Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Twisted Indian: Something New and Wonderful in the East End

What do school principals do when they retire? Well, they go out for lunch a lot! Ken is enjoying being stress-free and with his new found nearly empty schedule, he is making the rounds of all the fun sounding local dining establishments at least once a week. His lunch date is usually my not quite retired yet (but wants to be!) husband, Ron. These two brothers-in-law are always up for something new and tasty, somewhere they can fill up, catch up on the latest family news and trade some  borderline inappropriate "Dad" jokes. Look out, Barrie!

One day, when my work schedule actually fit with their's, I joined the duo as they checked out a new place that had been on my radar for a while now. The Twisted Indian Modern Wraps opened on May 27th in the Duckworth Plaza and I have been dying to try it ever since. A sub shop model with all the flavours of Indian cuisine - yes please!

Much like the way in which you begin your order at the big sub shop places, you choose your bread first - soft, fluffy naan or lighter roti. Next, you pick out a meat or vegetarian filling - keema, chicken tikka, pork sausage tikka, butter chicken, rajma or chana. Don't know what any of these things are? Not a problem. The friendly and knowledgeable staff are very happy to explain each item and give you a sample if you wish. Lastly, there will be some lovely fresh vegetables and creamy chutneys to choose from to finish off your wrap. Make your meal a combo by adding samosas, masala fries or spicy poutine. When we were there, buying a combo meant getting a free daal (lentil) soup included.

The Twisted Indian is as fresh and modern as the name suggests. Even from the outside, the storefront is appealing, new looking, contemporary and a nice pop of excitement in a somewhat tired looking plaza. Hey, where was this when I was in college and living around the corner on Sylvia Street? Of course, back then Georgian College had 3 buildings, Michael Jackson had multiple hits on the radio and Indian food of any kind was unheard of in Barrie.

Inside, the look is rustic meets modern with ultra now light fixtures over stonework walls, bright red walls and displays of Indian art and jars of spices.  It feels clean, exotic and trendy, casual and friendly. New immigrants and college students alike would enjoy Twisted Indian.

And the food? Ohhh the food! The guys chose meat fillings. Ken - keema (ground beef with mild spices. Ron - butter chicken, (chicken in a mild tomato-butter tikka sauce) which must be one of the best dishes ever invented by anyone anywhere! I opted for chana, which is a mildly sauced chick pea stew. All of us ordered our wraps on naan bread, made combos with samosas and got our free daal soups.

What a feast! As if the wraps weren't big enough, the samosas (you get 2) were the biggest samosas I have ever seen and such a soft outer shell - not over fried or too crunchy, just delightful. The daal too was beautifully done. Not hot at all, but spicy in the sense that it was rich in layers of flavour, and mild enough to suit any palate.

Our stomachs were far from empty when we left and happily our wallets were the same. This abundance of savoury delights was not at all expensive. All house made dishes from the best of fresh ingredients, as the hostess/owner enthusiastically explained, were created with health and budget in mind. I would say that this little place must be a nice break from endless pizza and subs for the college students in the area. It certainly will be bringing me back to the east end of Barrie soon again.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Eating Art at Vegetarian Haven

If you were wondering why I adopted a new blog name recently, places like this are the reason. My number one interest is the food grown, produced, served and eaten in the Barrie area but I am also aware that there are some very cool things going on in other places within easy driving distance of our own beautiful area. The Curious Nibbler is still your Barrie Foodie, but she is very nosy and wants to try out a few fun out of area places that you might very well want to explore some day too.

I don't normally get to Toronto too often but I have a feeling that is about to change. My youngest child, and only daughter, Margaret, made the big leap to the city this weekend. She registered for school, got a job in the Eaton Centre and rented a room in the funkiest of neighbourhoods, Baldwin Village, in the heart of everything. Chinatown, Kensington Market, trendy little cafes, jazz bars and oddball shops - it's all there. We packed everything she owns into the minivan and off we went.

My girl is no stranger to the Big Smoke. She is a regular visitor down there, with festivals, concerts and endless shopping opportunities being very attractive to her, not to mention a certain handsome young man who calls Toronto home. So she already has a collection of little eateries that she wants to show me. After the boxes were stowed in her new room and the all important wi-fi was set up, her Dad and I took her out to eat at one of these must-try places - Vegetarian Haven.

Not a flake of snow, unreal warm temps courtesy of El Nino, we walked 5 minutes down Baldwin Ave. past rows of tightly packed century homes, the CN Tower looking down on us as we went. The neighbourhood was alive with people coming and going from noodle bars, seafood restaurants, high end bistros or just chatting on the sidewalk. As with most of the places to eat there, Vegetarian Haven looked tiny from the outside, with a very small front patio area out front, but was long, narrow and roomy enough inside.

"Hey guys, come on in." a very hip server greeted us. She had the specials of the night already plated to show us, which I think is an excellent idea. A borscht soup to start followed by an entree of 3 crispy fried tofu rings stuffed with a mash of carrot and other root veg, served with noodles and broccoli and grated carrot - very artful and bright.

As a dabbling vegetarian, I look at most menus and find 2 or 3 things I would like to eat. Full out vegetarian menus are actually more difficult for me because I want to eat everything! My husband, Ron, on the other hand, is pretty much a carnivorous caveman (he will agree!) and tends to be a little hesitant about going all veggie. His only other experience with a vegetarian restaurant was a raw vegan place and was not terribly thrilled with that meal.  Tofu we know, but seitan an tempeh were new terms even for me. Ron chose the special. He felt like he had a least some knowledge about one menu item.

My girly has been exposed to some of the hotter Asian cuisines and has developed a taste for the spicy. Me - not so much. Our server told us that the spicier items on the menu were likely "white people hot" which is the absolute truth and no disrespect at all - our meat-and-potato raised taste buds (mine anyway) aren't always equipped for the fire of other cuisines. The chef could easily tone down the heat by 20% or 50% if we wanted. Yes please - 20% works for me. So I chose the spicy coconut seafood souper bowl.

Margaret ordered the bird's nest which is best described in the words that appear on the menu - al dente setain nuggests with diverse vegetables and bulbs of lily flower sauteed in a slightly sweet and spicy Szechuan sauce, snuggled on a nest of sweet potato noodles and served with purple rice. Wow. What arrived at our table was a veritable piece of art work. Should she eat it or hang it on the wall? Tall spires of crispy noodles reached up from the plate like coral and collapsed immediately into soft noodles once mixed with the sauce. An odd crackling sound like Rice Krispies in milk came from her dish. This colourful art piece/mad science experiment was delicious too.

And how did the caveman do? From looking mildly frightened at the first suggestion of a vegetarian meal, he ended up being quite surprised at how much he enjoyed his dinner. Nothing remained on his plate when he was finished. Margaret's bird's nest vanished too. My souper bowl seemed to be magically refilling itself or something as I could not seem to get to the bottom! I took the remainder home and had it over some noodles for my lunch the next day - a win win!

I hear that Baldwin Ave. closes to vehicles on summer Sundays and that the area comes further alive with street vendors and music. I would love to come back then and enjoy Vegetarian Haven's front patio on a warm evening.