Showing posts with label sourdough. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sourdough. Show all posts

Good In Every Grain Dinner

Let’s face it. I could never join the keto craze. Eliminating carbohydrates and not eating delicious bread and pasta? No thank you. Hence, when the Grain Farmers of Ontario threw their first of a series of Crop Up dinners to feature the bounty – barley, corn, oats, soybeans, and wheat – they were preaching to the converted.

It was an evening of discovery. Firstly, realizing that tucked behind Bar Raval was Woodlot, a small cozy restaurant. With their rustic décor and wood-fired oven, it was a smartly chosen venue to showcase grains. After all, they already make sourdough bread on site to serve during dinner – the kitchen knows their stuff. A piece of crusty bread with butter … see why I can never go keto?

Chef Mike explained the premise of the menu: to keep things simple and let the grains speak for themselves. The salad was hearty using large chunks of roasted beets that were lightly cooked so that it still retained a slight bite. An herbed barley lay beneath to soak up the beet juices, but it’s such a versatile side that it’d work equally well with meaty or saucier dishes. Topping the salad was a soy nut and sunflower crumble, giving it some crunch – almost like a really flavourful nutty crouton.

Most guests were presented with a mammoth lamb shank, but being a flexitarian during the week, I was treated to a vegetarian main: confit white turnip stuffed with oats, green onion, dandelion and pistachio then cooked in their wood-burning oven and glazed in a surprisingly savoury apricot glaze. With all the roasted vegetables on the side, it was certainly a vibrant and healthy dish. But, I must admit… I was jealous for the lamb shank (note to self: go back to Woodlot on a weekend).

With all the plentiful hearty dishes, it was a shame I couldn’t finish the corn flour chiffon cake… it was just so large! Despite being thick, it was fairly fluffy and the sweetness of the corn was augmented with vanilla and a light touch of lavender. The blueberry compote and chamomile lemon curd were both not overpowering. Chef Mike was true to his word – I could enjoy the natural flavours of the ingredients.

Of course, there were educational aspects to the evening like introducing the Grain Farmers of Ontario and explaining their representation of over 28,000 farmers in Ontario. I also learnt that not all wheat is the same and depending on the farm’s soil different flours are grown – Ontario wheat is largely used for pastry flours.

What made the evening special was there were farmers in attendance. It provided the opportunity for discussions and they very candidly answered our questions.

So, it was nice to learn the personal stories. Both individuals I spoke to grew up on their family farms and when starting their own families purchased land near their parents, which is how a lot of businesses expand. You can hear the passion in their voices and the burning desire to ensure the survival of the family farm. Indeed, they admit, that like any other business, they have to operate economically. Yet, they have to ensure their practices are sustainable since the farm is also where their families live and eat and the asset they want to pass to generations to come.

In an era of change, it wasn’t surprising to hear the comment that a well-educated farmer is paramount for ensuring the farm survives. As families shrink, they also need to rely on technology to help manage the hundreds of acre of land. Big data and satellite imaging to create a map for variable fertilizer application – is Google Farm a thing?

What I didn’t except was the frankness on some the less rosy aspects of farming, such as the mental health issues some farmers face. It’s a stressful industry where so much of their livelihood is dependent on weather (their favourite topic) and politics (their second favourite topic). With the low margins, a bout of extreme weather can have devastating financial impacts.

A lot of work needs to be done, especially at the beginning of the season, so lack of sleep and burnout can augment the stress and anxiety. The humanity of the profession was sadly not something I thought about previously, but was glad for the opportunity to break bread over dinner to have these conversations. We often take for granted the humble grain and the nourishment they provide. It’s nice to be reminded that behind all the grains, there’s are families of farmers, who have passion, stresses and dreams like everyone else. 

Disclaimer: The above meal was complimentary. Rest assured, as noted in my mission statement, I will always provide an honest opinion.

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 293 Palmerston Avenue 

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Earls Kitchen & Bar (Toronto)

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 150 King Street West (in lobby of the Sunlife Financial Building)
Type of Meal: Lunch

Having only gone to Earls for drinks (a frustrating ordeal where you should arrive by 4pm unless you’re willing to wait), I never had a chance to eat anything more than pita chips with dip.

After returning for lunch, I found the experience much better. The only hiccup was a difficulty in finding our reservation because one person had already arrived and this appears to then wipe the information out of their system. Somehow, the manager figured out the empty table with one person sitting at it was actually our reservation and brought us over about five minutes later.

While we were waiting for them to figure out the reservation debacle, a staff member brought over little cups of soup to tie us over. I received a hearty cream of mushroom made with large pieces of button mushrooms and a generous topping of green onions.  Despite being in small cups, the soup was piping hot and had a nice creamy finish with perhaps a hint of brandy? It was quite delicious even though challenging to eat without a spoon.

Earls’ menu proudly boasts their signature sourdough bread is made in house daily. Since I enjoy a nice fresh chewy and crispy sourdough, I ordered the roasted portobellini and red pepper sandwich ($13) which uses it as a base. The bread was enjoyable – having a nice elasticity but still airy with a crispy crust. But, since it’s grilled with butter on the outside (yes you’ll get greasy fingers), the sour essence of it was covered. Stuffed with a fair amount of grilled Portobello mushroom, roasted red pepper and fresh spinach leaves the sandwich was filling. A sharp melted white cheddar and flavourful artichoke aioli made it more luscious, but the once healthy sounding sandwich ended up being anything but.

Accompanying the sandwich were hot shoestring fries. They were too salty for my taste, but with such a hearty sandwich I had little room for anything else. You can add an extra $1.50 for soup or salad or $2 for yam fries, which may be a better option especially given the delicious experience I had with the soup earlier.

My coworkers ordered CAB (certified angus beef) smashed burgers or entrée salads and all were equally impressive in size and looked appetizing. Overall, the menu prices are reasonable and service fairly quick. Maybe Earls can be more than an after work drinks spot after all.

Overall mark - 7 out of 10

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • - 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!