Food pr0n: Toronto with a food blogger

Last week Erik and I met up with Jen of* for an evening of eating (we were introduced by our mutual longtime friend, Wei-Ling). Actually, we were just going to have dinner at The Black Hoof. But we ended up also stopping next door at its new sister restaurant, Hoof Raw Bar, and then making a 2-km loop around to Nadège pâtisserie for dessert. I had never eaten with a food blogger before. It was fun. Thanks, Jen!

Shot of our backs in the mirror hanging across from the bar

The Hoof Raw Bar.

All photos in this post are courtesy of Jen.

First stop: The Black Hoof. I read about this place well before we came to Toronto, on the blog of another globetrotting couple. In truth, after reading their post, I had decided I wouldn’t go to Black Hoof because “raw horse sandwich” just doesn’t sound good to me. But Jen said it was a good restaurant, Erik wanted to go, and when we walked by the place earlier in the week I liked its vibe. So we went.

chalkboard menu

The Black Hoof features mostly meats (as you can tell from the menu) and interesting alcoholic drinks. I was less curious about the individual dishes than I was intrigued by the fact that they make everything themselves, from the cured meats to the bread to the flavored syrups for the cocktails. We ordered carnitas tacos, pork belly with nori, and beef tendon with grits.

I love carnitas, but rarely order it, probably because I’m usually getting fish tacos instead. These were deliciously fatty and flavorful. One taco apiece was plenty.

Carnitas tacos

More fatty pork with this one, though I was grateful to see a big heap of mushrooms and crisped rice (I think it was the same stuff that goes into sizzling rice soup) with the meat. Sometimes I am in the mood for tons of meat, sometimes I’m not; this evening I wasn’t. Fortunately, since we all shared, we only had a few bites each and that was perfect.

Crispy pork belly topped with mushrooms

My mom makes an unctuous dish of beef tendon braised in soy sauce and spices. The sauce is delicious, but I have never felt the least interest in tendon. I didn’t taste this one either, although it was deep-fried. But I enjoyed the grits and vegetables!

Deep-fried beef tendon over buttery grits, with some spinach (?) on top

After the meat-fest we went next door to Hoof Raw Bar (see photo at top) to follow up with a seafood-fest. The raw bar (so named for the oysters, I suppose, since the menu items were certainly not all raw) was much more to my liking, having lighter dishes and of course no organ meats. We ordered the cured fish board, a chawan mushi, and what was described rather vaguely on the menu as “fish snacks.”

The cured fish was yummy. From front to back in order of decreasing intensity of flavor: chorizo scallop (nicely firm), mackerel (one of my favorite fishes, though some people find it too strong), albacore tuna, black cod, and branzino. The cod was a revelation, because I usually don’t like cod, but the curing eliminated that threadiness I dislike in the texture. It was just delicate and sweet and delicious. There was pickled cipollini onion as a garnish.

Cured fish board

A good chawan mushi is one of my favorite things. I was a little hesitant to order one at a non-Asian restaurant, but I’m very glad we did. It was a smidge on the salty side, and I prefer it served warm rather than cold, but still. Yum. (However, Erik said, “It’s not as good as yours.” I do make a nice one.)

Chawan mushi (steamed egg custard) with crispy kale and roe

The “fish snacks” turned out to be three kinds of fried fish, served with hot sauce and lime, and intended to be eaten as finger food. Below is the buttermilk fried smelt; we also had rice-flour fried bait fish and BBQ-rubbed shrimp heads. The bait fish were a little too salty, but super fun to eat; I skipped the shrimp heads (they’re like organ meats for me), and although I ate the smelt, I disliked having to work my way around the fine bones. I think you’re supposed to eat them but I’ve become very wary of tiny fish bones ever since I ate some unagi and had one of the bones go straight into my gums. Painful and awkward. (I’ve stopped eating unagi too, since I found out it’s not sustainable.)

Fried smelt

When we left the raw bar, we made a big loop west on Dundas, down Ossington to walk by many other enticing-looking restaurants, and east on Queen. Along the way we spotted two beautiful Maine Coon kitties sitting on a porch, and when I called to them, one of them immediately came to say hello. I prefer to think it was my charm that drew it to me, rather than the lingering aroma of fried fish on my fingers. The second kitty was not so forthcoming, but it did meow at me several times and roll around on the steps in a friendly fashion.

Lisa petting beautiful Maine Coon cat

Finally we ended up at Nadège, where we enjoyed a luscious salted caramel something-or-other (the dome at left), a tasty grapefruit tart, and a so-so (but stunning-looking) carrot cake called “Beatrix Potter.” Just before closing, one of the women at the shop gave us some of their macarons, and those were delicious (especially the salted caramel and pistachio). I might go back for more of those sometime.

Three desserts: salted caramel dome mini-cake, grapefruit tart, carrot cake

It was lots of fun meeting Jen and talking to her about Toronto and food. Check out her blog for more food pr0n* — most of the posts are Toronto-centric, but there are some like “10 Tips for Eating at a Food Event” that translate across locations.

*It means porn.