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AZ RESTO TOUR

Eating through London, Ontario's restaurants. Alphabetically.

SPECIAL EDITION: TAMARINE, LONDON’S BEST RESTAURANT

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CUISINE: Modern Vietnamese ADDRESS: 118 Dundas Street DATE: July 7, 2014


NOTE: This special edition review completely breaks the rules of the blog. Tamarine is not a new restaurant to Ian and I: in fact, it’s our FAVOURITE restaurant.

When Ian and I started this project, it was a selfish journey: let’s eat a bunch of new good food and have an excuse to go out for dinner! 

But the blog, because of all of you who have read and supported and talked to me and given me feedback, and corrected my typos (thanks Mama and Ian!), has become something different: it’s become a resource, a place to look for restaurants that you might want to check out, take your family to, have a birthday meal at, whatever. 

So, to that end, I make, and remake every few months, my top 10 list, so that people have a go-to resource of the restaurants I think they should go to.

I also did it so they’ll stop asking me all the damnnnn timeeee.

(Just kidding. Ask me all you want. I love feeling IMPORTANT.)

OLD CHURCH FRIEND: Where should we go for Valentines? 
ME: Check the Top 10. 
THEATRE PAL: Where should I take my parents when they come from out of town? 
ME: Check the Top 10.
AWKWARD STUDENT: I’m 16, and want to take a human girl on a date. Help me, Teacher Lady!                                                                          ME: Oh, bless.

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Tamarine interior. It looks even better when you’re not dining at 5pm.

But it occurred to me that my Number One restaurant, my very favourite, doesn’t have a full review. Tamarine, the restaurant that has sat at the top of the list since the very beginning, the the place that Ian and I are so familiar with, we refer to it as Tammers
IAN: What’s blog dinner this week?
MEGAN: Ummmmm…Fireside Grill. 
IAN: Ew. Let’s just go to Tammers!
……
MEGAN: So, my family wants to go to Shoeless Joe’s for birthdays this Sunday. 
IAN: Ew. Why can’t we go somewhere good? Like Tammers. 
……
IAN: Where do you want to—
MEGAN: Tam-showwwwww….

 
We’re so infatuated with this restaurant, we have cutesy nicknames for it. 

So, I present to you a recounting of probably our 100th visit to this restaurant. I would love to hear in the comments how many of my friends and family have been to Tamarine with me at some point over the last three years.

SPOILER ALERT: It’s EVERYONE.

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Cameron and Bryce admiring my MEIKONG MARTINI at Tamarine, 2011.

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Sarah shovelling Tamarine’s house special, Pad Thai, into her GAPING MAW, 2012.

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Andrew and I at Tamarine, pre-Brickenden Awards, 2013. I dressed as Cookie Monster for the Occayzh.

My beautiful friend Erika, who moved to NY, texted me while we were at Tammers. I told her where we were, and she immediately had a food memory from our favourite place:

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OUR TAMARINE MEET-CUTE:


Tammers was a friend of a friend: our close friends Sarah and Bryce were in a pretty hot-and-heavy love affair with Tamarine. 

We met on a warm June night: June 4, 2011. I remember the date exactly, because Bryce and I had just finished two intense days of auditions for the show we were producing at the Palace, WHITE CHRISTMAS. We were heading into callbacks on Sunday, after seeing 105 amazing performers. We were exhausted and emotional.

And let me tell you,  that spicy beef hue soup was REJUVENATING. The food at Tamarine is known to be LIFE-CHANGING.

In fact, I was sitting in Tamarine when my now-friend Becca emailed me to say she had missed the auditions; is there any way she could come before the callbacks on Sunday?

And she got the lead. See? Tamarine is LIFE-CHANGING.

We have gone to Tamarine for many momentous occasions since then: birthdays, opening nights, award ceremonies. We were even there when Sarah and Bryce told us they were moving away from us, to Toronto. Ian and I expressed how excited we were for their new opportunities, and then I headed to Tamarine’s beautifully-appointed bathroom. Sarah followed me in. 


ME: Noooooooooooooo. Go away!!
SARAH: Why?
ME: I came in here so I could cry BY. MYSELF. 

And, as it turns out, Tamarine has very soft Kleenexes. 

Tamarine is an off-shoot of Quynh Nhi, the long-standing Vietnamese restaurant on Wharncliffe, and is located across the street from Budweiser Gardens, next to Kingsmills. So it’s always facscinating to me how many people haven’t heard of it.

I have told so many people about this restaurant, I feel like I’m witnessing to people about it.

MEGAN: I’m sorry ma’am. Do you have a moment to talk to me about heaven? And by heaven, I mean lemongrass chicken?

I’m a Tamarine missionary: less white shirt/backpack/Joseph Smith, more skirt/purse/Green Papaya Salad. 

Unlike me, Ian grew up eating a lot of Asian food, mostly Chinese (as we all know, the Rumney family bastardized ethnic food of choice was TACOS). Christmas Eve, Friday night dinners were all full of chicken balls and fried rice. When Ian and I got married, I brought the jalepenos, Ian brought the goopy red sauce that sits in your fridge until you move.

So it was Ian’s family that first took me out for Vietnamese food. I have always remembered Ian’s mom selling it to us.

LINDA: it’s like Chinese food, but FRESH!

And that is so true of the menu at Tamarine. Its take on modern Vietnamese food has Asian flavors that you are familiar with, like ginger and soy and lychees and papaya, but at Tamarine it’s just much…fresher.

It’s bright, it’s modern, and prepared with care.

The other difference with Tamarine and your average Vietnamese restaurant is that Tamarine is absolutely beautiful inside. It has the vibe of an elegant New York hotspot  that I would realistically never get into.

It’s all black and marble and cool blue lighting; it’s minimalistic, not simplistic, and very modern. It’s absolutely the right place for taking your parents out, or for your birthday, for a fancy night, a more casual Monday, for whatever. Beyond that the service is exquisite. Long, the owner of Tamarine, has got to be the nicest restauranteur in London. Ian, the person who would never set foot in a bed and breakfast because “we might have to talk to people,” will make a special stop at the Quynh Nhi booth at any food festival to see if Long is there.

Last year, I was almost an hour late meeting some friends at Tamarine. I had been late to start, had jumped in a cab with no cash, realized I didn’t have my debit card because I switched purses, had to have the cab driver drive me BACK to my house, only to discover that my formal dress had been caught in the door, and had been dragged through the January slush for 20 minutes.

So, basically, a typical day in the life of Megan.

So when I got to Tammers, I was ALL FLUSTERY-FLOO. Before I even sat down, I started regaling my friends with the story. Long quietly walked over, asked if there was anything he could do, and without a word, I handed him my bulky winter coat. My friends stared at me, agog.

ME: It’s OK. Long’s my friend.

The thing is, Long is wonderful, and his servers are also great. They describe the dishes with passion and exquisite detail, and you know they really admired the food being prepared, as opposed to toeing the company line. And over the last three years, Ian and I have figured out that everything is amazing. I have eaten almost three-quarters of the dishes on the menu on their extensive menu. Some of my favorites include that spicy beef hue soup that I have the very first night I eat there, but I also really love their clay pots: rice veggies and meat, cooked in coconut milk and other seasonings, and baked in a clay pot in the oven. It is one of the heartiest and most heart warming foods that I’ve eaten.

Reflecting on the food legacy of Long and his parents, I am filled with longing that I could have been born to parents from somewhere else, mostly for the food. Think about the perks: you get to visit your home country: Long went with his family to Vietnam for a month last year! Your, like, nonna or whatever you call her makes you cookies with honey and stuff in them. You have all these relatives that know all your business…and hijinks ensue…

I haven’t really thought it all out, but it seems great. 

So last Monday, we decided to treat our eight guests to the wonder that is Tamarine.

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We know how goooood this place isssssss….

Our guest stars for dinner were three of my costars from the misbegotten-but-beloved production of the Sound of Music: Kristin, Adrienne, and Vita, the last two who also co-starred with me in the #36 KING OF PIGS blog.image I'm Adriene! I'm Kristin! And we're…adorable!

imageAnd I’m Vita. And I know TOO MUCH…

Also joining us were my student, costar, and co-pepper-eater Kenny, and his girlfriend Izzi, both of who visited #19 DEMHAI DANG with us back in September, with Izzi’s dad Richard.image But in her first HIGHLY ANTICIPATED appearance on the blog, was Izzi’s mom, NORMAAAAAAA.

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JESS: I’m here too!

Norma and I have anticipated her appearance on the blog for a long time, but both of our busy schedules haven’t allowed it to happen. But when Kenny’s mom made an appearance in #41, LONDON GRILL, Norma stepped up her campaign to make the blog happen.

Norma’s visit to the AZ RESTO TOUR is highly-anticipated for a couple of reasons.

  1. Norma is definitely a foodie. When she travels, she goes to cool restaurants  She goes to celebrity chef places, like me, and knows who they are. She once posted pictures on Facebook of special Asian mayonnaise that she bought in Toronto, because she was so excited about it. The thing that was repellent was that the mayo comes in a bag. Now, I know people who are not from Canada think milk in bags is gross: try to describe our milk to an American and they somehow get this picture in their head that it comes in, like, an a grocery bag, loosely sloshing around in the grocery store. But I’m here to declare that mayonnaise in a bag is the grossest thing I’ve ever seen. That being said, she served it to me on a homemade Okonomiyaki (Asian seafood pizza), and it was kind of amazing. But they should rethink their packaging.
  2. Norma is famous both at school with Izzi’s friends, and in the theatre community for being hilarious and sarcastic, but she is also known and deeply loved by my close friend Rob, who had her as a professor at Western. See, Norma is a pop music professor, and is also known as one of the most hilariously sardonic and opinionated women in history, which is everything we like.

ROB: Her voice is two octaves lower than mine. I want to be her when I grow up.                                                                        

Norma originally grew up in Boston and has a very dry sense of humour that takes a little getting used to. 

NORMA: What’s this? You bought a house?

JESS: Yep! I just bought my own house. I just moved in this week!

NORMA: We obviously pay teachers too much if someone your age can buy their own HOUSE.

(An hour later, Norma told a deflated Jess she was kidding.)

Norma is a liberal, feminist, hyper-literate, hyper-intelligent university professor of pop music. AKA the woman we all want to be when we grow up.

But because of her music prowess, I live in fear of catching Norma’s reprisal. She loves David Bowie, but hates Queen. Ian really likes music, so he and Norma were talking about the recent concerts he’d been to, including Queens of the Stone Age, Jello Biafra, and St. Vincent.

NORMA: I wanted to go to St. Vincent.

IAN: She was amazing.

MEGAN: You say that about every concert! (to Norma) Everytime he comes home, I ask him how the show was, and he says AMAZING.

IAN: It was, THOUGHHHH…

But when it came up that Ian and I were going to the Lionel Richie concert at the end of the month, I didn’t even bother to turn my head. I knew what the look would be.

Here’s the first thing you need to know about Tamarine: the drink menu is ON POINT.

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My favourite: the Mei Kong Martini, made with lychee, blue curaçao and crack, as far as I know.

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Another delicious concoction.

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Ian’s choice: Tiger beer.

Adriene was telling a pretty amusing* story about her first day at a new job and a Post-It note entitled “DOCUMENTING THE SMELL”, when Norma looked around, nonplussed.


NORMA: Where’s all the blog magic?

KENNY: There’s magic?

NORMA: All these dinners always seems so witty. I don’t hear a lot of witty.

Clearly our conversation needed to be streamlined in order to get our banter up to Norma standards. I think Norma is hilarious, but Kenny’s always vaguely nervous around her. As the mother of Kenny’s girlfriend, it’s Norma’s job to torture Kenny: a job that she takes extremely seriously.

When Norma came to see THE MUSIC MAN at the school, I ran into her in the lobby. Norma had just read Kenny’s bio, and was chuckling as she walked up to me.

NORMA: Oh, Kenny. I just read his bio. He only thanked Izzi so that everyone would know he was straight.
MEGAN: Oh, I don’t think he was worried about that. He was thanking his inspirations. He also thanked Meryl Streep!                              NORMA: Exactly. 


But at blog dinner, it quickly became apparent that Kenny was the straight man. The straight man for Norma’s dry humour. 

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Norma peruses the menu.

NORMA: (to the menu) Yes, but what sense is most caressed?
KENNY: What?
NORMA: It says HERE (points) that the food was designed to caress your senses. Which one is most caressed?

MEGAN: I can already see that you are setting up Norma for these jokes. 
KENNY: Haha. Ya! I set them up and she knocks them out of the park. 
MEGAN: Yeah. You’re like the straight man. 
NORMA: (incredulously) He isssss??

Meanwhile, Izzi impressed me with her preparedness for this blog dinner.

IZZI: Last time, I feel like I didn’t know how to describe anything that we were eating. So this time, I googled a bunch of words to describe food.
MEGAN: Such as?

IZZI: Ummmm…rich?

MEGAN: Good start.

In a lesser restaurant, our pretty waitress with the noticeably high voice, would be just a server. But our waitress was personable, professional and knowledgeable, taking the time to go through the menu, pointing out both personal favourites and describing the most popular choices on the menu. 


Ian and I tried to temper our excitement, but everything that garnered a mention was met with scary levels of enthusiasm. 


JESS: Well, I know this is boring, but I think I’m gonna get the Pad Thai.
MEGAN: It’s SOOOOOO GOOOD THOUGGGGGHHHH.
KENNY: I told Izzi I’m going to get the same thing as her just to bug her. 
MEGAN: What’s she getting?
IZZI: Barbecue vermicelli bowl.
IAN: That’s AMAZING!!!! One of my favourites. 
VITA: Spring rolls?
MEGAN: Yes. Oh god, yes!

We’re like proud parents.


You know that thinggggg, where you’ve seen a movie and somebody else hasn’t? And instead of being able to enjoy it, you just keep looking over the other person at the good parts, waiting for them to have the same reaction you did? And then looking at them expectantly for an immediate response? 

MEGAN: (as someone lifts the fork to their mouth) Riiiiiiight????

That’s the exact experience of going to your favourite restaurant for blog dinner.


Both Ian and Norma ordered that green papaya salad as an appetizer: one of my favorite things on the menu. An unripened papaya is julienned, dressed with tamarind vinaigrette and tiny strips of shredded spicy beef to make a salad that is fresh, bold and refreshing.

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I asked Izzi what she thought of the salad, as she was eager to use the words that she had googled.
 
MEGAN: Ok, Izzi. Describe that salad!

IZZI: It’s zesty! 

NORMA: It’s not zesty.

IZZI: Rich!

NORMA: Not rich.

IZZI: And light. And that’s all the words I googled.

NORMA: Do you want more?

IZZI: No. It’s too spicy.


Some of the other ladies and Kenny had gotten the world famous spring rolls. I looked down at the crispy shells and was immediately jealous that I hadn’t gotten to indulge in some of those as well.

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Simmering with envy, I asked them how they were.

VITA: Great.

ADRIENE: Yum.

KRISTIN: So good. I really like it with the lettuce and mint around it.

KENNY: There’s the perfect ratio of chicken to….whatever else is in a spring rolls.

Soon enough, our entrees were there, and conversation quieted to a “blog magic” level.

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Kenny’s cashew chicken, served in a spicy sesame sauce.


Kenny yearns to have the blog presence that my friend and former student Andrew possesses. Andrew, he of the extensive vocabulary and the unique perspective on life, always has a metaphor to describe his food, so Kenny decided to start doing the blog in the lens of blog regular Andrew.

KENNY: (trying…hard) When you start on the vegetables and meat…it’s as though you are walking on the southern region of East Asia…

MEGAN: Southern region? Of East Asia?

KENNY: Yeah….with a designer straw hat placed upon your head.

MEGAN: Placed?

KENNY: Once you venture onto the mountain of rice that sits upon the fiery mound of your plate, it’s as though the rainshower has poured upon your sweaty brow.

MEGAN: Ok.

KENNY: The rice was the volcano that had erupted years ago, but the destruction is still there. 
NORMA: Pfft. Destruction. That sounds like you

KENNY: This sauce is the right amount of spicy. It’s like…tongue. 

MEGAN: But, did you like it?

KENNY: Yup.

Ian got one of his regular menu items, the caramelized salmon, served with tomatoes and cilantro.

imageIAN: Amazing. 
NORMA: Just like the bands that you sees. 
IAN: This is one of my top five FAVOURITE meals

Jess got the classic, the dish that the waitress said was “80% of what comes out of the kitchen”, the BEST IN LONDON Pad Thai.

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JESS: It’s just the best. It tastes exactly how you hope Pad Thai would, and has a heat that sneaks up on you. Yum.


OK, I’ll admit: Adriene’s food didn’t look AMAZING. 

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It looks a little like something that a cat barfed up.

BUT.

When I asked her to describe it, Adriene looked at her plate in disbelief.

ADRIENE: It’s incredible. It’s sweet and spicy and the squid tastes like butter. I want carve out a little spot, and camp in there. I want to shrink myself down…. it would take a long time to eat….

She was out of her mind with delight, and was offering up samples of her buttery squid to all.

KRISTIN: I do not like that texture at all. I immediately hated it. 

Norma, Kristin and I all got the clay pots, with caramelized pork or chicken over jasmine rice. It’s served with fish sauce to be poured over the entire dish.

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Yes. 

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YES.

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YES!!!

I absolutely love this dish. Unlike most things I order at restaurants, this dish isn’t spicy. It’s not bold-flavoured. It’s SUBTLE. It’s just a bunch of stuff in a bowl, expertly prepared.

KRISTIN: Alright, this was wonderful. I like that the veggies were big. 

This dish is so delicious, even Norma was sincere.

NORMA: Ok,  it really is good. It has a depth of taste. Texture. Right that down. It’s spicy and sweet, but not in a cloying way.

Vita and Izzi ordered the bbq vermicelli rice bowl with shrimp.

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VITA: (breathes in deeply) Divine. Salty, sweet. Divine. 

Izzi had given up on her google words, and finally started talking more like herself.

IZZI: YAYAYA. It made me this (giant smile) happy. It’s making my nose run! It’s delicious. 

We had a delicious, luxurious, 2-and-a-half hour dinner at Tamarine. This place is so good it make my sarcastic nature hide away. Like Norma, I can’t even be sardonic when talking about Tamarine. I have to gush. It’s just the best restaurant in London.

5/5 stars

Tamarine by Quynh Nhi on Urbanspoon

 

Well, LORD GAINSBOROUGH, you have SULLIED this evening’s whimsy by NOT BEING OPEN for our gastronomic delight. You, sir, have been banished from our Supper Club, and will not be written about in my weblog! I say!

#42 LO NUESTRO

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CUISINE: Latin ADDRESS: 774 Hamilton Road DATE: June 1, 2014


When my sister Carrie was in high school, she went on an amazing 10-day trip to Germany, Austria and Switzerland. She went to the opera Die Fledermaus, got lost in the red light district, and brought home a cuckoo clock that continued to taunt me through the rest of my teen years. Mind expanded, culture taken in, memories made.

 
When I was old enough to go on a big trip, my parents agreed to paid for me to do one as well.


My choice? A missions trip with my church to live in the barrio (slum area) near the border between Dominican Republic and Haiti. 


So, almost as glamourous. 


Of course, with me involved, there had a performance aspect: myself and three other teenagers entered intense Spanish lessons, as well as rod-and-stick puppet training in order to do puppet shows for the children in the barrio. Other people on the trip helped rebuild a school, and did a medical survey of the people who lived there.

I don’t remember what the puppet shows were really about per se, but I do remember that my character’s name was MARIA and that she loved her casa del arbol (treehouse, for friends not as fluent as I). I remember a very singsongy lyric that went “Dios tiene un plan para mi”, which means GOD HAS A PLAN FOR MY LIFE, but the tune made it seem like Maria was taunting Pedro about it. I also remember what it felt like to hold a giant felt puppet above my head in 60°C temperatures (really… REALLY. Like, actually 60 degrees) in the middle of July in the Dominican Republic. I found out what it was like to have your hand sweat drip into your eyeballs. Turns out, not great.

Also, I don’t believe the back of my hand had ever sweat before, or since.

Despite the glamour of performing in a long skirt (for decorum, natch) with your arm over your head stuffed into the butt of a Sesame Street knockoff puppet, there were some more negative aspects as well. We were staying in a medical clinic in San Juan de la Miguana, that seem to be overpopulated with tarantulas. So that was a thing. It was noisy, too; to the point where whatever animal was out there (birds? monkeys?) shrieking outside at night disturbed our slumber.

But going to the Dominican Republic when I was 15 was eye-opening and life-changing in lots of good ways, some of them food-related.

I learned to love the simple Latin food: rice and red beans, mangos. I had my first taste of plantain, which I described at the time as a cross between a banana and a potato. And I exclusively drank what’s now know in the Hipster Biz as Mexican Coke; made with sugarcane instead of chemicals.

My parents are big fans of Latin food, too.  Spicy food was definitely part of the food I ate growing up, so it seemed natural to follow up a June 1st poolside hangout with Rick and Dianne with a family dinner where my dad and I tried our best to make the back of our heads sweat.

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My dad is surprised that my mom thought to co-ordinate with the decor.

Lo Nuestro describes itself as “in the heart of the Hamilton Road community” and it certainly has a very warm and family-oriented feel. The interior immediately reminded me of Casablanca: cheery yellow walls, a cooler full of pop, and a mom, dad and daughter all working the dinner shift. The little window in to the kitchen housed some adorable houseplants. It seems homey.

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I look like I just got out of the pool (which I, in fact, did). Ian looks like he always does: like an extra on the set of Season 5 Mad Men.

The menus were spiral-bound and laminated, lovingly prepared by the good people at Kinko’s. Ian and I usually mock photos of the food taken in-house, but all of these photos made the food look pretty good.

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Of course, the one thing I knew for sure is that I wanted to get my beloved plantains, and my dad wanted to try their pupusas (made with masa, they are almost like a corn quesadilla). But they had a number of different varieties of both, so when our waitress, the mom of the family,  came to take our order,  my parents, Ian and I got into a debate about the relative merits of each. The waitress tried to comprehend our choices for a while, then got exasperated.

WAITRESS: (calling to her daughter in the kitchen) Can you come take these peoples’ order?


So, it turns out my family is just as annoying as I am. The daughter dutifully came over to our table with a smile, and answered some of our stupider questions. Orders placed, we decided to venture over to the pop cooler to decide on drinks.

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This was on the table, ready for us.

I knew the pop tasted better in the Dominican Republic, but I thought it was because it was served in those tiny glass coke bottles. It reminded me of drinking pop when I was little kid: thinking back, I was always embarrassed that my parents had a glass bottles of pop in the door of the fridge, instead of 2L plastic bottles like all my friends had.  

(It occurs to me now, that this was possibly the stupidest thing to be embarrassed about of all time, since I was walking around at the time with PERMED HAIR,  like THAT was an acceptable thing to do.)

My parents were also into weird sodas,  like the Italian one, Brio, which I love now, but at the time I described it thusly.

10-YEAR-OLD-MEGAN: Ewwwwww. That pop tastes like pink erasers.

MOM: How do you know what those taste like?

I have credit my more recent interest in artisanal pop to our friend Bryce, who always had some weird local soda to offer when we used to go to his and Sarah’s apartment.

I’m not a hipster, but I do like all things hipsters like.

Anyway after perusing the Lo Nuestro shelves,  I decided on a Mexican grape pop. 

(When I was at Wilton Grove Public School, we used to have these fun fairs in the spring. If you got, like, 3rd place in the Cakewalk, you got some grape pop. That and a little sachel of Gold Nugget Bubble Gum made for a nice walk home.)


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Clockwise from Top Left: Mom’s Lime Jarritos, Ian’s disgusting Guava selection, my Postobon, and my dad’s “Kola-flavoured soda”, which he said tasted lime cream soda. 


Our “Plantanos Fritos” were out shortly. We’ve had fried plantains at #11 CASA BLANCA, #23 EL RANCHITO and the disgusting shoe leather ones at #32 JAMBALAYA, but these may be the best ones yet. They were creamy, crispy on the outside; not too sweet, but caramelized on the tips. They were delicious and left me wanting more. 


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OK, they don’t photograph well, but trust me…

We also got a variety of pupusas to split, some with pork, some with beans and cheese.

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Ian felt that the pupusas were well-spiced, that the filling was plentiful, and they were nice and crispy on the outside. 

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The gooey goodness of a bean and cheese pupusa.

IAN: But you have to say that my FAVOURITE part was that they just brought over a BARRELFUL of cabbage salad and tongs. There’s never enough of that stuff.

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They also had two homemade salsa to accompany them, one mild (MOM KIND) and one with a bit more heat.

At this point in our evening, there seem to be a rush on the kitchen: every table in the restaurant was full, along with several families coming in to order directly from the counter. My dad noted that we were the only people in the entire restaurant who had ordered off the menu: the rest of the people were just ordering off the top of their heads, some in Spanish. No wonder the waitress was irritated with us. Here we were looking, at the pictures and trying to decide like a bunch of suckers.

Our delicious, sugary pops were pretty much finished by the time our food came out. It was about 30 minutes from when we finished our appetizers to when our entrées arrived.  

Well, that’s not exactly true: It took 30 minutes until my mom’s enchiladas came out:

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And up to 45 minutes before Ian’s meal finally arrived.

MOM: Well, at least we know they’re making everything fresh.

We insisted my mom go ahead with her meal, as they looked absolutely delicious. My mom really enjoyed the flavor and didn’t find it too spicy at all.

MOM: I like the beans.
DAD: Well, that’s different for you
MOM: I know. I don’t want to empty the bowl or anything. I guess, it’s just that,  I don’t understand it. Am I supposed to use it as a sauce? What are they for?

My mom actually asked the waitress later, who replied, “Oh, for everything! Or whatever!”

My dad’s meal arrived next. He ordered flautas, crispy meat flutes (not a great turn of phrase, I get it) that he was unable to definitively ascertain the content of.

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MOM: Is it pork?

DAD: (a pause) Possibly…

You would think that that would mean he didn’t like it,  but quite the opposite: he enjoyed his random meat sticks.


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 He also ordered the beef tongue taco, which he loved, based on the weird noises he made while eating it.

Ian and I both ordered a variety of tacos: I ended up getting the beef tongue the chicken and the pork, all of which were absolutely delicious.

image I like the double tortilla technique, the tortillas were soft and tender and homemade,  but the doubling ensured that if one perforated, the entire contents of the taco wouldn’t fall out into your hands. The meat was tender and flavorful in all of the tacos, but I missed the pineapple you usually get in an “al pastor” taco.

Ian’s food came last, but still managed to finish his meal before my mom did. He’s a growing boy.

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Ian’s choices were chicken, pork and steak. He thought the steak was the best, noting the nice char on the meat, and the abundance of meat in each.

IAN: They didn’t skimp on the contents, which was nice.

I don’t think my family was particularly put out by the lull in service. It was a Sunday night, the food was great, and Lo Nuestro has a lovely local vibe.

My trip to the Dominican Republic was a life-changing trip: I didn’t bring back a cuckoo clock to taunt my sister with,  but I did bring back a better understanding of abject poverty and the privileged life that we live, as well as the damn deliciousness of simple Latin cuisine. And any place that can capture those tastes in a homey atmosphere, with great prices and delicious homemade food is a place worth returning to.

4/5 stars

Lo Nuestro Latin Restaurant on Urbanspoon

#42, LO NUESTRO, is coming today!

#42, LO NUESTRO, is coming today!

LONDON ONTARIO’S 10 BEST RESTAURANTS: JUNE 2014

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Fresh sugar doughnuts at Biermarkt: Toronto, Ontario. June 2013.

After 1 year, and 41 restaurants on the AZ Resto tour, I think it’s time to update our list of the top 10 restaurants in London.

When it’s time to ask me for recommendations, this is the LIST! All of these restaurants would be good to take your parents, or your friend from out-of-town, or your date to.

TOP 10 RESTAURANTS IN LONDON, ONTARIO

JUNE 2014

  1. TAMARINE BY QUYNH NHI (MODERN VIETNAMESE) Dundas Street http://megansgotmoxie.tumblr.com/post/92277124565/special-edition-tamarine-londons-best-restaurant
  2. BLACK TRUMPET (FINE DINING) Richmond Street      http://megansgotmoxie.tumblr.com/post/50938112162/6-black-trumpet
  3. IZAKAYA SHOGUN (JAPANESE) Wellington Road  http://megansgotmoxie.tumblr.com/post/75433116643/31-izakaya-shogun-japanese
  4. THE EARLY BIRD/ROCK AU TACO (UPSCALE DINER) Talbot Street
  5. DAVID’S BISTRO (FINE DINING) Richmond Street                 http://megansgotmoxie.tumblr.com/post/60225307340/17-davids-bistro
  6. CASA BLANCA (LATIN) Dundas Street        http://megansgotmoxie.tumblr.com/post/55389292719/11-casa-blanca
  7. THE TASTING ROOM (SMALL PLATES) Richmond Street           
  8. GANGNAM STYLE (KOREAN BARBEQUE) Wonderland Road http://megansgotmoxie.tumblr.com/post/70906094729/27-gangnam-style-korean-bbq
  9. KANTINA (EASTERN EUROPEAN) Talbot Street
  10. DRAGONFLY BISTRO (INDONESIAN FINE DINING) Richmond Street http://megansgotmoxie.tumblr.com/post/65136698648/22-dragonfly-bistro

Here is where the lists stood after 6 months on the AZ RESTO TOUR:

TOP 10 RESTAURANTS IN LONDON OCTOBER 2013

  1. Tamarine by Quynh Nhi (Vietnamese)
  2. Black Trumpet (Fine Dining)
  3. The Early Bird Diner (Upscale Diner)
  4. Casa Blanca (Latin)
  5. The Tasting Room (Small Plates)
  6. Demhai Dang (Viet-Thai)
  7. Addis Ababa (Ethiopian)
  8. David’s Bistro (French)
  9. Avenue Dining (Fine Dining)
  10. Kantina (Eastern European)

As a reminder, here was the TOP 10 when we started the blog in April 2013:

TOP 10 RESTAURANTS IN LONDON APRIL 2013

  1. Tamarine by Quynh Nhi
  2. The Early Bird Diner
  3. The Tasting Room
  4. Kantina
  5. Los Comales
  6. Mythic Grill
  7. Jewel of India
  8. Barakat
  9. The Church Key
  10. Under the Volcano

But with more than 50 restaurants still to go, anything could change!

#41 LONDON GRILL

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CUISINE: Fine dining ADDRESS: 300 King Street DATE: May 23rd, 2014

I recently was saddled with the responsibility of filming my first PROMPOSAL.

PROMPOSALS: This is such a thing now. I hate it. You can’t just ask someone to go to prom anymore: it has to be a PRODUCTION. Instagram has to be involved.  You have to dress up. I once saw a Promposal happen during the curtain call of a high school show, facilitated by the drama teacher (“Madison, Mike has something he wants to ask youuuuu….”). It’s like you have to make cupcakes spelling out “W-I-L-L-U-G-O-P-R-O-M-?”

That’s how you would write it if you only make a dozen cupcakes. Let’s not go crazy here.

There was a sign on Source for Sports that said “Ashley? Will you go to prom with me?” It’s like, who is that message FROM? The store SOURCE FOR SPORTS?

(I’m a full OLD CURMUDGEON on this topic.)

Anyhoo, one of my Musical Theatre students wanted to ask his longtime girlfriend to prom, with flowers, singing a musical number, and the entire cast of our school show as witnesses during a dress rehearsal. I begrudging agreed to videotape it. I’m sure the video captured the sound of my EYES ROLLING.

We had 15 little kids in our show this year, and let me TELL YOU: all the little kids in the show were SO EXCITED to be witnesses to this spectacle of teenage love and grandeur. All the students laughed and clapped. A couple of them cried.

One of the 6-year-olds in the show came up to me after and said, “That was SO. AWESOME!! I just have one question: What’s PROM?”

LET ME BE CLEAR: It’s not that I wouldn’t have lovvvvved it when I was IN high school. I would have EATEN. THAT. UP. I’m the girl that maintained a list of “FUTURE WEDDING ATTENDEES” carefully recorded in a notebook, dutifully updated yearly, from my Grade 8 year on. If there was even a possibility to have something like a proposal when I was in high school, I would have INSISTED that happen. I’m also a super-demanding She-Bear, so I’m sure it would have had to be THEATRICAL.

But back in the 90s, when I was alive, Prom wasnt even a thing. That’s what they called it on THE TV, but here, in London anyway, we called it GRAD. At Oakridge, we sold the idea of it being Graduation even further by having a ceremony before the big party in June.

(Because none of us had actually, you know, GRADUATED until the end of the semester, they gave us blank pieces of paper tied with ribbon. You know, for the pomp and circumstance of it all. We walked across the stage, somebody pronounced my name wrong, and we went to a golf course after and danced to TLC’s “Waterfalls”. You know. The usual.)

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m a theatre nerd: costumes are my thing, so obviously dress-up events involving dresses, hair and makeup are my JAM. I went to two “grads” in high school: in Grade 12, I went with my longtime boyfriend wearing a purposely polyester powder-blue dress that was based on my mom’s prom dress. Apparently, I was a hipster before that was a thing.

(That’s a hipster-hipster joke. I’m so meta.)

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If you have no idea why my prom picture with my high-school boyfriend James is posed this way, YOU DON’T KNOW ME AT ALL.

In my last year of high school, I went with my friend Kyle. Kyle was SUPER-TALENTED, and after reading a People magazine article in the Oakridge Library about “Going to Prom with a Star!”, I had visions of being on the cover, just like the girl who went to prom with Matthew Perry.

Oh, 1996.

(But you know what? After Kyle’s 12 seasons starring at the Shaw and Stratford Festivals, I have gotten A LOT of mileage out of going to prom with that gem.)

Anyway, the thing about going to prom with a committed actor, is that he’s always in role. Kyle was  playing Daddy Warbucks at the time, and had the appropriate haircut for the role. In my final year of high school, my mom finally allowed me to dye my hair (MISTAKE), and I designed my dress solely on the basis that my now ex-boyfriend had once said he liked my shoulders (ANOTHER MISTAKE). Also, apparently I had spent the year mourning my breakup in some kind of BATCAVE. That skin sizzled when the sun hit it.

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I’m not sure what I expected to happen: one glimpse of those those milky-white shoulders and he’d cross the dance floor to find me, Pretty-in-Pink style?

(Admitting you were pathetic in high school is part of growing up, right?)

Anyway, So, of course, I was excited to see that the night we descended on the London Hilton for our dinner at the London Grill, one of the London high schools was having their prom at the hotel. And let me tell you: they were MUCH BETTER DRESSED than I ever was.  And much less wearing-their-mom-dress-and-singing-at-the-piano.

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I bet none of them even posed comically by the diving board of their parents pool before heading out. Hmph.

And all of a sudden, I was horrifically underdressed.

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All of a sudden, my cool Desigual dress and cardigan were just NOT GOING TO CUT IT. 

(I forgot to get a picture of myself at dinner. I also forgot to make my bed. Sorry, Mom.)

And high school awkwardness, as it turns out, would be the theme of the night.

We were joined on the AZ RESTO tour by fellow high school teacher Rebekkah the skeptic and her husband Dylan:

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I also forgot to get a picture of Bekk, but I’ve got a photo of her at prom below…

Also on the tour: Kenny, my co-star in community theatre, and his mom, Sheila, who reads the blog so religiously that if I don’t post new reviews, I feel like I’m letting her down.

SHEILA: When I get sad, I read the blog. If there’s no new reviews, I get sadder.

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Also, we share a love of wine that should not be discounted.

(NOTE: I just noticed! There’s me and Bekk reflected in the wall mirror! We were THERE!)

And finally, my new pal Owen. He’s from Stratford, where Justin Bieber once kicked over his snow fort (true story). Owen travelled to Spain with me and is 90% moustache (math not verified).

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Is the other 10% of me lanky legs, or witticisms? We’ll never know…

I ran into Kenny and Owen outside, where they were trying to deal with Owen’s backpack “situation”.

KENNY: My mom told me to take Owen’s backpack to the car.

ME: Why?

KENNY: I don’t know! She’s nervous about the blog.

They were as excited as I was about GLAMOUR PROM happening at the Hilton. Kenny, who is SUPER-SHY and HATES HAVING HIS PICTURE TAKEN (see #19 DEMHAI DANG, #26 FITZRAYS, and #38 KOREAN RESTAURANT), ventured up to a group of tall, perfect-looking girls to get a picture with them.

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I guess their boyfriends wanted to be in the picture too, for some reason.

OWEN: That one girl in red DID NOT want me in the picture. She got her shoulders involved in it.

We briefly waited in line at the front desk, in an attempt to check Owen’s now-awkward backpack.

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The Hilton lobby, thankfully, had a copious number of fake plants. 

Also, if this was an album cover, what would our fictitious band be called?

But when Bekk and Dylan arrived, we gave up on getting rid of the backpack. We ventured through the lobby, up the (broken) escalator, and past the ballroom, where the prom was in full swing. The many security guards stationed outside the doors meant that I was probably not sneaking into prom to lead a wine-induced dance-floor singalong of Ice Ice Baby (I guess that is reserved for best friends’ weddings, right Alison?), so we headed down the hall to the restaurant. 

The London Grill is divided into a few smaller rooms, and we ended up at a large table in small room just for us. Upon first glance, this place is a pretty typical hotel restaurant: subtle-yet-bland wallpaper, weird lighting, too many mirrors, and of course, paper menus with terrible fonts.

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We were kind of surprised at the menu offerings, however: while some of the things, like the salmon, were traditional hotel fare, other menu items, like chicken and waffles, or ribs seemed less formal, but just as expensive. After a while perusing the menu, our lovely, friendly waitress Abby offered us the snack menu as well, featuring burgers and wraps.

REBEKKAH: Oh, good. I would have gotten the beef, but I totally feel like a big chicken wrap and fries.

MEGAN: For dinner?

REBEKKAH: Totally. It’s too bright out to eat dinner.

MEGAN: It’s 7:30.

REBEKKAH: Too bright. Wrap it is. I’m excited!

While the teenaged boys who were dining with us probably would have rather had burgers too, Sheila encouraged them to eat from the more formal menu.

KENNY: My mom really wants to do the blog RIGHT.

We’ve had more than 30 different guests in the history of the blog, and each one of them have expressed to me the desire to do the blog CORRECTLY. The only rule that I really have is “DON’T EAT YOUR FOOD UNTIL I HAVE A PICTURE”, because no one wants to look at a big masticated mess, but obviously a variety of food helps too. But what first time blog diners don’t realize is that anything weird they do just makes it better. They just have to know that anything they say, do or disclose could end up on the interwebs.

We placed our wine and food (and root beer for the boys) orders quickly, and the conversation returned to the prom happening down the hall.

MEGAN: Those dresses are pretty outrageous. They look SO EXPENSIVE.

REBEKKAH: I wore a goth dress and Doc Martens to my prom. I was AWESOME.

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Rebekkah the Skeptic at Prom, circa 1994.

DYLAN: They have a LOT of security surrounding that thing. What are they so worried about?

OWEN: Maybe there’s going to be a KNIFE FIGHT!

DYLAN: Maybe we should should play our own knife game out here. It’ll be more of a SOCIAL EXPERIMENT.

REBEKKAH: What? Hey listen, I think this is the Old 97s!

Rebekkah is a BIG alt-country fan. London Grill’s musical selections had her seal of approval.

In lieu of clearing the large table out and having ourselves a West Side Story-style showdown to pass the time, I got Owen to tell the story of his biggest display of gallantry: the story of THE BIG VANILLA: MORE HIGH SCHOOL AWKWARDNESS.

[SCENE]

(2010. A small-town Ontario Christian Summer Camp. All manner of leftover cardboard garbage and rolls of duct tape are strewn about the field. Campers are divided into 4 teams in each corner of the field.)

COUNSELLOR: Alright, everyone: each team must pick a CHAMPION to represent them, a fierce warrior who will defeat all other comers. Once you have chosen a champion, you will clad them in suit of armour, using the cardboard and the duct tape. You will attach 5 EGGS to them, as points of attack. And you will fashion for them a WEAPON of the highest calibre.

(Owen’s team looks at each other. Owen knows it will be the biggest, brawniest guy on his team, as he is sure to defeat the others, but the big guy has other plans. In a few moments, Owen, the lankiest kid at camp, who has already been wearing braces for 4 years at this point, is holding a duct tape cricket back, a cardboard shield, and a chest plate that was formerly a box of ice cream sandwiches that declares him “THE BIG VANILLA”. Owen enters the ring to fight the other male opponents, only to discover that one of the other teams has had the same hilarious idea: sending their smallest player in, a tiny 13-year-old.)

OWEN: (While breaking the eggs and spirits of a tiny pubescent) I’m SORRY! I don’t want to do this to you! I know it HURTS! I’m just trying to do this quickly, so you can LEAVE!

(The game plays out to leave only scrawny Owen and the biggest guy in camp. Owen attempts to get a few shots in, but is done in by an uppercut with his opponents bat that RIPS ONE OF HIS BRACES OFF. He left the field voluntarily, dragging his club behind him, the egg his team placed on his crotch, still poetically unbroken.)

Soon enough, our first courses arrived, and I managed to tear myself away from watching myself talk in the giant wall mirror long enough to eat my appetizer: a giant, white-lettuce Caesar salad.

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Our waitress tantalized me with talk of homemade dressing, but I found the salad simultaneously goopy and too crunchy. It was also HUGE. The salad dressing had good garlic flavour, but you KNOW how I feel about white lettuce (see #9, BUNGALOW).

 Ian ordered one of his favourite soups, broccoli and cheddar:

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IAN: That soup was best described as “ordinary”. It’s supposed to be broccoli cheddar, but it’s 100% broccoli. I can’t really taste it, because I’m sick. I can only comment on the mouthfeel. Mouthfeel good.

And like me, he felt like the portion was way too big.

Kenny and Owen had more success with their appetizer, the sausage “kabobs”:

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MEGAN: How were they, Ken? You guys ate them in, like, 2 seconds.

KENNY: Thick.

OWEN: I liked the red sauce better.

KENNY: Yeah, yeah. The TEQUILA was better than…(gesturing at the brown)…whatever.

Sheila and Dylan both got the salmon cakes, which looked like this:

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So that’s where all the green lettuce went…

The Hilton website brags about the “stunning” presentation of their food. Their understanding of the word “stunning” and mine, it would seem, somewhat differ.

SHEILA: Well, these lack the flavour and light texture that you would expect of a fresh salmon cake.

DYLAN: They taste how you expect something called “salmon cakes” to taste. I would say, “if you have to eat here, order this. Why suffer?” They’re horrible, while still being bland.

The service, however was really good: our waitress was very accommodating, friendly, and eager-to-please. Not super knowledgeable, the way it is at many fine dining establishments, but nice. And the timing of our food was great as well.

But I suppose it doesn’t take that long to make food that looks like THIS:

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Both of my pictures of Sheila and Kenny’s MOJITO CHICKEN were out of focus. It was like the chicken was saying, “I don’t want anyone to see me like this!”

The menu described this as a chicken supreme with mojito sauce, which I’m guessing has some combination of mint and lime, with “tuxedo orzo” and asparagus. Sheila noted that the asparagus was undercooked, and said while the sauce kept the chicken moist, the chicken itself was only as good as roast chicken she would make at home.

Kenny was describing his chicken as “meh” and “wet” when, in a BLOG FIRST, our waitress came out and overheard Kenny’s detailed blog review.

WAITRESS: Oh, no! Do you not like it?

KENNY: Oh, no…we’re just…no, I like it! I like it!

WAITRESS: Are you sure? We could get you something else!

KENNY: No, no. It’s…delicious.

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Kenny felt sad that the waitress felt sad. He is obviously not related to me or my father.

The relative wetness of the food was a common problem in almost everyone’s meals:

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OWEN: Would you like to know what I think of my salmon?

MEGAN: Very much so.

OWEN: Well, it’s really, really tasty, but because of the broth, it’s disintegrating. And I’m eating the greens, but really, they’re just LIVING in the broth.

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Dylan’s veggie curry was flavourful, but watery.

DYLAN: It’s passable. I’m glad that’s what the restaurant in a big, supposedly-upscale chain shoots for: passable. Bland, but not horrible.

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While I thought the morel cream sauce was flavourful, albeit too thick, and the tarragon waffle tasty but small, Ian thought the waffle was rubbery and tasted gross.  I thought the chicken was overly-breaded and way too large. Literally, probably a pound of chicken. And again, because it was wet, and overly-breaded, it did that disgusting thing where the chicken breast SLID OUT of the breading, leaving a carcass of panko in its wake. I ate maybe a quarter of it. 

IAN: These zucchini are nothing. They are a WASTE. OF. TIME. It doesn’t go at all with the rest of it. And since when is chicken and waffles chicken breast? Chicken on the bone, chicken wings maybe…

The only person who was really happy with her meal, describing it as “delicious” and “so yummy”?

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Rebekkah and her damn chicken fingers wrap and fries. I can’t even.

Despite the fact that most of us left stuff on our plate, Kenny, Owen and Dylan went for dessert.

OWEN: My plan is to literally barf at every blog dinner from overeating.

KENNY: Haha….What if he just barfs on my face! (thinks; to me) How would you stage that? If you had to have someone barf on stage?

MEGAN: Ew. I don’t know. Offstage? Bekk, what do you think?

REBEKKAH: What are you talking about? I only heard “barf on the face”.

Despite ordering what was called an “apple cake”, Kenny and Owen got this:

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MEGAN: Kenny, what did you think of it?

KENNY: I didn’t eat any of it. Owen ate it.

It seems a bit more like an “apple tart shell with a ball of ice cream”, but the fruit looked good, and Owen ate it and enjoyed it.

OWEN: It vaguely resembles and above-ground pool with an apple in it.

Dylan got chocolate cake, which he thought was fine, but looked like a Duncan Hines cupcake, flipped over.image

The friendly service, the private room, and the glimpses of prom glamour couldn’t redeem the truly subpar, and very expensive food. $24-$30 an entree is too much to pay for a dining experience that can literally not even be described as “fine”.

IAN: If we’re talking hotel dining, to me, our meal at the Armouries Grille was WAYYYYY better. You can’t just throw a white tablecloth on it and call it “fine dining”. Armouries was GOOD. And less expensive. That place just seems dated.

I wonder if I even noticed the food at my proms in the 90s. Probably not. At dinner, I was hoping that when they named which “Beverly Hills, 90210” character people in the graduating class were most like, I WOULDN’T be the Andrea. I probably wouldn’t have cared if the chicken slid out of its breading.

Much like my prom fashions, this place seems needs an update: new decor, new prices, and a new chef.

1.5 /5 stars

#40 LEE GA

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CUISINE: Korean-Japanese ADDRESS: 1332 Huron Street DATE: May 21, 2014

I’M GONNA GO AHEAD and say that nothing great ever happens to me on the corner of Huron and Highbury. 

FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:


My student was doing a “gig” with his band once, and invited me to come. I love to support my students’ and their music, so I happily agreed.

I agreed before learning it was at NORMA JEANS, the diviest dive bar in London; a place where I believe most dreams go to die.

Or at least where dreams become despondent and just watch, like, Judge Judy all day. 

Not only was this gig at NORMA JEANS, it was on a SUNDAY. At 5 PM.

So, one of those daylight band gigs that are so popular…

Not only that, this gig featured performances by other underaged bands, and was attended, it would seem, mostly by their families, giving that SUNDAY AT 5PM NORMA JEANS SHOW the vibe of an even-more run-down Chuckie Cheese, without the hilarious animatronic mice performers, or the skee-ball. They did however, have giant cokes and pathetic cheese fries, and probably lots of parents who were rethinking that whole marriage-and-kids thing.

What I’m saying is that it wasn’t really my thing

The wait staff was nothing to shake a stick at, either: my friend Andrew (he of the non-sequiturs and threatening glares featured in such winsome AZ RESTO blogs as #10 BUDAPEST, #14 CRAVE, #23 EL RANCHITO and #28 GUSTO) and I pulled out high-backed bar stools into the middle of the floor, in order to get a better view of the stage. 

When the waitress noticed us, sitting away from any table, I almost thought we were going to get in trouble for moving the chairs. But with no more than a cursory glance, the waitress looked at Andrew and I said, “would you Ladies like a drink?”

Just a brief reminder of what Andrew, the human man, looks like…

After she left, Andrew noted in his deep baritone: I literally have chest hair showing.

I tried to assuage him by saying that she had such a passing interest in us, that she saw my body, his green scarf, and just took us for two middle-aged women there to see our children perform. 

(NOTE: my student that I was there to see DID play a great set: a mix of cool originals, a Bowie cover and a Beyoncé tune that was KIND OF EVERYTHING.)

Despite the fact that I’ve gotten the odd good deal on costumes at Talize across the street, Huron and Highbury hasn’t often had a lot to offer me.
And unfortunately, I have to say that our dinner at Lee Ga did nothing to repair that reputation. It only solidified it. 

At first glance, Lee Ga didn’t look that bad. Sure, it’s in a plaza, next to Norma Jeans and a “CASH 4 YOU” operation, but it was well-lit and neatly appointed inside.

Ian and I had a private room off to the side, which we love.

And our room had cute lamps, a table buzzer, and only one weird food poster. 

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I don’t think the APTLY NAMED pork cutlet is the menu item that people would have problems identifying…

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Here I am, posing with…no one.

Oh, yeah, for the first time since #25 THE FIRESIDE PLAZA, it was just Ian and I for a blog dinner. And the reason was pretty much the same: nobody else wanted to go to this restaurant.

This is the third Korean restaurant in about 6 dinners, and even Dylan, our stalwart blog dinner companion, said that he and Rebekkah the Skeptic were in for dinner on Friday, “as long as it wasn’t Korean”.


IAN: So, can we go somewhere else? Bekk, Dylan and I have the Evan Dando concert at 9 on Friday. 

(NOTE: Despite the above reference to the lead singer of the LEMONHEADS, this conversation took place THIS WEEK, and not sometime in the mid-nineties.)

MEGAN: But it IS a Korean restaurant! We can’t change the restaurant to suit our WHIM! That’s antithetical to the entire PREMISE of the AZ RESTO TOUR!!! 

I get very uppity when someone tries to compromise my blog values. It’s the one moral code I can adhere to.

So, to make the Friday evening blog dinner more palatable to our friends, Ian and I did a rare mid-week blog outing to get Lee-Ga off the list. 

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Ian bought this BLOG SHIRT all by himself. I would wager it is the first clothing item he has purchased in maybe two years.

To be honest, I wasn’t really looking forward to this one, either:  I have found Korean restaurants to have huge menus, which I usually find overwhelming, but I was happy to see that Lee Ga also offered sushi, which I feel like eating on the regular. 

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They also had some more UNUSUAL offerings. Have you ever been making chicken stock at home and thought, “you know what? I’ll just boil this whole chicken, throw some onions on for colour and call it a day!”

Ian and I decided to split bulgogi to start, and I went for some spicy tuna and salmon rolls, as well as something under “special rolls” called a “tuna avocado spring roll”. Ian picked a bento box with ribs, dumplings and sushi for $13. 

Like many Korean restaurants, we had multiple servers throughout the meal; all were friendly and prompt. Our female server asked if we had any allergies as she served us a complimentary veggie pancake with the traditional kimchi, bean sprout, fish cake and pickles, along with their house-made soy sauce. 

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A lovely gesture, the complimentary appetizer. Unless the pancake is a glutinous, unappetizing flavourless disk, and the soy sauce may be the single saltiest thing I’ve ever tasted. One taste of that soy sauce dried my mouth out COMPLETELY, as well as several nearby mouths and any nearby standing water, I’m sure. 

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THIS: not a thing I ordered OR wanted, as it turns out.

Our bulgogi came out shortly after, and I had two immediate thoughts:

  1. That meat looks GREY.
  2. Thank God we only got the SMALL. 

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POSSIBLE LEE-GA SLOGAN: We got meat, we got ONIONS, we got wet stuff…

Bulgogi is grilled, marinated meat, and one of the signature dishes of Korean cuisine. I only needed two bites of THIS bulgogi to know three things:

  1. This was boiled, not grilled. 
  2.  And soggy, yet dry.
  3. Those would be the last two bites I would eat of THAT. 

As I tried to finish up the meat I had already committed to in my mouth, I had the “overripe-banana sensation”: I didn’t think I was going to be able to swallow it. 

BLOG FIRST: The food I was eating was so bad, I literally gagged on it. 

The rest of our food came out very quickly after, so we set our magical wet/dry meat to the side to focus on our entrees.

Ian’s Bento box looked pretty attractive:

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These food pics come with bonus LEG SHOTS.

Ian found the ribs tender, but overly-sauced with a sweet and sticky glaze. The dumplings were deep-fried and saturated with grease, leaving behind a wet stain on the doily that Ian and I usually refer to as “Dr. Nick Riviera’s Window to Weight Gain”. 

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Ian did mention that his salad came with the standard Asian salad dressing, which he highly enjoys.


I am always happy when my sushi selections come out on a fun tray:

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I like my skirt much better than what’s above it.

My first confusion was about the spring roll: ok, yes, that’s what a spring roll looks like, but this was listed under “special sushi rolls”, along with Philly Rolls, and other cool variation on Maki Rolls.

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But this was just a spring roll, with carrots, avocado, cucumber, a little tuna, and some weird, white, flavourless sauce. And it was $10. And tasted like WET.  I would say this is the worst spring roll incident since the overpriced BUNGALOW rolls of ‘13. 

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MEGAN: I like the FLAVOUR of the sushi. 
IAN: Yeah, the rice is good. 
MEGAN: This spicy sauce is definitely house-made. It has an interesting flavour. It’s like, red peppers…or…roses? These rolls kinda taste like flowers??

Ian pointed out that some sushi rice is made with rice water, so maybe I wasn’t full crazy. 

The sushi tasted fine, but was very small, and I didn’t find had a lot of content to it. Mostly rice and sauce. 

In the end, Ian and both left a bunch of stuff on our plate: sushi rolls, for sure, the spring roll, and an entire wet plate of bulgogi. And after we sat with the plates for a few minutes, Ian asked me “are we allowed to press the buzzer thing to get the bill?”

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We tried it. A waiter came and said, “all finished?”

We replied we were, and instead of clearing the plates, he said “Gotcha”, and went to get our bill. Our $70 bill for 12 pieces of sushi, a spring roll, bulgogi and a bento box, which certainly seemed expensive when compared that price to the amount we enjoyed it. 

So, YOU’RE WELCOME, FRIENDS, for doing that one without you. And Talize is going to have to offer me some pretty sweet thrift store deals to make me want to head to the corner of Huron and Highbury anytime soon.

 
1.5/5 stars

Lee Ga Korean Restaurant on Urbanspoon

#39 LA CASA

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CUISINE: Casual Fine Dining ADDRESS: 117 King Street DATE: May 3, 2014

SO, FIRST IMPRESSIONS ARE IMPORTANT, right?

I feel like I’m at my best when I first meet people. I am able to hide most of my hideous character traits, talk to new people easily, and my humour, in front of a fresh audience,  is usually ON POINT.

(en pointe? Is this a ballet term?)

My friend Rob, who first met me in 2003, and continues to like me, said his first impression of me was “hilarious and energetic”.

But, of course, you can’t keep that up forever. Eventually, if you stay in my life, you’ll get to know all the bad stuff about me.

(I was going to make a bullet-point list here, but maybe it would be more fun for y’all to just leave them in the comments?)

I had a friend say to me once, about Ian and I:

TRUTHTELLER: You are the reason you guys MAKE friends. Ian is the reason you guys KEEP friends.

AN IMPORTANT PREAMBLE TO THE DINNER:
We had originally planned to do our dinner at La Casa Friday night, but I realized at about 5pm on Friday that I would need a reservation. It was a no-go, so in consultation with a few pals, I called to make a reservation for Saturday night. 

LA CASA: How many people?
MEGAN: For 6?
LA CASA: At what time?
MEGAN: I don’t know….7?
LA CASA: Hold on a sec….yep. That’s fine. 

Then, a couple more confirmations came in for Saturday dins, and I found that we were up to 8 people. I remembered the weirdly specific admonishment from La Casa’s website:


“JUST A REMINDER: If you can’t make your reservation, if you are going to be more than 15 minutes late, or if the number of people in your party has changed, PLEASE LET US KNOW A.S.A.P. DON’T BE A NO-SHOW. Give other people a chance to use the table which we had, in good faith, courteously reserved for you. Grazie!”

So, just to make sure I wasn’t breaking any rules by bringing two more people along, I called the restaurant just after noon on Saturday to confirm that 8 people would be ok. 

MEGAN: Hi, I’m just calling to confirm the my reservation, and to change the number of people coming?
LA CASA: How many?
MEGAN: 8 people now. 8 people total at 7?
LA CASA: Yes yes. This is fine. 

I swear, this minutiae comes back to haunt us…

Our friend Kesty was coming in from Tillsonburg for the occasion. 

Cool because:

  • Andrew is a foodie that always has fun/terrible food words
  • we haven’t seen each other since our FREE meal at Dragonfly Bistro. That’s way back at Blog #22!
  • Andrew just went to Italy in March.
  • Andrew hates cheese, which would make dining at this Italian restaurant…fun.

ANDREW: I’ve never had Mac and Cheese. I hate cheese. But my mom made it once when I was a child, and she didn’t drain the water. Shudder. It’s basically like a ‘Nam flashback. 

  • Andrew knows the owner of La Casa, and works with him as a teacher. In fact, Andrew and I first really became aware of La Casa and Black Trumpet (owned by the same family; Black Trumpet currently resides on my “best restaurants in London Ontario” list) when he and I were student teaching in the same department as one of the other owners. 
  • Andrew is, in general,  cool

Andrew and Jess came over for a quick drink before dinner. 

Andrew mentioned his concerns about eating at a restaurant that his colleague owns. A family owns the restaurant, and Andrew works with one of the brothers at his school. 

ANDREW: He’s not working this weekend. I asked him. But if I don’t like his restaurant, things could be AWKWARD….

And things got awkward, but not for that reason. 

As Kesty parked on King Street, I got a flurry of frantic texts from Erin, aka THE CHEESE POET, the first of our group to arrive:

MEGAN: (Walking in the door to Erin) How could this be? I literally verified with Hugo this morning!
ERIN: Do you have a waiter here named Hugo?
WAITRESS: No.
ME: What?

Anyway, by the time we found Erin sitting at our table near the bar, she was red-faced from being berated by the owner for being “late” for our reservation. But not just because she got yelled at in public. At a restaurant. Alone at a table.


OWNER: Are you Megan?
ERIN: No. 
OWNER: You are late!!!
ERIN: No, I’m the first one here. For 7. 
OWNER: No. The reservation was for 6:30!!
ERIN: (pulling out her phone with my text) See? Reservation for 7. 
OWNER: WE DON’T EVEN DO A 7 O’CLOCK! (walking away) Jesus Christ!!

No, Erin wasn’t embarrassed just because she had been chastised before she had even had any wine.

More so because she had worked at La Casa for TWO YEARS. The guy who yelled at her used to be her boss. 

As most of you know, the best way to enter a restaurant is to feel shamed and wrong, and also, unrecognized, so we were off to a great start. 

And also, apparently, this restaurant lets strangers named Hugo answer their phone?

At one point, somebody suggested that when I said the number of people, they thought I meant the time.

MEGAN: Well, the number of people was 6, then it was 8. At no time did I claim to be bringing 630 people.

I will say that the waiter did everything he could to make us forget the rough start. He was apologetic and friendly, complimenting our wine selections…
ERIN: We’ll have the Malivoire.
WAITER: (with a smile) Well, I’ll drink whatever you don’t.

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Our waiter also spoke with authority about Jess’s gluten allergy (with a brother and sister who had it, he was both informative about the menu offerings and gave us the interesting tidbit: apparently, it is most predominant in Irish families!)


WAITER: (to Jess) Yes, you can have that. And don’t worry about the pecans in that, they’re soaked in syrup and sugar. 

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Dylan and Rebekkah missed the drama by arriving about ten minutes late. 

Or according to the owner, 40 minutes.

Dylan was riding high because he was recognized by a stranger AGAIN this week. From the blog.

He is now talking endorsement deals.

DYLAN: See, what I’m thinking is that you could make AZ RESTO TOUR merch, like headbands or something, that I can wear when I get RECOGNIZED, and then I can get a licensing deal to wear a shirt for someone ELSE’S business in blog photos. 
MEGAN: (eyeroll so big my contact almost popped out) 

Despite his blog-star status, Dylan did admit later that the fan had asked him about the infamous “cracker-on-a-cracker” appetizer (see blog #32, KAROON), which is the bane of his existence. 

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REBEKKAH: Yeahhhh!!! My Alone Time Snack.
JESS: Let’s never speak of it again. 
KESTY: What is this again? (A brief description follows) You BABY-BIRDED it?!? That is the most disgusting thing!
REBEKKAH: After we were talking about that, I found myself eyeing a sleeve of Premium Pluses in my kitchen!
JESS: Bleck. 


(Dylan would be happy if cracker-on-a-cracker was NEVER mentioned on the blog again, but I’m worried that if we make all the food sound TOO appetizing, and makes everyone hungry. Think of cracker-on-a-cracker as balance in the universe.)

So, usually when something bad happens in a restaurant, your next step would be to call over the manager, or owner. But if the owner yells at you….

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All of this yelling means no one is talking about Ian’s new pink blog shirt…

And it lead us to talking about other bad service stories. 


Rebekkah’s sister was waiting for a table at an Earl’s out west. After waiting a long time, she took advantage of the hostess being away from the desk to check her position in the queue on the computer screen.

Under one couple’s names, she saw the words “OLD”.

Under her name, she saw the word “B1T0H”.


She took a cell photo of it and showed it to the manager. 


They ate for free that night.

The manager said “whatever you want, for as long as you want.”

While free wine, free food, free dessert sounds great, we all agreed that we STILL would have posted the picture online. 


But as we said, the waiter was exceptional. Kind, attentive, and good with water refills.

IAN: Underrated, but important!

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The menu looked great, too: modern Italian food with lots of different options for Jess’ gluten-free diet. 

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ERIN: This menu has doubled since I worked here. But what is with this wine menu? One menu for the table? Two random inserts that say “specials” that have different things on them? Waaaa?

(Depicted behind her: her former boss/Old Yeller)

While we waited for our appetizers (despite the fact Jess didn’t WANT an appetizer, we warned her she would be THE ONLY ONE WITHOUT ONE, which is obviously the worst), Jess and Andrew analyzed the Malbec they had ordered. Remember from our trip to Dragonfly Bistro (#22) that as a foodie, Kesty knows all the most annoying food words. 

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KESTY: I want to talk about the wine!
JESS: It was subtle, yet bold. I did not feel intimidated by it. 
KESTY: It was not too tannic I agree. 
IAN: What about the nose!
MEGAN: Shut up, all of you. 
JESS: It is good, though. 

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Fresh bread with mustard butter: YES.


The restaurant itself is lovely inside: a long wood bar, dim lighting, nicely decorated, but very conservative, kinda dated, and very THE SAME as many other restaurants in London. 

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I was in Montreal 4 weeks ago, and as I write this am currently on my way back from Halifax. Both of these places are world-class cities, to be sure. One of the things that makes them that way is the variety of restaurants: from old school, to fresh local, to fusion, international. But more than that, the design of the restaurant just seem more MODERN: more attention is paid to light fixtures, and tables, and typefaces on the menu and sign. London restaurants, even the more upscale ones, just seem to be stuck in the 90s. Every “fancy” restaurant in London looks like the formal living room your parents still maintain for “company”.

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The wine menu is stuck in some time-space continuum where using COMIC SANS to describe $60 bottles of wine is acceptable. Also known as NOWHERE.

Erin, the Cheese Poet, blames the diners of London. 

ERIN: Ugh. This city. I would love to know how many people in this city are having Caesar salad, beef tenderloin, and Creme brûlée for dessert with a McManus cab. 
MEGAN: That’s what I call the Tribe meal! My buddy Tribe eats that EVERYWHERE. 


(As I write this, I realized I ate a beautiful place called THE FIVE FISHERMAN in Halifax. And I ordered…Pinot noir, Creme brûlée and beef tenderloin—albeit with Bearnaise and lobster. But I’m obviously a Londoner at heart. Dammit.)


Dylan’s app, the minestrone with black beans and duck sausage. Dylan described this, cryptically, as “cassoulet-like”.

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Ian and Erin ordered the same calamari appetizer. The calamari was cooked well, and there was plenty of it, but the sauce was watery.

IAN: It’s flavourful, but needs to be thicker.

ERIN: It’s peppery, lemony, balsamic sauce. But with water.

Jess got the pear and parmesan salad. Hey Jess, what do you think?

JESS: I like it, but it’s served in pieces like this. 

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Please pardon my BRANCHES.

She added that she liked it because “it had a kick. It’s like they’re not afraid to spice things.”

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Andrew insisted on doing his own food photography, and his style definitely beats mine. And he absolutely loved the meatballs, calling them “spicy, moist” with a “beautiful arribiata” that he called “the best meatball  outside of Italy”.

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My mushroom tart was delish. The beef demi-glacé was rich—almost too reduced—it was more like a beef syrup. The mushrooms were earthy and spicy and chipotle goat cheese was nice and spicy. 

The puff pastry was nice, too, albeit the vestigial tail on the left was a little off-putting.

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Rebekkah the Skeptic went with the charcuterie platter as her appetizer, despite our waiter’s warning that it was “probably too big, even for two people”. He also acquiesed when Rebekkah requested fresh bread instead of toasted.

WAITER: Rock and Roll.

Bekk’s review of the charcuterie was equally succinct, and also telling of how full she became.

BEKK: Meat good, bread good. Missing butter.

To me, that plate looks like a big mess. That’s how it arrived.

Just then, our 8th guest arrived: right on time, at 8:01pm. Thank God the owner didn’t see him. 

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It’s our friend, actor and general bon vivant, Cameron. Thank God his good looks go some ways to making a hoodie La Casa-appropriate formal wear.

Cameron sat, the waiter hustled him a menu, and Cameron ordered the 
hunter pizza with venison salami. While we all checked over our shoulders to make sure the Time Gorgon wasn’t approaching.

Our entrees arrived, and Jess was suitably impressed with her seafood risotto, the dish she decided to get when she perused the menu the week before.

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JESS: You know when something tastes exactly like you want it to? That’s this.

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Rebekkah the Skeptic ordered lasagna, but as our wise waiter predicted, the charcuterie was too much for her. I think she took one bite of the lasagna.

BEKK: The lasagna was zesty, but I was waaaaay too full. 

Dylan went with the gnocchi in bolognese, something I was very tempted to get. You know my rule:

In a bad restaurant, don’t get the gnocchi. In a good restaurant, ALWAYS get it.

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But this gnocchi, as it turns out, was just ok. Not pillowy, kind of big. Dylan said the bolognese was good and really had flavour, “more than the lasagna”.

Which he knows because he ended up finishing it for Rebekkah.

DYLAN: I ate it, and I enjoyed it.

Because the rule is to always get gnocchi, I ordered the fish special, red snapper in lemon cream sauce with asparagus and gnocchi.

My red snapper was served steaming hot, and is definitely a firmer fish. I always think I don’t like that kind of fish as much, but I really enjoyed this meal, especially the sauce and vegetables. 

I agreed with Dylan about the gnocchi; kind of hard, too big, but it was still ok. I would put this gnocchi on par with the stuff we had at AMICI (Blog #2), but not nearly as good as Black Trumpet or Avenue Dining (Blogs #4, and #6, respectively).

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Ian ordered ostensibly the most famous dish La Casa serves: the caramelized salmon, served with fingerling potatoes. Touted in the menu as “the best salmon in London”, Ian had to agree.

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IAN: The outside of this is like, BRULEED. This salmon didn’t have a CHANCE.

I feel like every time Cameron makes an appearance on the blog, he orders a pizza. The last time at GUSTO (Blog #28), he ordered a gross salmon pizza that he described as “fishy”.

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CAMERON: Ok, the last time I got pizza, it was half as good as this, and the same price. This is REALLY good. The gorgonzola is great, and not overpowering. The meat is not too salty, but flavourful. The olives make me wanna…

ANDREW AND MEGAN: (in unison) Shoop?

ANDREW: Get outta my head!

CAMERON: The sauce is sweeter-tasting, which counteracts the saltiness of the olives and meat. 

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Andrew had been having a debate with a colleague over the term “pork osso buco”. Andrew felt that Ossobuco was the name of a dish, and always referred to veal, like Duck a L’Orange. He hates it when chefs co-opt the name of one thing to describe another.

He and I pointed out that just because a contestant on Top Chef prepared something called “oat risotto”, doesn’t mean it was, in fact, food.

But Erin clarified that the ossobuco refers to the cut of the meat, the shank. So Andrew, begrudgingly, ordered it. And liked it.

ANDREW: It tasted like pork. Not over-salted at all. The risotto functions as polenta—

(he paused)

You should be writing this down. 

(Andrew prefers to be quoted verbatim in the blog. Because of this, you should know that he also sang the following lyrics to the tune of “Till There Was You” from The Music Man:

There was fishhhh…

On the breaaad….

And we never heard them tartar-saucing…)

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So, obviously the wine was good.

Despite Bekk giving up the fight, a few of us were still up for dessert, and perusing the thankfully Verdana-typefaced Dessert menu.

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(Kesty laughs) 

KESTY: Look at the salted caramel gelato.

MEGAN: You don’t like salted caramel?

KESTY: I like salted caramel: I don’t like the term “yummiful”.

MEGAN: Ew. No. Or “juxtaposition of opposites”. That wording just TRYING to be annoying. It’s like at Michael’s on the Thames, instead of saying “vegetable medley”, they call it a “rendezvous of vegetables”. As if the veggies are having a clandestine meeting under cover of darkness.

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Just to be a complete cliche of myself, I got creme brûlée (see blog posts #2, #3, #5, #14, #22—this list is not exhaustive). The custard was great; smooth and not too eggy. The top needed to be torched a little more, as it was crisp more than it was hard.

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Ian got the strawberry cheesecake. Served with five garnishes and a mint toupee. The cheesecake was thick and delicious.

So, through all eight diners, the food was consistently good. Some of the dishes, like the meatballs, the risotto, the salmon and pizza, were standouts. All were good. And because the company was good, and the waiter was lovely, we had a fun night.

But walking out of the restaurant that night, we talked about the owner, again. And the next day, Erin and I wondered if the waiter shouldn’t have comped something. The wine, dessert or something.

There was some sort of mistake, but it wasn’t ours. It was theirs. And yelling at a random diner, not the person who made, and verified, the reservations, before they are joined by seven other people, who ended up spending a few hundred dollars, left us all with a bad first impression.

Which means for most of us, we can get our caesar salad, tenderloin, Cab and creme brûlée ELSEWHERE.

3/5 stars

La Casa Ristorante on Urbanspoon

textbookcatharsis asked: Hey, I don't know if this restaurant is on your list or not, but I recommend going to Thuan Thanh, a Vietnamese restaurant! Thuan Kieu is really close by, so I think it's overlooked a lot, but I enjoy Thuan Thanh more, haha. The restaurant is at 1472 Huron St. The pho is delicious and the owners are nice people!

Thanks for the recommendation—going to add it to the list. I love Vietnamese food!!

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS K-M

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Chocolat con churros and cappucino: Madrid, Spain. March 2014.

# 39 LA CASA RISTORANTE

CUISINE: Italian ADDRESS: 117 King Street DATE: May 2, 2014

WEB: www.lacasaristorante.com; 84% on urbanspoon.com MY FEELINGS ABOUT IT BEFOREHAND: I have ALMOST dined in this restaurant before. I visited it after a sangria-fueled afternoon with a friend last summer, and due to circumstances beyond that friend’s control, we had to make an untimely exit.

The caesar salad I had before we left was good…

This is one of the only restaurants on King Street to last more than 20 years, so let’s see what it has to offer. 

The wine list looks great. No sangria.

#40 LEE GA KOREAN RESTAURANT
CUISINE: Korean ADDRESS: 1332 Huron Street DATE: May 11, 2014

WEB: no website; 94% on urbanspoon.com out of 103 reviews. MY FEELINGS ABOUT IT BEFOREHAND: Too much Korean too recently has made me not super-excited about more saucy noodles and crispy rice. But the reviews look promising, as do the pictures of sushi. And I will need a lot of sushi to get over the show hangover. Music Man closes the day before.

#41 LONDON GRILL
CUISINE: Fine Dining ADDRESS: 300 King Street DATE: May 17, 2014

WEB: http://www3.hilton.com/resources/media/hi/YXULOHF/en_US/pdf/en_YXULOHF_LondonGrillMenu_Apr2014.pdf; #130 out of 807 restaurants on Trip Advisor MY FEELINGS ABOUT IT BEFOREHAND: My pals from school and I will often do a brunch here or buffet lunch on PD days, as it’s just down the street from the school. It’s totally adequate for that. It’s a restaurant in a hotel. But the other London hotels we’ve reviewed (Armouries Grille and Avenue Dining) have both surpassed our expectations, so maybe this one will too!

#42 LO NUESTRO

CUISINE: Latin ADDRESS: 772 Hamilton Road DATE: May 24, 2014

WEB: http://www.lonuestrolatinrestaurant.com; 97% on urbanspoon.com out of 40 reviews.MY FEELINGS ABOUT IT BEFOREHAND: I’m really really looking forward to this one. I few people have mentioned to me personally how good it is, the reviews mention the lovely couple that owns it and its fresh menu, and of course, Latin food is my absolute favourite.

#43 LORD GAINSBOROUGH RESTAURANT

CUISINE: Greek Diner ADDRESS: 1579 Gainsborough Road DATE: May 31, 2014

WEB: no website; #89 on Trip Advisor out of 807 restaurants.MY FEELINGS ABOUT IT BEFOREHAND: So far the diners on the AZ Resto tour haven’t been a slam dunk—I like my food a little more full-flavoured than most diners serve—but according to trip advisor, this place has got homemade moussaka and pastitsio, my favourite Greek dishes. If they are out of it, like they were at THE DANCING GREEK, all bets are off.

#44 LOS COMALES (re-opened!!)
CUISINE: Latin-American ADDRESS: 561 Southdale Road East DATE: June 7, 2014

WEB: http://www.loscomaleslatinfood.ca; 85% on urbanspoon.com out of 170 reviews.MY FEELINGS ABOUT IT BEFOREHAND: Well, this was on my original “Top 10 Restaurants in London” list, and then it closed! But at a new location on Southdale, with the same lovely family running it, I hope it lives up to the gauntlet set down in Latin food by Casa Blanca.

#45 MAI’S CAFE AND BISTRO
CUISINE: Canadian, Thai ADDRESS: 142 Wortley Road DATE: June 14, 2014

WEB: http://www.lonuestrolatinrestaurant.com; 94% on urbanspoon.com out of 77 reviews.MY FEELINGS ABOUT IT BEFOREHAND: I had no feelings about this place before I looked it up on Trip Advisor: I had never heard of it! But it’s ranked #5 on Trip Advisor, just behind David’s and Tamarine, two of my favourites, so expectations are very high.

#46 MALIBU RESTAURANT
CUISINE: Diner ADDRESS: 662 Wonderland Road N DATE: June 21, 2014

WEB: http://www.maliburestaurant.ca; 65% on urbanspoon.com out of 69 reviews.MY FEELINGS ABOUT IT BEFOREHAND: Well, I clearly have not been paying attention to the Mailbu Restaurant; I thought this long-established London restaurant had been moving around to different locations in the east and north end. Turns out, there’s three locations: West, North and East.  And bless us all, the website has horrible pictures of food they took themselves, that are all stretched out: perfect. The menu features lots of homemade Greek and Italian specialties, as well as fresh fish. But only the North location serves alcohol.

North it is.

#47 MANNA GRILL
CUISINE: Japanese/ Korean ADDRESS: 276 Wharncliffe Road N. DATE: June 28, 2014

WEB: no website; 66% on urbanspoon.com out of 12 reviews.MY FEELINGS ABOUT IT BEFOREHAND: I drive by this restaurant in a Wharncliffe plaza almost every day; but like almost every Korean restaurant in London, the name is super-weird. I thought this was maybe a Greek place? It’s apparently pretty popular for takeout with Western students, but the reviews don’t give me a lot of hope.

#48 MARINO’S PIZZERIA
CUISINE: Family Dining  ADDRESS: 1066 Adelaide Street DATE: July 5, 2014

WEB: http://www.marinosrestaurantbar; 82% on urbanspoon.com out of 81 reviews.MY FEELINGS ABOUT IT BEFOREHAND: Meh? It’s a pizza place and bar. Right now I’m sick of Asian food. By this time, maybe it’ll be diners.

#49 MASCOT FAMILY RESTAURANT
CUISINE: Family dining ADDRESS: 172 Dundas street DATE: July 12, 2014

WEB: no website; 81% on urbanspoon.com out of 33 reviews.MY FEELINGS ABOUT IT BEFOREHAND: I’d love to try the Mascot’s take on chicken fingers. I thought I would have to, you know, have a family to eat at this many family restaurants.

#50 MASSEY’S
CUISINE: Indian ADDRESS: 174 King Street DATE: July 19, 2014

WEB: http://www.masseys.ca; 85% on urbanspoon.com out of 40 reviews.MY FEELINGS ABOUT IT BEFOREHAND: This is probably the only Indian restaurant in London Ian and I haven’t eaten at; no particular reason, except that we heard that it’s a bit overpriced. But I love Indian food, and this will be our first taste of it on the tour.

#51 MAXWELL MCCOYS
CUISINE: Modern Casual ADDRESS: 1737 Richmond Street North DATE: July 26, 2014

WEB: http://maxwellmccoys.com; 62% on urbanspoon.com out of 65 reviews.MY FEELINGS ABOUT IT BEFOREHAND: Well, this is the casual eatery attached to one of my most-reviled restaurants in London, Crave. It used to be called Next Door, closed, open with a new name, and the review are just as horrible. It seems like a Kelsey’s menu with higher prices.

#52 MEATBALLS

CUISINE: Italian ADDRESS: 276 Wharncliffe Road North DATE: August 2, 2014

WEB: http://www.meatballshop.ca; 88% on urbanspoon.com out of 17 reviews.MY FEELINGS ABOUT IT BEFOREHAND: Located right next to Manna Grill, this meatball and sandwich shop is right near Western and seems to be priced like a fast-food place. A friend on my Facebook loved it, and said it was cute inside and delicious.

#52 MEATHEADS

CUISINE: Steak and Bistro ADDRESS: 2010 Dundas Street East DATE: August 9, 2014

WEB: http://www.meatheadsrestaurants.com; #163 on Trip Advisor out of 807 reviews.MY FEELINGS ABOUT IT BEFOREHAND: Well, the website is well-designed and modern, the prices look good, Ian loves steak. And then, a trip advisor review mentioned that its AWESOME even though it “shares a lobby and washroom with a strip club”.

Wha?

Well, I’ll see what my parents are doing that night. That can only make this entry better.

#53 MEIN STREET

CUISINE: Asian Fusion ADDRESS: 655 Fanshawe Park Road West DATE: August 16, 2014

WEB: http://www.meinstreet.ca ; 48% on urbanspoon.com out of 231 reviews.MY FEELINGS ABOUT IT BEFOREHAND: Well, my first glance at the website had me intrigued: it uses Century Gothic lower case on the menu, a favourite font of mine, lots of interesting options, celiac-friendly…and then I saw that failing average from 231 reviews on Urban Spoon! Most of the reviews seemed to be focused on the terrible service. There is also a HILARIOUSLY detailed reply from the manager after one horrible review where the manager details reviewing the surveillance footage to prove that the reviewer is lying!

At 8:07 pm, you were greeted by the bartender, who asked for your drink order.

At 8:09 pm, you were given your drink, free of charge.

At 8:14 pm, the hostess took you to your table.  You had brought your drink with you.
At 8:16 pm, your companion left the table and returned at 8:20 pm.
At 8:29 pm your server approached your table and took your order.
At 8:39 pm your appetizers arrived.
At 8:54 pm another drink arrived.  
At 8:58 pm your server checked on your table to see if you wanted her take your appetizers away.  You informed her that you were still picking away at the food and would like the appetizers to remain at the table.  She informed you that your entrees will be out shortly.”
It goes on with a minute-by-minute reenactment of the evening!!

This place seems dramatic and exciting. I feel like I need the word powers of blog regular Andrew for this one. I may have to pick the boy up in Toronto.

#54 MEXICACTUS

CUISINE: Mexican/Latin ADDRESS: 1392 Trafalgar Street DATE: August 23, 2014

WEB: http://www.mexicactus.ca; 86% on urbanspoon.com out of 207 reviews.MY FEELINGS ABOUT IT BEFOREHAND: This seems to be the place that everyone wants me to go to THE MOST. It is the most referenced place by strangers and friends who are reading the blog. I can’t wait! Mexican Food in a plaza in the middle of nowhere next to a factory and tire shop. That’s exactly what this blog is about!

#55 MILOS’ CRAFT BEER EMPORIUM

CUISINE: Fresh Local ADDRESS: 420 Talbot Street DATE: August 30, 2014

WEB: http://www.pubmilos.com; 83% on urbanspoon.com out of 128 reviews.MY FEELINGS ABOUT IT BEFOREHAND: It’s downtown, it’s new, the website looks nice, lots of local ingredients and homemade frankfurters and gnocchi? I’m excited! Could become a cool new post-show hangout!

#56 MULDOON’S PIZZA

CUISINE: Italian ADDRESS: 925 Wonderland Road South DATE: September 6, 2014

WEB: no website;  92% on urbanspoon.com out of 112 reviews.MY FEELINGS ABOUT IT BEFOREHAND: Most of the review on Urban Spoon mention Muldoon’s is great, but overpriced. Or is it just that most pizza is super-cheap? It’s been around forever, and it’s right near our house—I hope it’s good!

THE MASTER LIST: Let the eating begin.

megansgotmoxie:

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Sausage, spaetzle and pickled cabbage at the Central Market in Budapest, Hungary.


All the previous things being considered, here is the list that we’ll be working through over the next year or so. Some of them I’m really looking forward to, some will be a challenge to find something REAL…

#38 KOREAN RESTAURANT

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CUISINE: Guess. ADDRESS: 170 Adelaide Street N. DATE: April 6th, 2014

LET’S BE HONEST: The Korean restaurants in this town have got a name problem.

I’m not talking about you, Kimchi House: you’re not great, but you aren’t even on the same planet as the one-two Korean punch that is GANGNAM STYLE KOREAN BBQ (#27 on the AZ RESTO TOUR) and our latest entry, KOREAN RESTAURANT. 


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I mean, I’m sure that naming a restaurant can be difficult. 


Well, not for Ian.


[SCENE]
(Spring, 2010. A regular games night Saturday night at the Moorhouse House. Wine was being imbibed. Scribblish was being played. Megan was taking it all FAR. TOO. SERIOUSLY.)
BRYCE: I just think London’s culinary scene could be markedly improved by food trucks. How hard could it be?
(FYI, it’s 2014. City Council still can’t even talk about it.)
IAN: I could do a food truck. I would consider doing that. 
MEGAN: What would you make in your food truck, Nuni?
IAN: (thinking) Well, it would depend what hipsters were into at the time. Probably some sort of artisanal sandwich. Maybe a taco. It could have a board game theme!
BRYCE: Board games…like Snakes and Lattes in Toronto. I feel like the name is pretty integral. Like, I don’t think another place could spring up like that because they already took the best name. What would you call it?
IAN: (without missing a beat) Hungry Hungry Hipsters. And it could be painted like the box of game, with the different coloured hippos. But the hippos have plastic-framed glasses on. 
MEGAN: And SCARVES!

[FIN]


If I had the technology/wherewithal, I feel like this would be a good spot to have a PayPal link to contribute to Ian’s food truck fantasy, which is obviously the BEST IDEA OF ALL TIME.


Anyway, the name of a restaurant is important: it has to be inviting, indicative of the food served,  and also appetizing.

It should not invoke a hit song that was already reviled by the time the restaurant actually opened, and it certainly should not JUST BE THE WORDS THAT INDICATE WHAT TYPE OF FOOD IS BEING SERVED THERE.

 
(And don’t get me STARTED on appropriate fonts.)


Maybe we should help out Korean “Creativity is NOT our Specialty” Restaurant.

I polled my fellow diners after our dinner there.

 
LIST OF NAMES FOR THIS PLACE BETTER THAN “KOREAN RESTAURANT”

(this list is NOT exhaustive)

  • EAT AT KIM’S
  • SEOUL FOOD
  • KIMCHI PALACE
  • PORKY VEGGIE TIME
  • STUFF IN BOWLS
  • THAT SOUP PLACE (also serving Korean Food)
  • CANNIBALISTIC DEEP-FRIED EXPO
  • LITERALLY ANYTHING ELSE (ok, maybe it IS exhaustive)

Despite its pedantic and reductive name, a big group of us met at the plaza on Horton and Adelaide to ingest some hopefully aptly-named food. 

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At the table: Blog Superstar Dylan,who gets that title based on the fact that he is the only one from the blog who has been recognized by STRANGERS ON THE STREET from his appearances on the blog.

This blog is BLOWING UP, Y’ALL!

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Back from her blog hibernation is blog regular Becca and her boyfriend Craig, who, as a first time blog attender, quickly learned that all we EVER TALK ABOUT is theatre. 

Maybe scarves. 

But mostly theatre. 

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OTHER PEOPLE WHO AREN’T GOING TO LET THE THEATRE TALK QUIT:

Tribe, whose direction of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels we had seen and enjoyed the week before, and Kenny, whose hands were still painty from the work we’d been doing all weekend on the Music Man set. 

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We were seated in the corner window seat, in a darling little booth with a curtain. 

While this Asian restaurant didn’t have the classic blown-up pictures of THINGS in BOWLS on the wall, they did have wood panelling for days and random string of snowflakes above Kenny’s head. I love having a little room in a restaurant, though.

A cursory glance at the menu indicated while they had put NO THOUGHT AT ALL into the name of the restaurant, the names of the ITEMS on the menu had much more thought put into them.

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Whatever that was, it was $42. Apparently, spending the day on the links works up quite an appetite for Korean delicacies.

Delicacies, indeed. I don’t know if I want this:

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I mean, maybe if it was UNPEELED, but…

We decided to go with the safe choice of dumplings to share, and everyone quickly made their best guess as to what else they were ordering. 

SPOILER ALERT: Some of us were dead wrong.

We did notice while we were waiting that although they didn’t have pictures of the food on the walls, and only about 6 inside the menu, they did have them on the window outside.

While I think the pictures are helpful in a menu, I rarely stand in the parking lot of a restaurant trying to decide what to get. Just a personal preference. 

This was really the first time any of us had hung out with Craig, so we obviously made him welcome by asking what he was interested in and what HE wanted to talk about. 


Just kidding. We just continued to talk about theatre.

Topics included:

  • Beal’s Music Man (May 7-10, tickets through grandtheatre.com)
  • OKTC’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (hilarious, but EDGY!)
  • local theatre posters and their relative lack of design nuance
  • why you NEVER TOUCH THE CURTAIN in theatre (it breaks the suspension of disbelief)
  • Tribe’s recent trip the NYC (Everything, as usual)
  • Acting UpStage’s Elegies (emotional, except the weird song about a chicken)
  • Theatre Sheridan (and why their choices are often…interesting)

I think we were moving through a 15-minute analysis of a recent local production of Gypsy, which we had all (Becca, Tribe, Kenny and I) seen, when Craig brought up the Blue Jays home opener. Sports. A topic that Ian, Dylan and Craig were all interested in. 

But their sheer force of conversation was no match for four theatricals, and it was quickly killed. 

Luckily for them, the waiter soon arrived with  all the accoutrements of a proper Korean Meal. Our waiter narrated the proceedings:

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Waiter: (pointing at the various dishes) Korean…fish cake…radish…kimchi…this one’s like a pickle…. 

Dylan was also excited because his SOJO arrived.

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What is Sojo, you ask?

It’s disgusting.

Dylan says Sojo is like a vodka with sugar.

I say Sojo is like vodka that a prisoner made in their cell toilet.

And I say this a vodka lover.

[SCENE]

(December 2012. Jess the Celiac and her BF are at Megan and Ian’s house before heading out to a party. Ian and Megan are doing the thing they always do where people come over and then we tease each other until everyone feels uncomfortable. It’s a thing.)

MEGAN: I’m gonna know, Ian. I can’t believe you think I’m not gonna know.

JESS: What?

MEGAN: So, Ian’s been going across the border a bunch for work. So he can get Duty-Free stuff. So, I asked him to pick up some Grey Goose because it would be wayyyyyy cheaper.

JESS: Amazing!

MEGAN: Well, it would have been…if Ian had bought the Grey Goose.

IAN: (from the kitchen) It’s supposed to be good!

JESS: Uh-oh. What did he buy?

MEGAN: Smirnoff.

JESS: What?

IAN: Smirnoff BLACK LABEL.

MEGAN: So, I’m going to do a blind taste test of a shot of each, to prove that he made a horrible, horrible mistake.

IAN: (bringing the shots into the living room) Here you go….

(Megan looks discerningly at the shots of vodka before her. She spins each one around on the tray. She picks up the first shot. Looks through it. Sniffs it.)

MEGAN: The other one is the GREY GOOSE.

IAN: (laughing) How did you know?

MEGAN:  (with a shudder) Because that one smelled like rubbing alcohol.

[FIN]

Our appetizers were next to arrive:

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Ian had ordered this seafood pizza as his entree. I was surprised, because he usually gets beef bulgogi or some other variation on grilled beef in an Asian restaurant. 

And clearly he thought that too, because when this arrived before anyone else’s entree, he took one look at it, shared it around and ordered the beef bulgogi.

The seafood pizza was hot, with a nice crispy edge. It had some sort of flour thickener that made it more like a pancake, and a little pasty after a few bites.

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These dumplings were hot and had nicely season filling inside. But I always prefer a pan-fried dumpling, because I don’t like a fluffy batter on the outside. Totally acceptable though.

Our food started popping out of the kitchen, piping hot, as soon as it was ready. 

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Tribe’s tower of chicken and peppers was greeted with oohs and ahhs from our table. It looked amazing.

This was great except for the fact that it meant some of our entrees arrived more than 10 minutes apart. 

We had explained to Craig, as a blog newbie, the basic BLOG DINNER RULES:

  • Don’t start eating until Megan takes a picture
  • We try to order different things, so we get a good indication of the restaurant’s full menu.

But because Dylan is a philosopher and rebel who drinks toilet vodka, he ordered the same thing as Kenny and tried to eat it right away.

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The menu called this JEYUK, or stir-fried pork. Kenny and Dylan both felt that the ratio of peppers to pork was not good, and that it was so drenched in sauce, there was very little pork flavour. They did both agree that the pork was tender and cooked well.

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Craig and Ian both ended up with the beef bulgogi, a grilled beef dish served with rice. Craig said the bulgogi was a “YES”, and both men really liked it. Ian said it was an awesome mix of sweet and sour with a good amount of spice.

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Dylan liked it too.

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I ordered the HOT JAJUN MYUN, a spicy noodle dish that was I didn’t even notice was vegetarian. The noodles were tender and great, but it was almost too saucy, even though the sauce was spicy and yummy.

Things were devolving in the middle of the table.

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Becca, the mostly vegetarian who doesn’t eat beef and pork, thought the taste of her shrimp rice and sauce was pretty good, until she discovered the pork throughout her rice.

BECCA: If anything, this seafood dish is too porky. In that it has any pork at all in it.

She settled for eating her side soup, which she described as “delicately-flavoured”.

And Tribe’s meal, that we had been jealous of when it arrived first, had become a soupy, over sauced, wet mess.

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Tribe, who usually says “good!” when I ask how his food is, thought that his food was “flooded” with sauce, that the chicken was deep-fried too much, and it was basically inedible. He hated it.

And after we had eaten all we could (or in the case of Becca and Tribe, moved food around on their plates), our plates sat there, and sat there. 

AND SAT THERE.

I hate that.

We must have sat without a visit from our waiter, with the over-sauced and melting remains of our food in front of us for at least half an hour after any of us had even touched our food.

MEGAN: Maybe it’s because we’re hidden behind the curtain.

IAN: And maybe the waiter knows to NOT TOUCH THE CURTAIN.

(He’s learning about theatre!)

In the end, some of us liked our food, but given the bad dishes, and annoyingly slow service, I don’t think there’s any REASON to go back to terribly-named Korean Restaurant.

At least not until they change the sign to a name that I feel is inviting appetizing, AND truthfully indicative of the food: THE SAUCY KOREAN.

2.5/5 stars

Korean Restaurant on Urbanspoon

#37 THE KNOTTY PINE

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CUISINE: Family Restaurant ADDRESS: 1100 Wellington Road DATE: Tuesday, March 25, 2014

YOU KNOW HOW you’ve always wanted to eat in the lobby of a DAYS INN? But maybe you’ve never had the means? The transportation? 
Well, my friends, I’m here to tell you this dream can become a reality. With stunning vistas of a winterized pool to your left, and the breathtaking splendour of The White Oaks Mall Bay to your right, the Knotty Pine is both within 20 footfalls of the check-in counter, and on the 13 Wellington bus route. Warning: you may end up living with whoever made the soup. 


My friend Erika moved to Manhattan almost two years ago, where she resides in the perfect apartment near Wall Street with her handsome, kind husband, and absurdly cute baby. She was joking the other day that she forgot how to turn on the windshield wipers of her brother’s car  because her Mercedes senses rain and does it automatically

And here I’ve been using my hand to turn them on like a SUCKER.


Her husband has a lot of connections in the food world, so I’ll often get random texts from her:

  • This is a Moorhouse-approved brunch: it’s chicken and waffles, but the waffles are stuffed with BACON. 
  • This eight-course charity dinner is unreal!
  • MARIO BATTALI IS SERVING ME. NBD. 

So, this is what Erika’s life is now. 

So, whenever my beauty is home from New York City, I try to impress my big-city bestie with the kind of sophisticated dining experience that only London, Ontario can provide.

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If you were ever feeling a little old and wizened up, have your photo taken with your former-model friend, and CONFIRM IT. 

#weirdeyes 

LONDON, ONTARIO: YOU HAVE A MARKETING PROBLEM

Here’s the thing: London is not New York. One look at any slab of functional architecture in this town will tell you that.

PROPOSED LONDON MOTTO #1


LONDON, ONTARIO: Where every building looks like an elementary school portable. 

We’re not even Toronto. One stroll down the street during our uninspired Nuit Blanche will tell you that. 

PROPOSED LONDON MOTTO #2


LONDON, ONTARIO: Hold on! We’re trying something here...


But here’s the secret: that’s the nice thing about London. I go to New York twice a year. So many of my friends live in Toronto that I have to make a PSA on Facebook about visiting so that no one feels left out. But a weekend of streetcars, subways, car horns, getting stuck on the DVP, restaurants that don’t take debit, and endless discussions about my friends not being able to afford houses is usually all it takes for me to feel RELIEVED when I get home to London.

 
London needs to market itself as MEDIUM. Fine. Acceptable. And have a sense of humour about it. It’s not a great city of the world. And everyone here knows it. It’s just a bunch of weird, artsy, overly-educated people who have settled with living here. If we had a sense of humour about it, we could be Canada’s Portland. 

FOR REALS, THOUGH, LONDON.

HERE’S YOUR NEW MOTTO:


LONDON, ONTARIO: Meh. 

The last time Erika was home for a blog dinner, we were supposed to go the THE HI LUNCH. And if there’s a rival for most inelegant presentation of a dining experience, it very well could be The Knotty Pine.


Let’s take a look at the historic DAYS INN facade:

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Dear GOD, what HAPPENED??!?

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Oh, so we don’t just check-in at the front desk? 

If you are looking for a restaurant to weakly announce their presence through the use of an aged, personalized floor mat draped slightly askew over an imperfection in the floor, have I got the place for you!

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Mmmm…Dingy…

Wait, WAIT: you were looking for a restaurant where your first few steps in the door brings you perilously close to taking a dive onto the carpet, right?


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One idea: Fix the floor. BETTER IDEA: Make a sign.

MEGAN: (grabbing the wall for support) Ah Ahhgh! I almost fell!!
ERIKA: Well, there IS a sign.

LONDONERS, QUICK QUESTION: Have you been concerned that you haven’t learned ENOUGH about the inner workings of your waitress’s home life? The KNOTTY PINE has got you covered:


WAITRESS: Hoohoo, you almost took a spill there, hunh? Oh, I always do that! I know it’s there and I still do it. I’ve wiped out with a tray of glasses. I’m pretty clumsy though. My kids are always saying that. I’ve got a three-year-old and one in school and I’m always tripping over their stuff at home! My mom had a bad fall on the stairs recently. I was like “Mom! Your getting too old to do that kinda stuff anymore!” She lives with us and she’s just up on the top of the stairs and I’ll be like “Whoa mom, be careful! You’re getting old! You’re not getting any younger!” But there she goes everyday, And the time that she fell, she was holding the three-year-old! So that wasn’t great! And I said—
MEGAN: Can I grab a menu?


Actually, having a super-personable waitress at a place like this is great: when you’re trying to sort through a huge diner menu full of potential frozen food land mines, having someone enthusiastic really sells you on the food.


WAITRESS: What’s good? EVERYTHING! The breakfast is AMAZING! I don’t know what they do to the eggs here, but they’re SO GOOD! I’ve worked here two months, and I’ve eaten more eggs than I’ve ever had IN MY LIFE. Mmmmm. Eggs!
ERIKA: Anything homemade?
WAITRESS: THE SOUP! Oh my GOD! The soup is so good! It’s all homemade! The guy who makes the soup here is the BEST! He’s the owner, and he is so good at making soup! Every soup is amazing! Each one is so good. Today is Cream of Mushroom. I actually haven’t had this one because I’m lactose intolerant, but it’s smells GREAT! I swear! I don’t know how he makes these SOUPS! I want to bring him home with me!
(After a moment more to peruse, we order. The waitress heads back to call the orders in. A pause.)
IAN: So, she clearly wants to sleep with the soup guy. 
ERIKA: Absolutely. 
MEGAN:Oh. For sure.

 
Our (actually quite sweet) waitress promptly brought us the fresh and perfect diner coffee in a white china mug (my favourite!), and we got a chance to take a gander at our surroundings. The faux wood, sticky carpet, and melamine was all at least 20 years old.

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Does it seem particularly bright out? We were dining at 6, because the Knotty Pine closes at EIGHT. But you can check-in late at the front desk if you call ahead, I’m sure.


MEGAN: So, here we are in the lobby. 
IAN: This Days Inn looks pretty tired.
ERIKA: It’s seen better DAYS.

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Like, even in the summer, this pool’s not gonna look great. And the image of children padding through the Days Inn lobby, I’m sorry, RESTAURANT, with their wet feet and swimmers ear is almost too visceral. 

(Shudder)

Thank god the soup came out. 
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Our lactose-intolerant waitress (unfortunately, she didn’t mention any other allergies; if I get any new info, I’ll be sure to update the AZ RESTO right away) mentioned that Ian and Erika got the LAST TWO bowls of soup, which may explain the consistency being like stovetop pudding.

 
IAN: Thick. Flavour’s good though.
ERIKA: Yeah. I don’t know if I’d sleep with the guy who made this soup. 
MEGAN: Guys! My students read this blog!
(Pause)
IAN: Well, it is the KNOTTY Pine.

(Explaining that as an AUDITORY JOKE doesn’t make it any less terrible, does it? Didn’t think so.

I can only assume the cheesiness of the environment had an effect on the quality of the conversation. 

Quite quickly, and with great cheer, our waitress had our entrees on the table. 
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Ian and Erika both got the steak special: for $14.95, you got an 8oz. Steak, veggies, a side, dessert, and free coffee (actually, coffee was included in all our meals). What you didn’t get, however, was the steak prepared the way you wanted it.

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Everything in this picture seems a bit OVERCOOKED.

Ian and Erika both commented that it was tender and tasty, just not the medium rare they ordered. 


We thought we were being smart by asking about the homemade things, in order to get the House Specialties. We didn’t think to ask about the sides, which we’re pretty sure came from a bag.

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Ian’s carrot-and-onion rice was probably made in-house, flavoured with chicken broth, and not much else.

 
I decided to take our waitress’s enthusiastic advice, and got the omelette. 

Hey, if you were looking for a cheese and mushroom omelette, maybe a little asparagus, kinda standard, would you look under MEDITERRANEAN in the menu? No? Well, that’s your first mistake.

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This is one of the Knotty Pine’s mistakes. Apparently, Knotty is a guy, he owns a Senior, and this is his MENU. #apostrophemistakes

So, I got the cheddar, asparagus and mushroom omelette. 

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It wasn’t Mediterranean. It was, however, fluffy, warm, and perfectly acceptable


The “hash browns” were super-strange: tiny little squares of deep fried potato that were impossible to pick up with a fork. It was kind of like having slightly greasy Life Cereal as a side. image

That is not to say I didn’t eat them. They were still fried potatoes. And I’m SO WEAK.

Our waitress came to offer up dessert: the steak dinners came with rice pudding or ice cream. 

MEGAN: Do you have homemade PIE?


They did, but I should have know when our verbose waitress said that the apple pie looked “AMAZING” that the cherry pie would be less so. 

But, I don’t like apple-y things.

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If there’s one thing I can say for the DAYS INN Lobby Knotty Pine, it gets lovely natural light.


This pie was totally banal. The crust wasn’t horrible, but it was a bit burnt, and not flaky or buttery. And the cherries were definitely straight from a can. 


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Erika got the apple, which she also thought was adequate. 

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Ian is always an apologist for the Grandpa-est of all desserts, RICE PUDDING (see Blogs #18 THE DEL-MAR, and #25 FIRESIDE)

But even Ian couldn’t make this sound appealing.

 
IAN: Underwhelming. No raisins, lacking sweetness, just….(he trails off, wistfully)

In the end, our talkative, friendly waitress was really the highlight of our meal. 

The decor, the food and the ambience of the DAYS INN Lobby KNOTTY PINE were simply ADEQUATE. Food was provided and ingested. The end.

I mean, it’s not expensive. Dinner for the three of us with coffee and dessert was around $50. So you know how you are always complaining that you’re tired of eating at great places like Black Trumpet, or Casa Blanca, or Early Bird, or Tamarine? Well, if you happen to be on the 13 Wellington bus, have I got the place for you! Just hang a left at the White Oaks Mall Bay, and I promise you can have a dinner that is completely…Meh. 


Meh/ 5 stars 

The Knotty Pine Family Restaurant on Urbanspoon

#36 KING OF PIGS (REI DOS LEITOES)

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CUISINE: Portugese ADDRESS: 706 Hamilton Road DATE: March 7th, 2014

So, the blog is finally taking us into the realm of Portuguese food.

Ahem.

THE SUM TOTAL OF MEGAN’S PORTUGESE KNOWLEDGE

(this list IS exhaustive)

  • my hairdresser, Diane, is Portugese. 

If I was to judge all Portugese people based on my interactions with Diane, they are generous (Diane has helped out with hair for many of my students for shows and prom), sexy (she’s hot, y’all), enjoy Jersey Shore (and all built, overly-tanned men), and can talk about Kardashian Konspiracies (patent-pending) all the day long (I once showed her a picture of the similarities between Khloe Kardashian and OJ Simpson and BLEW. HER. MIND.)

But, despite her relative amazingness, and her ability to make my hair look so good my students sometimes think IM WEARING A WIG…

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Real hair or plastic? I’ll never tell…

…I will not paint all Portuguese people with the same brush. Let’s dig deeper. 

  • They make a fine bun.

I feel like people are always talking about Portuguese buns whenever a potluck sandwich station is involved. 


EVERY MOM EVER: We could just get meats and cheeses, and some nice buns…ooh, like a Portugese bun!!

  • The language is apparently REALLY EASY to learn. 

[SCENE]


(December 2012. Megan and Ian’s living room. Cameron, the actor who’s too busy to read the blog, and Megan are laying on the couch. Ian is ignoring them at the computer)


MEGAN: Ian’s going to Brazil on Sunday. 
CAMERON: That’s random. Why?
MEGAN: For work. 
CAMERON: That’s fun. 
MEGAN:You would think so, but not really. He basically has to work in factories all day, and because São Paulo is, like, pretty dangerous, the guys from Brazil just drive Ian around so he doesn’t turn down the wrong street and get sniped from a rooftop. 
CAMERON: Okkkkk…are we going to watch a movie?
MEGAN: (to Ian) Nuni? Pay attention to us!! What are you doingggg?
IAN: (waving his hand) Shhhhh. 
MEGAN: What are you looking at?
IAN: (staring intently at the computer) Shhhh. I’ve got to learn Portuguese by Saturday. 

  • I enjoy saying the word Portuguese in a Portuguese accent. 

Porrrtugayssss. Porrrrtugayzzz. 

Satisfying.


(End of list)


Given my total ignorance of Portuguese culture, it should come as no surprise that I had no idea what Portuguese food was like. 
I did, however, know that everyone seems to love KING OF PIGS. 
Which is probably why we ended up with our largest group ever for blog dinner, as 10 of us headed to REI DE LEITOES original location on Hamilton road on a marginally warm Friday night. 
At this point, zero degrees is a warm day. 


….


This week at school, I’ve been floating the idea of picking up the whole city of London and moving it somewhere more temperate. I’m still working out the logistics. 

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This pig is hauling barrels. Wha? Bennett’s fiancee stared at this statue long after Ian and I had pulled out of the parking lot, transfixed.


Around since 1992, REI DOS LEITOES (actually translated as “king of the piglets”—cuuuuute) opened a second location in Cherryhill village mall in 2009. My friend Erin (Famous on the blog as THE CHEESE POET) suggested we go to the original location as it had the “rustic charm”.

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Rustic?

But when we arrived, the interior looked new and bland. They were renovating. 

The only rustic charm was that the restaurant was absolutely FREEZING.


ME: Is there anything we could do about the heat? (smiling) It’s freezing in here!
WAITRESS: No. 
ME: (looking plaintively)
WAITRESS: (sighing) It’s because of the renovations. (Pause) It’s all connected. (Wanders away)


My mom, who just arrived home from a month in Florida, just kept her coat on. 


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Well. She took it off for the picture. Maybe her TAN was keeping her warm?


(I’m having a hard time deciding if I should call the unsmiling waitress who served us “CURSORY” or “PERFUNCTORY”. )


Also joining us at KING OF PIGS:

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Vita and Adriene, the bawdiest nuns in the abbey from the my recent production of The Sound of Music, along with Vita’s husband Drew.

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Glad to see Drew got Ian’s memo about BLOG SHIRTS.


And of course, because this is the way that life works, Drew went to Oakridge, as did Ian, Erin and I.

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FYI: Erin was friends with Drew’s sister and swam in their pool. 


Also in attendance, my pal Andrea (who I pretty much only call Bennett, a fellow teacher and trivia enthusiast), and her new fiancé Erik. 

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I took 12 pictures. This was the best one.


Erik is king of the non-sequitur.

A GLIMPSE INTO THE MIND OF ERIK:


MEGAN: (to mom) So I got a puffer from the doctor today. I might have asthma. 
BENNETT: (deadpan) You should really stop smoking.
MOM: Yeah. You should smoke pot instead! Much better for you. 


Stop to note that if you know my mom, you know how funny this is. This is actually the only time I’ve ever heard her SAY “pot”. Once, when we were swimming in the backyard, she paused mid-breaststroke to note, “it smells like someone’s smoking… (voice drops to a whisper) GRASSSSS!”

ERIK: You have asthma? As someone with a lot of allergies, here’s a good tip: there’s a vein in the side of the neck? You can stick a pen in there? And breathe?
(Crickets)


Bennett loves this about Erik. She even promised good quotes if they could join on the AZ RESTO TOUR.

We set about ordering some drinks.

 
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MEGAN: Ooooh, what’s that?

IAN: Water.

MEGAN: Ooooh.

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My cappuccino came with a LOT of foam. Some might actually serve it in a cappuccino cup. Not these renegades.

DAD: (with a smile) Yes. Can you tell me about what “Portuguese Spirits” are?
PERFUNCTORY WAITRESS: What?
DAD: (Pointing in the menu) Portuguese spirits?
PERFUNCTORY WAITRESS: (glancing) Oh. Brandy?
DAD: (deflated) Ok. Well, I’ll have beer then. The Sagres. 
PERFUNCTORY WAITRESS: We’ll see if we have it. 
(They didn’t.)

Dad assured me that Superbock, another Portugese beer that he hadn’t tried before, was fine, although lighter than he expected. 
DAD: Most German bock beers are dark and full-flavoured. 

Erin, The Cheese Poet, had been to the King of Pigs before, so she was giving us advice on what to order. 


ERIN: Drew, what are you getting?
DREW: Just the chicken. 
ERIN: (Disapprovingly) the pork cutlets are really good. They come in a red pepper sauce. 
MEGAN: Over the chicken?
ERIN: No, no. They have a combo. The chicken is what made them famous. 

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SO. IT. IS. 


Keeping track of all the conversations going on at this loud and boisterous table was almost impossible.

A FEW SNIPPETS:

MOM: You know that song? (singing) “I have a guitar….and its strings…”
DAD: Walk Off the World, or something?
MEGAN, ADRIENE, VITA and BENNETT: (in unison) OooOOH!
…..
ERIK: Chicken Baby Back ribs? How did they get those? Wouldn’t they be really small?
BENNETT: That’s a combo. Chicken AND baby back ribs!
ERIK: Oh. 
…..

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ADRIENE: Vita ate ALL the olives. 
VITA: (eyeing the other end of the table) Are your parents eating their olives down there?


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….
ADRIENE: I showed my fiancé the movie hairspray the other day. He totally thought the girl playing Amber was Carrie Underwood!
MEGAN: Oh god, no!
ADRIENE: I was like, “that’s Brittany Snow!” (Pause) I don’t know why he couldn’t see it. He can tell the difference between Candice Bergen and Martha Stewart…
******
VITA: They’re not even TOUCHING those olives down there!
******
First out of the kitchen was the cheese and prosciutto platter that my parents ordered. 
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ERIN: Are you guys tasting this roscuotto? Homemade. Fresh- shaved. 
MEGAN: So good. What kind of cheese is this? 
ADRIENE: I don’t know. 
MEGAN: Mom, what kind of cheese is this? 
MOM: It just said “cheese”. 
MEGAN: Cheese Poet? 
ERIN: No idea. 


It was good cheese.

 
Vita also ordered an appetizer:
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Grilled octopus in an onion and parsley sauce. 


MEGAN: (trying a bite) Oh my god. So good!!
ERIN: I would eat that on top of a salad EVERY DAY. 
VITA: I eat this all the time. 
MEGAN: You’re not Portuguese, are you? You’re Italian. Right?
DREW: Pretty much the same thing.

 
It was moist, and….and…(I’ve never wanted to use the term “succulent” so badly. I will abstain.) And the sauce was herbaceous and savoury. Yummmm. 

The entrees took considerably longer to come out, but we amused ourself by tasting the house made hot sauce and being considerably louder than everyone else in the restaurant. 

Read More

#35 KIMCHI HOUSE

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CUISINE: Korean/Japanese ADDRESS: 500 Oxford Street W. DATE: February 23rd, 2014

London has a lot of Asian restaurants, a LOT, and most of them have bad decor. I have often noted that many of the Asian restaurants we’ve visited on the  AZ RESTO TOUR have dishes that have rivalled the food at my favourite restaurant, my number one in London, Tamarine. Some of them have a great soup, a delicious noodle bowl, fresh spring rolls. 

But Tamarine has all of those things. And the most personable restaurant owner in London (Long rules!).

Oh, and it also looks like this:

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The lighting is subtle, the decor modern, the servers friendly and gracious, the drinks sophisticated. Tamarine is where I go for dinner when I’m dressed up—you know, if I’m going to lose a theatre award later in the evening or something.

As I mentioned in blog #19, DEMHAI DENG, lots of little Asian places seem to go with a combination of paper placemats, wall-mounted TVs and posters of cars and/or fingernails. The lighting is bright, the tables are cheap, and the cups are ugly.

But that doesn’t mean the food isn’t absolutely delicious.

After a busy week, we made it to Kimchi House on a Sunday night, with our pal Dylan in tow.image

His wife Rebekkah was home sick. And if we know Rebekkah the Skeptic at this point, we know that her Alone-Time snack, Cracker-on-a-Cracker is not something we want to talk about if we want to maintain a healthy appetite.

(Refer back to #33, KAROON, for the unseemly details.)

Dylan was available to come for dinner on a Sunday night, because like Ian, his band practice was cancelled.

Because Ian and Dylan are in a band together. 

A band that rehearses on Sunday nights. At the warehouse space of the company Ian works for.

They don’t write the songs. The lead singer does. They have a song called “I Don’t Give a F___.” Because you know who’s super-edgy? Middle-aged husbands in a warehouse band.

Now, I know I’m hardly the one to talk about the cool factor of our trivial pursuits, I suppose. I do community theatre, and trivia, and play board games, and like reading and taking pictures of my dog.

And I have to admit that I think it’s super cute when they have “gigs” and Ian is drumming away in a BLOG SHIRT that I bought him.

But even I couid come up with a cooler name than THE TIN CAN DINNER BAND. 

Most of the menu items at Kimchi House have cooler names than that.

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Egg Drop is a cool band name! What about DUMPLING & SLICED? Even misspelled DDUCK is a cooler name than THE TIN CAN DINNER BAND.

I asked my cool student Kenny to help me brainstorm band names cooler than THE TIN CAN DINNER BAND.

KENNY: Anything. Literally, ANYTHING.

So anyway, the guitarist who performs in shades and the drummer from a local band were available for dinner, so we headed over to the plaza area at Oxford and Wonderland (parking almost in the same spot as we had for Karoon two weeks ago), and walked into the brightly-lit, sparsely-decorated, former…pizza-place maybe?

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Kimchi House tried to add a bit of flair to the proceedings:

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Oooh, silver chopsticks! Elegant.

Instead of inspirational posters, or you know, ART, these wall were adorned with images from the menu:

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"If I could get by you, miss, I’d like to see the detail on the tempura…yep. That’s what I’m getting."

But the walls were what I’d call “melancholy mellow yellow”, and the faux-brick wainscotting wasn’t doing anyone any favours.

That being said, it was pretty busy for a Sunday night in the northwest corner of the city.

And maybe it doesn’t have to look good, if it smells that good when you walk in.

Ever since we dined at Izakaya Shogun (AZ RESTO TOUR #31), Ian’s been a pretty big fan of the bento box. Unfortunately, Kimchi House only serves them MODnay to Friday at lunch:

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I’m pretty forgiving of typos and spelling errors in restaurants that might make up for it in authenticity. BUNGALOW, you still have no excuse. 

Luckily, the pictures in the menu were a big help. We decided to start with some classic tempura. 

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Dylan’s always coming up with spot-on wordplay.

DYLAN: This tempura was A5 on the menu, but it’s A1 in MY BOOK.

MEGAN: (withering glare)

DYLAN: It’s way better than what you’d get at an all-you-can-eat place.

And it was. The tempura was crispy and light, the veggies hot, and the portion and variety was great.

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DYLAN: Thank you, North American, for sweet potatoes.

As with my first Korean BBQ experience, #27 GANGNAM STYLE, I was impressed with the dazzling array of free condiments you get at a Korean restaurant.

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Clockwise from bottom left: Rice, seasoned potatoes, kimchi (stewed cabbage), tofu, sweet pickles, and briny bean sprouts

The service was fast, and soon our entrees were upon us. Dylan went with a cold dish, spicy sesame noodles, with beef and a hardboiled egg. 

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He found it sweet and spicy, and thought all the vinegary condiments were a great match. 

IAN: Would you call it an “orchestra of flavours”?

DYLAN: More of a good four-piece band.

He also found it just a tad difficult to eat:

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Dylan took about two bites of his meal when our sweet waitress came running out of the kitchen with something you shouldn’t run with.

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But Dylan demured, and persevered,looking like someone in a horror movie whose entrails are falling out of their mouth.

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But he’s not mad about it.

My bibimbap came sizzling out of the kitchen.

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Fried rice, pickled veggies, a lovely fried egg and marinated chicken made for a mild, but very rich taste. And because it was in a scalding hot cast iron pan, the rice on the bottom continued to cook and get crunchy. YUM.

I do think that Ian’s dinner was the big winner of the night.

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DYLAN: I like the look and I LIKE THE SMELL.

I guarantee that this is the dish that makes Kimchi House smell so good. Sizzling marinated beef short ribs with green onions, served on a hot plate…

DYLAN: (sampling a bite) Mythical.

IAN: (searching for something to say) Excellent preparation. Mouthfeel. Fork-tender.

MEGAN: Ew.

IAN: This is how you want this dish to be. (pause) But Izakaya was still better.

The food is definitely the strongest element of what Kimchi House has to offer. But when it’s that fresh and tasty, you can mostly ignore the atmosphere.

3.5/ 5 stars

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