NP Restaurant Review June 13 2009 **1/2 Black Hoof

We’re all snackers now….

Snack is  the dirty word in nutrition signifying a completely undisciplined way of eating. Too bad. Snacking is how the majority eats today – food at any time anywhere, a  snack is 7/24, breakfast is lunch, dinner is breakfast and supper can be 2 am.  How else can a person who’s running a blog, playing video games, doing Pilates, taking tennis lessons, maintaining a relationship, looking for a job, find time for a formal meal?

For the past decade, snack creep has been rubbishing the trad three course meal, ravaging prix fixe and omikase, chef’s choice. Snackers at Terroni objected when told they couldn’t alter the ingredients of a dish. To hell with authenticity. They want food just the way they want it regardless of how the chef prepares it.

Don’t think this means snackers go low end, dips and chips. On the contrary, they’re transforming the snack from grilled cheese and coke to luminous jelly bean cocktails, bin ends of wine, and unusual tastes. In a word the snack has gone posh, and never more so than at The Black Hoof, the small intense hang in the hip West End, Dundas and Bellwoods.

The Black Hoof opened last year to immediate acclaim. Chef Grant Van Gameran and Jen Agg, former co-owner of Cobalt bar, have captured the food moment. Charcuterie!  Gameran has opened a fresh seam of flavour by making his own sausages, hams, pates, and by using all kinds of animal from bison to horse. Agg is the demon cocktail shaker. The Hoof’s snack schedule is 6 to 12 Sunday, Monday, and to 2 am Thursday, Friday, Saturday. This is the where you can order hot food at 1 am.

The only bad buzz is that The Hoof’s refusal to take reservations has meant long lineups.
Surprise!  We arrive before  6 on this balmy Friday evening and find ourselves alone. Better still, The Hoof is opening its deck tonight. Surely one of the most original in town.  A roof with skylights has been suspended like a canopy several feet over the wood walls of the deck. The result is a bright and airy space seating twenty.

The daily menu is posted on a blackboard and so are the cocktail and beer specials. We sample Sir Perry’s  Pear cider, fizzy, faintly pear, and order the $16 charcuterie plate.  After the ever helpful waiter has told us what’s available, we make our choices. The bison and blueberry salami is just excellent but the horse braesola (air dried) is on the arid side. Horse is lean anyway, and then there’s the question of what kind of horse? The Japanese connoissieurs prefer race horse, but I don’t think Ontario horse processors have started selling specifics.

The rabbit rillettes are delightfully pinguid but once again, the tame peter rabbit is bland. Fat is taste- which is why pork is king of charcuterie- and the head to tail pork terrine slips down so smoothly. The duck prosciutto glistens with barnyard tincture.

And what’s this – a big marrow bone for a mere five bucks.  Marrow bone is all but vanished from the MOR menu. It’s tops as a snack. I spoon out marrow as softly seductive as foie gras, served with toasted bread and flaky seasalt, and a cornichon comes in a dish of garnishes.  Quebec duck foiegras, which has a deep brown unctuousness,  is served on a buttersoaked Thuet brioche.

I dither over having tongue in brioche $13 but decide on scallop ceviche and crispy pig ears $13, a long plate of slightly citrus disks of scallop adorned with deep fried pig ear curlicues.  We share a couple of simply cooked sweetbreads, paradoxically soft but firm, accompanied by chanterelles and peas. $18.  Around us we see the most popular dish is the duck confit sandwich, the duck pressed between slices of brioche.

The wine list starts at $7 for a glass of house white or you can have dry Tio Pepe for the same price. We had a pleasant 06 Hollick Pinot Noir from Australia $10 – if you drink five glasses, management will give you a break and charge you the bottle price of $45.

The Hoof even does a great dessert snack – bread pudding with bacon chips and caramel sauce. $7  Good yums for bucks.

** 1/2 The Black Hoof 928 Dundas We 416-551-8854
No Wheelchair access. Not noisy on deck.  Food plus tax for two: $96

National Post Restaurant Review June 6 2009 ** 1/2 George Restaurant

My Brain reviews the Cooking

Here’s a new take on how we evolved. In Catching Fire, How Cooking Made Us Human,  the anthropologist Richard Wrangham posits that our big leap forward as a species came when our ancestors learned to cook. How satisfactory.

We have hungry brains. But until we started cooking food, chopping and softening it up,  we couldn’t digest it efficiently enough to provide the energy to get our brains whirring. With this whole new way of looking at cooking, I now want to see how well my brain is fed at George, the restaurant tucked into the Verity Club at Queen and Jarvis.

I’d hoped to eat the patio lunch special $22 in George’s charming garden, but it’s January in June  and we forgot our anoraks, so we have to retreat inside. Now we’re looking at the four-course-lunch tasting menu at $55. All four of us must order the tasting menu,  based on the regular menu. Ok.

We wonder what we’ll get. The menu is global fusion, , Miso Chicken Sandwich, Oyster mushrooms, Swiss cheese $14, Pacific Halibut with pickled white asparagus, Taro $19. But first we’re given a delectable amuse guele, a little bowl of shards of short ribs and mushrooms. Superb.

We think we’ll each get something different. Instead, two of us are served Jasmine cured wild salmon, basil custard, pecans and the rest of us get seared tuna seared asparagus, parsley frittata.

First impression:  I thought we’d get a series of dishes the same size as the amuse guele. Instead, we’re getting whole courses. Now the size of a portion dictates its acceptability. A small plate is easy to enjoy, it’s a fast hit, an impressionistic bite, The larger the plate, the more demands are placed on the cook because the eater has time to rate the precise calibration of textures and flavours. I like the fresh asparagus of course but I don’t think its brisk bite and neutral flavour goes well with the bland soft tuna. Cured salmon is a no brainer but I couldn’t taste the jasmine with which it had been cured.

Next course is pasta. My brain which has been playing tetris wakes up.  Brains love carbs’ fast energy.  The semi-light gnocchi with spicy prosciutto and spinach  makes an immediate impression on the left cortex and conversation becomes animated.  How would you run General Motors? The others lap up a lasagna with cured ricotta. We all taste the sauce and try to define the cured ricotta.

My brain dozes through the protein course. We’re thrown back to our energyless grass-eating selves. Grouchy, we let war break out.  We women cry sexism: we’re being served grilled prawns with sweat pea mustard and sausage and draped in greens while men get the real food,  veal tenderloin with two perogies on top. We eat the perogies to restore reason, and decide to share. I realize now that my brain is no gastronome because the perogies are hefty, but the veal tenderloin is pinkly good. I like the idea of sweat pea mustard with the prawns, but again, I can’t taste the peas.

Can we eat more? Yes shout our brains. They’ve directed the eyes to scan the dessert choices and they’re happy. Glucose addicted, they can’t wait for the sugar rush, the flow of the now despised corn syrup. Chocolate beignets, sugared donuts with hearts of molten chocolate are OTT with strawberries and a dab of marmelade. A soft meringue Pavlova is highly acceptable. The chocolate duende (flamenco?)  mousse is velvety and the vanilla crème brulee may be a platitude but platitudes are often true.

The brains mull lunch. We have lapped up a delightful Lilly pilly Cabernet Sauvignon which may have dulled their keen edge. Even so they are able to parse the meal. Chefs at the level Lorenzo Loseto and Fiona Lim must have a story to tell so where’s the story? Apart from being  big supportesr of fresh and local, they don’t  seem to have an overriding philosophy of cooking.  The fact that some of the advertised flavours were MIA makes them seem imprecise. Other than the chocolate beignets, there is no major dish, something which eaters look for, and while the food is good, it is not startlingly good. It’s cooking designed not to offend anyone –  like a popular TV show.

George. 111C Queen St. E. 416-863-6006 No Wheel chair access.  Lunch Tasting Menu for Two : food plus tax: $124.50

For more on Catching Fire, How Cooking Made Us Human, go to ginamallet.com