Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Teo Paul took a little sojourn in France, returned to Toronto and blogged for one year about the trials and tribulations of opening his restaurant, Union, 72 Ossington Avenue.

Thanks to (they published the blog) the guy had a following before he even opened Union’s doors.

There was anticipation, excitement and well wishing.

There have also been line ups, price increases, phone calls not returned and only late reservation times available.

Basically, you have not been able to shake a stick at this place.

We got in this past Friday at 9:30 pm and (insert sad face emoticon) in the words of Public Enemy, “don’t believe the hype”.

Paul is serving French cuisine but beyond a predominantly French wine list, an antique sink in the woman’s washroom and the term ‘Plat du Jour’, you have to really dig deep to feel France. I suppose we can grant merit for subtlety.

Baguettes? Nope. Jewish challah that is more like Wonder Bread than anything else is served with a rabbit terrine with clotted cream ($11). Oh, and it was seared – seared to the point of being burnt. Rabbit? It could have been tuna for all I know because it only tasted like eggs. It had the texture of a curdled quiche. Not even a fancy quiche. The kind of quiche you get in that box of fifty hors d’oeuvres at Costco.

It gets better; the apps are served on china. The kind your English Granny has stacked in the server. Oh and one of the plates had a big chip out of it. Classy.

The same Wonder Bread challah is served with the only winner of the night: the steak tartar ($14). I always get excited when eating something raw. It makes me feel naughty. A lump of uncooked ground meat can get gross without the aid of accoutrements and Paul makes the right choice. A crunchy petite gherkin gives a break from the soft flesh while a spicy sauce added some zing to the beef’s mellow flavour. Even the ubiquitous bread adds a nice dimension.

Perhaps Paul went to Belgium while in France because the second runner up: crispy frites smothered in garlic mayo would go better with a Stella Artois than a Cote Du Rhone.

The fries are served family style along with potatoes with yogurt and chives. You get your own veg but you share the family style frites and potatoes. I’m all for sharing but personalized sides would fare much better. Ribs and fries? Sure but what if I had have had the snapper? Unless it’s battered, fries would not have been appropriate.

The execution is dulled by an assumption of unimaginativeness.

Mains were literally hard to swallow. A tougher than tough elk prime rib ($33) had me fearful of choking as I chewed what was still in my mouth while the rest was half way down my throat. A seared scallop sits on top but seems misplaced; like they had one left over so they threw it in.

Sticky ribs ($21) that were not sticky at all. The sauce was as thin as water. They were leathery as well and let’s face it; if ribs do not fall off the bone then they are not good. The smoked pork belly that sat shyly in the corner of the dish was good. The fat rendered enough so as to erase any feelings of guilt and infused with enough smoke to make it seem like a real treat.

A weird looking veg lasagna ($16) with its’ green and red sauce and white chevre make you think of Italy. Hell I’ll even say you think of Christmas before you think of Paris.

It’s true, I rarely order dessert but in the case of Union, we were never offered.

When you start dinner at 9:30, I guess there is no time for sweets.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Nama Sushi, 750 St. Clair West

So, someone (you know who you are) told me that Nama Sushi had the best spicy tuna rolls in the city. This same someone takes his food very seriously and I am slowly discovering that like Corey Mintz and Katia Sinopoli, he can be trusted.

Well, these rolls are 'off the chain'. They are actually spicy (we all know those impostor versions that promise spice but deliver orange mayo). They are pretty - wrapped in light pink rice paper like a sweet sixteen birthday present. Fresh tuna is gingerly mixed with tempura bits and an essence of scallion; delicately delicious.

Sam the sushi guy rolls with such grace. His attention to detail is apparent in every roll we ordered. He showcases the sweetness of shrimp and crab in his Boston rolls by gently mixing in a touch of mayo not drowning it which is the common practice. Red fish roe not only make the rolls pleasing to the eye but I love the way they pop in between your teeth. The crackle of roe with the softness of the crab is the perfect juxtaposition in your mouth.

The dynamite rolls also deliver. Shrimp tempura is rolled up in rice then in toasted sesame seeds. Something as simple as toasting the seeds really brings out their nuttiness and proves the creator's respect for his ingredients.

Nama's house salad is another home run. Not the creamy version that I prefer but I fell in love with the curly beet threads, carrots cut in fancy shapes, crisp lettuce and a wonderfully tangy dressing that is generous on the minced celery and ginger.

Sorry New Gen, you may be temporarily closed but I have forever jumped ship.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Yes, I went out for Italian again. And yes, I ordered pizza. I do realize that I have spoken more about pizza than anything else on here but I love it and will make no apologies. Did I ever tell you I even eat it cold for breakfast?

This time, I paid Mercatto, 101 College Street, a visit. It was a decision that was fuelled by a past experience that involved a ‘terribly chintzy on the sausage’ orrechiette and an invitation to come back. It’s a long story and not mine to tell. You have to ask my Auntie Linda about that one.

This locale is one of three. A large and open room, it feels clean and industrial. The cleanliness is fresh and being the contemporary woman that I am, I like the modernity. The menu is typical: antipasto, pasta, pizza and a few mains. It is printed on what becomes your place mat which bugs me because it feels cheap.

We created our own platter of antipasto ($15 for 6 choices). Here is where the dichotomy in the kitchen begins. Wild mushrooms tossed in bread crumbs and Parmigiano were tender and earthy but why the bread crumbs? Roasted winter squash promised fried sage but instead was overcooked, mushy and sage free. Any antipasto combination is served with fried dough balls. A great way for the kitchen to use up extra pizza dough, they were nicely salted, crisp and a super fun accompaniment to the cheeses. Those were the only things on our platter that were made in house. OK, the cheese I understand but with so many, and I mean so many, Toronto chefs trying their hand at curing their own salumi, outsourcing it is just boring. I too, can go buy my own.

The pasta del giorno was spaghetti aglio olio with breadcrumbs, anchovy and squid ($16). All those extra crumbs in the mushrooms should have been tossed with the spaghetti. It was too light on the crumbs, too stingy with the anchovies and that poor pasta was overcooked to the point of resembling soft Ramen noodles.

The pendulum swings as the bucatini all’amatriciana with guanciale and pecorino ($14) was perfection. The el dente noodles, the bright and lush tomato sauce and the velvety strands of bacon helped save this meal.

And finally, the pizza: a quattro stagione ($15). It was as though someone had told the kitchen exactly how I like it – a thin and well done crust, a generous amount of stringy and slightly browned cheese, little button mushrooms, salty but pitted olives, marinated artichokes and slices, not pieces, of soft luscious prosciutto. This pizza had my name all over it.

Mercatto is clearly one of those restaurants where some dishes are great and others not so much. You have to tread carefully here; there is a very thin line between a good meal and a mediocre one.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Cafe Nervosa

There are a few things that Cafe Nervosa, 75 Yorkville Avenue has going for it: the upstairs is a cozy haven for a romantic dinner complete with a fireplace, they have an extremely drinkable Ironstone Cab by the glass, they make a damn good hot chocolate and the service is more than competent.

There is only one thing that is not working but unfortunately it’s the food.

The Caesar salad ($8.99) arrives and I pick up my knife. The leaves are whole and I think the only knife that should slide through lettuce is the chef’s knife in the kitchen. I hate having to cut my salad. It’s done up in a egg free dressing which has a little bit of bite but without giving me garlic breath for the rest of the night. Crispy pancetta bits and fried capers finish it off but I’m wondering where in the hell is the cheese? And who burned the capers?

Their house salad ($6.99) is typical. Typically boring. It’s the standard mix of spring that I am so over. Here’s another shocker – it had a balsamic vinaigrette. If I had a toonie for every restaurant in Toronto that serves this salad, I’d be, well you know how it goes. To add insult to injury, it was so gingerly dressed, it was dry.

A prosciutto and arugula pizza ($15.99) is another predictable item but this one comes with an element of surprise – it’s assembled backwards. Instead of the arugula being on top, being able to mingle with the shards of Parmigiano, it is lying in a soggy mess on top of the sauce and underneath the meat. The prosciutto falling off with every bite as it had nothing to stick to.

The worst is yet to come.

I exercised the option of gluten free pasta and I put the white rice noodles with the would be Garganelli: Berkshire pork sausage, rapini, roasted peppers, pecorino in a light tomato sauce ($16.99).

All parts were challenged. First off the sauce is anything but light. It is heavy. It is thick. It practically gave me acid reflux. I have had spaghetti sauce from a jar that was less tangy. The sausage was strangely sweet and the chunks not rendered of their fat. The rapini was aggressively bit-ter. When cooked correctly with a generous amount of salt, rapini promptly loses any trace of the bitterness that it commands when raw. Like the burnt capers, someone had carelessly cooked the rapini. Like the missing cheese in the Caesar, the roasted peppers were M.I.A. Perhaps roasted into oblivion?

Slices of pecorino are sitting on top in a warm, sweaty pile. No one wants congealed cheese.

With corn being the more viable option, I am not jazzed about the decision to serve rice pasta as the alternative, however, the big let down is in the execution. It is overcooked to the point of breakage and I am feeling like a two year old whose mother just cut up my spaghetti because I am too little to know how to twirl it with a spoon.

Rice pasta, more than the wheat variety, must be el dente and must be rinsed thoroughly in order to remove the starch that comes out of it when boiled. If not, you end up with pasta a la wall paper paste and for under $20 you too can get yourself a bowl.

Dessert? No thanks. I may not always know my boundaries but I know when to stop spending money on a dinner that’s just not worth it.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Caplansky’s Delicatessen, 356 College Street

This deli is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Bagels and lox, chopped liver on challah, kishkas and knishes are all traditional Jewish fare that warrant Stars of David on the menu, however, it is the meat, the smoked ‘in house’ meat that is drawing crowds. So many crowds, that Zane Caplansky has run out of meat on several occasions. He is bringing back the deli, making tongue sammys cool again and it’s working.

Seven dollars will buy you a 7 ounce portion of smoked meat on rye, $10 will turn it into a combo with soup, salad or fries and $13 will equal a thirteen ounce sandwich (for the big burly people).

Like the sandwich, I’m going to give it to you straight:

These sandwiches are generous and so you must be hungry. Don’t worry about the terminology and order it “fatty” – it’s actually not that blubbery but rather juicy and chewy. The marbling of fat show up in little threads that make the meat is so moist, you need very little mustard. It is neither salty nor peppery but rather subtle in flavour – a plethora of spices coming together softly – not over bearing.

On your table you’ll find a caddy with every mustard imaginable – yellow, grainy, hot, honey. At first I liked the options but really, it’s a distraction. You want to try them all and it turns into a mustard tasting.

The coleslaw was dressed in a vinaigrette (insert sad face as I only get happy over creamy ones) and it was bland. Carrot and cabbage are classic but the Colonel’s fluorescent green one packs way more punch.

The pickle plate ($4) was a nice addition to our sandwiches as it provided some crunch when I slipped one or two peppers in between the meat and the bread. The pickle that comes with the sandwich is a quarter of a pickle so no deals trying to squeeze that one in.

Zane was there and it’s always nice to see the proprietor taking action. He sat us, he talked to us, he caught me taking pictures of his food. We even laughed a couple of times.

You can tell he’s pretty cool.

Sorry for lying about being a blogger.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Valley Inn

In keeping with the weather program of summer 2009, The Niagara Grape and Wine Festival was, for us, a big wet mess. This past Saturday, I found myself in Montebello Park, St.Catharines gripping an umbrella in the freezing Fall atmosphere, clumsily attempting to sample local wines without diluting the wine with rain water. After about half an hour, puddles were starting to come together and this was my cue to exit. Consequently, I couldn't even finish my coins, which – if you have been to Grape and Wine – you know this is unthinkable.

The rest of the afternoon was spent in dive bars snacking on mozzarella triangles and drinking beer.

This is not how the weekend is supposed to go.

Enter The Valley Inn, 93 Arthur Street in the lakeside town of St. Catharine’s. To my companions and I, it was the day saver, the piece de resistance, the light at the end of the tunnel. We walked and I couldn't help but smile. It may be 2009, but it’s still 1988 at The Valley Inn. The small bungalow style eatery featured two dining rooms and a small oak bar with brass trim and stain glass decor, not unlike something you'd see in your childhood memories of Nono's basement. This dimly lit space produced the kind of atmosphere that makes you feel warm, fuzzy, perhaps ready for a glass of red wine. Red table cloths with matching napkins, butter cups, chilli pepper and cheese shakers, “leather” bound menus, banquet style glass ware, we all remember these types of 'nice' places. Although I may normally turn up my nose at such an establishment, it has kitsch, it has history and I embraced it.

The menu is homely, but comfortable. No confusing ingredients, no ‘hard to say’ words, only the simple Italian fare that made the cuisine a favourite a few decades ago.

To start, the baked goat cheese salad ($8.95) had a huge disk of the warm and creamy cheese on top of romaine, radicchio and endive and was drizzled with a honey Dijon vinaigrette. The sweetness of the dressing served the sharpness of the cheese without a glitch.

The Valley Inn offers a humble selection of starters, but unless we are in Sweden, I’m not entirely sure as to how one selects meatballs ($5.95) as an appetizer. The bruschetta ($5.95) made much more sense. Thick pieces of toasty white bread were smeared with tomato sauce and topped with fresh tomato, basil and a light dusting of Parmigiano cheese. The sweet tang of the sauce was a nice juxtaposition to the subtle taste of fresh tomato while the cheese brought in the salty component. It was both baked and served in a skillet which served two purposes: it helped crisp up the bottom of the bread and added a nice presentation.

For the pasta, first choose your noodle (penne, fettuccine, spaghetti – no “new” pappardelle or orrechiette here) then you choose your sauce (cheese and butter, meat, meatballs, marinara, clam, Alfredo). This is the same order in which the kitchen prepares your dish. The chef boils the pasta then pours the sauce on top. It is a style of ordering and presenting that is very 80’s. Personally, I prefer the pasta be sautéed in the sauce before being served, but I can graciously forgive them for this sentimentality. For as old school as this restaurant is, the Village Inn receives big bonus points for offering something so very 2010 – gluten free pasta.

For $12.95, I get to dig into a big plate of corn pasta with their clam marinara sauce. I mix, I dig in, I add all the cheese I want (remember the shaker?) and I am thrilled. The sauce is light, requiring a bit more olive oil and salt, but like the bruschetta, the fresh taste of the tomatoes shine through. Loads of little clams dot the sauce with a slight fishiness that is characteristic of this dish.

Not a fan of seafood? Then, you can have any ‘Parmigiana’ you wish – eggplant, chicken or veal ($16.95). Like Donna, who is in the midst of a wildly emotional affair with chicken parm, I generally opt for the poulet version of this dish. She politely asks our server to sub a ceaser for the spaghetti (she does this every time) and is too content when the plate is dropped in front of her. A soft and tender chicken breast sits in a pool of sauce covered in a blanket of melted cheeses. The chicken is baked, not fried, but still manages to maintain it's juiciness. Not to be outdone by the meat, the side ceaser is served in a hearty wooden bowl and "amazing". The romaine lettuce is crisp and battered with the perfect amount of creamy garlic dressing. It is classic and tastes like the kind that old waiters in bow ties used to make table side at steak houses.

The service was accommodating and sweet. It is the kind of place where "the customer is always right".

The dessert options are like childhood favourites: parfaits, sundaes and spumoni ice cream. Again, the kitschiness is cute but full stomachs, an empty bottle of wine and the warm and fuzzies were making pajamas seem like a fantastic idea.

For me, the biggest indicator of a great meal is whether or not it is the first thing on my mind when I wake up the next morning. Like opening your eyes and imagining the face of the one you love, I wanted that pasta for breakfast.

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Pho House, 5230 Dundas Street West

It is August 31 and with a high today of 22 degrees, I was cold and craving soup. Want to sit on patio? No thanks, give me a sweater and a bowl of something piping hot. Summer 2009 has been one of the worst on record for Toronto (that’s another story) but perhaps a very good time for a new Vietnamese restaurant in Etobicoke, The Pho House, located in the Six Points Plaza.

It is one of few Vietnamese restaurants in the area and the place has been busy. It is a typical Asian boite in that it is too bright and the music too soft. It is clean and sterile but in a nail salon kind of way. I wonder if the staff used to do nails because those shops are a dime a dozen in Etobicoke. It is non typical in that it is sort of chic and very modern and I kind of laugh at the banquet style table numbers that sit on stands as though we are at a wedding. I guess it eliminates confusion.

It is only appropriate that pho, that popular Viet rice noodle soup that no one knows how to pronounce is their specialty. They claim that their broth is the result of a “meticulous” twelve hour process that can only mean a unique and lively taste. There are seventeen varieties to choose from and although I am intrigued by the tripe and tendon, I stick with what I know – Pho Tai Bo Vien ($6.50 for a medium) also known as the rare beef and beef balls version.

It was loaded with perfectly cooked noodles and just the right amount of grease. Yes, grease – those thin little puddles of oil that refuse to mix with the water base of a soup. I love an oily soup and almost always add it to my bowl. Here, it is the right ratio. The beef was tender but the beef balls were too dense. They were like little balls of wooden meat. The sprouts and Thai basil were fresh but there was no mint. It was missing fresh mint.

The good news is that the broth is tastier than the dish water that some places are serving. The bad news is that it is exactly the kind of broth that the good places make. Unfortunately for pho, it has a myriad of ingredients that must go into it therefore there is little room for interpretation or change.

The cold shrimp rolls ($5 for two) make a nice accompaniment to the hot soup. Fresh shrimp, vermicelli, lettuce and grilled pork are all neatly tucked into a bed of rice paper. I quickly think that they, along with a cup of green tea, would make an excellent 3 pm snack.

Although the soup is typical, The Pho House is a nice addition to the growing ethnic food scene in southern Etobicoke. It deserves a place, pho sure.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Osteria Ciceri e Tria

“Um excuse me, can I have some cheese?”

“Oh, (shaking head) we don’t believe in cheese with seafood.”

The last time I looked in the mirror I saw a grown woman staring back at me - a woman that likes to decide how she eats. I made the decision that the spaghetti with braised octopus needed some cheese and didn’t need to be told otherwise. We all know that at Terroni, substitutions and sliced pizza are out of the question but at least they gladly hand over the Grana Padano when requested. Osteria Ciceri e Tria, Terroni’s baby sister on Victoria Street, tries to take a little too much control.

An osteria is a tavern where the l’oste (host) decides what antipasti the patrons will snack on. Their menu changes daily and I like the element of surprise but let’s relax a little. If I want to dip anchovies in chocolate milk then that should be my prerogative.
Now for those of you that have been following my blog you will remember two things: I am in love with Terroni and I hate waitresses in baby tee’s that don’t wear bras. Well, the pasta at Osteria Ciceri e Tria is sadly nowhere near as good as it is at Terroni and the staff doesn’t believe in undergarments.

I’m not going to dwell on the three strikes though because although the handmade pastas are doughy and dull, their parade of five colourful antipasti ($15) have enough weight to push the experience from not good to good.

A grilled shrimp on a fava bean puree had everyone awing over how perfectly it was cooked – a little crispy and a lot shrimpy. The puree was as luscious as velvet.
Cantaloupe with prosciutto requires zero imagination but it is a classic Italian partnership and I’ll take it every time.

The friseddha (whole wheat rusk with eggplant, cherry tomato and ricotta salata) was a homey addition to the line up. Its’ flavours were subtly married as it hung out it in its’ little bowl.
A potato and octopus cake was actually a salad. The gelatinous bread crumbs were I’m sure what made someone call it a cake. The octopus was perfectly cooked but the dish was under seasoned. I would’ve preferred the addition of something briny like black olives.
Where are the salt shakers?

The star was the spelt and lentil salad with cured tuna. It had all the makings of a perfect salad: colour, texture, flavour. The little bits of carrot added a slight crunch and the oily tuna melted in my mouth. A big bowl of it would make an ideal lunch.

We added the night’s board ($16) and a grilled sausage with smoked scamorza ($15) for some extra dimension. The sausage was a sausage but the scamorza was a gently fried disk of goodness. It's rubbery texture was exactly what I crave in a cheese. Robiolo, Pecorino, fresh figs, favas and apricots, more prosciutto and a buffalo milk ricotta crostini all made the wine flow easier and more quickly.

The room was packed. It felt alive in a way that the restaurants are in Italy. We ate with gusto and drank with little caution. The encounter was satisfying.

I recommend that you go, choose a bottle from their inexpensive wine list and just snack on the antipasti – at least that way you’ll get some cheese.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Mexican Post, 5165 Dixie Road, Unit 3

My taco adventures came to a screeching halt when I had dinner here - one of Mississauga's only Mexican restaurants. First off, this is Tex Mex. It is burritos, enchiladas, jalapeno poppers, "Mexican" rice and lots of melted marble cheese.

Things were off to a bad start when the complimentary chips and salsa arrived. The corn chips were neither warm nor house made and the salsa was pureed.

I chose the taco and enchilada combo ($9.99). Old El Paso type taco shells are stuffed with a few strips of char-grilled chicken, some grated orange and white cheese and then placed under the salamander until the shells begin to burn. They were dry and sort of desperate so I tried to revive them by dousing them in green Tabasco. It kind of worked.

The enchiladas were the tacos reincarnated. This time shredded beef was rolled up in a soft tortilla with a blanket of the same cheese melted over top. The beef had more life - its' stringy texture had a faint bit of jus still hanging on. Having been rescued by twice the amount of cheese, it didn't require as much sauce.

The combo was served with old, dark yellow, crunchy rice and refried beans that were so thick and pasty that when I tipped the bowl upside down, nothing happened. I know I shouldn't play with my food but we got a good laugh out of it.

To add insult to injury, the service was inept. We were seated in the bar area (not by choice) next to a big blue tarp that concealed "renovations". All the while, Mexican music competed with the baseball game that was on tv.

The place was dead.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

A Meaty Vacation

The drive from Edmonton to Banff can be summed up in one word: beef. Ok, make that two words: Alberta beef. The provinces’ range, farmland and climate make an ideal combination for raising cattle. It is a business that provides Canadians with sixty percent of our beef supply. They take their cows seriously and with just cause – Alberta is home to more cattle than humans. Sounds crazy but there are approximately 3 million people and just over 5 million cattle.

Until getting past Calgary, the scene is virtually flat farmland. I have never seen so many cows in all my life: big ones, little ones, black, brown and white ones. I began to wonder if the legacy of Alberta beef came to be because it is a better product or if its’ popularity merely stemmed from the sheer number of cows?

I was going to have to do some tasting.

Stopping in Calgary for lunch, we hit one of the city’s most famous spots: Peter’s Drive-In, 219 – 16 Avenue NE . It’s been around since 1962 and serves thirty different flavours of milkshakes. They boast 100% Canadian grade “A” ground chuck burgers that are fresh, preservative free and topped with real Canadian cheddar. You have to applaud the patriotism. Their signature is a BBQ sauce that they slather the patty with. Besides the cheese and sauce, they are basic with the toppings. Here all you get is ketchup, relish and mustard. The burgers get points for still being tender and moist even though they are as thin as cardboard. However, if not for the tangy sweet sauce, would be almost tasteless. Where is the flavour?

In doubt, I was a starting to subscribe to the numbers theory.

That is, until Banff. With the majestic Rockies as a back drop, The Grizzly House, 207 Banff Avenue, a cabin style fondue restaurant is the perfect place for dinner. The complete four course meal starts with either French onion soup or salad, a cheese fondue with bread cubes as an appetizer, your choice of entree finishing with a Toblerone chocolate fondue for dessert. The “Alberta special” afforded me the opportunity to try some of the local animals: beef, buffalo, venison and elk. The waiter brings to the table a 600 degree hot rock on which to cook your treats and away you go. The flavour of the elf was understated and gentle while the buffalo meat popped in my mouth. The beef was juicy and finally gave me a little more flavour to go on. Venison is a little too gamey and dark for my liking but I never turn down the experience of eating home grown. Like eating seafood by the sea, my dinner tasted like the mountains.

The beefscapades didn’t end there. Back in Edmonton, I lunched at The Hat Resto and Bar, 10251 Jasper Avenue. The new Hat used to be an old Hat, The Silk Hat - an eighty year old diner. Having been recently renovated and revamped, the result is a dramatic, cool and trendy boite with an extensive burger menu that advertises Alberta beef. I went classic with a banquet type burger and fries. These patties are the real deal. They are thick (8 oz.), fresh, juicy, meaty and satisfying. Again, I ate Alberta.

More points for the case of a better quality product.

I loved the cutesy apps at Hundred Bar and Kitchen, 10009 – 101 A Avenue. The idea of snacking on truffle buttered popcorn while sipping a vodka seven delighted me. Cute lobster tacos and buffalo jerky made me even happier but the game was won when we feasted on filet mignon with truffle and peppercorn butter. Tenderloin can be virtually tasteless but not in this province. This piece of beef was not only luscious and velvety but bursting with juice. It had an earthy mouthfeel that is hard to imagine - rich and sort of soothing. Simply put, a filet unlike any other.

So the next time someone asks that old Wendy’s commercial question, “Where’s the beef?” you tell them it’s in Alberta.

Monday, June 15, 2009


It is no secret that I love meat. I do not judge the vegetarian and vegans of this world; I just would never be one nor would I ever date one. I believe in the food chain but also support nose to tail dining and definitely feel a ton better when eating whole. Animals and humans are both meant to eat freely. I don’t want to consume hormones and chemicals any more than Dolly the cow does.

Enter Mark Cutrara, a leader in the local/organic movement in the Toronto restaurant scene. His restaurant Cowbell, 1564 Queen Street West, serves nothing that comes from beyond the borders of Ontario. Everything is organic. He bakes his own bread and churns his own butter. House made salumi hang in his basement and veggies grow in his roof top garden. He probably has a pet duck and if God would allow he would be making his own cows. Cutrara may be a carnivore but has no less respect for the animal as a vegan does.

I have been trying to get to Cowbell since its’ opening almost two years ago. Although I hit my head on the bell on my way in, I entered smiling. It is a welcoming spot. Smallish with only thirty seats but it still manages to feel fresh and open. Rustic banquettes paired with sturdy wood chairs and big wooden tables make you feel as though you are dining at a farm house (a chic farm house). It flows and you immediately get the sense that someone had a plan.

The menu changes based on what is fresh and available. It is June and what is in season is asparagus. The stalks were cut into discs and simply tossed in lemon and olive oil with tangy goat cheese. The big deal was the crispness of the veg and the freshness of the cheese. A lovely start.

A constant on Cutrara’s card are the soiled reputation greens ($8). Named after its’ supplier it is an interesting mix that, barely dressed, was bursting with earthy flavours. I tasted pepper but there was no arugula. I tasted spice, was there horseradish? I will admit to not knowing what I was eating but you know, I find pleasure in little culinary mysteries.

Another win was the duck and boar terrine ($13). A terrine is a terrine and I love them but how often do you see the gherkins and onions inside the pate instead of alongside it? I wager never but am glad Cutrara took on the practice. Although the meat bordered on bland, it was super fun.

The charcuterie ($16) was another experiment in amusement. Elk, venison, duck, boar, bison and pig are just some of the animals that make an appearance here. All taste as though the animals live in the back alley but are served a little too ‘at room temperature’ and the result was some sweaty cold cuts. Bring the temp down, add a little more mustard and we’re laughing.

Mains include a fish option but last time I checked the restaurant was named cowbell not fish tank. Huron pickerel sat on mushroom risotto with ramp pesto and sea asparagus($25). It was a nice option for the non meat eaters but if you fall into that category, may I suggest a different restaurant? The risotto missed the mark – it was oily and wet instead of rich and creamy.

Rachel, our darling server, had built a solid reputation with me and so when she suggested the Muscovy duck confit ($30), I didn’t question it.

It was everything you’d expect from a duck leg that has bathed in its’ own fat for hours – moist, stringy meat clinging safely to a crispy and flavourful skin. A lack of grease made me feel good about eating it. Sliced almonds took the crunch factor to the next level and although the green beans were dehydrated they tasted like butter and that’s never a bad thing.

The Red Angus steak and tortiere ($30) was a true testament to the kitchen’s talents. The steak was rare but forcing it to rest meant that not a drop of blood dirtied the plate. The Quebec style tortiere with its’ sweetly seasoned beef and buttery pastry had a candied flavour that made me feel like a kid again.

Some Ontarians have never had an Ontarian meal. Many of us may have never tasted organic meat or produce. We eat tomatoes from Mexico and fish from Vietnam while we have our own farms, our own green houses and our own lakes. If you want to know what home tastes like then head to Cowbell. You are guaranteed to have an unpretentious meal that was made with heart.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mexitaco, 828 Bloor Street West

My new found love of Mexican has sparked a mission to find the best taquerias in Toronto. I am staying true to El Trompo for their Tacos Al Pastor but Mexitaco's nachos (pictured above) take the gold. Salsa, cheese, jalapenos, cilantro, onions, sour cream and house made chips make for some of the most fresh and colourful nachos I have ever seen.

Stay tuned for more adventures in tacos...

Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar, 9 Church Street

The menu changes twice daily because everything is as fresh and as local as possible. A recent visit had us perched at the chef's table and dining on pork hocks, beef cheeks, braised rabbit and their house made chorizo. The food, with the exception of their poutine (strange as this is what they are often praised for) was spot on. Even the wine pairings that our server suggested were unforgettable. Thanks Chef James for a wonderful night.

Julie's Cuban Restaurant, 202 Dovercourt Road

The sign out front says Julie's Snack Bar but that's only because it is the original sign from when the space was just that - a small hangout that had snacks and a Pac Man video machine. Now, she calls herself a restaurant, a Cuban restaurant.
I've been to Cuba twice and I still have no strong idea as to what Cuban cuisine is. I ask around and no one else seems to know either. Rice, beans and corn are the popular responses. Sadly, I think even Julie is confused. Our tapas dinner started with guacamole and chips. The guac was great, the chips were Tostitos - maybe someone from the Mexitaco camp could show them how to make their own? We went on to sample coconut shrimps, peppery corn fritters and a jumbo potato puff filled with ground meat that was like a ball of shepard's pie. A not so limey key lime pie finished things off. It was a mix of Louisiana, Florida, Mexico and Cuba all rolled into one.

Focus Julie, focus.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Nota Bene

Our dinner at Nota Bene, 180 Queen Street West, was alright but alright at one of "Canada's Best New Restaurants" is ludicrous. Maybe Toronto Life Magazine had set my expectations too high but fishy fish and bloody birds can hardly been viewed as "Best". If that was their best, I'd hate to see their worst.

The good was a Boston bibb salad with shavings of Parmigiano dressed in a Champagne vinaigrette ($12) that was on key. The dressing caressed the picture perfect greens making it exactly how a salad should be - light and fresh.

The bad was the rest.

Florida soft shell crab ($16) was fishy and we all know that fish and seafood should never taste or smell fishy. It's legs were crispy but it's body was water logged. Tartar sauce? Get out your magnifying glass because all you're going to see is a smear of it hiding under a couple of lettuce leaves.

Braised beef short ribs ($24) were stringy but tender. They were dropped on another smear - this time is was a parsnip puree. The ribs got a sprinkling of jus. I say sprinkling because there was so little sauce that it was gone half way through and all I was left with was a dry rib. It was either ask for more sauce or stop eating. I stopped. The accompanying salad - greens, cucumber, cornichon and pickled horseradish was so full of vinegar that it made my tongue scream.

Roasted rock cornish hen ($24) was dumped onto smashed potatoes making it a visually unappealing dish. The poor hen was spread eagle. Let me take this opportunity to add that this was not the only dish that was poorly presented. The crab was served in an awkward bowl with too high edges. The French style onion rings ($8) were piled so high that the top of the tower crumbled when the waiter placed them down resulting in an oniony mess that he proceeded to clean up with his hands. He was rightfully embarrassed. And why did the short rib have two carrots across the top of it? It was stupid.

Back to the hen. The meat was nicely infused with thyme but way over salted and some parts were underdone. Birds do not look good in pink.

In other news, the dining room is sort of plain and too bright to be romantic. It feels like a big square. The service is efficient but like the decor, it is plain. Servers are like robots in bad uniforms. Who designed those?

Besides the unchangeables, perhaps it was an off night but nonetheless I left questioning the praise and sighed as I walked out the door - just another misguided meal.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Adventures In World Cuisine: A spotlight on El Trompo

Different cultures and their cuisines have always intrigued me. I respect them and think of foreign foods as an adventure. How boring to only ever eat what we know or what is familiar. How exciting to see and taste how different cuisines can take a common ingredient like chicken and dress it up in so many different costumes.

Ok, so I admit to not ordering the beef heart at Foxley last week but I just didn’t feel like it. After last week’s lunch in Korea Town, I was feeling a little apprehensive.

I know next to nothing about Korean food so I took a trip down to Christie and Bloor for some research. I was out of place and out of sorts. I was just glad that the menu had pictures. I ordered bi bim bap only because it is one of the few dishes I have heard of. Four mystery dishes were served as sides. I could identify two as kimchi but one was some sort of grey jello that had been cut into rectangles. It was sprinkled with seeds and jiggling. It tasted like nothing. Even the bi bim bap was weird. It was cold (I guess I should’ve ordered the one in the hot pot?) and the vegetables had some sort of invisible dressing on them. The only part I recognized was the sriracha. I think I need to go back with a Korean friend but I don’t have any.

I will also admit to not knowing much about Mexican food. I don’t like it – never have. Even in Acapulco, I stuck to a diet of hamburgers and French fries (I was 22 and naive). I have a strong dislike for flour tortillas which, so I thought, ruled out a lot of dishes. I also hate green peppers and think that refried beans look like cat food. I do like corn, cheese, meat, avocados, tomatoes and margaritas so I decided to give Mexican another chance.

Two fellow food writers suggested El Trompo, 277 Augusta Avenue. They can be trusted.

It’s a small and friendly place and I like that the dominant language is Spanish. I don’t like that everything is served on or in plastic.

I ordered a Corona (when in Rome...) and again was feeling content with a menu that has some pictures. Playing it safe, I started with their nachos ($3.99). The corn chips were efficient but not as fresh as the pico de gallo that covered them. You could tell it had been made with love. It was loaded with garlic and onions and had a nice tang. The refried beans were actually not gross. They were subtly smeared on the chips with the cheese, instead of dumped on top.

Tacos al pastor ($9.75) are listed as their specialty. These are Mexico City style and the soft corn tacos are filled with marinated pork, onions, pineapple and coriander. A squirt of lime, a drizzle of salsa verde and I was off. The shredded meat was tender and flavourful. Every bite seemed to release a smoky juiciness. The coriander was chopped into the finest of threads so as to lift the pork not over power it. Sometimes I don’t mind coriander; other times I almost hate it. I find it has a soapy taste but not here. The flavours, including the sweetness from the pineapple bits, are balanced.

Even the tacos themselves were impressive. Unlike the flour variety, they were not doughy. They were dense but fluffy – like sturdy little pancakes.

This taqueria has all the fixings needed for a Mexican feast: huevos rancheros for brunch, margaritas to be savoured on the patio and if you want to make your own they sell authentic chorizo for $18/kg.

A colourful place within a colourful neighbourhood.

* The name of the Korean restaurant has been withheld to be fair. I did not like it but it may have more to do with my ignorance of the cuisine than the place it came from.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Mildred's Temple Kitchen

I used to frequent Mildred number one and like half the city, was disappointed when they closed. After visiting the number two – Mildred’s Temple Kitchen, 85 Hanna Avenue, Suite 104, I remain somewhat disappointed. I know, I should not be harbouring sentiments of the restaurant past nor should I be comparing every detail between the original and the sequel but it is after all, the same place – reincarnated. The Mildred Pierce Group may not subscribe to that notion but when you go by a similar name, open up across the tracks, put two of your old dishes on your new dinner menu and practically repeat the brunch card, it is hard not to compare.

The old space was warm and dramatic. The new is cold, sparse and rather hospital like (in a clean way). It almost seems unfinished. The old had an air of sophistication that the new lacks. Mature servers have been replaced by “handsome” twenty somethings in Levis. The hostess looked like she was thirteen and was dressed like a circus performer. Boy George called and wants his hat back. Mildred, they too need a uniform.

The menu is short and to the point. I like its’ no nonsense approach and more than a few dishes caught my attention. To start, a citrus squid salad with red onion, cucumber and apple ($9). It was a nice twist on a tired classic and GreekTown should be taking notes. The tender squid was spritzed with citrus and laid on top of a bed of extra thick and creamy tzatziki. The apple really only added a tartness that wasn’t pleasant. I ignored it and pretended that it was summer and I was dining on a patio. Mildred doesn’t have one which is too bad because this dish is dying to be served al fresco.

Even better were the smoked Georgian Bay whitefish fritters ($11). The fritter trend of 2008 is still going and although these were served very much in the same way as every other restaurant i.e. with a remoulade of tangy bits, these ones were the most able I have seen. The ratio of fish to potato was bang on. They were dressed up in a batter akin to the chicken ball. It was airy and crispy not doughy or crummy.

A beet salad with goat cheese ($9) was so pretty that no one wanted to touch it. The pureed cheese danced swirls through the dressing. The fresh beets were a beautiful shade of orange. Again, summer can’t come fast enough.

As fabulous as the starters were, the mains were full of mistakes. A chickpea and lentil stew ($16) was healthy and bright but lukewarm and lacking a ‘stewed quality’. It seemed to have been made in five minutes instead of the hours that it should have simmered. It had too much cilantro, not enough goats’ milk yogurt and the bhaji that came on the side was nothing but a clumsy addition.

A burger and frites ($15) looked like it belonged in a magazine. Sweet red onion relish, white cheddar and a tiny pickle finished it off. Someone decided to put it on an egg washed brioche bun that crumbled after two bites. It was simply the wrong kind of bread for a thick and juicy burger.

Another mishap was the pork belly sous vide with potato dumplings ($26). I love pork belly. When it is fried its’ crispiness is heaven. Its’ pig flavour out shines even the best bacon. However, when you do anything but fry it, it is nothing more than pork with large amounts of fat stuck to it. Rendering it gives it that crunch, sous vide makes it almost too unhealthy to want to eat.

The meal ended with a watery rendition of the cappuccino and a trio of way too sour sorbet ($9). The strings of sugar were playful but the grapefruit sorbet almost gave me wrinkles.

Mildred, if it wasn’t broke, why did you fix it?

Friday, April 3, 2009

Detoxing the Indetoxable

After the gastronomic indulgence that was New York City, I returned to Toronto a lot squishier than when I had left. I joked about needing a detox. This is a big joke because between my love of red wine and my affection for cold cuts and cheese, I am the last candidate for sacrifice.

Well, you know the saying, 'be careful what you wish for'? It's true. The day after I came home, the mild sore throat that I had been nursing (running around New York City) turned for the worse. As I travelled further down the sick road, the fever got higher and higher and my tonsils whiter and whiter. My journey hit a high point when I spent nine hours in emergency.

I have been in a horizontal position for six days and have had a fever for five of those. Popping pills like candy and talking like the Godfather are two other of my symptoms. Am I hungry? Not really and thank god because I cannot eat. I have been living off bananas, baby food, apple sauce, soup (broth with soft noodles) and water.

What I am is skinnier and happy for it but after watching The Food Network for 122 hours, I cannot wait to go to a restaurant. Hell, I’ll even settle for the energy to make myself something that doesn’t come out of a jar. I feel some mac ‘n’ cheese coming on as soon as I can stand by a stove. It’s soft, I can do it.

As anyone that likes to eat can attest, we often overdo it on nights’ out, weekends and vacations. We get back to reality when we either step on a scale or realize that our jeans aren’t looking as good on us as they were pre-pig out. I knew I had over done it when the thought of just sitting in my jeans sent feelings of uncomfort through my abdomen.

I swore it was cut back time and I kind of did a bit of it until I was forced into starvation by my weakened immune system. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the gluttony and will continue to indulge. It has afterall, become my panache for travelling.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Between The Shucks

The second last time I had oysters was on a recent trip to Florida. It was a real oyster shack complete with hanging napkin dispensers, metal buckets for serving and the fastest shucker I have ever seen. You order them by the pound and when you are done with each shell you toss them in the trough at the edge of the bar. They are served with soda crackers, cocktail sauce and drawn butter. You can have them either steamed or raw, the latter not being the popular choice for Southerners. There is a big disclaimer on the menu highlighting the potential dangers of eating them raw and that the establishment is not responsible should you fall ill. I was confused. We eat them raw up in the North. And by the way, what’s with the crackers, where’s the crushed ice, fresh horseradish and Tabasco? Yes, they are cheaper but so was the experience.

So I decided to pay a visit to my favourite oyster joint, Big Daddy’s Crab Shack and Oyster Bar on King Street, to relive how we do it. It was happy hour and that week there was a Mardi Gras celebration. At “a buck a shuck” we got down to business. Twenty five oysters later, including a Kumomoto from Asia that was farmed in the West, I was happy.

Now, clearly an oyster is an oyster but what exactly are these molluscs all about? We eat them but know so little about them. I called upon Katie, a veteran server and shucker for some insight. She begins with the basics. The correct and most enjoyable way to eat an oyster is to chew then swallow. Most people just swallow and do not even taste it. She argues that this technique is, “simply a waste of money”. Unless you are in Orlando or it’s happy hour, these little treats are expensive. The Kumomoto was $3.50 for one. The steep pricing of oysters is why they are almost always presented in a thoughtful way i.e. on crushed ice or sea salt and why they are served with fancy sauces. No one would appreciate paying $18 for half a dozen and they bring them to you in a bucket.

She shucked another one for me and began pointing out the layers and the muscle of the oyster. The muscle is the centre and is what holds it together. Detaching it from one side of the shell with the knife is what kills it. Yes, it is alive right up until it is served.

They are either male or female but can change sex more than once in their life span. Some oysters die inside of their shell before they are opened and according to Katie, the smell is extremely rancid. She says that a bad oyster can only be likened to, “the smell of a big, nasty fart” and that your nose could find one even at the bottom of the pile. To help keep prevent them from dying, they should be lying cup side down in their own sea water. North American oysters all have one side (the half shell) that is more concave then the other. It is their bed and they need the salt water to stay alive.

I have to admit that part of the fun of eating oysters is dressing them. At Big Daddy’s they serve them with fresh lemon and horseradish, spiced infused vodka and a carousel of six different sauces ranging from gentle to very spicy. I mix and match, trying different combinations and feel proud when I make a good one. This time and for the first time, I tried one plain. It was the one Katie shucked for me and she made sure not to drain a drop of the water. It was like accidently swallowing salt water while swimming in the ocean. I will stick with the condiments.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Lombardi's Pizzeria, New York City

I recently went to New York City and will admit that besides seeing The Statue of Liberty, I was really only interested in eating. I went with the intention of completing a few key food missions one of which was trying the pizza. Ok, not only did I want to try it, the plan was to eat as much of it as possible. I had only hoped that it would succeed its reputation.

We went to Lombardi’s Pizzeria on Spring Street in Little Italy. Established in 1905 by an Italian immigrant, it is said to be the first pizzeria in America. After 100 years, they are still coveted as one of the best pizzerias in the United States and the best in New York City. Now, New Yorkers put pizza into one of two categories: Neapolitan or Sicilian. The former being a thin crust and the latter being quite thick. Lombardi’s serves the Neapolitan style. Another note: they refer to the whole pizza as a pie.

Well, it was everything I had imagined. Chequered table cloths, New Yorker accents and original ingredients added to its’ authenticity. A “New York” style of pizza is with cheese and meatballs or with pasta baked into the top. Sounds weird, I know but I had to try it. We picked the meatball one. Baked in a coal oven, it came out well done and really thin. With a generous amount of good quality mozzarella, it was gooey and stringy. The meatballs (a mix of beef and pork) were perfectly seasoned and were solid, not the crumbly kind you sometimes see. Even the sauce which was born from San Marzano tomatoes was perfect. It balanced the acidity and the sweetness in such a way as to highlight the pizza not overpower it.

Lombardi's catapulted my pizza mission into high gear and over the next four days, I sampled two other pizzerias. The others were more takeout as opposed to sitdown but were nonetheless, right up there in deliciousness. I knew things were getting out of hand when I statred to wonder if I could bring some home on the plane. I thought of customs and although I once smuggled cheese from the Netherlands, I figured I should not temp fate twice.

Pizzeria Libretto

I’m not going to lie, I absolutely love pizza. I like it thin crust and I eat it with a knife and fork. My preference is to have it well done to the point where the cheese kind of goes a bit brown and with some sort of Italian meat on it. Chicken on pizza? Never. Olives? Always. Oh yeah, and don’t forget the drizzle of a nice extra virgin olive oil. Fantastic.

Pizzeria Libretto, 221 Ossington Avenue, is definitely all about the pizza. Their wood burning oven from Naples turns them out in 90 seconds with a 900 degree temperature. They are thin and slightly burnt from the intense heat. They get points for offering a spelt crust (wheat and I are not big friends) and for creativity with the use of ingredients like duck confit.

Unfortunately, they lose points for so many other things.

My first visit started out with a mediocre bottle of Nero D’Avola while we sampled some antipasti. House made wild boar capicollo ($6) was intriguing yet disappointing. Number one – it was crazy chintzy with an offering of maybe four slices. Number two - having grown up in an Italian famiglia, I have seen my share of hanging, cured meats and this one didn’t resemble any type of capicollo I’ve ever feasted on. Rather wet and greasy, it resembled a pancetta more so than capicollo and it certainly didn’t taste like wild boar. C’mon, do they really have a cantina in the basement?

I chose to set up the pig with some Rochetta ($6), a sharp goat’s cheese – small piece again. Not worth six dollars. I liked the Heirloom tomato and Burrata cheese salad ($9). The cheese was as smooth as butter, the tomatoes reminded me of September and the understated dressing let those flavours and textures shine through.

A good old stand by for me is always a quattro stagione pizza (the four seasons) because sometimes I can’t decide between just a few ingredients. Libretto’s version ($15) disappoints.
The salami quarter (winter) was satisfactory as was the spring and summer portions. The artichokes were nice and the green olives were ok but I really just wanted to skip the fall and go right into the next year. This quarter is always mushrooms and I love mushrooms. I repeat, I love mushrooms. These ones were downright gross. They were grassy and earthy and not in a good way. They tasted like dirt because I don’t think they were soaked enough. I picked them off.

That was back in October so I decided to give them another go. Besides, they have conjured up some serious supporters so perhaps I missed something.

Well, after a second visit, I am still not impressed. What is everyone saying when they claim this is great pizza? I'm really confused.

My prosciutto and mozzarella pizza ($16) was at best, alright. It was so stingy on the cheese that it was more of a red pizza than anything else. The prosciutto tasted like a dead pig - I realize this sounds absurd and so what I mean is that the meat tasted old and expired. I don't know.

My date's sausage pizza with caramelized onions, mozzarella and chilli oil ($15) was better but forget it. Too much oil paired with too many oily onions just equalled a greasy mess. Tasty at first but when you got to the third piece, the stomach ache started to set in.

Libretto, I give up. Skip this place and go straight to Terroni.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Bite Me

This past September, one of this city’s biggest Chefs – Marc Thuet, reopened the former Bistro & Bakery Thuet by the new name of Bite Me, 609 King Street West. Apparently the decision was fuelled by the apparent need for a slightly less expensive menu that would appeal to the 20 and 30 somethings that bombard this popular stretch of town. Don’t get too excited though, you’re still going to pay $12 for a Caeser salad and $39 for his Cassoulet.

A very open space, it is decorated tastefully. Gleaming hardwood, Buddha heads, paper like chandeliers that resemble hydrangeas and paintings done by Chef himself. Well, I have to sadly say that I liked his artwork more than his food.

Service is painfully slow and our waiter must be exhausted after every shift from how “on” he was the entire time. It was straight up annoying. Other irritations include: a ten minute wait for a martini that arrives with olives with pits (big pet peeve), freshly baked artisan style bread arrives with ‘hard as a rock’ cold butter (what?!), empty app plates take about fifteen minutes to clear and when two out of five entrees finally arrived (the butter was soft at this point), they get taken away because there was a “mistake”. They did reappear only two minutes later but with less food on the plate than the first time around. Part owner and Thuet’s wife, Biana came over to personally apologize which was gracious but after awhile her presence got overbearing. She is the front of house but you get tired of seeing her walk past your table a million times and you start to wish she’d go into the office or something.

Anyways, on to the actual food...

I started with what he calls Mosaic ($17). It was different types of carpaccio arranged on the plate to look like a mosaic art piece. It was beautiful. I could identify beef, salmon and red pepper but was stumped by the other slices. Either way, they were paper thin and drizzled with an almost water like dressing that tasted exactly like sushi. Yes, like a whole sushi plate amalgamated into water. It was fresh and thoughtful.

The winner in the first course department was clearly the Tartine ($15). It was a sort of open faced sandwich with Heirloom tomatoes, Sheep’s cheese and Prosciuttini atop a piece of bread that resembled a big, crunchy, greasy, garlicky crouton. It was wonderful.

I almost hated my main, Seabass ($28). It was stuffed with ground oxtail and served with a few mini vegetables and three escargot. I will take full responsibility for assuming it would be Chilean Seabass which is my favourite – yes I know we’re not supposed to eat it – but at that price point why would I assume that it was going to be more like a lake than a sea bass. It tasted like someone fished it out of Lake Simcoe. It had the texture and dryness of overdone salmon, the oxtail chuck was bland and dicey, the vegetables were cute as hell but the escargot tasted like dirt. Really, like dirt.

The Short Ribs ($28) which are supposedly cooked for 72 hours, definitely did not have that fall off the bone texture. You need a knife and Thuet needs a new watch. The Pomme Frites were good but we should hope so at this stage in cuisine.

I was so over it that I didn’t even look at the dessert menu.

Tout Fini.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Yellow Griffin, reviewed for Single Men's Magazine

The Yellow Griffin Pub, 2202 Bloor Street West, has the largest selection of burgers that I have ever seen. I’m talking about eight different kinds of patties (beef, bison, pork, lamb, turkey, chicken, salmon and veggie), thirty five different ways of serving them and add to that decision making – a choice of nine different sides. You seriously need about 15 minutes just to wrap your head around this massive menu. We were a little over whelmed but up for some serious burger consumption.

Three selections later, mouths watering over the anticipation of breaded pickles and a small debate over whether or not to go with a side of kraut-slaw or The Village Potato Salad (I won with the potato salad), we settled into the comfortableness of our booth and surveyed the joint. A small, kind of homey pub, it immediately made me think of a great spot for some Sunday festivities i.e. a greasy, “last night is a blur” kind of brunch. For this purpose, I am strangely intrigued by the ‘English Breakfast Burger’ ($11.15). Yup, a burger topped with baked beans, a little HP and a fried egg – rise and shine.

First up was a lamb ‘Greek to Me Burger’ ($10.85) topped with what was a traditional Greek salad. Overjoyed to see that the patty was somewhere between medium and medium well, I languished its’ juiciness. Thank god for a Pub Chef that realizes not all burgers must be cooked to death. Loaded with feta, it was satisfying but I must admit to wishing that the feta was swooped up in a creamy tzatziki instead of its dryness competing with the juice of the lamb.

With catchy little names like ‘Under the Tuscan Bun’, ‘Don Juan’, ‘Skipper Dipper’ and an outrageous array of non conventional toppings – think walnuts, peanut butter, apples, satay sauce, Siberian prawns (get the picture?), you can’t help but feel a tad adventurous.

Our curiosity led us to the ‘New Mexican’ ($11.85). This was a concoction of salsa, Tabasco, guacamole, peanut butter, sweet potato and coriander and sounded like a good match to a chicken burger. Mexicans like their chicken, si? Actually not a burger at all but more of a sandwich with a piece of grilled chicken as opposed to ground meat. I guess I could get over that part but this was straight up a grossly weird emulsion of toppings. The sweet potato mixed with peanut butter just made for a pasty mess.

Skip that one and let’s move onto the bison burger (an additional $2.75 but worth every cent). So meaty, so tender, so lean – this is a man’s burger. I decided to dress it in some ‘Crème Caramel’ ($11.35). Caramelized onions and mushrooms were in abundance and the tangy BBQ sauce was a perfect mate. I would scratch the lettuce (too soggy), add a slice of chedder (extra $1.50), order a big pint (of whatever) and ask for extra napkins (this is a messy one).

Which side do you take? The onion rings get rave reviews, the sweet potato fries come with a tasty red pepper mayo, the fries are fries, the Village Potato Salad is just an explosion of mayo and not much to write to Babka about, the green salad (who orders salad with a burger?). Never tried the kraut-slaw because I won the debate.

The best part of the entire experience was the breaded pickles! Little sticks of dilly, crunchy goodness. They were stupid they were so good.

So, grab a few friends and stop by and if it’s a Sunday, I’m the girl with the blood shot eyes and the egg on her burger so come over say good morning – quietly.


By far one of the best meals I had in 2008 was at Foxley, 207 Ossington Avenue. Executive chef and owner Thom Thai, has created a clean, simple and ever changing menu using exotic ingredients. The idea is tapas based with an Asian and Mediterranean influence.

We waited 45 minutes because there are all of fourteen tables and they don't take reservations. Don't worry; it is well worth the wait.

The side ribs with a caramelized shallot glaze are fall off the bone goodness. The sauce is perfectly sticky and saucy at the same time. My friend was diligently trying to soak up the sauce from the empty plate until the waiter snatched it up and sadness ensued.

The hamachi ceviche with tomato salsa was light and refreshing and although we ordered five dishes at the same time, I was impressed that they brought that one out first. A perfect start and a best friend to the glass of sparkling wine I had ordered.

My favourite dish was the spiced lamb wrapped in a lot leaf. To be honest, I don't know what a lot leaf is but I liked it, a lot.

Skip the avocado and blue crab salad; it's nothing to write home about.

I also wouldn't bother with desserts. He has two: crème brule with black sesame and a rice pudding with fresh mango. The custard of the brule had the consistently of goat cheese which wasn't bad but odd. The rice pudding was very lack luster and extremely el dente.

The wine list is reasonable and extensive for such a small place.

The service was alright but what can I say, being a waitress as made me very critical.

The prices are very reasonable.

The experience was a bouquet of awesome.

The Black Hoof, published on - 2008

After opening to rave reviews, this city’s newest hit is The Black Hoof, 928 Dundas Street West, and I was dying to pay them a visit. So last night with three companions in tow we descended upon the teeny charcuterie joint with empty stomachs and panache for some straight up meat...

keep reading at

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Le Paradis

I would not have chosen this restaurant but the girls called and I could not miss out on one of our dinners. If you could be a fly on the wall for any one of our nights out then you too would not be able to decline.

The location was a French bistro named Le Paradis, 166 Bedford at Davenport. If the word bistro is beginning to make you shudder, I completely feel you. Sigh. Let’s start with the atmosphere: when you first walk in you are smacked in the face by the big, wooden bar and black and white tiles (quelle surprise). The tiling quickly turns to blue carpet as you make your way up to the second floor. Um, when are owners going to realize that carpet and baguette crumbs are never a smart partnership. The rest was dusty, old, burgundy banquettes, white tables with brown paper and here’s another shocker... Parisienne art i.e. Martini Rossi and Moutard posters.

The menu, which changes daily was equally as lack lustre. The apps were the French typical: a fish soup ($5), mussels in garlic white wine ($8), goat cheese something avec something or other ($7), a verte salade ($5), etc. I could’ve fallen asleep in my glass of Gamay.

I chose the fish soup and apparently chose wrong. Not that the others were any better but at least the goat cheese with ratatouille didn’t taste like dish water. And I am being oh so serious here. The soup tasted like someone had left shrimp skins sitting in a sink of luke warm water and decided to make a soup out of it. Delicious.

Mains were equally as blah. Ok, so some of them sounded good. I was actually confident in my selection of a braised lamb shoulder with artichokes, tomatoes and garlic ($15). Yet, the pictures of fish on the menu next to the ‘Poisson’ category should’ve set off some alarms. It was room temperature, watery, tasteless (are there no herbs du Provence in this so called French kitchen?) The artichokes were either from a can or jar. Don’t know which one but either is wrong. Realizing that a shoulder cut could and would be fatty and stringy, I whole heartedly dug in. First bite – big chunk of fat. Second bite – big chunk of fat. Third bite – “Rita, if you keep eating this you too will be a big chunk of fat”. I didn’t mind the stringy sort of stewy texture but the fat was off the charts. I don’t often do this but I stopped and set my utensils down. It simply wasn’t worth eating.

For dessert, we entertained the small cheese plate ($8). Small in size it was not. Small in variety it was. This was the first ‘one type’ cheese plate I have ever seen. It was Blue and served with toasted bread that was so hard it must have been toasted two weeks ago. We laughed though because with every bite you became deaf while you chewed it.

The service was alright. My friends liked her no nonsense approach but I classify it as French abrasive. She was serious, kind of cold, lacking in eye contact and she kept speaking French to us which annoyed me to pieces. Apparently she started this because our friend started speaking to her in French but whatever the reason, I thought it was kitschy and unnecessary. The white shirt/black pant uniform circa 1989 didn’t help matters either.

The bottom line is, if ‘Restaurant Makeover’ is out there please give this place a call because they are in need of a serious overhaul.


I have to admit that having travelled throughout Spain, my expectations were pretty high for Torito, 276 Augusta Avenue. I mean really, can you compare snacking on tapas in a plaza in Madrid to doing so in Kensington Market in Toronto? I am happy to report that minus the wafts of cigarette smoke and frantic fan waving, yes you can.

I was impressed by the authenticity of both the wine list and the menu. All wines are of the Spanish variety, including your usual offering of Sangria, Cava and San Miguel beer. Ole!

While we started on our pitcher of white Sangria, we began perusing the menu. Although somewhat small, the list is complete with both cold and hot tapas and a couple of desserts.

Excitement ensued, we started ordering and we didn’t stop until we were so stuffed and full of regret after ordering what must have been our eighth dish (keep in mind that there were only two of us).

What I like about tapas is that there is no huge commitment. You can experiment without having to consume an eight ounce portion of something that you just learned you don't like. This is what happened when I ordered the quail ($12). It sounded nice with its pomegranate glaze but no gracias. I felt like I was eating a pigeon, a dirty pigeon, like the kind that fly around the Yonge and Dundas Square. Everything else was delightfully delish.

The ceviche with corn and yams ($10) had a wonderful texture. The chorizo and patatas bravas ($9) was also quite good but then again who in their right mind doesn't like sausage and potatoes? The chorizo was a tad over cooked but had a nice, slightly spicy flavour. The tomato puree that sat in the bottom of the plate was so concentrated that you felt like you were sitting a bushel. I was glad to see that the aioli was light instead of the sickening mayo concoction it usually is. You must try the gazpacho ($8). The only way to describe it is that it tasted like summer. Somehow they put the season in a bowl and that's impressive. But, if I had to insist on one dish it would be the Piquillo peppers stuffed with salted cod ($9). The peppers bursted with flavour and the cod, although salted, had a mild taste and a smooth and velvety consistency.We didn't order dessert but they have three to choose from.

Overall, we ate well, we certainly drank well, we reminisced about our time in Spain, we sang Gypsy Kings songs and when the waiter wasn't around we pretended to order our next dish in Spanish.

Yes, we really did.

Merci Mon Ami, reviewed for Single Men's Magazine

Want a little lunchtime oasis that allows you to relax in an open, airy and sunlit filled space that doesn’t resemble anything close to a cafeteria? Look no further than Merci Mon Ami, 171 East Liberty Street #107. This little cafe style lunch bistro has been serving up some of the freshest lunch fare that this neighbourhood has to offer for about 10 months. Owners Kevin and Cindy (also the Executive Chef) clearly have an affection for the Francais with their fresh baguette style sandwiches, jazzy tunes and Parisian artwork. They also host the crowd, have befriended the regulars and run their catering business out of the same kitchen.

The soup du jour was roasted vegetable puree with seasoned croutons ($5). Not the most exciting of soups but well executed. It tasted fresh unlike most soups of the day that are made from last weeks’ leftovers – trust me I work in the industry.

For the main event, I requested their most popular sandwich and was presented with the pesto chicken supreme ($10). Aw chicken. The good old Canadian stand by. Usually overcooked and dry as a bone. What people order because they are too afraid to try anything different. Well, I have good news. This sandwich beats most with an actually juicy and tender breast, sautéed button mushrooms, caramelized onions, sundried tomato pesto and cheese. The Kaiser was perfectly pressed in the panini maker and the side salad, although over dressed, was unusual. It was comprised of Mesculin greens, dried cranberries, gummy bear like apricots, grape tomatoes, walnuts and onions. The dressing was an interesting mix of sesame oil? Garlic chilli oil? Rice vinegar? I’m stumped. Apparently not even Kevin knows Cindy’s secret recipe.

Tired of processed luncheon meat? Fed up with puny sandwiches that have you starving in a few hours? Try out their Roasted Turkey Sandwich ($11). They carefully carve a house roasted bird and pile it unto a baguette with homemade stuffing and all the trimmings . The result is Thanksgiving dinner on a bun (minus the in-laws).

The salad of the day ($6) was unfortunately just a slight variation of the house without the apricots, cranberries and secret dressing. This time avec bleu cheese and a more recognizable vinaigrette.

All ingredients were bright and colourful. No deep fried, soggy veal panini here. The bread is freshly made by local bakeries. The communal tables stimulate conversation. The large west facing patio in front would be amazing in the warmer months. They are also actively supporting the environment which means that you are too when you dine there. They have gone green with all the takeout containers and utensils being biodegradable and the napkins are made from recycled paper.

And don’t worry, you don’t have to work in the village to eat here because parking is a plenty. You can actually park for free all along East Liberty Street.

When thinking of where to go for a great sandwich, a nice little lunch date or where to hold your next meeting or intimate social gathering, give Kevin and Cindy a ring and if she reveals the secret, you can give me ring.


I have been going to Terroni, 720 Queen Street West, for the past two years and have enjoyed every single meal I have had there. It has been a Toronto institution since 1992 and if you haven’t been then you are seriously missing out. Having been to Italy, I will announce that this is the real deal.

Terroni has been both praised and criticized. I guess this is what happens when you have struck gold and all your friends become jealous. They do not take reservations, changes or substitutions to their menu; they don’t even cut the pizza. Big deal. Are we that impatient that we can’t wait 15 minutes for dinner? So egotistical that we challenge chefs on how a dish should be made? And so lazy that we can’t cut our own food?

A so called Terroni vs. Libretto war has emerged since the latter’s opening last year. Some are divided but Terroni’s pizza is by far superior. The only thing Libretto has going for it is its’ wood burning stove from Naples and the diner’s option of having spelt crust.

I recall my first two visits to Terroni:

The line up was fifteen people deep but no one seemed to care. The place was alive with hustle and bustle, conversation and laughter. The smell of tomato sauce was intoxicating and we were salivating. This is no joke.

Terroni is known for their thinner than thin crust pizza but we were all craving pasta. Clearly, we had a dilemma. The solution? Pizza as an appetizer – I have continued this practice at each return. The Capriciosa pizza in all its’ salami glory really got our stomachs going. Fresh spaghetti tossed in aglio e olio with lemon zest, spinach and capers made my mouth sing. This is exactly the kind of pasta would enjoy in Italy (minus the $1200 plane ticket). Fresh not dried and paired with simple but bright ingredients. Even the wine brought me back to the boot. Served in ceramic jugs and drank out of glass cups. Brava!

That is when my addiction started and I returned a few weeks later. This time the Natalina pizza started things off. Calabrese salami, roasted red peppers and wrinkly black olives makes me think of my father. He immigrated to Toronto from Calabria in 1957. Growing up, he would always end dinner with those salty black olives. I hated them then but have come to love them now.

Moving on with the spaghetti alla Norma, I am content – again. Sautéed eggplant and fresh ricotta dance around the pasta in an authentic tomato sauce. I smothered it Grana Padano because apparently one cheese was just not enough. My date had the linguine al frutti di mare. Its’ aromas were reminiscent of standing by the shore in Bari where you can smell the sea salt in the air so much that you think if you stick out your tongue you could taste it.

Other dishes that get honourable mention are the pappardelle all iosa. Homemade spicy sausage, peas and button mushrooms come together in another nonna style dish. A rich and tender lamb ragu smothers orrechiette and perfectly sticks in the crevices. One time, there was a special of gnocchi tossed with Italian greens that tasted like spring.

This is one kitchen that knows how to appeal to your senses. Your eyes feast on colours and your nose fills with scents. Your tongue, well that’s the best part, it’s so pleased it doesn’t know what to do but to keep eating.

The Harbord Room, published on - 2009

The Harbord Room, 89 Harbord Street, was recently voted ‘the third best new restaurant in Canada’ by Enroute Magazine. Toronto critics have raved and relished and the word on the street is this is the place to see and be seen...

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Welcome to my New Website

I am pleased to launch my new website. On this site you will find all my restaurant reviews along with tagged locations thanks to my unique Mymap tool. So please keep coming back as I will be continually adding new posts. I look forward to your comments.

I want to give a special thanks to Inertia Creative Group for designing my logo and laying out my website. I would also like to thank Clickmycommunity. With their unique mapping tool I am able to tag all the locations I have visited and share a description and photos.