Category Archives: reviews

poutine

Ah, poutine. Often imitated, often falling short of the true deliciousness. It has been a long, long time since I’ve had a real version of Canada’s most famous dish. Of course, the best stuff is to be had in Quebec, but with Ottawa being right on the border, you can get some pretty darn good stuff right here.

If you’ve never had poutine, you need to visit French Canada and try it out. It’s not healthy and it’s not complex, but it’s strangely comforting, especially in the winter. You start with french fries, then sprinkle fresh cheese curds on top (the fresher the better – it’s best when they still squeak as you eat them!) and bathe the whole thing in gravy. You can get poutine at most fast-food restaurants now, but they often just use mozzarella cheese or some kind of shredded cheese mix, which just doesn’t cut it after you’ve had the real thing.

This batch is from a chip truck labelled GLEN’S that can usually be found in the Westboro area of Ottawa. It’s almost always got someone hanging around outside, waiting eagerly for their fries or poutine.

deep dish pizza, chicago style

Our travels in trying to obtain a background check for Chris in Argentina took us to Chicago recently, and as we were only there for a day, I insisted on having some Chicago deep dish pizza. After finding this MetaFilter thread and finding that everyone had their own favourite, we settled on a restaurant called Lou Manetti’s., especially as our host’s friend’s son liked it.

The restaurant was much quieter than we had thought it would be at lunch, though it was slightly south of the downtown. It was a little bigger than you might expect from a neighbourhood pizzeria and definitely felt like the chain that it was part of. One glance at the menu and we knew we wanted the house special – tomatoes, cheese, and spinach. The crust wasn’t as thick as I remembered it (I had been to Chicago a dozen years ago and had tried it then), but Chris was quite happy with it. She prefers the New York-style thin crust, so that’s saying something. It had a nice crunch to it, anyway, and the pizza was quite tasty and filling, so we still walked out satisfied. The service was fast, personal, and friendly, which ran in opposition to one of the biggest complaints on the MF thread. It’s entirely possible that it was because we were there on a Wednesday afternoon in winter as opposed to a weekend in summer, but I’m not complaining.

Conclusions? I personally think that it doesn’t really matter where you get your deep dish (unless you’re a real pizza connoisseur) in this city. Chicago takes pride in its product and wherever you get deep dish in Chicago, it’s worth a try while visiting.

mexican far from mexico

Part of our trip to Toronto included a bit of the weekend with a friend in Barrie, which is about an hour north of Toronto. I had been expecting a night of cooking with her, but as her and her husband are currently waiting for his contract to finish in Manitoba before he moves to Barrie, she is keeping possessions light and most of her kitchen is still out west. Instead, she said that there were a few actually good restaurants in Barrie, something I have to admit I was not expecting. We ended up getting Mexican at Si Señor, which, with a name like that, we weren’t sure of the food. Our host’s recommendation was true, however, from the Mexican guy who greeted us at the door to the musician who came in and started singing songs in Spanish and asking for requests while we were eating. We ended up ordering a mix of foods and sharing it all while we enjoyed the singing.

The ceviche was fantastic in a tomato-based sauce, which I wasn’t sure if I’d like, but the whole table was trying to get the last bits at the end, so I’d say it was a winner.

pollo tostadas

The pollo (chicken) tostadas were served at the same time, and while I do remember them being good, I don’t recall anything specific about them. I guess they were overwhelmed by the other fantastic dishes.

queso fundido

The queso fundido was kind of like a dip, served with delicious warm tortillas. Thick and cheesy with pork in it, there was lots of flavour to it and generally I thought it was stick-to-your-ribs good.

alhambre

The big winner of the night was the alhambre. I don’t recall the full name of the dish, but it had beef, peppers, cheese, and pineapple, along with spices. Eat bite was a bit of heaven, especially with the tortillas. The pineapple was a nice addition and really helped set off the other flavours.

We left with both our bellies and our souls sated.

Si Señor
24 Dunlop St. W
Barrie, ON

a taste of (two parts of) the world

While we were in Toronto a couple of weeks ago, we took a walk around Kensington Market, the well-known food and art section of town. I knew that there was a Latino community in Toronto and we figured that there might be empanadas to be had. We discovered some at Jumbo Empanadas, though at $4 apiece, we were expecting ENORMOUS empanadas (as they had been much cheaper in South America). The filling was Chilean all right – raisins, olives, egg, ground beef, spices – but the dough was a little disappointing and dry. The spicy tomato salsa you see on the side certainly helped perk things up, though. Overall, a mediocre empanada, but not terrible.

The tamales were quite good, though. I’m glad we each took half of the two dishes, as I wouldn’t have been satisfied with a single bite of this. Well-ground (or pureed) corn, good spices, cooked in corn husks – this tasted like we remembered it.

With the snow falling gently around us like a Christmas movie, our next stop was on Spadina at Mother’s Dumplings. The dumplings looked like the ones we had in Taiwan, and the jasmine tea was just so good that we had to order ten guo tie (fried dumplings). While not quite as awesome as our favourite place in Taiwan, these definitely held their own. The juices dripped out as we nibbled – always a good sign – and the meat was expertly spiced. The chef is from southern China, so it made sense that they tasted similar to the ones we had had in Taiwan. When our waitress found out that Chris spoke Mandarin, she immediately launched into a flowery history of the restaurant in Chinese. We got maybe half of it, but she was happy just to speak Mandarin, I think. We sat and sipped jasmine tea after that, watching business people and snow drift by on the street.

sesame sweets

A quick dessert at a Chinese bakery nearby got us a couple of these delicious rice flour-sesame seed-sticky buns, whatever they’re called. I love these with a passion. Sweet and delicate, yet a solid, filling rice flour centre, I could sit and eat them all afternoon.

Finally, we stopped into David’s Tea, which I was introduced to in Ottawa by the friends I was staying with. They have loose teas for basically everyone – Chris was elated to find a big selection of decaffeinated teas and ended up getting four. It’s trendy, sure, as tea is these days (is there a food that isn’t trendy now? Rutabagas?), but if someone you know is a tea lover, a quality cup of tea is something that relaxes and warms and makes a pretty waste-free gift.

Toronto is wonderful for this. It’s probably a good thing we don’t live there, as this could happen a lot.

Jumbo Empanadas
245 Augusta Ave.
Toronto, ON

Mother’s Dumplings
421 Spadina Ave.
Toronto, ON

David’s Tea
2389 Yonge St.
Toronto, ON

six words in Amman

This post was written as a guest post for a good friend of ours who runs Taxi Gourmet, in which she gets in a cab every week and tells them to take her to their favourite place to eat, thereby discovering new foods and restaurants. She had been looking for people to guest post from all over the world and especially wanted one from Istanbul, but we figured we should give it a dry run in Amman first. Here’s what happened.

***

Our Jordanian gourmet adventure started just as we were about to catch the taxi – a crowd had stopped traffic, surrounding a group of four men dressed in charcoal-black undertakers’ clothes. The coffin they carried acted as their prop as they carried it down one of the main streets of Amman, stopping every 20 metres or so to put on a mini-show and make the growing audience laugh with their slapstick antics, almost silent, uttering bits and pieces of languages, but almost no English. It was to be a funny forerunner for the rest of the evening.

After 20 minutes or so with no end in sight, we climbed in a taxi and asked the driver if he spoke English – there’s plenty of English in Jordan, but taxi drivers are definitely hit and miss and our Arabic mainly consisted of the foods we’d been eating. He answered, “Sure. Yes,” using a full third of the words we later found out he knew. Our explanation of wanting to eat where he ate came up against a brick wall, so he called a friendly stranger over from the sidewalk to help. Disaster averted, the meter clicked on, and we were off.

As we wound north around and over the hills that make up Amman, simple sign language and easy words got us his name (Hamid), how long he’d been driving (12 years), and whether he was married (yes) and had kids (either one or two, he gave both answers at different times). Eventually, we pulled up to fancy-looking place under an imposing black-and-orange sign that said SEREEN PARADISE amongst lines of Arabic. He gave us a thumbs up as we paid and thanked him, using another sixth of his English – “Good, good!” – and drove off. The restaurant seemed the kind of place for a special occasion from a generation ago – mirrors on the walls, cast-iron chairs with pillows on them, a TV in the corner with the news. It was a quiet night, but that may very well have been a combination of the later hour and the fact that it was Friday, the Muslim sabbath.

With no English menu, we had to point to dishes we thought we’d like. I ordered a meat dish with shish kebab, shish tawook (the kebab’s chicken cousin), and kofte, an Arabic meatball/meatloaf with lots of spices and looking like a sausage this time around. The kebab and tawook were decent, but the kofte stole the show. We’ve both had a few of these and this was one of the better ones. Delicate spices made each bite a pleasure and I was quite sad at how fast it disappeared. The grilled tomato helped raise my spirits a bit, but another stretch of kofte would’ve been better.

Chris ordered the signature Jordanian dish: mensaf. Most commonly made with lamb, as she had it here, it’s served at weddings and celebrations all over the country. This was a pretty good specimen, with the lamb falling off the bone with a single nudge of the fork and the yogurt sauce, flavored with cooking fat from the lamb, in a nice tall bowl, ready for pouring. The sliced almonds on top are always nice, though we’ve also had it with peanuts. A kind of curried soup accompanied the dish, and the standard mound of rice make this a hefty dinner for almost anyone – after both of us finished attacking it, there was still rice left over, though the yogurt sauce had vanished.

All in all, Sereen Paradise was not a monumental find, as the dining downtown in Amman is just as good and much more accessible. As this was our dry run for an adventure in Istanbul, we learned a valuable lesson: language barriers have a potential to ground the best of adventures. It’s a good thing Jordan’s people are as wonderful as their food.
Sareen Paradise

corner of Ibn Muqlah Road & Nasser bin Jameel Road

Amman, Jordan

hamesh restaurant

There is no new food in this entry at all, but I would be seriously remiss if I didn’t mention Hamesh restaurant in downtown Amman. We ate here two of our three lunches in Amman and enjoyed every bite. They serve the basics – falafel, hummus, foul, bread, tomatoes, tea – but everything is seriously fresh and delicious. You can watch them make your falafel if you want! We left every day filled to the brim and very satisfied. The green stuff on the hummus and foul is a kind of spicy chili sauce, perfect for adding a bit of extra taste to a slightly dull bowl of beans.

If you find yourself in Amman, you absolutely must find your way downtown and grab a table at this institution. You will not be disappointed.

hamesh restaurant

There’s no new food here, but we love it so much here in Amman that it needs an entry. Fresh fresh fresh falafel that’s still crunchy from the oil, hummus bathed in oil with spicy green relish on top, foul enjoying the same bath, tomatoes and onions, tea and fresh mint, and bread make for a cheap, filling lunch. My favourite place is out in the sun, watching people go by on the street – the restaurant is right in the heart of downtown. It’s a must-eat stop when you’re in Amman, that’s for sure. The staff are all really quite friendly as well. As many thumbs up as I can give for Hamesh’s!