Dundas Dining: Rebas Café revisit

September 28, 2009

Since we were shorted our coffees on our last visit to this café (we weren’t charged for it), this weekend we decided to go back to the punctuationally challenged Rebas for breakfast.

Though there is still no apostrophe in the name of the café, there was a different staff member behind the counter. A stout baby-boomer with a silver goatee asked us what he could get us. We ordered a pair of dark roast brews with a buy-one-get-onecoupon I got in the mail (okay, that might have been the real inspiration for our return), a muffin and a slice of blueberry pie. The muffin was the cakey, Costco club-pack variety but the pie appeared to be home-made. Not only did we actually get our coffee this time, there was about three slices worth of pie left but the man cut it in two and gave Mandi the larger of the two pieces. Sweet deal.

It was a bit crowded inside so we took advantage one of the last opportunities of the season to enjoy the patio. It was certainly a nice patio though, like many restaurant patios in the Junction, feels a bit like someone’s backyard. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just the best way to describe the atmosphere. You can sip your coffee, stare up into the neighbor’s second floor windows and wonder what it is they do up there all day and if they’re going to walk past naked or fellating a banana.

If death is the sort of thing bothers you, I’d suggest not peering through the fence. Through the crack in the fence we could see the hearse parked behind the Lynette Funeral Home next door. I’m not bothered by death, but I also like cakey, Costco club-pack style muffins. It was a win-win morning.

The pie was as delicious as it looked and the coffee was definitely decent. The Junction has a bit of a low bar for coffee so I’d say they rate well above average whereas in the grand scheme of all things related to coffee they rate more of a solid run-of-the-mill medium average.

The best coffee I’ve had in the GTA has been at Madison’s Cafe & Creperie in Ghettobicoke. It’s amazing. It’s like coffee beans are making babies on your tongue. I only mention this because it obliterates anything in The Junction. So Rebas coffee doesn’t really have to strive to be that good because it would stand out too much and get called a snob by the other coffees.  That can be emotionally scarring for a coffee. Aim for the middle, you’ll be happier.

4 missing apostrophes out of 5

Dundas Dining: Baan Thai

September 21, 2009

My favourite Thai restaurant on Vancouver Island is Baan Thai in Victoria. I was hoping it was a national franchise when I moved here and saw a restaurant of the same name on Dundas West. Somehow I knew it was not related. Perhaps the ginormous yellow lettering on the window that reads: TAKE OUT & DELIVERY.

Baan Thai (The Junction) like to play games with you. The exterior suggests an establishment akin to The Green Mango at Yonge/Bloor. Simple, quick and functional, tasty but not somewhere you’d go for a “dining experience “. Then you enter and, though the decorations might be a touch in the tacky side, the room had an undeniable atmosphere. You begin to think it could be somewhat like the Bangkok Paradise on Queen Street. Even when the waitress answers your query about which of their curries is hottest with a confused look and “The green curry is most popular,” you have a pretty good feeling.

Then your green curry, served with “in season vegetables”, arrives but the vegetables had clearly been frozen. The withered carrot cubes are a dead give-away. I suppose frozen vegetables are technically always in season. Or perhaps the “in season” referred to a bumper crop of bamboo shoots, the entirety of which seemed to be in your dish.

Again, upon tasting the curry itself, you begin to have high hopes. Sure, the rice is a tad cold, but the curry is spicy and decent enough for a fair price. Your high hopes are once again dashed as the wait for your companion’s vegetarian Pad Thai grows to a disconcerting length. At least you are able to make jokes about how it’s also going to have frozen vegetables on it. There should be a word for culinary schadenfreude. Sculinfreude perhaps (the S is silent).

But no! The veggies on the vegetarian Pad Thai are fresh! Plus it is declared “Good!” and “A ridiculous amount of food for seven dollars.” Two meals worth, easily. The wait was probably due to the vast amount of take-out and delivery business they were doing during our meal. It was actually quite a floor show. From the forgotten rice in one woman’s order to the grumpy steroid abusing weekend dad who was picking up dinner for his kids (even though he’d eaten there at lunch), it was never a dull moment. The cast of characters was TV-sitcom worthy. Mandi even thought she spied a massage table in the backroom. The mind boggles.

There were no other sit-down customers while were there which indicates what we’d come to realize. The large yellow wording on the window tells you all you need to know. This is a satisfying and affordable take-out joint. As there website curiously states: “Fair price, clean food, friendly service.”

3 .5 kitchy Thai statues out of 5 (there were far more than five statues in the restaurant).

Things you see at the bottom of your wine glass

September 16, 2009

After a recent party, Mandi ended up with an extra tetra pak of wine (20 Bees) intended as a gift from on guest to another. Eventually the forgotten wine ended up at my place and then ultimately in our tummies.

Upon emptying the box we noticed it was rattling as if it were full of sand. Dumping this sand out, it appeared to be sand made out of crushed glass. Not sharp, but hard and clear and seemingly non soluble in liquid. In fact we couldn’t see how it could be anything other than glass. Perhaps it had been in the grapes and had been ground down in the grape crushing process. Curious, Mandi sent the winery this letter:

Dear 20 Bees,

My partner and I were finishing off a tetra of your 2005 Grower’s red, and were a bit concerned to hear the empty carton rattling. After some inverted shaking we discovered a clear, hard, granular, glass-like substance coming out of the carton.

Is this normal, or do we have future careers as glass eaters at a circus?

Eagerly awaiting your reply, as the circus is leaving town soon, and we need to know if we should go with them.

Thanks, Mandi”

Their reply was interesting:

Thanks for you email….with regards to you question; what you found is not glass. The crystal like substance that you have found is a known as Tartrate Crystals or Wine Diamonds. The are caused by unstable tartaric acid and malic acid (natural acidity found in grapes and wines) that precipitate over time. As this is a cosmetic issue, all wineries attempt to force the unstable precipitation of these acids in our tanks prior to bottling. This process can take up to 3 to 5 weeks, and is done by chilling the wine down to – 4 C. Once the precipitation is completed, we filter and then bottle or in this case, package the product. Now over time, especially in med to full bodied reds, the precipitation of tannins during the aging of the wine will alter the pH and other parameters in the wine, which may cause further unstable precipitation of acids, and this is what you are experiencing. According to wine writers such as Tony Aspler, wine diamonds are an indication of a good wine.

We will continue to strive to improve our quality control and hope that this has not deterred you from our products in the future.

20 Bees Winery Retail

Who knew? Probably a lot of wine connoisseurs. Myself, I was dubious about the vinters’ claim so I checked the internet and found wine diamonds are indeed a real thing and not a ridiculous cover up. They actually give Germans who go by Weinstien (wine stone) their name. Who knew? Probably the Germans.

Mandi replied:

20 Bees,

Thank you for your reply. That’s very interesting. Wine diamonds, fancy. I am not deterred from future purchases of your product, but I am little disappointed to learn that I will not have a career with the circus.

Thanks again, Mandi

I’m kind of sad we’re not joining the circus as well.

Things you see when you walk down Dundas West

September 15, 2009

I’m not big on street festivals but since the Junction Arts Festival is in my neighborhood, I felt like we should go. Like any other street festival it suffered from all the things that people look for in a street festival — too many people, too much loud music on stages too close to one another, colourful but not genuinely interesting things to look at, makeshift patios without enough wait staff to service not quite enough tables. My friend Glenn once called me a “friendly curmudgeon” when I told him (during a discussion on transit disruptions) my views on street festivals. I suppose that’s about as accurate a description of me as one could hope to coin.

The festival wasn’t a waste of time though. As we walked towards Dundas Pizza, we began to notice a lot of people saying the word “fire” in hushed, excited tones. Then there was a slight whiff of something plastic burning and a faint smear of smoke in the sky above Underworld. An electricity imbued the air as people tried to spot the fire. Eventually, in the doorway between the pizza shop and the lingerie store flames could be seen licking out of the mail slot. It didn’t seems like that big a deal. A mild curiosity for the crowd who’d gathered. That’s when the sirens started and suddenly police and event volunteers wearing headsets seemed to materialize out of thin air to usher people off the road to make way for no fewer than six firetrucks.

The crowd’s reaction was three fold. A battalion of gleeful rubberneckers armed with cell-phones and cameras were huddled in a phalanx inching forwards as firefighters broke down the door. Other people were on the verge of tears with panic when the doorway turned into a flaming vault belching fire and smoke into the street. One woman seemed to be trying to plow a path through the crowd with her stroller. It was one of those off-roading strollers with the knobbly tires so it worked quite well. We followed in her wake.

On the way out of the crush, I noticed that a third segment seemed to have less of an interest in the fire but stood in defiance against the authority telling them to move along. They had a right to be there, god-damn it. One typically hard and wiry Dundas West resident had his terrified dog with him and was yelling at one of the shepherding volunteers who’d apparently touched the canine in the process. He was being told in no uncertain terms that touching the dog again would bring his life to a rapid conclusion and would involve the migration of his teeth down his throat.

I had to give both men a mental tip of the hat. The volunteer was unflappable and calmly reiterated to the irate man the need to move off the street for everyone’s safety, including the dog’s. A man with less fortitude might have been concerned with the distinct possibility alcohol fumes on the dog owner’s breath might ignite at any minute and engulf them both in flames. If this thought crossed his mind, it did not show on his brow. Well done. One also had to acknowledge the passion for which the scruffy gentleman was defending his pet’s safety. Though his concern didn’t seem to include removing the pooch from a dangerous and terrifying situation. It was the principal of the thing and, in the absence of any other apparent redeeming qualities, you have to admire a man who stands by his principals.

The panicked woman with the stroller, having carved a swathe for us to follow, soon disappeared into the crowd on the other side of the next intersection. Crossing the street we too were soon surrounded by people who were blissfully unaware of the conflagration of emotions just a few yards away.

Things you see as you walk down the street: fruit.

September 1, 2009

Yesterday, on my walk home from the TTC station, I saw a pear laying on the sidewalk. It had fallen from the tree overhanging the sidewalk with its dangling green bounty. From a distance the pear appeared strangely fuzzy, as if it had fur being ruffled by the breeze or was vibrating and out of focus. As I drew closer I could see it was probably covered in ants and, being fascinated by ants, I leaned forward to get a better look. It wasn’t covered in ants. It was covered in several dozen writhing yellow wasps. They were tearing the glistening fruit to shreds with their mandibles which emitted a sort of wet hum, like a tiny river or sizzling bacon. Eerily, there was no buzzing. Just the sound of clicking and slicing.

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