Monthly Archives: February 2010

Recession Eating: Cafe Polonez and Steak at Brad’s

INT.       STREET CAR      EARLY EVENING

The Foodie and the Beast are taking public transit home together after work–something they occasionally do to keep things fresh.  Both of them are starving.

FOODIE
Do you like or hate that I paint my nails all the time now?

BEAST
I’m indifferent.  

FOODIE
I like it!  Look how pretty they look!  I’ve always wanted to have painted nails and since I’ve stopped chewing my hands off, I’ve made that dream come true.

BEAST
I must admit, I get a little concerned that you change the colour of your nails so frequently.

The Foodie stares out of the dirty street car window, day dreaming of her nail polish collection at home.  Her heart starts to beat out of her chest as she recalls the sample sale she was invited to at work and how at said sample sale she nearly doubled the number of polishes for only a few dollars.  And these weren’t cheap polishes–they were high end brands.

Still gazing out the window, the Foodie smiles, just slightly, as she imagines one of her new favourite alone-time rituals–it’s one that she dare not perform in front of the Beast or tell another living soul of:  She opens up a bottle of wine, prepares a plate of cheese, olives and crackers, and maybe some of her homemade spicy strawberry jam, chooses a magazine full of glossy photos, chooses a TV show or movie that she’s seen a hundred times so she doesn’t have to pay attention, and then she chooses her nail colour de jour.  Hours of relaxation follow.

BEAST
Hello?  Anybody there?  What are you thinking about?

FOODIE
Oh sorry about that…I was just thinking about how amazing it is that because of the unique molecular structure of water–the way those hydrogen atoms connect to that oxygen one–we have life on earth.  I mean if water, like every other substance, was more dense as a solid rather than a liquid, we wouldn’t be sitting here right now because ice wouldn’t float and oceans would freeze from the bottom upwards making it pretty darn hard for life to evolve. Amazing.  Just amazing.  Anyway, what were you saying? 

BEAST
Where should we go for dinner?  

FOODIE
It’s up to you. 

BEAST
I want steak frites so bad I can taste it.  Let’s go to Brad’s!

FOODIE
Good idea!  It’s reasonably priced AND it’s in our neighbourhood.  Here’s our stop…

 

EXT.       OUTSIDE BRAD’S EATERY      EARLY EVENING

The Foodie and the Beast walk towards the restaurant.  The lights are off and the chairs are on the tables.

FOODIE
Oh dear!  I had a feeling they might be closed.  Look here:  it says they’re open for dinner only on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.  What’s plan B?  What about Cafe Polenez for their Hungarian potato pancake thing?

BEAST
Okay.

INT.      SITTING AT A TABLE IN CAFE POLONEZ     EVENING

This restaurant is just down the street from Brad’s Eatery.  It serves mostly Polish food.

FOODIE
Now this was a good idea, don’t you think?  And look!  Wednesday night is Hungarian pancake night!  We get the potato pancake stuffed with that gorgeous pork goulash, a bowl of soup and a pop for only $14.95!

BEAST
I’m having the barley soup to start.

FOODIE
Then I’ll have the cabbage soup.  And I’m getting a ginger-ale.  

Their server approaches the table and drops off a basket of rye bread with those little containers of super yellow whipped butter.  She takes the couples’ order.

BEAST
Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

FOODIE
That you love pre-packaged little things of whipped butter?

BEAST
No, that our server looks just like Sookie Stackhouse from True Blood.  Sookie Stackhouse with a Polish accent.

FOODIE
You’re right!

Polish Sookie Stackhouse server drops off their soups.

 FOODIE
This is quite nice.  I thought it might taste like a bowl full of sauerkraut but it doesn’t.  

BEAST
Mine’s delicious.  It’s just what I wanted. 

Not long after they finish their soup, their main courses arrive.  The hungarian pancake spills over the side of the plate.  It’s accompanied by some cooked carrots, beets, coleslaw, and sour cream.

FOODIE
Wowza!  Will you get a load of the size of these things!  I’m never going to finish it!

BEAST
I’m finishing mine and I can finish yours.

The couple eats their dinner and converses about all those sorts of things couples usually converse about, like their families, their friends, work, what dessert they’d pick up from Sobey’s, and what movie they’d eventually watch that night.  The camera does a few close-ups on their faces and they’re smiling, sometimes heartily laughing.  We don’t hear what they’re actually saying (we only see their mouths move) and there’s a song playing.  Maybe an indie-rock song.  I don’t know, but it would be a song that you’d hear playing in a commercial for The Gap, Apple or Volkswagon.    
Fade to black.

POSTSCRIPT:

They watched either Henry V (Kenneth Branagh) or Hamlet (Kenneth Branagh).  The Foodie fell asleep after eating two of the little cinnamon sugar donuts they’d picked up from Sobey’s (that bore a striking resemblance to the white truffles they’d seen in Italy).
The Beast ate the rest.

Foodie:   **1/2

Beast:  **1/2

SECOND POSTSCRIPT:
The next night, they went back to Brad’s for the Angus sirloin, served with french fries and arugola topped with shavings of parmigiano (although on this particular night the kitchen had run out of arugola so they subbed in a simple green salad) that the Beast had been craving.  It’s only $18.95.  And it was incredibly delicious.  The place certainly isn’t brimming with ambience, and the wine list isn’t stacked (although the Foodie did enjoy a perfectly decent glass of Ontario Pinot Noir while the Beast had a bottle of Creemore) but at these prices, it’s got to be one of the best dinner deals in the city.   The Foodie’s only real complaint concerned the french fries.  “Why,” she asked, “can’t they just leave the perfectly cooked fries be, instead of dousing them with seasoning that makes then tastes like BBQ potato chips?”  Which is precisely why the Beast enjoys them so much.  And they got another container of those donuts.
Foodie:  ***

Beast:   ***1/2

 

 

Noce, Noce, Noce (Or Nut Sauce)

I’m beginning to worry that Foodie and the Beast is turning into Foodie and the Beast plus Nick.  It’s just that our Monday nights together guarantee a home-cooked meal, which is certainly something to write home about.  Last Monday I came home from work to discover Nick and the Beast in the bedroom making music.  That’s not a euphemism for love-making.  They were playing guitars and there was a dirty accordion and a clarinet on the clean bed.  Instead of yelling, I went downstairs and got a pot of water boiling for our pasta dinner.  I also enjoyed the peace and quiet, until Nick and the Beast came downstairs to “help” with dinner.

Beast:  What are we having?

Foodie:  Some of that nut sauce I made on the weekend.

Beast:  Oh good!

I had the idea to make this nut sauce after recalling a meal we enjoyed in Piemonte of fresh pasta tossed with some sort of nut sauce–probably hazelnuts since Piemonte is the land of nocciole.  But maybe it was walnuts, or noce.  I can’t remember asking, or caring:  I just remember how perfectly simple and satisfying the pasta with the mystery nut sauce was.  I found a recipe in a cookbook called, The Food of Italy (Whitecap Books) for walnut sauce.  It was quite simple to do, if you have a food processor, and it provided enough sauce for about four dinners.

Beast:  Here, let me help.

For some inexplicable reason, whenever the Beast sees me stirring something he decides it looks like it might be fun and he offers, gallantly, to take over.  After 4 to 5 seconds of labour, he realizes that the task at hand is not as much fun as it appeared to be and I’m handed back my spoon.

Because we had two movies to watch, Gomorra and The Bicycle Thief (an especially Italian double-bill), we decided to eat dinner in front of the TV.  I brought out two big bowls–one filled with pasta and the other with Caesar salad–to the coffee table.

We all had seconds.  The Beast had thirds.  The first movie, Gomorra–a peek into Napoli’s underworld–was terribly dark, hopeless, depressing and disgusting.  The Bicycle Thief was all those things, minus the disgusting part, and I cried a lot.  Speaking of disgust, when I excused myself to grab dessert and use the washroom, albeit not necessarily in that order, I found a little installation left for me behind the sink’s faucets:  

Yes, that is a book on Roman sculpture.  And yes, Nick Edwards put it there to surprise me.  And yes, he grabbed some old stamps he found in our washroom and stacked them in order to cover the unmentionables of Trebonianus Gallus:

 I don’t know what I’m doing with my life.  

At least there were itty bitty little cupcakes that I picked up from Sobey’s for $3 to eat.  

They’re the sort of factory-made sweets that are filled with trans fats and hydrogenated oils.  Nick ate two, I ate three, and the Beast consumed four, plus the remaining two in the morning.  

Foodie:  **

Beast:  **1/2

 

Family Day Scones

Foodie:  I wish we had scones.

Beast:  Why not make that dream a reality?

So I did.  Before I got the paper from the porch, and before the coffee was brewed, I managed to get a batch of scones in the oven on Family Day, 2010.

I used an old recipe I’ve had moderate success with in the past:  I say moderate because they always turn out a little flat. So this time around, I added an extra teaspoon of baking powder.  What could go wrong?

While the Family Day 2010 scones baked, I made coffee and prepared a selection of homemade jams to top our breakfast treats with.

Beast:  Where’s the coffee?

Foodie:  It’s just about ready.  I made scones!

Beast:  Do you want to see a movie today or stay on the couch in our pyjamas?

Foodie:  What movie did you have in mind?

Beast:  The White Ribbon.

Foodie: I don’t even know what that is.

Beast:  It’s a Michael Heneke film that won a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Picture.

Foodie:  I’ll take the couch.

I brought out the coffee and scones while the Beast chose a movie to watch: first, Kenneth Branagh’s (the Beast is obsessed with him these days) adaptation of Henry V but the disc was too scratched to play. His next selection was even more boring: In Praise of Love by Jean-Luc Godard who I believe is a French director of some acclaim. Because nobody spoke English in this film, I could zone out and read the style sections of various newspapers without distraction.

Foodie:  These scones look weird.

Beast:  They look like giant cookies!

Foodie:  They look like hockey pucks–Olympian hockey pucks.

Beast:  They’re good though.

Foodie:  Thanks.  What do you want to do for dinner?

Beast:  Harvey’s.

Foodie:  We don’t have a car, and I don’t think that’s a very appropriate Family Day 2010 dinner.  I can make something.

Beast:  The Keg.

Foodie:  Maybe some ham and scalloped potatoes.

Beast:  I wish we had a car because then we could drive to that Italian place we always pass on the Queensway on the way to Harvey’s.  Mamma Martino’s is it? Big Pussy from the Sopranos ate there.

Foodie:  I just don’t know what to make.  Family Day 2010 is proving to be too much pressure.  I feel all over the place in my head.  Maybe I’ll make sausages and mashed potatoes.

Beast:  We just had that.

Foodie:  Eggplant Parmigiana.  Or we could go out for poutine at Poutini’s.

Beast:  Hot dogs.  Lincoln Logs!

Foodie:  What’s a Lincoln Log?

Beast:  Google it!

I did:  It’s a hot dog cut in half length-wise and stuffed between white bread spread with cream cheese.  I’m not making that.  I’m just going to have to play it by ear.

Happy Family Day 2010 everybody.  And if you have a good scone recipe please share it with me.

Foodie: *

Beast: **

Stuffed Peppers, Pappa al Pomodoro, and Remembering the Glass Family

Nearly every writer, from Robert Fulford to Barbara Amiel to the entire staff of Slate.com, has commented on J.D. Salinger’s death.  I’m not about to do the same because for one, I’m not a real-life witer, and two, this is a food blog, and three, I don’t care to know what J.D. Salinger’s writing means to anybody else.  And I’ve never desired to know more about the author himself: It simply never occurred to me because those characters, particularly the Glass family, were real and to think that they had a script writer, somebody pulling their strings behind the scenes was, and still is, unfathomable.  His short stories made me selfish:  What I mean is that it’s easy to convince your naive, silly, young self that you’re the only one in the world who really understands Franny, Zooey, Buddy and Seymour; You’re the only one who got goose bumps after reading the description of all the objects in Bessie Glass’s moo moo pocket or in the family’s medicine cabinet; You’re the only one who taped a giant piece of butcher paper to the back of your bedroom door, just like the one in Seymour and Buddy’s room, and started recording quotes from Important Books.  And you’re the only psycho who had Franny and Zooey photocopied and bound so you could make notes in the margins because the words Existed Only for You.  

Oh dear.  I just went ahead and commented on all this when I promised I wouldn’t.   You don’t care what I have to say about this, and nor should you!  It was selfish of me, not to mention transparently Full of Ego.  And it’s probably J.D Salinger’s fault.  He’s afflicted everybody who cared to read his stories with too much self-awareness.  God it’s an ugly bit of business.

So let’s talk more about me and the stuffed peppers I made, shall we?  I made this recipe up when I lived in Italy with one of my best buddies, Michelle.  And I had a real hankering to recreate them on Sunday.  Plus, peppers were on sale:  four for two dollars!  I had a sad looking little leek in the fridge so I fried that up with some onion and celery.  Next went in some ground beef and a touch of chopped up pepperoncini–hot chilli peppers in olive oil.  Finally, I added a can of plum tomatoes, white rice, grated parmigiano and some fresh parsley.  Once that cooked for a bit I stuffed them peppers real fine and ended up having two trays full that fed the Beast and me nearly all week.

And for Monday night dinner with the Beast and Nick, I made my first ever batch of  Pappa al Pomodoro, a very traditional Tuscan soup that uses up stale bread and ripe tomatoes.  

It was shockingly easy to make.  When I got home from work, all I had to do was reheat the soup and cook the boys up some French country sausages courtesy of Rowe Farms.  And yes mom, Uncle Ron and Aunt Sandy, I know that the sausages look like dicks on a plate.  

I topped off the meal with a piece of Ossau Iraty cheese and these little toasts I make from an Ace Bakery baguette.  The Beast loves them.  So did Nick.

We talked about, now don’t get mad here, how unbelievable Holden Caulfield is as a character; and how we should all reread Nine Stories and discuss a story a week over dinner; and how it was my fault that there was nothing in the house to have for dessert.

Foodie:  ***

Beast:   **1/2

 

The Local Kitchen

You must be sick of anniversary talk.  I promise, this will be the last you hear of it. The Beast brought me home flowers and a beautiful broach.  I tried to buy him a book he’d been eyeing only to find out that he’d purchased it himself.

We met Tuesday night at The Local Kitchen for our special dinner.  It’s a tiny restaurant that’s opened up in our neighbourhood and the initial reviews have been warm, most notably from Joanne Kates of the Globe and Mail.  Thank goodness I arrived early, at 6:15pm, to secure us one of only a handful of tables because by the time the Beast joined me, at 6:45pm, the place was packed with a line-up.  I had a Negroni cocktail while I waited and eavesdropped and people-watched.  It also gave me a chance to peruse the wine list with descriptions written by Mark Sangregoria, the Local Kitchen’s co-owner who’s in charge of the front of the house.  It read like a first person narrative and was both warm and entertaining, except for the $55 bottle of Feudi di San Marzano Primitivo,  ’05–OUCH!  (The Italian restaurant where I work sold the ’06 for $35.)  Finally, the Beast came in from the cold.

Foodie:  I am so happy about our decision to come here! Look at this menu!  It’s like they knew we were coming!  How do you feel about me ordering for the two of us?

Beast:  I love that idea.

To start, I decided on Ontario burrata (Mom, burrata is an Italian cheese that’s a mozzaralla di bufala on the outside and is mozzarella AND cream on the inside), and a platter of co-owner and chef Fabio Bondi’s homemade maple cured and smoked Berkshire pancetta.  The Beast would have the meat-stuffed tortelli pasta with bone marrow, mushroom & lemon zest and I’d have the gnocchi with rapini & taleggio cheese.  I’d finish with the pan-seared white fish with guanciale & brussel sprouts and the Beast would have the quail egg-topped pork belly with lentils and parsnip. I settled on a bottle of Aglianico from Puglia to keep us warm.

Beast:  How’s your Negroni?

Foodie:  It’s good–I prefer them with more Campari and less gin though.  Want a sip?

Beast:  No way (he hates bitter Campari) but I think I’ll have a glass of white wine.

Foodie:  Perfect.

Beast:   Did you smell something funny when you walked in?

Foodie:  Yes!  You know what it reminded me of?  My first job when I was 13 at Gifford’s farm market where there was a deli in the back and their walk-in cooler had all these meats in there and sometimes I’d sneak in to steal these pepperoni sticks and it smells like that walk-in!  There’s even the four inch-wide plastic panels hanging from the door, like the cooler had!  What did you smell?

Beast:  I can’t remember now.

Our capable and delightful server delivered us our burrata and shortly after that, the maple-cured smoked pancetta.

Foodie:  Oh I wish we had some salt on the table.

Beast:  And olive oil.

Foodie:  Do you like it?

Beast:  Well, I thought the burrata would come whole.  It just looks like cottage cheese, and you’re right about the salt.  Normally you’re wrong about salt.

Foodie:  Thanks I think.  I must say, I sort of wish we ordered the assorted salumi plate because this pancetta isn’t doing much for me:  It tastes like thinly sliced cold Canadian bacon.  I mean, all the trouble they went to, to take a gorgeous product and turn it into something so, so average.  I only ordered it because the table beside us was swooning over theirs and I’d read about how good it was.

Beast:  So far the best part is the bread.

After we’d finished, a server came over and politely asked us if we’d mind moving over to the next table so that the restaurant could accommodate a group of four.

Foodie:  Of course we will!  I was actually going to offer so don’t you worry.

Server:  Thank you so much, and my apologies.

Beast (once the server had left):  What do you mean you were going to offer to move?

Foodie:  Listen, when you’ve been in the business as long as–

Beast:  Oh boy…

Foodie:  As long as I’ve been, you see things.  And I saw that there were two empty deuces–that means a table for two–on either side of us and I saw that group of four who’d been waiting for about 45 minutes.  So I was going to suggest that we move over so they could sit down.  It’s hard for me sometimes to relax in restaurants because I can feel the anxiety of the staff.

Beast:  Like a horse whisperer.

Our pastas arrived at our new table for two.

Foodie: Wow, these look gorgeous!

Silence.

Foodie:  How’s yours?

Beast:  Well, I certainly don’t mean to complain about everything but it’s pretty average.

Foodie:  Mine too!  This gnocchi need salt and everything is rather water-logged.

Beast:  Mine is, I don’t know….chewy.

Foodie:  Let me try.  Oh I think I know what’s happened here: they’ve over-cooked the tortelli so that the meat-filling pulls away from the actual pasta encasing and the meat is chewy and the pasta is hard-ish around the edges.  I’ll have to ask Gio though to see if my theory is accurate.

Beast:  You know what?  This is the exact sort of place Toronto would champion:  it’s all show with no results, like Daniel Libeskind’s ROM.

Foodie:  I like the ROM!  But I think I know what you mean.  Everybody’s going nuts for this place.  Maybe something’s wrong with us.

Beast:  Nope.  I don’t mean to pull the Italy card out here but–

Foodie:  What’s the Italy card?

Beast:  You know when people have spent two days in Florence and all of a sudden they’re an expert on all things Italian?

Foodie:  Oh right.

Beast: But nearly every meal we had there was so dead simple but it tasted like something I don’t think I could replicate at home.  And in the end, I think that’s what you crave when you go out to eat–to taste things that you couldn’t otherwise recreate with any ease in your own kitchen.  What I mean to say is that I can imagine you cooking everything we’ve had so far better at home.

Foodie:  Wow!  Happy anniversary to me!

Of course when the server took away our plates and asked how everything was we batted our eyelashes and told her all was well.  We were all show and no go. I think the Beast may have given up hope when our mains arrived, but I hadn’t.  I was certain that my gorgeous little plate would erase any memory of average food consumption.

Beast: I can’t imagine fucking up pork belly.  It’s fucking fat.  How do you fuck up fat?  I should not have to be straining to cut this over-cooked little piece of $2 fat with a knife and a fork.  How much does this cost?

Foodie:  I can’t remember.  Maybe $18.

Beast:  Wow.  How’s yours?

Foodie:  Well, it’s good.  I like it.  I like the crispy bits of guanciale the best.

Beast:  You know what?  Ten years ago, when Asian fusion cooking was all the rage, this must have been what it was like to go to one of the hundred restaurants trying to pull that off.  Now, it’s this type of place:  all cheap and cheerful with taxidermied animals hanging on the wall, ironic chairs, chandeliers, chacuterie plates and little plates and everything comes from a local farm and you know the name of the pig you’re about to eat.

Foodie:  You’re being very entertaining tonight, and a little too harsh, no?

Beast:  I don’t think so.

We still had Nigella’s Guinness chocolate cake to eat at home so I just asked for the bill when we’d finished.

Beast:  What’s that look for?

Foodie:  Oh nothing.

Beast:  Is it really expensive?

Foodie: No, it’s exactly what I thought it would be.  It’s just that, and I don’t mean to sound crass here, but they asked us to move tables in the middle of our meal.  I only do that in moments of extreme panic and if I do there’s usually a small gesture of appreciation that’s extended to the patron.

Beast:  Like what?

Foodie:  Nothing over the top–maybe I’d take their espressos off the bill.

Beast:  But we didn’t have espresssos.

Foodie:  That’s a good point.  Maybe then I’d offer them a touch of amaro, like an Averna or a Montenegro or something.  Or maybe I’m being overly sensitive here. After all, they thanked us for moving more than once.

Beast:  You just want a free drink.

Foodie:  No I don’t!  Okay maybe.  Or yes, probably.  Yes.

I like that the Local Kitchen is around the corner from us.  And I like what they’re trying to do, which is, I presume, to serve regional Italian dishes using locally-sourced ingredients, and to make as much as they can–from handmade pastas to salumi–on their premise.  I just wish everything–save for that crispy guanciale in my fish dish–had a bit more of a “wow” factor.  And a bit more salt.  As for the Beast, I’ve never seen him so full of opinions over a dinner out on the town!  At first I thought he was turning into a real jaded piece of prick.   But then he begged me to take an illegal photo at the Power Plant of a Michael Snow video installation that was projecting in real time what was happening in the parking lot.  He ran outside while I waited for him to come into frame (that’s him hanging onto the Stop sign.)  Last time I checked, jaded pieces of pricks don’t insert themselves into contemporary art.

Foodie:  **

Beast:  *