bairrada frontPhoto from Road Stories.

I belong to a little club that holds monthly “meatings” where we gather for the purposes of good times, scintillating conversation and the savoury pleasures of meat. Last night, our meating was held at Bairrada, a churrasqueira on College, a block west of Dovercourt (1002 College). They have other locations: one at Keele and St. Clair and one in Mississauga at Highway 10 and Dundas.

People unfamiliar with Portuguese cuisine typically think that it’s just fish. They’re partly correct; being an ocean-facing nation that produced some of the world’s greatest navigators during the age of exploration, they know a thing or two about seafood. However, they’re also a meat-and-potatoes culture as well. In fact, they’re a meat, potatoes and sauce culture.

bairrada patio

Bairrada, as is the custom with many Accordion City restaurants, is like Doctor Who’s TARDIS – bigger on the inside than it appears on the outside. There’s a fair bit of dining space inside the restaurant, but the real room is in its tree-canopied patio past the dining room. A barbecue lover would feel at home here.

One of their appetizers is listed in the menu in English as “flaming sausage”, and the name is truth in advertising:

flaming sausage 1

Take a closer look — the dish used to flame the sausage is shaped like a pig:

flaming sausage 2

We also had some fresh cheese, which had a very clean, baby mozzarella-like taste, which goes well with bread and sausage.

fresh cheese

I had the house steak, which comes served in a pool of sauce with a sunny-side-up perched on top of it and a generous helping of fried potatoes sliced twice as thick as potato chips. I enjoyed it so much that I forgot to snap a photo of it, so you’ll have to use your imagination. I’ll have to snap a photo next time.

Wendy had the chicken, which comes served covered in piri-piri spice and with rice and potatoes to suck up the delicious juices:

chickenPhoto from BlogTO.

You get a lot of bang for your buck at Bairrada: generous portions of delicious food cooked over an open flame, with appetizers typically below $10 and entrees typically $15 or less. If you’re looking for some meat and want to venture beyond the typical North American steakhouse, Bairrada’s a great place to visit.

Word-of-Mouth Reviews of Bairrada

It Happened to Me

Dinner at Au Pied de Cochon

01 au pied de cochon exterior

There are a couple of restaurants with the name Au Pied de Cochon, which translates as “with the pig’s foot”. There’s the one in Paris — a place that became popular for serving its namesake – whose glory days are probably long gone as it’s become a bit of a tourist trap. Closer to home is the one in Montreal run by Martin Picard, an adventurous chef whose hijinks you may have seen on Food Network Canada’s The Wild Chef, or if you speak French, on Radio-Canada’s Martin sur la Route (“Martin on the Road”). It’s probably one of the only shows where a TV chef has cooked a muskrat.

(My Quebecois friend Guy Barrette tells me that The WIld Chef is a bowdlerized version of Martin sur la Route; the French edition shows butchery that the producers think that English viewers wouldn’t stomach.)

The Ginger Ninja and I stayed in Montreal this past weekend to sample some restaurants we’d been meaning to try. One was the steakhouse called La Queue de Cheval (“the horse’s tail” – I should organize a tour of restaurants named after animal anatomy), the other was Au Pied de Cochon. We managed to squeeze ourselves into the first seating on Friday night – the place is always booked solid unless you make reservations well in advance – and I took some photos of our visit.

Au Pied de Cochon is far from stuffy. While the food is a little more adventurous than your typical bistro, the place is pretty down-to-earth (although well-kept). The layout isn’t all that different from a diner, you can get a hamburger – yes, it’s got chunks of foie gras in it, but it’s still a burger, and the staff (clad in black jeans and mechanic’s shirts with their names on patches) are not only friendly, they look like they love their jobs.

02 canard en conserve

The can shown above line Au Pied de Cochon’s foyer. Canard en Conserve translates to “duck in a can”, one of the restaurant’s signature dishes. Chef Picard uses a number of unorthodox techniques for cooking, the best-known of which is canning. He has his own canning rigs in which he prepares a dish, cans it and then cooks it in the can.

03 potato pancake

We ordered a couple of appetizers. The first one, shown above, was an appetizer special. It was made of two potato pancakes with shaved cheese and ham between them, served with fiddleheads and walnuts and topped with a fried egg. It was delicious!

04 duck carpaccio

The second appetizer, shown above, was a regular on the menu: duck carpaccio topped with mushrooms, parmesan cheese and spices. It was topped with an egg yolk, hot mustard and hot sauce, which the waiter suggested we mixed together to form a sort of mayonnaise. I loved this one, and ended up sopping up the remaining goo with bits of the restaurant’s tasty baked-in-house bread.

05 poutine and duck in a can

Ask a Canadian outside Quebec what the official dish of Quebec is, and nine times out of ten you’ll get the answer “poutine” (I’ll have to ask some Quebecois what they believe their official dish is). Poutine is the perfect post-drinking food: fries covered in gravy and cheese curds. It’s popular all over Canada and has even been making inroads into the U.S. where they’ve been marketing them as “Quebec Fries”.

We ordered poutine as a side dish, which you can see on the left in the photo above. The fries are cooked in duck fat, and the gravy is made of pureed foie gras, egg yolks and cream. You can also order it as a main, topped with foie gras.

As for the dish on the right, that’s Duck in a Can, which I’ll describe later.

06 beef tartare

Wendy ordered the beef tartare, which is unusual for her – normally that’s the sort of thing that I would order. She chose it on the strength of a recommendation of our friend Jason Gorber, and it was delicious. It was served with a salad and two pieces of toast made from their wonderful bread.

07 duck in a can

This is Duck in a Can. In the can is a duck breast, a generous slice of duck foie gras, a slice of duck fat, balsamic vinegar, duck cabbage and a head of garlic. The whole thing is boiled in the can for a half hour and then the can in opened right in front of you and the contents are emptied onto a slice of toast covered in a puree of celery root and lardons (which is essentially French for “chunky bacon”). I was in fatty heaven.

You probably shouldn’t eat this every day, but life needs its pleasant vices, and I highly recommend this one.

08 can o duck

We had seats at the bar right by the kitchen (I asked for them, because we love watching food being made – it’s dinner and a show, all in one). The photo above shows my empty can of duck, with the kitchen crew in the background, hard at work.

09 olive oil

Au Pied de Cochon have their own olive oil specially commissioned from a co-op in Spain. It’s very good, and a great deal at $14 a bottle. We picked one up.

10 seafood kitchen

The next time we’re at Au Pied de Cochon, we’ll have to try their seafood. While half the kitchen is devoted to meat and fat, the other half has a lovely array of fruits de mer, which I also like.

11 seafood

Our meal, which consisted of:

  • Two hearty appetizers
  • Two very filling mains
  • Beer (their own house beer, which went very well with all that fat)
  • A bottle of olive oil to take home

…cost a grand total of CAD$132 before tip. For well-prepared food that you’re not going to find in many other places in such generous quantities, that’s a serious bargain.

If you’re going to Montreal (or if you live there), make sure you pay a visit to Au Pied de Cochon. I’m heading back there next time I’m in town.

I’ve posted my photos from Au Pied de Cochon at full size in a Flickr photoset, which you can also view in the slideshow below:

It Happened to Me Play Toronto (a.k.a. Accordion City)

Marvellous Edibles’ Last Night

The front room at Marvellous Edibles

Marvellous Edibles, one of my favourite restaurants in Accordion City, is open tonight for one last time. Owners Jens (who’s also the chef) and Ayse have decided not to renew their lease, and with that decision, we lose one of the city’s best-kept gastronomic secrets.

Located on Laird just south of Eglinton, across the street from a number of big-box stores, Marvellous Edibles has been quietly but expertly serving delicious and surprisingly cheap meals for years. The dinner menu typically features at least a dozen mains provided in ample quantity along with perfect sides, from basics like a great steak-frites and roast chicken to slightly more exotic meats like chevon and elk. Many of the ingredients used in the dishes came from local farms, sometimes even theirs. The prices were always surprisingly cheap, considering what you got, with prices ranging from CAD$14 to $28. I’ve eaten at places that have charged double that haven’t made food half as well as Marvellous Edibles.

No visit to Marvellous Edibles was complete without dessert. There were always at least a dozen desserts to choose from in the display case near the back of the restaurant’s front room, and they were always good. I’m a fan of the coconut-banana cream pie with shortbread-like crust, which they often drizzled with chocolate sauce. The Ginger Ninja loves the lemon-caramel-meringue cake and their macaroons.

We went for our last visit last week, where we enjoyed a poutine with veal and mushrooms for starters and I had a lamb chop with lamb rollbraten (rolled-up stomach, which was delicious); I forget what The Missus had, but she enjoyed her dinner as well.

Despite the fact that getting there for us involved driving about two-thirds of the way across town, we went reasonably often and were always glad to do so. Going there was a bit of a treat for us, and we’ve never been disappointed. I wish Jens and Ayse the best in all their plans for the future, look forward to seeing them at farmers markets, where they plan to continue selling produce from their farm, and would like to thank them for all the delicious meals I’ve had there. I salute them with a filet mignon on a flaming sword!

Accordion, Instrument of the Gods It Happened to Me Life Play Toronto (a.k.a. Accordion City)

The Birthday Accordion Jam at Caplansky’s

The Accordion Jam

Caplansky's delicatessen logo: "Caplansky's Delicatessen. House-smoked, hand-cut smoked meat" With all the travelling I’d been doing in the fall, my birthday party back on November 7th was a last-minute affair, but it was a great one. I managed to snag a spot for fifteen people at Caplansky’s Delicatessen. Caplansky’s has been open merely half a year, but in that short span of time, it’s won the loyalty of local deli fans, foodies and celebrities as well as my in-laws, who’ve forgotten more about deli than I will ever learn. The Ginger Ninja and I took them there over the holidays and not only did they enjoy their meal, they also enjoyed meeting the proprietor, Zane Caplansky.

I was enjoying a birthday beer while waiting for the appetizers to arrive when Wendy pointed out that a young guy with an accordion had entered the restaurant. Two accordionists meeting at random in a restaurant is a rare and precious phenomenon, so I introduced myself and told him that I too had an accordion – the little red number that I’d purchased on the very afternoon I signed my offer letter from Microsoft.

His name was Ronen Segall, and in addition to playing at parties and other functions, he plays at Caplansky’s. “I think I’ve read your blog before,” he said as we conversed. “Would you like to do a couple of numbers with me?”

I find invitations like that just about impossible to refuse, and the result – a performance of Que Sera, Sera, Should I Stay or Should I Go and Don’t You Want Me — is shown in the video below. My thanks to Pavel Zaitsev for doing the camerawork!


Here’s a shot of Caplansky’s taken from near the front of the restaurant on my phone back in September. Get a good look, because the place’s word-of-mouth has grown over the past few months and I doubt we’ll see it this empty for a good long time.

Caplansky's dining room, as seen front near the front

“We may be witnessing the birth of an institution,” gushes Toronto Life (the magazine for the local Lexus set) about Caplansky’s, and I concur. These days, the place is buzzing even during most other restaurant’s off-peak hours and the queue waiting for a table often goes out the door.

This is the second incarnation of the restaurant, the first one being a little shop operating symbiotically within the Monarch Tavern. With a brand new smoker and a new front-of-house and back-of-house staff, Zane’s raised the quality of his stuff from good to great, added items to the menu and taking on increasingly large crowds.

Here’s a shot of the tasty pickle plate that Wendy and I shared as an appetizer back in September. I’ve made it black and white because my mobile phone camera has a tendency to colour pictures of food in that unappetizing, 1950s drive-in movie theatre snack bar menu way:

Caplanskys pickle plate

For my main, I had the Caplansky’s Combo, a nice plate with a selection of their deli meats served along with a few slices of rye, tomato slices and onion. Back then, it comprised smoked meat, thick slices of grilled versht (beef salami), smoked turkey and chopped liver. I had to hit the gym a little harder the next day, but it was worth it.

Here’s a photo of the Combo, once again converted to black and white thanks to my mobile phone’s inability to take a decent food photo:

Caplansky's combo platter: grilled versht, smoked turkey, smoked meat, rye bread slices, chopped onion, tomato slices, a ball of chopped liver

The question always comes up when I talk about the place: “How does it compare to Schwartz’s?” For those of you not familiar with the establishment, Schwartz’s is Montreal’s legendary charcuterie hebraique, who’ve been doing smoked meat since the Great Depression and their excellent product is considered to be the gold standard. I try to get in a meal there every time I’m in Montreal, and plan to do so again when I’m there later this month for the CUSEC conference.

I like both; Caplansky’s smoked meat has a smokier flavour to it, which I think is a good thing. I’d rather see Zane put his own touch on it rather than slavishly attempt to ape Schwartz’s. It’s the sort of deviation that gets the Montreal smoked meat purists up in arms, but they’re chauvinistic food grognards (who can shove Lucien Bouchard’s missing leg up their collective arses, if you want my honest opinion).

When I took the in-laws there over the holidays, I started with the split pea soup – simple and hearty – and followed that with the salami and eggs, which turned out to be one of the best renditions of this deli classic that I’ve ever had. Wendy had one of my silver dollar pancake-sized latkes that came with the dish and swooned. They’re quite good.

A lot of delis fall down when it comes to dessert, but not Caplansky’s. I believe they get their desserts from somewhere else, but that other place is great! The chocolate cake that I got for my birthday party was so good that I got another slice, and I plan to return for another serving of their dark chocolate bread pudding, which I had during my visit last week.

To sum it up: the food’s great. You should go.

Portrait of Zane Caplansky in a chef's hat and white t-shirt, in the kitchen

Being someone who’s very passionate about his work and his field, I find it gratifying when I encounter someone who feels the same way about his. That’s what I like about Zane – he cares intensely about the food he serves and the restaurant in which he serves it. He obsesses about getting things just right – just read some entries in his blog to see just how much – and he also works the crowd at the restaurant, chatting up the tables and even doing a little order-taking and serving. This is no mere job for him – it’s a calling, and it shows.

If this article has enticed you to give Caplansky’s a try, I’d say go for it – but they’re taking this Monday through Friday off. Caplansky’s will be back open for business on Saturday, January 9th.

Caplanskys posters: "Where knish is knig", "Kickin' it old shul" and "It's firstborn-sacrificn' good!"

Caplansky’s Delicatessen is located at 356 College Street (at the corner of College and Brunswick, a few blocks west of Spadina). They’re open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, and from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. the rest of the week.

Map showing location of Caplansky's Delicatessen (356 College Street, Toronto ON)


It Happened to Me Life Toronto (a.k.a. Accordion City)

A Bad Experience at Wasabi

 Wasabi Restaurant, 1730 Bloor Street West. The Verdict: Decent food, scatterbrained "service"

All I wanted was my dinner. After an early morning flight back to Accordion City from Calgary and enough work to keep me from getting a decent lunch, I was looking forward to a nice dinner with The Missus at Wasabi (1730 Bloor Street West, at Keele), the all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant that had opened a few blocks away from our home.

Wasabi’s menu is not unlike those at other local all-you-can-eat sushi places like Aji Sai. It comprises a selection of sushi, sashimi, tempura, donburi and other things that can be made quickly and cheaply and can provide a lot of bang for your twenty bucks.

It’s the busiest restaurant that’s ever opened at that corner. When we walked in on Friday night, we saw a full restaurant bustling with all sorts of people: groups of young friends having dinner before a night out, many young families with strollers in tow, solo diners who brought some reading material with them, couples out for an end-of-week meal and so on. At first glance, the place appeared to be the next neighbourhood hit.

It took a little while for someone to take our order. We chalked it up to the place’s newness; it often takes a restaurant a little while to work the kinks out of its system during its “shakedown phase” and get a sense of how busy they’ll be. They appeared understaffed, and the the staff they had clearly weren’t used to working in a busy restaurant.

The orders we did manage to get were, for the most part, decent. The seafood tempura was done right, the dynamite roll was tasty and the edamame was well, edamame. After that, no food came to our table for a good while.

After asking around, we discovered that our order had been sent to the wrong table. We were still willing to forgive this mistake and place another order, and the waitress apologized and told us she’d be right back with a notepad. Hey, it’s an all-you-can-eat place, and most of the stuff was the kind that other places can make quickly.

She never came back. A good quarter-hour, complete with a lot of waves to the waitress, has passed without any service. It was clearly time for plan B.

“Enough already. Pizza slice?” I asked Wendy, gesturing to the Pizza Pizza across the street.


We walked up to the front, told the staff that our order had been served to the wrong table and no one had attempted to correct the mistake. Another customer who was standing at the counter said “Yeah, they screwed up my order, too.”

We also told them that we weren’t paying, and walked out. They gave no reply other than confused looks, tilted heads and stunned silence – not even an “I’m sorry". This sort of reaction is the hallmark of complete incompetence and the front-of-house staff treat the place as many similar people do: the restaurant’s just a place that provides a paycheque in exchange for you just showing up.

As we walked towards the pizza place, we ran into our neighbours Chris and Wanda, who were heading to Wasabi to try them out, and warned them away from the place. Consider this blog entry the same warning to the rest of the world: Wasabi is run by scatterbrains, and if you’d actually like some service, go elsewhere.

It Happened to Me Toronto (a.k.a. Accordion City)

R.I.P. Mel’s Montreal Delicatessen

Mel's Montreal Delicatessen

BlogTO reports:

An Annex institution is no more. Mel’s Montreal Delicatessen, a late night spot on Bloor both loved and reviled by residents of this city, has closed its doors. Or rather, had its doors locked by the landlord after reportedly failing to pay rent that was months in arrears.

It started so full of promise and slid into a miasma of laziness, rudeness, incompetence and debt (rather like my deadbeat ex-housemate, now that I think of it). When it opened ten years ago in Pizzadelic’s old location, the food and service were decent; over the years, it became the Amy Winehouse of restaurants: looking bad for its age, barely functioning, somehow clinging to life after all the self-inflicted harm and willing to let just about anyone work in it.

Out of respect for the city of Montreal, that “Taste of Montreal” sign should be taken down as quickly as possible. Montreal doesn’t taste like failure.

I gave up on Mel’s after a streak of incredibly bad service ending with a visit where Wendy, Dave and I sat in their empty restaurant for ten minutes, in full view of the staff, without even being approached. They were lost in their own world, and as I wrote in a blog entry back in 2006, “I’ve seen bathroom mould with more ambition.”

I wonder what will open in its place.

It Happened to Me Toronto (a.k.a. Accordion City)

Terminated, Part 3: Need Suggestions for Where to Have the Last Supper

[This article also appears in Global Nerdy.]

"The Last SUpper" painting, but with Disney characters

Because I was laid off and not fired from my former place of employment, they’re taking me out for a farewell dinner on Tuesday night. It’s a nice gesture on their part, and I appreciate it greatly.

I’m allowed to choose the restaurant, and I must let them know my choice by Monday, October 6th. The problem is that I’ve just got too much on the brain and need help picking a place. If you’ve got suggestions, I’d like to hear them!

Some parameters:

  • It should be within easy walking/transit travel of Queen and Spadina (that’s where the office is)
  • My guess is that there will be about 10 people total.
  • There will be drinking. A lot of it. At least 2 two rounds of “Irish Car Bombs”, too.
  • It can’t be terribly expensive (which means that Nota Bene is off the list).
  • The usual office after-work hangouts are Wayne Gretzky’s and Jack Astor’s. While perfectly serviceable, I’m looking for alternatives.
  • The Pickle Barrel is not eligible.