Tag Archives: restaurants

Friday 5 – Your weekend links

4 Jul

By Chris Garbutt

Sorry to be two days late – long weekend kept me from the computer!

1. An iPad for everything – even restaurant menus!

2. A restaurant chef in New Orleans is suing BP over damages to the local seafood industry.

3.  You will never, ever, think of bacon and eggs the same way again.

4. Amazing photos of food consumption by families in different countries.

5. As we try to cut our sodium intake, we discover a surprising pair of villains: soups and sauces.

The G20 Series: France

21 Jun

By Chris Garbutt

Oh, France, why do you raise so many questions? Why don’t your people ever get fat when you have such a rich cuisine? How did you become the culinary capital of the world, and what happened that you no longer can hold that title (at least to yourself)? And what is the deal with Americans? Why are they so bugged by you?

To talk about France is inevitably to talk about its food. Bread, cheese, wine, pastry. France is where you confirm that food is culture. France inspired the great Julia Child (an American who seemed to be not-so-anti-France) to write cookbooks devoted to the country’s culinary greatness.

My introduction to French food came when I was 18* (hey – I grew up in Stouffville, okay?), and my parents took me out to celebrate my high school graduation to the restaurant they went to every year for their anniversary called La Chaumière. It’s long gone now, but I remember that the waiter brought our first course on a cart – trays of charcuterie, terrines, and uh, what’s the French word for antipasti? I was young, didn’t know better, so I loaded up. I can only imagine how gauche I looked. Then it was time for the main course – médallions de filet (beef) in a rich red wine sauce. I can still taste that dish as if it was next to me now. Fork tender, and almost buttery. (Now that I think about it, that course was probably quite literally very buttery.)

Years later, I had a chance to sit with a couple of friends on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec overlooking the St. Lawrence  River, tearing off hunks of baguette, smearing them with unpasteurized brie, and surreptitiously drinking red wine from a bottle of what was probably plonk, but to my untrained palate was a perfect complement.

My one brief visit to France was not a culinary delight, but that’s my own fault. I was travelling with a friend, we were young, and mostly we ate pizza and burgers. When I go back, I will remedy that crime against culinarity.

Today I have my own favourite local French restaurant – Auberge du Pommier, where I got married, and where we still go every year on our anniversary. We had a winter wedding, and the food they served was just a perfect complement to the weather, especially the mushroom soup appetizer. And there is no shortage of French choices in the city – Le Select is still going strong, as is Scaramouche, and, for that matter, Le Papillon, if your looking for something more Quebecois. Also check out Bodega and Celestin, the latter of which had a duck confit that made me light-headed it was so good. And don’t forget to get yourself some pastries at Patisserie Sébastien, Rahier, Clafouti or Bonjour Brioche. Yes you can get a good croissant in Toronto!

French food taught me that food is to be tasted, really tasted, and experienced. Flavour matters. Complexity and simplicity can live together in the same dish. And that you have to take your time. If it’s in a field of lavender in Provence, or a cliff in Quebec, so much the  better.


* All right, I’m lying. I had tried several versions of French Onion Soup in my youth, including one made by my very own mother.

The G20 Series: China

16 Jun

By Chris Garbutt

I wrote about China last year, when I reviewed an engaging book by a Chinese-American who sought to work with master Chinese chefs, and learn about the roots of Chinese food (and learn a little about her own roots at the same time). Nothing opened my eyes more about food in China than this one book.

One of the central storylines is the author’s quest for the perfect xiao long bao. Her descriptions of this pork “soup dumpling” had me drooling, and it wasn’t long before I went on a little quest of my own, to at least try them for myself. So Mary and I went with some friends for lunch in Markham, to Ding Tai Fung, on Highway 7 near Woodbine We sat in the crowded bright room, watching the dumpling makers through the kitchen window. When the xiao long bao arrived, our friends showed us how to eat them, using both a spoon and chopsticks. What can I say, it was soup and pork belly in a dumpling and it was great. It wasn’t even the best thing on the menu – that prize would have to go either to the green onion pancakes or the stir-fried Chinese broccoli (I imagine in China they would just call it broccoli…)

It’s just another stop in my long journey with Chinese food. But I would embarrass myself in front of my Chinese friends if I were to claim to even begin to be an expert. Besides, China’s food heritage is so rich and diverse and ever-changing, I’m sure you could write whole books on just one dish.

I’ve done a little Chinese cooking, and the highlight for me was from a wedding present – a book called Beyond the Great Wall by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. Though we in the West mostly think of Chinese food as what people eat in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, the authors of this book wanted to discover (and photograph) the foods of the people who live in primarily non-Han regions of the country. It’s a beautiful book, worth reading even if you don’t like to cook.

So to thank the couple that gave us this gift, and to try something new, we had them over for dinner and I made some dishes from the book. Here was the menu:

Quick-pickled radish threads (Tibetan)

Sprouts and Cabbage Salad (Kazakh)

Vegetable Hot Pot (Hui)

Steamed Momos (Tibetan dumplings)

I had also planned to make beef-sauced hot lettuce salad (Mongolian), but figured that these four dishes would fill us up, and I was right. Finding some of the ingredients was more challenging than I expected – the most unusual was black rice vinegar, which I actually never found and just substituted regular rice vinegar instead. Seemed to work out okay. And have you ever tried to find a daikon radish at Yonge and Lawrence? I guess I never thought of it as exotic, but in store after store, I was out of luck. Eventually I found a single one in a flower shop that had vegetables in the back. I said to the guy at the counter, “I think this is the only one in the entire neighbourhood.” He replied, “the only one for sale – I have two at home.”

The G20 Series: Italy

8 Jun

by Stephanie Dickison

In Toronto, we have so many Italian restaurants that I could review one a week and never have to do one twice.

We are also fortunate enough to have our very own Little Italy, located on College Street from Euclid Avenue to Shaw Street.  This area of the city that became a hub for Italians back in the 50’s,  used to house many of the city’s best and most authentic restaurants, which has now become more gentrified, and as a result, offers almost every cuisine you can think of.

But each year, the Taste of Little Italy (happening  June 18-20 2010) festival celebrates foods that Italians make like no one else.

This year, you’ll be able to eat with abandon from one end of the village to the other, with tomato sauce dripping veal sandwiches, prosciutto and arugula-wrapped bread sticks, sausage and peppers on a bun, arancini (rice balls) stuffed with veal and peas, stuffed eggplant paninis, and because it will mostly likely be incredibly hot out, you’ll want to finish it all off an espresso granita.

That is, if you can find the room.

And while there will be plenty of pasta on hand to indulge, there is much more to Italian cuisine than spaghetti and ravioli.

Next time you’re out for an Italian dinner, try:

Grilled Boneless Sardines, Seared Veal Shank, Beet Risotto, Mediterranean Sea Bass, Buratta Mozerlla, Assorted Salumi Tray andRapini with Garlic and Pepperoncino, instead of your usual bowl of ziti.

Chew On This – If You Had $100, How Would You Spend It On Food?

4 Oct


Opinion # 1 By Stephanie Dickison

This depends on whether I was going to use it to splurge or not.  Would I treat myself and get more extravagant, expensive things that I’m used to or would I try and get the most for my money?

Let’s go with extravagant, just for fun.  Now the question is would I use it for a nice dinner out with my fella or for fantastic luxe grocery items to keep in the kitchen cupboard for little bursts of luxury?

I think I’d go with the dinner, because getting the stuff for at home is a wee bit more practical and this isn’t about being practical for once.

As for where we’d go and what we’d have, that’s a tough one as we’re both food hounds and other than reading, writing, walking and spending time together, going out to eat is one of very favourite things to do.  Also, I’m a restaurant critic so there are certain restaurants that make not make the list over others.

I’d venture to say that we would probably either go for Ethiopian, Brazilian or Portuguese – the thinking being that we can get Italian, Japanese or Vietnamese any ol’ time, but these places are fewer and farther between.

Scott loves Ethiopian a little more than I do because he can’t get enough injera – the airy bread that you pull away with your fingers and acts as a utensil to scoop out other items.  I find it too goopy, but I love the other dishes, so I do just fine with my fingers.

Brazilian is awfully sexy and I love the heartiness and spiciness of it all, but I’m in the mood for Portuguese these days, so that’s what I going with for this experiment.

There are three things that I think are superb standouts in Portuguese cooking – churassco chicken, piri piri sauce, and the way they prepare fish.

I love that somehow the food is infused with intense flavours, but never overpowers the meat, fish or vegetables.  How do they do that?

I would go to a place on College Street that I’ve been only once, but the memories and flavours have remained ever since.

I would start with the Lobster, Octopus & Shrimp in a citrus, tarragon aioli ($20) and then move on to Grilled and Gently roasted Filet of Salted Cod with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Garlic ($38), while I’m sure Scott would get the Nova Scotia Lobster on risotto of saffron ($45).

I know I went over budget there a little, but I’d be happy to kick in the extra.  When you have food this good, it’s worth it.

Of course, Scott and I don’t eat dinners like this often.  Let’s face it – 2 freelance writers in one household does not an expense account make.   On a regular weeknight, I’m making  chicken and pasta and lots of veg, just like you

But it is nice to dream like this every once in awhile.  Especially while I’m off to make soup and sandwiches for dinner.

Opinion # 2 By Chris Garbutt

Every time I go to the grocery store, I wonder where we get the idea that inflation is low. Food prices have been climbing for longer than I can remember now. A hundred bucks almost doesn’t cover a week’s groceries for the two of us.*

But I think I’ll take another approach here. If I had $100 for one meal for two, then I could have a little fun. And the truth is, what I write today could change tomorrow. So with that in mind, here’s what I would do with that money today.

Now that barbecue season has begun, I think I would get grilling. I’m thinking maybe I would get some large scallops from my local fish market – Avenue Seafood on Avenue Road north of Lawrence. Then I would pick up some produce from Organic Abundance on Yonge Street. Perhaps some asparagus, potatoes, onions. Something in season for a salad – spinach, radishes? I would then walk down the street to The Friendly Butcher to pick up some locally raised bacon.

I would keep it simple:

–    Fry up some bacon for crumbling
–    Make a potato pouch with garlic and onions, and put it on the grill
–    Put some salt, pepper and olive oil on the asparagus, and grill that, too
–    Make up the spinach salad, maybe make a dressing with orange juice, shallots and olive oil
–    Sprinkle salt and pepper on the scallops, drizzle some olive oil and grill them
–    Use some of the salad dressing to create an orange sauce for the scallops
–    Crumble the bacon over both the salad and the scallops
–    Put it all on a plate and serve it with my sweetie

Now, that’s how I feel right at this moment. Give me a few seconds and I’ll start again. I’m starting to think that a lobster on that grill might be nice…

I think I’ve come well under a hundred here, so with whatever’s left, I’d buy the best sauvignon blanc I can find. What would you do?

* Well, I eat a lot of organic.

Buy My Book – The 30 Second Commute: A Non-Fiction Comedy About Writing and Working From Home!

27 Nov

bookcover-30-second-commute-stephanie-dickison1I have written a book about my career as a pop culture, book and restaurant critic. It will be available in just a few months – February 2009 – but you can reserve a copy for you (and everyone you know!) RIGHT NOW!

Many thanks for your support!

Warmest wishes,

Stephanie Dickison

Watch Stephanie Dickison on Slice TV!

12 Aug

Watch Stephanie in her role as Restaurant Critic on Slice TV’s “The List!

Click here and go to THE LIST – S2 Full Episodes

Click on Episode 24 – Part 4 (6:47 minutes)