Dishcrawl – Yorkville

We took part in Dishcrawl – Yorkville two weeks ago.

Dishcrawl is an organization that hosts guided tours through a neighbourhood allowing people to discover restaurants and new foods with other foodies. It started in San Francisco and has spread to about 20 cities in North America. I had heard about Dishcrawl through Twitter and Facebook a couple of months ago but it was my sister Liz who let me know about the Dishcrawl Yorkville event. The event was $75 per person not including drinks and featured four different restaurants: Prime, Babaluu, Ciao Wine Bar and MoRoCo. When you sign up for the event you know that you will be going to four different restaurants but they announce the first restaurant two days before the event and the other three are announced day of.

We met the group at Prime which is located in the Windsor Arms, one of the most prestigious and swank hotels in the city. We first went to Prime for Winterlicious 2011 and had a great experience. I really want to go to Prime for high tea because it would be magical, fancy, adult and of course, very British.

The Windsor Arms is beautiful and soothing and I wish I had the money to spend an evening there and enjoy every luxury. The closest I will get to this is occasionally dining and drinking here. The tea room has intense, red walls, portraits of various members of the royal family, jeweled chandeliers and plush bench seating. The dining room is a little more modern and subdued. We enjoyed appetizers and cocktails in the tea room. I ordered a gin and tonic and was actually asked which type of gin (all British, of course) I wanted by a charming British man. We enjoyed three types of appetizers (only one of which I photographed).

1. Duck Spring Rolls

2. Bruschetta Canapes topped with Bocconccini

3. Smoked Salmon and Creme Fraiche Tartlet.

After our appetizers we headed into the heart of Yorkville to Babaluu. Babaluu is a Latin American salsa club and restaurant. Every night there are free salsa lessons before the restaurant becomes more about dancing than eating. I want to go back, have a few glasses of sangria and take in a night of dancing.

The restaurant is in the basement of the building but instead of feeling cramped and damped it felt cozy and like a Mexican cave. Here we had a Latin American tasting plate sampling the highlights of Babaluu’s menu.

A little plate of Latin yums. Top left clockwise – vegetarian sopas with beans, guacamole, sour cream and lettuce, paella with shrimp, chorizo and calamari, and a beef empanada with pico de gallo. Everything was delicious. The sopas was the perfect mouthful of flavour and spice. Paella is one of my favourite dishes – it is creamy and light and full of so many different things. Seafood, meat, and veggies – everything I could ever want. The empanada was not my favourite – it had a cornmeal crust/shell and I don’t really like cornmeal. It has a gritty texture and a sweet taste = Not for everyone.

Our next stop was Ciao Wine Bar. They gave us an excessively large amount of food that was served family style. The general manager came out and told us about the restaurant, what they serve and about their Tuesday night lobster special – 1 1/2 lbs of lobster on a bed of fettuccine. It goes without saying that I am going back to this restaurant – preferably on a Tuesday.

This is just a sample of some of the food we tried that night. Of everything we tried, the Fettucine Porcini was the best. It was so creamy, and had a real woodsy taste from the mushrooms. If you are a mushroom lover, this is the ultimate dish for you. My only complaint was that there was so much food that I couldn’t eat more than a few bites of each.  This just means I will have to go back.

Dessert was a visit to MoRoCo for some chocolate and a lesson on tempering chocolate. The inside was an overload of purple and velvet and curlicues – it was very Marie Antoinette which when eating chocolate and sweets is key. We tried a variety of different chocolates (milk, dark, white and caramel), chocolate covered ginger and Turkish delight, gluten free chocolate cookies, vanilla and orange hot chocolate, macarons and two things we didn’t try – dark chocolate bark with orange extract, orange peel, toasted almonds and dried blueberries and chocolate bar with bacon and peanuts. Everything use the highest quality ingredients and with this comes a price tag. Since I am not the biggest chocolate fan I don`t know if I will come back just for chocolate. There is an actual menu though so you could have dinner, brunch or afternoon tea.

Overall this is a great way to discover new food, new restaurants and new people. I would not only do it again but also recommend it to other people. I had a great time and now have four more restaurants I would like to go back to. There are a couple of Dishcrawl events coming about in May and June and I am currently debating which one to check out and with who.

 

Burger Bar

Last night I went to Kensington Market’s Burger Bar with my friend Lesley.

Located right at Augusta and College, Burger Bar is stereotypically Kensington – a patio filled with hipsters, a rough, wood bar and eclectic mix of wall decorations: Victorian advertisements, cardboard animal busts, a Cool Hand Luke poster, a Western playing on the television and Mexican Day of the Dead posters.

I really enjoyed the vibe of this place. It wasn’t pretentious and too into itself; it had a very chill, basement vibe. I don’t typically like patios that are right off the street but this patio faces Augusta which is a low traffic street.

The menu.

This menu sounds delicious and I want to go back. When you go, don’t be deceived – the delicious drink menu that acts as your placement  – it is lying to you. You can’t order any of these drinks. It’s like when you go to seedy, Chinese food restaurants and they claim to have the ability to make Scarlett O’Haras and Wallbangers but they can’t. Burger Bar does, however, have a huge tequila and beer menu which features local beers from the Kensington Brewing Company, among other things. I had the King’s Lager – it was OK. Type to self – don’t take beer advice from people who look 16, they probably don’t know anything about beer.

So from looking at the menu, and if you know anything about me, you can probably guess what burger I ordered.

The 6 Cheese Burger, which Lesley ordered as well. 6oz natural burger with cheddar, smoked provolone, gruyere, blue, brie and chevre with a side of onion rings. The burger was charred perfectly and you could tell the burger was freshly made and grilled to order. Now, I love cheese but maybe, just maybe, there is something as too much cheese. The problem with blue cheese is that when used, it completely overpowers a dish – and this is coming from someone who loves blue cheese. The blue cheese was the most prominent taste and you couldn’t taste any of the other cheese. And because there was so much melted cheese, the burger slid on the bun with every bite. I did like the burger but I think next time I would order something else…

The onion rings though: Best onion rings I have ever had. When you bite into an onion ring you should be able to get a little bit of onion without pulling the entire onion out of its casing. They were more breaded than battered and had a great amount of salt. I typically prefer tiny onion rings but because of how these were made, the big onion rings were more loopy which gave the entire onion a perfect crisp.

High quality, tasty burgers located in Kensington Market. I have a feeling I am going to be having a lot of burgers on this patio this summer on Sundays before GC goes to work. Yums. I can’t wait.

Dlish – Third time’s a charm

Sunday afternoon.

After dropping GC off at work, I walked along Bathurst Street to get to Dlish. It was a beautiful day, I passed my first in bloom lilac tree of the season and I was picking up cupcakes to share with two of my three sisters – how could it not be a wonderful day?

So far I have had the Salted Caramel and the Cookies and Cream cupcakes from Dlish. The Salted Caramel is amazing and I would recommend it to anyone. The Cookies and Cream is meh, ok and you can pass it up. I decided to get a mix of flavours I haven’t tried before to come up with an absolute, final opinion on this place.

From top right, clockwise: Dulce de Leche, Chocolate with Vanilla, Red Velvet (why?), Dark Chocolate, Chocolate with Vanilla (again – the Cookies and Cream was out, and the other two options were Mocha and Peanut Butter = no thanks) and Lemon.

I hate, hate, hate that this place has a cupcake schedule. Why would you regiment and schedule the magic and carefree nature of cupcakes? Also, the Salted Caramel is their best cupcake, it should be available every day.

After polishing off this box with my sisters I have come to my final verdict about Dlish: good, not as good as homemade and could not pass for homemade. Their standard flavours are good but are nothing spectacular. The icing is way to sugary. It has that gritty texture that I hate and by the second bite I feel cavities growing, The chocolate base of the Chocolate Vanilla cupcake is one of the best chocolate cakes I’ve had in a long time though. I feel like I am against this place because whenever I go and order my cupcakes the hip and pretentious cashier judges me and makes me feel as if I know nothing about cupcakes – which is not the case.  And everyone loves this so I feel like because I bake my favourite cupcake place should be new and undiscovered. Also – their website uses Flash but their POS/cash system is a Mac. Is this not counterproductive and oxymoronic? I think I was just annoyed because I couldn’t check their website on my phone… My sisters’ enjoyed their cupcakes and we got some sister-hang out time out of it, so all in all, worth it.

I like this place, and would be one of my suggested bakeries if you were to ask me where to grab cupcakes but I would add the warning to check out the schedule online first so you aren’t stuck with Red Velvet…

 

Friday Night Dinner

My dinner on Friday night.

1. Maple Orange Glazed Pork Chops – I love that this recipe is from a site called porkchoprecipes.net. Seemingly sketchy but this recipe is amazing. It is so easy because the glaze is only a few ingredients and just has to be brushed on each side of the pork. The glaze was sweet and complimented the rich, fattiness of the pork. I have officially gotten over my fear of under cooking pork. I have made pork a few times now and have not died! Pork is my favourite protein so I am glad I am not afraid to cook it and that I now have a go-to pork chop recipe in my back pocket.

2. Scalloped Hassselback Potatoes – I came across this recipe a couple of months ago on StumbleUpon and finally gave it a shot. It is cheesy, creamy and a heart attack. Although these are delicious I should not get into the habit of making them frequently. The Parmesan was salty and sharp and worked well with the creaminess from the sour cream and the heavy cream (yes, this is why it’s a heart attack). I would have never thought to pair Parmesan with baked potatoes but it is such a natural pairing.

3. Beet Salad with Goat Cheese – this is similar to, if not the same recipe, my cousin made a few months ago. I love beets and rarely get to use them. The dressing had orange juice in it so it worked nicely with the pork and the goat cheese was creamy and soft. I think I like goat cheese more than I like feta. I don’t think I needed to make a salad with cheese in it since I had made my heart attack potatoes but this is what I wanted to eat. This recipe calls for maple roasted walnuts which I omitted but I can only imagine the maple, nutty flavour that would have gone with the pork.

Some close ups of each part of my meal.

This dinner was a hit and was easy to make. The most time consuming thing was the baked potatoes which took a little over an hour. I can’t wait to get a barbecue so we can make the pork chops outside on the grill instead of inside on the reversible panini-grill.

Happy munching!

Victory Cafe

After work on Thursday was supposed to be tea and cookies at my friend Al’s new apartment. The gorgeous weather turned this into after work beers and wine. While sitting in the kitchen and nursing a beer, Al’s roommate was making Kraft Dinner. Now, it might be considered sacrilegious to anyone who was ever a poor, grungy college student but no, I don’t like Kraft Dinner. Every once in awhile I will get a craving and when I do cave, I am sorely disappointed. I was not going to fall victim to that classic mistake again. I stumbled out of the apartment with iPhone in hand to find myself some mac ‘n cheese.

I act like it was an epic expedition, but it was really quiet simple. First, Al’s boyfriend told me to go to Victory Cafe and second, BlogTO confirmed that they in fact have “the best mac ‘n cheese in Toronto.” So I headed to Victory Cafe.

Located in an old, Victorian-esque house in the Annex it’s exactly what you would expect it to be – patio out front, an eclectic mix of tables, chairs and art inside and full of university students and young, hipster professionals. The Victory Cafe has a slightly more upscale and complex bar and food menu than one would expect but they are catering to the demands and tastes of their clientele. I want to go back slightly more clear headed and check out the menu and some of their craft beers.

I ordered a pint of a honey lager by Great Lakes Brewery and the Mac ‘n Cheese.

I feel like mac ‘n cheese might be one of those foods that doesn’t photographic overly well. This mac ‘n cheese was good – creamy, stringy and super cheesy. It was fairly salty but that is bound to happen when there is that much cheese. The pasta was perfectly cooked and still had some of that al dente crunch to it. Despite all this, it was missing something for me. It wasn’t complete. My mom’s recipe (can someone please give me this recipe!?) has mustard in it – sorry if that was a secret ingredient – and I think this gives the mac ‘n cheese the right amount of kick to round out the whole dish. Maybe this is why people put ketchup on inferior mac ‘n cheeses? The garlic was a nice, carb-overload touch though.

The serving is massive and I was only able to finish about a third of it. I went over to my friend Cynthia’s after where we munched on this while we chatted and I finished the rest of this for breakfast on Friday morning. This is more than enough for one person but I wouldn’t suggest sharing as it is even better a few hours later.

All and all, this is a good mac ‘n cheese but I am still on the hunt for my favourite mac ‘n cheese in the city.

 

 

Montreal Bread Company

Last week I had a quick bite to eat with my friend Caitlin at Yorkville’s Montreal Bread Company.

Montreal Bread Company, or MBCO, is the embodiment of the Yorkville
business power lunch – quick, prepared sandwiches and wraps, that are heated up at your order. There is a small patio out front which is reminiscent of a Parisian street cafe. The patio looks out onto Cumberland at Yorkville’s boulder mound and the city park. I eat my lunch every day in this park and always look at the people bustling in and out of the neighbourhood. This is the perfect spot for Toronto people watching and the MBCO patio is taking advantage of this. The interior of the restaurant is very sleek, white and clean.

All available sandwiches are displayed, ready to order in a long, deli-style counter that showcases the beauty and freshness of everything. There was about 20 different sandwiches to choose from but we managed to narrow it down and get ourselves two different sandwiches.

Caitlin had the Salmon Salad Sandwich.

I had the Roasted Chicken and Brie Quesadilla.

This was slightly disappointing. It looked beautiful on display and even once it was on my plate but that was the extent of my enjoyment in this dish. There was hardly any brie and any brie that had existed had melted into oblivion, the chicken was dry and there was no unifying flavour.  The salsa was watery and insufficient. Luckily I had a delicious bottle of Orangina to wash this all down with. Caitlin suggested next time I order her sandwich because it was delicious.

In spite of not enjoying my meal I would go back here for lunch. It is quick, and easy but be warned, it comes with a decent price tag. For my quesadilla and drink it was a little over $16, which is comparable to the price of a sit down restaurant but without the service and fresh preparation of your meal.

I think Toronto needs more quick, to-go sandwich places… Maybe something along the lines of this. But until then, I’ll settle on MBCO.

Chicken Quinoa Awful

On Monday I made Campbell’s Low Sodium Lemon, Rosemary and Chicken Quinoa or as I like to call it, Chicken Quinoa Awful.

This looked amazing and sounded amazing but was not amazing. I think there was too much going on with this dish. There was quinoa, chicken, zucchini, carrots, and two types of mushrooms.

And I don’t think I like quinoa…

I wouldn’t recommend this and unfortunately there is a whole skillet of this in my fridge. Frack.

 

The Mad Italian

Sunday was dreary but we wanted to get the most out of the day. We started by visiting High Park for the blooming of the cherry blossoms.

The cherry blossoms are only in peak bloom for about a week in the middle of April and it is something to check out. There is about 100 cherry blossom trees planted along a path that winds down the hills of High Park. It’s all very Victorian particularly when we went – the air was thick with fog and there was that classic British mist in the air.

After our Victorian stroll we went to The Mad Italian on College for pizza cones.

The Mad Italian is everything a gelato restaurant in Little Italy should be – 1960s-mod, red walls, soccer playing on all the televisions and wine and olive oil posters decorating the walls.

GC has wanted to come here for months – the main draw was the pizza cones. They imported the idea from Italy and it’s the only place in Toronto that has the ability to make these cones. They start with cone shaped dough which is then filled with whatever traditional pizza toppings you want – pepperoni, salami, prosciutto, peppers, pineapple, different types of cheese, olives, you name it. Once filled and topped with an outrageous amount of cheese it is placed in a metal holder on a conveyor belt which rotates into a machine to perfectly cook each cone individually.

These were surprisingly amazing. The dough was perfectly cooked through and crispy as if it had been baked flat. The toppings were tightly packed into the cone so there was the perfect amount of pizza goodness in every bite. There was so much cheese. I think this would be great street food. I could picture walking along a street in Rome while munching on one of these cones.

After eating our cones of pizza we washed them down with gelato.

GC ordered the cheesecake gelato. Unlike past cheesecake gelatos this had legitimate chunks of cheesecake in it. Smooth, cream and light – just like cheesecake.

I ordered two flavours – lemon and blueberry and basil. The lemon was citrus and light. The blueberry and basil gelato is the most unique flavour I have ever had. It was sweet from both the basil and the blueberry but had that fresh summer taste that basil has. I love this combination of sweet fruit and basil and want to try it in many forms, including this Strawberry Basil Soda. This will be my summer 2012 food inspiration – fruit and basil.

This is the perfect little embodiment of Toronto’s Little Italy – unique products from Italy, soccer, gelato and modern style. This is a gelato spot worth checking out.

Praire Girl Revisited

Last weekend my friend Al came over for a girl’s night in featuring Kate Winslet and copious amounts of junk food. To get our Kate Winslet fix we watched Finding Neverland and Carnage. For our junk food fix we had Dill Pickle and Ketchup chips and cupcakes from Prairie Girl.

I had Prairie Girl for the first time in the summer of 2011 and I fell in love with the rich, cialis real flavours of the icing. Nothing was synthetic or from an extract – it was all natural flavours. I wasn’t crazy about the cupcakes themselves – they are not aesthetically pleasing with their overgrown muffin tops and the cake itself is so-so but the icing makes up for all this. So, seek although I was closer to a number of cupcake places along Queen, stomach I opted to head to Prairie Girl to pick up some cupcakes and see if they were as good as I remember.

So this happened. It was purely my own fault. Whenever I am on the subway with baked goods, whether they be store bought or my own, this happens. It’s because I foolishly assume, oh this is in a bag and therefore perfectly safe from bumps and tippage. This is not the case and baked goods should always be held with two hands, supporting the bottom.

Despite being smushed into one another the cupcakes were still good. I got four different flavours:

  1. Chocolate Cupcake with Vanilla Bean Icing
  2. Chcooalte Cupcake with Strawberry Icing
  3. Chocolate Cupcake with Chocolate Icing
  4. Vanilla Cupcake with Lemon Icing

The only issue with these cupcakes is the icing is too sweet and given that this is the best part, it creates a slight problem. Biting into one is an instant cavity and because the cupcakes are so large it can be a little much to handle. I think I would suggest and next time get myself the mini cupcakes: A perfect little bite without the sugar coma.

These cupcakes do not store well. I picked them up around 3 o’clock in the afternoon and we ate them around 8 o’clock in the evening. The icing had gotten slightly crunchy by then. The next morning the icing was cracking and I couldn’t stomach them – GC took them to work to give to people. This is the mark of a good cupcake – it needs to be enjoyed fresh rather than having so many preservatives and unnatural sugars that you can eat it weeks later.

These are by no means my favourite cupcakes in the city (I have yet to officially decide that) but when I want a fresh, sweet hit of strawberries, my go-to is the chocolate cupcake with strawberry icing; it’s like eating a bushel of strawberry.

More Cookbooks…

I was bad on Friday – I went to BMV bookstore on Bloor and bought cookbooks. I went because I was looking for the Williams Sonoma baking cookbook on the lovely advice of my friend Sarah after my lemon meringue pie failed and died. I had vowed not to buy anymore cookbooks but I was going to make an exception in order to redeem my pie making abilties.

Of course I didn’t find the book I was looking for and I came home with three other books. Now there are more recipes to choose from and I am looking at the Amazon search page which is suggestion two more Williams Sonoma cookbooks to buy with the first one I looked up… Decisions, decisions.