Date 7: Yotam Ottolenghi’s lemon goat cheese ravoili with Eric and Emily

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Lemon goat cheese ravioli

About a week and a half ago Emilio got it into her head that she wanted to make this ravioli recipe from her cookbook Plenty. So we did it.

I was feeling a bit dazed from some late nights at work and possible food poisoning. But I was also riding high from an incredible evening the night before. So I pushed through. Eric was preoccupied by one of the Maple Leaf games.

Ottolenghi lemon and goat cheese ravioli

As for the ravioli, they didn’t turn out quite as we hoped. Emily went all out, even buying a three peppercorn mix and picking out the pink ones. The hitch was, despite following the recipe with exactitude, the dough never quite came together. We had to keep adding in extra oil and egg and it turned out very dry and fragile. The filling, however, was divine.

The bottom line on this recipe: great flavor, terrible texture. Try a different pasta dough recipe and you should be fine.

Date 6: Sandwiches and cocktails at This End Up with Bryn

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This End Up, at 1454 Dundas; call (647) 347-8700

On Wednesday Bryn and I descended on This End Up, conveniently located equidistant between our two homes. I had been meaning to try it since phodowner Anne reported enjoying it several months ago. I suppose the idea is classic cocktails and and fancy sandwiches. Personally, I’d prefer something more like finger foods with a classic cocktail, but that’s probably nit-picky. And in fact there are a few finger foods on This End Up’s menu, including fish tacos (which are actually quite substantial), Korean-influenced chicken wings, and “pickles and sticks” (grilled sausages and pickled vegetables).

Long story short, I was more impressed with the cocktails than the sandwiches here. In particular, I had “Doctors Order” (natch), a take on a Tom Collins with gin, kaffir lime leaves and lemon. It was both potent and refreshing – a perfect late spring drink. A classic margarita (lime, tequila, and grand marnier) was also well executed.

In terms food, we got the fish tacos, which were fine. I thought the fish could have been slightly fresher, and it was overshadowed by loads of cabbage, which I admittedly could have just taken off. The pork belly banh mi was also well executed, but it’s become quite a well traveled dish over the past few years, and I think Banh Mi Boys does it better. Finally, the pickles and sticks were fun, but the sausages were quite salty – a better pair with beer than strong cocktails.

Based on this one visit, I’d say This End Up is a fun little gastropub. Everything is well considered, the seasonal cocktails elegant and restrained, but I’m just not sure how cohesive the concept is.

Date 5: Thai from a Fish and Chip Place with Eric and Virginie

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Vicky’s Fish & Chips, at 414 Roncesvalles Ave; call (416) 531-8822

Last Friday Eric took me and Virginie to a Thai place he knows in Roncesvalles, an area quickly becoming a favorite of mine. Vicky’s is an oddity. It’s officially a fish and chip joint, and a decent one if you believe the hype. But it’s also a Thai restaurant, featuring an extensive Thai menu thanks to the Thai owner and chef. Eric touted this place as a super gritty, authentic Thai joint.

having fun at Vicky's

In fact, and this is something he’s admitted since, the Thai is pretty Americanized. I haggled with Vicky’s husband for quite a while, trying to get her to make me something they’d eat at home. He was married to his standard script, however, narrowing me down to rice or noodles, then a protein, then finally a seasoning. At the end of the day the talked me into ginger chicken, which really was just a chicken stir-fry with ginger. It was fine, but only hinted at its creator’s Southeast Asian origins.

Ginger chicken at Vicky's

That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the experience. It was heartening to walk to through kitchen into a spacious patio area decorated with mismatching patio furniture and other odds and ends. This all fits a motif that includes torches, Micky Mouse cups, and feeling you are in some family’s backyard. Beers, including Tiger and Sapporo are dead cheap.

Listen: this isn’t a place that does any food item particularly well. There isn’t a beer here that you can’t find at any LCBO. But the cooking is honest, the service is personal, and you’ll get out of there for under $15 for dinner and a beer. Eric constantly apologized for the experience, but I had a blast.

Date 4: Birthday Dinner at Barque with Sean and Anne

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Barque Smokehouse, at 299 Roncesvalles Ave; call (416) 532-7700

On the 30th, I was fortunate to have a wonderful birthday dinner with Sean and Anne at Barque Smokehouse.  It was truly an evening to remember.

I started with a Barque Cesar ($10), which was fine way to begin the night.  The actual concoction is a perfectly suitable spicy cesar.  The twist twist is it’s rimmed with crumbled bacon.  Bacon tends to make things better, and this beverage was no exception to that dicta.

In order to spread out the love a bit, we ordered the Barque sampler for two ($45), electing for merguez sausages, sliced brisket, and baby back ribs.  For sides, we picked fries, smoked asparagus, and chilled asian slaw.  Overall, the quality of the food here is high.  The smoked asparagus indeed had a deep smoky flavor.  I thought the ribs and brisket could have used more smoking, the ribs being far from fall-off-the-bone done.  Still, there was a deft hand here, as well as care put into the process.  That’s about as much as you’d expect from a BBQ joint in Canada.  Fries and asian slaw were well-executed, but not memorable.

Barque meat

To gild the lily, we added the smoked dry-rubbed chicken wings ($12).  This was one of my favorites of the night, with the smoke treatment adding substantially to chicken wing preparation.  Barque is proud of its smoke program, sometimes even smoking liquors that go into their cocktails.  At times it seems superfluous, but these wings were anything but.

Barque chicken wings

Prior to ending this post, I have to give credit to the front-of-house staff at Barque, which is genial and professional.  And of course, a big thanks to Sean and Anne for treating me to such a delectable birthday dinner.

Date 3: San Francesco Panini with Sean

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San Francesco Panini, the north side of Harbord, just West of Spadina

I took Sean to this new Italian sandwich place that just opened up where a convenience store used to be at the above location. The two guys who own it are still working the kinks out. They haven’t even bought a permanent sign for the storefront yet. Their current goal appears to be building community. Each time I come in they pull me a free espresso and drink it with me. They’re  just endlessly friendly and earnest.

I enjoyed the pictured chicken parm sandwich, which comes to only $7 and is big enough for two meals (with the caveat that it will be soggy on your second go around).

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