Antler

Sunday morning was cold, snowy and dreary so it only seemed logical to brave this ridiculous April weather for some brunch. We headed down to Dufferin and Dundas to try brunch at Antler with our friends Renée and Sean.

Photo Credit: BlogTO’s review of Antler

Antler is unassuming from the street: the restaurant’s frontage is a large, simple window surrounded by what is now black painted wood and with simple yellow block letters spelling out the restaurant’s name. The large window looks immediately on to bar seating at the window, allowing passers-by on the street to be tempted by the beautiful food inside. The restaurant has that cozy, hipster restaurant vibe that has exploded all over Toronto: exposed brick walls, pew seating, simple textiles, large reflective surfaces to give the illusion of a larger restaurant and industrial lighting.

Antler’s tagline is “Inspired Canadian Cuisine. Regional Ingredients.” which was part of the reason for choosing it. I’m always intrigued by restaurants that are trying to help create a national cuisine by using local and seasonal ingredients. The menu features ingredients like boar, bison, foraged mushrooms and foraged black walnuts. These ingredients are hearty, abundant and reflective of the country they are made in. They can also be used in a variety of different ways, highlighting their versatility and range of flavours and textures.

Renée ordered the House Baked Granola (pictured clockwise to the right).

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Note: I have started following chocojanna on Instagram because everything is beautiful, Toronto and food which are my three favourite things.

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Café Neon

My first brunch of 2016 was at Café Neon, health a restaurant listed by BlogTO as one of the best new brunch places of 2015.

Café Neon is a long, case narrow restaurant on West Queen West that is essentially a coffee shop taking it up a notch and serving food beyond scones and pastries. The interior features cozy tables and tiny booths. There is a large counter located near the front of the restaurant to order various coffees and espresso-based drinks from. The restaurant has a very coffee-house vibe to it: cozy, intimate, with eclectic art and design.

There is actual tableside service which is not always the case with restaurants serving more than coffee. Our server was energetic and excited about their menu which in turn, made us very excited. We hemmed and hawed over the menu and then with prodding from the server I ordered the Eggs Benny.

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IMG_5338The Eggs Benny with two poached eggs and smoked pulled pork on a scone with béarnaise sauce, salad greens and potatoes. Continue reading

Wilbur Mexicana Restaurant

It is no secret that I love Mexican food, especially tacos so it was shocking that I hadn’t yet tried Wilbur Mexicana Restaurant given that it opened over a year ago. A few weeks ago I was finally able to check this restaurant outwith my friends Lynsey and Sarah.

The restaurant is named after the chemist Wilbur Scoville, who created the Scoville scale which is used to measure the heat of peppers. No, this isn’t something that I just randomly know because I am a huge history nerd (which is true); the restaurant provides fun facts on the menu and the table numbers.

The restaurant’s interior is industrial and resembles a 19th century laboratory. There is a combination of sleek countertops, high-top tables and lower tables clustered around tufted-leather booths. The back wall of the restaurant is a feature wall: there is a large, apothecary-cabinet like wall piece that houses dried chilies and other supplies, ready for scientific experiments. The light fixtures are appropriated scientific beakers, giving the restaurant that hipster-industrial cool edge that King West craves.

The restaurant features casual ordering: you order from the front counter, they give you a number which features a stylized drawing of a pepper on the front and the back provides various factoids regarding the pepper. How could I not love Wilbur: good food and knowledge! We each ordered 3 tacos, and starters to share: chips with guacamole, chips with queso fundido and Mexican street corn.

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The Pressed Cubano from La Cubana

When you are in school the easiest lunch is a sandwich. It is quick, and easy and portable. But sandwiches can become routine and boring, pill topped with the same meats, generic cheeses and condiments. There is typically one type of meat, one type of cheese and maybe mayo and mustard. In elementary school it was a turkey breast or ham sandwich with Havarti and mayo. No mustard. I hate mustard. In university, it was an everything bagel, topped with herb and garlic cream cheese, spinach, tomato and sometimes ham. Now lunches consist of soup or leftovers but rarely sandwiches unless they are bought out.

A few weeks ago I was walking down Ossington Avenue with Giancarlo looking for a spot to grab a coffee. We decided to pop into the La Cubana expecting to be greeted with the brunch menu familiar to us from the Ronscevalles location. This location is very different. It is a long, narrow restaurant with a counter for ordering. The menu consists of sandwiches with some plates but no brunch. The only thing resembling brunch is the breakfast sandwiches on weekends made on weekends.

Disappointed, but still hungry, we both opted to order the Pressed Cubano.

IMG_5603The Pressed Cubano with ham, pork, gruyere, red onion, cornichon, grainy mustard and mayo.

This killed my coffee craving. The sandwich was buttery and cheesy. The pickle and mustard added complimentary tang that worked with the sweet tartness of the onion. The gruyere added a nutty taste and the ham and pork were fatty and delicious. This sandwich is the perfect snack while wandering this neighbourhood. However, if I am craving a Cubano/cubana sandwich I will be visiting San Cosme in Kengsinton Market and I am craving La Cubana I will be visiting the Ronscevalles location for brunch.

Happy munching!

Easter 2016

It is Easter Monday and seemingly everyone else is off from work except me. The subway was empty this morning; I didn’t have to do my typical wait on the train for 10 minutes in the tunnel north of St. Clair West while empty trains are sent through for more important people. The offices at work are empty and it is a slow, rainy day.

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Easter weekend was relaxing, spent outside with beautiful weather and with amazing people. On Friday we made our traditional Italian pasta appetizers, calascioni. This is something that Ninni remembers making as a young girl in Italy, when these types of expensive meats and cheese could only be bought at Easter. This tradition has been passed on to me and Giancarlo and we now share this tradition with his best friend Nick and his wife, Rachel. The day is spent rolling out homemade pasta dough, cutting out perfect circles, filling each ravioli-like pocket with the meat and cheese mixture and baking in the oven until they are golden and oozing cheese. After a few hours of hard work, we enjoyed dinner, wine and Yahtzee.

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Plank Diet

I have a joke that everything tastes better on a plank and that the only diet I believe in is a plank diet.

Last weekend GC and I ventured down to Cheese Boutique. If you have not been to this store, you must go. Now. It has the most magical assortment of cheeses, spreads, meats, crackers, breads, olives and everything that makes a perfect charcuterie board. There is also a cheese vault (which you can look at and tour in a google-map style on their website). Literally a vault that houses and ferments some of the greatest cheese in the world. When you walk in to this walk-in closet sized room you are hit with the most intense, pungent and amazing smell. I could spend hours in this room.

We spent too much money and picked up four types of cheese, three types of crackers, a bruschetta mix and chili okazu (a sesame, miso pasta that omigosh is so delicious on EVERYTHING).

Cheese Boutique provides brief descriptions of each cheese on the packaging. These are the four types of cheese we had:

Cantal: a raw cow’s milk cheese from around the French Alps. AOC controlled and aged in-house 18 months.

Super Manchego: the only sheep’s raw milk producer of Manchego. Aged in mountain caves in La Mancha. Brought in at 18 months and aged another 6 months to produce a drier, more crystalline texture.

Ontario Goat Cheddar: produced in Lindsay, Ontario with 100% local goat’s milk.

Blackout: Made in Holland exclusively for Cheese Boutique and aged 3 years in-house. This cheese has been released from our vault in honour of the blackout in the summer of 2013. Big, nutty flavour.

My favourite was the Blackout. It was deep in flavour, and had a caramelized, nutty flavour to it; it was a richer gouda.

I am making it a personal rule that I am not allowed to return until after my trip to Paris. Because after all, if you are going to the cheese capital of the world, you should maybe just wait.

Happy munching!

Sabai Sabai

Two weeks ago I went to Sabai Sabai Kitchen and Bar with my friend Lynsey. Sabai Sabai (it would be awkward to shorten this to SS, cheap right?) is a Thai restaurant that offers small sharing plates, to mimic a tapas-style restaurant rather than your stereotypical giant bowls of noodles. The restaurant is by the same chef, Nuit Regular, who owns Khao San Road and her parents help run Sukhothai.

The restaurant is at the corner of Church and Dundas which is a sketchy area but don’t let that deter you from trying it. While I walked there I was accompanied by a lovely group of crackheads who were J-walking across Dundas despite one of them wearing a walking casting. They were also yelling profanities at the streetcar that had obviously done something to offend them. It added to the whole experience.

The restaurant looks small from the street but once inside, the space is quite expansive. To the left of the entrance there is a long, high-top table with seating for 8. A bar runs half the length of the restaurant and the rest of the restaurant is occupied by a combination of tables and booths.

We were seated at a small table halfway to the back of the restaurant. When we were seated the host said that they needed the table back for an 8 o’clock reservation. It was 5:30 when we were seated. This is one of my biggest pet peeves in a restaurant because a huge part of me vacating a table by the time you need it back is based on your service. Yes, I agree to not dawdle over the menu but you must also agree to bring me menus, drinks, food and bill in a prompt and timely manner. It also makes me feel rushed and anxious, like I have no right to enjoy my meal because someone far more important is coming soon.

We started off with a pitcher of Thai Long Island Iced Tea. Similar to your traditional Long Island Iced Tea (with gin, vodka, rum, tequila and triple sec) the Sabai Sabai version features homemade Thai tea sour rather than Coke. There is sweetness and a subtle herby taste to the cocktail and it drinks very easily. A pitcher split between two people will leave you a bit wobbly.

Once we were feeling the affects of our drinks we order three plates to share. First we enjoyed the freshly grated squash fritters with tamarin dip.

IMG_5669This is an item that features peanuts but can easily be removed as they are sprinkled in the tamarin dip. If you are worried about enjoying Thai food with a peanut allergy, I would recommend a visit to Sabai Sabai. Upon making reservations, the restaurant asked if there were any allergies, made note and advised that we tell our server upon arrival. When we told our server that there was an allergy at the table she assured us that it would not be a problem and that this was something they were very familiar in dealing with. The only moment of concern was when someone other than our server brought out the fritters and said “which table has the peanut allergy? Uhhh… yea, this is the one without peanuts.” Despite his lack of confidence he was correct and I have lived to tell the tale. The menu also features very few items that actually contain peanuts.

The squash fritters were crispy but not greasy or heavy. They retained the juiciness of squash and highlighted the floral undertones in squash usually only tasted in the flowers of the plant. I loved the simple, slightly chaotic presentation of this dish. The fritters are tangled up in each other, falling apart with ever pull of a delicious next taste. The tamarind dip adds a slight nutty spice to the fritters but doesn’t overwhelm the delicate flavor or texture.

Next we enjoyed the housemade spicy lao sausage.

IMG_5670The spicy lao sausage with pork belly and seasoned with fresh lemongrass, galangal, lime leaf, shallots, and spices.

This is an amazing sausage. Sausages are typical heavy and greasy but this is light and fresh. The use of lemongrass and other spices/herbs add a light, citrus taste to the sausage. The sausage is served sliced and seared, giving nice crispy edges to every bite. The sausage is served with a dipping sauce which further highlights the citrus tones of the dish.

The Khao soi.

IMG_5672The Khao soi with coconut milk, egg noodles and chicken.

The Khao soi can be ordered with beef, shrimp or chicken but I feel like the curry sweetness works best with chicken. The bowl is loaded with broth that is sweet and creamy from the coconut milk and spicy from the curry. The noodles tangle at the bottom of the bowl and wrap soaked pieces of chicken in their netting. The crispy noodles add a needed crunch to the dish which breaks up the simple soft texture of the noodles and chicken and adds a depth of texture to the dish.

This is a hard dish to share as scooping tangle noodles and broth proves difficult but it is worth it – or you could have an order to yourself and no one would judge because it is so delicious.

Because we are greedy and glutinous we decided to order another dish after devouring our three. It was a debate between the vegetable spring rolls and the deep fried garlic shrimp. Our server suggested the shrimp, not just because there were no more springs rolls but because it was also one of her favourite dishes. The shrimp is incredibly crispy which is delicious but it doesn’t retain much of the flavor and texture of shrimp. As advertised, garlic is the only prevalent flavor in the dish which made it my least favourite (but still delicious) dish tried that night due to its simplicity in flavor and concept.

This restaurant is another hit by Nuit Regular. I definitely will be visiting again and hopefully this time with no run-ins from crackheads.

Happy munching!

A3 Napoli

If you are contemplating getting a new job and you are unsure whether or not you should take the plunge, hospital you only need one reason: food and drink. The number of dinners and drinks people have wanted to share with me since the announcement of my new job is ridiculously amazing. There are drinks to celebrating getting the job, order then drinks to celebrate leaving the job, drinks to celebrate the new job and then drinks to celebrate how the new job is going.

Last night Cynthia and I caught up about my new job over beers and food at A3 Napoli. A3 Napoli is a joint venture between the people behind Pizzeria Libretto and Porchetta & Co., two of my favourite Italian spots in the city. It is a little restaurant located in Little Italy, a neighbourhood I seldom venture to; when you live with an 85-year old Italian woman why would you bother?

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Dirty Bird Chicken + Waffles

A few weeks ago, purchase Cynthia and I tried to enjoy tortas from San Cosme however, mind they had sold out and had closed for the day. We walked around the corner down Kensington Avenue and decided to try Dirty Bird Chicken + Waffles.
Dirty Bird is another small restaurant in Kensington: there is likely room for about 20 people, stuff standing. When you walk into the restaurant there is a large, island-style table that can fit between 8-10 people around, depending on if people are seated or clustered around the table. There is bar seating along the perimeter of the restaurant that can seat/stand another 10 or so people. The restaurant was full when we arrived on Friday night, however, based on arms weighed down with various assortments of craft beer, we knew the majority of the customers would not be staying in the restaurant.
The restaurant’s concept is fairly simple, fried chicken, served in a variety of ways. You can opt to have the fried chicken served in sandwich form or just the traditional, bone-in bucket way. We decided to order the 6 piece chicken meal with sides of coleslaw and fries.
IMG_5622The intention is clearly for this to be enjoyed by one person based on the size of the sides. The coleslaw was nothing special, just your generic, lightly dressed cabbage, without any major bite or tang. I like my coleslaw creamy and tangy, with hints of fennel. The fries were crispy but still soft and pillowy in the centre.
 IMG_5623The chicken was okay. It was not consistently cooked: the thighs were juicy and very crispy and the drumsticks while juicy, were not crispy. When you are only serving two cuts of meat (which is the standard with fried chicken because you don’t fry the breast) you should be able to manage consistency across both types. And fried chicken needs to be just that, fried and crispy. Otherwise you have the grease factor without the crispy delicious coating. The batter was nothing remarkable, just plain frying batter that was well-seasoned but nothing out of the ordinary. The hot sauce was tangy and had a slight bite to it, it added to the chicken in a nice complimentary way.
We were not completely satisfied from our chicken so we order The Swalty for dessert.
 IMG_5624The Swalty, a waffle ice cream sandwich with salted caramel ice cream, caramel sauce and beef bacon.
This was the highlight of the meal for me. The waffle was crispy on the outside but maintained a light, airiness inside. The ice cream (which is made by Ed’s Real Scoop) had the rich, caramelized, saltiness of salted caramel. The ice cream was creamy and had a smooth texture. No ice crystals had formed in the ice cream that can be so jarring and cold when you bite into the ice cream. The caramel sauce was not cloyingly sweet and complimented the subtle salted caramel taste of the ice cream. The beef bacon was crispy, and had a rich smoky flavour to it. The saltiness in the bacon accented the saltiness in the salted caramel ice cream.
Next time I am craving fried chicken, I will not be returning to Dirty Bird, I will likely revisit my current favourite fried chicken restaurant in the city, Bar Fancy. But I think I will have to have another swalty at some point this summer.
Happy munching!

Torteria San Cosme

At the start of March the chef and co-founder behind the Toronto-based Mexican restaurant Milagro opened a street-food style restaurant in Kensington Market called Torteria San Cosme. The restaurant opened the first week in March and Cynthia and I attempted to go on the Friday night and try some tortas but alas, they had sold out and were closed for the evening. Don’t worry! Cynthia and I headed around the corner to Dirty Bird.

It should be mentioned that as a general rule of thumb, I hate Kensington Market. I know, I know. As someone who loves Toronto and loves food, it should be my Mecca. But I hate it.  The majority of my exposure to Kensington is from weekends when I would go downtown with GC and then he would head to work and I would wander through the city. Kensington on the weekends, especially pedestrian Sundays is *cringe* a nightmare. There are too many people who overrun the small sidewalks that are already crowded with stalls and bins of cheap sunglasses, smelly fish and nuts. But I do have my favourites. I love Blue Banana, Kid Icarus, Sanagan’s Meat Locker, Pizzeria Via Mercanti and of course, Toronto Popcorn Company. And no, I haven’t tried Seven Lives. Yet.

IMG_5631Despite my hate for Kensington, I ventured there twice in the span of two days – shocking I know. GC and I ventured down the next afternoon to try some sandwiches. When we arrived at the restaurant, it was still closed. There was a sign on the door advising that the restaurant would be opening slightly later than advertised and there was a queue of about 20 people waiting eagerly for sandwiches. The door was opened about 5 minutes after the new time but we rushed in.

The restaurant is situated on the corner of Baldwin and Kensington and the two exterior walls facing the streets are large, airy windows. Sunlight streams in from the street and highlights the gorgeous tiles that covers the walls and floors. A large, narrow, open concept kitchen is the focal point of the restaurant with a bar giving seating overlooking this kitchen. There is not a ton of seating in the restaurant, we were perched at a chair-rail like bar in a corner behind the entrance.

I ordered the Cubana sandwich.

IMG_5637The Cubana sandwich with smoked ham, adobo pork, bacon, gouda, avocado, chipotle, mustard and tomato.

This is my favourite Cubana sandwich I have tried, and may even well be my favourite sandwich I have ever eaten. The bun (from Blackbird Baking Co. across the street – another Kensington favourite of mine) was substantial and didn’t crumble under all the beautiful meat and other toppings but also was chewy, soft and moist. I didn’t have to force the sandwich into the back of my mouth and rip with my stronger, more prehistoric-like molars.

The smoked ham was a slice of Easter dinner on a bun. It was thick, juicy and fatty. I loved that it was actually a piece of ham clearly cut from a hock rather than deli meat.The adobo pork was spicy and complimented the richness of the ham. And if two types of pork were not enough for you, there is bacon on this sandwich. The bacon is crispy and salty, making it not just a third type of pork but a third, and completely different flavor and texture profile highlighting how versatile pork is.

The condiments added a balance of tartness from the mustard and sweetness from the tomato and the avocado. The cheese melted over the meat and was smoky and cheesy yumminess.

GC ordered the Milanesa sandwich.

IMG_5634The Milanesa sandwich with breaded chicken, manchego, chipotle mayo, refritos, avocado, tomato and onion.

If there is one thing you need to know about GC it is that he loves a a good sandwich, and especially a fried chicken sandwich. While I preferred my Cubana to his Milanesa, this sandwich was exactly what he was looking for. The chicken was crispy and well battered; the batter didn’t peel off the chicken with every bite. It was spicy, crunchy and cheesy.

We thoroughly enjoyed our sandwiches and we can’t wait to go back. This summer will be filled with visits to Kensington Market, picking up take-out from San Cosme and drinking covert beers in parks. It’s going to be an amazing summer.

Happy munching!!!