Sunday, July 26, 2009

Osteria Ciceri e Tria

“Um excuse me, can I have some cheese?”

“Oh, (shaking head) we don’t believe in cheese with seafood.”

The last time I looked in the mirror I saw a grown woman staring back at me - a woman that likes to decide how she eats. I made the decision that the spaghetti with braised octopus needed some cheese and didn’t need to be told otherwise. We all know that at Terroni, substitutions and sliced pizza are out of the question but at least they gladly hand over the Grana Padano when requested. Osteria Ciceri e Tria, Terroni’s baby sister on Victoria Street, tries to take a little too much control.

An osteria is a tavern where the l’oste (host) decides what antipasti the patrons will snack on. Their menu changes daily and I like the element of surprise but let’s relax a little. If I want to dip anchovies in chocolate milk then that should be my prerogative.
Now for those of you that have been following my blog you will remember two things: I am in love with Terroni and I hate waitresses in baby tee’s that don’t wear bras. Well, the pasta at Osteria Ciceri e Tria is sadly nowhere near as good as it is at Terroni and the staff doesn’t believe in undergarments.

I’m not going to dwell on the three strikes though because although the handmade pastas are doughy and dull, their parade of five colourful antipasti ($15) have enough weight to push the experience from not good to good.

A grilled shrimp on a fava bean puree had everyone awing over how perfectly it was cooked – a little crispy and a lot shrimpy. The puree was as luscious as velvet.
Cantaloupe with prosciutto requires zero imagination but it is a classic Italian partnership and I’ll take it every time.

The friseddha (whole wheat rusk with eggplant, cherry tomato and ricotta salata) was a homey addition to the line up. Its’ flavours were subtly married as it hung out it in its’ little bowl.
A potato and octopus cake was actually a salad. The gelatinous bread crumbs were I’m sure what made someone call it a cake. The octopus was perfectly cooked but the dish was under seasoned. I would’ve preferred the addition of something briny like black olives.
Where are the salt shakers?

The star was the spelt and lentil salad with cured tuna. It had all the makings of a perfect salad: colour, texture, flavour. The little bits of carrot added a slight crunch and the oily tuna melted in my mouth. A big bowl of it would make an ideal lunch.

We added the night’s board ($16) and a grilled sausage with smoked scamorza ($15) for some extra dimension. The sausage was a sausage but the scamorza was a gently fried disk of goodness. It's rubbery texture was exactly what I crave in a cheese. Robiolo, Pecorino, fresh figs, favas and apricots, more prosciutto and a buffalo milk ricotta crostini all made the wine flow easier and more quickly.

The room was packed. It felt alive in a way that the restaurants are in Italy. We ate with gusto and drank with little caution. The encounter was satisfying.

I recommend that you go, choose a bottle from their inexpensive wine list and just snack on the antipasti – at least that way you’ll get some cheese.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Mexican Post, 5165 Dixie Road, Unit 3

My taco adventures came to a screeching halt when I had dinner here - one of Mississauga's only Mexican restaurants. First off, this is Tex Mex. It is burritos, enchiladas, jalapeno poppers, "Mexican" rice and lots of melted marble cheese.

Things were off to a bad start when the complimentary chips and salsa arrived. The corn chips were neither warm nor house made and the salsa was pureed.

I chose the taco and enchilada combo ($9.99). Old El Paso type taco shells are stuffed with a few strips of char-grilled chicken, some grated orange and white cheese and then placed under the salamander until the shells begin to burn. They were dry and sort of desperate so I tried to revive them by dousing them in green Tabasco. It kind of worked.

The enchiladas were the tacos reincarnated. This time shredded beef was rolled up in a soft tortilla with a blanket of the same cheese melted over top. The beef had more life - its' stringy texture had a faint bit of jus still hanging on. Having been rescued by twice the amount of cheese, it didn't require as much sauce.

The combo was served with old, dark yellow, crunchy rice and refried beans that were so thick and pasty that when I tipped the bowl upside down, nothing happened. I know I shouldn't play with my food but we got a good laugh out of it.

To add insult to injury, the service was inept. We were seated in the bar area (not by choice) next to a big blue tarp that concealed "renovations". All the while, Mexican music competed with the baseball game that was on tv.

The place was dead.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

A Meaty Vacation

The drive from Edmonton to Banff can be summed up in one word: beef. Ok, make that two words: Alberta beef. The provinces’ range, farmland and climate make an ideal combination for raising cattle. It is a business that provides Canadians with sixty percent of our beef supply. They take their cows seriously and with just cause – Alberta is home to more cattle than humans. Sounds crazy but there are approximately 3 million people and just over 5 million cattle.

Until getting past Calgary, the scene is virtually flat farmland. I have never seen so many cows in all my life: big ones, little ones, black, brown and white ones. I began to wonder if the legacy of Alberta beef came to be because it is a better product or if its’ popularity merely stemmed from the sheer number of cows?

I was going to have to do some tasting.

Stopping in Calgary for lunch, we hit one of the city’s most famous spots: Peter’s Drive-In, 219 – 16 Avenue NE . It’s been around since 1962 and serves thirty different flavours of milkshakes. They boast 100% Canadian grade “A” ground chuck burgers that are fresh, preservative free and topped with real Canadian cheddar. You have to applaud the patriotism. Their signature is a BBQ sauce that they slather the patty with. Besides the cheese and sauce, they are basic with the toppings. Here all you get is ketchup, relish and mustard. The burgers get points for still being tender and moist even though they are as thin as cardboard. However, if not for the tangy sweet sauce, would be almost tasteless. Where is the flavour?

In doubt, I was a starting to subscribe to the numbers theory.

That is, until Banff. With the majestic Rockies as a back drop, The Grizzly House, 207 Banff Avenue, a cabin style fondue restaurant is the perfect place for dinner. The complete four course meal starts with either French onion soup or salad, a cheese fondue with bread cubes as an appetizer, your choice of entree finishing with a Toblerone chocolate fondue for dessert. The “Alberta special” afforded me the opportunity to try some of the local animals: beef, buffalo, venison and elk. The waiter brings to the table a 600 degree hot rock on which to cook your treats and away you go. The flavour of the elf was understated and gentle while the buffalo meat popped in my mouth. The beef was juicy and finally gave me a little more flavour to go on. Venison is a little too gamey and dark for my liking but I never turn down the experience of eating home grown. Like eating seafood by the sea, my dinner tasted like the mountains.

The beefscapades didn’t end there. Back in Edmonton, I lunched at The Hat Resto and Bar, 10251 Jasper Avenue. The new Hat used to be an old Hat, The Silk Hat - an eighty year old diner. Having been recently renovated and revamped, the result is a dramatic, cool and trendy boite with an extensive burger menu that advertises Alberta beef. I went classic with a banquet type burger and fries. These patties are the real deal. They are thick (8 oz.), fresh, juicy, meaty and satisfying. Again, I ate Alberta.

More points for the case of a better quality product.

I loved the cutesy apps at Hundred Bar and Kitchen, 10009 – 101 A Avenue. The idea of snacking on truffle buttered popcorn while sipping a vodka seven delighted me. Cute lobster tacos and buffalo jerky made me even happier but the game was won when we feasted on filet mignon with truffle and peppercorn butter. Tenderloin can be virtually tasteless but not in this province. This piece of beef was not only luscious and velvety but bursting with juice. It had an earthy mouthfeel that is hard to imagine - rich and sort of soothing. Simply put, a filet unlike any other.

So the next time someone asks that old Wendy’s commercial question, “Where’s the beef?” you tell them it’s in Alberta.