Showing posts with label rice and beans. Show all posts
Showing posts with label rice and beans. Show all posts

Urban Acorn Catering's Virtual Supper Club (Toronto)

Since the pandemic began, I’ve been curious about virtual supper clubs – how do they work, is it awkward eating in front of a computer with a bunch of strangers, do they drag on and on given you’re relying on people to make their own meals?

In January, an amazing opportunity presented itself, while trying to plan a safe way to celebrate a friend’s birthday. Given she had dietary restrictions and we all lived in different areas of the city, finding a restaurant to all order from would be impossible. That’s when I heard about Urban Acorn Catering’s vegan supper club ($50 per meal; $10 per order for delivery), and as luck would have it, there was going to be a session on my friend’s birthday!

The night would be in celebration of Haiti’s independence, to mark the occasion when the country fought against the French to win their freedom in 1984. At this point, my knowledge of Haiti and its cuisine was limited, which made the meal even more exciting – I love to try new things.

It was a simple ordering process with the meals getting delivered the morning/afternoon of the dinner with detailed preparation instructions. It was simple: each dish either re-heated in the oven, in a pot, or eaten straight out of the container. The only thing you need is a timer to make sure things don’t burn.

And it all began with the black bean and malanga accra – a fluffy fritter made vegan by using black beans instead of the typical white fish. On its own, the accra would be rather plain, but once it was garnished with the red pepper ti malice sauce and topped with the oh so yummy pikliz (imagine a really refreshing non-creamy coleslaw) the starter shone. The dish even arrived with these ultra thin double fried plantain chips, the best I’ve ever had. Urban Acorn needs to sell these by the bag for snacking!

I loved hearing the story about the soup joumou, the dish that’s almost always served as part of the celebration. What does a hearty squash and vegetable soup filled with creamy pinto beans and tons of pasta have to do with Haitian independence? Marie explains that joumou was something slaves had to made for their owners and could never eat. So, when they won their freedom, they were finally able to eat the dish they used to slave away making. It made every clove incensed spoon taste even better.

Maybe Marie was onto something when the email noted the soup could be frozen for later. After having the first two courses, I was getting full. Nonetheless, I soldiered on with the Haitian griot, traditionally a deep-fried pork shoulder, but Urban Acorn recreating its essence as fried beet “pillows”. They were airy and delicate, the beet and rice flour pocket a little chewy with a slightly crispy skin.

These sat on diri ak pwa, a rice and beans medley mixed with herbs and bits of crispy vegetables, which were a great contrast against the softer griot. I only wish the rice were even “wetter” and had more seasoning. Perhaps it was kept neutral to not overpower the delicate beet flavours?

Thankfully, the slice of pain patate wasn’t overly large, the sweet potato rum cake rather refreshing since there was plenty of pineapple incorporated into the batter. The dessert could have used more rum but was nevertheless delicious – like a tropical pumpkin pie topped with coconut cream.

My first virtual supper club was a success. It felt a little awkward at first, but after the first course and a bit of wine, people seemed to loosen up and talk more. Somehow between the eating and having dishes explained to us, the conversation flowed without interruption and it seemed almost normal.

Guests were sometimes a little bit early or behind with each course, but it didn’t matter, you couldn’t really tell what everyone was eating anyways. And since people were serving themselves, it allowed the meal to proceed in a well-timed manner so something that normally could have lasted three hours was thankfully shortened for the Sunday evening affair.

The virtual setting also allowed us to customize the experience: we joined the group until our mains were done then left and started our own Zoom meeting to get a chance to celebrate and catch up over dessert. Under normal conditions, it would be rude to all get up from the table and move into a corner.

Still, we all agreed that we’d love to experience the supper club in-person one day. Even though we learned a fair amount about Haiti cuisine and the day of celebration, it would have been nice to be able to have a private conversation with other guests to get to know them better – this is where Zoom breakout groups could work well. Until then, I look forward to trying another virtual supper club. It’s a great experience to make the most of our time in lock down. 

Overall mark - 7 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Delivery: store delivery

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never order again
  • 6 - decent for delivery and takeout, but there's better
  • 7 - this is good, for delivery and takeout
  • 8 - great for delivery and takeout, it's almost like you're in a restaurant
  • 9 -  wow, it's like I'm eating at a restaurant
  • 10 - I'd happily order this for delivery or takeout instead of dining in any day!

La Cubana (Toronto)

Having been to Cuba twice, it’s a shame I’ve never had authentic Cuban food. Right or wrong, I chose to eat at the resorts, whose food is mediocre at best … I like to joke it’s the vacation you can go on without worrying about gaining weight.

One thing I do remember are the strong cocktails. La Cubana is no different, the el Paraiso ($12) is probably the lightest, a tasty combination of gin, muddled basil, and grapefruit juice.

Lucky to dine with someone of Cuban decent, she explained the difference between a cubano and medianoche ($9.99) is merely the bun, the later on a softer kaiser that’s not pressed so the pork version looks like a pulled pork sandwich. The restaurant doesn’t skimp on the meat, along with gruyere, red onion, cornichon, grainy mustard, and a chipotle mayo the sandwich is filled with flavours and the bun doesn’t stand a chance at holding in everything.

The medianoche’s filling is very similar to the pork shoulder ($15.99), so in hindsight we should have ordered either a different sandwich or main. Nonetheless, I did enjoy the slow cooked pork, which is nicely smoked and has a slightly sweet taste. I especially enjoyed the crunchy vinegar coleslaw on the side - just watch out for the rounds of jalapeno, the heat can really sneak up on you!

Main plates also arrive with hot tostones (pressed plantains that are deep fried) and rice with beans. The tostones are rather bland, a bit of the hot sauce helps, but the beans and rice goes perfectly with the meats. 

Especially the guava BBQ beef short rib ($16.99), tender and tasty with its sweet glaze. Topped with an herby chimichurri and frizzled onions, it was my favourite dish of the evening.

Although already filled, we decided to share a natilla ($4.99), the only dessert I’ve never had before. Described as chocolate pudding, it’s much better, the light creamy chocolate custard incorporating a balanced sweetness.

Although it’s disappointing that Cuban resorts don’t serve more local fare, I understand they’re faced with limited ingredient availability (since meat and fresh vegetables are scarce) and it could have been ill received from previous resort guests. Therefore, we’re blessed in Toronto to have La Cubana, somewhere you can sample a taste of Cuban cuisine. 

Overall mark - 7.5 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 92 Ossington Avenue

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!

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Other Gastro World posts similar to this:

La Cubana Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato