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Archive for November, 2009

The food: ramen in New York, pho in Toronto

Classic ramen at Ippudo, New York

The story:

As part of my ongoing quest to find noodle soup as wonderful as the ramen at Kintaro in Vancouver, I stopped in at Ippudo, a ramen shop in New York, near Union Square.

Ippudo on Fourth Avenue

The staff at Ippudo do the big enthusiastic greeting thing that is done at restaurants in Japan – when E and I walked in, a host-type person enthusiastically exclaimed something to us in Japanese, and when we were shown to a (communal) table, all the waiters and staff in the open kitchen yelled out something that could have been “Welcome suckers,” or, “My name is name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die,” but was most likely a Japanese version of Hey or Bon appetit.

After our young, Asian-American, English-was-her-only-language waitress (who confessed she’d had to learn and memorize the Japanese phrases being bandied about and spoke no others) explained what the lunch special set was (for $3 more, get a small bowl of rice with, for example, spicy fried chicken, alongside a ramen), we ordered one of those, and one ramen only, both ramen of the Shiromaru Hakata Classic variety.

Fried Chicken (Spicy) Over Rice at Ippudo

The chicken, a version of torikaraage with spicy mayo, was very good – and the pieces didn’t, in real life, look quite so penis-like as they do in the pic above (!). It was tender, not greasy, the mayo added a nice kick, and the rice was hot, fluffy and moist, the way Japanese rice should be. The ramen was also worth a return trip – the ton katsu broth had a lovely depth of (not spicy) flavor, and the noodles were thin and delicate (and made fresh on the premises), though I wished they’d been a bit more chewy and curly.

Back home in Toronto, after seeing a so funny scene that referenced pho in an episode of my new favourite sitcom Modern Family – see the scene here – I decided to try some takeout pho from Golden Turtle, a popular spot on Ossington Avenue.

Pho #1 with rare beef from Golden Turtle

I usually find rice noodles boring but the pho broth they were in was light, golden and fragrant (and again, not brackishly spicy or garlicky like the BAD broth like I’ve had at some other places – cough, KENZO RAMEN, cough). Though the beef had a tenderized quality that was a little weird, it slid easily and tastily down the throat, and the fresh garnishes of a lime wedge, bean sprouts, and branch of Thai basil (I think) made the meal in a bowl soothing and refreshing at once.

Golden Turtle on Urbanspoon

Ippudo on Urbanspoon

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The food: pizza in New York and Toronto

The story:

While in New York recently, I tried out the newish East village branch of highly ranked Brooklyn pizzeria Motorino.

I couldn’t resist the excellent value of the $12 Prix Fixe two course lunch, so I ordered the Margherita pizza and a salad that turned out to be an impeccably fresh mixture of lettuces and herbs.

The Margherita pizza (shown up top) had a nicely puffy and blistered cornicione, but the main part tasted bland, kind of like the Margherita pizza I had at Pizzeria Libretto in Toronto, which made me think maybe Margherita pizza just isn’t my thing, and so I should give Pizzeria Libretto another try.

I’ve been back to Pizzeria Libretto a few times now and tried the duck confit and pear pizza, shown here:

and the wild mushroom one (not shown), both of which I liked more than the Margherita, thanks to the combination of the Neapolitan-style blistered, chewy but light crusts, and the tangy cheeses deployed on them.

In my new estimation then, Pizzeria Libretto’s pizzas are better-tasting than pizzas at Terroni in Toronto, though they still don’t reach the level of Neapolitan pizza excellence attained by Company in New York.

On my most recent visit to Company, I had the still amazing stracciatella pizza again and I cadged a few pieces from E of that day’s pizza special – which featured brussel sprouts, lardons and chestnuts (see it and its impressive cornichione just above). It was also amazing and delicious, in a hearty and crunchy way that was very different from but made a great complement to the soft, melty texture of the cheese-centric stracciatella.

Lest I go a day without pizza in some form or other while in New York, I stopped in on my way out of the city at the Sullivan Street Bakery to sample slices of the pizza zucchini and pizza patate.

These thin crust, snack-size slices, eaten room temperature at the tiny counter inside the bakery, were different yet again (how versatile is the mind of Jim Lahey!), but they were scrumptious in their own crispy, (good) oily way, and definitely worth going back for the next time I’m in New York.

Sullivan Street Bakery on Urbanspoon

Motorino on Urbanspoon

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The food: eggs bacon benedict

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Eggs bacon benedict at Jane's on the Common

The story:

Everything that those who are creatively inclined see, do, hear or feel is potential material, a possible source of inspiration. That’s one of the themes of Coco Before Chanel, the French film  about the early life of the fashion designer, and it’s what award-winning novelist Miriam Toews said recently when she spoke at the special IFOA edition of the Humber Writers’ Circle that I hosted.

The ‘everything is material’ line is an excuse I give too, to explain why I sometimes interrogate interesting people I meet, and why I blog about food when I should be working on my new novel. It’s not just a line – in the same way that Coco Chanel was inspired by the nuns’ habits in the orphanage where she grew up, and Miriam Toews carries around notebooks in which she records scraps of dialogue that she might use later in her fiction, I never know when a random anecdote from someone else’s life, or a meal I’ve eaten, might find its way into a story I write.

The exterior of Jane's on the Common in Halifax

Take the brunch I had recently at Jane’s on the Common in Halifax (I saw the Coco Avant Chanel movie on the plane ride out) when I was there visiting my son, a student at Dalhousie University. I can’t promise that the delicious eggs bacon benedict on biscuits that I ate at Jane’s will show up in my published work someday, or that the rich, creamy seafood chowder and delightful smoked salmon with latkes that was also served by friendly wait staff in a warmly decorated space will, either.

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I can promise that everything really is material when you’re a writer, including good brunch food.

Jane's on the Common on Urbanspoon

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The food: Fresh takes on vegetables

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During my recent trip to England, I ate at two London restaurants that featured Mediterranean style salads and vegetable-centric dishes, sold by weight, that make for a colourful and delicious meal in combination on a plate. This style of eating struck me as fresh, modern, and representative of contemporary London.

The first such place I tried was Fait Maison, on Stratford Street in Kensington, a café that makes lovely food from organic ingredients. E and I chose our selections at the front of the shop, where enticing platters of food were displayed, and then walked through to the smallish back room, where, a few minutes later, a server brought out our food, plated and where applicable, heated.

I had the salads shown above: one with eggplant and pomegranate seeds, another with tomato and a soft white cheese that was not mozzarella, and a third made with green beans, snow peas, and black and white sesame seeds. E had the potato torte and a delicious concoction of squash, chickpeas and onions (both shown below) that was so good he has tried to replicate it at home since, twice.

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Another day, we ventured to the Notting Hill location of Ottolenghi, a buzzed about mini-chain of food shops that also features beautiful Mediterranean-style salads and dishes, artfully displayed.

The seating here consisted of one communal table (no washroom on premises) so we chose a selection of items to take away, which we ate in nearby Hyde Park, an hour later. A pleasant server patiently explained how the shop’s system works re: pricing and packaging, and told us what the various platters of food contained, though a bitchy supervisor admonished me when I pulled out my camera and said I was not allowed to take pictures inside. (Which was ridiculous as photos of the food are widely available online and in print.)

Though tempting looking dishes of seared tuna, rare beef, chicken and shrimp were available, we once again chose an all-vegetable selection – roasted eggplant with yogurt, mint and pine nuts; a herbed rice and nut pilaf; and some baby carrots with peas and parsley, all of which we enjoyed on our bench overlooking the Albert Memorial.

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Salads to takeaway from Ottolenghi

That same week, I visited another appealing attraction of contemporary London: Sister Act, the musical, currently playing at London’s Palladium Theatre, a venue I was thrilled to enter because it was the location of a key scene in the 1935 Hitchcock film The 39 Steps.

Sister Act the musical is based on the 1992 movie (starring Whoopi Goldberg); its period has been reset to the 1970’s; it features nuns, church and talk of God (the kind of content I had trouble with when I saw Altar Boyz); and its disco-tinged (this is a good thing, IMO) score is written by Disney stalwart Alan Menken (The Little Mermaid), but I very much enjoyed the show ANYWAY.

It’s a roof-raising, crowd-pleasing, catchy-tune-packed, get up on your feet and dance kind of show, a la Mamma Mia and Hairspray (no sneering, please, I liked both those shows); I’m pissed that I can’t order the Sister Act soundtrack from itunes in Canada; and I hope it comes soon to Broadway so I can see it again.

Check out this version of one of its big numbers, performed by star Patina Miller and the London Palladium cast:

Ottolenghi on Urbanspoon
Fait Maison on Urbanspoon

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