Thursday, 10 April 2014

Restaurant Review: Sud Forno

What started out as the bakery that supplied Terroni their crusty baked creations, has now become a full fledged mecca of Italian fare, implying you can find it tucked away discretely along Queen St. West. Opened last year, this bakery houses delicious savory snacks, focaccia style panini, pizza, and an array of delicious sweet tooth specialties, all housed in a great designed space that balances contemporary industrial design, with an infusion of Italian osterian charm.

I first visited Sud Forno by complete chance, as a result one day, of aiming to find a cozy yet satisfying place to grab a bite before continuing my journey along Queen west. After recovering from the hit of yeasty warm bakery air as I walked in, my eyes instantly began to attempt to comprehend the visual appeal of the space and its glass counters full of delicious food.

I went again for a second time, to try out more selections of their spreads, find out more about the bakery, and see if that initial magic was still there from when I first went. So I took one of my good friends with me and we ate our way through the bakery, literally, not figuratively, having a staff member change our platter size 3 times to hold our desserts alone...

The beauty about Sud Forno is it's inviting. It's practically as welcoming and comforting as a hug from an Italian Nonna, or any grandmother for that matter. It feels familiar, with past, present, and future all holding hands together. The staff are friendly and cool, and are more than welcome to answer any questions one has, from pronouncing an Italian word, to what types of flours are used in their baked breads. It is a small venue, and at first, looks like the few stools at the window bar are all they have for seating. But if you're looking to stay a bit longer, they have a large communal dining table upstairs where you can help yourself to water, chat with your friends (old and new), and even watch chefs churn up fresh batches of gelato from their exposed kitchen while eating a focaccia style panino.
Now, about the FOOD. Their in-house head Neapolitan baker bakes up fresh breads, pizzas, and focaccias daily. Their pastry chefs make all their desserts daily and feature some great seasonal and regional specialties. They even make their stracciatella cheese homemade, as well as their yogurt. What I'm trying to get at here is their food makes a statement and holds its own.
To start, I ordered the Prosciutto Farcita, a sort of focaccia panino, and shared a slice of their Pizza Margarita (which is made 'Roman-style', baked as a large thin rectangular sheet of pizza and then cut up into individual portions). The farcita had a great balance of bread-to-filling ratio; salty, peppery, creamy, and refreshing, with the occasional bite of juicy fresh grape tomatoes. The pizza was charred just enough from the oven, and their dough for both dishes was airy and had a remarkably ungummy chew to it. The only critique I had, was that they are assembled prior and are reheated to order. They would be better warm out of the oven and freshly made. To wash it all down, I had an herbaceous and refreshing Aperol and Soda (a classic aperitif mixed with soda water).

From left to right : Cappuccino, Baba con Crema, Cannoli, Binge, Bombolone, and assorted chocolate confections.
Now for round two, I think the staff were surprised to see my friend and I descending down the stairs and ordering another spread. This is the point at which all pride and caution is thrown to the wind and you just have to order confidently ignoring any judgment. It's worth it, as long as a few gym sessions are scheduled later in the week. The cappuccino was quite good. I find some espresso tends to be extremely acidic, and I never sweeten any of my espresso drinks, but this did its job. The baba con crema was decedent and slightly oversweet. I did though, appreciate their fresher take on this classic, adding Chantilly and fresh strawberries instead of the classic custard and maraschino cherry. The cannoli filling was a little too tangy for my liking but the shell was crisp and fresh. The binge was fantastic and light. I loved the surprise of both Chantilly and vanilla bean pastry cream inside, and its lean towards an undersweetendness. By far, my favourite was the bombolone. Absolutely fresh and delicious. The only thing that really fell short were the chocolate confections. I found out they didn't make them on site and import them from Italy, and it showed in the taste.
My recommendations: order what they make in-house daily and take their breads home. Their Pugliese sourdough loaf with Italian semola rimacinata is impressive, as well as their Integrale loaf made with malt and whole wheat flours. Whether you drop in for a quick bite or linger for a casual get together, Sud Forno brings the comfort and warmth of Italian baking to Queen west and is worth the search and repeat visits.
716 Queen Street West
Toronto M6J 1E8

Monday, 24 March 2014

Local Food Markets: Why So Important and What's The Appeal?

It might be an 'old world' tradition, but for some, local food and farmers' markets still retain their magic, charm, relevance, and appeal. What is it about them that makes them so idealic as our dream resource of all things food?

I live outside the city, which means it's hard to access the major 'city food market' types, our main one in Toronto being St. Lawrence Market. With that being said, where I live, I'm closer to and practically on the border of suburbia and country terra, which means instead of having access to eclectic city food markets, I'm privilege with fresh local farmers' markets in and around my neighborhood.

There are so many great reasons why local food and farmers' markets have everything right going on. Firstly, I think deep in our ancient ancestral DNA, we all have a universal desire and need for social interaction and slower paced intimacy between our experiences with food and people. Our world right now is so fast paced, processed, disposable, self centered, and self isolated, that we are beginning to loose compassion and love for people and food.

At one time, in the distant past, local food markets were the only source of food for villages and towns. The farmers, butchers, fishermen, craftsmen, bakers, and other artisans of the town all gathered together to not only share and spread the riches of their seasonally delicious food, but also earned and increased the economy of their village which allowed everyone to thrive. This camaraderie and symbiotic living between people was the way of life back then. It still remains the way of life in most areas of the world, but for North Americans, we only live in a culture of unsatisfaction with our current lives and yearn for the simpler, smaller town, slower paced lifestyle of the old world. If you think about it, that's why most people go on vacation. To relax and live the 'simple life', enjoy delicious food, and experience what they don't have in their everyday life but want. The funny thing is, is that we can have a version of this type of lifestyle, adapted to work with our contemporary urban lives, and be happy at the same time. I think food markets are an opportunity of a way towards that direction.

Major food retailers take the familiarity out of food culture and make it practically anonymous. Going back in time again, businesses and vendors had regulars, customers they knew by name, from their memory. I think the desire for these types of connections, of local familiarity and pride, is a desire that is deep rooted in all of us. Local food and farmers' markets allow people to buy some of the best locally grown food, which in tern supports local businesses and farmers. It's a beautifully social environment. Not only do we see the faces of the passionate people behind the produce, we also can socialize with them, find out more about their food and craft, and build friendships, creating more unified neighborhoods. It's this small town vibe I long for, and I think a lot of people do as well. Our lives have become too much about ourselves and not about others.

This type of fresh food shopping is extremely sustainable as well. We could buy food seasonally, some of which are now organically grown, which allows the food to taste better and be healthier for us. This mentality has been in the restaurant industry for a while, where the really fantastic gastronomic establishments only shop for their ingredients seasonally and in fact, make their custom menus daily according to what is freshest and best during their early market strolls. Instead of having the majority of our eating from produce that has traveled thousands of miles, containing a plethora of synthetic alterations and additives to prevent spoiling during growth and transport, we can enjoy seasonal food straight from the land we stand on, from growers that put all their love and energy into the production of their food, which also ends up allowing us to give back by funding their honest work. That's a win win for me. There is also something to be said about eating food that was freshly picked, as opposed to sitting in a grocery store for weeks, or buried in the deep freeze of the frozen section. The living nutrients of market food are abundant, the produce tastes more delicious, and we are healthier from it. I know this first hand from gardening every year. There is nothing comparable to the taste of a freshly picked tomato still warm from the summer sun. At the same time, I have to play devil's advocate and be real. There are some ingredients that we love but are exotic and have to inevitably be shipped and transported, but for the produce that our country can grow, we should buy seasonally and locally. I also know realistically, we don't have the time to wake up every morning, and shop for food at our local markets just for that day's food, and continue a regiment like this every day, but we can at least do it once a week, better yet, on weekends when the markets coincidentally also happen to be fuller and more abundant. If we support our local food markets, we in tern, also help rid the earth of extra fossil fuel consumption from the extra transport of food around the globe and reduce garbage from buying produce with unnecessary food packaging.

There's also a humanistic connection that we can keep alive between us and food through local food markets. We can continue passing on the knowledge of where our food comes from and what it actually looks like in the wild, in its unprocessed forms, and pass that experience and awareness onto the younger generation. This will allow for our culture to respect food more, be familiar with it, and not be afraid of new food or expanding our pallets. North America cannot continue to allow the bacon, cheese, and 'anything deep fried' culture to pollute how our food is generally seen in the majority of main stream media or even settling with these as the only ways in which kids will eat their vegetables. If children are exposed to fresh produce, where it comes from, and see their parents and guardians enjoying it, there will be less picky eaters in the world and this can aid in perpetuating better health in our continent.

I've had the privilege of shopping at some great food markets, around where I live and where I don't. There is something to be said about food markets in Europe though. I speak from first hand experience traveling to Italy, France, and England. Perhaps it's because of all the closely neighboring countries that produce a wide variety of different types of food, even though some produce is exotic, it's still fresh and exciting to see. Here are photos from two markets I've been to and documented. I'm looking forward to visiting more when the weather and season permits.

Before I finish this post though, I want to leave you with this reminder. Food is the basis of what our lives are built on. We need it to survive, it allows us to connect with others, and is one of the physical forms love takes in our earthy world. Let's be more conscious of how we treat our food tendencies, what food habits we pass onto our children/younger generation, and how we pass them on. Let's collectively perpetuate and support local food culture in our areas, and re-connect with food. In the end, it's one of the tools that can assist us towards a happy life of our own.

19th Avenue Farmers Market, Richmond Hill, ON.
 Borough Market, London, UK. 
The first thing that strikes you when you first arrive at Borough Market is the amazing architecture and buildings around you. So eclectic with a mix of contemporary design and historic buildings. The picture above is a glass wall fixture, almost like a conservatory where people can sit for a bit and eat their market food treasures. The cool thing about it was that the structure had potted plants strung all around it, making it a great visual blend of city and nature.
Another component to food markets are the amazing gastronomic destinations hidden in and around them. Some of the best creative food minds set up shop providing some pretty magical food, all made with the absolute best produce, produce from the very market they're situated in. This coffee spot is world renowned for having some of the best coffee out there. It's called Monmouth. The lines are always long, and the staff is always friendly. They roast their beans in house, daily, by hand, and they write on their board where the beans are from and the name of the farmers that grew them. Their signature coffee is single filtered, which allows the coffee to be sweet and floral. Yes I know, I never though there would be a day where I described coffee as floral, but seriously, it is. I'm not one for regular coffee and consider myself an esspressoist, but this coffee was fantastic.
These are just a few examples of the delicious seasonal produce on display in the market when I went last August. The last set of images are of the fantastic creations local artisans sold at their unique stands.