I get in at 7.15," Ken said. "I get hungry about now and so do others so the restaurants open early for us."

OK then so we walked out of Ken's skyscraper to an old 3 storey building Ken said during Superstorm Sandy had been completely flooded out.

"Many of these old buildings housed established businesses that were simply washed away.  They never opened again.  This place though did renovations and re-opened."

This place is Harry's on 97 Pearl Street.

The original Harry is a Greek guy who came to America like many others to seek his fortune, in his case a wealthy business man relative who unfortunately turned out to be a coffee shop counter man.  So Harry had to do it himself.  Ultimately he opened the original Harry's and ran it for 30 years but when his wife died, he closed the doors.  Fortunately his son re-opened and now runs 22 restaurants city wide but old Harry still comes to the original restaurant 6 days a week to greet clients.

Great steakhouse.  Wood paneling, decent hunks of perfectly cooked meat, robust red wine.  Who could ask for more?

OK, its iconic, THE place for Wall Streeters to lunch, drink and dine, and is always jammed.  Because it's good.  Very good.

97 Pearl Street
New York 10004

Tel: (212) 785-9200

Thursday, November 21, 2013

All you can eat… Cockles!

It's been a while since this landmark event but in my defence I took pictures on the phone I left with Viv and wasn't able to download them until now… so here we are!

It all happened in my home town and in particular the area called Old Leigh, a marvellous old part of town right by the water where the fishing boats came in and dropped off their catch at the famous old cockle sheds -- the most famous being Osborne's which has been there for generations.  Once a year Old Leigh holds a regatta, one cornerstone of which is the cockle eating competition.

My brother Jan won this competition a couple of years ago so had convinced his son, Rupert, and myself to enter as a group.  The rules were fairly simple: eat a pint glass full to the brim with cockles without pepper or vinegar or indeed any other seasonings faster than the others.

Now cockles aren't my favourite shellfish.  I far prefer whelks but covered with pepper and vinegar. Cockles are OK but like I said not my favorite.

Jan said we should arrive around 12 noon, eat a couple of bowls of local shellfish, maybe oysters, have a beer from the wonderful Crooked Billet pub and then stroll down to the competition.

So that's what we did.

The cockles were awful.

I don't know how you can take fresh shellfish which are inherently moist and make them taste as dry as Jacob's Cream Crackers.  But without seasoning, they were inedible.

For me, that is, for the chap across from me who'd shown up late (and who Jan later said was last year's champion and the guy he'd beaten out into 2nd place a couple of years back) was swallowing them as though he was simply pouring them down a drain.  He couldn't have tasted them but again he didn't chew either.

Next to me Rupert was trying to chew and I felt for him as that was absolutely the wrong approach -- it was my approach too -- as I could also see Jan open his throat and pour the things straight down his throat too.  Clearly this would be a 2-horse race as the 2 other guys were adopting the entirely wrong gulp/chew approach too.

And then it was all over.  The guy across from me finished with Jan close behind.  Rupert and I quietly thanked the graces that it was all over and surreptitiously emptied our squirrel like cheeks filled with half chewed cockles back into the pint glass.  I think all in all I probably finished no more than a quarter of a pint.

It certainly taught me a lesson though.

Great time through!

Osborne's Cockle Sheds
Old Leigh

Thursday, October 3, 2013

2 Fried Eggs on top, please

I'd watched a Food TV programme on deli's and included was Caplansky's in Toronto, on College Street near Kensington Market, so I had to try it out for myself.  Mind you I decided for some reason to go in the evening rather than daytime but wasn't going to be deterred as apparently their smoked meat hash was the bees knees.

It isn't an imposing building or that neat really either.  Its sort of long and thin with a bar at the back (that I missed until I saw someone else slurping on a beer) and the counter taking up most of one side behind which was a sweaty young guy, not the guy that's on the website, carving up large chunks of meat with aplomb.

It was pretty busy as being a deli its not a place to break the bank as most of the customers appeared young, college types no doubt from one of the universities that dot the city and surrounds.

I ordered chicken soup with matzo balls and the smoked meat hash -- "We do it differently here so we can't really call it corned beef or pastrami although its closest in flavour to corned beef" said the waitress.

The chicken soup was just great and the matzo balls really nice and doughy.  Call them what you will, they're only a different type of dumpling but they taste really nice in that soup I can tell you.  Real comfort food.  Had I been sick, I'd have felt better already.

The hash came after quite a long wait -- "We ran out of one of the ingredients so had to do up a fresh batch" was the reason.

Now I consider myself not quite an expert but definitely a devotee of hash.  I will always eat it if its on a menu so I was looking forward to it coming as it did with a couple of fried eggs on top.

This last I think is the perfect accompaniment to any meal.  If you like the meal, add 2 fried eggs on top and that will elevate it to all new heights.  One word of warning though, it doesn't work that well on top of a chicken curry, but that aside there's precious little that fried eggs won't enhance.

It worked well here though as the hash was yummy.  So yummy that I bought a pound of the smoked meat to take home with me.

Caplansky's Delicatessen
356 College Street

Tel: 416 500 3852


I like the TV food programme Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives because I like the presenter, Guy Fieri, and the no nonsense way he digs into the food.  Also the places he frequents aren't fancy fine dining by any means, just simple no nonsense fooderies which won't break the bank.  Any time I see a place triple-D frequents, I make a note so I can try it myself.  Hence my visit to Hey Meatball in Toronto a couple of days ago.

The TV programme made it look like the place was big and jammed with people all of who could give 5 minutes on any food items major ingredients.  I can't do this very well.  To me its just yummy or not.  How it gets to that point escapes me in the main so don't expect much in the way of detailed analysis of this ingredient or that technique.  Just yummy or not.  OK?

Its on College Street in the Little Italy district and I did expect it to look slicker than it was.  It actually looks a bit like an old launderette from the 1980's -- pretty bare and white.  What gave it away was the big red Hey sign out front.  I missed the small clapboard sign on the pavement and wandered in.

"Hi, man," screamed out one of the guys from the back.

Notice I didn't say 'the kitchen' because there wasn't one.  Simply an L-shaped counter behind which were a couple of sweaty looking cool dudes, one of whom had called out to me.  No table service.  You order at the counter.

It was also empty.

Mind you it was around 1.45 pm so after the lunch rush but if it was that good you'd expect there to be someone there most if not all of the time.

"What's your name, buddy?"  Now I'm English so reserve comes naturally to me.  This was a shock but I did confess my name was Mark.

"Whaddya want Marky-Mark?"

I hate it when people call me that.  My mum called me Marky when I was in my thirties and it was agony.  This wasn't going well.  But I persevered and asked what was good.

"Meatballs are good."  Well of course they are, or rather have to be.  This is a meatball shop for goodness sake.  If they were rubbish you wouldn't be in business.

I asked for spaghetti and meatballs as that was what Guy Fieri had on DDD along with a side salad and home made soda.  I asked which was nicest.

"They're all nice of course.  Mind you lime is probably my favourite," which rounded out the meal.

I sat myself down and few minutes later Marky-Mark's salad appeared soon followed by the spag + meatballs and soda.

The salad was half a lettuce chopped into 4 parts with blue cheese dressing and bacon bits drizzled over the top and was really nice.  The lime soda was great and the spaghetti and meatballs simply awesome.

It wasn't a big bowl to be sure but it was really hefty so very filling indeed.

I asked the guy about the TV show and he was vague about it.  "That was months ago now.  Yeah, they came in with about 20 guys and pretty much filled the shop.  They hung around for hours too filming all over the place.  Our customers couldn't get in.  The guys seemed OK to talk to."  Not really that informative then!

Mind you he did offer that business was so good they're opening another store out East, presumably near the Beaches in eastern Toronto.

Pretty good for $20!  You go here for the food not the decor!

Hey Meatball
719 College Street

Tel: 416 546 1483

The Walrus and the Carpenter

My home town Southend is many things, none of which are genteel or refined.  It has an edge to it.  Lots of cheeky chappies and kiss me quick hats.  But things have started to change including on the culinary front.  Mainly for the better too.

A short while ago, my brother Jan suggested we go to a newish restaurant called Toulouse on the western esplanade on the Southend sea front, just down from the pier.  They'd converted the former public toilets into a restaurant so this I just had to see.  Typical Southend indeed!

Former public loos
They did a pretty good job too as the restaurant was sleek and nice with no evidence of its former history either!  Mind you the Southend sense of humour remains.  The following is a note on the menu for patrons.

Following advice from the Food Standard Agency we feel it our duty to warn you, that by consuming raw seafood, there is 1 in 1000 chance of it causing a tummy upset. We also advise not to eat oysters and drink spirits as it can also cause a tummy upset.

Did that deter us? Not in the slightest!

On the menu were Maldon Oysters yet again!!  And of course we just had to have them by the dozen this time.  Jan is a big fan and Viv helped me out too.  The waiter asked if he could produce just one big tray but knowing my brother, I asked him to keep the orders separate as Jan's counting is notoriously patchy at times.

The evening was splendid and the restaurant did a great job of keeping all happy!

"O Oysters," said the Carpenter,
"You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?"
But answer came there none--
And this was scarcely odd, because
They'd eaten every one.
Thanks of course to Lewis Carroll for the magnificent inspiration!

Toulouse Restaurant
Western Esplanade
Essex SS0 8FE

Tel: 01702 333731

Billions of Blistering Blue Barnacles

Viv and I were looking for dining inspiration in Canterbury a short while ago and thought of the Tin Tin restaurant in St. Dunstan's Street just around the corner in fact.  We couldn't remember the name of the restaurant just the pictures of Tin Tin they had all around the restaurant.  It was Belgian themed of couse so had loads of different mussels and Belgian beers.

It was gone.

This made us scratch heads a bit for in its place was another restaurant called Chapman's which was a fish restaurant pure and simple.  It was also full so we walked on, then decided we should stroll in and have a drink at the bar whilst a table freed up.

It smelled nice inside anyway.

Also a table freed up quickly so our bottle of white wine accompanied us fairly quickly to the table.

The menu was small and fish focused.  My eyes of course lit up at the prospect of more Maldon oysters with a whole plaice to follow.  Viv chose beetroot marinated salmon as an appetizer with the seafood platter to follow.

And boy was it all just yummy too!

So what happened to Tin Tin then, who are Chapman's and most importantly what happened to all the Tin Tin pictures?

Apparently the Tin Tin restaurant got into financial trouble and couldn't pay their bills and being a Belgian mussel shop a large part of the outstanding was to their fish providers, namely Chapman's of Sevenoaks -- a big fish distributor.

So rather than get paid in cold hard cash, Chapman's took the restaurant.  How willingly they took it was not disclosed but suffice to say this is their only restaurant -- I nearly said their 'sole' restaurant before realising how bad a pun that would have been!

As for the Tin Tin pictures, sadly they have all gone.  Many went to a local kindergarten where one hopes they are appreciated in the full and proper way.  A couple went to the waitress we asked who says they are in her young daughter's bedroom and a much revered part too.  That's nice.  Captain Haddock would be pleased.

Chapman's Seafood Bar and Brasserie
89-90 St. Dunstan's Street

Tel: 01227-780749

Monday, September 30, 2013

No "Sweary Scots"

We just happened to be in Folkestone around lunchtime and found we had nothing to do for the rest of the day so immediately thought about lunch.  So asking around and receiving the recommendation of "Rocksalt" which apparently was down by the fishing port, we decided to give it a go.

The recommendation came with a bio of the chef who was some kind of celebrity chef although not Gordon Ramsay so we presumed it would be sleek, slick, new and pretty expensive.  Right on all counts!

This is what the Guardian has to say about the restaurant:

Bankrolled, like so much recent regeneration here, by Roger de Haan, ex-boss of the Saga group, Rocksalt has serious culinary pedigree: it's run by Mark Sargeant, one-time head chef at Claridge's, who, like Jason AthertonMarcus Wareing and Angela Hartnett, has jumped ship from the SS Ramsay. But, like the sweary Scot, "Sarge" seems also to have had his fill of sweaty kitchens, and is leaving the actual cooking to others.
A sleek, dark timber and glass wonder bang on the old harbour front, Rocksalt is a state-of-the-art pillbox that's a world away from the whelk stalls and tackle shops next door. Inside, it's no less impressive, with the entire seaward side given over to a panoramic glass wall, and the rest done up in the power browns and greens of the moment. It's all so "now" that the room seems custom-built for wedged-up wallet-wavers down from London and the Garden of England's commuter belt.

When we arrived around 12.30 pm the tide in the harbour was out and as we sipped our pre-lunch vodka Martinis (pretty good actually) we watched a fisherman in wellies tramping across the mud with an oar dragging a small skiff to the start of the water where he floated the boat, hopped into it and paddled out to one of those little fishing boats that crammed into the small harbour.  So this really was a fishing port, and a working one at that!

Now I'm a sucker for oysters and Rocksalt had 2 varieties, one from Guernsey the other from Maldon in Essex.  Being an Essex boy myself I of course had to have some of both: the Guernseys were chubby whilst the Maldons were smaller and more flavourful.

Now onto the dry white wine and Lemon Sole for me and Plaice with Razor Clams for Viv.  Both were very nice indeed.  Viv was moved to say that if we lived in Folkestone she could become their best customer.  Praise indeed.

So if you're in Folkestone and like new and trendy, try Rocksalt.  It was pretty darn good.

4-5 Fish Market
Kent CT19 6AA

Tel: 01303 212070

Sandwich Boards and Rain

We would never have gone to Deesons if it hadn't been raining or if I had been watching where I was walking.  But fortunately the rain was hammering down as we walked along one of Canterbury's small cobble stoned side streets and I had my hooded rain coat in full working order with the hood pulled down as far as I could when I tripped over something and banged my shin.

It was a sandwich board.  A smaller than usual one, shin height in fact, with what looked like a chalk drawing of a pig on it under the banner "We only use Kentish, home grown pork".

A Bunker pig -- very nice indeed!

This knowledge at that particular moment provided no joy as the damn thing hurt and made quite a clatter as it bounced along the road immediately after impact but later on when we were wondering where we could go for dinner I remembered it well.  Actually it was the picture of the pig that I remembered most.

Deesons is proud of the fact they grow their own produce which then goes into their menu every day.  The website has a neat video about the 'Bunker', their own small holding outside Canterbury (check the link --

The menu isn't large but good and interesting.  I had the seafood platter because I hadn't eaten whitebait for ages, Viv had the seared scallops but both of us of course just had to have the Bunker Pork -- a scrumptuous combination of belly, loin, pig's cheek and pulled pork bubble & squeak cake.

This was a veritable pork smorgasbord.

Very nice indeed.

Deeson's British Restaurant
25-27 Sun Street
Kent CT1 2HX

Tel: 01227 767854

Thursday, July 4, 2013

We didn't mean it to be like this... really!

We'd had a really long day.  We'd driven back from Niagara on the Lake already and had agonised with the one way system and the road works around Union Station looking for where we had to return the rental car.  But finally we found the right spot and said goodbye to the Jeep which had been a fun car and together decided that we rather fancied a cocktail as it was certainly 5 o'clock somewhere ... it was actually 5 o'clock in Toronto.

The question was where?  Now we've been to TO many times before and knew quite a lot of restaurants and bars but thought we'd like somewhere new so headed towards the financial district which at 5 pm was bound to be thronging with workers quenching thirsts prior to the commute home.  Bars would likely feature highly.  But walking up Yonge Street we only found places we'd already been to and wanted somewhere new.

By the time we reached Wellington, we were getting desperate so turned left off Yonge as I thought I remembered a couple of bars that looked like fun and saw this terrace thronging with people busily slurping booze of some sort and shouting at the top of their lungs (or so it seemed as the noise was pretty impressive).

Multiply the crowd by 10

"This was the place", we thought.  "Go where the crowds are.  It must be decent".  However it was a bit chilly so we didn't fancy sitting outside so checked in with the hostess who said that in addition to the multitude, there was a private party so we needed to go to the basement (aka dungeon) if we wanted a drink.

We didn't get in here
Not an impressive start we both thought and were within an ace of moving on when we found the door to the basement and entered into the palatial interior.

The basement
We were shown to a corner table and a waitress took our drinks order -- both vodka martinis with olives -- and settled in.

The room was pretty empty at this time with only another table occupied by a couple of people having what looked like an after work drink (beer and wine, no cocktails).  The martinis were nice though, good olives too.  This is important in a decent martini I think.  You can always tell good places by the quality of the olives.  The best we'd ever had was in the Ritz Carlton in Hong Kong.  They and the martinis were sensational.

The waitress came over with a menu just in case we changed our minds.  And amazingly after the first martini, we had.  The question though was what nibble should we have with our second martini?

They served oysters which are like catnip for me.  Viv on the other hand doesn't like their sliminess but had persevered in the onslaught that was my prediliction for the humble mollusc and had bent in Newport, RI a couple of years back and downed a couple, and had done so again on several other occasions since.  I ordered a dozen of 3 different varietals (I forget which) whilst Viv ordered the seafood platter -- pretty much every type of raw and cooked seafood you could think of on a big tray.  As it was food we also ordered a bottle of nice Niagara rose wine to wash it down.

They were scrumptious.  Viv chowed down on plenty of my oysters but returned the compliment with the platter and together with the wine, this was something.

A second bottle of rose followed as we munched and slurped away.  This was a great meal.  However we realised as we finished the platters that all we'd actually eaten was a bunch of molluscs and crustaceans -- we were actually still a little peckish.  It wasn't a big steak kind of peckish, rather a sort of "I'd really like a non-fish savoury to finish" kind of peckish so we negotiated a veggie pasta to finish.

Oh yes and with the pasta we just had to have a bottle of nice Niagara red as accompaniment.  It was a pinot noir (I cannot remember which winery though).

The pasta was lovely too -- the sauce was a Mediterranean sauce with plenty of veggies cooked just right.  Viv and I shared an appetizer sized portion which was still pretty substantial.

This was a great meal but the bill was eye watering too.  "What was the name of this restaurant again?" I asked the waitress.  "Bymark" she said.

I'd heard this was a nice fine dining restaurant and can now confirm that it really was!

Chef Brooke McDougall
66 Wellington Street West
Toronto, ON
M5K 1M6
(416) 777-1144

Noodles anyone?

Viv did it again!  Again I've said that before and will say it again sometime soon I've no doubt.  We'd found a great 24 hour ramen noodle shop in March when we were in Miami to watch the Sony Ericsson Tennis Tournament (blogged elsewhere).  It was a wonderful experience and with the large Japanese population in Toronto, Viv wondered if there was something similar there.

There was -- the Hokkaido Ramen Santouka restaurant just away from Dundas Square in downtown TO.  Apparently the boss, one Hitoshi Hatanaka, ate a ramen meal with his family that was not to his taste and vowed to do it better himself.  This was in Hokkaido and subsequently the Santouka Ramen franchise has mushroomed all over, including TO.

The premises are as you would expect, slick and clean but with really long lines outside (this was as we left not as we arrived which was fortunately in the middle of a rain shower so presumably washed away the lines).  Mind you the place was jammed to the gills inside so Viv and I sat at the counter to watch the chefs weave their magic.

There was certainly nobody sitting down chewing the fat.  It was all business for the numerous help.  And it was hot and steamy too, not surprising I suppose given the need to boil the pork soup served with the ramen for 20 hours or so.

Small menu but that's typical for ramen shops -- mostly based around either pork jowl or cha shu (pork back not belly as I thought given the similarity with famous BBQ Chinese pork).  Variations were with what came in it.

We chose the cha shu ramen and the toroniku ramen (pork jowl) with Sapporo beer to wash it all down.    It came in virtually an instant and boy, was it good and hot.  The pork jowl was sensational and the noodle/soup combo... well I'll have to admit here that I am a total sucker of soups in all shapes and forms.  And if you put something in it, well...

The Toroniku Ramen dish, pork jowl to left
This is a great place for a quick fix of noodles.  I will be back!

Hokkaido Ramen Santouka
91 Dundas Street East
Toronto, ON M5B 2C8
(647) 748-1717

French Restaurant in East Chinatown??!!

I take off my hat to Viv (yet again) for this.  I don't know if you've heard of Living Social -- a really good deal of the day website which offers really neat and sometimes off the wall adventures each day.  All you have to do is sign up and say which town and country you're interested in.  And you get daily emails forever (and I do mean forever) telling you what's 50% off in your town that day.  Its perfect for when you travel to another town and you want to try something new.  I guess its pretty decent too if there is coverage in your home town too and you feel like an adventure but as we're based in Bermuda where LS doesn't reach, that's tough for us.  But this week we were in Toronto and Viv found 3 things, one of which was a chic French bistro in East Chinatown in a 'burb called Riverdale to be precise.

This was Batifole and Viv bought the voucher because she spied one of my favourites -- which is cassoulet.  A magnificent dish based around white beans and the fattiest meats imagined by man -- pork belly, duck confit and white Toulouse sausage.  Combined in a casserole and baked, this is a dish to make you smile for a year.

Getting there was a breeze too once you skimmed the website and found the very precise instructions but the district it is in is not one where you'd expect to find a quality French bistro owned and chefed by  Jean-Jacques Texier (the name sounds Basque to me), the chef and manager of Sassafrass, the swanky Yorkville eatery (he lives nearby apparently and liked the lot when it came up 5 years ago when he pounced).  It is not a chic area at all.

The boss
However when you enter, things brighten up considerably and it becomes a lovely spot.  Tables and chairs are simple bistro furniture and the waiter was a charming guy (not French, I don't think) who was quite understanding when I explained I wanted to vary from the LS voucher fare (glass of wine, table d'hote menu) and have a bottle of the Grenache (very nice it was too) and the cassoulet.  Viv stayed closer to things with the savoury souffle but we both blew it on the dessert -- another favourite of mine being souffles, this one with marmalade and Grand Marnier.

Forgot to mention nearly the aperitifs -- Viv had some bubbles whilst I had a pastis.  Well you just have to in a French bistro, don't you?

So ticking off boxes as we go along: 1) cassoulet -- very, very nice; 2) souffle -- very, very nice.  Also the nice ambience, nice cold Grenache, pastis to start .... that makes for a very lovely dinner indeed!  And the bill even with my variations was exceptionally reasonable.  What more could you want?

We met a couple of guys there too who were restauranteurs themselves as Viv wanted to know how the Horse Tartare was.  I've eaten that before in France and it certainly looked great, a fact that the gentleman in question confirmed.  In fact both waxed very lyrical about their experience too.  I just wish I remembered which restaurants they said they owned.

Not sure the play button works.  But don't let me stop you.

744 Gerrard Street East
Toronto, ON
M4M 1Y3
(416) 462-9965

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Leave it all to Chris

I can't remember how we'd heard about Cava, a tapas style restaurant at 1560 Yonge.  It may have been in many of the Top 10, Top 25 or Top 100 restaurants in Toronto but in any event Viv and I had been there before with another friend, Nick, but this time it was another friend David's turn to put up with this place.

Its location is on the Yonge Subway just up from St. Clair so an easy hop from downtown, and when we arrived unfashionably 1 hour early for our 9 pm reservation (on a Sunday! Give me a break. The place was half empty!!) we found David chatting to the barman and drinking a vodka martini.  A nice one too, he said.

He'd also read about Cava and particularly the bit about if in doubt as to what to eat, simply "Leave it all to Chris".

Viv and I caught up with our martinis; she vodka with olives, me a James Bond Vesper martini that I had to show the barman how to make.  Mind you he had Lillet and made a magnificent one before admitting he'd just joined and was actually the bus boy and not the regular barman.  He needs to change jobs!

We told our waiter that we were leaving it all to Chris and ordered a nice hearty Spanish red as we sat down.  Then came the plates.

Iberico ham, followed by Quebec foie gras on toast -- sorry, Pinchot of Gamay poached foie gras with rhubarb compote (magnificent incidentally), roasted beet salad, kingfish ceviche, asparagus, roasted lion's main mushrooms, grilled sardines, squid, clams, sablefish, 48 hour beef brisket... my God, it was endless!  And to follow chocolate souffle and a cheese plate with a small savoury of even more foie gras at the very end.  Just in case it was needed!!

Just spectacular.

Mind you, so was the bill at the end but it was one of those cases when it was all worth it.

My son Alistair and I had visited San Sebastian on our Euro road trip in 2011 and had discovered that the old town there was the world capital of tapas bars.  There the food was simpler but equally magnificent.  At Cava it was fancier but certainly all that one could have wished for.

I will go back again when my waistline permits!  Next time with Ali.

Cava Restaurant
1560 Yonge Street
Toronto, ON

(416) 979-9918

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

First Blog

In the time since I've been writing my travel blog I realized I'd written quite a bit about food, restaurants and ... well eating in general.  So I thought I'd simply devote this blog to some of the great fooderies I've eaten at, many probably most with my wife, Vivien.

As I'm currently in Toronto and have eaten at some great places in the past few days, it really makes sense to start here.

Burgers in Toronto

My friend Byron suggested a burger joint on Queen West called the County General for lunch with our respective wives this week when we were in Toronto.  The premise is usually the same -- good cocktails and decent food -- so it's not a bad place to begin this new blog which will be all about the fooderies that I've found, enjoyed and maybe have not enjoyed.  Much of what I do when I travel is to find great places to eat so its nice to remember the good ones.

The place is funky -- our martinis came in old style champagne glasses and Daina's iced tea came in a large jam jar.  Daina said a lot of places do this now.  I'd only ever seen it 6 years ago in Alaska in a bar in a one horse town by some vast waterway.  The beer then was home brew and they had some fine blues on the sound system.

One horse town in Alaska

The menu was fairly simple for lunch -- burgers, sandwiches and pretty much anything hand held.  One thing I liked was the ability to add bacon and a fried egg to anything for $2 each.  This charming addition reminded me instantly of Dorothy's Coffee Shop in Bermuda, the home of the finest burger in the world.

Mind you the County General's burger was pretty darned good too.  I had fries with mine, well I ordered them anyway.  They were somehow eaten by someone else who ordered a side salad instead!

Trouble was this time, Viv and I had something on in the evening and with Byron and Daina admitting to having to work in the afternoon, we had to curtail things only 3 cocktails in.

Fun place indeed!

The County General
936 Queen Street West
Toronto, ON M6J 1G6
(416) 531-4447