Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Yasu on Harbord: The Best Omakase in Toronto

Tucked in a narrow white room on Harbord Street, Osaka-raised chef-owner Yasuhisa Ouchi serenades his patrons with the best sushi in Toronto. The city's first sushi-only omakase restaurant, Yasuhisa's edict is simple — "In a global world where borders are becoming seamless, Toronto can now have access to the freshest seafood like what we have in Japan." The chef can be found behind the bar night after night, carefully preparing each nigiri of the omakase meal, assisted by one or two sous chefs, with each course focusing on the freshest seafood flown in fresh from fish markets all over the globe. He uses classical methods to draw out the umami of seafood, with fish that is freshly sliced and placed atop warm, loose rice then brushed with a touch of nikiri soy for a perfectly balanced bite. In short, Yasu is all about capturing the essence of sushi. Seasonal ingredients are prepared at the sushi bar and served immediately for maximum flavour and freshness, for a true omakase sushi experience — served only just-warm, vinegar-seasoned rice draped with superlative fish, made to order right in front of you and served one single bite at a time. 

Our favourite omakase in the city, the menu is Ouchi's choice of 20 impeccably fresh pieces of edomae sushi for $135 per person, which can include Striped Jack from Kyoto, Ocean Trout from Scotland, Uni from Hokkaido, Horse mackerel from Portugal and Unagi from Nagasaki and sublime hay smoked Bonito from Japan. The fish selection changes constantly, and the sake pairings, served in glasses cradled in a traditional wooden masu box, are a delightful trip through the various styles of Japanese rice wine and well worth the price. For sushi enthusiasts, Yasu is an experience unlike like any other. Place yourself in chef Yasu's hands, and you'll leave in a blissful state of sushi 'oishii' every time.

Sous chef garnishing the oysters with tobiko and chopped scallions

The first Sake pairing of the evening, a Dassai 50 Junmai Daiginjo

Creamy, semi-dry, bright, lively and absolutely yummy

Premium Sea Urchin from Hokkaido, Japan

Chef Yasu's Premium Sashimi Plate with wild spot prawns from BC, bluefin tuna from Mexico, wild Japanese amberjack from Tokyo, scallop and uni from Hokkaido and Royal Miyagi oyster from BC

Royal Miyagi Oyster from the Strait of Georgia in British Columbia

Chef Yasuhisa Ouchi slicing the Japanese Striped Jack

Yoshinogawa Gokujo Ginjo Sake, our second pairing of the evening, and comes from the oldest 
brewery in the famed Sake producing region of Niigata Japan

Striped Jack from Japan

Tiny Sakura Shrimp in season from Shizuoka, Japan are also called 'Cherry Blossom' shrimp 

Chef Yasu garnishing the fluke sushi with seared fluke fin

Fluke with seared fluke fin

Horse Mackerel from Portugal

Dewazakura Dewano Sato Premium Junmai Sake from Yamagata, Japan

Rich and full bodied, this youthful dry-style Junmai Sake has a notes of bright fresh green apple and a delicious blend of subtle spice flavours

Ocean Trout from Scotland

Hay Smoked Bonito from Japan

Yasu sous chef preparing the Toro and Ikura bowls

Negitoro Bluefin Tuna from Mexico and Ikura Salmon Roe from Alaska

Homemade Fish Broth made from Japanese Striped Jack

Otokoyama Kimono Sake from Hokkaido

New Zealand Grouper with lemon juice and sea salt

Norwegian Mackerel with paper thin daikon wrap

Mexican Bluefin Tuna with homemade soy sauce

Lightly Seared Tuna Belly

Unagi Freshwater Eel from Nagasaki, Japan

Tsukasabortan Yamayuzu Shibori Sake, a yuzu infused pure sake from Kochi

A delicious and refreshing sake with an expansive fruity aroma of mountain yuzu

Tamagoyaki, a type of Japanese omelette made by rolling together several layers of cooked egg

Homemade black sesame iced cream

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Spaghetti Bolognese with Tagliatelle Funghi Porcini

One of the ultimate comfort foods, Spaghetti Bolognese is like an old reliable friend who shows up just when you need a big warm hug. Bolognese sauce, known as Ragù alla Bolognese in Italy, is a meat-based sauce originating from Bologna and is customarily served with tagliatelle or other flat pasta such as pappardelle or fettuccine. Genuine Italian ragù is a slowly cooked sauce that characteristically includes a soffritto of onion, celery and carrot, minced or finely chopped beef, pancetta and red wine. A small amount of tomato concentrate or tomatoes are added, and the dish is then gently simmered at length to produce a rich thick sauce. Outside of Italy, 'Spag Bol' consists of a meat sauce served on a bed of spaghetti topped with a sprinkling of grated Parmigiana cheese — maybe even with a loaf of warm garlic bread — and although it bears little resemblance to the traditional Italian ragù, few could argue that it isn't molto delizioso.

Spaghetti Bolognese 
Serves 12

1 lb cremini mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed and thinly sliced
4 tbsp butter
2-3 tbsp olive oli
3 lb lean ground beef
5 cups homemade tomato sauce, or good quality store-bought
6 tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp sambal oelek
1 tbsp sugar
2 cup red wine
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
2 lb spaghetti or tagliatelle con funghi porcini
1 cup coarsely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino 

In a large frying pan, melt the butter on medium-high heat and when it starts to sizzle, add the mushrooms and sauté until soft, about 3 minutes, then set aside. Pour a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan set on medium-high and add the ground beef, stirring frequently until the meat is no longer pink and is cooked through, about 8 minutes. Add the tomato sauce, tomato paste, samba oelek, a tablespoon of sugar, and stir thoroughly to combine. Turn the heat down to low, and add the mushrooms plus their liquid into the bolognese, then pour in the red wine and continue stirring until the mixture is the desired consistency. For a looser sauce, add some water or beef stock as necessary. Cover the sauce and continue cooking on low heat to meld the flavours, about another 30-60 minutes.

Set a large pot of water to boil over high heat, and when it comes to a rolling boil, add the pasta and cook according to the manufacturers instructions. When al dente or to taste, drain in a colander then return to the pot and combine with just enough bolognese sauce just to coat the noodles. To serve, arrange the semi-dressed pasta in warmed dinner bowls and top with a mound of addition sauce, as desired. Sprinkle some grated cheese on top and serve immediately, with additional parmigiana on the side for those who wish a little more.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Trattoria Giancarlo: Cucina Italiano in Little Italy

Located in the heart of Toronto's Little Italy, this intimate Italian trattoria at the corner of College and Clinton, has been a long time favourite among Toronto's dining cognoscenti for over 30 years. Executive chef and co-owner Eugenia Barato is the culinary heart of Trattoria Giancarlo, serving classic Italian cuisine, from homemade pasta, luscious risottos, succulent seafood, and Grigliate such as rack of lamb, aged bone-in veal chops and whole fish stuffed with herbs and fresh lemon and and finished with extra virgin olive oil. Inspired antipasti such as grilled polenta with baked mushrooms or flash seared beef carpaccio dressed with black truffle balsamic are popular favourites, but what keeps me coming back is Eugenia's sunny-hued Tagliatelle Limone simmered in a Parmigiano-Reggiano and lemon buttercream — delizioso!

The open kitchen of Trattoria Giancarlo

Fresh baked bread in a wooden barrel in the front window of the kitchen

Chef-Owners Jason and Elena Barato of Trattoria Giancarlo

Grilled bread rubbed with garlic and basil, seasoned with cracked black pepper 
and extra virgin olive oil

An array of Italian wines behind the bar from Antinori Bramito della Sala to Brunello di Montalcino

A lovely crisp Rosé from Puglia

Tagliolini Alio Olio with garlic, red chili oil, herbs and onion chips

Caprese Salad with ricotta and fresh basil

Lamb chops with fried sweet onions and grilled asparagus

Tagliatelle Limone with Parmigiano and lemon buttercream

Funghi al Forno
Serves 6
Recipe courtesy of chef/owner Eugenia Barato, Trattoria Giancarlo

1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp hot pepper flakes
1 1/2 lb assorted mushrooms: shiitake, oyster, cremini
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tbsp Balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups grated parmigiano

Preheat oven to 400°F. In a small bowl, mix together the parsley, garlic and hot pepper flakes. Trim the mushroom stems and brush off any dirt with a damp cloth. Discard the shiitake stems. In a large bowl, mix together the olive oil, vinegar and salt. Add the mushroom s and toss to coat. Spread the mushrooms in a single layer on a large rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with the parsley mixture and and grated parmesan. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes until tender, then the mushrooms with the juices on a decorative platter and serve immediately.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Estia: Mediterranean Coastal Cuisine in Yorkville

Bountiful dishes inspired by the regions of Greece, southern Italy and Spain, Estia celebrates the Mediterranean philosophy of cooking where pasta, cheese, bread and cured meat are made in house from scratch and encourage family style sharing around the hearth. The latest restaurant in the culinary empire from Charles Khabouth and Hanif Harji, Estia features fresh ingredients sourced from local farmers and markets prepared with skill and simplicity over charcoal or a wood-burning oven that lend smoky earthiness to each dish, complemented by touches of tangy citrus and spices. Executive chef Ben Heaton, who worked in the kitchens of other ICONINK properties Figo and La Société, has created a menu meant to tour the flavours of the Mediterranean. Together with chef de Cuisine Brent Maxwell, the kitchen’s focus is on traditional cooking techniques: the house-cured salami is hand cut; a mortar and pestle does a blender’s job; bread is baked in Estia's wood-fired oven; and they even making their own cheese and yogurt. Almost all of the products are brought in from small Ontario producers, except for the fish, which is flown in from Greece and New Zealand and cooked to perfection on Estia's charcoal grill. There’s also a solid selection of handcrafted cocktails, along with the obligatory martinis and beers. The wine program highlights unique wines from around the Mediterranean region, selected to pair well with the seafood selection in particular. Named after the Greek deity Hestia, goddess of the hearth, Estia is like a warm breeze off the Aegean Sea — a little gem in Yorkville's culinary scene.

The hip elegant interior of Estia designed by Toronto's Navigate Design
with purple leather booth-style seating

The lovely outdoor patio is perfect on hot summer evenings

Estia menu features the freshest fish, seafood and bountiful dishes inspired by Greece, 
southern Italy and Spain

Vodka Martini with olives

With Sangria with white wine, peach liqueur, fresh lemon juice, fresh watermelon juice and simple syrup garnished with raspberries, blackberries and orange

Chef Heaton uses Jersey cows’ milk to make this Grilled Halloumi with 
oven roasted grapes, toasted walnuts and warm truffle honey

All the flatbreads are made in-house

Fresh out of the wood-fired oven

Wood Oven Baked Flatbread with Za’atar, and served with smoked melanzana, 
  tirokafteri and Greek olive oil

House-Smoked Eggplant 

Tirokafteri, a spicy Greek feta cheese dip

Baby Gem Lettuce Salad with feta, oven-crisped pita, olives, fresh basil and roast garlic vinaigrette

Brotte Les Eglantiers Tavel 2014

Lovely and aromatic with flavours of wild tart berries and sun-swept happiness

The octopus is brined in a red wine-orange mixture for days before it’s lightly simmered, then grilled over charcoal and served with n’duja, preserved lemon and romesco

Wood Oven Chicken with wild oregano, charred lemon, feta and preserved tomato relish

Yukon Frites with wild oregano and feta aioli

Spinach with preserved lemon beurre blanc and pangritata

Our server expertly filleting the Branzino and Gurnard at table

A squeeze lemon for the final garnish 

Grilled Greek Branzino

Red Gurnard from New Zealand

The more casual outdoor sofa area for cocktails and light bites

Parsley Root Soup

Serves 4
Recipe courtesy of chef Ben Heaton

2 tbsp olive oil
3 1/2 lb parsley roots, peeled and diced
3 celery ribs, diced
1/2 small fennel, diced
1/2 small Spanish onion, diced
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
1 cup dry white wine
3 cartons vegetable broth, about 10¾ cups
1 cup parsley, chopped
1 cup 35 per cent cream
Salt and pepper

Bacon relish:

3/4 lb double-smoked bacon, diced
1 shallot, finely diced
2 sprigs thyme, finely chopped
2 sage leaves, finely chopped
1/2 rosemary sprig, finely chopped
1/3 cup sherry vinegar
1/3 cup maple syrup

Snails and garnish:

3 tbsp unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
20 snails
1 demi-baguette
Handful of parsley leaves

To prepare soup, coat a large pot with olive oil and set over medium heat. When hot, add parsley root, celery, fennel, onion and garlic. Cook for 25 to 30 minutes until translucent. Deglaze pan by slowly adding wine and scraping up and stirring in any brown bits from the ­bottom. Stir in broth. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and let simmer about 30 minutes until parsley root is very tender. Remove from heat.

To prepare relish, cook bacon for about 10 minutes in a pan set over medium-low heat until slightly crisp. Remove and strain fat. Reserve. Place 1 tbsp bacon fat back into a pan and heat over low. Add shallot, thyme, sage and rosemary. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes until shallot is translucent. Add bacon. Increase heat to medium. Add sherry vinegar. Deglaze pan again. Cook until reduced by half. Stir in maple syrup. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes until most of the liquid evaporates. Place in a bowl and let cool.

When the soup has cooled slightly, add parsley and cream. Using a blender or food processor, purée until smooth. Strain through a sieve into a large bowl or back into pot. Season with salt and pepper.

Melt butter in a pan over medium heat. Add garlic, then snails. Cook for 2 minutes until warm. Divide snails into 4 large serving bowls. Tear baguette and add to remaining butter in pan. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cook for 3 minutes until toasted. Add a dollop of bacon relish to each bowl. Reheat soup if needed, then pour overtop. Garnish with bread and parsley leaves.