Movies for When You’re Hungry

In Netflix’s Chef’s Table, each episode takes the viewer closer to the chef and his/her food, more often than not, at a high-end restaurant and the craftsmanship, the energy, the creativity, and the minutiae of high-end dining. Though I love the show and truly appreciate the borderline fanaticism of a chef shown in beautifully rendered sequences, there’s a gaping distance between the food — and the world around it and all its social and cultural implications — shown and the food prepared, shared, and eaten in my day to day life.

There is, in our current zeitgeist’s love of food, between the many screens and real life (an apparent redundancy that increasingly seem to be a necessary modifier in day to day conversations), a reductive tendency to exclude how the majority of society experiences food. Were it not for its sheer immensity in number, the ‘good life’ on view would be, to the viewer, a harmless exercise in suspension of disbelief. But as it were, it is a constancy. A state of life somewhere else lived by someone else; we can look on it but only with some ingenuity can we reach them as stuff of life continually intervene.

I can’t help but feeling that our relationship with food is becoming less of a communal language and more of an individualized consumer one — one that portrays and claims social and cultural status, rather than a form of communication.

Of course, good food is, after all, just good food. But when we pay too much attention to the five-dollar signed kitchens with whatever stars, the hermetic chef essentially removed from society, and the lighting on the next food photo, we forget the kitchens in which and the cooks for whom food is seamlessly integral to living. And it’s too beautiful a thing to forget. After all, the food you grow up on, the kitchens you come to love and understand do not require feats of ingenuity — they require time and patience of preparation, courtesy, and appreciation and gratitude for the miracle of a dish, of eating.

These movies tell us things about food and hunger that we often forget. No star chefs, no paintings on a plate; just living and eating.

Big Night

The Italian dish, timballo, is called timpano in Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott’s 1996 classic Big NightIt’s a regional term for the dish, prepared, in the movie, by Primo (Tony Shalhoub), the older of two brother restauranteurs behind the new Italian place, ‘Paradise,’ on New Jersey Shore. Primo cooks classic Italian food and scoffs at what we now call American-Italian (spaghetti smothered in Jersey Italian gravy with meatballs), while Secondo (Stanley Tucci), the more practical of the two, tries to convince the other, in a thick Italian accent, to make whatever the customer wants: “make it, make the pasta, make it, make it, make the pasta.” Business, of course, is not a-booming. Then comes the big night — they have a chance to cook for Louis Prima, the Italian-American singer. And for that night, timpano is on the menu. Initially, it is not the Mona Lisa of Italian dishes. But what constitutes a timpano is so visibly hearty that it is instantly understood to be celebratory. And there’re a lot of carbs and beauty in that.

Adrift in Tokyo

What is the last thing you’d eat on your way to turn yourself in at a police station for a crime you’ve come to regret? In Satoshi Miki’s Adrift in Tokyo (Tenten,2007), Aiichiro Fukuhara (Tomokazu Miura), a recently retired loan collector, makes a proposition to Fumiya Takemura (Joe Odagiri), a debilitated student in debt: take a walk with him through Tokyo for a cancelation of debt. So begins their walk through Tokyo. Aside from walking, they talk about their lives, spot lucky actors, fight an old watchmaker, and, most importantly for this article, eat. Not every food takes on meanings but the food choices Fukuhara and Fumiya make become increasingly fraught with meaning as they near the police station.

My Dinner with Andre

Louis Malle’s My Dinner with Andre has been loved, parodied, bashed, and talked about over and over again that it’s difficult to talk about it without feeling a bit self-conscious. But I truly enjoyed this movie for its abundance of ideas and generosity in anecdotes and conflicts, not to mention the two great actors, Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn, who also wrote the wonderful script. Though the dinner is a fancy restaurant that serves the likes of cailles aux raisin, galuska, terrine de poisson, and bramborova polevka, the dinner consists less of the food than it does of the two men’s conversation: the conversation is so good, so enthralling, the ideas, the conflicts so of importance that the food becomes secondary.

The Lunchbox

The lives of a lonely widower, Saajan (Irrfan Khan), with a taste for good food and a young wife, Ila (Nimrat Kaur) looking to jazz up her marriage through her husband’s stomach meet through a mix up in dabbawala delivery system in Ritesh Batra‘s 2013 movie The LunchboxThe movie is concerned largely with ways in which serendipitous meetings reaffirm our strange and unknowable connections to others. But it is also about a cook and a diligent and grateful eater, each sending out signals to the other, one with dishes packed in tiffin lunch boxes, and the other by sharing the food and licking the boxes clean. The notes Saajan and Ila write each other speak plainly while the food and the empty tiffin box returned to Ila at the end of the day speak with certain emotional poignancy of a secret language.

Chungking Express

People are hungry in Wong Kar-wai’s Hong Kong. But they are not just hungry for food but also for human connections in a mega city. A character tries out a number of canned pineapples, another a daily dose of chef’s salad in the famed director’s 1994 classic Chungking Expressstarring Tony Leung, Brigitte Lin, Faye Wong, and Takeshi Kaneshiro. We sometimes wish that a simple meaningful act or a sequence of events surreptitiously happened on us will help us understand our lives better. Chungking Express is is the locus of such hopes and dreams in WKW’s metropolis.

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Kitchen24: A Delicious Blend of Entrepreneurial and Community Spirit

“When people talk about food, it just creates a warm feeling,” says co-owner Alexandra Pelts. “It’s community building; it’s an integral part of humanity. . .as the old saying goes, ‘to eat is human, to eat well is divine.”

Hopefully, it is that positive drive people will feel upon the opening of Kitchen24, a new culinary space and “food incubator” currently set to open at the end of May, located in Suite 200 at 100 Marmora Street. For those unaware, such locations exist more commonly in the United States and are used to give culinary professionals the space they may not otherwise have to work on various projects for their businesses — a very realistic problem, in the increasingly expensive Toronto market. Intrigued food enthusiasts can also experiment for their own enjoyment if the close quarters of the kitchen in their cramped apartment leaves much to be desired.

A rendering of what Kitchen24 will look like, once it is unveiled to the public

There are already businesses in Toronto offering kitchen spaces for rent, but co-owners Steve Kidron and Alexandra Pelts noticed the degree to which such an idea can be ambitiously expanded. Kitchen24 will be a 28,000 square foot, commercial-grade location that is going to take into account the different cultural, spacial, and even business needs for those willing to pay the monthly price. The initial idea was born when Pelts and Kidron, business partners since 2010, began renting out their previous considerably smaller kitchen facility for a catering company. The partners of that company eventually split, but that got their internal wheels turning. Pelts wrote an ad for their space, which she placed on Kijiji. The response was positively shocking: It received over 300 inquiries from people within the food service industry, ranging from those with small businesses to others working in offices, intrigued to try out a new lucrative interest on the side. Pelts and Kidron discovered the gap in the market and, upon doing more research, they soon found that there were other companies that were advertising kitchen spaces for rent, all of which were quite similar — to a fault.

“There is definitely a need for a space like [Kitchen24] in the city of Toronto. There are a number of companies, maybe a dozen give or take, that have advertised that they have commercial kitchens for rent, but most of them I would say are renting their kitchens similarly to the way we did a few years ago. There’s not a single food incubator that caters directly to the food service industry.”

The location will be comprised of sixty cooking stations, and among them will be thirteen convection ovens, a pizza oven, two walk-in fridges — one main fridge, and a smaller fridge for kosher requirements — and a vast array of appliances. Not only is the idea exciting for businesses owners struggling with Toronto rental costs, but the drive to take into account the needs of the small business owners first — who have a dream and perhaps, just need a little help to get off the ground — is the primary factor that Kidron and Pelts both hope will result is a thriving, passionate, and fun culinary community.

Steve Kidron wears his heart on his sleeves when it comes to his desire to give passionate individuals who are eager to learn more as much of a helping hand as he can. He is an immigrant from Israel, who once owned a food truck before the stress of working around regulations proved to be too much of a hassle, as well as a previous business — Fresh for Less — that delivered meals to the needy. As Kidron notes, one of the main issues that people with a small food business struggle with is moving their venture from their apartment or basement to an area that can be certified by the Health Department. Other rental kitchens end up having long wait times and those individuals starting out have very difficult work schedules, with some working two to three jobs to make ends meet. “The economy in Ontario is becoming so expensive. Even if they have money, it can be scary to invest — it’s a risk they don’t often need.” With both his personal experience and empathy for those in the business, he aims to operate Kitchen24 with enough flexibility to cater to clients of various economic capacities.

While the need for space and flexible scheduling for clients is on the forefront of their minds, Kidron and Pelts hope that their plans for classes and mentoring programs that give a good foundational knowledge in the industry will go the extra mile.

“What we found out were there were a lot people with start-ups, with great ideas,” says Alexandra Pelts. “Either they are people who just graduated from cooking school or they have a recipe from their grandmother that they would like to develop and want to take it to another level. All the people come in with an idea and a passion to cook, but only a few have an understanding or an education in how to run the business — how to do a business plan, how to create a brand, how to market themselves, create packaging… many businesses fail because they can only bring it to a certain level and afterwards they need help in mentoring and obtaining the right contacts.”

Such an emphasis on giving the clients the know-how to spread their wings and thrive on their own is surely an exciting aspect of Kitchen24 for potential clients, but there are of course many plans that will prove to be more fun possibilities for community members as well. Hopes for future events range from cooking competitions, teaching classes on how to preserve food for the needy, and other industry pop-up events. One would also be correct in feeling that such a space would also be a perfect location for a cookbook launch party, as echoed by Ms. Pelts. There is much enthusiasm from the owners about what Kitchen24 can bring to the surrounding community, as well as the industry at-large. It would be remiss for those in-the-know throughout Toronto not to be paying attention to its development.

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How to Have a Good Time when You’re a Foodie on the Down Low

It’d be nice if we had the means to dine at Alo or Buca on a regular basis and the shameless determination — or at somebody else’s disposal with the very same shameless determination — to cajole and coerce the maitre d’s for reservations. As it were, money’s short and maitre d’s are not known to vouchsafe tables so easily. By the time your or my time comes to dine at such places without having to insult the waitstaff, another joint pops up a few blocks away. But the truth of the matter is, if it is food, or, what everybody’s calling a “culinary experience”, you’re after, you don’t really need to drop that much money to have fun and something to mull over long after. There are plenty of experiences other than delicious, prettily plated, deconstructed-then-reconstructed, includes-some-foam dinner that are not only culinary but also much more exciting.

Let’s say you have a day to spend entirely on food-related things. Say it’s a Sunday of a long weekend and let’s throw in pleasant weather and good tidings all around to make this hypothetical situation as daydream-like as possible.

Start this wondrous day right at the appetizing store — head over to Schmaltz Appetizing for the right kind of bagels and lox. They carry, among other things, nova, pastrami smoked, and acadian salmon, not to mention sturgeon, gefilte fish, gravlax, caviars of various fish, herring, fresh egg salad, chopped liver, and all kinds of cream cheeses — the only essential they seem to be missing is the sable, the fatty, delicious, now very pricey and prized ‘poor-man’s sturgeon.’ Though they do offer a variety of selections, if this is your first time, I recommend pastrami smoked salmon and regular cream cheese on a plain bagel — this is the fundamentals, the touchstone for not only truly appreciating the lox but also for evaluating an appetizing store. The slivers of onion and a few capers on top are on the house.

It’s worth noting that the bagels at Schmaltz, which come from Kiva’s, are no flimsy crusty ones à la Montreal; they belong to that deliciously chewy, thick, and actual-meal variety of New York. Nevertheless, indulge in a pickled herring after the meal to round things out. I rarely if ever say this when it comes to babka but it’s optional at Schmaltz — the last two times I tried, it was rather dry and the chocolate was unevenly spread. So if you’re still hungry, eat another herring. It’s delicious, it’s good for you, it gives you lots of loving and asks for nothing.

Illustration from Lucky Peach by Nick Iluzada & Brian Macduckston

Walk down to Kensington Market and walk right into Good Egg’s many shelves packed with books for those who love to eat, to cook, and to talk about what to eat for dinner over lunch. If you have not yet checked out Prune by Gabrielle Hamilton, the mind and body behind the eponymous restaurant, you should. She’s not the friendliest of kitchen voices. As her cookbook as well as her memoir, Blood, Bones, and Butter, show, she does not shy away from giving you her opinions and edicts: whether it’s radishes with sea salt and sweet butter or salt baked beef tenderloin, there are right ways to do things and you should know them. The book, even when some of its recipes are not home-kitchen friendly, is full of inspirations. If you’re looking to ante up your Asian dishes with the American vernacular game, you can’t go wrong with either 101 Easy Asian Recipes by Peter Meehan and the brains behind Lucky Peach or The Mission Chinese Food Cookbook by Chris Ying and Danny Bowien fame. For a fantastic Italian standard other than Marcella Hazan’s seminal Marcella’s Italian Kitchen, flip through a copy of The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual by the two Frankies and, once again, Peter Meehan.

The Mission Chinese Food Cookbook by Chris Ying

The cookbooks cost upwards to $30 and considering their weights, it’s not the wisest thing to make impulses purchases — after all, the wondrous day still has much to offer. Take mental notes — or discreetly take photos of — recipes you like from these cookbooks. How to use fish sauce, to bring out the magic of fermentation, to brighten with ginger are some things you should take notes on from Meehan and Ying. And personally, the Frankies offer a meatballs with sauce recipe worth getting into a fight with the book purveyors. In Hamilton’s book, look for an asparagus recipe as they are in peak season in April — both white and green varieties are unusually delicious during Spring. When you’ve filched your fill of recipes, grab a copy of Anthony Bourdain’s still Kitchen Confidential to support local book business and your mind alike.

Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential (2000)

If you have not read Kitchen Confidential yet, this is what you are looking for, even if you don’t know it yet. It’s filthy and romantic and sometimes you want to take a break from it, but you know you will always come back to it. In this way, it’s like that fine medium rare burger deluxe at Joe Jr. on too many nights a week.

By now you’re probably a little peckish and in need of a little sweetness after missing out on that babka. I’ve got you covered: head over — this might take a while — to Neo Coffee Bar for a coffee and a slice of roll cake. The Japanese coffeeshop offers delicious coffee roasted by Toronto’s own de Mello Palheta with subtly sweet roll cakes full of flavor. The Shingen is red beans and gyuhi rice cakes (softer than mochi) with roasted soybean cream; the Matcha & Adzuki is classic combination of the distinct matcha flavor and sweet red beans; and for a classic, try the Pistachio Raspberry. Sit and relax, read your copy of Bourdain, and enjoy. The roll cakes at around $6 aren’t the cheapest sweets out there. But remember that time when you dropped $30 for a mediocre steak frites and it came out with a foot in the well-done zone? That’s right, I saw you.

Otto’s Bierhalle main page

If you’ve read a bit of Bourdain, you’re probably in the mood for some beer. Get on a streetcar and head back west to Otto’s Bierhalle for a pint or two. Though I personally prefer a rowdier and less palm trees ridden beer halls where the lighting and the prices are more conducive to beer-induced silliness, Otto’s has a fine list of drafts you should try. Hofbräu München is a German brewery that opened in 1589 and theirs are some of the best beers one can drink. Otto’s offers two Hofbräus — the Original, a slightly sweet lager, and the Hofbräu Dunkel, a nutty dark larger. Paulaneranother Munich brewery, this one dating back to 1634, is on tap at Otto’s — the Hefeweissbier, or the wheat beer, is slightly more flavorful than common lagers and tastes somewhat like bananas. If you’re looking for something a bit more hoppy, try the citrusy and bitter Stone IPA from the Californian brewery. If you’re in the mood nurse and sip on your beer slowly, go for La Chouffe Golden AleThe Belgian brewery’s cute drunken gnome mascot should be enough warning for both its fruity deliciousness and malicious strength. If you want something in bottles when there is a respectable draft list, I can’t help you.

Tartine’s sourdough photo by Eric Wolfinger from the New York Times

By now you’re happily buzzed or tipsy. This is the perfect time to surreptitiously begin your journey as a journeyman baker/bacteria farmer. When you get home, in a glass or plastic container, put four ounces of whole grain, all-purpose, or rye flour and pour in four ounces of lukewarm filtered water.  Stir until it looks like a thick pancake batter. Cover with a kitchen towel or a cheese cloth. Now you’ve got a sourdough starter going that will, once done, revolutionize your pancake, pizza, morning rolls, and, most importantly, everyday bread game. From then on, you won’t touch pre-packaged bread or even that ACE stuff they sell at the groceries. I recommend reading up on sourdough starters as you go along to find the right one that fits your personal needs.

A day spent like this may very well be costly, what with transportation and roll cakes being $6 and all. But if you do the math, it’s probably a fraction of a dinner with wine at some fancy restaurant. It’s not that a day like this is objectively better than a deconstructed surf & turf + preceding palette cleansing sorbet. It is, rather, that a ‘culinary experience’ can be as humble and mind blowing like a nicely pickled herring or as easy as the surprising texture of red bean in a roll cake. Both are equally good and, in the romantic words of Nick Solares of Eater’s Meat Show, ‘profound and concussive.’ Just so happens that one won’t give your wallet a concussion.

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A Visit to the new Yorkville restaurant, Figures!

There are two sides to my personality that, for a long time, I figured would stay separate, never the ‘twain shall meet. There is the side that’s always on the lookout for a new restaurant that offers an interesting twist or a perspective on something I’ve already had before, thereby making it refreshingly different; a menu that incorporates multiple tastes, layers, and textures into a complex and delicious whole.

And then there’s the other side of me — a massive sci-fi and comic book geek, developed from very early on when I was growing up. Over time those interests have somewhat subsided. But I have found that I have become quite sentimental about that earlier period of my life, those memories that may seem insignificant to others yet played a large role in making me the person I am today. And remembering such memories or icons with a certain fondness perhaps acts as a reminder not too take oneself too seriously as one ages, and to retain a more positive and care-free attitude. It is that sentiment that clearly comes across when you enter the new Yorkville restaurant Figures, at 137 Avenue Road. The owners Nader and Patrick Marzouk have created an environment that brings a sense of laid-back and vibrant fun to the neighbourhood, — which, frankly, they note that Yorkville is in some need of — while also retaining the refined dining that the neighbourhood residents have surely come to expect. It is the interesting marriage of these sensibilities that will most likely make Figures stand out.

The concept of Figures is simple yet seems exciting and fresh. The idea behind the name points to the importance of remembering the figures in our lives that make us who we are. At Figures, they are most clearly various pop-cultural ones.

Very few images of the interior currently exist either on the main website or on their social media accounts — perhaps a calculated marketing ploy to create an air of mystery surrounding the establishment. This certainly worked for me, for when I entered the restaurant, knowing next-to-nothing as to what to expect, I was immediately overwhelmed by the creativity and intricate details of the décor. The front of the restaurant is made to look like a small comic book or a collectible shop. On various shelves sit original concept art sketches of Star Wars characters and golden and silver age comic books amongst other rare and nerdy oddities — certainly appealing to that older collector with some money to burn, as everything in this area is for sale (during my visit, I was told an original sketch of Darth Vader had sold for five thousand dollars a couple of days prior). A hostess greets you in this area, pushes a button — a Captain America Shield —, revealing the wall behind her to be a hidden, Batcave-like entrance to the main dining and bar areas, which are also quite impressive. Entering the dining area, you are met by paintings of Star Wars and DC Comic characters, a large Pac Man maze on the ceiling that also acts as mood lighting, and a large mural of various pop-cultural icons meant to evoke the stories and personalities of the owners and chef. Basically, imagine if someone hired a big pop-culture nerd to create the ultimate high-end VIP dining experience, and you will likely get something close to this. I don’t think it is a stretch of my imagination to think this will quickly become a popular destination for people wanting to check out the space. They will likely not be disappointed by that, nor from the food and drinks offered.

Currently, Figures has a two-page cocktail list, some of the names and concepts of which have a delightfully silly sense of humour to them. To start, I went for The Rarely on Target ($20). Visually speaking, this is going to be a slam-dunk crowd-pleaser. This cocktail is made with Bacardi Gran Reserva Maestro De Ron and Dillon’s Absinthe. Combined, this creates an initial spicy taste, similar to a Negroni, but slightly sweeter and with a smooth, clean finish, which makes it not too boozy and quite easy to drink. A very nice way to start the meal. Egg whites give the Rarely on Target a frothy head, which the bartenders take advantage of by stenciling an image of a stormtrooper on top with various spices. As far as I’m concerned, this drink is the perfect representation of the meticulous presentation, refined tastes, and the don’t-take-yourself-so-seriously sense of humour that Figures will hopefully be known for. A definite recommendation.

The dishes offered create a blend of casual sensibilities that nevertheless can be appreciated with by an experienced palette. There can be some slight drawbacks to that, but otherwise the menu, which is made with seasonal ingredients and is set to change on a near-weekly basis, offers dishes that from my experience are still rich in flavour. The first dish I tried was one that I was told had become a favourite over their initial first weeks of business: the Lump Crab ($24), a medium grilled crab cake sitting atop a small crab salad. The crab cake is very nice, as it has a delightfully crispy exterior, but the interior is still juicy and melts in your mouth. As much as I thoroughly enjoyed this dish, a slight criticism would be that there is not much that distinguishes the crab cake from the crab salad. Some more variation between these two components would have been appreciated but, as it stands, it is still a small dish that packs a wallop of hardiness from the crab, and will surely appease those looking some good no-nonsense seafood.

The second dish I went for was an absolute winner. The Lamb Shank ($28) did not disappoint. In keeping with the blend of casual sensibilities with rich tastes, this dish is the restaurant’s own version of a shepherd’s pie — with lamb, gravy, peas, and corn sitting atop a warm bed of mashed potatoes, which has a perfect soft and milky texture. I was told that the lamb had been braised for upwards of five hours, making it incredibly flavourful and tender as well. This is a great balance of different tastes and is incredibly filling given the relatively small portion size. Given everything I tried during this visit, future rotating menu options will likely be promising as well.

Along with the food menu, there are also plans to change the cocktail options on a seasonal basis, some of which are currently being experimented with right now focusing on some ideas inspired by literary figures, according to bar manager and mixologist James Bailey. As such, there are plenty of reasons to be enticed to check out Figures, and given it’s unique atmosphere and unpretentious fine dining options, it will hopefully spark much curiosity in the coming weeks, putting the establishment on a path for prolonged success.

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A Visit to Buca Osteria & Bar in Yorkville!

The list of Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants, as decided by an extensive panel of well-known chefs, journalists, and other in-the-know business representatives was recently announced, which no doubt caught the attention of chefs around the country and whetted the curiosities of countless foodies who want to stimulate their palates in new and exciting ways. Toronto has certainly a lot to be excited about, with the French restaurant Alo moving up to the coveted first place and the 1920’s art deco, visual styling at Lena gaining recognition with an award for Best Restaurant Design. But midst other awards and rankings, one thing continues to be undoubtedly clear: that the Buca restaurant empire, with Chef Rob Gentile at the helm, is still widely considered as the high watermark of quality for Italian cuisine nationwide. Since the list began three years ago, both Buca locations, at 604 King Street and 53 Scollard, have been regular fixtures and Bar Buca at 75 Portland also received some love. Buca Yorkville and Buca on King placed 7th and 16th respectively on this year’s Canada’s 100 Best list. With such rumblings in the culinary scene, it would be foolish not to satiate one’s craving for a traditional yet adventurous Italian dinner there.

Photo: Rick O’Brien

For those who have yet to go, the three locations vary in menu: the King West location has the most traditional selection of meat, pizza, and pasta dishes, and the Bar Buca location is of the smaller, snack-variety. The 53 Scollard location, Buca Osteria & Bar, is where you want to go for some intriguing and innovative seafood dishes. Its innovations are likely what placed the Yorkville location at the higher ranking, as my visit felt like a lesson in crafting deceptively simple but interestingly structured offerings. At the bar, waiting for the dishes to arrive, I asked one of the bartenders if they noticed a rise in business since the release of the list, to which they said they haven’t, as it’s always pretty busy there — the reason for which I was about to discover.

I started with an appetizer, the Carciofi ($11). These are large artichokes slightly braised in olive oil with parmigiano reggiano sprinkled on top — which has a taste similar to the strong, bitter flavour of a grana padano — along with a hint of lemon. A very nice way to begin the meal: the outer layer of the artichoke tastes as though it was lightly fried and seasoned; the taste from the dusting of the cheese stays constant throughout, providing a nice balance with the juicy interior of the artichoke and the citrusy tinge at the end. Now, onto the main attraction.

Photo: Chuck Ortiz

Feeling obliged to try a pasta dish, as I assume that’s what most people would gravitate towards if they’re in the mood for Italian food, I go for what looks to me like the stand-out dish — the Calamarata Al Nero Di Seppia ($26). The dish comprises of calamari rings and calamari noodles, which are covered in a black squid ink sauce and topped with a gremolota made with lemon zest, breadcrumbs, and spices. Admittedly, presentation is not something that typically sways my level of intrigue regarding food in general, but I must admit, I did find this dish surprisingly pretty — the black ink sauce gives the calamari a nice sheen, allowing the colour of the light green gremolota to really pop. But looks aren’t everything, and fortunately this dish did stimulate my palette in ways that really made me appreciate the layers of tastes. The gremolata offers a strong but not overpowering spicy kick to the dish that lingers after every bite, resulting in — similar to the carciofi — a taste that comes full circle. One gets the initial kick, followed by the pasta and calamari. The ink sauce certainly enhances the taste of the pasta and calamari very well due to the mushrooms cooked into the sauce for a robust flavour. They’re quickly followed by the second, finishing sensation of the gremolota. Also, this is a fairly light pasta dish — I suspect due to the seemingly equal-ratio of noodles to calamari — that will put your appetite at the right level of satisfied, without any unwanted carb fatigue following it — which is good for me, considering that there was a fairly new addition to the dessert menu that came with a pretty high recommendation from the bartender.

My final dish of the evening was the Torta Di Polenta ($14). This is a light sponge cake made with cornmeal, served with cranberries and a light cranberry sauce on top. Atop of the cake and cranberries also sits a light cracker made from goat cheese, and surrounding the whole thing is a trail of goat’s milk. Yet another dish that looks so meticulously presented that you kind of want to Instagram it, but you’re afraid of looking weird so, instead, you just dive right in. This dessert is interestingly layered. By cutting into it, the cranberry sauce mixes with the goat’s milk, which are both slowly absorbed by the cake, resulting in a series of ever richer bites. And I don’t know how else to describe the goat cheese cracker in any other way besides delicious.

Photo: Rick O’Brien

The menu also offers a selection of assorted fish that you can pick and choose from, which are then served on a platter, as well as caviar options. So at this point it probably goes without saying: if you’re feeling special, with a group of friends, going out to dinner with co-workers — like many of the patrons seemed to be doing — or maybe you’re just by yourself and want to see what all the fuss is about, you should have a very enjoyable stay at Buca Osteria & Bar.

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