Thursday, May 21, 2015

Patria: A review

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Since Patria features Spanish cuisine, I was planning to start this review with a cheeky little phrase in Spanish. I failed because I didn't want to write something so pedestrian as 'Olé', so I chose nothing. Instead of focusing on Spanish words and phrases, how about I focus on what matters - the incredible Spanish dishes from which I received more than a mouthful at the fantastic Patria restaurant in downtown Toronto.

One of the things I enjoy the most when dining out, is looking around the room. I like to (discreetly) watch people, just to get a sense of whether the restaurant has achieved it's design/ambience goal. Is it a place of quiet conversation and reflection while dining? Lets take a glance at the patrons to see if that's what they're doing. Is it designed to be loud, raucous with a party atmosphere? Again, if the people are laughing it up and drinking their faces off, design/ambience point has been made.

So what to say about Patria? Well, it's big, it's loud and its unapologetic when it comes to its focus on Spanish cuisine. Believe me, it's a very good thing. This room was designed for people to have a good time. Although our reservations were early in the evening and the room was quiet, by the time we left, it was clear the restaurant achieved its goal because the place was absolutely heaving with happy, laughing and yes, loud, people on a Monday(!)night.

I also had no idea that Patria was such a big celebrity haunt too, but there you go. Frankly, I could care less if some character from Harry Potter was photographed at the restaurant. I'm not there to find out what they ate, I'm visiting to get my fill of cuisine Espagnole.

I'm going to take a moment to personally focus on Patria wait staffer, Scott - who took care of us of on our dining night. You see, it's one thing for a server to familiarize themselves with their table, that's the job of any and all waitstaff. But it takes an experienced waiter with a very keen eye, to recognize the people at the table, size them up and figure out what it will take to ensure and potentially elevate a patrons dining experience. And of course, it doesn't hurt to know that an increase in dining pleasure may result with an increase in tip potential. Did you know that a great deal of psychology goes into waiting tables? Now you do.

Scott had us figured out. After explaining the contents on what we all agreed was rather a long menu, he asked if we would be interested in just letting the kitchen do their thing. Chef will bring a variety of plates for us to sample. As the menu already indicated, the food at Patria is meant for sharing, so my dinner companions and I agreed to forgo a menu and bring a variety of plates to the table. I love it when you can just be free of the menu sometimes, because there is nothing worse than scanning a menu over and over again, trying to decide what will be good, what won't work, and figuring out what you, let alone everyone else, wants to eat and drink. He did the job for us, so thank you Scott.

And he took care of us. What arrived were a Selecion de Embutidos - or a house chacuterie platter, featuring Serrano ham -and I can see why we salivate so much over this ham and beg for more. It was thinly sliced so that it just melts in your mouth. The dish also came with Ibérico chorizo, fresh bread, and prosciutto. Delicious. We had Croquetas de Jamon, which is a traditional Spanish ham croquettes, with aioli and béchamel sauce. Next was Pimentos Rellenos de Buey , or piquillo peppers, oxtail and manchego cheese. And our final dish was Dátiles Con Tocino Ibérico, or dates and Ibérico Bacon, Manchego Cheese and Guindilla Peppers. God, the bacon alone made my mouth water.

Unfortunately, because there were three of us, we couldn't order the house speciality - paella Patria.The paella, made with Bay scallops, shrimp, mussels, monkfish, cuttlefish, snap peas and saffron was just calling our names. But it just wasn't meant to be. It was explained to us that the dish would feed about eight people, so we just didn't have the numbers nor the clout to warrant Chef to create a smaller version for the three of us. Still, I do wish we could have had a small sample of it.

Would I go back? I think yes, but probably with a loud, raucous group, rather than with a partner. It just seems to be that sort of place. The food and service would definitely draw me back the most, the environment however may deter me just a bit as it can be quite loud. Big groups celebrating a promotion (a huge promotion I'll add - if you're covering the cost, you'd better bring the platinum Visa), or whatever people celebrate in big groups - and celebrate loudly, this is the place to go. Excellent service will definitely make it a memorable night.

A quiet, romantic dinner for two? Maybe not. But a fun, loud and yes possibly drunk evening for two will definitely work at Patria.

Monday, May 18, 2015

When it's over: the Mad Men finale

images courtesy of AMC and

It was an incredible ending to an incredible program.

I definitely raised a generously poured Old Fashioned glass to one of my all time favourites shows. I'm mourning the end, but I was also very satisfied that the final episode didn't finish on a disappointing note that befalls so many other TV program endings. Seinfeld or The Sopranos this wasn't.

All the main characters received a send off that befit each and every one of them. Tears were shed and laughter rang out. I have to smile because I've been humming the coke jingle all morning. So THAT'S how it came to be. Alright I obviously know that's not how the famous tune and iconic advertisement from 1970 came to be, but it sure made sense after seeing Don Drapers/Dick Whitman's smile at the end of the show.

"I'd like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony." For those who remember this commercial when aired in the 1970's, just try to get that jingle out of your head now. A truly brilliant ending.

Thank you Mad Men, for making my Sunday nights required storytelling time. Television won't be the same without you. It was truly a pleasure being with you these past seven years. This smile below says it all.

image courtesy of

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Batifole restaurant: A review

image courtesy of

I really needed a French cuisine reboot. After a boring, taste-deficient (unless you really like fish), allegedly ‘French-inspired’ dinner at Cluny (read the review here), I was craving a place that would reaffirm my faith in Toronto's French cooking abilities. I found it again in Batifole.

The restaurant was first suggested to me about ten years ago. But at that time, my dinner companion and I chose to go the amazing, but now closed, Pastis Express. Despite that restaurant re-route, Batifole remained at the back of my mind. In the restaurant game, sometimes longevity can work against you. You could be fresh and a big hit one year, and stale and tired the next. It's comforting to know that in 2015, the opportunity to visit Batifole remained, and that its reputation as an incredible place for cuisine française was still intact.

Batifole is the exact opposite of Cluny in almost every way. It is not a glamourous restaurant. One blink and you'd miss it if you were looking for it. The neighbourhood where the restaurant is located is not gentrified, nor is it up and coming. Yet the restaurant has remained in that same location - successfully, for over ten years. You'll soon learn why.

When my dinner companions, THG and the lovely Tracy T., and I arrived (and I'll add that we arrived early), our table wasn't ready. The friendly hostess told us it would not be ready for about 20 minutes. That gave me the chance to just observe the restaurant, the staff and its patrons. It's definitely not over the top in regards to its decor. It's simple, functional, a bit dark but it all works and lends itself to the overall atmosphere. This is a place where you are coming to eat, whether it's alone, with friends or a partner, and not to be wowed or distracted by the scenery.

The restaurant was absolutely packed with people at tables and at the bar, noshing, talking, relaxing - well, maybe not the staff who were definitely working hard that night. There was also a steady stream of people coming in - without reservations (overheard by me), to see if there was space for them (there wasn't). I haven't even eaten a morsel, yet once again I knew I was in for true gourmand experience if people were popping in just to see if they could snag a spare table. When we were seated, a round of Kir Royales were presented to us. It was a token of thanks for our patience while we waited for our table. I know. We were thrilled. I mean c'mon, we were the early ones so there wasn’t a need for the restaurant to do anything other than show us to our table. But they gave us champagne, and trust me; the gesture will never be forgotten.

After we were comfortably seated, our waiter told us the house specials and we didn't take long to give him our orders. It was time to eat. As befitting Chef and owner Pascal Geffroy's background, the cuisine would be Provence based. To start, my dinner companions both ordered the shrimp with pernod, tomato concasse and a celeriac remoulade. I ordered the Melange de Terrine Maison - or the house terrine with fresh bread, pickles and this incredibly delicious onion jam, which was made from a reduced cherry syrup. It sounds sweet and it was, but oh my God, just so tasty with the terrine.

I personally want to know where the restaurant orders its bread. I should have asked. I sense Thuet. I do love a good French baguette, but who doesn't? Warm, crusty bread, dripping with butter? Is your mouth watering? Good. Our appetizers were paired with a French chardonnay.

It was time for the entrees. Now I confess to being a duck confit addict. Whenever I go to a French restaurant or bistro, I immediately look for it on the menu and order it - no hesitation. I couldn't at Cluny because it wasn't on the menu. I know, I was surprised too. I mean you're serving French cuisine and yet you don't have duck confit on the menu? What? But I digress (Edit – is my dislike of Cluny becoming too obvious?). One of my dinner companions, Tracy T. is a confit lover too, so we both ordered le duo de Canard, Cuisse Confite et Magret Rotie, Calvados et pomme de l’aire Confites - or duck made two ways: a confit leg & a pan seared breast with calvados sauce and apple confit. She paired hers dinner with a salad, I had the Gratin Dauphinois - potato gratin. A very, very rich, creamy, garlic based potato gratin. I took one bite of the confit and sank into my chair. I know that feeling. I crave that feeling. You know what I mean, the feeling of culinary satisfaction. I hoped for that with my confit and I got it that evening. Crispy, crackling duck skin. The dark duck meat was tender and juicy. Parfait.

My other dinner companion, THG, ordered the Pave de Steak Poele Sauce Borelaise et Echalotes confites - or pan seared flat iron steak with a bordelaise sauce and a shallot confit. He paired his main with frites. So basically what he ordered was the French cuisine classic, steak-frites. What can you say about a perfectly cooked, medium rare juicy steak served with house fries that are hot, crispy (you just know it was fried in duck fat - mmmm!) and expertly salted. I will suggest that when you visit Batifole - and you will, should you order a side, it's probably best for your waistline to share it because the portions are quite generous. All our mains were paired with a French Bordeaux as suggested by our knowledgeable waiter. The wine was medium blend, not too heavy, not too light, so it provided a nice balance when paired with both the duck and the beef.

We were a very, very happy, probably drunk, but definitely full table when it came time for dessert, so we had to say no. A shame really. I think we may have missed out on what I'm sure was amazing Gateau au Chocolat and the classic, Creme Brûlée. That was alright, because we received an even better treat than dessert, with the opportunity to personally meet Chef Geffroy. He came out of the kitchen to greet and talk with some of the patrons.

Besides the incredible cuisine and service, it was Chefs personal visit to our table that puts this restaurant on my personal list of top restaurant picks and favourites for 2015. Knowing how busy he was working in the back with the rest of his team. To take the time to personally chat with us, sharing a few stories about his recent trip to Provence, provides that extra touch that means so much. At least for me it does.

Oh yes, I will be back.

Monday, May 11, 2015

A Mad Men episode review: The Milk and Honey Route

Betty Draper Francis - her reaction after being told she has terminal cancer
image courtesy of

I've written a few posts here and there about my love-on for this show. It's one of the few times that I've gone off of the main topic of food on this blog. As I say good bye to this incredible show, the last few episodes have been emotionally tough to watch. Witnessing characters that I have grown to love or admire slowly disappear each week as their individual storylines come to an end has been painful as it has been enjoyable.

But it was last nights episode that was truly difficult to watch. Dread rippled through every fibre of my body, because not only was that the overall tone of the episode, but the actors were so compelling, so incredible to watch it truly felt like you were watching something vivid, something as close to real life as television can get. The acting was just that good. I have never in my life hated television commercial interruptions as much as I did last night, which of course is the delicious irony of watching a show built on the business of advertising.

Last nights episode, entitled The Milk and Honey Route - was masterful television. It was incredible television. It was the kind of television programming that makes you want to shake people and say "you MUST watch this." From beginning to end. And it is the end.

I'm lauding the episode in particular, for its incredibly realistic and heartbreaking storytelling when dealing with the harsh news that a loved one is suffering, and will pass away from a terminal disease. It was difficult to watch one of the main characters - Mrs Betty Draper Francis (see the picture above, and portrayed by actor January Jones) being told that she was diagnosed with lung cancer and had only months to live. Her reaction is exactly what you'd expect - stunned silence. But it was her eventual acceptance of her health status, and her subsequent instructions to her daughter regarding what needs to be done before and after her death that really hit home for me.

In one scene, she tells her visibly shaken daughter that no one should have to watch the person they love die, and it was far better to have your wishes laid out immediately so that your loved ones know what to do after your death. It was poignant, it was tough and on point and it made incredible sense. Some people may not understand that. They may see it as a Mother being rough on an already emotionally shaken daughter. That she was being selfish, and that she was putting family members in the awkward position of having to deal with the wishes of someone who hasn't even died yet. But for me, it made total sense what she did. I wish it could be required viewing for people, so they could grab just a little more understanding of the difficulties of death and decision making during an emotionally fraught time.

It brought back painful memories watching it, and the letter she left for her daughter only added to the heartbreak. Sometimes, in passing, I wish that I had instructions on what to do, how to handle Rob's diagnosis and subsequent medical treatment when he had leukaemia. But now that I have gone through the pain and trauma of losing someone I loved to cancer, I know exactly what I want for myself if I ever learn that I may have an incurable disease or suffer the inability to function completely. I also know what to do and in particular, to accept any instructions from anyone I care about who also has to figure out what they want from life. And death.

I am really going to miss this show. Yes, there is cold comfort the program will live on in reruns and my personal DVD collection, but there is something about live television viewing that just made it that more special, more real. The finale is next week, Sunday May 17th. Sadly, I am going to miss it because I'll be away for the long weekend (Victoria Day weekend for non Canadians - Monday is a holiday) and won't be near a TV, nor will I be certain that internet connection will happen. Believe me when I say, that this is one of those moments where I was seriously debating whether a trip was worth it over a TV show. I know,crazy - but that's the strength of Mad Men. At least for me it is.

Saying goodbye will not be easy.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Where's the danish?

image courtesy of

No, I am not referring to the beautiful people of Denmark - although it must be said that they really are quite beautiful. I mean seriously, have you ever seen pictures of an unattractive Dane? If so, send it to me so I can add it to my pictures of unicorns and chupacabras. But I digress.

I'm talking about the tasty, sort of flaky - but not quite, jam or custard filled pastry. The pastry that goes so well with a cup of coffee or tea, or all on it's own. Has anyone else noticed that it's not nearly as abundant in stores or coffee shops as it once was? Is it just me that's wondering where all the danish went?

I recently went to Starbucks with my gorgeous friend Hannah, and of course noticed the company relaunch of it's pastries, 'boulangerie' (and lets just say that French pâtisseries have nothing to worry about). Despite row upon row of brownies, lemon loafs and croissants, there was no danish. At least not in full view.

I eventually found it tucked away in the far, upper right corner of the display case, but it was not what I had expected. I told my friend that really isn't danish. She knew I was referring to the kind with the fruit or lemon in the middle, and all the icing. Yup, that version.

I have spent hours upon hours on this blog, highlighting my version of the somewhat good food life. I've rambled on and on about some incredible ingredient to add to a dish. I've prattled on about the tastiness of offal (thank you forever Black Hoof restaurant). I've debated - amongst myself, why foie gras should be a part of every meal you make.

But, when it comes right down to it, I know the truth. The truth is the majority of people would walk - no, they would run in the opposite direction when presented with this sort of food.

I know what would definitely make those same people stick around and nod with a knowing smile as they read this post. Danish - in particular, the trash-tastic version of it. You know the kind I'm referring to. The faux fruit filling, surrounded and smothered by that sickly sweet, white icing. So bad for you, yet, just so tasty too.

That's it. I'm renting a zipcar and taking a trip to Costco because I know that is the one place guaranteed to have it. Hey, the heart and stomach wants what it wants, so why fight it? My prediction is that danish will make a comeback. If cauliflower can somehow become the latest food trend of the day, then so can danish. You read it here first.

Update: I got it! Look:

image courtesy of Stephen Wilson