A Canadian Affair – following in the footsteps of Bourdain.

Black Hoof Outside

In Toronto with work, and with a free evening and morning to myself before the business stuff kicked in, I thought I would re-watch the episode of The Layover to get some hints on interesting foodie places to check out.

Always a sucker for any restaurants focused on animal innards, I decided to check out the Black Hoof. I was staying downtown and the restaurant is in Little Italy which didn’t look too far on the map, so I headed out on foot – mainly as I didn’t have a car and I like walking anyhow. About half a mile in it started raining, so I caved in and got a cab for the rest of the way.

As I was in a cab, I needed to tell the driver the destination with a bit more accuracy than “I think its on Dundas Street somewhere” – having to look up the address on my phone turned out to be a big time saver as even then we drove past the restaurant once before realizing we had gone too far. Given they have three venues next to and opposite each other, the Black Hoof is not particularly well sign-posted. (yes, yes – I know, after my Akiko experience, this is probably more an indication of my lack of boy scout skills).

Anyway, I got into the restaurant with a vague idea of how the inside looks having seen Anthony doing bone marrow shots with his chef buddies on the Layover. What I didn’t appreciate from the show was how small it actually is – basically a long narrow room with two tables at the front – a bar with 8 or so seats with main (only?) cooking area and dishwashing section in an area about 1/8 of the size of my home kitchen, and another half dozen or so tables at the back (where Tony had been)

Being Billy No-Mates again, I opted for the bar counter to eat. I have travelled solo with work enough that dining alone does not bother me too much, but it does make you look slightly less of a sad loser sitting at the bar than a table, IMHO.

Peering over the bar into the kitchen area, I noticed how rudimentary the set-up is – it even had an electric domestic cooker, a sight I have never seen in a commercial kitchen. Shoe-horned into this space were the three chefs, who must get on really well as they are sharing an area the size of a Queen-sized bed.

Black Hoof Kitchen

The menu is on the wall – unsurprisingly given the cooking space available and complexity of production and preparation it is a small, but perfectly formed selection.

Black Hoof menu

Its a rare day that I will pass on the opportunity to have blood (black) pudding, so that was my first order plus, after a brief discussion with the waiter, went for the pork carnitas tacos.

The tacos arrived first – three corn tortillas with layers of guacamole, carnitas and tomatillo salsa, each with a deep-fried tortilla. All accompanied with hot sauce if needed – which of course I did.

IMG_0683

The tacos were incredible – carnitas very moist without being overly greasy, balanced out by the creaminess of the avocado and the acidity of the salsa. Probably the best tacos I have eaten in a very long time.

Next up was the blood pudding – it is prepared and served more as a terrine than the sausage style I am accustomed to, but that provided an interesting new flavor profile rather than disappointment. It was very moist again, a real achievement given that it is baked – I’d love to see their recipe to see how they achieve that.

IMG_0684

My one minor quibble would be the accompaniments – ketchup flavored chips and green salad. Whilst 90% of the time I have blood pudding for breakfast, I do also add it to grilled meats (lamb and pork notably) for evening meals. I could see this working as well with a different form of potato than chips, or even with an egg.

I decided to go for another dish as the other two had been so great, and opted for the belly pork with cappuccio. I had never heard of cappuccio, and still am not quite sure I know which part of the accompaniment it was supposed to be, but regardless, the dish was equally as good as the previous two. Very tender pork belly nestling on polenta and shaved brussel sprouts (poached in brine I believe) with a topping of gremolata, and an anchovy sauce. Once again, complex flavor combinations which worked together really well.

IMG_0686

It was one of the most memorable meals I have had in a while, with a relaxed atmosphere, and busy given it was a wet, Monday evening. Highly recommended – I’ll go back next time I am in Toronto.

The Black Hoof on Urbanspoon

Akiko, San Francisco

I was in San Francisco on business, and having arrived early, decided to check out a decent lunch prior to my first meeting. I decided that if I was in SF, I needed to go fish, ideally Asian.

So, as one does, I checked on the Urbanspoon mobile app for highly rated sushi restaurants near to my hotel in the financial district. Up comes Akiko, a couple of blocks away, with >85% approval and great reviews. Walking down Bush Street looking for the restaurant, I walked past it twice before I checked on the precise address and found a wooden paneled entrance with no outdoor signing. Going inside, there is a group of small tables then the sushi bar and seating for about 10, and another small room at the back with further seating.

Given, I was on my own, I decided to sit at the counter and watch the sushi chef in action.

I asked one of the restaurant staff why there was no outside signage – his explanation being that it was only a small restaurant and they always full with regulars, so they are not looking for passing traffic. And true enough, pretty much everyone who came into the restaurant while I was there was evidently a regular and knew the staff by name. Friendly bunch too, so I was able to have a nice chat with a number of folks during lunch, rather than staring at my phone.

I went for the Nigiri 6-piece sampler plus the sunomono to start. I had the scallop version, and it came with English cucumber and an incredibly delicate but tasty vinaigrette. Absolutely delicious.

IMG_0449

Next up the Nigiri, with a collection of amazingly fresh fish, including Hamachi, salmon, tuna and an incredibly tender butterfish. The chef obviously buys what is good and fresh that day, as there was some discussion with another of the diners whether he fancied trying some monkfish which they had just got in.

IMG_0448

IMG_0450

The lunch was delicious, as expensive as you would expect for the quality of the fish, and a very relaxed atmosphere. I would definitely go back.

Akiko's Sushi Bar on Urbanspoon

Maroon 5, Key Arena, March 2013

A very fun evening watching Maroon 5, and a little bit of Neon Trees.

We met up with friends for dirnks and appetizers at The Edgewater Hotel beforehand due to lack of spaces in nearby restaurants to the Arena. Good decision – it was my first time in this historic hotel, a place I have been meaning to visit since arriving in the US, given its legendary status with Led Zeppelin followers. The Hotel is literally on the water, and so a great place to hang out. Note the authentic bird poop on the window too.

IMG_0504

Given we were en route to somewhere else, we opted to eat from the bar menu in the bar area. The décor of the bar is eclectic to say the least, but I like it for its quirkiness. Its somewhere between Twin Peaks meets the Shire meets a European night club.

Edgewater Hotel Bar

I had the Yellow-Fin Tuna Tacos which were absolutely delicious, but pretty measly on the portion size given the price. There were only two smallish tacos, and personally I would prefer soft tacos rather than crispy, but that is a bit nit-picky as they tasted great, and were very fresh with a good balance of flavors. Thanfully Karen had ordered the fish and chips which was more substantial, and cheaper, so I was able to bulk up with some of that. On reflection, I could and should have ordered another appetizer as well, but hey-ho, next time.

Yellow-Fin Tuna Tacos / 14
avocado, tomato, cabbage, sriracha aioli

*Fish & Chips / 11
classic beer battered true cod and malt vinegar tartar sauce

Edgewater Bar menu

Then, off to the gig we went, hitching a ride with our friends Mike and Suna – as we were leaving our car at the hotel. We arrived just as Neon Trees were wrapping up with a Human League song (Don’t You Want Me) and the only song of theirs I know (Everybody Talks).

IMG_0509

We had fab seats, right next to stage left, and Maroon 5 put on a great show. Round about 75 minute set of songs that everyone knows with lots of audience participation and interaction. Great light show / graphics too. I would definitely recommend anyone to go and see them live. A quick visit to the T-Shirt stand on the way out and we walked back to the hotel to pick up the car.

A good evening out, particularly for a school night.

Maroon 5 setlist

Six Seven on Urbanspoon

The Full British Breakfast

Each February and March is a special time for rugby lovers in Europe. During this period is held the Six Nations championship. The competing countries are the four “Home” nations of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland (in this sport, North and South Ireland play as a unified team) plus France and Italy. The tournament has a long history; it started as a Home Championship in 1883, with France being added in 1910 and Italy in 2000, and there is significant national pride at stake.

During the 25 years I lived in London, it was all within close proximity of Twickenham, the home of England rugby. I have been lucky enough to go to many Six Nations matches over the years. A group of buddies also tried to include an “away” game each season, which was always a great experience, if not ideal for the state of my liver.
Since living in Seattle, I obviously can’t get to the games live anymore, and they are not all covered on mainstream TV. Most of the Seattle British, Irish and Aussie/Kiwi pubs will televise the matches, and so a group of Ex-Pat buddies will take ourselves down to one to catch at least one.

Given the time difference, the games will typically be shown from as early as 6am to 10am – this adds an opportunity to fold in another great British tradition of the Full English/Irish/Scottish breakfast, accompanied by a pint of the black stuff (Guinness) to recreate the “away” game experience.

Whilst other pubs are available (Red Lion in Redmond, Kangaroo & Kiwi in Ballard etc), our normal hostelry of choice is Fado, near Pioneer Square – principally due to the quality of the breakfast.
The Full British breakfast has certain regional variations, but will normally come with the basic plate of (back) bacon, (pork) sausages, (fried) eggs, mushrooms, and (grilled) tomatoes. Optional and regional extras will include Lorne / square sausage (Scotland) fried bread, black & white pudding, (Heinz) baked beans, tattie scones (Scotland), and (toasted) soda bread (Ireland).

Below is a picture of the Full Irish breakfast at Fado – with the slight exception that I don’t like mushrooms, so I had swapped my portion for extra black & white puddings.

IMG_0435

I love black pudding, and could eat it pretty much every day given the opportunity. For the uninitiated, black pudding is a type of sausage made from congealed pig’s blood, fat, and oatmeal. Sounds yummy, I hear you say – but I would urge you to get past the thought of what goes into it, and try it.

I admit, my first experience of it was not sheer delight either. My mom used to make it for my dad, but he liked it steamed and served plain with English mustard. Whilst this was OK, I only discovered how great it could be when I had it sliced and grilled. There are variations of black pudding globally, across Europe, Asia and the Americas. It is often known as boudin noir or blood sausage outside the UK. White pudding is a close cousin, but does not include the blood and is based mostly on oatmeal as the filler.

A Full British breakfast should really come with back bacon rather than American-style rashers. Back bacon is a British cut of pork using the loin – in days gone by, it would normally come as a single piece with the loin and belly connected, but most butchers nowadays tend to split the two now.

Jamie Oliver does a great recipe of a one-pan version which I would recommend for those wanting to do their own blowout breakfast at home. But then, I would recommend most Jamie Oliver recipes, as they are typically on the mark.

So, enjoy a great British breakfast – not necessarily every day, but certainly while you are watching the rugby!

The Secret Ingredient is BREAKFAST

Fadó Irish Pub and Restaurant on Urbanspoon

The science of making food addictive

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/24/magazine/the-extraordinary-science-of-junk-food.html?hp&pagewanted=all&_r=2&

This is a very long, but absolutely fascinating article – providing an insight into the techniques utilized by processed food manufacturers to make their food more compelling to consumers.

When we first moved to the US, we were struck by the difference in the flavor profile of much of the packaged foods we were buying. Compared to Europe, most of the food was either more sweet or more sour than we were used to – particularly in savory foods. Notably, all the bread is either sweeter or is sourdough-based. We have struggled to find any mass or even limited-production breads which have the right level of savory taste for our palates.

Reading this article has explained much of the background to this, and has made me even more committed to ensuring I know the provenance of the foods I am eating. It also draws me to support causes such as Just Label It, to ensure there is greater transparency in knowing what actually goes into processed foods.

The Secret Ingredient is MANIPULATION

Slainte! A Celebration of Scottish Fare

Image

Slainte! A Celebration of Scottish Fare

Along with Hogmanay, the celebration of the birth of their most famous poet, Robert Burns, on January 25 is one of the special events in the Scottish calendar. On this date, across the country and further, there are Burns Suppers held to remember the creator of Auld Lang Syne and other inpenetrable verse. The format for these dinners is set in stone, and they are typically pretty raucous affairs, with many a “wee dram” partaken.

This year, I spotted on the Tom Douglas website that they were hosting an event entitled Slainte! A Celebration of Scottish Fare

The promotion of the event promised us kilts, bagpipes, haggis, fiddles, Gaelic songs, Burn’s poetry, delicious bites from the region and of course, a scotch tasting. The wearing of traditional Highland attire was also encouraged. What was there not to like about this, so my wife and I encouraged a group of friends to buy tickets. In the end, there were 25 of us in our party, so a good night was highly likely, no matter how the food tasted.

A bagpiper welcomed us to the Palace Ballroom as we arrived, and we were offered a whisky-based cocktail as a wee taster to get us going. We all then piled into the ballroom, and got seated while the band of fiddle, guitar and pipes played. We had a welcome from the compere and introductions to the chef (Brock Johnson from the Dahlia Lounge) and the Master of Whisky from Diageo North America, who had collaborated on the menu and pairings for the evening.

A Burns Supper traditionally begins with the Selkirk Grace, which is mercifully fairly short

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
And sae let the Lord be thankit.

And off we go….normally you would have soup (typically scotch broth) to start but in this instance we had cheese with apple (I am not a cheese eater so Mrs H had that; the apple tasted, as expected, just like apple). This was followed by a super tender piece of smoked cod, the nicest piece of smoked fish I have had in a while.

Each dish was introduced by the chef and then a description of the whisky pairing. It was noticeable how much effort had been put into balancing the flavors of the food with the appropriate whiskies. That, or they are great actors, and just threw the menu together with random bits and pieces.

Goose was next – full disclosure, I love goose but can’t be bothered cooking it at home as it renders so much fat, so I would eat it at pretty much every opportunity in a restaurant. This one did not disappoint, and came with a particularly yummy huckleberry sauce. Could have eaten lots more of it.

And next up was the main course. As tradition dictates, the haggis is brought into the dining room with much ceremony on a silver platter and accompanied by the bagpiper. It is then flamboyantly cut open with the biggest sword available, along with the recital of The Address to a Haggis (unsurprisingly, another Robert Burns poem).

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race!
Etc etc…..it goes on for quite a while

Haggis is officialy a savoury pudding containing sheep’s pluck (heart, liver and lungs); minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach and simmered for approximately three hours.

Of course this combination (particularly the lungs part of it) has fallen foul of the FDA and so haggis is illegal in the US in its official format. So, for this event, either the Tom Douglas team went ghetto on us and provided a contraband haggis, or they dropped a few of the dodgier ingredients. I am guessing probably the latter. Anyway, it tasted very nice, and was served with the traditonal mashed ‘neeps’ (turnips) and ‘tatties’ (potatoes) – separately as tradition demands; and another glass of whisky.

Dessert was a very comforting sticky toffee pudding with more whisky, and accompanied by singing and dancing from the band.

At this stage, we should have called it quits and went our separate ways, but it seemed rude to do that, so we all decamped next door to the Palace Kitchen for further drinks. The next day was a blur.

A fun evening was had by all, and thanks to the Tom Douglas organization for bringing a bit of Scotland across the pond.

The menu – including whisky pairings

Glenkinchie 12 year
with
Tin willow tomme, tonnemaker apples, local honey and oatcakes

Springbank 10 year
with
Smoked neah bay black cod, celery root and meyer lemon

Longrow Red 11 year
with
Breast of goose, cabernet huckleberry, cocoa

Benromach 2002
with
Traditional haggis with neeps and tatties

Caol Ila 1999
with
Sticky toffee pudding

The Secret Ingredient is HAGGIS

Pike Place market evening

A great lecture from Carolyn Steel, an architect, on the evolution of how food is made available and gets distributed within cities, and how this has shaped the expanion of urban areas over time. A fascinating insight into the balance of the ecosystem between agriculture, people and their living environment.