Zac Posen pays extreme attention to detail. I know this to be a fact. Not from the fashion designs which brought him fame. The 38-year old New Yorker hand-crafts clothing for beautiful women — Uma Thurman, Claire Danes — to grab best-dressed headlines at the Met Gala and the Oscars. Whereas I’m a not terribly fashionable man.
Instead, I gleaned his commitment to precision when I tried to follow the chocolate chip cookies from his debut recipe book, Cooking with Zac. The first indication was that I had to brown the butter in a pan until it looked like “deep mahogany with a hazelnut scent,” he writes — a necessary extra step because “with so many cookies in the world, it’s the fine touches that count.” The second indication was that I had to hand-press the chips into the top of the dough to achieve “a polished and professional look.” Clearly, this is not a recipe for a lazy baker.
On first impression, the new restaurant Quetzal, a high-end Mexican eatery in Toronto, seems conspicuously lacking in Latin American flair. The long, linear and distinctly low-ceilinged space is composed of 12 modular bays, each about two metres wide, that create alcoves for seating – plus a striking canopy over the bar-slash-kitchen. The palette has a minimalist, art gallery vibe: The bays are crafted from fibreglass-reinforced gypsum and the bar is a geometric jigsaw of lightweight Ductal concrete and Canadian maple.
The local wood species, also used for the floor and banquettes, has been leftblond except for the dark-stained dining surfaces, which include a trio of two-person tables that ingeniously cantilever from the bar. “It’s our most restrained space so far,” says Pooya Baktash, a co-founder with Alex Josephson of the Toronto firm Partisans and the principal who oversaw the design. “But we still found a way to be expressive.”
The Sailor’s Delight at Drake One Fifty is a scurvy-fighting, high seas mash-up of muddled rosemary, fresh cranberry juice, apple cider, Jamaican ginger beer and a spicy-sweet dash of cherry–chai masala bitters. $6. 150 York St., 416-363-6150.
2. Not Quite Sake-tini
JaBistro’s Spicy Celery Lime is an ideal pre-sushi aperitif for those who don’t like their cocktails sweet. Ginger syrup and celery bitters evoke long-brewed, none-too-sugary iced tea with a sharp hit of lime. $7. 222 Richmond St. W., 647-748-0222.
It’s always a little dubious when a favourite indie restaurant decides to expand with a second dining room — a bit like when a film studio announces a sequel to a great stand alone movie. Did the world really need a Grease 2? How about The Return of Jafar? So it was with a bit of trepidation that I went to visit Hoof Raw Bar, a fish-focused offshoot of Toronto’s beloved charcuterie shrine, the Black Hoof. (True, there’s already the Hoof Cocktail Bar across the road, but as it doesn’t have a full dinner menu, I’m thinking of that more like a prequel — a genre that has it own weird baggage and expectations.) Anyway, here’s my comparison of the Black Hoof and Hoof Raw Bar.
The first time I went to the Black Hoof two summers ago, it was a Thursday night and the room was so packed that my friend and I had to wait for an hour to get seats at the bar. We didn’t start eating until well after nine, but even then, more and more people were arriving at the door. There was never an empty chair, and the room was roaring with diners raving about the beef tongue sandwich and pork carnitas tacos.
I’m not sure why eating cooked blood seems so gross. Is it really any different than a meal of muscle and fat? Especially when that muscle and fat is grilled rare. Or how does it compare to a microwaved, store-bought hot dog, which is like ingesting running shoes and ground chicken beaks. But blood reminds people of scraped knees and crusty scabs and eating it seems a bit vampire/Silence of the Lambs. That is until you try it, as I did the other night.
This past week when I was in NYC, I tasted what is probably the best pizza I’ve ever eaten. My hometown of Toronto has been having a pizza boom for the past few years, with places like Libretto and Queen Margherita serving excellent, Neapolitan-style thin crusts from wood burning ovens. But, I have to admit, the Montanara Starita at Manhattan’s Don Antonio by Starita is superior. The toppings are simple: tangy-salty-sweet tomato sauce, fresh basil, and smoked buffalo mozzarella. Most of the time, I could honestly take or leave buffalo mozzarella — it’s good but I don’t understand why people drool over it. The smoked cheese here, though, really makes the dish. It’s still light and milky, but has a rich, deep flavour like a good piece of bacon. And the crust is flash fried before it’s baked, making the dough airier and the edges crispier than I’ve ever had before.
On Sunday, my boyfriend and I are hosting a fundraiser brunch at our apartment for the Toronto People With AIDS Foundation and their Friends for Life Bike Rally. We’ve done this brunch twice before and we always serve a full Caribbean meal — jerk chicken, ox tail stew, patties, ackee and saltfish, rum punch (!), plantain, rice and peas and so on. My mother is from Jamaica, so this food is near and dear to me. It’s like my mac-and-cheese or meatloaf — a deeply comforting reminder of childhood.