Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Restaurant Review: Holy Chuck

After three burgers, three shakes and some sides, I have decided how I feel about this place.  This place being the Holy Chuck restaurant the replaced RetroBurger at St. Clair and Yonge.  The marketing and design all point to irreverence and a serious meat jones.  The logo of a burger headed cow holding a platter with cow's head reminds me of Douglas Adams' Restaurant at the End of the Universe.  On the wall there is a mural of a cow urinating and a place to put your shameful mug if you attempt to eat the "Go Chuck Yourself" in six minutes and fail.  Of course, equal space is available for the win but it ain't gonna happen often.

The menu is enough to make most meatatarians blush with the list of possible suitors.  There is a little confusion and a bit of stunned recognition when I first realized that you get your burgers from $5.99 for a jr cheeseburger to $19.99 for the GCY mentioned above AND then you order your combos for an additional $4.49 to $9.99.  Big meat costs.  A standard lunch will set you back $20.00.

I am not above spending a lot for lunch if I think it is worth it.  Over the past week, I have bit the bullet for a chance of superior beef or chicken or lamb or pork.  Oh, I forgot to mention the lone vegetarian burger, the Animal Feed.  Panko Portobello stuffed with cheese and topped with aioli.  Vegans need not even look in the general direction of this place.  Smelling the fumes from outside may qualify as too much meat drenched scents for one day.

Okay, great guns get to the food already...

Folks, do you want the good news first or the bad?  In general the burgers are passable.  For all the bad cow antics, this place cooks its meats on the paler pink to white side.  For beef and lamb lovers, this is an issue but one that can sometimes be overlooked.  However, most of the non-lean, non-white meats leave too thick a residue of grease that can soak right to the edge of the bun.  A little grease never hurt nobody nohow, so maybe that would be fine.  The fries are thin frites like beauties that are salted like ordinary fries and that means overly salty.  The beer chocolate chili tastes to the char side of smoky and needs to be finessed a little more.

The good:  I liked the shakes.  Wasabi, green onion and fresh ginger, Nutella and salted caramel, and bacon, fudge and sea salt.  These were all good.  The flavour consistency wasn't quite there.  Sometimes chunks of wasabi or frozen nutella would make the trip in a concentrated flavour hit and produce an off note.  But like with any punk bank, you can take it delivers that raw punk sound.  The flavour base is a little sweet but if the problems with the consistency get fixed, then this issue would disappear.

So, a mixed review.  Would I recommend it?  Well, the real crime is the price to taste ratio.  I have had really good burgers in Toronto and really innovative burgers at a lesser price.  For just a little more, I could go up the street and get an amazing meal at Didier's.  There are other twenty dollar lunches in this area that taste better.  Delica, Petit Thuet, and TOGO can all put together a twenty dollar lunch that one can justify easier than a burger and a drink.  If the burgers were just slightly better, using homemade or superior buns for instance, then this place might have a chance.

The other thing that might save this place...every time I have gone in, the staff/management has checked in on my order.  i.e. the flavour of the wasabi milkshake.  If they listen to their customers, maybe that will be enough to either improve the product or readjust the prices.

Holy Chuck on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Restaurant Review: The Bandit

The Bandit is a new espresso bar on Upper Gerrard just east of Woodbine.  Aside from serving Te Aro coffee, they have taken the design aesthetic wholesale.  There is a large post industrial table with a menu board written with grease pencil on the window panes of a repurposed door.  High tech stainless steel meets high touch wood.  A carousel selling pounds of coffee sits in the middle of the floor.  This could be Te Aro but North Eastier.

Starting with good coffee beans from almost tops in North America roasters is always a good idea.  The baristas were trained by -- you guessed it, Te Aro.  So, there is nothing wrong with emulating a good franchise, especially in this area where the nearest Starbucks is far enough to be unwalkable for most people.  I am happy to have this cafe so near to me.  But it would be nice if they could develop their own roast or give me something more unique.  Maybe I need to cut them slack while they get their land legs and get a good survey of their clientele.

I have tried various espresso based beverages that they have made and one of their baristas is definitely more tuned to my tastes than the other.  I got a really long espresso which is something that always makes me happy.  Much preferable to Americanos.   See my rant against Americanos.  I have tried many other of their beverages as well.  The steamed milk was never the biscuity flavour of too hot milk but rather the velvety and sweetness of a good foam or froth. The only thing that I would see as somewhat negative is that they are using milk in their cortado and too much of it.  The cortado needs to be creamy and about 1/2 and 1/2 with the espresso.  So, either find the elusive 6% milk (It is out there) or add cream to whole milk. That is a quibble.

This cafe should do well, and I sincerely hope that it does.  It is nice to have quality coffee within walking distance.  This will be a destination for mommy and baby dates and home workers looking to get out of the house with the computer for a while.  It is a comfortable and, dare I say it, hippish place to embibe.  Maybe instead of going to the Beach for a Starbuck hit, the SUV set will walk the dog and buggy show here.  I'd be willing to have this place get really popular, even if it does mean that I will have to drag my cup back to my porch to drink in silence.

The Bandit Coffee Shop on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 9, 2011

Magazine Review: Alimentum - The Literature of Food

Alimentum is a semi annual literary magazine that focuses on food.  The issue that I picked up was Issue Twelve. The magazine was a mixture of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, interview, and art.  The theme of this issue was supposed to be on first foods but this was very loosely adhered to and provided distracting.  Some of my reading time of these mainly short pieces were spent waiting or looking for the connection to first foods.  On my trip back and forth to work, the pieces were generally short enough to finish during the commute.

Some pieces that I found interesting...
Stollen by Phillip Sterling is a series of small remembrances around the ingredients of stollen. This is a device that allows for little bits and nibbles of interesting tidbits and crumbs. Like the stollen, the little pieces are what makes the whole. An enjoyable read with coffee.

Interview with Amanda Hesser -- She's the writer of Cooking for Mr Latte and co-creator of Food52.  It provided some insight and was a lot of fun.

Having our cake but not eating it by Lois Rosen is a great carvesque story of the human condition. It has all the sorrow and goodness with a little something that isn't always found in these type of stories.  At its heart is a mother trying to cook - love and being rejected by daughter. However, the piece that is often missing is the reason for all of the brokenness.

There is a second story about a mother being a failure by loving her daughter too much and feeling a failure as her child gets fatter (Goldie's Gold by Faye Snider).

I was going to write off this magazine but after reflecting, it is a we'll see. There is some good writing in here but ten dollars can seem like a lot when you have so many choices of magazines on the market. But if you find yourself picking up food themed novels, then this is definitely a refreshing change from the celebrity chef food porn out there. It is more like a Victorian romance to a hustler mag.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Restaurant Review: Aravind

I once had a girlfriend who introduced me to Indian cooking via 50 Great Curries of India.  I made a few dishes and my love of Indian food grew even as ours fizzled.  Often, I am disappointed with eating restaurant Indian food that has neither the subtle flavours nor the well thought out balance of ingredients.  Instead, I am left with sweet butter chicken and a plethora of meat dishes with the same gravy served with basmati rice of indeterminate spicing.

On the menu of Aravind, (nothing on the website yet), there is nary a meat dish or "India -- The Greatest Hits" dishes available.  Rather there are dishes made from local ingredients coupled with eastern ingredients mainly in the vegetarian realm including fish dishes.  All dishes were beautifully composed and well thought out.  The presentation of the dishes by the servers reminded me of the early eighties when Indian food was still fairly new to Canadians and would be described in familiar terms that would underline their exoticness.

This is a new type of Indian restaurant food that I have tasted.  Aravind makes no bones about this being a restaurant that celebrates the Kerala area of India.  While I still suspect that there is much more to the great continent of India, I now feel as if there is a little more joy and understanding of this old culture and cuisine.

But is it authentic?  In a previous post on a family run Italian restaurant, I begged off on answering questions of authenticity.  Authentic can be broken down in various ways such as; 1. Made by someone from that culture (e.g. if an Indian makes it, it is Indian food), or  2. Made the "traditional" way (This argument generally falls down when looking at older cultures such as Italian.  Does traditional Italian food include tomatoes?), or 3. Evoking the techniques and flavours while using the best available ingredients.  I can safely say that Aravind fulfills these criteria while being modern and exciting.

Little revelatory touches such as the table water with cumin or cucumber and ginger water with mint leaf or a  bourbon sour with tamarind... These were eye opening.  If the water can be like this, then imagine the food. We had a bread and dip plate that had four breads, all different variations on rice bread, chickpea flour and  three dips; eggplant, kale/spinach and lentil.  The breads largely tasted different and it made sense to have these to contrast and compare with the dips.  We also enjoyed a crab curry with coconut and a dosa with three relishes/sauces and served with a sambal.  With the menu rotating depending on availability, not all of these will be available.  There is very little justice in this world as everyone should be able to taste these foods.

The only false note was the palate cleanser of watermelon, ginger and honey.  It was not as  harmonious compared to the other dishes.  If the ginger was stronger or the watermelon had been infused with the flavours ... it was good but the tastes jarred against each other.  What a quibble!

Listen, at the end of this longer than normal review, I say... Go!...Now!  I really enjoyed a meal here and I would recommend it without reservation.

Aravind on Urbanspoon