Archive for September, 2011
I’ve been reading voraciously lately. Books about technical know how, business, true crime, and fiction. Considering that before recently I would read one book a year, cover to cover, it’s pretty amazing that over the last month I blew through almost 6 books. I don’t know what it is but I’ve become a real bookworm. When I pass a library or bookstore I can’t help but look in its direction and I get the sweats. It takes a lot of restraint to resist barreling into those book emporiums and leaving with a sackful of words printed on pulp.
The last few books I read were the final three books in the Harry Potter series (a welcomed escape from the work filled real world), How To Make A Serial Killer, a re-read of Headfirst HTML and CSS, and The Lady in The Lake by Raymond Chandler. Lady In the Lake was a perfect book for me as it merged my love of fiction with my well known fascination with criminology. If you’ve ever seen a film noir it’s more than likely it was influenced by Chandler’s books. The iconic private eye movies, radio serials or TV shows are the children of Chandler’s gritty Private Dick (also referred to as a “shamus”) characrter, Philip Marlowe and I thank him for writing a whole series of detective novels that I plan to dive into when time allows. I think one of the major things that has got me back into reading has been giving up my car since I moved downtown. I spend a good deal of time on public transit which gives me little bits of idle time to pop open a book and read. You can imagine how much of a goon I felt like as I toted loud-jacketed Harry Potter books around town, or the odd looks I got for having my nose stuck in a book with the word “serial killer” printed in large, bloody lettering on the front cover, but I don’t care. It beats the old “try not to make eye contact” game on the train or streetcar and makes for a much more enjoyable ride. I don’t yet have a tablet PC so I read my books the old fashioned way and, to be honest, I don’t know if I would switch. Maybe it’s because there was no public internet when I was a young boy in school and certainly no e-readers or full books to download online in the 1990s, but books on paper are awesome to me.
I recommend you read Chandler’s series of books as they are somewhat challenging but fun to read. I enjoy authors who write with a distinctive style. My all time favourite author has to be Tom Robbins and if you ever read one of his books you will know that his writing is at once insane and brilliant. Chandler’s books are full of 1940s slang and circumstance and offer a compelling look into an age past where people spoke in slang, but still somehow plainly (although I have at times had to refer to urban dictionary to figure out what the hell people were saying in some cases). Lady in the Lake is a sardonic murder mystery that reads almost like a Sherlock Holmes novel except that Marlowe is generally treated like crap by everyone he meets and doesn’t have the same finesse as Holmes, nor a bardic doctor accompanying him to record his exploits. Marlowe shows true grit and is all on his own but no less brilliant then the old Sherlock, even if his methods of solving a mystery are based more on assumptions than near superhuman deduction. I guess the closest thing to come out recently to a Marlowe novel has been LA Noire by Rockstar Games. The LA scenes seem to be pulled straight out of Chandler’s head and milieu but the way characters talk is just shy of the noire feel.
Give it a read. The book is nice and short and is a welcome treat for your commute. Who is YOUR favourite author? I’d like to get some recommendations for my next reading binge.
Farmer’s markets are a great weakness to me. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to resist spending money at a farmer’s market save one time when I didn’t have my wallet on me. It’s damned near impossible for me to resist the urge to get fruits, vegetables and bread that are easily of a higher quality than any supermarket around.
Maybe it’s something about the fresh air or the fact that the vendors sitting in their tents peddling their goods are the very people who have grown, picked, concocted or invented whatever it is they are selling, but I am a complete sucker for them. When I lived in BC farmers markets were a dime a dozen and I would always show up at the house with heaps of fresh ingredients that I would turn into a feast for myself and any one of my starving roommates who would always appear “magically” right when I got done cooking.
Today I took my lunch at the Metro Hall Farmer’s Market and, boy howdy, did I drop a nice wad of coin. Before I knew it I had a delicious burger with peameal bacon on it, bought some beef jerky and pepperoni sticks, ate a bunch of fruit including yellow watermelons and a butter tart that Kelly, who met up with me there, insisted I try. I did and it was awesome. If I wasn’t on the way back to the office I would have bought a ton of stuff. The Metro Hall market is on till Oct 16th then they are gone like the dodo till next year but I will probably get there before that with a huge backpack and a healthy appetite. My wallet is already weeping but it’ll be worth it.
Sometimes I go to the Wychwood Barn farmers market at St. Clair and Christie or the Trinity Bellwoods one and it’s not too bad with some of the same vendors as the Metro Hall one but in my opinion, Metro Hall is awesome. I’m told that there’s one at Nathan Phillips Square so I’ll be checking it out. By no means am I any kind of expert on farmer’s markets but they seem to keep finding me. I’m definitely putting someone’s kid through college just like I am doing for that guy who walks around downtown with roses. He always finds me, puckers up with a pathetic face and thrusts some roses into my hands. If you’ve ever been to Loser karaoke at Tequila Sunrise you know who I’m talking about. He keeps getting my money because 50% of the time he comes round it’s someone’s birthday or I’m with a lady. Bastard.
Ken Seto, my colleague and CEO of Massive Damage Inc, creators of a great and super fun iPhone and iPad location-based zombie killin’ game called “Please Stay Calm” has recently picked up an obsession with “bulletproof” coffee (or was it called bullet coffee?). The main ingredient apparently is “grassfed” butter and I took a look for the stuff with no success today. I thought I saw a tub off it but the vendor wasn’t sure what that was and looked at me like I was mad before handing me a piece of cheese and telling me to bugger off. If any of you have any idea what that is and where to get it let me know. I’m making it my farmer’s market quest.
No one is infallible. I’ve seen the best of us make huge mistakes no matter how convincing their air of perfection was. That being said, I find it disconcerting how we all try to correct each other as if the corrector is somehow superior to the corrected. The Oatmeal published a very irreverent and painfully accurate (if not opinionated) comic about what we SHOULD have been taught in senior year.
I’ve been a writer for years but from time to time I make mistakes, usually due to haste. When others read anything I’ve published they love to comb through it looking for minor mistakes and sometimes will find one. There are two ways in which I find and rectify a mistake. Either I proofread or someone tells me.
The first way is far more preferable, of course, and should be encouraged of any writer, but, again, everyone makes mistakes. That’s when the Grammar Nazis come knocking at my door with their Nazi accents. They tell me to cross a “t” or dot an “i” – sometimes adding “Herr Nus” at the end of sentences. The more learned ones will tell me (between mouthfuls of knackwurst) that, according to publishing standards, punctuation such as commas and periods should appear inside quotations, not out. The thing is they’re right and, if they tell it to me nicely and discreetly, I will always make the correction. But they won’t because they’re Nazis.
I do, however, appreciate the private DMs that good friends and fellow bloggers send me when they find an error and I am happy to reciprocate. Being a blogger, I don’t always have a second pair of eyes to re-edit my posts before they go out. Also being a blogger who has recently come into some extremely busy times, it’s been a struggle to get out as many posts as I used to. This week has been extraordinarily busy and I apologize for this one, lonely post.
Where, however, do we draw the line for politeness when correcting another person’s grammar, spelling or usage? I see it happen all the time where someone will be ridiculed for spelling “ridiculous” as “rediculas” or for messing up the spelling of “definitely” to the painful “definately.” I suspect that these glaring and annoying errors in the written English language come from a lack of training in the importance of root words and some gaps in vocabulary. However I think they can be easily fixed and don’t merit being called “stupid” for bad spelling.
I know a lot of very smart people who can’t spell to save their lives. No one is really born smart. That is even if someone was predisposed to be a genius, would he/she really be considered one they had not learned the fundamentals of human knowledge and prose before pushing the boundaries to eventually become the celebrated genius (or lamentable mad scientist, despot, tyrant etc.) that they were destined to be? If a “born genius” was born in a cave and never saw the light of day would that genius really become as resourceful, as creative or as bright as they are predisposed to be. Plato would argue that it would not be the case.
Therefore we must be shown the light of knowledge and help one another to learn rather than punish those of us who for, one reason or another, did not grasp a piece of knowledge the first time around. I would say that you will feel better if you helped someone learn how to spell a common word, rather than lambaste them online in great spectacle. Don’t be a Grammar Nazi.
In today’s edition of Nusgourmet I take you to e11even. Although it’s always a joy to cook at home it’s important to go out and get inspired by the creations of other great chefs to expand your repertoire of dishes or develop a new appreciation for ingredients you don’t usually work with. There’s also a lot to be said for creative uses of common ingredients that can really enhance a meal. The key to developing new tastes is to find that balance between the approachable and the edgy. When you do to a restaurant with an inviting atmosphere you’re more likely to find new appreciations for familiar flavours while opening up to unique creations from the minds of real pros.
e11even takes a very classy and delicious approach to North American cuisine with a few memorable twists on some classics – they also consider wine to be serious business. I had the pleasure of being taken on an adventure in food and wine courtesy of the great team at e11even and both heart and palette have to thank Samm (Social Media Manager), Graham (Chef de Cuisine), Jonathan (AGM and Sommelier), and of course our friendly and helpful server, Rachel, for a wonderful night.
I’d like you to join me on a recap of the superb experience we had by giving you 11 reasons to love e11even.
1. The hospitality
Straight off the bat from the moment my dinner companion, Reb, and I walked in, all the staff from the hostesses right up to the above mentioned people made us feel right at home. You have to understand that although e11even is a very posh looking place (but not so stuffy that you can’t come is as casual as you please) and is situated on some prime real estate right in Maple Leaf Square across from the Air Canada Centre AND has a wine and spirit collection that it almost dizzying, you still feel at complete ease whether you’re in the main dining room or on their new and beautiful patio. If our server was any indication of the rest of the staff there, then you’re in for service that is genuine, warm, and enthusiastic about what they put on your table, drink or dine.
2. Impeccable attention to detail
By virtue of the placement of our seats we were able to have a full view of the overhead mirror that reflects the kitchen’s finishing line where Graham is perched like a much more personable, but no less unyielding, Gordon Ramsay. We were not the only diners in the restaurant but it seemed that Graham treated each plate as if they were meant for a VIP who accepted nothing but the best. We watched as he inspected each and every dish that came out of the kitchen and even send some right back if they did not meet his standards. Each dish looked artful in its appearance and was a feast for the eyes before it ever hit my tongue.
3. Can make a proper old fashioned cocktail
Ever since I started watching MadMen I’ve gotten back into drinking old fashioned cocktails. It’s simple, elegant and really embodies the art of mixology. An old fashioned has to be mixed carefully and any imbalance in the proportions (i.e. bad bourbon, too much or too little simple syrup, a wax cherry vs an Amarena cherry) can make an old fashioned old news. I can now gauge a bar’s strength by how well they make this cocktail and e11even was just as impeccable in making our pre-dinner cocktails for us as they were at preparing food from their menu. My companion had a classic gimlet with a cucumber. It’s a forgotten art to use gin in a gimlet instead of vodka and the bartenders passed the test and made the right choice to use gin and present it beautifully in the correct glass. Based on this alone I highly recommend e11even for cocktails after work or after a game at the Skydome or Air Canada Centre. Being able to browse their wine, beer and spirits list on iPads was a nice techy touch too.
4. Fresh juice of the day
Samm told us that every day the restaurant has a new fresh juice of the day brought in and urged us to try it. The day we went, we had a concoction of strawberry vanilla melon and it was most refreshing. It’s nice little things like that which make the experience so much more pleasant, especially on a summer day. Of course the bartenders are more than happy to dream up a new cocktail that uses that juice for your enjoyment. You may just be the first person to try a cocktail not yet invented!
Just as I gauge a bar by its ability to mix a proper old fashioned I gauge any restaurant that serves steak by their ability to cook the steak right and use the best meat. I made sure to tell Graham that and he got the message loud and clear. He insisted that I try the dry aged ribeye and when Rachel asked about how I would like it cooked, I asked her to inform Graham that I will let him make that call. The kitchen did not disappoint. They know that a 14 oz steak, dry aged needed to be served up medium rare and juicy with nothing on it other than salt and pepper. I also noticed that they let the steak rest before bringing it over with some roasted garlic, grilled asparagus, mashed potatoes and artisan mac and cheese. Smart. Dear God, forgive my gluttony, but that was a damn fine steak that I won’t soon forget. Go have a steak at e11even.
6. The ambiance
Take a date here. Don’t ask why, just trust me. If you can’t make magic happen there, then nothing short of a trip to Paris will work. Enough said.
7. Everything is delicious
Reb is a very picky eater. She doesn’t usually like salmon, most seafood, cucumbers, bread that makes too many crumbs, and cereal because it gets soggy. I once lived with a guy in college that HATED cilantro and would never convert no matter how much I told him how awesome it is. One day I made my guacamole recipe and he tried it and loved it. My face turned into a s**t-eating grin when I told him that I used lots of cilantro in it and he had to accept defeat with the caveat that if one could make a dish using a disliked ingredient so delicious, then even he would accept eating it. Fast forward to our dinner a few nights ago at e11even and I could not believe that Reb was trying her hardest to stay polite and not snatch the last piece of in-house smoked salmon during appetizers before later completely disintegrating all of the huge scallops that lined her entree plate. The epicurean in me really appreciated the maple sherry bacon and what has to be the best tuna tartare I’ve had in a long while.
8. The sommeliers are the real deal
Jonathan is the Assistant General Manager and one of the two main sommeliers at e11even. He travels the world tasting wines and visiting vintners bringing back with him a wide selection of exceptional wines to add to their massive wine collection. When you walk to the restrooms you can’t help but notice the large, temperature controlled, glass walled, walk-in wine cellar. They stock wines from all over the globe and are one of the few to carry magnum sized bottles of some truly interesting vinos. The table-side iPad was very useful in browsing their extensive collection. When Jonathan joined us not only did he recommend the correct pairings but we enjoyed stories of how the wines come to be, where he got them and what to notice when tasting different types of reds and whites. it was fascinating and really made me appreciate our wines that much more. The best part was that in no way was he ever patronizing if we didn’t know something. He was only too happy to teach us where we needed teaching and looked genuinely pleased that he could bring us a little bit into his world.
We were so stuffed from our most delicious extravaganza that when dessert came we would have waved our white flags if not for the coffee. Although we ordered key lime pie, once again the kitchen wanted us to try their other signature items including a devilishly good peanut mousse and cookies and milk. Yes, you read right; cookies and milk. Simple as it comes but the cookies were fresh and warm and the milk was a carefully selected “cereal milk” that is particularly frothy and rich. I didn’t think milk could be made gourmet but I’m sure milk farmers treasure their milk varieties every bit as much as Jonathan treasures and curates his wine, so I won’t argue.
10. Let’s talk about portions
I don’t think I’m alone in feeling stupid when I go to a nice restaurant, lay down a lot of coin and get plates of food that look more like a minimalist painting out of Piet Mondrian’s sketchbook. I keep thinking of this scene from Demolition Man when I go to a restaurant and leave lighter than I arrived because of the meal and the hit on my wallet. Besides, every crappy restaurant that wants to be a fancy shmancy joint does it now and nobody is fooled. I don’t mind spending good money as long as my intelligence is not insulted with pretty looking food for pretentious birds. At e11even you really get what you pay for in terms of portions, top-notch quality and everything I mentioned above. It’s worth every penny and you will always get the best when you’re there.
e11even. Enthusiasm and pride in what they do
I think one of the main reasons we felt so at home at e11even was because everyone there seemed to love their jobs. In fact it was almost hard to imagine anyone was at work even with all the impeccable service. Rachel was prompt, energetic, personable, and would double check on everything to ensure communication lines were smooth. Samm came in on her day off to set it all up for us (and we thank her for that), tell us all about the place, its philosophy and urge us to try everything and invite friends – she wants to see you all there! She also really gets social media and it shows, just follow her on twitter and see for yourself. Jonathan was a treat to hang out with and, as talked about above, was a real pro and just loves, loves, loves his work. Graham kept sending us little surprises both from the menu as well as off-menu because he insisted we try his favourite dishes and let him know what we thought. One off-menu item he sent our way was delicious lobster sandwich amuse-bouche with homemade slaw and yukon gold fries. He was always proud and completely transparent about where they get their ingredients and we could sense how excited he was that on Sunday (the only day of the week that e11even is closed to the public) he and the staff were going on a tour of a cheese factory to further educate their palettes across the board. I commented on the right amount of cheese to put on a burger and before I left Graham challenged me to come back and try his burger on him. He’s sure he will make a convert our of me and beat the Burger’s Priest for top spot. I aim to take him up on this challenge.
Wrapping it up
If you’re not convinced by now I would be surprised. Believe it or not I was not paid to write this post, this is my honest opinion because, quite frankly, I was completely impressed with e11even. It’s a classy place with great food and the people there are beautiful and warm. You will leave happy.
The first rule of sales is that people buy from people they like. I’m sold.
15 York Street
Toronto, ON M5J 0A3