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pasta puttanescaWatching Iron Chef has become more than just an after dinner sport – in fact, it’s been an inspiration for dinner. Take the episode featuring sturgeon: the boy has a “oh-I’m-so-going-to-make-that” moment as Iron Chef Symon whips out a sturgeon puttanesca (check out wikipedia for its etymology: a quick dish to be made between turning tricks). The lovely photo is from the boy’s version 2 rendition, served when his mum was up visiting. Relatives with a cars mean having a chance to explore places that we would’ve unfortunately missed otherwise (not exactly bike-able or bus-able to beyond the corners of London) : one stop at the Arva flour mill in Arva, and one to White’s Cider Mill in Lambeth. Too bad we didn’t have a chance to meet Mike at the flour mill – the owner is a friend of the chefs at The Only. Oh well, perhaps we’ll meet him at one of his frequent trips to the restaurant and chat bread. Purchases his store included a 10kg bag of flour, some semolina, local eggs and the most wonderful caramels. At the apple cider mill: pressed apples for drinking and cider making, cherry juice, and goodies to ferment cider.

With a lack of capers in our kitchen (something I’ve yet to learn to appreciate), the puttanesca tomato sauce featured olives, anchovies and chilli flakes, with catfish (yum!) thrown in at the end. The semolina was smooth and elastic, much easier to work with than all purpose flour and resulting in thinner hand-rolled sheets (our next kitchen purchase, after a sharpening stone, may be a hand operated pasta machine). Needless to say, it was absolutely delicious.

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The boy and I went on a proper date Wednesday evening: having been finally released from opera rehearsals (and having just completed 8 of this semester’s 20 credits) gave us an opportunity to venture to Casa Tapas. Spotting a funky mural on the side of the building, we arrived at 7:30 or so, and were placed at the bar because of our sans reservations. Certainly a good sign, if business thrived late on a Wednesday evening.

Standard bread bowl, and olives served in a demitasse: warm? (sorely lacking in knowledge base regarding olives, I did a quick search on “warm olives” when I came home: they were certainly endorsed by the NY Times in 1987.) Warm is good! They were pretty damn tasty, and I’m not usually an olive-out-of-hand eater (the boy even less so).

Their rendition of a “Spanish Caesar” was interestingly done with greens in lieu of romaine: served with a toasted slice of herbed baguette, and a surprise cherry tomato in the bottom. Do they do Caesars in Spain? We were unsure of the dressing’s constituents (as the salad was severely underdressed) but were quickly distracted by the garlic saffron soup. Served piping hot (and still bubbling), it sported big chunks of fresh croutons. Stoneware definitely has its heat retaining benefits! In our excitement, lips and tongues were slightly burned, but no matter: the soup was fantastic, adorned with little bits of tomato and parsley. Note to self: splurge on saffron (time to do another run to Vieille Europe).

The tapas ordered were: 1) Grilled sardines with cumin – I’ve always loved sardines, and cumin’s my new favourite spice as of 2007. It was subtle on the actual sardines, but the paired julienned zucchini/red pepper salad was very satisfyingly cumin-ed. 2) Filet mignon of lamb done in an almond-tomato sauce and colourful peppers – wow. Simply, wow. 3) Artichoke served with aioli – surprisingly citrus and hinting of orange, the aioli was an intriguing pairing with a vegetable that has yet to grace its presence in our own kitchen. Sidestepping the orange-garlic-mayo topping, the boy raved of its grilled texture, while I tried to parse flavour combinations uncommon to my pallette.

The waiter then suggested desert to us, and deciding on a more Spanish theme, we tried their churros instead of the crème brûlée. Sweet, deep fried goodness! I suppose each culture has its own rendition of fried dough: Spain decided on pleasantly dense batons (piped directly into the hot oil?). A demitasse of chocolate sauce was served on the side; I stared sadly at the remainder when no churros remained, longing to spoon the rest in my mouth. I suppose that would have been imprudent.

I certainly look forward to tasting the other menu items; until then, we shall have to try our own rendition of garlic saffron soup.

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Casa Tapas
266 Rachel Est, between St. Laurent and St Denis