To Market, To Mercatto

February 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

Cheese and charcuterie platters have been attracting me like bees to honey lately. I’ve been dying to go to a restaurant that serves this kind of combination, and so when a friend of mine informed me of a mutual friend’s visit to our fair (adopted) city, I heard opportunity knocking. I was given carte blanche for the choice of restaurant, and away I went, in search of the ideal, non-Asian (my visiting friend isn’t a fan), veggie-friendly (my other friend is a vegetarian) restaurant that had a cheese platter on the menu (I gotta look out for number one too right?). Given a particular area of town, the choice is usually easy. However, I was given the St Lawrence Market area. Beautifully charming, older part in East Toronto, busy but not obnoxiously loud, yet undoubtedly more pricey than the west.

I have a penchant for cardinal points. For some reason, south and west have always appealed to me, and I’ve harboured biases for those parts of most towns, regardless of the town or how correct my bias is. Since moving to Toronto, I am forced to concede that the eastern part of the city holds just as much charm as the west. Especially the St Lawrence Market.

After an exhaustive search of restaurants in the St Lawrence Market, just as I thought I’d have to look out for all but number one, I found a place that met all our needs and was not exorbitantly priced: Mercatto. Ignoring some of the reviews on Yelp and the like, I made reservations. We got there late, but had no problem getting seated. Wait staff was really courteous, lacking the snob factor that can be found a little too easily in a city of this size.

First order of business was the cheese platter. We had the choice of 3 from a list of roughly 10 different cheeses, most of which we’d never heard of. We decided to ask our waiter if he’d recommend anything, and instead of going through individual options, he asked what kind of cheese experience we’re looking for. You know you’re in the right place when you are asked what kind of space you’d like your cheese to transport you to. We settled on an eclectic, unique experience: one cow’s milk (Taleggio), one sheep’s milk (Manchego), and one goat’s milk (Pave du Barry). One mild and two strong cheeses, each with a unique note that I can’t really specify. I’m of the “I’ve never met a cheese I didn’t like” school, so I’m not sure if that makes my taste discerning (read: I’m pretty sure it doesn’t). Oh so yummy! Cheese platters aren’t ever really big, and though my eyes want way more at first, I’m quite grateful by the end of the experience. Especially with strong cheeses making an appearance.

We ordered a bottle of wine, recommended by a Sommelier based on our cheese platter, and oh did that Sommelier hit the mark. We wanted a red, medium bodied, fruity yet ever so slightly dry wine, and that’s exactly what we got. Oh. So. Tasty! Best of all, the bottle was enough for each one of us to walk away with a fun buzz.

Wine and cheese aside, how was the food? Perfectly cooked, perfectly portioned, perfectly yummy. I can’t fathom why anyone would not enjoy their experience at Mercatto. Nice decor, knowledgeable and courteous service, excellent flavors, great price, what more do people want?! Trying something new be damned, I’d go back several times!

Brunch Quest: Insomnia

December 11, 2010 § Leave a comment

Has it ever happened to you that within a short span of time (a few days, a week or two) you hear people talking about one particular thing everywhere you go? That kind of thing always makes me wonder what the significance of this thing’s occurrences are in my life. Of course the cosmos isn’t always in on this type of ubiquity, it’s most often the 25th anniversary of an 80s classic (Back to the Future), or the 10th anniversary of a kooky Coen Brothers movie (The Big Lebowski). However Insomnia was a little different, as it’s a restaurant with a local following, not a multi-million dollar grossing movie celebrated in magazines with international distribution.

Brunch is a favorite of mine. It feels like my world slows down a bit when I’m at brunch. I like to try new things (as mentioned previously in this blog), and brunch is certainly no different. By that I mean I prefer going to different spots rather than being a regular at one or two, but it’s not like I haven’t made repeat performances in the past (School Bakery, Dr. Generosity). I’d love to say I’ve covered a healthy portion of Toronto’s brunch scene, but that would be a lie. I’m working toward it though!

So yeah, back to Insomnia. I had heard many good things said of Insomnia’s brunch (and apparently drinks, which I left for another time), and so, as I am wont to, I decided to head down this destined path, and try it out.

What I had: Eggs Isabelle (a variation on the classic eggs benedict with avocado spread – oh, and I requested the hollandaise on the side) with coffee and stolen toast from my friends T & S.

What I thought of it: YUMMY! The avocado spread was the perfect amount (not too goopy, not to thin), the eggs were poached as I like them, and hollandaise was ON THE SIDE. Nice. A feature my friends did not enjoy but I loved very much was that they tossed their potatoes in ketchup before roasting/sauteeing them. Result was a light ketchupy taste on all, without the bottle-slapping efforts.

Highlight: Lucas, our tiny host (he was four or five by my guess), presumably the owner’s son, showed us to our table, waited for us to sit down, handed us the menus, and ran over to the bar to sip from his tiny saucer. ADORABLE!

Wait time: None, but I think that has a lot to do with the fact that we arrived at 11:30 on a Saturday. We had to weed through the people lined up on our way out.

Brunch is rarely (if ever) not a success, and Insomnia didn’t disappoint. Next time, I’ll tackle the sweet section.

I remember it well…

November 12, 2010 § 1 Comment

I was standing in the cafeteria at my work, stirring some sugar into my coffee, as I do every morning. I was casually glancing around as I worked on stirring those sugar crystals into coffee oblivion, when my eyes fell on a basket by the cash register. Normally, this basket is filled with a variety of goodies meant to entice the junk food devil on your right shoulder, but today it was a sea of monochrome green Miss Vickie’s jalapeño chips. The junk food devil on my right shoulder, let’s call him Bocephus, whispered into my ear: “Wouldn’t you like a bag for the road? And perhaps one to accompany your healthy lunch? And another for an afternoon snack? I wonder if they’d give a discount if you bought the entire basket…” Before I could tell Bo to shut up, I was transported back in time, to a memory I hadn’t thought of in nearly as many years that had passed since it occurred.

It was 1999. I was in cegep. It was winter, because I remember it being dark out, and I never had classes past 5:30pm. A friend of mine, a boy, was hanging out with me as I sat doing my math homework. I left him there to get a snack, and discovered a new flavour of Miss Vickie’s chips at the vending machine: jalapeño. I got back to the table we were occupying and offered him some of my discovery. He took some and told me how jalapeño chips reminded him of his mom, because she would make them at home. I thought that was pretty cool, as I had no idea someone could think of jalapeño as a chip flavour (I wasn’t so… whatever the equivalent of worldly is in foodie circles). And then I remembered how that same friend had paid me to write an assignment for him (where I had the opportunity to read what would become one of my favorite books – Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto). And how we had gotten into an argument on the bus over a comment he had made that, at the time, I took offense to, but I can now see was openly flirtatious (I wasn’t so… whatever the equivalent of perceptive is in normal circles). It was like jumping from one memory lily pad to the next in a matter of seconds.

I came back to reality, unscathed by my time travel, not even a minute after having been transported back. Those sugar crystals were dissolved, but everything else was the same. As I walked back to my desk, I wondered how powerful associative memory can be. Oftentimes, a scent will trigger a specific person, a specific moment in time. Other times, a song, a place, a car, and in the case of deja vu, a “je ne sais quoi.” It amazed me the specific details that came to mind at the mere sight of a bag of Miss Vicki’s jalapeño chips. The amazing thing was that they are always around. It’s not like it was the first time I had seen them in the last 11 years. I had indulged in a bag just last week. But this morning was the first time I thought of that friend, that boy. I think the last time I had spoken to or thought of him was easily 8 years ago. What about this instance of Miss Vicki’s jalapeño chips bag sighting triggered the memory of him? I don’t know. But it was fun to reminisce. I wonder what he’s up to today…

Imposter food

August 20, 2010 § 2 Comments

Disappointment (noun): Buying a muffin that claims to be oatmeal chocolate chip but is actually oatmeal raisin.

I don’t know about anybody else, but I hate it when raisins make their way into my baked goods. Though I do like raisins on their own or in chocolate (raisinettes, or Cadbury’s Fruits and Nuts… yummm), I hate them in cookies, muffins, or cakes. They affect the taste of the cookie/muffin/cake negatively. But that’s just a nice way of saying they suck. Again, I’m not hating on raisins, just the marriage of raisins with a sweet doughy substance.

I used to be a low maintenance picky eater, which basically means that there are plenty of things I wouldn’t eat but had no qualms about spending the time and effort to individually remove said things from the bit that I liked. For example, in my younger years, I wouldn’t eat all dressed pizza. Why? Because I didn’t like onions, mushrooms, and green peppers. However my parents loved it, and on the rare occasions that we’d order in, they’d order veggie and all dressed. So I would take my slice, and remove each morsel of vegetable I hated with patience I rarely exuded anywhere else in my life. The time and effort spent was worth it to me because there is nothing worse than biting into something (or drinking something) that you think is one thing but ends up being something entirely different. Even if you like the thing you are actually eating or drinking, it’s still a shock to the system like “Mmm Coke, yum…eeehhh what’s wrong with this Coke?! Oh… it’s iced tea.” I like iced tea so much that my blood is partially composed of it, but if I ordered Coke, I’m expecting syrupy fizz to be cavorting with my taste buds, not cool, still, sweet iced tea. This is even worse if you hate the imposter ingredient/drink. Fortunately for me, I no longer hate mushrooms or green peppers, but onions, if you aren’t finely chopped I want to have NOTHING to do with you.

When I first bit into my muffin, I was expecting the yummy oatmeal to be mingling with some melted bits of sweet heaven (aka chocolate) but what ended up happening was a full-out attack on my sweet expectations. The texture, the taste, all unexpected and all unacceptable. When is it acceptable to replace chocolate with raisins? Never. That’s when. I totally understand Chris Farley’s epic bit about Columbian coffee now.

I counted 52 raisins in that god damned muffin. 52!!! It’s a little muffin! Yes, I counted, because I picked each one out, one at a time. Some of them came in clusters of 7, as if 1 wasn’t enough to burn the skin off your face, here’s 7 so you can have a grand old time gagging. Every time I thought the coast was clear, I’d rip open another bit of muffin and there were 3 staring me in the face. I almost growled by the 20th minute of dissecting my muffin. Why is it that the things you dislike appear in numbers tipping the ingredient ratio scales in their favour? I don’t like kidney beans but there are more kidney beans in my chilli than there is meat. It’s cheap filler ingredient you say? Well I say give me less food but with the correct ingredient ratio!

So maybe that means I’m not all that low maintenance with my pickiness anymore… maybe it’s because I have come to like things I didn’t before (broccoli, sweet peppers, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, squash, mangoes)… maybe it’s because the things I still dislike are warranted (spinach, eggplant, onions, liver, bok choy, sprouts, papaya, honeydew, cantaloupe, etc)… just let me eat the way I want to eat!

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