Breaking West Coast Bread

There are few things I like to do more than visit bakeries. Good bakeries, that is. And I knew Victoria, B.C. was going to oblige.

It all started with this faction of folks I know who all either live in Victoria, or wish they did. They are all foodies. And they keep bragging about Victoria’s great coffee and artisanal bread.

IMG_8339Fol Epi (398 Harbour Rd #101,
(250) 477-8882) was on the top of their list. The French name was unforgettable. Fol means “wild” and epi is a classic, long and narrow loaf shaped like a branching wheat stalk.

“Look for the silo,” advised Victoria resident Kent Green when he heard I was coming into town. “They grind their own flour!”

I never found the silo but I did see the huge stone grinder through the window of this unique destination. Fol Epi is located at Dockside Green, a 15-acre sustainable, LEED-certified development in Victoria’s inner harbour and the perfect venue for this organic bakery where baker Cliff Leir has installed not only a flour mill, but a wood-fired oven.IMG_8338

He’s using only two, organic, Canadian-grown grains at his bakery – Red Fife and rye – yet outputting a large variety of breads including the namesake epi, baguette, boule, rye round, whole wheat, and ciabatta. Not only is Leir grinding flour daily but he is also sifting his Red Fife into a more refined flour suitable for the baguette and ciabatta.IMG_8406Not surprisingly, this chef is a member of Slow Food Canada and while “artisanal” is a label many use with abandon – Leir defines the term. His breads are all leavened with wild yeast (aka natural starter) and often take up to 24 hours to ferment. Humidity and temperature affect these breads immensely. Factor in the fluctuating heat of a wood-fired oven and this becomes an ultra-challenging place to bake consistently high-quality loaves.

I’d say Leir revels in it. I spoke to him briefly when visiting Fol Epi this month and when I suggested his bread baking routine presented a few hurdles, there was a knowing twinkle in his eyes. Then he simply smiled and nodded.

He does, however, have a very modern four-deck electric baker’s oven where he produces a variety of high-selling pastries, from croissants, to canel cakes to macaroons.

Then there’s the rich aroma of Caffe Fantastico wafting through his bakery. He shares the building with one of Victoria’s top espresso shops, where they roast their own beans, of course!

IMG_8310Coffee and pastries go hand in hand. And that same special synchronicity happens in “Vic West” at Fry’s Red Wheat Bakery (416 Craigflower Rd; (250) 590-5727 ). Equipped with a cafe latte from The Spiral Coffee Co. next door, I ambled into this quaint little bakery owned by Byron Fry who started his bread-baking career with a mobile oven, visiting farmers’ markets. In 2012, he finally settled and opened this shop only to learn that in 1897 his great grandfather had established a bakery right across the street. In tribute, Fry uses his family’s historical logo and name. And he doesn’t veer too widely from the artisanal methods employed more than a century ago.IMG_8315

Like Fol Epi, he bakes out of a wood-fired oven that he had custom built on the site. He also uses organic grains, heirloom wheat and natural starters to create loaves that are rich in taste, such as IMG_8311Whole Wheat Country, German Rye, Pain Rustique, Cinnamon Raisin Rye, Flax Rye, Sunflower 100% Rye, Focaccia (Olive-Rosemary-Roasted Garlic) and baguettes.

I tasted the pain rustique and was floored. This bread contains 30 per cent whole grains and has a faintly sour, layered flavour with a wide open crumb. The cinnamon raisin rye travelled back to Toronto with me and continued to satisfy for days, with its rich rye flavour and raisin-studded interior. Fry bakes his loaves dark, resulting in a caramelized, crackly crust flecked with deliciously burnt notes.IMG_8340

I wish I had tasted his pain au chocolate. His Tumbler account reads: “You can see the gorgeous layers created by this amazing butter from Jerseyland organic milk produced by 100 Jersey cows in Grandforks B.C .where the farmers know all their cows by name, not number. We are the only bakery in town using this butter and it makes all the difference!”

That’s something to shout about.

And me, I’ll be pouting in despair until my return back to Victoria where I plan to visit five more artisanal bakeries on my list.

 

I want a cardamom bun!

IMG_8452It wasn’t until Instagram that I came to know a cardamom bun. Not only is this pastry fun to repeat rapidly as a culinary tongue twister but it’s drop dead gorgeous, too. I found myself staring longingly at the photos posted by Bakery 47 in Glasgow, Scotland considering the sweet mystery of it all.

I wanted it.

I needed it.

I would serve it at teatime (the way those Scots must?) in all its cardamom glory. I could smell its perfume wafting through the bun’s heart and soul intoxicating each of its dainty, egg-brushed strands all buried in sugar and butter.

Something about its knots and twists kept me happily delusional until one day I shook myself into action and created my own, using my basic challah recipe as the core.

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Mado’s Basic Challah Dough

It’s basic because you can use it in various ways, from cardamom to cinnamon to hamburger buns to challah loaves yet it veers from the norm with the addition of whole wheat flour and the development of a sponge starter, first.

Sponge Starter

2 cups warm milk

¼ cup canola oil

¼ cup liquid honey

2 eggs

2 cups organic, unbleached all purpose flour (I like President’s Choice)

1 cup Red Fife whole wheat flour

1 tsp SAF instant yeast

In the bowl of a large KitchenAid mixer, using the whisk attachment, combine milk, oil, honey and eggs until smooth. Add flours and yeast and mix until combined, using the paddle attachment. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for two hours until the mixture is bubbly and puffing up about 20 per cent. (With a little imagination, the surface should look like a sponge.) If desired, you can make the sponge ahead and store in the fridge up to one day in advance.

3-4 cups organic, unbleached all purpose flour

1 tbsp kosher salt

Remove wrap and add 3 cups of the flour to the bowl and salt. Using the dough hook, mix the flour for about 6 minutes at med-low speed, gradually adding more flour, tablespoon by tablespoon until the dough no longer pools at the bottom of the bowl and gathers around the dough hook.

Transfer the dough to an oiled, large bowl or dough container, cover and let rise at room temperature for 2 hours or until doubled.

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Make the filling

1 stick room temperature unsalted butter

½ cup packed brown sugar

2 tbsp ground cardamom

In a small bowl, mash the butter, sugar and cardamom until smooth.

Once the dough has finished its first, two-hour rise, transfer to a lightly floured surface, shape into a loose ball and leave to rest 5 min. Dust with flour and roll out to a 24 in x 24 in square. Spread the filling evenly over rolled out dough, then fold in half, pulling the far edge toward you to cover the butter mixture.

Cut two thin (1/4 in) slices of the dough, gently twist together and lengthen like a rope then knot. Place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and cover with a tea towel. Repeat. Preheat oven to 400F and let rise, covered with a tea towel or oiled plastic wrap for 45 min.

Baste with egg wash and sprinkle with coarse or pearl sugar. Bake for 15-18 min, or until golden brown, turning baking sheets halfway through the bake.

Makes 24 buns.

 

Deconstructing Chianti

“The baron is standing right over my left shoulder,” enthuses the man offering me a glass of wine, nodding his head in that direction. “I’m not kidding. A real baron.”

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Sidekick on the left, Baron Francesco Ricasoli on the right.

So I look. I have to. I am drinking the man’s homegrown Chianti and am curious what a real baron looks like. Suave and impeccably attired, he’s smiling ear-to-ear. Who wouldn’t in his shoes?

Baron Francesco Ricasoli is thirty-second in a long line of barons overseeing Ricasoli estate in Tuscany, the essential birthplace of Chianti where his forebearer Baron Bettino Ricasoli developed the first modern Sangiovese-based Chianti recipe in the 1800s. (I’m not sure if this happened before or after Bettino became Italy’s second prime minister, but do know his governmental office shows just how seriously Italians take their wine).

I met the present-day Baron Francesco Ricasoli at the Canadian unveiling of Chianti Classico Gran Selezione on June 16 at The Carlu and planned to take this wine tasting as seriously as a wine-drinking journalist can. I was up for the slow amble… table to luxurious table, tasting endless glasses of voluptuous Italian red wines. I took notes. I asked questions. And I leaned into the shiny, silver spittoons IMG_7630with grace and feigned expertise, all the while knowing I’d  rely heavily on a certain wine guy once back in front of my computer, writing this piece.

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Wine Guy Randy Hodge

In my books, nobody knows wine better than Randy Hodge. He will tell you the contrary, but that’s just part of his charm. Randy is all about enjoying wine and accepting personal preferences.

Like mine.

Randy and I both knew I had a grudge against Chianti. Turns out the first glass I met didn’t appeal and I’d never given another one a chance – until The Carlu wine tasting where every single drop went down like pure elixir.

It didn’t hurt that I was sampling Chianti Classico Gran Selezione, which in wine-speak means top-rung. Most of the bottles I tasted retailed for no less that $50. But honestly, after my second or third sampling, I couldn’t articulate a single, sober tasting note or fact.IMG_7625

For Chianti is more than just an intoxicating drink. It’s a confusing and complicated puzzle, unless Randy is leading the tour.

He says the first thing to understand is the terroir of this wine. All Chianti hails from Tuscany and is sanctioned as a DOCDenominazione di Origine Controllata (controlled designation of origin). In other words, wine makers can’t put “Chianti” on the label unless it comes from the designated area (parceled into seven sub-regions, of course). Strictly defined, regular Chianti must contain no less than 75% Sangiovese (a red) but can contain white grapes in the remaining 25%.

The specs don’t end there. Up one notch from regular, old Chianti is Chianti Classico, with its black rooster logo and yet another award: it gets a “G” on the end of its DOC making for a Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) pointing to a smaller, higher quality regional area. The Chianti Classico consortium currently rules, I mean, stipulates that Chianti Classico must contain no less than 80% Sangiovese grape (and rules out white in the mix, calling for red grapes only in the other 20 %)  which explains those “bright red cherry flavours” Randy says dominate this medium-bodied wine.

Chianti Riserva, he says, is another story. The best comes from Classico and Rufina sub-regions and is often aged in oak barrels from an estate’s best grapes. These tend to be fuller in body and richer in flavour. Think black cherry.

And if all these notes, regions and classifications aren’t enough to make non-wine-geeks quit their wine education, Randy jokes that the “Chianti Mafia” have upped the ante with Chianti Classico Gran Selezione, which goes another step, aging up to 30 months, versus the Riserva’s measly 24.

IMG_7622Forget the rules and regs.  Have a glass and taste this newcomer for yourself!  I can heartily recommend the pricey Ricasoli Colledilà Chianti Classico 2010 Sangiovese the baron was pouring. As I savoured its nuance, the baron’s  sidekick giddily pointed at the drawing on the label, bragging “That’s his house, no joking!”

But when I go Chianti shopping on my dime, I’ll stick to Randy’s guidelines. He says reliable producers of Chianti Classico are Fontodi, Fonterutoli, Castello di Ama, Badia a Coltibuono,  Castello di Querceto and Volpaia. Look for these at Vintages and expect pricing to range from $20-$25. For the economical among us, there are even under $20 bottle such as Rocca di Castagnoli, Valiano, Cennatoio and Lornano.

P1030353But beyond the right bottle is the right food pairing.  Rich, meat infused tomato sauces makes a great match for Chianti’s relative lightness and bright fruitiness. P1030276Shut your eyes tightly and travel to Tuscany on your palate. If visions of wild boar, Pecorino cheese, grilled lamb and forest mushrooms dance before your food-obsessed imagination, nab them. All will make fine companions for this age-old wine that funnily enough, made its first crude debut in a fiasco, or flat bottom carafe woven in straw. Yet nothing about Chianti is a ludicrous failure, especially when a perfect bottle graces your lips and turns a fine meal into an aria.

The Best Dinner Ever

It takes balls or foolhardy abandon to organize an event and call it The Best Dinner Ever. That meant I had to go.

For a good cause, my friend Nora twisted my arm and that of others to attend. We donned sparkly, tight evening wear and put on our heels. We tried to look natural – even a little bored – before stepping on the red carpet that was laid out before the entrance.

It’s not every day you get flashed by paparazzi enroute to dinner.

That was our first clue that this might be the best ever.

Second clue: Glen and Jamie.

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They were our hosts for the night and stood near the entrance to The Chef’s House (215 King St E) glad handing. Glen looks suave enough to be cast as the next 007 Agent. IMG_7746 Jamie plays sidekick. IMG_7745He wears funky, thick-rimmed glasses that barely take your attention from the luxuriant tuft of red hair standing upright and three inches off his head. Both have huge poise and TV-like presence. It didn’t hurt that their faces were plastered on the water bottles. (Note to self: If you ever want to feel like a celebrity, get your face on a water bottle.)

Seconds after a warm handshake with the awesome duo, I was presented a champagne glass shimmering with bubbly Prosecco and topped with a fat, strawberry-slice-floater.IMG_7711

A young server wearing a baby-blue tie and crisp, beige shirt held steady both the tray and his smile as I pointed a camera lens in his direction. A bastion of servers stood in the wings, all wearing silk ties that popped off their uniforms in bubble-gum pink, key-lime green and Dijon-mustard yellow. An über clean stainless-steel, open kitchen sparkled in the background offset by an army of tall, white chef hats huddling about.

Tonight’s venue was anything but under-staffed. The Chef’s House is a training ground for hospitality workers – servers, bartenders, hosts, cooks and dishwashers all put their lessons into motion here. We were their guinea pigs. And this was an apt pairing when raising awareness and funds for The Peer Project.

As newbie chefs-to-be scrambled to plate over a hundred goat cheese soufflé appetizers, IMG_7731equally young-to-the-trade servers brought plates to our table, while others fumbled and squeezed awkwardly around our shoulders to pour Chef House Label Caves Spring chardonnay into our wine glasses. It was a ballet of sorts. Sometimes the pirouettes were graceful and other times, not. Yet none of this deterred the conversation with the young man at my left from being anything less than riveting.

IMG_7744Charlie Lo had a small case of the jitters. He was about to stand up and give a speech to this hundred-dollar-a-seat-audience and tell us his story. Twelve years ago, a Peer Project mentor coached eight-year-old, fatherless Charlie into believing something radically different than anyone or anything was telling him at the time. He told Charlie to believe in himself, to have dreams and to fight for them. That, despite his learning disability and the uninspired words of his middle school teacher who said he wouldn’t amount to anything. That, despite the support and love of his single mom who was fighting breast cancer and was equally vulnerable, newly immigrated to Toronto and not an English speaker.

Charlie’s the kind of guy who will flash you a smile while saying some of the saddest things. He’s got an adorable mannerism of shrugging and squirming about in his shoulders like he’s trying to get out of a straightjacket, then he tosses back his head in relief and you know he’s traded in all that discomfort for a piece of bliss.

It didn’t hurt that Charlie knew just about everyone in the room. Before and after his heartrending speech, our conversation was interrupted incessantly by bear hugs and handshakes from passers-by,

So I turned to vivacious Laurie on my right and listened how she’d crawled off to Energia Athletics on the Danforth in the middle of the night to cycle through her 3 a.m. volunteer shift at Energia’s annual 24-hour Spin-A-Thon to raise thousands for this very cause. She not only believes in The Peer Project enough to spin through the night, Laurie, a psychologist, refers many of her young clients to this non-profit.

Sadly, the wait-list is long – 400 names long – and thus, the need to fundraise and eat The Best Dinner Ever which had moved into the second and most successful course:IMG_7743 seared fillets of sea bream in a tarragon-citrus broth with a tangle of spring veggies.

Not everyone at our table had dined at The Chef’s House before. I go so far back that I remember its previous incarnation on the other side of the street, Siegfried’s Dining Room, a much less glitzy, almost stogy venue where I enjoyed many an inexpensive, yet delicious repast served by students.

But the problem with students is their timetables, course limitations and school rules – two things that can really get in the way of a long, leisurely meal with endless refills of wine and merriment. Once the raffle tickets had come and gone, IMG_7741with happy winners racing to claim gift baskets spilling over with chocolate, wine and Bread by Mado (yes, this is a plug) the rest of us losers sat miffed, ready to drown our sorrows.

The head instructor delivered the bad news by microphone. Chef’s House was closing shop. According to the institution’s curriculum, it was time for the students to tidy up and go home. Luckily the three-piece jazz trio “The Sixth Street Trio” serenaded us with guitar, bass and saxophone as we trailed out the door, saying farewell to Charlie, The Peer Project and a dinner that was the best for many a philanthropic reason.

The Fish Store

I’ve been on a fish kick lately, eating it much more regularly than I usually do because truth be told, fish can throw me off my game. Every time I eat a flaky, moist fork-full of perfectly cooked salmon,Rainbow Trout tilapia or black cod I dive in with true adoration, savouring every mouthful, but the food issues inherent to our finned friends often throw me a curve ball. I get to thinking about their dwindling numbers and feel guilty if there isn’t an Ocean Wise logo nearby. It gets worse when I start to ponder mercury or the high price tag of fresh caught fish.

Enter the fish sandwich.

Of late, it’s been canned wild sockeye salmon for my noontime repast. Not only is the provenance of this fish considered as politically correct as you can go, but even the Food Police agree that the bones are edible and calcium rich. Give the can a drain, spritz the lot with fresh lemon juice and lay on the Asian ingredients: finely chopped fresh coriander, green onions and mayo whipped up with a healthy dose of sriracha sauce. Roll it up in a tortilla with some baby greens and few wraps satisfy better.

Or ditch the kitchen and head to the numero uno fish shack in town – aptly named- The Fish Store (657 College St. at Grace).IMG_7025

Is it a store or a resto? The answer is both and the space is a lot less than you’d think when considering this tandem offering. In fact, summer is the best time to visit as the front patio affords more seating than the closet-sized interior with its two small tables for two. Pull open the door and not two feet away is the cash register with a huge display of fresh fish on ice and another foot away, there’s Chef Mama toiling away.

Take your pick: Tuna, shrimp, calamari, wild sockeye salmon, grouper, snapper, tilapia, scallops, halibut and black cod all ready for purchase or cooked à la minute.

Despite the lack of space, there’s no lack of signage, IMG_7026advertising a slew of dining options at unbeatable prices, be it sandwich, burrito, salad, tacos or the ”brown rice meal”. No deep fryer to be found here plus a gentle emphasis on good health, from the whole wheat option in the sandwich bun to the brown rice.

On a recent visit on a cold rainy day, I was warmed by a luscious bowl of butternut squash soup ($3.99) that was perfectly calibrated in both sweet and IMG_7028 salty departments and duly rich in deep, squash flavour. I asked Mama for the recipe but she laughed sweetly and declined. Beside her work section is a shelf piled high with their signature paposecos bun (from nearby Golden Wheat bakery) all pre-loaded with sliced tomatoes, red onions and lettuce.

I ordered the day’s special – grouper – and was rewarded with three flash-fried and very fat morsels of silken, juicy fish pillowed in a soft bun draped in a garlicky, tangy vinaigrette. IMG_7029What’s not to love about this combo of hot, insanely fresh fish, mixed up with the soft yeasty bun and the crunch of lettuce? I could imagine ordering several and getting lost in consumption… staring out the sea-blue paned windows of this ultra adorable eatery for hours.

But all good things come to an end and The Fish Store does it aptly. IMG_7027When it’s time to pay at the cash register, Papa Hwang nods down at the tattered edges of a cardboard box full of complimentary pieces of personal-sized gum that he has painstakingly and individually hand cut from a sleeve of Dentyne. I like to oblige him and “ooh and aah” a little between chomps of the gum, saying goodbye to my garlic after-glow but not to the memory of the finest fish sandie in town.

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Taxi Cuisine

My friend David takes a lot of Toronto taxis.

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In the course of a couple of kilometres, he unearths huge chunks of personal history from the guy-behind-the-wheel, lapping up and identifying their accents, then hitting on pure gold – from a food writer’s perspective. When the average driver thinks “back home” food appears like a sparkling mirage on the horizon.

And I depend on David for a complete recounting.

He retells their food fables to me and I’m transfixed by lush mango groves and tales of chins dripping with sweet juice. I follow their food steps into crowded, open-air markets thick with long-robed shoppers eyeing over endless mounds of pistachios, dates, saffron and coriander seed.

But it’s the detailed recipes David recites the minute he gets out of a cab that absolutely enthrall. Like that Bombay fish recipe calling for two mysterious spices that we could rub into a nameless finned species… that oh, we would learn the name of if we went to a certain fish monger on Parliament Street. There, David would drop his cabbie friend’s name like a password and all the rest of the dish would unfold – like magic.

It all sounded delectable but way too unreachable for my inner impatient cook. So I got in a cab of my own and started asking around for Indian restaurant recommendations.

“My wife,” chuckled the driver, who then proceeded to give me a blow-by-blow description of the Chapli kebab they had plans to make together that evening, right after his shift. While he distinctly called for ground beef and suggested I shape this kebab into a patty, I had (as usual) a different vision.

IMG_7272I raced off to  Mister Greek Meat Market (801 Danforth Ave; 416-469-0733) where freshly ground lamb is usually on hand, or can be made to order.

Sadly, Mister Greek doesn’t stock sumac, which is one part of this recipe I wasn’t going to fudge. President’s Choice has recently introduced Black Label sumac ($4.99 a bottle in the spice section), but I am leery of its tagline “tangy and fruity with a touch of saltiness”. I don’t want salt in my sumac, I just want those ground up little berries prized for their tangy, yet non-acidic lemony flavour. Look for it in Indian and Middle Eastern grocery stores and toss it over grilled meat, poultry and fish, or dips like humus or white bean.

Shaping these kebabs is a little tricky. You can listen to my driver and skip the skewer and opt for a patty, but I like to roll the meat around a skewer for a pogo stick kind-of-look. I love tandoor-style keema kebabs rolled this way and just had to do it for this chapli kebab. Use metal or bamboo skewers, but remember to soak the bamboo ones in water first for 30 minutes if you don’t want them to catch on fire under the hot broiler as mine did.

Kebabs TP

Chapli Kebab

1 lb ground lamb or beef

1 finely diced medium tomato

1 finely diced medium onion

1 egg, beaten

1 tbsp ground coriander

1 tsp salt

1 tsp hot pepper flakes

1 tsp crushed garlic

Butter, melted

½ cucumber, diced

1 tomato, diced

Naan or pita bread

Sumac

In a large bowl, combine ground meat, tomato, onion, egg, coriander, salt, hot pepper flakes and garlic. Marinate for at least 2 hours or overnight. Soak bamboo skewers 30 min., if using.

Shape kebabs on skewers or as patties.

Baste skewered kebabs with melted butter and cook on a hot grill or under broiler for 2-3 minutes on each side or until no longer pink. Alternately, heat butter in a hot frying pan and cook patties 2-3 minutes per side or until fully cooked.

Serve on naan or pita bread with chopped cucumbers and tomatoes and a dollop of yogurt sauce. Garnish with a sprinkle of sumac.

Serves four.

Yogurt Sauce:   Drain one cup of plain yogurt in a cheesecloth-lined sieve over a bowl for one hour. In a medium bowl, combine drained yogurt, one diced jalapeno pepper, two tablespoons each of chopped mint and fresh coriander, a splash of lemon juice and salt to taste.

 

 

La Cubana

LC Entrance

Sometimes we foodies just get lucky. Forget about those resto-reviews written by folks like me. Forget about reservations and research. Simply close your eyes and tap your sparkly red shoes like Dorothy. Okay, one exception: Make sure you are walking the golden culinary pathway (Roncesvalles) and throw a dart at the first appealing doorway on the street’s north end: La Cubana (392 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-538-7500, lacubana.ca) .

That’s what my friend Rocca and I did last month and the place blew our not-very-Spanish socks off.

It didn’t hurt that we got the last table before a weekday lunch line started to pile up at 1pm. LC Seating We stepped lightly as a server guided us towards the last vacant booth, sighing happily to claim a little territory in this highly manicured eatery that is both bright and airy, with wake-me-up colourful tiles covering the floors and a long, soda fountain-type bar separating hungry customers from a busy grill-line-cook outputting seafood and pork delights.LC Signs

At La Cubana back-lit signs yell out red-lettered words from the menu, creating a mystique called hunger (if you are like us) and no entiendo.

Bocaditos, medianoche, frituras, dolce and tostones say the signs and that’s all part of La Cubana’s charm. Enter here a new world of flavours all expertly prepared, at great prices and in beautiful surroundings.

Take the sandwiches and medianoches section of the menu. You think the latter means something different, but it doesn’t. A medianoche is what any serious salsa dancer turns to for a midnight snack.

“Those are sandwiches, too,” explained our friendly server who was moving at Roadrunner speed to keep up with the lunch traffic.

“Duh,” said we in tandem and along came a LC Fish Sandmost sumptuous grilled fish sandwich, its contents spilling out of a soft, sweet-dough egg bun. A big hunk of perfectly grilled pickerel resided within, wedged around avocado, pineapple salsa, red cabbage slaw and mayo making the whole thing a textural, multi-sensory delight.

We were having a girls’ lunch and sharing was part of the package. The mother-and-daughter-team beside us were in the same mode and I couldn’t help but notice they were switching between Spanish and English convo while nibbling away at a feast of small-plated bocaditos such as habanero glazed fried squid ($7), mussels with coconut and lime ($6) and tropical chips and salsa ($6).

Not us. As a Ricky Ricardo voice-alike sounded over the airwaves we happily awaited arrival of our second order: a big bowl stuffed to the brim with avocado, LC Saladhearts of palm, orange segments and Bibb lettuce. This clean, fresh offering with its crunchy white, baby palm stems (memories of white asparagus) would be a winner served at a beachside cafe in Nice or Veradero.

Speaking of all-inclusive vacations to Cuba and the wretched food sagas I’ve suffered through (second-hand) via rants from returning travellers, I assure you there will be no déjà vu at La Cubana. In fact, nothing should stop you from racing across the threshold of this newly opened (November 2013) establishment as soon as possible.

Especially, if you’re a dessert hound and want to join the fresh-out-of-the-fryer donut trend that has swept across North America’s beltline.

Rocca made me do it.

She forced me to share five, TimBit-sized donuts under the dolce portion of the menu, where it says quite plainly “donuts” and doesn’t whisper to you that these

LC donuts

seductive little creatures have been whipped up from a buttermilk Béarnaise batter that balloons into warm, sweet, heavenly dough that’s lovingly tossed and turned in a dry bath of cinnamon sugar so that when it hits your open mouth all that comes to mind is simply x-rated.

Five dollars for five! Priceless.LC Coffee

Especially if you pair it with a bistro glass full of cafe con leche ($4) that rivals any latte I’ve tasted in Riverdale, especially since the last drops in the glass are pure sugar (gracias, sweetened condensed milk).

Adios La Cubana. I hope to see you again, soon.