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Posts Tagged ‘restaurant’

We ate lunch at 4 Nudos at the Port in San José, Spain. You may see a trend here of luncheon restaurants in Spain, it is because we eat too early and nothing is ever open at 7:30 (17:30) in the evening for dinner (they open at 9-9:30 which is far too late for us to eat). We have eaten at 4 Nudos many times and it’s always busy because it is a local favourite and it’s a destination restaurant.

4 Nudos is known for its seafood; they don’t serve meat, period. The port side restaurant is tastefully decorated with a seaside theme but the main focus is the view of the port through the open wall, the inside just flows outside seamlessly. We have dined on their delightful Paella (takes about 20 minutes to make) and other seafood delicacies but for our most recent lunch, we ate Tuna Tartare and the Tuna Tataki.

They began our meal with a lovely amuse bouche of phyllo-wrapped torpedo shrimp with a creamy fresh cheese sauce (sorry, forgot to snap a pic) and some wonderful warm bread.

I ordered the Tuna Tartare (~20 €) which was beautifully presented and delicious. It was lightly dressed in a creamy mayo and tossed with avocado, celery and red onions, wrapped in thinly sliced cucumber. This one is a keeper!

A delicious combination of fresh tuna, perfectly ripe avocado, crunchy celery and crisp red onions; thinly sliced white onions cascade from the tower like a waterfall.

JT ordered the Tuna Tataki. To say this was a generous portion would be an understatement. It was at least 250 g or more! There were perfectly roasted vegetables served alongside with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt. The lemon wedge brightened everything up. The tuna had the best sear I have ever seen, still leaving a good part of the insides rare. It was a perfectly executed dish.

The portion size of this dish was huge. I think we may share this next time. The photo is a bit misleading as the lemon wedge is huge too!

We also ordered a little dessert of Almond Flan (~6 €). It was my least favourite of the meal and didn’t have much almond flavour but perhaps it was my misunderstanding, it might have been only almond topped! But the presentation was lovely and I love how the plate reminds me of the Azur colour of the Mediterranean Sea that this lovely restaurant sits near.

I would definitely recommend 4 Nudos in San José, the servers speak just enough English that they understand what we are ordering (although, I do try to pronounce the Spanish menu items). But beware, they have an English menu but it is not up to date and they warn you that things on it may be different or unavailable. It’s best to pull out your phone and Google translate with the picture feature.

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

Disclaimer: We purchased our meals for full-price and my opinion is just that, my opinion.

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Mesón El Pescador, San José

I am uncertain if it’s just us, but travel seems to get easier as we get older. I seem to recall that the transatlantic flights used to bag us completely, but now it hardly bothers us at all. And I used to be able to sleep on the plane, now I just binge-watch a series that I’ve downloaded. We generally land in the UK in the morning and stay one night; JT and I drop our luggage off at a hotel and take the train into town. Last year, we even saw Come from Away in the evening and we were still OK around midnight!

First things first, we ordered our adult beverages.

For our 2020 trip, we flew into Gatwick, spent the night and then the early the following morning we flew into Almeria and picked up our car. We like to feel at home as soon as possible so we unpacked our luggage and drove into town for lunch. February and March are definitely low season in San José and many of the retailers and restaurants are closed. We don’t mind because we don’t like crowds or the heat of the summer when everything is open. Unfortunately, Mesón Il Pescador was one of the few restaurants open when we went hunting for lunch. We just dived in without reading reviews which is totally out of character for me, but it turned out well and I’m glad we went. Sadly, it doesn’t get good reviews but it was relatively busy with the locals when we stumbled in, so we took a chance that it was good and it didn’t disappoint.

We sat outside along the beach and were lucky to get a table. There were mostly locals dining that day; I could tell because they were all sporting winter jackets while the tourists are wearing T-Shirts and Shorts!

Steamed Mussels € 10. ($14.50 Canadian)

JT ordered a ham and cheese sandwich that wasn’t available and then the chicken cutlet of which they also ran out. The steamed mussels (10 €) were his third choice. The dish would have been nice with some crusty bread alongside, we asked but it never showed up. The mussels were relatively large, fresh and tasty. I ordered the grilled octopus (20 €) (incidentally, it was my only choice) which was grilled to perfection, tender and nicely flavoured by the grill. The octopus was drizzled with a good, spicey olive oil which made for a nice sauce to dip the fries into. Although it was delicious, I found the 20 € pricey.

We enjoyed the meal and if I crave grilled octopus again, we will definitely go back. But read the reviews and be your own judge. We may have been lucky that day.

Pulpo a la Plancha 20 € ($29 Canadian)

Overall rating of Mesón Il Pescador (in my opinion): Decor n/a, service 2.5/5, food 4/5, Value 2/5, Noise: n/a (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).

Disclaimer: We purchased our meals for full-price and my opinion is just that, my opinion.

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A new Italian resto moved into the outskirts of the village (Bloor West Village) and we have hesitated to try it because it’s a small chain (currently 2 in the GTA) but we were on one of our long walks and it was lupper-time and we were a bit peckish so we decided to go for it.

It’s a well-designed Italian-like interior with stonework and wood finishes in a contemporary rustic feel. The food was very good as was the service

JT ordered Tagliolini alla Carbonara ($16.00 Canadian) which is described on the menu as “Long pasta, pancetta (Italian bacon), organic eggs, Pecorino Romano cheese, black pepper and extra virgin olive oil“. We prefer a slightly drier carbonara but I must say, it was delicious. The over the top crispy-fried pancetta really made the dish.

TAGLIOLINI ALLA CARBONARA $16.00

I ordered the appetizer portion of the Carpaccio di Vitello ($17.00 Canadian, currently removed from the menu due to lack of sales) which was described on the menu as “Thinly sliced veal drizzled with fresh lemon juice, baby arugula, extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and shaved Parmigiano – Reggiano cheese”. It was wonderful. It wasn’t quite as bountiful as the Carpaccio I had in Arizona, but the perfect size for lupper (that’s Lunch and Supper combined)!

CARPACCIO DI VITELLO $17.00

Compared to the one I had in Arizona, which was SO MUCH FOOD! To give you an idea for size, the plate at Goodfellas was about the size of a dinner plate whereas the plate in Arizona was the size of a serving platter (you can see the size difference of the salad plate at the back, it was HUGE!)

Go big or GO HOME!

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

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

Goodfellas “Wood Oven” Pizza

1 Old Mill Drive,
(Bloor & S.Kingsway), Toronto

Telephone: (855) 433-5527
Email: info@goodfellaspizza.ca
Hours, Every day: 11AM–11PM

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There is a new Japanese restaurant in our hood and it’s called Kenkou Sushi. It literally took over the space of a previous Japanese chain called Sushi 2 Go and sadly, they still haven’t changed the signage (apparently, they are waiting for good weather). Personally, I think this is a mistake as Sushi 2 Go was expensive and inferior quality than the present family owned resto. For some bizarre reason, chain restaurants usually don’t do well in my little hood so this bodes well for Kenkou Sushi. I’ve been 3 times since the beginning of February and it’s been excellent each time. It’s not fancy, but the food is fresh, tasty and nicely presented and best of all, it’s quite reasonable. If you are looking for a good Japanese restaurant in Toronto’s west end, I suggest you pop in, it’s right beside Jolanta Interiors at the corner of Bloor and Willard, you’ll need to look for Sushi 2 Go until the weather gets nicer!

The restaurant is simply decorated, with the sushi kitchen lining the back wall. There are only 7 tables but they do takeout. I like a place a little fancier for dinner, but I’ll certainly do takeout for dinner.

We decided to have a late lunch and make it the main meal of the day, but I still couldn’t finish my entire Bento Box! Both lunches came with Miso Soup, Small Salad, 6 California Rolls, 5 pieces of tempura (including 2 shrimps) and glass noodles.  JT ordered the salmon teriyaki (because he is making more of an effort to eat more fish), sitting on a bed of sautéed veggies.  The salmon looked to be about 110-120 g (good solid 4 oz).

Salmon Teriyaki Bento Box $14.00

I ordered the Sashimi Bento Box that came with 10 pieces of very fresh fish. They are not specific what fish comes out, it depends on what is fresh each day. They were wonderful and flavourful. As I previously mentioned, I was unable to finish it all, so the leftovers (I did eat all of the raw fish) will be lunch tomorrow.

Sashimi Bento Box $16.00

It’s excellent value and I love that the family members work there. So if you’re in the mood for Sushi, give them a go.

Kenkou Sushi

2370 Bloor Street West
Toronto, ON M6S 1P5

Hours:
Everyday: 11:30 AM–10:00 PM

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SushiThai_first

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted a restaurant review. It’s not that we haven’t been going out (not the case at all) but I’ve been relatively uninspired, not by the restaurants or meals, just kind of an overall humdrum feeling. Night falls far too early and the days seem to be full of grey, mostly. On the plus side, it hasn’t snowed…yet. Most of the leaves have plummeted to earth and the birds and squirrels are running around frantically looking for food. The bird feeder needs refilling almost every two days; those little sparrows eat quite a bit! Speaking of eating…

Last spring I purchased a couple of Groupons for Sushi Thai on Bloor, a restaurant in our hood so that my Hungarian relatives could experience Thai food. We’ve been to Sushi Thai several times but I wanted to get as many plates for them as possible to vary their experience, hence the Groupon. What I completely forgot was that you can only use ONE Groupon per table and we weren’t going to sit at separate tables, so I had an extra Groupon left over for a lunch JT and I had recently.

I’m always surprised that this little place isn’t busier, the décor is contemporary Asian with some tasteful Thai embellishments; it has flattering lighting and the service is good with authentic Japanese staff with a reasonable command of English. The Sushi is fresh, delicious and often creatively prepared (piped mayo, toasted sesame or rice puffs etc. and decoratively laid out on a white plate). Both Thai and Japanese foods are also very good. Complimentary tea is not offered.

A delicious bowl of soup and salad.

A delicious bowl of soup and salad.

We both ordered the lunch specials ($11 each) that came with a small bowl of miso soup and a typical Japanese-style salad made with iceberg lettuce, a few shavings of carrot and beet, thinly sliced cucumber and radish and a slice of tomato dressed with a thousand island-style vinaigrette (it has been my experience that almost all the Japanese restaurants in Toronto make a salad like this, some better than others). The miso was warm, with lots of dashi and small cubes of soft tofu garnished with green onion. Some misos can be salty but this one was not. We both commented that it could have been warmer, of course, the day was one of the first of the colder days so we were still stinging!

Sushi

Just the perfect amount for lunch.

I ordered the Sushi plate which came with 11 pieces of tasty sushi. There were 3 salmon rolls, 3 tuna rolls, and 5 pieces of Nigiri: Tuna, Hamachi, Salmon, Shrimp and Surimi. I could do without the Surimi but it seems to be prevalent on the more budget conscious restaurants. The fish was fresh with a lovely soft texture and the wasabi was pungent!

A decent lunch portion.

A decent lunch portion.

JT ordered the Chicken Teriyaki which came with a good amount of thigh meat in a light teriyaki sauce and a reasonably large mound of rice and a few broccoli florets, all garnished with some white sesame seeds. The chicken was tender and all of the fat had been properly trimmed off (you’d be surprised at how much fat and grissel JT leaves in some places). All in all we both really enjoyed our choice. We did not have dessert.

Overall rating of Sushi and Thai (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).

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

Sushi Thai on Bloor

2279 Bloor St W
Toronto, ON
M6S 1P1

Tel: 647-347-6826

Monday to Thursday 11:30 am-10:00 pm

 

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We’ve been to The Good Fork a few times now and I thought it was time to do a Kitchen Inspirations review. The folks at The Good Fork were incredibly generous around the Christmas holidays when Toronto experienced wide-spread blackouts and JT and I were without charging power for our phones for a couple of days — they let us plug in! The Good Fork is located just on the cusp of the Western edge of Bloor West Village and because it’s on the cusp, sadly it’s pretty easy to forget about it; I’m glad that on that cold December day we didn’t!

It’s about 1.6 km from our house which makes a good walk but there is street parking usually close by. I would recommend reservations if you’re going with a group because it does fill up quickly and there isn’t a bar to wait at. If you’re going for brunch, like we did, make sure you arrive before 10am because you’ll have to wait for a table if you arrive later!

The folks are very nice at The Good Fork and we have found the food to be very good quality. I like that their menu is not huge but what they do is very tasty and the prices are not bad. The portions are a good size and if you’re not starving you may even find it enough to share with an extra salad. The Good Fork is fully licensed and serves VQA wines and beers from Canadian micro breweries. The decor is modern and simple and there are many spacious booths. Their second floor can be rented for events. 

JT and I visited The Good Fork for brunch; I ordered the Nova Scotia Benny ($13.00) which came with two poached eggs, a generous serve of smoked salmon, cream cheese, preserved lemon and fresh dill on Gordy’s gorgeous house-made bun (it was so good that even I found it difficult to resist eating the top!). I chose a side salad instead of home fries and although the salad was very tasty, it was over dressed for my taste which is a mistake I find many restaurants make (note to self, ask for dressing on the side next time).

A delicious combination of flavours.

A delicious combination of flavours.

JT ordered a slightly more decadent dish: The Pulled Pork Benny ($13.60) topped with crispy fried shallots and a delicious slaw on the same house-made bun. The pulled pork had fantastic flavour and the crispy fried shallots added the much needed textural contrast to the sweet and tangy pulled pork. JT also ordered the salad as the side and it too was over dressed. Overall, I would say that both dishes were winners and we will order them again (perhaps to share next time).

TGoodFork_2455

Succulent pulled pork and a very tasty house-made bun.

 

Overall rating of The Good Fork: Decor 2.5/5, service 3/5, food 4/5, Value 3/5, Noise: 5/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).

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

 

The Good Fork

2432 Bloor St. West
Toronto, ON M6S 1P9

 

Hours:

Monday and Tuesday 9:00 am-4:00 pm
Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 9:00 am-10:00 pm
Saturday 9:00 am-4:00 pm and 5:30 pm-10:00 pm
Sunday 9:00 am-5:00 pm

 

Contact

647.352.5955
ALI@goodfork.ca
TOLGA@goodfork.ca

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Tomorrow is JT’s birthday, please join me in wishing him a Happy Birthday!

Our second night in DC we chose Bistro Bis, a contemporary French bistro, located in one of DC’s other Kimpton hotels called the Hotel George. The tour bus mentioned that this hotel is famous amongst celebrities visiting DC (the likes of Justin Bieber: gag). It’s high ceilings and lack of soft surfaces makes this establishment a little noisier than I like, but we were able to get a lovely table that was tucked away in a corner allowing me to talk without yelling at the top of my lungs. Our Russian waitress was lovely and attentive and even though her section was rather full, we never felt ignored.

The first dish we ordered was the Escargot Forestière, burgundy snails on toasted brioche with garlic confit, beech mushrooms, artichokes and bordelaise ($13) did not get off to a good start; the escargot were incredibly sandy and it turned us off immediately. There is nothing grosser than improperly cleansed escargot — they slither around in the garden eating anything and everything in their path, they MUST be thoroughly cleansed. We sent it back to the kitchen and they immediately rectified the situation by offering to replace the order with any thing we wanted, so we order the Oysters Gratin Florentine. The dish was an oyster ragout with smoked ham, spinach, fennel, tarragon glaçage and grilled baguette ($12.50) and it was lovely. The portion size was enough to share, I couldn’t imagine eating this rich dish on my own.

Bistro Bis oysters_0100

A deliciously rich sauce

My main course was the Steak Tartare, of course! Steak Tartare Atilla is a traditionally flavoured tartare with finely chopped raw sirloin with capers, onions, cornichons, spicy aïoli and garlic potato chips ($13) — for the price it was a very generous portion and they sold it as an appetizer size. The little salad was delicious with the tartare and I could have used a bit more of it.

Bistro Bis Steak Tartar_0102

Night lighting is not great for restaurant photos.

JT ordered the Côte de Porc Roti which was pan roasted berkshire pork chop with barley risotto, spring vegetables and morello cherry gastrique ($27) and even though it was expensive, it was an extremely generous size of meat. It was perfectly cooked and very tender, and the cherry gastrique was an innovated and delicious pairing. I believe JT would order this dish again.

Bistro Bis Pork Chop_0103

A very generous portion of meat.

We generally don’t order dessert, but we felt like lingering as the meal finished a little faster than we had hoped so we ordered cappuccino’s and I must say, they were the hottest cap’s I’ve ever had. As part of the apology for the sandy escargot, the chef sent out a lovely tasting plate of dessert, very tiny portions, but enough to finish the meal.

Bistro Bis Dessert_0106

After we had finished our meal the manager came over to apologize and we chatted with him for a while. They really redeemed themselves by the service so I would recommend this place, but sadly not the escargot.

Overall rating of Bistro Bis, DC (in my opinion): Decor 3/5, service 4/5, food 4/5, Value 4/5, Noise: 2/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).

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

Bistro Bis, Washington, DC

15 E Street NW
Washington DC 20001

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Our first dinner in DC was at Proof, one of the recommendations Jed and Liz (of the infamous Sports-glutton blog) made and it truly DID NOT DISAPPOINT! Proof is a moderately price American restaurant with an eclectic menu (their words). It’s contemporary design with rustic elements (brick walls, wooden tables and antique dressers) make for a very warm and inviting eating establishment — the bathrooms are wild! We chose to eat inside because of the high temperatures outside, but their patios looked amazing! I also wanted to mention that the dinner had a lovely pace to it, not too fast and not too slow, all in all it was almost two hours for the three courses which was perfect.

Both our server and somelier were friendly and attentive enough without being over-bearing — we never once had to fill our own wine glass. We decided to share the starters and chose the Bresaola, which was from Uruguay, cured, juniper scented beef tenderloin ($8US), I thought it was quite tasty although the juniper was very subtle and for $8US I felt we got a good serving size for the price. We also shared the Duck Liver Mousse (aka Fois Gras) with Pickled Red Onions & Baby Greens ($11US) and it was over the top, the duck liver mousse was so creamy, yet felt rather light in the mouth. Our server even brought us a nice selection of house made crackers and breads because as you can see, there are only three crostini’s with the dish. We were off to a great start.

Proof DuckFoieGras Mousse_Spec_0063

Our starters that we shared.

My main course (appetizer portion) was the Ahi Tuna Tartare with Crispy Nori Tempura with hass avocado, wasabi soy emulsion ($15) and I must tell you it is by far the BEST tuna Tartare I’ve ever had and I’ve had quite a few. The flavours just hit me perfectly with just the right amount of wasabi (no tears). The crispy Nori was a beautiful contrast in texture to the creamy avocado and the soft tuna. If you can believe it, my mouth is watering as I type this. I could have had two portions it was THAT good.

Proof Tuna Tartar_0062

The BEST tuna tartar I’ve EVER had

JT chose the gnocchi which came in two sizes, a small appetizer portion and a large main portion — this is the smaller size and as you can see, it was plenty (the bowl was about 24cm or 9.4 inches in diametre. The dish was Sautéed Potato Gnocchi with Hen of the Woods Mushrooms spring peas, baby chard in a sweet farm butter with basil and Parmesan sauce ($15/$27). JT was kind enough to allow me to taste this beautiful dish (sorry, it was already dark when I took the photo) and it was fantastic, but don’t let the sauce fool you, even though it’s not a cream-based sauce there is A LOT of butter in this dish! Both of our courses were lip smackingly good and I immediately wished we had this restaurant in Toronto as it became a fast favourite!

Proof Gnocchi_0060

JT chose the gnocchi

Thank you kindly for the reco’s Jed and Liz, you really hit this one bang on. It’ll be on my list whenever we return to DC.

If you find yourself in DC, do yourself a favour and try this place, it won’t disappoint.

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

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

Proof DC

775 G Street, NW Washington, DC 20001

proof@proofdc.com

202.737.7663

 

Lunch

Tuesday – Friday 11:30 – 2:00

 

Dinner

Monday – Thursday 5:30 – 10:00

Friday – Saturday 5:30 – 11:00

Sunday 5:00 – 9:30

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A very popular Mexican restaurant opened a second location just north of our hood in The Junction, Playa Cabana Cantina. We were elated because the original location is always so busy they regularly have one hour line ups outside, rain or shine. About a month ago a friend made reservations and they still had to wait an hour for their table! I don’t do lines (queues), period. If I can’t get a reservation and timely seating, I just can’t be bothered to go, no matter how delicious the food claims to be. There are too many really good restaurants in Toronto to waste time standing in line!

Cabana Cantina Junction_4254

The eclectic retro décor really suits the place.

When Playa Cabana Cantina opened in The Junction we were very happy to have a good Mexican restaurant so close to home. We’ve eaten there twice for lunch/brunch both times and I am very happy to report an excellent review BOTH times! We’ve tried going back for dinner but that’s another story.

Our first lunch we each ordered our own meal, and we knew that future visits would entail sharing, the portions are HUGE. JT had a Burrito with Guajillo-chipotle marinated free range chicken grilled over coals with fresh mango salsa which was wrapped with melted Oaxacan cheese, rice, and beans, they topped it with fresh guacamole, pico de gallo, crema, and it sat in two very colourful sauces: green tomatillo sauce and red tomato sauce $13. JT couldn’t say enough good things about it; I had a taste and it was a flavour explosion in my mouth. The red tomato sauce was delicious, the tomatillo was a bit tasteless, but I’ve not had tomatillo sauce before so maybe it is supposed to be mild. Again, there is enough food on the platter to share between two people and I guarantee you will not leave hungry. I ordered a smaller order of three Tacos de Chori-Queso; the tacos were homemade corn and water tacos filled with homemade Mexican Chorizo wrapped with Oaxacan cheese $14. Although my selection was delicious, it was a bad choice for me because the tacos were actually deep fried and the Chorizo was a bit greasy; not withstanding, it was still quite delicious, but I prefer healthier options, particularly when I’m not sharing.

On our second visit we smartened up and shared one of our favourite brunchy plates: Heuvos Rancheros and we were not disappointed. Made with three eggs, Spanish and Mexican Chorizo, rice with corn, black beans, flour tortilla, guacamole, sour cream and queso. The eggs could have been a bit more cooked (the whites were pretty runny) but the yolks were perfect. We divided the plate one third-two thirds (the larger one for JT) and it was perfect. The Chorizo was plentiful and very flavourful and it wasn’t greasy like my first taco experience; it also spiced up the plate with a bit of heat perfectly.

Service was good and both times the food came quickly, but the second time we had to ask for water fill ups. The noise level during Brunch is relatively quiet but another table (bit older than we are) asked them to reduce the volume for the music (we chose a table as far from the hanging speakers as possible). I suspect that it’s likely much more animated during the dinner hours.

Cabana Cantina Junction Huevos Rancheros_4230

Three eggs, chunks of chorizo, a flour tortilla, black beans, guacamole, sour cream, rice and corn.

Cabana Cantina Junction Huevos Rancheros_4254

We shared the Huevos Rancheros the second visit and boy were we glad we did, it was enough food for both of us.

One Thursday night, we decided to try Playa Cabana Cantina in our neighbourhood, but we knew we were playing with fire, so we called first. The gentleman said they were fully booked with reservations but there is ALWAYS seating at the bar; don’t worry, I’ll find you a seat, he said. We do bars! In fact, I love sitting at the bar because you can often get to know the bar tender and it’s always a pleasant conversation. Sadly this was not to happen that Thursday night. About 15 minutes after we called we arrived at the restaurant and guess what? No room, not one seat, not even at the bar. Needless to say we were rather annoyed and likely won’t be going back for a while (they shouldn’t have made promises they knew they couldn’t keep), not that they will miss our business because they seem to be booked every night even without us! Too bad, I liked their food.

Playa Cabana Cantina
2883 Dundas St. W, Toronto, ON
647-352-7767

Monday Closed
Tuesday 5pm – 12am
Wednesday 5pm – 12am
Thursday 5pm – 2am
Friday 5pm – 2am
Saturday 5pm – 2am
Sunday 5pm – 12am

Overall rating of The Junction Playa Cabana Cantina (in my opinion): Decor 4/5, service 3.5/5, food 4/5, Value 4/5, Noise: 4/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).

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

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Bloor West Village has been going through a bit of a make-over in the last few years. This past summer, we had Payless Shoes close (I always wondered what it was doing in our hood) and a Laura Secord shop close (now that was sad, great ice cream) and in their place a new restaurant opened its doors called The Works. The Works is a burger restaurant, but not like any restaurant you’ve seen, they specialize in burgers, high-end burgers. JT stopped by on his day off to have lunch in November and had a good experience so last Sunday we thought we’d another go.

The restaurant is not huge, but it was hopping at the strange hour of 3pm on a Sunday. I guess we were not the only one’s lunching at that hour! It’s decorated in warehouse grunge and it’s quite cool.; corrugated metal on walls, some graffiti, copper plumbing pipe made into cool linear art. The menu is burgers, burgers and more burgers. They offer • Ground Beef • Whole Chicken Breast • Lean Ground Turkey • Gourmet Veggie • Portobello Mushroom Cap • and Lean Domestic Elk (3.39 upgrade). The menu is laid out in steps, so that Step One is selecting your burger, then you choose the venue you would like the burger presented in, with a variety of toppings or if you wish, a salad topped with a burger. I didn’t see a custom burger option but with the variety of choices offered there are plenty so likely there would be no problem in finding something that will satisfy you. The menu is very Toronto centric which is also quite cool and they change the names depending on the city they service (for example, there is the Bloor West Village – grilled eggplant, ripe tomato, red onion & curry mayo 12.93 or the Distillery District – danish blue cheese, walnut chunks & a smattering of dijon-haze sauce 12.91). The burgers are not cheap, but then they are pretty gourmet, and the toppings are not skimpy so you are getting some good value for your dollar.

As I mentioned we arrived at around 3pm on a Sunday afternoon and it was packed. Fortunately, we only had to wait a couple of minutes for them to clean off the table. We were seated with menus and left to peruse for over 10 minutes before a server came by. Even the host came by and asked if we had been seen by someone. Now in all fairness, this was only their second week open, so they may have some hickups to smooth over even though there seemed to be plenty of servers on the floor for the number of people (it’s not a huge place). We placed our orders for drinks and our meals and the drinks came out in a reasonable time, albeit the water took a while. The server warned us that the food will take at least 20 minutes because they make everything fresh. It would have been nice if they had provided some kind of snack (like in Mexican restaurants they give you home made tortilla chips with salsa, or Thai places give you shrimp chips with peanut sauce) since the wait for the food was so long. But they didn’t. We’ll have to keep that in mind if there is a next time as we were pretty hungry.

JT had enjoyed the Elk burger on his previous visit so we both decided to give it another try. It’s not easy to share dishes here because they serve them on galvanized metal trays without cutlery for the most part (my salad came with a fork, I had to ask for a knife). The non-alcholic drinks are served in glass measuring cups (I found it a bit awkward to drink out of the larger glass, so you had to drink with the straw provided). JT ordered the Elk Burger with the Distillery District topping (danish blue cheese, walnut chunks & a smattering of dijon-haze sauce 12.91), I also ordered the Elk but I decided to go with the Waldork Salad (leafy spring mix, red onion, julienned beets, ripe avocado, walnuts, grilled pear then topping it all with some crumbly blue cheese 14.97). Both were quite generous portions with generous toppings, and all in all I was rather satisfied with my selection. I was however, disappointed in my burger which was a tad overdone and quite dry. Apparently they had asked JT how he’d like his burger on his previous visit, but they failed to ask us this time. When I enjoy a house-made burger, I rather like a more rounded burger than a flat patty, because it’s house made, ground on site, you need not be as concerned over having it cooked to death. My patty was flat, dry and over cooked. JT said his was a little less overdone. But two tables from us, the gentleman couldn’t eat his burger because it was too pink. It would have been nice to be asked. Normally I would have sent it back, but frankly I wasn’t prepared to wait another 20 minutes.

Would I go again? Good question. I’m not a big burger eater, so my answer would have to be no, but that’s not to say I wouldn’t recommend it for the burger lovers out there. But I suggest you wait for a couple of weeks so they can work out their kinks!

A tad overcooked for my taste

Overall rating of The Works (in my opinion): Decor 4/5, service 2/5, food 2.5/5, Value 3.5/5, 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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Villa is a restaurant in our hood that we visit from time to time. They have a good solid contemporary Italian menu with great thin crust pizzas, some wonderful salads and a decent wine list. We were looking for lunch on a Sunday with a patio that was out of the intense sunlight. The temperatures were still broaching 30°C with a reasonable amount of humidity, but at least outside there was a nice breeze.

This restaurant has an interesting history; for years and years there were two restaurants at this location side by side owned by the same people, one was Zsa Zsa (this is where Villa opened in 2004) and the other was Fiasco Trattoria (this was our Friday night place). Sometime prior to 2004, the owner sold off the two locations and the ZsaZsa side opened Ill Fornelo, an Italian wood oven pizza restaurant chain in Toronto. The restaurant failed rather quickly, apparently we Bloor West people don’t prefer chain restaurants and the manager purchased the restaurant and re opened under his own label called Villa. They serve very similar food to Ill Fornelo, but it is not a chain! Go figure!

They did an overhaul of the restaurant when it turned into Ill Fornello, but didn’t change much when it morphed into Villa. It has a nice clean contemporary design, with the kitchen exposed in the centre with the lovely pizza oven. The photos decorating the walls are of Italy and provide a nice personal touch. The staff is friendly, although could use a bit of training. We were there for a late lunch on a Sunday and it wasn’t busy.

I ordered the Grilled Shrimp and Calamari ($14.95) made with grilled calamari and tiger shrimp, black olives, capers, spinach, tomato salsa. I love this dish. It has just the right amount of the tomato salsa to eat with the succulent grilled shrimp and calamari. They leave the tails on the shrimp and I know for presentation it is preferred, but now I have to dig into my saucey dish and pull the tails off with my hands. The calamari is perfectly grilled, tender and not chewy at all.

3 large calamari tubes and 3 good sized shrimps makes a very filling meal

JT ordered the pulled pork eggs benedict ($14.95), which was a plate of 2 poached eggs, braised pork, barbeque sauce, caramelized onions, toasted English muffin with hollandaise sauce. He said it was good but wasn’t bowled over by it. The pulled pork was tender and tasty and not too sweet with the barbeque sauce. Sorry, no photo.

One of my pet peeves is when one person finishes their meal before the other and the server removes the spent plates. I find this so rude to the diner who is still eating (that would be me); it makes me feel like I should hurry up and finish (and he cleared the table of the bread and bread plates as well). So for this fact, the service is getting a low score this time. We have had better service on occasion but not this time. Our adult libations also took quite some time to arrive, but then again, perhaps they had to send a courier to Italy to get what we ordered!

Overall rating of Villa (in my opinion): Decor 3.5/5, service 2.5/5, food 3.5/5, Value 3.5/5, Noise: 5/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet). We paid for our meal in full.

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The summer has been literally slipping through our fingers, it’s been going so quickly. And we’re busy (I guess that doesn’t help) so it’s difficult to coordinate a Saturday with friends, unless you book months in advance (we already have plans for October 27th, believe it or not!). So when I tried to get a date with our friends David and Mi Mi, we were only able to come up with a Thursday last week or a date in October other than the 27th! And we didn’t want to wait until October to see them, so we nabbed the date and penned it in. David and Mi Mi work downtown and take the Go Train to the city every day, so we wanted to pick a place that wasn’t too far from the train station so we weren’t wasting time travelling to the station and have more quality time at dinner!

We selected Obikà Mozzarella Bar in Brookfield Place (used to be known as BCE Place, why do they keep changing the names of these buildings?). I have seen this place every time we eat at Marché (another great place to visit if you are in Toronto) and I knew I wanted to try it, particularly with my new found love affair with Burrata Cheese. Obikà flies their fresh mozzarella in TWICE a week from Italy. I kid you not. Their fresh Mozzarella balls are priced at $11 for take away, which isn’t bad considering we usually pay $9 for ordinary stuff at the supermarket! You can read about their fresh Mozzarella here, just click “Read more about our Mozzarella here”.

The restaurant is basically in the main floor atrium of an office building. It’s a lovely space with super high ceilings and the majority of the seating is in the atrium; bottom line is that’s it’s a mall and people walk by all the time. It didn’t give me the warm and cozy feeling. But once we got into the wine, and chatting, we soon became unaware that we were basically sitting in the middle of a mall.

We arrived a little late as I had to get ready — you know me, ladies, I can’t go downtown without the usual accoutrements (mini, heals, bling etc). We arrived by Subway at around 6:30 and David and Mi Mi had already ordered a couple of lovely sampler platters: A Tasting Plate of Three Bufala Mozzarella di Campagna ($34.00) Affumicata a smoked Bufala Mozzarella di Campagna, Classica a regular Bufala Mozzarella di Campagna and Stracciatella di Burrata which is the inside of a Burrata (this is the soft creamy part). I really didn’t care for the way they served the Stracciatella di Burrata in a bowl. My favourite, by far was the smoked Mozzarella, it was so tasty (I’m going to make my own smoked version this weekend!). They also ordered a Selezione di Salumi which was a lovely meat platter ($12.00), showcasing a Prosciutto Crudo di Parma DCP, Prosciutto Cotto and Mortadella. Now I know that Mortadella is the pride of Bologna, but honestly, it’s Boloney! OK, I take that back, I don’t want to offend my Italian friends, suffice it to say, I was not impressed. We ordered the Veneto La Serenissima Pinot Grigio ($35) because we all craved a light summery wine (it was incredibly hot and humid out). For our mains, each couple shared a pizza and believe it or not, we let our hubby’s choose. Mine, made a bee-line for the Cheese Pizza called Formaggio Morbidi ($17) (soft cheese pizza), decorated with Mozzarella di Bufala Campagna DCP, Gorgonzola, Staccchino and Ricotta garnished with fresh basil and EVOO. The crust was super thin and beautifully baked, crispy and soft and chewy all at once. We had asked them not to add the Gorgonzola until the very end after it has come out of the oven as our preference is not to have it render. It could have used a few more little bits (we LOVE our Gorgonzola!). David and Mi Mi ordered Prosciutto ($16) which was Prosciutto Crudo di Parma DCP, Mozzarella di Bufala Campagna DCP, Organic Tomato filets and Arugula. I think they enjoyed it. (I apologize for any spelling errors, the menu on line is extremely difficult to read).

Overall rating of Obikà Mozzarella Bar (in my opinion): Decor 2/5 (this failed incredibly because we were sitting in a mall), service 4/5, food 4/5, Value 2.5/5 (it’s not inexpensive, but the quality is very good), Noise: 2/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet). Reservations are definitely recommended.

This blog has a good photo of the first platter: http://cookbookstoreblog.blogspot.ca/2011/08/obika-mozzarella-bar-toronto.html

This search turned up a good photo of the second plate: http://obika.tumblr.com/post/2431126408/selezione-di-salumi-prosciutto-crudo-di-parma

This search has some good pictures of the restaurant: http://www.pic2fly.com/Obika+Restaurant+Toronto.html

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

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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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Our final day in the Big Apple. After our delightful walk along the Hudson River, we ended up deep in the Financial District of New York City. JT wanted to take me to lunch in the oldest part of the city. We decided on Mad Dog and Beans, a Mexican Cantina. It got mediocre reviews on Yelp, but we really wanted to eat outside and we figured we’d order something simple so they wouldn’t screw it up.

The restaurant logo

We both ordered the Black Eyed Tuna Salad which was pan seared black eye tuna with sesame seeds, romaine lettuce, diced avocado, radish, orange wedges and a jalapeno ginger dressing ($10). We were both quite pleasantly surprised. See, my theory is to lower your expectations and you will never be disappointed! It doesn’t always work. But the tuna was perfectly cooked, fresh the avocado was creamy and the orange was a wonderful foil for the flavour combinations. The only downfall would have been the dressing, which was tasteless (can’t even guess what it was!).

Seared Tuna with Avocado and Orange

The street patio

Looking at the opposite direction

My handsome honey

I really liked the area and will plan to come back on our next trip. But there was another restaurant Smorgas Chef that I would likely try next.

Overall rating of The Mad Dog and Beans (in my opinion): Decor ?/5 (we sat outside and didn’t even go in), service 4:5, food 3/5, Value 4/5, Noise: 4/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet). We paid for our meal in full.

And that concludes our 26th Anniversary trip to New York City. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. I’ll leave you with this last photo (an ad for a storage company, but I photoshop’d the ad out). This last photo is for Kristy (Eat, Play, Love), Sissi (With a Glass), Liz (That Skinny Chick can Bake) and Charlie (Hotly Spiced), my ‘shoe sisters’.

This is a real billboard we saw while on the High Line

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That’s my Angelina pose!
The day turned out to have perfect weather, so JTs first pick for dinner the Riverpark was wonderful. Situated in Manhattan’s Kips Bay neighborhood, Riverpark is a Tom Colicchio restaurant (Top Chef Judge);
this restaurant is in an unlikely location of the main floor of an office building overlooking the Hudson river. We arrived on time and they seat us at a lovely window-side table (talk about lucking out!). Here is a gorgeous photo, mine was burnt out.

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It’s designed beautifully with attention to detail but not overwhelming so that the view can be the star.

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The ceiling over the large bar has lights like stars in the sky!
The restaurant gets most, if not all of its produce from its own ‘farm‘ amidst the sky scrapers in Alexandria Centre. Cool eh?
We start with half a dozen East Coast Oysters from Maine ($15); the waiter said the were briny, but they are not briny enough for my taste (I like to taste the ocean, my fav’s are Prince Edward Island oysters). I had the Salmon Tartare ($15) which was roughly chopped salmon seasoned very simply with capers, lemon and parsley, so delicious! JT had Baby Lettuces ($11) with marinated vegetables and herbs and a champagne vinaigrette.
Keeping with the smaller portions I had another appetizer of the Grilled Calamari Salad ($17) with farm baby greens, grapefruit and a Niçoisse olive vinaigrette – it was perfect! JT had the Smoked Ricotta Gnocchi with peas, long peppercorn, morels and pecorrino
which were tender with a hint of smoke in a very delicious broth-based sauce. A pleasant surprise to the traditional cream laden sauces (he too had the smaller plate ($17).
Our waiter was attentive but not in your face, he was knowledgeable about the food and wine, and when he didn’t know, he wasn’t afraid to ask. For the quality and ambiance, I did not find this place expensive.
Overall rating of Riverpark (in my opinion): Decor 4/5, service 3.5:5, food 4.5/5, Value 4/5, Noise: 4/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet). We paid for our meal in full.

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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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Hi! Remember last fall I mentioned I had a surprise? Well, I can now talk about it! I was invited to participate in the taping of this episode of Canada’s Top Chef Season 2! The premise was a baby shower and the contestants had to make food representative of a boy and of a girl. We had to dress baby showery, pretty colours, heels (you know how I would hate that ;-)) and we were able to walk around and try all of the food. I can’t say that I remember much of the tastes, but the video sure brought back some memories and the opinions of the judges. Fortunately, I ended up on the cutting room floor, so I have no idea what I would look like on TV! Was that my 15 minutes? I thought this was a perfect segue into today’s post.

Second place on Top Chef Canada 2011, chef Rob Rossi’s Bestellen did not disappoint! Only open a month or so, the kitchen did not seem to exhibit any of the growing pains new restaurants are so famous for. The wait staff are friendly, professional and courteous and seem genuinely happy to work with Chef Rossi. Our waiter spoke very highly of Chef Rossi.

The décor is warm and comfortable with a huge meat mural on the west wall; there is a windowed meat curing room off to the right as you entre through the bar area. We were seated at the back near the kitchen, usually not my flavourite place, but we were curious on the workings of the kitchen; they were serious yet smiling, seems like a good place to work. Chef Rossi ever present checking and cooking! My only complaint would be the fluorescent bulb in the kitchen (yes I know they have to see what they are doing) which poured disgustingly bright light into the dining room; had they lowered the bulkhead between the kitchen and dining room about 30-40cm, it would have completely missed shining right into my eyes. Perhaps it still can be corrected! They played a great mix of the old jazz crooners and some cool old fashioned rock. For some lovely photos and an intro article, please click here.

Now the food. A decidedly meaty menu, I started with the grilled octopus; delicious, and perfectly cooked with a touch of char. I would have complimented it with a bit more sauce, as it was scarce, the little black olives (usually my favourite) were tasteless. My husband had the salad and said it was just OK. My main was the steak tartar! I exclamation marked it because it was most likely the BEST steak tartar I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a lot! Nicely seasoned and did I taste a bit of chopped pickle? A very European addition. The deep fried quail egg did nothing for my particular taste. JT had the burger and thought it was incredible! They served it with sweet potato fries (YUM) with a smoked paprika ketchup that was TO DIE FOR! We will be back, particularly when I’m in the mood for a perfect tartar, but next time, we will ask to be seated more toward the front out of the fluorescent glare.

I have reviews of this restaurant, and several others on Yelp.ca, Trip Advisor, Open Table and Google. Do you review restaurants and if you do, which website(s) do you participate in reviewing.

PS. I couldn’t help but think of one of my lovely readers, Lorraine, of famed Not Quite Nigella, who has blogged about a roasted whole suckling pig a while ago; Chef Rossi also serves a whole pig as a family-style feast and you have to order it three days ahead and enjoy it with a minimum of eight people.

Overall rating of Bestellen (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).

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

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Each time we come down to the Niagara region we always pop by one of our flavourite little villages, Jordan. Because we decided to see Jordan on the way home on Monday most of the quaint little shops were closed due to the statutory holiday, sadly. But fortunately an old flavourite restaurant was open for business, On the Twenty. On the Twenty was likely the first winery restaurant in this region; originally boasting a couple of our celebrity chefs Anna Olson and Michael Olson. Since then there have been several award winning winery restaurants in this region which makes it difficult to go back to somewhere you’ve already been, we always want to try new places. The spot we picked out for our brunch on the way home was not to be – closed on Mondays, so we decided to try On the Twenty again, after all, it has been about 10 years!
On the Twenty is nestled into an old row of historical buildings on the edge of vineyards; the tables have a lovely view even if it is winter. We are seated and I face the window, it was a gorgeous, sunny day! We settle in with a glass of wine (now that would be sacrilege to be at a winery restaurant and not order wine!). The menu is lovely and we are tempted by two interesting selections: I choose the Vintner’s Lunch which includes sausage, pâté en croute, house preserves and pickles, house-smoked salmon, Pingue prosciutto, chorizo and Ontario artisanal cheese. It is a beautifully presented platter with a small selection of everything; my only complaint would have been that it lacked a little sweetness such as a chutney or compote, but it was divine! JT decided on the WillowGrove Pork Chop with rosemary forked Yukon mash, honey-glazed carrot, apple jus. The pork was juicy and tender with just the right amount of vegetables. A truly wonderful brunch, On the Twenty did not disappoint! We shan’t wait another ten years before we return next time!

Overall rating of On the Twenty (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).

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

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We were finally able to get into Ici Restaurant in Toronto; I say finally because, believe it or not, we made reservations between Christmas and New Years! It was on our list of places to try, but alas we had not been able to get in until now! Ici opened in November 2010 on Manning Avenue in Toronto after two years of fighting ridiculous issues with a City Councillor; not sure what the hoopla was over since it’s a very small French restaurant and not a after hours club! They serve “modern French food” with classics such as Lobster Bisque, Steak Tartar and Chicken Suprême.
I have to say, having to wait three weeks to dine with a reservation, I had expectations. It was a blistery cold day in Toronto and this place is in a residential area (the Annex), with street parking only. We had our first snowfall the day before and not everyone shovels their sidewalk as they should; we had to park about a hundred metres from the restaurant and I wore satin sling backs (OK, I’m well-known for inappropriate footwear so this should be of no surprise!) We arrive and the place is T I N Y – seating for maybe 25, half if which is along the bar and kitchen counters. We were sat at the bar. I said, “but we had reservations” this is all we have, was the response. Hmmmm. It’s REALLY S M A L L. No where to hang your coat — they could have used hooks under the bar. The door is covered with heavy velvet drapery, but it’s still not enough to stop the blustery cold from interrupting our comfort. People are turned away at the door, you really do need a reservation. The décor is quaint but nothing special. The napkins are linen tea towels, I like them. There are place-mats at each place on the bar, and we are not overly crowded (I can’t even reach over to touch the next two diners, not that I would want to). The kitchen has a window so you can see the action, and it’s pretty obvious that they are not overly taxed.

The staff is attentive; we are immediately welcomed with a small but very tasty goats cheese tart amuse bouche; it had caramelized onion baked with the tart, creamy goats cheese — it was delicious, which makes us both excited about our meals. The menu is short, only about ten things and they come in two sizes, appetizer portion of meal portion, which works out well for me. We order six oysters as our starter, they are small PEI oysters for $3. each; they are served with grated fresh horse radish, lemon wedges and a classic Mignonette garnish. They are quite lovely with a hint of brininess (I actually like my oysters a bit brinier!) and they are a lite great starter without taking up tummy-space. Because the restaurant space is small and there are not many people, it’s a little quieter than most hot spot eateries, which is nice because I have a difficult time competing with noise, my voice tends to be the same level and I can’t even hear myself talk! I ordered the steak tartar; the server said it was delicately seasoned with shallots, cognac, mustard and cornichons (not capers). I ordered the appetizer portion and it is served as two good sized quenelle shapes with similarly shaped deep-fried mashed potatoes. Although I am not a huge potato eater, my preference would have been the beautiful match-stick fries traditionally served with this dish. I ate half of one of the potatoes and gave the other half to JT. The tartar was tasty, not the best I’ve ever had, but certainly up there. JT had the Seared Braised Beef, Artichoke & Black Trumpet Ravioli, even the appetizer portion was a healthy serving. The meat was so tender and tasty, it was right up there for taste and quality. He said it was good but not the best he’s ever had. We finished with a couple of very delicious espressos. The dinner was nicely spaced out, with reservations at 7:30 we left around 9:30.

Overall rating of Ici (in my opinion): Decor 2.5/5, service 3.5/5, food 3.5/5, Value 3.5/5, Noise: 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.

The first give-away on Kitcheninspirations:

Would you like a pinch?

Would you like a pinch?

I picked up these wonderful little Just a Pinch sample packets of flavoured gourmet salts during the Christmas Holidays at Longo‘s new store at the Air Canada Centre. I was so intrigued by them, the possibilities are endless. To enter is easy:

  • Answer the following four questions correctly (all of the answers are found in my blog) in a comment on this post will get you one entry.
  • For additional entries, leave one comment on the correct post in which you found the answers; each comment (limit one per post, per person) on the correct post will gain you one additional entry.
  • Bring a new person to comment on my blog (and they actually leave a meaningful comment), please tell me the person’s name in a comment and you will get an additional entry AND the new person will get one entry.

Contest open until January 22, 2012 at which time I will tabulate the entries and all correct entries will go into a draw. JT will officiate the draw. All five little packets will be won by one lucky individual, anywhere in the world. I will release the winner’s name during the week of January 23. Good luck to you all.

  1. What inspired me to create this blog?
  2. What month is my birthday?
  3. How did we travel to Montreal in the fall of 2011?
  4. How many pictures did I upload in 2010?

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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 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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