Thursday, December 17, 2015

Rione X1 and "Roman-Jewish Ghetto Cuisine" in Toronto's Wychwood Park/Hillcrest Village







Rione X1 and "Roman-Jewish Ghetto Cuisine" in Wychwood Park/Hillcrest Village

BY BRYAN LAVERY

 
As anyone who reads my columns regularly is aware, I have been a student of the Italian kitchen for the last thirty years, so genuine regional Italian cooking resonates with me.

Until the unification of Italy in 1861, one could not speak of a national cuisine. The reality of Italian cookery is an amalgamation of distinct regional cuisines more diverse than anywhere else in Europe.

Like the rest of Italy, Rome is made of many districts, each with distinctive traditional specialities. Additional subsets of cuisines remain both strongly regional and localized.

The self-proclaimed "Roman-Jewish Ghetto” cuisine, a form of cucina povera (literally meaning the impoverished kitchen) distinguishes the newly opened Rione X1, from  a number of other Italian-inspired restaurants on the Wychwood/Hillcrest Village restaurant strip in Toronto.

The inspiration for Rione X1, I am told by the waiter, comes from the cobble-stoned Jewish ghetto in Rome, which originated in the mid 1500’s. The concept is the invention of Danilo and Sandrelle Scimo of Pizza e Pazzi who brought Neapolitan hand-crafted pizza to prominence in the area. Rione X1 literally means region eleven, referring to the 11th of the 14 regions of Medieval Rome.

Rione X1 is not to be mistaken for the ersatz trattorias that seem to have a pathological focus on faux-Italian cuisine. The offerings may be simple, but they are classic, prepared by Chef Pena Lellimo, with traditional ingredients and executed with some finesse and an eye for presentation.

Dinner begins with a generous basket of good Calabrese bread, which is both rustic and delicious. The best-known dish from the Roman-Jewish repertoire is carciofi alla giudea, or artichokes Jewish style. The dish has several variations, depending on where you have it and the type of artichoke used. Traditionally the artichokes are of the Romanesco variety. At Rione X1 the artichokes are the long-stemmed variety, deep fried until brown, crisp and crunchy, flaky in parts and served with a wedge of lemon. On another visit they are just the fanned-out globes (artichoke heads) Both times they are a revelation and alone, they are worth the visit to Rione X1.

The menu is designed to be shared. After the artichokes, we began with a board of crostini con alici e burrata: a mass of arugula served with a large crostini, in the centre of the platter was a ball of fresh and creamy burrata (the outer shell was a solid pouch enclosing  fresh cream and mozzarella) surrounded by “heirloom” and sun dried tomatoes. Perfectly charred radicchio was a great accompaniment to the dish but the promised anchovies were absent.

The air-cured bresaola is a stand-out appetizer, served again on a bed of arugula with thinly but generously shaved Parmigiano Reggiano.

The owners of Rione X1 may be well-intentioned but the cuisine does not lives up to the Roman-Jewish Ghetto culinary ethos (one "Jewish-inspired" piatto consists of salmone con mascarpone: smoked salmon with mascarpone). More authentic would be carpaccio of baccalà or a good in-house salt-cured salmon.

The menu features a short list of pasta dishes that are made in-house. There is ravioli freschi – on my first visit it was sold out due to its popularity– our waiter explained, that the kitchen is a one-woman show. The fresh ravioli on our second visit filled with sage and ricotta was uninspiring. The commercial variety that we were served the following evening just down the street at Ferro Bar Café was superior.   

Gnocchetti sardi in crema di carciofi e gamberetti is the Sardinian-inspired pasta, aka malloreddus (small morsels of gnocchi-shaped semolina) with charred artichoke leaves and the tiniest shrimp imaginable in a gray cream sauce. There are ribbons of fresh tagliatelle with a chunky (actually it was well-braised) but tender beef ragu.

Also on offer was slightly over-cooked sedanini (elbow-curved pasta) with bresaola slivers in an over-salted, eggy carbonara sauce. There is much superior pasta up the street at chef Giancarlo Carnevale’s PROP restaurant.

Guance di vitello al sughetto are tasty stewed beef cheeks served on mashed potatoes (I had to ask the waiter what I was eating. At first, I thought it was semolina, it was so creamy but undistinguishable. For some reason I was expecting polenta or something a bit more traditional). There is Venetian-style calves liver on the menu.

Contorni are vegetable side dishes, which you order independently and are served in a separate dish, never on the same plate as the main course — and usually pay a premium for. We ordered the ceci al tegamino (sautéed chick peas) which were devoid of flavour and could use the Yotam Ottolenghi treatment with some ground cumin, cardamom and allspice. The pan-fried eggplant was unavailable and on another evening it was merely lacklustre. Other choices consisted of peas and sautéed rapini.

The Roman-Jewish culinary connection is certainly an interesting concept, though that’s all it appears to be at the moment.  However, these are the very early days and there are still a few things to iron out, too many offerings have the commercially cultivated arugula as a base. The pasta dishes need help.  There are too many repetitive ingredients on the menu.

 First impressions in new restaurants are important and the word of mouth on the street is interesting — actually, good.  And there has been some hype/advertorial in the neighbourhood press, which got me through the front door.  I tell myself to remember, Rome was not built in a day and this just might be a new neighbourhood hot spot if the owners give the kitchen a bit more attention.

One thing I have learned in my many years as a chef, restaurateur and food reviewer is that “authentic” is not necessarily the same as “good” and vice versa. My dispute here is by referencing Roman-Jewish Ghetto traditions, they seem to make a promise that they are unable to live up to.

 Rione X1
672 St. Clair West
Toronto, ON
(647) 748-7882

 

 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Dinner with Chef Gabrielle Hamilton at Stratford Chefs School and Toronto's Richmond Station


Celebrated author and New York Chef Hamilton will be in residence at Stratford Chefs School from January 11th to January 23rd, 2016.

The Gastronomic Writer in Residence program began in 2007 is named after Joseph Hoare, former food editor at Toronto Life magazine. The program is unique to chef training in Canada and allows students to broaden their knowledge of social media and food writing.

 Launching her Canadian visit on January 11th 2016, Chef Gabrielle Hamilton will be in conversation with fellow Joseph Hoare Gastronomic Writer In Residence and notable author Ian Brown at the Toronto Public Library Appel Salon Series. The two acclaimed authors will discuss Hamilton’s life as a chef and writer, exploring her award-winning memoir Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef and her cookbook, Prune. This event will be held at the Appel Salon in Toronto Reference Library.

While in residence at the Stratford Chefs School, Chef Hamilton will work alongside students for three dinners, bringing her Prune to Stratford’s Prune Restaurant (the school’s dinner venue partner). Dates include: Friday January 15th, Thursday January 21st and Saturday January 23rd. These exclusive four-course dinners, with wine pairings, are priced at $85.00 plus HST. Reserve your seat by calling the school or visiting the Stratford Chef School website.

 Sunday January 17th, Richmond Station is hosting a Stratford Chefs School pop-up dinner not to be missed. Alumni will get to collaborate with Chef Hamilton and Richmond Station co-owners, Carl Heinrich and Ryan Donovan, who are both 2005 Stratford Chefs School alumni. The highly praised Richmond Station is located in Downtown Toronto. Dinner will include four courses, wine and the opportunity to meet these culinary greats. Ticket price is $150. 

Richmond Station opened in 2012 and was a huge success from the start. "Committed to delicious food and excellent hospitality", Heinrich and Donovan have honed a team who appreciate quality local ingredients and thoughtfully crafted dishes. 

 


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

We Are at a Literal “Tipping Point.” Ontario is Prohibiting Restaurant Owners From Sharing in Gratuities


We are at a literal “tipping point.” Ontario is prohibiting restaurant owners and managers from sharing in tips that are meant for servers and other hospitality staff. Restaurant owners will no longer be allowed to take a cut of staff gratuities under provincial legislation that passed in December 2015. Liberal MPP Arthur Potts said his Private Member’s Bill 12 Bill 12, or the Protecting Employees’ Tips Act — an amendment to The Employment Standards Act, 2000 —must still be proclaimed into law, was designed to prevent employers from dipping into the restaurant employees gratuity pool.

The Protecting Employees' Tips Act, passed third reading, making it illegal to withhold their employees' gratuities. The plan was initially put forward three years ago by Michael Prue, an NDP MPP, who lost in the 2014 election and re-introduced by Arthur Potts, the Liberal MPP who defeated him.

The proposed legislation has been amended to allow employers to provisionally withhold gratuities if they reallocate them as part of an employee tip pool, a measure that allows some wage parity to front-of-the-house and lower-paid back of the house employees. Managers will not be allowed to participate in the pool unless they are sole proprietors or double as servers.  BL

Bill 12, Protecting Employees’ Tips Act, 2015


An Act to amend the Employment Standards Act, 2000 with respect to tips and other gratuities

Her Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Ontario, enacts as follows:


  1. The Employment Standards Act, 2000 is amended by adding the following Part:

Part v.1
employee tips and other gratuities

Definition

   14.1  (1)  Subject to subsection (2), in this Part,

“tip or other gratuity” means,

(a)  a payment voluntarily made to or left for an employee by a customer of the employee’s employer in such circumstances that a reasonable person would be likely to infer that the customer intended or assumed that the payment would be kept by the employee or shared by the employee with other employees,

(b)  a payment voluntarily made to an employer by a customer in such circumstances that a reasonable person would be likely to infer that the customer intended or assumed that the payment would be redistributed to an employee or employees,

(c)  a payment of a service charge or similar charge imposed by an employer on a customer in such circumstances that a reasonable person would be likely to infer that the customer intended or assumed that the payment would be redistributed to an employee or employees, and

(d)  such other payments as may be prescribed.

Same

(2)  “Tip or other gratuity” does not include,

(a)  such payments as may be prescribed; and

(b)  such charges as may be prescribed relating to the method of payment used, or a prescribed portion of those charges.

Prohibition re tips or other gratuities

14.2  (1)  An employer shall not withhold tips or other gratuities from an employee, make a deduction from an employee’s tips or other gratuities or cause the employee to return or give his or her tips or other gratuities to the employer unless authorized to do so under this Part.

Enforcement

(2)  If an employer contravenes subsection (1), the amount withheld, deducted, returned or given is a debt owing to the employee and is enforceable under this Act as if it were wages owing to the employee.

Statute or court order

14.3  (1)  An employer may withhold or make a deduction from an employee’s tips or other gratuities or cause the employee to return or give them to the employer if a statute of Ontario or Canada or a court order authorizes it.

Exception

(2)  Subsection (1) does not apply if the statute or order requires the employer to remit the withheld, deducted, returned or given tips or other gratuities to a third person and the employer fails to do so.

Pooling of tips or other gratuities

14.4  (1)  An employer may withhold or make a deduction from an employee’s tips or other gratuities or cause the employee to return or give them to the employer if the employer collects and redistributes tips or other gratuities among some or all of the employer’s employees.

Exception

(2)  An employer shall not redistribute tips or other gratuities under subsection (1) to such employees as may be prescribed.

Employer, etc. not to share in tips or other gratuities

(3)  Subject to subsections (4) and (5), an employer or a director or shareholder of an employer may not share in tips or other gratuities redistributed under subsection (1).

Exception — sole proprietor, partner

(4)  An employer who is a sole proprietor or a partner in a partnership may share in tips or other gratuities redistributed under subsection (1) if he or she regularly performs to a substantial degree the same work performed by,

(a)  some or all of the employees who share in the redistribution; or

(b)  employees of other employers in the same industry who commonly receive or share tips or other gratuities.

Exception — director, shareholder

(5)  A director or shareholder of an employer may share in tips or other gratuities redistributed under subsection (1) if he or she regularly performs to a substantial degree the same work performed by,

(a)  some or all of the employees who share in the redistribution; or

(b)  employees of other employers in the same industry who commonly receive or share tips or other gratuities.

Transition — collective agreements

14.5  (1)  If a collective agreement that is in effect on the day section 1 of the Protecting Employees’ Tips Act, 2015 comes into force contains a provision that addresses the treatment of employee tips or other gratuities and there is a conflict between the provision of the collective agreement and this Part, the provision of the collective agreement prevails.

Same — expiry of agreement

(2)  Following the expiry of a collective agreement described in subsection (1), if the provision that addresses the treatment of employee tips or other gratuities remains in effect, subsection (1) continues to apply to that provision, with necessary modifications, until a new or renewal agreement comes into effect.

Same — renewed or new agreement

(3)  Subsection (1) does not apply to a collective agreement that is made or renewed on or after the day section 1 of the Protecting Employees’ Tips Act, 2015 comes into force.

Commencement

  1. This Act comes into force on the day that is six months after the day it receives Royal Assent.

Short title

  1. The short title of this Act is the Protecting Employees’ Tips Act, 2015.

This reprint of the Bill is marked to indicate the changes that were made in Committee.

The changes are indicated by underlines for new text and a strikethrough for deleted text.

______________

EXPLANATORY NOTE

The Bill amends the Employment Standards Act, 2000.  The new Part V.1 prohibits employers from withholding tips or other gratuities from employees, from making deductions from an employee’s tips or other gratuities, or from causing the employee to return or give his or her tips or other gratuities to the employer except as authorized under the new Part.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

New Year's Eve Restaurant Reservation Etiquette

 

 
New Year’s Eve Restaurant Reservation Etiquette

BY BRYAN LAVERY

Dining out always seems to top the list of New Year’s Eve plans. It is the night top chef’s will be pulling out all the stops. New Year’s Eve has always been an opportunity to do something a just a little more special. Celebratory evenings can often be very exasperating for chefs and restaurateurs. It is not uncommon for a restaurant to be booked days, even weeks in advance and on the last day be flooded with cancellations due to inexplicable illnesses or undependable babysitters.

As it happened, there was a time when it was not uncommon for establishments to purposely retaliate by overbooking tables. This ruse inevitably results in a host of disagreeable experiences and disappointments. But diners be wary. New Year’s Eve is among the busiest nights for dining out. This is the night that restaurateurs may know they have a captive audience. On the other hand, it is also the night patrons assume business is so brisk, no one will notice if they are a no-show or an hour late.

To combat this problem, some smaller, more specialized restaurants have taken to asking for your credit card number on special nights or a non-refundable deposit. This makes perfect sense from a business point of view. However, this is the hospitality industry and it is not something that everyone is comfortable implementing.  I have long suspected that this actually deters some diners from making the reservation in the first place."

In any event, you would probably be quite surprised how often patrons double book or cannot honour their reservations. Routinely, patrons do not call on busy nights when they know in advance that members of their party cannot attend or they are bringing an additional guest.

Meanwhile, the person greeting guests at the door is turning away would-be diners and the phone is ringing off the hook for last minute reservations. Besides being ill-mannered, cancelling your reservation at the last minute is inconsiderate of the needs of the restaurant and other potential patrons who would like to book a table.

It is always prudent to advise the host or hostess that you are running behind if you will be more than 10 minutes late. Restaurants need to be able to organize their tables and seating plans throughout the night, so it is only considerate to give fair warning of your delay.

And of course, in smaller restaurants which don’t have the luxury of extra tables, it is tough to improvise at the last minute. On New Year’s Eve, to ensure your dining experience is as flawless as possible, it is always advisable to call and reconfirm your table. It is not always possible for busy restaurants to call to reconfirm your booking.

Incidentally, you should keep in mind that it has also become customary procedure for restaurants to book tables twice and possibly three times on a busy night. The accepted standard is to allow 2 hours between bookings on the early seating. No restaurant can afford guest to commandeer a table for the entire evening.

When making a reservation, it should be the obligation of the restaurant to inform you of their timing policy between bookings but this is not always the case. One last reminder, it is always advisable to dine in the second seating if you are planning a relaxing, leisurely evening.