So guess what? No, not “chicken butt”, I’m writing again. I found myself with a little free time yesterday afternoon, so what the heck, time to catch up on “ye’ ole’ blog.” My blog sounds so dignified when I refer to it in “ye’ old English.” One of the most frequent questions I get asked, is where do I go eat, either here in Vancouver or abroad? Well the Vancouver side of the equation gets answered quite frequently, based on my propensity to dine out. As for abroad, though I’ve been traveling a good amount the fast few years, it has been more family oriented and less food driven. Don’t get me wrong, I loved “chillin’ like a villyn’ in Cabo and ballin’ with my ladies in Scottsdale” (I’m such a gangsta), but these days, it’s just not terribly convenient to sit down for a 20 course tasting menu, when you got little ones nipping at ya. So, I’ve been living vicariously through my “friends without baggage,” enjoying their stories about where they drink and eat with reckless abandon and when asked for suggestions, I’m more than happy to chip in my 2 cents. Maybe because people think I have good taste, maybe because people think I’m a glutton or maybe because people know I’m one of those people who lives to eat; I guess I’ll plea guilty to all three charges and have decided to blog about some of the places I would like to go eat.
If I could travel anywhere in the world, to go a full-scale dining adventure, without a second thought, my answer would be Spain. Nothing would make me happier than to hop on a first class flight to España (my girth does not agree with economy seats for longer flights) and spend a month touring, drinking and eating my way through the country. From “fancy-schmancy” places like El Cellar De Can Roca, Mugaritz and Arzak, to sampling the entire country’s pinxto and tapas offering, to overdosing on jamon Iberico, to cherishing grilled calcots and romesco, to feasting on luxurious baby eels and goose-neck barnacles, to gorging on chocolate con churros, the gastronomic list is endless. Then reality kicks in, I remember that I have two amazing, but young children (“Jazzy and Lex-y”) and a beautiful wife (“Monk”) at home, who’s lives do not revolve around what “Daddy-dearest” wants to eat and drink (even though they probably should).
Though I might not currently have the opportunity to take off for a month and go eat my way through Spain, I know that with a little arm twisting and considerable begging, “Monk” would allow me to hop on a plane and dine my way through one of my favorite cities for the weekend. So I did a little daydreaming and compiled a list of where I would eat, if I spent a few days in Chicago, London, Montreal, New York, San Francisco and Toronto. I’m not picking the best, the most expensive, the hippest or most glamorous restaurants, but selecting the food I would want to eat, for my own nostalgic and selfish reasons. You ready? Here we go!
Alinea, 1723 N Halsted Street, (312) 867-0110
Avec/Blackbird, 615/619 W.Randolph Street, (312)377-2002
Hot Doug’s, 3324 North California Avenue, (773)279-9550
Lou Malnati’s, 6649 North Lincoln Avenue, (847)673-0800
Topolobampo, 445 North Clark Street, (312)661-1434
The last time I was in Chicago was in 2005; “Monk” and I were on a cross-country road trip, had the “Exploder” filled to the gills and we made a three-day pit stop in the Windy City. If I went to dine there today, there’s no doubt that I’d have to go eat at Alinea and experience Grant Achatz’s genius. I’d easily spend the $210 for the 20 course tasting menu and though I would never want to cook his style of food, I am utterly impressed by his dedication and constant desire to innovate. His work ethic, strength of character and commitment is very refreshing in this day and age and the experience of dining at Alinea has been on my list for quite some time. If I could wrangle it, I’d probably check in at Aviary and Next the following evening too. Avec and Blackbird would also require a visit; since they are right next door to each other, I could easily kill two birds with one stone. Paul Kahan (chef/owner) is a chef’s chef and cooks the food I want to eat. I have only heard good things about all his restaurants and friends tell me he’s a great chef to work for. Hot Doug’s is on my list because I’m interested in trying an authentic Chicago style dog and Lou Malmati’s would need to be visited for their deep dish pizza. There’s no way I could go to Chicago, without eating a little deep dish pie. Topoplobampo would be a must eat because I think Rick Bayless is a genius and years back, he was very generous with his time when I first started cooking professionally. His dedication to authentic Mexican cuisine is unparalleled and I have so much respect for his knowledge and passion.
The Cock Tavern, Smithfield Market, 020 7248 2918
Harrod’s Food Halls, 135 Brompton Road, 020 7730 1234
Hibiscus, 29 Maddox St, 020 7629 2999
Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley, Wilton Place, 020 7235 1200
St. JOHN Bar and Restaurant, 26 St. John Street, 020 3301 8069
Having worked and lived in London during the turn of the millennium, I am dying to return and to see the changes that have taken place. Years back, I fell in love with London and learned so much from the city’s restaurant culture. As a lover of a proper English breakfast, there is no doubt I’d have to pay the Cock a visit. Easy on the jokes peeps, this is a PG website. Located by Smithfield Market, a breakfast of sausage, bacon, blood sausage, eggs and Guinness would put a big fat smile on my chubby face. The food halls at Harrod’s would also be on my list because of its opulent surroundings and the over the top offerings. Over a decade ago, I would spend many a day shopping at Harrod’s, picking up cheese, charcuterie and bread, then heading over to Hyde Park to enjoy a little picnic. Hibiscus is high on my list because I’ve heard so many great things about Claude Bosi and his kitchen brigade. Marcus Wareing makes it on my list because I used to work in the Berkeley, have such fond memories of that property and have been admiring Chef Wareing’s work for many years. Finally, I’d have to visit St. JOHN Bar and Restaurant as an homage to Fergus Henderson and celebrate his spreading of the gospel of “nose to tail eating”; Fergus’ approach to cooking makes him a hero to cooks around the world.
Au Pied De Cochon, 536 Duluth Est, (514)281-1114
Fairmount Bagel, l74 Fairmount West, (514)272-0667
Joe Beef, 2491 Notre Dame Ouest, (514)935-6504
Swartz’s, 3895 Boulevard Saint-Laurent, (514) 842-4813
Toque! Restaurant, 900 Jean-Paul-Riopelle Place, (514)499-2084
My last visit to Montreal was in 2004, so I’m definitely a bit out of the loop. For old times sake, I’d have to stop by Fairmount Bagel and Swartz’s because it’s been way too long and I adore places that specialize in doing one or a few things exceptionally well. Those bagels are perfect and the smoke meat platter at Swartz’s is “happy happy time” for me. PDC would be on my list because I really appreciate Martin Picard’s excessive nature and oh yeah, because he puts foie gras on everything. Joe Beef would be a must eat because I’ve heard impressive things about their approach to food and I have not been able to put down their recent cookbook. Toque! would require a visit because I haven’t dined there in ages and a tasting menu I enjoyed there “a long, long time ago,” was one of the most memorable and influential meals of my life. BTW, have I told you how much I adore Montreal?
New York City
Blue Hill at Stone Barns, 630 Bedford Road, (914)366-9600
Eataly, 200 5th Avenue, (212)229-2560
Eleven Maidson Park, 11 Madison Avenue, (212)889-0905
Empellon, 230 West 4th Street, (212)367-0999
Gray’s Papaya, 402 6th Ave, (212) 260-3532
Momofuku Ko, 163 first Ave
New York City has a special place in my heart; having lived and worked in Manhattan, I fell in love with the city’s energy and constant buzz a long time ago. Without a doubt, it is my favorite food city in the entire world. Though I haven’t been back in many years, I foresee a trip in very near future and I look forward to getting re-acquainted with the city. I wonder if “Godfather” is ready for this kind of over-the-top eating? Though Blue Hill at Stone Barns is about an hour from Manhattan, it would be a must eat, because I am so intrigued by the facility that they have created. Dan Barber and his family’s dedication to agriculture, environmentalism, education and tasty food is an ideal I strive for. Many friends have visited Eataly of late and they tell me it’s like “Disneyworld for lovers of Italian fare”, so I’d have to experience it first hand. EMP makes the list because Daniel Humm is a spectacular chef and his new cookbook is fantastic. Empellon is a must eat because Alex Stupak and I crossed paths back in the day and I’m intrigued by his divergence from the world of fine dining to pursue well-executed humble Mexican fare. I’d have to make a pit stop at Gray’s Papaya late one evening because no hot dogs anywhere in the world snap like a Gray’s Papaya dog. At 4am, after an intense night of excessive behaviour, it’s quite possibly the best thing one could ever eat. Finally, even though the odds of me getting a reso at Ko are slim, I would love to have lunch there and enjoy multiple monumental mouth-watering courses of Momofuku madness.
Benu, 22 Hawthorne St, (415)685-4860
Gary Danko, 800 North Point, (415)749-2060
Hog Island Oyster Company, 1 Ferry Bldg Shop 11, (415)391-7117
Roli Roti Food Truck, San Francisco Ferry Plaza Market, (510)780-0300
The Slanted Door, 1 Ferry Building #3, (415)861-8032
From a career standpoint, the “City By The Bay” is where I always thought I would end up. It’s an awesome food city and if I hadn’t met “Monk” in the bowels of the Wedgewood Hotel, Frisco would definitely been my next stop on my culinary career. So many places to eat, but Benu is a must eat because Corey Lee (Ex-French Laundry chef de cuisine) is doing some astonishing work these days, Gary Danko because he’s the man and the original reason why I was supposed to head to San Fran and The Slanted Door because I heard that Charles Phan’s modern Vietnamese cuisine is “way beyond tasty.” I’d have to have a porchetta sandwich off the Roli Roti truck because I saw it on TV and had to rewind it 5 times and Hog Island Oyster Co. because I love slurping their oysters, raw and roasted and they make wicked clam chowder. BTW, I’d probably make some time to look for a good clam chowder/sourdough bowl down by Fisherman’s Wharf too!
Bar Chef, 472 Queen Street West, (416)868-4800
Canoe, 54th Floor, TD Bank Tower, 66 Wellington Street W, (416)364-0054
The Grove, 1214 Dundas Street West, (416)588-2299
Lai Wah Heen, 108 Chestnut Street, (416)977-9899
Sushi Kaji, 860 The Queensway, (416)252-2166
Toronto, my home town, my hood, it’s where I’m from. The truth is I haven’t really lived there since the mid 90’s, but it will always be home to me. I’m a little out of touch when it comes to the food scene there, but it would not take long to get back in the loop. I hear Bar Chef is an outstanding modern cocktail bar that would blow my doors off. I’d have to visit Canoe, because ever since I did a stage at Canoe, I’ve been a big fan of Anthony Walsh and the incomparable view from the dining room. I’d have to visit The Grove; it is a new restaurant that my friend Ben Heaton will be opening within the next few months and though I know little about the concept, I’m sure with Ben’s involvement, it will be exccellent. Lai Wah Heen is my favorite Chinese restaurant I’ve ever eaten at, so I’d love to revisit and devour some highly specialized dim sum and finally Sushi Kaji because I hear that his omakase menus are simply world-class. I’m likely going to be visiting Toronto in the next few months, so hopefully I’ll be able to take this list and “git ‘er done.”
Sounds like a whole lot of daydreaming, but hopefully, I will hit up one of these cities soon. My mouth is watering just thinking about some of this exotic fare and cannot wait for the opportunity to sample them for real. It’s so eye-opening for me to travel to a different place, be inspired by the people, their food culture and experience their local customs. But mainly, I just wanna go eat. Until then, thanks for reading, eat well and be good to each other.