As many Torontonians are aware, Mark McEwan has branched out from the confining clutches of running three restaurants and starring in his own TV show, The Heat. In the middle of a recession, McEwan has opened McEwan.

Yes, I've been to McEwan. It opened on the Friday and then I went on the Saturday evening. I did this in an effort to write a timely review about the new upscale grocery store.

I just keep putting it off so it's not timely anymore.

The shopping carts are black.

There is an impressive and gourmet antipasti section, a vast array of olives, nice variety of terrific-looking fish. The olive oil and balsamic vinegar section is pretentiously large given the size of the store. What else? In the cut fruit section, there is berry salad of blackberries, blueberries and raspberries where a regular grocery store would have melon. That didn't excite me; I expected that.

I am always pleased by handmade gourmet soups. They sell the house Chicken Noodle from One restaurant by the liter.

Now, I understand the practical application of supply and demand after working at Rahier Patisserie for about a year. In a bakery, you bake to sell. No merchandise is kept at the end of the day. I used to come home with my arms full of Parisian pastries, cakes and bread. (It was heavenly.)

I digress.

My point is that you are best managing your costs in a bakery when you are selling everything you bake. It's pretty simple. The same is true for a grocery store in terms of purchasing product. You don't want to waste stock and have to throw out rotten food.

All this being said, I knew why McEwan was sparse, but it didn't stop if from feeling like a less well-stocked Whole Foods. I'll check back in a couple of months and see how that goes.

1090 Don Mills Road
Toronto, ON

Mon-Fri 10:00 AM - 9:00 PM
Sat 9:30 AM - 9:00 PM
Sun 11:00 AM - 6:00 PM

Blogging Code

I blog because of my own interest in food, nutrition and cooking culture. I am not paid by anyone to do so and the views expressed in this blog are entirely my own. From time to time, people send products to me for consideration. If I like the product, I will write a favorable review and recommend it to others. If I don’t like it, I won’t.

Blogging Code

  1. I will always tell the truth to the best of my knowledge.
  2. I will write deliberately and with accuracy. If I don’t know the answer to something, I will admit it.
  3. I will acknowledge and correct mistakes promptly.
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  9. I will disagree with other opinions respectfully and expect the same courtesy in return.
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Review: Osteria Ciceri e Tria

When the whole Kobe Beef debacle was spilling all over Chowhound as well as here, one very smart commenter wrote, “one has only to look at Terroni threads for an example” of the passionate community that is Chowhound.

Ah yes Terroni. I am most familiar with the original Queen West restaurant: rustic décor fraught with lineups, poor service, waiters-who-are-not-that-good-looking-but-think-they-are, and food that’s ok. Just ok.

Let me clear the air on how I feel about Terroni:

I think Terroni is overpriced and over-hyped and it leaves me feeling underwhelmed every time I go.

When the same restaurateurs decided to open Osteria Ciceri e Tria, I purged myself of any prejudice against Terroni.

The word osteria refers to a tavern or humble restaurant where wine is the star attraction and tasty food is prepared to wash it down. Ciceri e tria is an Apulian dish made of deep-fried pasta, fresh pasta and chickpeas in broth, that remains on the menu every day while everything else changes.

The venue has great atmosphere: comfy old wooden tables with warm and inviting lighting. The décor seamlessly combines regal old oak and exposed brick with contemporary European lighting fixtures. Much has been written about the trendy Italian lessons that are broadcast over in the chic bathrooms.

The wait staff are friendly and unpretentious, happy to explain the menu and offer suggestions. The table arrangements are equally appealing. We sat at a large communal table with other couples where we could spy on what others were eating.

The menu itself is rustic, local, paired down and features a number of star ingredients that are in season. The emphasis is on more smaller meals rather than the North American Entrée we have come to expect.

There are no pizzas; only a return to traditional southern Italian food. I noticed potatoes, fiddleheads, cherry tomatoes and green beans made their way into a number of menu items. Seafood was the star ingredient. We had dinner on a Friday night and the menu read, Il Venerdì si mangia pesce (on Friday we eat fish.)

You can order any combination of menu-fixe items, including antipasto and primo ($23), antipasto and secondo ($28), and antipasto, primo and secondo ($35). The antipasti are most exciting: small tastes of different meat and vegetables. On Friday, they are naturally all seafood and the antipasti were certainly the most exciting part of our meal.

In the end, how did everything fair? Well, to answer that I must digress slightly.

One of my most beloved food heroines is the gorgeous and whip-smart Nigella Lawson. I like her beliefs on food because they are stripped of all ethnic bias or pretension. She, more than any other food-lover or chef I’ve encountered, loves food on a primal and spiritual level of deliciousness. She never appeals to Cordon Bleu
training or uses expensive ingredients to bamboozle people.

She is all about trusting taste.

In one episode of Nigella Bites, our heroine is boiling water for pasta and she salts it heavily, mentioning that pasta water should be as salty as the Ligurian Sea. For whatever reason, something resonated profoundly with me after watching Nigella and heavily salting the water is now an essential part of my pasta ritual and something I ascribe to the success of my pastas in general. Pasta is egg and flour. Salting the water is the only opportunity you have to add flavor to the pasta itself.

pasta water = sea water

All this being said, my farfalle at Osteria was under seasoned. Any chef will say that seasoning is one of the cornerstones of great cooking. I believe it becomes even more essential when the ingredients are paired down. You need salt to draw out the flavor.

In spite of all the beautiful décor and atmosphere and attitude and concept, I simply could not get past this simple essential fact.

Osteria is more exciting in concept than it manages to be in execution.

Rating (3/5):

Osteria Ciceri e Tria
106 Victoria Street
Toronto, ON
(416) 955-0258


I must give dearest Erin Letson credit for pointing me and others towards this lovely blog: a 365 day cheese course.


1000 Tastes of Toronto

Today was the final day of Luminato and I ventured south to Harbourfront to eat some delicious things for the 1000 Tastes of Toronto Festival. There were a massive selection of restaurants that made street stand to showcase gourmet street food portions to serve for five dollars a piece.

My first taste was French onion soup dumplings and slaw salad tossed in truffle oil from Forte Bistro. I decided that I would favor the more beautiful selections because there were so many foods to choose from.

The second food ticket went towards Loïc Gourmet To Go's chilled cucumber and honeydew soup with fines herbes yogurt and a series of hors d'œuvres, including chicken salad in béarnaise sauce on crustini. I enjoyed the selection. The cold soup was a nice idea in the scorching heat. I've come around on cold soups. I used to naysay them, but now I appreciate the refreshment.

Pad thai and mango salad (all for $5.) It was Hot! Thai or something like that. I tried to search for the restaurant on Google, but I wound up with a bunch of nefarious sites (no hyperlinky).

Our last taste experiment was from Carlos Fuenmayer, a private chef and caterer. We enjoyed a delicious fresh Ontario cheese (queso fresco) tortilla with guacamole salsa, red onion compote and deliciously perfectly ripe tomatoes. I appreciated the environmental and aesthetic effort obtained by wrapping them in banana leaves.

Best in Canada

Last weekend I had the pleasure of entertaining with Atlantic salmon that had been swimming in the Ocean only 48 hours before. I received an insulated package containing a whole salmon surrounded by bags of ice from the folks at True North Salmon.

I baked the salmon in the oven while wilting collards on the stove top. Only because I had seen it the other day at the Holt Renfrew Café, I decided to top the salmon with berries. My immediate thought was that fish and fruit don't match. I thought further and decided that the dish meets my requirement of all rich dishes: it contains something acidic to cut through the richness.

Whenever I make cream sauce for pasta, I always like fresh tomotoes cut small and sprinkled on top because it balances the richness with acidity.

Salmon is a flavorful, rich and fatty fish. The berries are sweet, sour and cleansing by contrast. Toss them in balsamic, olive oil, salt and pepper. Challenge your perception of what gets to be sweet versus savory.

It was a pleasurable experience.

Along with the salmon, we enjoyed Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc. My boyfriend mentioned that it was his favourite SB and I liked it too. I felt less landlocked sitting on the balcony eating fresh salmon and drinking a perfectly paired wine.

We mentioned that the salmon was from New Brunswick and our family friend who is a fisherman got a mist in his eyes as he talked about the virtues of the Great Miramichi River. He claimed it was the best salmon in Canada.

I like that True North makes an effort to be honest and explicit about where the company's product comes from and what their company stands behind. Efforts for sustainability are posted publicly on the website. I find this kind of transparent environmental policy is more than a lot of companies are willing to offer.

I would order True North salmon to enjoy again in the future, especially the whole fish. There is something very elegant and primal about this presentation.

Is the recession trying to make you fat?

Hermès has been breeding crocodiles on magical Hermès farms in Australia. It seems that the bags are in high demand in spite of the global recession. How decadent, how brutal.

I'm not surprised that animal skins are trendy right now. There is so much uncertainty in the current economic climate that people cling to concepts that empower them. There is certainly something empowering about carrying around a $48,410 bag that took three or four brutally vicious animals to make. Evil, yes maybe, but empowering in a Cruella De Vil sort of way.

Maybe we seek eating meat for the same sort of empowering reason- especially red meat. These foods we took for granted pre-recession have become comforts in their luxury. Karen Von Hahn wrote a column for the Globe a couple months back claiming that the recession was making her fat. I tend to agree and I've previously written about body images changing during economic downturn.

This week alone I've seen an influx of articles about lard being the new 'It' ingredient on account of its minimal processing. The Toronto Star article rightly claims that if you wait long enough, everything that is bad for you becomes good for you again. (Recent examples include eggs, coconut oil and now lard.) Two days later, I read another article claiming 'It' was now bacon.

Lard and bacon, eh? Is this recession trying to make you fat? Is the recession making you fat?

Guess what I'm having for lunch today?

The May 24 weekend is over and so is my birthday (the 28th.) It's now June and something just doesn't feel right. I had to crack open a copy of Toronto Life to discover what it is.

Eight street food vendors, eight different spots around the city, opening on the May 24 weekend. Blah, blah, blah. This all sounds vaguely familiar. It's too bad none of them are at all close to where I work.

(A nice picture of near where I work)

Metro Hall has Afghani/Central Asian Chapli kebabs. Sounds interesting. It can't be the same Metro Hall that's two seconds from my work though.

Oh yes. Yes it is.

And yes, I'm somewhat of an idiot.

But I'll be a samosa-filled idiot soon enough. Review to follow.

Not all calories are created equal

Science is a funny thing.

To lose weight, people count calories. However many calories you consume minus however many calories you burn indicates whether you will gain or lose weight, right?

Well, kind of.

Calories are the best indicator scientists have developed to determine the effect a food product will have on our bodies. However, this science is far from perfect.

One study that stands out in my mind was where one group of women and men were asked to consume one cup of almonds daily over the course of three months in addition to their normal daily caloric intake. Another control group continued eating normally.

Now, one cup of almonds is 546 calories, which adds up to an additional 3822 calories/week. This is just over 3500 calories which is the magic weekly number for folks to add if they wish to gain a pound per week (or eliminate on a weekly basis if they wish to lose a pound a week.)

So what happened?

Well, none of them gained any weight. Some have speculated that almonds have unique characteristics that prevent fat from being absorbed by our bodies. Others have suggested that our means of measuring calories in relation to weight gain is a simple hypothesis and should be taken with a grain of salt.

We all hear from time to time that particular foods or nutrients seem to aid in weight loss. I've heard this about eggs and yogurt companies prosthelytize the benefits of calcium for fat burning. Does it mean that there are different kinds of calories?

Not really, but there are certainly different kinds of food. My pseudo-scientific theory is that when your body eats foods that are full of good things, your body absorbs every part of that food product and sends it to different parts of your body that need it.

For instance, when you eat almonds, your body uses the dietary fiber, calcium, Vitamin E and monounsaturated fat (good fat), leaving very little useless matter. The benefits from eating almonds cannot be quantified using a caloric system so why bother.

Eat superfoods and delicious, nutrient-rich things and you will maintain a desirable body weight. Full stop.

You can't escape chicken

Last Thursday I attended the IABC/Toronto Ovation Awards Gala 2009. Before we got there, my colleagues and I joked that we hoped the chicken would be good (because there is always chicken at these types of banquet functions.)

Ah, chicken: the default meat of our generation, the not-particularly-delicious-but-generally-inoffensive-meat that every likes...right?

No, not everyone.

I'm willing to stand alone on this one, but, yikes! I could do with a lot less chicken in my life: rubbery, pale-fleshed and syringed full of water and hormones.

I'm off chicken.

When I went vegetarian in high school, it was chicken and not red meat that turned me. I remember the day I decided that I could withstand a break from it for a very, very long time. It was something in the texture, also the sheer prevalence. ENOUGH!

So I guess now I'm a no-chicken meat reductionist that will still eat fish, lamb, pork and beef (in moderation.)

It's nice to have a chicken hiatus, but believe me it won't last long.

You can't escape chicken. It's everywhere.