What has been the most exciting for me, has been real authentic Mexican Food, family recipes, the ones that have been handed down through the generations, real down home, salt of the earth layers upon layers of flavors. They are not intended to be rules that will be enforced by the Association of Food Journalists but guidelines provided to food journalists and their employers who are interested in ethical industry suggestions for their reviews. Restaurant criticism is not an objective pursuit, yet readers expect a measure of objectivity from critics.
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The goals of a critic should be, fair, honest, to understand and illuminate the cuisine about which he or she is experiencing. Additionally, look beyond specific dishes and experiences to capture the whole of a restaurant and its intentions. We use the star rating symbol, although, we have developed a rating system appropriate for your readership. I have grown children who visit often, and our favourite thing to do together is cook. My idea of heaven is four hours in the kitchen with three or four apprentices they get snippy when I call them slaves and some very dry martinis after the mise en place is ready.
Believe it or not, having to go to dinner at least twice every week, year after year, gets routine. What if you feel like staying home in that snowstorm?
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And if there isn't an interesting restaurant to write about in a given week, I have to make some dog at least sound interesting. And really, how many ways can a writer parse sushi? Or describe broccoli? Remaining anonymous has also presented its own set of challenges. A critic cannot be impartial if she knows the restaurateurs. If I meet them, empathy rears its head and I shy away from dishing the truth lest I hurt their feelings — or even worse, their bottom line.
So I've refused to get to know any of them, and have done everything in my power to prevent their knowing me. Which has meant reserving tables under a false name and paying with credit cards bearing the same nom de plume.
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But making reservations has become harder of late. Half the new restos don't pick up their phone; they want you to leave a message and they'll call back — not ideal for someone in my situation. One time, in a panic of tardiness, I phoned a resto on my cell to say we were running late. They didn't pick up but clearly did "call return" and got my cell voicemail. And then they knew my false name, so that one had to be retired. I have tended to get a new fake-name credit card every year, and I favour bland WASP names, often from my beloved Victorian novels, so as to fade into the woodwork.
That part is easy as long as you remember what your new name is. The hard part is the camouflage. Although I never went as far as Ruth Reichl, who adopted elaborate and bewigged disguises during her tenure as the New York Times critic, I have always adopted "protective mimicry" in restaurants — meaning that, when on Ossington, I wear a lot of black, and uptown I'll put on the pearls and heels.
It's about trying to fit in, to disappear into the customer crowd. People dining with me are never allowed to complain, send food back, or sound too food-smart.
Have they always obeyed? Fat chance. There have been guests who draw too much attention to themselves, or say my name aloud especially after their second glass of wine. I usually kick them under the table for that. There have been guests who refuse to order the dishes I want to sample. They're on a diet or they don't like red meat or cream sauce scares them.
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These people are not usually my guests again, because I require flexibility in my epicurean research assistants. My goal has been to be "everyman," that ordinary customer who gets treated as average, not special, for that restaurant — in order to discover how they would treat you, my reader. Still, it's been a great ride. Reviewing for the Globe has been, in so many ways, a dream job: There was the three-star tour of France in 10 Michelin three stars in 10 days.
And through it all, I've gotten paid to eat mostly fun food, a task that has been the dominant form of entertainment for my entire adult life. What a long, tasty trip it's been, Toronto, and you've been riding shotgun all the way. Which is what makes it so hard to say goodbye to you, my readers. From bland to smoking hot: The evolution of a city food scene. My first review for the Globe appeared on Monday, April 22, Noodles was Toronto's first Italian restaurant that broke the mould of checked tablecloths, spaghetti and candles in Chianti bottles.
People with money were really still going to the Benvenuto or the Park Plaza to eat shrimp cocktail and roast beef with Yorkshire pudding in those days. Those of modest means went to Swiss Chalet, Fran's or Murray's, but mostly stayed home. Cheese was Kraft slices and veg were often canned peas. In the seventies, French cuisine came to town: Cream and butter grabbed our attention. The Westbury Hotel where Susur Lee cooked for a time, and Franco Prevedello served made food headlines diminutive at the time for chef Tony Roldan's "Scampis in Love" an orgy of cream and white wine , but never on Sunday because that was a day on which restaurants weren't allowed to serve alcohol.
Gaston's on Markham Street broke ground with French onion soup; people who had been to France flocked there. We fell hard for quiche lorraine, crepes Suzette and chocolate mousse.
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The most important restaurant in Toronto was Three Small Rooms really three restos opened in by George Minden, a gifted amateur who went so far outside the box that he profoundly changed Toronto dining. The cooking was French and fabulous. Minden hired two young cooks named Jamie Kennedy and Michael Stadtlander to cook at his ski chalet near Gstaad in Switzerland. Minden's friend Morden Yolles, owner of the Benvenuto Hotel and a passionate gourmand, came to visit him, fell for the food, sent the young cooks on an eating tour of Europe to broaden their horizons, and then hired Mr.
Kennedy and Mr. Stadtlander as co-chefs to open Scaramouche in A meat dish that had it all was a special of lamb chops wrapped in fresh basil leaves. And the chicken paillard, so often dry and overcooked, was juicy and moist. Its plate mates of chopped tomatoes and tricolor salad were pluses.
The best main course was the threesome of truly jumbo shrimp in a garlic-spiked white wine sauce. It arrived with a stir-fry of crisp Oriental vegetables and a hot barley salad flecked with minced vegetables. Swordfish, requested rare, was grilled precisely to order. Two also-rans were nothing-special veal scaloppine in a dull lemon sauce and boneless quail atop polenta.
The tiny birds were beautifully roasted with herbs and pancetta but contained more bones than promised. Desserts are homemade and include a number of must-orders. The chocolate mousse is the dark bitter type that chocolate lovers crave.
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The tiramisu is a good creamy rendition of the classic, as is the ricotta cheesecake. A chocolate-mousse tart won the popularity poll at our table one night, but my favorite was the fruit tart, with its flaky pastry and rich custard. There is good news and bad news at wine time. The 55 Italian and American West Coast selections include a number of interesting, thoughtfully chosen possibilities.
Recommended dishes: Quail pate and smoked salmon, grilled vegetables, sea scallops, Muscovy duck breast, mesclun salad, gnocchi, whole wheat fettuccine, chicken paillard, lamb chops, salmon, jumbo shrimp, all desserts. Ratings are based on the reviewer's reaction to food and price in relation to comparable establishments. Past reviews.