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Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Ampersand 27 - Choose your own adventure

Hit the "rewind" button for a few seconds and one will arrive at an era where "charcuterie" was a concept both mispronounced and misunderstood. Really, was it little more than the constituents of a sandwich, laid askew on a wooden board for all to see?

Such naive times, this era of "B.C." - i.e., "before charcuterie."

Fortunately, meat, cheese and condiment pairings gained credibility as meals in their own right. Indeed, selecting a chosen few to create individually relevant ratios of these ingredients is half the fun, and one need not wander afar to find good charcuterie these days - in this era of enlightenment.

Enter Ampersand 27.Enter their Whyte Avenue space (the former Murrieta's digs) and it is a bit like the Hobbit's Shire on acid. Over-sized botanical lamps. Chairs, tables and curves in the room that evoke glacially-deposited boulders on the forest floor. Cross-sections of antediluvian logs. Twinkling ceiling lights that capture a swatch of night sky and bring it indoors.. Only the flat screen TV playing the Fireplace Channel seems curiously - anachronistically - out of place. A vessel of Black Hills Syrah is open and light, but breathes of heady red fruits, their bosoms heaving in a far-off summer night. Ampersand's menu is as idiosyncratic as its dining room, and skips across a smattering of smaller sharing plates, larger things like flatbreads and pork chops, and a choose-your-own adventure of charcuterie.

One is given carte blanche for possible combinations of meat, cheese, pickles, condiments, and bread that range from as proletariat as baguette and brie to as esoteric as lavash and lamb merguez. This adventure, after considerable deliberation, arrives on a hefty wooden tray marked by ancient growth rings. Duck Rillet initially resembles a cup of white pudding with berries on top, but an exploratory excavation quickly reveals tendrils and shreds of fowl so tender that they sigh and effortlessly melt into bread. Pity that the baguette is at once flabby and dry, with no structural integrity whatsoever. Fortunately, this ill-fated baguette will prove to be the meal's only flat note. Russet sticks of pickled carrots sign with sinus-clearing acidity, while pungent Balunchon cheese evokes unapologetic barnyard sweats and furtive fumbles behind a Gallic chicken coop. Chalky Tellegio, in contrast is coy and a bit nutty, benefiting from a swipe of spicy blueberry-port chutney. Bresaola and Proscuitto are bovine and porcine antitheses of each other: one dry and sweet, the other supple and seductive.

The Chosen Adventure continues with the arrival of "Sea Shore." Selected from the "Share and Share Alike" section of the menu, one isn't initially sure what to expect from an entity described as "Scallop, prawn, smoked trout brandade, 'sand' and sea asparagus." Sea Shore, in its own good time, proves to be a visually impressive melange of deftly seared scallops, chubby prawns curled in repose, nori-wrapped smoky trout pate, and granular sand that, after a bit of prodding, is revealed to be crushed up shrimp chips. Sprigs of juniper-like sea asparagus and whispers of foam complete the concept, the latter of which melts away like a juicy secret in the right company.

Though Ampersand's menu treads a considerable stretch of territory, the Chosen Adventure of charcuterie reaffirms the timely notion that meat, cheese and condiments are so much more than misplaced sandwich ingredients. In fact, it hardly warrants thinking about a time when charcuterie was erudite territory - mispronounced and (to quote the very quotable George W. Bush) misunderestimated.

Ampersand 27 on Urbanspoon

Friday, 19 December 2014

A Day in the Sun at Passion de France

Long-maligned Alberta Avenue will be the next 124 Street. The next Whyte Ave. The next "it" street. For if every street has its day, then 118th Avenue's is poignantly overdue. Arguments in its favour could fill a small volume: an abundance of owner-operated businesses, an eclectic assortment of buildings (both new and old vintage), a bonus of wide-crowned elm trees, architectural diversity among the branching side streets, and an unabashedly authentic cross-section of humanity all striving for the same thing: a sense of home. Now, 118th has another reason to be cool or - better yet - sought after: a patisserie.

Passion De France opened quietly in early December. One isn't likely to drive by it, for this tiny house of baked goods is set back from the main avenue by at least half a block, and separated from the street from a patio's worth of space. Though the front walk is buttressed by heaving snowdrifts now, one can imagine a smart set of patio furniture and umbrellas nodding like heavy-headed sunflowers in the breeze once the northern hemisphere turns back towards the light.  Inside, a tidy and efficient space, dressed in cool mint green and white, breathes the beguiling scent of fresh baking, resplendent in rich butter and sighing with dark chocolate and spices.
The display cooler is not yet full, though the menu promises a smattering of sandwiches, quiche and soup. Make no mistake, though; I've come for the baking. Specifically - croissants and macarons. Though I must confess to have never been in Paris (neither the French nor Ontarian locals, though I suspect the latter holds to a different standard of baked goods), a journeyman baker once explained to me that a real croissant - a real one and not the questionable supermarket variety - ought to make a mess when eaten. For all those glorious strata of butter, so lovingly layered throughout the dough, transform via some sort of culinary alchemy into a shattering mess. Yes, one bite ought to send croissant shards everywhere. Anything less, and you are looking at an ersatz roll of edible oil products. The croissant at Passion de France more than delivers. It delivers a sinfully rich croissant that makes a mess absolutely everywhere, just as it should.

Nine flavours of macarons beckon: at this point, they include chocolate, orange, Earl Grey, raspberry, lemon, passion fruit, vanilla, coffee, and salted caramel. It is difficult to pick a favourite flavour, for how could one go to the Louvre and pick a favourite painting? These impish, colourful buttons are yielding yet firm - sweet but not cloying. Little exquisite paradoxes, just their Alberta Avenue home, which will soon find its day in the sun.

Oh, and they pull a mean espresso macchiato.

Passion de France on Urbanspoon

Monday, 8 December 2014

Winds of Change at Enzo's on 76

The joyous discovery of Enzo's on 76 restored faith that the neighbourhood eatery was alive and well, feet firmly planted, head helt high, with strong arms stirring a cauldron of bubbling marinara. Enzo's had no need for a trendy street to call home, and that was part of its appeal; good food requires no fixed address. The restaurant's namesake rotated constantly from kitchen to front of house. Enzo and his warmly-lit space were meant for each other. Change blew through the doors - in my eyes - inexplicably. Word on the street is that Enzo is focusing on his take-out place in Sherwood Park. Front of house and kitchen staff are all different now, and though this unto and of itself is not bad or wrong, memories tied to this specific location still search for each other like a favourite hat waiting to be hung on a well-crafted coat hook.

Little has changed in the restaurant, esthetically speaking. Photographs of food have been replaced with vaguely Van Gogh-ish oil paintings, and a top-forty soundtrack in the background neither offends nor pleases. A plate of freshly sliced bread arrives with a small bowl of rosemary-infused olive oil. Not the garlic-infused oil and balsamic that Enzo used to serve, but it is headily fragrant and undeniably delicious.

Two mains - one the evening's special and the other a la carte - are a study in contrasts. Lobster Mac and Cheese (left) proffers ample lobster in a deceptively deep bowl of rigatoni. Promises of truffle oil don't quite shine through the rich cheese sauce, but the summation is still one of decadence and comfort. Pan-seared Arctic Char (right) is a treat and begs the question of why overexposed salmon gets more air time. Crunchy, sesam seed-encrusted skin protects moist myomeres that, in turn, shelter a vibrant and grassy green pea puree. Agreeable mixed vegetables are along for the ride, but this dish belongs unequivocally to the char.

Dessert, as the evening winds to a close, includes a Cappuccino Semifreddo (left) and Flourless Chocolate Cake (right). Each is decked out with miniature gingerbread men for the holidays, and the semifreddo is gifted a crunchy gingerbread tree. The semifreddo is nutty, chilly, and creamy without being too rich, but the chocolate cake is a contradiction of very heavy cake paired with vexingly sticky caramel popcorn, without much (apart from a valiant scoop of gelato) to marry the two.

The winds of change have indeed blown through Enzo's doors, and it is difficult to think of the restaurants in terms other than "before" and "after." Even though the food remains delicious, I cannot help but wonder the whereabouts of the eatery's eponymous, original chef, and hope that his spark, zest, and ability to restore faith in the very existence of neighbourhood restaurants is well-received in Sherwood Park.

Enzo's on 76 on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Breaking the Jinx at Central Social Hall

There are so many jinxed locations in Edmonton. One can think of a certain spot on Whyte Ave's western frontier that chewed through a high-end eatery, a coffee shop and a sushi joint in a matter of months. Or spaces on Jasper Avenue that suffer the same, perpetual, interminable fate. A certain corner of Jasper Avenue was a Japanese joint with dubious "naked sushi" a few years ago. Then, it morphed into "The Ruby Dragon," proffering purportedly good Chinese food that still failed to hang onto this coveted piece of real estate. Finally, in 2012, Central Social Hall cut the ribbon and threw open its doors. Passing motorists - myself included - caught glimpses of boisterous, crowded tables, and blinking flat-screens.

Still, I did not visit, unconvinced by my unsubstantiated assumptions of predictable hamburgers and sodden fries. A recent invitation to Central Social's new menu tasting event provided good reason to visit, and ultimately to shatter preconceived notions of pub-grub proficiency.
A detailed menu flaunts a daunting nine item roster for the evening, one that is nudged into sparkling motion by a glimmering flute of Glera Sparkling that tickles and whispers like the snowflakes outside. The flipside of the menu reads, "share and be social," and this phrase is as prophetic as it is accurate. A large platter of Kettle Chips (upper left) delivers satisfying crunch, though the accompanying caramelized onion dip falls a little short in the onion department. Bacon-Deviled Eggs (lower left) are ghostly white boats toting a rich payload of smoke and sweet. Ball Park Pretzels (lower right) are show-stealers. Warm, salty and beguiling, these knotty treasures find happy companions in fiery mustard and rich cheddar sauces. Better yet - both sauces in the same bite, much like a British mustard-and-cheese sandwich. Albacore Tuna Tataki (upper right) furthers the evening's trend with a strong hand of crisp wonton, supple tuna, and a savoury-tangy dollop of wasabi mayo on top.
 A Crispy Prawn Thai Noodle Salad (upper left), aside from that extremely memorable pretzel, is the evening's winner. Cool, citrusy, and summery, this melange of cabbage, cilantro, cuke, carrot and cucumber, finds sunshine with sweet mint, tart pickled onions, and earthy peanuts. A crispy fried shrimp is the proverbial cherry on top. A Spicy Chicken Taco (right) is the evening's misstep; chicken is shredded so finely as to be undetectable, while valentina hot sauce is inconsistently applied. Texturally, the sum of the parts is not the whole. Redemption arrives in the earthly form of Seafood Linguini (lower left). Here is a creamy, tomato-y treat that would just as home on a red checkered candlelit table cloth as it is under the uber-modern light fixtures of Central Social.
All good things must end, and if all good things ended with Apple-Cranberry Crumble, the world would be a far better, far happier, place.  Here, a rustic jam jar proudly cradles ruby-red apples, cranberries and rhubarb that relaxes and reclines under a crumbly blanket of pecan struesel. One could eat a bowl of struesel alone, as it's rather addicting. A tiny scoop - how I wish there was just a bit more - of vanilla gelato melts gratefully onto the surrounding crumbles while the omnipresent flat-screens blink hypnotically, like the headlights of passing vehicles outside.

Thank you, Central Social Hall, for your generous invitation, and for proving yourselves to be a strong contender in Edmonton's burgeoning gastropub scene. If anyone deserves to dispel that location's jinx, it's you.

For another take on the evening, read about Marlow Moo's experience.
Central Social Hall on Urbanspoon

Friday, 28 November 2014

The Gods of Cake at Duchess Bake Shop

Somewhere, wrapped deep within one's obligatory adult layers of pleasantries, manners and social mores, is a five year-old with an insatiable appetite for cake.

Hyperbole and a Half's Allie Brosh explains this phenomenon best.

Though there were social mores a-plenty at Duchess Bake Shop's recent cookbook launch (a fine volume that is well worth a purchase), I suspected that, lurking just barely below the surface of smart dresses and neatly pressed pants, was an entire army of five years olds at the ready, just waiting for their cue to strip the universe of sweetness.
Towering, many-hued macaron edifices, a multiverse of tarts, and sparkling petals of madeleines waited - no, veritably tempted and practically taunted. A silent, siren song of sweets. Kitchen tours set to the gentle strains of cellos and other string instruments produced little tidbits, like how Duchess's key lime pie sprung fully formed from the brow of a happy accident, namely, an unexpected shipment of limes. Or that French bakers always open a shop in Tokyo, because the Japanese public has a relentless desire for French baked goods. Or that no one - absolutely no one - order Paris Brest when Duchess first opened shop, and co-owner Giselle dutifully ate countless Parisian dainties for breakfast when the public spurned these international goodies in favour of more recognizable fare.
And so it goes. No more do baked goods wait in vain, yearning for a lover of pastries who will never arrive. No; Duchess outgrew its original space and expanded next door, opening "Provisions" in its natal digs and conjuring up a Parisian-Victorian room of jeweled chandeliers, backlit shelves (on of which proudly sports a tiny, gilded ornamental reindeer head), and counter upon on counter of baked goods. Fodder for the wildest childhood fantasies of everyone's inner five year-old.

Duchess Bake Shop on Urbanspoon

Monday, 24 November 2014

Credo Coffee - I Still Believe

Credo Coffee quietly turned heads when it opened shop downtown. Deftly pulled macchiatos were a timely antidote to overwrought extra-large double-doubles, and Credo's airy, sunlit, art-filled space breathed new life into downtown's dusty bricks. Fast forward a good five years and the rich brew of Intelligentsia beans still wafts from Credo's doors.

This time, though, the downtown set is not Credo's sole beneficiary. A smart flight of polished concrete steps on 124 street leads down to Credo's second-born. This shop hardly feels like it's below street level; floor to ceiling windows and a walk-out basement door lend this Credo the same sensations of light and approachibility as its downtown predecessor. The macchiato brownies (top left) are as deep, dark and devilishly delicious as they are on 104 street, and a frothy mug of London Fog (top right) is a heady brew of woodsy bergamot and sweetly astringent tea with hot milk.

Chewy granola bars (above) are a far cry from the corn syrup-laced bricks found on grocery shelves. No; here, chocolate chips, oats and raisins sidle themselves somewhere in between a bowl of hot oatmeal and a Grandma-style oatmeal cookie in terms of overall naughtiness. Espresso macchiatos (bottome left) are as rich and bold as an Italian race car mogul - and just as beguiling. Jewel-esque Jacek Chocolates (bottom right) are almost too pretty to eat. Almost, but their aesthetic appeal seals their fate. Set among the concrete ceiling and hyperlinear track lighting at Credo the Second, it's nearly impossible to sense that this stretch of 124 street is on the verge of something momentous, just like 104 street was that pivotal half-decade ago.

Credo Coffee on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 19 October 2014

A Minor Epiphany at Cococo

Italy is not a country of half-measures. 

Nor are Italians a subtle people. Be it food, architecture or upscale vehicles, all must be brighter, sleeker, and packed with more panache per cubic centimetre than its predecessors. This boisterous joie de vivre is juxtaposed against a paradoxically serene landscape of molar-like mountains, vast stretches of cropland, and positively Jurassic trees. 

North American experiences of Italy have thusly tended along the lines of "Eat, Pray, Love" or "Under the Tuscan Sun." (or even that Barilla pasta commercial where a sexy Italian neighbour saves the day)  In other words, one cannot possibly visit Italy and not be rocked by a life-altering epiphany. 

Promises of epiphanies in hillside villas are better fodder for Hollywood popcorn flicks than they are for realistic holiday experiences. When teary-eyed revelations failed to appear, I faced a singular, universal truth. Italy is home to some damn fine gelato. 

When the plug on my gelato-powered respirator was rudely yanked away, though, I gasped for my next hit. Twice daily gelato runs were too soon a distant memory. 

Sweet and timely consolation arrived as a scoop of white chocolate lemon and cinnamon bun gelato at Cococo. One could slip into the tired tirade of "that's not how it would taste in the old country," but that's not the point. These flavours very well may not ever appear across the ocean, but the lemon sang of fleeting sunshine. The cinnamon captured autumn's wistful urgency. Each voluptuous spoonful may as well have been narrated by Sophia Loren's throaty purr. I am not sure whether I discovered the meaning of life in Italy, but it's pretty darn clear that Cococo scoops a mean gelato. 

Cococo Cafe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Close to Home at Rostizado

Food and language are entities of the same genetic stock. Both are capable of the most sublime expressions and nuances and, under optimal circumstances, present as vibrant layers. Presently, I am writing this in Milan's central train station, where multiple strata of languages are slow-smoked spices, undulating and reverberating with life. Despite the din, it all somehow makes sense.

If these layers could somehow be transmuted into scents, they then might come close to capturing the olfactory aura of Edmonton's Rostizado. Rostizado is the second-born sibling to vivacious Tres Carnales, but don't you dare compare the two. Rostizado is to Tres what wood-scented afterglow is to sun-warmed sand. What Billie Holiday is to Tito Puente.

Recently extinct Roast Coffee House's bones are long gone, and the broad timbre of Rostizado fills the antediluvian room with zest, camp, and laughter that veritably bounces off the warehouse ceiling.

The wait is long tonight, as one must gamble against the clock - pitting the timing of one's hunger against that of another. Fortunately, a stridently strong El Emperador seizes one's attention with velvety low notes of vanilla, herbaceous interjections of amaro and tequila, and an overt agenda of basil.

Smoked Salmon Sopes arrive not a moment too soon. Toothsome cornmeal discs cradle a worthy cargo of russet, cured salmon that whispers, rather than shrieks, captivating tales of mesquite and tequila.

Frijoles Charros are almost a meal unto themselves. How such hearty fare could spring fully-formed from the brow of a tropical country is paradoxical yet fortunate. Meaty beans and zippy cilantro chase away any evening chills, and little nubs of queso fresco are curiously reminiscent of squeaky curds that one would find in proper poutine.

The finale: Rosti-Pollo and Rosti Puerco (i.e., chicken and pork). Perhaps hours of flame, smoke and spice have caressed and coaxed each cut to a succulent coda. Piquant pickled onions and crisp pickled carrots impart colour and crunch. Each bite of tender flesh at once evokes layer upon layer of nuance, inflection, and luscious subtext - no different than the crust, mantle, and core of multifarious languages that are present so many thousands of kilometres away at the train station.
Good food, like language, captivates, challenges, and convinces one that there are certain universal truths. That Rostizado has their culinary priorities straight is doubtless one of them.

Rostizado - By Tres Carnales on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 7 September 2014

The Velvet Revolution at Whimsical Cake Studio

Second chances are important. Chefs change. Recipe change. Owners change. Good thing too; an unfortunate by-product of the food industry is that everyone - quite literally - wants a piece of the pie. Or wants to make the pie, no matter how good or bad it may be. Channels like the Food Network and the exponential proliferation of celebrity chefs have glamorized this world to the point of glossing over the every real blood, swears, screams and red-faced rending of garments that so often courses through commercial kitchens like some sort of supercharged life-blood.

And so, everyone wants to make that pie. Such was the case with cupcakes earlier this decade, when everyone and their dog was opening a cupcake bakery. This perplexing obsession with small sweets defied logic and held on for an impressive tenure. Marlow Moo and I even sought out the best cupcakes in the city, and found that the competition was woefully deficient. Garneau-based Whimsical Cake Studio fell somewhere in the middle of the pack. Forgettable at best.

There was little reason to return until baker extraordinaire Darcy Scott assumed the reins this past winter. Those unfamiliar with her handiwork would do well to visit her shop quickly; this is not the work of the bakery's previous owners. Case in point: cringe-worthy Red Velvet has been usurped by Vanilla Velvet. This version eschews the namesake food colouring (that imparts little other than a crimson hue to the batter) and allows the full spectrum of heady, fragrant vanilla to shine.

This is an enviable cupcake. Moist crumb, slightly chewy cap, judicious crown of ever-smooth cream cheese icing that actually tastes of cream cheese, rather than some murky and not-quite-identifiable edible oil product. God forbid. Nearly microscopic flecks of vanilla bean are speckled throughout. Each bite balances the correct ratio of cake to icing. Really, this cupcake alone is reason to revisit Whimsical.

Whimsical Cake Studio on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Suddenly Last Summer at Jimmy Poblano's Southwest Cantina

Oh, how summer is racing by. Racing like the scads of white cloud that hurry across the sky as if chased by some invisible force. Racing away like the fleeting days of summer that, perhaps a month from now, will have given way to frost-tinged nights and orange leaves.

But for now, the night is soft and sultry, touched only by heat and haze, and characterized by delirious, delicious darkness that deigns to allow the existence of anthropogenic light.

These are the nights to walk the city streets, just to see what happens. On one such night, I discovered Jimmy Poblano's Southwest Cantina, right next to the Le Marchand Mansion (which is wrapped in the throes of cosmetic surgery). Here, passers-by trickle in and out, and a garland of chili-shaped lights adds a cheeky touch of whimsy.

Prickly Pear Lemonade eases through the evening's heat with a zesty chill and perky hint of subtle rose-hued fruits. Indeed, this quenching bevvy may well set the bar for pink lemonade and its various permutations.

A taco trio features one each of (right to left) Chicken Adovado, Chile Verde Pork, and Machaca Beef. Chicken seduces with tender meat and lascivious undertones of red chilies and citrus. Chile Verde Pork showcases its eponymous spice with aplomb; hints of beer and a touch of sweetness seal the deal. Finally, Machaca beef sings and sighs with a mole-reminiscent bouquet of coffee and caramelized spices. A nifty tomato salsa and a mealy glob of refried beans complete this picture.

The poignant impermanence of summer nights all but sharpens one's appreciation of late-hours street food. It behooves one to enjoy it now before suddenly, last summer.

Jimmy Poblano's Southwest Cantina on Urbanspoon

Monday, 4 August 2014

Fly Me to Halo Bar & Bistro

Airports are an endless source of entertainment. Indeed, the passing parade of harried humanity proffers many small truths about how one's fundamental human nature bubbles to the surface when pressed through a strainer of arrivals and departures. Good food, however, is generally absent, as airports constitute a "captive audience" scenario wherein patrons are obliged to eat what is in front of them, quality notwithstanding.

Halo Bar & Bistro happens to be a restaurant within an airport. It would be easier to lump this eatery into the catch-all category of "captive audience feedbags. Easier - but not at all accurate. No; Halo would be right at home downtown, or on some other smart street within reach of the mobile and the hungry. Though an immediate, all-encompassing descriptor for the menu does not readily spring to mind, think of thinks like soft tacos, but with rainbow trout. A donair, but with bison meat. A green salad (pictured above) is just singing with candied pecans, little snowy bits of goat cheese, and dried cranberries. Assorted greens with lavender honey dressing is a treat all by itself.

A Wild Mushroom Panino is more mushroom than bread. Just look - this is an irrefutably good ratio of mushroom to bread. A light dab of mayo and a melty stratum of Fontina allow their fungiform counterpoints to shine. Toasty slices of bread with proper ridges and valleys are an enviable vector.

Across the table, the House-Smoked Salmon Salad with Sorrel looked absolutely fabulous. Alas, by the time I worked up the gumption to ask for a nibble, it was gone. All the more reason to pop in next time. For if mushroom panini are a litmus test for the rest of the menu, then I would dare say that Halo deserves a drive out, even if one does not have a flight to catch.

Halo Bar & Bistro on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 24 July 2014

A Fine Kettle of Fish at Maritime Concession

Good seafood requires no embellishment.

Indeed, memories of Victoria's Red Fish Blue Fish run as clear as a tidal pool in full sunshine, resplendent with colourful fauna that dart in and out of the shadows faster than the thoughts that chase them. Queuing on a dock to purchase fish and chips from a converted sea can just adds to the fun. Alas, there are no docks or sea cans in Edmonton. There is, however, a bare-bones trailer with an unapologetically plywood awning that dishes seaworthy fish (and shellfish) and chips, parked way the hell and gone in a west-end industrial park.

Accurately-named Maritime Concession maintains a straightforward menu of fish and chips; iterations on this theme include haddock, scallops, and clams. Burgers and hotdogs are along for the ride as well.Single-serve packets of tartar sauce and vinegar are intuitive additions.

Haddock and chips take a few minutes to appear out the window; sizzles and scents from within confirm that each filet was fried on demand. Upon arrival, crispy and veritably greaseless batter presents an enviable envelope for the haddock's flaky, pale flesh. A bed of fries tends toward the squishy end of the French fry spectrum, but no matter. The fish is Maritime's focal point.

Fried scallops are juicy yet firm bundles enveloped by crispy crust. Close one's eyes, and one might imagine the roar of surf, rather than traffic, just beyond the Concession's bounds. It's not that far-fetched, and Maritime Concession does an admirable job of bringing coastal treats inland. Here is a fine kettle of fish.

Maritime Concession on Urbanspoon

Monday, 7 July 2014

I Love Lusitania - An evening at A Taverna

Nature abhors a vacuum.

Indeed, good restaurant real estate is a limiting factor in most cities. When Cafe Amore - a treasured Italian eatery - vacated its Delton digs, another Italian cafe rushed in to fill the void. Alas, it was not to be. Several months thereafter, A Taverna assumed this cozy nook, a half-block off an elm tree-lined street that is just far away enough from downtown's din to be considered cozy and intimate.

A Taverna might be as close as one might get to Portugal without actually hopping on a plane. Indeed, little to no English will be heard on any given night (though don't, by any means, let that dissuade you from going), and the menu makes no excuses for North American palates. A sampler plate of "Petiscos" - the nearest recognizable analogue being tapas - is a crash course in all things Lusitanian. For example, a simple stew of chicken gizzards rumbles with tomatoes and unobtrusive spices. Superfluous garlic toast wouldn't be missed, but the toothsome flesh rouses even the most stubborn of appetites.

Velvety, unctuous tuna pate (pictured at front) lends itself nicely to crunchy rounds of bread. Cured pigs' ears (pictured at rear) are more texture than flavour; a soft outer stratum reminiscent of pork belly gives way to a chewy, yet crunchy, interior not dissimilar to tripe, and are not for the faint of heart.

Flagship Bacalhao is salty and satisfying. Myomeres of pale codflesh fall away at a fork's touch. Tumbles of caramelized onions and discs of fried spud (think scalloped potatoes minus the scalloping) are happy, savoury companions.

White Pudding sends the evening out in style, shining over the surrounding symphony of animated chatter and soccer news. Somewhere between jello and creme brulee in texture, this berry-crowned creation beguiles with simple notes of milk and vanilla.

Comparisons between Cafe Amore and A Taverna would be futile and specious. The sizzles and sounds of life emanate from this Delton corner and, really, if Portuguese is the primary language spoken within, this can only mean good things.

A Taverna on Urbanspoon


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