Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Magoo's Gourmet Hamburgers and Ice Cream

There are two things associated with The Kingsway: wealth and Magoo’s Gourmet Hamburgers. I guess they threw in the “gourmet” to appeal to the masses of money bags that live in my neighbourhood or maybe the gourmet is that they are made fresh on the premises using lean ground beef or that you can have alfalfa sprouts on your burger. Whatever the reason, this is not gourmet. This is ice cream, milkshakes, salads and char grilled hamburgers.

My first visit almost kyboshed the idea of paying for a second one. The burger was dry, the bun too grilled and why in the world would anyone put leaf lettuce on the bottom of the burger? The heat of the patty almost disintegrated the lettuce. The lettuce has to go on top of the tomato and it should always be iceberg because the other greens are not crisp enough.

The second time around yields better results (with a little direction) because the burger is cooked med well. It is not dry, it is nicely charred and the sesame seed bun is lightly grilled.

The onion rings are skinny and crispy and need no ketchup as the mayo/ketchup/mustard drippings from the burger create a sauce on the foil paper.

The fries are not skinny enough but are a pass.

The condiment lady has attitude and is totally stunned when I say that I want my lettuce on top of the patty but she complies. I still hate the leaf lettuce.

Magoo’s has things a little backwards (again). They offer a choice of three cheeses: cheddar, Monterey Jack or a mix of the two. Don’t get excited because it is grated cheese. Grated cheese on hamburgers is worse than alfalfa on hamburgers. And to make matters even worse, it joins the lettuce on the bottom. They tell me it’s so that the heat of the patty melts the cheese. I want to tell them that that may be true but it turns your cheeseburger into a cheese bun. These are two different things.

Condiment lady is going to really hate me next time when I tell her where to put her cheese.

Magoo’s has things mostly right; they just need a little guidance.

Magoo's Gourmet Hamburgers and Ice Cream
4242 Dundas Street West
Takeout or dine in
Open daily
Cash only
No licence
4 oz hamburger with rings and small drink including tax $10.45

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Woodlot, 293 Palmerston Avenue at College

I go to Woodlot to get my proverbial rocks off; my cool new(ish) Toronto restaurant rocks off. Unfortunately, I leave unsatisfied.

Woodlot is a bakery from 7:30 am til 3:30 pm.

It is a restaurant from 5:00 pm til midnight.

Their shtick is food cooked in the massive wood burning oven.

They have a small menu with a separate veggie head card.

The focus is fragmented and I’m left confused.

I quickly shun the vegetarian menu as tempeh, soy and vegetables have less to do with a wood burning oven than Lady Gaga does with modesty.

The carnivore in me is excited by the cabbage rolls and they do not disappoint. Braised duck, prunes and wild rice get stuffed into big balls of savoy cabbage and the result is ‘stick to your ribs’ goodness. I don’t taste the wood but I get over it with a side of mashed potato with bone marrow. With its' wonderfully smooth consistency and glistening marrow, this is heaven.

Everything else needs work.

Ok, not everything. The space is great. It’s industrial but intimate. It’s warm and inviting. We score a table on the second floor overlooking all the fiery action.

And the complimentary Listerine with pill cup shooters is a nice touch.

The service is friendly.

Now, everything else needs work.

An oxtail and tongue terrine is too chunky. It has a slightly gross meat taste. When done right, tails and tongues make you feel giddy but when done wrong you are full of regret. The pistachios add a cool crunch but the side of currents taste like Christmas and it’s March.

I wonder how Woodlot will tackle the change in seasons because their food is winter.

It’s comforting and warming and not what we want to eat the other six months of the year.

The haddock had a nice crust but is severely under seasoned and totally overcooked. Ditto for the fregola. Ditto for the saffron sauce. Ditto for the cauliflower. Why is there no salt on the table?

I could do dessert but I know when to stop spending money on a meal that is only half worth it.

Monday, March 14, 2011


Over the last few years, Toronto has been obsessed with burgers, charcuterie boards and home style comfort food. ‘Mom and Pop’ joints are fun and holes in the wall have become dinner destinations. Don’t get me wrong, this is a good thing but after dining at Malena, 120 Avenue Road, I have to admit that a little fancy felt really nice.

This modern seafood estiatorio (Greek for restaurant) is the second child of Sam Kalogiros and David Minicucci. Malena is L’Unita’s little sister. Like any interracial relationship that decides to procreate, Sam and Dave’s Malena is the perfect blend of Italian and Greek cuisine.

The room is softly lit and intimate. It’s dressed with strong wood tables, shiny ceiling tile, copper pots, bar stools that are strangely covered in pony hair and silver studded leather chairs. The luggage tags that hug the napkins are uniquely cute.

The journey through the Mediterranean Sea begins with a glug of good Greek olive oil, some crusty country style bread, a small dish of warm, herbed, lemony olives ($6) and a glass of Greek sparkling wine.

This is what I like about Malena; it is an Ionian cuisine that is way more refined than the ubiquity of the Danforth.

The grilled octopus ($16) is sensibly charred; its’ flesh delicately rubbery. A stroke of rich Greek yogurt lines the dish while a super fun fregola, pancetta and root vegetable salad bank the octopus. The bacon and fregola is the boot in the dish. Fregola are little balls of semolina flour indigenous to the island of Sardinia that are similar to Israeli couscous only much larger.

A skinny slab of marinated sheep’s feta ($14) is sharp and creamy. The pretty shredded pear and radicchio salad adds the sweet and the bitter that balance the sharpness of the cheese. Sultana raisins dot the salad.

Executive Chef Doug Neigel makes the lamb sausage ($15) in house. It is plump, juicy and medium rare. Add a perfectly poached egg, some stewed gigantes (giant baked beans), a little tomato and a crostino. This is Greek wieners and beans.

The gnudi ($25) is made with sheep’s milk ricotta and tossed with braised rabbit and spinach. Crispy ribbons of parsnip garnish the dish. The gnudi themselves are incredibly weightless and delightfully cheesy. Unfortunately the accompaniments do nothing to elevate the dish. The parsnips are beautiful but I want to eat them as a snack. If you don’t get to them first, they become soft from the sauce. Braising meat should make it tender, juicy, almost stringy. This rabbit was a little too dry and had a little too much chunk. The gnudi would be better showcased with an ‘off the charts’ tomato sauce.

A Berkshire pork chop ($28) with celery root mash, Swiss chard and sweet apple caponata is greatness. Apple and pigs have been best friends for a long time and this dish proves that it is a relationship that is built to last. The chop is big, almost Flinstone(ish) but succulent and the delicateness of the mash brings it down in size. A potato would be too much.

L’Unita is known for their diversely flavoured cannoli ($8/3) and so it makes sense that Sam and Dave would bring the little buggers over to Malena. Tonight they are filled with a date mascarpone and sprinkled with crunchy, candied walnuts.

I know, I know, you’re probably wondering what’s with all the animal talk in a so called seafood restaurant? Well, Sam and David may call it seafood because sixty percent of the card says so but with such competence beyond fish, I just call it a good place for dinner.