By Melissa Martin - Sunday, February 3, 2013 - 0 Comments
What cooler antidote to winter than an upscale pop-up on the frozen Assiniboine?
Last Thursday night, Winnipeg was in the grip of a vicious cold snap that faded streets into a silent filmstrip of grit teeth and shuffling, Sorel-booted feet. As the waxy winter daylight faded, the temperature plunged to -31˚C—and out in the middle of the frozen Assiniboine River, 16 people in parkas were tucking into a delicate dish of raw scallop, albacore tuna and rich foie gras. This was the first course ever served at Raw: Almond, a pop-up restaurant risen on the ice at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine rivers. Something between a tent and a temporary shack, it squatted in the shadow of an old steel rail bridge, its whiteness reflecting the ice all around.
The dinner guests arrived huddled in pairs, among them an artist, a teacher and a medical student. Instead of chairs, they sat on tree stumps covered with a faux-fur throw. The walls of the restaurant are canvas. The floor is ice. It feels a little like a campsite, with sleek lamps in place of a fire. “We’re not rolling out the gold leaf,” jokes Joe Kalturnyk, director and co-founder of the Raw architecture gallery, who put on the event. The menu is left to glitter on its own. Continue…
By Pamela Cuthbert - Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 9:40 AM - 0 Comments
One is laid-back and luxurious, the other is fast and furious
Sunday lunch versus Sunday brunch: the difference is only a few letters, but the two are opposite approaches to the midday meal. Brunch, a North American invention, was initially about time—not quite breakfast, not quite lunch—but has evolved into a loud, fast-paced antidote to a hangover in which friends down cocktails and dine on dishes like deep-fried French toast. Sunday lunch, a European tradition, is a slow and sumptuous feast that involves family, many courses of finely crafted dishes, some wine and time for dessert. And though brunch dominates in Canada, at least one Toronto restaurant is trying to make Sunday lunch an occasion.
“Brunch is about business, it’s not about joy,” says Tobey Nemeth, who runs the small bistro Edulis with her husband, chef Michael Caballo. After a few years spent cooking around the world, they took over the space earlier this year. “Sunday lunch was one of the first things we set out to do,” Caballo says.
The $40 set menu encourages lingering over dishes that range from fish mousse to braised rabbit, garlicky potatoes and rich pies. There is only one seating, so the table is yours from noon to 3 p.m. Dishes are family-style, which means shared platters of food. To slow things down, wine by the bottle is half-price. Continue…
By Anne DesBrisay - Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 6:50 AM - 0 Comments
From the Maclean’s Power Issue: The booths and tables where the deals get done
In spite of its über-Canadian location at the corner of Rideau and Sussex, Métropolitain Brasserie’s management went for a belle époque brasserie brand, its tag line: “You’re closer to Paris than you think.” But the Met became a go-to place from the get-go for Hill dwellers and their hangers-on. A giant room seating 250 inside and a number more out, open every day till late, this brasserie has been at their service since 2006. In its first year, former prime minister Paul Martin brought his sons here for some post-election succour. But since the Conservatives secured their majority, this bit of Paris on Sussex has become their play fort. John Baird and Peter MacKay lunch here regularly. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been sighted at the Met a number of times, including at CTV Ottawa’s 50th-anniversary party last year. But the main criterion during “Hill hour”—when the Malpeques go for a buck a shuck—seems to be age before affiliation. Rookie MPs and staffers decompress at the zinc-topped counters, jostle for space at the raw bar or settle in to one of the red banquettes.
If you want to pol-watch in slightly more formal surroundings, Rick Mercer has a suggestion. “If I was attempting to take over the world, I know where I’d go. Today’s movers, shakers and foodies,” says Mercer, “follow one guy—Steve Beckta.” Mercer’s talking about the owner of the decade-old Beckta Dining & Wine. From day one it commanded attention, setting a new standard for fine dining in the capital. Along with the quality of its food and wine list, Beckta, an Ottawa native, is a consummate host. And he hires better than anyone else in the city. For political stargazing, there may be no finer place. Says one Hill veteran: “At Beckta’s place, you’ll be seeing the ‘big spenders,’ like Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin and other people who can afford it.” Beckta’s private rooms are for strategy sessions. It’s believed that Martin and his advisors made the decision to call for the Gomery inquiry in Beckta’s backroom. Former prime minister Jean Chrétien is a semi-regular. So is Jim Flaherty. The current PM, one Conservative staffer reports, had a birthday dinner here. For other evidence of the high-profile clientele, just read the signatures on the “wall of wine” behind the bar. On a bottle of châteauneuf-du-pape is the late Jack Layton’s John Hancock. “It’s the finest bottle on the wall,” our server tells us. The best gastronomic strategy at Beckta Dining & Wine is to head straight for chef Katie Brown’s tasting menu. And give in to sommelier Beckta’s wine pairings. Continue…
By Kate Lunau - Wednesday, November 14, 2012 at 8:30 AM - 0 Comments
How to survive the restaurant meal’s health horrors: slow down
At a Hardee’s restaurant in Champaign, Ill., two food psychologists recently did some redecorating. Half the seating area was left as-is—the strong lights, bright colours and hard metal chairs typical of fast-food places—while the other half was transformed with white tablecloths, plants and paintings. “We softened the surfaces to make it quieter, put in nice lights, played some Miles Davis,” says Brian Wansink, director of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab, author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think.
As the lunch rush arrived, customers were randomly selected to eat in the regular restaurant or on the made-over side. Wansink and collaborator Koert van Ittersum of the Georgia Institute of Technology thought people on the fine-dining side would linger at their tables and order more food. But even though those customers spent longer in the restaurant, they consumed less food. And they rated what they ate as more enjoyable.
Restaurants inﬂuence us in all sorts of ways—everything from lighting and music to words on the menu can cue us to indulge. The trouble is, for most of us, restaurants are no longer for special occasions; they’re an everyday thing. A new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine (AJPM) says Americans spend nearly half their food budget on, and consume about one-third of their daily calories from, food outside the home. Canadians do better; according to Statistics Canada figures published in April, households spent an average of $7,443 on food in 2010, $2,066 of that in restaurants. (In 1997, we spent an average of $5,608, $1,152 of it in restaurants.) All that eating out isn’t very healthy, as the new Symptom Profiler quality-of-life survey results show: the more respondents ate out, the more negative health symptoms they reported. Continue…
By Pamela Cuthbert - Friday, October 26, 2012 at 10:10 AM - 0 Comments
Book by Nicholas Lander
The world has gone mad for celebrity chefs, but one man is campaigning against the tide. “Chefs, in my opinion,” says long-time Financial Times restaurant critic Lander, “have been elevated to an overly lofty position.” It’s not that he’s against great cooks—quite the contrary—but he believes greatness can be attained only through “the partnership of a visionary restaurateur alongside a talented chef.” To set the record straight, Lander travels the world to speak with 20 industry leaders who run the front-of-house of top restaurants, from public figures Danny Meyer (Union Square in New York), Joe Bastianich (Mario Batali’s partner) and Trevor Gulliver (St. John in London) to equally accomplished but lesser-known individuals like Juli Soler—Ferran Adria’s partner in elBulli—and Wagamama founder Alan Yau.
Each portrait incorporates business analysis, personal anecdotes and insights such as the role that restaurants, as vibrant gathering places, can play in urban regeneration. Design, architecture, service and other elements are considered. In the process of unfolding often dramatic tales—bankruptcies, health problems and failed marriages are common—Lander also offers a globe-trotting tour of gastronomic proportions. The culinary writing is restrained—no gastro-porn here, which is unsurprising given his three decades of solid restaurant criticism. Lander recognizes the stress that comes with creating a successful restaurant. After all, he has been a restaurateur himself and begins the book with his own tale of opening the pioneering L’Escargot in London in the ’80s, then having to sell the restaurant due to poor health. (Soon after, his career took a turn when his column was born.)
Lander writes without a hint of snobbery, and an absence of interest in all things trendy. Don’t expect to learn about hyped restaurants like Noma or Faviken. Instead, look for valuable lessons and sound advice—such as these bons mots from a man once called the world’s greatest restaurateur, the late Jean-Claude Vrinat of Taillevant in Paris. What he says might also apply to what we all need: “A love of food, a love of wine and a love of one’s fellow human beings.”
By Scott Feschuk - Friday, May 11, 2012 at 1:29 PM - 0 Comments
The media’s fixation with sex and titillation is deplorable and, frankly, threatening
Did you read our magazine’s recent feature on the growing popularity of “breastaurants?” It described a new generation of Hooters-like “mammary-centric casual dining chains” at which female servers wear the skimpiest of attire. I’m sure the article said other things, too, but I got distracted by the photo.
These restaurants have names like the Tilted Kilt and Twin Peaks—decent monikers, I suppose, but perhaps a tad subtle when your eatery aims to be renowned not for rack of lamb but for rack of waitress. You may as well be bold about it. I’m just brainstorming here but how about Dr. McKnockers’ Funtime Boobery? Kids gawk for free.
Anyway, the article about “breastaurants” did very well on our website. VERY WELL INDEED. It seems that discerning readers like to devote time to a penetrating analysis of emerging trends in the food-service industry assuming there’s a load of boob mentions.
By Jesse Brown - Friday, May 4, 2012 at 11:03 AM - 0 Comments
Data-mining is hitting the restaurant business.
Wired reports on tools like, Compeat, and Hotschedules, which provide managers with daily anaytics, breaking down what food and drink was sold, to whom and by whom. One expects this sort of thing at Milestones, but Wired reports that celebrity chefs like Tom Colicchio and Daniel Boulud are also embracing the technology in their restaurants.
The focus right now is on servers. Perhaps a manager is fond of Tina, the friendly and competent waitress whom customers and cooks both seem to love. Well, she may be a nice person, but her data reveals that poor Tina hasn’t been moving enough vino lately, and remember that slightly smelly skate that chef tried to unload in an over-sauced special? Tina only sold four of them last night. Seems that when customers ask her what’s good, she actually tells them. Time to have a chat with Tina.
By Jacob Richler - Wednesday, November 2, 2011 at 1:20 PM - 1 Comment
Maybe it’s sexism—or maybe it has something to do with women’s own expectations
In Calgary recently, catching up with star chefs Connie DeSousa and John Jackson over some small Latin plates (chorizo, gallina, oxtail empanadas, etc.) and drinks at Ox and Angela, a trendy downtown tapas bar, the conversation turned to the related topics of women in the kitchen and role models. For DeSousa is that rare commodity: she is both.
She achieved a national profile earlier this year as one of the final contestants on the inaugural season of the series Top Chef Canada. Meanwhile, in a highly unconventional arrangement, she is co-executive chef with Jackson at the enormously successful Charcut Roast House in Calgary, as well as its co-owner (with Jackson again, along with their respective spouses). Also in Calgary, where the New York and L.A.-spawned gourmet food truck trend is catching on fast, they operate a mobile burger truck called Alley Burger.
Recently a young girl, no older than four, turned up at the food truck to deliver a little homemade sculpture of a heart. Other days, mothers bring their young daughters by the restaurant proper in the hopes of introducing them to the high-profile female chef. A decade ago it was Iron Chef that got young kids interested in being chefs; now it appears to be the Top Chef series. So I asked DeSousa and Jackson who their own role models had been back in their shared, formative early days in the 1990s, when both worked in a Calgary restaurant called the Owl’s Nest.
By Julia McKinnell - Friday, August 26, 2011 at 10:37 AM - 7 Comments
Even de-fleaing a dog can be a problem. After all, “fleas are living beings, too.”
Veganism is all about animal rights, but where do you draw the line if you’re a restaurant owner with a mouse problem, or a cook with cockroaches in the kitchen? According to Martin Mersereau, director of emergency response for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in Washington, “Any vegan restaurant than kills rodents is absolutely hypocritical. If you’re going to exercise such conscientiousness in the cuisine that you prepare, then why not bring that same heart and soul to managing your little unwanted visitors?” Glue traps and poison, he says, “should be avoided like the plague.”
In Toronto, a vegan restaurant owner (who doesn’t want his name used) says, “You’re a vegan as much as you can be. Adequate pest control is a requirement of the Toronto Board of Health. We’re in Kensington Market. There are mice everywhere, so we have a service that comes by, and they put out a lot of glue traps. But I’ve actually caught a mouse on a glue trap and you can release them from the trap using oil. You put oil on the parts the mouse is stuck to, any kind of cooking oil, and it loosens the adhesive. You take him outside. It takes five minutes. The tricky part is, if their head is stuck to the glue trap you have to make sure you don’t drown the little guy in oil.”
In Victoria, at the Lotus Pond, a Buddhist restaurant serving vegan food, chef and part-owner Charles Cai says, “I’m Buddhist. I’ve never killed anything. Never, never, never. How do we solve it when we have a mouse? The best way is to block the holes,” he says. “The old buildings always have problems with holes. We’ve found over 10 holes in the last couple of years, but there’s not any mice now.” Occasionally, when customers enter, a bee flies in the door, in which case Cai traps the insect with a small homemade net and releases it back outside.
By Jacob Richler - Thursday, July 7, 2011 at 12:05 PM - 3 Comments
Eating locally is all very good, but why shouldn’t all of us get to indulge in regional treats?
The vast and forbidding expanse of Cox Bay, near Tofino on the western coast of Vancouver Island, is circumscribed by an impressively deep beachfront of cold, wet sand, as grey and unyielding as lightly set concrete. It is eerily beautiful, but unlike—say—Chinatown, it is not the sort of place I would ordinarily think to stop and enjoy a spontaneous snack when I was not already packing one. My guide, Jae Lazar, felt differently.
“Here!” she exclaimed, scampering back down some craggy rock that jutted into the surf, and handing me something that looked like a heavily armoured snail with an elongated, leathery foot. “Gooseneck barnacles! You can steam them—or just use your teeth to squeeze out the tube of sweet, lobstery meat.”
Despite the thick cloud cover, Lazar’s cluster of gold teeth glinted in the sunlight as she bit down hard on the thing. I followed suit. The verdict: zero points for presentation, but she definitely had a point as concerned the sweet, salty barnacle micro-loin, or whatever you call it. Lazar next pointed out an entree-sized cluster of wild mussels clinging to the far side of the rocky crevice, and then she was off again, this time headed the other way, inland, down a winding overgrown path, in quest of the salad course.
By Colin Campbell - Friday, March 18, 2011 at 12:49 PM - 13 Comments
That is to say, how to eat the most expensive foods for the least amount of money. This piece from the New York Times, offers some useful strategy for the salad bar, where the price of a meal is based on weight (not the ingredients you chose): “Avoid romaine ($3.06 per pound off the shelf) at all costs — and consider baby spinach ($6.67) and mesclun ($7.99) your friends.” Also avoid carrots, beets (heavy and cheap) and opt for blue cheese dressing over Italian. And if you find bacon bits, load up. They’re worth “a whopping $21.28 per pound.”
Here are some similar strategies for eating at an Indian buffet, including sticking to items that, when served as entrees on the menu, are most expensive—typically meat dishes. “You should be good at fishing out only the high-value bits from the curry with an elegant, clean Azharuddin-worthy flick of the wrist. If a cooked-to-order masala dosa is offered, you are permitted to eat the dosa, but not the potato-based masala. The rationale behind this is that even though the dosa is made from cheap ingredients, it is a value-added product because of the specialized expertise and time required to make it properly… If others stare at you, it is their problem, not yours.”
More deep thoughts on the economics of eating out, from the Marginal Revolution blog.
By Alex Shimo - Thursday, October 7, 2010 at 12:00 PM - 0 Comments
A vegetarian restaurant chain aims to ‘save the world’ with TV footage of disasters
At first glance, diners might be forgiven for thinking Toronto’s Loving Hut is just another little vegetarian restaurant. But few other eateries are as devoted to serving messages of imminent doom with their food.
“We have only 884 days left to save the planet,” intone the entertainment-system-sized televisions on either side of the room. The screens show footage of flooding in North Korea, China, Pakistan, northern India; a brick apartment building crashing down, as in the middle of an earthquake; and a dead-looking child with half a dozen flies on her face. On a recent weeknight, several people look up, then continue on with their spring rolls, “sweet and sour fireballs” and “spicy cha cha.”
The doomsday restaurant is run by the spiritual followers of Supreme Master Ching Hai, whose aim is to scare the world into vegetarianism. Hai, 60, a Vietnamese-born restaurateur, avid vegan, painter, poet, fashion designer, fundraiser and entrepreneur, also goes by “Suma,” from SUpreme MAster, or simply “Master.” Four years ago, Hai, who now lives in Europe but whose group is headquartered in Taiwan, told her followers to ditch their jobs, quit their regular lives, and set up the Loving Hut chain.
By Kate Lunau - Thursday, July 8, 2010 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
The Grilled Cheese BurgerMelt follows on the heels of the KFC Double Down
At Friendly’s, a U.S. restaurant chain, customers can now order a burger with grilled cheese sandwiches where the bun should be. The Grilled Cheese BurgerMelt (tipping the scales at an alarming 1,500 calories) follows on the heels of the KFC Double Down (bacon and cheese sandwiched between deep-fried chicken ﬁlets). Both join the ranks of gut-busters like Burger King’s four-patty Quad Stacker, and Wendy’s Baconator—a growing number of sandwiches that sound less like a real meal than food to eat on a dare.
By Sarah Elton - Monday, February 8, 2010 at 1:17 PM - 10 Comments
A down-home Québécois classic is reinvented as a restaurant delicacy for better times
One should not confuse the Québécois confection pouding chômeur with the congealed chocolate and vanilla stuff sold in single-serving plastic pots at supermarkets. This is because pouding chômeur—which translates as “unemployed person’s pudding”—is the caviar of puddings, a dessert to be savoured by those with a serious sweet tooth. The dish as you’ll find it today in many trendy Québécois restaurants consists of a dollop of biscuit dough—or, alternatively, white cake—baked in a bath of cream and maple syrup. Lots of maple syrup. In fact, given the price of maple syrup, its poverty-inspired name is amusingly inappropriate.
But in Quebec in 1929, when pouding chômeur was reportedly invented, the dish reflected its working-class roots. The recipe was created, so the story goes, by female factory workers who had access to only basic ingredients in their industrial neighbourhoods: butter, flour, milk, brown sugar. No fruit, no eggs, and certainly no chocolate.
When Pierre-Luc Chevalier was a child, his mother made pouding chômeur at least once a week. “It was the Saturday night dessert. Or something we had when people were coming at the last minute,” he said. Chevalier happens to be chef and owner of La Cantine, a 1970s kitsch-inspired restaurant, located in Montreal’s Plateau neighbourhood, and he now makes the dessert in his restaurant, remaining faithful to the brown sugar base—though he has added fleur de sel to give it a salty caramel flair.
By Philippe Gohier - Wednesday, January 13, 2010 at 3:20 PM - 4 Comments
The taxman is trying to stop a high-tech restaurant scam
It’s been said the only two certainties in life are death and taxes. While there’s little technology can do to prevent the latter, Canadian restaurants are coming under increasing scrutiny for using it to duck the taxman.
Last November, the Canada Revenue Agency announced that a two-year probe, which concludes next March, had so far uncovered about $40 million in so-called “phantom” cash sales in Canadian restaurants—sales that went unreported and for which taxes weren’t remitted to the government. Experts say that’s little more than a tiny fraction of the cash that restaurant owners pocket without paying any taxes. With so much cash changing hands, and employees regularly being paid under the table, tax evasion has become the crime du jour of the restaurant business. And the methods are considerably more sophisticated than even the construction industry’s notorious aversion to receipts.
The CRA landed its most high-profile catch to date late last year, charging 11 people in B.C. in what it alleges was a large-scale tax fraud scheme at four Vancouver-area sushi restaurants. The restaurants were accused of using electronic sales-suppression software, more commonly known as a “zapper,” to systematically delete cash-sales records from electronic cash registers. The software, though illegal, is often sold by the same companies that make point-of-sale systems for cash registers. (Two manufacturers in Quebec and another in B.C. have been accused of making and distributing zappers.) The programs cost about $500 and are usually distributed on CDs or USB keys so they can be removed to avoid detection by auditors inspecting the registers themselves. With a few simple commands, a zapper can completely reconstruct a restaurant’s sales reports after making cash sales disappear, rendering the manipulation nearly impossible to uncover.
By Colin Campbell - Friday, June 6, 2008 at 10:37 AM - 0 Comments
Our story in this week’s magazine about the troubles in the casual dining industry…
Our story in this week’s magazine about the troubles in the casual dining industry may have underestimated just how worried U.S. restaurant chains are these days. Take, for instance, Brinker International, the company that owns Chili’s and On the Border. The website Footnoted.org points out a recent press release from Brinker that contains a lengthy and rather ominous disclaimer listing things that could hurt future results. It includes everything from “unfavorable publicity” and “changes in consumer taste and behavior” to “inflation” and “acts of God.” These kinds of legal disclaimers are common, as Footnoted.org points out, but this one goes to some length to cover off all the bases. Given the state of things in the restaurant biz, probably not a bad idea.