The Tulip Steakhouse

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tulip exterior

When you think of a steak dinner, the first thing that comes to mind would probably either be the word “fancy” or “expensive”, depending on your outlook on things and your social standing.  It makes sense: meat is valuable, and steaks are made up of the best, most choice cuts of meat.  To go along with the price of the meal, expensive restaurants usually lavish up everything: chandeliers light up the whole place, a small fortune of candle wax is used to illuminate each table, an expensive band is hired to play Beethoven’s Symphonies on their orchestra, the guests wear ornate ballroom masks [the kind that cover up your face], and all the waiters look like Batman’s butler Alfred.  Because of the fancy decor, the restaurant can then ram the prices through the roof, allowing in only the city’s most elite and rich clientele, which I’m sure the Freemasons and Illuminati of our society enjoy during all of their social dinners, because it perfectly encapsulates the classism in their ways.

Okay…. I may have let my imagine run a little bit there.  Truth is, I’ve never been inside a five-star restaurant–of any cuisine–and I don’t really know what they’re actually like [although I’m sure candle wax is quite expensive].  I’ve also never been in a steak restaurant before, indeed, I’ve never eaten steak before.  The closest I’ve experienced would be either ribs, different types of grilled meats or maybe gourmet hamburgers.  Meals that are certainly not, by any means, close to the level of a proper, certified steak.

tulip interior

The Tulip is an interesting place for steak-newbies to try out, then.  The place certainly doesn’t look like its high-end enough to serve proper steak: there’s no fanciness to the aura, the location itself is far away from Toronto’s financial district, and it doesn’t even remotely resemble a half-backed dystopian novel with heavy-handed themes about class divide.  In fact, The Tulip is rather plain-looking: like a diner which has a laissez-faire way of living up to its name by having a few floral paintings and the odd plastic flower lying about.  The seating area looks well-used and unassuming–but clean–and is accompanied by a nice little bar for those wishing for a pub-like atmosphere.  It’s very similar to a diner, in fact, The Tulip kinda is a diner, except when it’s not.  This place is kind of hybrid restaurant, and like those cars that run on both gasoline and electricity, it can go either way.  If you want to enjoy a coffee and all-day breakfast, you can come here.  If you want a nice, deluxe steak and house wine, you can come here as well.

tulip tenderloin

Mom’s tenderloin with broccoli

As one could tell, we can here to eat the steaks, and I was looking forward to the first one of my 19 years of living.  I ordered a Medium Top Sirloin [not medium-rare: medium] and I took the option of replacing the usual veggies and potatoes with spaghetti and tomato sauce, because it was strangely offered on the menu, and I figured they wouldn’t offer a combination that odd if it didn’t work out somehow.  My mom had the medium rare tenderloin with a side of mushrooms.

 

Before the big entrees, we were treated to a complimentary plate of buttered bread, much in the same way they do in the restaurants that [I imagine], those elitist, creepy ballroom mask-wearing people go to.  It was a pretty good appetizer: warm, very fresh and an all around bread-lover’s delight.  The crust had just enough resistance to be nice and firm, but didn’t hurt when you bit into it.  The inside was generously lathered in butter, and the bread itself was light with a full-bodied taste.  Pretty good way to start a meal, before the actual meal-part came to our table.

tulip bread

To start, the potions served here are quite generous.  Steak is very rich, and also can only be safely chewed in smaller mouthfuls, so the amount on our plates was quite enough.  And believe me, I’m the kind of person who usually feels mildly disappointed by a restaurant’s portion sizes.  The sirloin was visibly quite juicy, and surrounded by its own pleasant little bath of beefy water.  It had a very light char on top, just enough to give a gentle crunch to the overall texture, and did not in the slightest way taste burnt.

tulip spagetti

My sirloin and spaghetti

The meat itself had extraordinary flavour, one that was aromatic, multi-layered and plentiful in its dimensions.  Unlike a lot of meals, it kept giving off flavour as one keeps chewing, inviting you to take long, slow bites.  And that’s a good thing, because the texture itself was quite easy, with enough resistance to be toothy, but enough give to be comfortably edible.  It had the taste of fatty steak, but the texture of a lean steak: the best of both worlds.  All of this was accented by a light seasoning of salt and freshly grated pepper.

tulip medium rare

As for the medium rare tenderloin, I very much enjoyed the way that The Tulip treats their rawer meat.  There was just a mild bit of salt, and every bit as much taste as the sirloin, except contained in itself more with less juice overflowing.  The raw parts were soft and buttery, almost melting in your mouth.  It was a very relaxing dish to eat.

Both steaks were cut to avoid any of those unpleasant veins of fat, which I greatly appreciate because I find fat clumps impossible to fully chew.  They were also drained of all blood, also cleaning up any possible messes that those can make.  The steaks themselves were clearly select cuts, based on the quality and flavour of them.  Now that I’m 19 [Ontario’s drinking age], I recommend the steak with a beer of your personal choice.

tulip mushrooms

The mushrooms were pretty well-cooked, although there isn’t much one can really do to mess up mushrooms.  They might need to be salted or peppered to your own taste.  As for the broccoli, I quite liked how it was cooked: just enough to give it more flavour, but still allowed to keep its crunch.

tulip getti

Okay, now the part that you were waiting for: the spaghetti, how was it?  Surprisingly unique.  The pasta itself was nice and just the right amount of al dente, giving the kind of firm texture that you wish for when eating spaghetti.  As for the sauce, it was creamy and a little bit peppery.  It was seasoned with a tingling blend of assorted, Italian herbs.  The overall dish could be described as bright and cheery.

tulip chocolate cake

For dessert, I chose The Tulips’ “famous chocolate cake”.  As a genuine chocolate hound, and amateur connoisseur, I have some high standards for anything chocolate based.  While I like sweetness, I prefer if the dominant taste is actually chocolate, not sugar: I prefer a bitter dark chocolate over anything too sugary.  I also like cakes that have layers, and very rich and moist, with the icing designed to give another layer of chocolate flavour, instead of over-saturating with sweetness.  Above all, I want the cake to be heavy, but light to chew, packed with flavour and overall filling.  Fortunately, The Tulip managed to hit all of those marks.  Their cake was truly quite delicious.

tulip bleach

As for the service, I found it quick and unobtrusive, as well as mildly polite.  My mom found it cold because of the lack of small talk.  I say it’s up to you to decide which sounds more like your style: professional or engaging.  While I felt comfortable in the atmosphere, I’m also used to old, neighbour diners.  If you don’t like that kind of setting, let me just say the food far outperforms the decor.  The only complaint I would have is they cleaned something up with bleach during our meal, although I’m not sure quite what that was or how urgent it was.  The smell passed away rather quickly, but not before making its presence known.

When it comes to the pricing of a restaurant, I have kind of funny way of reviewing it.  Given that I’m a cheap skate, I always consider if something is too expensive or just not worth what you’re paying.  But, and I feel like this is different from how many professionals do reviews, I don’t consider anything to be too cheap, or the decor too tacky, as long as the food is good.  If you’re looking for a high-end steak restaurant so you can feel super fancy and spend as much money as possible–say, if you managed score a date with a Hollywood actor by convincing him/her that you’re rich, and want to see if you can fake it till you make it–this is not the place for you.  If you want a cheap or moderately priced meal, then… then you’re not going to be having steak.  But if you want to treat yourself to a nice, quality steak dinner–one that’s satisfying and won’t set you back more than is necessary–The Tulip is a good location to have that occasional, carnivorous treat.

The Tulip Steakhouse 1606 Queen St E

The Tulip Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Nando’s Chicken

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nandos beaches

Once upon a time, the world was huge and seemingly never ending in its scope.  There was always some foreign, unknown land waiting just on the other side of the horizon.  Cultures were spread out, isolated, and only truly knew their closest neighbours.  Now, in our age of jet planes and the internet, the world seems smaller, more networked and multicultural than ever.  Maybe that’s how we got such interesting things as Nando’s Chicken: a Portuguese chicken restaurant that started in South Africa and soon became a global sensation.

peri peppers

When visiting a Nando’s restaurant, one word you’ll probably notice a lot it “peri peri”.  Peri peri is a type of small, red chili pepper–a variation of the African Bird’s Eye, to be exact–that is grown in South Africa, Mozambique, Malawi and other African countries.  It may seem somewhat off-putting to some restaurant goers, to see a place put so much emphasis on a hot pepper, but rest assured, Nando’s is not trying to assassinate your taste buds.  Nando’s definitely caters better to people who like spice because it enhances the flavour of the meal, and might disappoint those who get some kind of masochistic pleasure out of bathing their mouths in pure, concentrated hellfire.

spicy food meme

Indeed, spice is a difficult thing to please people with.  Many foodies have a low tolerance for spice, and rightly find it hard to enjoy something that has them reaching for the glass of water after every bite.  Other people, like myself, eat spicy food regularly, and find too little seasoning makes things bland and cool.  And then there’s the masochists, who carry hip flasks of Sriracha everywhere they go, took the Ghost Pepper challenge on a dare, and will complain if their meal doesn’t give them hallucinations of Satan laughing at their face.  It’s a tricky balance.  How do you make sure to add just the right amount of spice for your guest?

Simple.  Make the customer do it themselves.  Nando’s does this in two ways, and the first is admittedly an old trick taken from pretty much any Mexican or BBQ place.  When you order your chicken, you get a choice of how hot, on a scale of: mild [the classic Peri Peri seasoning without heat], Lemon and Herb [replaces heat with tang], medium [normal heat], hot [try it if you like fire], and extra hot [try it only if you’re the kind of person who would willingly let a Tarantula Hawk Wasp sting you, just to see what it feels like*].  After you choose the spiciness of your chicken, Nando’s has a table full of each of their hot sauces, for you to take and compare for yourself.  I recommend taking one of each and trying them all!  That’s what I did, and I’ll write the results down below.

*Yes, someone actually did that.  It’s on YouTube.

nandos sauces

Nando’s has four hot sauces for customers to try: medium, hot, extra hot and garlic.  They also have different types of salad dressings, which I didn’t try because of an excuse I have yet to come up with.  The hotter a sauce is, the darker it is in colour, helping to distinguish them if you’re too lazy to read the label.  All of the sauces have distinctive undertones of both smokiness and acidity, and noticeably lack either overwhelming heat or sweetness.  This complements the Peri Peri chicken, which brings its own smokiness in the form of light char from the grill.

Medium: has the most acidity of all the sauces, and also the mildest heat.

Hot: a good balance between Medium’s sauciness and Extra Hot’s pepperyness.  I personally found this the best sauce, because to me it had the most “classic” Peri Peri flavour.  Slightly hotter than medium.

Extra Hot: you can definitely taste more of the pepper flesh in this sauce, giving it a light bitter taste to it that I liked.  Not nearly as spicy as the name implies, it merely tasted different from the other sauces, not hotter.

Garlic: very, very garlicy, but with just enough pepper to balance it, creating a tantalizing blend aroma and spice.  The heat is on level with Extra Hot.  If your dining partner doesn’t like this sauce, they have a 43.7% chance of being a vampire.  Just so you know.

Okay, so that’s that for the sauces, the condiments of the food.  What about the actual food itself?  Hang on, hang on, we’re getting to that.

The Food

nando quarter chicken

I had two quarter chickens–both with the leg and thigh–with a side of Peri Peri wedges and side of veggies.  I had the two quarters because of a coupon deal; I recommend just getting the half chicken, it’s cheaper just to pay for another side.  My mom had the chicken skewers.  My chicken was medium-hot, hers was given the lemon and herb treatment.

When it comes, the chicken is hot off the grill, but cool enough to eat.  It has been cooked to the perfect amount, with its outer skin bearing a light, delicate grid of char, and the inner meat is nearly bursting for how juicy it is.  The skin is tender and rubbed in the spice rub of your choosing, infusing the whole piece  with multiple layers of spice and heat.  The skewers get a similar treatment, but the meat is noticeably dryer.  Still tender and quite delicious, but if you prefer your chicken wetter, get it on the bone.

nandos veggie side

As for the sides, Peri Peri wedges come in the biggest proportion, which is great because Nando’s can be a little bit stingy when it comes to filling your plate.  The potatoes are fresh, hand cut, plump and mildly seasoned with salt and Peri Peri pepper.  They are useful for trying out the hot sauces, although the chicken allows you to explore more of the heat and overall flavour.  This is a good side to get: similar to french fries, but meatier and more interesting.

The veggies are mostly large pieces of bell pepper, with some smaller bits of zucchini and onion.  The whole blend sits in a wet sauce that douses the veggies in a backnote of the Peri Peri sauce, so you can experience the Nando’s signature throughout your meal.  The veggies are stewed just to the point that they are no longer crunchy, allowing them to retain most of their toothiness and freshness.  The onions have been treated so that they no longer taste raw, making them a comforting addition to the blend instead of something jarring and painful.

There are two more things I want to mention.  First, be it the chicken or the side dishes, stay warm for a really long time, almost unnaturally so.  One thing you should know about me, is that I am a notoriously slow eater.  I usually end a meal eating something that went cold, so I greatly enjoy when my food retains at least some of its original temperature.

nando chicken skewer

Secondly, I have something kind of negative to say.  Well I can say many great things about Nando’s, one thing you will not hear anyone say is that they are generous with their food.  Don’t get me wrong, the food is rich, flavourful and plentiful enough so that you don’t feel ripped off, but the portions are a little on the small side.  If you’re someone like me, and have a high metabolism, Nando’s might not fill you as much as other places.  If you eat really quickly, forget it.  The chicken is pretty well-portioned, but side dishes are noticeable smaller.  In that regard, Nando’s is pretty similar to Popeye’s, as far as portion control goes.

Decor

nandos interior

Given that Nando’s is a chain, the decor differs from place to place.  They don’t have the uniform consistency of most chain restaurants, like–for instance–McDonald’s [which is good because I hate McDonald’s].  One place may be bright, spacious and social, another could be smaller, dimmer and more intimate.  Regardless, colourful artwork is displayed, depicting various aspects of Portuguese and South African culture, and African classic rock plays over the radio.  The decor is just radiant enough to give the restaurant character, but not to the point of being distracting.  The walls do not confuse the eye, the music does not deafen the ears, but it is enough to remind you that you are sitting in a Nando’s, instead of–say–a McDonald’s.  Which is good.  Because you should hate McDonald’s.

hate mcdonalds meme

Other considerations

Both of the times I have been to a Nando’s restaurant, the service has been polite and fairly quick to deliver your food.  One thing that is a little odd with Nando’s is how you order.  Even though they have wait staff and all that, customers read the menu and place their order at the counter, like you would at a fast food place.

Free refills!  Any drink or frozen yogurt you get has infinite free refills, so you can pig out to your heart’s content, or at least until the manager arrives to inform you that you emptied all the reserves.  Also, Nando’s uses those do-it-yourself beverage machines like the kind at Subway and Mc-Awful’s, so you can create whatever fanciful, strange, horrible concoction you desire.  I like adding small shots of various flavours until I get a combination I really like, and forget because there are over a twenty different ingredients.

nandos condiment station

The prices are alright, a little expensive for a cheapskate like me, but definitely affordable.  If the portions were bigger, I would even say they’re downright reasonable.  As long as you go into Nando’s expecting to be satisfied with a variety of flavour, and not by stuffing your face, you’ll be happy.

Final Review

Nando’s is a unique chain restaurant of spicy, radiant grilled chicken that focuses on its patented style of cooking with the Peri Peri hot pepper.  Its music and colourful decor add vibrancy to the place, but are not powerful enough to distract or overwhelm the diner.  Food here is leaning towards the expensive side–especially when considering portion size–but they are still reasonable.  The emphasis here is on flavour over pure heat or large portions.  One should evaluate their expectations before coming to Nando’s.  If you’re looking to have your head blown off with heat, or eat to the point of being full and taking the leftovers home with you, then you’ll be disappointed.  If you’re looking for a meal with an original, diverse palate of wonderful spices, and warm, juicy chicken, then Nando’s is the place for you.

Nandos Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Nando’s Chicken 617 Danforth Avenue  or  1968 Queen Street East

 

Brontosaurus was a Real Dinosaur

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bronto burger

What?  Why is there an article about dinosaurs on a food blog?  Let alone a food blog that’s been inactive for over a year?  Well, I’m back, as I wrote in the aptly named post, I’m Back.  This is a continuation of a very old, very brief, article I wrote about the Brontoburger from The Flintstones cartoon.  The post in question is titled, The Real Brontoburger.  That was another continuation of a post I made that listed fictional foods I wanted to be real.  Dinosaur hamburgers were on that list.  So, this whole thing ties into food somehow, just tangentially.  If you haven’t noticed by now, my blog is very tangential.

Despite being under 200 words long, there are two glaring factual errors in my old dinosaur post.  One of them was my own fault, the other only became an error after scientists changed their minds about something.  First off, one of the pictures used in that post is very outdated.  The photo I used looks like an early 20th century reconstruction of a brontosaurus, from a time when everybody thought that dinosaurs dragged their tails.  For a long time, people thought that dinosaurs were basically giant lizards, and depicted them as slow-moving, dim witted beasts with droopy tails and scaly skin.  As more bones were discovered, people discovered that dinosaurs were more closely related to modern birds than other reptiles, and their behaviour may have been similar to that of mammals.  [think Jurassic Park instead of Godzilla].  Paleontologists today have a far better collection of fossils, so we now know that dinosaurs actually held their tails in the air, like this.

Image - Apatosaurus skeleton.jpg | Dinosaur King | Fandom ...

This is the skeleton of Apatosaurus, Brontosaurus’ relative

Another thing that picture shows is how most animals are known from incomplete bone records.  If you look at the top image, that’s how many Apatosaurus bones we’ve actually found and recorded.  Or, at least how many were known in Scott Hartman’s time: the Dark Ages of 2006, 1 year before the first iPhone came out.  Paleontologists frequently have to reconstruct entire creatures out of mere fragments, and they often have to change things when a new piece of evidence comes to light.  That is where the Brontosaurus comes in, and the confusing turmoil that surrounds whether or not it was even real.

dinosaur meme

When Brontosaurus was first discovered–by Othniel Charles Marsh–it already had trouble being recognized as its own species.  Marsh’s contemporaries thought that he had just found a smaller specimen of Apatosaurus, Bronto’s relative.  Later, scientists looked back on Marsh’s fossils, and found that he mixed up the bones of different species.  He had the skull of a Camarasaurus–another sauropod–in with the Brontosaurus bones.  To this day, we don’t have an actual Bronto skull, and have to model its head off of what we know about it “Surely that does it!”, everyone said, including myself, “This is the final nail in the coffin. Brontosaurus?  More like FALSE-osaurus!  Hah!”

Recently, paleontologists decided to return to those old bones.   They found subtle differences in the ribs and vertebrae from what was known about Apatosaurus.  Those differences were enough to classify Brontosaurus as a separate species, the same way that wolves are different from coyotes.  And that’s that, argument over, and there was forever peace among paleontologists and dinosaur fans.

triceratops vs toro

HAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHHA.  No, there’s still chaos.  I mean, no one’s arguing over Brontosaurus anymore, but there are plenty of things that dinosaur people argue about.  No one can tell if Triceratops was a real dinosaur, or just a juvenile form of Torosaurus.  Paleontologists have a long standing grudge against Jurassic Park for not giving the Velociraptors feathers, when frankly, it would make them look cooler and more accurate.  Celebrity paleontologist Jack Horner is insistent than T. rex was a scavenger, although I think he just likes p!ssing everyone off by calling their favourite dinosaur a wimp.  Also, maybe T. rex had feathers.  Or maybe it didn’t.  No one knows.  But at least we know one thing: however inaccurate The Flintstones was in its depiction of prehistoric life, at least it always knew that Brontosaurus was a really dinosaur.

velocoraptor feathers

P.S. if you want to eat a real dinosaur hamburger, just get yourself a chicken burger.  Birds are actually classified as dinosaurs, because they evolved from a dinosaur ancestor named Archaeopteryx, which lived in the Mid-Jurassic.  Specifically, birds are Therapods, which makes them distant cousins of meat-eating dinosaurs like T. rex and Velociraptor.  Unfortunately, chickens are about as close to Bronosaurus as Humans are to Kangeroos: the only similarity is that we’re both mammals, and they’re both dinosaurs.   Bird meat is probably very different than the flesh of a Sauropod, including taste and texture.  But hey, they say that chicken tastes like everything right?

tastes like chicken meme

Sources

1, An Illustrated History of Dinosaurs, [2017, Oct 30th], PBS Eons, retrieved 2018, March 1st, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDnQmBFxIfE

2, Herkewtiz, W., Brontosaurus Is Back: New Study Says the Dino is Real After All, [2015, April 7th], Popular Mechanics, retrieved 2018, March 1st, https://www.popularmechanics.com/science/animals/a14948/the-brontosaurus-is-back/

3, Choi, C., The Brontosaurus Is Back, [2015, April 7th], Scientific American, retrieved 2018, March 1st, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-brontosaurus-is-back1/

I’m Back

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So, I’ve always been a bit… flaky, when it comes to uploading on this blog.  But this time gap is just ridiculous: a whopping 18 MONTHS!  As I’m sure you could tell, there came a point where I figured that I would stop writing on this blog, and so much time had passed that posting a final “goodbye” post would have been pointless.  Besides, I had no real “reason” to stop writing my food blog, I just didn’t have a lot of time on my hands and eating out is expensive.  Besides, I was still regularly posting on my Autism blog.

But, maybe it is time to bring back this blog as well.  Apparently, during those 18 months of my absence, this blog still managed to earn 30 hits a day!  While I know there are blogs that are much bigger than mine, I never thought something I made would even get to that degree.  Honestly, it’s the reason that I’m bringing callumeatstoronto back, because people are still reading it.  So, to my subscribers who regularly read my posts, thank you.  Thank you very much.  You’re the reason that I’m still writing on this blog.

I will try to post on this blog once a month.  Obviously, I’ll be sticking to food reviews, but I’d like to work on some non-restaurant food-related posts as well, and wrap up some of the old food series I was doing.  There’s one post in particular that I’ve been wanting to update for years…

So, this is just a heads-up: callumeatstoronto is now an officially active blog, again.  I already have a short list of restaurants I’d like to write about, and one of which I’ll cover for my March review.  There’s also that update post I need to make, which coincedentally has absolutely nothing to do with food.

Thank you again, to all the people who read my blog.  Even if it’s just one quick look on the internet to see if a restaurant is worth eating at, those kinds of hits add up.  Because this blog has gained traction, it was and will continue to be irresponsible of me to not continue improving upon it.  I just hope I don’t let you guys down again.

Christmas Update

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krampus

Season’s greetings! Merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, joyous Kwanza and Bah Humbug! This post is a quick update so you can make sure I’m still alive and was definitely not dragged to hell by the Krampus. Here’s a link that explains what the Krampus is https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krampus. Sure, one could question if this is truly a blog if the writer has to post “I’m still alive” updates on a regular basis, to which I would ask if it’s truly a democracy if the electoral college decides the vote.

santa-beach

I won’t be particularly active in my blogs during the holidays. Not that I’m against hiring underpaid servants to get my next post up, but all the elves are working for some greedy reindeer farmer named “Santa Claus”. So, I won’t post again on either blog until next year. I’ve had longer hiatus.

 

There is a review in the works, but it’s not a time sensitive one so I wanted to put it up after Hannuk/ristmas. For this post, I could talk about how crazy the holiday season gets and rattle on about my personal life, but that’s boring so let’s talk about New Year’s instead.

trump-cartoon

It’s kinda hard to talk Christmas when 2016 keeps rearing its ugly, Brexit-laden head. Even though things went great in my personal life, it was tough for the world at large and, I hate to say, prejudice and corruption prevailed. I went on a tangent here, which included Trump, sweeping generalizations about the american populace and a Death Note reference–it was bad.

santa-rudoldph-movie

Instead I’ll only say this: just let things go for the holidays. Avoid talking politics around the Christmas dinner table, if you’re like me and have to vent about something, there are less depressing subject matters. Why not talk about how much of a douche Santa is in the Rudolph movie, cause he totally was right?

festivus

New Year’s is a time to reminisce, it’s also a time to look forward. If last year sucked, then “Throw cares away” to quote Carol of the Bells. We don’t need any of the crap from last year, no work, no philosophy, no Trump. Just stuff that matters, so we can enter twenty seven-frickin-teen with bright faces. Merry Festivus, and I’ll see you in the new year.

Cool Runnings

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cool-runnings

Cool Runnings is a classic-style Jamaican restaurant located just south of Gerrard on the west side of Main Street. It is quite appropriately named after the Jamaican bobsled team of the same title, who’s challenging journey to the Olympics in the face of prejudice and eventual earning of respect was made into a movie. On that note… Hey International Olympic committee, remember when your biggest controversy was Jamaica competing in a winter sport? I’m sure they’ll answer after clearing their diving pool of algae and their landline phone of pleading voice mails left by Ryan Lochte.

ryan-lochte-meme

I imagine it may be somewhat difficult to run a Jamaican restaurant in Toronto, while there’s definitely a strong Caribbean influence in our city, proper sit-down places have a pretty big rival. The Real Jerk–one of my favourite eateries–is such a Toronto icon that it was even featured in the music video for that terrible ear worm Rihanna made that even her biggest fans decided never to speak of again. I first heard about Cool Runnings when–work work work–no, not again!

 

Work Rihanna lyrics

For the uninformed, here are the lyrics. Don’t watch or listen to the video, it’s not worth it.

 

After recalling the cleansing sound of TV static, I can tell you that my mom actually met the head chef of Cool Runnings, who wanted us to try his place for the blog. I can guarantee you my review is completely unbiased when I say that this place blew my mind and absolutely challenges The Real Jerk.

jerk-chicken

The jerk chicken (with a shrimp skewer) from The Real Jerk

It’s surprising, I know, like when I found out upcoming thriller movie Don’t Breathe is not about that one friend who thinks Ax cologne makes them smell better. One of the biggest problems with The Jerk is, ironically, their jerk chicken. Despite being named after the dish and featuring it in their aforementioned music video, I found The Real Jerk Chicken too dry. Keep in mind that this was so long ago that I had it in their old establishment, and I get rotis or other dishes now, so the chicken there may be better.

oxtail

I mention jerk chicken because Cool Runnings’ jerk is some of the best I’ve ever had. I got a meat combo: two choices of meat (I had chicken and oxtail) over rice and peas and coleslaw on the side. Noticeable off the bat is how large the individual dinosaur pieces are, and they were cooked in just the right way. To elaborate, the meat was beautifully juicy and tender the way it should be, falling on the sweet spot between being left pink or being made dry. The skin, which was the right amount of chewy, was rubbed with a powerful blend of spices that was as strong in heat as it was in flavour. Seriously, if you are craving that quintessential jerk taste, this will more than match that.

curry-chicken

My mom’s Curry Chicken

As for the oxtail, I hadn’t eaten a whole bunch of it before, but I loved this. Oxtail is noticeably tougher than other bovine meats, with a texture somewhere between the softness of beef and the thickness of goat or mutton. It has the colour and full-bodied presence of goat as well, but falls off the bone easier and, in this case, was rather creamy with the rich oxtail gravy poured all over it. Another thing I liked was the taste of the meat itself: which felt similar to a cut of meat cooked with the fat left on, but without the unpleasant chewy vein running through it. You can see why they make gravy out of that meat, it’s smooth, meaty, savoury palate works perfectly for such a recipe.

 

Even Cool Runnings’ rice and peas were knocked out of the park. Not only was the serving size generous, but the rice had a lot of flavour impacted into it by the beans and was extremely comforting. The texture was creamy enough to feel soft, yet had enough mass to be chewable too, another perfect balance. For the record, I also found the food stayed warm unusually long during my meal, while it did eventually go cold during the following hour and a half, it kept the temperature longer. Also, the coleslaw was nice.

jamaican-patty

One thing I wouldn’t recommend is the beef patty. It wasn’t bad and actually tasted good, but I’ve honestly found either the same or better while going to the metro station (The bakeries at Kennedy, Warden and Bathurst station are good patty shops). Decor and service is decent, a comfortable atmosphere for this kind of cuisine. My mom said it was odd that we got the bill before it was clear we wanted to leave, since we were considering getting a desert before that point.

interior-cool-runnings

For a final recommendation, I absolutely say that Cool Runnings is a great Jamaican cuisine restaurant. It is at least as good as The Real Jerk, better than it at Jerk Chicken, although The Jerk has a bar, dishes I haven’t compared yet, and is one of the focal points for Toronto’s Caribbean culture. Today we learned not to underestimate the underdog: to try out restaurants serving similar food to one of your favourite places, and to let Jamaica compete in any sport they want without being racist about it. Also, if you take the six degrees of separation theory to its logical extreme, I compared a subway station to a music video.

Cool Runnings 146 Main Street

Cool Runnings Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cricket Hot Dog CNE

Standard

bug bistro

A new eatery opened at The Ex this year, the aptly named Bug Bistro, showcasing various types of arthropod-based dishes. Don’t bother using Google Maps to locate it, which will just point you towards the center of the CNE, instead scour the food building for a smaller stand with a white cricket-adorned sign. Most menu items consist of typical American-style concession foods, with either crickets or mealworms mixed in with more western protein sources.

cricket dog

I personally enjoy trying out various types of “bug food” whenever I can, as it is different and the concept doesn’t bother me in the slightest. Insect-based food is also an extremely efficient and cheap protein source for a growing human population, and also helps bypass the global warming and animal cruelty-related problems of the agriculture industry. So why don’t we eat more crickets? “Because they’re gross, ew!”, as some people may say, despite the fact that insects are a traditional food source in parts of East Asia, certain fast food hamburgers are more disgusting than anything given to us by nature, and there’s a small portion of beetle parts in your peanut butter (look it up). And that is why I chose to eat the Bug Dog (hot dog with mustard-roasted crickets) and a smoothie (forget the name, its the only one they have) made out of mango, beetle larva and with spices sprinkled on top.

smoothie

So, how’s it taste? Crickets, I find, often taste very dry and earthy, with a powerful aftertaste. It made sense to use them as garnish on a milder and more familiar hot dog, as the flavours balanced out. The smoothie had a strong secondary taste of mango, and a huge blast of that earthiness I mentioned earlier, along with a second taste intrinsic to meal worms and larva that I can’t easily describe. I could best describe it as an alien sweetness that tastes nice, but is rather exotic and can fill my stomach up very quickly. While the cinnamon/nutmeg helps cut this, I’d recommend getting the smoothie by itself due to its richness. One major complaint I have about Bug Bistro is a rather strange one: they have no lids for their drinks.

mealworm smoothie

When I was first told by the clerk that there were no lids for my full and bendy plastic cup, I wondered how I was supposed to navigate a crowded building to my seat without bumping into someone and spilling all over. While I made it to my seat without having to explain to an angry person that their shirt is now covered in mango pulp and grounded beetle larva, I only had a few bites of my food before the LIDLESS drink spilled into my hot dog. The bun turned an ill, pale orange colour only seen in Donald Trump’s bathroom during a sick day, and the resulting unholy combination of sweet, salty and buggy was something that should probably be copyrighted by McDonald’s. Fortunately, the bun took the bullet and my wiener and crickets were saved, as well as some of the b@st@rd drink that I threw in the garbage out of spite and consoled myself with Korean Tacos from Far East Grill. Seriously, try that place, it’s delicious and better than the deep-fried gym membership-enders that are sold every year.

far east taco

image courtesy on urbancraze.com

To recap, definitely try Bug Bistro if you like feel adventurous or like eating bugs, get the Beetle Juice drink by itself and beware of the sinful lack of coverage, or get one of the savouries for a lunch. Bug Bistro does a good job making insects both tasty and friendly towards those unfamiliar, and I would have had a better experience had the manager not thought they could save a few bucks skimping out on lids. Also, the world would be a better place if I were its leader.

 

Post apocalypse

No new taxes!

Lids and Crickets everywhere!