CUISINE: Latin ADDRESS: 561 Southdale Road DATE: July 23, 2014
My friend Rob and I have had this Hollywood fantasy for almost 10 years.
It goes like this:
We are out at a bar, maybe a restaurant, maybe in our seats at a theatre or something. We will be chatting, telling tales like we do, and a television producer will overhear our hilarious conversations, turn around, and in a moment not unlike the classic “HEY KID! I’m gonna putcha in the PICTURES!”, he’s going to offer us our own morning talk show.
(Of course he would overhear us. We both talk FULL LOUD.)
Not like a radio show; those things are basically obsolete, and I would love to make more than $22, 000 a year, thankyouverymuch.
We have decided a morning talk show, a la Regis and Kelly (or, more realistically, the Wine-soaked 4th hour of the Today show) would be the best venue to display our unique talents. THE AHCTING, yes, she is in me, but we’re really much funnier and better off-the-cuff. Maybe it’s because our stories are always filled with half-truths, enhancements and embellishments.
Flights of fancy, if you will.
When I was in high school, my friends and I used to call our stories “SCENARIOS”. They would start out capturing real events, but then we would imagine glorious endings that would always capitulate with us riding around on the mayor’s shoulders, with balloons falling from the ceiling.
Now, my storytelling skills have improved, so I really don’t have to make too much up: I can turn an embarrassing moment from my life into a full tale of ribaldry with a hand gesture and a well-timed impression. My enhancements are usually limited to adding a funny line or two that came to me in the hours or days after the event.
I don’t always I get the credit I deserve for these added details. I’ve often told stories with a new line that I’ve added, but attributed to someone else.
MEGAN: And then Ian said, “I only speak when it’s necessary”—
JESS: Ian’s SO FUNNY.
MEGAN: (through gritted teeth) Yes. Ian.
And it never occurred to me until recently that I come by these skills naturally. My parents are both real smarties, and because they also have near photographic memories—
MOM: Guess who daddy saw at Tip Top Tailors?
MEGAN: I dunno. Someone I went to school with?
DAD: (with a smile, settling in)So I needed a new suit….
(many details and minutes later)….and it was his son!
MEGAN: (pause) I have no idea who that is.
DAD: Our neighbour? From our old street? (Note: my parents moved to their current street in 1991) The one with the perfect lawn?
MEGAN: Ohhhhh. The guy who used to cut his lawn with scissors?
KENNY: (chiming in) I’ve heard that story.
—anyway, my parents’ stories, like mine, end up being quite detailed. I guess I always assumed that making a minor incident like my dog vomiting in the car into a feature-length story was a normal thing that everyone did. But it turns out it’s probably genetic, along with having a crazy memory for minutae, policing other people’s grammar (annoying), and always spilling a little bit of food on my shirt.
Basically, I’m admitting to being a FULL LIAR. But I think people would rather hear good stories, than truthful ones, no?
But here’s the truth: Ian and I have been to the restaurant Los Comales before, in its old iteration downtown: lime green walls, plasticky tables, and the friendly woman, Ana, that ran it.
My friends Sarah and Bryce were so well-known at Los Comales, that the owners once had a BRYCE WEEK where they offered a special on Combo Number Dos. So I had to alert him in Toronto that we were going to the new version of his favourite London haunt:
He was pretty excited they reopened.
But since that restaurant closed before the blog started, we thought it was only fair to add it to the list when it open up a year and a half later on Southdale Road.
As has been the case at nearly every Latin place so far, my parents decided to join us.
KNOWN LIARS, Rick and Dianne.
Of course Mr. Ian was there, who was convinced by my lying ways that kissing me ONCE meant that we were BOUND into a dating relationship (Shhhh. Don’t say anything otherwise. He’s believed it since 1998.)
I didn’t even notice during dinner, but IAN’S BLOG SHIRT (patent-pending) is a faux-vintage Batman t-shirt and a Hoodie. Don’t blame him. He’s been sick.
But we’re never going to get this AZ RESTO Licenced Clothing line off the ground with this kind of negligent dressing…
And Ian and I picked up Jess on the way at her NEW HOUSE, which is definitely close enough to Los Comales to pick up tacos on her way home from school, so as not to dirty the kitchen in her NEW HOUSE.
JESS: I’m excited when THINGS say gluten free!
Kenny joined us for his fifth blog visit, after he and I spent the afternoon seeing a show starring several former students at the Victoria Playhouse in Petrolia. He and I couldn’t wait to talk about the REAL SHOW going on in that theatre.
MEGAN: Going to the Victoria Playhouse is always a bit like going to a convalescent home.
KENNY: So many oldies.
MEGAN: There was not one, but TWO old people who left to go to the washroom during the show, and came in the wrong door.
KENNY: The one guy did I double take. Like, popped his head in, looked, went to leave, looked again.
MEGAN: The other lady was yelling at her husband, full-voiced, at the door. While the show was on. This was, like, while Rebecca was singing “Hallelujah” in a spotlight.
KENNY: And an old man came up to me at intermission and “congratulated” me on the show.
MEGAN: In the bathroom.
KENNY: And the 50/50 draw?!?
MEGAN: They were singing “If I Had A Million Dollars”, announced the winning ticket, and said that the winnings could be picked up at the bar after the show. And they kept singing. But the oldie who won MADE HER WAY from the back of the theatre, waving the winning ticket.
KENNY: And then there was another winner!
MEGAN: After they got her to sit down, they kept singing, but then another lady stood up and said, (old lady voice) “I believe I ALSO WON?”
MOM: Oh, no! Did she?
MEGAN: God no.
Our last guest of the evening, my friend Pam, had some trouble finding the place. To be fair, I think the new restaurant is a bit hard to find in the plaza on the corner of Southdale and Earnest: I don’t think their sign is bright enough, and there have been so many stores come and go in this plaza over the years, I found myself giving her directions to Los Comales the way my Grandpa gives directions: by talking about things that are no longer there.
MEGAN: It’s on Southdale. It’s like…do you know where the Jumbo Video used to be? What else was there? Like a paint store or something? Cheap Charlie’s? The place from the 90s with 10-cent wings? No? Um, do you know where the big ice cream cone is?
And, in her first blog appearance:
BAM. IT’S PAM.
Pam, a fellow teacher, became a great friend when we cast her son as one of the “River City Kids” in THE MUSIC MAN.
Everyone should have a friend like Pam because Pam makes me feel AWESOME. Pam has (inexplicably?) become MY BIGGEST FAN.
My musical theatre direction? BROADWAY-READY.
My face? NARY A WRINKLE. YOU NEVER AGE!
My Olympic Opening Ceremony Tweets? SUITABLE FOR PUBLICATION.
Pam is a weaver of half-truths as well, but in the best possible way. She is so effusive and positive, that her stories involve everyone and everything around her being gifted and special beyond compare. She absolutely CELEBRATES the talents of the people around her.
REAL PAM QUOTES:
PAM ON A MUSICAL PERFORMANCE
Oh. Well. It touched my innermost heart. That performance. I have not stopped thinking about it.
PAM ON ONE OF MY STUDENTS
What exactly is she???!? She’s clearly not human. She is 3 steps ahead at every turn, but also embraces every moment.
PAM ON FOOD
These things will make you crave cream puffs for the rest of your natural life.
So, obviously her enthusiasm for everything makes her great to be around, and perfect for a blog dinner. Or so I thought.
Pam was stressed about Los Comales, a Latin restaurant, because she claimed to be “the world’s most boring eater”.
SPOILER ALERT: Her order involved FRENCH FRIES.
So, Pam arrived a bit late, flustered because she a) couldn’t find it, and b) had spent too much on dog grooming that day. She immediately came in with a story.
PAM: Oh, my God! I’m in so much trouble. I spent so much money on dog grooming today. Have you seen my dogs? I’ll show you a picture.So, it was like $200! I’m so suggestible! They offered me an “oxygen-infused bath” for the dog, and I took it! And then my daughter Hannah pointed out that that is probably NOTHING, since oxygen is IN EVERYTHING already.
MEGAN: Pam, these are my parents.
PAM: Hiiiiiii! I’ve heard everything about you. Megan and Carrie are obsessed. I want to be ON YOUR TRIVIA TEAM!
Pam talks loud, and she talks A LOT. So, she fits RIGHT in.
- MY DAD: Teller of tales. Rememberer of names. Driveway talker. Once yelled in a clear, loud voice at the seminal performer GOWAN for being an hour late to a free concert in Harris Park.
- KENNY: Got shushed IN THE LOBBY of a theatre in Stratford.
- JESS: Was in a room that got a noise complaint for loud talking while on a field trip. As a teacher-supervisor.
- MEGAN: Involved in all of the above. Constantly told by her mother to speak in an inside voice, even while outside. At a friend’s recent birthday party, said that she “didn’t want to talk about IT”, and then proceed to speak, WITHOUT CEASE OR BARELY A BREATH, for 45 minutes about IT.
My dad was talking about an article that he read on Facebook that said dining out takes twice as long now, because everyone is on their phones. While that may be true for many diners, that’s not what makes our meals 3 hours long.
For us, it’s because the waitress can’t get a word in edgewise.
The old Los Comales was kind of cute in a rinky-dink way, and this new location has definitely downgraded to a semi-crappy ambience: like most plaza restaurants, it has too much lighting and far too many TVs.
And this TV has too much Steve Harvey Family Feud. Bring back Ray Coombs! wait, what? Oh. Richard Dawson, then. Oh. Louis? Really? Whatever happened to J. Peterman?
I’m just saying, Steve Harvey looks far too astounded all the time. It gets OLD.
This new place has the ambience of a mid-90s Robin’s donuts. They have tried to counteract it a bit with warmly painted walls and metal geckos hung far too high on the wall.
So, now it looks a bit more like your basement in the 90s, when your stepmom tried to go with a “Santa Fe” theme.
EVERYONE’S STEPMOM: Your father found this AZTEC BLANKET at an authentic MARKET in ARIZONA!
Our waitress was a not-too-effusive young girl in a gold sweater and a topknot. She seemed to be playing the role of DISINTERESTED SERVICE WORKER in some movie from the nineties.
She didn’t seem to know much about the menu:
The two most popular combos on the menu. So much food for $13!!
MOM:So, the menu on the table has more appetizers offered than in the menu…
MOM: Is that right?
WAITRESS: I guess…
MOM: And the lunch entrees? This section in the middle has the title “Lunch Entrees”.Can you order them for dinner, too?
WAITRESS: Well….one is bigger than the other.
JESS: We’ll split a bottle of wine.
WAITRESS: Well… we have a half litre…
MEGAN: Really? Because it says in the menu you offer a bottle.
JESS: It’s better value. We’re just being thrifty.
WAITRESS: I don’t think so. Let me check.
(She returns with two bottles of wine outstretched in her hands)
WAITRESS: Well, we have these ones…
Pam, who will find the good in anyone, didn’t really feel that the waitress was giving her full effort.
PAM: I mean, I get it, your parents probably own this place and you hate your life, but still….
KENNY: Yeah, she’s pretty awkward. And tentative.
IAN: Oh, I like her attitude!
To be fair, Ian’s worst nightmare is a server with a contrived voice, or a too-friendly attitude, or worst of all, someone that slides in your booth.
MOM: Slides in your booth? No. (Shudders)
But this girl, like the servers at #36 KING OF PIGS, seemed to feel PUT OUT about the act of serving us. My dad noted at the end of the meal that she turned the closed sign over the minute we walked out of the restaurant, as if to say, “NO MORE, PLEASEEEE.”
She could have been new, but if she was a little more PERSONABLE, it would have gone a long way.
The menu was a bit confusing, as my mom noted. There were two different app menus, and half the menu was called “LUNCH MENU”, but below each item was a listing of “dinner side”, that we assumed meant SIZE.
As I have said before, I have a COMPLETE AND ACKNOWLEDGED double standard when it comes to menu typos, based on my perception of the authenticity of the cuisine, and therefore the likelihood that English may not be the language of the menu’s creator.
I am a spelling corrector. I had a friend recently who spelled something wrong on Facebook last week, and I hovered around the post for TWO DAYS, trying to decided whether or not to say anything. Do you let them be embarrassed? Do you tell them? Are you obnoxious if you tell them?
I don’t think I’ve ever resisted telling someone. But I come by it naturally. My mom corrected my grammar DURING our dinner at Los Comales.
And I’m 36. And a teacher.
Anyway, If I think the restaurant should KNOW to spell it right (please see my rant about the spelling of “FETTA cheese” at BUNGALOW), I tell someone. If I see one more family dining restaurant serving CEASER salad, I’m going to END IT.
(NOTE: Just today, I was going to a spirit-rejuvinating brunch at Milestones, a necessity after a late-night Pride Celebration. We arrived at the restaurant just as they were opening up, and I noted their chalkboard sign touted CESEARS. I mentioned it to Rob, and dragged myself to an upright position. Rob said later that he only had time to think “Maybe she WON’T say anything” before he saw me point an accusing finger at the sign while I slogged through the door. I had no PATIENCE for it today.)
But if the restaurant is authentic, and the people serving you the food from their home country are probably speaking English as their second language, I just smile and say nothing.
That being said, this menu had one of the greatest typos ever.
HAMBURGER. WITH FRIEND.
We tried to figure out if this meant this was more of a “sharing” hamburger, or if it indeed came with a new person to play board games with.
Kenny was already joking that he was going to order the hamburger, a great choice in any authentic South American restaurant, but when he saw that it came with A FRIEND, he was sold.
KENNY: What if I ordered it, and along with a burger, a guy just came out of the back and was like, “Hey therrrreeee, Bud!”
PAM: You should try ordering it, and when they say it doesn’t come with a friend, you should just get a burrito.
KENNY: Or just be completely crestfallen.
In the end, no one ordered the burger. Ian was disappointed.
IAN: It could be the best thing!
MEGAN: You don’t think they just have it in case, like, a kid comes in?
IAN: Well. Maybe. But it could be MEXICAN.
Los Comales provides the requisite tortilla chips with a homemade smooth salsa. The chips are nice and crispy, and definitely made in-house. They are far superior to EL RANCHITO, but I still think UNDER THE VOLCANO has them beat in the chip department.
We had decided to get a couple of appetizers, but upon first glance, they looked a little less-than-impressive.
For $10.95, these nachos were delicious and loaded, but since there were 5 of us sharing them, and approximate 7 nachos, the portion was a bit disappointing. This plate would house an appetizer salad, to give you a sense of scale.
So, maybe this isn’t the kind of place where they spend a lot of time on plating, but…
My mom’s soup COULD have made a better attempt to stay in the bowl. She enjoyed it though. My mom doesn’t love spicy food, but this was flavourful without too much heat. She was happy with how the tortillas stood up in the soup, but thought it was missing a key ingredient to make it GREAT.
MOM: Maybe just salt.
My dad knew exactly what to do to make his cheddar jalepeno soup look better: make it into a smiley face with ears!
Ian got the soup as well, and enjoyed the rich flavour.
IAN: It has a really good cheddar flavour. The consistency is good, really creamy. It has a good amount of heat, but not overly spicy.
DAD: The soup was really good. Good level of…jalepeno-ness? Jalepen-iousity?? Whatever. Not generic.
The combo plates are so reasonably priced, with such a nice variety of options, they were hard to resist.
My Mom, Ian and I all went for Combination One: Your choice of empanadas (chorizo and potato, beef or chicken), your choice of chimichanga (chicken, pork, or bean and cheese), and your choice of pupusa (bean and cheese, pork and cheese), served with homemade salsa, dirty rice, and marinated cabbage salad.
Mom got a variety of chicken-y things, but noted that the contents of each weren’t the same. They each had variations in their seasoning, and were well prepared.
MOM: There was so much laughing and silliness going on, I forgot to really pay attention to what I was eating. But I cleaned my plate, which is always a good sign.
I had the chicken chimichanga, the pork pupusa and the chorizo empanada, all of which were crispy without being greasy. I thought the flavouring in each was subtle—I could always stand more heat—but thought it was all nicely prepared.
Ian had good things to say about the sides, too: we all enjoyed our rice and beans, but Ian really liked the slaw, which was very briny, tart, and had a bit of a jalepeno kick.
My dad and Ian both noted that they preferred the GIANT TUB of coleslaw that we were offered at #42 LO NUESTRO. This slaw was good, but there wasn’t enough.
My dad went with the BRYCE SPECIAL: Combination DOS.
Tostada, Flautas, Pupusas.
For once, my dad didn’t have the vocabulary to really flesh out his story.
MEGAN: Dad? Thoughts on the meal?
DAD: I thought it was good.
MEGAN: That’s great, Dad. Let me just write that down.
DAD: Haha. Ok, let me think.
MEGAN: No, hold on, I have to grab a piece of paper for this. “It. Was. Good.”
DAD: OK, well, the beans and rice was a nice combination because they weren’t just mostly sauce. It was more like red beans and rice. Well, darker, almost black beans, I guess. And the flautas had interesting flavours. Not the greatest pupusas I’ve ever had.
MEGAN: Where were the best ones you ever had?
DAD: There was a little Latin place by our house. They had the tub of coleslaw there. (pause) It was alright. Nothing special.
We were all pretty jealous of Kenny’s meal when it came out. The burrito was a GOOD size.
KENNY: Well, the rice tastes like Minute Rice, so that’s nothing. And the salad…well, you know how a salad tastes? This isn’t as good as that. It’s less than medium. But the burrito is really good. It’s filling, but doesn’t make me feel gross. It’s not heavy. It tastes GREAT.
Jess ordered the tacos, which looked and smelled heavenly. She loved the flavours, but they completely fell apart when she picked them up, leaving her hands and face saturated with that orangy sauce that any good taco generates. She used more than her fair share of napkins.
Jess really loved her beans.
JESS: I’m no BEAN EXPERT (NOTE TO SELF: Is this a job? Look into this), but I really liked the flavour and texture of these.
So Pam, our not-so-adventureous eater, basically ordered off the KIDS MENU with this cheese quesadilla and fries.
The fries were UNBELIEVEABLE. Fresh-cut, big, super crispy, hot and they really tasted like potatoes. Pam was LOSING HER MIND about these fries to the point that we all had to have one. And we agreed: better than most chip wagon fries. They were absolutely excellent.
So excited was she about these fries (in fact, she brought them up again two days later when we were together), she neglected her fine dining habits and spilled on her shirt.
Which was another reason I knew we were destined to be friends.
PAM: I always have one of these Tide Pens.
The bills were incredibly reasonable: $25 wine, $13 entrees. Only the small serving of nachos was even close to being overly expensive. And most of the flavours were excellent.
But I can’t lie: despite Ian’s claims that he likes someone who doesn’t try too hard, you don’t want a server who doesn’t try at all. And while many of the menu items are comparable to both #42 LO NUESTRO, and #11 CASA BLANCA, both have much better service, and Casa Blanca has better ambience, salad AND Empanadas.
But if you’re looking for a great french fry, Pam can certainly give you the details.