Monday, December 20, 2010

Fancy Beer

Whenever I think about fancy, imported beer, I automatically think of this Mad Men episode where Don Draper et al are trying to market Heineken as a "fancy beer".  They place it in all the suburban supermarkets and hope to lure housewives to the product.  Don's idea is to position it as being imported and avant-garde and hope that they take the bait.  Later in the week, his wife hosts this dinner party where she features a menu from around the world - including "imported German beer" for the guests.  Of course, all of Don's guests are also coworkers and they think that he's put her up to the international menu.  Don is astounded 'cause he hasn't heard a thing of the menu of that night and his guests realize the guise isn't actually that, they all chuckle at how his marketing has really effectively worked on his own wife.  He really is that good.  But, I digress. 

I would like to use this post to point out a new fancy, imported beer that will be sure to become a household name in the years to come.  

I had the pleasure of stumbling across Estrella Damm earlier this year in its home of Barcelona.  I wasn't really looking for a new beer but this one was everywhere.  There is nothing outstanding about it, but when in Spain... 

So upon returning home, I was interested to find Estrella Damm at the Toronto Gourmet Wine and Food Expo.  I had a little again but was a little more fixed in on the one I hadn't seen before - Estrella Inedit.  Now, this is where I feel that I probably am just as gullible as Don's wife, Betty (or not!).  I really can't tell you if one beer is much better than the other but I'm drawn in by the marketing of it.  There really isn't anything like it.  The Inedit is actually supposed to be darker, spicier and perfect for food pairing.  It is apparently the first beer to actually be made specifically for food pairing and table service, by a chef.  Not only that, it is served in this perfect looking wine bottle that I just had to go get, just to set on the table next to some smoked ribs I made.  As my personality would have it, I hold wine bottle up to the man working at the LCBO and explain that it is actually beer and I start a conversation with the women in line behind me - we're all impressed.  Estrella has the marketing down pat, just like Don Draper would've done.  

It is priced for a litre at $6.95 at the LCBO and is available at a large selection of stores but not all.  I have found it in Brooklin, but you may want to search out the inventory of your local store on the LCBO website.  

If you are looking for something a little different this holiday - for a fancy beer - something international to spice up your menu, this is it.  It is decadent.  And fancy.  I think. 

Friday, December 10, 2010

Christmas Cookies

In the really short period of time that I've lived in Brooklin, the local bakery - aptly named Brooklin Bakery - has changed ownership three times.  Even though it has been in Brooklin for decades, there was a period of time where I avoided it completely.  The last thing that I ever hope to see in a small-town bakery is mass produced baked goods.  Thankfully, the provisions and ownership has changed again and I am happy to have visited the bakery more in the past few months than I have in the past few years.  Maybe I've visted too much, maybe I should take cue from the free shortbread they gave me this morning.  But, without it, I would not have my inspiration for this update for you.

'Tis the season to be invited to way too many potlucks, parties and opportunities at the office for ridiculous amounts of sugar.  It is sometimes hard to know what to bring where, again avoiding mass produced items.  So, let me tell you about chocolate shortbread.  Have you tried it before?  I had never even heard of it until today.  There it was - small and sweet and drizzled with white, this dark chocolately cookie is simply too decadent to ignore this season.  I wish I had taken a photo of it, but I finished it off so quickly that I didn't have time to even think about it. 

I've had my fair share of different kinds of cookies and pastries but this one is new to me, you will enjoy it too.  You will also bring something 'new' to the table if you are in need of a decadent treat.  They are sold for $3.49 per half-dozen.  Or, you can opt for the regular Christmas cookies and shortbread, a little smaller in size, priced at $1.99 per half-dozen.  Either way, with the price of Walker's Shortbread, I guarantee these cookies are a steal and far more unique.  This is not to mention the fresh pies, bread and croissants on offering (the BEST cheese croissants that I've found within kilometers) - the Brooklin Bakery is back and more decadent than ever!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Basic Burger

One thing that has never been lacking in Durham are burgers.  Plain, old, homemade, greasy burgers.  They seem to be everywhere.  Starr Burger usually comes up in burger-related conversations, and another place called Pete's Big Bite, Wimpy's in Whitby is a familiar one.  The Rainbow in Oshawa is an oldie but goodie too, their burgers are huge and each venue seems to be reasonably good!  There is also a new place in Ajax, operated under the New York Fries chain, called South Street Burger Co. which has an abundance of cheeses and toppings, with the New York Fries selection of fries to accompany them.  There really isn't a void for a good place, franchised or not.  This is where it comes down to quality and value.

My favourite for a quality burger at a great value is Shake, Rabble and Roll.  It is a new place that has been only open for a year or less on Dundas St. in Whitby.  It is in an old familiar location under completely new ownership that has great classic car nights in the summer.  They have a few types of burgers that are all homemade including one with cheese and bacon baked right in - but I prefer and would recommend the original burger with those toppings on top.  If you feel like something extra, they have some Greek platters as well, with a full Kawartha Dairy bar right onsite.  The service (as far as fast food places go) merit a little wait but it is due to the fresh food they are preparing for you, right to order.  You will see them start it right when you order, and the staff are lovely people!  I often drop in, in the evening for one of their combos featuring a burger, pop and poutine.  It is less than $10 and I can guarantee that it actually feeds two people.  My husband, who has no problem polishing off a Big Mac Meal, will agree.  When I don't feel like sharing, the poutine is large enough for me when I'm not so much in the burger mood.  Yep, I have a burger mood. 

It also stands out with its atmosphere and comfort - I've visited in the summer with my dog and sat at the picnic tables outside and settled into a booth for an evening of greasy food and laughter with girlfriends, it really is whatever you want it to be.  The owners have done a great job with the retro-diner decor (complete with Elvis and Marilyn) and the food is really quite decadent!  Maybe decadent in a greasy, fat-filled way, but definitely decadent!  What more can you be looking for in a burger joint?  What it all comes down to is the fact that the prices are amazing, the portions are gigantic and the atmosphere is one that I want to linger in.  This burger joint stands out, apart from the abundance of similiar sounding places you will find in Durham.  Next time you feel like a burger with a little extra, enjoy Shake, Rabble and Roll.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Brunch of the Gods

The title may be a little overzealous but what else do I call it?  After over three years of Durham living and countless weekends spent searching for the perfect brunch spot - one has been found!  Not to say that there aren't a few decent breakfast places, or a few standby greasy spoons.  But, this has been a really joyous occasion for me.  It doesn't take much to keep this foodie happy.  I had a whole other blog entry planned and could do a whole other one on breakfast... but this is neither.  A special thing happened this morning to throw a wrench into my plans.  I also secretly vowed to avoid mentioning a certain trio of restaurants that are very popular in this area because it has been done.  Everyone loves them, I know, I just wanted to tell you something unique in this blog and I guess I have my angle of uniqueness to break that vow.

The Brock House has delivered.  I've visited a few times for some appetisers or a meal, it is close to home and carries a great atmosphere, but it is one piece of decadence that they've wowed me with.  Yes, their brunch.  I thought of their block-lettered sign when I woke up this morning and checked out their website for specifics, the date and time was correct, so I headed out to try it on the 4th Sunday since they debuted their Fresh Market Marche.  It is a brunch buffet with all the trimmings.  The features are set to change regularly but I can tell you they have everything you need for a decadent weekend midday meal. 

On the menu are the old favourites - bacon, eggs and toast, bagels, some English bangers and of course a make-your-own-omelet station.  Crepes, check, waffles, check, fruit compote as a garnish.  And, a meat carving station which today featured a stuffed pork roast.  This roast also made me go against my "no pork other than bacon" rule just so I could taste the stuffing (with apples) that my partner in crime raved about.  It was good.  They have something really good going here.  Not only that, but they added some real creativity to the mix.  As I made my way down the buffet, I also discovered seafood paella, veal and chicken Parmesan, broccoli au gratin and their famous cheddar mash.  Further discussion with our server confirmed that these are the items that will change but I can only anticipate what they will bring out next.  One of the highlights of this brunch buffet has to be the inhouse pizza oven which they use to full advantage with a make-your-own-pizza station as well.  What else could you ask for of a weekend meal?  Big plates?  They have those too.  Gigantic ones.  A little unnecessary but certainly useful.

I have determined that this will not be my last brunch at The Brock House.  Not only because I skipped out on the chocolate fountain this time but because it delivers where no other brunch restaurant in Durham has.  Compared to the city, it is hardly unique but it is definitely unique to Durham.  It offers quality, atmosphere and selection in a way that hasn't been done here before.  This new find can only be successful with their weekend decadence. 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Short and Sweet

This is a truly decadent find and is also in line with my last post - touching on a little Italian gourmet.  It is fruity, very sweet wine, probably appealing to those who enjoy a good late-harvest, ice-wine or a sweet White Zinfandel - but with lots of bubbles! 

I was very excited to discover it but a quick Google search already yielded quite a following of its own internationally.  The first place I tasted Rosa Regale pink, sparkling, fruity wine was at an Olive Garden of all places.  It was delicious but I dismissed it, partially because of the wine list I found it on.  I've since "found" it again on Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines in their Portofino fine-dining restaurant on-board, and since learned that it has been featured during the Epcot Food and Wine Festival (one of my favourites!) in the Italy Pavilion.  So, it is quite popular as a unique Italian wine.  However, I also have learned it is a little hard to find for us outside of Toronto.

The only LCBO store within Durham to feature Rosa Regale is the new location at the corner of Salem and Taunton in Ajax.  It is in the Vintages section of the store in the back, right hand corner.  At the LCBO, you will find they only sell the short, half-bottle size (375 ml) and it is priced at $14.95 which is a little lower than it originally debuted at here in Canada.  The item number is #179358 which you may need, if you can't find it on the shelf. 

This is the perfect sparkling wine for the Holiday season and goes well with dark chocolate, dessert or brunch.  Use it for some seasonal celebrating or as a welcome hostess gift.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tiramisu: Better than Italy

I'm almost surprising myself here a little when the first little Durham gem I decide to post is an Italian one.  I'm not the biggest pasta or pizza fan and I feel that my own recipes outshine any Italian franchise I can find, but this locally owned Italian restaurant in Oshawa takes a big nod from me for just outdoing itself in flavour.  At least, I'm pretty sure it does - based on the carbonara that I keep ordering.  I've promised my friend Amanda, who introduced me to Avanti Trattoria, that I'll try something else from the entree menu but you just can't beat that prosciutto and cream sauce. 

This restaurant brings so much flavour to every meal.  They offer delicious Valpolicella red wine on their list, imported Trucillo espresso and imported Parmesan cheese and although I'm bursting at the seams by the end of every meal at Avanti - I doubt there is any tiramisu better than their tiramisu.  I've tried it, tried it and tried it again, most recently before the trip to Italy I took returning just three weeks ago.  With every bite of Avanti's recipe, one wonders if it tastes this good in Italy.  I was sure it did.  On a previous stop in Rome albeit several years ago, the tiramisu I remembered seemed to have that same melt in your mouth quality.  So, I put it to the test again.  And, I was shocked.  Their tiramisu is better than the one in Italy!  Is it possible?  Maybe I didn't go to a good tiramisu place there?  I don't know... You will have to be the judge.  I just can't wait to visit the King Street, Oshawa location and fill them in on what I've learned.

I don't know for sure, but I hear that they use an old family recipe.  Either way, this quality can't be denied - it is absolutely decadent.  Avanti offers tiramisu better than you can find in Italy... or at least pretty close...

Monday, November 15, 2010

Finding Decadence in Durham

I am a foodie, kind of.  I live in Durham, Ontario. 

If you are reading this blog, I'm sure you are familiar with the little pocket of communities just a little east of the City of Toronto.  Close enough to get a little culture but far enough away that it is sometimes hard to find enough of that culture here in the outskirts.  Most Durham communities are "bedroom ones", where commuters into the city find themselves in the evenings and on weekends - often missing some of the great cuisine one would find during the weekday lunches and corporate gatherings.  This leads to a vast number of foodie sites and restaurant review sites with unanswered forum posts about Durham: "Where do I find great Mexican food in Oshawa?", "I'm moving to Brooklin, are there any great dining spots around there?"  If you Google these posts, you'll find the same handful of restaurants mentioned again and again and once you've dined there, where do you dine?  I am hoping to fill that void, even just a little.  Not only that, I am looking for suggestions - unique ones.

When I say that I am foodie, kind of.  I am.  I do have to warn you though, I feel there is a great deal to do with being a foodie outside of fine wine and $50 steaks.  Don't worry, I will "go there" too but I will explore greasy little joints and grocery store items that bring a little decadence to my life in Durham. 

I often find neither as I visit restaurant after restaurant as part of a part-time job I find myself working.  None of them are decadent.  I will eat, pay the bill, and not return again unless I'm paid to do so - I review to make sure they are presenting themselves the way they should.  They offer quantity, value and sometimes high prices - but no decadence and not a lot of "heart".  There are too many dining establishments around like this. 

What is decadence?  I think it has everything to do with quality and luxury.  Sometimes the two go hand in hand and sometimes they don't.  To me, finding decadence makes life feel luxurious wherever you find it.  I can compare it to having recently ate gelato at the Cafe de Paris in Monaco but I can also compare it to driving a half hour for a good, cheap dozen of farm fresh eggs. 

So, that is the decadence I'm looking for.  Some luxury, some quality, sometimes both - here in Durham.  When I find it, I want to share it.  I hope you enjoy it!