edible adventures from the centre of the universe

23 November 2006

Remembering Julia

Long before 30 minute meals, staggering dicketry, and semi-homemade, semi-edible cooking became the cornerstones of food television, Julia Child paved the way with coq au vin, madeleines, and petits fours. With her groundbreaking cooking show, The French Chef, Julia introduced 1960's America to fussy French cuisine with friendly, infectious enthusiasm. Without her breathless passion for the kitchen, foodie-ism and cookery would not be a multi-million dollar industry today.

I recently got my paws on a new DVD that celebrates the life of this iconic lady -- Julia Child! The French Chef. This 3-disc collection includes a 2004 documentary, Julia Child! America's Favorite Chef, as well as 12 episodes of The French Chef that were aired between 1963 and 1971 (some are in black & white). 348 minutes of Julia!

The one-hour documentary is a complete history of Julia, from her childhood to the years just before her death. In spite of its public television production, the film is very well-done with a lot of interesting tidbits that aren't widely known (particularly about her life before she met her husband Paul). A lot of Paul Child's photography is showcased, as well as images from Julia's family photo albums. Interviews with Julia's friends, experts, and the woman herself round out the experience. I found this film delightful -- it's thoughtful, funny, and even emo (I found myself tearing up at points). Highly recommended.

Once you've watched the doc, the 12 episodes of The French Chef that are included on this DVD let you get a great taste of Julia in action. Because I was too young (pre-embryonic, even) to catch any of these episodes when they first aired, the whole experience of Julia's awkward, shout-y, stumbling delivery was completely new to me with this DVD. I loved it. Her imperfections are clearly what made her show so accessible to the American public, and her raw passion makes you just want to get into the kitchen. In this collection, the episodes are shown in "menu order" (starters and sides, then mains, then desserts) -- while cute, this can be a little off-putting because the episodes are not in the order they were aired and therefore switch from colour to B&W, and back again. Nevertheless, many classics are covered (quiche Lorraine, pot au feu, brioches, coquilles Saint-Jacques, etc.), and it's always a joy to watch Julia. The discs also include printable recipes from The French Chef.

Julia Child's importance in the evolution of today's food culture should never be forgotten. This DVD collection will help any foodophile remember why he/she fell in love with cooking and eating delicious cuisine in the first place.

Bon Appetit!

05 November 2006

Review: Duke of Gloucester

In a word: Disappointing. In many more words:

After watching the hilarious Borat movie at Varsity Theatre last night, a group of 8 of us decided to go grab some food on Yonge Street. Without any particular restaurant in mind, we wandered south from Bloor and finally settled on the Duke of Gloucester (649 Yonge St) because I had heard that it's a good spot for English pub fare. After climbing a steep and narrow set of stairs, we encountered a divey-looking English-style pub and found a table large enough for our big group in a private little room in the back. The carpet is worn at the Duke, and the wallpaper is very grandmother's-living-room -- the end result is an "authentic-feeling" atmosphere.

Our waiter greeted us with menus and took our beer orders -- there's a variety of domestic and English brews on tap. As we sipped our pints, we all had trouble deciding what to order. The menu is extensive, including a lot of tasty-sounding and very British items (e.g. chip butties, steak pie, curries, fish n' chips, etc). I finally settled on the vegetable curry pot pie with mashed potatoes and veggies on the side. Other items ordered around the table included club sandwiches, steak and mushroom pie, chicken fajitas, and the daily special sandwich with the soup of the day (which we were told was sweet potato and chive).

After a wait long enough to finish our first pints, our waiter and another server began to bring the food out. Here's where the problems started: Dave had ordered a side of curry gravy for his fries and his dish was brought without it -- when he mentioned this to the server (not our original waiter), she brusquely told him that her hands were full and that it would come out later. That's fine, but she didn't have to be an asshole about it. In addition, our friend who had ordered the soup of the day was given a bowl of chicken-noodle (not the originally-promised sweet potato chive). There seemed to have been a lack of communication between the kitchen and our waiter because they were actually out of the sweet potato -- said friend settled on a salad instead after mentioning she had been looking forward to the soup.

Everyone's food was brought out except our friend who had ordered the fajitas. Our waiter did show concern about this and ended up comping the dish when it was finally brought out after the rest of us had more-than-half finished our meals.

Speaking of the meals, my curry pot pie was a dish of veggie curry, topped with a piece of puff pastry (the pastry had clearly not been baked together with the curry) -- this appears to be the definition of "pie" at the Duke because the steak and mushroom pie was done the same way. I dug in to find that my curry was cold. After a quick poll around the table, this seemed to be a problem with everyone's food. Not only was the curry cold, the puff pastry on the top was bone-dry and extremely difficult to cut. This was a shame because the curry actually tasted quite good! It had a bold tomato flavour and some nice spice to it. With some heat and better-quality pastry, this dish would have been excellent. The mashed potatoes on the side were peppery and flavourful, but the veggies were not cooked enough and were essentially raw (and also cold).

After finishing our chilly dinners, the general consensus was: "meh." Our waiter was friendly and definitely helped the situation with the comped dish, but his co-worker mentioned above was not cool. I won't be returning to the Duke of Gloucester.

4 buttless chaps out of 10


01 November 2006

Review: Utopia Cafe

In preparation for the big Rue Morgue Halloween Party this past Saturday, Dave, our out-of-town friends Ken and Yvonne, and I found ourselves in search of some belly-filling, alcohol-soaking-up tasty eats. Having just come from Kensington Market, we were near College Street and a reastaurant I had been wanting to try: Utopia Cafe (586 College St). As we stepped inside, a tiny dining room surrounding an open kitchen welcomed us. Utopia is a warm, cozy space with art lining the walls like a mini-gallery. After a very brief wait our friendly, attentive, hyperactive waiter directed us to a table and brought over menus and a carafe of ice water (I love that).

The menu offers a plentitude of delicious-sounding salads, burritos, sandwiches, and burgers. I was torn between the grilled salmon burrito (with garlic dill mayo!) and the "kissing cousins" burger. I finally decided on the latter (with a veggie patty) because I was craving fries. Dave, and Ken ordered bison burgers, and Yvonne settled on the standard charbroiled beef burger.

Our food didn't take long at all to arrive at our table. My burger was topped with a handful of crumbly goat cheese, some mint mayo, onion, lettuce, and tomato. I spread on a touch of Utopia's house-made jalapeno orange hot sauce and dug in. The (soy-based) veggie patty was nearly indiscernible from beef and the sharp, creamy goat cheese tasted amazing with the subtle mint mayo and spicy kick from the hot sauce. The mountain of fries that came with my burger were obviously cut from real potatoes and had been freshly fried to crispy-on-the-outside, fluffy-on-the-inside goodness. I could not have been more pleased. Dave, Ken, and Yvonne also enjoyed their burgers immensely.

When we had finished with our huge entrees, we were all too stuffed for dessert -- our bellies were definitely filled and ready to be assaulted by free beer at the party. At $7 to $9 per delicious plate, these meals were a great value. We will definitely be back to Utopia -- After all, I still have to try that salmon burrito!

9 pretty ponies out of 10