Where Toronto Eats: Sid’s Deli

Art work by Michelle Cheung for Novella Magazine

The key to a simple dish lies in the details: the quality of the ingredients and the precision in preparation and presentation. If the demands of these details are met, even the most simple and humble dish can be downright thrilling. But when such dishes are prepared halfheartedly, with no rich sauce or pretty decorations to hide behind, their flaws become glaringly apparent; the balance is thrown off and the humble and simple dish becomes, at its best, noxious fuel for the road. Sushi is a great example: it can either be of Jiro’s dreams or of his nightmares. Though certainly not as highly prized as sushi, the same principle applies to even a deli sandwich. To those who love the pleasures brought on by such dishes’ simplicity, the nightmares are not merely disappointments but causes for moral outrage. For those, and for those looking for a great deli sandwich, Toronto’s Sid’s Deli gives cause for outrage in every bite of its pastrami sandwich. Stuff of Willy Katz’s and Reuben Schwartz’s collective worst fears.

Let’s not get too much into the establishment itself; suffice it to say that the alley next to its patio was riddled with oozing garbage and a red table just in front of the front counter was sticky with whatever combination of substances left undisturbed for god knows how long. The more unforgivable of Sid’s Deli’s deficiencies greeted me in the form of a supposedly 6oz pastrami on rye. The first bad sign: the absolute pinkness of the pastrami without the dark, smoky edges that should have, in the very least, been visible. The second: the visibly, and soon, to my dismay, to touch, cold pastrami — pastrami should sit in a steamer until it’s warm before it’s sliced and served. The third: the unbalanced distribution of the meat: each bite should offer a balance of lean and fat meats to bread ratio. These are, so far, only signs of the kitchen’s carelessness and lack of know-how that are telling me that this sandwich is not likely to satisfy. However, still at this point, the actual sandwich itself, against all odds, might very well have been a pleasant surprise. Not the case. The pastrami was flavorless, dry, and somehow devoid of any fat. The only noticeable flavor came from chunks of peppercorns lodged somewhere in the mound of dry pink. I should also note that Sid’s Deli charges 85 cents to have the pastrami hand-cut, an essential part of eating pastrami I’ve apparently been taking for granted all these years.

Hoping to find some solace, I looked to the rest of the plate, but it offered none. Though I saw the kitchen staff put the cold latke from the fridge into a microwave, I was hoping that it would still be good: it’s difficult to mess up such a simple and perfect classic. But the latke had, by the time I turned to it, oozed yellow oil onto the plate. Cutting into it, I found that the potato was neither grated nor shredded in the food processor but rather pulped in something or other. It was soggy and bland. Not an ounce of soul could be found in this infinitely forgiving and nourishing Jewish soul food. The cabbage in the cabbage slaw was unevenly cut, a paper-thin piece swimming in the same tasteless juice as a piece as thick as a finger. The matzo ball soup with a cold matzo ball was reminiscent of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup in its briny broth. In the end, the only solace came from a bottle of water that tried to wash everything down.

Some may think that I’m overanalyzing a sandwich platter. Would I, for instance, look at a Subways sandwich with the same level of scrutiny? Isn’t a sandwich, after all, just a sandwich? But a pastrami sandwich, especially one from a place that calls itself a deli, is not just a sandwich. Like many everyday foods, pastrami has a long cultural history and carries with it the stories of people who make and eat it. It is nothing short of an embodiment of that history and those stories. As such, it should be treated with respect and when it isn’t, one should scrutinize and call out. With a dash of exaggeration, I might even posit that mediocrity in food — and people’s acceptance of the mediocrity as normal — is both symptom and outcome of a blindingly materialistic culture. That the only thing  BlogTO had to “kvetch” was Sid’s Deli’s high price and that BlogTO is a common reference point for Torontonians are, therefore, sufficient causes for further moral outrage.

After all the moral outrage at this emotionally hazardous establishment, what bugs me still is the fact that it had the audacity to charge 85 cents to have pastrami hand-cut. Was it an attempt to make that extra near-dollar per sandwich and thereby lower food costs? Or were those 85 cents going to the master cutter who otherwise sits solemnly in the back room, sharpening his tools? That the establishment even considered thinly machine-cutting pastrami was a good idea is a testimony to the fact that those running it have neither love nor respect for the food they sell. It should be obvious by now that Sid’s Deli is not Katz or Schwartz, but that’s not really the point. The point is that Sid’s Deli’s values and principles are antithetical to those of respected institutions of deli sandwiches; by extension, it’s antithetical to those of anyone who loves what he/she cooks.

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The best of Paris Men’s Fashion Week

Men’s fashion weeks around the world sometimes get a bad wrap as being mere fillers used to hold the fashion market between the ladies’ shows, which, to some extent, is true. With fashion being a predominantly female-focused industry, designers sometimes ended up creating menswear as a quick fix to engender male buyers’ interest in the brand. The result: lackluster and uninspired collections that really had nothing to do with the brand apart from carrying its name on the label. However, it seems as though many designers are finally understanding the power that a solid menswear line can have. Every season, it seems that more and more designers are popping up on the men’s week schedules, all with their own styles, twists, and innovative designs aimed at changing the face of menswear around the world.

Thom Browne

Photos: Vogue Runway

It looks as if the biggest trend this season is genderless clothing, the mixing and matching of men’s and women’s to create a new range of clothing that fit the term “humanwear” rather than menswear. At Thom Browne, the air was heavy with the idea of gender non-conformity. What was once seen as women’s clothing was quickly turned into a collection of genderless formal wear, at once crisp and heavily based on traditional tropes of masculinity, but also made soft and feminine through the use of tailoring and length. Thom Browne created a double image, almost like two images placed on top of one another. It isn’t either or, it’s about humanity and its similarities rather what makes what gender what.

Dior Homme

Photos: Vogue Runway

Now it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the spring collections are riddled with shorts. The whole point of a spring collection is to provide the customers with a seasonally appropriate outfit as the weather starts to warm up. However, it seems that, over the past few seasons, men’s shorts seemed to have been getting shorter and shorter. This is most likely due to the fact that menswear is only very rarely affected by the rules of masculinity and femininity. So it wasn’t in the least bit shocking to see designer Kris Van Ashe send out a flurry of cropped hems on the runway at Dior Homme. The beauty in this collection comes from the casualness of the shorts. Instead of creating a traditionally formal look for menswear, it creates a much more youthful and carefree silhouette.

Undercover

Photos: Vogue Runway

Jun Takahashi is no stranger to creating interesting and fiercely modern knitwear for his collections at Undercover. His post-apocalyptic ’90s cyberpunk collection is very relevant to what’s been happening over the last year with the massive influx of punk, grunge, and metal in menswear. But it isn’t just the heavy knits that make this collection something worth looking into. The outerwear is exceptionally well made and eye-catching. Oversized garments also seemed to be a big selling point throughout the collection. Exaggerated trapeze style coats walked alongside massive, overstretched flannels, and sweaters add to the “I don’t care, I wear what I want!” attitude of the collection.

Lucien Pellat-Finet

Photos: Vogue Runway

“How do you do preppy in 2017 without having to resort to beige cargo shorts and a candy coloured polo shirt?” That must have been the question designer Lucien Pellat-Finet must have been asking himself when he designed this fun take on the varsity jock’s go-to for his Spring 2018 collection. What’s interesting about this collection is the subtle yet completely recognizable throwback to the early ’90s jock — the inviting pastels as well as the velours and gauzy prints that scream varsity loungewear. Think Mark Paul Gosslear in Saved by the Bell, just far more high fashion. Another statement that jumps out here is one that was being made at many of the other collections. There was a real sense of soft femininity which may have either been brought on by the pastels, or the subtle change in fit. While most of the garments looked to be normal length, some were designed to fit a tad bit on the cropped size; an ode to womenswear for sure.

Juun.J

Photos: Vogue Runway

One of the biggest surprises to come out of Paris menswear week this season had to be designer Juun. J’s “formless and genderless” collection. The collection, which featured men’s and women’s clothing, was created with the ultimate goal of being interchangeable, the line between menswear and womenswear virtually indistinguishable. There were clear men and ladies influences. The hard pinstripe suiting and outerwear and the soft flowing shirting and caftan style dresses meshed and interchanged beautifully with one another. The collection showed its audiences that interchangeable unisex collections aren’t something of science fiction. They’re very now and seem to be a driving force behind the engine that is fashion. Take the army green hoodie paired with the long white caftan dress that walked the show. The entire look is completely wearable for both men and women without altering the look of the outfit itself.

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Parisian Picnic with Grey Goose’s Le Grand Fizz

Recently at Grey Goose’s beautiful Sunset Soirée, Novella had a chance to meet Chef Justin Kent, previously of Alain Passard’s 3-Michelin starred L’Arpègeand chat about French cuisine and its often overlooked adherence to simplicity and the quality of French produce. But more importantly and — and this is no jab at the chef’s personality — more memorably, we had a chance to eat his food. And I must say that Chef Kent’s Parisian picnic-style dishes were a testimony to Grey Goose’s ability to create and spot simple elegance and tastefulness. “Grey Goose approached me because the concept of what I do — farm-to-table — is much in line with their philosophy of field-to-bottle. I wanted to [make pairings] that touch on some of the key notes of Grey Goose and its terroir,” he said. Though those prone to hyperbole might suggest that the pairing of Grey Goose Le Grand Fizz — with which everyone was eventually awash — and Chef Kent’s farm salad and poulet au moutarde was indeed the culinary equivalent of being taken on a nice ride through France’s Picardy region in a 1950 Citroen 2cv — where Grey Goose’s wheat come from —, I myself will go only so far to say that the pairing was a form of alchemy in which scenes of Paris became food and drink.

Luckily for those of us who cannot make it to Paris or Picardy anytime soon, Grey Goose and Chef Kent were kind enough to share their recipes with us. Below are your gateway to effervescent Paris and Picardy and their French effervescence (with some personal notes from yours truly).

Grey Goose Le Grand Fizz

  • 1 & 1/2 parts Grey Goose vodka
  • 1 part St-Germain elderflower liqueur
  • 2 parts chilled soda water
  • 1/2 freshly squeezed lime juice (or approximately 2 wedges)

To switch things up a bit, maintain the ratios and replace Grey Goose with Grey Good L’Orange (or Le Citron) and the lime juice with freshly squeezed orange juice (or lemon juice). You can also try it with Grey Goose Cherry Noir — just replace the lime juice with lemon. The only rule here is to keep things simple. Use good quality ice — the clearer the better — and always use a jigger and let Grey Goose do its thing.

  1. Build ice into an oversized cabernet wine glass. More ice than you initially think seem appropriate.
  2. Add Grey Goose vodka and lime juice and top with St-Germain and soda water (in that order).
  3. Garnish with fresh lime wedges and a swanky Grey Goose stirrer if you have one.

Farm Salad with Goat Cheese & Champagne Vinaigrette

  • 1 fennel bulb (halved and cored)
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 small Chioggia beet (blanched and peeled)
  • 3 large radishes
  • 1 endive
  • 1 granny smith apple (sliced)
  • 80g arugula
  • 1 tablespoon of tarragon leaves
  • 1 tablespoon of dill
  • 1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 1 tablespoon chives (chopped)
  • 1 tablespoon champagne wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 85g fresh goat cheese (crumbled)
  • This recipe makes 4 servings

The Chioggia beet is a variety straight out of the Beatles’s Sgt. Pepper’s. The candy pink and white striped beet is sweeter than the usual variety and does not bleed as much, which is great since red beets may very well overwhelm the rest of the salad with its colors. But if Chioggia is not available at your nearby farmers’ market or grocery store, you can of course replace it with a regular old beet. Or if you want the bright colors, try using watermelon radishes — just make sure to use a little less of the other radishes. Or, do like I did and take it out entirely. Nobody will notice if you don’t tell a soul. It’ll be your little secret that will tickle you when the guests get on your nerves, like, “Little did they know…” Do Mr. Burns’s evil fingers and move onto the other vegetables. Finally, near the end of the summer, try switching red radishes with black ones. They are more pungent and a bit spicier and the charcoal skin adds great color to the salad.

  1. Blanch the beets in simmering water with the skin on until easily able to be pierced with a knife.
  2. Let the beets cool. Once cool enough to handle, remove the skin of the beets with your hands. It should slide off.
  3. Using a mandolin, thinly slice the fennel, carrot, beet, and radishes and transfer to a large bowl. Add the endive, arugula, tarragon, dill, parsley, and chives.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk the champagne vinegar with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Add the dressing and half of the goat cheese, and toss gently.
  5. Transfer the salad to plates and garnish with the remaining goat cheese.

Poulet au Moutarde 

 

  • 10 chicken thighs (skin on, deboned)
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 cup cream
  • 150g grain mustard
  • 150g lardons
  • 1/2 banana shallot (diced)
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme
  • Fresh parsley (chopped for garnish)
  • Salt & pepper (to taste)
  • This recipe makes 5 servings

Use a thick bottomed pan. Cast iron skillet works well here. Some suggest oven roasting the chicken in the oven, but it’s hot in the summer and who has time for that. Poulet au moutarde (mustard chicken doesn’t sound as appetizing for some reason — the French really know how to make everything chic) is a classic and even if everything doesn’t go 100% right, it’s hard to muck up. Use good chicken (organic, kosher, air-chilled, because we are about that good life), good grain mustard (that Grey Poupon, though Canadian brand, Kozlik’s is also very good), and fresh vegetables, and you’re set. Because I’m a sucker for all things pickled, I like the poulet au moutarde avec pickled slaw. Smitten Kitchen has a great and easy recipe and you can get it here. Finally, though this may not really be that haute-cuisine in spirit, always have a loaf of sourdough or a baguette to soak up the sauce.

  1. Season chicken thighs with salt and pepper.
  2. In a pan on medium-high heat, sear the chicken thighs, skin side down in oil until crisp and golden brown. Flip and sear on the other side until lightly caramelized.
  3. Remove the chicken thighs from the pan and set aside on a plate.
  4. Add lardons to the pan and cook until crisp.
  5. Add shallots to the pan and cook until translucent.
  6. Add the grain mustard and stir for 30 seconds being careful not to let it burn.
  7. Deglaze the pan with white win, bring to a simmer and reduce by half.
  8. Add cream and bring to a simmer.
  9. Add the smoked paprika.
  10. Place the chicken thighs back in the sauce and cook on medium to medium-low heat, covered, until fork tender.
  11. Remove from the sauce and place on to the plate to serve.
  12. Spoon sauce over the top of the chicken and garnish with chopped parsley.

Riz au Lait with Caramel Beurre Salé

  • 1 liter whole milk
  • 200g risotto rice (carnaroli is best but arborio will do)
  • 200g sugar
  • Zest of 2 lemons
  • 200g heavy cream
  • 500g sugar (for the caramel beurre salé)
  • 400g heavy cream (for the caramel beurre salé)
  • 125g salted butter (for the caramel beurre salé)
  • This recipe makes 6~8 servings

Riz au lait is rice pudding. More or less. But instead of chocolate or cinnamon powder, here we have the caramel beurre salé, a fancier accoutrement to be sure. But, lucky for us, not that much more difficult nor time consuming! I recommend the carnaroli instead of the arborio because it is starchier and will give you a creamier result. I’m used to adding a bit of nutmeg to my rice pudding, and I’m sure it won’t harm the recipe here. In fact, I believe that the nutmeg may go very well with Grey Goose Espresso Martini.

  1. Bring milk, rice, and sugar to a simmer and cook for 20-25 minutes until the rice is cooked through.
  2. Add lemon zest and allow mixture to cool.
  3. Whip heavy cream and fold into the riz au lait, set aside.
  4. To make the caramel sauce, heat cream so that it is warm, just before simmering and set aside.
  5. In a small pot, caramelize sugar to a med-dark amber color.
  6. Slowly add in the cream to the caramel, whisking consistently, then remove from the heat once well blended.
  7. Add butter and stir well.
  8. To serve, pour cooled riz au lait into individual sized ramekins and top with caramel sauce.

Grey Goose Espresso Martini 

  • 1 &1/2 parts Grey Goose Vodka
  • 1 part single origin espresso
  • 3/4 parts premium coffee liqueur
  • Good chocolate

This is the finisher. Your guests had their salad and chicken and they’re just digging into the rich riz au lait, thinking something along the lines of I’m dead, and you come out with this concoction of smooth blow of elegance and power.This delicious cocktail wakes up the drinker and makes them happy at the same time. What more can one ask? Maybe a take-out box if there’s any of that salad left. But otherwise, nothing.

  1. Shake hard and long.
  2. Double strain and garnish with grated chocolate.

There you are, folks, the solution to your summer lunch, dinner, and picnic menu problem. Don’t mind the beautiful photo of the rock by the beach with perfectly photogenic charcuterie, cheese, and roast chicken, and absurd ratio between baguette and other foods. I put it there because it’s pretty and maybe it will inspire you to seek out a bit of the French-picnic chic this summer. When preparing the food seem a bit daunting, remember the perfect wood picnic basket. That the Grey Goose is the first on the list is by no means an accident — it’s meant to enliven and rejuvenate your mind, body, and soul as you spend the long summer day out in the sun. Keep the food and drinks simple, spend less time in the kitchen and more time with your friends and family. 

The New Normal: Dissecting the Male Ideal

TEXT: Alexander Sauve 

Similar to the female standards of beauty, the male ideal is nearly impossible to achieve and maintain. It’s a standard that continually evolves and is driven by the media and entertainment industry. With Pride month well underway, Novella takes a look at the emerging new standards of male beauty and we find that one size does not necessarily fit all.

1960s: Liberated and Outrageously Sexy

The 1960s was a decade of significant cultural and political upheaval. Before the gay liberation movement, it was absolutely imperative to “pass” as heterosexual. After the Stonewall Riots of 1969, coming out became an act of defiance against the anti-gay establishment. Men in greater numbers would break free from the traditional clean-shaven, perfectly quaffed and overly conservative mold of the ’50s. By the early 1970s, gay men found inspiration in uber-masculine male stereotypes — the lumberjack, the cowboy, the biker, and the construction worker would become the epitome of the masculine ideal.

1970s: A decade of Decadence

In the era of Studio 54 and Bowie and Warhol, a period of decadence and self-expression rolled in. Although the uber-masculine ideal was in full swing, many gay men would begin to defy old-school gender binaries by experimenting with makeup, tight clothes, and longer hairstyles. The look was androgynous, young, and free-spirited. The underground Drag Ball culture of New York was gaining popularity and would eventually become synonymous with the worldwide LGBT community.

1980s: The Athletic Ideal

As the fitness models exercised, sweated, and posed in various states of undress in Olivia Newton-John’s 1981 smash hit Physical, the athletic male ideal was born. Men were muscular, athletic, and tanned to a leathery golden crust. Essentially the “All-American Look” of the 1980s fitness craze would have a tremendous influence on male beauty, fashion, and grooming ideals. A body that is fit, healthy, and lean remains the most sought after body type for both men and women alike.

1990s: The Era of the Supermodel

Arguably the last generation of the true supermodel-models Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, and Kate Moss was the envy of every young woman and gay man in the 1990s. But a crop of top male models — Marcus Schenkenberg, Mark Vanderloo, and Tyson Beckford — would set the standard of male beauty in the era of perfection. With their chiseled features and tall and well-defined physiques, these guys were the new epitome of the masculine ideal.

Early 2000’s: The Metrosexual Man

By the early 2000s, we saw an increase of confident and stylish men taking greater pride in their appearance. In this era, men enjoyed high-quality grooming products, designer threads, and perfectly styled hair. The metrosexual is usually found in urban jungles where grooming and shopping is easy. Most often heterosexual, these stylish and well-groomed men put some of their gay counterparts to shame.

2010: The Casual Hipster

In many ways, the hipster would set a new standard for male grooming and style. From full and thick beards to plaid shirts and oversized frames, their casual and uber-sexy style is one of the most sought after styles for millennials. Noted to be somewhat overly trendy, the hipster loves all things organic, distinctive, and individual. Unfortunately, the individuality thing only goes so far, since the term ‘hipster’ goes as far back as the 1940s and saw an reemergence with a different meaning in the 1990s.

Today: The Bearded Beauty

Today it’s all about lumberjack. The new male archetype is bearded, uber-masculine, and is good with an axe (probably not really though). An ode to the lumbersexual and anti-establishment of the 1960s and 70s, beards give a rugged and enigmatic appearance to even the prettiest of male faces. Think Ryan Reynolds in The Amityville Horror (2005), without the crazy.

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Bands Spotted: June Pride Edition

To some, June marks the beginning of summer, the end of school, and the time to begin making plans for cottage getaways away from the city. But to others this month is in fact the perfect time to stay local. Thousands of people across the world celebrate their freedom to be and to love whoever they want to. It’s Pride Month and cities everywhere are booming with block parties, booming atmospheres, and parades, loved by so many. This month on Bands Spotted, it’s time to celebrate those who celebrate LGBTQ+ Pride!

THE CLIKS

Toronto band The Clikss frontman announced recently that he is transgender. Making this public has allowed the band to be even more open to discussing diversity, Pride, and being a part of the community. Aside from this, the band has a classic indie/rock style and they play many shows around the city, including some this week for Pride! A great band to check out this season. You can follow the band here!

THE SHONDES

Each member of Shondes identifies as being apart of the LGBTQ+ community. They are proud of their diverse backgrounds and give credit to it as being the catalyst for the band’s beginnings. From relationships to hard times, the band makes content that is truly relatable to everyone no matter what their preferences are. The collection of this band’s music gives off a definite “come together” type of feeling, which is important to keep in mind during this season. Check out more from Shondes here.

Le1f

Something that we have learned to be more aware of during Pride is the issue of acceptance of sexual diversity within other minority groups. Hip-Hop artist Le1f has released many songs that talk about his sexual identity being in conflict with his racial identity. He infamously says in the song above, “Ask a gay question/ Here’s a black answer” Le1f’s work is important in showing another side of the issue that should not be forgotten when celebrating gay pride. To hear more from Leif, click here.

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