Sunday, February 24, 2008

Leslieville Hotspot

Nothing special outside - feeding frenzy inside

Be prepared to shout when you have dinner at Tomi-Kro on a Saturday night. When the place is packed, the servers are swirling and the percussion is pumping, it can be awfully loud! But once the food starts to arrive and you settle in for some serious eating, you quickly realize why this place is on fire: the kitchen knows what it's doing!

As four adventurous eaters with no food allergies or issues, we ordered a range of dishes to share:
*Peppercorn teriyaki striploin with tempura onion frittes (the peppery meat was seared and served in thin strips alongside a mount of frittes that should also be a side order option on their own...)
*Miami ribs with a soy, honey and ginger-chili glaze (the hit of the evening, the meat was "fall off the bone" tender and the sticky glaze nailed the right balance of hot and sweet).
*Roasted beets with chevre, balsamic vinegar and pistachio (an homage to Jean-Georges's much-loved goat cheese royale, roasted beet marmalade and toasted crushed pistachios?)
*Butter chicken with raita and chili chick peas (the chicken was overdone a tad and could have used a bit more sauce...)
*Sweet chili shrimp, with roasted pineapple and rice noodles (a
*Edamame, with butter and sea salt (served already peeled, this was the one dish we could have been fine without)
*Tempura lobster maki balls (another hit, these perfectly round balls of juicy lobster and rice are best dipped in soy sauce and eaten right away while they're hot and crunchy!).
*Asian greenery with vegetarian oyster sauce (sounds bland but they were an ideal match for the bold, flavour-forward dishes we ordered).

Note to foie gras lovers: there were several options on the menu we didn't end up ordering but which looked pretty amazing:
*Foie gras creme brulee with lingone berry jam and red onion pickle
*Seared scallops with wilted spinach and mushroom foie gras jus

It would easy to simply characterize Tomi-Kro as a pan-Asian or fusion tapas joint, but those wouldn't do the menu and its execution justice. Rest your voice and come ready for a great meal inspired by the cuisines of Japan, China, India, Thailand, Greece, France and Italy.

$260 for four, including a bottle of wine, two scotches and two decaf espressos
1214 Queen East @ Leslie St.
Tel. 416-463-6677

Friday, February 22, 2008

Crystal as Restaurant? Thumbs Up!

As Gallery Space? Not So Much...

Walking up Bloor to the Royal Ontario Museum this evening, the Michael Lee-Chin crystal was an impressive sight. Without a doubt the best time to see it: gleaming in the moon-lit sky.

Friday evenings are a hoot at the ROM. Open til 9:30 pm with half-price tickets, the place is abuzz with families of toddlers greeting dinosaurs with glee, bands of self-obsessed tweens, and young couples smooching in the dark corners of the crystal. Not a bad spot for illicit behaviour - but possibly one of the worst gallery spaces I've ever seen. The harsh angles make crazy shaped corners that serve no functional purpose. Vertical display cases clash with the triangular walls, distracting from what is an impressive collection. Even more disappointing - considering the serious financial investment backing it up - are the many dings and cracks and amateur painting evident on second glance. If I were a family member of any of the donors who's names appear on the gallery walls, I'd demand a refund or a serious re-design!

Enough said.

c5, on the other hand - the restaurant on the top floor of the crystal - couldn't have found a more perfect home. With the lights twinkling from nearby buildings casting a romantic glow on the dining room, we took our seats and settled in for the 2-hour extravaganza.

Our main purpose in heading to the ROM was to sample and vote on the 3 contenders for c5's signature cocktail, the ROMtini - so we began with a flight of "weeny-tinis." Each had a distinctive ingredient added to the Grey Goose vodka: vanilla, hypnotique (a berry liquer), and prosecco. The first was ruled out right away because of it's medicinal after-taste. I voted for #2 (it's Cosmo-like flavour and blue hue won me over) and nodrog went with #3. The result of the vote will be announced on February 29th!

An amuse-bouche of perfectly grilled squid accompanied by "yucca charcoal" arrived as we sipped our cocktails. I'm not sure how the yucca was prepared but its smoky flavour made the dish a memorable one.

We had no trouble deciding what to order - there were a number of inviting choices, but several stood out as "no brainers":

*For me: The $65 prix-fixe bar menu (a new offering at the ROM): braised beef ribs with foie gras and wild mushroom tartlet, seared duck in a port reduction with barley and a dessert I'll describe below. A "glass and a half" of shiraz complemented both dishes well (an interesting wine menu option I've never seen before).

*For nodrog: Quail and foie gras, beef and sweetbreads (and half of my dessert!), accompanied by a "glass and a half" of gewurtz and shiraz.

Everything came beautifully presented and skillfully prepared, although the portion sizes were anemic for the prices ($25-40/dish). We both agreed the highlight of the meal was the sweetbreads with their nutty flavour and cracklin' texture. Especially for me, who never orders them and mistakenly thought I wouldn't like them.

The dessert - a light way to end the meal - was creatively laid out on a huge white plate: dollops of fluffy goat cheese cheesecake, each speared with a ginger snap (were they really shaped like dinos or were we just drunk?), with a small bowl of grape granite.

Our only complaint about c5: the harsh lighting of the open kitchen means that half the dining room is way too bright (we asked to be re-seated to the other half because of it). A frosted glass enclosure would still allow diners to view the kitchen activities.

ROM members note: don't forget to ask for your 10% member discount like we almost did!

$230 for two, including about $80 for alchohol (what can I say? it was a stressful week)
Our ROM member discount saved us 20 bucks
c5 at the ROM

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Bulldog Barista is Anything But

Contrary to what you might think, wikipedia indicates that "the temperament of the Bulldog is generally docile, friendly and gregarious."

Not judging by the behaviour of the Bulldog Coffee barista on the morning of our visit!

*Our friendly banter while ordering was greeted with a scowl.

*When we asked what the place looked like before a major make-over, he mumbled, "You'll have to watch the [TV] show to find out."

*When my friend switched the chairs around to get one with a cushion, the barista barked at him even after explaining he had a bad back. "This place is my home," he growled.

*As we got up to leave, we thanked him for the excellent espresso and when my friend tried to shake his hand, he pulled back and said "After years in the food service business, I never shake a customer's hand."

*As we headed out, his angry stare revealed his displeasure with the new seating arrangement, so we quickly moved the chairs back to their original location before zipping out the door.

The saddest part about it all? My double macchiato was the best I've had yet in Toronto! Smooth, smoky, chocolatey and delicious on its own - no sweetener needed. Will I go back? Probably - but next time, I'll order it to go!

Bulldog Coffee
89 Granby Street