Top Toronto restaurants reflect city’s many faces

Note Bene in Toronto
During our brief stay in Toronto, we managed to dine at three of the city’s leading restaurants not run by Susur Lee. (For a look at his Luckee, see our earlier post.) The Top Chef Canada cooking competition (2011-2014) helped drive the dining culture here, placing an emphasis on restaurants that are personal expressions of the chef. So each of the three had the firm stamp of a strong personality in the kitchen.

Nota Bene


Crsipy duck salad at Nota Bene in Toronto Chef David Lee was a partner when he opened Nota Bene to great acclaim in 2008. After becoming full owner, he overhauled and redesigned the restaurant last February. More than ever, this is a classy yet casual fine dining room expressing the latest fascinations of a very talented, classically trained chef. Born in England and trained in France, Lee also draws on his Asian heritage for inspiration.

His crispy duck salad is a perfect East-West hybrid. In concept, it’s a lot like the duck confit salads ubiquitous in Parisian cafés. But Lee spins it as northern Cambodian by adding green papaya, fish sauce, and Asian chiles and herbs. Instead of bitter melon, he uses cool local cucumber. The dining room (shown above) has a little more decorum than many Toronto foodie haunts. In the face of many new upstarts with exciting and locally focused menus, Lee has shown real staying power. His command of multiple cuisines—from French to Chinese to Peruvian to Scandinavian—is his strong suit. It’s hard to pick a Toronto spot that can appeal better to diners with divergent tastes.
Nota Bene, 180 Queen Street West, 416-977-6400, notabenerestaurant.com

The Good Son


Chef Vittorio Colacitti competed on Top Chef Canada before opening The Good Son in spring 2015. An Italian-Canadian Toronto native, he eschews red sauce and pasta, but he is wed to his wood-burning oven and grill. Most dishes are kissed by fire, whether it’s roasted black cod or the pizzas that appear on almost every table. Decor is self-consciously shabby-chic with mismatched wooden tables and chairs augmented by button-tufted banquettes and booths. But the food is bold and most plates are meant to be shared. The chef’s stint at Thai & International Food Academy in Bangkok gives his food an Asian accent. He even makes a kimchee fried rice to accompany the unctuous bolgogi braised short ribs. Colacitti treats seasonal local products on the eclectic menu to a touch of smoke and bold seasonings.
The Good Son, 1096 Queen Street West, 416-551-0589, thegoodsontoronto.com

Richmond Station


charcuterie at Richmond Station in Toronto
Chef Carl Heinrich launched this Financial District farm-to-table gem in 2012, the same year he won season two of Top Chef Canada. Still an ingredient-focused restaurant, Richmond Station has a strong charcuterie component. Pickled vegetables appear across the menu, and the charcuterie plate (above) even includes a house-made head cheese. Our experience was atypical, of course, since we were sequestered in a small dining room with an extended wine tasting (see previous post).

Richmond Station duck pate in TorontoNonetheless, some of the menu classics were featured on the pairing menu concocted by chef de cuisine Hayden Johnston. There’s a hint of Jewish comfort food with this menu, including the delicious duck liver pâté on a toasted brioche. Johnston topped it with a small scoop of tart cherry mostarda and a sprinkle of Maldon finishing salt. Paired with an intense Charles Baker Riesling, it set up all the rich and deep flavors to follow.

The seasonal focus of Toronto restaurants meant that brassicas were big on most of the October menus. Richmond Station normally serves a cauliflower agnolotti with baby greens, pickled shiitake mushrooms, and fried sourdough. To accompany a Tawse Gamay Noir, Johnston adapted the dish to create the quintessence of Toronto fall cuisine. Shown below, the pasta was served with toothy cauliflower, brussels sprouts leaves, and juicy thin slices of dry-aged beef tenderloin.
Richmond Station, 1 Richmond Street West, 647-748-1444, richmondstation.ca

Richmond Station in Toronto - cauliflower agnolotti

11

11 2016

Ontario wine country becomes a world player

Magdalena Kaiser pours tasting of VQA Ontario wines in Toronto.
Meeting Magdalena Kaiser of Wine Country Ontario during our recent visit to Toronto was a real treat. She hails from Ontario wine royalty. Her father, Karl Kaiser, was a co-founder in 1975 of Inniskillin Wines, Inc. The first winery licensed in Ontario since 1929, Inniskillin was a pioneer in making world-class wines on the Niagara Peninsula east of Toronto. The area quickly became known for exceptional ice wines but has broadened out to a huge variety of table wines as well.

We started visiting the Niagara Peninsula in the late 1980s. At the time, winemakers were shifting into European vinifera grapes from hardier French-American hybrids. They also launched Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA), which oversees quality standards and certifies the origins of the wines in Ontario and British Columbia.

From that base on the Niagara Peninsula, wine-growing has expanded in several choice areas in Ontario. As Kaiser led us through a broad tasting of wines from three main wine regions over dinner at Richmond Station (richmondstation.ca), she seemed to know every pour as if it were one of her own.

Ontario terroir


bottles-1 We were struck by the sudden maturity of the youngest region, Prince Edward County. Located northeast of the other wine regions, it occupies a limestone peninsula on the north shore of Lake Ontario. Lake effect temperatures and stony soils give the wines a profound minerality. We tasted the Norman Hardie Chardonnay Unfiltered 2014 from Wellington. The wine displayed pronounced fruit and a supple elegance in the Burgundian style. The fresh acidity made it a perfect accompaniment to a charcuterie tray. This is cold-climate winemaking at its best. Hardie says his vines and barrels come from France, his terroir from Ontario, and the taste and nose from him. Have a look at www.normanhardie.com.

Many Prince Edward County wineries focus on sparkling wines. We sampled several, including Whitecap from Hinterland (www.hinterlandwine.com). Made with the Charmat method, it’s a crisp and inexpensive sparkler that could be Canada’s answer to Prosecco. Hinterland also makes some sparkling wines in the traditional method of secondary fermentation in the bottle. Its best is Ancestral Method Rosé made with the Gamay grape.

The Gamay surprise


Ontario wines have matured to a level that many are ready to compete in the world market—especially if they play up the perfect match of the terroir to the Gamay noir grape. Gamay has been sullied in popular imagination by sour and fizzy Beaujolais Nouveau that typically appears on shelves in the U.S. just in time to spoil Thanksgiving. But real Beaujolais—the French wines sold as Beaujolais-Villages or Beaujolais Cru—is a wonderful wine with bright raspberry or wild cherry notes.

Some Ontario winemakers bleed their grapes for rosés or use early-picked Gamay for sparkling wine. But the best of the Ontario Gamay wines—like the Tawse Gamay Noir Unfiltered (www.tawsewinery.ca) and the range of Malivoire wines (www.malivoire.com) built on Gamay—resemble the Beaujolais Cru wines from Fleurie in France. These wines have depth, utterly delicious fruit, and a rounded acidity. They are great with cheeses and lighter meats such as chicken, turkey, or rabbit. Tawse, by the way, was named Winery of the Year in Canada in 2016.

Exploring the world of Ontario wines


vineyards in Ontario This tasting piqued our interest in Ontario wines, especially since so many wineries have figured out how to ripen Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc to produce wines that promise a future for superb reds. We expect to be heading up to Ontario wine country to explore in greater depth. If you’d like to do the same, start your planning with the Wine Country Ontario web site at winecountryontario.ca. The wineries have put together a comprehensive guide to visits that is one of the best marketing examples we’ve seen for a North American wine region. The vineyard photo above and the map below are courtesy of the Wine Marketing Association of Ontario.

Ontario wine regions

09

11 2016

Strolling through Madrid’s food culture

Mercado Anton Martin in Huertas neighborhood of Madrid
A quick scan of guidebooks and the web usually reveals the most famous and trendy eating places in any city. But it’s much harder to get a handle on how people shop and eat every day. Providing such a peek at daily life was just what Lauren Aloise had in mind when she introduced her tour of the Huertas neighborhood that Pat described in her new book 100 Places in Spain Every Woman Should Go from Travelers’ Tales Press (travelerstales.com/100-places-spain-every-woman-go/).

Lauren Aloise of Devour Madrid Food ToursAn American married to a Spaniard, Aloise launched Devour Madrid Food Tours (madridfoodtour.com) in 2012. The tour of the Huertas neighborhood is one of several options led by Aloise and her small band of guides, all of whom are devoted foodies. Located just off Puerta del Sol, Huertas is one of Madrid’s oldest and most historic neighborhoods. Walking the narrow, somewhat hilly streets “is like a day in the life of a Madrileña,” says Aloise. The eating and shopping are “not that far off from what someone would do in a couple of days.” So are the tastes.

One of the highlights of the tour is a stop at the recently revitalized Mercado Antón Martín (above), one of Madrid’s traditional neighborhood food markets. “When I moved to Madrid, the market was half empty,” says Aloise. “Now it’s filled with a lot of new vendors.”

Pleasures of the Huertas streets


Huertas street scene The tour group also hits a number of smaller places off the beaten path in colorful Huertas. They might taste hot chocolate and freshly made churros, Spain’s famous mountain hams, the just-fried potato chips that Spaniards are so fond of, and a variety of Spanish cheeses. A stop at one of the oldest grocery stores in the city is a chance to taste jams, honeys, and olive oils and perhaps even select some to take home. “It’s everything a Spaniard would have in her pantry,” says Aloise.

07

11 2016

Spanish olive oils evoke taste of the country

Alexis Kerner of Olive Oil Workshop in Sevilla Developing a more refined sense of taste doesn’t have to be difficult or intimidating says Alexis Kerner, who founded the Olive Oil Workshop (theoliveoilworkshop.com) in Sevilla in 2014. Tasting, she says, is simply a matter of paying attention and becoming more sensitive to the nuances of flavor.

An American who has lived in Andalucía for more than a dozen years, Kerner never really thought of herself as having an unusually refined palate. Then she became fascinated with the many types of olive oils produced in the region. A recipient of a diploma as a certified olive oil taster from the University of Jaen and the International Olive Oil Council, Kerner offers olive oil tastings as well as trips to orchards and mills. She is bullish about the oils of Andalucía, which make up three-quarters of Spain’s production and more than that of any other single country. “The oils are bold,” she tells tasters. “They really stand out.”

Learning to taste


Olive oil sample Many olive oils—even some of the best—are packed in tins rather than glass. As a result, you can stow them in checked luggage and they will arrive safely home after a trip. Joining one of Kerner’s tastings is a good way to become a more informed buyer. Pat describes her own experience in her new book, 100 Places in Spain Every Woman Should Go, from Travelers’ Tales Press (travelerstales.com/100-places-spain-every-woman-go/).

Kerner usually selects three or four oils for her small groups to taste. Just as in wine tasting, it’s ideal to take small sips with enough air to release the aromatics in the oil.

Olive oil tasting place setting She pours the oils into pretty blue glasses so color doesn’t influence flavor. That way tasters can concentrate on discerning such subtle flavors as banana, artichoke, green almond, fig leaf, and apple. For those who think that olive oil is solely for dressing salad greens, Kerner offers a wealth of new ideas. For example, she often pours the delicate oil made from Arbequina olives over fish or even vanilla ice cream. By contrast, she likes to pour the more intense oil made from Picual olives over dark chocolate ice cream. She uses a spicy Hojiblanca oil to season gazpacho or beef carpaccio.

The workshops are sometimes held at Oleo-le (Garcia de Vinuesa 39, www.oleo-le.com), a compact shop that specializes in olive oil, and carries many artisanal small-production oils not otherwise available. It is one of the best places in Sevilla to select those tins to fill the nooks and crannies in a suitcase.

03

11 2016

New book stimulates an appetite for Spain

100 Places in Spain Every Woman Should Go cover
Pat’s new book, 100 Places in Spain Every Woman Should Go, has just been published by Travelers’ Tales Press (travelerstales.com). In many ways, the book cover photo of a woman striding confidently through the Alhambra captures the deep allure of Spain. Perched on a hillside in Granada and backed by mountain peaks, the Alhambra is a masterpiece of Moorish artistry and a touchstone of a storied and turbulent past.

Pat’s choices for the book do touch on Spain’s most celebrated sites and cities. They range from the futuristic Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao that sparked a city renaissance to La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Architect Antoni Gaudí’s phantasmagoric basilica has been more than 130 years in the making and is finally nearing completion.

paella cooking But many chapters celebrate the smaller pleasures that come from making a connection with people and place through food. That might be eating some of the best paella in Spain at a beachfront restaurant in Valencia. Or it could be spending the afternoon on a tapas hop through San Sebastián, a city that takes food very seriously.

One sweet stop


Serving at Chocolateria San Gines We never visit Madrid without stopping at Chocolatería San Ginés (Pasadizo San Ginés 5). As Pat writes in the book, it’s one of the most reassuring places in the city. Opened in 1894 and almost never closed, it’s also one of the few remaining traditional chocolaterías. You can count on a plate of freshly fried churros and a cup of thick, rich hot chocolate any hour. (Many bars and cafés serve hot chocolate and churros in the morning and again at tapas time. But they often buy the churros from a small factory and reheat them.)

Hot chocolate at San Ginés (www.chocolateriasangines.com) is truly a revelation. It is so thick and rich that a spoon will almost stand up in the cup and a haunting spice lurks beneath the deep chocolate flavor. Late night club-goers and ladies with shopping bags enjoying an afternoon treat all agree: The only way to get the last delicious drops of chocolate from the cup is to mop the bottom with a bit of churro.

100 Places in Spain Every Woman Should Go is available from Amazon.com and from local booksellers.

31

10 2016

Local color lights up Toronto neighborhoods

Kensington Market street scene in Toronto
Toronto’s playful side is literally written on its walls. The city is full of murals created with a high degree of artistry and a witty sense of humor. The one above with the car-turned-planter in the foreground embodies the spirit of the Kensington Market neighborhood. Just west of Chinatown, most of its shops and eateries are found along Augusta Avenue and adjacent Nassau Street, Baldwin Street, and Kensington Avenue.

The eastern boundary stretches to Spadina Avenue in Chinatown, making a continuous colorful neighborhood of eateries and shops. Once the center of hippie culture in Canada, Kensington Market was where many young American men moved to avoid the military draft during the Vietnam war. The area retains its psychedelic patchouli vibe in the street art and even the graffiti.

burrito stand in Toronto Kensington Market The Kensington Market eateries also lean toward the inventive—be they Hungarian-Thai, Remixed Filipino, or Jamaican-Italian. The preponderance of small restaurants, however, have a Latin flair. NAFTA has opened the borders to Mexican immigrants, and they seem to arrive hungry for such Mexican street food standards as churros, tacos, and chorizo. The Latin presence makes Kensington Market a great area for a quick bite.

But one of the city’s best murals—and perhaps the best Mexican food—is at El Catrin Destilería (18 Tank House Lane, 416-203-2121, www.elcatrin.ca). We stopped for a meal after touring the Distillery District shopping, dining, and entertainment area with Will Ennis of Go Tours (www.gotourscanada.com).

Exploring whisky village


Main square of Distillery District in Toronto “This is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city,” Will told us. Gooderham & Worts was founded as a grain processor in 1831 and expanded into making whisky in 1837. About half of the roughly 80,000 imperial gallons produced each year was exported, by the way. The rest stayed in the city of 10,000 residents. The story goes that workers’ wages were actually based on levels of drunkenness that ranged from “morning drunk” (or hung over) to “drunk as a pig.”

The brick distillery as it now stands was built in 1859. By 1862, it was producing a quarter of the distilled spirits in all of Canada. By the end of the 19th century, it was among the largest distilleries in the world. Prohibition in Ontario (1916-1927) put a crimp in the business. (The firm adjusted by canning denatured alcohol and antifreeze during World War I.) Whisky production ceased in 1990 and developers transformed the red brick industrial buildings into a shopping and nightlife district. It is crazy popular among wedding photographers, who love the atmospherics.

One good pour deserves another


Pouring sake at Ontario Spring Water Sake Two small establishments in the development carry on the tradition of making alcoholic beverages. Ontario Spring Water Sake Company (51 Gristmill Lane, 416-365-7253, www.ontariosake.com) brews sake in the “pure rice” style. The brewers use only cooked milled rice, water, yeast, and koji. (Koji is rice inoculated with the aspergillus oryzae mold, which imparts a distinct flavor.) You can watch the process through a large window. Better yet, for $10 you can enjoy a tasting flight of three styles.

In addition, Mill Street Brewpub (21 Tank House Lane, 416-681-0338, millstreetbrewery.com) opened in 2002. It was Canada’s first brewer of certified organic beer. The storefront brews small batch seasonal beers on site. The flagship beer is a Pilsener with a nice bit of hops. If it’s available when you visit, try the West Coast Style IPA. Made with 50 percent malted wheat and a nice dose of Cascade hops, it gives a less bitter impression than most IPAs. The nose has strong, pleasing mango notes. Mill Street also makes beer schnapps, a liqueur triple-distilled from beer and redolent of malt and hops. Mill Street is the only maker in Canada and the schnapps is only sold on site. “It lights a bit of a fire in your stomach,” a server told us as he poured small tastes.

A taste of Mexico


Mural in El Catrin in Toronto Distillery District
After that snort, we were ready for El Catrin Destileria (18 Tank House Lane, 416-203-2121, elcatrin.ca). This cavernous space with 22-foot ceilings opened in 2013. The tequilas and the food are authentically Mexican. Street artist Oscar Flores painted the two-story mural that dominates one wall. (The other consists of cubbyholes filled with tequilas.) Flores went wild with bright colors, decorative skulls, coyotes, sunflower, eagles, and armadillos.

Chef Olivier Le Calvez hails from Mexico City. His father is French, his mother Mexican. He spent his teens living in France and did his culinary studies there. As a result, he prepares Mexican food—even street food—with French technique.

Cuisine in the sun


Making guacamole at El Catrin During warm weather, diners and drinkers flock to the tables in the 5,000 square-foot outdoor patio at El Catrin. With a bright October sun shining, we did the same. A server brought all the ingredients for guacamole to the table and mashed it in a mortar as we watched. Several tortilla chip scoops later, we moved on to an excellent tortilla soup. Le Calvez’s version is rich with ripe tomatoes and pureed to make it as thick as a gazpacho. The tacos al pastor were delicious—filled with smoky pork, tiny blocks of sweet pineapple, and chopped red onion.

Esquítes at El Catrin We especially enjoyed the shot glasses full of roasted corn. Called esquítes, they are a table adaptation of Mexican street corn. Le Calvez roasts the corn whole in the husks over charcoal. It steams the kernels and imparts a smoky flavor. Then he cuts the kernels off the cob and sautées them with a little butter and chopped epazote. He mixes in a little chipotle mayonnaise, some crumbled cortijo cheese, and a squeeze of lime.

distillery-chef Le Calvez sees himself as something of an ambassador, introducing authentic Mexican food to Canadians. He makes recipes “that I enjoyed when I was young,” he says. As with the esquítes, he often brings street food to the table. He hopes Torontonians will adopt the Mexican attitude about a meal. “We love to sit down at the table and enjoy the food,” says Le Calvez. “That’s very important to us in Mexico. A meal lasts up to two hours.”

27

10 2016

Toronto Chinatown awash with flavors

Exterior of King's Noodle in Toronto Chinatown
“Growing up in Chinatown,” said chef and culinary educator John Lee, “was a Duddy Kravitz kind of experience.” He was making a very Canadian reference to Mordecai Richler’s nostalgic novel of the Canadian Jewish immigrant experience. John was showing us around his childhood haunts in Toronto’s Old Chinatown. (It’s not to be confused with at least five other Chinatowns east of Toronto proper.)

Toronto Chinatown street scene The Toronto neighborhood radiating from the corner of Spadina Avenue and West Dundas Street was a Jewish immigrant neighborhood for the first half of the 20th century. As the Jewish population moved north after World War II, Chinese immigrants flooded into the area. Of Korean descent, Lee waxed nostalgic about his Chinese and Jewish friends as well as the old-time Jewish shopkeepers and deli owners.

Fruit stand in Toronto Chinatown Although new money from Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland has poured into Chinatown over the last few decades, the neighborhood retains that bustling edge of striving newcomers. Shoppers crowd the streets. Merchandise seems to spill out of stores packed to the rafters. Street merchants are always ready to haggle. It’s hard to tell whether the neighborhood has more fruit stands selling mangosteens and sweet sops, or more restaurants promising congee and crispy duck.

Taste of Chinatown


John Lee pours tea In such a restaurant-packed neighborhood, it’s useful to have a guide who is in the trade. John’s stories continued over a raft of dishes at the colorful, well-established King’s Noodle Restaurant (396 Spadina Ave., 416-598-1817, www.kingsnoodle.ca). We started with excellent shrimp dumplings—one of the ways to judge the quality of a Chinese kitchen. Side dishes of Chinese broccoli (kai lan) in oyster sauce and a Yeung Chow fried rice (made with barbecued pork bits) set up the main focus of our meal. John took the lead, ordering a barbecue plate with barbecued pork ribs, soya chicken, and crispy pork belly (below). As we left, John confessed that King’s Noodle is one of his reliable fall-backs for great barbecue. Duly noted—we’ll be back.

Barbecue plate at King's Noodle in Toronto Chinatown

24

10 2016

Little Italy simmers with many new tastes

Different food approaches in Little Italy in Toronto
There are certainly fancier coffee shops than Café Diplomatico (594 College St., 416-534-4637, cafediplomatico.ca), but few that so consistently screen European soccer matches on the TVs. Since 1968, it’s been one of the principal landmarks of Toronto’s Little Italy. Ironically, that’s just about the time that the neighborhood was beginning to lose its accent.

We met Kevin Dupree, owner of the Culinary Adventure Co. (647-955-8357, www.culinaryadventureco.com), in front of “The Dip” for a walk around the neighborhood along College Street between Euclid Avenue and Shaw Street. Dupree’s company offers a full menu of neighborhood sampling tours and a number of other gastronomic activities—including a summertime canoe trip to the Toronto islands with a master chef who prepares a picnic.

But this particular evening, we concentrated on Little Italy. He explained that Italian immigration to Toronto began around 1880 and slowed to a trickle after 1930. The residential part of the neighborhood remained Italian into the 1960s, and it’s still full of Italian bars, coffee shops, and restaurants.

P.G. Clucks in Little Italy in Toronto That preponderance of eating and drinking establishments made this stretch of College Street a nightlife destination, and other cuisines have moved in to create a dynamic multicultural mix. We ducked into a streetfront stall—P.G. Clucks—selling “Nashville-style” fried chicken sandwiches. (They’re fiery hot with spices.) And we spent a while at Hapa Izakaya (602 College St., 647-748-4272, hapaizakaya.com), a Toronto offshoot of the Vancouver-based chain of hip Japanese bar-restaurants. Dark and loud, our area was bathed in the blue glow of UV lamps—which made the white menus glow in the dark. The sake sampler was eye-opening, and the whole mackerel warmed up with blowtorch blast (see top image) was delicate and delicious.

entrance to Sotto Voce in Little Italy in Toronto But we really felt the soul of Little Italy in the spot across the street from the Dip. Sotto Voce Wine and Pasta Bar (595 College St., 416-536-4564, sottovoce.ca) has been around for about 20 years, and it’s still serving the recipes of the Sicilian grandmother of one of the owners. The wine list is strongest on southern Italian wines, and the pasta plates feature red sauce without shame. We enjoyed some superb Sicilian meatballs made with pine nuts and currants and a bowl of gnocchi with wild boar ragu. The “fanciest” dish of the night was Gamberoni a la Puttanesca—spaghetti with tiger shrimp in a tomato sauce redolent of anchovies, garlic, black olives, and capers. It’s actually a modern Neapolitan dish that’s taken hold on both sides of the Atlantic.

The recipe below is not from Sotto Voce. It’s our own adaptation of many different approaches to puttanesca, but it has the same kind of umami punch as the one we enjoyed in Toronto.

SHRIMP PUTTANESCA


Serves 4 Shrimp puttanesca at Sotto Voce in Toronto's Little Italy

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
pinch of salt
can of anchovies (2 ounces)
1 head of garlic, cloves separated, peeled, and minced
6 ounce can of tomato paste
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
26-ounce can or box of crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup capers (drained)
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, chopped
12 ounces spaghetti
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
8 ounces tiger shrimp tails with shells

In large pot, heat olive oil. Add chopped onions and pinch of salt. Cook at medium heat until onion begins to soften (about 5 minutes). Add anchovies and garlic, mashing up the anchovies with a spatula. Continue cooking about 3 minutes until garlic has softened. Add tomato paste, wine, and pepper flakes and stir well to mix. Add tomatoes, capers, and olives. Bring to a simmer. Cover and cook gently with occasional stirring for about a half hour. It will become thick and saucy.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil to cook spaghetti. When pasta goes into the water, add the lemon zest and juice to the slowly bubbling sauce. Add the shrimp and raise heat until the pot just barely bubbles.

When spaghetti is al dente (7-8 minutes), drain it, reserving some cooking liquid. Add drained spaghetti to shrimp puttanesca sauce and mix well. Add reserved cooking liquid as needed to thin.

Serve hot in bowls.

21

10 2016

Indulge at Rashers with all bacon, all the time

Rashers in Toronto's Leslieville neighborhood
There’s something to be said for doing one thing and doing it well. Rashers opened in Toronto’s Leslieville neighborhood in 2012 with a laser focus on the bacon sandwich. Owners John Clark and Richard Mulley firmly believe that bacon is more than a trendy garnish or a handy meat for foodie experimentation. In the Rashers universe, bacon is a culinary building block. Not just for BLTs anymore, bacon is the foundation for a whole range of sandwiches. It is a new standard under which hand-held cuisine can march forward into a gastronomic future.

Assembling bacon sandwiches at Rashers in Toronto The Leslieville storefront (948 Queen St. East, 416-710-8220, www.rashers.ca) is as minimal as the menu. Hardly more than 20 feet wide at the street, it consists of a few high stools lined up along a window counter. The grill dominates the back of the room, and when you walk in, it smells like heaven. Or breakfast. Actually, it smells like bacon, and it’s not uncommon for a certain amount of smoke to be rising from the sizzling grill. (There’s a second location in Little Portugal at 182 Ossington Ave., 647-346-8230.)

This being Toronto, peameal bacon appears in several of the sandwich choices. Perth Pork Products, a Slow Food farm a few hours west of Toronto that specializes in heritage breeds, brines the bacon for Rashers. The Hogtown grilled cheese, for example, features peameal bacon with cheddar cheese and ale mustard on multigrain bread. For a buck more, you can add a fried egg. In fact, Rashers encourages clients to mix up the offerings to build their own bacon sandwiches.

A world of bacon


Beer BLT at Rashers in Toronto Rashers actually embraces bacon in all its forms. In addition to peameal, the shop also builds sandwiches with strip bacon (“streaky bacon” to the Irish and Brits) and English bacon. That last is cured in a similar fashion to peameal bacon but is cut from the back of the loin so that the medallion of meat is surrounded by a nice ring of fat.

When we stopped in for an afternoon snack (so to speak), many of the folks ordering takeout seemed to be partial to the brie and bacon sandwich. It contains a heap of bacon strips, a generous slice of brie, and a topping of caramelized onions. The cooks slather the warm bun with garlic aioli. That all seemed a bit much for 4 p.m., so we went with the Rashers version of a classic BLT. The shop’s twist on tradition is to serve it on a ciabatta bun spread with beer mayo.

We were in Hogtown heaven.

18

10 2016

Peameal bacon shows the salty side of Hogtown

Carousel Bakery in St. Lawrence Market in Toronto
“The peameal bacon sandwich is Toronto’s most unique food,” says Robert Biancolin, who runs Carousel Bakery at the St. Lawrence Market with his brother Maurice. “It’s like what the Philly cheesesteak is to Philadelphia.”

The Biancolin brothers’ bakery is one of the busiest spots in the bustling market. Most customers wait patiently in line to place their orders and then walk away with peameal bacon sandwiches wrapped in shiny silver foil. Those with big appetites might also order one of Carousel’s melt-in-your mouth butter tarts, another Toronto specialty.

peameal-bacon-robert-biancolin Robert and Maurice have been serving peameal bacon sandwiches in the market for 40 years. During a lull in business, Robert (at right) enthusiastically relates some of the history of Toronto’s signature style of back bacon. He draws a rough diagram of a pig, then shows us where the loin is cut. The entire loin is immersed in a sweet pickle brine. That’s a mix of brown sugar, spices, and a very concentrated salt solution. After curing, the loin is rolled in cornmeal.

It wasn’t always done that way. English immigrant William Davies invented the treatment back in the days when the market was held in the open air. Brining the bacon preserved it. So successful was the sweet and salty back bacon that Davies grew his operation into one of the largest pork processors in Canada. He made “Hogtown” a nickname for Toronto that persists to this day. Davies’ contribution to Torontonian cuisine has also had staying power, but with a few modifications. Davies rolled his pork loins in crushed dried yellow peas. But peas go rancid, so cornmeal replaced the original peameal by the end of the 19th century.

Not just for breakfast


Peameal bacon is known in the U.S. as “Canadian bacon.” When both English and Canadian back bacon was being shipped to the U.S. in the 19th century, an importer of the English variety (which is cured differently) insisted on calling the other product “Canadian bacon.” It was supposed to be an insult, but it’s actually stuck as a badge of honor.

Peameal bacon sandwich from Carousel Bakery in Toronto Far less fatty than strip bacon (made from pork belly), peameal bacon satisfies the urge for sweet and salty meat. Although it sometimes appears on breakfast menus, most Torontonians devour it as a sandwich of several grilled slices on a naked soft bun. It’s intensely salty and full of umami — sort of like getting a bacon rush.

Robert declines to comment on how much bacon the bakery goes through in a day. “It’s a popular sandwich,” he concedes, smiling.

Best of all, the peameal bacon sandwich is a Toronto original in a city that has enthusiastically embraced food from all over the rest of the world.

For more about Carousel Bakery, see the vendor description at St. Lawrence Market.

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10 2016