Tag Archives: Italian

Signs

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signs restaurant

Signs, as the hearing but ASL-fluent host explained to us, is a unique concept restaurant whose servers and staff are all deaf people, in a meal experience designed to teach the general public about basic sign language and the deaf community. My family got the opportunity to eat here thanks to the Summerlicious event that several eateries across Toronto participate in. Essentially, each restaurant offers a smaller sample menu at a lower price to allow people to try out their take on a three course meal. It obviously works, as my blog has covered numerous restaurants through Summer/Winterlicious that it otherwise wouldn’t have been able to comfortably afford.

Callum & Nana

Me and my grandmother aka Nana

Even though none of us have severe hearing problems, my family does have some prior experience with American Sign Language. My mom had a deaf friend when she was sixteen, and quickly became fascinated with learning and studying the language, it eventually proved to be useful when she became an ER nurse and especially when she had me.

As my other blog (Autism Thinking) has pointed out, I was born severely autistic and non-verbal, so I was taught sign language as a bridge to speaking English. I have seen been re-learning the language I lost, which among other things has helped me communicate with a deaf teammate on my Special Olympic basketball team. However, Signs is very inclusive and encouraging of people who know no signs at all, and menus are provided to quickly teach basic signs so you can order your food and hold basic conversation with your server.

 

Compared to other ‘licious menus, Signs had a surprisingly extensive menu, going beyond the minimum three options for the appetizer and entrée rounds, with four and five options respectively. We weren’t allowed to take pictures, as the menu has signs for each food item and the restaurant owners understandable didn’t want people to copy their idea. As such, I’ll simply cover the dishes that we did try.

spring roll

My Vegetable Spring Rolls

My mother had the carrot ginger soup, my grandma the watermelon gazpacho, and I myself tried the veggie spring rolls with spiced dipping sauce. First off, all of the food came to us at just the right temperature, and this was consistent throughout the meal. That should go without saying, but all too many places let their food sit before serving, making it lose the freshness and warmth that I enjoyed so much here. For instance, my spring rolls remained toasty until the entrée arrived, and packed a fresh vegetable mix with mild wrapped inside a light and flaky pastry. I should also mention that the dipping sauce, while not spicy, was pleasantly sweet in a way not unlike good plum sauce.

carrot ginger soup

My Mom’s Carrot Ginger Soup

On the other hand, the carrot ginger soup had more bite than one would think, having just enough ginger to be prominent without being spicy or overpowering. Combine that with the mild creaminess of the carrot, and you’ve got yourself a classic heart-warming soup.

gazpacho

Nana’s Watermelon Gazpacho

However, the appetizer I would recommend by far would be, surprisingly, the gazpacho. There wasn’t much taste if watermelon in it, not that watermelon has much flavour aside from the noticeably absent sweetness, but there was a hint of tomato. What made this bowl was a plethora of fresh herbs that combined with the cold temperature to make something that could only be properly described as “crisp”.

jumbo ravioli

My Jumbo Ravioli

By the time a truly appetizing appetizer round was over, our entrée arrived with perfect timing. I ordered the jumbo ravioli, three huge cheese-stuffed ravioli (it doesn’t sound like a lot, but I really mean huge) in a spiced cream tomato sauce with what I noticed to be a bit of coriander sauce drizzled over as well.

beef cannelloni

My Mom’s Baked Cannelloni

My mom had a beef cannelloni in a rich and red tomato sauce covered in cheese, while my grandmother had a plate filled with goat cheese agnolotti (her favourite) and a sauce similar to what I had.

cheese ravioli

generous filling

What really struck me was how generous the filling of each ravioli really was. The warm, creamy cheese gelled perfectly with the orange sauce that offered little hints of nuanced spice one could notice building up bite after bite.

agnolotti with goat cheese

Nana’s beloved goat cheese pasta

The goat cheese ravioli were smaller and more numerous, with a powerful, tangy filling that I found to be of high quality but probably too strong for a person like me to eat an entire plate.

chocolate cake

Signs “Chocolate Avalanche”

For the dessert round, my mom and I both had the chocolate cake, while my gran decided to try the cannelloni. As a chocolate fan, I quite liked the cake we were offered, as it focused more on having mild taste of cocoa instead of just being sweet and brown-coloured. The texture worked well too, managing to be both richly filling and gently spongy all at once.

cannoli

Who can say “No” to a second dessert?

However, my grandmother–who has a low tolerance for sweetness–found her dessert too sugary which meant I had more of it than she did. I, on the other hand, quite liked its flavour: the pastry comes off as a high-end waffle cone and the filling had the right combination of density and creaminess to compliment its sweetness. I would say the cake is better for those woke like their desserts rich and mild, whereas the cannelloni is for people who like some creaminess sweetness that is balanced by a crunchy pastry shell.

signs restaurant interior

Before I wrap up, a couple of notes on the service. They are very friendly and non-intrusive, which can be a problem in some other places. Communication isn’t a problem, even if you struggle with the signs given to you on the cards (I, for instance, am still rather slow and difficult to read), the servers still manage to get their message across. Personally, I’ve found that a fair amount of deaf people are very good at using body language, not the stereotypical mime charades, but common motions such as facial expressions and universal hand gestures like the thumbs-up. On a smaller note, Signs’ atmosphere is obviously quiet, but is not unnaturally or audibly so. You can hear the customers next to you to a reasonable degree and the washrooms even had soft music playing.

To summarize, Signs is a unique concept restaurant created to help educate the general population about the deaf community while offering a skillfully prepared meal. It works on both fronts: on a purely technical level, you can come here on a date or with friends/family for a satisfying and interesting meal, while the establishment greatly helps spread awareness about this group of people who have adapted to life without a certain sensory organ that we all take for granted. I highly recommend it to anyone who was already interested in it, or looking for something truly different and unique.

Signs 558 Yonge Street

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

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Fast Food

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The usual food court suspects

The usual food court suspects

While most think of burgers and fries as fast food, the name can apply to any type of quickly made food, so vender grub is actually classifiable as fast food.  It has a history far, far older than the fifties, thousands years more, back to the Roman years.  In Rome, which in some ways is a historical parody of our civilization in my point of view, several people’s diets relied on what they got from street venders [maybe they ate a panzerotti while watching people get eaten by lions in the arena].

Think you'd get the munchies while watching this?

Think you’d get the munchies while watching this?

It was the same in the rightfully named dark ages of Europe, where citizens that couldn’t afford a kitchen ate mostly what they bought from salesmen in the streets.  This type of vender-buyer lifestyle still reigns today, just ask someone from New York, or someone from India or China where street food is immensely popular.

Street food from around the world

Street food from around the world

The kind of Fast Food most people, even our friends in Asia [or to those people, their friends in North America] really did start in the fifties, before Ralph Nadar when Americans lived the dream of beautiful [unsafe but no one cared back then] cars, and didn’t know what was in their food, and being a teen meant living in the fast lane, anyone who saw Back to the Future knows what I’m talking about.  White Castle [hear about them now?  I didn’t think so] is the pioneer being the second Fast Food chain and the first to serve hamburgers and have the staple limited menu we all love and hate.  They sold their burgers for five cents a pop, remember inflation was a thing of the future back then.

White Castle in the 50's

White Castle in the 50’s

Because of that era that time travelers just love [Back to the Future, Quantum Leap, Star Trek etc…], now over two million American out of the 314 mil of them are fast food workers.  I wonder how many are teens.

The thing that makes them so popular, to put it bluntly, is the speed they cook at, and how other choices like chili or baked potatoes are also available.  The fact you can, but probably shouldn’t, eat a burger at the wheel of a moving car also has its appeal in today’s kind-of-like-the-fifties-but-with-more-political-and-economy-crap-era.

How many people do this everyday?

How many people do this everyday?

Hey, Canada is much the same way, I didn’t say we’re better than those guys down south [I didn’t say we’re worse either, so don’t you even think it].  North American and British cuisines aren’t the only ones being influenced.  Italian pizza has been changed from a thin to a thick crust, and giving different ingredients, and Chinese food has changed so much that actual Chinese people, by that I mean culturally more than anything else, couldn’t recognize some of the take-out we have now [it makes me wonder what they have in a greasy five dollar box being passed off as authentic].

Editor’s note: the video below is a little long at aprox 16 minutes.  But its funny and very enlightening.  Worth watching

Cheap, quick meat patties on a bun has spread like a virus, I don’t use that analogy positively or negatively, to other counties that before wouldn’t have dreamed of eating this stuff, like, for instance, Japan.

While I acknowledge vender food, I think the fast food chains is what most readers really want to, and should, know.  It is a very controversial topic, with films and books pointing the finger at fast food companies crying wolf for bad health, bad food, and bad economy.  A whole mess of junk, in effect.

A very popular book that was also made into a movie

A very popular book that was also made into a movie

Well, along with other modern innovations, fast food did emerge at the same time a lot of problems did. Could simple food companies really be to blame for a host of calamities, or is the wolf a fake?  It is incredibly popular, the simple good taste fat, salt, and sugar has, as well as the lack of some proper nutrients, does reach a wide audience with many different palates.  Secondly, its in our face, bill boards, brought-to-you-bys, television ads, pop culture references, schools, blah, blah, blah, blah etc, they’re here they’re here!  Fast food will take over the world, just don’t put on your tinfoil hat, it’s probably McDonald’s’ litter.

They're everywhere! They're everywhere!

They’re everywhere! They’re everywhere!

That’s all well and good, but it’s more the type of food that’s ‘the rub’ as they say.  Hamburgers have: high protein, good, high fat, bad if there is too much but is necessary, high salt, again, important but too much is bad.  Iron is in there as well, but, like we all know, veggies is where the vitamins come from, and I don’t mean french fries, which are fried to the point of being deficient.

Wasn't  the potato perfect before it was fried?

Wasn’t the potato perfect before it was fried?

Coke is obviously bad too, who said bubbling sugar water that nobody knows the ingredients of. On that topic, I was going to put the list down, until I figured out the pepsi bottle we have is diet.  I already knew they had water [of course] and caramel colours for colouring, but the rest I didn’t know.  “Contains: Carbonated water, Caramel Colour, Phosphoric Acid, Aspartame, [124 mg/355 ml, contains Phenylalanine] Sodium Benzoate,” the list goes on.

list of ingredients in teeny tiny writing

list of ingredients in teeny tiny writing

By the way, Sodium Benzoate is not the salt that we know, that’s another Sodium.  I’m pretty sure most of those chemicals are sugar substitutes, here’s the regular Pepsi ingredient list [courtesy of Wikipedia] “In the United States, Pepsi is made with carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup [a very bad thing for your health, and is a replacement for sugar], caramel colour, sugar [for Petey’s sake WHY?  You have the sweet fructose crap!] Phosphoric acid [acid in your drink, umm healthy!], caffeine, citric acid [don’t worry, that’s the same kind from lemons or oranges; citrus] and natural flavours.”  That’s an actual quote from Wikipedia, excluding the brackets, obviously that was me.  The caffeine-free varieties of Coke and Pepsi both have the same recipes just without caffeine.

According to Wiki in double blind taste tests, most people could not tell the difference in taste

According to Wiki in double blind taste tests, most people could not tell the difference in taste

That didn’t sound too great did it?  Well, that’s just coke, and that’s just the very beginning of it all.  It’s starting to look worse and worse for the fast food guys, especially with movies like Super Size Me or Food Inc., which takes a look at the disgusting ways livestock is treated.  I have two facts more to give.  One, the companies won’t change unless there is incentive to, meaning that they do whatever gets them more customers.  Two, not all places are this bad.  There are several places, chains too, including Subways and other places to an extent, that are far better than abused animals and customers, so if you really want to save the world, don’t hate fast food, just eat better fast food.

Urban Eatery - The Eaton Centre

Urban Eatery – The Eaton Centre

Look at the Eaton Centre’s food court, there are all kinds of delicious and nutritious things there, and next time you go there, or your home’s equivalent of it, go to the more exotic foreign option instead of greasy, disgusting slop you don’t even like that much anyway.  I might sound a little extreme, but what’s causing the problem, the Holy Ghost?  You tell me, I know as much as anyone at this point.

Editor’s note: Any excuse to throw in an Eddie Izzard clip.  Mention Holy Ghost and voila:

But wait, isn’t this all a little hypocritical coming from a food blogger, someone who goes to all kinds of ridiculously unhealthy places as a hobby?  Well, for starters, I only eat like that when eating out, when I’m at home, I eat the best I can, and I exercise, treats are okay for anyone, health freaks would agree.  Also, I try knew foods, one of my favourite restaurants in Mediterranean, the other Pakitstani, another Indian Fusion, one Japanese and one Mexican.

Now for my opinion and voting of this cuisine in the months long cuisine contest.

Ganesh - god of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune

Ganesh – god of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune

As I’ve said before, it is probably the only one that’s controversial, and that is a big obstacle, even Ganesh would have trouble with it [wiki it].  So we’ll do it the standard way:

Taste: while generally hamburgers taste good, you have to know which place to go to, since several places serve rather bland stuff, and mass produced flavours lose something when treated so industrially.  Some fast food chains are delicious, but it takes a lot of trial and error to figure out which ones

Health: Oh boy.  Burgers, shakes, fries, cokes, ice creams, cakes, chicken nuggets that you don’t want to know what they’re made of, does that sound healthy to you?!  As I said before, it takes some good amount of knowledge to find healthy fast food, and when it gets to the bigger, international chains, it gets even harder.  This wouldn’t be so bad if so many fast food places, and processed food companies, deceive and, in essence, lie to us about what’s in our food.  I’ll be generous and say that the healthier places make it all right and save the score, but they don’t really

Variety: well that’s a stumper.  There are some chains that have rather exotic and foreign items, but even then it’s mostly ‘Chinese’ grease that isn’t really Chinese.  I’ll say there aren’t many options here when it comes to variety, excluding some few, smaller chains.

fast food in america

Will this cuisine reign supreme?  Well… It’s okay to great in some places, but it gets harder and harder to find good quality, and the healthier the slimmer the pickings. I think this cuisine has, not had, potential, but only if some serious changes occur in our culture.  All I can say is that it is really too hard for me to place, and I’m being nice.  If I felt like being mean [our brutally honest, depending on your view] I’d be getting really nasty and snarky, but I don’t want to drown in controversy, which leads to arguments and hate mail.  If this wasn’t one of my more happy cuisine posts, then I’m sorry, it’s the truth

Italian Cuisine

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The next cuisine I shall test is Italian.


Italian cuisine is surprisingly more complex than you would imagine.  I knew it was more than simply pizza and spaghetti but it is still incredibly diverse, probably because of all its regions.  Let’s begin with the history, like I did with Jamaica.

I’ll start with how the people got to the country of Italy, or whatever it was called in Prehistoric Italy;  that is how far back human history in Italy goes.  Back then, the landscape was different due to the Ice Age’s glaciers.

The Italian “Ice Age”

Human remains (not Neanderthals) found in Italy date back to 43,000 years ago; and are among the oldest human remains found.  That’s how long modern humans have been living there, which is pretty darn impressive.  I’ll skip the rest of the prehistory and get into the ancient history, Roman history, that is.

I think this picture is from an old movie from the looks of it

They had dominance over Western Italy and came up with  Western civilization’s science, art and philosophy that lasted all the way to the Medieval Times and even the Renaissance.  When the Romans fell in 476 AD, the country scattered into several city states and stayed that way until they evolved into their own regions which diversified the culture, specifically the cuisine.  Since the history is so long, given how old and influential the country is, I’ll summarize the basics of its history from then on.  Italy faced many hardships like parts of it getting conquered by the Spanish, Austrian or Napolean empires and later WWI.

Napoleon was actually 5’6″ which was a respectable height for his time

But Italy came out on top and is now a very strong country.  As a little fun-fact,  I took the liberty of counting all the regions of Italy, which adds up to twenty-three, that’s right, twenty-three,  so I’ll just talk about the main ones.  Just for the record, the climate does play a part in making each region more unique.  Veneto (the province/region that Venice is in) has three: The Coastal climates, The Plains and The Mountains.  Venice uses a lot of seafood, so it could be considered coastal.  I should mention that the capital of Veneto is Vicenza, I just assumed it was Venice, but what do I know?

All right, I think that’s enough, considering its 50,000 year span, so I’ll talk about the big event, the food!  Starting with Veneto, which is known as the best wine makers of all Italy.   Its plain regions specialize in grilled meat, often a blend of chicken, beef and pork, as well as bar-b-que, grilled polenta and even grilled veggies.

Grilled Chicken

Mountain food is a little different, even though it uses pork, it also uses game meat (I picture large amounts of mountain goats and maybe game birds, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I was wrong).  Also common to this region is the use of mushrooms, cow milk cheese, and the staple of Italy – Polenta.

Polenta is made with ground cornmeal

A lot of Veneto dishes sound simply wonderful and they have so many variations.  I think its a shame there aren’t any (or at least not any I’ve tried or even heard of) Veneto restaurants in Toronto.  Italian cuisine, like several other cultures and cuisines has been stereotyped into a simple and sometimes plain wrong picture.  Like I said, more than just pizza and spaghetti.

Speaking of pizza and spaghetti, another fun fact; there’s a historical myth that Marco Pole introduced spaghetti  to Italy in the form of Chinese noodles.  Actually, according to my research, I believe that it comes from Southern Italy (pretty sure, actually) and spaghetti is only one of many Italian pastas.  There are tomato sauces, white sauces, meat sauces, seafood sauces… and the pasta? Its virtually endless!  Spaghetti, macaroni, linguine, rigatoni, faralle just to name a few.  Plus other starches like polenta, rice, risotto and gnocchi, again, just to name a few.  In case you were wondering what gnocchi and risotto are, I know I was, here are the basics.

Risotto is made from Arborio rice which is starchier and therefore more creamy

Gnocchi – a type of light potato dumpling

And now for the finale, will this cuisine reign supreme? I’m asking. Seriously. I don’t know. We will all have to wait for the final showdown, but here’s a sneak peak for the next one… its a little closer to home…

Gerrard Spaghetti & Pizza

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Despite how the name sounds, this is actually a pretty good Italian restaurant.  I would think that a name in Italian would be more becoming.  We have been in this area tons of times, but have never noticed this place.  We only found it by searching on Urbanspoon for pizzeria’s.
Perhaps, the reason we have not noticed Gerrard Spaghetti & Pizza before is because its a dark grey colour, so the outside doesn’t really catch your eye.


Gerrard Spaghetti & Pizza decor was different from a lot of the other restaurants we’ve been to.  For one; the tv at the bar at the back was playing some sort of soap opera (my mom has informed me it was the Young and the Restless).  Secondly; the napkins they gave us were cloth instead of paper.  Clearly we are easily impressed.

A restaurant that tells you - the wait is worth it

One thing that was really good about this place was the service.  It was genuinely kind, quick and respectful.

the Friulana pizza

Although I wanted something with more toppings than tomato, cheese, Italian sausage and basil; my mom made me get this so that I could actually judge the taste of the pizza and not be overwhelmed with a baker’s dozen of ingredients.  One thing that was cool about the Italian sausage – it was in thick slices (as if it was pepperoni but thicker) instead of being crumbled on top.  Both the sauce and the sausage were spicy so the pizza had a little zest to it.

Penne alla Vodka

The sauce you see here is a Rose Vodka sauce with pancetta added.  I actually thought this dish was quite nice but my mother prefers her Rose sauce a little more tomato-y.  Not to say that there was anything wrong with theirs, just a matter of different styles.

Lastly, we enjoyed how the portions were generous.  Both in quantity of food and quantity of sauce.  We hate it when restaurants give you a drop of sauce over pasta with the moisture content of dehydrated astronaut food.  And once again I have tied in a Sci-Fi theme into my food blog.

Gerrard Spaghetti & Pizza 1528 Danforth Avenue

Gerrard Spaghetti & Pizza on Urbanspoon