Archive for April, 2011

April 18, 2011

Noma tops World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards again — plus read my picks

Bellevue Brasserie in St. Petersburg, Russia

Caviar and champagne at Bellevue Brasserie in St. Petersburg, Russia. The restaurant was one of my picks for the World's 50 Best.

[As published in the Toronto Star on April 18, 2011.]

Skim through the list of the world’s best restaurants and you won’t find one from Canada. No Langdon Hall, Rouge, West, North 44 or any favourites in Montreal or Vancouver Island. That’s not only discouraging for the chefs and restaurant owners here, it’s a shock to the man who’s been championing Canada’s culinary scene.

Steve Dolinsky, an acclaimed food reporter from Chicago, is the chairperson for the Mid-United States/Canada region of Restaurant Magazine’s World’s 50 Best judging academy. This year, Dolinsky made sure there were more Canadian-based judges than ever, which he thought would lead to more of this country’s restaurants making the grade. But the two establishments that scored positions on Restaurant Magazine’s World’s Best list last year — Rouge (60) in Calgary and Cambridge’s venerable Langdon Hall (77) — dropped out of the rankings for 2010. No Canadian restaurant has made the top 50 since 2003, when Michael Stadtländer’s Eiginsenn Farm from Singhampton placed 28th, a year after coming in the top 10.

“There’s no Canadian restaurant in the top 100 and that stuns me,” says Dolinsky, who was in London, England, where this year’s rankings were revealed at Guildhall on Monday. “With more judges from Canada than ever and with those judges being from all over the country, the only thing that I can think of is the votes were spread out. One restaurant may have gotten a vote here, another may have gotten two there, so things may not have been as concentrated as they were before. I’m really surprised there wasn’t more consensus.”

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April 18, 2011

Origin a ‘solid’ Toronto restaurant — and it could be a brand

Claudio Aprile at Origin

Claudio Aprile says Origin's menu is designed for short attention spans.

When I asked Claudio Aprile if the eclectic, tapas-style dishes served at Origin marks the way dining will be in the future, he said no. Origin is about now.

“It’s designed for short attention spans. That’s what our society is about,” said the chef who also operates Colborne Lane, long considered among the best restaurants in Toronto.

I’d been meaning to get to Origin, which is at King and Church, since it opened last year and finally made it there twice in a four-day period this month thanks to media events. The food came at us fast, in one satisfying wave after another. Taste is a personal thing and Aprile’s cuisine — which is innovative, sophisticated and often brave — agrees with me. So I wanted to find what others thought of the experience at Origin: of the taste, the price, the portion sizes.

The most repeated word was “solid.”

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April 18, 2011

The Daily J.P. Arencibia to Cooperstown Watch, Days 15-17: Running on empty

The Boston Marathon is on Monday, the Blue Jays may have been prepping.

They did their best impersonation of Forrest Gump on Sunday, running without care and for no particularly reason it seemed. With none out in the seventh, Travis Snider was picked off when he was caught leaving first base early on a Juan Rivera line drive that was caught by Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. An inning later, Corey Patterson — who’s done some terrific things since coming off the DL — was caught stealing third with two on and one out.

Never mind that the Jays scored their only run on a double-steal in the second. Mistakes are mistakes and these ones were costly.

Of course, you could also say it wouldn’t have mattered if the Jays ran up and down New England in game three of the series. Jon Lester (1-1) wasn’t going to give them much. He went six innings before leaving with a 6-1 lead at Fenway Park.

J.P. Arencibia had a decent day at the plate, bouncing back from an 0-for-4 perfomance on Friday — his last start. The rookie catcher went 2-for-4 and got his average (.308) back over .300, but defensively he was charged with two passed balls as the miscues mounted for the Jays (7-8).

For the second straight day they managed just one run and have to be concerned that they’re the ones who’ve given Boston a pulse. The Red Sox (4-10) have won two games in a row for the first time.

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April 17, 2011

Snow in Toronto! And a photo to warm you up

Downtown skyline as seen from Toronto Island

The downtown skyline as seen from Toronto Island earlier this week - when it was warm.

T.S. Eliot said “April is the cruelest month” but snow in the middle of it? On a weekend, no less? That’s downright nasty. Toronto got a dusting this morning and with temperatures dropping to minus-1C we might get more tonight. Good news: It’s supposed to hit 16C on Wednesday. Bad news: It’s supposed to rain. Ugh. Seems like we can’t win.

Leafs don’t make the playoffs, Raptors stink too, TTC trains break down more than Charlie Sheen, Rob Ford’s the mayor, summer will never get here, the Habs might win the Cup and if they don’t the Canucks probably will … you gotta wonder if the city’s living in a wasteland of good vibes.

Hopefully this beautiful photograph will remind you it’s still a great city. Julia took it on Tuesday during a walk on Ward Island. That’s when it seemed like we were headed to brighter, warmer days.

April 17, 2011

On Record Store Day, Sonic Boom hollers

Fans jam into Sonic Boom on Record Store Day

Fans jam into Sonic Boom on Record Store Day as Zeus gets ready to take the stage.

Saturday marked the fourth annual Record Store Day and, fittingly, Toronto band Zeus was in town to celebrate. All these guys do is turn out vinyl — oh, and put on a really great show.

They were among the musicians who treated fans to songs in the lower level of Sonic Boom Records, one of the more than 700 independent record stores in North America celebrating the “art of music.” Not only was the music free, so was the pizza. A great touch by Sonic Boom, a Bloor West shop that’s a real treasure for our city and a draw for young music fans.

For Zeus fans, the show featured a few new songs, including the bluesy, Double Fantasy-esque “Hello, Tender Love” sung by Neil Quin. The band heads to Europe for some shows before opening a few gigs for the Sam Roberts Band, including at Massey Hall on June 3 and 4.

Among the other eight acts who performed were the Wooden Sky and Bidini Band.

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April 15, 2011

Canada Election 2011: 5 ways to get us to vote

Since writing that I won’t vote on May 2, I’ve received responses — online and off — from conscientious people encouraging me to change my mind. Some, though, agree and also vow to remain on the sidelines. For all of those candidates, reporters, Elections Canada officials and dutybound citizens desperately searching for ways to get us interested in this election, here are five things that might shift our position and lead us to the polls.

How many people will not fill a ballot box? That's the question.

1. Guarantee my Groupon. You can keep the half off the bowling in north Oshawa, but I’ve had it with missing out on two-for-one dinners at Loire and Pearl. Have those deals ready for me at the polling station, and I’m there. Might even vote twice if you did that.

2. Dunk tank. Cast a ballot, get the chance to dunk Justin Bieber. You want to get the youth vote out? There’s your answer.

3. Give Winnipeg an NHL team already. For the love of Hawerchuk would somebody give these people their Jets back! The pleading and agony is too much. All they want is the chance to lose to Edmonton or Calgary every Saturday night in perpetuity. If we all vote can someone make sure Gary Bettman eases their pain? (One condition: The Weakerthans’ “One Great City!” has to be played along with the national anthems before games at the MTS Centre.)

4. Promise to lay off the guilt. Yeah, people in Tahrir Square died for democracy. Yeah, kids in other parts of Africa would die (and have died) for rights we take for granted. But let’s talk about our reality, which is our national parties that don’t inspire us and our leaders who want our vote simply to stick it to their opponent. Oh, and by the way, when we did turn out in decent numbers in the ’80s and ’90s, we ended up with two of the most corrupt Canadian governments in history (Mulroney’s Conservatives and Chretiens’ Liberals). So voting may not be the answer to our political troubles. Not voting? En masse? Wonder what kind of wake-up call that might send.

5. Pay me. In Australia, voting is compulsory and you’re fined $85 if you don’t show up to the polls. I advocate for a similar approach, but rather than a fine, why not cut the salaries of Members of Parliament by 10 percent each time there’s an election and dole that money out to people who vote? That would drop each MP’s salary from $157,738 (yeah, if you didn’t know, that’s how much they make and they get $25,500 in annual expenses on top of that and not one of them is bringing it up during the campaign, but we’re supposed to rush to the polls for these people?) down to $141,964.10. Take the $15,773.80 you cut, multiple it by 308 (number of seats in Parliament) and you have $4,858,330.40 to dole out.

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April 15, 2011

Canada Election 2011: 5 reasons not to vote for Jack Layton and the NDP

Jack Layton NDP Leader

Jack Layton at a recent NDP rally. (Photo courtesy of jack.ndp.ca)

1. The business community wants stability. It’s a huge reason Canada’s banking system has earned high praise internationally and attracted currency buyers, sending the loonie to record levels and making all of us richer. Increasing the corporate tax rate from 15 percent (what the Conservatives have set it to fall to in 2012) to the NDP-proposed 19.5 percent would be a shock to the system. The world economy is still in precarious condition, as Portugal’s debt woes show, and no one can predict what the ramifications will be from all the other delicate situations in the world (Japan’s recovery, Arab world unrest, fluctuating oil prices). So while the left-leaning Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives can come out with timely reports declaring corporate tax cuts are poor for job creation and capital investment spending, it hasn’t published a paper saying the business world would take a spike in the corporate tax rate in stride. Jack Layton is taking the public for fools when he tells us he’ll keep corporate taxes here below the U.S. rate, which is 26 percent (although there are all kinds of ways around paying that much). Of course our rate is never going to increase to that level in this decade, and competing with the U.S. rate isn’t the point. Low corporate taxes, combined with a stable economy, will draw more corporations to Canada and retain those that are here. If the Conservatives or Liberals are smart (wishful thinking, I know), they’ll incrementally increase the corporate tax rate once the global economy is healthy. The goal should be to lure lots of big businesses here and then slowly turn up the heat to get as much as we can out of them before they flee to Zug, Switzerland.

2. Layton’s a great attack dog. What would happen if he actually got that bone? Truth is, there’s reason to doubt his ability to lead the nation. Think Barack Obama, without the massive groundswell of support, global goodwill, happenin’ dance moves and cute kids.

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April 15, 2011

The Daily J.P. Arencibia to Cooperstown Watch, Days 13-14: AL Beast Mode

jp arencibia toronto blue jays

J.P. Arencibia should have a big head. He's hitting .323 as the Jays travel to Fenway Park.

Win one for the JEFfer?

That might be the war cry for J.P. Arencibia and the Blue Jays as they head into Fenway Park, where their rookie manager, John Edward Farrell, was the Red Sox pitching coach for three seasons.

If there’s any extra incentive to latch onto in the next 10 days, the Jays should cling to it like a Barry Bonds’ alibi. They play four games in Beantown against The Best Boston Red Sox Team Ever — who just happen to be 2-9 — before returning home to face the hated Yankees and the Rays next week. That’s nine games against the AL East. If the Jays (6-6) can go 6-3, they should be happy.

Scary thing about the Red Sox is that you know they’re going to bust out at some point. The Jays just hope they wait until next week to do it. Boston is off to its worst start in 15 years. Terry Francona’s team lost their first six games and no AL East team has ever made the playoffs doing that.

Friday’s series opener features two struggling and winless pitchers both with 7.20 ERAs. For the Jays it’s Brett Cecil (0-1) and for Boston it’s Clay Buchholz (0-2). Hmmmm…. think we’ll see some runs?

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