Monday, January 26, 2009

Five reasons why Twisted Fork is my new favourite brunch place

1. They've got a coffee gimmick almost as good as Locus' – maybe better. When you order coffee at Twisted Fork, they bring you your very own French press and leave it at your table. When it gets anywhere close to empty, they bring you a fresh one. So although it's not a bottomless Americano (like at Locus), it is bottomless and what makes it better, to me, is that it's right at your table whenever you want it. Pouring my own coffee makes me happy for some reason. So homey.

2. They offer many convincing reasons to break into the booze early. I usually find it pretty easy to avoid the drinks part of a brunch menu, as I'm so caught up in my love for runny-yolked eggs, crispy potatoes, and coffee. But Twisted Fork's brunch drinks are the kind that make you go, "Whoa, that sounds so good! Wait, so does that... oh my god, I have to try that." I was pulled in many directions but finally decided that the "Twisted Mary" would be the most rejuvenating. And it was so good. I usually prefer a Caesar to a Bloody Mary, but this one had enough surprises to win me over – the usual vodka and tomato juice, plus red wine, balsamic vinegar, and spices. Sounds a little bit weird, right? I wholeheartedly vouch for its deliciousness. And, I had a sip of Mike's "Brutus," their version of a Caesar, and it was equally awesome.

3. The atmosphere is the exact opposite of the rough and dirty treeless deadzone surrounding it on Granville Street. It's so warm and homey inside. I was really surprised the first time I entered – expecting the slick, thinks-it's-cooler-than-it-is look that most of the little places along Granville have. It seems to be either cheesy lounge or diner on this stretch, and Twisted Fork is neither. It feels urban and stylish, but also warm and comfortable. It reminds me a little of Barney's across the bridge in South Granville, but it's really got its own thing going on. And, the servers are super-friendly in the way that they actually feel like your friends.

4. There's spinach on my plate! And baked beans! And roast tomatoes! Really tasty, healthy extras set their meals apart from the boring usual. I couldn't get over how good the baked beans that came with my chorizo benny were (and they're vegan too!). Still, the sauteed spinach and roasted tomatoes that came along side my scrambled eggs with asparagus the week before made that dish my favourite I think. Every piece of the meal is great – the potatoes are done as rosti, grated and fried, and the thick-cut sourdough toast is total perfection.

5. I've been looking for this place for years! After just two visits, it feels like I've found my regular brunch place in the 'hood. Try it out (and invite me along): Twisted Fork Bistro, 1147 Granville Street

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Wright Brothers Oysters

Not too far from Borough Market, the incredible food market on the south side of London Bridge, lies a fantastic oyster restaurant, Wright Bros. There I was to be found last July, watching the life of the market from Stoney Street, waiting for my brother Ben and his friends to show up for our dinner reservation, when I spotted the above sign. What a great find, I thought. I love this poor little pig, resigned to display his own wares - which look incredible, by the way. Lots of great traditional British foods there.

Ben, Nancy and Christine were all late. Should I forgo oysters for a pease pudding or a Lancashire hot-pot, I thought? Luckily the charcuterie place was closed, so I never had to make that delicious but agonizing decision. I headed inside Wright Bros for a pre-dinner pint and incidentally had a good chat with the bartender about the works of Timothy Findley (once he found out I was Canadian due to spotting the maple leaf temporary tattoo that I had gotten at the Canada Day celebrations at Trafalgar Square).

Sitting at our table sipping my drink, I realized all the food that the waiters were whooshing past with looked absolutely fantastic, so I was quite mollified about the lack of pease pudding. Here's the view from my seat.

Luckily everyone showed up at this point, or I might have been forced to order an appetizer like this one. Alright, this is mine - and Ben's.

It was really tasty - spicy harissa prawns that were massive, and as you can see, fully intact. I've never had to peel so much prawn before, and I thought it would be difficult, but it wasn't too bad, really. Nothing like as difficult as the langoustines I would have the next month in France (more on that in another post). And they were well worth the work.

Nancy and Christine shared these lovely-looking Provencale scallops with basil and tomatoes for a starter.

Here are the Tran sisters, waiting for the oysters to arrive. We'd ordered 24 of them between the four of us, so they were fairly excited.

And the stars of dinner finally arrived! There were four kinds, though I must admit that I only remember that I much preferred the Duchy of Cornwall oysters to the others. They had such a deliciously creamy texture. I hope all of you out there love oysters as much as I do - or, as in Ben's case, more! It was his birthday dinner, after all.

I do wish I knew more about oyster selection - or indeed, could afford to indulge in them more often. Ah well. I shall have to live in the memories. Anthony Bourdain's memoir Kitchen Confidential has a fantastic section on his memories of eating oysters fresh from the sea in France after prising open the shells with a little knife. I'd love to be able to do that. I think I see a field trip in WeDine's future - well, at least to Rodney's Oyster House in Vancouver.

Nancy and Christine had some stuffed crab and some fantastic-looking fish soup for their mains. Ben then had a craving for even more oysters, so he ordered a beef, oyster and ale pie - which came with oysters on the side. Of course. I helped him through it.

Here we are post dinner. A classic photo.

Nancy finished with a cheese plate, and I had some strawberries and cream, which were just light and perfect enough to complete such an exemplary meal.

Oysters, anyone?

Wright Bros Oyster and Porter House
11 Stoney Street, Borough Market, London
0207 403 9554

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Resolution #1: become a bread master, with a little help from Martha and my sister

I love making resolutions. Every January I have such a craving to be productive after the laziness of the holidays, and it's great to feel like my motivation and willpower are endless for once. And so, I've told myself I will learn how to bake bread.

I've made bread before of course – baguettes, French bread, herb bread, even bagels. Some of these have been delicious, but overall, I just don't feel very capable at this kind of thing. My bread never rises as much as I'd like, and it often doesn't come out with quite the right texture. It's no surprise that I'm not a natural at this, as I don't really like to be careful and precise in the kitchen. But, I want to make perfect delicious bread! And I want to develop that kind of bread intuition I see others with that I imagine will make it feel natural and easy.

My sister Tessa seems to always know just what to do when it comes to bread. Every Christmas morning she makes a heavenly panettone that I'm still dreaming about here on January 10. And whenever I call to ask her questions in my moments of bread panic, she makes it all sound so easy and common sense. So, she's my bread model. Over the holidays, I meant to make bread with her, to absorb some of her genius by watching, but we never got around to it. While I was despairing about this missed opportunity on our last day together, she disappeared and came back offering a large orange book. "You can borrow this to get started while we're apart" she said. The book is Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook, and it boasts many of Tessa's favourite bread recipes.

I started with the one she gushed the most about: Olive-Oil Bread. And I leaned a few things:

  1. Use fresh yeast. You know how I said my bread never rises as much as it should? Well, I checked the expiry date on the traditional dry yeast I had in the fridge – it expired in 2007. Ack! I'd been using that all year... Tessa said to always try proofing a little yeast before you start making the bread, just to make sure your yeast is still active. I'm going to make this a habit now. I bought new yeast, and this bread rose like crazy. I kept calling Darryl over to marvel at how huge it was.
  2. Be sure about the temperature of your oven. My oven sucks. I know this, and yet I haven't really made much effort to overcome its problems. For starters, it's tiny and has only one rack, but I guess I can't do much about that. Worse, it always burns everything. This bread was supposed to bake for 35 minutes. After about 15 or 20 minutes, the faint smell of burning became real enough that I had to leap up off the couch and pull it out of the oven prematurely. The outside was beautiful and browned, as you can see in the photo at the top, but the inside was still doughy in places. So, even though it was really delicious, it definitely wasn't perfect. Martha mentioned something in the intro to the book about using an oven thermometer to make sure that it has reached the right temperature before you put anything in. And that's what I'm going to do – first chance I get I'm going to buy an oven thermometer and find out how much my oven has been lying to me. 'Cause I have a feeling it's hot hot hot.
  3. If it's burning too much, cover it in foil. Of course I called Tessa and related my successes (it rose so awesomely!) and failures (it's part doughy, part burnt), and she provided this last lesson. Apparently if you find yourself with a loaf that's starting to burn when you're quite sure it's not cooked through, you can just wrap it in foil and put it back in the oven. She also said that bread likes descending temperatures, so another thing you can do is turn the oven off and leave the bread in to finish cooking as the oven cools off. See, I just need to learn what bread likes, and then I'll be good.
I'm sure these three lessons are the first of many, which I'll continue to relate here as I make progress on my resolution. Thanks Martha and Tessa! Next I'm going to try ciabatta, probably tomorrow as I think I'm going to make Sunday bread-making day, along with be-productive-on-all-my-art-projects day – see, all the resolutions fit together into one beautiful whole. Rise, draw, rise, draw, bake.

If I can pull it all off, I'll be this happy every day:

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