Canoe

On February 7th we celebrated our five year anniversary. It’s crazy to think that all of this started five years ago and no one would have ever predicted it would become something this amazing. GC is my best friend and I can’t imagine life without him. I love him and I know we have many, many years of love, friendship and adventures ahead of us.

Ok. Enough for the sentimental, on to the food and how we celebrated. Since it was a milestone anniversary, we decided to go big. We stayed downtown at the Royal York hotel, we went for dinner at Canoe and we had cocktails at Library Bar.

Canoe is a fantastic restaurant. We had gone there once before for Summerlicious and it was amazing, but you truly need to visit and taste of the regular menu because it is exponentially better, if that’s even possible. We were seated at a table for four, with both of us sitting together facing out onto the city and harbour on a cold and snowy day. It was the perfect, romantic atmosphere to celebrate an anniversary.

Our server asked us if we were here for a special occassion and we told him it was our anniversary. This prompted him to give us some free samples off the tasting menu! Happy anniversary indeed!

We started off with a cocktail – the Winter Wonderland. Jack Daniels honey liqueur, Benedictine, milk and nutmeg, topped with a Bobbette & Belle marshmallow. This is one of the best cocktails I have ever had. It was served in a tall, slender glass, packed with ice and the cocktail was a lush brown colour. It was a rich chocolate milk spiked with booze and spiced up with nutmeg. The marshmallow on top was a playful touch, that was sweet, whimsical and nostalgic. The straw in the drink was a paper straw that looked like a birch tree. This just added to the illusion that this drink was truly a winter wonderland. Yums.

We started with the night’s amuse bouche that was a cauliflower soup with Earl Grayed sultanas. This soup was thick, creamy and earthy. The sultanas were delicate, sweet, smokey and add a touch of British teatime sophistication to the soup.

Next, we had the Wellington County Beef Tartare.

beef-tartare-2-624x416beef-tartare-624x388Wellington County Beef Tartare with applewood smoked bacon, pretzel toast, and Forbes’ wild flavours.

Beef tartare is one of my favourite dishes. It is raw, fresh, cool and has a clean taste. This tartare was all of those things, seasoned with the right spices and and flavours of pickles. The bacon was crispy, salty and smoky but it took away from the dish rather than adding anything of value to it. It added a crunch that was too conflicting with the tartare rather than complimenting it. The pretzel toast added a sweetness through its dough but also a slight saltiness.The wild flavours were all pickled products: beets, pickles and mushrooms. They complimented the pickles that speckled the tartare but the presentation of this dish was too chaotic. The eye did not know where to focus and in turn, the stomach did not know where to focus or where to begin.

After our appetizer we were given an apple gelee.

mar12CanoeShackUp21How gorgeous is this presentation? I love the simplicity and organic quality it has. The bed of greens, below a perfectly shaped ice disk that cradles the deliciousness you get to eat. The apple gelee was sweet and dense, a thicker apple sauce. The perfect palate cleanser before our main course.

GC ordered the 45 Day Aged Ontario Rib Eye.

canoe145 Day Aged Ontario Rib Eye with roasted carrots, Portobello pickles, smoked mustard aioli and crispy layered potatoes. GC loved this steak. He ordered it to be done medium which is a bit too cooked for my liking but it was still juicy, tender and rich. It was such a hearty and intense meal.

I ordered the Green Alder Rubbed Venison.

8226934271_59ec4a15d8_zGreen Alder Rubbed Venison with steel cut oats, charred leek, mini tourtiere and mountain cranberries. This was an amazing dish. The venison was done medium-rare and it was perfect. Juicy, rich and such an indulgent over-the-top dish. The steel cut oats were an interesting and different choice for a grain but I didn’t love them.  It seemed like an awkward attempt at fusing together breakfast and dinner. The leeks were tender and fresh and the cranberries added a natural tart sweetness to the whole dish. The mini tourtiere was soft and tender but it was unnecessary. There was more than enough food in the dish that it wasn’t needed and it was executed well enough that it  could have stood on its own.

And lastly for dessert, we ordered the Butter Tart Wedge.

IMG_3281The Butter Tart wedge with spiced raisin and bourbon ice cream. This was one of the best desserts I have ever eaten. The crust was flaky and buttery, and the filling was completely divine. It was luscious and completely ridiculous. It was comfort food taken to the gourmet. I would recommend a visit to an O & B restaurant just for this.

We were also served with jellied passion fruit cubes which were perfect little bites of heaven. It reminded me of the fruit jellies you might eat around the holidays but with real fruit juices. Overall this was an amazing meal. The atmosphere, the service and the food  were delicious and memorable. It was such a perfect evening.

After dinner we strolled through the PATH over to the Royal York’s Library Bar where we enjoyed a few cocktails. Library Bar’s menu is interesting as it takes a look a the history and evolution of the cocktail. I ordered the Robert Burns’ Whiskey Cup – combination of Chivas Regal 12 year old Scotch Whisky & Drambuie sweetened
with their own rooftop honey and topped with a luscious lemon foam – and the F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Gin Rickey – Hendricks Gin with pressed lime, cucumber and crystallized rose petals topped with seltzer. I preferred the gin rickey, it was a gin and tonic taken to the next level. Easy to sip, cool and refreshing. The lemon foam on the Whisky Cup was good enough to eat on its own and I wish I could order a bowl full of it and just eat it like pudding. GC ordered the Margaret Atwoods Margarita – Berry Berry Tea infused Sauza Tequila, fresh lime and Cointreau, served on the rocks – and Michael Ondaatje’s Brandy – Remy Martin VSOP Cognac, pineapple and lemon juices, simple syrup and Grand Marnier.

Happy Anniversary baby! I love you and I can’t wait for more years to come!

Photo credits: Toronto Life and Oliver & Bonancini

 

Mother’s Dumplings

There are some people you are friends with because you are always on the same page as them in various aspects of life whether it is emotional, spiritual or even physical. And then there are some people who, more importantly, you are the on the same page as them gastronomically.

A few weeks ago I was on the subway looking at an advertisement for VH Steamer’s rice with dumplings. I wasn’t intrigued by the ad because I thought it would be any good, I knew it wouldn’t, but it caused me to crave dumplings. Later that afternoon I received a message from Cynthia saying she was also craving dumplings, a statement that was completely unprompted by my earlier daydreams of dumplings.

photo(1)When two friends are having the same craving obviously something must be done about it so we headed to Mother’s Dumplings.

We started off with wonton soup – slightly redundant when one is planning on eating dumplings but it was a chilly day and soup was a warm and comforting way to start off a meal.

IMG_3276This soup look thicker than it is. It is a light broth, slightly salty and filled with seaweed, green onions and wontons. It was delicious but it needs a touch of soya sauce to give it more flavour. It is a great bargain – we ordered the small bowl which is around $4.00 and we were both able to have 2 bowls of soup.

Next came the dumplings.

Mother's DumplingsWe ordered 24 dumplings – 12 boiled pork and dill (pictured bottom left) and 12 steamed pork and chives (pictured bottom right).  I prefer the steamed to the boiled. Steamed dumplings have a firmer dough and are juicier. I also preferred the presentation of the steamed dumplings – I loved that it was brought to the table in the basket that they were cooked in. Both fillings were good but the pork and dill had slightly too much dill, overwhelming the subtleties of the pork.

This was a delicious meal – a comforting soup, juicy dumplings and unlimited jasmin tea. I would love to come here on a cold day and cozy up with tea and dumplings. This meal has prompted an idea between Cynthia and I that we should have a stuffed ethnic food night – dumplings, pierogi and ravioli!

Happy munching!

 

Grand Electric

I had first heard about Grand Electric from my sister’s friend, Catherine. Years ago, Catherine had travelled to California and fallen in love with fish tacos and had been searching for the Toronto equivalent for years. Her favourite fish tacos in the city are from Playa Cabana and she has yet to try Grand Electric. I feel slightly terrible for trying  this suggestion without her (and without a few other people I had promised after that) but now I can tell her (and them!) that it is delicious!

Grand Electric is one of the more exclusive and sought after restaurants in the city. It’s exclusivity is not attributed to price, but rather size. It is a tiny little restaurant that jams in about 25 people and slightly more during the summer on their patio. Crowds of people are drawn to this restaurant due to the legend of their tacos and will wait outside in the snow and rain in hopes of getting a taste of these legendary tacos. To avoid the crowds and ensure that we would be able to try all the deliciousness that Grand Electric promises, GC and I had lunch on a Sunday and the restaurant was tightly packed but with no lineup outside.

IMG_3263If you hate hipsters you should definitely not visit this place. There are records on vinyl, antlers, craft beer and thick, plastic frame glasses everywhere. It is your grandmother’s 1970s basement meets hunting lodge meets Mexican food. A too cool vibe which is the perfect setting to enjoy some delicious food.

I make it a point to try the guacamole at every Mexican restaurant I visit.

IMG_3265No, this guacamole was not radioactive and poisonous, it is just a camera flash being slightly too powerful. This guacamole was exactly how I like my guac – half creamy and smooth, half chunky and dressed with a little bit of cilantro, garlic and lime. There is no need to put tomatoes in guacamole. It causes the guac to become too running and adds to much sweetness which takes away from the sharp acidity from the lime and cilantro and the vampire kick of the garlic. You can get your fill of tomato from the salsa on the side which was slightly chunky and had a great amount of heat – the perfect following act to the headliner guacamole. The chips were WARM! I am not highlighting this as a point of anger but rather a point of deliciousness! It brought out the corn flavour even more and highlighted that Grand Electric means business – fresh, homemade ingredients coming together to make a delicious meal made to order.

Grand Electric, like La Carnita, allows you to order tacos individually, allowing us to try 5 different tacos that day.

IMG_3266Top left, clockwise: Spicy Arbol Chicken taco, Scrapple taco, Beef Check taco and Pork Tinga taco.

These are easily my favourite tacos in the city. Grand Electric is easily worth the trek out to Dufferin, worth the wait and worth the claustrophobic seating. Omigosh. Taco by taco, here is what I thought:

The chicken taco was spicy, warm and tender. The chicken was perfectly cooked and the pickled cabbage brought out the sweetness in the marinade.

Scrapple is something neither GC or I had heard of so obviously once it was described one of us had to get it. Grand Electric does their scrapple by boiling down the head of a pig until the meat is tender and falling off the bone. Then this meat is formed into a loaf along with other ingredients and then cut into slices and fried. The result is fatty, salty, juiciness wrapped in a light tortilla. Who knew the face of a pig could taste so good?

This beef cheek taco was unbelievable. The meat was tender, falling apart but maintaining all its flavour. It was rich, deep and decadent. It was smoky and crispy. The toppings of guacamole, cilantro and jalapenos were the perfect trio of flavours to match the boldness of flavour that was found in the meat. Apparently some of the best flavours in an animal are found in its face.

The pork tinga tacos had all the qualities of the beef cheek tacos but with pork instead of beef. The crema made this taco even more decadent and rich, with the pork and crema battling for the tastebuds in your mouth.

IMG_3267And of course, the reason for coming, the fish tacos. These have become an area of contention between me and GC. GC loved these, I thought they were just okay.  We agreed that the toppings were the perfect compliment to the fish and the sweet, crunchiness of the cabbage slaw paired well with the crema and the heat of the salsa. The issue for me came from the fish itself which is the reason GC loved them. The fish reminded me of the fish in fish & chips, not the fish you should find in a taco. The fish in fish & chips is about the breading – it is greasy, crunchy and consumes the flaky, delicate nature of the fish. In a taco, the fish should be lightly breaded, adding a slight crunch rather than an overpowering CRUNCH. If that’s how you like your fish then you will love these tacos. Unfortunately I did not.

We finished off with a little dessert, a keylime pie in a cup.

This is the perfect cup of dessert. The whipped cream was homemade, light and airy. The key lime itself was sweet, thick and completely luscious. It felt like such an indulgence and complete extravagance to eat something to velvety smooth and sweet. The crust on the bottom left little to be desired. It did not taste like a good graham cracker crust mixed with butter and sugar but just like crumbs that had been smushed into the bottom of the cup. But after several spoon fulls of the key lime I really could have cared less.

If I am in search of fish tacos (and more accurately, feeling lazy), I will be sticking with La Carnita. If I am craving Mexican food, whether it be guacamole, tacos or key lime pie, I will be going to Grand Electric!

Happy munching!

Homemade Macaroni & Cheese

A few weeks ago GC had surgery. It was nothing major, just a day surgery that required lots of rest and relaxation afterwards. While taking care of him, my menus shifted from quick and easy to classic comfort foods.

I made my first Shepherd’s Pie, a fairly simple dish that requires lots of time and preparation in order to capture the depth and fullness of flavour associated with this dish. This dish was a success and has made its way into my recipe book of classic comfort foods on a cold winter’s day. I will not be sharing the recipe here yet, but when I make it again, which will hopefully be soon before it warms up too much and suddenly becomes spring, you will see it featured here.

I also made my first Macaroni & Cheese. If you have met me or read my blog once or twice you must know that I love cheese and that macaroni & cheese is my go-to comfort food. What better food to make you feel cozy and rested than a big bowl of mac & cheese? I didn’t use my mother’s recipe but rather the recipe in the Williams-Sonoma Comfort Food Cookbook. The two recipes are very similar and use the secret and key ingredient of mustard.

IMG_3342These recipe is cheesy, creamy, and works great with rotini which is what I used. I actually prefer my mac & cheese with a different pasta that has more crinks and pockets to hold all the cheese goodness. My only change would be to use LESS breadcrumbs. You need just a sprinkling on top to add some crispy, crunchiness.

Recipe below the cut and happy munching!

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Fish Tacos

Fish tacos are something that when I first heard of them, I was repulsed and confused. To me, tacos were always something with salsa and cheese and those condiments simply do not mix well with fish. Now that I have tried fish tacos and learned of the range of flavours and combinations that they can support, I can’t get enough of them.

Here is my first attempt at homemade fish tacos:

Fish Tacos1. I prefer my fish to be breaded and crispy in my fish tacos. This fish was marinated and then grilled. It was perfectly grilled, flaky and fruity. I didn’t marinate the meat long enough as I didn’t read the recipe before I started cooking and I got impatient. This would be a perfect taco to eat on a summer’s day in the backyard.

2. The mango slaw was fruity, light and citrusy. I didn’t add the chilies to avoid sinus issues but next time I definitely will. That kick of heat will take these tacos up a notch.

3. There was something missing from these tacos – a crunch of some sort. The recipe also suggested that instead or in addition to the mango slaw you could use a traditional cabbage slaw. With the fish not being breaded you need a crunch for some other source.

These were tasty but not my favourite. They are a lighter fish taco that reminds one of summer and citrus flavours and I will make them in the warmer months on the barbecue. Recipe is below the cut and happy munching!

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Cafe Polonez

On January 29th my Babcia or great-grandmother passed away. She was 95 years old and one of the most amazing people I have ever known. She was always strong, determined, supportive, proud and selfless. She watched over our entire family of her 6 children, 16 grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren. I am so proud and lucky to have known her and she will be sorely missed.

When we found out that Babcia’s condition was worsening I sought comfort in food (obviously) which led us to Cafe Polonez in Roncesvalles.

IMG_3247We started with the cheddar and potato boiled pierogi with a side of sour cream and fried onions and pork. Pierogies are always amazing – the dough was fresh and tender, the filling was creamy and the onion and pork topping was salty and rich. These were so satisfying and comforting. Next time I would get them fried just to add some crispiness. I am planning on taking on the ambitious task of making my own pierogies from scratch so stay tuned for the adventure!

IMG_3248I ordered the cabbage rolls stuffed with rice and pork, topped with tomato sauce and served with potatoes and a bouquet of salads. The cabbage rolls were tightly packed with rice and pork. The filling was simple, not seasoned to excess; very Eastern European. My filling has dill and other herbs, rounding out the cabbage roll a little more. The sauce was thick and sweet, I prefer my tomato sauce to be a bit thinner and more tart when it tops a cabbage roll. These were good, but I prefer my own and my grandmother’s.

This was a huge portion and even if we hadn’t started with pierogies, I wouldn’t have been able to finish everything. My favourite side was the red cabbage. It was sweet, tender and so delicious. My love for cabbage obviously illustrates that my background is Eastern European.

IMG_3249And GC ordered the chicken schnitzel sandwich. He said it was a delicious sandwich that was incredibly filling.

A delicious meal that was filling, comforting and warming. The perfect thing when one is feeling down and remembering an amazing woman.

Happy munching!

Cheesewerks…again

One of my favourite restaurants in the city is Cheesewerks. It’s simple, straightforward and delicious. There is a lot of contention regarding where in Toronto has the best grilled cheese and the general consensus is the The Grilled Cheese in Kensington Market is the best. I completely disagree with that. TGC is basic and unsatisfactory. They don’t consider the sandwich as a whole idea – the bread is always the same regardless of the filling and there is too much confusion and a lack of cohesion to their sandwiches. If you want to go for a full grilled cheese experience, you need to go to Cheesewerks.

We went to Cheesewerks two weeks ago and like any successful visit to Cheesewerks, we started with two homemade sodas, both Blackberry Melon.

IMG_3229The blackberries were a slight preview of the produce that we are eagerly waiting for with the arrival of summer but the melon was cool and refreshing, like sucking on an icicle. This drink was the right balance of the longing for summer but the enjoyment of winter.

GC ordered the Original, a safe and comforting choice on a cold, blustering day. I decided to be adventurous and try something new. I usually opt of the Los Angeles grilled cheese which, omgis so good and you need to try it as soon as possible, but that day, I tried the Beijing.

IMG_3231The Beijing grilled cheese: Asiago, BBQ pork, Hoisin, slivered green onions, grilled on green onion potato bread. This sandwich IS AMAZING. It gives the LA a run for it’s money. The Asiago is sharp and has amazing punch which dances with the sweetness of the pork. The pork is sweet, caramelized and fatty. The green onions add a touch of freshness and the bread is light, a great base for such a rich sandwich.

After such an amazing experience  with a new sandwich, I am definitely trying a new one next time I go, which hopefully will be soon! I’m torn between the Houston or the Charleston… They also serve fondue which I am very intrigued to try… So much cheese, so little time.

Happy munching!

 

 

Wvrst… again…

One of my major flaws as a food lover is I have a hard time admitting that some restaurants and types of cuisine aren’t for me, and some, to be a bit tougher, might just be plain bad. This idea of an off night, a poorly executed dish or new chef is something always nagging me in the back of my mind. It breaks my heart to admit that I don’t like a restaurant, a cuisine or a craze that everyone else can’t get enough of. This is my relationship with Wvrst.

We went to Wvrst months ago and I wasn’t blown away. The sausages were not made in house which was a major disappointment for me – anyone can buy a great product, it takes real skill and a deeper knowledge of food to make those flavour pairings yourself. The issue was that my sausage was incredibly dry and brittle which is terrible for something that is naturally fatty and juicy. It was also a sausage made out of game meat (pheasant to be exact), giving it more occasion to be fatty and delicious but failing terribly. Given this disappoint in the restaurant’s speciality I was very reluctant to go back but I did…

At this point you are probably questioning why I would venture back and it was for two reason: 1. I love GC and he wanted to go and 2. They have duck fat fries which were amazing and made up for my sausage fail. So we went back and I had a similar experience again that was more about the fries and the beer than the sausage which has made me firmly decide that I will just drink and eat fries rather than partake in any more disappointing sausage.

Here is what we drank that afternoon: a pint of Church Key for GC and a pint of Bellwoods Brewery for me.

IMG_3219The Church Key was caramelized, sweet and rich. It was the type of beer that fills you with a warmth that is similar to wearing a cozy sweater near a fire on a cold winter night. My beer was fruity, light, the beer that would be perfect for a warm May day while in a Muskoka chair. Oh how I can’t wait for patio weather…

GC ordered the Bratwurst and I ordered the Chorizo. Oh, and of course, duck fat fries.

Wvrst IIThe Chorizo sausage was juicy but was not nearly spicy enough. I could have topped it with jalapenos and perfectly happy. My mother always goes on about how Portuguese chorizo is spicier than Mexican and I thought this was just her being prideful, but it turns out it is accurate. I will stick with my Portuguese chorizo on holidays.

I don’t love the sausages at Wvrst. I’m sorry. But I do love their fries, which is a big thing for me because I have hated French fries for the majority of my life so I think I’m growing as a person. And I love their beer, because as JDL says, “Beer is beer. If it’s hot out and the beer is cold then it’s good.”

Happy munching!