Monday, May 11, 2009

Mexitaco, 828 Bloor Street West

My new found love of Mexican has sparked a mission to find the best taquerias in Toronto. I am staying true to El Trompo for their Tacos Al Pastor but Mexitaco's nachos (pictured above) take the gold. Salsa, cheese, jalapenos, cilantro, onions, sour cream and house made chips make for some of the most fresh and colourful nachos I have ever seen.

Stay tuned for more adventures in tacos...

Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar, 9 Church Street

The menu changes twice daily because everything is as fresh and as local as possible. A recent visit had us perched at the chef's table and dining on pork hocks, beef cheeks, braised rabbit and their house made chorizo. The food, with the exception of their poutine (strange as this is what they are often praised for) was spot on. Even the wine pairings that our server suggested were unforgettable. Thanks Chef James for a wonderful night.

Julie's Cuban Restaurant, 202 Dovercourt Road

The sign out front says Julie's Snack Bar but that's only because it is the original sign from when the space was just that - a small hangout that had snacks and a Pac Man video machine. Now, she calls herself a restaurant, a Cuban restaurant.
I've been to Cuba twice and I still have no strong idea as to what Cuban cuisine is. I ask around and no one else seems to know either. Rice, beans and corn are the popular responses. Sadly, I think even Julie is confused. Our tapas dinner started with guacamole and chips. The guac was great, the chips were Tostitos - maybe someone from the Mexitaco camp could show them how to make their own? We went on to sample coconut shrimps, peppery corn fritters and a jumbo potato puff filled with ground meat that was like a ball of shepard's pie. A not so limey key lime pie finished things off. It was a mix of Louisiana, Florida, Mexico and Cuba all rolled into one.

Focus Julie, focus.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Nota Bene

Our dinner at Nota Bene, 180 Queen Street West, was alright but alright at one of "Canada's Best New Restaurants" is ludicrous. Maybe Toronto Life Magazine had set my expectations too high but fishy fish and bloody birds can hardly been viewed as "Best". If that was their best, I'd hate to see their worst.

The good was a Boston bibb salad with shavings of Parmigiano dressed in a Champagne vinaigrette ($12) that was on key. The dressing caressed the picture perfect greens making it exactly how a salad should be - light and fresh.

The bad was the rest.

Florida soft shell crab ($16) was fishy and we all know that fish and seafood should never taste or smell fishy. It's legs were crispy but it's body was water logged. Tartar sauce? Get out your magnifying glass because all you're going to see is a smear of it hiding under a couple of lettuce leaves.

Braised beef short ribs ($24) were stringy but tender. They were dropped on another smear - this time is was a parsnip puree. The ribs got a sprinkling of jus. I say sprinkling because there was so little sauce that it was gone half way through and all I was left with was a dry rib. It was either ask for more sauce or stop eating. I stopped. The accompanying salad - greens, cucumber, cornichon and pickled horseradish was so full of vinegar that it made my tongue scream.

Roasted rock cornish hen ($24) was dumped onto smashed potatoes making it a visually unappealing dish. The poor hen was spread eagle. Let me take this opportunity to add that this was not the only dish that was poorly presented. The crab was served in an awkward bowl with too high edges. The French style onion rings ($8) were piled so high that the top of the tower crumbled when the waiter placed them down resulting in an oniony mess that he proceeded to clean up with his hands. He was rightfully embarrassed. And why did the short rib have two carrots across the top of it? It was stupid.

Back to the hen. The meat was nicely infused with thyme but way over salted and some parts were underdone. Birds do not look good in pink.

In other news, the dining room is sort of plain and too bright to be romantic. It feels like a big square. The service is efficient but like the decor, it is plain. Servers are like robots in bad uniforms. Who designed those?

Besides the unchangeables, perhaps it was an off night but nonetheless I left questioning the praise and sighed as I walked out the door - just another misguided meal.