About mel91872

A living conflict, writing about food, foreign politics and anything that comes to mind.

Review: Boralia

11 May 2018

I woke up with a stunning hangover, thanking the stars that my flight is not early… I had a few hours to slowly get myself going, which helped to prevent an ugly day for sure. Last night’s dinner at Joe Beef was as always, a wonderful overall experience of true hospitality. Love that place to death, especially the crew there…

I headed to Trudeau a little zonked, and was glad I was early. I had no appetite, so happily just sipped on water until we boarded the short flight to Toronto. Easy flight, a short walk from the island at Billy Bishop Airport, and hopped into a cab for my hotel.

I was already running late to catch up with a good friend over a few beers, so I ran straight out. Had a wonderful afternoon with a few pints, surprising I was so lucid and able to put the beers away. I then hopped into a Lyft to dinner, as I was running late once again…

Dinner tonight is at Boralia, one of the places I had been targetting for awhile now. I’ve not been back in Toronto for years, due to various factors, but I’m so glad to be back. I got there and took my seat at the bar and relaxed. Despite last night’s excess, I went the cocktail route and thank goodness I had an excellent bartender to turn to here. I ordered and chilled with drink in had…so good to be back in TO…

After a little bit with the nice cocktail, my first item came, a wee snack…

01-tea eggs

Devilled tea eggs, what a great idea. A twist on the Chinese street snack, these were delicious. This restaurant’s philosophy is to celebrate the history of Canadian cuisine, and it also shows how long and deep Chinese culinary traditions have meshed into this multicultural land. And excellent start.

Another drink later, the next dish arrived, and I smiled…whelk!

02-whelk

Now these were fabulous, even better than the excellent whelk at Mon Lapin a few nights ago. Lovely flavours, again perfect texture. And the shredded root veggies below all but exorcised the horrific veggie plate at Hopkins a few nights ago… An excellent dish! Next up, a switch to wine and some venison liver mousse…

03-venison liver

A bit ordinary to be honest, it didn’t have the same impact as the previous two fabulous items. Good, but just less of the wow factor. I then ordered another item, now knowing how the sizes work here. Enjoyed another glass of wine and then a smoky dish appeared…

04-mussels

Some lovely mussels underneath the smoke lid…just lovely to take in all that aroma at first, then the bivalves themselves. Oooh, perfect, just perfect. I love the smoke here, adding just that little extra touch to some excellent quality mussels. Another winner of a dish! This night is going excellent!

My bartender Robin asked about dessert, and I did the Mel thing and ordered, and switched back to cocktails…leaving her to make whatever she wanted. As I was enjoying another excellent creation, my “dessert” appeared…

05-oysters

Oysters! These were excellent, with just enough chilli to give it that nice kick. And what do we have here, another order of tea eggs?

06-tea eggs

Yep, why not, with yet another cocktail! I thought about ordering something else, but I was so wiped from yesterday’s antics — and I have to get up early tomorrow for a very, very long day, so I reluctantly did this as a finale. Excellent as before! And one last cocktail for the road…

What a wonderful evening of food and drink! This place is excellent, and it could easily become my favourite place in Toronto! I had to ask them to call a cab for me as for some reason I had no signal on my phone since I walked in the door. I headed out and thanked my excellent bartender Robin for such a wonderful night and once again, smiling en route back to my hotel but fearful of another massive hangover…

Awesome place, highly recommended!!!

Boralia
59 Ossington Avenue
Toronto, Ontario

Advertisements

Review #4: Joe Beef

10 May 2018

For each trip to Montréal, the highlight inevitably is my return visit to Joe Beef. The famed eatery in Little Burgundy has become a home away from home, and the entire staff treats me like family — most notably during my birthday visit a few years back. Awesome food, plentiful drinks, and the best staff in the business, what’s not to love about Joe Beef?

Yeah, it gets crowded, especially at the counter, but that’s part of the entire package. I got there at an early hour and was led to the counter in the second room. My “usual” edge spots were taken, so I had to squeeze into the middle with others already dining away. A tight fit, but the one great thing about Joe Beef is that strangers soon become friends — and squeezing in actually helps that process!

I relaxed and enjoyed an opening cocktail that my server recommended; they had shifted the raw bar and drinks bar area, so this time I’m right in front of the booze. That may be bad, but it’s my last night in Montréal, so why the heck not? I enjoyed the booze and chatting with both staff and fellow customers at the bar before they began me on a course of excellent wines. Then the opening dish appeared, and as usual, it’s fresh seafood…

01-seafood

Oh my! This was quite a beautiful selection. The mussels were very tasty, and the selection of oysters was excellent. But it’s the snow crab that was the star, and I took my time enjoying them. A little hard to properly eat them with the cramped space (and not wanting to spray my bar neighbours!), so I did it slower than usual. I enjoyed as much of it as possible…what a treat!

I relaxed and cleaned up a little as more wine was brought, and a shot of something which I took with one of the servers. In fact that was an ongoing theme all night, one of the servers would join me in a shot of something each time I got a new drink. It’s hard for me to not think of all these folks as family…it’s just a special experience each time I’m here

We continue with the food (and the aforementioned wine pour) and next up, a beautiful fried Dory topped with crab…

02-dory_edited

This was totally delicious…first of all, it’s one of my favourite fish. Breaded just right, not too thick, the natural flavours worked well enough on its own. Then the crab just added that lovely extra touch to this. Just excellent…

By the way, my usual apologies on the photo quality from here. It does get dark inside, and since I refuse to use flash indoors, the one problem with my Galaxy S-7 is that although it captures in low-light environment adequately, the focus works very poor in that same environment. Even after some editing, the photos are still not great — and often are a bit out of focus… Anyway, my focus was also getting blurrier as more wine (and shot!) before the next dish…

03-terrine_edited

Terrine, excellent. A duck and pork mixture (for texture and consistency), really just a hearty and nice dish to go with the wine. That’s another great thing about this place, it all goes so well with wine…which is the overall ethos of dining Little Burgundy style! Just sheer enjoyment.

More banter, more wine, more shots (!), and then soon more food! This time, some roast beef…

04-roast beef_edited

Sliced nicely, with lovely deep flavour, very condusive to drinking! A very relaxing night tonight, where (perhaps unlike my first visit) it focused more on balance and wine rather than really going all out on the food side. We’re all mellowing with age, right? But another good dish that whet my appetite even more, but I was getting full…

Another wine (and another shot!) and then the main course comes out, the halibut…

05-halibut_edited

Hmmm…honestly this was really not very good. The clams were nice, but the fish was utterly overcooked to the point it was a brick. A really rare mistake by this usually excellent kitchen. It definitely does not compare to the halibut two nights ago at sister restaurant Mon Lapin. Sadly, I decided I was also quite full, so abandoned about half of the fish.

I was genuinely full, my appetite no longer like it was a few years ago for sure. I chilled out and enjoyed the continual banter with staff and fellow diners. I just love coming here…and definitely absence makes the heart grow fonder. Although the food tonight was probably the weakest of all of my trips here, it was as enjoyable overall as always. It’s the total experience…

Just as they fed me a nice grappa, they bring out the dessert — a really nice sorbet.

06-sorbet

The grappa, however, was quite a large size…and I slowly enjoyed it. What a wonderful evening…and it’s still going. The crowd may have thinned out, but still good to chat with some of them. The staff, walking by, are still making me do shots (!!), and at the end poured me another huge grappa…

That was the last one tho, as I was spent. My flight out is not that early tomorrow, but I rather not be completely incoherent for it, so asked them to call a cab for me. I thanked them all profusely and headed out in a state of bliss…I love this place.

The only thing I don’t like whenever I’m here is that they utterly underbill me! My bill again was pathetically low, and if I try to tip over 30% on the machine my US bank will ding the transaction as fraud, so… But overall what an amazing night of hospitality. And at the end, it’s all about hospitality — something so many restaurants in town, and the world, seem to forget these days.

So good…but I’m so gonna pay for it tomorrow… All worth it for such a special evening…

Joe Beef
2491 Rue Notre-Dame Ouest
Montréal, Québec

Review: Hopkins

9 May 2018

Luckily I had that filling and excellent dinner at Mon Lapin last night, as I had a very busy day in Montréal that also involved hiking some very steep hills. And of course, it was unseasonably warm in town, I had brought the damn heat again. Ugh… Sweaty… But hours of it helped to burn off last night’s excess…

What didn’t help was lunch of a really fabulous and rich fatty at Schwartz’s, the fabulous home of smoked meat sandwiches in Montréal. That helped lull me to take a quick nap in the afternoon heat…

Luckily dinner was on the late side, as I headed to Monkland Village. I plowed through the mostly anglophone crowd to get to my dinner destination, Hopkins. I’ve read so many good things about this place I was really looking forward to it. I was secretly hoping I’ve discovered my “new Hôtel Herman” — after the fabulous restaurant that I frequent each time I come to town that sadly closed due to the pissiness of the landlord (what’s fucking new?).

I sat at the bar and I immediately regretted which side of the bar I sat at, since being next to the service station also meant servers were just loitering so close to my space at times I thought one was gonna put his elbow into my wine. Plus, that one in question seems to have just been hired, and he was being trained right during service…sigh…

I enjoyed a cocktail and ordered 2 dishes, told the kitchen to bring them out as they see fit. I enjoyed some wine when the first item came out, the duck ravioli.

1-duck ravioli

Oh, this was excellent. Lovely flavours all around, and the ravioli were cooked perfectly. Cutting them open, releasing the duck egg, was just a treat. Really excellent, with some duck prosciutto adding to the overall appeal. A really excellent dish! My night is looking quite good!

Another glass in hand, I waited for the second dish — which I thought would have come out first. But in the meantime I was getting annoyed at that new server who really started to crowd my space for absolutely NO REASON. And really, training staff when it’s a full house at 8pm? In any case, my second course arrived, the roasted vegetables…

2-roasted veg

My heart sank when I started at these… I love root vegetables, and I’ve had some wonderful ones, for instance from the Bachelor Farmer in Minneapolis, but this was a pitiful plate. How many different people on the line worked on this? You had items undercooked, overcooked, burnt, funky tasting, and even cold like it’s been sitting around. What the hell?

I know it’s great having a veg plate full of variety, but when the variety is in which way each item sucked…

How a kitchen produced 2 dishes that are polar opposites is beyond me. But this had the effect of turning me off this place, plus that novice server was really annoying me. I just lost my interest. Despite being hungry, I was done, and I finished up and headed out. Plus it was annoyingly warm inside…

Goodness, I really miss Hôtel Herman just about now. Tonight started off well, then just landed in the crapper in such a drastic fall from grace. What an awful, awful vegetable dish that was. You’d fail high school home-ec with that dish!

So glad I had the foresight to have bought a second sandwich from Schwartz’s, just in case this happened, and that ended up being the rest of my dinner… What a joke this Hopkins is…again, overhyped. I miss Hôtel Herman…

Hopkins
5626 Avenue de Monkland
Montréal, Québec

Review: Mon Lapin

8 May 2018

I was very excited to hear that the team behind Joe Beef was opening a new place, this time away from Little Burgundy. I wasn’t sure if it would open before my trip, but I was thrilled to learn it was — and it was my destination the first night in Montréal. Tho I had a wonderful lunch, I was already hungry…

I walked through the Little Italy area, which was (like much of Montréal) lousy with poorly-planned construction projects. So many one-way streets were closed with few alternatives; even for a pedestrian it was a hassle. Somehow they could hire people to harrass pedestrians to not walk too close to blocked off areas, but they couldn’t hire workers to actually do some construction so they can re-open the bloody road… This city…

Anyway, I got to Mon Lapin and despite it being open for only a few minutes it was already half full. Not a surprise, as I expected this place to be a major hit. I found a seat at the small, 4-place bar and made myself comfortable all evening. There’s a printed menu, which is a little unlike the Little Burgundy places; but first I just enjoyed a bit of wine…

I looked over the menu and was pretty excited by several things. I decided to order a few things, and then let them take over and bring out stuff they suggest. Let’s see what happens! As I moved onto a second wine, the first dish appeared, and I smiled as it’s one of my favourite things.

01-fiddleheads

Fiddleheads tempura, what a nice idea. The lovage-centric sauce was excellent, brought it all out in the open. Mmm, nice start for sure! The next up, whelks.

02-whelks

I love whelks, I always order it when I can. These were quite nice, texture perfect — not too chewy, not too soft. Love it when it’s so perfect. The crispy fried ham bits added a little extra touch here. Nice! Then we have some black oyster mushrooms…

03-oyster mushrooms

Oh my, these were fabulous, cooked in the fat of the aged beef at Joe Beef! Just lovely, with some spinach to keep you from falling into a total daze from the gorgeous fat…oh my, this was just dreamy! A this point I turned over both food and wine suggestions to the staff, and things kept coming…

I enjoyed a bit more wine and we get a halibut…

04-halibut

Nice, lovely garlicky sauce that really brought this dish out. Halibut’s not one of my favourite fishes, but this was really nice — especially with the sauce. Then we have a very “Joe Beef” dish here with the salad…

05-salade rose

It’s a “pink salad” with a good amount of foie shaved on top. I probably should have mixed it up better to fully get the foie’s contribution to the salad. But overall a nice twist here, good for the rapidly-approaching summer. It was a little warm already today… Then finally, the last course, the carbonara…

06-carbonara

Again with a twist, this time with smoked eel. It’s quite good, though a little busy — tho working far better than the “carbonara” at Coppa in Boston… But it was rather filling as you can see, and I’m pretty full after this nice pasta. BTW the pasta was cooked perfectly, a good thing in Little Italy! I relaxed a little and switched to grappa as they brought out quite an interesting dessert…

07-cheese ice cream

Ice cream made from Faisselle, a French raw milk cheese. Really flavourful, throw in some seasonal spruce and you got a real winner here. Lovely stuff. Oh I was full and happy!

I thanked the staff and headed out as they called me a taxi. I didn’t want to walk around all the construction area being rather tipsy and tired — I don’t need another foot injury! But this place is a winner, and I can see it being a huge draw for the neighbourhood, and a standard for the locals in Little Italy! Fabulous! Highly recommended!

Mon Lapin
150 Rue Saint-Zotique Est
Montréal, Québec

Review #2: Stash Café

8 May 2018

With a bit of a hangover (surprise, surprise), I headed out of Boston. Was a challenging trip, but ended on a good note with a good night at Taberna de Haro. I made my way to Montréal, a town I love but not been back since my birthday a few years ago. Looking forward to a good few days here.

The construction in this town is insane…crazy road closures, and the way to town from Trudeau looked like a warzone… I got to centre-ville and dropped my bag at my hotel. Was warmer than I expected, but I walked to a place I’ve visited many times — Stash Café.

This is my favourite Polish restaurants in North America, always good and friendly. I was seated at a nice table near the window for this late lunch hour and I ordered…which scared my server, as I was doing it all in Polish. In fact, not spoken my limited French yet so far in town, going from English to Polish…

Sipped on my wine and soon my starter arrived — and much needed as I was still hungover. Flaczki.

1-Flaczki

I love this tripe soup, and they do it very well here. Hearty and generous with the tripe, a great hangover relief dish. Enjoyed that. Then my main, something I often have here — gołąbki.

2-Gołąbki

Done very well, love the solid stuffing. Now this is the way I liked my cabbage rolls, far more than the Balkan version that is so sour it’s hard to eat (ie at Grbić in St Louis). Lovely stuff.

I hung around a little and had a nice chat with the server, and a wee bit of vodka. We even managed to joke a little in Polish. I’m glad it’s still functional despite my now-infrequent usage of it. I headed out into the blazing sun (yes, it’s Montréal), and back to my hotel, as my hangover+vodka head needed a nap…

Ah, good to be back in Montréal, good to have my usual lunch at Stash Café. All seems well again, all seems well…

Stash Café
200 Rue Saint-Paul Ouest
Montréal, Québec

Review #3: Taberna de Haro

7 May 2018

The next morning I was recovering as I had a bit too much at the hotel bar after that lame dinner at Coppa, drowning my sorrows about this town that I used to really enjoy. Nearly every meal has been disastrous. I hopped out to a dimsum lunch in Chinatown; although not great, it was the best food I’ve had in Boston so far this trip (I will chronicle this later). But tonight, my last night in Beantown, should hopefully flip this trend.

I headed back to one of my favourite places, Taberna de Haro near Fenway Park. It’s one of very, very few Spanish restaurants in the US I would visit, and it’s provided me with excellent food in the past — though the first dinner there (with the excellent frog) was still the most special food-wise. After that disaster in Asheville a few weeks earlier, I need proper Spanish cuisine…

Service honestly was a little slow as it seems only 1 server was working BOTH rooms, but soon enough a good sherry was in hand and I ordered. This place has a fabulous sherry list, not to mention the wine list. I happily enjoyed it before my food came…but it took so long I needed a second glass, and I also ordered a bottle of red at the same time seeing how slow things are. But with that second glass of sherry my first item arrived…

01-jamón

Oh, relief. Finally proper jamón, not like that disaster in Asheville. Nice stuff, though the splash of olive oil wasn’t really needed as this was good quality Bellota. Lovely start. My bottle of red arrived, chilled as requested for this warm day, perfect. Then a series of tapas arrived, starting with some alcachofas

02-alcachofas

Lovely artichokes, nice big dish. Lovely, used it as my veggie for the night. Then one of my faves, orejas

03-orejas

I love how Chef Deborah Hanson does the ears on the plancha, so good. Crispy yet soft, spiced just perfectly. I always get this when I’mh here. And finally, cordero al chilindrón

04-cordero chilindrón

Hmmm, wasn’t really spicy enough but not bad, great with the bread (and the lingering artichokes). Nice. Then a bit of a surprise, as they brought some snacks on the house…

x

Then more, with some gambas al ajillo also on the house…

06-gambas

Chef Hansen lived in Spain for a long time, and the idea of free tapas to go with people drinking is something you won’t see very much in the US — except here.

But that’s a little more food than I had planned, so I changed my plans for the last dish. I was gonna order more tapas, but decided to just do the arroz negro. I had bit more wine so I slowly enjoyed it before it arrived…

07-arroz negro

Mmmm….love this dish. But I forgot how big it was here! I enjoyed as much of it before I finished that bottle of wine and had to box this for later. I relaxed with a bit of brandy before I thanked my server and headed out.

Thank goodness Taberna de Haro saved this Boston trip with another good session. Excellent stuff all night, and I was stuffed… Off to Canada in the morning…

As always, highly recommended!

Taberna de Haro
999 Beacon Street
Brookline, Massachusetts

Review #2: Coppa

6 May 2018

I woke up early the next day, still tasting that ridiculous pickle dish from last night’s Loyal Nine debacle despite drinking more booze to kill the taste. Not sure how much enamel I lost in my teeth from a few bites of those franken-vegetables… I had a long hike planned through Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, and it was indeed a long one that clocked in over 10km in hilly terrain. I needed a good lunch, but was greeted by a poor eggs benedict at a hipster-favoured place I’d rather not bother naming. Oh well…

I went back to the hotel for a bit of rest, as my legs were pretty sore from the hike. Later on I headed out to dinner at a place where I had a wonderful evening during a previous Boston visit, Coppa. I got there at around 7pm on this Sunday evening and it was packed…wow, I know lots of places are shut on Sundays but this was crazy busy. I had smartly booked, so they gave me a 2-top. I would have liked to sit at the bar, but it was packed, and at times 2 deep…

One prob I already saw was service is utterly overwhelmed by the crowd, and things are backed up. Took quite a while even to get my opening drink in…

I figured it’ll take ages to get more stuff, so just ordered the charcuterie as well as a pasta after. Limited choices tonight too, so picked 5 and chilled out. But my drink was finished and could not get another. I see people from other tables waving frantically, and some going to the bar to order drinks directly. The management has completely cocked up the scheduling here for FoH servers, and it’s turning into a pure shitshow.

And while waiting I had to listed to YET ANOTHER INTERNET DISASTER DATE next to me. They had ordered just before me and the guy presumtiously told the server, “oh, we share everything” and I heard coughing immediately… These things are so painful to overhear, and it’s becoming so much more common. Then FINALLY got my server’s attention for more booze. Then the charcuterie selection appears…

1-charcuterie

A big plate, but honestly a rather meh selection. The coppa was pretty boring, as was the prosciutto. The heart was pretty good, but the tongue was by far the best. The sausage was boring. Too bad. I wish there was more tongue and less of the bland coppa… And the pickled cauliflower had a funky taste…not sure if it was the cocktail causing it, but…

Oh well… That was meh. Again, no way of getting a server’s attention for my empty glass. And all I can do is try not to gag listening to the date next to me. If there was ever a time I needed a drink it is NOW… Finally, got his attention and wine appeared, as well as my spaghetti con ricci di mare

2-spaghetti ricci

Well, rather underwhelming. A bit skimpy on the urchin, and the whole thing didn’t work. Either do a carbonara, or do con ricci. When you try to do too much, it just turns into something very un-Italian… Oh well.

Service was still a total cluster, and people are still getting up from their tables to physically order from the bar. My server finally returns and tells me no license for grappa…huh? This damn state, first the no-doubles yesterday to this. Oh well, I was still hungry but I’m done with this place…

Took ages but got my bill. Amazing my Lyft showed up faster than my server. Headed back to the hotel, lamenting another poor night in Boston — this time at a previously excellent place. Very disappointing, plus having to deal with the FoH shitshow — which really is a management fail for not scheduling people right despite knowing it was a packed house.

What has happened to this town?

Coppa
253 Shawmut Avenue
Boston, Massachusetts