Category Archives: eating out

Socca love.

Last week I went on a solo vacation to Nice for 4 days. I’ve been in the library all summer, and I am about to start a new job, so I needed to relax a little. An exciting fact about Nice is that it is the birthplace of socca, the magical chickpea pancakes that I have been so excited about before. I finally, at long last, got to eat proper socca!

This lead to the realization, of course, that my own socca was not particularly authentic. I have been panfrying it, and making it thin like a pancake, but the real deal was thicker and baked at super high heat in a woodfired oven.

I had socca twice – first at a place called Chez René Socca in the old town. It was served in a messy heap, rather thick and somewhat mushy. Like it wasn’t quite cooked through. I didn’t swoon. The second place I went was another story. Chez Pipo, in the Vieux Port area, was highlighted by David Lebovitz as the best place in Nice for socca. I think he knew what he was talking about. OMG so delicious!

It was served like this, in neat, crispy wedges. It was quite salty, which was probably one of the reasons why it was so good. I wolfed down the entire plate, even after having already sampled their pissaladière. I wanted to order more.

I wondered how they managed to give it that crispiness, and the uneven surface, so as I was leaving the restaurant I peaked over the little barrier separating the restaurant from the cooking area. I saw that when the socca was about half cooked, it was taken out of the oven. A guy then used what looked like a butter knife to “ruffle” the entire surface very thoroughly, before putting it back into the oven. Very interesting.

As for me, I am sticking to my pan-fried fake socca for now, mainly because I don’t have an appropriate oven dish to bake socca in. For dinner today, I made a simple batter of 1/2 cup each of chickpea flour and water (sifting the flour to avoid lumps), with a bit of herbs, salt and oil added in. Then, I stirred in the leftover cooked millet from Friday’s dinner. I cooked it in a generously oiled frying pan, and I didn’t even break it as I flipped it. Really tasty!


I really <3 the Atlantic.

Two weeks ago, I was saying my goodbyes to Toronto, a city where I have spent four of the past six years and where I have largely been incredibly happy and always felt very much at home. It is also a city where I have eaten extremely well – few places so well as at the Atlantic on Dundas, Nathan Isberg’s quirky little restaurant.

My husband and I have a long-standing admiration for this chef – early in our relationship we celebrated my admission to graduate studies at Oxford with an incredibly memorable meal at Coca on Queen, where he used to work. It was a surprise menu, and the deliciousness just kept coming. He quit and Coca closed down, but we were ecstatic when he opened the Atlantic in the spring of 2010. In June of 2010 we had our first incredible meal there, and I particularly remember the quail. We were talking about where we last had such incredibly well prepared quail, until we realized that it was, of course, at Coca in the hands of the same man.

(My last visit, with a friend back in May, is described here.)

So when departure was getting imminent, there was really only one place I wanted to go for a final dinner. Only, I hadn’t actually planned things very well. I knew he didn’t take reservations for the bar, so we figured we would just go at 7 pm and hope for a seat. Upon arrival, Chef Isberg was outside of the restaurant, and I asked if he was open yet. No, in fact he was closed Saturdays and Sundays all summer for renovations, he responded. Oh no, I thought, I leave Monday and I don’t know when I’ll be back 😦

Sensing my disappointment, perhaps frustrated with the renovations, he offered to cook for us anyway, if we were in a pinch (!!) If we could wait half an hour, and would take what he served up? Ehem – gluten, dairy and nut free…? we inquired. No problem! he responded, he was “moving in that direction” himself. Was he sure? Was he just trying to be polite? No, he insisted, he was not a polite person… We could hardly believe that something so lovely was happening in real life, and, remembering our first Coca surprise menu, we couldn’t say no to such an offer.

After a drink down the street at the Hen House, we returned 30 minutes later, to be met by a table for two set in the window, with a large sunflower as decoration. Then, the food started coming, accompanied by an endless supply of Niagara wine. It was an incredible meal, a more perfect adieu to the Toronto I love than I could have ever thought up myself.

The pictures are of slightly variable quality – taken with my old iPhone and in progressively bad light..

Salad of spinach, red quinoa, red cabbage, peach and nepitella (I believe)

A second salad, of raw sockeye salmon, yellow zucchini, chervil and wakame seaweed

The best risotto I have ever eaten, of Italian black and brown rice and mushrooms

Pickerel on a bed of “smashed” potatoes with tomato and basil, with a carrot sauce (I forget what the herb was)

Pure Valrhona chocolate mousse, by the Hervé This water method – the best chocolate mousse I have ever had (It was dark by this point, so the picture is poor)

I walked out of the restaurant hours later, drunk on wine and love and goodness, on a high of good food. It was just… perfection…


Cappuccino at Sam James on a Saturday morning. I’ll miss that.

Eating cupcakes in NYC.

Over three days in NYC (Dec 13-16) I sampled a wide variety of cupcakes… My friend Rita, whom I have known since I was about three years old, is living in NYC at the moment, and despite studying nutrition she shares my rather unhealthy love for cupcakes. We went on a cupcake sightseeing on Tuesday, and I also sampled some cupcakes the day before and after…

Kytofu, 9th avenue & 48th st.

This Japanese dessert place served up a so-called Chocolate Soufflé Cupcake with a shiro cream and strawberry compote. It was very tasty and wonderfully presented, but I can’t say I would really classify it as a cupcake… We did really enjoy it, though, and we also had some excellent tea. A lovely and different dessert place.

Billy’s Bakery, 9th ave and 21st st.

Next was Billy’s Bakery, which several people have recommended. And with good reason — this was the most lusciously moist cupcake with the most amazingly rich, yet fluffy, frosting. Amazingly decadent and so filling that we had to take a break from cupcakes for several hours!

Magnolia Bakery, Bleecker st and 11th st.

The mother of all cupcake shops. I did find that the cake was drier and the frosting was less luscious than at Billy’s.  A bit of a disappointment. Also didn’t take a picture.. We ate it late in the afternoon after carrying it around for a while, so it was dark outside and the cupcake looked quite beat up!

Babycakes, Broome st and Orchard st.

I shouldn’t actually eat eggs much. I do it anyway, as you can tell, but I am thrilled to find places like Babycakes. The place is extremely allergy friendly — they have vegan and gluten free cupcakes and there wasn’t a nut in sight. Also, they are agave sweetened. The chocolate cupcake I sampled was slightly dry and crumbly, which I think is acceptable when you take into consideration how it is magically free of all known allergens…! The frosting was excellent, I really wonder how they make it!

Kumquat bakery (sampled at a crafts market at Lafayette and 4th st)

I couldn’t pass up the chance to sample their mini maple bacon cupcake. I mean, how crazy is that? Sweet and savory and bite sized! It’s awkward to compare it to all these other chocolatey treats, but it was definitely interesting!

Saturday brunch.

I had amazing brunch on Saturday at a place in Leslieville called Lady Marmalade. This dish was truly sublime!

Cheddar and spinach waffles with roasted tomato, bacon and a smokey orange-tomato cream sauce, with a side salad dressed with a sesame vinaigrette. Best brunch ever!

Cheddar and spinach waffles.