Tag Archives: pistachio

Let’s talk about layers

Let’s take a quick break from chocolate to talk about layers. More about texture than taste, layers make things delicious.

For instance, Chinese green onion pancakes: this simple mixture of rice flour, water, salt and green onions is wholly unremarkable on its own. But consider that a great green onion pancake is characterized by a thin, crisp crust and lots of beautiful, flaky layers inside.

I think the ultimate example is baklava. Think about it: layers and layers of filo, each separated by a thin coat of butter, the entire mass drizzled with honey and topped with nuts? And then baked until it rises into a pile of flaky, buttery pastry? Sure, it’s messy to eat, but there’s something about the insane flakiness, tempered with sticky honey, that makes baklava one of the most delightful things on earth.

And for you Vancouverites, a variation on a theme: the pistachio baklava at Mediterranean Specialty Foods is amazing. Imagine a few sheets of filo, each one brushed with butter before the next one goes on. In your mind, take this multi-sheet thing of filo and roll it into a very tight cylinder. Cut the cylinder into small sections, and bring the ends together to make a donut out of the filo. Finally, imagine filling the inside of the donut with honey and toasted pistachios, and baking this creature until it’s golden-brown, crisp, and delicious.

The resulting pastry is so insanely flaky and fragrant that it’s almost heartbreaking. The effect of rolling, rather than stacking, the filo creates the sensation of tens of thousands of layers in your mouth, each one exploding with each bite.

At just over a dollar per piece (I think it’s $1.25 each), it’s an amazingly cheap way to get an epicurian high. And if you’re craving savoury, the spanakopita is the best in the city.

Mediterranean Specialty Foods
1824 Commercial Drive
Vancouver, BC
604-438-4033

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Czehoski: creme brulee that doesn’t suck

While I was in Toronto a few weeks ago, I met up with some friends from grad school. One lives in Montreal, the other in London (Ontario, that is). And all the stars aligned and our paths crossed in the T-dot. How about that.

We met at Czehoski, a place too hip for its own good. Having said that, I love it just a little bit. The food is great, the wine list thoughtful, and the space cozy. The service is a little more…relaxed than I would like, but no matter. It just means that you can linger as long as you like – which we did. We lingered for six hours, gossiping and re-living our glory days. You know, the days when I wasn’t pining for my bed at 11pm.

Their composed salad changes daily, and that day it was arugula with quail’s eggs, parmesan and pancetta. The pancetta was so crispy it nearly disintegrated into a powder of salty pork goodness on my tongue. If that’s not enough, the Czehoski burger is insanely good. The patty is juicy and beefy, and quite possibly laced with crack.

For dessert, I was skeptical of the so-called “chocolate ganache” until it came to the table. It is exactly that: discs of chocolate ganache, served with bits of seafoam and crushed pistachios. It’s not exactly conventional, but it really was delicious. The tarte tatin was a little bit disappointing. The apples were cooked but not caramelized, and the pastry was a bit soggy.

Now, generally speaking, I’ve got a beef with restaurant creme brulee. There are so many things to get right. I’m looking for a perfectly smooth, perfectly cooked, unctuous custard, served cold. On top, there should be the thinnest possible layer of caramelized (not burnt) sugar that shatters when you take a spoon to it.

Most places don’t get all those things right, probably because most places don’t have a dedicated pastry chef. Most restaurants make the garde manger do double duty: after the salads and cold appetizers go out, then it’s time for the desserts. Really, do you think it takes the same kind of mindset to make a salad (as beautiful as some salads are) as it does to make and present a beautiful dessert?

That’s another post in itself.

Anyway, this creme brulee was beautiful. It was immaculate. It was perfect. In fact, it was so perfect that I got over my pastry snobdom, had a spoonful, and swooned. And then ignored the fact that the restaurant charged $6 for it when I know full well I can make it at home for a fraction of the cost.

But hey, I’ll pick my battles.

Czehoski
678 Queen Street West
Toronto, ON
(416) 366-6787
Czehoski on Urbanspoon