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Posts from the ‘Toronto’ Category

Kom Jug Yuen

I can’t believe I forgot to mention “The Jug” (I don’t know that anyone actually calls it that but it sounds like a good stoner nickname) a.k.a. Toronto’s Kom Jug Yuen. I originally intended to try dim sum, perhaps at Lai Wah Heen, something a little higher end, but as it turned out I was invited to dim sum twice in January, a very strange thing since I’d only been asked to dim sum once in the entire five years prior.


I didn’t want to o.d. on yum cha, and by the time we settled into our weird pseudo-zen-like hotel (there were self-published looking new age guides instead of bibles in the drawers, cds of supposedly relaxing music and a choice of incense to permeate your room each day) that I only picked because it was centrally located minus outrageous prices or floral bedspreads and had a full kitchen, we were dead from waking up at 5am (I usually get up at 8:30am on weekdays, which might be late by most employed people’s standards).

I just wanted something simple, possibly soupy, like the New York Noodletown of Toronto. That was totally Kom Jug Yuen, except that I don’t think strangers were seated together at the same table—I told you Canadians are sensitive about their personal space.


I always order roast pork noodle soup at Noodletown, so I did the same here. That would’ve been plenty but the glossy, unnaturally red, roast meats being brought out in plastic tubs and hacked up at the front counter couldn’t be ignored either.


Choosing just one meat was impossible. Chicken, duck pork over rice was the only way. At least we had that kitchen with a usable refrigerator for leftovers (the last time we were in Canada, our frozen horsemeat unthawed in the minibar, drenching everything with blood and we got charged for every bottle and can we temporarily removed to scrub).

I'm not sure if it was the bone chilling weather, that I was starving by 4pm after throwing up the only thing I'd eaten all day, a LaGuardia donut ,or if the soup was really amazing. I like to believe that the rich broth transcended mere cold and hunger. 

Kom Jug Yuen * 371 Spadina Ave., Toronto, Canada

Tim Hortons

I honestly don't think I even consumed a dozen donuts (I just can't type doughnut even though it seems more proper) in all twelve months of 2007–they're not my sweet of choice–but I made up for it over New Year's weekend. And the reason for that uncharacteristic behavior is simple: Tim Hortons. I know they're all over the United States now, but if something isn't in the immediate tri-state area it's still exotic to me.

My donut binge began unwisely at a LaGuardia Dunkin' Donuts. While picking up a 6am coffee, I couldn't resist an artificially strawberry-flavored pink glazed specimen. That might've been a mistake.

I still can't say whether it poisoned me or the tiny plane was the source of my stomach distress, but I was queasy an hour later when disembarking in Buffalo. However, I didn't get violently ill until after popping the two Tums James gave me that tasted like they were made of shampoo, apparently from sitting in the bottom of his toiletry bag for months.

We stopped at a Tim Hortons (which is great because it makes use of what I call the white trash S. Tim Horton is the hockey player. Tim Horton's would the hockey player's restaurant. Tim Hortons is just colloquial. I cringe when I hear people say Barnes & Nobles, Nordstroms, JCPenneys and the like, though just recently I caught myself saying that I worked off Williams St. when it's plain ol' William) on the outskirts of Buffalo and the tragedy was that I was too ill to indulge in a timbit, apple fritter or any of the Canadian chain's specialties. My queasy stomach temporarily stood still when REM's "Driver Eight" came over the speaker while I was hunched over the toilet bowl in one of their bathroom stalls because it was an odd song to be playing. Eh,  and then I threw up in their parking lot and repeated that lovely performance two more times during the two-hour drive to Toronto. Sadly, I never got to sample their excessive coffee, breakfast sandwich and donut combo.


Luckily, I perked up enough to later enjoy a maple-glazed Boston cream donut at a mall where strangely, the anchors were Wal-Mart and nofrills. Maple bars, a total NW staple, don't even exist in NYC; people have no idea what you're talking about if you bring them up.

On our third Tim Hortons excursion I got a butter pecan tart. I forgot about these mini treats that seem to flourish in Canada. They're like tiny individual pecan pies with a thicker richer crust. You can also find plain and raisin topped versions in any grocery store.


We love Tim Hortons so much that after our first visit to Toronto in 2000, we named a plush toy rabbit (James's mom is always giving him pointless and inappropriate gifts) Tim Horton. I don't know what ever happened to him, though this very second there is a nameless stuffed animal reindeer and giraffe in the living room.

Tim Hortons * throughout Canada and random U.S. states


Toronto was brief but fun so I don’t want to sound like I’m whining. I just had no idea that Sunday was such a literal day of rest. For anyone who knows the city, I also looked into Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar, Foxley Bistro and Torito, none were open. And we weren’t ready to go out until after 9pm, which was even trickier. I have a phobia of dining when a restaurant is close to closing time and even more so when I’m the last customer in a room.

Coca appealed to me since I was interested in how Canadians were interpreting Spanish tapas (strange that I have to use Spanish as an adjective but anymore tapas means anything served in small amounts) plus they were supposed to be open until midnight, which turned out to be 11pm. That would still be fine, but it was a little off-putting that we were reminded when arriving at 9:30pm that if we wanted food we needed to order promptly before the kitchen closed. Exactly the kind of thing I hate even though the staff was completely attitude-free. It doesn’t take much to make me jumpy.

I would’ve ordered more food if father time hadn’t been hovering over me. We barely had a chance to scrutinize the menu and chalkboards. Horse bresaola certainly isn’t something you’d find on the charcuterie list at Daniel Boulud’s new much blogged about wine bar. I still can’t figure out how Canadians are pretty much same as Americans except they get wound up over hockey and have no squeamishness about devouring equines.

Also on the never-in-New York tangent, I noticed Czehoski, Coca’s sister restaurant across the street (which was still full when we left, perhaps we should’ve chosen differently) had calve's brain po’boys on the menu. I'm not even sure if the FDA allows us to eat brains in the U.S.

We quickly decided on three items and a couple glasses of big, fruity Bodegas Y Vinedos de Murcia, Caracol Serrano, Jumilla. I didn' t know how to order in metric; wines are served in 60, 120 and 180 ml portions. While I normally find James's Blackberry usage irksome, it was useful to convert milliliters to ounces on the fly.


Elk, lamb and beef sobrasada and machego on toast. See? I wasn’t kidding yesterday about caribou being Canadian food. The oily sausage and melted cheese were very rich; you probably wouldn’t want to eat more than two of these treats.


Hokkaido scallops and chorizo with roasted squash consommé were the opposite. I couldn’t detect the squash and wanted double the portion. And with forks only and no bread, a lot of the liquid went to waste.


I’m still steamed about never getting to try a sugared red pepper coca in Barcelona, despite two attempts. No glazy peppers here but caramelized onions sufficed. Interspersed with gorgonzola and sliced apples, the threesome was perfect on the thin crust. You would hope a restaurant’s namesake dish would be a hit and this was.

Coca * 783 Queen St. W., Toronto, Canada


Deciding last minute to head to Toronto for New Year’s Eve didn’t leave me with many dining options the night of the big event. Anything creative or talked about was already booked. Enough desperation set in that I was even willing to overpay as is practically mandated by holiday set menus.

Toronto’s big citiest aspect was restaurant pricing, which seemed more European in its painfully large numbers and with no favorable exchange rate to buffer the effect. I’ve heard people say that food is cheap in America, hence our horrible fatness but I do think our higher end restaurants provide relative value. Entrees that might be in the $30 range in NYC, swell into the $40s in Toronto. I just couldn’t buy into that.


I scoured Open Table for the least offensive option and came up with beerbistro, which sold me primarily on its location one block from our hotel. I’m no oenophile, but I did wonder if there was something inherently fratty about a menu paired with beer. On the other hand, I'm not a beer afficionado either so I won't even attempt speaking to the food and beverage matches.

Well, at least it was something different, and the food was better and crowd hipper (well, minus the suave Ralph Lauren-ish guy who kept eyeballing me causing me wonder why the interest until I saw his date, a pretty blonde who happened to be rather big and tall, plus-size modelish. Great, I vow to lay off the pork belly in 2008) than I’d anticipated.


Duxelles in puff pasty and smoked salmon on blini and oyster were kind of like wedding appetizers from a non-bad caterer. Paired with DeKoninck.


Wild mushroom soup with X.O and black truffle cream. I never order soup anywhere. I would’ve chosen the foie gras and pate option but I’d already indulged in cretons that afternoon. Initially, I was swayed by the truffly odor wafting from the bowl at our neighbor’s table. Paired with Innis & Gunn Limited Edition ’06.


Berkshire bacon wrapped partridge stuffed with B.C. chanterelles, braised pork belly, savoy cabbage polenta and nut brown jus. The mains were all fairly hearty. I was tempted by the beef tenderloin that James ultimately ordered because the mashed potatoes contained cambozola, one of my soft blue cheese obsessions, but bacon won out.

The partridge was just the type of thing I enjoy, rich on top of richness. Austere food has its place but not on a holiday. I could’ve sworn the polenta contained cheese, though. Paired with Christoffel Blond.


Desserts were desserts. Raspberry sorbet and chocolate cake were as might be expected. The crème brûlée appeared to be spiked with alcohol of some sort, not beer, thank goodness. The sweet trio got ignored by many since midnight was creeping up and everyone was getting their confetti shooters ready. Paired with Rochefort.

The biggest question I'm left with is how to categorize cuisine in Toronto. Bistro implies French, but this wasn't heavily so. In the U.S. most food that isn't distinctly any nationality can roughly be classified as American. But Canadian? I can’t help but think of caribou, nuts and berries. What is Canadian food, anyway?

beerbistro * 18 King St., Toronto, Canada

Carousel Bakery

It wasn’t until Monday while I was at the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto that it occurred to me that NYC lacks a fancy indoor market like many cities have. And then the Times wrote about this very thing yesterday.

I’ll admit I skimmed, but two words leaped off the screen: tripe truck! Really? Supposedly, a restaurant consultant is envisioning a South Street Seaport market showcasing talents of chefs, in this instance a Batali-run tripe truck. I think it would be cool to have an international tripe truck serving regional styles. I could have menudo, cold Sichuan with chile oil, lampredotto. I mean, S’MAC and Rice to Riches have worked the single minded shtick. Why not let stomach lining have its day?

I’m one of those soulless types who are ambivalent about farmers’ markets. Obviously, I’m not against locally grown meat and produce, that would be stupid, but I don’t get that excited over it either excited and I never have the energy to actually pay visits to greenmarkets, wonderful as they sound. Maybe it’s because I hate the outdoors and everything in the city ends up inducing crankiness because too many people want to do the same thing and many of those people have abhorrent personalities.


The funny thing was that shoppers were complaining about the awful crowds at the St. Lawrence Market and I’d read as much on the internet beforehand. I was expecting a mob scene and at most there were a few counters with three people in a line. That was it.

Toronto was baffling that way. I’ve been before but can barely remember a thing about it (thank you online diary. Wow, I've really managed to tame my long-windedness since 2000). Despite being the most populous city in Canada, it felt more like a Portland; things close early, aren’t even open on Sunday and the streets are a ghost town after 9pm. And strangers stare at you, like they don’t know they’re supposed to mind their own business and avoid eye contact. Freaks. And they follow rules like waiting for lights to change and get flustered when entering the exit.

We trailed a woman into a liquor store, who half-way through the exit door realized she had done wrong and made a big fuss about getting back around us and going in the proper entrance half a foot to our right. We just continued on in through the exit and predictably miffed her.

I also realized that on street corners and waiting in lines I stand too close to others, making them nervous. It’s a New Yorkism that’s always unsettled me, the worst being the person in line behind you getting sideways and putting their things on the counter before you’ve even been rung up. I only realize that I’m physically aggressive and have no sense of personal space when out of town, though obviously not in China where elderly will mow you down.


So, the market was completely manageable and I picked up two Quebec raw milk cheeses: Riopelle de l'Isle, a super buttery triple cream and Geai Bleu, an almost cheddar-like, semi-firm blue, mild but not squishy like the soft blue cheeses I’m obsessed with.

Bizarrely, I stumbled upon a version of the cheese that started my teenage-born fixation, Bresse Bleu, at a Dominion grocery store across the street. No special cheese, just a superstore offering, but not one I’ve seen in the U.S. I got way more excited by this than the artisanal wedges I’d picked up earlier. Like I said before, I don’t even need farmer’s markets to be happy.


But the winner was a simple peameal sandwich, a regional delicacy I’m ashamed to admit I’d never heard of until a month ago. Peameal sounds kind of unappetizing; fortunately, it’s really just Canadian a.k.a. back bacon on a roll. But it’s so much more, of course.

First off, the bread is perfectly suited to the task, which kind of makes sense since the vendor is a bakery. The crust is just hard enough on the teeth but not resistant and the inner texture is soft but not Wonder Bread pliable. It’s horrible when a bun dominates a sandwich and this is a fine balance of starch and meat with enough strength to avoid sogginess.


The bacon, called peameal for the traditional coating on the slab of cured meat, is more like ham, a little bit fatty and sweet, only barely salty with cooked crispy edges. You get a healthy number of bacon layers. 

Condiments are available for do-it-yourself doctoring. Mustard seemed popular so I went with that and chose a maple syrup infused spread from Kozliks, who has a stall just across the cavernous room.

I hate it when foodies oversell simplicity but this two-ingredient snack is definitely worthy of attention.

Carousel Bakery * 93 Front Street E., Toronto, Canada