Thursday, April 30, 2009

Dine-In, Take-Out, Delivery, and Travel: What's Cookin' in April 2009

Been busy, mostly staying in to write. Did manage to go out a few times. Here's a wee round-up of a few Toronto restaurants, one spot in St. Catharines, and a local food delivery programme that can't be beat.

Cafe Diplomatico, 594 College Street, Toronto
The major selling feature of this italian lounge is their patio, but on a rainy April day, inside was the place to be. I probably should have ordered something italian, but as I regularly cook pasta in my own home (sometimes even making my own noodles) I opted for Toronto favourite pulled pork. They were out. My second choice was fish (lemon-grilled sole) with a house salad. I had also ordered their house draught, which I sipped while nibbling on bread buns as I awaited my meal. The room was full, and quite loud. In order to converse with some of my table-mates, I felt I had to yell. When my dinner arrived, the salad was missing its dressing, so I had to flag the server down again and put in another request. The meal in the end was not very satisfying. The portions were small, the fish was unexciting, and the salad was definitely nothing to write home about. My companions equally complained about their meals -- meat portions too small, not very flavourful, all around disappointing. Cafe Diplomatico boasts speedy service, a nice patio, and proximity to the Royal Cinema on College, but I doubt I will ever return, except maybe on a rare sunny day to share a pitcher with a friend if we happen to be in the neighbourhood.

Thai House Restaurant, 506 Queen Street West, Toronto
This place is amazing. Ordering the special dinner for two from home ($27.00 plus tax) was a gourmet treat. The delivery included two spring rolls, chicken coconut soup, mango chicken, rice, and seafood pad thai. Everything was superb. The soup was spicy and wonderful with mushrooms and fresh coriander. The pad thai was delicious with its ground peanuts and a few shrimp. The mango chicken was exciting, mixing sweet and spicy. The spring rolls were okay -- I especially liked the hot sauce that I later put on salads the next day. If I ever order Thai food delivered to my home again, I will not even consider trying another restaurant. Thai House delivery hit home. Though I wonder if it would be possible to order ice cream dessert without it entirely melting en route?

Roti Lady, 269 Dunn Avenue, Toronto
I finally got to try a Roti Lady roti one night, after discovering Bacchus was closed. (It seems Bacchus is often closed.) It took a while to be noticed, standing in front of the counter, but I had heard that this was part of Roti Lady's appeal. She doesn't give a shit about customers, but she makes a mighty fine meal. The smell of the place was, um, lived in, and the television was blaring Little Mosque on the Prairie. I heard scraping and coughing in the back, which went on for a few more minutes after clearing my throat a few times, feebly sounding a "Hello? Your sign says open." Roti Lady came out in a very dirty apron, covering a wooly sweater, and wearing a knitted cap. She looked tired. Like she has been making rotis for as long as I've ever lived. Which could be true. I would believe it if that's what someone were to tell me. I ordered the vegetable roti, while Tasty Tastebuds ordered meat. Goat, I think. The total came to a very reasonable $11.00, wrapped up to go. We didn't really feel like hanging out, staring at a few faded pictures on the wall beside us. We beat it home, and relished our flavourful rotis with delight. I am fairly certain that my vegetarian roti was missing one of the listed ingredients on the menu board -- either squash or eggplant -- and I believe this is why it was also slightly cheaper than advertised. I kind of appreciated the no-excuses offered. Part of the Roti Lady "charm."

Oasis Middle East Cuisine, 174 St. Paul Street, St. Catharines
I had some time to kill before an evening panel discussion at Brock University, so I ventured into this empty eatery downtown St. Catharines, on the street everyone says is "a rough area," where I might "need a gun" or meet "jailbirds." Then of course, I live in "bad" Parkdale, according to Eye Weekly, or "the no man's land between the Wrong Bar and Roncesvalles." So I ordered a lentil soup ($2.99) and beef donair kabob ($4.75), which I hoped would feature real donair sauce from the East Coast. Nope. Tahini. So Ontario. The soup was great, warming and filling from an afternoon walking around in the drizzle, trying to avoid crossing too many sketchbags. The donair sandwich was filling as well, and garlic-intense. I was very worried about my breath after my meal, so much so that I made a return trip to my hotel to brush up before heading off to Brock. It was worth it.

FoodShare, 90 Croatia Street, Toronto, Tel: (416) 363-6441
FoodShare is the best fruit and vegetable delivery/pick-up programme in the city because it's a) not-for-profit, b) privileges local produce, and c) is very affordable. I pay only $12.00 for a small box of food that I pick up once every two weeks down my street. In order to find your nearest delivery/pick-up location, best to e-mail FoodShare directly. In a small food box, I'll get more than enough fruit and vegetables for two people for two weeks. Unless you really can afford to spend all of your time cooking meals from scratch. There is also a more expensive organic option, and a strictly fruit option. In another city, I used to pay $25.00 for a box order, so FoodShare is a half-price dream in comparison. It also means I am eating healthier salads with many more meals at home.