Sunday, February 6, 2011

CAFE POLONEZ: 195 Roncesvalles Avenue - (416)-532-8432

Jess and Craig outside the restaurant
I'm sitting in the departures terminal now trying my best not to vomit out of sheer panic and depression.  There's a huge snowstorm happening in Toronto and I have to get on a plane that will somehow navigate its way through it without crashing into the side of a mountain.  I'm on my way to visit my dad who recently bought a house in, and here's the depressing part, the worst state of the Unites States.......Florida.  Otherwise affectionately coined by Homer Simpson as "Americas Wang"

I knew this would happen which is why I visited two places last week so I might have something to do while I'm there.  I've never really cared much for the beach or even warm weather...and really there's nothing else that Naples, Florida offers.

So today, faithful readers, lets discuss Polish food.  What's the first thing that comes to mind when I say the phrase "Polish food"?  To me, its a scene in the sub-par movie Everything Is Illuminated based on the slightly above-par book of the same name by Jonathan Safran Foer.  The main character Jonathan sits down in a Polish restaurant at a hotel and tries to explain to his interpreter, the interpreters father, and to the waitress that he is a vegetarian.  As you might imagine, it doesn't go as smoothly as you might think.  Here's the scene.

Jess eyeing Craig suspiciously while enjoying her rye bread.
With that in mind Jess and I visited Cafe Polonez on Roncesvalles and we brought along our good friend Craig Irving, possibly the least qualified individual to write restaurant reviews.  Craig is one of those characters who is amazingly picky about his food.  He's got weird hang-ups about certain things (like the sound of ketchup squirting from a bottle, mayonaise in general, really any type of sauce that can be made into a puddle).    However over the past few years he's made a strong effort to try as many new things as possible and his palate seems to be expanding slowly but surely.

Cheddar and potato perogies
When we first entered the place I was immediately struck by the decor.  It swept me back to my last trip to Poland in 2002.  The decor of Polish restaurants seem to find themselves in at the center of a triangularity between Medieval Times, the cafeteria at a retirement lodge, and a ski-chalet from  a medium-budget 80s porn film.  Very woody.  And more often than not in Canadian Polish restaurants, very fake woody.  Its awesome in every way!

Rye bread and butter
We are greeted by a lovely waitress and, as instructed, we sit anywhere we like.  Lucky for me I don't have to ask the waitress what the restaurant does best as the menu already has a marking next to the items that are known as customer favourites and house specialties.  We decide to start off by spliting a plate of cheddar and potato perogies served with sour cream.  I noticed that "pan fried" was an option for perogies but unfortunately I forget to mention it to our waitress and they arrive regular - along with an unpretentious plate of rye bread and butter.  They're both delicious, especially the perogies.  Like just really great perogies.  Indistinguishable from perogies from fact, even a little better than I remembered. 

Ok fast forward a few days.  I thought I would be sufficiently bored in Florida that it would inspire me to write more blog posts.  It didn't happen.  Writing about Polish food in Florida is kinda like trying to write a sex column at your grandmothers funeral.  Your mood is so far away from your subject matter that you just can't even begin to form a coherent thought.  However I'm at the airport now on my way back to Toronto, and I'm feeling ok.

Cabbage Rolls
For my main I decide on a "customer favourite" cabbage rolls stuffed with rice and pork topped with tomato sauce.  It was good.  Not amazing, but good.  Usually cabbage rolls are stuffed pretty tight with whatever innards they choose that day but this one was fairly loose.  The flavours were fairly standard.  Nothing particularly complex here but you wouldn't really expect more from Polish food.  My side, which were the same sides my dinner-mates received, were kinda disappointing.  The carrots were waaaayyyy overcooked and not in that sweet awww-bubella kind of way that Eastern European cultures usually overcook their vegetables.  No the carrots were so overcooked that you could mash them into a puree without much effort.  Also on the plate was a beet salad and a cole slaw, both of which were pretty good.  The potatoes would have been entirely forgetful had it not included some fresh dill sprinkled on top of em.  For those of you who might not know, the smell of fresh dill inspires something fierce in us Jewish folk.  The smell alone could cause the most staunch atheist like me to stand on a table, peer down at a photo of my nephew, and start singing in the most Judaic and melancholic of melodies "Is this the little boy I carried....".  Unfortunately that feeling ended with the smell.  The potatoes themselves just kinda sucked.

Pork Loin in a horseradish
cream sauce
Craigs ordered a roast chicken meal with the same sides as me.  Sure it was moist, which is usually half the battle with chicken, and salty but didn't really ring anything memorable.  But Craig seemed to like it.  No complaints from him.  Jessica got the best meal of the bunch.  She had the roast pork loin in a horseradish cream sauce and fuck, it was great.  I'm all for subtlety, please, don't get me wrong.  But sometimes you really want to taste the horseradish!  And man, the horseradish in this dish just blasted through.  It was awesome.  The pork loin was reasonably well cooked.  But really the star for this dish was the horseradish cream sauce.  I could bathe in that stuff.  It was the star of the night.

Homemade apple cake
with ice cream

For desert we ordered a house specialty again which was a homemade apple cake with ice cream and it was lovely.  We all shared it and we all seemed to really like it.  I mean its hard to go wrong with cooked apples in cake form surrounded by ice cream but it this was the dish that really tasted like all eastern european food should taste like:  unpretentious whole-hearted love. Like a really big warm hug when you need it most.

On a whole, Cafe Polonez did seem to do its thing well.  Its very polish and seemed to hit many of the marks.  However it did lack something in the, and it pains me to write this, love department.  I don't mean for this to sound cheesy or pretentious but really, with this kind of food, there needs to be something inexplicable that really touches the heart and soul.  Flavours that can endure the centuries of conflict and flux that always seems to fall in Polands lap.  Flavours that keep you warm, even when its a cold dish.  Cafe Polonez hits the mark occasionally but really missed that mark where it really counted,  at least for me.  But maybe its different for others.

Rating:  3

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