food to remember

September 3, 2009

I was recently thinking about the top meals that I remember eating. A ten course meal at Accolade (by Michael Potters), Avalon (Chris McDonald), and a couple at Eigensinn Farm (Michael Stadtländer) were exceptionally memorable.

I remember the turn of the century New Year’s Eve at home with smoked salmon and a wonderful bottle of 1990 Charles Heidsieck champagne. A spanish wine tasting (again at home) with accompanying tapas. And of course Tapas the restaurant where I fell in love with Aïoli. A seafood dinner at Artisanale left us completely sated. There are so many more.

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Recently, I ate (yet again) at Artisanale – Yasser Qahawish’s Guelph restaurant. Yasser has a great philosophy about food. He feels that good food should be available to everyone and that good relationships are required between the chef and his or her producers and suppliers. He counts on the farmers as part of his team and they are regularly seen eating in the restaurant.

Yasser was the chef at Osgoode Hall (Law Society of Upper Canada) for several years before the toll of commuting to Toronto from Guelph every day became too much for him. He and his partner Allison opened Artisanale in 2007 and their dream continues unfolding with tasty results. He has also dedicated a chunk of his time to training his wait staff – they know the menu, the wine list, and are courteous and friendly.

I have eaten at Artisanale five or six times and I have always enjoyed the food and the creativity in using Ontario’s local harvest. I recently enjoyed tasting raw Ontario artichokes, Ontario whitefish and Lake Erie perch. I wish I had a neighbourhood restaurant like this near me. And by the way Yasser’s frites are deadly – they can almost start fights at the table.

tati bistro

June 3, 2009

A couple of months ago, we had a really good meal at Tati Bistro in Toronto. I tried frites, black cod, grilled calamari and the french onion soup. All well presented and very tasty. The service was so-so with our waiter more interested in talking to a friend than in serving us. All in all (mostly because of the food) it was a pleasant experience before catching some Jazz at Glenn Gould studio.

A person I was with returned a few days ago for a six o’clock reservation (mostly to show off Tati to friends). They had to endure miserable service and attitude because one of the party was late by 15 minutes. While I understand the need for restaurants to turn two seatings in a night, there is no need for rudeness or curt behaviour.

Instead of the experience being a pleasant one, none of the party was impressed enough to consider venturing back. This really irks me because I liked the food at Tati. When will restaurants realize just how important the behaviour of the front staff is? Oh well, on to The Harbord Room.

empty bowls 2009

May 21, 2009

Beautiful, crowed and delicious as usual. This annual fund-raiser (vintage 17), held at the Gardiner Museum, is a collaboration between Toronto potters and Toronto chefs. Potters donate bowls, chefs donate soup, everyone is twice-happy and all proceeds benefit Anishnawbe Health Toronto.

I go for the soups, others focus on the bowls. This year’s highlights (in the mind of a pescatarian):

I heard raves (but didn’t taste) Chilled Alphonso Mango by Simon Kattar and Rhubarb and Strawberry soup from favourite Yasser Qahawish from Artisanale (ex-Law Society).

We had lunch a few days ago at August restaurant in Beamsville, Ontario. It bills itself as “Ontario Inspired Cuisine” – local, home-grown and proud of it. The idea is good but the execution needs work.

To start, the Focaccia brought to the table was a nice thought and I really wish it had remained that way. Instead we were left with raw (kneadable) bread. I learned that there is such a thing as par-baked bread. That started a comedic lunch that is not representative of Ontario’s wine country.

When I pointed out the bread that I had (rudely) kneaded, proofed and scored, the waiter left it at the table without as much as a word. Next I had lentil soup and seafood gratin. Tasty enough but hard to tell the soup from the gratin. Someone at the table had very fishy, salt-free crab quiche. Wine was brought to the table already opened – in wine country!

Here’s where I think they could really improve.

  • train the waiters to respond appropriately to feedback
  • train them in wine service (may be an important thing in Niagara)
  • train them to know the menu
  • keep it simple and cook what you know
  • find your identity – not everyone can pull off local, organic, <insert trend here>

August may have been having a bad day and the waiter definitely didn’t mean anything badly but I probably won’t take another chance eating there.