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Everything posted by estufarian

  1. On Saturday, they were "in training" - we were passing by and were ofered a 'tour'. They should be open within a week. Initially for dinner only; then lunch "about a month later" then breakfast "about a month after that".
  2. I travelled there last year and thought that Akelare was the best meal I had. Much preferred it to Berasategui. Didn't get to Arzak. The sommelier was by far the best we encountered on our trip and the wine list at Akelare was sensational (if you like Spanish wines - their 'International' selection wasn't as impressive). Subijana has exciting twists on classic Basque cuisine and EVERY course delighted us. We wouldn't think of returning to Donostia without returning to Akelare (and planning to return next year).
  3. estufarian


    Ok September is almost here (and I'll be visiting in September). Any news yet?
  4. Two wine pairings.............!!!!!!! In June we asked for wine pairings and were told they didn't do this. One of the reasons for a less than perfect dining experience - how do you match a multi-course meal two two half-bottles (which were not particularly well-chosen).
  5. I don't agree. Based on my previous meals, why would I shell out $3-400 to try Canoe after a string of bad experiences. Especially without first-hand raves from people I trust - it was appropriate raves that encouraged me to try Square, despite my predisposition to skip it (as I did SteakFrites). I believe I gave the reasons why I hadn't tried Canoe and was balanced (in my opinion) based on personal experience. Of course, if other reviewers turn out not to like Square then I can still retain the opinion that it's much better than anything else I've tried in the Oliver Bonacini enterprise. Now if you want my unevidenced speculation on WHY there are issues in the Oliver-Bonacini empire, that would be inappropriate (even if the speculation is true).
  6. Celestin - overpriced for what you get. Food is fine (not exceptional). Service is farcical. Wine list is good - but doesn't mesh with the food. But their bakery is excellent. Across The Road - had a relatively bad experience there. Their daily specials are announced without prices (this is probably my biggest turn-off in a restaurant). So after each dish I asked the price. This repeated after each announcement - they still didn't announce prices so I had to ask at least four times. And this obviously upset the server (as well as me). He finally said, "Most of our clients prefer not to be told the prices" I should have shut up, but didn't, and asked why they even printed prices on the menu then. Not surprisingly, this spoiled the evening and I haven't been back. I also like Jov - but it's inconsistent. My most visited place is Cafe Pleiades - not in the same league, but always consistent and very reasonably priced.
  7. Toronto has another serious dining contender. Square has opened in the space formerly occupied by SteakFrites (never tried it) and, before that, Pronto (sadly missed – had some great meals there). First a declaration – I have never been impressed with the various Oliver/Bonacini restaurants, going back to the Original Oliver’s and the subsequent more fine dining efforts. A disastrous meal at Auberge du Pommier, ten years ago still ranks as one of my worst experiences ever. Some indifferent lunches at Jump. Another disappointment at the precursor to Biff’s – and I’ve never felt the need to go to Canoe. But several people had reported great meals at Square during the Summerlicious promotion, so it was time to put my experiences behind me and trust the reports. It was only fair to wait until Summerlicious ended – they have to hit a price point, so can’t really show their best. And the renovation is bright and airy and the reception seemed genuinely welcoming. We deferred a drink until we’d decided on the meal (and hence wine), politely refused the bottled water and settled for tap water that was served very professionally – no sign of disappointment that we weren’t ‘padding’ the bill. The menu immediately impressed. 8 appetizers (averaging about $15), and I would happily try 7 of them. Similar response from AmuseGirl. The mains were less exciting (average $35 – compare with the 3 course $30 menu at Summerlicious). So could we have an assortment of appetizers and skip the mains? No problem. So we ended up with four pairs of dishes. First up came the ‘square’ salad and Tuna (I may get a few ingredients wrong – wasn’t taking notes) with olive oil sorbet, lychee, and a fourth item I don’t recall. The salad was spectacular, micro greens hiding various treats such as apricot and fig. The other dish was pretty good – except the menu description and what we received didn’t match – the promised olive oil sorbet turned out to be lime sorbet (when we enquired we were told it was lime/lychee and the menu was wrong!). Seems to be a slight miscommunication here – but this was the low point. Next was ‘smoked salmon and scallops’ and ‘poached lobster and potato salad’. Both dishes were much more complicated than that. The smoked salmon dish was served atop a mild curry ‘melange’ with various textures and flavours. Baked pineapple perfectly offset the curry and oiliness of the salmon. Don’t recall the scallops, but this was a great combination of textures and flavours. The lobster and fingerling potato salad certainly featured lobster, but the quantity was swamped by the potato and mayonnaise. Roasted strawberries also picked up on the sweetness of the lobster. But not perfect. It really needed a higher proportion of lobster as this flavour got lost – but of course, that would mean a price increase – worth it in my opinion. On to Goat’s Cheese Brulee and “A Piece Of Cake”- some cold foie gras with a ‘cake’ brioche and Medjool dates. The goat cheese actually bore a strong resemblance to ‘Welsh rarebit’ (but a gourmet version) served with beets, balsamic and fig. Excellent. Loved the brioche. Loved the Foie Gras. Surprisingly found the Medjool date disappointing. Still had the seed, and was tougher than I recall and very sweet (and sweet almost always goes well with foie gras). But I would have preferred a fresh Iranian date (available most of the year in Toronto) – especially one from Bam – which are about half the cost of Medjool anyway. Finally, Veal Sweetbreads and ‘Breakfast for Dinner’ a Dungeness Crab Sausage, Pork Belly and Truffled Egg. The sweetbreads were breaded, served with more microgreens and (I think) rhubarb. Appropriately rich and I LOVE sweetbreads – but am still searching for the perfect treatment (not easy with the unexciting colour and unusual texture that almost defies other pairings). This was good, but still not perfect. My favourite version to date used lamb sweetbreads, which seem to have more flavour. The “breakfast” was very good. The tiny omelette with shaved summer truffles was perfect. The pork belly was also superb. The sausage tasted more of scallops/salmon than crab. It had a mousse texture and was pink, so I’m not sure how much Dungeness crab was in it (it’s an unappetizing grey colour with much more texture). But, even where the dish wasn’t exactly as described, the flavours and textures were excellent. A very satisfying meal and the wine, Vouvray, Le Mont, Demi-Sec by Huet ($60) went superbly with almost all the dishes. The wine list (not cheap) was well-chosen – about 60% red and 40% white with many interesting options. We split a dessert – a curried spring roll containing apples with crème fraiche and apple sorbet. We skipped the cheese tray – but at least they offer one, a rarity in Toronto. Total bill before taxes and gratuities was $200 – on the high side for this neighbourhood (Mt Pleasant at Soudan; South of Eglinton), but not out-of-line for what we received. Fresh ingredients, prepared with flair and VERY professional service – our wine was topped up regularly – we never touched the bottle. A couple of menu description problems – but I’d be surprised if that’s not fixed on a repeat visit – and I’ll definitely be back – A first for me at Oliver Bonacini! And they told me that starting at the end of the month they plan on having a tasting menu option. Another reason for me to return.
  8. By the way it's called Federicks (no r) - makes it easier to find in the phone book. And they are VERY busy, you may have to wait for a table unless you reserve. And they have a huge take-out business so don't get into the wrong line. Nearly all the clientele are Indian - all Hakka cuisine I've tried here is certainly spiced to the Indian taste. I love spicy food (normally emphasize this to restaurants) but at Federicks I'm tempted to ask them to tone it down. VERY spicy. And other than a tendency to rely on deep-frying, it's pretty good. Kim Ling was empty when I scouted it last time so decided to return to Federicks, which is always packed.
  9. A chef friend of mine explained that there's far more attractive food for roaches in the kitchen than in the dining room. If you see them in the dining room it means they've fumigated the kitchen and the roaches are trying to flee. Which means they've already addressed the problem. That made sense to me - until I didn't see any roaches in the dining room - were they still in the kitchen, or was it roach-free?????????
  10. Yes $12 per course - except dessert is $8 (and cheese $15 - but avoid the cheese). And they have a good selection by the glass - although they are a little expensive. Just about everything is good, but on the wine side you might try a sake called Sato No Homare (not cheap - I think around $12 for a taste) but IMO it's the greatest sake around. We ordered dishes to arrive in pairs so that we could pace the meal and ended up with 5 pairs (i.e 10 dishes). But we were VERY full by the end! Great mignardises as well. If they have the foie gras brulee order two!!!!
  11. I was there in February and wrote up the food part of the trip (for another board). But worth a reprint here: Cambodia PHNOM PENH The first night went with friends (they drove) to Hang Sen, which is across the bridge on the other side of the river. We had asked for ‘typical Cambodian’ and this is a huge (airport hangar?) place with virtually no tourists but crammed with families and a continuous stage show (of which we understood not a word except the body language). We were initially besieged by wine and beer representatives – sort of a disorganized “Miss Cambodia” pageant, and it was explained to us that these are paid on a commission basis by the various beer/liquor companies. We sat well away from the stage, overlooking the river, which reflected a perfect full moon. It could have been romantic except for the approximately 1000 other attendees. Yet, at the same time it was comforting to see so many large family groupings – including the kids of all ages. It reminds one that people in far-off countries still have values revolving around families being together and having a good time. And prompts the question about why most travellers (including us) don’t travel with children or, perhaps more relevantly, don’t take children to restaurants (except fast-food and theme). But back to the food. What would one expect in a place like this? Solid, filling, competent, huge portions. We had Pork Spring Rolls – excellent and, strangely, included potato; Steamed Elephant Fish with Ginger; Sour Soup (lime) with Beef; Squid with Peppers – the peppers were green peppercorns, still on the twig and they exploded with flavour. This style of ‘twigged peppercorns’ was repeated several times in Cambodia yet we never saw them being sold that way (although realistically we were there for Angkor, so didn’t spend much time in the markets). Had a strong recommendation for Khmer Surin restaurant (on Phlauw 57 about 200m south of Preah Sihanouk Blvd; 2 blocks east of Monivong Blvd), and this is a must visit! Started with Green Beans with Peanuts, Chillis, Tomato and Dried Fish. Then the star attraction – Seafood Amok – absolutely fabulous, a superb dish. Squid and Prawns in a mild curry with onions, coconut, kaffir lime, basil and lemongrass – everything in perfect balance. I’ve only seen this dish once in Canada – and that restaurant has now closed. Also had Cha Greund Frog – minced frog with galangal, lemongrass, peanuts and onions. This had excellent taste, but the frog had just been chopped leaving small bones that were difficult to distinguish from the peanuts, so this dish had to be eaten slowly to avoid swallowing sharp bones. The restaurant is also beautifully appointed with large bamboos in pots giving the illusion of being outside the city. We ate fairly early and received good service, but later on a tour group of 30-40 people arrived and all the servers disappeared. Great value $17 including beer and water. Then the boat to SIEM REAP – and food opportunities here were more limited as we wanted to maximize time at Angkor Wat. The top meal was planned for Bopha Angkor (on Stung Siem Reap St also called East River Bank Rd, just north of the main area) but was very disappointing. More show than anything else. Had Banana Bud Salad with Lake (Tonle Sap) Fish served in a half banana blossom leaf – very pretty, but the flavours and textures were all mushed together; Beef with Cambodian peppers – tough beef, the same veggies as were served with the salad, but great peppercorns (again on the stem), and a good sweet garlic dip. But no real flavour definition again. Finally Chicken Amok – and this wasn’t anywhere near the Seafood Amok in Phnom Penh. First, the colour was unappealing (coconut, curry and chicken conspired to give a grey-brown colour). The chicken was stringy but did have good flavour. Just OK overall. Dessert was a fruit plate (excellent) and a pineapple spring roll with Caramel Sauce – very sweet (of course). And this restaurant that only served small bottles of water, necessitating buying more (at restaurant/hotel prices). Total cost $24 (expensive by Cambodian standards). Lunch at one of the sit-down covered restaurants outside Angkor Wat (the one near the gate but furthest south). Fish Amok, served in a green coconut. Not bad to very good. No fish bones but flavours a bit fuzzy. And Pork with Lemongrass – mostly vegetables and a bit greasy. Cost $11. That night hoped to go to Khmer Kitchen – but directions were not precise enough (lane near market) so, as this was the last night, we arranged to eat with other people we were travelling with on this part of the trip. This was at the Soup Dragon which is on the main commercial street, running NW from the bridge just north of the market (369 Group 6 Mondol 1, Svay Dangkum). Ironically, we arrived early (deliberately to explore) and discovered that the Khmer Kitchen was on the side street just SE of the Soup Dragon. It looked well worth trying, but only has about 4 tables and a chalkboard menu with a few selections. And it was full. At the Soup Dragon we had Battered Squid, Bonelesss Fish in a Clay Pot (lacked spices) and dessert. Unexciting but reasonable price. $12 with beers. And the final meal – up at 4:30 to see the sun rise over Angkor Wat. Except the sky was all cloud covered, so didn’t see the sun! But strolled across the street to the same group of restaurants and this time chose the north covered one and had a superb fried egg – free range as always and a superb baguette still warm from the oven. Perfection!
  12. The Pinnacle is currently available at the LCBO (Vintages) - bought some about a month ago, but haven't tried it yet.
  13. I had a number of problems with Quartier - arrogance being the main one: I ordered something which arrived with different accompaniments - when I protested, I was told - it's spring; we're using different vegetables than on the menu and haven't got around to changing it. Then refused to take the dish back - which I'd ordered to get the advertised celeriac. That was over a year ago - hasn't the chef also changed since then? Any update on price and quality?
  14. Went once about 6 months ago. Food was pretty good but expensive for what we got (don't recall the intimate details). Wine list was bizarre. About 90% red - yet about 80% of the dishes offered I would choose a white wine to accompany. So compromise was needed - and the wine list only had a handful of wines under $50 (I am prepared to spend more but not if I can't find a reasonable food and wine match). Service was similarly bizarre. A mixture of very good and very bad. I got the impression that the servers had been overtrained, yet were inexperienced. Often they didn't notice that service was required (e.g. wrong utensils for the dish; empty wine glasses). Yet, when they did notice that service was needed the performance seemed exaggerated e.g. to refill wine glass: 1. lift up bottle 2. place feet 0.37 metres apart 3. turn bottle so that label faces diner 4. place left hand behind back ensuring that it's parallel to the floor 5. replenish glass to 31.2% full imaginary mark 6. turn 20 degrees towards next diner repeat as required. Overall not bad - but expensive for that neighbourhood (over $150 for two with under $50 bottle of wine), which is mostly local bistro type restaurants. And I don't particularly like the room. The black and white tiles make the room (which otherwise is excellent) seem harsh. Didn't return.
  15. Just had lunch at J-G and both the Foie Gras Brûlée and Young Garlic with Frog's legs are on the menu (at $12). Also a superb Morels in Vin Jaune (with asparagus - but that's a throw in). The rhubarb dessert selection is also superb. Cheese good, but expensive ($15 for 3 slivers - the only thing more expensive is the caviar dish). Food superb, wine very expensive and service unexceptional. But the food - a bargain!
  16. Ok here's the challenge in a large nutshell. I want to COMPARE wines to determine my favourite producers/vintages/sites e.g should I order a 1990 Chateauneuf-du-pape or a 1998 to go with my meal? Where can I find both an aged and a young wine to help me know how long to cellar? Same with e.g. vintage ports Where do I get my aged wines (e.g. Taylor, Fonseca, Warre, Graham) to do the comparison? Sure the 2000's are/were available but which flavour profile will I prefer? And, equally, if it's Graham (say) where do i get the 63, 66, 70, 75, 80 etc to determine how long I want to keep them? Same with any country/wine. They're just not available with the current system (including agents). Such wines are often available retail in other countries - but even if I find them and are prepared to pay whatever duties etc exist - it's still almost impossible!
  17. No question that's the 'rule' that applies. Don't know the SAQ well (I live in Ontario) but the LCBO allows 45 litres as a 'personal' importation. HOWEVER, if we have any lawyers out there there are two distinct issues: 1. There is no legislation (in Ontario) supporting the limit. It has never been tabled as a Bill (or Amendment) or voted on in any way (or published in the Ontario Gazette). My understanding is that it's not 'legal' so you could sue for damages if confiscated (at what cost?). Basic principle is that all 'laws' must be published (it was imposed as a regulation by fiat). 2. Good old NAFTA (but not FTA) requires that all duties (used loosely to cover any taxes, markups etc) must be posted (no problem - you know how much to pay). It also PROHIBITS 'quotas' - only 'duties etc' can be applied to goods originating in USA/Mexico. (interesting aside: there was a similar rule in FTA, but when the US tried to enforce it, Canada replied that liquor/wine was a Provincial responsibility and the provinces hadn't signed FTA). Having been bitten by FTA, when NAFTA came along the Americans inserted a clause that 'requires the federal Government to do everything in its power to ensure that the Provinces couldn't pass countervailing legislation' (I'm paraphrasing for ease of understanding). And it specifically requires the feds to honour NAFTA and not enforce any provincial shenanigans. So the net effect is that the Provinces can impose a quota/limit, but under NAFTA the Feds can't enforce it. And all crossings are federal responsibility. Of course, the reality is obviously different - but if anybody has a friendly US politician who would like to investigate this further I'm pretty sure Canada would have to back down (to US and Mexican wine imports) - although the Provinces can still charge whatever they like in markups (as long as it's collected by the Feds).
  18. Having eaten at Sen5es a couple of times - this is as close as you get (currently) in Toronto. Unfortunately, the experiment is not going well - the food just doesn't taste that good. All technique, no soul.
  19. Bouchon DOES have a poutine with foie gras - I had it there.
  20. The closest thing to a 'trend' is the 'trust me tasting menu'. OK it's hardly the latest thing in reality, but I've noticed a significant increase in this offering - which certainly wasn't around a year ago (to any extent - I know, Truffles, Eigensinn and Jov and others have always had these). There are rumours that Susur will be moving to a 'choice of tasting menu only' when his new next-door restaurant opens (which will serve individual dishes). Avalon has the 'Friday only' tasting menu. And so it goes.
  21. I'm returning to Eigensinn in late May - and discovered that my favourite B&B is in the process of being sold. Not finalized yet, but they wouldn't book us for May as they didn't expect to be there. So I'm looking too. Have found some others, but can't recommend anything (yet).
  22. Ok - let's make my point clear. Even though Chatto specifically defines his best experiences (according to the small print) he KNOWS that it will be marketed as 'The Best Restaurants' (not his personal best experiences). How does he know this - because it has happened every year for as long as I've been reading the magazine (just check last years edition). And. of course, that's why the photographer happens to be able to take the pictures - it's standard process. I was really responding to those 'excusing' the list because it's his personal choice. Of 100 'casual' readers of Toronto Life - how many are likely to note the distinction between 'the best' and 'Chattos best experience'? And try and determine when these experiences occurred. An amazing number seem to have been for 'Fall' menus. But then, I guess the experiences aren't as memorable in February or July. As I mentioned above - it's a pretty good list. But how many readers are truly interested in Chatto's personal experiences - as opposed to a well-written summary of the 'best' restaurants? Edited to add this postscript. Just saw Chatto on TV do a feature on the Top 5 restaurants (which are the same top 5 in Toronto Life). He described them as the Top Five restaurants - no mention of 'experiences' - purely and simply the 'TOP 5'.
  23. Thanks for the clarification (and the Perigee clarification too). James Chatto does, indeed, describe these in his introduction as 'the 10 most enjoyable evenings' NOT the best restaurants - which one only discovers after buying "THE BEST RESTAURANTS James Chatto picks the top 10". Amazing how he never objects to this blatant mis-marketing year-after-year. And amazing how he manages to have pictures of each dish too for these 'most enjoyable evenings' (he must be discreet as I've never seen him taking pictures). Perhaps he arranges for Evan Dion to come back the next day after his anonymous visits. Of course, taste is individual, and Chatto's tastes have earned him deserved respect in and around Toronto. And he's probably not too far off the mark - anybody can quibble but it's a pretty good list. He's brought in Eigensinn and Rundles (last year's list seems to have restricted itself to Toronto) and Rain. He's dropped Canoe, North 44 and Starfish. The rest are juggled but stay the same. The top 3 are the same (but juggled) and the biggest jump is for Splendido (excluding the new listings) - which is probably deserved. But when will he come up with a top 10 that's different from the 10 most enjoyable evenings?
  24. estufarian


    My experience at Perigee wasn’t quite as good. Yes, I do like the kitchen layout, which meant that the chef could serve the dishes and answer questions. But what about those guests at the ‘outer’ tables – it creates a two-tier system but, of course, the prices are the same. And there are also problems if there are four people to be served. The chef can’t reach across to serve the further two people so has to aggregate the dishes off to the side and wait for a server to arrive to carry the other two plates – and there are relatively few servers. As mentioned above, there are ‘only’ tasting menus. The four of us opted for the 7-course menu, with a specific request to try ‘as many dishes as possible’. After establishing allergies/preferences it became time to choose the wine(s). But we didn’t know (and neither did the server/sommelier) what courses we were having (it’s in the chefs hands) so how do we select matching wines????? Of course, the solution was to leave the matching to the sommelier (I guess we could have chosen a sparkler to start and a ‘safe’ choice of red and white). But we were there for conversation, not a wine education course, so I bit the bullet and turned it over to the server, with mixed results. Now came the first course (actually an amuse) – raw oyster for each of us. One of our party had specifically specified ‘well-cooked and no organ meats’ (but admittedly nothing said specifically about raw seafood) and another had said ‘the more organ meats the better’. The other two had both said ‘anything including experimental’. As a slight (but relevant) aside, many restaurants serving tasting menus to groups serve the same courses to each female and a different set of dishes (but identical for each person) to the males. This occurs at Susur, Jov and now Perigee – presumably to ease serving and scheduling. The ‘female’ dishes all come out first and are served, followed by the ‘male’ dishes. This makes sense ‘a priori’ as couples can share different tastes; females are served first (outmoded but traditional protocol); similar dishes can be prepared together in the kitchen; avoids all ‘who wants the curried dogfish’ questions; and also simplifies serving wine by the glass. BUT, unwittingly we had confounded this neat process as the ‘no organ well cooked’ and ‘bring on the organs’ were the same sex. So how did the kitchen handle this? They totally ignored it. Both people got the same dishes – including foie gras. Now, we solved the problem by passing plates around, but the ‘well-cooked, no organs’ person needed to do this three times. Sorry guys – just not good service. And the wine matches were very mixed. The best wine served (group consensus) was an Alsace Gewurztraminer – which was totally inappropriate for the dish it was served with. Do I compliment on an excellent wine or lament that it just didn’t match the food? Now, I admit that our swapping of plates might also confuse, but sometimes the males received the same wines and the females different (makes sense if attempting to match the food), and occasionally the same wine was served to each couple, with a different wine going to the opposite side of the table. Perhaps an inspired attempt to allow people to try different wines with identical courses – or perhaps confusion. I didn’t take specific notes on the wine or food – as mentioned above we were there for conversation. But there were a number of disquieting service lapses, which are not acceptable at these prices. Nothing at all wrong with the food – but similarly nothing memorable jumped out (slight correction, the smoked bison and wild caribou were both excellent – but I’ve had the same dishes elsewhere in Toronto; also the serving of a cheese course (a la Avalon) is to be complimented). But the general reaction around the table was that they’d spend the extra $20 per person and have a memorable meal at Susur (or other high-end). But if you do go, my recommendation is to go as a couple and ask for a table adjacent to the kitchen counter.
  25. Was there last month and can thoroughly recommend Khmer Surin restaurant (on Phlauw 57 about 200m south of Preah Sihanouk Blvd; 2 blocks east of Monivong Blvd). Started with Green Beans with Peanuts, Chillis, Tomato and Dried Fish – pretty good. Then the star attraction – Seafood Amok – absolutely fabulous, a superb dish. Squid and Prawns in a mild curry with onions, coconut, kaffir lime, basil and lemongrass – everything in perfect balance. I’ve only seen this dish once in Canada – and that restaurant has now closed. Also had Cha Greund Frog – minced frog with galangal, lemongrass, peanuts and onions. This had excellent taste, but the frog had just been chopped leaving small bones that were difficult to distinguish from the peanuts, so this dish had to be eaten slowly to avoid swallowing sharp bones. The restaurant is also beautifully appointed with large bamboos in pots giving the illusion of being outside the city. We ate fairly early and received good service, but later on a tour group of 30-40 people arrived and all the servers disappeared. Great value $17 including beer and water.
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