Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Enough already

Okay Toronto, I'm officially sick of it. Over it. Perturbed. Perplexed. Vexed.
Why don't we have food trucks? Nobody has ever really explained the reasons to me.
Because the strange thing is, we've actually had food trucks for years, scattered throughout downtown, on the streets outside of Nathan Phillips Square and on Front Street near the ACC/Rogers Centre. On the UofT Campus, too. All of the fries with gravy, ice cream and hot dogs you could ever want. Even Chinese food.
But nothing more, and nothing new. Why?
Could it be that Mayor Rob Ford hasn't tasted the Nirvana that is the freshly prepared multi-ethnic cuisine on wheels featured in just about every major American city I visit (plus Vancouver, to great effect)?
I've had hot, crispy falafel in Manhattan and a bright Banh Mi in Boston.
There are entire shows dedicated to the topic, for goodness sake, as well as cookbooks and apps. (This thing is officially happening, people!)
Food truck food is largely honest affordable food made by passionate people using fresh ingredients and indigenous (or creative takes on trusted) recipes.
In other words, it's exactly what Toronto is all about.
So enough already. Let's cut the red tape and get this truck moving.
If anyone knows how I can help, let me know, and then I'll let everyone else know.
And then soon enough, we'll be eating grilled cheese sandwiches and kimchee tacos, and before too long we'll never know an evening that is not brightened by a Montreal smoked meat sandwich or a warm Belgian waffle by moonlight.
It will be a beautiful thing.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Eat Here: Quartino

I just got back from a whirlwind weekend trip to the Windy City, where I was checked into the Trump Hotel Chicago, to check out the Trump lifestyle ahead of the January 31st opening of the Trump Hotel Toronto. (Hint: Cannot wait.) There was so much going on in Chicago this weekend. It happened to be the 20th annual Magnificent Mile Lights Festival on Saturday night, which starts the holiday season in earnest with a grand parade led by Grand Marshals Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse and thousands of their friends. It's the busiest weekend of the year in the city, and there were over a million people taking in the glittery parade and fireworks, a mass of humanity woven across bridges and through the streets while we took in the view from our plush chairs in the hotel's buzzy Rebar cocktail lounge while slinging back martinis and scarfing sushi. (Irony alert: This year's parade was sponsored by BMO Harris Bank, AKA, the Bank of Montreal.)
More on Trump later. For now, I'd like to talk about a delicious restaurant just a couple of blocks from the hotel, called Quartino. Man, was this place ever good. Though it's big and boisterous, chef John Coletta and crew still make everything in house, from the mozzarella to the sauces and sausages, salumi and pastas and desserts, and as a side note, their incongruous Sangria is killer.
They practically sent out the entire menu for our group to taste, from the amazing steamed clams in a pino grigo and red chili broth to sicilian caponata, roasted beet salad with ricotta salata and walnuts, to eggplant parmigiana, beef short ribs, crispy polenta fries, dates wrapped in pancetta, gnocchi with green beans and arugula pesto, skate wing with Brussels sprouts and pancetta, and a couple of signature pizzas including an impeccable thin-crust margherita.
And there wasn't a wrong answer in the bunch.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Gold Medal Eats

Earlier this week my friend Ivy scored us some media tickets to the annual Gold Medal Plates culinary competition cum Olympic fundraiser in Toronto, and though I had attended once before and totally loved it, this year's soiree was even better. I didn’t try all of the competing plates (most, but not all), still, the dishes I ate were all delicately composed while busting a move with flavour and creativity.

Two things stood out though: There were no female executive chefs competing, and most of the dishes were needlessly heavy. (I can’t help but think some would have been a little lighter had there been a woman or two at the propane stoves, as in years past.) That said, my favourite dish, and the winning dish, happened to be both gorgeous to look at and sprightly on the tongue.

It was the handiwork of Chef Jonathan Gushue of Langdon Hall Country House Hotel & Spa. I’ve had his food before, and the chef is nothing short of a practitioner of white magic in the kitchen with all things local, vegetal, snouty and swimmy. He took home the gold for his dish of creamy salsify topped by Langdon Hall’s own Brussels sprouts leaves, crispy black salsify chips, all tossed around a preserved oyster -- just a hint of vinegar in it -- plus grated duck’s egg and smoked trout caviar for good measure. Somehow, it all formed a perfect bite, especially so with a taster glass of Organized Crime, 2009, Fume Blanc, also the winning wine pairing of the night.

Chef Gushue will compete at the Canadian Culinary Championships, the Gold Medal Plates Finale, held in Kelowna in February, 2012. Buy your tickets now (and visit the incredible Sparkling Hill Resort while you’re there), or just dig deep and donate to a great cause, Canada’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes. They bring us all so much pride. Let’s show them how proud we are of them.

P.S. I took this photo at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, AKA, the Best Olympics Ever!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

It’s getting cold out there

Let’s warm up with some seasonally appropriate, soul-soothing Broccoli Cheddar soup. While it’s not exactly a new taste sensation, this no-fuss winning combo of greens and cheese never goes out of style.

Broccoli Cheddar Soup

(serves 4)


1 tbsp butter

1 cooking onion, chopped

1 large head of broccoli, florets cut into medium pieces, stems peeled and roughly chopped

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

½ tsp salt

½ tsp black pepper

pinch of cayenne

4 cups vegetable or chicken stock

½ cup cream (whatever you’ve got, from 5% to 18%)

2 cups grated sharp cheddar, plus extra for garnish.


1. In a large saucepan heat butter over medium, fry onion for several minutes, then add chopped broccoli, carrots, salt and pepper and cayenne. Cook for 5 minutes more, stirring often.

2. Add stock, bring to a boil, cover and lower heat to medium-low for 30 minutes. Remove from heat; get out the immersion blender and puree.

3. Add cream and cheese, heat on low for several minutes (do not let in boil), taste for seasoning and serve it hot, with an extra bit of cheese and pepper for good measure.