CUISINE: Latin-American ADDRESS: 1487 Dundas Street DATES: June 28 and July 4, 2013
I had been thinking that since Brennan’s Beer and Bistro closed before we even got a chance to try it…
ASIDE. A SCENE.
Megan’s Dad: actually, it and the APK merged. It probably still has the same menu!
Megan: Except now it’s listed under the As and we’ve passed it. Plus, I went to the No Show there during Fringe, and it was, shall we say, DANK.
…it occurred to me that there also could have been restaurants that have sprung up in the meantime.
The CBC Interview that I heard with the dinner party club in Toronto updated their list each year with the delivery of the new Yellow Pages, but since that’s not, you know, a thing anymore, I decided to check Urban Spoon.
And just in the nick of time: we have arrived at beginning of the Cs, and the first restaurant on Urban Spoon’s list was Canadian Pupuseria House. It turns out this place is not new, but Urban Spoon’s list of restaurants is probably more exhaustive at this point than the Yellow Pages (awww, a book of landline listings. How quaint.)
Now, at first, I thought we might not end up going there, due to Rule #3: DO YOU HAVE A WEB PRESENCE? (see the “Are You a Restaurant?” Post), but this rinky-dink operation actually had a functional website, and even a description of what a Pupusa is, for the uninformed:
"Mere words…" Could this place be any cuter?
(Note my rampant hypocrisy about finding mispelled words at authentic restaurants as “cute”, and at Bungalow as “morally reprehensible”.)
When we arrived at The Canadian Pupuseria House (Dundas East; across from the big Value Village out there), only one sign said Pupeseria house; the rest said Casa Blanca Latin American Cuisine (an infinitely better name given: a) the white building that houses it, b) the fact that it doesn’t start with the phrase “pupu”, and c) it was still at the same spot in the alphabet for the AZ RESTO TOUR.
The restaurant has about 6 tables, is painted a sunny yellow, and has adorable porch on the back leading to a spacious parking lot.
Ian, to me: Oh, THIS is gonna be a good angle…
As soon as Ian and I arrived, we felt confident the food was going to be authentic. It was just a man and his wife working in the restaurant that night, friendly people who answered questions with a smile. We started with drinks: i got a pineapple Jarritos, my favourite Latin-American pop.
I have marker on my arm from labelling bins in the Drama Room. Oh, end of the year cleaning duties…And my nails look like I’ve been digging ditches. Which is why I usually only post pictures of Ian.
Ian ordered a juice called a Lulo, a green fresh juice of indeterminate origin*.
*apparently a Lulo is its own fruit? The interwebs tell me that a Lulo is a little orange…that’s green. Latin America is a MAGICAL PLACE.
The husband took our order, for enchiladas, tacos el pastor (pork and pineapple) and a chimichanga and Pupusa platter.
(A MOMENT LATER)
Ian: (looking out the window) Well, I hope they have another waiter. Ours just pulled out of the parking lot.
Oh yeah, they do delivery, too.
Our waiter’s wife came out to continue our order. First, our empanadas came out. We ordered both the corn empanadas (authentic Salvadorian) and the flour empanadas (Columbian style).
The empanadas were filled with beef and veggies and were hot, crispy and beautiful seasoned. They were absolutely delicious.
The fact that the empanadas, and almost all of the menu options, had a corn option as well, makes this place 1)more authentic and 2) Jess-friendly. My friend Jess has to eat gluten-free. It used to be that i would send her photos when i would see any gluten-free items on a menu. But in the last few years, it seems like so many restaurants are gluten-savvy that she can eat almost anywhere….except Petrolia. They dip everything in flour in small-town Ontario.
I still preferred the flour one to the corn one, though…
The empanadas were also served with a sauce so delicious I wanted to drink it: a veggie salsa with a vinegar base.
It has become clear to me recently, through these dinners, that I’m become obsessed with BRINE. This new fact is sure to bemuse my long-suffering parents, who used to watch me wretch if I had to pass my dad the sour kraut to put on his hot dogs (on our Saturday night Hot Dog Dinners). Now, you could dip pretty much anything in vinegar and I would eat it.
All of the sauces, dips and dressings at Casa Blanca are homemade, and when I asked what was in the salad dressing, our hostess told me about 15 ingredients (some of which weren’t clear to me because of her accent) but I did understand the part where she said (ADORBS ALERT) that she grew all the ingredients in her garden outside.
Our entrees arrived soon after:
The tacos el pastor, I would argue, are the best tacos available anywhere in London. Fresh homemade corn tortillas, pork seasoned and not greasy, with a delicious pineapple sweetness.
Curtido (dilled cabbage) and tomato sauce (um, salsa?) This goodness is served with everything and should be served directly into my MOUTH.
Latin chicken chimichanga, Pork Pupusas, and fresh green salad with homemade herb dressing and avocado.
The “chimichanga”, a baked triangle of creamy, cheesy, chickeny goodness, probably has more in common with a Latin samosa than your regular Mexican restaurant chimichanga. Especially since nothing in it or around it resembled dog food, like some other Chimis I’ve had.
The Pupusa was also crispy and well-prepared, but we barely had room for any of it. Pupusas, to be honest, I find to not have as much flavor as many other Latin dishes.
Ian and I were actually wowed at the quality and prices at Casa Blanca (our whole meal was less than $50)…
BUT WAIT, there’s more!
IN A FIRST FOR THE BLOG…
We went back.
My high school friend was in town for a visit, and when I suggested that we could make it a blog dinner, he mentioned that his girlfriend was a foodie and would love to participate.
Then I looked up the next restaurant on the list: Christina’s near Western.
I mean, I haven’t been there yet, but something about it told me “Foodies Beware”. It just didn’t seem like the “hey, your friend from out-of-town and his foodie girlfriend are coming for dinner. This will show them what London Dining is all about!”
So, Ian and I decided that because we were ENTERTAINING, and because it had been a week since we went, and because we were supporting an independent restaurant, and because I hadn’t written the blog yet, it was ok to go back.
But mostly, we just wanted to eat there again.
This time, we went with my high school friend Doug, his beautiful girlfriend Lynne and blog regular Becca.
High School friend is kind of a misnomer, actually. Doug and I first met in Grade 6, when I had a crush on him and thought he looked like a My Two Dads era Vonni Ribisi.
Circa 1991: Vonni Ribisi, Doug Hemingway, Me, an unnamed teacher who is possibly trying to look down my Grade 8 Grad Dress.
A word about Doug: he’s kind of a big deal. The guy who did lighting and sound on all the plays I was in during high school is now a world traveller, an engineer, has worked on the Hubble Space telescope and is now finishing his PhD in Santa Cruz, California.
The last time Doug and I got together for dinner was five years ago. I hadn’t seen him since our last day of high school. Doug was back in London to prep for his departure for THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE UNIVERSITY.
[SCENE: Interior, Garlic’s Restaurant on Richmond Row. July 2008]
Megan: You know that sounds fake, right?
Megan: Seriously, that sounds like something that someone would make up for a reunion. Like when Peter on Family Guy wore a spacesuit and a dollar sign necklace and said he was a Space Cowboy. (Doug stares blankly) Like, what will your degree be?
Doug: A Masters in Space Studies.
Doug: Actually, it’s kind of interesting. The International Space University had kind of a three-pronged plan: at first, it was just a program in campuses all over the world. Now, it’s got it’s own campus, in Paris. The third part of the plan is that the International Space University would be….in orbit.
Me: THAT’S INSANE.
(Pause. Megan looks down at her food.)
Doug: But you’re doing great as well! Teaching drama!
Me: (flatly) Doug, I teach high school. In the town we grew up in.
Doug: But at the best school though….
Doug has to travelled to many countries in Latin America, and would know from authenticity. In fact, the tables at Casa Blanca are decorated with photographs from all over Latin America. Doug pointed at one from Argentina, a photo of a wall of ice 600 metres high, where giant shards break off and fall into the water below.
Megan: A Wall of Ice 600 METRES tall? That’s like Game of Thrones!!
Doug: (staring blankly)
Apparently I need to travel more, and watch less TV.
Lynne and Doug and myself. This photo MAYYY have been taken later in the night, and downtown, but since it is from the same day and of the three of us, I declare it…ELIGIBLE.
The big news at Casa Blanca on July 4th was that they had received their liquor license that DAY, so they had CERVESAS. We ordered Coronas, but did so grudgingly after discovering they were out of his mysterious Lulo juice.
We started this time with plantains with queso fresco (or as Becca called it, “Creme Anglais”—um, not a very Latin word, Becca), a chewy, caramelized feast that we all agreed would work just as well as dessert.
If you’ve never had a plantain, I would describe them as a cross between a potato and a banana, and these ones were soft and gooey, but also chewy and toffee-ish as well. WITH CHEESE ON THEM.
We each split a cheese and pepper Pupusa as well, which was gooey and cheesy and basically functioned as a Latin American mozzarella stick.
Which is never bad.
I ordered the steak tacos, which came with huge chunks of avocados, and the same delicious corn tortillas and homemade salsa.
The steak was fairly tender, and was seared on all sides. It didn’t have any sort of rub or seasoning on it, but of course I added the curtido and salsa on and was in heaven.
Ian went with the tacos el pastor, again, because a)he is not creative and b) THEY ARE THE BEST TACOS IN LONDON.
Becca and Lynne went with the Shrimp ceviche:
Ceviche: Seafood “cooked” by being brined in acids, like vinegar or lime juice.
The serving of ceviche (and the platters they came out on) were enormous. In fact, as our waiter ( the husband, taking over for his daughter this time) rounded the corner of our table, the platter tipped, and some of the brine spilled off the platter…and into my purse.
Doug: Well, as long as it won’t smell…oh, wait, it’s FISH JUICE.
The ladies’ ceviche was declared fresh and delicious, and “authentic” by lynne, and was served with potato salad, grilled plantains and the fresh, delicious salad with the dressing that made me lick my plate the last time.
Doug’s meal was the real WINNER this time though:
Chicharrón (fried pork rinds), caramelized plantain, grilled plantain, red beans and rice, pork sausage, corn empanadas. I’m pretty sure this platter was around $15.
Two great visits to Casa Blanca left me with the following conclusions:
a) I’m glad I checked for new restaurants.
b) I love that this blog is getting me out of both my West-London bias, and my haunting of only downtown restaurants.
c) With the recent closing of Los Comales, and the recent downturn of Under the Volcano (check out that handpainted sign!), I can say with confidence that CASA BLANCA has the best Latin food in London.