The farms, forests, and lakes that surround Toronto are invaluable resources for local and sustainable ingredients (and a good bit of foraging, too). Think wood-nettle spätzle or slow-cooked chicken with fresh corn pudding. Toronto is a city that likes to cheer on its sports teams with one-handed party food, and that’s where homemade pizzas, fried chicken and fish tacos come in handy.
My recent jaunt to the 6 (Toronto, for the uninitiated) included wondrous and diverse activities.
My Chipotle obsession continued. Three visits during my five-day stay. Unsurprisingly, my beloved first-place (at the time) Red Sox lost in spectacular fashion. Always great to be kitted out in full Sox regalia while being chirped by 50,000 petulant bandwagon-jumping Jays fans. (more…)
The trip began with us being marooned for 2½ hours on the 401 and was followed with the unsurprising yet disconcerting demolishment of my beloved Red Sox. Thankfully, this Toronto getaway was heavily punctuated by food. So let’s focus on that, shall we?
To no one’s surprise I am obsessed with all things Momofuku, starting with the sculpture that jets dramatically from the ground near the entrance. Chinese artist Zhang Huan took two years to complete “Rising,” which has “peace pigeons” moving up the building’s facade and twisted tree branches that are meant to resemble the body of a dragon.
Drinks were had at Nikai, a bar and lounge located in a glass cube on the second floor of Momofuku. The cocktails are grouped into sparkling, stirred, shaken and classic twists. We indulged in Paper Plane (bourbon, lemon, aperol, amaro), Royal Bermuda (rum, lime, falernum), Sunrise and Sunset (amaro, cream soda) and an Alberta premium dark horse whiskey—all refreshing and delicious.
A walk down the stairs brought us to Momofuku Noodle Bar for dinner. Up first were the Pork Buns—they are what dreams are made of. Fluffy pillows of bread enveloped around soft pork belly, stuffed with tangy pickled cucumbers, scallions and a dollop of hoisin sauce. It is a well-thought-out combinations of flavours and textures. The Momofuku Ramen has shredded pork shoulder, creamy pork belly, green onions, a soft poached egg and fish cakes floating on tender noodles and submerged in the most delicious broth. After dinner, I snuck back upstairs to Momofuku Milk Bar for some take-away dessert—Crack Pie, a lavish object of my desire. Believe me when I tell you that this pie is good. Once you start eating this rich-sweet-salty-buttery-silky creation, you won’t be able to stop.
I then joined the rest of my peeps next door at the Shangri-La Hotel Lobby Lounge. The 90-seat Lobby Lounge is an urban living room. Natural light streams through two-storey windows that highlight large paintings, sculptures and an Italian handcrafted Fazioli piano set amid contemporary sofas and chairs. It was a particular frigid summer day so we huddled around the fireplace and had drinks and sipped on fancy tea (there are 68 different types to choose from). I loved lingering at this Tony hotel lounge. It felt like we had run away to a sumptous and sophisticated hideaway.
And with that, our weekend had concluded. As if on cue, our drive home left us stranded yet again, this time for a shorter period. Thoughts of steaming pork buns swirled around in my head and occupied the idol time. Toronto, Shangri-La, Momofuku—can’t wait till I see you again.
Sometimes I just need to escape to the big city. True, it comes with some headaches like snarling traffic and unruly crowds. But the benefits of being in a metropolis far outweigh the liabilities. If only to get me out of my food slump.
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Chipotle, Chipotle, how do I love thee? I may seem strange to profess ones love to a fast food restaurant but considering the jam-packed Yonge street location, I am not alone in my adoration of the burrito bowl. And like long-distance lovers reunited after a lengthy time apart, it was oh so sweet. I long for the day when we can once again be together. Chipotle, it wouldn’t hurt you to save me some gas money and move to my neck of the woods. I love thee but how much do you love me?
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.
I visit Toronto three or four times a year, mostly when my beloved Red Sox are in town. This time around, we took in a couple games, went to TIFF, did some shopping, eating and spent time with family. Having taken pics aplenty, I thought I’d change things up and subject you to a photo collage from my T.O. getaway. Hope it’s not too painful!
TIFF Bell Lightbox
Best Screenplay and Best Picture Oscars for “Crash” on display at TIFF
Waiting among the masses to get into the theatre
Under the Winter Garden Theatre lights
My ticket for “Song for Marion”
Choice balcony seats
“Song for Marion” star Christopher Eccleston speaks at TIFF
The roof is open
The view from the cheap seats
The view from our seats
Doh! Dropped popcorn on the floor
The CN Tower looms above
Waiting in line to buy terrible food at the concessions stands. No Fenway Franks or Boston Chowdah in sight.
Homemade chowdah made with love by family member.
What more can a guy ask for? Makes me not miss Boston so much.
Chowing down on a Hero Burger at the Sherway Gardens food court
Is it sad that one of my favourite places to eat in Toronto is Chipotle Mexican Grill? I mean, T.O. is home to a bevy of gourmet restaurants and we choose to eat at a fast casual dinning spot. We actually plan out our outings around this place. It helps that Chipotle is on Yonge and Eglinton which is near pretty much everything. Oh, as an aside, if you need sweet cheap kitchen stuff, check out Kitchen Stuff Plus on Yonge street, just a few blocks down from Chipotle.
Here’s how Chipotle works. You choose between burritos, tacos, burrito bowls and salads. Then you customize with your choice of meats or you go veggie like I did. Then come the fillers. Guacamole, salsa, cheese, beans, corn, fajita vegetables, lettuce and cilantro-lime rice. That rice is sick and one of the things that sets this place apart from Adobo or Qdoba. My veggie burrito was the size of a small poodle. Their slogan is “It’s not just a burrito. Its a foil-wrapped, hand-crafted, local farm supporting, food culture changing cylinder of deliciousness.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. If you’re in Toronto, go now. If you’re in Ottawa like me, petition. Cause I need to feed my addiction.
My veggie burrito
Zoom in on my veggie burrito. Looks gross close-up but when it’s in my mouth, it’s mmm.