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Our last trip to Europe was a culinary shopping success, but sadly failed miserably in the Fashion area, particularly shoes. My shoe shopping times were constantly thwarted by siesta, and when there wasn’t siesta, I just wasn’t in the mood. I guess it just wasn’t my time. That isn’t to say that there wasn’t shopping, because there was quite a bit of shopping to be had, and I did my fair share, in the culinary field.

I brought back a variety of things that will be revealed in due time but now I shall direct you to this very delicious dessert/snack of peach and coconut jelly squares made with agar-agar. I have been wanting to buy this stuff but I have only ever found flavoured product so when I spotted it at my favourite grocery store in Almeria, I was all over it. Figuring out what to do with it was another story, so many interesting recipes. But what I really needed was a test experiment to see what exactly the texture of jelly that agar-agar creates. You see, we had the most luxurious, smoked fish mousse at our favourite French bistro and I was determined to recreate it. I was fairly certain that it was not made with gelatin because the texture was way to creamy and easily spreadable. It was so silky and smooth spread across some toasted baguette, it was a wonderful textural and taste experience. Making this light dessert showed me the proportions I needed to make a smooth, yet spreadable smoked fish mousse.

This is a recipe modified from this tasty recipe. I used peaches because I had peaches at home (frozen from the previous spring). It’s refreshing and the texture is smooth and creamy but it also has a bit of a gelatinus mouthfeel.

Peach and Coconut Jelly Squares

Ingredients:

Peach Layer

  • 100 mL grilled peach purée (roughly about 2 peaches peeled and chopped)
  • 5 mL lime juice
  • 150 mL water
  • 2 g 1 agar-agar powder
  • 30 g monk fruit crystals 
  • 5 mL vanilla

Coconut Layer

  • 200 mL cup water
  • 1 tsp agar-agar powder
  • 45 g monk fruit crystals
  • pinch of salt
  • 200 mL coconut milk

Directions:

  1. Add the water to a saucepan and add the agar-agar, slowly bring to a full boil, and stir until the agar-agar has completely dissolved. Add the monk fruit crystals and stir until dissolved.
  2. Add the peach purée and vanilla and stir to combine well. Pour into the mould.
  3. For the coconut layer, add the water to a saucepan and add the agar-agar and slowly bring to a full boil and then stir until the agar-agar has dissolved. Add the monk fruit crystals and stir until dissolved, add the salt and coconut milk and stir to combine well.
  4. Once the peach layer has set (this happens as it cools, does not need to be refrigerated), carefully pour the coconut layer over it. Both layers should be warm so that they stick together.

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It’s quite funny how the universe works, isn’t it? Case in point, we were down in Arizona in March-April and my dear friend Theresa decided to introduce me to a Moscow Mule, a refreshing alcoholic bevy served in a classic copper mug. I had never had one before. It is made with ginger beer and vodka and lime juice, and it is very tasty and refreshing. Fast forward a couple of months, I’m minding my own business and to my surprise, I receive an unsolicited email from a Canadian company out west who imports and sells their very own, wait for it…Moscow Mule mugs! What a coincidence indeed! We spoke on the telephone and I suggested that I could do a post for them, focussing on a recipe that would be served in said mug. Of course, they sent me a couple of their mugs so I can post pics of the recipe in them. The mugs are beautifully hand-hammered by an artisan group in India, but most importantly, they are lined with nickel lining. Apparently, using mugs without nickel can cause a series of serious health issues (so if you have such mugs, check to make sure they have a non-reactive lining and you are not drinking directly from a copper mug). This blog post talks about the importance of nickel lining.

The Moscow Muled mugs are reasonably priced at $16.60 Canadian ($12.50 US) each and would make great hostess gifts or stocking stuffers during the holidays.

I added a couple of cute tea towels, but another great idea would be a gingerbeer kit, complete with vodka, gingerbeer and limes!

Moscow Mules were invented circa 1941 in LA in a British pub called Cock ‘n’ Bull by their head bartender, Wes Price. The story is quite interesting, so if you wish, you may read about it here.

Take the worry out of the mug, Moscow Muled mugs are made with “100% pure high-grade and food-safe copper with an inner layer of high-grade nickel.”* Plus they look awesome and will keep your bevy cool on hot summer nights! I knew I wanted to make the Authentic Ginger Beer recipe on their website, it’s relatively easy (just a bit of time) and you probably already have all of the ingredients at home. The only thing I did to this tasty recipe is half it (there are only two of us and it still made around 4 litres) and I converted it to weights instead of volumes.

Raise a Moscow Muled mug with this tasty and refreshing drink, Cheers guys.

I was gifted with two Moscow Muled Mugs for this post, the opinions listed are my own.

*moscowmuled.com

I made new zippered covers for the sectional in the background, so happy with the way they turned out.

Moscow Muled Ginger Beer

Makes about 4 L of ginger beer.

For the original recipe, please click here.

Ingredients, Step 1 Ginger Bug:

  • 250 mL water
  • 15 g sugar
  • 13 g freshly grated ginger

Directions:

  1. Combine the freshly grated ginger with the sugar and water in a glass jar.
  2. Stir until sugar has entirely dissolved with a non-reactive spoon, like a wooden spoon or silicone spatula.
  3. With a clean tea-towel, cover the glass jar and secure it with rubber bands and allow to sit at room temperature for a total of 5 to 7 days.
  4. During these 5-7 days, every day, add another 13 g of freshly grated ginger and 15 g of sugar and stir until dissolved. Cover the glass jar with a towel or cloth, and secure it with rubber bands.
  5. The mixture will form bubbles around 5-7 days and at 7 days, it should smell sharp with a strong yeast aroma.

Ingredients, Step 2 Ginger Beer:

  • 85 g ginger root, peeled and grated
  • 3.5 L of filtered water
  • 2 g of sea salt
  • 300 g sugar (white or brown, I used white because I wanted a clear ginger beer)
  • 42 mL lemon juice
  • 250 mL of ginger bug

Directions:

  1. on the 5th or 7th day, combine 2 L of water, ginger, sugar and salt in a large non-reactive pot, bring to a boil then allow it to simmer for 5 minutes, stirring periodically to steep the ginger.
  2. Remove from the heat and add the remaining water. Allow this liquid to cool completely. Once cool, use a very fine sieve to strain the ginger to make a clear liquid. Pour the ginger bug into the mixture (make sure that it is room temperature, about 23° C or 74° F, as you will kill the ginger bug if it is hot).
  3. Add the lemon juice and stir well.
  4. Pour into sterilized bottles, making sure they are only about 2/3 full because this ginger beer will actually ferment and produce carbon dioxide.
  5. Store bottles in a warm, dark place away from light and allow it to ferment for about 10 days. Carefully loosen caps from time to time to relieve the pressure from fermentation (I did this once per day).
  6. Refrigerate the ginger beer when it has reached your preferred level of sweetness. Refrigeration causes the fermentation to stall significantly. The longer the fermentation, the less sweet your ginger beer will be. We fermented our lot for 10 days and it produced a gingery, slightly carbonated beer that wasn’t as sweet as I thought it would be.

I know there is no orange in the Moscow Mule recipe, I just wanted a hit of colour.

Notes:

  • I used recycled screw cap wine bottles, properly washed, rinsed and sanitized.
  • Make sure you tighten the screw caps well so the ginger beer can ferment. Also, make sure you release the CO2 every day, by opening the bottles and allowing them to exhale, so the bottles don’t explode.
  • Even after the ginger beer has fermented and is resting in the refrigerator, it contains a lot of effervescence, so be careful. Open bottles over the sink. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
  • I suspect there is some alcohol in the ginger beer I made, but I don’t know for certain.

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We had our 15th or 16th (I’ve lost count) progressive dinner recently. It was our turn to host the main course, so we got to choose the theme and we chose Canada’s 150th birthday! This opens up the menu to several options and we all did very well! We began our feast with appetizers at John and Nancy’s, they had a lovely selection of Canadian cheeses with a variety of crackers. We were up next and we chose Tourtière as our main course. We finished the evening off at Tom and Iona’s where we enjoyed a Canadian Touque cake! I wish I had taken a picture of it, but it was dark and we were already into a few bottles of vino! 😉

Tourtière is a traditional Québequois meat pie with as many variations on the recipe as there are families! So, of course, I had to put my own spin on it. But before I get to the recipe, allow me to give you a bit of history that I found interesting (like to learn more? This is a good article).

This was the first test recipe.

Tourtière can be traced back to the 1600’s, served on Christmas Eve as part of a massive réveillon after Christmas Mass, it is time-consuming and expensive to make. Original recipes were made of cubed meat instead of ground meat and usually contained a variety of pork, beef, veal and in some cases, wild game. The uniqueness of Tourtière comes from the spices used to flavour the meat blend, most commonly would be cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, summer savoury, and thyme. Some even added grated potato, bread crumbs or oatmeal to help soak up the liquid. The pastry is always a rich, savoury, buttery pastry in a pie form, or are baked in layers like a lasagna; I chose to make mine a log similar to Beef Wellington. I will say, it was tasty but I doubt I would make it again (unless it was a special request).

The first one looked a little rough.

The first recipe I tried included grated raw potato which was added to the browned meat at the end and stock poured over to help cook it. Both JT and I agreed that it lead to a starchy filling and I decided right then and there that I would not go that route. You do need a little something to absorb some of the flavouring liquid so I chose bread crumbs. For this quantity of meat, some recipes added an entire cup, but I really wanted to avoid that starchy, gummy texture so I reduced both the stock and breadcrumbs significantly and was much happier with the outcome. The other thing I did slightly differently, is I added cooked bacon! It really brought a nice, layer of flavour to the pie without being overly bacon-ie.

The pastry is rather rich and employs a completely different method than regular pastry, the butter is room temperature and is basically rubbed into the flour and then the lightly beaten eggs and water are added at once, using the paddle attachment until just combined. Then it is set into the refrigerator to allow for the butter to set. It is rather odd, but it does work and it does make a very rich pastry that is both delicate but firm enough to hold the heavy meat filling. I decorated the log with maple leafs and then I scored the leaves for effect.

Just about ready to be popped into the oven.

Tourtière

Please click here to print recipe
Serves 6, plus

Ingredients:

  • 100 g bacon
  • 275 g each beef, veal, and pork
  • 130 g onion, finely diced
  • 125 g celery, finely diced (roughly 2 ribs)
  • 10 g garlic, finely minced (roughly 2 cloves)
  • 125 mL beef stock
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 20-30 g bread crumbs (unseasoned and finely ground)
  • 1 tsp each, salt and pepper (less salt if your bacon was really salty or to taste)
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp dried thyme

Directions:

  1. Crisp the bacon. Reserve 30 mL (2 tbsp) of the rendered fat (set remainder aside if desired).
  2. Caramelize the onions in the 15 mL (1 tbsp) bacon fat. Near the end, add the garlic and stir until you can smell the aroma (this will cook further, later in the process). Reserve the onions and garlic mixture.
  3. Brown meat in batches using a little bit of the remaining 15 mL of bacon rendering. On the last batch of meat, deglaze the pan with a mixture of the beef stock and Worcestershire sauce.
  4. Turn the heat right down and return all of the meat to the pan, and add the celery and stir well.
  5. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs a little at a time while stirring to achieve a slightly drier texture but be careful, because it can make it mushy and starchy (I used about 20 g of the bread crumbs).
  6. Lightly toast the aromatic spices (nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon). Mix with salt, pepper and dried thyme and sprinkle evenly onto the meat mixture and stir well. Allow the meat to cool completely and then assemble into the pie crust.

 

This one turned out very well.

The Savoury Pastry Recipe

Please click here for original recipe. The recipe makes enough for 1 log.

Please click here to print this recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 470 g cake and pastry flour
  • 12 g salt
  • 254 g unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 125 mL cool water
  • 2 eggs

Directions:

  1. Combine flour, salt and smallish chunks of butter in the large bowl of your stand mixer, equipped with the paddle attachment. Mix until the butter is fully incorporated into the flour (should be mealy).
  2. Combine the water and eggs and mix well. Add the water egg mixture to the dough all at once and mix until just incorporated, the dough will be very shaggy.
  3. Transfer the dough without a lot of handling to a smaller bowl and cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours so the butter can set.
  4. Turn the shaggy dough out and bring it together with your hands, flattening and folding the crumbs until it comes together.
  5. Roll as required or wrap and chill or freeze for future use.

 

May I offer you a slice? Please have some smoked ketchup with it.

Assembly:

Ingredients:

  • 1 egg, lightly beaten

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
  2. Bring the pastry out of the refrigerator about 15 minutes (or less if it is hot in your kitchen) before you wish to begin rolling. Roll pastry with a little flour on parchment paper.
  3. Roll a rectangle about 30 cm x 40 cm (12″ x 16″) and place the meat mixture into the centre in a long log, leaving space at each end. Fold up the ends and pinch closed and fold up the sides and pinch closed. Cut off excess pastry at the ends, reserve for decoration.
  4. Flip the entire log so that the seam is underneath. Roll the remaining pastry a little thinner than the rectangle and cut out shapes with a cookie cutter (I used a maple leaf).
  5. Lightly brush the pastry with the lightly beaten egg. Decorate with cut outs and then brush the cutouts with the remaining egg.
  6. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until pastry is golden and shiny. Slice into a variety of thicknesses to please all your guests.

Notes:

  • I served the Tourtière with Bacon Jam recipe and home made ketchup (recipe to come) and this Chutney.
  • Sides to consider: creamed corn, peas, green beans with garlic and almonds, and or mashed potatoes. It is a heavy meal so you may wish to include a salad.
  • JT made a wonderful no knead bread and I cut little patts of butter with my small maple leaf cookie cutter.

Night photos always suck.

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ChoppedLogoLast summer I received a most welcome email from my dear blogger friend, Lorraine Elliot of the famed Not Quite Nigella blog. She was coming to Canada as a guest of the Canadian Tourism Commission and Tourism Yukon and she wondered would I be available to meet if she could arrange a slight diversion to Toronto! I was absolutely thrilled! Of course, I wrote back, who wouldn’t want to meet with one of their blogger heroes? I kept having to pinch myself! No, really!

I suspect that there were many arrangements to make/and subsequently change with the Canadian Tourism Commission so that Lorraine could be in TO for a couple of days. They booked her solid so it was a bit whirl-wind, but Lorraine made sure we had at least a half a day and it was awesome! (You can read about Lorraine’s Toronto experience here, here, here, here, and here). I had asked Lorraine to email me her Toronto schedule so that I could a) make the most of her time, and b) choose something to do that wasn’t on the Tourism Commission’s itinerary. I wanted to show her something unique.

Lorraine_Eva

I’m not too good at taking selfies.

I am very fortunate to know or be acquainted personally with many culinary giants in Toronto, mostly through my past life as a Client Service Rep for a design firm that specializes in Food Packaging, but some because of my current vocation, so I got out my address book. I called Claudia Bianchi, a very close friend of a friend, and an accomplished chef, food stylist and producer of several Food Network Canada shows. I knew Claudia was in the midst of the taping of Season 3 of Chopped Canada and I wondered if there might be an opportunity for us to visit the set and even stay a bit to check out the taping. Claudia very generously put me in touch with Cary Mignault, the PR guy for Chopped Canada, Season 3. It was such an amazing experience, Cary was open and more than happy to make the set visit happen. And such perfect timing too, because as it turned out, the day we visited the set was the LAST DAY of taping the show! Can you believe our fortuitousness? Had Lorraine made arrangements for the day after, it simply could not have happened and I would have been up the creek without a paddle!

I picked Lorraine up at the hotel at 7:30 am and we drove across town to Leslieville where they were taping Chopped Canada, Season 3. As soon as she stepped into the car, we talked and talked and talked, it was as if we were long lost friends! I can attest that Lorraine is as lovely, kind and sweet in person as she is on Social Media. Cary met us in the parking lot and we entered the building. To say this is a huge production is an understatement, there is even an enormous refrigerator/prep room filled with full-size refrigerators! And the set is outstanding, sparkly and new, filled with the latest gadgets and appliances, it is a cook’s dream!

FridgeRoom

The Fridge and Prep room

Fridge_PrepRoom

The off set Prep area.

Claudia met us on set and took us for a little tour, this little slide show includes some of the photos sent to me by Cary. Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to chat with Claudia about the show, so here are some insights:

There are a total of ten judges who participate on the show, but there are only 3 seats actually on the show, the judges alternate depending on availability (read about the judges here). The judges are not just there to assess and evaluate the participants but their interaction also provide mentorship to each culinary participant. I enquired how the secret basket of ingredients are determined and Claudia said that she gets her inspiration from many places…it could be a trip to the market, a weekend at their cottage or perhaps her husband’s restaurant (Actinolite) or even some of the judges! And the ingredients need not be Canadian! I asked what ingredient was sourced from the furthest place, sadly she could not mention it as the show had not aired! As you can see from the slide show below, the on stage pantry is exceptionally stocked (here is a link to some great pantry photos (BTW, my friend the designer Kim Sewell, designed most of the labels because they were not permitted to have branded product on set!)).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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ChocScoreMacarons_First

I had the good fortune to be called to work a continuous 9-day job recently. It was a crazy schedule that had us styling and shooting 10-20 shots per day; I was first assistant and we even had a second assistant to help with cleanup and be our runner (running things to set when needed).  Even when everything goes right, it’s a crazy ambitious schedule and at the end of each day, I was so beat, I could barely talk — most days were 11 hours but the last day went 13! I even got to style some of my own work as we had two sets going on a couple of days. We did get one day reprieve in the middle of the hectic schedule and being the crazy woman that I am, I made Chocolate-Skor* Macarons for the team!

To be honest, this flavour combo came by, by error; I had made a batch for our anniversary party and the tops cracked (I beat the egg whites too long), so to hide my error, I coated the cracks with melted chocolate and skor* bits! No one was the wiser and they were by far, the most talked about during the party!

The team LOVED them, so I thought I’d record the recipe for posterity! I’ll be making them again for sure!

Macarons

These are the one’s I served at the party, the bottom tray macarons are the cracked ones I hid with chocolate and skor* bits!

Bucket List

Chocolate-Skor* Macarons

A KitchenInspirations Original Recipe

Makes about 18-22 macarons (depending on how large your cookies are)

Ingredients:

  • 70 g blanched almond meal or flour (finely ground)
  • 116 g icing sugar
  • 2 large egg whites, room temperature
  • 50 g granulated sugar
  • 15 g cocoa powder

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 350° F (177° C). Prepare your macaron template using your computer to draw 2.5 cm or 1″ circles about 2.5 cm or 1″ apart. Print two sheets. Put the two sheets under your UNSTICK™ baking sheet liner to use as your circle templates.
    MacaronTemplate
  2. Add finely ground almonds, cocoa powder and icing sugar into a food processor and pulse a few times to completely combine.
  3. Press the almond/sugar/cocoa mixture through a fine-mesh sieve to remove the larger bits. You should have no more than 2 tbsps left (discard or save larger almond bits for something else).
  4. In the bowl of your stand mixer, whisk egg whites and granulated sugar by hand to combine. Beat until you have very stiff and glossy peaks when you lift the whisk out of the bowl. DO NOT OVER WHIP or you will get cracked tops.
  5. Add the almond/sugar/cocoa mixture ALL at ONCE to the stiffly beaten egg whites and fold with a silicone spatula starting from 12 o’clock all the way back to 12 o’clock in a clockwise motion, then drag the spatula directly down the middle, pressing firmly against the bowl. Repeat this process until all of the almond/sugar/cocoa mixture has been incorporated and the ‘batter’ flows like lava (I counted about 35 complete strokes). Too few folds will result in cracked tops and too many folds will not permit the feet to form while baking.
  6. Prepare a pastry bag fitted with a 1 cm or 3/8″ round tip. Transfer the batter to the pastry bag.
  7. Begin piping the batter onto the prepared UNSTICK™ baking sheet liner directly over the circles you’ve previously prepared. I found starting directly in the middle and piping a quantity of batter until it reaches the circle edge and lifting the pastry bag up and giving it a little twist to release from the pan, is the best way to do it. However you do the piping, you must be consistent to keep the batter size even. Gently slide out the template paper from beneath the UNSTICK™ baking sheet liner.
  8. Allow the pan to rest for 5 minutes, by doing this you give the peaks time to even out so your Macarons are beautiful and flat on top. Some suggest that you gently bang the pan a few time to remove air bubbles, I found I didn’t have many bubbles.
  9. Bake each sheet separately for 11-13 minutes, rotating halfway through if your oven doesn’t bake evenly. Gently slide the non-stick liner off the baking sheet and allow to cool for a couple of minutes. The UNSTICK™ baking sheet liner allows you to  pry off each macaron half easily onto a cooling rack and allow to cool completely. You may freeze the Macaron halves at this point in a well sealed, air-tight container.
  10. Prepare your buttercream, I loved this recipe from Lorraine Elliot of Not Quite Nigella Blog but I did find that I did not need the entire 75 mL of water, I used only about 35 mL.

Chocolate-Score topping

Ingredients:

  • About 65 g Belgian chocolate
  • About 1/3 cup skor* bits

Directions:

  1. Melt Belgian chocolate in a double boiler until smooth and shiny.

Macaron Assembly:

  1. I prefer to work with at least 1-day old macarons which have sat in the fridge or freezer in an airtight container.
  2. Pipe buttercream onto 1/2 of the macaron cookies. Complete the macaron by choosing a similar-sized bottom and press gently onto the buttercream.
  3. Smear a bit of melted chocolate over the top and bottom of each macaron and dip into the skor* bits.
  4. Place macarons in an airtight container and refrigerate overnight. This is an important step to allow the macaron to develop the correct texture.

Notes:

  • I would not recommend freezing macarons which have already been filled with buttercream.
  • Freeze fully cooled macaron ‘cookies’ in an airtight container, they will last about 1 month (after then they dry out too much).
Macaron_1

They were so good!

This batch the tops did not crack, but I wanted the chocolate-score topping anyway!

The tops did not crack with this batch, but I wanted the chocolate-skor* topping anyway!

*Skor was corrected from Score!

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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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Way back in June I took JT to Toca to celebrate his birthday, it’s the fancy restaurant at the Ritz Carlton on King Street West.

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The menus were placed on individual plates hand painted by one of the wait staff who is coincidentally an artist! How lovely that the Ritz did this!

Toca is a contemporarily decorated restaurant with large booths and cozy tables and very flattering lighting. The walls are decorated with custom hand painted plates which were created by Jacqueline Poirier , one of the wait staff. Each place setting is also adorned by these beautiful works of art.

We started our lovely dining experience with some house baked Middle Eastern breads — now I usually try to skip the bread to limit my carbs, but these looked too good to pass up. The patty style bread on the right had a perfect chewiness and the sesame seeds were just the right topping.

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House made breads were too tasty to pass up

I couldn’t resist ordering the smoked burrata. It was served with fresh figs and an absolutely spectacular presentation where the smoked burrata came with a glass dome covering it with smoke trapped within. The server released the burrata and the smoke quickly dissipated. I’m going to have to figure this one out, so we can try it at a dinner party. Any suggestions?

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A gorgeous glass dome encasing the burrata with smokey flavour was the presentation.

JT ordered the creamed corn soup, made entirely without cream. It was spectacular! It was served with a corn & tomato salsa and lump crab. I’m definitely going to make this one!

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So creamy and delicious, but there isn’t any cream in it.

My main course was an appetizer portion of Alberta Classic Beef Tartare (yes, I do enjoy my tartares!) served with a lovely quail yolk on top and very crispy potatoes on top. The description included tartar sauce which made it a little too creamy for my taste, and I wasn’t able to finish it. The lovely waiter and then manager suggested I order something else, but JT had already started his steak and I didn’t want to be eating on my own or to allow his to cool off while I waited so I declined. They even took it off the bill.

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The Steak Tartare was a little too creamy

JT ordered the Alberta Filet Mignon and because the soup was so filling, he decided not to order any sides with it. It was dressed with a cherry gastrique which was simply delicious against the earthy flavour of the Filet Mignon.

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Simple and delicious

Even though my main course was not to my liking, I would definitely return to this restaurant. The pace was lovely and the service was exceptional as one would expect from the Ritz.

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Even the fingertip towels were logo’d in the bathrooms

It was an unseasonably cold day and even colder evening and as we exited the restaurant were drawn by some live music in the courtyard adjacent to the hotel. It was Luminato and we walked right over to see X Alfonso. If it hadn’t been so chilly we would have stayed and danced the night away, but the wind had come up and it felt like October weather instead of June!

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

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

Toca, The Ritz-Carlton
181 Wellington Street West
Toronto, Ontario M5V 3G7
(416) 585-2500

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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!

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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.

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

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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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If you’ve been following along, you will know by now that we have very good friends, Paul and T, who live in Illinois with whom we visit, travel, laugh (and laugh and laugh), eat and drink and recently, they kindly paid us a long overdue visit. It’s always a challenge to come up with things to do since we’ve been hanging out with each other for around 20 years — we’ve done most things in the GTA that had to be done. Now, I know it’s not always necessary to plan a weekend with such good friends, but it’s nice to do a little something special, particularly since it’s the only time JT and I get to be tourists in our own city.

We decided to visit Casa Loma, a real castle in the heart of Toronto. Built by Sir Henry Pellatt and Lady Mary Pellatt for $3.5 million dollars around 1911. Now that is a lot of money even now, can you imagine how much that was in 1911? Sadly, the Pellatt’s only lived in the Castle for 10 years, when their financial empire crumbled and they were forced to auction off the castle and belongings. In 1924 they moved to their farm in King township, and shortly after Lady Mary passed away of heart problems (likely caused by anxiety and stress of their financial downfall). The castle was fitted with the most modern conveniences, like indoor toilets, electricity and telephones; when the entire city of Toronto had 3,000 telephones, the Pallett’s castle had 50! Even the servants quarters were grandly equipped (by the standards of the day) with heated rooms, electricity and indoor washrooms (it reminded me of Downton Abbey). It took 300 men three years to build it. Quite the property.

In 1925 they tried to convert it to a luxury hotel, but even that didn’t pan out; the rooms were never completed, only the common areas had been re-purposed where they held many high-end social events and dances. In 1937 the Kiwanis Club of West Toronto took over the building and began the tedious task of renovating and refurnishing the rooms as Sir and Lady Pallett would have had it furnished. Today, only some of the furnishings are from the Pallett’s estate, many of them are just ‘of the time’. You can book your wedding or special event at the castle, but 27 years ago, the waiting list was three years long, so plan ahead!

Casa Loma is situated in Forest Hill, an exclusive neighbourhood in Toronto, even today. The area is also quite lovely to experience and I strongly suggest that you check it out if you are visiting Toronto.

A few practical notes and we’ll get to the good stuff:

  • With the self-guided audio tour, it will take you about 2-3 hours to go through the castle, we had a moderate pace and completed the tour, even the garages, stables and potting shed in a little over 2 hours.
  • There is an elevator but it must be operated by staff, the stairs are so much more practical, and they will allow your tour to flow better (not having to back-track on yourself to get to the lift).
  • It’s not heated well, so you’ll need your jacket in the winter (I wore boots and my toes were chilled). I walked around with my jacket buttoned up (and I usually start sweating as soon as I think about going inside — Eastern European and all!).
  • Little one’s are not discouraged, but there is little for them to be amused with. Unless you are going for a specific kids program, they will be bored.
  • There is a cafeteria on site, but Yorkville is very close by with so many better options.
  • Ladies, take a purse that can be hung on your shoulder, your hands will be occupied with the listening device, the map and perhaps a camera (and for me, a tissue for my sniffling nose, yes, I still have it! Grrr!).
  • Not a cheap experience, adult entry is around $20; check on line, you may be able to find discount coupons. If you plan on doing more than one attraction a Toronto Attractions City Pass may be the way to go.

The Good Stuff (you’ll see that I didn’t take many photos (I kept my gloves on) so you’ll have to visit to see it all):

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The main entrance. As you can see we have another dreary grey day in Toronto

The Great Hall just after the entrance.

The Great Hall just after the entrance. The giant organ is that shadow in the photo.

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The Great Hall another view; you can see the scale of this room by the chairs. The gorgeous window in the previous photo is just on the right of this photo. This room also had an enormous organ (which sat in the large window in the second photo), the enormous pipes are behind me taking the shot.

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Sir Henry’s drawing room

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The Drawing Room; the sofa in the foreground is facing the fireplace from the previous photo.

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Incredible views from one of the towers. This shot reminds me of Paris from the Arc de Triomphe looking toward La Défence

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OK, maybe it’s just La Défence that reminds me of our new condo.

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Great view of our city.

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The towers are accessed only by metal and wood spiral stairs, which can be a bit confining at times. It’s best to do this in low season as there are only one set of stairs so it would get quite congested in high season.

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This is the smoking room, no ladies please

The stables

The stables. What’s cool about the stables, garages and potting shed is that they are accessed by a 500 metre tunnel, 5 metres under ground. Sir Henry fought with the city to have a busy road detoured so that his servants didn’t have to cross to access the outer buildings, and was constantly declined, so he built a tunnel. Obviously a different snack bracket than I.

We had very special deviled eggs for our hor d'œuvres that evening.

We had very special deviled eggs for our hor d’œuvres that evening.

And that concludes our visit to Casa Loma, I hope you have a chance to see it when you come to Toronto.

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This past Wednesday, through JTs work we were generously invited to the European Union Film Festival Gala Opening Cocktail reception at The Revival Bar, 783 College Street in Toronto. We weren’t planning on seeing the films, just hob hobnobbing with the EU Film Festival crowd. There were lovely hors d’œuvres and cocktails to be had, but we had other plans for eating that evening, we made reservations at Frank’s Kitchen about one kilometre from the gala!

We chatted with people from JTs work and a few new faces; it was lovely to reconnect and to make new connections! We chatted at length with Rebecka  Högdahl from the Swedish Trade Council and Dustin Woods from PR firm Marshall Fenn. We enjoyed our conversation at the EU Film Festival Gala so much, we invited them to join us for dinner. Dustin is as big a car dude as JT is, so they had lots to talk about. And girls can always find something to chat about :-).

Before I go on, I must apologize for the photos as it was rather dark in the restaurant so I had to enhance the photos in Photoshop, some worked out better than others.

Rebecka and Dustin were our guests

Frank’s Kitchen is a pleasantly decorated restaurant with flattering lighting. Even though the kitchen is open, they considered the impact of fluorescent bulbs on the tables but it is brightly lit, non-the-less which made our table directly across from the kitchen not as pleasant as some of the other tables out of the bright light range. Owned and operated by Chef Frank Parhizgar and his wife, Shawn Cooper who manages the front of the house. Shawn was very gracious to change our reservation for two to four when we showed up. It was packed on a Wednesday evening at 8pm which is a testament to the quality. The service was excellent, the waiter clearly knew the food and was quick to describe our tantalizing journey of the menu.

We were brought house made breads served with hummus and a little olive oil combo

We started our delicious journey with Chef’s wonderful Porchini Mushroom Velouté served with a spoon with a tiny ball of Goats Cheese Fritter and Cucumber Tomato Salsa. Both were exceptional. I loved the way the truffle oil just elevated the already rich earthy flavour of the velouté. Which reminds me, I should have had JTs as he is not a truffle oil fan!

The earthy flavour of the mushroom velouté was further enhanced by the truffle oil

We ordered a plate of raw oysters and Oysters Rockefeller (highly recommended by James Chatto) and neither disappointed.

Rebecka kindly snapped this photo of JT and I enjoying our appetizers

The lovely texture and not too creamy made this a very tasty experience

We were then surprised by a palatte cleanser of Sangria Sorbet.
I really had to lighten this photo.

At this point I’ve had a few glasses of wine, so I forgot to take photos of the other dishes! Sigh. I had the appetizer portion of Kobe Bone Marrow & Venison Tartare with a Foie Gras Torchon Salad, it was lovely and such a variety on the plate (click here to see a photo). The marrow was rich so I was glad there wasn’t a huge portion of it. JT ordered the Crisp gnocchi in a Gorgonzola Cream with Pancetta and it was delicious (click here for a photo). I do love a crispy fried gnocchi. Both of our guests ordered the Ontario Lamb three ways: Rack, Loin, braised Shoulder and Grilled Merquez Sausage which was a very generous portion (click here for a photo).

I loved this experience, but I must warn you, it is not inexpensive but the service, food and ambiance is well worth it. With a bottle of red and a bottle of white wine we exceeded $300 for the four of us. One small negative was that the bathrooms were not renovated (in fact, the one I went into had to toilets in the same room without a partition…just weird. NOTE: I have slightly modified my text here as Shawn kindly emailed me to bring to my attention that the bathrooms are in the process of being renovated and indeed had a sign on the door apologizing for their appearance and to use as a ‘single’ stall; regretfully I failed to mention said sign and as I was one of two people heading to use the bathroom I chose the unfortunate two toilet stall.

Overall rating of Frank’s Kitchen (in my opinion): Decor 3.5/5, service 4/5, food 4/5, Value 3.5/5, Noise: 3/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet). We paid for our meals in full.

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OK, I am the first to admit it, we go out a lot. We try to go out only once per weekend for dinner, but sometimes that doesn’t work out. Too tired to cook, forgot to take something out of the freezer, you name it, I can come up with a reason. Bloor West Village has quite a few restaurants but unfortunately most are not that great. Bloom is a place that has been around for quite some time, but changed chefs last year. The food has a Cuban/Latin/Italian flare. We tried it for lunch a few years ago and enjoyed it so last week we decided to try it again for dinner this time.

We didn’t make reservations and fortunately it wasn’t too packed when we arrived around 7:30 in the evening. It’s about a 15 minute walk from our house and it was a lovely warm night. We were greeted by a very nice gentleman who seemed very proud of the place (I’m guessing it’s a family affair). We were seated at a very nice four person table so JT and I were able to sit side by side (which we love).

We were hesitant to order the bottle of Prosecco but the gentleman quickly offered to bring us a taste to see if we liked it; it was nice and dry so we ordered it. They offer 41 bottles on their wine list, which is rather extensive for such a small place. The restaurant quickly filled up and by 8:30 all the tables were occupied. Fortunately another waiter (perhaps his wife?) came in to help our gentleman who seemed to be the only one serving. Not withstanding, he did a good job and we didn’t feel like we were waiting long for anything.

We weren’t starving so we decided to order only appetizers. I ordered the Ceviche which was listed as Chef’s Selection Seafood (sustainable B.C.Halibut, line caught) Lemon Juice, Habanero Pepper, Cilantro $13. It was served in a small martini glass. The white fish was nicely done but it was a tad citrus-y for my taste, perhaps a little more balance with something sweet like a mango would have been a fix. The martini glass was just tall enough that it made it difficult for a vertically challenged person like me to eat from it (click here for a video of Chef Pedro Quintanilla making the ceviche). JT ordered the Caesar Salad with Spanish Style Smoked Bacon, Home Made Garlic Croutons with sliced chicken breast on top $14. You might ask why one would order a Caesar salad in a Latin restaurant…or you might not. Anyway, it was pretty ordinary.

I’d like to go back and try a few other items on the menu that caught my eye, such as the Avocado and Mango Salad $9, or the Cuban Shrimp Cocktail $15, or the Grilled Calamari $14, and the Arepa which is a Venezuelan corn cake with wild mushroom ragout, Asiago and crème fraiche $10

Overall rating of Bloom (in my opinion): Decor 3.5/5, service 3.5/5, food 3/5, Value 3/5, Noise: 5/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet). We paid for our meal in full.

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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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I wrote this post from the cottage, sitting on my porch with this view! We had the most incredible weekend weather wise; high twenties Celsius and virtually cloud free.
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Saturday was our wedding anniversary and as a real treat we went to Scaramouche. Scaramouche is one of Toronto’s top rated restaurants and being so, we generally reserve it for really special occasions. It’s been around for about 30 years, situated in an unlikely location in the basement of an old apartment building. But what makes this place special is that although it is in the basement, the entire back side facing south is open with large windows offering up incredible views of the city skyline.
We had 7:30 reservations and the place was already packed with the wealthy silver-haired bunch finishing off; we were shown to a wonderful table directly beside a window and a great view. Our waiter, Andrew has been working there for 23 years, we have had him serve us before, and he seems to remember us. Andrew is an charming character and given the opportunity will offer up interesting tales in a soliloquy-like delivery; he is rather dramatic! Sadly he was not as dramatic on this evening, or he was busy, but there were no tales.
We began with a martini, I with my vodka martini, very dry without an olive nor a twist, and JT with a gin martini, with two olives. The olives are strange looking, kinda bluish green, Andrew told us the name but I already had a sip or two of the martini, so I cannot recall!
We placed our order and Andrew paces us very nicely. I’m still watching my portions do I order two appetizers, JT eats like a normal person. Although it is a fancy place and quite expensive, I do find the portions are rather generous (it’s usually the opposite, high price, tiny portion). Andrew starts us with a wonderful amuse bouche, a little mushroom mousse, which did its job very well and had us salivating like Pavlov’s dogs at the sound of a bell! Not surprisingly I order the Yellow Fin Tuna ($20) sashimi grade tuna tartare seasoned with lime, ginger, soy, coriander, shiso, caramelized daikon, soy and sweet chili sauce as my first course; the Asian flavours hit my taste buds perfectly. I would guess there was close to 100g of tuna on the plate, very very tasty. JT ordered the Three Goat Cheeses ($19) made of fresh Monforte, St. Maure, Bûche de chèvre with beets, walnuts, lentils and a mushroom crostini, with pesto and a Moscatel vinegar reduction. He said it was good but not over the top.
Our second courses were Spicy Steak Tartare ($18) hand-cut filet mignon with garlic crostini garnished with watercress. It was about 70g of meat and a little too saucy in my opinion (like mayo). The flavours were good, just too creamy; JT had Lamb ($46) roasted rack, slow cooked shoulder with eggplant, black olive, artichoke preserved lemon and pine nut and a salsa verde. He said it was good but again not over the top and for forty six dollars you expect OTT!
We finished our dinner with a cappuccino which was OK, definitely not the best coffee I’ve ever had.
Although the dinner was good, it wasn’t the level I’d expect for a $200 meal; everything was fine, it just didn’t meet our lofty expectations set by our previous dining experiences at this place.

Overall rating of Scaramouche (in my opinion): Decor 2/5 (except for the view which is 5/5), service 2/5, food 3.5/5, Value 2/5, Noise: 4/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet). A note about this rating: we valued it to expectations garnered by the expensive cost and high level of this restaurant. 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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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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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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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.

By making available any Member Content through the Site, Application or Services, you hereby grant to Cold Brew Labs a worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, royalty-free license, with the right to sublicense, to use, copy, adapt, modify, distribute, license, sell, transfer, publicly display, publicly perform, transmit, stream, broadcast, access, view, and otherwise exploit such Member Content only on, through or by means of the Site, Application or Services.

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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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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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