Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Brunchcapades: The Finale

Date: Sunday December 19, 2010

Time: 2:15 pm

Location: Beast Restaurant, 96 Tecumseth Street

It's cold outside but I'm cozy inside Beast Restaurant. A small space heater hums on the dark hardwood floor beside me. The aromas seeping from the hidden kitchen start to excite my taste buds.

I've been following Beast on twitter for about two months. You can make fun of social media all you want but it works. Twitter is the reason I'm here. I've been salivating over their tweets and with Beast being a little box in a row of houses on an unassuming side street, I bet most of you have never even heard of it.

To start, French pressed decaf ($4). The waitress brings me the contraption and instructs me to wait for it to beep, press the big red button (there are three, all red) and depress the plunger. I think I did it right because the coffee tastes good.

The benny with house made pastrami ($11) is winter food. It's loaded with hot, stringy, peppery, salty pastrami and doused in a grainy mustard hollandaise that is light and vinegary.

The muffin is too dense and chewy and the plate misses hash browns. Instead the kitchen gives a handful of bbq potato chips. They are awesome chips but I can't slide them around my broken yolks. I finish with a few pretty little slices of pear and apple.

The service is scattered as she seems more concerned with brunch clean up and dinner prep. There is no quality check and for all she knows I effed up my coffee and there was a toe nail in my pastrami.

I'm not offended. Leaving me alone is way better than being a crappy server.

I will give Beast another go. They aren't jammed, I don't have to stand outside and wait for a table. The brunch menu is creative, my benny was better than good and with such juicy sounding things as biscuits and gravy with soft scrambled eggs and fried sweet breads with hash and eggs, how can I not come back?

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Brunchcapades: Part Ten

Date: Sunday November 28, 2010

Time: 12:45 pm

Location: Lola’s Commissary, 634 Church Street just south of Bloor

Who is Lola? She was a showgirl at Barry Manilow’s Copacabana, a transvestite that gave The Kinks a hit song, the name of the previous owner of Lola’s Commissary, what the waitress would name a dog, what I would name a daughter and what someone kept calling me in Montreal when they couldn’t remember ‘Rita’.

Lola’s Commissary made Blogto’s list of best new brunch spots for 2009 and after spending a couple of hours there, I can see why.

The space, a renovated and converted Victorian house is spacious, bright and airy; a bit whimsy and a lot fresh.

Lola’s has a bunch of bennies to choose from and it takes everything in my being to not order some pork and hollandaise. Eggs Lola ($12) finds two large poached eggs on two corn tortillas with a smattering of sour cream, a chunk of avocado, a light green salsa verde and ancho chilli braised chicken. It’s tangy, smoky and spicy all at the same time. The cream cools the mouth and then the salsa wakes it up again.

There is a choice between a side salad, frites or sexy potatoes. The sexy potatoes are just mixed home fries; sweet and regular. That doesn’t seem sexy to me so frites it is. They are house cut, skinny and crispy like McDonald’s fries but not as good.

There is a daily scramble that they call ‘The Kitchen Sink’ ($9) and on this day it takes eggs and messes them up with spinach, cheddar, mushrooms, chorizo, onions and tomato. Every other plate that whizzes by is the scramble. It’s comforting, colourful and really who doesn’t like chorizo?

The coffee is good. The mimosas with freshly squeezed OJ are even better. The service is friendly and flawless.

Add another Lola to the list; she is also a nice place to brunch.

Friday, November 12, 2010

L'Unita, 134 Avenue Road

The room has a warm sexiness thanks to exposed brick, mirrors and the soft glow of candle light.

Northern woods mushrooms ($7) squirt juicy browned butter into your mouth as you bite down on the earthy morsels. Ricotta salata adds a bit of lusciousness and chives a bit of spike.

Butternut squash risotto is rolled into arancini ($7) and stuffed with mozzarella and guanciale. The guanciale escapes me but I'm not bothered, I'm too busy getting intoxicated off of the truffle honey that has been splashed on the rice balls. They serve three but I could eat thirteen.

Brown butter makes a second appearance; this time with bits of fried sage and duck liver tortelli ($26). The tortelli are little bundles of creamy, rich liver mousse. L'Unita changes their menu to reflect the season and nothing says autumn better than this dish.

Nothing new with rocket on a pizza but twisting it to include lamb sausage ($16) over prosciutto is a nice idea. The crust is thin and the sauce competent.

Fries aren't exactly Italian but L'Unita has the crispiest fries ($7) in the city and so I'm letting it slide.

Unlike the fries, the cannoli are right at home. Smooth mascarpone cheese is highlighted with orange and stuffed into a crunchy but not too crunchy pastry.

Add an espresso and I am one happy girl.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Brunchcapades: Part Nine

Location: Saving Grace, 907 Dundas Street West

I first went to Saving Grace the day after Kat and Jer’s wedding. We had a good sleep in and so brunch was a late one on a Saturday afternoon. Not knowing what to order, I knew before the food hit the table that I would be back to order more.

My second visit was a calculated one as the hour and a half wait on a weekend was a tough one. This time, we chose a Friday at noon. It was busy but we didn’t wait.

There are only two problems at Saving Grace: it is teeny tiny and the dressing on their green salad tastes like water.

The rest is bang on. The menu is interesting and creative, it’s a lot of twists on the classics and it’s clear that someone in the kitchen has an affection for Mexican and Indian cuisine.

A BLT at Saving Grace is tucked into raisin bread and includes avocado. The flavours and textures are attracting opposites; smooth avocado, crispy bacon, sharp cheese and sweet raisins.

Their eggs benny replaced Hollandaise with avocado cream and ham with smoked trout. It was genius both in the mind and on the palate.

The French toast is actually made with French bread. Caramelized bananas are sweet and mushy and the bread is sopping with syrup and browned butter. Add a lamb sausage; it’s the perfect touch of salt to such sweetness.

The espresso is ok, the coffee is great and the tea is loose.

If you haven’t already been to Saving Grace, then go and if you have, then I know you'll go back.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Ruby Watch Co.

Ruby Watch Co., 730 Queen Street East, has been one of 2010's most 'talked about' new restaurants. Obviously, I had to go. Now, this post is not going to be a review (per se), but rather a little bit of advice, a recollection of my experience, a certain word to the wise.

Here is the deal:

Ruby has been praised for its' food and criticised for it's daily set menus. You see, Lynn Crawford only serves one meal a day. It's $49 and includes a starter, main, cheese course and dessert. She will account for the veggie lovers, nut and seed eaters and allergic people but if you happen to be like me and not like chicken, well too damn bad if that's what today's menu is because that is what you are going to get.

I like the adventure of it. The unknown. The chance.

I do not like the idea of being forced to eat chocolate for dessert. I know, I know, everyone loves chocolate but I do not.

After a couple of months, Lynn broke and now posts the daily menus for the week so you can pick and choose which day you would like to go based on the gastronomy.

I am embarrassed by the current Toronto Star Restaurant Critic, Amy Pataki, and to be frank, I think that I could be doing a better job but to suite my own purpose, I am going to quote the drag; "Ruby Watchco is like going to a dinner party at the house of a brilliant cook, where the cocktails are dangerously delicious and everyone is drawn to the kitchen."

It's true, Ruby is like going to someone's house for dinner; you don't get to choose what you want to eat and the food may not be how you would have prepared it - this is Ruby Watch Co.

The salad was tender but like a 'Real Housewife', it was way over dressed. The sweet pear and sharp goat cheese totally out done by the wet lettuce. Not even the pretty fresh beets could save it.

The country bisquits, full of chive and cheddar and crunch and moisture were sublime.

The main back fired on me - it was chicken in a chicken wing sauce. What is chicken wing sauce? Beats me, all I saw was roasted chicken supreme in all it's dry, rubbery glory.

Sides were equally disappointing with chalky, slightly underdone potatoes. They were topped with a chive creme fraiche and thank God or else I would have choked.

Mustard greens rounded out the equation. I know they are good for you but I hate them.

Yes, I just used the word hate.

The cheese was a Lighthouse Tomme. It came with yesterday's bread (now toasted) and forced me to order another glass of wine to wash it down with. But being a cheese freak, I can appreciate this as a course.

I guess baking is her strong point as the apple crisp with homemade butterscotch and vanilla ice cream was also a winner.

Sadly Ruby didn't live up to her praise but then again, you can't necessarily take my word for it as today's mishaps could easily be tomorrow's triumphs.

I guess therein lies the beauty of a daily menu.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Brunchcapades: Part Eight

Date: Sunday September 19, 2010

Time: 11:58 am

Location: Holy Oak Cafe, 1241 Bloor Street West

Poor Bloor and Landsdowne, that wasteland of a neighbourhood that is best characterized by crack heads, a Value Village and a strip joint. It’s so down and out it gives Queen and Landsdowne a good run for their money (or lack thereof). Bloordale? Blandsdowne? This forgotten stretch of Bloor doesn’t even have a solid name.

The good news is that apparently, things are going to get better. A visit to Holy Oak Cafe provides a glimmer of hope. New businesses are popping up including a new bulk food store open; look for the giant walnut above the window (literally).

Holy Oak is a shabby chic without the chic cafe that does a Sunday brunch. The menu is small but big on good, honest ingredients. It’s creative, a bit elegant and down to earth at the same time. They squeeze their own pear, orange or beet juice and serve Intelligentsia’s Direct Trade Black Cat Espresso. The toast is organic multigrain and the syrup is infused with rosemary.

With mismatched furniture, your Grandmother’s sugar bowl and a stack of dusty, old board games in the basement, the kitchen proves you cannot judge a book by its’ cover.

The latte is perfection with its’ frothy top and big, bold flavour. No caffeine? The zing of the ginger lemonade can also wake you up. And not to worry, if you had a great Saturday night, they too are licensed.

The French toast ($8.25) suits the savoury as it’s stuffed with peaches and ricotta and comes with a big creamer of that rosemary infused syrup. Sweetness comes from the addition of strawberries, grapes and whipped cream.

The eggs Benny can be done with bacon ($9.50) but I’m not hung over so I stick to it as is; with cured salmon from a local fish market ($10.25). It makes me happy to see the addition of a cornmeal encrusted tomato and Bernaise instead of Hollandaise. Add a point for the fact that the eggs were perfectly poached and were not swimming in yellow sauce. Add another point for outstanding homefries – finally. Wedges of Yukon Golds are roasted with lemon and thyme. All this comes with a bright purple beet salad and fresh strawberries.

The food takes about forty minutes to make its’ way to us but they are busy, probably busier than they ever have been as more and more people buy into the promise of this neighbourhood.

Holy Oak may be more of a local hole than a destination brunch spot but if you find yourself in the area and don’t mind eating breakfast in a scruffy setting, pull up a chair, any old chair, and dig in.

Also posted on at

Monday, September 13, 2010

Woody's Burgers Bar and Grill

It looks like Woody’s Burgers Bar and Grill, 3795 Lakeshore Boulevard West, is on fire – literally. Puffs of smoke billow from the roof and the smell of burning wood fills the air. No need for EMS, it’s just what happens when you grill using Canadian hardwood as your heat source. Woody’s burgers are a whopping 7 ounces of local, naturally raised meats. They are made in house and hand pressed daily but when asked what type of beef is used, the answer is organic not sirloin or chuck. So it’s minced bits of whatever parts; passable because it’s natural but a better cut would be more respectable.

The beef classic ($5.35) glistens with grease but its’ insides are a little dry. The patty has a nice smoky taste. Close your eyes and you are sitting at a bon fire in Northern Ontario.

The beef stuffed cheddar ($6.35) is moister due to the patty’s center which is oozing with orange Cheddar. Not as smoky as the classic but juicier.

Woody’s uses sesame egg buns which are soft, fresh and a great base for soaking up the drippings.

Sure they have lettuce, tomato, pickles and onions but Woody’s gets creative with six different types of mayo, coleslaw, cucumbers, green olives, grilled jalapenos, pulled pork, Caribbean hot pepper sauce and a fried egg as other options for your burger.

Unfortunately, as good as the burgers are, the fries are not. They are too thick, too dry, not seasoned effectively or fried enough. The sweet potato fries are more luscious but still air on the side of dehydrated.

Flush your tank with one of their daily drink specials; a half price pint, mojito, margarita or Caesar.

* Reviewed for

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Brunchcapades: Part Seven

Date: Saturday August 8, 2010

Time: 1:15 pm

Location: School Bakery and Cafe, 70 Fraser Street

What's in a name: School is a concept restaurant. They have a timetable (contact us), a Dean's list (the menu)and detention time (whatever that means it's Monday to Friday from 3:30 to 7:00). The room is meant to resemble a classroom but only does so with clocks and chalkboards. And I think I saw a shiny red apple somewhere. The beautiful exposed brick takes away from the sentiment but I'm glad because the last thing I want to do is go back to school.

I swear, I am not really that hard to please. I just know what’s up and more often than not, nothing is up. I’m going to make this short but sweet – well maybe sweet isn’t the correct adjective but you catch my drift. Do not go to School Bakery and Cafe. Do not even stop in Liberty Village. Do not try to sit on a patio that faces east then puts the awning up so that there is zero sun to be had. I made the mistake so that you don’t have to.

Here’s the thing, it doesn’t taste bad and the service doesn’t suck.

The problem is that School has had write ups and line ups and all kinds of praise and glory and all that jazz but for what? I will retort to my opening statement; nothing.

They claim to be a bakery yet the aroma of freshly baked wheat and warm, melt the butter kind of bread fails to show up. Instead, the cheddar chive biscuit beneath my benny is so dry that it is crumbling and with every slash of the knife the situation gets worse. It’s a mess. I have no choice but to down two Bloody Caesars just to swallow my brunch.

Ok, that’s a bit of exaggeration but we are en route to a TFC game and have to prep for the Carlsbergs.

The burger is the same deal. The bun literally falls apart and you are left trying to hold an overly thick piece of ground meat with your bare hands.

The poached eggs are too done.

The home fries are too basic.

The servers’ knee socks are too kitschy.

Sixty dollars later, I’d give School a C+.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Brunchcapades: Part Six

July has easily been the busiest month of the year for me. I moved into my new condo and as a result have either been at work trying to gather up as much money as possible or at HomeSense trying to furnish the thing. Short on time, I just wanted to go somewhere close to home. The problem is that brunch is pretty much nonexistent in Etobicoke. Breakfast on the other hand, is everywhere. I decided to hit up two of the most popular 'All Day Breakfast' spots: The Grille, 1596 The Queensway and High Seas, 1086 Islington Avenue. Six eggs later, here's the scoop.

The All Day Breakfast: The Grille vs. High Seas

The Grille
Ambiance: Open 24 hrs., family restaurant, recently renovated, fake plants, blinds, booths, middle aged waitresses, serves everything from breakfast, pastas, salads, steak and burgers to classics like liver and onions and the hot hamburger; open faced with gravy

Price: $6.99 not including coffee ($1.99)

Eggs: 3, I like them over easy, and well, eggs are eggs

Bacon: 3 pieces, small, crumpled and stuck together,“hotel” bacon (you know, that one that every hotel seems to serve that's fat is almost see through, nothing like the kind you buy at the store - where does it come from?), not too crispy

Toast: 2 pieces, white, brown or rye (I always go brown), thick, Texas toast style,perfectly toasted and buttered, served with a packet of ubiquitous Olde Style strawberry jam

Homefries: not really homefries but rather boiled then roasted with maybe a little oil to get a few somewhat crispy bits, then kind of mashed up, the potato bacon ratio was way out of whack

High Seas

Ambiance: Greasy spoon, diner, ocean motif, think mermaid mural and aluminum fish on ceiling, one middle aged waitress and Greek cooks in white shirts, serves typical fare: souvlaki, ice cream, burgers, fish n chips

Price: $7.00 includes coffee

Eggs: 3, same deal as above

Bacon: 4 pieces, big and long, separate, the normal grocery store kind, a little too crispy

Toast: 2 pieces, white or brown, regular thickness, buttered ok, jamless

Homefries: French fries, definitely not homefries but at least these were fried, thick, crispy

The verdict: The Grille is a nicer setting but you definitely get more value out of High Seas. But unless you are a trucker, over the age of 65 or broke, neither place can really stand for brunch. Someone (other than that awful Cora), needs to open a proper brunch place in Southern Etobicoke.

We're dying over here.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Parts and Labour

Parts and Labour, 1566 Queen Street West, has been sold as a bar/resto/rock club for hipster thirty somethings by hipster thirty somethings. For the record, I am an (early) thirty something and yes, I bought the concept hook, line and sinker. A bistro style menu paired with cocktails and rock in the “West” sounded like a dream. I like Parkdale, love rock and hate those twenty somethings in nerdy glasses, beards and floral Laura Ingles gear. Get real kids, you are not different. In fact, you are all the same and it’s summer so lose the black tights under the shorts. Another newsflash: I don’t care about your new sleeve, I want you to sling drinks like a proper bartender and fast.

Sadly, Parts and Labour doesn’t fully deliver. I didn’t feel old and the soundtrack was rock but American Apparel threw up all over this place.

Just as tiresome as youngsters in uniform, is overpriced, trendy food. Chris Johns of The Globe and Mail writes of the menu as though it is cutting edge, something new, something exciting. Unfortunately, unless you have been hiding under a rock and have zero knowledge of the Toronto food scene, horse tenderloin and pig’s face should not shock you. It’s not like they are serving buffalo balls. Now that would be something.

The only item that ignited any fire in my belly was the lamb’s heart tartar but something told me to go with my gut and order the burger.

Sometimes, like when a one night stand seems like a good idea, your body lies to you.

A too thick patty, cooked med well (no complaints there), with confited tomato, onion jam, butter lettuce, aged cheddar and bacon. Dry as cardboard, I was wondering what the hell kind of beef did they use? Under well should have insured the meat be moist. Did I eat it? Hell no. Did I send it back? Hell yes. I don’t have more money than I do brains and so I questioned it; a mix of beef, veal and pork. People, we are not making meatballs, we are making hamburgers.

Veal is too lean and too flavourless and really, so is ground pork.

Pork belly instead of bacon wasn’t helping the situation any either.

The fries were passable but the aioli that topped them was nothing but a waxy, lemony goop.

A ribeye topped with Roquefort and served with the same fries was another disaster. A ribeye is my favourite cut of beef. So full of flavour from a high fat content, pretty marbling and a tender texture. Why on God’s green earth would you suffocate all that goodness with sharp blue cheese? You might as well shoot yourself in the foot.

The mistakes kept rolling with the hard as a rock flourless chocolate cake and the honey vanilla ice cream that tasted like the smell of Chinese takeout. No I am not on cheap drugs, it’s true and we laughed our asses off.

The communal tables add a cafeteria feel. A distressed hardwood floor and white brick walls make the space feel a bit gallery-esque. The best thing about this place is a series of colourful, similar pendant lights that run the length of the bar. It brings its' name to life. Oh and the drinks are moderately priced.

Other than that, I would save my pennies for a Big Mac and a pair of floral leggings.

*photo borrowed from Jon Sufin

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Brunchcapades: Part Five

Date: Saturday June 5, 2010

Time: 1:35 pm

Location: Mitzi’s Sister, 1554 Queen Street West

Companion: Dorelle, my mother, likes strong coffee, only eats carbs on the weekend, hadn’t had an eggs Benny in over ten years

The problem: Like painting, drawing, photography and the like, writing needs to be fuelled by inspiration. Food that excites, that makes me smile, that gives me joy can really get the creative juices flowing. Even the opposite; bad food, careless food, horrible experiences can make creating a breeze.

This morning, it has taken me 45 minutes to write this much.

Mitzi’s Sister has failed to inspire. Hell, the last couple of brunches have been so sub par that if I don’t have a good one soon, I won’t even be able to write my name.

More of a bar than anything else, this dive is pretty dumpy. The patio has that cute backyard deck thing going on and the tables in the front window are nice but the “stage” area at the back doesn’t say cuisine it screams cigarettes and guitars.

We sat in the window and I gave my mother the street view. She’s that person you dine with that always wants the banquette, the chair that doesn’t face the wall, the window seat, etc. I didn’t mind and in fact found it hilarious that she was getting so grossed out by Parkdale’s missing teeth and dirty long beards. You wanted the window...

The waitress suggested the eggs Benedict and bragged that their hollandaise was house made which should be a given not a selling feature but anyways, we ordered it. The sauce was as thick as Elmer’s glue. Gloopy and slightly waxy the sauce had the mouth feel of Crisco. There was a lemony kick to it but I couldn’t forgive the texture. I was happy to see a muffin instead of a biscuit (ahem, The Hoof Cafe) although the poor thing was barely toasted which resulted in a soggy base. The butter knife could barely cut through it. Throw in an over poached egg and you have a buffet type Benedict.

Mitzi’s serves brunch til 3 pm and so why would they make their home fries at 7 am? OK, that is an exaggeration but seriously, those little buggers were so not crispy. That’s what happens when potatoes just sit around after being cooked. They wrinkle, they dry out and sog up.

The ‘ultimate hangover sandwich’ had my name all over it. My stomach was turning from the previous night’s indiscretions and so I thought it was only fitting that I eat a fried egg and bacon sandwich. This one comes with kimchi. I assumed that was the “secret” weapon for fighting a hangover feeling because really, unless you are Korean, why would you eat cabbage that has been fermented in fish sauce for breakfast? A too generous amount of garlic mayo and toasted sour dough bread rounded out the sammy. The bacon must have been made when the potatoes were. It was dry and hard, tough to chew. Bacon jerky?

The best part of the brunch was that it worked. I walked out feeling much better. Whether it was the kimchi, the two mugs of tea or the great coffee, I am not sure and I can't say I will ever return but whatever it was, in that moment, I was grateful.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Brunchcapades: Part Four

Date: Friday May 14, 2010

Time: 1:00 pm

Location: Aunties and Uncles, 74 Lippincott Street at College and Bathurst

Companion: Joe, a creative web technologist, never met but we have been "following" eachother on Twitter for about a year, claims to not be a sauce guy but smothers his pancakes in maple syrup

The story: So Joe and I don’t know each other but through the geniuses of social networking we begin to talk and realize that we know more about each other than we think we do. Meeting someone face to face with whom you have only been interacting with in a virtual sense makes for some great dot connecting. We talk about it and agree that a network like Twitter allows people to “know” each other in perhaps a much more real and candid way than any facebook or Plenty of Fish ever could. It’s pretty hard to bullshit someone in 140 characters but when given an entire paragraph or page, I could become a former model who has chosen to leave the biz to become a chef. He says that he can tell from my tweets that I am a good person and that I am happy. The fact that my small sentences have actually spoken to my real self seem like a success. What he didn’t know is that I have the voice of a child, a whiny kind of squeaky voice but hey, he said it was “soothing”.

We took our very 2010 type meeting to a very old school type joint. Aunties and Uncles is like a big piece of American pie with its’ vintage paraphernalia. It’s very diner-esque, very kitschy and one of few spots in Toronto that are open for brunch during the week. Do people not eat omelettes on a Wednesday?

The host looks like a lumberjack with his plaid shirt and big, bushy beard. He’s a character and we like it although he borders on weird. I was greeted with a, “Hi what’s this?” and can honestly say I had no idea what the f he was talking about. Apparently it translates into, “A table for ...?”

The lumberjack recommended that we share the breakfast tacos and the breakfast pocket. I started out with the pocket that really isn’t a pocket at all. A pita is a pocket. This is a focaccia sandwich. Soft, oily, rosemary infused bread is filled with ordinary scrambled eggs, congealed cheddar cheese, caramelized onions that were more burnt than caramelized, salty peameal bacon, sliced tomato and mayo. The commonplace ingredients were a bit of a snooze but the bread, oh that bread, was a real winner. It was sided with a very dilly, creamy potato salad that had flecks of crunchy mustard seeds. Not a baby green in sight; thank god.

I ate half and we switched.

The breakfast tacos were a bust. The tough “soft” tacos reminded me of bristol board and the cheese had congealed again. Bits of sautéed, minced pork are devoid of any real flavour and the ordinary scrambled eggs made another appearance. Call me crazy but tacos should say Latin or Mexican or spicy or smoky or salsa or cilantro -something. They definitely don’t say radicchio but that what was scattered on top. Tacos do like sour cream but the cool condiment seems out of place without any fire to extinguish. This dish comes with home fries. Sadly, the same dude that did the onions did these, as they were a little scorched too.

Because we were first timers we won two banana pancakes and a few pieces of simmered pear. The little cakes were fluffy with sweet, mushy insides. A drizzle of syrup, a dusting of icing sugar and a nub of melting butter completed the picture perfect plate.

We patioed it and my shoulders, like the onions and the potatoes, got a little burnt.

The moral of the story? More attention in the kitchen and a little SPF.

Monday, May 10, 2010

A little food for thought...(sorry, I couldn't help it).

1.any nourishing substance that is eaten, drunk, or otherwise taken into the body to sustain life, provide energy, promote growth, etc.

That's what has to say about the meaning of food but if that's all food is or was, would there be such a thing as a restaurant? Would a meal bring anyone any joy or excitement?

Look, I know there are those that just eat when hungry and think of food as nothing more than sustenance. Those people who skip breakfast and eat cereal for dinner. They mash and mix their food up because, "It all ends up in the same place". I don't like these people and chances are if you are reading my blog, you are not one of them.

If I were to write the definition of food, it would look much different as I believe that food is as much about experience as it is about nourishment. Food is tied to our emotions. It is sentimental, religious, cultural and political. We remember taste in the same way we do our other senses.

I think we never forget certain meals, dishes, times, people and how they interplay with each other.

Food to me is:

The only time my Nana made duck and my Grandpa dropped it on the floor. We ate it anyway.

When my Dad used to make a big sandwich on really crusty bread. He’d sit in front of the tv with a checkered tea towel on his lap to catch the crumbs.

The first time I ate a raw oyster. I was a little scared of it but I just went for it. Sometimes eating is like taking a leap of faith.

Eating so many pieces of sushi, nigiri and maki that I have to say no to the complimentary green tea ice cream.

The spaghetti we all ate with our hands as children. We would make such a gross mess but for a kid this is so much fun.

Stopping at the deli to pick up different meats , cheeses and olives before heading to the beaches for a picnic in the sun.

The spaghetti with anchovies, bread crumbs and olive oil that we eat only on Christmas Eve. My father’s grandmother and mother made it. My mother makes it and I will make it for my children one day.

Better Homes and Garden’s version of mac n cheese casserole. That plaid cookbook is an celebration of North Americana. I grew up with it and yes, you have to have the slices of tomato on top.

Mixed seafood in bird’s nest in Chinatown at 4 am. Nothing wrong with a little “cold” tea and needing sunglasses for the way home.

That’s just some of my food.

What’s yours?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Brunchcapades: Part Three

Date: Saturday April 17, 2010

Location: The Hoof Cafe, 923 Dundas Street West

Time: Arrived at 11:10 am, Jen (part owner and mixologist) put our name and phone number on the list and said it would be about 45, we sipped coffee at The Communal Mule while waiting, got sat at 12:50 pm, was compensated for the ridiculously long wait with mini jelly filled doughnuts

Companions: Annette and Katia, friends of over 11 years, we call ourselves “The Triad” and are often either acting like thirteen year old boys or thirty year old men

Why they make a great brunch date: a mutual love and interest in pork and vodka is one of the foundations of our relationship, we can agree that a package of bacon for three people is not absurd, they love bread and I love cheese; sometimes it just works

My love and respect of The Black Hoof could only suggest that I had to try its’ little sister, The Hoof Cafe. My obsession with meat and offal lead me there like a horse to water. Jen’s house made bloody ceaser didn’t hurt either. It’s got to be five o’clock somewhere.

I take pride in the fact that I always give it to you straight. No B.S and this review is going to be no different although I have to say that this one hurts a little. See, I think Grant Van Gameran (the other owner and charcuterie master) is a cool guy. He’s a culinary genius and does fantastically creative things with animal parts. The bad news is, (insert wince) is that our brunch was no bouquet of awesome. It was mediocre at best. Do not believe the hype. It was not worth the wait.

The first problem is the space; I have seen bigger walk in closets. Diners are jammed in like chickens in a factory. It is just too small.

The second problem is the suckling pig eggs Benedict. Small eggs, flavourless hollandaise and mushy pulled pork on top of a biscuit that was as dense as particle board. Everything except the side arugula salad with a couple of pork rinds was tasteless. Where was the salt? The lemony zip in the sauce? The blue hairs on high blood pressure meds would have loved it.

Another indiscretion was the greasy tongue grilled cheese sandwich that was stuffed with a young, soft cheese - rind and all. I hate the rind. It made the sandwich taste stinky. The oily toast and oozing cheese did absolutely nothing to highlight the meat.

Thank god for the pork belly pastrami and sour cherry and marrow jelly filled doughnuts. The belly, so juicy with strips of fat had a nice drizzle of sweet maple. The really mini doughnuts were crispy with gooey pink centers and dusted with grainy sugar. The idea to incorporate a little unctuous marrow into the filling was sheer brilliance.

Add a fried egg into the mix and that would have made for a much better brunch.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Some Women Like Shoes, I Like Food

One of my favourite activities is food shopping. No, I don’t mean going to the grocery stores (although that’s pretty fun too), I’m talking about food stores, specialty or ethnic stores, the little ones that are filled with exotic and foreign items. You can’t keep me away from them or get me out of them. I once spent two hours at Grant’s Asian Grocery Store at Bloor and Dixie.

These stores are where I find inspiration not just for cooking but for writing as well. Like a school trip, it’s where I learn. I read labels like stories and peruse aisles like a detective. Yes I know I am a food nerd but if you want to know where to get ancho chilies, papadums or tosino, I’ve got you covered.

Eating outside the box is just as important to me as eating within it i.e. for sustenance. Food should be fun and unpredictable. I realize some of my antics (brains, tongues, sweetbreads, eyeballs) are a bit much for some and downright Fear Factoresque for others and I’m trying to forgive you for that but that doesn’t mean that you can’t experiment in other ways. Try a new cheese even though it smells like dirty socks or an unusual vegetable that you have no idea how to cook, even something as safe as a strange bread. Trust me, if it’s sold it’s because somewhere, somehow, people are eating it.

You think I am the first person to eat a beef heart?

Offal aside, just take a little trip to an ethnic supermarket and you will be amazed by all the different colours and fragrances. You will even save a dollar or two as the “ethnic” aisle of the big box stores are charging you way more than the product’s value. Even worse are specialty stores like McEwan’s or The Cheese Boutique. Wanna laugh? McEwan sells sriracha, the one with the rooster on it with the green cap, for something outrageous like $5. You can get it for $2.49 in Chinatown. Here’s a tip: if you are looking for an ethnic ingredient, go to the neighbourhood where that culture resides. Get kielbasa on Roncesvalles, kefalotiri on the Danforth, kimchi in Koreatown, curry in Indiatown, you get the picture. It’s the beauty of living in Toronto; a beauty that should be taken advantage of.

Example: Kensington market is like a playground for food shopping. Augusta Avenue is home to Perola's, a latin grocery store where I picked up some corn tortillas, different salsas and some chipotles for an attempt at making heuvos rancheros.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


To get to Buca, 604 King Street West, you have to walk down a dark, quiet alley. Take a sharp right turn at the end and you are about to be transported to either Manhattan or Rome – think of a 'Choose Your Own Adventure' book.

Buca has a real New York vibe. It is easily the coolest dining room in Toronto. A landing fit for a queen calls for a dramatic entrance and swanky walk down the stairs. The ceiling is so high, they could add another floor. The room is alive with conversation and zest. Like New York, it feels like it never sleeps.

If you choose Rome, you are dining in a wine cellar and being served real Italian food by handsome men in leather aprons. The subtlety of the lighting is enhanced by warm candlelight. The room feels bare yet deep. You don’t even need to open the wine list to know that there is no shortage of luscious reds in this place.

I like the dining room’s moodiness.

I do not like the unisex washrooms.

I’m also not thrilled by the kitchen’s unpredictability. Some dishes are a knock out but a few are not worth your pennies.

Case in the point is the charcuterie (3 for $15/5 for $25) - too small, too dry and sliced too thin. House made preserves come in cute ramekins and complement your selections nicely but they can’t carry the weight on their own. If you want salumi, go see Grant.

The cheeses (3 for $17/5 for $27) are your better bet. They too come with darling preserves and when sharp gorgonzola and sweet fruit come together, it’s magic. Unctuous buffalo ricotta from Ontario and creamy Caprino from Lombardia also make for some great match ups.

Add the warm olives ($6) but skip the bread knots ($6). Don’t get me wrong, they are tasty little things with their tanned tops and shards of sea salt but are way too small to be a proper vehicle for the charcuterie. Try slathering creamy ricotta on something the size of a toonie; it ends up all over your fingers.

Also pass on the fried salt cod fritters ($7). I am a bit sad to say this as I love salted cod but these are dry, really dry. So dry that we ask for sauce but the flesh is too mealy and parched to be re-hydrated. My Calabrese nonna may be turning in her grave.

In the face of disappointment comes the sweetness of success. Enter the lambs’ brains alla saltimbocca($7). They look like two Cuban cigars; all rolled up in crispy prosciutto. The saltiness and crunchiness of the pork makes a nice back drop to the soft and juicy brains. The texture is almost indescribable – part cottage cheesy, part scrambled eggy and a little fatty. This is one of the most exciting dishes on the menu. It is fun, straight up fun.

The story goes on with gnocchi dressed up in an oxtail ragu with scamorza ($18). Made in house, these little pillows of potato and flour are spot on. The oxtail is moist and succulent but chunky instead of shredded and it’s nice to see something other than beef cheek. Scamorza’s smokiness goes a bit undetected but adds a nice dimension to the consistency of the sauce.

As if all this cheese was not enough we order the funghi pizza with gorgonzola and mascarpone ($18). Woodsy, wild mushrooms play really well with salty and sweet cheeses. The mascarpone so rich and smooth but balanced by the crunchy, leopard print crust. The pizza comes whole but with scissors for cutting it up however you wish (it is your story remember?).

Food aside, let's give bonus points for an innovative use of a pair of scissors, cloth napkins that are like tea towels (very Ital), funky silverware and exceptional service.

Now, Buca prints their menus daily and so you may not have the pleasure of brains or tails on your plates but whatever it is that day, choose wisely as this is truly a place for a great culinary adventure.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Brunchcapades: Part Two

Date: Saturday March 13, 2010

Time: 12:15 pm

Location: Lady Marmalade, 898 Queen Street East

Companion: Donna, administrative assistant/student/fashionista, friend of 5 years, prefers bacon over sausage

Weather: Piss-pouring rain. We jumped into Value Village thinking that they would sell umbrellas. They don’t.

Leslieville on the weekends can only mean one thing: breakfast. With more brunch spots than you can shake a stick at, the smell of eggs and roasted beans literally permeates the street corners. It’s weird but true.

Lady Marmalade has a kind of fifties retro vibe going on. A little bit cold but a lot bright. It’s small which helps add some cozy but with most of the seating being in the mid to front of the room you and your bacon are put on display like a puppy in a pet store. Line ups plus dirty looks if you don’t eat fast enough equals no time for lingering. This is commonplace in any Toronto brunch spot worth hitting and it sucks.

They have seven ‘bennies’ to choose from. Cool combos of avocado and brie or roasted veg and aged white cheddar are enticing but we went for the fresh tomato and pesto ($12.95). Crispy muffins were topped with a bright slice of tomato, a smear of fresh basil pesto, a fluffy poached egg and a light smattering of lemony hollandaise. Note the fact that it was light on the sauce which is key as I feel that places that douse your ‘benny’ with sauce are almost trying to hide something. Let’s also note that it was a cool yellow instead of the fluorescent goop you sometimes get.

With Lady’s poached egg BLT ($10.95), I expected a sandwich, the kind you pick up and open wide for but this one was served ‘open faced’. Although I think that ‘open faced’ sandwiches are ridiculous, it reminded me of a ‘benny’ so it was ok. Toasted brown bread, tender baby spinach, a sweet and smoky roasted tomato, salty bacon and big poached eggs with sunny centers and rubbery ends all come together to make a truly dimensional breakfast. The flavours worked really well together including the chipotle mayo that was gingerly spread on top of the eggs. God I love mayonnaise.

The only thing that was not ok was the placement of the bacon. It should have been laid on the bottom, not across the top because when I tried to start at the corner, my knife pushed down on the bacon which in turn pushed down on the egg breaking the yolk. I was not ready to break the yolk. I wanted the little bowl of salad off the plate but was now stuck with it as its’ bottom was covered in yolk.

See, I get that the salad puts the “unch” in brunch but I really don’t care to eat leaves with runny yolks especially for breakfast. In addition to a salad, you get potatoes. Boiled then baked table potatoes get some cayenne and a little oil. Some were burnt but their insides were fluffy.

Misplaced bacon and a few overcooked potatoes aside, Lady Marmalade is thriving. Lucky for those who live in the neighbourhood but not too far to go for those of us that don’t. The good thing about Toronto is that we are a small big city and nothing is more than half an hour away.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

My Place: A Canadian Pub, 2448 Bloor Street West

So I had been dying to try this place ever since it opened in September. Now, I wish I hadn't have consumed the calories. I hate to say this because Chef Brad Long seems like a good fella but it was really not so good.

I had a bad feeling as soon as I sat and was handed a dirty, crusty menu.

He gets props for creating a "Canadian" experience. He uses local where possible. The menu is sort of like a trip cross country. There are Nanaimo bars, bison ribs, Great Lakes Perch Po'boys, a tortiere and some mussels from P.E.I.


His charcuterie plate was lifeless. I have seen more excitement at a funeral. Grainy, dry kielbassa, a square of bland pate, one piece of non-descript cheese, some pickled veg - who cares? No salumi. Except for the bright and crunchy beets this was colourless and boring.

The fries were a scavenger hunt as you had to pick through them to find the crispy ones. The others were soggy and really, can someone change the fryer oil? It was old and I'm not really down with brown fries.

He makes his own mayo which you'd think would be a big wow but oh no it tasted like its' texture. Zero flavour.

His pierogies were sad and soggy. They were mushy and they stuck to the board they came on. Sigh. More like dim sum than potato dumplings.

Honeyed buttermilk breaded chicken with sweet and sour red onions and avocado on bisquits were cute but seriously, no where was there even an essence of honey and the onions were just onions. Again, a bland one.

At that point I was seriously scratching my head and getting irritated.

The only winner and even that is a stretch as we are just giving points for something tasting like something, were the pulled Berkshire pork sliders. The challah was toasty, the pork nice and wet and the dressing sweet.

To make matters even worse this place is expensive. Bacon and eggs are $15, fish and chips come in at $23 and nachos which our server said were small will cost you $18.

I'm sorry Brad but if Canada tastes like this, no wonder our tourism is failing.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Brunchcapades: Part One

As previously predicted, this year will be the year of the brunch and to fully embrace the trend I have added the word brunching to my vocabulary and am now embarking on a year’s worth of brunches. Affectionately titled ‘The Brunchcapades’, myself and a rotating roster of brunch companions will set out once a month to check out one of Toronto’s many brunch spots. So please join me in this adventure as I get ready to rise and dine.

Date: Saturday February 13, 2010

Time: 11:45 am

Location: Easy Restaurant, 1645 Queen Street West at Roncesvalles

Companion: Annette, teacher, friend of 11 years, likes her eggs ‘sunny side up’

Topic of conversation: bridesmaid dresses (we are both M.O.H’s this year), how we are going to spend our Saturday night, my new BlackBerry and general gossip about our mutual friends

I’m a brunch virgin. Other than a few buffets and a delicious visit to the old Mildred Pierce, I have never really been a bruncher. Truth be told, it’s because I generally have never risen let alone gotten dressed and been out the door before noon on the weekends. A bar virgin, I am not.

So I entered Easy Restaurant kind of bright eyed and bushy tailed. A little wet behind the ears with an excitement in my belly. I also had high hopes that my first brunch would be a hit. No one wants to start off on the wrong foot.

Well a hit it was.

Easy’s decor has an ‘easy rider’ biker/vintage car theme. The tables are distressed and the papers are free. A chalkboard menu proudly lists their smoothies and coffees (they serve illy coffee – need I say more?) The waitresses are all young and cute and nice, really nice. The place is jumping and it woke me up.

The menu is big and with so many good sounding items I go for the eggs benedict ($10.95) almost by default. I know I sound like a dud for ordering the ``benny`` when I could have had toast soldiers or a breakfast burrito but I think as simple as it is it`s a dish that can really speak to a kitchen`s capabilities. Hey if you can`t poach a proper egg...

I cautiously approached the dish not knowing where to begin or when to break the yolk. Like a little kid that shrieks as they squish a bug under their foot, I think it`s the fun part of eating an egg.

PS. I also don`t mind killing bugs.

The eggs were perfectly poached; light and fluffy with sunny centers. The muffins were rightly toasted. The use of grilled peameal over ham added a rustic classiness to the dish and the fact that their hollandaise tasted of buttery popcorn added an element of surprise. The hash browns took a back seat as they were crispy but not so flavourful. Nothing some salt and ketchup couldn't remedy.

Easy’s house specialty is heuvos divorciados ($12.50): two sunny side up eggs (of course Annette ordered this) sit on a flat corn tortilla and then get smothered with spicy green and tangy red salsas. Black beans are sprinkled about while guacamole and ancho chili jam hang out on the side. I was jealous of this one. It was so colourful. The flavours popped in your mouth and ancho chili kicks raspberry’s ass in the jam department. Thick pieces of buttery toast make the perfect dipping agent. She ordered the salad because I had the potatoes but it didn’t take long for her to start devouring it. According to her she needed, “ get this salad out of here so I can concentrate on all of this other goodness”.

I laughed.

We finished our illy’s and set out for some antiquing because we’ve heard that that’s what people do after they have brunch.

A vintage 80’s clutch and a faux gold necklace later, our adventure was complete.

Now Annette just has to save up for that chandelier.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Hello 2010

I am always filled with such hope in January. Being the sappy gal that I am, I can never help but feel like the new year is going to be "the one". The great one. The best one yet.

Two thousand and nine was in many ways a good year for me. I started, quit the only “real” job that I sort of had (it was part time) to focus on food and on writing and had some small but successful firsts in the kitchen: roasted my first prime rib to an intentional medium rare, seared and baked my first duck breast and tried my own hand at roasting bones for the purpose of the marrow. Ok, so that one wasn’t so successful but when Grant van Gameren of The Black Hoof comments and gives you suggestion on your marrow tweet, you most certainly feel like you have accomplished greatness.

The year saw the rise of the prix fixe, the charcuterie trend, sriracha became almost as ubiquitous as Heinz (well not really but almost everyone now knows what that stuff is), Fuzion flew off of the LCBO’s shelves, as did Bud Light Lime but really, how many of those can you drink? 2009 was the year of the yogurt, the pork and of the Ramen noodle. Confit could easily be the cooking method of the year and I was happy about that. In addition to the obvious duck leg I was served hearts, garlic and potatoes that had all been slow cooked in luscious duck fat. The term local replaced 2008’s organic and people all over Toronto were engaging in DIYers based on proximity. Roof top gardens and restaurant cantinas helped us get a real taste of Ontario - of home.

Yes, we saw the closure of some popular restaurants but that’s ok. That’s the industry and I guess they were no longer in the “in”. Restaurants grow up and they too must die. Where one exits another enters. It’s life. It only means we’ll get to try some new food.

So what will 2010 have in store? I have honestly been thinking about this since November and haven’t come up with much. Like being able to predict lottery numbers, if I knew what was to come, I would capitalize on it and make this the year that Rita Ricchio becomes rich.

Like any foodster though, I would be doing myself and you, my readers, a disservice for not trying to call out the up and coming trends so here it goes...

I say that brunch will be even bigger than it has been. We will see new brunch items and our vocabulary will include the term brunching, verb; the act of going out for a meal between the hours of 11:00 am and 3:00 pm on a Saturday or Sunday.

We will also see the rise of a particular ethnic food. Perhaps a specific country or maybe a region but either way you are going to see people opening up their minds and letting different flavours and ingredients in. Ethiopian? Austrian? American mid-western? Turkish? Estonian? Time will tell.

Unfortunately, I think prepared meals are going to be an even bigger business as people get busier and busier (insert a “whatever”). The major grocery stores are going to come out with new and improved dinners that you get pick up, reheat and serve. You are going to be able to swing by Sobey’s and bring home some Bulgogi and kimchi. I’d rather see a rise in home cooking but we do live in North America. Maybe in 2011, people will start to realize the physical and emotional benefits of making your own dinner – from scratch.

That’s all I got but whatever 2010 will bring, I am excited. I can’t wait to try it and to write about it. I look forward to hopefully being a compass in not just my own but in your food adventures as well.

Rita Ricchio