edible adventures from the centre of the universe

21 August 2006

Review: Chiado

To celebrate our anniversary last week, Dave and I decided to eat some seafood at the upscale and popular Portuguese eatery Chiado (864 College Street). I had heard raves about this spot and I thought, what better way to celebrate love than with delicious fish?

When we arrived for our reservation, we were escorted to a secluded table on the bar side of the resturant. The decor and art surrounding us was modern, but not so much that it felt forced and cold -- quite the opposite, actually. The room was also dimly lit, giving it a romatic vibe. We ordered a couple of cold Portuguese beers to start and dived into the fresh bread, olive oil, and black olives that had been brought to our table. The bread was perfectly dense and chewy, and the olive oil was fruity and delicious. What a great start to our meal.

Soon after, our very attentive waiter came by with a platter of fresh fish to show us the daily specials. It was weird to "meet" our dinner like that, but extremely helpful and informative. Based on the waiter's recommendations, I ordered a Portuguese fish called Black Scabbard and Dave ordered stingray (skate) for our mains. To begin, we decided to share some piri-piri shrimp and an octopus, shrimp, and lobster salad.

Before our appetizers arrived, we were brought a small amuse bouche of mild Portuguese cheese with rosemary-infused honey and a balsamic vinegar reduction. The cheese was incredibly delicate and had the texture of soft tofu. It paired perfectly with the honey and balsamic reduction, and I was left wanting more once I had finished. It was a good thing our first course came shortly thereafter.

The piri-piri shrimp were acually two of the largest shrimp I have ever seen, served with some lightly roasted vegetables and a delicious red piri-piri sauce. The sauce was light and delivered just enough kick to tingle the mouth a little bit. It was fantastic. The octopus, shrimp, and lobster salad was tossed with a gentle citrus tarragon aioli and served as a tower atop a red beet, potato, and apple base. The octopus had a meaty texture and was not rubbery at all, and the mild seafood flavours combined beautifully with the aioli. Delicious.

Next to come were our main dishes. My black scabbard was served on top of a risotto flavoured with saffron, sugar snap peas, and fresh tomato, and was finished with a pineapple and fresh herb salsa. The fish was soft and delicate, with a few crispy pieces under the skin that added a delicious, savoury, and unusual flavour -- almost chicken-like. Paired with the delectable salsa, this fish was amazing. The risotto was cooked perfectly, and the freshness of the peas and tomatos cut the richness of the rice nicely. All in all, this was probably one of the best fish dishes I had ever tasted.

Dave similarly enjoyed his skate, which was grilled to perfection: firm yet moist, with a hearty texture. It was served with a summery fresh herb and spinach risotto, and a fresh fruit salsa that contained what appeared to be mandarin orange sections. The few bites I stole from Dave's plate were divine.

We were fairly stuffed after our main courses, so we elected to share a creme brulée for dessert. It was accompanied by a light sour cherry sauce and sugar cookies, and had a nice crisp burnt-sugar top. The custard was just sweet enough, and was complimented nicely by the tartness of the cherries. We were completely sated.

Although the prices at Chiado keep it from being an everyday kind of restaurant (our bill came to $215 with tax and tip), it is fantastic for special occasions (or if someone else is buying). Dave and I definitely had a memorable anniversary meal and I would return to Chiado in a heartbeat.

10 seahorses out of 10


13 August 2006

delicious, indeed

*Photo courtesy delicious. magazine

As a complete cookbook fiend, you'd think that I'd be obsessed with food magazines also. This is not the case. I find most cooking magazines to be either too high-brow and snobby, with too many elaborate and time-intensive recipes (e.g. Gourmet, Bon Appetit), or too basic and therefore boring (e.g. Vegetarian Times). I thought I'd found an extremely happy medium with CHOW magazine, which was written with a twenty-something demographic in mind and had fun articles, photography, and recipe ideas, but CHOW was bought out by CNET after only a few issues and made into an exclusively online publication. I am a fan of Cooking Light magazine, due to its plentiful seafood and vegetarian recipes, but there's just not anything "special" about it -- it's not really visually interesting, and it doesn't generally scream "buy me!" from the magazine rack. Once CHOW ceased to exist, I thought I was done with food magazines. I was wrong.

At Pages bookstore a while ago, I came across a food publication I had never seen before -- delicious. magazine out of Australia. "Voted the world's best food magazine" it's cover declared. "That's good enough for me," I thought, as I carried it to the check-out. This magazine is designed beautifully, with gorgeous photography -- it's fantastic just to look at. If you can get past the pictures and actually read the articles and recipes, they're fantastic too. Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver, and Gordon Ramsay are regular contributors, and all recipes are presented in a fun, conversational tone. It's a delight to read. Despite the hefty pricetag that comes with subscribing to a magazine produced halfway around the world, I signed up in a jiffy.

My first issue arrived a week ago, and I found the following tasty dish in Nigella Lawson's section. The original recipe calls for pumpkin but, since it's not pumpkin season here in Canada, I substituted butternut squash. The Thai curry adds a nice comforting heat to the soft butternut, and the chickpeas contribute a satisfying textural contrast. Try this recipe out -- it's delicious, as advertised.

Aromatic Butternut & Chickpea Hotpot

1 14 oz can coconut milk
2 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 cup vegetable stock
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 large onion, finely chopped
1 tsp Thai red curry paste
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed, and cut into 3 cm chunks
2 14 oz cans chickpeas
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, finely chopped

1. Combine coconut milk, soy sauce, and stock in a small bowl.
2. Heat the oil over medium heat in a large (and deep) frying pan or pot. Add the onion, sprinkle it with some salt, and cook for about 4 minutes until soft. Add the red curry paste, and cook for a minute or so, stirring all the time. Then, add the ground cumin and coriander.
3. Turn the heat up to high, and add the butternut squash. Cook for one minute, stirring, so the squash pieces are coated with the aromatic paste.
4. Pour in the coconut milk mixture, and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer, and reduce heat to low. Partially cover the pot and simmer gently for 10-20 minutes, until butternut is soft.
5. Add the drained chickpeas, put the lid back on, and cook for another 10 minutes.
6. Stir gently, add salt, pepper, and fresh cilantro to taste.

Serve with hot basmati rice or crusty bread to soak up the liquids.

Serves 4


04 August 2006

Recipe for Disaster: Ham Mousse

There are few food items that turn my stomach as intensely as meat jello. I'm not sure why it became chic in the mid-twentieth century to combine meat and gelatin, but vintage cookbooks tend to include recipes for an alarming number of chicken- beef- and ham-based jello molds. Aside from the fact that these abominations are textural nightmares, their unnatural shapes and glossy sheens tend to invoke images of a future without hope -- a post-apocalyptic wasteland where all food comes processed, reconstituted, and pre-formed. A world where "Vegetables," "Fresh," and "Organic" have been erased from the vocabulary, newspeak-style.

I don't know about you, but I refuse to allow the Ministry of Love to force ham mousse down my throat. In rebellious solidarity, make this recipe and then burn the horrific results. We shall meet in the place where there is no darkness.

Ham Mousse

1 tbsp gelatin
1/4 cup cold water
1.5 cups chicken stock
3 cups ham, chopped
1/4 cup celery, chopped
1 tbsp onion, grated
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sweet-sour pickles, chopped
3 tbsp dill
1/2 tsp white pepper

1. Place gelatin in 1/4 cup water. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil.
2. Chill mixture. When it is almost set, add the rest of the ingredients.
3. Moisten a mold with cold water and add mixture. Chill until firm.

serves 10