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AZ RESTO TOUR

Eating through London, Ontario's restaurants. Alphabetically.

#46 MARINO’S PIZZA

CUISINE: Pizza/Pub ADDRESS:1066 Adelaide Street DATE: September 1, 2014

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I have a theory that even bad pizza is good pizza. I have eaten the following disgusting pizzas as proof of this theory:

  • morning-after, sitting-out-on-the-coffee-table pizza
  • morning-after, sitting-out-on-the-coffee-table pizza (WHILE SOBER)
  • pizza made out of a year-old pita shell, topped with canned tuna and a store-brand fat-free cheese slice (DESPERATE TIMES)

But truthfully, I will eat pretty much any pizza. Because if there’s a bread and cheese element….I’M GONNA LIKE IT.

That being said, when we pulled up to Marino’s, a plaza sports bar located to the right of MERLA MAE’S on Adelaide, the auspicious facade didn’t give me a lot of hope that artisanal charcuterie would be featured on any of the pizza pies.

This restaurant looks like what happens when frat boys decorate with the crap they’ve wandered home with while drunk.

A beer sticker here, some purple Christmas lights there…

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My proudly displayed gang colours* have been the only reason I had stayed away from Marino’s for so long.

 *coral with gold accents, naturally.

We ended up at Marino’s the night before school started, which for Ian, is usually the worst night of the year. Because I get SO MUCH ANXIETY, I am a nightmare to be around.

Remember that SNL commercial spoof for ANNUALE, the birth-control that stopped menstruation except for once a year?

VOICEOVER: And when it IS time for your period….hold on to your F@*#ing HAT.

That is basically me, the night before every school year begins. But not because I hate school…I LOVE IT. But the summer somehow tricks me, with its lazy days of marathoning Gilmore Girls and deciding whether or not to leave the patio cushions outside (HINT: NEVER DOOOOOOO), but somehow by the time my birthday rolls around at the end of August, I’m convinced that I’ve forgotten how to teach.

And it makes me stressed.

And sometimes I yell at Ian. And most of the time I cry.

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But why would I yell at this little face? BECAUSE OF THE CHILDREN.

But this year, for some reason, I wasn’t stressed about going back to school at all. I was excited. Maybe it’s because I travelled so much this summer (to Muskoka, New York, Las Vegas and New England—hence the lack of AZ RESTO TOUR entries), but I swear it was because I ran into one of my students and her mom in Dollarama in early August.

She was just in my Grade 9 Drama class at the end of the year, but she was excited to see me. And I realized in that moment that I missed allllll my students. And that my life is awesome. And after that, I was happy to go for a random panzarotti on the day before I was reunited with them.

And who else was up for the challenge? Two of my other teacher friends: Tribe, who runs Original Kids, but also teaches with the school board. Tribe has been featured in many AZ RESTO posts, including #38 KOREAN RESTAURANT, #32 JAMBALAYA, and #28 FITZRAYS, after which he bashfully admitted he had returned to for a Cajun wrap or two—after I gave FitzRays a 1.5 star review.

Also joining us, for the second time after her guest appearance at #36 KING OF PIGS, was my pal Andrea. We used to teach together and share an office. We spent most of our time laughing and explaining to other teachers why they couldn’t say things like “SHOCKER!” in front of a class of 16-year-olds. We’re very sophisticated.

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I know the WINE KEG-SHAPED bar behind them distracts you from their pre-school year flop sweat in this photo. But know that it’s there. 

Actually, these guys are troupers. They’ll go anywhere. Even an east-end plaza sports bar with a disco ball. 

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When we went to FitzRays, I describe the decor as “applied by someone who is clearly colour-blind”. I would go a step further and say that Marino’s is decorated by fully blind people…if that wasn’t so insulting to people without sight.

Blind people still have TASTE.

I would call the decorating theme of MARINO’S “STUFF NO ONE BOUGHT AT THE YARD SALE”. 

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On the wall, a painting of….a farmer’s field, suffering from drought?

On the dance floor: a forgotten step ladder, two different types of flooring, and some dusty floor plants.

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 IAN: My band should play here. Our ability fits this ambience.

We were seated closest to the dance floor, where the booth seating was somewhat QUESTIONABLE:

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Well, at least my legs won’t get stuck on the vinyl like at The Malibu. 

Or mayyyyyybe that’s what happened. Maybe, somewhere in east London,  a Marino’s regular has got a big hank of vinyl stuck to the back of her legs.

But when one is considering the ambience of a dining establishment, it not just what sporting jerseys are hung closest to the disco ball. You also have to take into consideration the CLIENTELE.

IAN: I find this place is populated with an interesting mix of barflys and children.

BARFLY: (to the waitress) UNINTELLIGIBLE GARRRRBBBBBLEEEEEE.

WAITRESS: Yeah, we’ve got that cab coming for you.

Our waitress, a blonde with an unusual accent we later determined to be Welsh, was definitely the highlight of our trip to MARINO’S.

She wasn’t PROFESSIONAL, per se, but she was FUN.

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As she brought us our menus, printed wonders featuring no less than four typefaces on the cover ALONE, she was interrupted by an overzealous admirer in a hat.

BE-HATTED STRANGER: (handing her a tip) For youuuuuu, you beautiful lady. For your service, now and always! And every customer loves you!

Random Hat Man smiled at us, expectantly.

WAITRESS: Yeah.  You be careful driving with all those flags.

Flags? That’s a random non-sequitur.  Why would someone have multiple FLAGS—-WAIT.

I ran to the door, and sure enough, our Marino’s waitress’ Biggest Fan was none other than THIS GUY:image

Well, if this totally normal and not-at-all-legendarily-insane person loves this restaurant… 

WHAT ELECTION THAT HAS BEEN GOING ON FOR THE LAST 8 YEARS ARE YOU HOPING TO WIN??

The waitress wandered away from our table and began conversing with the guy at the bar.

WAITRESS: Something to drink? Do you want a shot too?

BARFLY: Probably not.

WAITRESS: A shot in the head, then?

After giving us the moment with the menus, she sidled up to our table.

WAITRESS:You ready?

IAN: Actually, I just had a question about the panzarottis—

WAITRESS: Where’s the bill?

She turned her head from side to side, then headed directly into the kitchen. 

(two minutes later)

WAITRESS: (returning to the table) You ready?

BARFLY 2: (yelling from the bar) HEY! What’s the wifi password?

WAITRESS: (yelling back) PANZAROTTI.

Of COURSE it is.

And with that, our choice was made: Ian, Andrea and I ordered panzarottis (2 for $16!), while Tribe went with the sure-to-be-safe spaghetti and meatballs, with a starter Greek salad.

WAITRESS: Instead of the green salad? Ok. I’ll take two bucks off.

TRIBE: Ok.

WAITRESS: Wait. (to Andrea) Are you getting green salad?

ANDREA: Yes.

WAITRESS: OK. I’ll give you his. 

TRIBE: (confused) Okkkkkk…

WAITRESS: (wanders away)

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Pale, listless Greek salad.

ANDREA: (looking at Tribe’s salad). Hmmm. Lacking green. Maybe they peeled the cucumber?

TRIBE: Yeah, it’s good, but watered down with sauce.

IAN: Yeahhhhh. You can see it on the plate.

Ian’s Caesar salad looked marginally better.

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Ian described his salad as, “well, you knowwww.” He also mentioned that the croutons were a little bit stale.

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Andrea said she saw Ian’s Big Mac-style salad dressing from The Malibu, and started to crave it. So her salad was ”exactly how it should be.”

Despite Andrea’s delight at her free green salad, she was hoping for something a little dirtier on the panzarotti front.

ANDREA: I hope they’re deep fried. I think everyone does, at heart.

And her dreams came true.

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When your 4 panzarottis come out of the kitchen in less than 15 minutes, you know they’re probably not slow-roasted in the oven…

The panzarottis were appropriately stuffed, although when I delved further, I found that it was quite literally 80% cheese. And I LOVE cheese (obviously—-if you follow me on instagram, you know that platters of cheese make up a good 87% of my feed*), but cutting through a brick of cheese, with a smattering of mushrooms and peppers on top, it gives you that “school starts tomorrow and I am FULL TO THE BRIM WITH CHEESE” feeling. It’s not MY FAVOURITE.

*the other 13% of photos are of my dog. Of course.

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ANDREA: Awesome. Super cheesy. Definitely more cheese than other toppings. And smokey bacon!

Ian was pleased that each panza was served with a decent-sized ramekin of meat sauce, but I thought the bolognase was quite sweet, and totally lacked seasoning.

TRIBE: The sauce is really watery. It’s like (mimes opening a can, dumping it into a bowl, and serving it).

MEGAN: Totally. This sauce has a…Chef Boyardee quality to it. 

TRIBE: Yes.

MEGAN: Sweet.

ANDREA: (swirling it around) And fatty.

Tribe had a much bigger helping of Chef Boyardee’s secret recipe on his trough of spaghetti and meatballs. He was NOT impressed.

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TRIBE: No, the meatballs are CRUNCHY. They shouldn’t be CRUNCHY.

By this point in the meal, our waitress wasn’t hovering around waiting to clear our plates. She wasn’t hiding in the kitchen. 

She was sitting down at the table next to us.

As we were driving home, we were laughing about how random the service was. 

TRIBE: It wasn’t like the service was BAD. Even though lots of weird things happened, she was nice.

IAN: Totally.

MEGAN: She was just….casual. It was like…we were eating at the waitress’s house. She’s just running around, she just got out of the shower, she has to keep running back to the kitchen….

IAN: This is the kind of restaurant that the local alcoholics keep in business.

TRIBE: that’s one of those places that 20 years ago would had just tons of people sitting there, smoking.

Ian and I ended up bringing a whole panzarotti home, which I thought would be good to take for lunch for the rest of the week. 

But maybe it was the congealed fat on the meat sauce, or the way the panzarotti’s innards had somehow REFORMED into a full block of mozzarella cheese, but I only up eating a bite or two before throwing the rest out.

But if the only other option was tuna and “cheese” on a whole-wheat pita, the choice would have been clear.

2/5 stars

Marinos Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

THE NEXT FOUR

Massey’s, Maxwell McCoys, Meatballs, Meatheads and Mein Street are all coming up in September. Who wants to go?

#45 MALIBU RESTAURANT

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CUISINE: Diner ADDRESS: 1622 Dundas Street DATE: August 8, 2014

I like surprise parties, in theory.

For other people.

Not for myself.

[SCENE]

(1993. A dimly-lit, wood panelled basement. Boys in UNLV jerseys and basketball hats take turns kicking each other in the back of the knee. Girls in bodysuits, vests, and high-waisted GAP jeans look bored around the room. This is the setting of Lori’s 16th birthday party. Girls gather around the birthday girl, regaling her for most of the night about how the secret was kept from her.)

CARRIE-ANN: (excitedly, to Lori) Remember when I said I didn’t care about your birthday and I was going out of town?

LORI: Yeah, that was mean.

CARRIE-ANN: Well, it was because I didn’t want you to know about aaaalllll this!!! (gestures to some limp balloons in Lori’s wood-paneled basement)

KATIE: Oh my god, I almost told you so many times! The other day? When we were at the mall? You know when we were talking about Sean?

LORI: Yeah.

KATIE: I almost said “Sean is coming your party!” (Pause) But then I didn’t.

MEGAN: Remember when you came in the room, and we had been talking, and then we all stopped?

LORI: Yeah. I thought you guys were all mad at me.

MEGAN: We wanted you to think that!! That’s why we were so mean to you afterward. But it was about THIS!!!! FUNNNNNN!!!!

[FIN]

I’m not a big fan of embarrassing surprises, like public proposals and singing telegrams. But sometimes, low expectations can lead to the nice kind of surprises. The kind where something exceeds your expectations.

  • You know, when LEGALLY BLONDE THE MUSICAL actually has kind of catchy tunes and funny lyrics.
  • Or when Amazing Race Canada, the Amazing Race where they don’t travel the world, actually has pretty cool challenges and good production values.

Or, when you make fun of the lame people who do Hop-on, Hop-off Bus tours, but then you get on one in London, England that’s actually very fun and informative.

MEGAN: (excitedly) It’s just a GREAT way to get around the city!!

So, it didn’t hurt our trip to Malibu that I went in with low expectations. 

I had just flown in on the redeye from Las Vegas (as ladies do), and was basically just trying to stay awake, so I was also pretty grumpy.

My friend Kesty texted to see when the next blog dinner was:

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And our first glance at the Malibu (East location, on Dundas near First) did nothing to dissuade me that this meal was going to subvert my expectations.

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90s pink tile and green wall combo? CHECK.

Tupperware cart in plain view? CHECK.

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Poorly painted wall mural? CHECK.

Summer leg-skin-ripping vinyl seats? CHECK.

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Pies, cakes, and….antiques?

On this Friday night, we were headed to a gig of Ian’s very-poorly-named four-piece, THE TIN CAN DINNER BAND. Ian needed to be at the venue at 7, so we met every local diner expectation by eating at the broad-daylight time of 5pm. 

Joining us on the AZ RESTO TOUR were my sister and brother-in-law, Carrie and Jerry, who had abandoned their children with our mom and were ready to (moderately) PAAAAAARTTTTY.

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BLOG FOUL: Ian is wearing THE EXACT SAME chambray-and-tank combination he was wearing in the LAST BLOG. This we can NOT abide!

I am wearing one of those headband thingies that I immediately regret putting on and feel self-conscious about the whole night. I had just arrived home from Las Vegas that morning, and was told later in the evening by NORMA, star of the SPECIAL EDITION: TAMARINE blog, that it wasn’t working.

NORMA: (eyeing my headband) Some things SHOULD stay in Vegas.

Our waitress was quick to take our drink order, and I quickly set about my analysis of a diner menu.

In any place where I feel like the food might not be, shall we say, ARTISANAL, I’m always looking for the words “Fresh”, “homemade” or “house specialty”. I don’t want to eat McCain’s french fries or a platter of deep-fried BROWN, I’d like to see what they actually make in-house.

So, amid the expected diner sections like “wraps” “favourites” and “from the sea”, they also had a pretty extensive Greek menu. The specials chalkboard at the entrance also touted a souvlaki special that included moussaka or spanikopita, salad, rice, bread and dessert. I went for it.

Trying to anticipate the night of mid-tempo rock ahead of me, I got a coffee, which was fresh and served in a white mug, which is for some reason very comforting to me. Jerry went with a classic schoolgirl diner staple, a vanilla milkshake.

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MEGAN: How’s your shake, Jerry?

JERRY: Vanilla. Good. Really Good.

MEGAN: Oh, god, Jerry. I can’t just write THE SHAKE WAS GOOD.

JERRY: Groin-grabbingly good.

CARRIE: (deadpan) Oh, was it?

Carrie also pointed out that while the shake looked pretty perfect, it was missing the one essential element of any diner shake: the canister.

CARRIE: Gotta bring the canister out.

The service was totally acceptable: not exceptionally personable, which some people might want/expect in a diner atmosphere, but efficient and effective. I find that good, but not great, service kind of disappears: you remember that food came and went, but not that you were annoyed or entertained or anything else. And for the most part, that’s what I want. Water and coffee gets refilled? Plates get cleared. Perfect.

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This pretty generic salad that came with Ian’s meal was lovingly served with Big Mac sauce. But it was big and lettucey. Which is Ian’s favourite.

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I ordered the souvlaki platter with MOUSSAKA, one of my favourite Greek dishes. It basically functions as a greek lasagna: layers of veggies and seasoned meat with a béchamel (white sauce) topping, baked in the oven.

My dad made moussaka at home, so Carrie and I ate quite a bit of it in high school.

CARRIE: I’ve tried moussaka all over, and it’s never as good. I’ve started to think that maybe I don’t like béchamel sauce. (thinking for a moment) Or maybe I don’t like moussaka.

I, on the other hand, love moussaka, and this moussaka in particular. The flavours of cinnamon (one of my favourite things), allspice and other sort-of AUTUMNAL ingredients was lovely, and the meat and eggplant inside was tender. The béchamel, a flour, milk and butter sauce, forms a pillowy topping that was brown perfectly.

Carrie, Jerry and I all got souvlaki platters, and agreed that the chicken souvlaki was grilled to perfection:

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CARRIE: The chicken is SO MOIST.

MEGAN: But I like the grill on it as well.

JERRY: It’s like they know what they’re doing.

MEGAN: And the onion game in this tzatziki is ON POINT! (whispering) Guys, I think these people are actually GREEK.

Carrie, a hater of carbs these days, got her platter without the rice.

CARRIE: I’ll have the souvlaki and salad with a side of salad.

Luckily for her, the salad was a resplendent version of the Greek salad.

OK, it had lettuce in it, which actually not super authentic, and the tomatoes were too big. But those aren’t the important parts of a Greek salad anyway, right?

This Greek salad was perfect because it had a crap-ton of FETA on it.

……

Now that I’ve written that,  a “CRAP-TON OF FETA”, while a great band name, does not make the most appetizing description of food products.

This Greek salad was perfect because it had a  crap-ton of FETA  ridiculous dumping  luxurious amount of briny, salty, savoury FETA.  

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Jerry’s combo included SPANAKOPITA, the phyllo, spinach and cheese turnover that is a greek staple.

JERRY: It’s great. Not too much cheese. You can tell it’s there but it’s not overpowering. It’s actually really light!

Ian continued to reveal his old-man tastes in diner food by getting the roast-beef dinner.

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Ian enjoyed his meal a lot. He thought the roast beef was tender and well-seasoned (if a little fatty). He thought the oregano on the beans was “a nice touch”. And of course, he LOVED the mashed potatoes.

IAN: These mashed potatoes are RESTAURANTY. Really fluffy. Bordering on potato flakes, but I like that kind of thing. And gravy is exactly what you want in a beef gravy.

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Glossy. Just how Ian likes it.

All of our meals, priced at around $12, included salad, bread and dessert options: rice pudding or coconut cream pie. 

But I had seen a sign on the counter as I came for “WARM BAKLAVA and ICE CREAM” that could not be DENIED.

(Well, the ice cream could. Ice cream on a plate with dry food is one of my MOST HATED THINGS.)

It wasn’t included in the meals. It was $4.50, which in any restaurant is still not expensive AT ALL, and OH MY GOD was it worth it. 

We ALL ordered our own. No sharing.

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MEGAN: Ok, this piece is huge. It’s like a piece of cheesecake serving. And honey? AND caramel drizzle?

JERRY: Wow.

MEGAN: OK, I can’t stop taking pictures of this. I’m just doing glamour shots of the baklava.

JERRY: Work it, baby.

CARRIE: (biting into hers while I was still taking photos) OH. MY. GOSH.

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Like.

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Look at those LAYERS.

This has got to be one of the TOP desserts we have had in our nearly 50 stops on the AZ RESTO TOUR. This baklava is at once flaky, light, dense, chewy, nutty, sweet and incredibly decadent. And perfectly prepared. And provided in a huge serving that we ALL finished by basically licking the plate.

This is how good that baklava was, and really, the food at the Malibu in general:

Two weeks later, my mom and I were having a conversation about birthday dinners. My birthday, my nephew Simon’s and my mom’s birthdays are all within a week of each other, so we usually do a big family dinner out. It used to be somewhere a little nice, but now we just go for “Simon will find something he likes there” (he’s 9). My mom usually suggests a chain restaurant like Montana’s or Jack Astor’s.

This year, I suggested THE MALIBU and we went back two weeks after our very first visit. We all loved our food, again: my niece liked her four-cheese pasta so much, she woke up the next morning and ate her leftovers for BREAKFAST.

And in lieu of birthday cake this year, we feasted on baklava.

(Back to our baklava-induced food coma.)

JERRY: Well, I have to say, I had low expectations. 

CARRIE: Yes. Pre-concieved.

MEGAN: Us, too. But it was soooo good.

IAN: Yup.

The Malibu Restaurant was the best kind of surprise: no one flicking on the lights and shouting in your face, no embarrassing public displays.

The Malibu is the classic diner that you see in a movie and think, “I wish we had somewhere in the neighbourhood like that.”

Of all the diner-ish places we’ve visited on the AZ RESTO TOUR, this is the best. 

But it’s better than that. there’s a finite list of places on this journey that we’ve returned to: Black Trumpet, David’s Bistro, Izakaya Shogun, Demhai Deng and Casa Blanca. The Malibu now joins the list.

It’s not fine dining, but it is a FINER DINER.

4/5 stars 

Malibu Restaurant on Urbanspoon

kuswhere asked: The closer you get to P, the more excited I am for you to try Pete's Pad. I live in the neighbourhood and wanted to tell you that they have a FANTASTIC panzerotti and spaghetti special there. The sauce is just spicy enough to make it more interesting than normal sauce but it's not hot. The crust is great too, slightly sweet to complement the acidity of the tomatoes. Dessert isn't that great, though. I think it's worth the trade off.

Sounds amazing—I literally just had a panzerotti/spaghetti meal at the Malibu last night! I’ll have to get it at Pete’s Pad as well!

#44 MAI’S CAFE AND BISTRO

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CUISINE: Thai ADDRESS: 142 Wortley Road DATE: August 1, 2014

I have been to my Grandparents’ cottage on Sugar Lake in the Muskokas every summer of my life. Since I can remember, my life at the cottage has consisted of the following “activities”*:

  • reading
  • eating
  • sunning
  • sighing contentedly
  • winning board games
  • swimming (to the loon and back)
  • looking at my dogs

*is there a word for activities that all involve SITTING? Let me know in the comments.

But every once and a while, I get it into my head to stray from that pattern. That is a mistake. One should only sit at the cottage, clearly. To do otherwise has not worked out well for me:

WHY YOU SHOULD STICK TO YOUR STRENGTHS

  1. 1988: Tried to go and find a “ghost town” nearby. Couldn’t handle the twisty roads cut into the Canadian Shield. Vomited on my tie-dyed shirt and my uncle’s rental car. Showered in my clothes.
  2. 2006: Tried to row the boat over to my friends. Not far, only from the dock at one edge of our property to where they were sitting in the gazebo. Endured a 1-hour-30-minute rowing lesson from my grandfather, a former phys. ed teacher. It involved the following truism: “I have never seen such a smart person with so little coordination.”
  3. 2009: Goaded into speaking to my cottage neighbours by my friend Steve, who was horrified that I had never spoken to them. I wandered next door, stood awkwardly near them for a moment, and blurted out “I’M ED’S GRANDDAUGHTER!” before fleeing in shame.

While in general, I am up-for-anything, I think that a few restaurants in London could follow my cottage rules of sticking to their strengths.

We ventured to Mai’s (or what we believe to be Mai’s— the sign only reads “Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner”) on a warm summer night. Our dining companions were local theatre luminaries Duane and Kristina, their son—and my student— Henry, and his girlfriend Ashley. When I started taking the compulsory diner photos, we quickly realized the seating arrangements were a mistake.

Ashley and Duane:

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KRISTINA: Should we move, Henry?

HENRY: It’s ok, mom.

KRISTINA: You took all that time to coordinate shirts with Ashley, and now you’re not even sitting together!

MEGAN: Well, it’s a REALLY nice picture of Ashley and Duane.

DUANE: Profile pic!

Maybe he didn’t plan on coordinating with his mom, but it is a cute picture of Kristina and Hen.

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My long-suffering companion, Ian, wearing a chambray and a patterned tank as the BLOG SHIRT DU JOUR:

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And I, as per usual, forgot to take a picture of myself at the restaurant. Here’s one of me at home when I was uploading the pictures.

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I FORGET TINGSSSSS.

(like brushing my hair, apparently)

I had a lovely conversation with the woman who took my reservations, culminating in a “Ok, see you then, HONNEEYYY!” which made me excited for the cuteness of Mai’s experience. And the server was quick and friendly. 

Mai’s is tiny (only about 7 tables), and the decor is not HORRIBLE:

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The dark wood chairs and wainscotting are a nice touch, as is the tile floor.

And maybe it’s because this is blog #44, meaning I have been to 44 independent restaurants in the last year, but there are decorating tropes I am getting sick of seeing:

  1. Tiny pictures, hung too high on the wall.
  2. TVs! Especially those playing random music videos. Or game shows.
  3. Crappy light fixtures.

Unfortunately, Mai’s has all three:


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Art isn’t easy….

Kristina and Duane have been long-time readers of the blog (in my initial restaurant list, it was Kristina that pointed out to me it was “DOMO SUSHI”, not “DOOM SUSHI”), and I was excited that they FINALLY got to join us. But Kristina was actually surprised that Henry wanted to come. Not because dining with his teacher is that horrible. 

But because Henry hates Thai food.

This developed during his time at the National Ballet School, where the “pad thai” served in the cafeteria became a mushy catch-all for the leftover proteins of the previous week.

(Shudder)

I remember at UWindsor, it wasn’t the Pad Thai that had a week’s worth of leftovers in it. It was the burritos.

MEGAN: No burrito should have CARROTS in it. (chewing thoughtfully) Or eggplant.

NOTE: Henry thinks that maybe he should start his own food blog. It was be called “THE B to B RESTO TOUR”. The “B” is for BURRITOS. If you think you know where the best burrito in London is, dear God, let the kid know.

So, Henry was happy to see that Mai’s had a whole section of “Canadian” (well, not really—it wasn’t Nanaimo bars or anything—but it was NORMAL) dishes. He and Ashley decided on fettucine Alfredo and fish and chips, respectively, while the rest of us ordered from the Thai menu.

Ian’s always excited when people order burgers and stuff at an ethnic restaurant; and after Pam’s discovery of the amazing fries at #43 LOS COMALES, I guess it’s worth trying. 

But to me, it always reminds me of taking my sheltered little Dorchester students to Stratford, a culinary mecca in Southwestern Ontario. They inevitably dined at TIM HORTON’S, also known as THE ONLY RESTAURANT in Dorchester.

But my palette has continued to develop as I got older, and I’m sure his will, too. 

Our appetizers arrived shortly, and…well…

Ok, so the presentation is kind of HORRIFIC:

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I am usually a fan of mismatched dishes in restaurant: Blackfriars Bistro has adorable teacups, and Monforte-on-Wellington in Stratford’s dishes really go with the shabby chic aesthetic, but these fish bowls are just NOT. A. THING. 

They kind of make all the food look like it’s from the eighties.

That being said, this green papaya salad was pretty tasty. Ian really liked the bright vinaigrette, which was more citrusy than its rice wine vinegar counterpart at Tamarine.

And you can see the vinaigrette, above. It’s collecting in the fish’s bowels.

The cut on the papaya was a bit long and thin, making this salad DROOPIER than I might have wanted it. Definitely wetter. And the tomatoes, dwarfing the rest of the salad ingredients with their largesse, were, as Ian said, “unnecessary”. 

And not just because we don’t like tomatoes.

A NOTE ON TOMATOES: I like ALL tomato-based things. Salsa, ketchup, chill: these are my TASTES. But the slimy outside and spongy inside of an ACTUAL tomato continues to elude my palette. I doggedly try to like them: adding them to every hamburger I eat. And then dutifully pulling them out the back of the burger after one bite.

I’m onto cherry tomatoes in salads and such. I’m trying my best to be a grown-up, tomato-wise.

(Did you like that turn of phrase, Mom? My mom loves it when people stick “-wise” on the ends of words that it has no business being in cahoots with.)

Kristina and Duane got the shrimp to start:

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I can’t blame bad plating for the relative blurriness of the picture. I can blame it for the syndrome known as RANDOM ICEBERG LETTUCE (R.I.L., in the biz).

Kristina thought the shrimp was a good size, but noted there was WAY too much batter on it. Duane thought the sauce was sweet and spicy, if a little thin. They thought it was FINE.

Henry and Ashley went with the chicken satays:

imagePictured above: grilled chicken, coloured water, and RIL.

With a chicken satay, you would expect a classic Thai peanut sauce; the Tasting Room has a delicious one on their tapas menu.

Mai’s went with flavourless water sauce, which was a bold choice.

HENRY: It’s like, they had a sauce? But then they watered it down to save money.

A NOTE ON NOTES: People who have been a guest on the AZ RESTO TOUR often comment on how I remember everything people said and ate at the dinner, but the reality is, I take notes. So, when you’re out for dinner with me, I may SEEM like a rude during-dinner texter, and believe me, I am that, too, but I’m also writing down your pithy comments and making them funnier and better. 

When I started the blog, my plan was to eat the dinners on FRIDAYS (in fact, the blog was first called DINNER ON FRIDAYS), and write the reviews on Saturdays.

But my life, and the lives of those who want eat dinner with Ian and I from time-to-time, are FULL. We did end up eating this meal on a Friday, but here I am writing the review on a Wednesday—three weeks later. Thank god for notes.

That being said, some of my notes get auto-corrected beyond repair.

HENRY: good really lousy, which is nice.

Sooooo….

Henry felt… conflicted about the chicken, maybe?

I actually remember that he thought it was well-cooked, but lacking flavour. Something was nice. Sooooo…

Sorry, Hen-Hen. I failed you.

The entrees were out shortly, and if you thought we were conflicted about the appetizers—

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These were my drunken noodles: spicy, full of flavour, perfectly-cooked veggies and did I mention, SPICY? My favourite thing?

MEGAN: This spice is NOT. JOKING. AROUND.

My meal was delicious. I immediately started fantasizing about picking up these drunken noodles on the way home from school, when Ian is away on business.

When Ian is not home to cook, I usually have to forage in the woods for my food, so this would be a nice alternative.

But compare this, if you will to Ashley’s mess of a meal:

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Ashley’s plate basically looked the same as this when she had finished eating. While she noted that she DOES have “a small stomach”, she also said that the fish was “soggy, and DAMP on the inside” and that the fries were “pretty plain”.

And let’s get a close-up on that house tartar sauce:

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Again, their presentation is exquisite.

Duane was very happy with his cashew chicken:

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He thought it was cooked well, the honey flavour was lovely and the spice was excellent, with lots of cashews.

But then there was Henry’s dish:

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MEGAN: How’s your non-Thai food at the Thai restaurant, Henry?

HENRY: (swallowing) Well. There is A LOT of sauce. I would say, an AGGRESIVE amount of watery sauce.

But to be fair, Henry doesn’t believe that any restaurant could make his favourite Alfredo sauce. Because his mom has already perfected it.

HENRY’S HIERARCHY OF ALFREDOS (Patent-pending)

  • GLUE—a dry, mushy sauce. For example, Crabby Joe’s Alfredo sauce.
  • PERFECT—his mom’s sauce
  • WATER—this sauce. “The flavour is…interesting. It’s almost like the classic Alfredo got too close to the Asian food.”

Speaking of the perfect Alfredo-maker, Henry’s mom Kristina loved her mango chicken:

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KRISTINA: The mango is sweet, firm and fresh. The veggies were cooked well—toothsome! And it’s got that sneaks-up-on-you heat, which is nice.

Ian ordered the curry, which upon arrival looked like it had suffered the same watery fate of most of the other sauces.

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But the sauce was actually FULL OF FLAVOUR, and very spicy. This dish is akin to Ben Thanh’s GREEN CURRY, which used to be one of our favourites. Ian did have one complaint.

IAN: Too. Many. Carrots.

Mai’s seems to be contradictory in general: the hospitality is lovely, the atmosphere is generic. Most of the Thai entrees were excellent, but the appetizers were just ok. And their attempts at more “Canadian” food were…not quite there.

Wortley touts itself to be a “village inside London”. And this restaurant kind of fits the bill of a village restaurant. Small, badly decorated, but with lovely staff and some gems on the menu. After I left teaching at LDSS, Dorchester got a Chinese restaurant that people liked. And right now, Mai’s is kind of at that same level.

I would say that Mai’s is one of those places that needs to stick to the stuff they’re good at.

3.5/ 5 stars

Mai's Cafe & Bistro on Urbanspoon

#43 LOS COMALES

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CUISINE: Latin ADDRESS: 561 Southdale Road DATE: July 23, 2014


My friend Rob and I have had this Hollywood fantasy for almost 10 years.

It goes like this: 
We are out at a bar, maybe a restaurant, maybe in our seats at a theatre or something. We will be chatting, telling tales like we do, and a television producer will overhear our hilarious conversations, turn around, and in a moment not unlike the classic “HEY KID! I’m gonna putcha in the PICTURES!”, he’s going to offer us our own morning talk show. 


(Of course he would overhear us. We both talk FULL LOUD.)

Not like a radio show; those things are basically obsolete, and I would love to make more than $22, 000 a year, thankyouverymuch.
We have decided a morning talk show, a la Regis and Kelly (or, more realistically, the Wine-soaked 4th hour of the Today show) would be the best venue to display our unique talents.  THE AHCTING, yes, she is in me, but we’re really much funnier and better off-the-cuff. Maybe it’s because our stories are always filled with half-truths, enhancements and embellishments.

Flights of fancy, if you will.

When I was in high school, my friends and I used to call our stories “SCENARIOS”. They would start out capturing real events, but then we would imagine glorious endings that would always capitulate with us riding around on the mayor’s shoulders, with balloons falling from the ceiling. 


Now, my storytelling skills have improved, so I really don’t have to make too much up: I can turn an embarrassing moment from my life into a full tale of ribaldry with a hand gesture and a well-timed impression. My enhancements are usually limited to adding a funny line or two that came to me in the hours or days after the event.


I don’t always I get the credit I deserve for these added details. I’ve often told stories with a new line that I’ve added, but attributed to someone else. 


MEGAN: And then Ian said, “I only speak when it’s necessary”—
JESS: Ian’s SO FUNNY. 
MEGAN: (through gritted teeth) Yes. Ian. 

And it never occurred to me until recently that I come by these skills naturally. My parents are both real smarties, and because they also have near photographic memories—


MOM: Guess who daddy saw at Tip Top Tailors?
MEGAN: I dunno. Someone I went to school with?
DAD: (with a smile, settling in)So I needed a new suit….
(many details and minutes later)….and it was his son!
MEGAN: (pause) I have no idea who that is.
DAD: Our neighbour? From our old street? (Note: my parents moved to their current street in 1991) The one with the perfect lawn?
MEGAN: Ohhhhh. The guy who used to cut his lawn with scissors?
KENNY: (chiming in) I’ve heard that story. 


—anyway, my parents’ stories, like mine, end up being quite detailed. I guess I always assumed that making a minor incident like my dog vomiting in the car into a feature-length story was a normal thing that everyone did. But it turns out it’s probably genetic, along with having a crazy memory for minutae, policing other people’s grammar (annoying), and always spilling a little bit of food on my shirt.

Basically, I’m admitting to being a FULL LIAR. But I think people would rather hear good stories, than truthful ones, no?


But here’s the truth: Ian and I have been to the restaurant Los Comales before,  in its old iteration downtown: lime green walls, plasticky tables, and the friendly woman, Ana, that ran it.


My friends Sarah and Bryce were so well-known at Los Comales, that the owners once had a BRYCE WEEK where they offered a special on Combo Number Dos.  So I had to alert him in Toronto that we were going to the new version of his favourite London haunt:

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He was pretty excited they reopened.

But since that restaurant closed before the blog started, we thought it was only fair to add it to the list when it open up a year and a half later on Southdale Road. 

As has been the case at nearly every Latin place so far, my parents decided to join us.

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KNOWN LIARS, Rick and Dianne.


Of course Mr. Ian was there, who was convinced by my lying ways that kissing me ONCE meant that we were BOUND into a dating relationship (Shhhh. Don’t say anything otherwise. He’s believed it since 1998.) 


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I didn’t even notice during dinner, but IAN’S BLOG SHIRT (patent-pending) is a faux-vintage Batman t-shirt and a Hoodie. Don’t blame him. He’s been sick.

But we’re never going to get this AZ RESTO Licenced Clothing line off the ground with this kind of negligent dressing…

And Ian and I picked up Jess on the way at her NEW HOUSE, which is definitely close enough to Los Comales to pick up tacos on her way home from school, so as not to dirty the kitchen in her NEW HOUSE.

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JESS: I’m excited when THINGS say gluten free!

Kenny joined us for his fifth blog visit, after he and I spent the afternoon seeing a show starring several former students at the Victoria Playhouse in Petrolia. He and I couldn’t wait to talk about the REAL SHOW going on in that theatre.

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MEGAN: Going to the Victoria Playhouse is always a bit like going to a convalescent home.

KENNY: So many oldies.

MEGAN: There was not one, but TWO old people who left to go to the washroom during the show, and came in the wrong door. 

KENNY: The one guy did I double take. Like, popped his head in, looked, went to leave, looked again.

MEGAN: The other lady was yelling at her husband, full-voiced, at the door. While the show was on. This was, like, while Rebecca was singing “Hallelujah” in a spotlight.

KENNY: And an old man came up to me at intermission and “congratulated” me on the show.

MEGAN: In the bathroom. 

KENNY: And the 50/50 draw?!?

MEGAN: They were singing “If I Had A Million Dollars”, announced the winning ticket, and said that the winnings could be picked up at the bar after the show. And they kept singing. But the oldie who won MADE HER WAY from the back of the theatre, waving the winning ticket.

KENNY: And then there was another winner!

MEGAN: After they got her to sit down, they kept singing, but then another lady stood up and said, (old lady voice) “I believe I ALSO WON?”

MOM: Oh, no! Did she?

MEGAN: God no.

Our last guest of the evening, my friend Pam, had some trouble finding the place. To be fair, I think the new restaurant is a bit hard to find in the plaza on the corner of Southdale and Earnest: I don’t think their sign is bright enough, and there have been so many stores come and go in this plaza over the years, I found myself giving her directions to Los Comales the way my Grandpa gives directions: by talking about things that are no longer there.


MEGAN: It’s on Southdale. It’s like…do you know where the Jumbo Video used to be? What else was there? Like a paint store or something? Cheap Charlie’s? The place from the 90s with 10-cent wings? No? Um, do you know where the big ice cream cone is?

And, in her first blog appearance: 
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BAM. IT’S PAM. 

Pam, a fellow teacher, became a great friend when we cast her son as one of the “River City Kids” in THE MUSIC MAN.

Everyone should have a friend like Pam because Pam makes me feel AWESOME. Pam has (inexplicably?) become MY BIGGEST FAN.

My musical theatre direction? BROADWAY-READY.

My face? NARY A WRINKLE. YOU NEVER AGE!

My Olympic Opening Ceremony Tweets? SUITABLE FOR PUBLICATION.

Pam is a weaver of half-truths as well, but in the best possible way. She is so effusive and positive, that her stories involve everyone and everything around her being gifted and special beyond compare. She absolutely CELEBRATES the talents of the people around her.

REAL PAM QUOTES:

PAM ON A MUSICAL PERFORMANCE
Oh. Well. It touched my innermost heart. That performance. I have not stopped thinking about it. 

PAM ON ONE OF MY STUDENTS
What exactly is she???!? She’s clearly not human. She is 3 steps ahead at every turn, but also embraces every moment. 

PAM ON FOOD
These things will make you crave cream puffs for the rest of your natural life. 

So, obviously her enthusiasm for everything makes her great to be around, and perfect for a blog dinner. Or so I thought.

Pam was stressed about Los Comales, a Latin restaurant, because she claimed to be “the world’s most boring eater”.

SPOILER ALERT: Her order involved FRENCH FRIES.

So, Pam arrived a bit late, flustered because she a) couldn’t find it, and b) had spent too much on dog grooming that day. She immediately came in with a story.

PAM: Oh, my God! I’m in so much trouble. I spent so much money on dog grooming today. Have you seen my dogs? I’ll show you a picture.So, it was like $200! I’m so suggestible! They offered me an “oxygen-infused bath” for the dog, and I took it! And then my daughter Hannah pointed out that that is probably NOTHING, since oxygen is IN EVERYTHING already. 
MEGAN: Pam, these are my parents. 
PAM: Hiiiiiii! I’ve heard everything about you. Megan and Carrie are obsessed. I want to be ON YOUR TRIVIA TEAM!

Pam talks loud, and she talks A LOT. So, she fits RIGHT in. 

EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE:

  • MY DAD: Teller of tales. Rememberer of names. Driveway talker. Once yelled in a clear, loud voice at the seminal performer GOWAN for being an hour late to a free concert in Harris Park.
  • KENNY: Got shushed IN THE LOBBY of a theatre in Stratford.
  • JESS: Was in a room that got a noise complaint for loud talking while on a field trip. As a teacher-supervisor.
  • MEGAN: Involved in all of the above. Constantly told by her mother to speak in an inside voice, even while outside. At a friend’s recent birthday party, said that she “didn’t want to talk about IT”, and then proceed to speak, WITHOUT CEASE OR BARELY A BREATH, for 45 minutes about IT.


My dad was talking about an article that he read on Facebook that said dining out takes twice as long now, because everyone is on their phones. While that may be true for many diners, that’s not what makes our meals 3 hours long.

For us, it’s because the waitress can’t get a word in edgewise. 

The old Los Comales was kind of cute in a rinky-dink way, and this new location has definitely downgraded to a semi-crappy ambience: like most plaza restaurants, it has too much lighting and far too many TVs. 

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And this TV has too much Steve Harvey Family Feud. Bring back Ray Coombs! wait, what? Oh. Richard Dawson, then. Oh. Louis? Really? Whatever happened to J. Peterman?

I’m just saying, Steve Harvey looks far too astounded all the time. It gets OLD. 

This new place has the ambience of a mid-90s Robin’s donuts. They have tried to counteract it a bit with warmly painted walls and metal geckos hung far too high on the wall. 

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So, now it looks a bit more like your basement in the 90s, when your stepmom tried to go with a “Santa Fe” theme.


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EVERYONE’S STEPMOM: Your father found this AZTEC BLANKET at an authentic MARKET in ARIZONA!

Our waitress was a not-too-effusive young girl in a gold sweater and a topknot. She seemed to be playing the role of DISINTERESTED SERVICE WORKER in some movie from the nineties.

She didn’t seem to know much about the menu:

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The two most popular combos on the menu. So much food for $13!!

MOM:So, the menu on the table has more appetizers offered than in the menu…
WAITRESS: Oh. 
MOM: Is that right?
WAITRESS: I guess… 
MOM: And the lunch entrees? This section in the middle has the title “Lunch Entrees”.Can you order them for dinner, too?
WAITRESS: Well….one is bigger than the other. 

JESS: We’ll split a bottle of wine. 
WAITRESS: Well… we have a half litre…
MEGAN: Really? Because it says in the menu you offer a bottle. 
JESS: It’s better value. We’re just being thrifty. 

WAITRESS: I don’t think so. Let me check.

(She returns with two bottles of wine outstretched in her hands)

WAITRESS: Well, we have these ones…


Pam, who will find the good in anyone, didn’t really feel that the waitress was giving her full effort. 


PAM: I mean, I get it, your parents probably own this place and you hate your life, but still….

KENNY: Yeah, she’s pretty awkward. And tentative.

IAN: Oh, I like her attitude!

 
To be fair, Ian’s worst nightmare is a server with a contrived voice, or a too-friendly attitude, or worst of all, someone that slides in your booth. 


MOM: Slides in your booth? No. (Shudders)

But this girl, like the servers at #36 KING OF PIGS, seemed to feel PUT OUT about the act of serving us. My dad noted at the end of the meal that she turned the closed sign over the minute we walked out of the restaurant, as if to say, “NO MORE, PLEASEEEE.”

MOM: She could have been new, but if she was a little more PERSONABLE, it would have gone a long way.

The menu was a bit confusing, as my mom noted. There were two different app menus, and half the menu was called “LUNCH MENU”, but below each item was a listing of “dinner side”, that we assumed meant SIZE.

As I have said before, I have a COMPLETE AND ACKNOWLEDGED double standard when it comes to menu typos, based on my perception of the authenticity of the cuisine, and therefore the likelihood that English may not be the language of the menu’s creator.

I am a spelling corrector. I had a friend recently who spelled something wrong on Facebook last week, and I hovered around the post for TWO DAYS, trying to decided whether or not to say anything. Do you let them be embarrassed? Do you tell them? Are you obnoxious if you tell them?

I don’t think I’ve ever resisted telling someone. But I come by it naturally. My mom corrected my grammar DURING our dinner at Los Comales.

And I’m 36. And a teacher.

Anyway, If I think the restaurant should KNOW to spell it right (please see my rant about the spelling of “FETTA cheese” at BUNGALOW), I tell someone. If I see one more family dining restaurant serving CEASER salad, I’m going to END IT.

(NOTE: Just today, I was going to a spirit-rejuvinating brunch at Milestones, a necessity after a late-night Pride Celebration. We arrived at the restaurant just as they were opening up, and I noted their chalkboard sign touted CESEARS.  I mentioned it to Rob, and dragged myself to an upright position. Rob said later that he only had time to think “Maybe she WON’T say anything” before he saw me point an accusing finger at the sign while I slogged through the door. I had no PATIENCE for it today.)

But if the restaurant is authentic, and the people serving you the food from their home country are probably speaking English as their second language, I just smile and say nothing.

That being said, this menu had one of the greatest typos ever. 


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HAMBURGER.  WITH FRIEND. 

We tried to figure out if this meant this was more of a “sharing” hamburger, or if it indeed came with a new person to play board games with.

Kenny was already joking that he was going to order the hamburger, a great choice in any authentic South American restaurant, but when he saw that it came with A FRIEND, he was sold. 

KENNY: What if I ordered it, and along with a burger, a guy just came out of the back and was like, “Hey therrrreeee, Bud!”
PAM: You should try ordering it, and when they say it doesn’t come with a friend, you should just get a burrito. 
KENNY: Or just be completely crestfallen. 

In the end, no one ordered the burger. Ian was disappointed.

IAN: It could be the best thing!

MEGAN: You don’t think they just have it in case, like, a kid comes in?

IAN: Well. Maybe. But it could be MEXICAN.

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Los Comales provides the requisite tortilla chips with a homemade smooth salsa. The chips are nice and crispy, and definitely made in-house. They are far superior to EL RANCHITO, but I still think UNDER THE VOLCANO has them beat in the chip department.

We had decided to get a couple of appetizers, but upon first glance, they looked a little less-than-impressive.

 
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For $10.95, these nachos were delicious and loaded, but since there were 5 of us sharing them, and approximate 7 nachos, the portion was a bit disappointing.  This plate would house an appetizer salad, to give you a sense of scale.

So, maybe this isn’t the kind of place where they spend a lot of time on plating, but…

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My mom’s soup COULD have made a better attempt to stay in the bowl.  She enjoyed it though. My mom doesn’t love spicy food, but this was flavourful without too much heat. She was happy with how the tortillas stood up in the soup, but thought it was missing a key ingredient to make it GREAT.

MOM: Maybe just salt.

My dad knew exactly what to do to make his cheddar jalepeno soup look better: make it into a smiley face with ears!

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Ian got the soup as well, and enjoyed the rich flavour. 

IAN: It has a really good cheddar flavour. The consistency is good, really creamy. It has a good amount of heat, but not overly spicy.

DAD: The soup was really good. Good level of…jalepeno-ness? Jalepen-iousity?? Whatever. Not generic.

The combo plates are so reasonably priced, with such a nice variety of options, they were hard to resist. 

My Mom, Ian and I all went for Combination One: Your choice of empanadas (chorizo and potato, beef or chicken), your choice of chimichanga (chicken, pork, or bean and cheese), and your choice of pupusa (bean and cheese, pork and cheese), served with homemade salsa, dirty rice, and marinated cabbage salad.

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Mom got a variety of chicken-y things, but noted that the contents of each weren’t the same. They each had variations in their seasoning, and were well prepared.

MOM: There was so much laughing and silliness going on, I forgot to really pay attention to what I was eating. But I cleaned my plate, which is always a good sign.

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I had the chicken chimichanga, the pork pupusa and the chorizo empanada, all of which were crispy without being greasy. I thought the flavouring in each was subtle—I could always stand more heat—but thought it was all nicely prepared.

Ian had good things to say about the sides, too: we all enjoyed our rice and beans, but Ian really liked the slaw, which was very briny, tart, and had a bit of a jalepeno kick.

My dad and Ian both noted that they preferred the GIANT TUB of coleslaw that we were offered at #42 LO NUESTRO. This slaw was good, but there wasn’t enough. 

My dad went with the BRYCE SPECIAL: Combination DOS.

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Tostada, Flautas, Pupusas.

For once, my dad didn’t have the vocabulary to really flesh out his story.

MEGAN: Dad? Thoughts on the meal?

DAD: I thought it was good.

MEGAN: That’s great, Dad. Let me just write that down.

DAD: Haha. Ok, let me think.

MEGAN: No, hold on, I have to grab a piece of paper for this. “It. Was. Good.”

DAD: OK, well, the beans and rice was a nice combination because they weren’t just mostly sauce. It was more like red beans and rice. Well, darker, almost black beans, I guess. And the flautas had interesting flavours. Not the greatest pupusas I’ve ever had.

MEGAN: Where were the best ones you ever had?

DAD: There was a little Latin place by our house. They had the tub of coleslaw there. (pause) It was alright. Nothing special. 

We were all pretty jealous of Kenny’s meal when it came out. The burrito was a GOOD size.

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KENNY: Well, the rice tastes like Minute Rice, so that’s nothing. And the salad…well, you know how a salad tastes? This isn’t as good as that. It’s less than medium. But the burrito is really good. It’s filling, but doesn’t make me feel gross. It’s not heavy. It tastes GREAT.

Jess ordered the tacos, which looked and smelled heavenly. She loved the flavours, but they completely fell apart when she picked them up, leaving her hands and face saturated with that orangy sauce that any good taco generates. She used more than her fair share of napkins.

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Jess really loved her beans.

JESS: I’m no BEAN EXPERT (NOTE TO SELF: Is this a job? Look into this), but I really liked the flavour and texture of these.

So Pam, our not-so-adventureous eater, basically ordered off the KIDS MENU with this cheese quesadilla and fries.image

Except.

The fries were UNBELIEVEABLE. Fresh-cut, big, super crispy, hot and they really tasted like potatoes. Pam was LOSING HER MIND about these fries to the point that we all had to have one. And we agreed: better than most chip wagon fries. They were absolutely excellent. 

So excited was she about these fries (in fact, she brought them up again two days later when we were together), she neglected her fine dining habits and spilled on her shirt.

Which was another reason I knew we were destined to be friends.image
PAM: I always have one of these Tide Pens.

The bills were incredibly reasonable: $25 wine, $13 entrees. Only the small serving of nachos was even close to being overly expensive. And most of the flavours were excellent. 

But I can’t lie: despite Ian’s claims that he likes someone who doesn’t try too hard, you don’t want a server who doesn’t try at all. And while many of the menu items are comparable to both #42 LO NUESTRO, and #11 CASA BLANCA, both have much better service, and Casa Blanca has better ambience, salad AND Empanadas.

But if you’re looking for a great french fry, Pam can certainly give you the details.

3.5/5 stars

Los Comales Latin Food on Urbanspoon



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!!