Heart attacks to go

February 18, 2009


I thought Cosplay restaurants pushed the boundaries of sensible foodservice conceptualization – after all, what could be more offensive than eating noodles out of a toilet shaped bowl? But, then I heard about the Heart Attack Grill.

It’s hard to believe that this restaurant actually exists. To be honest it seems more like something you’d see in a satirical show like South Park or The Simpsons rather than a business that someone would actually put their time and money into developing.

From Flatliner Fries to Quadruple Bypass Burgers (2 lbs of meat, 4 layers of cheese and 12 slices of bacon!) to waitresses dressed as naughty nurses who will push you to your car in a wheelchair after your meal, this place is crass on almost every level; in fact, the menu even includes lung searing unfiltered cigarettes!

The kicker: According to this article in the Nation’s Restaurant News, Heart Attack Grill is a thriving restaurant. Go figure.

What do you think about this concept? Do you find it a fun idea or offensive? And, if you find HAG offensive, what upsets you: the objectification of women, the insensitivity toward serious illness… something else entirely?

I have to say that for me, this restaurant is like a circus sideshow. I know it’s horrible to want to look at it, but I can’t help but be fascinated and horrified by the idea at the same time.

Topline Trends Tuesday: Intentionally vague menus

February 10, 2009


Like all things in the food biz, menus go through various phases. While the prevailing trend among many of today’s chefs is to give the diner as much info about the food as possible by highlighting regional and artisan ingredients and cutting-edge cooking techniques such as sous vide on menus, there’s a backlash against this wordy style. In fact, a few restauranteurs are intentionally writing menus that are so cryptic that diners need a server to help them decode their choices.

Vdara Restaurant in Toronto is a good example of this type of restaurant. The folks at bizbash describe the Vdara menu like this:

Their intentionally vague menu includes dishes like “wandering free bird caught by sticky steamed buns” and “no noodling celery root lasagne wild with shrooms.”

Vdara’s spokesperson Gianfranco Pellicori goes on to tell Bizbash that “We want people to ask our floor staff questions. We want to make sure there is interaction with our clients.”

Personally, I go out to a restaurant to visit with my friends; having a pleasant, well-informed server with personality can enhance the evening but I’m not counting on spending a lot of time discussing the menu or becoming bff’s with the wait staff. Socializing with my guests is my priority.

What do you guys think? Am I an out-of-date stick in the mud or do you agree that a menu that is purposely puzzling is a silly idea?

[7:47 a.m. Tuesday – post ETA: I just checked the Vdara menu online and it seems to have been rewritten – evidence that people wanted a clearer understanding? I think so!]

Dana learns a lesson

December 5, 2008

img_2269I hate to be labeled as an arrogant Torontonian but since the moniker applies, I can’t help but own it.  I expected St. John’s, Newfoundland to be a quaint city. I expected the people of St. John’s to be friendly. I expected the seafood to be fresh and abundant.  All of these expectations were confirmed within an hour of landing at their international airport. Now for what I didn’t expect to find:

  •  a stylish shopping district that made my credit cards itch,
  •  a horde of investment bankers clogging up a  restaurant I wanted to walk into on a Wednesday night,
  •  a stylish eatery that served food on par with the best restaurants operating in bigger Canadian cities.

But that is exactly what I did find at Water Street eatery The Vault. Although they were closed for a private party (hence the bankers), they found me a spot to eat at the bar. Hostess Lisa Downey, pictured  here in the converted bank vault now used as a wine cellar that inspired the restaurant’s name, was incredibly gracious.  I think hearing that I’d walked from the Fairmont in the cold and dark to try their cuisine won me her favour!

The food at The Vault is inventive, fresh and well-executed (the scallop napoleon is particularly good), the selection of wines by the glass are well matched to the menu, and the service is friendly, polished and attentive. Truly a great experience!  In fact, if I were a citizen of lovely St. John’s I’d likely be a regular customer.

While The Vault is definitely a gem, other St. John’s food destinations deserve to be explored when you’re in town, too. So, if you get to this small Atlantic city do check out:

Have you had a restaurant meal that exceeded your expectations lately? Since the opposite type of experiences get so much more discussion time, please take a minute to tell us about your last great restaurant meal. It doesn’t matter if it was a fabulously fresh bagel at a breakfast joint or a gourmet tasting menu at a grand hotel. Let’s sing out in praise today!

Hanging out with Ferran Adria

October 9, 2008

Martin Kouprie, my chef sprocket hubby, spent time yesterday with molecular gastronomy guru Ferran Adria. In the morning they hung out at The Cookbook Store together while Feran signed copies of his book for an event held last night at the University of Toronto to promote Feran’s new book: A Day in the Life of El Bulli. Although Martin’s cooking is anything but high tech (he likes to say that he could have cooked as well in 1928 with the equipment and ingredients that were commonly available then as he does in his fancy schmancy restaurant kitchen) yet he found himself agreeing with Ferran Adria when he said “cooks need to learn how to taste before they learn how to cook.” I have to say that I agree as well. People with well developed palates know what will delight your taste buds. And, once you have that skill, it doesn’t matter if your tools are high tech or low tech. Great tasting ice cream can be made in a salt packed, hand turned ice cream maker or by using a canister of liquid nitrogen but only if the flavours are combined skillfully in the first place.

Underground dining

September 30, 2008

An illegal dining trend is on the rise in cities such as Boston, Seattle and Toronto. Underground dining establishments that avoid the overhead traditional restaurateurs carry are on the rise. Word of mouth promotion lures diners to private homes where they’re served chef-prepared meals. The movement is causing health inspectors anxiety and sort of annoying people like me who watch their spouses work hard to make a living in the restaurant business.

Perhaps my affiliation with the food service world limits my objectivity, but I see no reason to go to unregulated, uninspected private homes to pay $100 plus per person to eat a chef-prepared meal when there are so many fine restaurants that pay taxes, rent and legal wages offering great dining experiences in these same cities.

What do you think? Am I a square curmudgeon who’s out of touch with the times or would you also prefer to eat in place that has properly marked emergency exits?