A Little Dream of a Restaurant in Toronto

November 15, 2017

I almost never walk into a restaurant and think, “I’d like to work here.”  But that’s exactly what I thought last night at Canis, a small dream of a restaurant in Toronto.

There are only 30 seats, but the eight people in the kitchen and dining room work with such quiet pleasure, you long to join them.  There’s a sense of easy camaraderie, confidence – and pure pride in the food they’re serving.

With good reason. Chef Jeff Kang has his own way with ingredients, layering flavors with originality and assurance. I get the sense he tastes in his mind, knows exactly what he’s going for, wanting each dish to offer up a surprise. I found myself eating slowly, savoring the way the flavors ricocheted around each other.  There was not a single time I said, “I wish this had more….”

The restaurant is small, spare, restful.  The wines are all organic, and thoughtfully chosen. Every object seems carefully chosen. (Just look at those butter knives!)

The menu is seasonal, and changes regularly. But last night I began with a little amuse bouche, a tartare tartlet laced with cured egg.

The bread was dense, chewy, full of character, and the spreads made me keep coming back for more.

But it was with the first dish that I really began to take notice of how fine the food here is. Swordfish arrived looking like a limp orchid, sliced into delicate pearly petals.  Served in a black bowl, it was cradling sliced cucumbers (the texture echoed the swordfish), and crunchy black radish laced with sharp little sparks of salmon roe.  Tying it all together was  a clear, gentle beef broth, a kind of garum made of meat.

Albacore tuna was fish in a completely different mood.  Dense instead of silky, the tender fish was gently smoked, and served with an astonishing array of sweet and salty components. Little leaves of artichoke – the tender white bits close to the heart – fluttered across the top, along with tiny pickled grapes. Underlining it all was a base of alliums,  cooked down and charged with spice so there was both sweet and heat.  It was a remarkable dish, the flavors changing with each bite.

These are the grapes – immature – and pickled like capers:

One of the especially pleasant aspects of Canis is the the way the staff interacts with the diners. At some point every one of the cooks left the open kitchen to deliver a dish he’d made, as if he wanted the pleasure of watching you experience it.  I couldn’t help smiling as I ate this roasted squash – almost meaty – with its ruffle of charred kale. The sauce?  Peanut miso.  The contrast?  Caramelized whey.

 

Meat – it might be lamb or duck, or in my case the richest chunk of meat, a short rib with the texture of velvet. On the side, roasted Jerusalem artichokes and white chanterelles.

“Do you prefer sweet or savory dishes?” Jeff asked as the meal started coming to a close.

“Not a sweet person,” I said.  And so he served me that milk sorbet above with its brilliant crimson crown of fermented grape ice.  It’ was a lovely way to finish a meal, especially interspersed with bites of this hibiscus financier.

So often at the end of dinner, late at night, you glance into the kitchen and see the cooks rushing to clean up, buzzed with adrenaline and eager to get out.  Not at Canis; there was an almost meditative pace as the evening ended, and  I looked up to see Jeff and his sous chefs standing around the counter in the kitchen as if reluctant to leave.

I got the feeling they couldn’t wait to come back tomorrow.

I certainly understood.

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Kind of Korean Comfort Food

November 9, 2017

It would be hard to describe how much I enjoyed the meal I had at Jeju Noodle Bar the other night.

Maybe it’s the fact that it was so cold and rainy – one of those nights when your boots leak as you trudge from the subway, the wind blows and your umbrella turns inside out.  On a night like that anyplace as bright and welcoming as this modern room would seem like an oasis.

Or maybe it was the fact that the first bite we tasted – what they call black edamame – turned out to be ordinary edamame wrapped  in a chile, black garlic embrace – was just so seductive. Literally impossible to stop eating.

Then the next dish arrived.  It’s that one above, clean little squares of tuna on a pillow of scrambled eggs with tobiko and rice.  Served with sheets of crisp, warm nori to wrap up the luscious mush it was an endless tale of texture and taste.

We had cucumbers bathed in kimchi

And kochujang bokum – spicy bits of meat on rice topped with fried garlic.

We drank a bottle of wine, talked, ate some more; it was all delicious.  And when it came time to order the main event – what you’re suppose to come here for is the Korean noodle bowl, ramyun – we were already sated.  But we gamely ordered a bowl of fish coop – chicken and dashi with confit chicken, noodles, herbs. It was complex, packed with interesting flavors, and I can’t wait to go back and try the other varieties.

Is this Korean food?  More like Korean-American – but I was fascinated to note that most of the other people in the restaurant on that rainy night were Asian.  We all need comfort.

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Michael’s PIzza, Updated

November 7, 2017

If you ask Michael what he wants for dinner, nine times out of ten he says “pizza.”

Which is one way of saying, we eat a lot of pizza at our house.

A couple of years ago I published the recipe for the pizza I was making then. Since then, however, I’ve perfected my pizza technique.  The major changes are a bit of gluten in the dough, which improves the texture, more olive oil, and two kinds of mozzarella.

Here’s how I’m doing it today. Next year? Who knows?

To begin with you’ll need a  a baking steel  and a peel.  If you eat as much pizza as we do, they’re worth the investment.  Then you’ll need some time; this dough wants to rise a couple of times, at least, and I think it’s much better on day two or three.

Finally, you’ll need good anchovies and good mozzarella.

Anchovy and Caper Pizza for Michael

Dough

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup 00 Italian flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon gluten

3/4- 1  cup lukewarm water, 

3/4 teaspoon active yeast

pinch of sugar

olive oil

Mix the two flours with the salt and the gluten.  (The gluten really does give the dough a more flexible texture.)

Stir the yeast and sugar into the water. Add a tablespoon of olive oil, then mix the liquid into the flour with your hands, kneading for a few minutes until it’s combined.  It will be soft and sticky. Allow the dough to rest, unmolested, for 1o minutes, then turn it out onto a well floured surface and knead it for about 5 minutes, adding as much flour as you need to make a soft dough. Form it into a ball. 

Slick a large bowl with olive oil, turn the ball of dough so it’s completely covered with oil, cover the bowl and leave it to rise for 2 to 3 hours.  It should double.

Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead it again for a few minutes.  Form it into a ball. Put a bit more olive oil into the bowl, turn the dough so it’s shiny with oil and cover it again, allowing it to rise again until doubled. You can do this again – or not.

Knead it again for a few minutes, divide into two balls, refrigerate one and allow the other dough to rise again. (You can  refrigerate it for a few days, freeze it for a couple of months, or use it immediately.)

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.  Put a baking steel on the second highest shelf in the oven and allow it to heat for an hour.  (Be very careful when it gets hot; it will be searingly hot, and not remotely touchable, even with oven mitts on.)

Stretch one piece of dough into an 8 inch round; this is the hardest part of the entire process.  Unless you know how to toss the dough into the air, it’s not easy to stretch it. Be patient.

Pizza Topping

3/4 cup canned tomatoes

olive oil

6-8 good quality anchovy filets

capers

1 ball supermarket mozzarella (the rubbery kind)

1 ball good quality buffalo mozzarella (or mozzarella from a good cheese store)

fresh basil

cornmeal

Assembling the Pizza

Coarsely mash up about 3/4 cup of canned tomatoes with a fork, then stir in a tablespoon of olive oil. 

Remove 6 – 8 anchovies from the bottle.

Drain a few tablespoons of capers.

Dice or grate about a third of a pound of supermarket mozzarella into tiny pieces. 

Shred a few leaves of basil.

Dust a pizza peel liberally with cornmeal.

Put the round of pizza dough onto the peel. Spread the tomatoes over the pizza dough. Sprinkle the diced supermarket pizza over the top, and decorate with the anchovies and capers.  Scatter the basil about. Top with pieces of the buffalo mozzarella, roughly torn apart with your fingers.  Open the oven door and very carefully shake the pizza onto the steel without touching it. (If you’ve never done this before it’s tricky, but you quickly get the hang of it.)

Bake for 7 to 10 minutes, depending on how you like your pizza. Remove with the peel; if it scoots away from you, use tongs to get it onto the peel.  Serve it hot, right on the peel.

This is dinner for 2 or snacks for 6.

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What We Talked About When We Talked About Food in 1991

November 4, 2017

Going through old files, I came upon this speech I wrote in 1991 when I was the food editor of the Los Angeles Times.  I’m not even sure where I gave the speech – it was obviously at some sort of conference – but from the vantage point of twenty-five years, it’s an interesting artifact.

Seems like such a long time ago. Looking at the paper it’s printed on  – we didn’t use Xerox in those days, but a machine that printed on sprocketed sheets – reminds me that we were still going down to the composing room every day just before the paper went to press. If you had to cut a few lines you took a knife and cut it to fit, then repasted with rubber cement.

In those days the food section of the Los Angeles Times was huge – 2 full sections, often running to sixty or more pages.  It was all about advertising, of course; supermarkets were still printing coupons.  But looking at these numbers – the section brought in $34 million! – is a stark reminder of how much things have changed.

So, as you will see, has the audience.

 

 

 

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A Mad, Mad, Mad Kitchen Project from the Past

November 2, 2017

This is a mad recipe from the December, 1973 issue of Gourmet.  Proof positive that American gastronomes were in the mood to impress their friends with complicated cooking.

Looking for something a bit easier?  This soup, from the same issue, also requires vast amounts of fish stock and cream, but it isn’t quite so crazy.

And yet another reminder of how very long ago this was….

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