Wednesday, April 30, 2014

John & Son's Oyster House on Temperance

John & Son's Oyster House brings the ease of a maritime pub to the heart of Old Toronto, and offers anywhere from 6 to 12 varieties of oysters on any given day depending on the season. Owned and run by John Belknap, who after spending years at Rodney’s Oyster Bar on King Street, decided to open his own bivalve venue. Belknap, his twin brother and his brother’s fiancé, who also happens to be the original Rodney’s daughter, opted to settle on Temperance in the Financial District, which was Rodney’s By Bay up to a few months ago, and now rebranded as John & Sons Oyster House. Although not affiliated with Rodney’s, the oysters are just as fresh, plentiful and delicious. Having dined at Rodneys on Bay two years ago, its seemed as good a time any any to try out their new digs.

The interior of John & Sons Oyster House on Temperance hasn't changed since it was Rodneys on Bay, except for the staff which now includes our personable and knowledgable server Ian

The menu of appetizers, soups, salads and main is almost entirely seafood-based with the exception of steak-frites for the occasional carnivore who slips in unnoticed

A new Pinot Grigio from Veneto that they just added to the wine list

This crisp, pale yellow medium bodied wine with a touch of minerals went well with the oysters

A dozen oysters: Kumamoto from Washington; Kushi from BC; 
and meaty Malfleets from Massachusetts served with fresh lemon and grated horseradish

A selection of tangy tomato, pepper and mignonette sauces for the oysters

Poppyseed bread and a pot of whipped butter 

New to the menu, John& Sons revamped Oven Roasted Heirloom Beet Salad with watermelon, pickled fennel and onions, whipped barrel-aged goat feta and pistachio crumble

Portuguese-style Mussels with chorizo, fresno chili peppers, tomato concise and smoked paprika

What bowl of moules would be complete without frites?

Grilled Octopus Chermoula with cannellini beans, piquillo peppers and pickled baby turnips

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Yamato: Yorkville's Best Sushi & Sashimi

Tucked away on Bellair in the heart of Yorkville is Yamato, an elegant Japanese restaurant serving an innovative selection of exceptionally fresh sushi, sashimi and sunomono. More well known for their popular teppanyaki room, it's Yamato's superlative sushi and sashimi that keeps me coming back each and every time. The Spicy Hotategai with chopped fresh scallops mixed with tobiko flying fish roe and spicy mayonnaise is the best in the city. Another favourite, Ikura salmon roe, is served perfectly chilled, nestled in crisp blanket of nori and served with tangy white gari pickled ginger. Another favourite is Yamato's Sashimi, which is so fresh, it seems to melt in your mouth, from Botan Ebi, large prawns, Miraugai, giant clams and Toro, marbled tuna, I always end up ordering the Sake Atlantic Salmon and Yellowtail Hamachi. More elaborate dishes such as Sunomono with harusame, wakame seaweed, cucumber and assorted seafood with vinaigrette, is a treat for the taste buds as well the eye. The service is consistently efficient, courteous and always with a smile.

The granite sushi bar is the ideal spot to relax and enjoy a speedy but sensational sashimi lunch in Yorkville

Yamato's endless cups of green tea

Miso Soup: soya bean soup with tofu, seaweed and green onion

Salmon and Maguru Tuna Sashimi garnished with miso leaves

Always service with a smile

Sunomono with harusame, wakame seaweed, cucumber and assorted seafood with vinaigrette

California Roll maki Sushi with avocado, cucumber, fish roe and surimi crab leg

Spicy Hotategai Nigiri Sushi: spicy chopped scallop and fish roe with spicy mayonnaise

Monday, April 28, 2014

Buca Osteria & Enoteca: Rustica Cucina Italiana

Few places encapsulate Toronto’s innovative new dining culture better than Buca Osteria & Enotecca, one of the most successful restaurants that's opened in recent years. Hidden away down a long alleyway at King and Portland in a former warehouse boiler room with exposed brick walls, dramatically soaring 30-foot ceilings and glowing industrial chandeliers, Buca's subterranean dining room feels like the city’s most exquisite warehouse. At the culinary helm, Executive Chef Rob Gentile and his team prepare some of the most original Italian cuisine in the city. And Gentile trained under the best, Mark McEwan at North 44, Bymark and One — but with Buca, he's gone back to the cooking of his nonna. Dishes are based on fresh market seasonal produce and change constantly, so Buca's menus are printed daily and date-stamped each morning. Always included are their house-cured meats, such as spicy calabrese style pork sausage, Prosciuttini, Salumi and Guanciale, plus a long list of fabulous Italian cheeses. We started with a selection of Salumi e Formaggi di Buca along with an order of Deep Fried Olives stuffed with house made pork & fennel sausage and Chef Gentile's famous Nodini, warm bread knots tossed with olive oil, rosemary, garlic and sea salt. 

The subterranean dining room of Buca

Bare honey-hued industrial lightbulbs enhance Buca's mod ambiance

Most of the dishes are designed to be shared, which is exactly what we did. The house made pastas are sensational such as the Gnocchi alla Primavera and Stringozzi alla Norcina made with colonnata spiced rabbit sausage, fermented butter and garnished with scorzone truffles from Molise that was so good, we ordered it twice. The thin-crust, Roman-style pizzas are another delicious option. Served on a rectangular wood plank with a pair of scissors, we shared the Funghi Pizza with sautéed BC porcini mushrooms, mascarpone, gorgonzola and fresh marjoram, as well as a 'Pesce' and 'Carne': the Luccio Piccolo of Lake Erie Pickerel, polenta taragna, porcini mushrooms, cow's milk and polvere di soffritto, and the spectacular Rosemary Sausage Stuffed Rabbit Leg served on a wood board with soft stone-milled polenta, Taggiasche olives and topped with shaved pecorino brillo. Buca's Italian wine list has over 250 well-chosen labels, from which we selected a full bodied Il Drago e le 8 Colombe red Tuscan wine, which at $90 a bottle was as delicious as it was pricey. We indulged and finished our meal with two Dolce which we all shared, and were surprised when our server arrived with five glasses of Limoncello for our table, as a special treat. Buca isn’t the place for a quiet romantic dinner, but if you’re looking for a delicious evening with big buzz and big bucks, Buca is the place to be.

Buca's Italian-centric menu

Il Drago e le 8 Colombe, a full bodied Red Tuscan wine, with a great label!

Dark ruby red, the wine was delicious

Buca's Charcuterie and Formaggi Board with a selection of 5 salumi and 3 cheeses

Buca's famous Nodini, warm bread knots tossed with olive oil, rosemary, garlic and sea salt

Olives Ascolane: deep fried olives stuffed with house made pork & fennel sausage

Buca's oblong thin-crust Funghi Pizza with sautéed BC porcini mushrooms, mascarpone, gorgonzola and fresh marjoram, is served on a rectangular wood plank with a pair of scissors

Stringozzi alla Norcina made with fresh cut pasta, colonnata spiced rabbit sausage, 
fermented butter and scorzone truffles from Molise

Luccio Piccolo with Lake Erie pickerel, polenta taragna, porcini mushrooms, 
cow's milk and polvere di soffritto

Rosemary Sausage Stuffed Rabbit Leg on soft stone-milled polenta with Taggiasche olives and topped with shaved pecorino brillo

Gnocchi alla Primavera

Crema Fritta made with fresh bergamot, buffalo milk custard and buffalo ricotta

Dolce di Latte

A round of complimentary Limoncello for our table from our server at Buca

The open-concept kitchen at Buca

Puntarelle Salad
Serves 2
Recipe courtesy Chef Gentile, Buca Osteria + Enoteca

2 cups loosely packed basil leaves
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tbsp toasted pine nuts
1 small garlic clove
1 tbsp Parmesan cheese, finely grated
2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
Pinch of salt and pepper

3 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
Pinch of salt

1 head puntarelle or half a head chicory or escarole greens
2 duck egg yolks
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
2–3 tbsp canola oil
6 smelts or 12 white anchovies
1 tbsp all-purpose flour for dusting
Pinch of store-bought citrus salt, optional

Pulse the pesto ingredients in a food processor or blender until the pesto has a smooth but slightly textured consistency. Set aside. If you’re making the pesto ahead of time, it will keep for up to 2 days covered and refrigerated.

Pour the vinegar and lemon juice into a small bowl and whisk in oil slowly. Add salt to taste. If making ahead, dressing will keep for 1 day covered and refrigerated.

Just before serving, gently julienne the puntarelle. Toss in a medium bowl with 3 tbsp pesto and 2 tbsp pine nuts. Drizzle with 1/3 cup dressing. Toss to mix. Add more dressing to taste. Divide salad into 2 to 4 bowls. Make a small well in the top of each and top with a raw duck yolk. Garnish with leftover pine nuts.

Coat a small frying pan with oil and set over medium-high heat. Place flour in a shallow bowl. Coat the smelts or anchovies with flour. Cook for about 1 minute per side until fish is golden. Toss each salad with fish. Taste and add more pesto or dressing, if you like. Serve immediately.

Makes 30
Recipe courtesy Chef Gentile, Buca Osteria + Enoteca

At Buca, chef Rob Gentile’s signature nodini are a smash hit. “These have been in my family for as long as I can remember. My mother or aunt started making knots with leftover pizza or bread dough.” With the kitchen turning out up to a thousand each day, chef Gentile admits: “We’re kinda famous for them!” 

2 grams fresh yeast, or 1 gram dry
168 ml warm water
280 grams artisan bread flour
5 grams salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp sea salt
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp rosemary, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 450°F. Crumble the yeast in a countertop mixer, adding warm water to dissolve — if using dry yeast, dissolve in the warm water and wait a minute or two to allow the yeast to activate.

Add the flour to the mix and mix at low speed for 10 minutes, then high speed for two minutes. After the first five minutes of mixing, sprinkle the salt in evenly over the dough. Place finished dough in a sealed container and let rest on the countertop at room temperature for one hour.

Next, using a rolling pin, roll the dough out until it’s about 1 cm thick, dusting liberally with flour to prevent sticking. Cut into strips about 1 cm in width, and about 5 cm in length. It's important that these finished knots be 12 to 13 g each, for even cooking time and presentation.

Tie off each strip of dough into a simple knot. If some strips feel a little bigger than others, you can twist a little off the bottom as you tie it. 
Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and place knots evenly on it, allowing enough space between for the knots to double in size. Cover the pan loosely with clear food wrap and place somewhere warm for approximately 30 minutes or until doubled in size.

Bake until golden brown in colour. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix together olive oil, sea salt, minced garlic and finely chopped rosemary. While still hot out of the oven, toss the nodini in oil mixture and serve right away.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Highlights of New York: A Collection of Classics

One of the best places to experience New York City's renowned architecture is in a one mile span of Midtown East. No other city features so many significant styles and buildings in such a condensed area. In the span of just a few blocks, you can witness Art Deco splendour, Moorish Revival magnificence, and quintessential glass-curtain modernism. Perhaps no other city possesses such an iconic skyline. On a sunny afternoon, we decided to take our own walking tour of the city's classic architectural highlights, and explore Manhattan's urban and pastoral icons.

NYC's iconic art deco Chrysler Building, built in the 1930s, is the tallest brick building in the world

With its glittering tiered crown and tall slender proportions, the Chrysler Building on the corner of 42nd and Lexington is the city's reigning beauty queen. One of the finest examples of Art Deco architecture anywhere, the graceful skyscraper also briefly held the title of world's tallest building when it was completed in 1930. Eleven months later, the Empire State Building stole the title. Walter P. Chrysler commissioned the architect William Van Alen to build this impressive headquarters for his car company, and incorporated various elements of Chrysler vehicles, including the radiator grills, winged radiator caps, and hood ornaments, into the design of the building. There's no observation deck but it's worth peeking into the lavishly decorated lobby, which fittingly includes a chromed steel trim and a huge mural depicting the golden age of motoring. 

Declared a National Historic Monument, the metal clad entrance off Lexington shows it's art deco heritage

The lobby's ceiling mural entitled, "Energy, Result, Workmanship and Transportation," by Edward Turnbull was covered up with paint in the 1970's until it was restored to its comer glory

There are dozens of libraries in New York but when people refer to "The Library," they can only be talking about one place, the iconic building on Fifth Avenue between 40th and 42nd Streets — The New York Public Library. The firm behind its design, Carrère and Hastings, was relatively unknown when it won a citywide contest to design the library in 1897, and created the Beaux Art-style building with its white marble façade we see today: the wide steps are a time-honored meeting place flanked by "Patience" and "Fortitude", the two lion sculptures that guard the entrance that were given their names by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia during the Great Depression. The enormous Reading Room on the top floor with it's spectacular gilt framed ceiling murals might look familiar from films such as Breakfast at Tiffany's and Ghostbusters. The library recently turned 100 but like any great lady, it barely shows its age at all. 

New York's majestic Beaux-Arts Public Library

Patience and Fortitude, the world-renowned pair of marble lions that stand proudly outside the library

New York Public Library’s Rose Main Reading Room

The reading room's spectacular mural and gilt wood ceiling

In all of New York, it's hard to find a more magnificent building that sees more foot traffic than Grand Central Station. When it opened in 1913, the massive Beaux Arts building represented a huge achievement in urban planning. Today the structure houses magazine stands, various shops and commuters rushing for trains to Westchester and Connecticut. But the building's mythic grandeur still persists, as we walked into the enormous main concourse and looked up, a vision of brilliant greenish blue, depicting the constellations of the winter sky above New York. French painter Paul Helleu's creation is complemented throughout the station by gold chandeliers, intricate stone and marble work  and two main staircases modeled after the grand staircase of the Paris Opera House. To round out the experience, there's the famous Oyster Bar for a quick lunch, or the station's hidden Campbell Apartment Bar where you can enjoy a martini in a refined, old-world setting.

Grand Central Terminal sign

The cavernous main hall of Grand Central Station with the masterful sky ceiling, a brilliant greenish blue, depicting the constellations of the winter sky above New York

The splendid four-sided “ball clock” in Central Station's main hall, was erected in 1913

The ticket windows at Grand Central Terminal are framed by ornate brass covers and fixtures

The interior is handsomely detailed with Botticino marble in every direction

Elaborate marble carvings still exist above each of Grand Central Station's track entrances

The Campbell Apartment Bar

As the first office tower to rise on the World Trade Centre site, the new structure, One World Trade Centre, redefines the New York skyline, reasserting downtown Manhattan as a bustling business centre, and establishing an impressive new architectural icon for the country. The new tower is reminiscent of the slender, tapering triangular forms of great New York City icons such as the Chrysler Building and Empire State Building, and replaces almost one quarter of the office space lost on September 11, 2001. 

The new World Trade Centre

An aerial tram goes from lower Manhattan over to Roosevelt Island, 
home to the FDR Four Freedoms Park

Designed by architect Louis Kahn, The FDR Four Freedoms Park is a 4-acre memorial to Franklin D. Roosevelt that celebrates the Four Freedoms he articulated in his 1941 State of the Union address

It's been nearly 40 years since New York City started planning a memorial to President Franklin Roosevelt on an island in the East River. Welfare Island was renamed Roosevelt Island, and architect Louis Kahn was commissioned to design a park honouring the 32nd president. The memorial park was never realized, until 2 years ago. The park consists of a 4-acre triangular expanse of green, flanked by over 100 trees leading to a colossal bronze bust of Roosevelt at the threshold of a square white granite open-air plaza. The statue is an enlargement of a 28-inch bust of Roosevelt created by American portrait sculptor Jo Davidson, and sits in a stone niche on the back of which a passage from the Four Freedoms speech is carved. In the next several years, the park hopes to transform a nearby abandoned 19th-century smallpox hospital into a visitor's centre. Accessed by a small aerial tram that goes from from midtown to Roosevelt Island, it's one of the most dramatic journeys you make in Manhattan, and offers amazing views of the East River, the Queensboro Bridge and views high above Manhattan.

A bronze bust of FDR sculpted in 1933 by Jo Davidson

On January 6, 1941, Roosevelt delivered the historic Four Freedoms speech, which have been etched into this Memorial wall

"In the future days, which we seek to make secure, 
we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. 
The first is freedom of speech and expression - everywhere in the world. 
The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way -everywhere in the world.
The third is freedom from want, which translated into world terms, 
means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants - everywhere in the world. 
The fourth is freedom from fear...anywhere in the world. 
That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation."

— Franklin Delano Roosevelt —

Looking north through the park with the Queensboro Bridge and the ruins of the Smallpox Centre

Roosevelt Island used to be a quarantine centre for smallpox victims and to house the city's Psychiatric patients, with many of the abandoned ruins still standing

The view from FDR Four Freedoms Park over the East River to lower Manhattan

We came across two fellow Canadians on our walk to the memorial

New York's Central Park was the first urban landscaped park in the United States, design by Frederick Law Olmsted and architect Calvert Vaux. Today, the park is a beloved natural gem, an urban oasis in the middle of Manhattan. With magnificent gardens, woodlands, a lake, scenic jogging and bike trails, sweeping lawns, athletic fields, and Boathouse Restaurant, Central Park is a sanctuary for New Yorkers and visitors alike. The park's classic architecture, fountains, performance venues, carousel, historic landmarks and attractions such as Central Park Children's Zoo and Wildlife Center, National Weather Station and Nature Observatory at Belvedere Castle, Delacorte Theatre, Bethesda Terrace, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, makes it one of those places that make New York such a great place to live and enjoy some life's simple pleasures in the heart of New York City.

Belvedere Castle in Central Park with The Dakota in the background 

Belvedere Castle, built in 1867 by Central Park designer and architect Calvert Vaux as an observation tower, but now acts as a Visitor's Centre and home to the Henry Luce Nature Observatory

Central Park's Delacourte Clock with dancing animals

A Jazz Trio performing in the middle of the Park on a sunny afternoon

"Woody" the Central Park Woodpecker

Bethesda Fountain rises high above Bethesda Terrace and overlooking the 'Lake', 
in the heart of Central Park

Kids gather on a sunny Sunday afternoon to try their hands at making enormous bubbles

Stephen Duncan, Central Park's Bubble Man

A Chinese musician playing the two-string Erhu, creating the most haunting melodies

Rowers on the lake in front of The Boathouse Restaurant

Cherry blossoms in bloom

The John Lennon Memorial in Strawberry Fields, Central Park

The Metropolitan Museum is an easy walk from Central Park

The Metropolitan Museum's Petrie Café menu

A cold Brooklyn Lager seemed the appropriate NYC beverage to choose

Wonderful warm squishy rolls staved off our hunger until our soup arrived

Potato and Parsnip Soup with chive oil and a garnish of fried parsnip shavings

Spring Shrimp Salad with green beans, tomato and croutons in a light tarragon dressing

View across the lake to Central Park South, as we wind our way back to our home away from home  for our stay in NYC, The Beacon Hotel on Manhattan's Upper West Side

The Beacon Hotel on the Upper West Side is friendly, well situated, reasonably priced and offers suites and standard rooms with marble bathrooms and small kitchenettes