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I actually find it difficult to get good Chinese delivery in this city. Why? I have no idea. There's no shortage of good Chinese restaurants, but I can't seem to find good delivery menus online, and as a result, whenever I have a craving, I am at a loss. Or I was, until I found Fireplace Restaurant.

Big upsides: a full menu online. They take credit over the phone and you get crispy snacks with every order. It's not high end by any means, but it's shockingly better than anything I've had lately by way of delivery and it makes the food from places like Ho Lee Chow look like the dog's breakfast. Actually, I think that's unfair to dogs, so scratch that.

I've had decent Hot & Sour soup, decent Won Ton soup (with pork, not chicken). The General Tao is okay, and I liked the Beef with Szechuan Garlic Sauce. It really depends on your tastes, but the online menu lists ingredients, so you should be able to work out what will work for you.

Downsides include the fact that delivery can sometimes take a full hour. But they deliver at a fair distance, which is nice. They're on lower Jarvis and when I lived in the Annex, they never gave me a hard time. Alas, now I live at Bathurst and St. Clair and they won't come that far north. (Curses!)

I like to order two mains, two small apps and a rice, which more than feeds me and my hollow-legged man. There are always leftovers. And both of us dine for less than $30.

I say go for it.

Fireplace Restaurant
340 Jarvis Street
Toronto, ON M4Y 2G6
(416) 968-6666

*Photo by Linnell Esler from Stock Xchng.

 
 
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Okay, so I might generate some hate-heat here, but I think BMB sucks. It sucks the proverbial bag. I'm a lover of private-room karaoke, and ostensibly, that's exactly what BMB offers, but my last experience there was literally the worst karaoke night of my life.

Fact: The rooms are far from sound proof. This means everybody and their granny can hear you belting your off-key Celine.

Fact: They don't even have Celine. (Well, no, not really. But they don't have a LOT.) The song list at this place is seriously limited.

Fact: The Korean song book is way bigger than the English one, which is great if you like that sort of thing and are familiar with Korean pop, but kind of lame if you're in Canada just looking to be one with Bryan Adams originals.

Fact: Scary stinky spray air fresheners are the norm in bathrooms and hallways (with snake, deeply, frighteningly into the basement). Hold your breath lest you inhale the poison.

People who like this place have said that a good thing about BMB is the fact that they stop the music when you're time is up, meaning you can't "over sing" but I don't think this is an upside. You literally CAN'T over sing, even if you wanted to. Because you pay in advance, even if you're having the time of your life, they kick you out when your time is up if anyone is waiting, and trust me when I say that people are generally always waiting.

What can I say? I didn't have fun.

BMB Karaoke
593 Bloor Street W
Toronto, ON M6G 1K5
(416) 533-8786
 
 
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If I were to write a fan letter to Kensington Market's Bungalow, it would go like this:

"Dear Bungalow,
I love you. I love your weird mix of mid-century-modern furniture, new indie clothes and vintage rags from every conceivable decade (within reason).

I love your rows of colour-coded skirts and skinny jeans. I love your light fixtures. I love how clean you are.

But, love... lately, I've begun to feel differently..."

I could go on, but the bottom line is that I feel like something at Bungalow is changing. The store seems to be offering more and more new stuff, less and less vintage. Worse, individual items seem to be getting less and less affordable. I was in with a male friend on the weekend and he found the place to be woefully understocked with shirts, etc. For my part, I didn't see a single thing I liked in my price range.

I'm a bit bummed, frankly. What happened to the Bungalow I know (knew?) and love(d)? I am going to hold off on condemning the place for the time being because it's really been a haven in the past, but vintage hunters be advised: something appears to havechanged.

Maybe it's just me.

Bungalow
273 Augusta Ave.
Toronto, ON M5T 2M1
(416) 598-0204

*Photo by Piotr Lewandowski from Stock Xchng.
 
 
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Bar Plus (Bar +, actually) offers the best private-room karaoke in the city, in my not-so-humble opinion.

This place has big, clean rooms, decked out in black and red leather, great song books and selection, decent drinks, posh (and well-maintained) johns, and a nice long bar in the entry area, which means you likely won't have to wait long for your song-bird booze fuel.

It's not a well known establishment, being not-particularly well located on the second floor of a nondescript strip of Yonge Street (above a Swiss Chalet, in fact), but more and more people are finding out about it and it's not unlikely to find the place booked up on a Friday or Saturday night, so you might want to reserve space in advance.

One of Bar+'s best features is their website. You can search the song book online to better ready yourself for the experience. This means you can practice your "Papa Don't Preach" and "Son of a Preacher Man" at home.

Seriously. Do it. Practice, I mean. My Carly Simon "You're So Vain" - perfected in the shower - brought the house down. Sure, the house was six of my nearest and dearest friends, but so what?

Bottom line? Bar+ Karaoke is rad. It puts the XO and BMB to shame. Go immediately.

Bar+
2nd Floor - 360 Yonge St.
Toronto, ON M5B 1S5
(416) 340-7154

*Sunglasses worn to protect the innocent, and because they're rad.

 
 
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Okay, so it's not the cleanest place in the world. So what? What the Green Room IS is a Toronto classic. I used to go there in high school (because they never checked our ID, but to be fair, we never ordered beer) and after moving away and returning ten-years later, going back was like entering a time warp. The GR had the same dim atmosphere, the same saggy Salvation Army furniture, the same Christmas-lights-a-twinklin' crazily along the walls (even in July). I loved it.

The Green Room, for me, is all about drinks. The Pad Thai is yummy and people rave about the Brie, but for me, it's about the cheap wine and good, cozy conversation. Every once in awhile, I also head in their for their ultra-cheap breakfast, but in the light of day, it's just not the same. The GR is a night-time sort of place.Good for new dates, and deep convos. I've done some lavalife-ing there. It worked. Also, I find it's a good test of someone's character. If they're put off by the grunge, I know they're probably going to be too uptight for me.

There are things you hear about: rats, bad food preparation, etc. But don't heed the haters. If you're unsure just don't eat. Drink and be merry instead. Think of the 1960s. It's impossible not to.

Green Room
296 Brunswick Ave
Toronto, ON M5S 2M7
(416) 929-3253

*Photo by Adam Jaworski, from Stock Xchng.

 
 
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I don't usually review books on this blog, but reading Nora Ephron's Wallflower at the Orgy this weekend has inspired me to start. So what if the book is 40 years old? So what if it is, in many ways, out of date and filled with references to people you're unlikely to know if you're under 30. So what, I say! This. Book. Is. Fabulous.

It's a compilation of essays written by Ephon during the mid-to-late 1960s. It's a book of profiles, in a sense. A who's who of the former famous. It's gossipy. And frivolous. And very well written. What was somewhat fluffy in 1970, thanks to a decline in literacy and the birth of multiple generations of people who are culturally bereft (my own included), is now heavy criticism.

Ephron's writing is, in a contemporary context, too high brow for all but a few publications (The New Yorker, for example, and Vanity Fair). Also interesting is that Ephron's style feels a bit masculine, a result (I suppose) of the flood of vapid so-called women's writers in the vein of the fictitious Carrie Bradshaw, who have been polluting the media since the late 1990s. These days, very few women are permitted to be smart, you see. 2nd wave feminism, in the mainstream at least, gave birth to what we've got going now, which depresses me to no end. And if you don't believe me, take a walk down to your nearest magazine stand, observe the racks of tabloids and tabloid-esque covers and despair.

Ephron's old book, now reissued with a modern cover designed to appear to purchasers of the offensively titled chick-lit genre (bare legs and all), features a profile of Cosmo magazine's Helen Gurley Brown, a look into the catty foodie universe (complete with reference to the hot-again Julia Child and her contemporaries) and a behind the scenes look at Women's Wear Daily in all it's bitchy glory. There's a Q&A with director Mike Nichols, a fictitious piece about what it's like to be a beach wife in the Hamptons, and a piece about Bill Blass and the rise of fashion menswear. My only real criticism is Ephron's occasional and rather disturbing use of the idea of rape for comedic effect. For example, in a piece about Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead:

"Like most of my contemporaries, I first read The Fountainhead when I was eighteen years old. I loved it... I deliberately skipped over all the passages about egotism and altruism. And I spent the next year hoping I would meet a gaunt, orange-haired architect who would rape me. Or failing that, an architect who would rape me. Or failing that, an architect."

And later, in the beach wife piece, when discussing a man who is not her husband:

"He's probably just blocked on his new novel and wants to talk to a sympathetic soul. And if, in the course of the evening, he happens to attack and rape me-- well, we're civilized people. I could hardly yell for the police. I'd just have to submit."

I understand the cultural differences that made this sort of joke possible 40 years ago. It's just not funny anymore. But all in all, that's a minor complaint.

The book is appealing. I'm sure Ephron now considers it "dippy" (and she says as much in the introduction to the 1980 edition (ten years after initial publication). But looked at in the context of 2010, it's much more. If you're interested in popular culture, I'd almost call it required reading. It's the sort of thing that illustrates both how much things have changed, and how they're exactly the same. It's not what Ephron intended, I'm sure, but it works.

 
 
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I would never, NEVER call XO Karaoke the best in the city. It's good, but not great. The best thing about it is that it's relatively inexpensive and the song books/lists are decent and pretty extensive.

The worst things about it are that it's small, the rooms are pretty ghetto, and drinks aren't cheap.

The last time I was at the XO, I busted out some Jon Bon (always a crowd pleaser) I enjoyed myself, and I spent a literal fortune on drinks. Because let's face it: for most of us, social lubrication is absolutely necessary if you're going to sing in public. There was puke in the ladies room, and we had to wait a long time for a free space to sing.

That said, I always enjoy myself at the XO. It's a little ghetto, which means you can crowd friends into a room that is technically supposed to be reserved for smaller parties. You can order drinks that are brought right into your private space by waitstaff, and you can belt your heart out with abandon, knowing that you're not spending an excessive amount on the actual room. (Pre-drink. That's the way to go if you want to save money.)

But is it the best karaoke in the city? No way. It's merely good.

XO Karaoke
693 Bloor Street W
Toronto, ON M6G 1L5
(416) 535-3734

*Image by Moi Cody from Stock Xchng.

 
 
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I don't know why people are hating on Noodle Bowl. Admittedly, it's fast food. Lightning fast. But so what? I am a fan of noodles. Big time. And I'm relatively discerning. Noodle Bowl is far from gourmet, but it's hardly a suck-fest.

What you'll get: Noodles a-plenty, of course! With lots of sauce (likely to be salty, it's true, but salt is yummy), and super-fast service.

What you won't get: Fancy-pants Asian authenticity.

If you're looking for ultra-authentic Chinese, this isn't the place for it, but if you like noodles and deliciousness, then I say give it a try. Noodle Bowl is also great for anyone who is a little squeamish about so-called "ethnic" food. It's wimp friendly and there are lots of non-spicy options - very useful if you're looking to initiate a friend or reticent partner into the world of Asian cuisine.

My faves are the vermicelli options (with black bean sauce in particular). You pick your protein.

The bottom line? Don't think of it as Chinese. Think of it as noodle-y fun. And remember, nobody likes a snob. When you're paying $6.95 for a full plate and fuller belly, you've gotta make some allowances. This is a diner or cafeteria style place, but it brings the yum.

Noodle Bowl
348 Bloor Street West
Toronto, ON M4W 1A7
(416) 963-9595*Photo by Daniel West from Stock Xchng.