Provo Foodbar

Every time I go to the AGO I wonder, patient “Why are there not more restaurant options near this gallery?” My last visit to the AGO was proceeded by a visit to Mother’s Dumplings for lunch as I couldn’t think of a better option closer by – which if I am completely wrong about this, please let me know. But no longer will I have to trek from College and Spadina before or after the gallery in search of food. I can now go across the street to Provo Foodbar.

I went to Provo last Friday night with my friend Lynsey, to catch up about the drama of life over delicious food and drink. Provo opened earlier this year and has been popping up all over my Instagram feed ever since.

Our reservation was for 5:30 and we were seated at a small table near the front of the restaurant. There were a few people there as the after-work crowd shuffled in but it was relatively quiet for early on a Friday night. I would imagine (and hope) that is gets much busier as the night wears on.  The restaurant is deceptively large, with large windows that open at the front of the restaurant onto Dundas Street making the front half of the restaurant seem almost patio-like. There is a long bar anchoring the middle of the restaurant, and more seating at the back of the restaurant up a few steps. It is a huge space that could definitely host an intimate date-night dinner or a large group of friends for any occasion.

We started off with cocktails. Lynsey had the A.G.O.M.G (Smirnoff vodka, prosecco, maraschino, lavender and pomegranate) and I had the Middle Daughter (Bombay sapphire gin, elderflower, vanilla, grapefruit and lemon). The A.G.O.M.G is to be pronounced AGOhmygod and not as “agomg”. The prosecco and maraschino make this cocktail extremely sweet. When the prosecco falls flat the drink becomes almost unbearable to drink. But of course you do because there is alcohol in it. The Middle Daughter on the other hand is a beautifully balanced, strong cocktail. It tastes like spring in a glass – it is fresh, with floral notes and citrus zing to it. I could drink about 30 of these but then I would likely be on the floor. After my one cocktail I switched to beers by Collective Arts Brewing.

We ordered 6 different plates to share. We started with two different types of crostini: the Duck Confit Rillette and the White Anchovy and Oven Dried Tomato.

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Both of these were absolutely amazing and captured different seasonal flavours. The Duck Confit Rillette was hearty, smoky and had a richness to it which is perfect for warming up on a cool spring night. It was the right consistency to be spread thickly across the toasted and crispy crostini. It was priced just right – $6.00 for a small pot of rillette and four crostini. The rillettes was more than enough to be spread across four crostini, and we had extra rillette leftover which we obviously spread across other things because you can’t let good food go to waste.

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The white anchovy and oven dried tomato crostini tasted like Italian summer nights. The tomato was blistered and slight caramelized, allowing that sweetness to ooze out of the charred skin and onto the crostini. The tomato was dotted with garlic which was slightly peppery. The white anchovy added the saltiness to the crostini that brought out further sweetness of the tomatoes but were not overly fishy. This is definitely a crostini that easily can and will be recreated at home with fresh tomatoes from the garden.

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Niagara-on-the-Lake 2016

A few weeks ago we had a belated one-year anniversary brunch with my parents in Niagara. The reason we were about 6 months behind was because in the fall JDL had his knee replaced and then who wants to go to Niagara in the winter?

The day started with a visit to Southbrook Vineyards, Canada’s first bio-dynamic winery. We tasted a flight of four different wines, two whites and two reds, each highlighting the unique growing conditions and techniques at Southbrook. Our server was incredibly knowledgeable, having studied cuisine and wine at Niagara College. He was well spoken on the interplay between wine and food, something I completely lack and admire in other people.

After a few tastes of wine, we headed over to Trius Winery for our celebratory brunch. The brunch at Trius is a three-course tasting menu with the option to pair each course with wine as selected by the restaurant. Mom, being the classy and knowledgeable person she is, made her choices based on the wine; everyone else made their choices based on the food.

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The dining room at Trius has been recently redone, featuring bold furniture in yellows and reds. The main dining room features huge spherical light fixtures that resemble fireworks exploding in a night sky. The dining rooms open out onto a patio which overlooks the vineyards. In early April this is not quiet the focal point that it is in the summer. We were seated in the back of the restaurant, which was a little more private and with a view of the courtyard and vineyards.

After we were seated, we were immediately greeted with glasses of Trius Brut Rosé – all brunches should start with pink bubbly. It should be noted that this is apparently supposed to serve as a palate cleanser between courses and should last the length of your meal, not gulped down shortly after the first course like mine was. Oops. It was just too tasty to not enjoy that quickly.

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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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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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Afternoon Tea – The Windsor Arms

My mom is one of my favourite people of all time. She is the most inspiring woman I know. She is smart, charming, witty, beautiful and just completely amazing. She is my real life Meryl Streep.

10332_674748901846_121506112_40082178_2410099_nMom & Girls OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANot only do I gush about her, I eat with her. This year to celebrate her birthday and Mother’s Day, we went for afternoon tea at The Windsor Arms. The Windsor Arms is everything you want a hotel to be. It is sleek, polished and has a very posh London hotel atmosphere about it.

This posh atmosphere continues into the tea room. The table settings are white linens and all the china is matching. There is a hat stand with a variety of hats with ridiculous plumage fit for a royal wedding. There was a group of girlfriends in floral dresses and fascinator enjoying afternoon tea. It was all very dainty and proper.

The tea rooms are seated according to your reservation time and seatings are fully booked. I understand  the need to make money and run a successful business but it takes away from the ambiance when you are too closely seated to the next table and the low hum of other patrons turns into a loud drone.

We shared a pot of the Private Windsor Arms blend. This tea was a blend of Ceylon, Nilgiris and Assam teas. It was delicious. Our tower of deliciousness was presented to us and stacked in the traditional manner from the bottom up: scones, sandwiches and desserts.

IMG_0607The Goat cheese and caramelized shallot tart.

I promise you, this tart did not look so sad and lonely in person. The tart was served first as it was warm. It was delicate, soft and sweet. I wish it had been slightly bigger or maybe served as two. On it’s own, it was the perfect warm, little bite of rich, cheesy goodness.

IMG_0608Fresh scones with preserves and Devonshire cream.

The scone serving was very generous. We given two each and they were huge. They were impossible to grab using the tongs and this resulted in me dropping one of my scones. It was my classiest use of the “5 Second Rule” to date. There was two different flavours of scones: raisin and orange currant. These scones were firm on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside. They were only made more perfect smothered with Devonshire cream and various jams. I could eat scones all day.

The fresh sandwiches consisted of: 1. Smoked Salmon and Wasabi Sour Cream with Salmon Caviar 2. Cucumber with Sundried Tomato Paste and Dill Cream Cheese and 3. Grilled Chicken, Granny Smith Apples Citrus Mayonnaise, Greek Yogurt and Chives.

The sandwiches were tiny. The bread had been flatten out and rolled into pinwheels rather than being served as quarters or miniature sandwiches. Due to the form the sandwiches take, the sandwiches are not packed with filling. The flavours were not bold and intense. The flavour that stood out the most was the salmon. It was smooth, creamy and salty. The cucumer was delicate and light, tasting faintly of a fresh garden. The chicken sandwich was filled with chicken but the other flavours did not stand out.

And last but not least, the dessert level.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset The Petits Fours: Chocolate Mousse Truffle, a Coconut Marshmallow, a Mango and Passionfruit cake and a Lemon Custard Tart topped with Raspberries.

Please explain to me why for two people we are given four different desserts? And desserts that cannot easily be shared? This was my major complaint with the tea service. The final touch of the tea service is dessert and to be underwhelmed is disappointing.

That being said, we shared our desserts and by the end were full. My favourite was the lemon tart. Lemon and raspberry is my favourite combination of flavours in desserts. The zesty, tartness of the lemon combined with the subtle tart but still sweet flavour of the raspberry is pure perfection. This tart had a crumbly shell filled with velvety smooth lemon filling and topped with three, perfectly formed raspberries. Yums. The low point: the coconut marshmallow. It was underwhelming. Marshmallows should be in hot chocolate, not on a dessert tower at afternoon tea.

Overall the tea experience was lovely but the company was even better. This was the perfect afternoon to celebrate the awesomeness that is my Mom. I love you, Mom!

Happy munching!

La Carnita

Another visit (two technically) to La Carnita does not need a full write up, just an update on new menu items. In the past two weeks I have been to La Carnita twice and therefore have been very happy.

I have tried two new cocktails: the Big Daddy PumpKane and the Now’s the Thyme.

Photo Credit: La Carnita
Big Daddy PumpKane with bourbon, vanilla schnapps, muddled cranberries, egg whites, pumpkin spice

This is one of the best cocktails I have ever had. It literally tastes like a mixture of pumpkin pie and the entire Christmas season. It is sweet, and tart with hints of vanilla and cinnamon. It is only a seasonal cocktail, made specifically for fall, so it may be removed from the menu once we get into winter, so you should go and have a taste.

Photo Credit: La Carnita
Now’s The Thyme, a whiskey sour with Tromba tequila instead of whiskey, and ginger thyme syrup.

I didn’t love this. Tequila is a very strong flavour and thyme is not substantial enough to support the strong woody and nutty flavours that tequila imparts. It is fresh and crisp though, like drinking in a garden.

And I tried two more tacos: the Crispy Cojita taco and the Wild Crab Cake tostado.

Photo Credit: La Carnita
Crispy Cotija cheese taco with pinto bean cauliflower stew and pickled carrots

When our server came to tell us about the daily specials, the first words out of his mouth were, “A fried cheese…” and I stopped listening because he had me at fried cheese. Maybe I should have continued to listen because I didn’t love this taco. All the aspects are good, and worked together but what would have really put this taco over the top would have been to have the cheese extremely hot so it had the stringy consistency of a mozzarella stick. The cheese had mostly solidifed, so the taco resembled a bed of vegetables topped with a hard cheese string. Gross. Ok. I am over exaggerating the effect this taco had on me. I didn’t love it but I didn’t hate it and I wouldn’t order it again.

Photo Credit: La Carnita, so no, I don’t know this woman.
Wild Crab Cake Tostada with corn and tomato salsa, jalapeno dressing and micro greens.

YUMS. I loved this taco! The crispy base of the tostada, the creamy jalapeno dressing, topped with the flaky, crispy crab cake made a perfect combination of flavour and texture. The salsa added a fresh, fruity quality which brought out the natural fruity, light flavours of the crab. I think that it is a shame that this taco is one of their daily specials (only available on Thursdays) because it would be a welcome addition to the menu.

Another two nights, another two cocktails and another two tacos. Happy munching!

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!

Home of the Brave

Life has been busy lately with wedding plans and running around. I used to think people were flustered by wedding plans because they were incompetent. I apologize to all past brides that I judged harshly. Planning a wedding is fairly all encompassing and time consuming to an extent you wouldn’t believe. In all of the flurry, order I have been eating but not writing about it. Get ready to be inundated with posts from where I’ve been eating the past two months.

La Carnita, cialis one of my favorite Mexican joints in the city, advice opened an American comfort-food restaurant back in the summer and Cynthia and I were able to check it out a few months back. Aptly named Home of the Brave, the food is focused on American comfort-foods with new and interesting twists. The vibe is very similar to La Carnita –  a combination of grunge and rock, mixed with hipsters and vintage antiques. Be sure to wear your skinny jeans and your plastic rimmed glasses if you want to fit in.

The bar menu is on a seasonal rotation bringing in fresh flavours to compliment the season. They also have house made root beer on tap! Unfortunately, Cynthia and I did not try the root beer. All that means is I will have to go back to slurp down a root beer float.

We both started with the Tater Tots.

IMG_9481Crispy potatoes, cheese, gravy, and herbs.
Image credit:  Food Junkie Chronicles

These were delicious: creamy, cheesy, and salty – all in a perfect little bites. You can definitely taste the cheese and herbs, they work in tandem with the crispy potatoes but the gravy is almost nonexistent. I am ok with this as I HATE gravy (unless it is in the form of poutine), but other people may be less than thrilled about this. This is my idea of comfort food. I loved the presentation of this dish. The mini cast iron skillet immediately makes me think of pioneers and the American frontier.

Cynthia ordered the Johnny Cake with Smoked Trout.

Johnny CakeCornmeal griddle cake with savoury cream, smoked trout, maple syrup, and chives
Image credit: Toronto Life

This is one of the most unique menu items I have ever seen but apparently it’s incredibly common.  Johnny cakes were common during the early pioneer days and are now still seen throughout the eastern seaboard of the United States. Not being a huge cornmeal fan, I did not love the cake itself but it did serve as a substantial base to all the maple syrup that basically drowned the cake. The maple syrup should be asked for on the side to make sure your cakes stay nice and crispy. The trout was flaky and the perfect amount of salt and fish taste. The syrup and fish work in an interesting contrast that is not seen in a lot of dishes – it takes sweet and savoury to a new level. The cream was thick and decadent, making this dish almost seem like a brunch item rather than dinner item.

I ordered the Smoked Pork Belly Sandwich.

IMG_9472Smoked pork belly, smoked pork shoulder, ranch cabbage coleslaw, and lemon zest
Image credit: Food Junkie Chronicles

As far as a pulled pork sandwich goes – this is pretty standard. I love that the amount of pork belly is almost overwhelmingly large and adds a whole layer of crunch and salty, brininess to this sandwich. The pulled pork is good – juicy and it falls apart delicately with every bite. The ranch cabbage coleslaw is sweet with the perfect amount of tang that perfectly highlights the natural sweetness of cabbage. I would love to eat a bowl of this slaw on its own. The lemon brings together the whole sandwich and slightly cuts the fat so you don’t feel like a stereotypical fat American while eating this.

If you are in search of greasy comfort food – this is your spot. I am intrigued by the Kentucky Fried Handshake Sandwich which showcases a fried chicken foot and will likely be back to give it a try.  Although I want to give it another shot, I prefer La Carnita – there’s just not match to it.

Happy munching!