Monday, September 26, 2005

Bo

So right off the bat I love this restaurant. The décor, clean, red and black with a hardwood floor. A bar and a few tables at the front with steps up to a dining area at the back.
There are ten other people in the place when we arrive and, as it turn out, the waiter is Sean’s neighbour from Westmount. We look over the menu and decide on a few appetizers to share and then one main between us. The service is good, even if the waiter seems a bit hesitant to recommend any one dish over another.
After a bit of Sing Tao we embark on our meal.
Scallop tartare with a creamy tobiko dressing comes in a martini glass with some cuke, pickled ginger and small sheets of toasted seasoned nori on the side. On top rests a crispy strip of some deep fried dough. The suggestion is made that we wrap the tartare in the strips of nori “like a Chinese taco”, and although this is a good texture play, the flavour of the seaweed runs all over the tartare, which is a beautiful mix of mayo (Japanese?) and tobiko with some super fresh scallops. Much more to our liking is the crispy chip, the texture play is better than the nori and the flavour is light and slightly rich from the frying. It goes much better with the tartare. So all in all a well made dish, beautifully presented with a difficult accompaniment.
Steamed pork dumplings with Szechwan and chilli vinegar dipping sauces come in a little bamaboo dim sum steamer. Four little soup dumplings (tang bao?) staring out at us. Although I love delicate dumplings, these are overly so. The wrappers are so fragile that any attempt to extract the dumplings from their steamer home results in torn skin and, more unfortunately, spilling of the delicious broth inside. The filling, texturally I find too delicate and in need of more spring. The flavours are good but fragile, and can’t compete with the dipping sauces both of which are based on Chinese black vinegar, one with somewhat thickly julienned ginger, and one we presume to be the Szechwan style. Neither are spicy and are way too similar to be worth offering separately. What really stands out on this plate, and it comes back again, is a salad of shredded nappa cabbage, topped with salsa of ginger and chopped lychee. It took us about 5 minutes to dissect this salad, the lychee being the mystery ingredient, and it is a total winner. If they offered this salad by the bowlful I would be first in line.
Grilled baby squid was unavailable so at the waiters suggestion we settle on the grilled chicken satay with kaffir lime and peanut sauce. The chicken is lightly marinated, perfectly cooked, and rests on some more sexy nappa salad with lychee salsa. A generous moat of thai lime flecked peanut sauce surrounds, rich, not too sweet. I really like this dish. I couldn’t put into words why ans no it’s not just the lychee salsa It’s just a dish that comes together for me, the sum of the parts being more than the whole and all that. Probably also the lack of sweetness that is the bane of so many peanut sauces.
Billing your General Tao chicken as the best in the city takes a bit of balls and although I have to confess that I am not really a General Tao fan. I can count the number of times I’ve eaten it on one hand, but I like to think that maybe I’m just waiting for a revelatory experience. So we order the Tao.
Once again the meat is perfectly cooked and the batter is light. The sauce for me is texturally thin but intensely sweet (maltose?), Sean assures me that sweetness is a Tao trademark but I still find it overpowering. It needs heat to balance it out, and although there is good meaty flavour, the sweetness just blots it out for me. Now if you are a Tao fan this may be exactly what you’re looking for, a prefect blend of high quality ingredients with a nod towards the flavours of the Tao you had as a child. I approach this dish with no golden light cast by nostalgia and that and that may very well be my loss. A small side of steamed chinese veg and one fried rice noodle garnish that is spectacular and unwieldy and that I love, some steamed rice, and there you have it. Am I converted, no. Is it a damn good Tao, you bet, probably just not meant for me
The restaurant is new, and I am sure that some of these issues are just growing pains. I never made it to Soy, the chefs previous venture, but I will definitely be back to Bo, for more food and to try one of their sexy sounding martinis.

56$ for three beers, after tax and before tip.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Glasgow 2 - The babbity bowser

The Bowser is a gastro pub serving some interesting Scottish fare. We went for a late lunch because we were still jet lagged, arriving at about 3:30 just before the post work Friday rush. A nice room with plenty of natural light off a cobblestone street, grey blue Nordic charm. Patio,, weather permitting.
Two pints of Titanic Sun Deck, a nice mildly acidic refreshing beer, to start. Robin didn’t want to eat too much so I ordered him two apps, Cullen skink to start and a potted hare as a second. I had the cullen skink as well and duck sausage with red wine gravy and mash..
We didn’t really know what to expect with the skink, described as a smoked haddock soup, but it turned out to be an amazing lightly creamed broth with large chunks of smoked haddock and potato floating in it. The broth was ideally smoky, the potatoes were perfectly toothsome and the chunks of haddock were large and tender. Double the portion and send us some bread and this would have been a great lunch, especially considering the fact that what followed was somewhat lacklustre.
The best thing about the duck sausages was everything except the sausages. The mash was hot and flavourful and I’m a sucker for mash. Minus the cullen skink I could live on buttered mash. The red wine gravy was sweet, sour and punched up with rosemary. Chopped onion, leeks, and celery made an appearance for good measure. Not the best gravy on earth but definitely some good stuff. The sausage however.. oh what a let down. Well, to be fair, the portion of two nice sausages was encouraging, the meaty flavour was all winner, but hardly ever have I met a sausage so dry. This sausage had been boiled before noon, possibly a day or two prior, and had sat, probably loosely wrapped, in the fridge. Now, this sausage was definitely in need of grease when it was being made, but the subsequent treatment did it no favours. Had it been freshly cooked it might have had a chance, unfortunately it crashed and burned.
Robins potted hare was a bit better but not what I had expected potted hare to be. Potted whatever, to me, is like a rillette; cooked meat covered in grease. Apparently at the Bowser potting involves copious amounts of aspic. I didn’t really mind. The aspic was garlicky and meaty if a bit more generous than we would have liked. There wasn’t that much meat involved to begin with and, as Robin turned up his nose at the aspic I got to eat what may have been an unfair share. The meat was a wee bit dry, but all in all some good flavours. The baby greens salad that accompanied was unremarkable, as were the cornichons and the chutney that were probably storebought..
The opening sentence of this review was originally: “One of the best meals we had in Glasgow..”, but after I wrote the review out I realised that this was far from true. The meal wasn’t expensive, about 17GBP for all the food. The cullen skink really was a great dish and the atmosphere and setting were pub-like and convivial. The service was crap and my condolences to the waitress because to all evidence someone close to her must have died earlier in the day to judge from her total lack of warmth and enthusiasm. Don’t smile if you can’t, but surly silence, especially in response to a “Thank you” from a customer, kind of dampens your already wet charm.
So go for a pint (which you obviously order at the bar) and get some soup. Or even better, try the upstairs resto (Scottich I think it’s called) a kind of French-scottish fusion resto open for dinner. We had a look at the menu and it looked encouraging, as did the space.. very bistro-y.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Japango, or, ridding the world of those pesky fish

Probably no more than 16 lucky people at a time can fit into Japango, a tiny japanese resto and sushi bar, hidden away on Elizabeth street in Toronto. The staff are friendly, and the chef right off the bat shows me the nights special : baby crabs, still alive, scurrying around in their tupperware home. They’re served deep fried and he covers his eyes and prays for the customer each time he throws one into the oil. We couldn’t resist. Actually my mum did, preferring the karmically sound route, however Robin and I got to choose our crabs as you would a fish in a Chinese restaurant. Probably more theatrics than gastronomy but no let down, Robins escapes the waitresses chopstick wielding grasp and runs around the floor a bit before being re-captured. Mine attacks me, pinching my finger quite painfully, so I decided we were meant for each other. They reappear later in the meal.
We order some appetizers, a sushi plate (chef’s choice) and some beer. After a brief chat to catch up, and a few sips of beer the apps arrive. Firstly, agehdashi tofu, meltingly soft tofu squares,coated in panko and deep fried. Then served with a bit of japanese soup stock, some soy, some minced green onion , and . Great, and the panko is a nice addition I’ve never encountered before.
Secondly, some griled eggplant. A little more bland, but beautiful and simple, they’re dressed in soy with a few bonito shavings shivering over the grilled and peeled aubergines adding their fishy smokey dimension to the dish.
We get to the main course sushi plate and it looks spectacular. I’m not one for tempura shrinp rolls, but these take the cake, fresh and crispy. And there, clinging onto the shrinp tail are our crustacean friends from the first paragraph. Whole in their shells, they are crunchy with a meltingly soft interior. I will avoid the allusions to terrestrial beasts with exoskeletons but there you have it, crispy deep fried crab minus the batter.
There is less rice in all the sushi than we are used to, and the rice is mildly sweeter, both of which work well with the ultrafresh fish. The salmon is delicious, top of the line, the tuna belly, which I always find overrated is less so here, but I still don’t see what the big deal is. Snapper, imported from Japan, comes with a small piece of shiso on top. Here again is a first for me, but the dosing is just right, shiso the size of a dime, fish, and mildly sweet rice all coming together to equal more than the sum of their parts.
All in all a spectacular meal, although I have more and more problems with sushi from an ethical depopulating the fish world point of view, this remains an outstanding sushi restaurant and at $90 for three people, one of the best quality/price ratios around, so get there before everyone else does and their pricing and location move uptown. Remains to be seen if you can open an ecologically friendly sushi restaurant. Oh and if you’re a regular you get to put your set of chopsticks behind the sushi bar in a little case.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Glasgow restaurants

We headed out to the restaurant, the Two Fat Ladies, for what turned out to be a spectacular dinner. The guide said that it was amazing seafood in the humblest of surroundings, and although this brought to mind some pretty humble surroundings, it was in fact a nice middle of the road resto, decor wise. The kitchen is at the frot facing the street, so that immediately throws you off guard. The wait staff, two of which were Irish and one of which was from Orkney, were young and charming. We had a bit of a chat and picked our way through the seafood heavy menu. We decided on a 2004 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc to start, a choice that we continued with throughout the meal.
Barbara had a fish soup that turned out to be tomato based and that she said was quite tasty, but we didn’t get to try any. Pat and Robin each had the mussels to start, which was quite a sizeable portion of extremely plump and sweet mussles, some the best I had ever tasted, in a lightl creaamed white wine broth with two big lemon halves for squeezing. I could have done without the lemon as the molluscs were so terribly delicious by themselves, but both Robin and Pat seemed to relish squeezing each portion before popping it into their mouths. The broth was light, creamy and sea sweet although no spoon was provided.
I settled on the prawns with coriander pasta, which turned out to be four beautiful prawns, tender almost to a fault, with a few strands of spaghetti and a pool of clarified butter. The promised coriander was nowhere in sight and the chilies spoken of on the menu were either the blandest chilies I have ever run across or bell pepppers. Some freshly ground black pepper or a squeeze of lemon would not have been amiss here but it was bloody good anyhow. I should mention that throughout the meal we were offered some thickly sliced brown bread, of the type that should be served in Scotland, ie propper bread.
For the mains, both Pat and I had the diver scallops with stornoway black pudding on a leek and bacon cream, She had the apps portion and I had the main size. The scallops were well seared and perfectly cooked, The black pudding was the same size as the scallops and seared as well, leaving a bit of a crust with a tender center. Alternated in a pile this was a tasty game if ever there was one. The whole was placed on top a little pile of leek and smokey bacon which had been stewed up in a thickened cream sauce. The sauce was reduced to a perfectly unctuous consistency and had picked up the smoky flavour or the bacon. This was to me an absolute winner of a dish as the black pudding was really delicious although Pat swore she had had better in Ireland. The rest was flawless, beautifully fresh scallops, sauce rich but again not overpowering.
Robin and Barb opted for the whole baked sole which came with simply a half lemon and some browned butter. Barb picked her way through most of hers and seemed to enjoy it. Robin complained a bit about the texture and when I tried it I had to agree. The flavour was nice and slightly meaty but the texture was a wee bit tough. Not that this could necessarily have been helped. We got complementary sides of beautiful grelot potatoes, small courgette rounds, and carrot wedges, the last being a might bit toothsome.
Heading for dessert I could not turn up a sticky toffee pudding, and glory it was, although not as dense as some would have liked it to be. Fresh raspberries and black curants along with a big pool of creme anglasie finished off the job and I was beyond satisfied. Robin opted for the bailieys and chocolate pot which turned out to be simply a ganache of baileys and chocolate. The texture was a bit strange to me, slightly chewy where I would have preferred creamy, but it in no way hindered the enjoyment of the dish.
The ladies had coffee and then we made as quick an exit as conversaton would allow, hoping that the staff didn’t begrudge us a few more chatty minutes. Definitly one of the highlights of our stay in Glasgow. A pleasure of a restaurant in suitably relaxed surroundings.
(as a note, this review is for Denise who lamented the lack of posts from the UK, thank you for motivating me to write more!)

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Roasted cauliflower and garlic soup

3 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium head cauliflower, roughly broken up into large florets
1 to 2 heads garlic, broken up but not peeled
2 medium onions peeled and roughly chopped
1 L veg or chicken stock
1/2 L milk
salt
250 g old cheddar grated

in a large roasting pan, mix the oil, cauliflower, onion, and a bit of salt. Toss the garlic in a bit of oil and place it in one corner of the pan.
Roast the lot at 400 F for about 20-30 minutes, turning it over as it begins to cook and brown. When the cauliflower and onions are nicely browned, remove the garlic and deglaze with a bit of the stock. Squish out the garlic, disgarding the skins, and put it with the cauliflower and onions,
Puree the vegetables with the stock. Add the milk and the cheese, and heat through to melt the cheese.
Dilute with more milk if necessary and serve with croutons, and oh, maybe some truffle oil if you can.