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Archive for the ‘Things to do in Toronto’ Category

We interrupt the stream of recipes from our dinner party here to bring you the blog post about my birthday dinner.

All photos were taken with the iPhone 4G.

Sparkling water made directly in the restaurant; no need to pay $8.00 for a bottle of San Pellegrino!

My friend Barb (of Profiteroles and Ponytails) put us onto a restaurant in Toronto called Victor (in the St. Germain Hotel) where Executive Chef David Chrystian offers a prix fix dinner where the guest chose the secret ingredient and the chefs prepare one of each of the five courses using non-other than your secret ingredient. I was intrigued; our very own Iron Chef competition? I just had to try it out, so we decided to make this the celebratory birthday dinner on Saturday (my birthday was on Sunday, but who wants to go out for a fancy dinner on Sunday?). The dinner was a wonderful precursor to the lovely robin’s egg blue box with the traditional white ribbon I was spoiled with on my birthday.

Chef David Chrystian was also one of the first round of participants in Top Chef Canada, season 1, and a very worthy adversary. Unfortunately he was eliminated, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t good; competition is severe and time is short, a bad day can make or break you in this quest. Some go on the show not to win, but to gain publicity in the bigger picture of their career path, not saying this was the case with Chef David. It’s kind of like American Idol, not all the winners are as successful as the one’s who were eliminated. Just saying. Getting on a show like Top Chef is grueling enough (1,000’s apply), making it through several rounds of elimination is success and it’s National TV. We Canadians just gobble that stuff up.

We chose coffee as the secret ingredient. I was intrigued to see how creative the chefs can be and still make it an enjoyable and elegant dinner. We would not be disappointed. Although, I will come right out and say it, the coffee component was weak. Not that the food wasn’t unbelievably delicious, it just didn’t sing coffee. It did not hinder our 2.5 hour dinner, during which we talked about each course and sometimes at length with our server.

A little text about the chef and the secret ingredient

Our places were set with an intro card which talked about the Chef and on the reverse side was the Score Card. Each dish was presented and explained by our server and was scored in four considerations, each one out of five points:

The Score Card. There is a typo on dish 4, taste, they should all be out of 5!

Dish 1: We were presented with Coffee/Carraway Rye with Ctirus Gravlax, Coffee Crème Fraiche. Interesting. We tasted distinct coffee in the crème fraiche and noticed how well it went with the citrus Gravlax, but the Coffee/Carraway Rye was not strong enough to notice. Tasty non-the-less and a very nice portion.

Beautifully presented on a piece of slate

  1. How well was the theme ingredient incorporated into the dish? JT 3/5, Me 3/5
  2. How original was the dish or how authentic? JT 3/5, Me 4/5
  3. Presentation? JT 4/5, Me 4/5
  4. Taste? JT 3/5, Me 3.5/5

Total: 27.5

Dish 2: “Breakfast Soup” we had no idea what to expect. We were presented with a very large bowl of Vichyssoise with a poached egg that was breaded and deep fried, drizzled with a balsamic and coffee glaze. It turned out to be my favourite from a taste perspective. The soup was incredibly silky and the egg was perfectly cooked so that when I cut into it, the yolk oozed all over the soup. Sadly the balsamic overtook the coffee and neither of us could taste it. But it was the best “breakfast soup” I’ve ever had. I could eat only half and forgot to ask to bring it home. Oops, forgot to take a photo!

  1. How well was the theme ingredient incorporated into the dish? JT 2/5, Me 1/5
  2. How original was the dish or how authentic? JT 3/5, Me 4/5
  3. Presentation? JT 3/5, Me 4.5/5
  4. Taste? JT 4/5, Me 4/5

Total: 25.5

Dish 3: Moroccan Coffee Chicken Tagine; when the server mentioned to the chef that we were just in Morocco last November, he said “oh, crap, I’m in trouble”. Although the dish was incredibly tasty, it was neither Moroccan nor did it have a distinct coffee flavour. It was served over basmati rice, but I wondered why it wouldn’t have been couscous? They served it in a little cast iron pot, and neither JT nor I could finish off the portion but we had the good sense to ask to bring it home! It was incredibly tasty.

Now why wouldn’t you serve couscous with a Moroccan dish?

  1. How well was the theme ingredient incorporated into the dish? JT 1/5, Me 1/5
  2. How original was the dish or how authentic? JT 3/5, Me 2/5
  3. Presentation? JT 4/5, Me 4.5/5
  4. Taste? JT 5/5, Me 4.5/5

Total: 25

Mmmmm. This made a very tasty lunch on Monday.

Dish 4: Espresso Glazed Beef Tenderloin with Espresso BBQ Sauce; a beautifully presented course, with about 2 oz of meat, we were getting really full by this time. The BBQ sauce was tasty and although there was a touch of coffee flavour, it wasn’t quite what I had hoped for. On top of it, pairing beef with coffee or espresso is not new and ground breaking creative. Non-the-less it was a very yummy course.

Small pieces of tenderloin served with roasted little baby vegetables

  1. How well was the theme ingredient incorporated into the dish? JT 1/5, Me 1.5/5
  2. How original was the dish or how authentic? JT 3/5, Me 2/5
  3. Presentation? JT 3/5, Me 4.5/5
  4. Taste? JT 4/5, Me 4.5/5

Total:  23.5

Dish 5: Dark Chocolate Espresso Tart with Coffee Anglais; a very small tart (which was just perfect because now we were seriously full) that had great chocolate flavour (too bad our ingredient wasn’t chocolate) but little coffee, even the crème Anglais was sweeter than it was coffee. But a beautifully presented course and just the right amount of dessert. Oops, forgot to take this photo too! Oh well, it would have been quite dark, anyway.

  1. How well was the theme ingredient incorporated into the dish? JT 3/5, Me 2.5/5
  2. How original was the dish or how authentic? JT 4/5, Me 3.5/5
  3. Presentation? JT 3/5, Me 4.5/5
  4. Taste? JT 4/5, Me 4/5

Total:  28.5

We had distinct winner, the pastry chef with the Dark Chocolate Espresso Tart with Coffee Anglais. This surprised me since I am not much of a sweet eater. The server reported back to the chefs!

I do have a few thoughts that could have made it even better. I would have enjoyed each Chef coming out to present each of their course (obviously, this is not easy on a busy night, but come on, there were two other couples in the whole place!). Chef David was not even at the restaurant on Saturday, apparently he was married earlier in the week and was taking a couple of days off. I was disappointed because my friend Claudia (from Food Network, who knows Chef David) emailed him that a friend of her’s was coming in on Saturday! I was hoping for a photo opportunity! Sigh, bad timing on our part. And last but not least, the final score should have been a bigger deal than it was. The server just asked us to tally it up and she reported back to the kitchen and that was that. Not sure what else could have happened, but it seemed anti-climactic.

And to end on a positive note, I thoroughly enjoyed the evening, the food being the forefront even in discussion and I really liked that. The restaurant was not busy at all (summer time is bad for them) so we had great service and it was quiet. Overall a great evening, that’s for sure. And we’ll likely do it again for another special occasion. If you have a chance to come to Toronto, I urge you to sample this unique experience.

The cost was $80 per person, plus libations, not an inexpensive dinner, but certainly worth it.

We paid for our dinner in full, and the opinions above are exactly that, my opinions.

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Last Friday, as a treat to achieving my weight loss goal (10lbs) we tried a ‘new’ restaurant Bar Centrale in the city recommended by our neighbour Tom — it’s part of the Terroni Restaurant Group (Tom is the one who gave us his father’s wonderful olive oil from Greece). Tom is an architect and his company designs all of the Terroni Restaurants (I believe they have one in LA, California too).

Bar Centrale (pronounced Chent-rah-lay) is in what we would call mid-town, sitting on Young Street. Mid-town is an affluent area with modest homes starting around the million dollars to the absolutely ridiculous. Fortunately (or perhaps by design) Bar Centrale has a green P parking lot within a minute walk to its doors, otherwise it would have been a nightmare to find parking.

We had reservations for 8 and arrived about 10 minutes early and the restaurant was absolutely packed but they had our table ready. It’s a large place and occupies 3 stories in an older renovated building. It’s got a Lower East Side industrial décor with exposed piping in the ceilings. Their walls are decorated with their signature pantry staples, some house made and some imported from Italy. Terroni has always been true to their roots from a food perspective, so much so that they will actually refuse to allow you to order something as an extra if they don’t feel it’s authentic to that dish (my friend Kim’s ex-husband loves anchovies and always likes them on his pizza, any pizza, but when he tried to order anchovies on the side at Terroni on Queen West, they told him he couldn’t have them because it’s not authentic to the particular pizza he ordered!).

Our table is an adorable little table for two directly beside a window on a side street, it’s open and a wonderful breeze floats in (we had an amazing 24°C day). The table is small enough that we can hear each other over the noise of the restaurant. And it’s noisy or shall I say, lively! There are still a lot of families dining, but the kids are held at the tables and not running around the place like wild animals. We are greeted by our waitress within a reasonable amount of time and we order our cocktails; I had a Campari Spritz which is 1.5oz Campari, 1.5oz Prosecco & splash of soda and JT had an Il Sorpasso which is 1.5oz Aperal, 1oz Bourbon, fresh Lemon juice, Honey & Sprakling Lemonade. My cocktail is quite bitter on first taste, but then mellows and I find it tasty but not sweet which makes it easy to sip and not guzzel! JT’s cocktail has a bit too much sweetness for my taste. We order out appetizers but wait to order our mains. I had the grilled calamari which was presented typically and rustically with a mix of greens; perfectly cooked, the calamari was tender and dressed just right, it had an absolutely perfect char which really brought out the smoky flavour. I will go back specifically for this course! JT had a chick pea cake with mixed greens. We had high hopes for the chick pea cake but sadly it was bland and really needed some kind of sauce or aioli.

For our main course we shared the cheese and cured meat platter which was just the right amount of food. The platter itself was a lovely slab of wood sliced from the trunk of an olive(?) tree; Tom mentioned that they were custom made. They served an aged Parmesan and a softer mild cheese that I wasn’t familiar with but was very tasty. The platter also came with a small ramekin of honey which was incredibly tasty when drizzled on the cheese. The cured meats were prosciutto and salami. There was bread and focaccia which I declined.
The dinner was a nice pace, about an hour and a half.

Overall rating of Bar Centrale (in my opinion): Decor 4/5, service 4/5, food 4/5, Value 4/5, Noise: 2/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).

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Update May 22, 2012

A colleague from my KPMG days and a loyal blog follower mentioned that you can book private tours with the Toronto Preservation Society for a mere $10 per person. And because they are private, you can customize them! Now that’s a deal if I’ve ever heard one!

The month of April kicked off Heritage Toronto‘s wonderful guided walks in the Big Smoke with historical tours to commemorate the Bicentennial Anniversary of the war of 1812 (just HAD to mention that for my American friends!). JT and I have enjoyed their informative tours over the years and this past Saturday we decided to enjoy yet another through Cabbagetown North (according to the New York Times, Cabbagetown has the largest concentration of Victorian homes in North America. See Footnote #1). The weather was a bit crisp with the occasional gust of chilly wind, but the sun was shining (for the most part. Read proper shoes and coat) and dressed appropriately, it was absolutely lovely.

We started out at the corner of Wellesley Street East and Parliament Street at a corner neighbourhood park; over fifty people had the same idea, but they were very well prepared and divided the group into five troupes, each lead by one of their wonderful and informative guides. We choose Christopher, and boy are we glad we did! Christopher lives in the hood in one of the cutest cottages, but I’ll get to that shortly.

The history of Cabbagetown began in the 1800s during the potato famine in Ireland when hundreds of Irish labourers immigrated to Toronto and set up homes in the North East part as it was quite a way outside the city and rather inexpensive. It became known as Cabbagetown because the immigrant Irish discovered that our growing season was much shorter than what they were used to and had to plant vegetables that would store well in the winter; potatoes were planted close to the house, then turnip and finally cabbages were planted directly by the sidewalk/road (their gardens were at the front of their homes, the backs were commerce). As Toronto’s economy grew, a variety of middle to upper middle-class moved into the area making Cabbagetown a wonderful mix of small cottages, Grand Victorian and Edwardian home (and the odd eye sore built in the 1970’s).

In 1851, during the Great Exhibition (Crystal Palace Exhibition) in London (now known as the World’s Fare) Prince Albert (husband of Queen Victoria) who had a keen interest in affordable housing for the poor held a contest for architects to create a particular housing style that was affordable, easy to build with a relatively small footprint that could be used throughout the Commonwealth. William Hooker won the contest with his plan for the Victorian Cottage (apparently seen throughout the Commonwealth, even today!) (Source #2). The cottages were basically four 3m x 3m rooms (10′ x 10′).

After decades of neglect and various degrees of derelict, the neighbourhood started coming alive with young families began buying up the lots and rennovating (some with more taste than others) and so in 1989 the Cabbagetown Preservation Association (CPA) was born to preserve the architectural integrity and historic character of the Cabbagetown neighbourhood in Toronto. To attain a building permit in this historical area, one must not only get the City to approve the plans, but by law, the Cabbagetown Preservation Association must also approve. The CPA takes this very seriously.

A lesson on skirting the law: This hideous house is an example where the owners received approval from the CPA to build their modern home, with the caveat that they were not permitted to remove the Victorian on the property. So they connivingly built around the Victorian on the outside, and then when they were finished they dismantled the Victorian inside the walls as the CPA has no jurisdiction over the inside of the house. Go figure.

So let’s get to the good stuff.

Our first stop was a grand Victorian built by Thomas Harris in the Queen Ann style. Thomas Harris owned a stone cutting firm and decorated his home with the splendor of his business as a kind of billboard. This used to be a rooming house and was recently painstakingly and with considerable expense renovated back to its glory as a single family home.

#314 Wellesley Street East, Home of Thomas Harris, stone cutter. Grand Queen Ann Style. (Source #1)

Even in those days there were builders buying up plots of land and speculating with residential properties. The row houses on Wellesley Cottage Lane are labourers’ cottages “built in 1886-1887 by William Hooker from the plans that won him the architectural award in 1851 Crystal Palace Exhibition in London” (Source #1). What’s interesting about this street is that it is a private street (one of three in this area, if memory serves), not owned by the City of Toronto, but by the residents of that street. They are responsible for the maintenance and care from sewage backups to snow shoveling services in the winter (I had no idea we had private streets in Toronto, and I’ve lived here all my life).

The labourers’ cottages are in the middle, flanked by the stand alone supervisor cottages.

The cottages have all been significantly renovated, with enormous additions in the back.

This is Christopher’s house. It is 914 square metres (3,000 square feet). The CPA approved this design because you are unable to see its vastness from the front. It backs onto private lanes and backyards so it doesn’t change the overall look and feel of the neighbourhood.

This home used to be two homes, but the owners recently converted it to a single family home. The bay window is not original but was approved by the CPA because it maintained the look and feel of the hood.

Just another pretty face that was recently sold for over a million dollars. It doesn’t even have parking!

Examples of row housing with Christopher’s new addition at the end.

Examples of cooperation between neighbours to maintain the look and feel of the historical context on the street. There were actually four houses that refaced with cedar shakes (can you agree with four neighbours on your street? What if your house was attached to their’s?)

There’s my artsy fartsy side showing up again. Just look away, if it offends you!

Way cool old MG tucked away in a back alley.

Another example of row housing. Please take note of the fountain at the end of the street.

The neighbours built this fountain as a memorial to one of the past neighbours on the street. The land behind the fountain is a cemetery which is actually three metres (10 feet) above this road. The city rebuilt these retaining wall after Huricane Hazel passed through Toronto in 1954 and littered the bones of the cemetery inhabitants throughout these little roads. Talk about GROSS.

Owl House (because of the Owl motif on the side of the house) is situated behind modern built homes from the 1970’s. The modern builds are not offensive to the neighbourhood mainly because they cannot be seen from the Street. Owl House used to be three stories but fell derelict until the present owners scooped it up and lopped off the third floor (too many unwanted tennants – squirrels and racoons!)

Another example of how the new owners of this typical Victorian Cottage renovated but maintained the exceptional style of the neighbourhood. This home plus the two others that you can’t see belonged to the Lepper family for three generations. All three homes have extensive extensions on the back, that are unseen from the front of the house.They were sold in the 1980’s.

These cottages are interesting because a builder bought the land and was going to level them (this happened before the CPA). The neighbourhood stepped in and through much negotiation the builder agreed to remove the facade and preserve them, then build new homes in behind the facades and replace the facade to maintain the street harmony. Nicely done.

Photo Source: http://www.tobuilt.ca/php/tobuildings_more.php?search_fd3=8059
21 Winchester street (1858) was owned by Archdeacon Boddy of the Anglican parish of St. Peter’s. Archdeacon Boddy is important because he attended a conference in Chicago and discovered that most of their streets were paved and that the congregations didn’t mind going to Church on less pleasant days because their clothes stayed clean (remember, these are the horse and buggy days). So he came home and paved all the streets around his Church. His Church had the largest congregation of that time in Toronto.
I’d go if they served martini’s or white wine instead of grape juice ;-)!

I couldn’t end the tour without a picture of this road sign. There was no story behind it, but I’m sure at the time there was lots to be said. Now let’s find a pub and have a pint.

I do hope you enjoyed your tour of North Cabbagetown Toronto. I would encourage you to seek out your own Historical or Heritage Societies within your own cities. Often these tours are free, or simply what you can afford and they are always exceptional (no disgruntled students just hammering out the details in a monotone voice). The guides are often retired school teachers, professors or just people with a real passion for their neighbourhoods.

Now I must ask you, have you ever been on an historical tour of your own city? And if so, what did you enjoy most about it?
Source #1: Heritage Toronto Walks Cabbagetown North pamphlet.
Source #2: Christopher, our Heritage Toronto Walks guide.

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The birds get up really early in these parts, even before the sun rises around 4:15am! Has no one told them about daylight savings???? The robins are the noisiest, but I don’t mind; it’s just so nice to have the windows open.

When I made the chick pea béchamel, I got to thinking about thickeners, and I thought if chick peas thickened the cheese sauce so well, would there be another bean that would work better? Navy beans came to mind, plus I could control the sodium (yes, I used canned chick peas! Shame on me!). I made the White Bean Paste and kept it in the fridge all week, using it in this and that (recipe for Quinoa Risotto turned out extremely well) but I had a bit left over and on Saturday I needed an appi for cocktails, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

While torturing myself on the elliptical at the club I watch TV (actually, I listen to my tunes and have the closed captioning on) and most days I can catch Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals. While most of his recipes inspire me, I virtually never make them verbatim; on top of that I’m told that there is a secret club who swear one is unable to make any of the recipes in 30 minutes! The other day he was making a Mediterranean dinner with all sorts of things, but what struck me was his presentation of a store bought Baba ghanoush. I’d never seen it presented as such before and I loved it. It was casual and approachable. He simply spread it on a plate and drizzled EVOO on it. Well, I knew I just had to use this technique and soon!

Fast forward to Saturday, we had spent the day downtown doing errands, and were at Yonge/Dundas Square (our Times Square) at 3pm to watch a flash mob promoting What to do Toronto (a relatively new web site highlighting current events in Toronto. The video isn’t up yet, but there are a couple of photos in the link; I’ll post the video when it’s up). The flash mob wasn’t an actual mob…not enough people to count as one, but they did dance in a lively choreographed manner which was entertaining. Sadly, it took place across the street from the Square, which meant JT and I missed the first half, by the time we noticed it was all the way over the other side of the busy street. It was close to 5 when we got home; we were cranky, tired and thirsty (did I mention that cocktails are held at 4pm in our household, drop by anytime, we always have lots!) It was also No Car Saturday, so we ran around using our Metro (I wore my hot pink patent leather stiletto BCBGs, I told you I wear inappropriate footwear, why are you surprised?). I needed an appi for cocktails, pronto. Back to the navy bean paste sitting in the fridge…hmmmm, so I put my Jamie inspiration together with a quick recipe and we were enjoying our cocktails with a lovely appetizer in no time. Cheers!

Not sure why the photo is so hot.

White Bean Hummus

Serves 2-4

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup navy bean paste
  • 1 tsp tahini (or peanut butter)
  • 2-4 tbsp lemon juice (or to taste)
  • 1 small clove garlic finely minced (I use my handy microplane)
  • 2-4 tbsp Chipotle Olive Oil
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh cilantro

Directions:

  1. Put everything into a small bowl except the olive oil and mix. Since the bean paste is already processed into a smooth paste, you need not mess up your processor for this recipe, just mix well.
  2. Spread on a pretty plate and drizzle with the olive oil, and sprinkle with the chopped fresh cilantro. Serve with crackers such as these: Gluten Free Almond Sesame Crackers or my Whole Wheat Flat Breads

Flashback to those hideous readers' digest recipe photos, mine is just missing the inappropriately placed gaudy shower curtain.

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I have 73 friends on Facebook. I’m not bragging, I’m telling you because I find it weird. I really don’t have 73 friends; they are acquaintances that for some bizarre reason I share parts of my life with every day. Of course, some of these friends are people I really hang out with, so the sharing is done face to face on the most part. But then there are the friends on FB with whom I never get together, don’t live in the same hood, don’t talk to on the phone, don’t run into at the gym, grocery store or even the library.

One of these friends is a food photographer about whom I’ve shared information with you before, Jim Norton. I met Jim through work, our studio used to shoot with him regularly; our clients have changed and we just don’t shoot at his studio that often anymore. Jim and his wife Tonya live close to our hood and both are regularly active on FB, posting updates every now and then. Jim has posted updates a couple of times on FB about The Westerly, a relatively new restaurant in our hood. As you know, JT and I like trying out new places so we made a reservation for Friday night. During cocktails on Thursday, I had an epiphany so messaged Jim and Tonya on FB if they wanted to join us, after all, we’ve been sharing about our lives, we might as well get to know one another ;-). They said yes and we updated our reservation to four!

The Westerly is a restaurant with a relaxing West Coast vibe and refined comfort food (described by Amy Pataki from the Toronto Star). For me, it’s more Paris Bistro meets LES NYC (Lower East Side, New York City). It’s not a huge restaurant, but large enough that the vibe was great and the noise level moderate. Unfortunately, there was a mix-up with our reservation change and we forgot to take a name, but the staff (and owner) were quick to accommodate, even though they were packed! They sat us at a cozy table near the back which was great because we needed to get acquainted with our FBFs!

We were immediately served Arancini Bolognese (Arborio rice, Woolwich Dairy Goats Cheese, Bolognese and fresh arugula) as a gift for the mix-up. Arancini are deep fried rice balls. Now most of you  know that I am not a huge deep fried eater, never have been, but I must say they were DELICIOUS! Crispy on the outside, creamy and smooth on the inside. Very tasty indeed. Our drink orders were taken and we were left to ponder the menu (which is not huge, but it has a nice variety). Three of us at the table shared a bottle wine, which they brought and poured immediately. The cocktail (some kind of whiskey mix) took quite a bit longer to arrive; other than that, the service was great, and our dishes were nicely spaced giving us time to chat and enjoy the company.

JT and I shared the Butter Lettuce & Gorgonzola which had toasted Walnuts, sherry marinated Red onions and julienne dates (I didn’t get any of the dates, hmmmm?). JT and Jim both ordered Braised Short Ribs, red wine braised, roasted cippolini onions, horseradish mashed potato, marinated golden beets, roasted brussels sprouts — they said it was delicious; Tonya and I had the Steak frites, which was grilled strip loin with bearnaise butter & jus served on house-cut frites (I asked my fries be replaced with a salad, which they quite happily did!). The steak was nicely done (I prefer mine rare) and the butter was a very tasty addition (I just let it melt into the steak for a bit and then set it off to the side). The fries were substituted with fresh crisp greens, shaved fennel, radish, toasted pumpkin seeds, red wine vinaigrette, very yummy.

The dinner lasted just about 2.5 hours! The restaurant was as busy at 10:00 as it was at 7:30 when we arrived! We invited Jim and Tonya back to our place for dessert and coffee and more wine. It really was a lovely evening and now I can truly say I have two more friends!

Overall rating of The Westerly (in my opinion): Decor 4/5, service 4/5, food 4/5, Value 4/5, Noise: 2.5/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).

Disclaimer: We purchased our meal for full price and my opinions just that, my opinions.

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JT and I dined at Blu Ristorante on Saturday night. We had been there with Barb and Kevin (from Profiteroles and Ponytails) a few weeks ago and enjoyed it so much we decided to go back. Blu is in an old Victorian house in Yorkville (a very trendy part of Toronto, and expensive). Some of the restaurants in Yorkville are pretentious and expensive but we were quite pleased to find this one none of the above! Chef Massimo Callovini serves traditional Italian cuisine in a contemporary setting.

The restaurant is nicely lit, with many hard and soft surfaces; the tables are grouped into twos and fours and sectioned by silver billowing fabric screens, which is a very nice sense of privacy. Although when we were there both times, the place was packed but not noisy. What made us choose to go back was that the restaurant has live music from Wednesday to Saturday; with Barb and Kevin there was a piano player with a voice similar to Seal, last Saturday it was classical guitarist with a sound similar to James Blunt. Both were equally as good and made our dinner very enjoyable. Although I must say I enjoyed our first waiter, Margo, better than the one we had last weekend; nothing bad, just personal preference.

The music entertained us throughout most of our dinner. JT and I ordered the same starter (what Kevin ordered before) Pear, Gorgonzola, Belgian Endive, Radicchio, Walnuts, Walnut Vinaigrette; it was tasty, but I felt, as did JT that there was not enough Gorgonzola on it. Sticking to my appetizer only rule, I ordered the Grilled Calamari with Roasted Red Pepper, Olives, Capers, Chili Olio — it was delicious, the Calamari was cooked perfectly! JT had to order Kevin’s dinner of Fettuccini Carbonara with Pork Loin, Sun Dried Tomato, Cashews and Olives; wonderful, creamy and the tang and sweetness of the sun dried tomato complimented the richness of the sauce. He polished it off. Incidentally, Kevin enjoyed his so much, correct me if I am wrong, but he didn’t even want to give Barb a taste! 🙂

We didn’t order dessert or coffee but lingered with our wine and listened to the music. Although the dinner did not last quite as long as with Barb and Kevin (you know who talks a lot), it was nicely paced and we never felt rushed.

Overall rating of Blu Ristorante (in my opinion): Decor 4/5, service 3.5/5, food 4/5, Value 4/5, Noise: 3.5/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).

Disclaimer: We purchased our meal for full price and my opinions just that, my opinions.

I recently came across a little bit of info one of the photographers I am “friends” with on Facebook posted. Jim Norton is a food photographer in Toronto and does a lot of work for many magazines (LCBO is one of my favourites). Check out his portfolio on line, his photography is only something I can wishfully aspire to, sadly it won’t happen in my lifetime. Jim is a great source of useful information on Facebook. Recently he posted about the shady terms of service for Pinterest (I know many of you subscribe to this repository of photography. I urge you to read this article; basically saying that once you post your photo on Pinterest, they can sell it whenever they want, in perpetuity. That means FOREVER. Anyway, I thought you should know.

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Sunday was a relatively quiet day, recovering from our very first Robbie Burns dinner organized by my fire-fighter friend (Christine). She’s been doing it for years and I’ve always managed to have something else planned, but this year we bit the bullet and committed early. What was my hesitation, you may ask? Well, they serve Haggis. Now you might say that, “Eva, you have eaten some very unusual items, what’s with the Haggis?” It’s really the unknown, all that weird innards stuff ground up and stuffed into the stomach, cooked in the stomach and served in the stomach (it’s pretty grey, by the way). They have an actual ceremony for the Haggis and then they cut it up and serve it as a side dish along an enormous pile of roast beef. I couldn’t even get through it all. I did have some of the Haggis, it was heavily spiced and let’s just say I didn’t hate it, but you won’t see me running to the front of the line for another bowl! On top of it all, I think it gave me the worst heart-burn I’ve had in ages.

I own nothing tartan, nothing. So a week before the night I made the pilgrimage to the mall to pick up something nice in tartan but not too expensive and to my surprise, there was nothing but lumberjack shirts to be had and you know what a lumberjack girl I am! So I came home empty handed when I got a text from my friend (boss) Kim that she had a little tartan mini she would be happy to lend me! I was ecstatic! I have been told that see myself through ‘fat eyes’ and so this was no exception, I looked at the skirt and thought “this isn’t going to fit” but then I gave it a go, and it did, quite nicely, I might add! I paired it with a cute little black top, solid black tights and my slouchy suede red boots (5″ heel)! I was ready for the prom, I mean the Robbie Burns dinner.

The skirt was very short, but with the opaque tights it worked like a charm, and the boots.

Slouchy Red Suede Boots

JT found himself a very fetching plaid tie at the dollar store (guess how much it was?) The evening was a lot of fun, a little Scottish dancing (some local kids) and then the DJ started with the dance-hall music. We danced until midnight, screaming our heads off, bouncing around on the dance floor. My legs are killing me today, but it was well worth it.

This is the second course of our Sunday dinner with nephew Brian. No, I haven’t forgotten about the give away…I’ve been a bit busy! Stay tuned, I’ll make the announcement a little later this week!

Baked Salmon Cakes with Cilantro Pesto on Greens

Makes 3 huge ones, or 6 much smaller appetizer portions

Ingredients:

  • 1 can low sodium, Skinless, Boneles salmon, drained
  • 1/2 cup mashed potato with roasted garlic (you can use instant for this, but I made this when I had left overs)
  • 1 egg slightly beaten
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1 tsp horseradish
  • 2 green onions finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup panko
  • 2 squirts of non-stick spray for baking

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350°F.
  2. Mix everything but the panko and the non-stick spray together, making sure all the flavours are evenly distributed.
  3. Roll in panko evenly.
  4. In a large frying pan, heat and squirt one squirt of non-stick spray. Gently fry each side until golden brown, place on sprayed cookie sheet until all have been browned and place in oven for 15-25 minutes, until cooked through.
  5. Serve with Cilantro Pesto on a bed of leafy greens.

Cilantro Pesto

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup cleaned and dried cilantro
  • 1/2 cup cleaned and dried parsley
  • 2 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 small clove garlic
  • 3 tbsp white and black toasted sesame seeds
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 2-4 tbsp lime juice (to taste)
  • 1-2 tsp agave nectar

Directions:

  1. Place all the ingredients (except the lime juice and agave) into the bowl of an immersion blender and blend until desired consistency is achieved, adding the lime juice slowly.
  2. Taste, add more lime juice and a little agave to achieve the correct balance of sweet, salty, sour and bitter.

The earthy, slightly sweet pesto made a wonderful accompaniment to the salmon cakes

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We awoke this morning to a light dusting of snow, not enough to shovel (yay!) but very pretty with the sun shining on it and making it sparkle like diamond dust!
We’ve been good. No Really, we have been. We’ve been eating healthily, not imbibing and some of us have been exercising (well, I have an excuse, my darn gym was closed this week! 😦 ) But the first week back is always a little tricky, it could be crazy busy or dead. Guess what it was for me? Yup, on Tuesday I landed with both feet running! I even had to call in our trusty freelancer (Jay). So as a ‘reward’ we decided to continue our new restaurant exploration series and try La Forchetta in Little Italy. Little Italy on College (we have Little Italy’s and this one is more or less the one people think of) is not too far from our home but decidedly not a good public transit local from our home, so we drove.
Because I am trying to detach some of the ‘goodness’ that I acquired during the holidays, I decided to have only one appetizer (generally, I’ll have two, or JT and I will share one and I’ll have another as my main; it’s easier to keep things in check and there is usually no risk of over eating!)
If only they didn’t bring the home-made bread drenched in a wonderfully robust (peppery) EVOO, rosemary and sea salt! That’s where ‘the plan’ fell through! (Not to be confused with “the plane, the plane“). I had three delicious slices (I chose the smallest ones :-)!)
La Forchetta (pronounced La Fork-etta in Italian, meaning the fork!) is right in the middle of Little Italy; and the hood has gone wild with their Christmas lights! Usually they have ‘the boot’ in lights on every light standard along college, but the also tightly wrapped each tree along the main street with blue lights and there are three gorgeous angels made of lights along side of Scotia Bank! It really is a sight! The beauty of this Little Italy is that every second store front is a restaurant!

La Forchetta is a relatively small (maybe seats 40-50?), family owned authentic Italian restaurant (great shot, click here). Our very nice waitress said it’s been open for 15 years and everything they serve is house made; that bread was seriously delicious! It is dimly lit with very nice contemporary chandeliers and there is a real candle on every table. It has windows across the front, a mirrored side wall (it may have been a smoked mirror) and a small bar at the back. The kitchen is not quite an open kitchen at the back, it has a medium sized opening so you can see the action should you choose (even the kitchen’s lighting is subdued so that there isn’t a rush of fluorescent streaming in). There are two Green P public parking lots near by and there is street parking if you’re lucky enough!)

When we got there at 7:30 and it wasn’t full but as the evening progressed it got a great vibe with more people. The young one’s started coming in around 9ish! We reserved through Open Table and they actually had a table “reserved” for us! Even though we only had ‘two’ courses our waitress timed our food perfectly, we didn’t finish until after 9:30. We tried walking around a bit, but the wind had picked up and a cold front was definitely on the horizon.

JT ordered the Caesar salad; it was chopped Romain lettuce, with a small bit of crispy fried prosciutto and lots of finely grated Parmesan and a few house made croutons. The dressing was perfect, just the right creaminess with a hint of the anchovy and a nice splash of lemon juice. It was really delicious (although, if I had to complain about something it would have been that the romain was cut into too small bits). I ordered the grilled calamari with caper berries and grilled lemon and green zucchini with a chipotle mango coulis (very delicious) and it was a decent portion for my dinner. JT ordered the slightly unorthodox sweet potato gnocchi with Gorgonzola sauce; it was the perfect combination of Gorgonzola and cream, it had just the right amount of bite! JT said it was one of the best he’s ever had. I think this restaurant is a keeper! There were several things on the appetizer menu that I could and would order for example the goats cheese filled portobello cap, or the Caprese (but not in the winter!). They also had several wines for less than $50 a bottle and their half litre was reasonably priced too!

Overall rating La Forchetta (in my opinion): Decor 4/5 (great lighting), service 4/5, food 4/5, Value 4/5, Noise: 4/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).

Disclaimer: We purchased our meal for full price and my opinions just that, my opinions.

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A quick note that you may have noticed that I am now following you; I have been following you for quite some time, but had not figured out how to do it in WordPress! Well, I’ve finally figured it out and it’s done!

We weren’t going to go out for dinner last night but at the last minute decided to try out Bannock, the new Oliver and Bonacini restaurant at the corner of Queen and Bay Streets downtown. We made reservations on Open Table and got our preferred time. We took the subway to be on the safe side. The restaurant is decidedly contemporary, but the walls are lined with rough cut lumber darkly stained — the National Post called it “woodsy faux voyageur”, I didn’t mind it. It is has several lighting styles throughout. It’s not a huge place, maybe seating a hundred people. The cuisine is said to be Canadian Comfort Food and we are excited about the menu which boasts things such as the Prairie Grain Salad, Shaved Button Mushroom Salad, Mac and Cheese (with a granola topping) and Biff’s fried bologna and eggs! Decisions, decisions!

We arrived a little late but were seated within a couple of minutes. I mentioned lighting styles above and for the most part they are warm, contemporary soft subtle lights which will do a lovely job on various skin shades and textures; we were seated at the “wall of light” that had a 1000 watt LED cool bulb every 2 feet shining down right onto the unsuspecting patrons — yes, you know what I mean, just slightly better than fluorescent bulbs! Our waitress came over and asked if we needed a few minutes (we just got there) and if we wanted water; she sent over the water guy. I had to shield my eyes from the light to read the menu (did I bring my sun glasses?) We did not see our waitress for 10 minutes, no, I lied, she came by several times, looked directly at me and walked on by. We wanted to change our table but by the time she would have come over, the tables had been filled, the place was really busy. We got up and left. We’ll get back there again one day, likely for lunch when I have my sunglasses!

We ended up at Mercatto on Bay Street. We were immediately drawn to the beautiful modern but comfortable Italian décor with lovely crystal chandeliers (dimmed to the perfect level). There are several black-boards throughout with menu items, nice sayings and such. It’s very friendly and fortunately for us, not busy at all. Our waitress was chatty and available. We shared the Crostini which was generously spread with ricotta and topped with prosciutto, arugula and grana padano. It was fantastic, the ricotta might have been a bit thick, but I wasn’t about to complain. We agreed we would both order it again. I had the Polipo which was grilled octopus with spicy ‘nduga sausage (they weren’t kidding about the spicy), fingerlings and swiss chard; another total winner. The sausage did overwhelm the delicate octopus, but again, I loved it. JT had the Chitarra “carbonara” with guianciale (unsmoked Italian bacon), brussels spouts and pecorino — very delicious. I really loved this place and would go back in a second. They have a great pizza oven too!

Overall rating Mercatto (in my opinion): Decor 3.5/5, service 3.5/5, food 4/5, Value 4/5, Noise: 5/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet). The restaurant was pretty quiet, I would imagine it gets pretty loud at night if it’s busy. Our waitress mentioned that they were full booked for New Years Eve.

Disclaimer: We purchased our meal for full price and my opinions just that, my opinions.

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I wasn’t going to review La Societé again as we have been there before and the food and service is always consistently good, but we had such an amazing experience on New Years Eve, I just had to blog about it.

Would you like to place your order all at once, or as the evening goes on?

We made our reservations for 9 so that we’d have half a chance of ringing in the new year at the restaurant; we didn’t make it, the food was so delicious we had a really hard time eating s l o w l y (and anyone who knows JT will attest that it is no easy feat!). We both got dolled up to celebrate the new year of 2012. We did the responsible thing by subwaying downtown so that we could imbibe. The subways were running well which really surprised me*.

The restaurant was not as crowded as I had thought it would be. This was their first year and to our surprise they did not take a deposit for our reservation (La Select took one last year and the year before; apparently Torontonians are famous for not showing up for a reservation!). We were seated quickly at a centre table for two — I hated it immediately and asked to be moved, the hostess said she didn’t have another table. Grumble, grumble, grumble. As we were settling in, and our waitress was pouring the water and I happened to say “wow, is it ever noisy” and it was. She immediately picked up on it and asked if we’d like a lovely little table tucked into the corner by the window. We jumped on it. She moved us and we settled in. Coincidentally, the following patrons at that same table requested a change of scenery as well! Note to restaurant: that little table in the middle is in the way, no one likes it, not even the wait staff — they keep bumping into the diners sitting there. It’s best to remove the offending table than risk your patron having only a so-so time.

The meal began with a little amuse bouche of toasted brioche with lemon scented goats cheese and tomato confit, it was lovely. Our lovely waitress paced us well, we just couldn’t pace ourselves! I ordered Spicy Tuna Tartar which was diced tuna, apple, ginger, pine nuts and fresh coriander — so delicious. The little bites of crunchy apple and pine nuts really complimented the smooth texture of the tuna, and the ginger was quite refreshing and added a bit of heat to the dish. I couldn’t stop eating, the portion was huge 150-200 grams of the tuna — they really could have cut it in half. JT had the Braised Bison Short Rib with smoked bone marrow and cauliflower purée. The short rib was braised to perfection, simply melting off the bone. The flavour was rich and satisfying. I didn’t try the cauliflower purée but it looked wonderful. Now I’m absolutely full, and I still have my steak to contend with.

Next we ordered our mains; I had the Grilled AAA 10 oz Striploin Steak, rare (they didn’t have my steak tartar on the menu so I had to go with this instead. Plus I NEVER order cooked steak so it was a lovely change. They served the steak with Delmonico potatoes with woodland mushrooms (an incredibly decadent dish of potatoes, a cheesy white sauce and buttered mushrooms) and a brandy peppercorn sauce. Let me start by saying the portions were incredible. I barely got through 1/4 of the 300-400 gram steak and barely touched the potatoes. But it wasn’t for a lack of trying. It was wonderful. The steak was cooked rare, melted in your mouth and the peppercorn sauce added that little bite. The potatoes were incredibly creamy and the mushrooms sooo delicious, I picked through and ate them before I gave JT a chance to try it. Fortunately I was able to bring my leftovers home! JT had the Pan-seared Pheasant Breast with roast chestnuts, apple foie gras butter and a celery root purée and brussels sprout leaves. The pheasant breast was cooked perfectly and paired well with the sides. It was a more manageable portion.

I didn’t have much room for dessert so I didn’t order one, but instead had a spoon of JTs Hazelnut Chocolate Bar with salted praline and caramel ice cream. WOW! Although I was glad I didn’t order one, I would have truly regretted finishing it off! 😉

The restaurant noise level was a bit louder than usual, people reveling and enjoying their dinners, and around 10pm they brought in a DJ who slowly raised the volume of the 1980’s music higher and higher. By 11pm we were no longer able to converse, so we decided to head home and bring in the new year by the fireplace and a glass of wine. I was a little disappointed in the music as I would have expected more Jazz instead of 1980s pop from a French restaurant.

The subway ride home was entertaining thanks to the inebriated passengers and fortunately, on time without issues. Had we stayed until mid-night, the TTC would have been free.

I have to say something about the service: exceptional. Our waitress was attentive but subtle and always around when we needed something. Our wine glasses were never empty, nor were our water glasses. My regret is that I wish I had gotten her name so I can pass along my great experience to the restaurant.

Overall rating (in my opinion): Decor 4/5, service 3.5/5, food 4/5, Value 3.5/5, Noise: 1/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet). This restaurant is never quiet.

Disclaimer: We purchased our meal for full price and my opinions just that, my opinions.

In case you needed some more reading:

*On Friday night we also took the subway down, and just as we were coming home around 10:30, they announced that there was an issue which caused the subway to be shut down. The terminal was crowding quickly as passengers were accumulating, so we decided to surface and take a cab before they became extinct. Traffic was also brutal; as it turns out, there was a fire at St. George station which caused backups along Bloor Street – our route home! The 10 minute cab ride ended up setting us back $30, including tip! Yikes! To recap, we spend $4 for the car park at the subway station (ya, we live close enough to walk but it was raining!), $10 for the subway ($2.50 each way per person) and then $30 for the ride home! That’s $44 and we haven’t even had a bite!

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Happy New Year! I do hope you had a fabulous time bringing in the new year. JT and I enjoyed a four course dinner at La Société with champagne and wine. Don’t worry, we took the subway (Metro) which was free after midnight! We have a busy day on Sunday entertaining our neighbours for cocktails and then heading over to our friends for dinner; Rae and Monica just returned from a Christmas cruise with their three girls so there will be a lot of stories to tell!

I thought this was the last installment of our restaurant reviews this holiday season, but it’s not. The Bowery is in Old Town Toronto on Colborne Street near the St. Lawrence Market and King Edward Hotel. The restaurant is divided into two sections (two buildings were linked for additional space); the first space seems to be more clubby and it’s where the bar is, and the second space is more dining-y where the open kitchen is. The décor is contemporary New York with exposed brick, casual wood tables and cosy booths. The open kitchen is lined with a bar & bar stools along the length for diners to see the chef do his magic. There is a very cool neon light that says You+Me in a pink neon heart on the brick wall! The lighting is great. The cutlery is mismatched antique silver and stainless – it’s very cool.
We made reservations for 7:15 on a Thursday night in the middle of the holidays and we were late but called so they wouldn’t give away our table; we needn’t have worried, it was sadly very empty except for a couple of smallish office parties on the bar side. I liked the décor but there was no vibe, I suspect because it was empty. It was also UNBEARABLY cold inside. We complained and the waitress brought over a heater mentioning that they have also complained to the management. I ate my entire dinner wearing my winter coat, my feet were freezing. You could say that it’s an old building and it’s difficult to heat, but then half that area are restaurants and they don’t have a problem!
We ordered an appetizer to share, the Crostini Platter which was quite lovely with sautéed Mushrooms, Haloumi (Greek brine cured cheese), Pepperonata (caramelized peppers), prosciutto, Pierre Robert (a triple cream cheese) for $14; we had to ask for more crostini but other than that it was quite delicious. I ordered the Grilled Octopus appetizer as my main (in effort to control volume!). It had roasted peppers, nicoise olives, pea sprouts, chickpea panisse (think chick pea polenta) and pickled vegetables for $15, very tasty indeed; other than one tentacle being slightly chewy the rest were grilled to perfection. I could have used a sharper knife. JT had the Waygu and Prime rib burger with shallots, aged cheddar and garlic aioli $15 and the spaetzle with bacon, caramelized onions & sour cream $6, and it was incredibly delicious. We brought some of the spaetzle home it was soooooooo good.
The food totally rocked but I would only go back in warmer weather, unless they fix their heating issues. I can’t even tell you how chilly the bathrooms were!!!

Overall rating (in my opinion): Decor 1/5 (this is where I captured the insufficient heat, otherwise it would have been 3.5), service 3.5/5, food 4/5, Value 4/5, Noise: 5/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet). The restaurant was empty, I would imagine it gets pretty loud at night if it’s busy. We checked Open Table for Friday night and they were fully booked!

Disclaimer: We purchased our meal for full price and my opinions just that, my opinions.

Chef de Cuisine – Jason Maw
Executive Chef – Tawfik Shehata

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Today is New Years Eve and I’m likely busy doing the laundry, changing bed linens, towels and cleaning because I have this crazy idea that the start sets the tone for the whole year (not that I change the linens and towels once a year only ;-)!) I hope you all have a wonderful evening with just the right amount of revelling that you prefer.
Henry the VIII is another pub that just opened last month. It too is occupying a space that has had many restaurants over the years; it is located in the far west side of BWV. We now have 7 pubs in Bloor West Village. S E V E N ? The irony of this figure is that BWV was completely dry until the early 1990’s! That meant that alcohol was not permitted to be served in any restaurants. In 1873, John G. Howard made an agreement with the city of Toronto to bequeath his land, High Park, to the city as long as it remains free to the public, that no alcohol be served in the Village, and that a Catholic cannot be Mayor of Toronto. Yup, they actually said that, believe it or not! Not sure why the alcohol laws changed in the early 90’s, we’re just grateful that it did.

Fortunately for us, we moved in a few years after the ban on booze was lifted and we now have 7 bustling pubs in the area some great restaurants and a very handy LCBO at the top of our street. We may have a problem here 😉

As I mentioned previously, this pub has opened in a space that many a restaurants have failed. It’s a bit off the beat-and-track for BWV and on a cold day such as today, I likely would not have chosen it had we not had a car. The interior is decorated in a very English style, burgundy velvet banquets, dark wood paneling and wainscoting, there is very little advertising décor on the walls which is a nice change. The bar is at one side and is well stocked with the usual suspects; they have several beers on tap. For me, the décor is missing something, although I cannot put my finger on it. It’s almost like it was temporary — not sure why I think that, everything seems to be full size and permanent. The pub is empty when we arrived at 2:15 on a Tuesday. When we chatted with the bar tender he mentioned that today was their slowest day yet, they’ve been open 4 weeks. We chose a booth at the front by the large windows (they can open fully in the summer-time). It’s a bit chilly, these types of windows are not great for winter weather and today is a cold, wintery day. The table is clean, although my banquet had crumbs left over from a previous patron. We order a Guinness each and it arrives promptly, although there is always a little wait with the Guinness because of the way they pour.

YUM! Creamy Guiness!

The menu reminds me of a typical English pub menu, but it’s taken up a notch or two by some unusual twists to the same old (for example, Duck Confit Grilled Cheese, Chicken Curry Wrap). I had the roasted vegetable and quinoa salad; it is a warm salad of quinoa with roasted vegetables and marinated feta cheese served on a bed of organic baby spinach with a honey and balsamic olive oil dressing. It was a healthy serving and quite reasonably priced for $9.75 (same thing at dinner will set you back $15). It was delicious the dressing, the feta and the roasted vegetables (zucchini, yellow squash, artichoke and sun dried tomatoes) were fantastic together, and the nutty quinoa was a nice change to a typical pub salad. JT had the Pulled Chicken Tikka Marsala which was chicken stewed in a red curry sauce with sweet apple chutney, jalapeño havarti, cashews and saffron basmati in a warm flour tortilla for $9.95 — it came with either soup, salad or fries, JT took the salad (which was also quite lovely with curly grated beets as decoration). The chicken curry wrap was also delicious, although I had a hard time tasting the jalapeño havarti. We each commented that we would have the same thing again, in fact, JT mentioned he would also consider having my choice on another occasion. It is quite obvious that someone with knowledge is in the kitchen and it’s not a deep fried plethora. The execution and presentation are above average; this pub will give the other 6 pubs in our hood a run for their money! They change up the menu a bit for dinner, we will give it another go again.

Finally a good vegetarian option. Can I get some pork with this? 😉

Overall rating (in my opinion): Decor 2.0/5, service 3.5/5, food 3.75/5, Value 3.75/5, Noise: 5/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet). The restaurant was pretty much empty, I would imagine it gets pretty loud at night.

Disclaimer: We purchased our meal for full price and my opinions just that, my opinions.

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Yesterday was a busy day; to keep up with all the eating out JT and I decided to work out at our local gym each morning. That’s 30 minutes on the elliptical and 20 with free weights! I’m hoping it’s enough :).
We checked out two new grocery stores in Toronto: Maple Leaf Garden Loblaws and the Longo’s Maple Leaf Square. Yes, we are obsessed with hockey (OK, not me, really).
Maple Leaf Gardens was Toronto’s hockey arena where our beloved Maple Leafs played from 1931 to 1999. It then sat purposeless until 2004 when Loblaws purchased it. (American’s will know Loblaws by it’s Private Label Brand, President’s Choice). They were going to convert it to a Real Canadian Superstore but were met with heaps of criticism that the retailer will diminish the buildings historical value (see history). So it sat again for a number of years without much work within it other than some structural testing. In 2009 Loblaws announced that they were in discussion with Ryerson University regarding a future joint venture. Construction for the newly purposed building began in 2010 to be converted into a multi-purpose building: Ryerson University (fitness centre, studios, high-performance courts, and an NHL sized ice hockey rink seating 2,796 guests*), Loblaws, LCBO and Joe Fresh. We checked out the retail spaces.

To call this place a grocery store would be an enormous understatement — it’s absolutely incredible! From prepared gourmet selections to the on site bakery, butcher, fish monger, fresh market (with fruits and vegetables I have never heard of!) and the list goes on — it’s a feast for the eyes. We had no intention to buy anything, but somehow we came out with a $100 bill for things I just couldn’t pass up! It’s a beautifully merchandised store, with something to look at in every corner. Sadly this store is about a 20 minute drive through the city for us, so it’s not likely a place we will shop every day, but it certainly will be a destination from time to time!

The Wall of Cheese

Longo’s Maple Leaf Square was a bit of a let down after the “wall of cheese” but I suppose it was expected. None-the-less there were new products to admire (and I bought my very first Give-Away to be held in the new year!).

The elevator doors from the parking level at Longo's Maple Leaf Square. Yes, we are a little hockey nuts!

We ate lunch at Cochina Lucero a small family owned Mexican Restaurant about a 5 minute drive from Maple Leaf Gardens. The restaurant itself is very quaintly decorated in the Mexican style; brightly coloured tiles, thick wooden tables and chairs that weighed about 50lbs! 😉 It was not packed, but then again we arrived around 2:30. The service was friendly and quick; we received complimentary tortilla chips and a lovely spicy tomato salsa. I ordered Sopa Azteca which was $7.00. It was a generous portion made with pasilla chili, tomato and chicken soup topped with
tortilla strips, feta cheese, avocados & sour cream. It hit my taste buds perfectly; just the right spiciness, and enough chicken to make it a meal. It was likely the best Mexican soup I’ve ever had. JT had the El Burro Chicken Tortilla for $9; it was a 12 inch tortilla crammed with beans, rice, pico de gallo, cheese, guacamole & sour cream; he said he has had better. I had a bit of a taste and would agree, it could have had a bit more flavour to it! All in all it was a great experience, and I would recommend this little hole-in-the-wall place.

iPhone photo! Hey, get your grubby fingers out of that dip

Overall rating (in my opinion): Decor 4/5, service 4/5, food 4/5, Value 4/5, Noise: 5/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet). The restaurant was not packed, I would imagine it gets pretty loud at night. Great lunch place.

Disclaimer: We purchased our meal for full price and my opinions just that, my opinions.

*Historical data is from Wikipedia

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This Christmas holiday we were unable to book a quick get-away at a reasonable price so we decided to stay in the city and check out a bunch of restaurants we’ve been hoping to get to. Our first installment in this series is Wvrst (like wurst) on King West. Now Wvrst is in a location that has seen many restaurants and it surprises me somewhat when another replaces the last one, but this time, I do believe they have the right ingredients for the area. It’s what they call a “Sausage Hall”; but wait, there is beer too! 🙂

Is is weird that they put my age on the table? 😉

The menu consists of a variety of home designed sausages (they outsource the actual making to somewhere in Montréal), even vegetarian! There are fries too, and beer; over 15 on tap. The beers were carefully chosen to pair well with the sausages. The restaurant is family style with long wooden communal tables; it is well but not too brightly lit with those cool bulbs I mentioned in the Kennedy Public House Post, hundreds of them! We had lunch on Boxing Day, so it was a little quiet. You go to the sausage bar to order and pay for your food, but the servers bring it to you, reasonably quickly.

We decided to share an Elk and Porchini sausage with sauerkraut and sautéed jalopeño peppers $9 and small Belgian-style fries (regular fries) $3.5 with Wvrst’s own spicey mayo $1. It was plenty of food for us. The sausage was DELICIOUS with my Dead Guy Ale just a slight nuttiness paired perfectly with the rich sausage. JT had the Dieu du Ciel which I found too bitter, but he liked it. The sausage casing had that perfect POP as you bit into each delicious bite! My only comment would be that the Porchini was a bit of a waste as neither of us could taste it in the sausage. The fries were gloriously crispy and fresh tasting; the dipping mayo was indeed spicy, but we both loved it, although it was a bit thick. We could have ordered the fries fried in duck fat, but thought better of it.

The manager was friendly and helpful (we had a bit of an issue which I won’t mention but he took care of it immediately and we were happy with the result). The experience was a bit quick but it was very nice and the food was great and not expensive.

Overall rating (in my opinion): Decor 4/5, service 3.5/5, food 3.5/5, Value 4/5, Noise: 5/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet). The restaurant was not packed, I would imagine it gets pretty loud at night. Great lunch place.

Disclaimer: We purchased our meal for full price and my opinions just that, my opinions.

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Our little village consists of 3 subway stops along Bloor Street; we have so many pubs, Thai and Japanese restaurants that the last thing you would think we needed was another pub. And then Kennedy Public House revently opened. It’s actually a reinvention of Sharky’s which was more of a club-like restaurant that occupied the same space for several years. Kennedy Public house sits on the corner of Kennedy and Bloor and the Kennedy side has a great patio (for warmer days, of course).

I personally think that this has the loveliest décor of all the pubs in our village — rustic industrial. All the tables are thick, reclaimed wood and the bar stools are flat stainless steel. The lights are a contemporary rendition of old-fashioned rusty forged metal chandeliers and the hanging caged blubs at the bar are the old fashioned filament bulbs (which I think are so darn cool and are so in style right now!). There are long communal tables and there are private booths; there are dark wood floors. They have some super cool sepia toned old photos of the area covering a couple of walls. It’s a very inviting and comfortable atmosphere. The only thing I would change is I would remove the long row of televisions over the bar along one wall other than that, it’s really quite wonderful.

On a Friday, without reservations, we tried to get in for dinner around 7:30 — there was a 20 minute wait (I don’t wait for restaurants!) so we went next door to an old favourite. After a morning of successful Christmas shopping I met JT there for lunch on a Saturday. We were seated right away and they brought our beers (Guinness). Unfortunately, there was a large group (more than 20) who had placed their orders just before we did and so our lunch took a lot longer than it should have. We shared the PBP Pizza (Pear, blue cheese, pecans, asiago, fresh thyme, caramelized onion, pickled onion) for $14. The combo should have been a home run, but the crust didn’t do it for me; I prefer a wafer thin, crispy crust and this one was more like naan, thicker and chewier. The pear was a little crispy, and there was not much blue cheese flavour for my taste. I also found the pickled onions were a bit odd. We won’t discount the place on this single experience, we will surely be back for more but I won’t be having the pizza. The service was good.

First visit overall rating (in my opinion): Decor 4/5, service 3.5/5, food 2/5, Value 3.5/5, Noise: 3/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet). The restaurant was not packed, even though there was one large group, I would imagine it gets pretty loud at night. We’ll go back a few more times to get an accurate rating.

Disclaimer: We purchased our meal for full price and my opinions just that, my opinions.

December 15: we were able to get into Kennedy Public House on Thursday night around 7:30; the atmosphere was lively with an eclectic group of people, diverse ages and ethnicity (think LES in Manhattan). We were seated right away near the back (most of the tables were taken). Almost as soon as we sat down someone turned on the hand dryer in the washroom (guessing it was about 15-20 meters from where we were sitting) and it was like a jet engine had started up beside us. We asked to be moved and were reseated within minutes! Our new table was a high bar table, but quite comfortable. We recognized our waitress from Sharky’s days and chatted about the new place. Apparently we were not the only one’s to complain about the hand dryer noise; she said she thought that they would soon be replaced!
We each ordered our wine which came out incredibly fast. For dinner we only had appetizer portions: JT ordered the pulled pork sliders (3 for $11) DELICIOUS! The soft egg buns are made by Cobbs Bread, a local bakery. The pulled pork was in a bit of a sauce but it wasn’t too sweet, it came with a cole slaw that was nothing special. I ordered the Goats Cheese Niçoisse ($12) which was a lemon scented goats cheese roll wrapped in phyllo and baked. It was beautifully presented on a bed of arugula and spinach greens, fingerling white and purple potatoes, steamed green and yellow beans, tomatoes, black olives and a quartered hard boiled egg. It was dressed with an olive oil lemon vinaigrette. DELICIOUS! My only complaint would be that the greens were dressed a little heavily, but that’s a personal preference. I would definitely have both again!
Although the place was packed, service was very good.
Second visit overall rating (in my opinion): Decor 4/5, service 3.5/5, food 4/5, Value 4/5, Noise: 2/5 (j1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet). The evening crowd was very loud!

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We had a great time Saturday night at Nuit Blanche, walking about 5+km, stopping to see the great exhibits along the way. We headed out around 7:15 and ended up at La Société at 10; we had a light supper of French Onion Soup at 10:30 at their wonderful bar. This evening is such a massive undertaking that the city completely closes down some of the major streets for the installations to happen — you really need to plan your evening, so you’re not back tracking and you’re seeing the most you can see within the time you’ve allowed (this is our fourth year seeing it, so we’ve learned a few things along the way). I’ll just highlight the installations we enjoyed the most — we saw about 20 installations all together.

The first thing we saw was a memorial exhibit in the middle of Yonge Street the longest street in the world, called Memorias an exhibit which invites the audience to light a candle in commemoration of the lost lives of Ontario-based migrant workers (I didn’t even know we had migrant workers!).

About 10 metres by 54 metres on Bay Street

Sensational was the next thing we saw. This is a very large installation that occupied the park area between 4 major Bank Towers. What drew us to this (other than the planning) was that it was loud, and there were search lights beaming on the towers, and lasers. It was very compelling, in a happy kind of way — it actually made me smile. As I looked around, I noticed at the faces of the others, I noticed that they too were smiling.

Tie Break ESPN called it “the most riveting episode in the sport’s history.” (from Nuit Blanche website) the 1980 Wimbledon Gentlemen’s Singles Finals between Björn Borg and John McEnroe. The guys actually LOOKED like them, talk about flashback to the 80’s!! Here is one of our photos

Did guys really have hair like that? I know I did, but...

Infra a light show projected on a large building, controlled by the audience. It was very cool, but difficult to photograph.

A banquet of flavours for all of the senses

Through the Gorilla Glass was on the roof top garden of New City Hall. It was quite cool, impossible to photo. It’s a series of mechanical arms that move in sequence when disturbed (interactive) the arms have gorilla glass at each end that change colour depending on how they are disturbed.

Heart Machine is an installation we stumbled upon, but by far the coolest one we saw. Actual HUGE flames were initiated by audience interaction. We felt the heat while we were walking toward it about 50 metres away! It was a chilly night, so the heat was welcomed! We made a little movie of it, but I cannot figure out how to get it into a format for wordpress:-(

Coevality. This was interesting to watch. A video projected on a wall depicting two generations of three artists (you only see the brushes) changing up an existing piece of art of Victorian buildings. The transformations were fun to watch.

Slow Falls Rising. A video of Niagara Falls turned upside down. By this time we were a little tired, chilled and hungry, so the we didn’t hang around the exhibit long. It was interesting but not ‘wow’!

Dinner. We finally arrived on Bloor Street to one of our favourite French Restaurants, La Société at 10 pm (their kitchen is open until 2am, so we figured we were safe at 10pm). It was PACKED! We didn’t have reservations but fortunately they were able to squeeze us in at the Bar. We weren’t starving but needed a glass of wine and something warm: French Onion Soup. I must say, I have had many FOS but this one, by far, ROCKED. The stock had the most amazing flavour and NOT TOO SALTY either. I will give this dish 5/5! Please see my previous review of La Société.

We got home around midnight (this is when the Nuit Blanche is just starting to get crazy crowded, but I turn into a pumpkin at midnight, and with Thanksgiving next weekend, I was a little frightened someone might make a pie out of me! ;-).)

Another year done, and October is upon us. Soon the leaves will begin to change colour and fall to the ground, and then the snow will cover them for another 6 months! I have only one thing to say: “I’M NOT READY YET!”

PS. Sawsan, I’m on my second batch of croissants. The first turned out fine, but not leafy enough. I am going to persevere until I get it right!

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October first was Nuit Blanche all over the world and we are very fortunate to participate every year in Toronto. It is a wonderful festival of all kinds of performance and installation arts all over the city. It starts at sundown (around 7pm-ish) and goes until the wee hours of the morning, should you choose. JT and I usually start our expedition in the south part of the city, near City Hall and walk a meandering path north exploring as many exhibits and installations along the way to Bloor Street. It was a chilly night in Toronto, around 7°C so we visit ed a few indoor exhibits along the way. We had a small snack before we started out, so we weren’t starving by the time we had dinner around 10pm. We always take the subway down so we don’t need to worry that we left the care a 45 minute walk away! I’ll took a few photos to blog about, but it’s usually very dark. Charles, I hope you had a chance to venture into Paris for this momentous event (it takes place in many major cities all over the world) — we’ve always found it such a blast in TO. Not sure if anyone reading lives in New York, but it’s happening there too! Toronto is expecting over a million people out in the streets tonight – it’s so cool walking around Toronto in the night with thousands of other people – it makes the city come alive with energy. Woo hoo! Let the festivities begin!

If you know me, you will know that I never serve alcoholic beverages without some type of food. I inherited this from my dear Mother, and I love it. I am always looking out for small nibbles that are tasty, not too filling (don’t want to spoil dinner, do we?) and easy to serve, with a martini or two! This is a dip that is commonly served in Hungarian households, I have modified it to my taste (and health…my Mom used to put softened butter in it!).


Korozot (Hungarian Fresh Cheese Dip)

Hungarian Korozot Dip

This is a modified recipe to suit my taste and to be a little healthier.

Ingredients:

  • 4-6oz Goats Cheese (at room temperature) (the real recipe would use a soft unripened fresh cheese called Quark)
  • No fat yogurt (for desired consistency)
  • 2 tablespoons paprika puré (hot or sweet, your choice) (this is a Hungarian product that comes in a tube) OR tbsp paprika powder – try with smoked paprika for a totally different flavour
  • 1 Shallot, very finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic (minced on a fine grater)
  • bunch of chives, finely chopped

Directions:

  1. Blend the goats cheese, shallot and garlic in a food processor until well mixed, adding the yogurt a tablespoon at a time until desired consistency is achieved.
  2. Remove from processor and fold in chives.
  3. Serve at room temperature with crostinis. This is much better the next day when the flavours have had time to melt together.

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I was fortunate enough to be invited to an event Thursday night put on by Edward Pond http://www.edwardpond.com/, called Creative Chef, Tussle at the Temple http://www.creativechef.ca/ (Ed is a photographer we’ve worked with from time to time). It was held at Temple Kitchen in Liberty Village http://www.templekitchen.com/ (about a five minute walk from where I work!)
Ed put together a fund raising event for a local gallery; 12 ad exec’s cooking up a storm to be judged by real chefs, while we watched and cheered them on! The judges were celebs in their own right:
Anne Yarymowich, executive chef of FRANK, Art Gallery of Ontario, Zane Caplansky, executive chef and owner of Caplansky’s Delicatessen and Jason Bangerter, executive chef at Luma, Bell TIFF Lightbox.

The wine was flowing and tasty morsels were being passed around by helpful staff! It was a blast!
I got there a bit early, they had reconfigured the restaurant for the show-down!



Each contestant had to set their own table, on a meaningful way that represents their cuisine!

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It’s a very happening week in Toronto because we have the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) — the world’s largest film festival (according to Wiki, obviously a Torontonian wrote it!). We have been graced with some of the biggest stars, George Clooney (be still my heart), the BrAngelina’s, Madonna, Robert DeNiro to name a few. JT and I have been fortunate enough to score tickets from friends in the past, but unfortunately, not this year :-(, so to feel part of the action, we decided to get all dolled up [you know, just in case we bump into someone ;-)] and head downtown to the Ritz (we [I] heard Mr. Clooney was staying there). The Ritz is a brand new hotel in Toronto, opened in April, I think. We’ve been fortunate enough to have stayed in several Ritz Hotels in US and Canada and the one thing that is consistent is the quality of service — always exceptional. We had a glass of wine at TOCA and then we ventured to the back patio DEQ (say Deck) for another glass and some dinner.

At TOCA we were served a little plate of deep fried capers (not to my taste, capers were crunchy but the brininess was lost), crispy maple bacon (very weird taste, also not my cup-a-tea) and some roasted salted corn (very tasty). A pleasant surprise was that a very tasty Pinot was only $10 a glass. Last year we went down to the Four Seasons Hotel (another TIFF hangout, we actually saw Henry Winkler with his family) and the wine was $15 a glass, we had two each and paid about $80 with taxes — NO FOOD!! Dare I say, the Ritz is way classier!

Snacks at TOCA at the Ritz Carlton Toronto

TOCA Overall rating (in my opinion): Decor 4/5, service 4.5/5, food na/5, Value 4/5, Noise: 4/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).

After our glass of wine, we asked the manager to direct us to the other bar with the ‘great patio’ — he actually escorted us there. That’s service! I’m used to “see that sign at the far right, head that way and make a left, you can’t miss it!” type of service! He sat us at the patio bar as more than half the restaurant was closed for a private TIFF party. Later, we found out Mr. Clooney spent Friday and Saturday night at this bar [OMG, I may have been sitting on the exact same bar stool that HE sat on — damn, I was wearing white pants, not so easy to avoid washing ;-)]

We enjoyed DEQ’s specialty flat bread, which is kind of like a pizza, it had Chorizo and artichokes, quick roasted tomato goat cheese – it was delicious! JT was still hungry so we ordered Bruschetta, 6 pieces, also a signature dish (you order the amount you want, 1 each of three flavours or two each); the flavours were tomato-basil, Ingersoll burrata-pesto and speck asparagus with a poached quail egg. I was not that hungry but managed to scarf down the speck asparagus with the quail egg and the tomato-basil – both were delicious. The bartender was very nice, chatted us up for some of the time. We stayed until a little after 11 work beckoned; sadly the TIFF party that reserved the other half of the patio did not start before we left. Oh well, perhaps I’ll bump into Mr. Clooney some other time (in my dreams, perhaps)!

DEQ Overall rating (in my opinion): Decor 4.5/5, service 4.5/5, food 4/5, Value 4/5, Noise: 4/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).

Back to cooking! We are having good friends over for dinner on Saturday, and to help jump start our Moroccan adventure, we decided to have the theme as Moroccan food. I tested this recipe and it turned out pretty good. I am planning to have three little dessert samplers for Saturday night, Sellou is one of them.

“Sellou (or sfouf) is a unique unbaked Moroccan sweet made from toasted unhulled sesame seeds, fried almonds and flour that has been browned in the oven. Packed with calories and nutrients, it’s traditionally served during Ramadan and after childbirth, when there’s greater need to restore energy and maintain good health. It’s also served at Eid, weddings and other special occasions.” from About.com

Since I am not familiar with Moroccan cooking, I decided to not venture too far from to the recipe, which I picked up from Cooking with Alia. I did add a little lemon rind, you know how much I love almonds and lemon together. It is not as sweet as it sounds, and it’s got some very complex flavours going on. Although I restrained the amount of Cardamon I added, it was still very perfumey but it mellowed out on day two – I suspect by the weekend it will have rounded out beautifully. I also cut the recipe into 1/3, because I am serving three desserts I didn’t want too much of it. I suspect it will be very rich with all the nuts after a meat laden meal. The baked flour is a very strange thing indeed, and although it is rather stinky while baking, it really added some earthiness to the flavour. Not sure if I would add it again, trying to refrain from carbs, but it was interesting. The recipe below is pretty much verbatim from Alia, with the exception of the parts I’ve altered in brackets.

Sellou a traditional Moroccan Dessert

Ingredients:

  • 200 grams of flour
  • 125 grams of roasted almonds – you can also buy raw blanched almonds and roast them or fry them yourself
  • 100 grams of sesame seeds (I used both black and white for interest)
  • 125 grams of honey
  • 75 grams of powdered sugar
  • 1 ½ teaspoon of anise powder
  • 2 teaspoon of cinnamon powder
  • a pinch of salt
  • ¼ teaspoon of ground mastic gum (I did not have this, so I omitted it)
  • 113 grams of butter (1 stick)
  • 1-2 tsp grated lemon rind (this was not part of the recipe)
  • Secret Ingredient 1: 125 grams of roasted peanuts (I only had natural crunchy peanut butter, so that is what I added instead)
  • Secret Ingredient 2: ½ teaspoon of cardamom powder (pinch or less)

Directions:

  1. Browning the flour:
    1- preheat your oven to 350° F
    2- place the flour in a baking pan and spread it evenly
    3- cook the flour in the oven for about 30 minutes
    4- To avoid smoke in your house, and for the flour to cook evenly and not burn, you need to stir it every 5 minutes until it is done
    5- You will notice that the color of the flour will start changing and the flour is done when it has a deep golden brown color
    6- Sift the flour – use a spoon to break the flour lumps
    7- Let the flour cool down before using it.
  2. Preparing the other ingredients:
  3. 1- while the flour is cooking, you can actually start roasting the sesame seeds in a skillet on medium-low heat. Stir frequently so they do not burn.
    2- This will take about 20-30 minutes. remove the seeds from the heat when they darken and become fragrant – you can taste them, they should have a nutty flavor.
    3- Using a food processor, mix the roasted peanuts and the roasted almonds together.
    If you prefer sellou to have a fine texture, then mix the nuts until you get a powder.
    I personally prefer my sellou to be crunchy, so I only half mix the nuts to keep solid parts.
  4. Mixing the dry ingredients:
    Now that we are ready, we are going to mix all the dry ingredients together (flour, sugar, spices, sesame seeds, almonds, and peanuts).
  5. the last step then is to add the melted butter and honey. And at the very end, mix in the lemon rind.
    Mix well using a spatula until all the butter and honey are incorporated into the mixture.
    Now, if you want to preserve the moist sellou, just put it in an airtight container and place in the fridge for up to 1 month. Just make sure to bring it to room temperature before serving.
  6. Serve the Sellou in little cups, or shape a dome out of it, cover it with powdered sugar and decorate roasted almonds.

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It’s a very happening week in Toronto because we have the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) — the world’s largest film festival (according to Wiki, obviously a Torontonian wrote it!). We have been graced with some of the biggest stars, George Clooney (be still my heart), the BrAngelina’s, Madonna, Robert DeNiro to name a few. JT and I have been fortunate enough to score tickets from friends in the past, but unfortunately, not this year :-(, so to feel part of the action, we decided to get all dolled up [you know, just in case we bump into someone ;-)] and head downtown to the Ritz (we [I] heard Mr. Clooney was staying there). The Ritz is a brand new hotel in Toronto, opened in April, I think. We’ve been fortunate enough to have stayed in several Ritz Hotels in US and Canada and the one thing that is consistent is the quality of service — always exceptional. We had a glass of wine at TOCA and then we ventured to the back patio DEQ (say Deck) for another glass and some dinner.

At TOCA we were served a little plate of deep fried capers (not to my taste, capers were crunchy but the brininess was lost), crispy maple bacon (very weird taste, also not my cup-a-tea) and some roasted salted corn (very tasty). A pleasant surprise was that a very tasty Pinot was only $10 a glass. Last year we went down to the Four Seasons Hotel (another TIFF hangout, we actually saw Henry Winkler with his family) and the wine was $15 a glass, we had two each and paid about $80 with taxes — NO FOOD!! Dare I say, the Ritz is way classier!

Snacks at TOCA at the Ritz Carlton Toronto

TOCA Overall rating (in my opinion): Decor 4/5, service 4.5/5, food na/5, Value 4/5, Noise: 4/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).

After our glass of wine, we asked the manager to direct us to the other bar with the ‘great patio’ — he actually escorted us there. That’s service! I’m used to “see that sign at the far right, head that way and make a left, you can’t miss it!” type of service! He sat us at the patio bar as more than half the restaurant was closed for a private TIFF party. Later, we found out Mr. Clooney spent Friday and Saturday night at this bar [OMG, I may have been sitting on the exact same bar stool that HE sat on — damn, I was wearing white pants, not so easy to avoid washing ;-)]

We enjoyed DEQ’s specialty flat bread, which is kind of like a pizza, it had Chorizo and artichokes, quick roasted tomato goat cheese – it was delicious! JT was still hungry so we ordered Bruschetta, 6 pieces, also a signature dish (you order the amount you want, 1 each of three flavours or two each); the flavours were tomato-basil, Ingersoll burrata-pesto and speck asparagus with a poached quail egg. I was not that hungry but managed to scarf down the speck asparagus with the quail egg and the tomato-basil – both were delicious. The bartender was very nice, chatted us up for some of the time. We stayed until a little after 11 work beckoned; sadly the TIFF party that reserved the other half of the patio did not start before we left. Oh well, perhaps I’ll bump into Mr. Clooney some other time (in my dreams, perhaps)!

DEQ Overall rating (in my opinion): Decor 4.5/5, service 4.5/5, food 4/5, Value 4/5, Noise: 4/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).

Back to cooking! We are having good friends over for dinner on Saturday, and to help jump start our Moroccan adventure, we decided to have the theme as Moroccan food. I tested this recipe and it turned out pretty good. I am planning to have three little dessert samplers for Saturday night, Sellou is one of them.

“Sellou (or sfouf) is a unique unbaked Moroccan sweet made from toasted unhulled sesame seeds, fried almonds and flour that has been browned in the oven. Packed with calories and nutrients, it’s traditionally served during Ramadan and after childbirth, when there’s greater need to restore energy and maintain good health. It’s also served at Eid, weddings and other special occasions.” from About.com

Since I am not familiar with Moroccan cooking, I decided to not venture too far from to the recipe, which I picked up from Cooking with Alia. I did add a little lemon rind, you know how much I love almonds and lemon together. It is not as sweet as it sounds, and it’s got some very complex flavours going on. Although I restrained the amount of Cardamon I added, it was still very perfumey but it mellowed out on day two – I suspect by the weekend it will have rounded out beautifully. I also cut the recipe into 1/3, because I am serving three desserts I didn’t want too much of it. I suspect it will be very rich with all the nuts after a meat laden meal. The baked flour is a very strange thing indeed, and although it is rather stinky while baking, it really added some earthiness to the flavour. Not sure if I would add it again, trying to refrain from carbs, but it was interesting. The recipe below is pretty much verbatim from Alia, with the exception of the parts I’ve altered in brackets.

Sellou a traditional Moroccan Dessert

Ingredients:

  • 200 grams of flour
  • 125 grams of roasted almonds – you can also buy raw blanched almonds and roast them or fry them yourself
  • 100 grams of sesame seeds (I used both black and white for interest)
  • 125 grams of honey
  • 75 grams of powdered sugar
  • 1 ½ teaspoon of anise powder
  • 2 teaspoon of cinnamon powder
  • a pinch of salt
  • ¼ teaspoon of ground mastic gum (I did not have this, so I omitted it)
  • 113 grams of butter (1 stick)
  • 1-2 tsp grated lemon rind (this was not part of the recipe)
  • Secret Ingredient 1: 125 grams of roasted peanuts (I only had natural crunchy peanut butter, so that is what I added instead)
  • Secret Ingredient 2: ½ teaspoon of cardamom powder (pinch or less)

Directions:

  1. Browning the flour:
    1- preheat your oven to 350° F
    2- place the flour in a baking pan and spread it evenly
    3- cook the flour in the oven for about 30 minutes
    4- To avoid smoke in your house, and for the flour to cook evenly and not burn, you need to stir it every 5 minutes until it is done
    5- You will notice that the color of the flour will start changing and the flour is done when it has a deep golden brown color
    6- Sift the flour – use a spoon to break the flour lumps
    7- Let the flour cool down before using it.
  2. Preparing the other ingredients:
  3. 1- while the flour is cooking, you can actually start roasting the sesame seeds in a skillet on medium-low heat. Stir frequently so they do not burn.
    2- This will take about 20-30 minutes. remove the seeds from the heat when they darken and become fragrant – you can taste them, they should have a nutty flavor.
    3- Using a food processor, mix the roasted peanuts and the roasted almonds together.
    If you prefer sellou to have a fine texture, then mix the nuts until you get a powder.
    I personally prefer my sellou to be crunchy, so I only half mix the nuts to keep solid parts.
  4. Mixing the dry ingredients:
    Now that we are ready, we are going to mix all the dry ingredients together (flour, sugar, spices, sesame seeds, almonds, and peanuts).
  5. the last step then is to add the melted butter and honey. And at the very end, mix in the lemon rind.
    Mix well using a spatula until all the butter and honey are incorporated into the mixture.
    Now, if you want to preserve the moist sellou, just put it in an airtight container and place in the fridge for up to 1 month. Just make sure to bring it to room temperature before serving.
  6. Serve the Sellou in little cups, or shape a dome out of it, cover it with powdered sugar and decorate roasted almonds.

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I was very generously invited to an event supporting ‘farmers feed cities’ at the Evergreen Brick Works by my new friend Brenda Morrison. Brenda writes for several publications, and is coined as “the queen of content”; she is often invited to events, and this time she asked ME! What’s even more flattering is that when I thanked her, she said: My pleasure. I wanted to take a fabulous foodie – you’re it! Thanks Brenda Bear!

http://www.farmersfeedcities.com/

20110811-062046.jpg

The Toronto Brick Works is an historic property that Evergreen has painstakingly renovated, rejuvenated and reinvented totally environmentally! Evergreen is a non-profit organization that makes cities more livable. http://ebw.evergreen.ca/ this event was a wonderful combination of contemporary cuisine with farm freshness. Some tasty samplings were the Tillsonburg Beef Sliders, Brisket on a Biscuit, Tomato Confit Bruschetta, Ontario Peaches and Cream Corn (slathered with fresh butter or hot sauce), a fresh minted lentil salad, corn dogs, oatmeal ice cream cookie sandwich and local cheeses! Wine was from Southbrook Vineyards and Beer from Muskoka Brewery. Very nicely done!

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I was fortunate enough to sample La Société during the launch of Delicious Food Show last Thursday…I knew I had to come back — I spec’d out the best table for my return. Gorgeous! Very French Bistro; similar look and feel to Balthasar’s in NYC
We made reservations for 8:15, but arrived at 8 (traffic was amazing, go figure) AND they had our table ready despite that the place was packed. We used Open Table to make reservations and noted that we wanted a particular table, and they TOOK NOTICE! We were seated right away and within minutes our waitress (very professional) brought us water, and someone else brought us bread and butter (did not look nearly as good as Le Select‘s bread, so I didn’t bother a taste).
It took a while to take our drink order, but we were not in a hurry. We had an amazing table on the patio, so we were able to enjoy the moment. Although the place was jumping with activity, we did not find it noisy.
Our dinner was nicely paced and our wine was refilled in a timely manor (we did not have to reach for the bottle ourselves at all!).
We both ordered the Bibb Salad, which was garnished with roasted walnuts and blue cheese; very tasty – lots of crumbled blue and chopped walnuts; my only comment would be that it was slightly underdressed. I ordered the steak tartar, which was presented with a little Bibb and crispy fried potato gratings. The potato gratings were a wonderful alternative to the frites that is usually served with this dish. It was garnished with a soft boiled quail’s egg — quite delicious indeed. My husband ordered the Braised Short Rib, and said it was as good, if not better than Le Select’s version. His only negative comment was that some of the vegetables were slightly over done (‘tasteless’ was what he said). We did not order dessert or coffee because we wanted to head up to the Park Hyatt Toronto Lounge to enjoy the natural light show of the pending electrical storm.
La Société is definitely a keeper for sure, and it’s very practical —just hop on the Bloor Subway and there you are.As the evening progressed and the natural lighting dimmed, wait-staff were around to place lit candles on each table. There was also some spot lighting on the surrounding greenery and some street lights below, but that’s all the lighting there is for the upstairs patio. Although very romantic, they could use a bit more.

La Société: Overall rating (in my opinion): Decor 4/5, service 4/5, food 4/5, Value 4/5, Noise: 4/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet) – A note about the noise: we sat outside on the top patio in a secluded corner with a lot of umbrellas up, so the noise level was managed very well. The main interior of the restaurant seemed a bit noisier than the patio, because there are few soft surfaces. The tables across from the bar were a bit more secluded and seemed quieter as the walls are lined with velvet or suede (we sat there during the Delicious Launch on Thursday).

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Last night we took our dear friend’s Dave and MiMi out to the Fifth Grill on Richmond as a thank you for a mortgage referral that just closed. Needless to say we had wine (ooops!) I am really hoping I didn’t jeopardize my success with one night. Tomorrow will tell. We are back right on track today!
To mitigate the damage, we planned an activity-filled day with a trip down to the Toronto Islands. We walked over 10km from one end of the island to the other. It was great. We even packed a picnic lunch as these places have few healthy choices. We ate our lunch at a lovely picnic table about 10 feet from the water and a great view or Toronto! We are bushed; we had planned to BBQ a whole chicken with herbes en Provence for dinner.
Strip the skin off the bird; sprinkle generously with herbes en Provence and garlic. I have a chicken BBQ stand with a reservoir but you can also roast in a pan or rotisserie. I put chicken stock in the reservoir with a clove or two of garlic (this evaporates into the bird – it’s all about flavour). BBQ for 2-3 hours on 350F (depending on the size of your bird).
The slaw: 3 cups finely grated red cabbage, 1 cup finely grated radishes, 1 cup finely grated fennel bulb, 1 cup finely grated cucumber, 1/4 cup finely chopped green onion, 1/2 cup finely chopped dill. Toss all in a large bowl until mixed well. Set in the fridge.
The dressing: 2tbsp low fat mayo, 2tbsp Dijon mustard, 1tbsp horseradish (not sauce) 1tsp splenda, 1/4-1/2cup lemon juice. Mix well. Toss slaw with dressing when you are ready to serve. This makes enough for four meals. We’ll have chicken leftovers!

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