Friday, October 29, 2010

And the winners are...

The year we launched enRoute magazine's Canada’s Best New Restaurants feature, I was nominated for a James Beard Award in the category of best restaurant critique (any time I can mention that award I do), and was up against Alan Richman at GQ, which is where I met him, which made the whole evening worthwhile even though we both lost to some bitch from Bon Appetit.

After two years of eating, my friend Chris Johns took over the reigns, criss-crossing the nation for five or six years, and he did a great job at it. Now comes Sarah Musgrave, and in some small way I’m glad there’s a woman at the table again. You know; a little more salad, a little less pork belly. Plus, she’s an awesome writer, and the author of the bestselling Montreal restaurant guide, Resto A Go-Go.

Between Sarah’s words and the photos by Virginia Macdonald, who shot our big turkey dinner in the current issue of House & Home, this year’s November food issue looks amazing.

I was a panelist again, meaning I handed in a mitt-full of restaurant picks that I had eaten at over the course of the year that I considered to be contenders for the top spots. I happened to mention to Sarah, while we dined on a so-so meal at Ame (during her summertime cross-Canada chowdown) that, having visited Haisai, I honestly couldn’t see anyone beating out chef Michael Stadtlander's dreamy new restaurant.

Fast-forward to this week.

Soon after the awards were announced, Sarah came clean: “Okay, Amy, you bit your tongue but I could see it in your eyes, and I do recall you said something like. "I mean, just the decor alone..." Still, you have to experience it to believe it.” I couldn't agree more. She says that Haisai is total woodlands fantasy, and that the food is so real, so grounded in place. “I found it incredibly intimate and masterful - that ham! That ham! – it's like being invited to take part in Stadtlander's creative process.” And that's what makes him Michael Stadtlander.

For the first time, enRoute is trying out a live chat about the Top 10 restaurants on Monday, Nov. 1 at 11 a.m. - fun stuff because the public can pose questions to two lovely ladies: Sarah Musgrave and enRoute’s editor-in-chief, Ilana Weitzman. Click on this link to sign up.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Wales of a Good Cheddar

This smiley face belongs to a Welsh cheddar cheese maker named Susan.

She makes her world famous Blaenafon Cheddar Company cheeses in South Wales, in a town that is also a World Heritage site.

“Everything we use in the cheese is Welsh,” Susan explains. “The cheeses tell a story and they’re all hand-made.”

One cheddar is oak-smoked, another is Welsh ale-and-chilli-spiked. There’s one spun with traditional mustard and leek, and a seasonal gem with bits of Christmas cake thrown into the mix.

But Susan and her small family-run Blaenafon Cheddar Company are best known for what she calls her “everyday” signature cheddar, Pwll Mawr, which is covered in black wax and aged 300-feet down in the local coal mine (the Big Pit, which is now a mining museum), the perfect use of the decommissioned mine’s constant, cool temps.

My favourite food souvenir from that UK trip was a good hunk of her Pwll Mawr coalmine cheddar, which sadly, is now long gone.

Uh oh: Cheddar depression!

Friday, October 15, 2010

This just in: Drake BBQ pop-up shop

Last week I had the opportunity to taste test some of executive chef Anthony Rose's BBQ offerings at the Drake hotel, even though the tender Texas chopped beef brisket and Carolina pulled pork sandwiches won't be served at the hotel. Instead, they'll be dishing out hot sandwiches to go in the very storefront that housed the season-specific Scoops + Tee's this summer. Drake BBQ, the hotel's latest pop-up shop, is set to launch October 22nd.

The menu is to the point: “Everything is cooked low and slow, smoked with local applewood, and we’re only serving three main sandwiches because our goal is to do a few things really, really well,” said chef Rose as I crunched away on one of the best pickles I've ever had -- a Tymek’s Old Sour Pickle.

After nibbling my way through some brisket, Ontario-grown Kernal red-skinned peanuts (bet you didn't know there were Carolina forests two-hours from Toronto), New Brunswick-based Covered Bridge Potato Chips and the most delicious cherry cola ever (Boylan's), I think you'll want to eat here because the food is great, the price is right, and they're open late (or, until the meat runs out). There will also be whoopie pies for dessert.

Plus, it's a pop-up shop, so it's terribly trendy, and, you never know when it's going to disappear, only to be replaced by something like Drake Panties + Ketchup.

Friday, October 8, 2010

This just in: Everybody loves ice cream

I think that one of the best things you can do for a person, besides maybe giving him one of your kidneys, is buying him an ice cream cone. And if it’s premium ice cream served in a fresh waffle cone, so much the better.

I guess what I’m saying is, I may just be the best person in the world for treating my brother and his lovely family to ice cream at the Marble Slab Creamery a couple of weekends ago.

Marble Slab Creamery introduced the primitive yet effective “frozen slab” ice cream technique/experience to Canadians when the first shop opened in Calgary in 2003. There are now 73 locations across the country.

And yet, none of us had ever tried it. Well, this was the day!

We joined the queue, fretted over ice cream choices, waffle cone options, then stressed over the “mix-ins” -- there were 35 choices that could be folded into our super premium (read: at least 14% butterfat) ice cream on the frigid marble slab, by the fast-moving staff.

With fresh cones in hand, we marched over to Yonge-Dundas Square as we all noted the creamy texture and the freshness of the ice cream. I had ordered a scoop of chocolate with Reese peanut butter cups (no-brainer), Madeline had a scoop of vanilla with walnuts and Oreos (yawn), Emily had eggnog ice cream with a whole bunch of crap stirred in there (weird but good), Judi had chocolate in a dipped cone (daring for Judi), and Marty’s choice was raspberries and peanuts in strawberry ice cream in a chocolate dipped waffle cup (he only had himself to blame.)

But the ice cream was great, we all gobbled it up, and I think their smiles say it all: Everyone loves ice cream. (Though from the look on Marty's face, I think he's having mixed emotions.)

Friday, October 1, 2010


I've been to Paris twice before, but for reasons beyond my control and for reasons beyond explaining, I've only spent a total of 16 hours in the city of lights.
Until now.
Here comes trouble!