Caplansky’s Deli Invades Yorkville

Oy Vey Zmir! You should have seen the blonde(ish), botoxed beauties in five-inch Jimmy Choo’s doing a double take as they wiggled their way the to the chichi second floor patio of Kasa Moto.

Zane Caplansky, Toronto’s King of Smoked Meat, has made the move from the mean streets of College Street to the rarefied environs of Yorkville. He is literally muscling into territory currently owned by such upscale eateries as Café Boulud, Buca, and McEwan’s Hazelton One. It is a real gutsy, chutzpah move, and I hope he is a big success. Caplansky’s will certainly add some sizzle, hustle, and schmaltz to Cumberland, whose restaurants have become somewhat tired and dated.

I, for one, am with the Zane Man. Note the new entrance to Caplansky’s Deli: it looks like a chic murder scene with the yellow construction taping in front. I betting Zane will kill at this location.

I am normally a Greek yogurt, blueberries for breakfast, and a light kale salad for lunch kind of guy. But for Caplansky’s? I will happily fall off the vegan lite wagon and go back to my Montreal-based Snowdon Deli roots.

I highly recommend Caplansky’s classic Chicken-Matzo Ball soup and Cabbage Borscht. (See photos, below.) The Matzo ball, swimming confidently in a flavourful chicken broth, is surprisingly light. The Cabbage Borscht recalls that made by my Toronto grandmother from a recipe from the old country (Russian/Lithuanian). There is real love cooked into that Cabbage Borscht, a great comfort food in both cold and hot weather.

The smoked meat sandwich is, in my humble opinion, one of the finest in Toronto: meaty, fatty, a bit spicy, and moist. I could inhale these suckers for hours. (Of course, this would quite literally be my Last Supper.) Note Caplansky’s also has a terrific pickle and mustard bar, from which you can choose a variety of sweet and sour pickles and both hot and regular mustards. I also recommend their Meat Knish, which is a very light, delicious, and meat-filled thin pastry. And the meat gravy? Yummy.

The classic Breast of Turkey sandwich, complete with crisp greens, is also an appetizing and healthy alternative—definitely worth a shot. Follow that with a heaping basket of addictive, thinly cut fries. By this time, I am afraid that I had completely gone off the reservation. But it was all worth it at Caplansky’s.

The d/bar: Toronto’s Hottest Bar for Single and Not-So-Single Boomers

The d/bar, comfortably nestled in the new Four Seasons Hotel at Bay/Yorkville, is the “go-to-place” for Toronto’s growing population of male and female Boomers – to engage in casual encounters.

But if you relied solely upon the Toronto liberal media, you would never be aware that such a vibrant and dynamic subculture does actually exist in Toronto, “No Longer The Good”.

Awhile back, Toronto Life magazine was all agog at its discovery of Toronto’s downtown sex-crazed Tinder generation – sex texting, drinking, partying and literally getting it on from nooners to last call at such hotspots as Earls Kitchen & Bar and Drake One Fifty.

Both establishments, located on York Street amid phallically-inspired bank buildings, cater to the downtown 20-early 30-somethings who populate the nearby towers as male and female junior bank/securities analysts, lawyers, accountants and consultants.

dbar group
The gang at d/bar.

Of course in this breathless Toronto Life article, there was no mention of 50 something Boomers (aged 51-67).

As if they do not exist.

What are they? Chopped liver?

Contrary to popular opinion, Toronto’s aging Boomers have not all retired to die in some sleepy suburban Amica Retirement Home called Aspen Woods or Celestial Gardens. Nor do they spend their nights in their condos or apartments chugging back Metamucil as they stare dimly at CBC’s follically challenged Mansbridge of The National, as he tries to lull them to sleep with liberal platitudes and empty bromides.

Though many of these Boomers are no longer Bay Street or Wall Street masters of the universe, they are still more than masters of their domain.

Many of these Boomers, unencumbered by spouses, children and mortgages, are still working hard and playing hard.

As in the classic film “Casablanca”, where all roads led to Bogart’s “Rick’s Café”, in Toronto – for Toronto Boomers and their friends – all roads still lead to the Four Seasons’ d/bar.

d/bar hangouts.

I have been dropping in at the d/bar on a semi-regular basis. For research, of course. It is a Dirty Martini job, but someone has to do it. As a result, I have become familiar with the regular denizens of d/bar.

Just around the corner from the hotel’s lobby on the main floor, the d/bar displays a certain casual elegance- from the gracious hostess, to the friendly bar tenders manning the long marble bar to the taupe comfy chairs and couches located strategically around the room.

The place, particularly on Thursday evenings, is packed with a good and even natural mix of male and female lawyers, dentists, doctors, real estate agents, business people, publicists, consultants and wheelers/dealers and guests of the hotel. As expected, the men are roughly older (50-65) than the women, who are generally a little younger, 38-50, but not that age inappropriate.

Fred, the “Closer”, and Jerry, the “Dentist”, (actual names withheld to protect the innocent and not so innocent) are your typical d/bar habitués.

Both men in the late 50s, are fit, single, divorced and apparently quite content with the cards life has dealt them.

Fred is a friendly real estate guy, happily unmarried. His three children, all finished university, are independent and working. Woo-hoo! Off the family payroll.

Jerry is a semi-retired dentist, also with grown and independent children.

These two are not your typical Tinder demographic.

Their approach to women at d/bar is more old school. Easy banter and buying of drinks all around.

The only swiping they do, is with their credit or debit cards.

(FYI: Tinder is a dating app, in which men and women, living in close proximity, post photos and brief profiles online, and when two strangers on their smart phones swipe to the right on each other’s profile, an oral contract to Tinder date each other is consummated.)

As Jerry the Dentist confided to me, “d/bar sure beats sitting around alone in your place or at a sports bar with a bunch of strange guys, all staring at the female server’s tight t-shirt.”

Jerry, like the Closer, hangs out at d/bar, mainly for the regular social connections and the chance of meeting a new person or reconnecting with a familiar face. If these encounters lead to dinners, film dates, brunches and casual hook-ups, even better.

At this stage of their lives, they are just happy to let nature takes its course and just go with the flow.

Interestingly, the women at d/bar have more aggressive agenda. Sophia (mid 40s) a single mom from Brampton with two teenage children, regularly hangs out at d/bar in the hopes of meeting her Mr. Right or Mr. Right Now, for a little roll in the hay.

Lillian, Scottish-born from Burlington, is a married woman of two teenagers. Though happily married, she had confided to me of her desire to three way with another woman and a willing male participant. Apparently, she envisioned the male member more a bit player in this fantasy. Hence her nickname, the “Scottish Sappho”.

This quiet and sweet suburban married Burlington mother also confided to me that she fantasized about having rough sex with strange men in the d/bar unisex washroom. And then proceeded to ask what our safe word would be?

The first word that popped in my head was “Ezra” as in Ezra Levant, a notorious conservative right wing provocateur and pundit.

The Scottish Sappho laughed, nervously, then excused herself from the table, muttering into her Neo-Negroni cocktail, that I was really weird. I never saw Sappho again.

Clearly, she was a left wing Trudeau supporter.

Even here at this Boomer haven d/bar cocktails and politics apparently do not mix.

Oh well.

Firkin on Humber Bay – A Very Popular British Pub on the Lake in Toronto Lakeshore West

Years ago, Lakeshore West had a very wild west reputation. It was populated with a string of sleazy motels fronting on beautiful Lake Ontario. This place was located on the western fringe of Toronto and it appealed to those on the fringe of society – hookers, gamblers, hustlers – and those were the pillars of this society.

Well, all these motels are gone, replaced by a glass and steel forest of condo towers. Fronting on the lake or set back from the lake.

From the ashes of these sketchy motels, a vibrant condo community has risen. Composing of seniors who have sold their Etobicoke homes North of the Queensway; young families with a kid or two in tow; swinging singles, young professionals, aggressive entrepreneurs, hustling real estate agents, hot PR folk, divorced middle-aged men and women reinventing themselves and of course, the odd escort or twenty, reflecting Lakeshore West’s storied past.


The Firkin group of pubs owns and operates over 30 British style pubs in the Greater Toronto area, in the suburbs of Mississauga and even farther afield in Cambridge, the Kitchener Waterloo area and in Aurora, Whitby and Pickering.

The Firkin group’s newest pub is on the main floor of these new condos overlooking Humber Bay on Marine Bay Drive (south of the Queensway, Lakeshore Road, east of Islington/Park Lawn area). This pub is simply spectacular.

Spacious, modern, warm, friendly and architecturally, very cool.


The architecture can best be described as clean, modern, chic industrial. Very open and reminiscent of The London Tube – aspirational, without the grime, heat, graffiti and hundreds of commuters crammed cheek to jowl. Note: the London Tube-like sign, Firkin on the Bay.

The main dining room soars over 30 feet upwards. One wall, overlooking the Humber Bay contains gorgeous floor to ceiling windows. At night, from your booth, you can see not only the lake, but across the lake, the iconic CN Tower and the sparkling Toronto skyline.

Look up at the ceiling and you see piping, smartly silver encased as if an exhibit in the Art Gallery of Toronto. The artwork is of course British inspired. Larger than life colourful lithographs of Winston Churchill, English Bulldogs and my favourite, the incomparable Jimi Hendrix, intensely hanging out in Marylebone in the heart of London.


The main foyer soars majestically two stories, easily 40 feet. Also, huge floor-to-ceiling windows. The L-shaped bar faces flat screens and colourful piping representing the major London subway routes – Bakerloo, Central, Piccadilly and Jubilee, to name a few.

There is a private party area on the second floor accessed by a staircase with a brilliant life-like mural of the Minister of Silly Walks, John Cleese of Monty Python fame.

The food is generally excellent. It is pub food: tasty, fun, plentiful and very good value. The three fellows next to me chowed down on hot and spicy chicken wings with a side mountain of crispy fries. They were impressed with the size of the chicken wings and the fries. Another couple had the lamb burger and chicken fingers – also engulfed by freshly cut fries. Another table of two couples had more traditional British pub fare – fish and chips and Shepherd’s pie, Firkin’s specialties. All signaled their approval.


The group at my table also went the traditional British pub route. You know, when in Rome!

We shared the following: Three Little Yorkies. No, they were not British hot dogs but instead consisted of three mini Yorkshire puddings, stuffed with pot roast, mashed potatoes and smothered in Guinness gravy. Delicious, filling, fattening, great comfort food. I chose and enjoyed the Ploughman’s Lunch – aged, white cheddar, Danish blue cheese, a hard-boiled egg, gherkins, kalamata olives, a Ciabatta bun and a Branston pickle.

This Firkin, as in all of the Firkins I have experienced, is known for its wide and varied selection of brewskis. One of the most popular beers is Butler’s Brew, a light refreshing lager, brewed exclusively for Firkin by Molsons.

Other popular brands on tap include: Barking Squirrel, Flying Monkeys Hoptical Illusion, and Moosehead Lager.

Cute names. Cute names. And according to my beer-drinking bro each of these brands taste so smooth and clean.

What I most loved about this place was its attentive, excellent and attentive service. Hostess Nina, a truly lovely woman. The other hostess, Suzanne, was superb as well. Our server, Daniella, was also terrific and so professional.

Daniella could not do enough for us. And she appeared to genuinely like us and she hoped that we would come back soon. What a sweetheart!


Later in the evening, another server, Stephanie helped us select the perfect late night munchies which just hit the spot prior to our departing for the night.

This Firkin bar is fast becoming the local hang out for the Toronto West condo crowd. A place where the staff know your name and a great escape from the surrounding concrete jungle and the downtown Bay Street rat race.

Kudos to general manager Bobby Schuette and his great staff. This place is a great addition to the growing and fast expanding neighbourhood. I can’t wait to return. And the outdoor patio, overlooking the lake, must be fabulous in the spring and summer.

Mitch Wolfe Worships at Mildred’s Temple Kitchen for Sunday Brunch in Liberty Village

Many friends of mine have been extolling the virtues of Mildred’s for years, especially its legendary Sunday brunch.

When it comes to fancy Sunday brunches, I am generally indifferent. Agnostic. But this past Sunday, friends of mine encouraged me to tag along. Why not? And I became a true believer. A convert. Definitely a happy member of Mildred’s Temple.


Mildred’s is located in the King/Dufferin area, amidst a forest of steel + glass condominiums, aka Liberty Village.

In the middle of this high rise condo village is a ‘village square’ of sorts. Anchored by a 24 hour Metro grocery store, bakers, candlestick makers, Nike, a Shoppers Drug Mart, banks, hair and nail spas, and Mildred’s.

Mildred’s is very airy, high-ceilinged and cool with an open kitchen in the middle, for all to see. Sunday brunch is from 9am to 3pm. Waits are at least one hour+ to get a seat and no reservations are taken. First come, first serve. Recommended 9am at the opening bell if you want a seat.


Unfortunately, my friends had had a late night the night before – some random dude’s birthday party. Apparently many vodka sodas and straight whiskeys, well into the morn, had pushed our brunch to 2pm.

Silver lining for my friends, Mildred’s rocks as great comfort and hangover food.

So we arrived at 2pm and as expected, there was at least a 60 minute wait.

But my friends were smart, they grabbed some chairs at the bar and ordered a single pancake special with The Bungalow Island Caesar (Iceberg Vodka, Mott’s Clamato juice, signature rim, curly celery and fresh horseradish to cure the hair of the dog).

(See photo of Mrs. Biederhof’s Legendary Light & Fluffy Blueberry Buttermilk Pancake served with Lanark County maple syrup & whipped cream.)


Since the single pancake was so large and fluffy, and just oozed decadent whipped cream, blueberries and maple syrup, they just shared a single one. Sort of a pre-brunch, like a pre drink, before the main event. According to these two, this buttermilk pancake was heaven on a plate.

Our initial server Kaitlyn was just a doll. So upbeat, attentive and empathetic. My two friends, still suffering from the throes of a major hangover, sought Kaitlyn’s professional advice on how to combat such a debilitating hangover.

Dr. Kaitlyn wisely steered them away from morning mimosa of Spanish Cava and orange juice to hot black coffee, which seemed to do wonders.

Within 45 minutes, hostess Margo helped us to our table and we were handed off to Calvin, also an excellent server.

Calvin was so upbeat and helpful. He recommended to my two friends Veda’s Choice – Mildred’s classic poached eggs on a flakey croissant. One chose the rosemary bacon option while the other chose smoked salmon. Both topped with Béarnaise sauce and served with mixed greens. (See photo of this Mildred classic.) This dish was a huge hit with my friends. The 45 minute wait was clearly worth it.


For my part, someone had to show some calorie-counting discipline. I had Mildred’s famous house-made crunchy granola with toasted honey oats, macadamia nuts, dried apricots, currants, cranberries and a hint of ginger, topped with yogurt and fresh seasonal fruit. It was delicious, hit the spot. And I could respect myself in the morning.


Calvin was a gem. He anticipated all our strange and unique needs. One of my friends, was vegan-lite and required constant refills of Almond milk as opposed to skimmed milk. And she made other organic and natural demands. Calvin handled all these requests with aplomb and equanimity.

And he kept magically appearing out of nowhere, to refill our steaming hot cups of Java.

In short, the afternoon brunch service at Mildred’s Temple, was short and sweet. We were uplifted by the service, the ambience, and the food, of course. Thank God, no sermon was necessary.

Alex Rad: The BBQ King on Queen West Smoques the Competition

Alex Rad’s BBQ emporium and craft cocktail haven “Smoque N’ Bones” on Queen Street West blows away all his Toronto competition.

For those who know and have read me know that in the past I was a huge BBQ gourmand. More accurately, a BBQ glutton. A raunchy pork rib porker. A pulled pork pundit. And a crazed beef brisket banshee.

mlw and alex

I used to stalk the Stockyards on St. Clair and constantly blacken the door of the Black Camel near the Rosedale subway. Sometimes I would travel way across town to deepest, darkest Parkdale, grow some facial hair and don a hoodie for Electric Mud BBQ, all for its crispy, juicy pulled pork sandwiches.

Most recently, due to doctor’s orders, I’ve gone veggie lite.

Recently I have fallen off the pork/rib chuck wagon, having fallen in love with a very rad “Smoque N’ Bones”.

Truth be told, I have gone several times to “Smoques” and every time, it was better than the last visit.

I have tried most of the delicious meats and sides. My favourite is the sampler. A choice of three meats and three sides.

I love the pork ribs. Smoky, tender, succulent and juicy. More slow bite, savour and chew, than fall off the bone.


No question, Alex Rad’s southern smoker delivers the goods. The awesome ribs are served naked, just the way I like them as does most rib aficionados. I hate them pre-slathered and over-slathered with unnecessary BBQ sauce. Smoques supplies you with your own glazing brush and extra BBQ sauce so that you can apply its house-made sauce as you like it.

Pulled pork is hard to pull off, but chef Alex does it with great aplomb. Roasted daily for about 14 hours, the pulled pork, sans bun, is moist, soft, flavourful and the tangy, smoky sauce complements without obscuring its zesty taste.

The beef brisket is not like my dear old mom used to make – thanks goodness! In this case, the brisket is insanely moist and surprisingly scrumptious. It is must be chef Alex’s secret smoking and sauce. Also, the extra subtle layers of fat jumpstart its juiciness.

Smoque’s sides are a misnomer. Supporting actors, they are not. They can easily stand on their own, as full meals in themselves.

Feeling guilty about my non-veggie binging, I naturally gravitated to the crisp collard greens, candied yams and caramelized onions and brussel sprouts. They were all excellent. And seemingly healthy.

Unfortunately, that diet-conscious ship sailed a long time ago. On subsequent trips to Smoques, I macked out on the creamy mac and cheese and then dove head first into the devilishly delicious buttermilk onion rings and obscenely fine waffle sweet potato fries.

Aren’t sweet potato fries supposed to be healthier than your run of the mill greasy French fries?

But by my third visit to Smoques, who gives a flying fry? I was mainlining those earthy subtle sweet potato fries, fried to a perfect crisp, dipped in chipotle mayo, directly into my thickening thighs. Oh well.

Don’t get me started on the addictive pecan pie with Bourbon Crème Anglaise!

Chef Alex had to cut me off at two servings of that Bourbon-infused pecan pie or I would have been pecan pie impaired.

But man cannot live on Smoque’s bread pudding alone (with intoxicating Bourbon sauce).

True, the food is the thing, but what drives me back on a regular basis to Smoques, is the people and the service.

Chef/owner Alex, a former Bay Street financier, is the heart, soul and driving force of Smoque N’ Bones.

But he has also surrounded himself with a tremendous group.

The beautiful and extremely competent Lexa, is Alex’s “go to” person. She has worked closely with Alex from the outset and has helped him define and implement his vision for Smoques. Also I understand Lexa assisted Alex in renovating the second floor into a really cool, open bricked, original barn wood floor, smoky, retro “old school” cocktail bar.

Lexa also prepares, slices, dices and serves the meaty entrees with skill and experience way beyond his years.

There is also the lovely and warm Vanessa, who works the front and ensures that every patron is always satisfied.

Vanessa also on occasion mans the upstairs cocktail lounge. She is a true artist and cocktail craftsman.

I am not normally a bourbon, vermouth or gin drinker but Vanessa’s Marakesh and Wild Rose crafted cocktails went down oh-so-smoothly.

In big, bad and often personally cold Toronto, Smoques is truly a place where they always know your name and treat you like family. Actually, better than family.

I guarantee you will first go for the food, but you will keep coming back because it is like a second home, for us urban dwellers who are constantly searching for a place with great food and a staff who genuinely enjoys your company and can’t do enough for you.

In short, this is a great Smoque N’ place!!!

smoque 5smoque1smoque2

Mitch Wolfe Reviews Daniel Boulud’s “Café Boulud” in the Toronto Four Seasons Hotel

Internationally-known French Chef Daniel Boulud re-launched his renovated Café Boulud at Toronto’s Four Seasons Hotel. And this second act really builds and soars.

About seven months ago, Daniel (we are on a “connus juste par un prenon” basis) reopened his eponymous French bistro for us local epicureans.

This place is simply magnificent – in a very informal, comfy, stylish, subtly Parisian sophisticated way.

This modern French brasserie was conceived by the designer du jour, Swedish-born and London-based Martin Brudnizki. Café Boulud contains many of the same signature flourishes that are on display in Brudnizki’s other killer London restaurants, namely Annabel’s, Le Caprice, Dean Street Townhouse, Hix and of course, The Ivy.

cafe boulud- bar

Seductive lighting, comfortable seating in two-toned brown and green leather banquettes. A long, beautifully lit marble bar, usually populated with beautifully-coiffed and toned, TIFF-ready femme fatales.

(And their Bay Street banker dude escorts.)

Unique sensual and surprising artwork compliments and sets the scene. A drop dead gorgeous photo of the lovely Grace Kelly on one wall. A whimsical photo of a smiling Einstein on another wall. Fun and sexy and oh-so-smooth.

The service is warm and friendly, reflecting the very comfortable ambience.

At the entrance I was greeted not by just one captivating hostess, but by a team of three lovely women. My favourite, of course, is the lovely Wintana, who adroitly showed me to my table and in one seamless action, checked my trusty laptop, briefcase and my sturdy Burberry coat. (It was now the cool beginning of spring in the “6”, yo.)

Wintana 2

I am not the easiest of customers – I called in advance on short notice. And though the place was packed, the hostesses found me a lovely banquette for the Bleu plat special at 6pm. One friend was joining me at 6:30pm and another friend was joining us at 8:30pm. So we were graciously accommodated with an intimate banquette pour trois.

Then a team of waiters was at my beck and call.

Diet Coke with a chaser of sparkling water magically appeared.

The atmosphere was definitely electric and the dinner crowd was eclectic.

A few tables to my left was a striking blonde woman, a Kate Hudson-lookalike with an infectious laugh, and her attentive beau.

To my right, a quiet multi-generational Asian family, consisting of proud parents, beaming grandparents and unusually well-behaved two year old twins.

Next to me was a very youthful married couple, Paul and Candy, about to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.

And the food: sublime.

My friend and I shared the Beignets de Calamar (slightly beer battered calamari, subtly drenched in pickled hot pepper and spicy kaffir lime sauce). Wow. The various spices and flavours popped unexpectedly on the tongue.

cafe boulud calamari

I am a connoisseur of grilled calamari. This was the best in Toronto. Better than Terronis’ own signature grilled calamari.

I also had the Kale Grille and Romaine salade. It was marvellously presented – a tiny perfect mound of grilled kale, romaine, carrots, cumin, black olives, golden raisins and infused with spiced yogurt dressing. The secret was the beautifully grilled part and the spicy yogurt.

I eat a ton of kale on a weekly basis. Practically every day. Kale is normally rough. Not that tasteful. But this grilled kale with the spicy yogurt dressing and other ingredients was so delicious that I almost forgot that it was healthy for me.

cafe boulud grilled kale salad

My friend is a connoisseur of steak tartare. She had Café Boulud’s Parisian steak tartare – prime Angus beef, surrounded by crisp Romaine lettuce and drenched in pickled condiments and a light mustard egg dressing. This dish was elaborately prepared in front of us! My friend opined that this was the best steak tartare she had in Toronto in a very long time.

Our neighbours in the next table, the very youthful and fun couple, in their 70s, permitted me to photograph and taste their Quenelle de Brochet, a Lyon-style northern pike quenelle swimming in a heavenly Cognac lobster sauce.

Daniel, our chef, hails from the Lyon region of France. Pike quenelle or fish mousse dumpling, is a French culinary classic. Our very well-informed server explained that such a way of cooking and presentation was the traditional way around of removing the pike’s numerous primary and secondary bones. I did not know that.

cafe boulud- quennelles

Candy, my neighbour was totally taken by the quenelle. Its texture, its flavour and Cognac lobster sauce.

She found the dish intoxicating and surprisingly aphrodisiac.

I joked with Paul, her husband, that they were such a happy couple. It was as if they were on their fifth date, with romance very much in the air. I suggested to Paul that tonight he might get lucky.

Fortunately, Paul and Candy were good sports and laughed at my fish mousse-inspired musings.

Then quite unexpectedly, two more friends showed up for dinner. Unfortunately our table was for two and not for four. I told you that I was not a low-maintenance, undemanding customer.

Fortunately, the staff was extremely attentive to our plight and deftly moved, we party of four, to a lovely corner banquette.

Our two friends immediately ordered the Steak Frites, medium rare. A flat iron eight ounce steak, with sauce béarnaise, pommes frites and gem lettuce with shallot dressing.

Classic French bistro fare.

The steaks did not disappoint. They were great. And the golden, crispy, European style, frites, were irresistible.

The evening was topped off with the head bartender, Shannon, providing his signature drinks.

cafe boulud shannon

Shannon has an apparent “Masters in Mixology”. He also has a very professional deft touch. With both liquor and the Café’s thirsty patrons at his long marble bar.

He is a master of the Mai Tai. And a smash with his watermelon smash. The former – a unique blend of dark rum, orgeat, lime, bitters and mint. The latter – an oh-so-smooth grapefruit soaked vodka, with basil, watermelon and soda.

But then Shannon, saved the best for last. His “Led Zeppelin” really rocked the house: tequila, amaro nonino, aperol and a dash of lime. My friend said that this drink, as in Zeppelin’s classic “Stairway Way to Heaven” starts slow, builds and then hits you with a wild hard rock finish.

Here’s a YouTube link to that amazing song:

Much like Boulud’s bistro.

Boulud’s vision is for his restaurant to serve a seasonally changing menu rooted in French tradition, highlighting both bistro classics and contemporary dishes inspired by his own family meals in Lyon.

To date, the team at Café Boulud have far exceeded expectations. The full house every night is evidence that atmosphere, service and food are resonating with many of us hungry travellers.

Mitch Wolfe Meets One of His Comic Heroes – The Edgy Gilbert Gotfried at Frank’s Kitchen

This past week I dropped into the terrific Italian bistro in Little Italy, Frank’s Kitchen.

This is like a second home to me. The food is masterful. Part French Bistro, with Italian flair. The service- warm, attentive and informed. Frank Parhizgar, the co-owner/chef, performs his magic in the open kitchen in the back of this elegantly-appointed place. His lovely wife also co-owner, Shawn Cooper, runs the front of the house. With aplomb and silky smooth efficiency.

But who should be there sitting in a booth with his beautiful wife, Dara, but is Gilbert Gotfried! The iconic screeching voice of the parrot Iago, in the Disney film, “Aladdin”and the voice of the duck in the Aflac commercials. Gilbert was in town to host a show at Massey Hall. He was with family and friends at Franks.

To me Gilbert was very soft-spoken and modest. His work has always been edgy, outrageously funny and oftentimes very politically incorrect. That’s why I love this guy. He is not afraid to burn bridges and relationships for his comic art.

Gilbert and his wife had heard about Frank’s Kitchen from friends in L.A.. They were told that Frank’s is very well known for its uniquely plated fish dishes and its pasta is out of this world. They told me that the experience at

Frank’s well exceeded expectations. I concurred.

And Gilbert is not afraid to “tell as it is”, with his uniquely screeching and annoying, but very funny voice.

frank 5frank 8Frank Kitchenfranks 7gilbert godfrey

Why is it a sacred Canadian Jewish tradition to eat Chinese food on Christmas?

The simple answer is that Chinese owners of Chinese restaurants are not typically Christian or Catholic.

For the longest time, their restaurants were the only ones open on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, making them the perfect places for Jewish people to eat over the holidays.

Of course, today we Jews have so many more options on Christmas: Middle Eastern restos; Lebanese, Persian, Afghani, South Asian, Korean, Vietnamese and Thai cuisine, just to name a few.

But an informal survey of fellow members of the tribe, throughout this great land of ours, indicates that Chinese food was still the go-to food this past Christmas.

This year I journeyed to Richmond Hill, about 45 minutes from Toronto, which is home to thriving suburban Jewish and Asian communities. I went to one of favorite Chinese restaurants, Choice of the Orient, that has owned and operated by the Wong family for over 28 years.

It’s not just a Christmas tradition, however. My mother (not the greatest cook at the best of times) used to take us out for traditional Chinese from Ruby Foos in Montreal every Sunday. I learned how to expertly eat with chopsticks around the same time I learned cursive writing.

One reason is that Chinese cooking does not contain any dairy, so there is no need to worry about mixing dairy with meat, which is against Jewish dietary law. So a cheeseburger is a big no-no.  Same goes for pepperoni pizzas.

That’s why there are Jewish restaurants or shops devoted almost solely to selling dairy products. United Bakeries in the Bathurst Lawrence Plaza comes to mind.  Growing up in Montreal in a Conservative/Orthodox lite household, we had separate plates and cutlery for milk and meat. On Passover, we even had third set of glass plates and special cutlery, exclusively for the Passover holiday.

(As a Reform Jew, living on my own, I’m not too fussed about of separation of milk and meat. I am afraid that Kosher ship has sailed.)

Note that like traditional Jewish cooking, Chinese food is typically prepared in the Cantonese culinary style known for overcooking vegetables, using a ton of garlic and onions, and balancing sweet flavors with sour ones.

Another strict Jewish dietary law prohibits eating any pork products or shellfish, like lobster. This fare is known in Yiddish as “trayf.”

In 1992, Gaye Tuchman and Harry Levine actually wrote an academic paper called “Safe Treyf,” which argued that Chinese food featured the sort of unkosher dishes you could take home to your mother (or at least eat in front of her.) That’s because the pork and shellfish is always either chopped and minced and served in the middle of innocuous vegetables all covered in a common sauce, or it is wrapped up in wontons and egg rolls—where you can’t see it.

For years growing up in Montreal, our family used to eat tons of Ruby Foos dry little spare ribs slathered in the very sweet tangy sauce. And it never dawned on me that I was eating forbidden pork.

And until my mother’s dying day, her favorite takeout was lobster Cantonese.

Historically, we Jews have been a persecuted folk. To date, to my limited knowledge, we Jews have not suffered from any Chinese pogroms. Hence we Jews do not naturally fear the Chinese. American writer Philip Roth had one of his most famous characters, Alexander Portnoy, say this in Portnoy’s Complaint:

“Yes, the only people in the world whom it seems to me the Jews are not afraid of are the Chinese. Because one, the way they speak English makes my father sound like Lord Chesterfield and two, to them we are not Jews but white and maybe even Anglo Saxon. No wonder they can’t intimidate us. To them we’re just some big-nosed variety of WASP.”

So for many Canadian Jews ( and I am sure, American Jews), eating Chinese food on Christmas has become an almost sacred Jewish ritual, if not quite on the same order of lighting the Chanukah candles. In many ways, it is a way for Canadian Jews to asserting their Jewishness on the anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Chez Nick on Greene Avenue- Westmount – One of the Best Diners in Canada


Whenever I go back to my roots, Westmount, Quebec ( I am a third generation bilingual Anglophone-Quebecois-“ caline de bine-eh!”), I always head back to Chez Nick, the best little diner in all of Canada.

Chez Nick was founded in 1920 by Nick Alevisatos. It was owned and operated by Nick until 1970. Then it was owned and managed by Nick’s son, Tom, until 1995, when it was sold to the current owner and operator, Rob Callard, a family friend and former dishwasher, waiter and manager of Chez Nick under quite extraordinary circumstances. More about Rob later on in this piece.

Chez Nick is considered the oldest diner/restaurant in Montreal that is still in its original location, 1377 Greene Avenue, in lower Westmount.

There are many good reasons why Chez Nick has survived and prospered all these years. Great food, reasonably priced. Very professional, personal and attentive service by long time knowledgeable staff. And a very friendly, family, neighborhood atmosphere.

But in addition, there are the personal touches that make this place such a singular and unique place. I lived in Westmount in the 60s and part of the early 70s. Just up the street on Mountain and Montrose. I recall with fondness as a young kid, on a Saturday, after shopping with my mom at the local grocery on Greene or buying shoes at Tony’s Shoes (now known as Chaussures Tony’s Shoes) on the Greene Avenue strip ( Tony’s is also still in business after 75 odd years, by the way), heading over to Nick’s for lunch for burgers and fries and chocolate milkshakes.

In those days, I had the honor of knowing Nick, or to us kids, “Uncle Nick”. Nick and the staff knew all the customers’ names, especially the regulars. And their children’s names. Nick always came over to our table and kibitzed with my mom and me. And always gave us extra fries and gravy- gratis. Okay, probably not the healthiest food choices in those days.

I also recall with fond nostalgia, a little later in life, as a high school student, trudging home on those bitterly cold winter afternoons from Westmount High, ( located further south on St. Catherine Street), stopping with my friends at Nick’s for fries and a hot chocolate. Prior to making that final heroic ascent up the Mountain. To my home. Three long vertical blocks away. If memory serves, I guess I was a bit of a drama queen in those days. And surprisingly, notwithstanding my addiction to Nick’s fries- not a chunky one at that.

For decades, Chez Nick was your archetypal deli/diner. Serving tons of eggs, mounds of bacon and large sides of home fries. For lunch- burgers and cheeseburgers and fries was usually the most popular order of the day. Nick’s was also known for its mouth-watering smoked meat sandwiches, with sour dill pickles and of course, its always fresh cut French fries with gravy.

Nick’s was the local “go to” place for meats and processed meats.

But in the 70s, the times, “they were a changin”. In 1970, Nick had given over the reins to his son, Tom. The infamous French language first Bill 101 came into being. And many English-speaking bankers, insurance execs, business people fled Westmount for Toronto, western Canada and the States. Taking their families. And their business. Times were tough for Nick’s and many English-speaking establishments on the Greene Avenue strip.

“For Sale”/”A Vendre” signs popped up like dandelions on every Westmount street.

Nick’s had to become Chez Nick and adapt or die.

And to its credit, Chez Nick, hunkered down. Worked doubly hard to retain its remaining English-speaking clientele.

Every day, my parents thought about picking up and moving to Toronto, Chicago, New York and Palm Beach. Great opportunities beckoned for my dad, who in those days, was well-known and respected as a very caring and compassionate obstetrician and gynecologist. But like many families, they stayed the course. Stayed in Westmount and sought comfort with their friends at neighborhood diners like Chez Nick.

In order to survive, Nick’s also reached out more aggressively to local businesses in the area and to the new immigrants to Westmount, – the upwardly mobile Jews, Greeks, Italians and the newly empowered French-speaking professionals, business people and government folk, who began rapidly occupying the stately Westmount manses.

What saved Chez Nick, was Tom deciding to go outside the family and choose a successor, Rob Callard, who had cut his teeth at the diner as a dishwasher, bus boy, then a hustling waiter during his university days, at Concordia University down the street.

Rob told me that he paid his way through “Uni” by busing and waiting tables at Chez Nick.

For Rob’s part, he viewed Tom as a mentor and a surrogate father. And Rob felt that he was treated like family.

Post Concordia, Rob, became a food manager at Montreal’s most prestigious golf club, The Royal Montreal.

Obviously, Rob’s work ethic and all-around good character, had left an impression with Tom. Because in the late 80s, the always astute Tom reached out to Rob and made him an offer that Rob could not refuse.

Tom convinced Rob to come back as manager for five years with an option to buy the restaurant at the end of the term. And to help Tom upgrade, revamp and modernize Chez Nick.

When Rob asked Tom, why he chose Rob to take over Nick’s, Tom replied that he remembered one summer when as a university student, Rob worked six weeks straight washing dishes with an arm in a cast as a result of a broken writst. And according to Tom, “ any person who could do that, has what it takes to run a restaurant.”

What a great story!

As Rob told me, he had little money in those days. But as a result of his experience as a waiter and then manager, he knew that Chez Nick, though a relatively small and contained business, was a viable business. So one week before the results of the 1995 Quebec referendum, Rob invested his life savings as a deposit and exercised his option to purchase Chez Nick.

Now that took some mighty big steel balls. A “Yes” vote for Quebec to separate from the rest of Canada and become independent, could have had disastrous economic and financial consequences for Quebec and for Canada. And clearly for Quebec businesses, both large and small.

Rob believed then, that people would still have to eat. Regardless.

Fortunately, for Canada, for Quebec, and for Rob and Chez Nick, the pro-Canada federalist “No” forces triumphed. But barely. Thanks to the “ethnics and money” in Quebec.

To Rob’s credit, he realized that for Chez Nick to survive and prosper into the twenty-first century, it had to revamp its menu while still retaining the diner’s character and charm. And become more healthy and bistro-like

A menu rich in salty, fatty, eggs and bacon, artery–clogging, burgers, fries, meats and processed meats, though very tasty and delicious did not have the same appeal to the new generation of young, active, family-oriented, and health-conscious Westmounters.

Also it was not to Rob and Chez Nick’s long term interests to unnecessarily shorten the lives of his long-term customers by serving them exclusively salty/fatty, but very tasty and plentiful food. LOL.

Over time, Rob gradually incorporated more healthy, fresh, made to order food on the menu. A review of today’s menu indicates that a whole page is devoted just to about 18 different salads. All served exclusively with 100% canola and olive oil. The most popular and exclusively vegetarian salads being Fresh Fruit salad and cottage cheese, Bruschetta and greens, Caprese salad, Metcalfe salad, Greek salad, Bennett Farm salad, Grains on Greens and Portobello Mushroom salad.!salads/c1w2p

As to the sandwiches, in addition, to Nick’s traditional staples of Swiss burgers, Montreal smoked meat, Reubens and chicken souvlaki sandwiches, Rob has successfully introduced such alternatively delicious and healthy fare as Boccachina and basil, Portobello, Protein and Pesto, and Nick’s signature sandwich, the Mount Pleasant; containing brie cheese, a sliced Granny Smith apple, tomato and alfalfa on black Russian bread served with homemade balsamic vinaigrette.

Recently I dropped into Chez Nick for Sunday Brunch. The place was packed. With truly a very interesting eclectic crowd of: long time regulars from the nearby luxury apartment buildings and Westmount Square ( some who looked vaguely familiar); young yuppie families, with several children in strollers and high chairs, all laughing and enjoying themselves; two or three hipster couples, ( who just looked they had rolled out of the sack after a night of partying and whatever); and a few students nursing their coffees as they texted on their iPhones, tapped away on their iPads. Or Tindered each other.

This Sunday, I eschewed the Grains and Greens salad for my favorite Greek Yogurt/fruit/granola/almonds, with a dash of honey Nick’s special. Washed down with bottomless cups of freshly-brewed heavenly coffee, that put all the competition- Starbucks, Second Cup, Tim Hortons and McDonalds, to shame.

I noted that Rob, the owner, greeted all the loyal customers, by name. Just like Uncle Nick.

It was great to be home again.

Kudos to Rob Callard for revitalizing this great Westmount and Montreal establishment. May this great institution survive another productive 100 years.

(note photos Rob Callard, the owner, and I, and current Chez Nick, the diner/bistro)

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Monday: A Magical Night at Kasa Moto – Charlotte’s Feast

Monday night on the Yorkville strip is usually quite quiet. Some would say funereal. This past Monday was no exception. But for your intrepid downtown night traveler, moi, my night at Kasa was magical and forever memorable.

Instead of crying in my miso soup, I embraced the almost vacant upstairs patio bar. And engaged with the always helpful and kind staff. This evening, because Kasa was slow due to a crucial Blue Jays/Yankees series, the return of the school year and post TIFF fatigue, I approached the strikingly beautiful and very talented operations manager, Charlotte, see photo on left.

And I suggested that she arrange my entire Japanese meal. I put myself completely in her very soft and capable hands. And I challenged Charlotte to surprise me with her personal selection. And did the talented Charlotte deliver!!!

The meal arranged by Charlotte was spectacular. And served to me by favorite bartender, the incomparable Ace.

Here are photos of the exquisite and artistically prepared and presented portions. Each small and delicate dish a delightful surprise. I savored with amazement each bite of sushi on far left and hamachi on far right

I am no foodie. I don’t possess a sophisticated palate. But even I could taste the subtle perfection of Kasa’s signature cerviche-   Hamachi/salmon, raw cut and mixed with root vegetables, mixed in a sublime yuzu/aoli miso/soy.

Both earthy and other worldly in one bite.

And the spicy tuna crispy rice. OMG to die for! Tuna mixed with a surprising shock of jalapenos, on a slightly fried rice base, and softly brushed with a teriyaki and spicy aoli glaze.

The soy butter fried rice with the juicy waygu ground beef, and the broccoli tempura- dipped and caressed in a spicy tentsuyu sauce (chillies/soy/mirin/dashi broth). Both simple, comfort and complex in each bite.

Charlotte begged me and pleaded with me, this one time, not to destroy her perfect meal with my usual Diet Coke chaser. She suggested I try one of her favourite sake wines – a slim bottle of Kikusui Junmai Ginjo – a very polished brand. Sweet sweet Charlotte even promised to share a drink with me. A real first for me.

What man could resist such a once-in-a-lifetime offer. From such a charming and irresistible woman. Not this cowboy!

charlotteCharlotte's feast 1Charlotte's feast 2Charlotte's feast 3Charlotte's feast 4 ace