Date 33: Foodwares Market in the Bay with Tom, Rachael, Connie and Aiwen

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Foodwares Market in the Bay, at 76 Yonge Street

About midway through work, some colleagues and I decided to explore some of the lunch options outside of our building. Finding nothing suiting our fancy at the Bay-Adelaide Centre, we made our way to the Bay and eventually decided on the cafe they have in there.

Smoked meat

On offer at what is apparently called “Foodwares Market” is a variety of little stations, serving things from salads to sandwiches. I went with the special that day, a pastrami sandwich with potato salad.

The pastrami was carved to order and the potato salad was suitably tangy. For about $12, I think I could have done better, but not much.

Eastern Promises Intro

easternpromises

I’m currently sitting in the Taipei International Airport, waiting for a connecting flight to Hong Kong where I will be on exchange until December.

I know – the 100 (probably closer to 50, in actuality) dates of summer is not even close to finished. But time caught up with me and here I am.

It turned out to be a difficult decision to follow through on this exchange. Summer unfolded in a way that I didn’t expect and in fact turned out better than I ever hoped for. It was a very important time in my life. On one hand, I wanted to keep the momentum going and continue to explore the new life I had carved out in Toronto. But I also recognized that I may never get a chance to live in East Asia again. It was a difficult decision and one I did not come to lightly.

So here I am. It’s 6AM and I’m sitting in the international waiting lounge in Taipei. A baby is crying and the smell of beef noodle soup wafts from the cafe next door. There are already people in Toronto I miss dearly. While that’s a tough pill to swallow right now, I think in the long run that is a very, very good thing.

So here are my Eastern Promises:

-I will approach new experiences with an open and eager mind.
-I will approach new food with an empty stomach.
-I will find something I’m scared of doing and do it.
-I will surprise myself.

Date 32: Fortuitous Lunch at The Stockyards with Sean and Dougie Fresh

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The Stockyards, at 699 St. Clair Avenue West, Toronto; call 416 658 9666

Continuing my summer farewell tour, I was dropping off some DVDs at Sean’s house this Tuesday when it turned out he was home, and not only that but our friend Dougie Fresh was also in the neighborhood.
After some catching up we decided why not have a quick lunch together? Several options were considered, until we realized that despite its notoriety and close proximity, none of us had been to the Stockyards yet.

Stockyards is well known around town for its BBQ, fried chicken and burgers. Unfortunately the BBQ is never available lunches, but we did try the latter two.

After a short wait, we ported our meals over to the park next to the Wychwood Barns. This was a great idea on a sunny late summer afternoon, except for the last ten minutes when we were pestered by loads of aggressive bees. I focused on the burger, which as is prepared smashed (in accordance with the current trend). In other words, the ball of ground beef is placed on a griddle and then smashed down with a metal device). This is a terrific burger, highlighted by the fact that the beef flavor predominates the sandwich. I think you could quibble with the fact that for $9.50, you’re getting a pretty simple burger and fries, but for the location and the quality of the meat, I think it’s reasonable.

For $14, Sean got pretty good value on his chicken dinner. Four pieces of chicken were absurdly juicy, and he also got a load of fries and some coleslaw. I think the one dig on this chicken is the batter, which I wish had more bite to it.

With quality ingredients, straightforward preparations and a friendly staff Stockyards is becoming a local institution, and it’s easy to see why.

Phodown 9: Mi Mi Restaurant with Sarah

Mi Mi Restaurant
Address: 668 Gerrard Street East
Date & time of visit: August 21, 2013 + 6:00pm
Price (based on deluxe pho): Small – $5.95; Medium – $6.95; Large – $8.95

Ratings:

Jason

Broth: 5.5 | Beef: 6.5 | Noodle: 6.5 | Condiment: 7.5 | Service/atmosphere: 8 | Overall: 6.8

Sarah Mac

Broth: 8 | Beef: 7 | Noodle: 7.5 | Condiment: 7 | Service/atmosphere: 7 | Overall: 7.3

Overall Rating: 7.05
Quality per dollar (based on large pho): 1.08

Write-up from Jason:

If there is a theme from this summer, from 100 Dates of Summer, and from the phodown more broadly, it’s change. I’m no stranger to change: in the year prior to moving to law school I lived in five different places, from Santa Rosa to Vancouver doing every job from cleaning out cold-soak tanks at a winery to working the ring toss at Universal Studios Hollywood. But this summer’s changes go deeper than geography and occupation, to figuring out the kind of person I want to be.

Because at some point, you really have to nail that down.

As the summer ends and these issues come to a head, I found myself returning to a familiar concept – The Phodown – with a friend I haven’t downed with since Pho Tien Tanh. Wednesday of last week, just prior to a revelatory weekend in New York and two weeks prior to moving (yet again) across the world, Sarah and I shared a pho at Mi Mi Restaurant in Toronto’s Chinatown East.

Mi Mi Restaurant

Despite a rabidly loyal following, Mi Mi might have an identity crisis of its own. It is known for its chicken pho (pho ga) and its do-it-yourself platters that feature various grilled meats, herbs, noodles and rice paper wrappers to bring it all together. Still, beef pho (pho bo) is listed prior to all of these items on the menu, suggesting it is also a specialty. But would this diversity of cuisine ultimately water down the finished product?

After all, at some point you really have to nail all that down.

We resisted the temptation of a world-class pho ga and stuck to the phodown’s mandate, ordering pho bo. I ordered my usual (rare beef and tendon), while Sarah went with something new for her: brisket.

Mi Mi Restaurant

Sarah and I differed markedly in our evaluations. I felt Mi Mi’s jack of all trade venture led to a poor showing with regard to pho bo. I found the broth, while well spiced, to be overly salty and lacking the depth one gets from long-cooked broth. The beef was fresh but sparse and the noodles were oddly thick and a shade premature of al dente. I was more impressed with the condiments featuring extremely fresh bean sprouts and basil. Still, the 7.5 condiment score reflects a lack of peppers and other herbs.

Mi Mi Restaurant

Service, while slow with respect to the grilled items, saw our pho brought out quite promptly. The putative owner was extremely friendly and attentive. Moreover, Sarah was impressed with the fact that the owner trusted her to run to an ATM to get some cash. There was also a fish tank with some pretty wicked fish.

As I mentioned above, Sarah and I did not agree at all on this place. She was enamored with the broth’s aroma and enjoyed the thicker than average noodles. She also liked the brisket, which while fatty was quite tender.

Sarah and I also tried one of the aforementioned DIY platters, a grilled pork one, quite enjoying it. For a $13 appetizer for a group to share, you really couldn’t do much better. It’s a concept that lends itself to experimenting with different combinations, fucking up the wrappers, and just a good time.

Mi Mi Restaurant

Pho, like all phenomenological experience, is subjective. It is truly no surprise that Sarah and I came to different conclusions about the merit of Mi Mi’s pho bo. Preferences are an ever-shifting tapestry reflecting our biology, family values, friends, loves, and really just the music playing in the background at any given time on any given day.

All I really want is to nail it all down for a moment.

Date 26, 27 & 28: This End Up, The Common and The Midfield with Steve (pts. 2-4 of the Steve Series)

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

On Steve’s second and final evening, we supped at This End Up, known for being my first date with Bryn. While I came down a bit hard on This End Up in that post, I still had several positive feelings associated with it. Foremost, I genuinely had a good time there and thought the food was good. The main drawback was the self-limiting concept. However, Steve and I like to drink when we hang out, and This End Up’s beverage program is first rate. It’s also just a block or two from my house, and is thus eminently convenient.

Hamburger and fries at This end Up!

All of this rationalization probably obscures the fact that my first date with Bryn way back in May was the start of a new lease on life. It didn’t work out at all, but it was the happiest and most carefree I had been in a long time. Although Bryn and I have lost touch, I owe her a great deal. And for that reason, I will always think of This End Up fondly.

On this evening Steve and I had a grand adventure. Although This End Up’s notoriety stems from its cocktails, it also has a decent beer selection. In particular, it offers beers on draft from King Brewery. Steve and I chose these beers to go along with our sandwiches, mine being the chutney burger ($11) and Steve tackling the fish po’ boy ($15). Each sandwich offered the option of salad or fries, and we both chose fries. Skin-on, not overly-greasy, and on the skinny side, these are a perfectly acceptable accompaniment to a meal.

The chutney burger was good, if a bit small. The pork belly brought the smoke element you would normally get from bacon, but without the crunch. None of the other ingredients were much help in this matter – I might have even preferred iceberg over the arugula to provide some texture. Despite being one note texturally, the flavor was spot on, and the price reasonable.

Steve approved of his po’ boy with the caveat that the fish got lost in the bread a bit.

Thirsty for more action, we made our way over to The Common on College.

The Common, at 1071 College Street; call (416) 546-7789

The Common represents a new breed of coffee shop by day/bar by night enterprises, a natural extension of the coffee shop business and one I’ve been championing for years now.

The Common is a terrific place to hang out, with an accommodating staff that goes to lengths to establish a neighborhood atmosphere. I’ve spent many a day there writing and sipping cappuccinos.

As evening rolls around at the Common, the barista cum bartender drags out a box of various spirits and a few bottles of wine. The prices for wine and beer are affordable at $5 for a generous pour of red or white, and the same for a bottle of Mill Street Organic.

On this night, Steve and I both opted for red, sat by the window and opined lost love.

Midfield Wine Bar and Tavern, at 1434 Dundas Street West; call (647) 345-7005

Not fully satisfied, Steve and I opted for a final drink at the Midfield, an inviting Wine Bar a few doors down from This End Up. It was a stage of the night where there was quite little damage left we could do. At this point, I think we just shared an order of frites ($6), and each had a light beer.

Still, the staff was very friendly and this is certainly a place I wouldn’t mind exploring more. They have a thoughtful wine list and several small plates that would seem to match well with an evening of drinking. I am particularly curious about the quail escabeche with asparagus and potato ($8).

One warning sign, however, is that the fries weren’t particularly well done, some cut very small and the oil tasting a bit dirty.

Date 25: Hipster BBQ at Electric Mud with Steve (pt. 1 of the Steve Series)

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Electric Mud BBQ @ 5 Brock Avenue, Toronto (Parkdale) – Call: (416) 516-8286

My half-brother Steve came to visit me during the long Canada day weekend. Steve has always threatened to visit me, starting back when I moved to Vancouver in 2004. He never did. Before Toronto, the only other time I was able to tempt him was probably due to a combination of convenience and proximity to booze. Back when I lived in Santa Rosa, Steve made the drive from his work in Sacramento to come visit me and go wine tasting. It is one of my fondest memories.

Steve is quite a bit older than I am, probably about twenty years. He’s my dad’s son from his first marriage and while his brother and sister understandably kept their distance from their estranged father and his new family, Steve was a big part of my childhood. He often came by bearing presents and taking my brother and I out for movies and cheesesteaks. We pretty much thought he was the coolest. And I think it’s still fair to say that he’s a pretty great guy.

On Steve’s first night in Toronto I took him down the street from me to Electric Mud BBQ (“EMBBQ“), the new – you guessed it – BBQ concept from the people who brought us the outrageously popular Grand Electric. It made sense as Steve was pretty exhausted after several delays with his flight from DC, and EMBBQ is quite close to my present apartment. We are also both fans and BBQ.

Overall, EMBBQ was a slight letdown. It’s nothing to do with the service and execution, but more the price point and my own issue with the concept itself.

Elecric Mud meal

Beginning with the latter, EMBBQ is sort of an indie take on a BBQ joint. Whereas I think most BBQ joints are laser-focused on the smoking process and perfecting their sauces, EMBBQ is doing riffs on the BBQ concept. For instance, we ordered the beef rib, which is indeed one rib with a fried onion topping. I didn’t find it particularly well smoked or sauced, and challengingly priced at $14.50.

Sides of crack rolls (buns with a butter/bacon grease topping) and potato salad were better, but not enough to save the restaurant. A fine rendition of shrimp and grits (a daily special) was similarly marred by a high price point.

Shrimp and Grits at electric mud

In terms of beverages, EMBBQ takes a page from its south-of-the-border cousin and offers a very focused cocktail menu – we enjoyed the watermelon lemonade – and a few well-chosen beers.

While Steve and I had a great time catching up, it was a little off-putting spending nearly three figures at a BBQ restaurant and not leaving full.

Date 24: Assistant-appreciation lunch at Beer Bistro with Larysa, Kristi, Jenn and Rachael

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Beer Bistro @ 18 King Street East – Call: (416) 861-9872

On the first Friday of July, Jenn, Rachael and I took our litigation rotation assistants, Larysa and Kristi, out for lunch at Beer Bistro. As I know many of you tune in for the weather reports: it was a typical rainy summer day in Toronto.

I have been to Beer Bistro a few times and it’s generally a good, reasonably priced joint given the area. In a date that I forgot to take photos for, Darryl, Peter and I had a nice lunch early in the summer. I appreciate the extensive beer list here, and the attempts to pair dishes with beer. The selection of local craft beers, however, is a bit wanting.

Pork sandwich

On this day I had the pulled pork sandwich ($15), the pulled pork being beer-braised. One thing to keep in mind here is that the sandwiches do not come with a side, and thus adding fries or a salad can push the cost up to the $20 range, which is a bit much for a sandwich and a side for lunch. Add a beer and you’re looking at a relatively pricey lunch. Again, it’s not unreasonable given the area, but you would like to see some of that price reflected in the food.

With regard to the pulled pork sandwich, I just didn’t think the value was there. It was a fine sandwich, and I while the beer-braising sounds cool, I didn’t get much or really in beer flavor reflected in the meat.

From the social-side, this was a very nice lunch with some very nice people. I think I did manage to put my foot in my mouth at least once.

Fries at Beer Bistro

Date 23: “Irish Nachos” at the Irish Embassy Pub with Setareh

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Irish Embassy Pub Grill @ 47 Yonge Street – Call: (416) 866-8282

On a Thursday in late June I continued a tradition of leaving work for an hour or two for a date, and then returning to the office for a long night.

I met Setareh online and we developed a very easy rapport. Quick-witted, agreeable and either causing or as a cause of her profession in sports media, she is very much a guy’s gal. We agreed on after work beers at the Irish Embassy as our first (and incidentally, only) date.

Irish Embassy Irish Nachos

I had been to the Irish Embassy a few times before our date and had developed a strong lukewarmness towards the place. I think in the past I’ve had the Irish stew, burger, and fish and chips. The latter two were well executed and while the stew was a noble attempt at making the place Irish in more than name only, a burnt element in the stew lent a carbon flavor the entire concoction that should have been caught.

Tonight was mostly about drinks, but since we both wanted something to nibble on, we opted for Irish nachos, which is pretty much exactly what one would expect (waffle-cut fries, and various nacho toppings such as sour cream, guac, salsa, cheese, and green onions).

Something like this is very difficult to evaluate. The fries were crispy and not-greasy. The ingredients tasted fresh. Still, something about nachos seems to just work well with corn chips, potatoes being a bit blander and not as good a medium for nacho toppings. But hey, this ain’t the French Laundry.

Despite the general pleasantness of the date, and our shared understanding that this type of dating is a great way to not only meet a potential partner, but also just make connections, Setareh has declined my attempts to maintain a friendship.

Date 22: After-class lunch with Caleb, Kimbo and Jason

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Hurricanes Roadhouse @ 936 Bloor Street West – Call: (416) 531-7818

Here’s another date from way back to June 1st, the last day of my Foundations II improv class.

Hurricanes is a bar/pub near Bloor and Dovercourt, often in direct competition with Disgraceland in terms of clientele and just being a similarly-styled pub in the area. Both are also favorites of the local comedy scene that performs out of the Comedy Bar.

On this day, our class had just ended and a few of us decided to have an end-of-class lunch. I think Hurricanes was the choice because our teacher, Evany, had often said she’d have after class beers/office hours at Hurricanes, but that turned out to never happen.

The prices here are about what you’d expect to pay at a standard pub – entrees in the $10 range and drinks in the $5-10 range. I think the special of the day (a Saturday) was $3 caesars, which – assuming that figure is correct – is eminently reasonable. I ended up opting for one of those and a burger (picture below).

Hurricanes burger

Again, pretty much exactly what you’d expect. The meat was cooked to hell, but it didn’t have an overly processed/frozen flavor. The fries were lifeless, but salvageable with whatever cocktail of condiments you prefer: catsup, vinegar, hot sauce, etc. The service was appropriately surly and disinterested, but the job got done.

If you are in the neighborhood and fancy a quick bite and a beer, Hurricanes is worth a shot.

Date 21: Getting Sauced at WVRST with Eric, Emily, and Sarah

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WVRST @ 609 King Street West – Call: (416) 703-7775

This one comes from the wayback machine. We’re talking way, way back to May 27th when work had just begun.  I wasn’t feeling my best and weekend before had been an unpleasant one.

Now that the set has been dressed, I should add that a primary impetus behind the timing of this night is that WVRST offers an incredible deal: $5 pints of local beer on Mondays (nearly 50% off the market rate). In terms of the crowd, it had been a long time since I had seen Emily and Sarah, two good friends, and Eric had never met Sarah (yet we all knew they’d get along famously).

I was in the presence of an expert this evening as Sarah has been kicking around a sauce-themed restaurant concept for quite some time now. And it was incredible watching her in her element (WVRST offers no less than 14 sauces to go along with their duck fat fries). I believe we tried eight and we enjoyed comparing and ranking them. Sarah and I agreed pretty closely, while Emily and Eric formed some kind of strange bond over their clearly inferior sauce choices.

WVRST

Long story short, this was a great evening. My memory is fuzzy due to time and the fact that we all drank a lot more than we were accustomed to. It was one of those nights where we lost track of time and the amount of the beverages we were consuming. A convivial evening.

I will say that the beer selection here is thoughtful, the duck fat fries are duck fat fries (i.e., good), and the sauces are fun. I think I enjoyed the sausage, but all I can remember is that the bun was a bit too bready, overwhelming the sausage.