Avenue Open Kitchen, a popular diner off of Spadina, just South of Queen, has a nice crusty Mac 'n' Cheese. But it's not offered every day.
Last weekend, I surprised my wife with a trip to the Niagara region and we stayed at the Sterling Inn & Spa. Despite finding very little on the web (including Chowhound) about their new restaurant, AG, we decided to try it out and put it to the test by selecting their tasting menu.
The hotel is only a year old and the restaurant is even younger than that. So while both are arguably the best (hotel and restaurant) in Niagara Falls proper, they're not without rookie mistakes.
The style and decor of AG, as with the hotel, can be best described as "boutique meets Stanley Kubrick". If you don't like red, white and leather, it's the dining room is probably not for you. But it works. We walked in for our early dinner and chatted with the dining room manager for a few minutes before being led to our table. We were presented with our menus and ordered drinks. However we were never informed about a tasting menu, even though I had read about this on the hotel's website and called earlier in the week about it. When I inquired about the tasting menu, the server did say that they could offer one, but then went on talking about the experience as if I was unfamiliar with the concept - even though I was the one who asked. This reminded me of some condesending service I had a while ago at Susur's, so I guess they are in good company in that respect. But overall the staff was very friendly and eager at AG's and my wife and I arranged for a 5-course tasting menu w/ wine pairings for $100 apiece. (without the pairings would set you back $65)
The 5 dishes we received ranged from good to outstanding and the chef definitely knows how to match flavours; my only complaint has to do with the flow of the menu.
The first course was single piece of strong sheep's milk cheese served atop their take on a Waldorf salad - substituting the apple with cold spiced poached pear. This was great; my only criticism being that the wine pairing, a somewhat weak-tasting Riesling, was the poorest of the night. But an excellent dish in itself.
Course number two was a halibut dish which included clams, boar sausage and broccolini. It was served in sort of a nage and was remarkable.
After the fish came a rabbit dish which I actually mistook as the main course. A saddle of perfectly cooked rabbit was wrapped in prosciutto and stuffed with a truffled fig and boar sausage stuffing. This was placed on a puree of butternut squash and pieces of rabbit leg meat were placed on the side. It was served with a potato Rosti. This was my favourite dish - albeit indulgent with the taste of truffle, fig, prosciutto and smokey sausage (some of my favourite things).
So THEN came the main course, which was essentially duck, served in exactly the same manner as the rabbit. Duck breast, thinly sliced in the traditional style, was served with rapini, a potato galette (see rosti above) with confit on the side (see rabbit leg pieces above). After seeing such creativity earlier in the meal, this dish fell a little flat. The duck was perfectly cooked however.
Dessert was a white-chocolate and vanilla mousse, topped with a layer of orange gelatin and candied orange. It was also paired with a generous amount of cabernet franc ice wine :)
So the food overall was sohpisticated and worthy of high praise. But this is why this repition of cooking styles and ingredients - boar sausage, two ways (breast & leg) - or similar ingredients - broccolini/rapini and potato galette/rosti - made me feel a bit cheated on having chosen the tasting menu. I would definitely go back, but next time I'll order a la carte.
A Hound's gotta travel and I was on my way from Boston to Toronto, spending a Saturday night in Albany. When on the road in the States, my wife and I always go for local Mexican cuisine because while they try, Canada just doesn't get Mexican quite yet.
Anyways, I wanted to throw out a 'Thank You' to all the Albany Chowhounds who have recommended Bros Tacos in previous postings - http://www.brostacos.com . It's a rare event when you have your corn tortillas pressed to order and then stuffed with wonderful combinations of fillings which just work. (I think they were making my tortillas a la minute because it was already 8:30 pm - but they do make them fresh daily and they were delicious).
It's such a credit to Chowhound.com and the dedicated users that I would find a place such as Bros Tacos. It's a real neighbourhood joint, far from the hotel strip we were staying at (opposite SUNY, right near the highway and mall). I'm tempted to say that if there is a quintessential Chowhound type of restaurant, a hidden gem hole-in-the-wall, this is it. Amazing.
The ambience was OK. It's in a strip mall, but done up nicely enough. Ambience isn't everything though - look at Sushi Kaji.
Last night, my wife and I tried the relatively new "Copper Chimney" restaurant on Kingston Road in Pickering Village, Ajax. Having never heard a thing about this establishment, my mind was open with no expectations - but my palate was discerning, as per usual.
Copper Chimney is a half block away from Mount Everest Indian cuisine, one of our best take-out options in Ajax and a terrific place to go for "mainstream" Vinadaloo, Aloo Gobi, Pakora - type dishes. So dining in the shadow of Mt. Everest :), I was worried that I would be constantly comparing the two. But as soon as I looked at the menu, I saw there was no need to worry. I could see that Copper Chimney had set itself apart.
The Copper Chimney menu is organized into sections based on cooking style, each with a nice little intro on the style, the region where it's used (usually Parsi) and traditions surrounding it. The choices on the menu were, in some ways, narrower than your standard Indian menu. They had some familiar vegetarian options but the meats only consisted of chicken, goat, shrimp and fish (usually pomfret). Also, the appetizers all hailed from the Tandoor (including goat's brain). For our starter, we ordered the Parsi variation on tandori chicken, followed by the goat rogan josh (again, with additional Parsi spices), an okra dish - and then the one I was most excited about - whole pomfret coated in a green paste (consisting of cilantro, chillies, Parsi spices and coconut milk), then cooked in a banana leaf.
The food was perfect, or very close to it. The chicken was among the most tender and juicy tandori chicken I've had. It's funny, one would think that using a yoghurt-based marinade and a super-hot oven would always yield this result, but alas so many places serve dry tandori chicken. Are they cutting it into pieces that are too small? Are they overcooking it? Alas, I digress.
The goat was fall-off-the-bone great. I usually prefer a little more heat to my rogan josh, but the mildness forced me to appreciate the flavour. The okra was delicious and perfectly cooked. I'm so accustomed to overcooked okra, but the texture in this okra dish was akin to "al dente" and was a really pleasant change. The winner however, was the pomfret. It was served whole, still wrapped in the banana leaf, tasted very fresh and was as sweet and as tender as a small fish should be. The 'green paste' was wonderful and I found the dish to be quite unique among my Indian dining experiences.
Service was attentive and very friendly. But I'm a bit concerned that they might not last. Copper Chimney is charging Yorkville Indian Restaurant prices in Durham (most meat dishes were $13.95 and higher). The food is definitely worthy of these prices, but people might not be willing to pay them. For my sake - I hope I'm wrong... because the person in the back firing up that Copper Chimney REALLY knows how to cook!
I have family up in that area, so I am up there several times a year. Things used to be quite grim food-wise, for Midland / Penetang, but in the past few years it has picked up.
Link to sample Library menu: