Date 12: Wallflower with Amanda

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Wallflower, at 1665 Dundas Street West; call (647) 352-5605

A couple of weeks ago there was a surprisingly warm Wednesday night and Amanda and I tried out Wallflower on Dundas Street. Amanda is a North Parkdale/Little Portugal fixture and knows pretty much all of the local businesses. She was running a little late having just come from a clothing swap, where she also had one beer too many, according to her. I had managed to get off work at a reasonable hour and was quite excited about trying out Wallflower, which came highly recommended.

Right off the bat, I like the concept of Wallflower. It’s an intimate main room with a lively back patio that was full the night we went. The design is just about spot in terms of matching the food and vibe. It’s sort of got steampunk thing going on with vintage-looking fixtures and lights, straddling the line between cool and kitschy.

Oysters @ Wallflower

Amanda wasn’t too hungry so we ordered light: a dozen oysters (at $2 a pop), a deviled egg (for me; some variation of the deviled egg seems to be a nightly thing), and some kind of stew that seemed interesting. I also had a couple of Beau’s.

There was probably one other dish, but it escapes me at the moment – the night is a bit of a blur. We did enjoy the oysters a great deal, but it seemed like they were sitting out for a bit before they got to the table because the ice was quite melted already. Still these oysters, from New Brunswick, were small and sweet, and expertly shucked. The deviled egg, at only $1.50 was also a treat, the ginger accent brightening up the egg.

Once again, the stew is a bit of a blur – we enjoyed it, but it didn’t really fit the steamy room.

Dovetailing with the oyster delay, I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that I thought the waiter was a bit too cool for school.

Amanda is a terrific listener and a truly empathetic person. I had a terrific time getting to know her outside of the coffee shop we normally chat at. She’s lived a rich life, taking on various jobs where she’s met hundreds of interesting people, and she can truly weave a story.

It was a mighty fine night.

Date 11: Universal Grill with Sean

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Universal Grill, at 1071 Shaw; call (416) 588-5928

Nearly a month ago now (ain’t it funny how time slips away?), I joined Sean for a baby stag dinner at Universal Grill. It was the Sunday before Victoria Day (see the Leslie Spit post). Anne was having her baby shower and Sean decided to get together with some friends for his baby stag concept he had dreamed up. I was skeptical, and it turns out others were as well, since I was the only one that showed up.

It’s not where but who you’re with that really matters.

Sean has been a good friend for a long time. We met in Vancouver in 2004. I was 23 at the time, just over a year after I had graduated university and as far away from home as I had ever been. I was having serious misgivings about moving across North America to go to grad school, leaving family and a job where for the first time in my life I felt like I belonged. I had made a ton of friends, really the first close friends I’d ever made. I also learned that this work crush I had since I started work there nearly a year ago was into me as well.

I had just spent a tumultuous week driving across the US to end up in a place where I felt alone and stranded. I remember meeting Sean pretty early into my time in Vancouver at the graduate residence we lived in. He wanted to to go London Drugs to buy a mini-fridge, and I happened to have a car, so we decided to go it together.  I remember joking around in Future Shop about buying a joystick instead of a mouse to make it a good year.

Sean struck me as a man who loved to laugh, was extremely comfortable in his own skin, and who was caring and compassionate.  I got really busy with the first year of grad school so I didn’t see him that much anymore.  Our residence college had a nightly dinner that was really quite surprisingly good – wild salmon, grilled steaks, robust curries, and the like – and we’d touch base once in a while with a group of friends that became closer as the year wore on.  I always enjoying seeing him, often the loudest person in the room slapping his leg as he laughed at some joke that really wasn’t that funny.

Universial Grill Ext

To this day we still marvel at how that group of friends that came together at very different times in our respective lives meant more to each other than one could really ever expect.  Sean was in his mid to late 20s, Desmond was around the same age, Pete, Darryl and Gaby were my age, but we all managed to keep in touch.  When Sean got married several years later, that group of friends – despite spending less than a year in the same place – was remarkably cohesive in our resolve to attend his wedding across the country in Montreal.

UG rings

Now it’s 10 years later and Sean has proven one of my closest and most loyal friends.  10 years.  There were certainly years in which I never heard from him.   He went to law school in Ottawa, fell in love, and got married.  He moved to England and had adventures there.  It was lucky that when he moved back to Toronto, I happened to be here as well.

I thought that perhaps our reconnection would be different than how it turned out to be.  But Sean has always been remarkably generous with his time, and one of the most supportive people I know.  I don’t know the butterfly effect-like reaction that would have occurred if I never met him, but I’m glad I did.

So, when Sean invited me to his baby stag – really a significant moment in any man’s life – it was a no-brainer.  I biked over to Dupont and Shaw and was a bit early.  The restaurant was more or less dead and manned by a single server.  Simply put: she knew her shit.  I think she mentioned having worked there for over five years.

This is just a great neighborhood restaurant.  It’s small, but everything is well considered.  People come in there not to see and be seen but because they want a good meal at a decent price.  Sean knew what he wanted.  The ribs here are a local institution.  I was skpetical because they aren’t smoked, and ended up getting the roast chicken.  I probably should have gotten the ribs, which while not smoked, are slow cooked in a terrifically complex sauce redolent of Chinese five spice.  I immediately regretted my choice of well-executed but somewhat bland roasted chicken.

Universal Grill roast chicken

It was a fine night that Sean and I capped it off by watching several Game of Thrones episodes.  The food was good, not transcendent, but it didn’t need to be.  It’s good ingredients, executed well, with excellent service.  Who complains about that?

Date 10: Lunch at the Leslie Spit with Virginie (alt. title: “A Dream of Summer”)

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Remember Victoria day, when it was sunny and beautiful out and we thought Summer was finally here? Well, it turns out it wasn’t the turning point we thought it would be. But I had a grand day.

Leslie Spit

Virginie and I biked out down the waterfront to the Leslie Spit. It was quite a ride down the waterfront, through various slow-walking families, traffic jams, parades, and the like. As the sun beat down on my poorly protected shoulders, I got the feeling I’d probably wind up with quite the sunburn. But then again, sometimes you need a sunburn to really feel like things are changing.

The Spit is an interesting thing. Eric, ever the optimist, touted it as this incredible peninsula that, at its point, overlooks all of Toronto – a majestic sight indeed. In fact, it is a peninsula made of trash, accessible only from the East end of Toronto. While I’m certainly glad I got a chance to explore its paths, it’s really not the idea place to picnic, because anytime you look down, you realize you are standing on a bunch of old concrete, metal, glass, and really just materials unwanted by the rest of the world.

Leslie Spit Lunch

What wasn’t unwanted (terrible segue alert), was the lunch Virginie and I shared. I packed up ham sandwiches with Quebec cheese and pesto on Portuguese buns, Quebec beer, and Portuguese egg custards. Truly an international smorgasbord.

While the meal didn’t really fall together in a cohesive manner, it was a much appreciated respite from a long ride. And the fact that we were sitting on trash didn’t manage to interfere with our appetites.

Phodown 8: Pho Phuong (also Date 9 w/ Sean & Anne)

Pho Phuong
Address: 1603 Dundas West, Toronto (map)
Date & time of visit: May 24, 2013 + 8:00pm

Ratings:

Jason

Broth: 5.5 | Beef: 5 | Noodle: 8 | Condiment: 5.5 | Service/atmosphere: 4.5 | Overall: 5.7

Sean

Broth: 6 | Beef: 6 | Noodle: 7 | Condiment: 6 | Service/atmosphere: 5 | Overall: 6.2

Overall Rating: 5.95

Write-up from Jason:

It’s no secret that my attention has been far from pho for the past long while. Moving, starting a new job, and just generally starting have occupied most of my thought and effort. But that’s no exculpation for ignoring this website’s raison d’etre.

Pho Phuong Condiments

Two Fridays ago I got a last minute call from Sean and Anne – they were going out for pho and why not make it a phodown? After dropping off some empties at the Beer Store I was a bit late, but not egregiously so. They had already ordered drinks – an entirely disappointing coconut shake for Anne and a Heineken for Sean (he later tried to trade this in for a Tiger, but it was too late).

Sean made his second error of the night, ordering “yellow curry” from the specials menu, while Anne and I stuck to the phodown mandate. The curry came out as essentially a soup with terrible dry chicken within. I felt bad for him, but not completely so because after all, Sean has made a spectacle of ignoring standard phodown rules all year. After barely touching his curry, Sean ordered a pho, which raised nary an eyebrow among the staff.

Pho Phuong Pho

The pho here is really not terrible, but it could never be confused with good pho in any way. The broth was the primary failing, watery and bland. The beef was fine – it tasted fresh – but not at all abundant. The condiments followed suit – we got lime, bean sprouts and basil, but no peppers or sawtooth. The upshot: not a lot of care went into anything here.

Especially not the service. When receiving the bill we noticed the curry was still on it. I mentioned, as politely as such a situation allows, that it was really inedible. The waiter took my comment but did nothing to rectify it. I don’t expect a comp, or even a free dessert at most pho places, but this one was rather upscale and so some sort of offering would have been appreciated and certainly warranted.

Overall, I’d say there is really no reason to go to Pho Phuong. There are other joints in the area. The pho is mediocre to bad. The service is terrible. And as Sean demonstrated, the Thai is miserable.

Date 8: Surf & surf with Eric and Emily

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On May 1st, Eric and Emily were gracious enough to fix me dinner when I moved into their apartment. As if sharing their abode was not enough!

Dinner with Eric and Emily

It had been a hectic and emotional day moving, and so it was soul-warming to have a home-cooked meal with friends, that I didn’t have to worry about at all. They prepared a roasted salmon with seared scallops, kale, and sweet potato fries with curry mayo.

Eric’s penchant for curry mayo is legendary, and this rendition clearly came from a place of love. It was a convivial evening, and a much appreciated one at that.