Sunday, January 30, 2005

chicken hearts, grilled pineapple and flying cutlery

Since the first time I went out with the Chowhound dining group went OK, decided to check out their January destination Friday night. This month's pick: Red Violin, a Brazilian BBQ at Danforth and Broadview.

The evening got off to a rocky start, when I went into the wrong resto. I briefly lost the ability to match the sign above the correct door - I entered the Latin restaurant next door, left a puzzled maitre'd when none of the names I rhymed off were on the reservation list, then finally noticed a review in the window. After heading next door, all was good.

To start, they offered up a salad/seafood bar. Not exactly your offering of limp iceberg, the spread featured hot and cold seafood (great shrimp in tomato sauce), a variety of cheese, slices of guava paste, various vegetable salads and addictive thumb-sized cheese bread. All delicious.

Soon after, servers came around with large skewers, each with a different type of meat. They came to each person at the table, set down their cutting board, then either slid or carved the meat off the skewer, depending on the size of the cut. One of the early skewers contained chicken hearts, which turned out to be excellent (it later came as a shock to learn Mom, who doesn't usually care for oddball parts, wasn't revolted when I told her I ate these, as she used to like them). Marinated, mostly garlicy cuts of BBQed chicken, pork, beef and lamb were brought to the table, along with perfectly-baked salmon. The only cut I didn't try was chicken leg, figuring I'd had other portions of the bird. Of the rest, only the pork was a miss - it had a nice citrusy marinade, but was too dry. As for the serving method, the joke going around was what the Brazilian word for "meatboy" might have been.

One other problem became a running joke. I couldn't keep my cutlery on the table. Several times, it went flying on the floor, usually while attempting to move it out of the way for the next round of meat. Nothing like klutziness as an icebreaker. It was worth a few good laughs.

Side dished included rice, black beans, a bowl of some starchy substance, potatoes, mushrooms, battered plantains/bananas and a pico de gallo-like sauce. Most of us washed it down with cans of sweet, slightly fruity guarana pop.

The last skewer brought out before repeats of the other items was a whole grilled pineapple, dusted in cinnamon. I was the first to sample, having to use tongs to pull the slice away. One bite and I good feel my eyes bulge. I wouldn't be surprised if anyone said that I made Homer Simpsonesque noises. Mmmmm...juicy goodness. So tasty, so juicy, so perfect. Similar reactions littered the table. Lost count of how many pineapples were devoured.

We all felt sleepy after consuming so much meat. We stayed for a bit of show, though none of us joined the other diners on the dance floor. We may have had enough satisfaction for the evening. - JB

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

star not shining brightly

After seeing ads on newsboxes touting a new look for the Sunday edition of the Toronto Star, the newspaper junkie in me couldn't resist giving it a try.

The Sunday Star has been redesigned to be "Canada's first maga-paper", as editor Alison Uncles put it:

...a hybrid magazine-newspaper that blends what is the best of both mediums. From a newspaper, we bring urgency, relevancy, quick-paced thinking and the resources of Canada's largest newsroom. From a magazine, we borrow a step-back sensibility, colour, the luxury of deliberation and beautiful design.

For their maiden effort, they tried too hard. The paper looks like the efforts of somebody who received a bunch of new toys and went overboard in their enthusiasm.

The new paper consists of the following sections:

The front section - besides the headlines, now incorporates elements of the old World and Metropolis sections. Not too bad looking - manage to keep use of colour backdrops on articles low, though use of beige on the editorial page felt jarring.

O.T. - the new name for an expanded sports section. The centrespread on genetic modification looked good, maybe because this was one area they didn't go overboard with their new colour toys.

Buzz - the new name for the merged Life and Arts sections, with bits of the old Metropolis. The union does either little good. This is the section where sidebars rule, more annoyingly than before, though I didn't mind the magazine roundup. The "Essentials" page is especially dizzy (see example here). The name screams an attempt to sound hip.

Ideas - substitled "No Physical Activity Required", incorporating scattered bits that didn't fit the other sections, plus the books segment of the old Arts section. Falling at the end is what I think is one of the worst ideas from the redo: Endpaper, where articles from other sections are finished off, along with deleted sections and alternate endings, as if the paper was a DVD with bonus features. How happy do you think readers are going to be to have to keep flipping sections to finish stories? Were there reasons other than space why some of these segments were hacked from the original article? Meh.

Overall, the new paper "screams" too much, having gone beyond eye-catchiness into sensory overload. It felt like it was trying to one-up the Weekend Post (the headline fonts feel like the WP), or adjust to readers now accustomed to the quick soundbites and layouts of the freebie commuter papers. In the end, it's the colour overkill that ruins it.

I found some comments on the new look at, which favours the new look. - JB

Sunday, January 02, 2005

it's never too early for the excitement to begin

Hey folks, how did your 2005 begin? A glass of champagne? A memorable night out? An evacuation from a subway car?

Mine started off like many others, with a round of champagne as soon as the clock struck midnight. Most were in good spirits at the party, drifting between the kitchen and living room. I had my fair share of booze...don't ask me to remember what I had. The crowd gradually thinned, going home or to other destinations. I was one of the last to go, hopping onto a deserted train at Spadina around 2:20.

The first revellers hopped on at Osgoode. The driver came over the loudspeaker, chiding those on the station platform who dangled their legs onto the track. Cue maniacal laughter in my car. As the train filled up, the Osgoode crowd dangle from the handrails as if they were monkey bars. Nothing like piss-drunk kids for early morning entertainment.

Around 2:45, the train entered the tunnel leading into Eglinton station. Suddenly, it stopped and the lights went out. Announcements were made about a power outage, but that service would resume shortly. Some kids took this as an opportunity to slip out into the tight space outside between cars for a smoke. A few older passengers looked on in digust.

The power outage messages continued, though a vagueness crept into the operator's voice. These were followed by an announcement was made for the guard to come to the front of the train. The smokers came back into the car, followed shortly by an extremely angry TTC employee, wielding a bottle of wine. He shouted out threats to the smokers, salting his warning about what security would do to them with obscenities. A chill came over the other passengers, and I wondered if this guy was the cause of our problems.

Not the case. The voice of the same guy came over the loudspeaker, calmly indicating that the train would be evacuated. On the way out, I noticed several empty cartons of booze, so I now suspected the bottle he wielded was confiscated goods. The front of the train was at the edge of the Eglinton platform. Once off the train, I saw several firemen on thetrack, but couldn't tell what they were working around. Power was on in the station.

On the way out, I overheard others who had been in the station earlier: somebody had taken a drunken fall onto the track. Our train had just stopped short.

Welcome to 2005! - JB

Saturday, January 01, 2005

2004 wrap-up

What did you do in 2004 that you’d never done before? Started and finished writing a short script. Bought clothing at Le Chateau. DJ a wedding.
Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year? Didn't make any last year. As for new resolutions, try to keep in better shape, reduce the nuclear stockpile of food and go to more gatherings with total strangers.
Did anyone close to you give birth? No, but a few were married.
Did anyone close to you die? No.
What countries did you visit? Usual trips south of the border, though no new ground was covered, other than some neighbourhoods in NYC.
What would you like to have in 2005 that you lacked in 2004? A steady partner-in-crime.
What dates from 2004 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? No exact dates stand out, though there were many memorable days. Lineups around the block to get into a bar in NYC on St. Patrick's Day. Road hockey in Ottawa. JD and Elizabeth's day o' bliss. Campening.
What was your biggest achievement of the year? Anybody help me on this one?
What was your biggest failure? Looking for love in all the wrong places...
Did you suffer illness or injury? No. If anything, my health seemed to improved - fewer stomach problems, lost a little weight after joining the volleyball league.
What was the best thing you bought? Bought lots of about more of the cookbooks Borders/Waldenbooks sell for $5.99 US? No flops yet!
Whose behavior merited celebration? Odd question. Have to think about it...Tipper the Dog for being a peaceful passenger on several car trips?
Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed? Those using religious/moral excuses to justify their intolerance towards others (i.e. the whole same-sex marriage debate, complaints about television content, etc). Guess "live and let live" is out this season.
Where did most of your money go? Split between the necessities of life (rent, food, car insurance) and the usual horde of CDs/DVDs.
What did you get really, really, really excited about? Working on posters for two plays friends wrote/performed (Fear Of a Brown Planet and Holy Matrimony).
What song will always remind you of 2004? If you mean new songs that stuck in my head, probably Float On and Hey Ya.
Compared to this time last year, are you:
a) happier or sadder? Happier.
b) thinner or fatter? About the same.
c) richer or poorer? Depends on the profit sharing award at work.
What do you wish you’d done more of? See live performances - barely saw any music this year.
What do you wish you’d done less of? Over-analyze everything.
How did you be spend Christmas? Home with the family.
How many one-night stands? One.
What was your favorite TV program? Watching older shows on DVD, finally seeing the SCTV skits hacked out for syndication. The over-the-air TV hasn't been plugged in since August.
Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year? Hate, no, have lower opinions of, yes.
What was your greatest musical discovery? mp3 blogs.
What did you want and get? A chance to use my skills for non-work projects.
What did you want and not get? A tighter rein on spending.
What was your favorite film of this year? Of those I saw in theatres, Kill Bill 2 and The Incredibles.
What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you? For b-day #29, had dinner with friends at Mt. Everest on Bloor. Ate there Thursday night, still good (their dinner-for-two combo is a great deal).
What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? Seeing Dubya go down in flames.
How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2004? Mainly on the conservative side (t-shirts, jeans, khakis, solid or stripey shirts), though began experimenting with different types of shirts towards the end of the year (the "pimp-out" trip), as well as untucking them.
What kept you sane? Everyone around me.
Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most? None - celebrities are overrated.
What political issue stirred you the most? Like most everyone else, the US election.
Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2004: Avoid those too eager to climb to the top, especially when they dump on others on their way up.
Quote a song lyric that sums up your year: Life is a carnival... - JB