Archive for the Reviews Category

I ate a Double Down, somehow survived

Posted in Obituaries, Reviews with tags , , on October 21, 2010 by grimgastronomicon

What madness has wrapped its feverish grip around our frozen bastion of cool austerity? Canada is not normally known for being aggressively single minded about stuff, but the announcement of the KFC Double Down seems to have provoked somewhat of a fervour. People attempting to get them have told me some locations sold out on the first day, others just seemed incredibly curious. I ranked in the 3rd category-I haven’t updated my blog in ages, and felt like sickening myself for a post, rather than post about any far more interesting food-related matters I’ve attended to lately. SO AWAY WE GO!

What prompted me? Well, when I saw all the press it was getting in the US, I thought it looked stomach-churningly terribad, something designed to cause intestinal discomfort. When I heard it was coming to Canada, I was aghast-c’mon, we’re totally supposed to be above this level of chicanery, right? Then morbid curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to make a lunch-event out of it today at work, rather than saving it for a time when my evening productivity wasn’t reliant on having a well-balanced midday meal.

Foolishly steadfast in my quest, I proceeded to the KFC/Taco Bell near my work (so strange that the song is about Pizza Hut , and not KFC…). I was almost gleeful in my anticipation of the horrors I was going to wreak upon my stomach-after all, if it was so baddd, could they legally sell them? Walking up to the register, I had a big, smug grin on my face when I ordered it, as if somehow paying way more than is reasonable for a lark is a credible venture on my part (FYI, the sandwich alone is $7). The cashier smiled at me, and walked over to the heatlamp counter, and grabbed a pre assembled box from a large, large stack-They’re clearly moving a number of these suckers out the door (and into the sewer, with a few intervening steps).

 

They had the sick sense of humour to proudly display this above the cash.

 

As I clutched my wretched bounty on my way back to work, I kept an eye on everyone I passed, wondering if they knew what foul thing I was carrying around in that paper sack. Or conversely, if they’d be so jealous of my lunch savvy, that they’d roll me for a Double Down-that’d certainly make the news.

 

When I was finally seated in the lunch area at work, I finally opened the proverbial Pandora’s box…and was kind of repulsed.

Seriously, I realize even in the ads these things are ugly, but damn, I must’ve stared at it for a good 2 minutes before feeling adventurous enough to take a bite. The chicken is lumpily coated and weird. The cheese resembles industrial adhesives, and the bacon just looked sad. Emo bacon.

Appetizing!

 

I took a deep breath, and bit into it. And my initial reaction was overwhelming disappointment-SHIT, This just tastes like what it advertises itself as-2 pieces of boneless, crispy KFC chicken stacked on top of eachother! It was overwhelmingly underwhelming in just how average it was; I WANTED to be able to rail about what I had gone through. FUCK Morgan Spurlock, I had eaten a Double Down, and that was damn near equivalent in caloric content and fat to a month worth of Mickey Ds.

And then by my third bite, I hit the cheese, bacon, and whatever-the-hellapeno sauce. And winced. The sauce was fairly noxiously odorous to begin with, but it was unfairly hindered by a completely artificial flavour, which further didn’t help the slimy bacon, or over-processed cheese. They all kind of flopped damply onto my tastebuds, and then oozed. Oozed flavour? I guess, in the same way that bad music is still music.

I wasn’t able to finish it. I still had a small chunk left, but had hit a chewy bit, and gagged a little. I tossed it, and finished my orange pop (sadly, by far my favourite element of nearly any fast food offering), and my fries. I felt somewhat gross, but otherwise fine. I had survived.

"Meh"

And then within twenty minutes felt nauseous, within ten minutes after that was wondering  if my Double Down was tainted, and I was going to die of the worst case of food poisoning ever had. I didn’t, obviously, but it was pretty chancy there for a little while. I remained full feeling for at least another 6-7 hours, but that might just have been my body trying to defend itself from any further attacks.

So, what did we all learn from this? Don’t eat it. Please. I’d assume most reading this are already possessed of enough intelligence or self-worth to avoid inflicting catastrophic gastronomical damage upon oneself, but just in case, I took that bullet for you guys.

Ramen. Yep.

Posted in Reviews with tags , on May 13, 2010 by grimgastronomicon

I can’t recall if I’ve professed my ridiculous affinity for sushi previously (let’s just assume yes, or at least assume me bringing it up is professing enough). I adore all the various textures and flavours of fresh sashimi (though FYI, stick to salmon in low-end places-they’re probably not moving as much eel or somesuch), all the various topped rolls, and the staple negiri sushi. I’m also aware this merely a facet of Japanese cuisine, and I like extending my culinary horizons bit by bit, so when I was made aware of a decent Ramen joint near Yonge & Dundas Square (Toronto’s Times Square in the making-give it another decade or two), I needed to hit it up (though from what I’ve read/been told, ramen is based on chinese noodle soups of a similar nature, and these also share a lot in common with Korean soups as well).

So, Kenzo Ramen, my first impression was sheer excitement at seeing the exterior sign (my initial visit was during a downpour, so imminent shelter warmed my soul a tad), but this was tamped down slightly when we went inside; the interior is fairly typical of cheap ethnic restaurants of varying flavours, but the chairs were those awful things you expect to see in a library somewhere-low backed and upholstered in what looks to be old carpet samples, with those horribly lacquered legs that look like they have a half inch of varnish on them. It gave the place somewhat of a hasty, thrown together look. That’s fine. When it’s around $15 for a pop and a half-bucket of soup, I’m not going to be letting the decor affect my opinion too readily.

Taking NOW weekly’s advice, I tried the King of Kings Ramen, and it sure as hell delivered.  It has an array of toppings adorning its crown (5, according to the menu!)-a few slices of pork, nicely cooked, and fairly tender, a kamaboko fishcake (with the naruto swirl. It tastes like pressed ham), a soft-boiled egg (the center is gooey, it was awesome), scallions, and some seaweed.

It's 5am, and this image still makes me want more, right now!

The toppings are merely a little treat to snack on during your trek to the bottom of the bowl (comparable to the ones you get at Thai places-seems like a litre of liquid or more), as the true star of the show is the broth. Spicy, sweet, savoury, the broth has a nice array of flavours too it that mingle and linger on your tongue. It’s one of those piquant dishes though, where the heat seems almost negligible with your first slurp, and slowly builds up until you realize you’re sweating. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it should be kept in mind by Spice Wimps.

You can almost smell it...

Lurking under the toppings in the broth are the noodles, which…are noodles. Sorry, not enough of a pasta fan to really care about elucidating further about them. They were noodley and I ate them. There were also sprouts, which I adore, mushrooms…which I don’t adore, and some sort of strange black rubbery thing that may have been another variety of mushroom, or may have been the hide of some alien creature known only the waters of Japan. Those last two ingredients were avoided (and possibly shared with more willing recipients at the table with me. Well, the black things were just discarded entirely).

Same dish, different visit. Colour difference is do to lighting

Now, given my last post (quite a while back, jeez) was all about the woes of service, what was it like here? Well, the first visit was around 50 minutes before close, and was fairly prompt and pleasant enough, though I was a little miffed when with nearly 20 minutes to go, our bill was handed to us, and we were told to come pay as soon as possible as they closed promptly at 10…so when 2 different couples were sat by the hostess at 9:55…yeah. The waiter was admittedly quite brusque with them, but I still found it slightly at odds with the notion that the door would be locked behind us at 10:00.

My second visit was at lunch a few days later (and where the much better shots of the food come from, thanks, Natural Lighting!), and again, I had the KoK ramen. It was still delicious. The afternoon waiter was a lot more laid back, but still managed to bring our bill when we seemed to have idled for a few minutes, but didn’t really pester us about it, so it was more of a convenience to pay at our leisure.

I need some sort of small baby to sit next to this, to demonstrate the scale of the bowl...

Both times, I actually managed to only make it through around 3/4ths of the soup-whether leaving broth or sprouts and errata veggies behind. This is a thoroughly hearty, filling meal in a small tub, and I don’t begrudge anyone who feels they’ve eaten their fill long before they hit the bottom.

I plan on returning again soon, but I may be daring and try more of the menu, as everything looks tasty.

Until next time.

El Bulli-I didn’t know ye.

Posted in Obituaries with tags , , , , , , , on February 15, 2010 by grimgastronomicon

Now, I won’t go into histrionics here, but most people will admit, there’s been some celebrity death or something that has touched them in a personal way. Whether some musician had a song or album that reminds them of a special child memory, or an actor had a role that always brings a smile to ones face, most (or many, I shant speak for the majority, just the majority of that majority) create ‘relationships’ that are almost entirely one way. A restaurant you visited regularly could even strike at something deeper-bonds formed with staff, favourite dishes and what have you. Now, what if you’ve only heard of the restaurant, and its only connection to you is tenuous at best?

As I said, I’m not hysterical over the bombshell that El Bulli, the  “greatest restaurant in the world” would be closing. Still, it does give one pause-a restaurant with a waiting list in the millions (hot damn!), has been operating at a loss for the last decade. Apparently, ten years of losing money finally overcomes whatever artistic statement Ferran Adrià has been making. Fair enough-I’m not enough of an idealist to believe art can exist entirely divided from commerce.

What do I know of molecular gastronomy (or avant-garde cooking, or experimental cuisine, or whatever genre you’d classify it as, as molecular gastronomy is considered something of a misnomer)? Well, sadly, not as much as I wish-yes, I’ve had some flavoured foams on desserts, and tried some food that looked like other food, and I’ve read extensively on the subject. What I do know, is that it seems damn entertaining, and that with El Bulli closing, I’ll have to check out The Fat Duck, Alinea, or one of the other restaraunts of repute that mess around with liquid nitrogen and thematic deconstructions of staple meals, or whatever individual wild stuff they get up to.

Why? Well, I know a lot of people who cluck their tongues at the thought of it, but if I’m paying several hundred dollars for a meal, I don’t care how scintillating the conversation is. I expect atmosphere, and entertainment-make me remember every element of that meal, so I can spend the following nights, and weeks going over it in exquisite detail in my head (trust me, a sushi train restaurant can provide me with hours of entertainment, so something like this would be a bit of a step up). Taking such a unique approach to food nearly guarantees that result.  And also, LIQUID GODDAMN NITROGEN. Seriously, all my boyhood endeavours failed due to a lack of it (I was a weird kid. Now I’m a weird adult. Go figure).  Now, I can play around with it…in the name of furthering my culinary horizons…>_>.

In all fairness, it may be some time before I actually attempt anything so esoteric, as I’m still working on many of the fundamentals (eg. my pan reduction sauces still generally lack something). As well, this isn’t something I’d bust out for a monday night dinner or somesuch-good home cooking is still preferable to something someone else cooked the majority of the time.

Oh well, imaginary experimental food is nearly as good, for the moment-I never said I gave up those boyhood endeavours.

Sandwich Box-my lunchtime saviour

Posted in Reviews, Thoughts with tags , , , , on February 14, 2010 by grimgastronomicon

My 30(ish) minute lunch break is always a mad dash for food. I’m normally hurried enough in the mornings (and forgetful enough in the evenings) that I only bring a lunch a couple times a week; most of the time, it’s either whatever leftover goodies from a meal Jess made (the meals I make never seem to take the next day into account), or random canned goods that can be heated at the lunch site.

Now, as previously stated, it’s not like there’s a dearth of  restaurants in the Queen West area, but unless I feel like stretching that 30 minute lunch by another 15-20, there are definite limitations imposed o my gastronomical agenda. Enter 238 Queen St West-Across from the CityTV/MuchMusic headquarters, this little plaza held a multitude of little food counters, from burgers to bubble tea (bah!) to icecream to a million chinese places to sandwiches.

The obvious Food du Jour there was Sandwich Box-for around $10, you get a great sandwich, a side salad (baby spinach leaves, a bit of radiccio, and barely a hint of a balsamic vinegar-some employees are known to be less stingy with it, but they’re generally new to the company), and a pop(jones Orange&Cream soda is my poison of choice).  There was also Big Stan’s Burger, and a smoothie joint. These were all great options at various times, though Sandwich Box was notorious for having a fairly lengthy lineup.

Then, they closed.

More specifically, they posted a notice that they weren’t allowed to renew their lease for complaining about the plaza conditions to the management, or somesuch. I was crushed.

Then Big Stan, the Ben & Jerry’s, and most of the other higher-end places closed within a year of each other. I haven’t been in there in many, many months, but at last glance, all that’s left are a few low-end chinese places, not worth mentioning.

All of this was devastating, as Subway, McDonalds and Taco Bell/KFC aren’t exactly meals to look forward to.

Fast forward some un-specified amount of time (seriously, if you care, you probably should stop reading this now-I’m not likely to ever be too specific on time frames, unless they’re the crux of a story), and I’m walking down Richmond, just off of Peter, and I pass by SANDWICH BOX!(388 Richmond St. West). This was some time last year, but I still remember the intense excitement I felt, which is surprising-it’s a frigging sandwich place, not a fountain of gold. Still, since then, lunches have improved a couple times a week.

The food:

Sandwich Box breaks construction of its sandwiches down a few simple categories with several options each

-Bread-

ryes, swiss triangles, some with onions, some with yukon gold potato flakes-they have room in their bread display for 12 types at any given time, but they rarely have more than  5 or 6 available at a time. I generally choose something different every time I go

-Spread-

avocado/chipotle mayo, basil pesto, black olive, curried apple chutney…

-Meat-

Smoked Salmon, Grilled Chicken, Smoked Turkey Breast, Prosciutto…

-Cheese-

Goat cheese, asiago, jalapeno havarti, …

-Veg-

Caramelized onions, roasted sweet peppers, avocado, bland tomatoes (sorry, but even when in season, they never seem particularly good here)

And then, they drizzle a little olive oil, lemon juice, some salt and pepper, annd then grill it on a panini press for a couple minutes.

It generally always tastes good, but I use  it as a opportunity to do simple flavour experiments to further my culinary knowlege (eg. how well certain strengths of cheese go with certain spreads, if I can improve on a classic sandwich by altering an ingredient or so…the possibilities aren’t endless, but they do provide an interesting diversion during my lunchbreak).

a recent foray of mine:

Whole grain panini/basil pesto/goat cheese/turkey breast/avocado

Restrained in flavour, but very mouth filling-the avocado and goat cheese pair in a very laid-back manner. Neither is especially overwhelming (once again, screw you AS jr), though the avocado seems to have an even further moderating effect. The basil pesto adds a nice tang and savoury aroma, with out getting in the way. The turkey, moist, but not incredibly flavourful.

It was kinda pedestrian, but as something to keep my engine running for the day, it was pretty awesome.

And the Jones soda with it was damn fine.

According to their uber-minmalist web presence, they now have 5 locations in downtown Toronto, so if you see one, stop by. That is a command, not a suggestion.