Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Keriwa Cafe

If you've been following, you know my disdain for uninformed, colourless, hasty service. I make no bones about it; there is a lot of bad service happening in Toronto restaurants. Last week at Saving Grace I asked the server to explain what kind of sausage a debreceni was and the answer was "I don't know".

We cracked up but it really is sad.

Keriwa Cafe, 1690 Queen Street West, knows the meaning of hospitality.

Our experience went something like this:

A reservation was made and when confirmed we ask that it be changed from a deuce to a three. "We are booked but no problem, we will make it work".

The day before I was sick as a dog and tweeted, "Stayed in tonight w soup, tea and some NeoCitron. Gotta get better for tomorrow's dinner ."

The next morning I got "@Ritaboutit hope you're feeling better and we see you tonight at ."

We start with a few creatively crafted cocktails and as soon as we sat at our table, glasses of sparkling make an appearance. Why? Because our table wasn't ready when we walked through the door.

We had waited all of ten minutes.

The charming bartender came over to see how we liked the libations, the host was a doll and the server was attentive and knowledgeable. Executive Chef Aaron Joseph Bear Robe is also hella hot but I guess that's neither here nor there.

Keriwa's menu is Canadian. It's inspired by both the aboriginal and non-aboriginal cultures of this country. The server knew what pemmican and red fife bread was because we didn't.

They know that care and attention to their cuisine is just as important as it is to their guests' experience and it's a breath of fresh air.

The card changes monthly and if you hurry it's not too late to try October's smooth as silk butternut squash soup, the comforting bison short ribs with sunchoke Thunder Oak Gouda puree or the best chocolate tart Annette has ever had.

With the checque, a brown paper bag stapled shut with a business card. Inside, a cinnamon bun. Something so insignificant but so tasty with my morning espresso.

Post espresso I receive a "Thanks for tagging us at we're glad you came in and enjoyed yourself! "

I wished my duck breast wasn't cooked to medium but more than this I wish more restaurants would get what Keriwa Cafe already knows.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

One day, two meals.

Lunch: The County General, 936 Queen Street West

A medium rare, six ounce burger includes pickles and mayo. For what it lacks in toppings (I kind of really need some L and T) it makes up for in taste. This is one beefy, juicy little bugger. The fries are a cup of amazingly crispy, cooked right potatoes with a smoky, housemade ketchup.

The already famous chicken thigh sandwich is soaked in buttermilk and fried to perfection. Succulent on the inside and extra crispy on the outside. Avocado chutney, coriander and green onion top the thigh.

I'm happy to report that a side salad is not mixed greens! Thank god for Bibb and cucumber. A refreshing scarcity of greenery.

I wasn't so happy with their version of a Reuben. Dry brisket and the stinkiest of gruyeres made for a dry sandwich and smelly fingers. That cheese is way too strong for that sandwich.

Cool cocktails, decent beers and a little rock and roll round out the experience.

They are open for brunch, lunch, dinner and late night (til 3 am) so plenty of opportunity for a great little meal.

Dinner: Acadia, 50C Clinton Street at College

This restaurant talks a big game of creaky porches, lazy ceiling fans, southern food and warm hospitality.

I'm talking about an over priced, hodge podge of unusual but underwhelming ingredients - imagine mirlitons, benne seed brittle, red eye sauce, nasturtiam, Anson Mills Gold Rice. It's about as impressive as people that use big words but don't know what they mean.

These dishes need less presentation and more seasoning.

Now you might be thinking that I'm off my southern rocker here because of the acclaim that Acadia has received thus far but trust me, don't believe the hype.

The menu is small and so the four of us basically ordered its' entirety.

The best; Northumberland Strait scallops that were expertly seared into a golden brown crust with a smooth medium rare center. There could have been nothing else on the plate.

Everyone is loving the shrimp grits. A little bowl of comfort with its' smooth and creamy grits and chunks of sweet shrimp. A ham hock consomme added a nice depth of flavour.

The worst; everything else.

A too mealy corn bread lacked salt and its' accompanying sweet potato butter did not taste like sweet potato - at all, in the least, zip. Over cooked and tasteless halibut cheeks with buttermilk dust (two ingredients that don't even belong in the same sentence), a Vidalia onion tart that tasted like it came from Whole Foods, fatty short ribs and strange desserts.

Most dishes were extremely pretty and well presented but I'd rather taste my $100 than look at it.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Local Kitchen

As a professional server, my shtick is to provide smart and hospitable service. The smart is knowing your product, where it comes from, its’ history, what it tastes like. The hospitable is being charming, friendly and gracious. I’m even a little cute (if I like you). But most importantly, I treat my guests as if they were dining in my home; I want them, you, to have a great dining experience.

Last night I had dinner at Local Kitchen, 1710 Queen Street West, in Parkdale. I didn’t have smart and hospitable service. The smart wasn’t really the issue although I did wonder when my espresso macchiato was nothing more than an espresso and a side of ice cold milk?!

The hospitable was the problem. No smiles, no warmth, no joy, no passion.

The food was satisfactory.

An outrageously over priced white anchovy crostini for $6 saw us coming a mile away. Two fillets of nicely cured anchovies on top of a deliciously buttery crostini were fantastic but more of an amuse bouche than an app.

It was actually humourless but in her defence, she did warn us that it was small.

Like the pocket raping anchovies, the pastas are also on the higher end of the pay scale. I don’t mind paying upwards of $25 for pasta but it has to be good and at the very least, el dente. The pasta was so soft that you didn’t need teeth to eat it.

My mitri were stuffed with smooth ricotta and fava beans. They sat in a thickish brodo that was infused with woodsy mushrooms. Crisp pieces of pancetta sat on top.
Ditto for the pasta special which was filled with braised short rib. Tasty but toothless.

A lamb sirloin was on the tough side but a beautiful shade of medium rare. The mascarpone was an interesting and complementing condiment but one potato and a sprinkling of undercooked mushrooms made this “main” an anti meal. Serving it on a side plate sized plate only highlighted its’ size.

Local Kitchen is a really small room. The kitchen is an ugly, brightly lit room at the back that is a bit off putting. You can see the kitchen fart around with the plating of your order. This might be a good thing if it was busy but the fact that it was deadsville and our four plated still didn’t come out together seemed a bit incapable.

A “Would anyone like dessert or coffee?” while I still have half a glass of wine and about two minutes after clearing our plates, is a question that raises my blood pressure.

It’s neither smart nor hospitable.

We left hungry and irritated which is too bad because these two Italian boys have the right concept, a great location and a cute space.

If only they could nail their shtick.