Saturday, 19 April 2008
As you may recall, less than a month ago, I went out to dinner with some friends, thinking that that evening would probably be the last time we would get together as four and enjoy some good food, good wine and good company for at least a year. Lo-and-behold, I got an email from one of them a few days later, attached with a website address, claiming that we had to all go try this restaurant. Such news made my day, since it met getting to enjoy the company of my lovely friends over a lovely meal.
The restaurant of choice this time around, thanks to Dana's recommendation, was The Braywick Bistro on Dundas Street. The location of the restaurant was a bit of a surprise, since the walk from the bus stop to the restaurant seemed a bit...sketchy at times. It definitely wouldn't have been a neighbourhood I would initially stick a nice restaurant like the Braywick in. However, despite some of the more rundown buildings, the restaurant itself it really nice when we finally came across it. The establishment itself is small, giving the place a comfortable, cozy feel. With its warm brown tones, and a cute fireplace (which has been filled in with a heating grate), and interesting photography artwork, the decor lended nicely to the bistro environment.
Between the four of us, Dana is our designated sommelier, so we usually leave it up to her to pick the wine for us. After deliberating over the menu to see what we wanted to eat in order to match the wine, we decided to go with something a bit more versatile: a 2005 Gamay Rose VQA produced by Lailey Vineyard's, a local vineyard in the Niagara-On-The-Lake region. What's interesting is that Braywick's entire wine list features wines from Lailey Vineyard's. It's great to see the restaurant promoting local wines! The restaurant also does BYOW (Bring Your Own Wine), and while we initially contemplated the idea, we thought that the $15 uncorking fee was not worth it in the end. Plus the Gamay was really nice! It has a gorgeous colour for a Rose too!
Since we are huge foodies, we decided we would just share the whole meal the entire night. We asked our waiter to recommend some appetizers to us, and he said their most popular appetizers were the Sweet Potato Sticks and the Phyllo-Wrapped Brie served with a mixed berry compote and focaccia rusks. Honestly, there was nothing particularly special about the appetizers, just fancy sweet potato fries and baked cheese that I could easily make myself. The sweet potato sticks were served with a flavoured mayo, which Dana believes is a roasted red pepper mayo. Since she rules at guessing at sauces and dips, we didn't question her authority, hehe.
It was the entrees that were the standout of the evening. Our waiter (who was absolutely fabulous!) was nice enough to bring out three separate plates for us so that we could share the three entrees. They all looked so fantastic and smelled mouth-wateringly delicious as they arrived at our table. Dana ordered the Seafood Primavera Linguine with salmon, prawns, and scallops in a blush sauce, while I ordered the Herb-Crusted Pork Tenderloin with an apple and jalapeno slaw. Vince went for the special of the evening, Rack of Lamb with White Truffle Demi-Glaze, and a Mushroom and Roasted Garlic Risotto (you should have seen our faces when the waiter was describing it earlier in the evening). All the dishes were delightful in their own ways. I loved the addition of dill to the linguine; dill is a classic pairing with seafood, so to have that tossed in with the pasta and sauce added complexity and depth to the flavours of the dish. The pork tenderloin was cooked perfectly, but I absolutely loved the slaw that came with it. The sweetness and tartness of the apples with the slight kick from the jalapenos was a perfect balance. And the lamb...the lamb was lovely! Perfectly cooked to a medium-rare, and the white truffle demi-glaze was rich but not overpowering, giving it a really nice earthy flavour. The risotto was also a hit amongst us, with the earthiness of the mushrooms contrasting nicely with the sweetness of the roasted garlic.
By the end of the evening, we were stuffed, and literally arguing over who should finish that last rack of lamb sitting on the plate. We didn't try their desserts, unfortunately, since we decided to go to a jazz bar a few blocks away for some coffee, desserts, live music and dancing. And while the appetizers didn't particularly excite me at first, the entrees and the great service definitely made up for it. It was also nice that the chef came out to ask how we were enjoying our meal, which is always great to see. Our server was also very pleasant, offering his suggestions and reassurring us that no, we weren't being obnoxious patrons with our conversations and laughter.
The one thing that would have made this evening perfect was if Kait was there with us, who unfortunately could not join us. So not the complete Fab Four, but she was there in spirit. It's hard to imagine a whole year with the three of them, but time will fly, and before I know it, we'll be together once again, enjoying great food together.
Name: The Braywick Bistro
Address: 224 Dundas Street, London, ON
Price Range: Dinner $18-30 (entrée)
Accessible: Yes (but not washrooms)
Monday, 14 April 2008
So, it appears that the third time was the charm. I originally wanted to try the Fusion Grill, located in an upscale neighbourhood on Academy Rd. just east of Kenaston Blvd., way back in February during the Dining Out Winnipeg event, but a blizzard dashed those plans very well. The next attempt was in late February on a rare overnighter in Winnipeg, but I learned that the place was quite small and that reservations are highly recommended. Finally, this past Saturday I'd booked a table beforehand and got myself an opportunity to finally try this place that features, as its name implies, fusion cuisine.
Fusion... according to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary it means "food prepared using techniques and ingredients of two or more ethnic or regional cuisines". It seems to me that there are a good handful of fusion cuisine restaurants, which in a sense is not surprising considering how multicultural Canada is; heck, even mixed race/culture relationships are on the rise according to Statistics Canada. Though fusion allows for innumerable combinations of creativity and ingenuity, one potential weakness that I constantly worry about this style is that, by virtue of its style, fusion waters down each individual original cuisine. Essentially, for lack of a better term, fusion may be seen by some to bastardize original cuisines. Of course, I've come to appreciate fusion cuisine; with Canada being multicultural, "Canadian Regional" cuisine nowadays could be argued to be fusion by nature as well.
Even the restaurant's decor appeared to be a fusion in itself as well. Abstract paintings are set on mauve-grey walls while the chairs looked like throwbacks from the mid-century. Even the booth in which I was seated seemed a bit out of place, the wooden seat creaking occasionally whenever I shifted weight as it appeared to dangle a bit precariously on the wall (that booth would not have fit a second person with the limited leg room beneath the table). The upside of being seated at that booth was that I was close to the kitchen and bar, and I could overhear bits of the wait staff's conversations amongst themselves before the placed was packed. From what I could hear, it seemed like they enjoyed working there and with each other, which is always a boon for a successful restaurant; no matter how good the chef is, poor service will still leave a bad taste in a diner's mouth.
The first dish I tried was a toss-up between two appetizers, but, in the end, my love for mushrooms got the best of me and I went for the "Wild mushroom strudel with chantrelles, honey and lobster mushrooms, phyllo pastry, sour cream, smoked cheddar and white truffle oil." This was definitely not your traditional version of strudel, and the subtle sweetness of the mushrooms helped bring out the slight sourness of both the sour cream and the cheddar, and the aroma of the truffle oil that wafted to my nose was intoxicating. At first glance I thought the garnish in the middle of the dish was watercress, but upon closer viewing and tasting I realized that it was actually pea shoots. I know at least in Chinese cuisine tender snow pea vine shoots are edible, but to be honest with you I was never a real fan of that vegetable.
For my main course I went for a "Smoked then grilled elk sirloin with oyster mushrooms, barley risotto and saskatoon berry demi-glace". Though the elk was done to a nice medium, unfortunately I could taste the bitterness of some charring. I loved the barley risotto, however, and couldn't seem to get enough of it. (I apologize for the darkness of the photos... I didn't dare ruin the other diners' experiences with sudden camera flashes.)
Dessert selections were limited to only four items, one of them being creme brulee and the other three being cakes; it appears to me that dessert doesn't seem to get as much attention from the kitchen as much as it perhaps should. Nonetheless, I decided to try their Bernard Callebaut Chocolate Cake, which turned out to be quite warm and soft inside with a slightly crispy outside. One neat little surprise was the edible "bowl" holding the vanilla ice cream; I swear there was a hint of ginger or something just as zingy in it.
Fusion Grill overall gave me a better-than-average impression of itself. Though there are opportunities for improvements with respect to the cooking, the casual atmosphere, made effective in part to the small size of the dining area (I managed to count only about 12 tables) made it an enjoyable experience nonetheless. It is understandable why this place can easily get busy.
Name: Fusion Grill Restaurant
Address: 550 Academy Road, Winnipeg, MB
Price Range: Lunch $22-$30; Dinner $30-50
Saturday, 5 April 2008
Yes, it's probably hard to believe, but until last night I've never made a frittata, or at least a proper one, beforehand. Oh well, as one saying goes, "better late than never!"
With that in mind I'd picked up some chorizo sausages a week or two ago to put in the frittata, amongst other ingredients. For this one I made last night, I also added sliced mushrooms, half a red onion, baby spinach leaves, shredded mozzarella and grated parmegiano (~1 cup each of both cheeses). With a 12" cast iron pan in hand, I went with eight large eggs, beaten and mixed with a bit of salt and freshly ground pepper mixed into it. After sauteing the mushrooms and onions over medium heat I finished cooking the slices of two chorizo sausages that I'd just parboiled earlier. Once the chorizo slices were cooked through, I added most of the spinach, letting them begin to wilt before I poured the eggs in the pan, adding most of the mozzarella and some of the parmegiano as well. As suggested by Bonita I folded the egg mixture occasionally as it slowly began to set to help give it a fluffier texture, but the folding also helped in the mixing of the ingredients into a more even consistency.
With the egg mixture almost set I popped the pan off the stove, sprinkled the remaining spinach and cheeses on top and put it under the broiler for a few minutes to finish things off.
For a first time attempt, this was a success, and I was giddy as a schoolboy after I took the first bite. The chorizo gave a nice kick to the frittata, complemented by the natural sweetness of the onion and mushrooms. I could perhaps add a bit more spinach next time, and definitely herbs are in order, such as basil. No worries... I intend on making a Chorizo, Mushroom and Spinach Frittata for my colleagues at the upcoming pot luck. Oh man, with the dishes I make for the pot lucks at work, am I spoiling them rotten or what?
Friday, 4 April 2008
I know I've been MIA around here for the past few weeks, but alas, I was caught up in yet another exam season (my last as an undergrad, at that!). With one paper and three other assignments due this past week, I've certainly had my hands full. However, that did not stop me from baking from birthday treats for some friends, both of who celebrated their birthdays on Monday.
The first cake, a Spiced Apple Coffee Cake, was baked for Vince and the rest of our Italian class. The addition of cream cheese to this cake gives this cake a dense but super-moist crumb. Packed with lots of fresh apples, and spiced with cinnamon and ground cardamom, this cake is perfect in the afternoons with a cup of coffee or tea. I topped the cake off with a maple glaze. The maple flavour was overpowered by the sweetness of the icing sugar, however, so I'll need to work on the glaze a bit. But otherwise, it turned out a success!
The second cake was made for my friend Heather. She has a twin, and she once told me that her mom alternates each year on which cake to make, and Heather was the twin who liked Chocolate Cake. Hence, I made her Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate Buttercream, adapted from the recipes found over at Cupcake Bakeshop. What I love about these chocolate cupcakes is that they are so easy to whip together, and they come out so fluffy and moist. I love cupcakes, but I've often gotten pretty dense ones, so to have finally found a recipe that gave me light, airy cupcakes but still have a dense, rich chocolatey-flavour made my week! Another thing I love about these cupcakes? The fun cupcake liners, courtesy of the Martha Stewart Crafts line. I actually picked these cute red & pink liners way back in December when I was purchasing gift-wrapping materials for my cookies. I couldn't resist myself when I saw them, and I'm glad I got them, as pricey as they were. Who could imagine that just a little bit of paper could add so much personality to a cupcake?
Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate Buttercream
Adapted from this recipe by Chockylit
Makes about 18 large
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 3 eggs
- 2 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup cocoa powdered
- 2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, cocoa powder, and espresso powder. Set aside. Mix together the milk and vanilla; set aside.
- In a separate bowl, beat butter until softened. Add sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating 30 seconds after each addition, or until incorporated.
- Add about a third of the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and beat to combine. Add about a half of the milk and beat to combine. Continue adding, alternating between dry and wet, and finishing with the dry.
- Spoon batter into a lined muffin cups, about 3/4's full. Bake for about 25-30 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Let cool for 5 minutes before releasing them from the pan. Let cool completely on a wire rack.
Makes enough to lightly frost 1 recipe of Chocolate Cupcakes (about 18)
- 1/4 cup butter, at room temperature
- 1/4 cup cocoa powder, sifted
- 1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
- 1/4 cup milk **See Note
- 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
- A few drops vanilla extract
- Beat butter on high for about 1 minutes until soft and light. Add a few drops of vanilla and beat to incorporate.
- Add the cocoa and 1 cup of the sugar; beat until incorporated.
- Add half of the milk and the remainder of the sugar and beat until incorporated.
- Continue to add milk until you get the consistency you want.
**Note** The amount of milk require varies. Some people may require more, others less. With this recipe, I find that I usually need to add more milk to get a good, spreadable consistency. Just go a few drops at a time; you want to get something that is spreadable but not soupy either.