Meandering Epicurist

Adrak Yorkville Indian Cuisine

Adrak has channeled the glorious culinary traditions of Shah Jahan’s Mogul Court. The abstract statue of God Ganesha at reception is my first clue that I’m in for something a little bit different.

Firstly, the dining room is like a Maharaja’s railway carriage. Delicate pale saffron yellow wallpaper, Islamic inspired gold filigree arched screens, custom fabrics and handmade chairs and banquettes from south India. Ambica Jain, who has partnered in this new venture with her mother, tells me she set out to bring our city an Indian restaurant equal to the best in the world.

Jain’s concept involves running the kitchen with a team of six chefs each of whom has trained under Michelin starred celebrity Chef Vineet Bhatia. Each chef specializes in his or her own area. Clearly, painstaking attention to detail is everywhere. Rakesh Mulik, Beverage Manager, appears and I reflexively think of icy lager with Indian food. Rakesh has a better idea. Try one of our unique specially blended cocktails, he urges. 

The names alone are mesmerizing. A Himalayan? Or perhaps the Maharaja’s Howitzer? I take his advice and settle for the Golden Nine Yards—a pun on the length of regal Mysore saris. It’s an exotic concoction of banana infused rum, turmeric vermouth, coconut syrup, fresh pineapple and arrives with a flourish as Rakesh glazes it with a blow torch. 

Tandoori oven cooking is millennia old but revived in Delhi in the late 1940’s. It’s my weakness. Marinade is the key. I order the Murgh Tandoori. Exquisitely prepared by Chef Negri. Moist and tender, it delivers an immediate rich buttery flavour that develops into evanescent tingly spice from the chili paste in the marinade. 

Platings are a work of art. Two brass bowls flank the chicken on a banana leaf, the whole on a high sided circular solid brass tray. In one bowl is an almost iridescent green chutney with two dots of marigold petals and the other the Punjabi specialty spicy laccaha onion.

Next up…. food as theatre—the Prawn Tandoori. A three-foot long tandoor skewer emerges from the kitchen. Perfectly juicy layers of enticing spice they are set off with a tangy cheese sauce. For dessert, the pastry chef has deconstructed and elevated the classic rasmalai into an unctuous cheesecake with coconut cream, sprinkled with coconut snow and chocolate hazelnut crunch. Served with homemade cardamom ice cream this is fitting end to my culinary journey. 

Food unites people, says Jain. And, like Toronto, Adrak is a pasticcio of ideas and influences. 



Lee’s Ghee

Fat is back! Inspired to try Indian flavours in my own cooking I went looking for a jar of Lee’s Ghee from the kitchen of Toronto entrepreneur, chef, and cookbook author Lee Capatina.

Lee describes ghee as butter on steroids. Simply put, it’s butter purified to its essence. A staple of south Asian cooking and valued in Ayurvedic traditions. Ghee differs from European clarified butter through a longer, slower cooking process where water and milk solids are removed. The resultant caramelization of the butter develops its distinctive rich nuttiness. 

As Lee says in promoting her book ‘Eat Good Fat’, we are returning to what our ancestors knew: that the right fats are healthy and part of a healthy diet. In my kitchen it never went away. Adherents tout health benefits such as anti-inflammatory properties, better balance of Omega 3 to Omega 6, promotion of vitamin absorption, the absence of lactose, and more. For me, it’s all about taste.

I sampled Lee’s Ghee alongside another locally made brand. Similar in texture, Lee’s is slightly more ochre in colour. But taste is where hers excels. Lee’s flavour is deeply nutty with a rich taste that lingers. Perhaps it’s the quality of the organic milk and her small batch slow cooking that makes the difference. 

Whatever the reason, ghee adds rounded umami flavours. Drizzle it on cooked vegetables, use it to sauté garlic and ginger or rustle up Turmeric Lemon Soup with Ghee-Fried Cashews from Lee’s cookbook. Or simply use it to fry eggs in the morning. It’s a game changer she says. Indeed, it is!


Knife sharpening

Over the years I must have tried every gizmo to keep my knives sharp. Rods, steels, grinding wheels (manual and motorized) you name it I have it. Most worked. Sort of. 

Browsing in my go-to bijou store Knife on Dundas Street West near Bathurst I noticed a discreet sign suggesting something more exotic was on offer. Sharpening classes. I signed up. Be warned you like me could be sucked into an immersive subculture. Initiates huddle furtively in corners debating the best whetstones, grit levels and blade angles. It’s addictive.

I brought a Santoku knife to the class. Too sharp, the instructor decided. To my anguish, he blunted the edge. “Now you can sharpen it!”

Spoiler alert: I did. Along the way I learned that master sharpeners in Japan are buried with their whetstones to prevent them falling into the wrong hands. It’s a painstaking series of repetitive strokes at the right angle and the right pressure. Remove just the right amount of steel. Then the scary part. Repeatedly running your finger across the blade to judge progress. When finished run it across your fingernail—it should catch.

I still have a complete set of digits and now some seriously sharp knives.


3/4 Oz Cocktail Syrups 

In 2014 Alexandrine Lemaire and Hannah Palmer produced their first product, a back-to- basics Tonic Syrup. Driven by a desire to use pure traditional methods while extracting Quinine from the cinchona bark, the duo were after that distinctive bitter and enlivening taste sought after by Gin and Tonic connoisseurs.

What sets 3/4 Tonic Syrup apart from the others is the natural amber pigmentation derived from the bark. There are remarkable subtle aromas and a less overt sweetness than I would expected. Limier tells me that after their initial tonic success, their attention turned to other cocktails ingredients. Then their unique collection of handcrafted natural cocktail syrups was born. 

I was invited to experience the 5-syrup sampler. Each can be paired with one’s alcohol of choice but they can also produce and equally excellent non-alcoholic drinks with sparkling water. 

Honey Sour with wildflowers, honey, lemon, lime and turmeric. Perfect for a Whisky Sour, Margarita or Tom Collins, Ginger Ale with spicy ginger and earthy hops. Can turn into a Dark and Stormy, a Moscow Mule or simply Grogg, Cola a concoction of essential oils, citrus, herbs and flowers. Pair with Rum, Whiskey, Rye or Bourbon, Spritz is bitter syrup derived from cinchona bark and tinctures of grapefruit, orange, cranberries pairs. Transforms into a prosecco spritz, gin spritz or the classic Negroni. 

 Available at the BYOB Cocktail Emporium as well as their newest shop in the lower level arcade at Union Station.

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