Boralia

It only seems fitting that with my 27th birthday occurring next week to write about another birthday dinner I had earlier this year. In June I went for dinner at Boralia to celebrate one of my favourite people in the world’s birthday: Cynthia.

Boralia is a restaurant that is serving historically inspired dishes representing the cuisines of Canada’s aboriginal population and early settlers. You won’t see any stereotypical representations of Canadiana in this restaurant. There are no Hudson’s Bay blankets, or stripes of colouring drawing on this imagery. There is no overuse of antlers and pelts adorning the walls. There is a large mural illustrating a lush green forest, and natural materials are used throughout the restaurant. The simplicity and use of other iconography to conjure images of Canada is welcomed and prepares you for the redefining of Canadian cuisine and culture.

We started with the L’éclade and Red Fife Levain Bread & Cultured Butter.

borealia_ss_8Photo Credit: BoraliaLeclade-credit-Nick-Merzetti-e1419037958616Photo Credit: Eat, Drink, Travel

Mussels smoked in pine needles and pine ash butter  c.1605

The interesting thing about the menu at Boralia is that each item is given a date at the end of the description, informing the diner of the historical period that this dish is from. The L’éclade is a dish that was brought to Canada by Samuel de Champlain and was a favourite among his crew. The history nerd in me loved this attention to detail and historical accuracy.

The presentation of this dish is beautiful. The bowl of mussels is brought to your table covered in a bell jar. The server slowly lifts the cloche to release fragrant smoke that has been infused with pine needles. The smoke slowly dissipates in the air but the smell and flavourings of pine are maintained in the butter. The mussels are tender and salty, infused with smoky and floral tones from the pine. Ordering the side of bread is a must but not for the bread itself; rather to soak up all the delicious butter pooling at the bottom of the bowl.

Next we ordered the Pigeon Pie.

9.Borealia-Nick-Merzetti-featured-image-644x415Photo Credit: Source Unknown

Pigeon Pie with roast squab breast and asparagus c.1611.

If you have ever walked in Toronto with me, you would know of my hatred of pigeons. They are dirty and messy and I cannot tolerate people who feed them. The fact that I could eat my animal enemy was enticing.

The pie crust was buttery, flaky and crunchy: it melted over your tongue as if it was purely made of butter. It was a perfect pie crust. The filling however, was not worthy of being encased by a crust this good. The filling was not bad but it was nothing impressive. It was a typical meat pie filling: carrots, pies and a thick gravy. The taste and texture of squab was not apparent in this pie.

The squab breast on the side was the representation of the meat that I was looking for. The breast was seared on the outside, creating a crunchy shell around the whole piece that locked in the juiciness of the meat. The meat was tender but a bit gamy; squab tastes and feels like a mixture of duck and chicken. It has the richness and flavour of duck but the softness and almost creaminess of chicken. I would be perfectly happy with an order of the duck breast without the pie.

Next we had the Pan-Roasted Elk.

imagePhoto Credit: The Globe and Mail

Pan-roasted Elk with wild rice-crusted egg, cranberry gastrique, burnt onion, and radish.

I wasn’t blown away by this dish. The cranberry gastrique was my favourite component of the plate. The tartness was a nice accompaniment to the rich, gaminess of the elk. The elk was slightly tough and did not have much flavour beside the gaminess that is typical of elk. The wild rice-crusted egg was good. The rice added nutiness to the dish that gave it a woodsy, more rustic taste. The egg oozed over the elk and help distract from the toughness of the meat.

To finish we ordered the Louisbourg Hot Chocolate Beignets.

b6Photo Credit:  Dine Magazine

Louisbourg hot chocolate beignets with spiced chocolate ganache, beer batter, and lemon sugar c.1795.

These were delicious. This is one of the simplest but best desserts I have had at a restaurant. The beignets were hot from being recently fried. They were the right balance of fatty, savoury and sweet. The chocolate ganache was warm, rich, silky and viscous: it slowly oozed out of each beignet with every bite. It was the best chocolate I have ever eaten. The lemon sugar added a light, citrus flavour to the decadent beignets and made them not taste quite so heavy.

I would recommend a visit to Boralia. It is a nice, upscale taste of home. We are often criticized for not having a national cuisine but I think Boralia is the start of that movement.

Happy munching!

Windup Bird Cafe

Months and months ago when we ate brunch every weekend and it was warm and sunny, we went to Windup Bird Cafe. This restaurant is super cute. It is brightly painted, has a wooden bar, exposed brick and sleek metal accents. There is a cute patio facing Borden Street with potted plants and brightly coloured plastic chairs. Although the patio was inviting, we opted for a spacious booth at the back of the restaurants. We were the only ones in the restaurant. We viewed this as intimate but it is always concerning when a restaurant is deserted at brunch.

The menu is very unique, focusing largely on fusion and fresh, seasonal ingredients. The restaurant is very active with its programming – offering cooking classes, talks and seminars.These programs cover a range of topics from making sushi to food literacy. It’s great to see that kind of active fostering of a food community in Toronto.

GC ordered the Fried Chicken and Waffles.

IMG_1398The Chicken and Waffles with deep-fried chicken karage, roast potatoes and seasonal veg.

I’m not going to lie – it’s rather disappointing that the waffles are not perfectly round. The piece of chicken was a little small but it was tasty. Karage is a Japanese cooking technique where meat is marinated soy sauce, garlic and ginger and then coated and fried. There is subtle, underlying umami flavours.

I ordered the Smoked Salmon Benny.IMG_1399The Smoked Salmon Benny with avocado, spinach, and house hollandaise.

I am seldom of the opinion that eggs Benny should be healthy, but this was yummy. It was light and fresh, tasting of spring. The hollandaise was buttery and spicy, with tastes of dijon. This is a very adult take on the Benny and would be perfect for an Easter brunch.

I’m not into kale salad as a side for my brunch. Brunch should be served with potatoes, toast and any other type of carbohydrate. There is no room for salad at brunch.

After a delicious brunch, we headed north to check out the Cheltenham Badlands. The Badlands are easily one of the coolest place in Ontario I’ve had the opportunity to check out and I would highly recommend it if you live in the area. Indie88 (do we view them as an authority on travel?) recently named it one of Canada’s 10 Underrated Landmarks.

IMG_1403 IMG_1405 IMG_1414 IMG_1422IMG_1409IMG_1410IMG_1416 IMG_1423Happy munching and hiking!

Swan Restaurant

After our failed attempt of yoga at Canoe Landing Park, we opted to try a new class. This time we tried yoga at Trinity-Bellwoods Park. This was much better. The class was under a beautifully shaded area of grass, with soft music and was at a much slower, relaxing, stretching pace. And even better: Trinity-Bellwoods is in a prime brunch location. After a full hour of yoga we went for brunch at Swan Restaurant.

Swan Restaurant is your typical retro diner: bar stools, booths and vintage music but with a fancier, slight more upscale menu. The menu was impressive which was intriguing. It went beyond your regular brunch items and even had seafood! I would have never thought I could get freshly shucked oysters at a diner.

I ordered the Hangtown Fry.

IMG_1278The Hangtown Fry with smoked oysters and pancetta egg scramble.

Tip: when ordering a menu item with seafood you should probably look at the price and consider if you will actually receive a substantial amount of seafood. When something is $9.00 and has oysters, you are not going to have a substantial amount of seafood.

This was a disappointment. Obviously there were not a lot of oysters in this scramble. Can we even call this a scramble? It’s more of a sad not fluffy omelet. The pancetta was crispy, salty and the high point of the scramble.

After doing an hour of yoga I think I deserved something a little greaser, a little fattier and a lot yummier.

GC ordered the Monte Cristo.

IMG_1275This was the special of the day and that’s all I have to say about that. It was similar to my scramble in that it was boring, not very flavourful and did not use fresh ingredients in large quantities.

As you can tell we weren’t overly impressed with our experience at Swan Restaurant. It was diner food trying to be a bit too upscale and not succeeding at it. The highlight of that morning was the yoga which for me was truly baffling. The day that I prefer fitness to brunch is a day that should be noted and remembered. I may not have found a new favourite restaurant but I found a new exercise.

Happy munching!

Happy Birthday GC!!!!

Happy, happy birthday to my best friend in the world, GC! Ok, so his birthday was July 3rd and that is when we did celebrate, I am just slightly delayed on the internet celebrations.

My struggle with birthday dinners as someone who loves food is picking a place out of the ordinary, but still with the food and style that I like and with a price tag that shows whoever I am taking out that I love them. Yes, money buys love especially when it is buying fancy food. This year’s restaurant that satisfied all of these requirements: Farmer’s Daughter.

Farmer’s Daughter is latest addition to the Farmhouse Tavern family. As the name suggests, it is more modern, focusing on seafood and is less Ontario-centric. The menus are still seasonal and fresh, but not geographically limited. I absolutely love Farmhouse Tavern (I credit it to having my favourite brunch in the city) so I was eager to try it and so was GC!

We were first seated on the patio but as this summer has been unseasonably cold we moved inside to stay nice and toasty as we enjoyed our meal. The inside is sleek, modern and very simple. My favourite touches: the neon “Fried Shrimp & Friendship” sign, the various food related books on each table and the white board-style bar menu.

Throughout the course of our meal, we each tried two cocktails. I ordered the Tell Tale Heart and the Bruce Banner. GC ordered the Old Cuban and the Summer Sangria.

CocktailsTop left, clockwise: the Tell Tale Heart, the Old Cuban, the Summer Sangria and the Bruce Banner.

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Delux

At the start of June, I get the opportunity to celebrate the birthday of one of the greatest people of all time, Cynthia. As you know, Cynthia is great and is one of my favourite people to share food with. To celebrate this year’s birthday we went to Ossington to have dinner at Delux.

It seems unfair for me to taunt you with this deliciousness as Delux recently just closed but it really was delicious and you need to know about it. There are also talks that they are working on something new so you can look forward to that.

We started off with mojitos and decided to order two appetizers and split an entree. Our first starter was the Grilled Tiger Shrimp.

IMG_0650 IMG_0651The grilled tiger shrimp and tostones.

This was delicious. The avocado was smooth, buttery and fresh with hints of lime. The shrimp was slightly charred and smoky. It was tender and sweet. The tostones were the perfect platforms to serve all this deliciousness on. I preferred these tostones to the ones at La Cubana. They were more tender but still crispy with hints of salty, nuttiness.

Next, we had the Duck Confit Empanada.

IMG_0652The crust was flaky, buttery and tender. It carefully enveloped the soft, delicate duck. The duck was perfect – fatty, salty and tender. Raisins were dotted throughout the empanada. They were soaked, juicy and tender. They were little tidbits of sweetness sprinkled throughout the richness of the duck.

Then we had the Grilled Flat-Iron Steak.

IMG_0655 IMG_0656The grilled flat-iron steak with chimichurri and and shallots.

This was not great and the low point of the meal. We asked for the steak to be cooked medium and it came out rare. It was lightly seared on all sides and very pink, almost purple, on the inside. If the steak had been a high-quality cut of meat this wouldn’t have been a problem but it was not a good cut of meat. The meat was tough and chewy, sinews threaded throughout. Ick. The crispy shallots were the high point of the dish but the condiment should never be the high point.

And lastly, but never least, we ordered dessert. We split an order of Buttermilk Donuts.

IMG_0657

These donuts were the perfect cap to a delicious dinner. They were still warm from being fried, thickly dusted in cinnamon sugar. They were dipped in a thick cream topped with caramel.  The presentation was simple but sweet. It brought back memories of summers at The Ex eating fresh Tiny Tom Donuts. These are the best donuts I have ever eaten (sorry Tiny Tom!). I have found something I love more than churros, which I didn’t think was possible. Yummmmmms.

After dinner we headed up the street to Bellwoods Brewery to enjoy some beers and people watching – the perfect night on Ossington Avenue. Happy birthday Cynthia – it’s going to be a great year!

Happy munching!

Spring at La Carnita

We went to La Carnita a few weeks ago for a much needed date night and sampled new menu items.

We tried two new cocktails: I ordered the Jungle Bird (bottom) and GC ordered the Astroturf (top).

IMG_0172The Jungle Bird with Appletons VX, Campari, pineapple juice, lime juice and simple syrup. I need to acknowledge that I don’t love Campari and therefore cocktails with Campari are not my favourite. I liked this, but I didn’t love it. This was sweet, tart and fruity. It screams of the fruity flavours and bite that summer cocktails are known for. It tastes like a summer Negroni.

The Astroturf with Dillon’s gin, Cointreau, lime juice, Bittermen’s celery shrub, agave and soda. This was delicious. GC definitely made the better choice that evening. His drink was light, cool and refreshing. It also highlighted Dillon’s, my new favourite Canadian gin. I love the combination of gin and cucumber. The two ingredients highlight the refreshing qualities both have. Yums.

We ordered our usual selection of tacos and tried to the Tuesday special: The Squid the Kid.

IMG_0176Squid the Kid with crispy calamari, pickled green cabbage, fresh chilies and mango hot sauce.

Obviously this is amazing. The squid wa light, crispy and tender. The cabbage was tangy and crunchy. The chillies and mango hot sauce gave the taco a hot kick that makes this more than your average seafood taco. This taco is a great way to spend a Tuesday evening.

I love La Carnita – you all know that. If you haven’t been, you should go. You have no excuse – they are opening a new location in the Beaches soon! So you should go. And bring me. Happy munching!

Rock Lobster Food Co.

After a meeting with a wedding photographer on Tuesday, we decided to celebrate with dinner out at Rock Lobster Food Co.

Rock Lobster has a very Canadiana ice fishing hut feel to it: natural wood, candle light and antique prints and maps. We sat at a high top table that was very cosy and intimate. The one thing I disliked about the ambiance of the restaurant was the fact that the bar had a television. It seems like it is impossible to go to a restaurant that doesn’t have a television. The television really took away from the vibe and atmosphere that the restaurant was going for: Canadiana hipster chic.

I started out with the Rock Lobster Caesar.

Caesar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Rock Lobster Caesar with Ketel One vodka, steak spice, Clamato, Tabasco sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and a Nova Scotia lobster tail.
Photo credit: Toronto Life

This was a good Caesar but its focus was more on the decorations and presentation rather than the actual spice and flavour. I found the cocktail lacked the thickness and heat that I love. The lobster tail was a visually awesome touch but it was frozen to keep the cocktail cold. This meant you couldn’t really enjoy the lobster tail making it purely a garnish, and lobster should never be reduced to a garnish.

GC ordered the Rock Lobster Roll.Lobster RollThe Rock Lobster Roll with Yukon chips and McClure’s dill pickle.
Photo credit: Toronto Life

The lobster roll was creamy and slightly lemony. I think there could have been a touch more mayonnaise to the lobster salad and fresh herbs like dill, chives or even celery, to add a bit of fresh crunch to the salad. The bun was toasted and buttery, and gave the perfect bread to lobster salad ratio. This is not the best lobster roll in the city (that still belongs to the Buster’s Sea Cove food truck) but it’s pretty tasty. The pickle was not great and that was a huge disappointment since they made a point of specifying on the menu what brand of pickle it was. The pickle did not have enough crunch or vinegar to it.

I ordered the Lobster Mac ‘N Cheese.

Lobster Mac ‘N Cheese with fresh lobster, aged Canadian Cheddar and panko crust.
Photo Credit: Where Jesse Ate

I don’t know why I ordered the macaroni and cheese. I am a firm believer that lobster is wasted in macaroni and cheese. It’s buttery, flakiness is lost in the thick, creaminess of the pasta. The chunks of lobster were too small, and insignificantly dotted the pasta. The actual macaroni and cheese was good: thick, creamy and I loved the panko crust. The macaroni and cheese did not have the nice tang I like from a touch of mustard but that’s standard in restaurant macaroni and cheeses.

The food was good, but not to the quality you want your seafood to be. Seafood is something of an indulgence and you want the best quality. Unfortunately, Rock Lobster has left me wanting a better seafood experience. I will have to get myself some buck-a-shuck oysters soon and save up for a seafood tower at La Societé!

Happy munching!

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!

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!