Gusto 101

To celebrate my birthday, the lovely Cynthia took me out to Gusto 101 for dinner. The atmosphere in Gusto is great – it is a converted auto garage with exposed beams and ventilation but warmth from the banquette seating, the natural wood tables and the dim lighting. There is an entire wall of fresh Italian loaves that taunt you as you wait to be served. It has a very industrial Italian feel to it; a converted space that has been completely redefined as a space of good food and good company. It reminds me of traditional Italian cantinas or cold cellars: spaces that seem cold and uninviting but when filled with people make pasta and drinking good wine, are the best spaces in the house.

We started with some glasses of house red (served at $1/ounce!) and beef tartare.

Photo Credit: Gusto 101 website
Beef tartare with fresh fig compote, ricotta cream, and truffle oil.

This is not what ours looked like (we only had one but it was still good). It restored my faith in beef tartare after what happened at Union. The fig compote and ricotta cream added a lightness to the dish which you don’t usually find with tartares. The meat was chunky and loosely packed, allowing it to spread across the crostini and your tongue with every mouthful. The red wine complimented this perfectly.

Cynthia ordered the Fettuccine ai Funghi

Photo Credit: Peggy’s Toronto Food Adventure
Fettuccine ai Funghi  with portobello, porcini, oyster mushrooms, truffle paste, in a light cream sauce.

This is the most substantial and filling vegetarian pasta you will ever eat. The sauce was creamy and light, and as it cooled, it became richer and thicker. The flavours were comforting and bold – woody and nutty, with that soft, fleshiness of mushrooms. If you are a mushroom lover, this is a must-try dish.

I ordered the Spaghetti al Nero di Seppia.

4ltUXtjPhoto Credit: The Food Files
Spaghetti al Nero di Seppia with manila clams, shrimps, mussels, baby scallops, peperoncino white wine, and grape tomatoes.

The only difference between my meal and what is pictured is that my pasta was black from squid ink. This was actually the first pasta I have ever eaten that has been infused with flavour and colour. If you are not into seafood, do not order this plate of pasta. It is overloaded with fresh seafood and is definitely worth your money. My only complaint – the scallops could have been slightly bigger, but I will always ask for bigger scallops. The tomato sauce brought out the fruitiness of the seafood which was tender and fresh. The pasta was al dente and retained a good amount of firmness to it. I also liked how they kept with Italian tradition and did not serve it with parmesan as it was a seafood dish.

A great dinner, with even better company – happy munching!

Birthday Brunch – Café Polonez

To celebrate my birthday with my family, healing we went for brunch. We tried to go to Barque but of course, being Sunday brunch it was packed. The hostess was extremely rude – when we entered we were blatantly ignored for several minutes. When we asked if we could have a table for six, she looked around and said with attitude that they did not have a table for that many. I had to prompt her to tell us how long the wait time would be, which was 45 minutes to an hour. No thanks. GC and I will brave the Barque crowd for Sunday brunch when it is just the two of us.

Since we were in Ronscevalles, we headed down the street to enjoy some food at Café Polonez.

IMG_4746

Dad enjoying a bottle of Zywiec.IMG_4747Potato Pancake.

IMG_4748 Pierogies.IMG_4749Beet root soup with dumplings.

IMG_4750Sweet cheese crepes.

IMG_4751Chicken schnitzel.

IMG_4752Cabbage roll.IMG_4753The platter for one – 4 pierogi, bigos – Hunter’s Stew, Polonez Schnitzel and salad bouquet.

Happy munching!

Happy Birthday to Me!

For my birthday we decided to go hiking in Ball’s Falls. If you get a chance to check out this park,you really should. It’s one of the most beautiful places I have ever been and looks absolutely gorgeous in the fall. IMG_4690 IMG_4700 IMG_4714 IMG_4716IMG_4725After a day of muddy and sweaty hiking, we cleaned up and went for dinner at Union. Union has a great ambiance to it. It is what I imagine cute little restaurants in New York City to be: long and narrow, with exposed brick walls, vintage prints and warmth from the conversations and kitchen. There was music lightly playing in the background, but not too loud as to overpower the conversations. The crowd was a mix of old and young, families and couples and even Patrick J. Adams.

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Playa Cabana Cantina

Happy birthday to me! This year marked a milestone birthday for me – I turned 25. I am officially in a new age box on surveys: 25-34. My birthday didn’t send me spinning into a quarter life crisis. Instead, viagra I took the week off and celebrated. I kicked off my birthday celebrations with Thanksgiving and then eased into the week with a visits to Playa Cabana Cantina with GC and my sister Amelia.

Playa Cabana Cantina in the Junction has a much more chilled out, site hipster vibe then the original location on Dupont. The décor is a mixture of vintage, fluorescent lights and rustic textures and materials. It feels like a western Tex-Mex saloon circa 1967. I have plans of hitting up their late night taco special (after 10 pm Thursday-Sunday 3 for $12.00 tacos) with a few drinks sometime in the near future.

We started off with an order of chips and guacamole. The guacamole was good – it was a little too creamy for my personal taste but the chips were fried to crispy perfection and salted with just the right amount of salt.

Amelia and GC ordered the same tacos: the Pescado, Ancho-Braised Shortrib, and the Venera Frita .

IMG_4659 IMG_4660 IMG_4662I ordered the following tacos: the Pollo Tinga, the La Truck, and the Ahi-Tuna.

IMG_4661The pollo tinga was completely drenched in a sauce that was spicy but flavourful. The chicken was shredded and fell apart with each bite. The crispy tortilla held up against the weight of all the toppings. The guacamole was smooth and silky, a nice contrast to the texture of the chicken. The onion gave off a different kind of heat than the chicken offered and the cheese added another level of creaminess. This is the perfect chicken taco. It has inspired me to look up my own pulled chicken recipes to use this winter in my slow cooker. If you have any recommendations let me know!

IMG_4663The la truck taco was a steak taco. The steak was diced into perfectly bite-sized pieces. The steak was tender, juicy and had hints of barbecued smokiness to it. The slaw on top offset the richness and heaviness of the taco and had hints of citrus that were further brought out with the squeeze of fresh lime. This may be the best steak taco I have ever had.

IMG_4664The ahi tuna taco was good but not my favourite fish taco; that title still belongs to La Carnita’s  “In Cod We Trust”. I found the taco lacked any sort of further flavor besides the fish taste. The tortilla was too small and overloaded; it literally crumbled under the weight of the deliciousness of the taco. However, as there was a fork and knife at the table I was still able to munch all this goodness.

After our lunch at Playa Cantina, it was decided that we all prefer it to La Carnita – shocking, I know. La Carnita will continue to hold the title for my favourite fish taco and I will continue to visit it but Playa might turn out to be my go-to Mexican restaurant in the city.

Happy munching!

Origin

Another Sunday, ed another brunch. On October 6th, case we enjoyed brunch at Origin in Liberty Village.

There was no line up or wait which is unprecedented for brunch anywhere. The restaurant was about half empty but despite this, the service was terrible. It took about 15 minutes to ask if we wanted coffee, which took another 5 minutes to get. When we got our coffee, the server did not take our order. By the time we took our order, we needed more coffee which was not refilled immediately. Our meals came out at different times: GC’s first and then mine followed 10 minutes later. I thought that it was maybe the nature of my meal, but then the table next time ours received the same dish first. Our server did apologize profusely but used the excuse that because the night before had been Nuit Blanche, they assumed no one would come for brunch and staff accordingly. Fail. Staffing issues aside, we enjoyed our brunch.

We started with the deviled eggs.

IMG_4608 IMG_4610Deviled eggs with soufletine, herbs and smoked bacon.

Can we talk about how these are the ridiculously best deviled eggs I have ever had? They were perfectly cooked, with creamy yolks and hints of lemon. The bacon was smoky and crispy, although made the egg a little difficult to eat. You were unable to gracefully pop the whole egg in your mouth. I had never had soufletine before and was unsure what they are. Soufletine is tiny, puffed cereal balls that typically add crunch to confectionary and chocolate. These tiny puffs of cereal added the perfect slightly sweet crunch to these eggs. If you love deviled eggs, you should definitely give these a try. And if you hate deviled eggs, you should definitely give these a try – they will change your life.

GC ordered the corned beef hash.

IMG_4611 IMG_4612Corned Beef and sweet potato hash with a poached egg and hollandaise.

I love when anything is served in a cast iron skillet – it adds a simple, rustic quality to the dish and gives warning that the dish you are about to enjoy is substantial and filling. This was delicious – the sweet potato was a nice twist to the typical potato you find in hash. The egg was poached wonderfully and oozed beautifully all over the hash. The corned beef was lightly salted and brined but not to the point where is becomes necessary to drink a liter of water. The hollandaise sauce could have had more lemon to it.

I ordered the shredded fried pork.IMG_4613 IMG_4614Shredded pork fried rice with crispy eggs, ginger, soy and chilies.

When my meal finally came it was pretty good. The rice was a little burnt but besides that, it was perfection. It was well spiced, with vegetables dotted throughout the rice and the egg on top was fried to crispy, greasy perfection.  I doused the entire thing in sriracha which kicked the flavor up a notch.  The portion size of this meal was ridiculously huge; I had to get GC’s help to finish it off.

Given that the poor service was explained (but not justified) I will write that off as a one-time occurrence and not hold that against the place. I would definitely go back for brunch, even if just for the lack of line-up and the deviled eggs!

Happy munching!

Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut squash soup. Nothing screams fall to me more than this soup. I love this soup so much it was almost going to be the soup course at our wedding (instead we are opting for the potato leek topped with crispy pancetta bits).

IMG_4620I use the recipe below the cut which is just a plain butternut squash soup from All Recipes. It is extremely straightforward: throw your veg in a pot and slightly brown, decease cover with broth and let simmer and the puree and serve with a dollop of sour cream. The only additions I make are spices. I give a good shake of curry powder, cinnamon, cumin, nutmeg, paprika and ginger. Any spice with a warm and cozy flavor works to kick this soup up a notch.

Happy munching!

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The Markham Fair

The Markham Fair has become an annual event that I attend with my parents. It’s your typical fall fair – there’s livestock, prostate crafting, here baking, a midway, everything deep fried and of course, insanely large pumpkins.

IMG_4593 IMG_4594 IMG_4595I love the Markham Fair and going this year meant crossing #21 – Visit a fall fair off my Fall To-Do List!

Happy munching!

Apple Cranberry Hand Pies

Fall is the season of pies. There is just something comforting and cozy about smelling butter, discount cinnamon and harvest fruits oozing out of the oven and into the rest of the house.  Although apple and pumpkin are classic fall pies I am trying to experiment with new flavor profiles and combinations this fall. I am looking forward to baking with pears, salve a fruit I don’t give enough credit to for its flavor and versatility and pumpkin, a vegetable that is only used in October and November and therefore does not get enough time to shine.

My first pies of the season were apple cranberry hand pies. Hand pies are a trend I like, but I actually prefer a slice of pie. Hand pies are more convenient to eat but are more time consuming and tedious to make. You also do not get as much filling and cannot easily eat the pie with ice cream.

photoA few weeks ago I picked up this handy hand pie mold from Loblaws for $5.00. I picked it up in the hopes that this mold would ease the process of making hand pies. The one pictured is actually from Williams-Sonoma and therefore probably unnecessarily expensive and not worth it. However, for $5.00 – how can you say no?

I promptly threw out the recipe with the box and had to scour the internet for an alternative recipe, which lead me to Williams-Sonoma’s apple cranberry recipe and photo of the device.

IMG_4578Apple cranberry is a type of pie I had never had before but it is delicious and I recommend everyone try it/make it. The cranberry tartness rounds out the sweetness from the apples and brown sugar. The cranberry works with the spiciness of the cinnamon and nutmeg in a different way than the apple does, bringing together a new type of flavor from the apples and cranberry. It’s a new spin on a classic fall pie.

Recipe below the cut and happy munching!

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Greg’s Ice Cream

Greg’s Ice Cream is a Toronto institution – it has been around for 30 years which is impressive for an ice cream parlor that is only open seasonally. Despite Greg’s longevity, check and the fact that I’ve lived in Toronto for 7 years (eek!), help I had never tried it until a couple of weeks ago when we were in the Distillery District.

Ice cream is one of those things that I don’t LOVE. I have never been the one to scream for ice cream. It leaves my mouth very dry and I would rather be eating gelato or frozen yogurt. I eat ice cream about 5 times a year and 4 out of those 5 times the ice cream is on top of pie.

But as the day was unseasonably warm and we were wandering around the Distillery District, the day just begged to have ice cream eaten. We split a cone of Roasted Marshmallow, a flavor I have heard people rave about for years.

IMG_4572This ice cream makes me scream for ice cream. It tasted exactly like a roasted marshmallow; all that was missing was the graham cracker and chocolate to make it a perfect s’more.

I plan to enjoy more Greg’s Ice Cream next summer!

Happy munching!

Brunch – El Catrin

Brunch in Toronto can be a gruesome undertaking. Most restaurants do not: open until late morning, clinic take reservations or offer other options until mid-afternoon. The last point really irks me because if I go out for food after 1 o’clock, seek I want lunch not breakfast.

That being said, pharmacy despite the above and my less than enthusiastic feelings towards breakfast, we have officially become people who brunch. We are trying to cut back on going out for food (which greatly pains me) and in tandem with that, we are trying new places. As most of our free time together is weekend mornings and afternoons, we are people who brunch.

A few weeks ago we had brunch on the patio at El Catrin.

IMG_4571IMG_4560 IMG_4562 IMG_4563 IMG_4564El Catrin has an amazing patio. It is unfortunate that we are slowly edging out of patio weather and many of you may have missed this patio because it is worth a visit. But put it on your list for next spring! I love the combination of bench, chair and stool seating, the large fire pit in the center of the space and the mixture of textiles, materials and colours that give this patio a very bohemian, Mexican/Spanish vibe.

We started with a round of margaritas because all brunches should include booze of some sort.

IMG_4565I think my affair with tequila may be over. The past few times I have had tequila shots, margaritas, or other cocktails with tequila, my stomach cannot deal. I think it is the amount of citrus that throws me off and leaves me feeling incredibly nauseous. Regardless of my dainty stomach, these margaritas are delicious: salty, tangy and with the perfect woody kick of tequila.

We then had guacamole and chips.

IMG_4566I found their guac a little more about the theatrics rather than actual taste and quality. They bring over the fresh ingredients in a mortar and pestle and mix the guac tableside. This is a fun, interactive component of the meal but do you really need to prove to me that you are using authentic, good-quality ingredients? Shouldn’t your food speak for itself? Because of its presentation, I had higher expectations for this guac and it feel slightly short.  I did like that the guac wasn’t perfectly smooth, I like a little chunk and texture to my guac.

GC ordered the Omelet Machado Con Pollo.

IMG_4567 IMG_4570Chipotle braised chicken, green onion, tomato, green bell pepper, and salsa verde.

This was an insane amount of food. I understand that brunch is supposed to set you up for the rest of the day and ensure you aren’t hungry until dinner but omigosh did this omelet do that and more. The chicken could have been a bit spicier and better shredded but the vegetables and salsa were the perfect bit of freshness to pull the omelet together.

I order the Huevos Rancheros.

IMG_4568 IMG_4569Three fried eggs over a corn tortilla with salsa roja, garnished with black bean puree, guacamole.

I love, love, love this dish. The tortillas were warm, salty and slightly crunchy, being substantial enough to hold up to all the mounds of Mexican goodness on top, but soft enough to be cut into perfect bites. The eggs were fried nice and crispy but ensured that the yolks ran beautifully and golden all over the plate. The black beans were slightly sweet and nutty and had a nice gritty texture to them. They were pureed but not pulverized, and served warm. I could have eaten just these beans. The salsa had a nice bit of spice to it which kicked up this dish and made it taste truly Mexican.

Overall, this is good Mexican food with great cocktails and ambiance. A little bit on the pricey side but, given that you are in the Distillery District, you can’t be surprised. I am waiting for the opportunity to arise when I can go back for dinner and enjoy the interior of the restaurant.

Happy munching!