You crazy kids have been hitting the 2012 edition of this post so much (there wasn’t one last year), my site stats are going to be pitiful come December 26th. But it seems that there are an awful lot of you out there who have no intention of sitting around with the family wearing those silly hats that come in the Christmas crackers, and who instead want to have someone else do the cooking and cleaning for you on the big day.
I have concentrated on downtown Toronto, but if you’re in the burbs, I think David Ort of Post City is planning a list with a wider range. Even though my list is cross-referenced and confirmed, I’d still recommend calling to book a reservation at anything other than the most casual places, and reservations are required for any of the hotel restaurants.
This month’s food porn starts with a meal at Jam Cafe (195 Carlton Street). Never heard of it? It’s a charming neighbourhood bistro just west of Cabbagetown that we happened across about a month ago when we were looking for somewhere to eat before a concert at the Phoenix. Besides the fact that the space is absolutely darling, the food is really great and classic bistro fare. Above is the applewood smoked trout with horseradish crème fraîche and homemade apple & onion soda bread.
A few years ago, Toronto was all over the communal dining trend. Restaurants installed big harvest tables and hoped that customers would not just bump elbows but start up a conversation with one another. But because Torontonians are mostly of the “keep to yourself, mind your own business” variety, the communal table wasn’t a huge success when it came to the average customer.
So what to do with those big old harvest tables that customers avoid like the plague? Unless a restaurant can book a large group to take over the thing, it’s kind of like a no man’s land.
Thank heavens for the resurgence of comfort food and lots of talk in the press about the importance of family dining. The idea of Sunday dinner is often romanticized by chefs like Gordon Ramsay who once created a campaign in conjunction with his F-Word series to get Britons to go back to the tradition of Sunday dinner.
It’s not a bad idea, really – most people enjoy eating a big ol’ roast – it’s all the prep and cooking that sucks the fun out of it. So a number of restaurants are now serving up family-style meals, often on Sunday, and usually, but not always, communal. Here’s a few that we found…
The phrase “tastes like chicken” is beyond cliché. We use it for any whitish meat that we can’t accurately describe any other way – frog’s legs, alligator, lizard – guaranteed someone trying any of these for the first time will compare them to chicken.
But what, exactly, does chicken taste like? The specimens we get in supermarkets or most restaurants are all the same breed (White Rock), probably fed with some mixture of GMO corn and other grain, raised in a barn for optimum growth in a minimal time frame, and likely pumped full of a saline solution during processing to make the meat look plump and full and heavy.
But chickens come in different breeds, and like beef and pork, those different breeds have different characteristics, in the kitchen and on the plate.
At a recent tasting event at Victor Restaurant, participants got to clearly see the difference between breeds, and the phrase “tastes like chicken” no longer applies.
Over the past few years, Slow Food activists have taken part in a bi-annual event in Torino, Italy called Terra Madre. First held in 2004, the event brings together food activists from around the world in a giant conference and marketplace where people can exchange ideas and information. There are conferences, symposiums, dinners and markets, all with a focus on sharing ideas about how to promote sustainable food. Terra Madre takes place during the even-numbered years (2006, 2008… another coming up in 2010), and this year, Slow Food decided that it would be a good idea for individual convivia to hold local events – both as a great way to support local food producers, and because, well, not everyone can afford to get on a plane to Italy.
Organized and paid for by Slow Food Toronto (monies raised at the Picnic at the Brickworks allowed them to pay participating farmers and producers to take part, a rarity in the world of markets and trade shows where the producers usually have to pay to participate), this year’s Terra Madre Day took place at the FoodShare warehouse.