Recipes for restaurants

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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Sky High

October 20, 2017

When you want to feel that you own the world, it’s hard to think of a better place to be than perched in a window seat at The Aviary. If this vantage point – high above Columbus Circle –  doesn’t make you feel lucky then nothing ever will.

The food certainly helps.

It’s hard not to laugh when this great white sheet of crackling deliciousness is plunked onto your table, teetering perilously on its perch.  It must be the skin of a half a pig, zinged with vinager and so crisply crunchy that it shatters as you break bits off to dunk into that dizzy smudge of corn and chiles. Your mouth is on fire, your fingers shiny – and you are incredibly happy.

Then there’s this shrimp, one giant creature, gently fried, showered with a citrus splash and paired with the most astonishingly delicious Asian pears. Little half moons of fruit have been pickled until the experience is like biting into a crunchy lime.

The truth is that you’ve come to drink. The cocktalians at the bar are mixing and smoking and icing all manner of alcohol, making them seem like strange wizards indulging in an arcane alchemy.  I have to admit that my cocktail tastes are conservative: no one, in my opinion, has ever invented a better drink than an ice cold gin martini. Still, I was extremely intrigued by Aviary’s version of gin and tonic, which changes both temperature and taste as the minutes tick by.


And while I wouldn’t recommend this coffee martini as a preprandial quaff, at the end of the night it is one sweet drink.

But I digress….

You won’t want to miss these little caramelized foie gras tidbits – all the satin smooth sweetness you’d ever want – sandwiched between two kinds of crackle

These adorable octopus croquettes are more creme fraiche than seafood, but they’re utterly irresistible with their little tousled seaweed tops.

And the kanpachi ceviche (hiding beneath hearts of palm), may look like jewelry, but I found the slurry of green curry so delicious that I upended the bowl and drank it, loath to miss a single drop.

And for those who prefer to buy their steak by the bite instead of the pound, this is one powerful hit of wagyu:

Are the prices high? Of course they are; you’re renting some of the world’s most expensive real estate. But it’s heady up here in the sky, and as you head back down to earth, I bet you’ll be wearing a smile.

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One Last Bite of Portland

October 13, 2017

Eating in Portland made me think that cabbage must be the new kale.  The lowliest vegetable is now on everybody’s menu, usually charred.  Here it is at Tusk: charred, quartered and blitzed with in an avalanche of Middle Eastern spices.  Truly fantastic.  As is so much of the vegetable-centric (yes, there are plenty of meat and fish dishes too) at one of Portland’s hottest new restaurants. Their motto is “locally sourced, aggressively seasoned), and they live up to those words.


I didn’t have a chance to eat an entire meal at Ryan Fox’s Nomad, but I did sneak in for a few bites at the bar.  If there are more adorable bar snacks anywhere, I haven’t encountered them.

This is Fox’s version of a slider: the meat is laced with umeboshi, the bun is fluffily appropriate, the slaw adds crunch and the fries are terrific. An awesome little tidbit for nine bucks.

Scrambled eggs, bacon and Wonder Bread.  Did I mention that Fox spent a fair amount of time in Joel Robuchon’s kitchen?  These are the most sophisticated scrambled eggs you’ve ever eaten – so soft they’re almost custard – and sneakily filled with padron peppers.  As for the bread – when Wonder Bread goes to sleep at night, this is what it dreams of being.

Inside this little brown bag is Fox’s version of school lunch: a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a juice drink and some cookies.  But oh, that sandwich!  Silky smooth peanutbutter mousse, slightly tart jam and bread that is griddled until it has a caramelized crunch. I’ve always thought peanut butter and jelly was one of the great American inventions – and here Fox proves it!

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Portland: Visions of Sugarplums

October 11, 2017

I might move to Portland just to start every day at Maurice.  Yes, it’s that good.

You know, as soon as you walk in and find yourself surrounded by that cozy aroma –  all butter and sugar and sugarplum fairies – that you’ve come to a very special place.  Look up and you find delicate garlands of dried fruit, flowers and herbs dancing above your head.  Sit down- in the window seat if possible- and prepare to be deliriously happy.

This is – I have to say it – one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten.  A citrus cloud, it whispers lemon, lemon, lemon as it slowly evaporates, leaving a trail of delicious memories in its wake.

(Want the recipe for lemon souffle pudding?  Here it is. )

Have you ever seen a more adorable dessert than this chocolate capuchin? Don’t miss those tiny berries in that puddle of cream: they contribute a little zing of wildness.

This bird seed coconut tea cake looks so mild and innocent.  That is entirely  deceiving.  The slim slice is a wonder of crunch and crackle, and as the butter slowly melts each bite astonishes you with unexpected flavors.  I can’t think of a more perfect way to wake up.

Proprietress Kristen Murray is famous for her black pepper cheesecake.  And rightfully so.  Topped with a single ground cherry and tiny slices of plum, this is the cheesecake of your dreams: the cloying richness of ordinary cheesecake has magically vanished. The most mature cheesecake on earth.

We finished breakfast with this wonderful quiche. Kirsten pulls it from the oven while it’s still slightly floppy; a brave move.  Airy and light, it seems held together with a wish.  After this other quiches start to seem clumsy. 

Kirsten’s cookies.  Of course.

I sat there in a sweet daze, considering staying to lunch. But by now I was so happy all I wanted to do was walk around Portland, thinking how lucky I am to be here.

Maurice is, for me, the quintessential Portland restaurant.  Quirky, passionate and personal, the restaurant is named for Kirsten’s rabbit.  Does he, I wonder, wear a little waistcoat and peer at a pocket watch?

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