Month: August 2013

Momofuku TO truly inspires

Nowadays, it seems that many chefs are full-fledged brands first, cooks second. Money-printing machines armed with theme restaurants, much hyped cookbooks and TV shows. IMHO, many of these “rock star chefs” are undeserving of the spotlight and often tarnished by too much celebrity, too many product endorsements and simply too much hype. The focus on cooking appears to have gotten lost somewhere along the way.

I wish I had the superpower to bestow some of the chefs in my own life with fame, fortune and a cookware line. Case in point, my buddy’s mom. Recently, my taste buds were taken to heaven by her deconstructed lasagna. The dish was pure, authentic and skillfully presented. A true culinary experience, yet one that goes unrecognized but for the acclaim from the lucky few in her entourage (count me in as one of her fans).

But not all celebrity chefs are publicity-seeking and image obsessed. I’ve always had much reverence for Chef David Chang and his ability to maintain a strong sense of self and emphasize food over fame. He grew up working in his father’s bistros in D.C. He trained at the French Culinary Institute before taking jobs at various prestigious establishments. Working at local ramen shops in Japan led to him eventually starting his own restaurant, Momofuku. He now presides over a culinary empire that has been the recipient of two Michelin stars and numerous James Beard awards. For months, I talked everyone’s ear off about my upcoming trip to Momofuku TO, his newest venture. And now, here I was. About to feast on the cuisine of an artist.

The restaurant is fascinating. An odd tree-like sculpture hovers near its street-level entrance. Once inside, the split-level space is extremely unpretentious and dominated by minimalist design in muted tones. Tables with backless stools, towering ceilings, stone and glass complete the look. It’s clear from the outset that this design was deliberate. The focus is on the food.

Ah, the food. We dined on heavenly pork buns. Juicy and tender meat wrapped in soft, pillowy dough garnished with a dollop of hoisin and topped with cucumbers and scallions. Next up, my friend had ginger scallion noodles with shiitake, cucumber and cabbage and I tried the dan dan mein, spicy pork, dry scallops, and peanuts over noodles. I was fascinated by the well-thought-out combinations of flavours and textures. I simply admire the way he creates dishes, building from tradition and adding a simple spin to create blissful works of food art. It’s hardly an overstatement to say that a meal at Momofuku was one of a higher order than any I’d ever had before and one the best I’ve had in my life.

Chef Chang and my buddy’s mom have much in common. They both have a passion and commitment to bring joy and comfort to their people through food. They both inadvertently inspire. And they both do it without a cookware line. That’s admirable.

momofuku to – 190 university avenue, toronto, on

pork buns – hoisin, scallion, cucumber
kimchi / pickles

ginger scallion noodles – shiitake, cucumber, cabbage
dan dan mein – spicy pork, dry scallop, peanut


crack pie and compost cookies
crack pie

Momofuku Noodle Bar on Urbanspoon

{Guest Blog} Pressed Urban Gourmet Sandwich Bar: soooo not a hipster fortress. But hip? Sure.

I seem to be surrounded by people who are obsessed with food. It’s pretty much all folks want to talk about. For a while now my friends and family have hinted about getting in on the blogging action. So why not let them? Here is a guest post courtesy of my friend Zimby. Enjoy!

Pork Belly. Allow me to repeat those two simple concepts. Pork. Belly.

If you’re like me, those two words trigger a veritable eruption of sensations, among them lust (yes, lust), desire, salivation and greed. That last one is important. Greed. For there is never, it would seem, enough pork belly on one’s plate to sate those carnal urges rending the very fabric of our civility. Must. Have. MOOOOOORE! But we’ll get back to this swinish nectar of the gods later.

One evening last month, your humble servant and that other humble servant (you know, the cool dude who writes about food) and I ventured into the funky neighbourhood that is home to Pressed Urban Gourmet Sandwich Bar. We were accompanied by the lovely Catherine, who wanted to check out this “hipster fortress” – so named by a displeased reviewer on Urban Spoon.

Our first visit was on a Friday evening at 7. We had reserved a table for 6:30, but two of us were late. Cool Food Dude, punctual to a fault, was patiently waiting for us when we arrived, adopting his usual pose: seated, shoulders slightly hunched over his faithful iPhone, no doubt checking up on some stupid reality show or other… The ambiance was indeed hip. A lamp in the Rococo style sat just to our left. Exposed vents? Check. Trendy art work? Check. Wooden school desks (circa 1970s) standing in for dining tables? Oh yes, definitely check. The only non-hipster accoutrement were the mustard colour walls. Please. Sooooo 90’s.

Pressed Urban Gourmet Sandwich Bar, 750 Gladstone Ave., Ottawa

 

Our first foray to Pressed was for dinner. Service was friendly, attentive and charming. The server was a newbie – if memory serves, it was her very first night. Her unfamiliarity with the menu was more than made up for by her eagerness to please. Pressed allows community groups to have meetings on the premises. While we were there that evening, there was a prayer-group-slash-community-action gathering from the Afro-Canadian community, having a lively conversation that was much fun to eavesdrop on.

As for the food, both C.F.D. and Catherine maddeningly ordered the same dish: pan-seared Whalesbone trout with orange glaze, tarragon butter and sautéed kale. Both termed it very nice, if somewhat on the plain side. And indeed, the fish, not to mention the presentation, was a bit naked. But still, a generous portion of trout, cooked just right. Yours truly ordered the five-spice pork belly on dragon noodles. Ah yes. Pork. Belly. Now, pork belly can be cooked a myriad of ways. But let’s look at two in particular: you can dry bake it at low temps for a few hours, let it sit for a while and then crisp it under a broiler or on the barbeque, so that it is flakes succulently apart with your fork, with the meaty flesh oh so tenderly giving way to the crispy, bacony layer of fat. Like what they do at Café Odile. Or should I say, like what they USED to do at Café Odile, as, sadly, that beloved resto is about to close its doors. Or…

Five-spice pork belly on dragon noodles
Pan-seared Whalesbone trout with orange glaze, tarragon butter and sautéed kale

You can do what they do at Pressed: render away most if not all of the fat, leaving behind a chewy, less fatty and, hence, less flavourful concoction. Good? Hell yeah. But not the earth-shaking, orgasmic experience of the aforementioned variety. And to Pressed’s credit, they give you a HUGE portion of pork belly. So in some respects you’re getting quantity over quality, although as I said, the quality is perfectly fine. The spicing was just right, and the noodles were cooked perfectly. After dinner, my companion had an allongé coffee. It was bland, barely passable. More on the coffee later.

We spoke to the owner after our dinner. A very affable chap who expressed the hope that we’d come again. And sure enough, we did – the very next morning. He seemed genuinely pleased to see us. We had heard wonderful things about the brunch, and I am pleased to report that we were not at all disappointed. For brunch, you order at the counter and get your meal delivered to your table. In our case, the meal deliverer was a delightful young woman made up to look like a hottie straight from the 40s or 50s. Hair up in a bun, high heels, hip hugging skirt with an explosion of bright red on the lips. Seriously, this woman looked just like my mom, circa 1958. Hi Mom! Love you.

Onto the food. Catherine ordered the florentine – Wilted Swiss chard, poached eggs, house-made hollandaise served on a buttery waffle. The eggs were cooked PERFECTLY. Runny but not too runny, just the right degree of firmness. The waffle could have flown away on a feather, such was its airy, fluffy lightness. And the sauce was nice and tangy. Yours truly had more of a dessert waffle, with a gazillion local strawberries sitting on a bed of fresh whipped cream, lying atop that same wonderful waffle. Simple, yet just right. One sour note, though (and I mean that literally): the filtered coffee was dreadful. A sour taste to it, made with what seemed like fishy water. Thought it might be the mug, so we got a fresh cup, but equally disappointing.

Florentine
Dessert waffle

Final verdict: a fun place to hang out, with solid food for the most part, great service, nice surroundings and crappy coffee. Oh and do try the pork belly, won’t you?

Pressed on Urbanspoon

Milos Raonic, poutine and mango flowers converge at the Rogers Cup

Disclaimer. I attend the Rogers Cup to bask in the presence of the world’s most elite tennis players. I gawk, observe, touch, run after, pose with and marvel at. It’s an exhilarating and sometimes exhausting endeavour that requires regular fuel ups throughout the day. Although I am thankful for the rationed IÖGO yogurt and Lindor chocolate samples, they are certainly not sufficient enough to sustain me for a day of chasing after Rafa and Nole.

I am usually quite ambivalent of sport arena grub. I’m there for the event. I don’t expect stadium food to be a first-class gastronomical wonder. But in a culinary mecca such as Montreal, I yearned for something a little more palate pleasing. This longing set me up for a big letdown.

For lunch, I ingested a hapless sandwich named “The Baguettini.” It was sad, painful and even insulting to eat. The hard, dry exterior managed to sheer off the skin on the roof of my mouth. The sandwich’s interior contained a tasteless collection of flavourless turkey, soggy lettuce and some kind of spread. This rather unpleasant experience cost a whopping $11.50.

After having scored a pic alongside Milos Roanic and snapped some shots of Nadal and Djokovic, some substenance was required. After my last experience, I was wary to venture into anything too adventurous, so poutine was my next selection. The iconic dish is a Quebec native. Perfection was not expected but I didn’t anticipate the sloppy, deplorable, unappetizing mush that I was subjected to. Disappointing.

Was I just bad at making the right choices?

Seems not. I was saved by a food on a stick in the form of a mango flower. Imagine a whole mango, peeled and carved into a blossom. Wacky novelty? Yes. Delicious and beautiful? For sure. Manly? Not so much. But a relative bargain for under $5.

So what’s the lesson here? The Rogers Cup is Disneyland for adults. A rip-roaring fun place to marvel at the brilliance of professional tennis. Djokovic, Nadal, Murray, Roanic and Simon are a wonder to behold. But the food? Well, let me set myself a reminder for next year. Pack a lunch. It will save me from the unsavoury alternatives of the concession stand.

Milos Raonic


Novak Djokovic
Andy Murray
Rafa Nadal
Daniel Nestor
Gilles Simon
Grigor Dimitrov
Rafa Nadal
Stan Wawrinka (with little man on his shoulder)
Vaclav Pospisil