Verjus – Paris 2016

When you visit Paris, patient the restaurant choices are overwhelming. There are literally thousands of restaurants and they are all good. Or at least as a traveller to the city you think they are all good. Everyone you know who has visited the city will have a different list of about ten restaurants “you HAVE to try” and of course, they are in neighbourhoods that are not remotely close to you or anything you want to see. Then you foolishly think, “Ok. Let me look up restaurants with Michelin stars.” Don’t do that. It is the most futile Google search you will ever perform and you will depress yourself as you don’t have hundreds of euros to spend on lunch to go to somewhere with 1-Michelin star let alone something with 3-stars which the official definition is “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey.” It is overwhelming, daunting and borderline annoying to plan meals in Paris.

However, one meal that was easy to plan was our dinner at Verjus. I learned about Verjus while watching The Getaway, a show by ESPN that features B-list actors and their favourite weekend getaways. Paris is the city of choice for Aisha Tyler. In the episode she eats at a few wine bars (Frenchie which was unfortunately missed on this trip) but Verjus really stood out for me. It is run by an American couple who are part of a change that is happening in Paris about how people view food and restaurants. It began as a wine bar with tasting plates or petits plats (which sounds so much daintier than tapas or sharing plates) and has expanded into a full-on restaurant with a tasting menu and a second restaurant called Ellsworth.

29

To get to Verjus we entered through an alleyway called Passage de Beaujolais. We were early for our reservation so we wandered through the short alley and down the stairs that took us street level to a whole other world. From there we could see that Verjus is located in an old, 3-storey, very typically Parisian building that is across the street from the Théâtre du Palais-Royal. We felt like we were transported back in time to the 18th century. We meandered through the archways of the théâtre and discovered the beautiful gardens of the Palais-Royal with its wild rose bushes and fountains. As dusk began to fall we headed back to the restaurant to enjoy our dinner.

The tasting menu was 10 courses for 76€ with wine pairings for an addition 55€. We decided to go for it with the wine pairing because who knows when you will be back in Paris eating a tasting menu at an amazing restaurant because you won a free trip? And yes, for those of you doing the math, this meal was almost $400 Canadian, making it one of the most expensive meals I have ever had.

We were seated at a small table close to the entrance and the stairway leading upstairs. I was more than ok with this because it allowed us to be surrounded by windows offering views of the streets below and an opportunity to take a peek at upcoming courses as they whipped their way upstairs.

We started with a course featuring three different appetizers that were all served with a sparkling white wine, Catherine & Pierre Breton’s Vouvray Pétillant “La Dilettante”

IMG_6114

Violet asparagus, with sorrel mayo and wood sorrel.

IMG_6115

Fava bean fritter with herb tahini.

IMG_6116

Trout roe, with house yogurt, on a flatbread topped with arugula.

Continue reading

Little Fin

I am slowly discovering my new neighbourhood at work: there are trips to St. Lawrence Market to gawk at cheese and meat, wanderings down to the lake to soak up some sun and getting lost on side streets that you otherwise wouldn’t notice unless you pass them ever day.

A few weeks ago I wandered down a side street, Temperance Street, which is just south of Richmond. This little street is being obscured by construction but is the location of Little Fin. Little Fin is a restaurant that I have been eyeing on Instagram since it opened in October 2014 and have been drooling over and wondering when I would get to try ever since.

The restaurant is small, with a nautical/East-Coast vibe to it including marlins on the wall and fresh lobsters walking around in their sea water tank. You order at the counter and then wait in anticipation for your number to be called. On a Friday afternoon the wait was about 20 minutes which isn’t crazy but in the future it might be better to order ahead.

I ordered the Lobster Roll.

IMG_5859

Yes, I contemplated ordering the fried chicken BLT but I thought rationally that the first time trying something at a seafood restaurant, I should probably order the seafood.

The sandwich is $16.00 which seems a little pricey but is fairly standard for a lobster roll: the lobster roll at Buster’s Sea Cove in St. Lawrence Market is $15.00. For your $16.00 you get your choice of sides and I chose the garlic potato wedges and the house salad.
This sandwich looks beautiful but unfortunately, did not have enough lobster for my liking. Half of the sandwich was filled with lettuce, to give the illusion that it is filled with lobster when really it is not. The lobster salad itself it good: large chunks of lobster, fresh dill, small pieces of celery to give the right crunch to the softness of the sandwich and topped with fresh green onion giving a hint of heat and freshness to the sandwich. I would like this sandwich more if it was all lobster, with little to no lettuce but that would probably cost me $40.00.

The garlic potato wedges were amazing. I am not a huge fan of potatoes (much to GC’s chagrin). I hate home fries and baked potatoes, would much rather have rice than mashed potato, scalloped potatoes are eaten as a vehicle for cheese and French fries are often left to grow cold and limp on my plate or at the bottom of my take-out bag. But these wedges. These could convert me to being a potato person. The wedges are sweet and garlicky, with the right amount of kick from the garlic but not the amount that would give you the breath to ward off vampires and attract Italian Nonnas. The outside is crispy and tough with the skin still being on the potato but the inside is fluffy and starchy. These are a definite must as a side to anything ordered from Little Fin.

The house salad is a safe bet – nothing remarkable but solid and fresh. The next time I visit I will be trying the seaweed salad.

Little Fin is a cute spot that is quick and convenient for me to indulge in seafood during my lunch hour. As an indulgence it will be saved for pay days and definitely not once a month. I will likely not be having the lobster roll again but I wouldn’t say no to trying the crispy haddock sandwich or fried chicken BLT. Oh, and they do breakfast and have a chicken-waffle sandwich. So yes, I think it is safe to say I would be trying a few more items off this menu. Eventually.

Happy munching!

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.

12970872_975590909197591_135221010577090210_o

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.

Continue reading

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.

IMG_5339

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

Bar Fancy

I first went to Bar Fancy back in March with Cynthia. We were looking for a place to grab a drink and have a much needed catch-up session. We had heard that Bar Fancy had amazing fried chicken and what better and more appropriate way to spend a girls’ night then to eat fried chicken and drink beer?

IMG_3518 IMG_3522Bar Fancy is on Queen Street and is very easy to miss. Despite having huge glass windows the view is obscured by hanging plants in macramé baskets that your Nonna would have. You have to go down a long sketchy alleyway that is only lit by a badass neon tiger overhead. The inside of the bar is nothing special: dimly lit, store cozy tables and simple décor allowing the food to be the focus of the menu.

We ordered a plate of fried chicken. If you visit the restaurant between 5-7pm each night, order you can get fried chicken for $2.00 apiece. This is an amazing deal because typically the chicken is $18.00 for 4 pieces.

IMG_3521The chicken is presented very simply: on a Frisbee with a wedge of lime. There are no pretenses about the chicken or trying to make it into something it clearly is not. The pieces are huge; 2 pieces is enough for a snack but why would you want to limit yourself to only 2 pieces of this deliciousness? The chicken is meaty, buy tender, and a little greasy without soaking your face. The batter is crunchy and you can bite into the chicken without removing all the skin with one bite. The batter is slightly spicy, enough to give you the taste of the spice but without lighting your tongue on fire and is salty without forcing you to drink 6 liters of water. It is the best fried chicken I’ve eaten.

We enjoyed our fried chicken with the spicy Thai salad. This is salad works well with the chicken. The heat and freshness of the salad help offset the heaviness of eating fried chicken. And it is spicy. By the end of the salad my mouth was on fire and seeking comfort at the bottom of my pint glass.

We have since been back to have more fried chicken but this time with a side of their tar-tare. Neither Cynthia nor I loved their tar-tare, and that’s not surprising. The tar-tare is on the menu for $10.00 which speaks to the quality of meat that would have to be used. The interesting thing is that they serve the tar-tare with an Asian flair – using sesame seeds and seaweed which add nuttiness and umami flavours to the dish.

I will go back to Bar Fancy again and again for their fried chicken and maybe even outside the hours of 5-7 pm because it’s that good that I’m willing to pay full price.

Happy munching!

Voodoo Child

Voodoo Child is a coffee and cocktail bar, the perfect combination of beverages. And they serve brunch – could this place be any more well suited to my personality? I know what you are thinking, “Coffee? And cocktails? Pick one. There is no way anything can be good.” But it is.

We headed out to brunch on a sunny summer morning. We sat at the bar where we could watch the baristas brew all sorts of magic. We both ordered coffees and then breakfast. Breakfast is cooked based on seasonal ingredients and is listed daily on chalkboards. The kitchen at Voodoo Child is literally just your average kitchen stove. Seeing a kitchen like that inspired and challenged me. If someone can churn out breakfasts to a small restaurant of people using a residential kitchen stove, the possibilities are endless in my own home.

I ordered the Voodoo Breakfast Muffin.

IMG_1381The Voodoo Breakfast Muffin on a toasted English muffin with peameal bacon, fried egg, cheddar and sriracha aioli. Served with Dijon potato salad and greens.

How cute is this plate and bar? It feels like a farmhouse. The sandwich was delicious. It was perfectly balanced between saltiness and sweetness. The bacon was cooked throughout and was not rubbery or tough. The egg was fried over-medium, the perfect way to cook an egg for a sandwich. It maintains ooziness but without creating a mess that spurts out all over your face and table. The sriarcha aioli added a hint of spice and sweetness. It was the final touch that the sandwich needed to bring it beyond comparable to a McDonald’s sandwich.

Potato salad should always accompanying breakfast. This is a revolution. I love the idea of brunch literally having a breakfast component and a lunch component. The perfect balance to ease you into the day.

GC ordered the Butternut Squash Omelet.

IMG_1380The Butternut Squash Omelet with roasted garlic and goat cheese. Served with toast and apple/walnut and arugala salad.

This is the ultimate in brunch food. A breakfast item so standard and typically plain, but taken to a whole new level with squash, roasted garlic and goat cheese. It was so rich and savory. The squash and garlic created a creamy rich base with the goat cheese. Yums.

Our brunch was delicious and has made us big fans of this spot. GC has made Voodoo Child his go-to for coffee before work and we have also tried cocktails here. The cocktail menu is bourbon based and has a very classic feel to it with egg whites, bitters and hard alcohol. When we went, I sipped on the V Beckham with Jim Beam, brown sugar simple syrup, lime, bitters, and sparkling wine. It was classy, elegant and different, much like it’s namesake.

I would definitely recommend dropping by at any point in the day to enjoy either a coffee or a cocktail – both are perfection. Happy munching!

L’Ouvrier

Two weeks ago we went to L’Ouvrier for brunch.

The inside is sparse, with expansive white walls littered with an assortment of random wall hangings. There are antique white-washed tin ceiling tiles, painted sticks, goody bags and a mural-sized photo of turn-of-the-century cooks? Miners? Random dirty men with various tools to do various things? It was cluttered and chaotic.

Because we are hideous and were wearing hoodies we were seated near the bar at the back of the restaurant at a dimly lit table. I understand servers have tables and there is a method to how customers are seated but it looks bad when the restaurant has a total of 4 tables seated and you are placed near the back.

The menu is varied and has more than your traditional brunch items. It goes beyond bacon and eggs. It is a very adult-brunch menu with oysters, braised rabbit terrines and tuna tartare. It is all very elegant but I associate these items with a late lunch, rather than a brunch. However, this is more a comment on my lack of imagination with menus rather than a criticism on the restaurant.

I ordered the Potato Rosti.

IMG_2901The Potato Rosti with smoked salmon, crème fraîche, arugula, fried shallots and capers.

This came to my table. Please tell my why I am eating brunch and have a huge mountain of arugula in front of me? This is one of the most poorly plated dishes I have ever had. Logic would suggest that there should be a bed of arugula topped with a potato rosti, then crème fraîche, smoked salmon and sprinkled with fried shallots and capers. My rosti was hidden under this ridiculous pile of arugula. It was likely hidden so I couldn’t immediately see how tiny it was. The salmon was scattered over the plate, also to detract from how little salmon there actually was. The crème fraîche was gritty which should never be a thing and is an upsetting texture to discover in your mouth when you are expecting smooth, silkiness.

The flavours were okay, and the portion was small and unbalanced. I was not impressed.

GC ordered the B.L.T.

IMG_2900The B.L.T. with house made bacon, arugula, aioli, and fries.

The house made bacon was good, and there was plenty of it unlike my BLT at Scratch Kitchen. Much like my rosti, there was a ridiculous amount of arugula on this sandwich. I liked these use of a different type of green rather than your standard iceberg/romaine lettuce but you do not need to pile it on in excess for me to get the point.

I thought the bread was unimpressive and stood is sharp opposition to the rest of the ingredients. If you are going to spend time making house made bacon, it should be sandwiched between two pieces of bread that have been lovingly made in-house, not your standard grocery store-Dempster’s type bread. The plate was overrun with fries which is not a bad thing but it wasn’t necessary to have this many fries.

L’Ouvrier is pretentious and unnecessary. The menu is too ambitious for the atmosphere, clientele and staff. L’Ouvrier greatly missed the mark for me. I have no interest in eating poorly executed lunch foods for brunch. If I want a fancy brunch I will go somewhere like Farmhouse Tavern where the menu is an upscale, elegant interpretation of real breakfast food.

Happy munching!

 

Big Crow

You know those friends you haven’t seen in forever but when you finally meet up you pick up where you left off and it is the most natural thing? I had a dinner like that last week. Last week I met up with my friend Laura and we went from dinner at Big Crow.

Big Crow is by the same guys who do Rose & Sons, and for those of you who don’t remember, I did not enjoy my experience there. Despite this, I was eager to try Big Crow. I was intrigued by what they were doing there: a patio only restaurant, cooking up barbeque at the back of an existing restaurant.

When we arrived, we were quickly seated at a picnic table close to the smoker where we could watch all the action. The result of this was my hair smelling of bonfire by the end of the night which I did not mind. That is one of my favourite smells in the world. We started with a pitcher of Algonquin Iced Tea which is their spin on the classic Long Island Iced Tea. It has vodka, gin, tequila, rum, blackstrap bitters, and ginger beer. It was delicious.

Next, we had the All Beef Verscht.Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset All Beef Verscht with apricot glaze and mustard.

This was basically Montreal smoke meat style barbeque so it was obviously delicious. The meat was smoky, fatty and charred nicely. The apricot glaze was sweet and thick, smothered over the meat and complimenting the richness of the meat. The mustard was spicy and grainy, a nice balance to the sweetness of the glaze.

Then, we ordered the JW Bird.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetThe JW Bird – Cornish hen with sour pickle brine and salsa verde.

DELICIOUS. This hen was so incredibly moist. It was juicy and tender. The skin was crispy and kept all the juicy goodness inside. There was a slight sourness from the brine but it did not overwhelm the bird and make you think of pickles. The salsa verde was fresh and light. It added a different type of crunch to the bird.

We ordered sides of Picnic Potato Salad and Mexican Broccoli Salad.IMG_0919The Picnic Potato Salad with buttermilk ranch dressing, eggs and asparagus.

This potato salad was good. The dressing was light and thin, but it was slathered on a bit too heavily. The potatoes and asparagus were tender and retained a slight bit of crunch. I don’t typically like egg in my potato salad but this egg was in small chunks throughout the salad, giving a bit of smoothness and thickness to the salad. And it would be easy enough to recreate at home! Yums.IMG_0922The Mexican Broccoli salad with pepitas, tomato and avocado.

Broccoli salad is so underrated! Barbeques are fraught with pasta, bean and potato salads but rarely does the broccoli salad make an appearance. This was delightful. It was fresh and with different flavours then what filled the rest of the menu. The pepitas, a Spanish word for pumpkin seeds, were nutty, crunchy and completely tasty. These should be sprinkled on everything. Again, this would be such an easy salad to recreate at home for your own barbeque.

And lastly, we finished off with the S’mores Ice Cream Sandwich.IMG_0923An ice cream sandwich on a brioche bun?! Heck, yes! The brioche was sweet, fluffy and airy. Due to the sheer size of the bun it overwhelmed the contents of the sandwich.The ice cream was slightly too cold to make biting into the sandwich enjoyable or easy. The graham crackers, chocolate and marshmallow were not incorporated enough into the sandwich to make this truly a s’mores ice cream sandwich. The graham crackers should have been mixed in with the ice cream or sprinkled on top. The chocolate should be a piece of chocolate rather than chocolate sauce.

After tasting this, I plan to get a quart of Greg’s Ice Cream’s Roasted Marshmallow  ice cream and make my own version of a s’mores ice cream sandwich. Or maybe that will be my next ice cream venture – s’mores ice cream. Who’s in?

I loved my meal here. It was fresh, juicy and tasted like summer. I am looking forward to more visits to this back patio, especially when the days of summer are long behind us and our only connection to hot summer nights is food that brings back those memories.

Happy munching!

Father’s Day

This year we celebrated Father’s Day with two barbeques: Saturday was spent with GC’s parents and Ninni in our backyard  and Sunday was spent with my family.

Saturday’s menu featured my classic burgers, potato salad and of course, a strawberry rhubarb pie. My burger recipe is simple but delicious. I use ground beef (lean), breadcrumbs, garlic powder, dried onion, oregano, and parsley. My latest change to my recipe is barbeque sauce. The barbeque sauce keeps the burgers moist without making them puff up like an egg will do but still binds the meat together so that they do not fall apart on the grill.

Prior to Father’s Day weekend, I didn’t have a go to potato salad recipe, but now I do. I tried this Yogurt and Dill Potato Salad from The Yummy Life and it is ah-mazing. The combination of mayo and yogurt is light and sweet, making you feel slightly less terrible for eating potato salad. The combination of dill, parsley (fresh from our back garden!), green onion and celery is fresh, summery and light. Make it the night before a big barbeque and enjoy!

GC’s dad’s favourite pie is rhubarb. I am lucky enough that his birthday falls in May and Father’s Day falls in June, prime rhubarb season. Every year I try a new rhubarb recipe and every year his dad loves it. This year, I tried Martha Stewart’s Rhubarb Crumble Pie. IMG_0706 IMG_0716

My crust turned out wonderfully! It was light, flaky and super buttery. The rhubarb was sweet and tart, tender and oozy. The crumble topping was delicious and could have been eaten on its own. Does it get much better then brown sugar, butter and flour? Obviously not. There was a piece left for my mom the next day and it passed her pie taste test so I think my skills as a pie maker are improving!

Sunday we had my sisters and my parents over for Barbeque Part II in the backyard to celebrate JDL. There was bocce, croquet and of course, food. I made Carolina Pulled Pork sandwiches, Yogurt and Dill Potato Salad, Southwestern Black Bean Salad, Pineapple Pink Lemonade Punch and Chocolate Cream Pie.

The Carolina Pulled Pork is one of the easiest things you will ever make! You quickly sear the pork roast on the stove and then pop it in the slow cooker for hours and then impress everyone with your Southern barbeque abilities. It is topped with a creamy, tart coleslaw that is also easy to make. You could be insane and shred all your cabbage yourself or you could just buy your bag of coleslaw mix. The cabbage is topped with a simple dressing. It is not too drenched in mayo, just the right amount. Theresa liked this sandwich so much that she said this sandwich has ruined restaurant pulled pork for her. Sorry!

The Southwestern Black Bean salad is great! It is easy because it is essentially chopping, can opening and stirring. There are so many great textures, colours and flavours to this salad. The avocado is the best part and because of the citrus dressing it doesn’t turn brown and rotten looking. This bean salad was a hit at my barbeque.

Having a large group of people over is a great opportunity to try out a new cocktail or punch. For Father’s Day I made Pineapple Pink Lemonade Party Punch. Literally pour all the ingredients into the pitcher, stir and serve over ice. Oh, and maybe add some rum. I will be keeping my fridge stocked off all these ingredients all summer long.

For dessert we had my favourite s’mores cookie bars and Martha Stewart’s Chocolate Cream Pie. I wasn’t thrilled with how the pie turned out. I omitted the gelatin because it should have firmed up on its own but it didn’t. The slices didn’t come out of the pie dish nicely and it was very messy. It was delicious because it was chocolate custard topped with whipped cream but the presentation wasn’t the greatest. I would not make this recipe again.

Overall, our Father’s Days were a hit! All the above recipes are perfect for any barbeque so you have all summer to try them out! Happy munching!