Friday, October 30, 2015

Nikai: Momofuku Bar & Cocktail Lounge

Located across from the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, those looking for a creative cocktail and quick dinner before the ballet or opera will find a warm oasis at Nikai, a funky space designed with retro leather sofas and low coffee tables as well as a stylish bar and handful of white-oak communal dining tables outfitted with comfortable Hiroshima arm chairs. Tucked away on the second floor of Momofuku’s three-storey glass cube, this Asian-style lounge with textured white-oak walls and textured ceiling is accessed through sliding wood doors that resemble traditional Japanese shoji screens. With it's high perch overlooking Zhang Huan's spectacular 33-foot-tall stainless steel sculpture 'Rising,' Nikai serves both classic and original cocktails, plus Canadian whisky, beer, sake and wine. While enjoying one of Jonathan Gonsenhauser's playful cocktails such as 'Stolen Dance', 'Death in the Afternoon' or 'A Date with a Peach', diners can select from Nikai's extensive menu featuring dishes from both Daisho and Momofuku Noodle Bar. Although no reservations are taken here, Nikai can be a quieter dining alternative to the bustling Noodle Bar, if you're lucky enough to grab a table before the crowds descend.

View from Nikai to Momofuku Noodle Bar on the main floor

The enormous Steve Keene painting entitled 'Rust Never Sleeps' depicts 
Neil Young and Crazy Horse playing Madison Square Garden in 1978

The sleek modern white oak interior of Nikai Bar & Lounge on the second floor of Momofuku

'Clouer de Genévrier' cocktail with gin, lillet blanc, dubonnet and rhubarb

'Rubus of the Rose' with raspberry, gin, cardamom and lime over one large ice cube

Shiitake Buns with hoisin, scallion and cucumber

Ginger Scallion Noodle with pickled shiitake, cucumber, cabbage and garnished with a sheet of nori

Momofuku Ramen with Kunan Farm pork belly & shoulder, fish cake and egg

Maple Root-Vegetable Stir-Fry with Sesame
Serves 8
Recipe courtesy of Momofuku 

1/4 cup canola oil
3/4 pound Jerusalem artichokes, scrubbed and sliced 1/3 inch thick
2 carrots, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
2 parsnips, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1/2 lb fingerling potatoes, halved lengthwise
1 cup fresh lotus root, peeled and sliced - about 5 oz
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup soy sauce
A few drops of toasted sesame oil
1 tbspn toasted sesame seeds
2 scallions, thinly sliced

Preheat the oven to 375°F. In a large ovenproof frying pan, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the Jerusalem artichokes, carrots, parsnips and potatoes and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Transfer the pan to the oven and roast for about 20 minutes, until all the vegetables are tender.

Add the sliced lotus root to the pan along with the maple syrup and soy sauce, and cook the vegetables over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until the sauce becomes syrupy and the vegetables are glazed, about 8 minutes. Stir the sesame oil, sesame seeds and sliced scallions into the vegetables and serve immediately.

Milk Bar's Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes about 18 cookies
Recipes courtesy Christina Tossi, chef and owner Momofuku Milk Bars

1/2 lb unsalted butter, melted and just warm to the touch
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp nonfat milk powder
1 1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
12 oz semisweet chocolate chips or chocolate chunks
1/4 cup Maldon salt, for garish

Preheat the oven to 375°F. With a wooden spoon, mix the sugars together the melted butter and sugars until homogenous, about a minute. Add the egg and vanilla and stir until combined. Mix in the flour, milk powder, salt, baking powder, and baking soda until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips and mix until evenly distributed. Form the dough into balls about the size of a golf ball and place about 2 to 3 inches apart on a parchment lined baking tray, and bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown around the edges but still soft in the middle. Cool completely on the pan, noting that the cookies will fall as they cool. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

La Bettola: Italian Cuisine & French Baroque Opera

One of the more recent additions to the Terroni family of restaurants which now boasts 6 locations in Toronto and 2 in Los Angeles, La Bettola di Terroni features a Southern Italian menu of classic Terroni dishes focused on Pugliese and Sicilian cuisine. The stylish rustic urban-industrial interior is by Giannone Petricone Associates: “We have a palette for Terroni: always real stone, ceramics, steel and wood.” La Bettola — derived from the Latin 'bevettola,' which means 'place where you can drink' — bettolas used to be shady taverns, usually frequented by criminals and people of the lowest class, basically a hole in the wall that's been around forever. You go there for a glass of wine, a bite to eat and everything — and everyone — is familiar. Boasting an impressive all-Italian wine list and classic Southern Italian menu, dishes such as Carpaccio di Pesce Spada, Funghi Assoluti, Arancíni filled with peas and veal ragu, and house-made Agnolotti filled with braised beef in a butter sage and parmigiano sauce seduce the palate, as well as pizzas, homemade Italian sausages, tempting salads, zuppas and decadent dolce. Walking distance to the Elgin Theatre, La Bettola was a short stroll to Opera Atelier's celebrated production of Jean-Baptiste Lully’s masterpiece 'Armide', for which we had tickets that evening, and that’s travelling to the Royal Theatre in Versailles just after it finishes its run in Toronto. One of the most enthralling love stories of all time, played out against a background of hopeless love, obsession and magic — La Bettola was our starting point for an inspiring evening of simple Sicilian cuisine, Italian wine and sumptuous French baroque opera. Life is good.

Hendricks with Fever Tree Tonic with cucumber, as part of a special Gin menu at La Bettola

Whimsical tin can pendant lighting 

The menu features classic Terroni dishes with a Pugliese and Sicilian twist

The 'menu specialita' for the evening

Zuppa di Minstar with carrots, celery, onion, Romansch broccoli, tomato, potato, white beans and squash 

Fritto Misto of deep fried lightly floured calamari and shrimp with fresh lemon

Insalata di Barbabietole with beets, lambs lettuce, goat cheese, candied hazelnuts and orange

Chimaera Norcina with homemade Italian sausage, black truffle shavings 
and thick al dente chitarra spaghetti

Opera Atlier's exquisitely beautiful Armide

Ravioli with Asparagus, Mint and Mascarpone
Serves 4 
Recipe courtesy of Enza Aloi, Executive Chef Terroni

17 oz tub smooth ricotta 
10 oz package spinach, fresh or frozen, finely chopped
Parmigiano Reggiano, to taste
Salt and Pepper, to taste

3 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour 
2 large eggs
3/4 cup water 

2 tbsp olive oil 
2 garlic cloves, chopped
4 tbsp mascarpone 
2 tbsp butter 
1 cup chicken stock or water
12 stalks of asparagus, chopped into 2-inch pieces 
1/2 cup chopped mint 
Salt and pepper, to taste
Mascarpone, for garnish
Fresh mint, for garnish
Parmigiano Reggiano, to taste

Combine the ricotta, spinach and Parmigiano-Reggiano in a medium bowl and mix until well combined. Season with salt and pepper and set aside. 

To make pasta by hand, pour the flour in a mound on a clean surface and using a fork, make a well in the centre and place the eggs and water in the well, and mix well to incorporate. Knead the dough by hand to produce an elastic ball of dough, then divide into pieces and begin stretching using a pasta machine. Roll the dough into thick sheets, starting at the thickest setting, reducing the pasta setting one mark each time until you reach the final setting. For the ravioli, stretch the pasta to a thickness of less than 1/16 inch. 

Place the sheet of pasta onto a lightly floured ravioli tray, and using a piping bag or two spoons, place a small amount of filling onto each square, then top with another layer of pasta. Lightly flour the top and flip the tray over. Gently press down on the tray to seal the edges. Slowly lift the tray and with a zigzagged cutter, cut along all edges and place onto a baking sheet until ready to use. If not using immediately, you can freeze the ravioli for approximately 2 hours on a cookie sheet and then place into a freezer bag to store for later use.

Cook the ravioli in a large pot of salted boiling water for a few minutes until the ravioli float to the top. Drain and add immediately to the sauce.

Heat the olive oil and garlic in a large saucepan. Add the asparagus and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes, then stir in the butter and chicken stock and continue cooking until the asparagus in tender. Once the ravioli are ready, gently place them into the sauce and add the mascarpone and stir until the sauce is incorporated. Finish with a dollop of mascarpone, fresh mint leaves and a sprinkle of parmigiano-reggiano. This recipes makes 48 ravioli, approximately 12 per person.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Grilled Swordfish with Basil Pesto Yogurt Sauce

Moist, meaty and succulent, swordfish is absolutely made for the grill. All it needs is a simple marinade of fresh lemon juice, a little olive oil, salt, pepper and a few herbs, for its umami flavours to sing on the palate. Swordfish can be cooked as one would a rare steak — use high heat to sear the outside, and let allow it to stay a little rare in the centre. Generally I allow 8 to 10 minutes per inch, rotating the fish 90° every 2-3 minutes, which produces lovely sear marks and ensures the swordfish is perfectly cooked. Low cal and nutrient rich, Grilled Swordfish served over a raft of asparagus and topped with a rich and creamy Basil Pesto Yogurt Sauce, is healthy, easy to prepare and so very delicious. 

Grilled Swordfish with Basil Pesto Yogurt Sauce
Serves 4

4 1-inch thick swordfish steaks
1 lemon, zested, plus more for garnish
1 tbsp Ponzu sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 handful chopped cilantro, plus whole leaves for garnish
1 lb fresh asparagus, trimmed

Basil Pesto Cream Sauce: 
1 1/2 cups fresh basil leaves
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/3 cup pine nuts
4 cloves fresh garlic, peeled
2/3 cups extra virgin olive oil
1 cup low fat greek yogurt

Place the basil, Parmesan, pine nuts, and garlic in a food processor and pulse to blend. While the machine is running, slowly add the olive oil and continue mixing until well combined. Spoon the Greek yogurt into a medium bowl and stir in the pesto until well mixed.

In a shallow dish, stir together the lemon zest, ponzu sauce, sesame oil and cilantro. Add the swordfish, turning to coat, and marinate at room temperature for 15-30 minutes. Place the asparagus in a large bowl and drizzle with one tablespoon of olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Preheat an outdoor barbecue to medium-high. Place the swordfish on the grill and cook for two minutes, then turn 90 degrees. Cook two more minutes more, flip the fish, and repeat. Midway, add the asparagus and grill about 5 minutes, turning frequently.

Transfer and arrange the asparagus on four warm dinner plates, top with the grilled swordfish and garnish with a generous spoonful of basil pesto yogurt sauce. Garnish with lemon zest and fresh cilantro and serve immediately.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Malabar Seafood Curry with Prawns, Mussels & Squid

Michelin-starred chef Atul Kochhar first tried this dish in Kerala served with crayfish, but converted it to lobster for his Malabar Lobster Curry which is served at Benares, one of the top Indian restaurants in London. The recipe, featured in his cookbook 'Atul's Curries of the World,' is just as delicious with a medley of mixed seafood such as tiger prawns, mussels and squid. A mild coconut milk-based curry, delicate enough not to overwhelm the seafood, was soft and sophisticated in flavour, perfect served with a steaming bowl of Jasmin rice.

Michelin-starred Chef Atul Kochar, one of the most critically acclaimed chefs in Britain f
or his take on modern Indian cuisine

Prawns shells sautéed in a vegetable oil until lightly browned and fragrant, provides an aromatic foundation for the oil - the shells are then discarded

Chopped onion, black mustard seeds and kari leaves sautéed in the fragrant prawn oil for about 8 minutes

Grated ginger, minced garlic, red chili flakes and seeded green chili are added and sautéed for a minute

Ground spices are added to the mixture with 2 tbsp of water...

...and stirred until well blended

Chopped tomatoes and the tamarind water are added and cooked until the tomatoes soften, 
about 5 minutes

Coconut mile is added and mixed until well blended

The mussels are added first, and cooked covered until the shells are partially open, 
then the other seafood is added

South Indian Malabar Seafood Curry
Serves 4
Adapted from Atul Kochhar’s ‘Atul’s Curries of the World’ 

3 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
12 curry leaves
1 onion, chopped
1 tsp fresh rated ginger
1 tsp finely chopped garlic
1 green chillies, slit open and seeded
1 dried red chilli
1/2 tsp ground paprika
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp water for the ground spices
2 ripe Roma tomatoes, chopped
1 tbsp tamarind paste 
1/2 cup water
2 cups coconut milk 
2 lb mussels - these were from Newfoundland
2 whole squid 
16 tiger prawns - these were sweet Argentinian prawns
1/2 cup cilantro, for garnish

Dissolve the tamarind paste in 2 tablespoons of hot water, and set aside. Wash the prawns thoroughly then shell and devein, reserving the shells. Place the mussels in a large bowl of water to allow them to disgorge any sand; debeard if necessary.

Heat the vegetable oil in a wok or large saucepan over medium heat. Sauté the prawn shells and heads until lightly browned and fragrant, about 7-8 minutes. Remove fried shells and heads and discard. Then, sauté the mustard seeds and curry leaves until fragrant and then add the chopped onions for about 4-5 minutes until lightly browned. Add the chopped ginger, garlic, green chillies and dried red chilli sauté for a minute.

Add the ground spices with about 2 tablespoons of water and cook over medium heat for about 1 minute until the spices are cooked, adding a little more water if the spices start to brown. Add the chopped tomatoes, tamarind water and 1/2 cup of water, and simmer until tomatoes soften and become pulpy, about 5 minutes.

Add the coconut milk and mussels then cover and cook for about 6-8 minutes until the shells start to open, then add the prawns and cuttlefish and cook until  the prawns are opaque and the mussels have all opened. Serve garnished with fresh cilantro and a steaming bowl of Jasmin or Basmati rice.

Atul Kuchar's 'Atul's Curries of the World'

Monday, October 26, 2015

JaBistro: Oshizushi and Aburi-Style Sushi

Opened in November 2012 in Toronto's Entertainment District, JaBistro quickly won a following for its high-quality fish, top-notch sushi and rare sakes. At the helm is James HyunSoo Kim, who brought the popular Guu Izakaya chain from Vancouver to Toronto, and chef Koji Tashiro, who learned the mastery of cutting fish at Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji Fish Market, one of the biggest fish markets in the world — where Jiro gets his fish! Billing its cuisine as 'modern Japanese', JaBistro offers traditional sushi and sashimi as well as aburi-style sushi which is pressed, glazed then blow-torched, and oshizushi-style sushi that’s been pressed into a box mold and compressed slightly. The chef’s inventiveness is seen in his Osaka-style sushi: Sushi Aburi made with mackerel, shrimp or salmon pressed in a wooden mould, kicked up with a topping of hollandaise sauce and blowtorched to saturate flavour. The sushi menu also includes sashimi as well as classic nigiri sushi and kyukyoku sushi, which offers the 'ultimate fresh pieces' of the day. For sushi-lovers, there’s a $98 omakase menu of the chef’s choice selections, as well as optional sake pairings. Chef Tashiro searches for the freshest fish he can find, such as sea urchin from B.C., and other fish sourced from Nova Scotia, Boston, Spain, Australia and Japan. The dressings are made in-house, from the wasabi which is made directly from wasabi root imported from Japan, to a house-made version made with fish broth and kumbu seaweed that's sweet on the palate. From the spectacular sashimi platter to Toji's wagyu oshizushi, it's no surprise that JaBistro is considered one of the top Japanese restaurants in the city.

The blonde wood and exposed brick interior with custom-made wooden chairs, 
by designer Bennett Lo of Dialogue 38

Kyuri Ale Cocktail with cucumber water, gin and ginger ale garnished with shiso leaves

Nashiberry Cocktail with asian pear sake, cranberry juice, sparking rosé and grenadine, garnished with fresh blueberries and strawberries

Lobster Broth Miso Soup

Ja Bistro's sushi chef preparing our Nama Nigiri

Nama section of 7 pieces of nigiri sushi

Boton Ebi spot prawn from B.C. with deep fried prawn head

Denshin Yuki Junmai Gingo Sake from Fukui, Japan

Aburi Wagyu Oshizushi, blow-torched pressed wagyu beef 

Marbled slices of raw Wagyu beef from Japan lightly torched and bursting with flavour

Juneau Daiginjo Wateri Bune 'Ferry Boat' Sake from Ibaraki, Japan

JaBistro's chef blow torching our Aburi

Blow torching the aburi sushi

Chef's choice of Aburi blow-torched nigiri and oshizushi  

Kanpachi amberjack from Japan

Aburi Salmon

Aburi Salmon Oshizushi - blowtorched pressed Atlantic Salmon