Front Street Food

Last summer Front Street Foods launched outside of Union Station. It was a giant food market with various vendors that served all the tastes of Toronto conveniently in the Financial District. But it was not so convenient for me who spent part of last summer in exile at Eglinton and Mount Pleasant *shudder* and the remainder of the summer at Yonge and Bloor. I was so excited to hear that the market was back this summer but in a new location: a courtyard at Adelaide and York. Last week Giancarlo and I had a lunch date and went over to the market to check it out.

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The market is not in the greatest spot and you won’t randomly stumble across. It is up a flight of stairs and tucked in between two office towers and a hotel. But once you arrive at the market, healing it is like stepping into a city oasis. You are greeted with a large sign encouraging you to eat in large marquee letters. There are dozens of picnic tables, high tables for standing and trees to provide ample shade. We did a quick circle around the market and decided on two options: Hot Bunzz Street Cuisine and Fish’d by Edo.

IMG_6678We ordered the Seoul City Beef Short Rib and the Texas BBQ Pulled Pork bun from Hot Bunzz Street Cuisine.

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Left: The Seoul City Beef Short Rib bun with slow braised beef short rib Kobi style with caramelized onion; topped with kimchi puree, sesame soy sauce and garlic aioli.

Right: The Texas BBQ Pulled Pork bun with pulled slow roasted pork with caramelized onion, herbs and spices; topped with chef’s Pork BBQ sauce and coleslaw aioli.

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Brunch: My Top 10 Picks for Toronto

Brunch is my favourite meal to eat out. I like arriving before the crowds and enjoying a nice, leisurely meal and good conversation. I like ordering something ridiculous and massive off the menu and feeling satisfied until dinner. I like getting my caffeine fix for the week in the matter of an hour or two as I down four or five cups of coffee. I like restaurants that have a comfortable and homey décor and feel to them but with an interesting menu. I don’t want to eat a “big breakfast” with eggs, toast and three types of breakfast meat. I want something I can’t make at home or something that I can’t be bothered to make at home because it will dirty about 27 different dishes. I want a restaurant that is in an interesting neighbourhood, somewhere I want to wander in and out of shops for the rest of the afternoon looking at furniture, records and prints.

On this list you won’t find anything east of Yonge Street. The west is my Toronto. I know that is terrible and very limiting but its brunch. I don’t want to waste an hour or more of my time trying to get to the East End to have brunch at Lady Marmalade only to wait another hour or more in line. I will acknowledge that Lady Marmalade is delicious, unique and cozy. But it’s not my favourite. If I ever move east of Yonge Street this list will dramatically change but for now, west is best.

10. Smith

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Ok, I lied. Smith is east of Yonge. I have only been to Smith once for brunch but I was completely enamoured by it when we visited. It was a quiet fall afternoon, just a few weeks before our wedding and we were seated on one of the most romantic and cozy patios in the city. The patio has taken over a back alley and looks out onto a side street just off Church Street. We were alone on the patio which allowed us to take in everything: the exposed brick walls, the various textures and patterns on the cushions, the lights strung up in a zigzag pattern over head, the single piece of lavender in a antique porcelain cabinet knob turned vase on the rustic wooden table. The whole atmosphere was so simple but so well thought out and put together. This attention to detail and capturing of comfort in décor would translate into the capturing of comfort and warmth into the food.

The Eggs Benedict manages to turn an already adult breakfast item into an even more sophisticated and decadent meal. Instead of traditional hollandaise sauce, the Benedict is drenched in a parmesan leek fondue. Any restaurant that is going to allow me to justify eating fondue at 10 am on a weekend morning is a place that warrants another visit.
I also consider this restaurant worthy of a top-ten spot because Smith is one of the preferred brunch spots of Al and I trust her opinion on most everything.

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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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Aunties & Uncles

We all have those restaurants that we pass on a daily or weekly basis that look interesting and cause us to think, “I really should try that place.” My place like that was Aunties & Uncles.

Aunties & Uncles is around the corner from GC’s work so I have been seeing it regularly for the past 6 years. Every time I pass it, whether it be morning or afternoon, during the week or a weekend, it is packed. Finally, after 6 years, we decided to see what all the fuss was about. The first time we tried to go, we arrived about half an hour after it opened and the place was packed with a lineup about 6 people deep. We decided to move along. Our second attempt was a success. We arrived right as the restaurant opened and were immediately seat.

IMG_1025This restaurant is kistchy and cute. It has an assortment retro kitchenware, memorabilia and vintage furniture. It is cozy, nostalgic and comfortable. This comfort translates into the food and makes for food that warms your belly and your soul.

GC ordered the Breakfast Pocket.

IMG_1026 IMG_1027The Breakfast Pocket with scrambled eggs, peameal bacon, cheddar, tomato and caramelized onions with dijon and aioli on a foccacia.

I ordered the Breakfast Tacos.

IMG_1028 IMG_1029The Breakfast Tacos with scrambled eggs, pinto beans, cheddar, house-made chorizo sausage and cilantro sour cream on soft corn tortillas.

Tacos should be eaten at every meal of the day. This is the best breakfast taco I have had. It perfectly combines breakfast items with taco awesomeness. The eggs and cheddar are breakfast items that meld wonderfully with all the Mexican-taco goodness. My favourite part was how the cilantro was incorporated into the sour cream. It makes for a creamy, citrus sauce. I would drizzle, dip and coat everything in this sauce. These are delicious and I want to eat them again and again.

We both loved this restaurant. It is simple, cozy and has delicious food – the great way to spend a weekend morning. After our brunch we headed over to the Evergreen Brick Works for the Junction Flea, the farmer’s market and a walk.

IMG_1032 IMG_1035Happy 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!

Barrio Coreano

The holidays have come and gone and that means life can return to normal. Normal to me means eating good food with good people: on Wednesday night Cynthia and I went to Barrio Coreano.

Barrio Coreano is Playa Cabana‘s fourth restaurant that is Korean-Mexican fusion food. The vibe is the same as their other locations: funky, eclectic and a mix of found items and repurposed items. The menus are written on the wall without descriptions, a trend I hate, but we have an overly excitable server who explained every menu item in depth. We started out with cocktails and guacamole, a must at any Mexican restaurant. We then had three tacos each ($5/taco, pretty standard) and more cocktails.

The Yuzu Tuna taco.

Yuzu Tuna TacoPhoto Credit: Toronto Life
The Yuzu Tuna taco with tempura fried ahi tuna with jicama, purple cabbage slaw and yuzu dressing.

The fish was flaky, tender and slightly sweet in a gentle covering of batter. The slaw was sweet and crunchy. The jalapeno peppers added a kick of heat that added a deeper layer of flavour and cohesion to the taco. This was tasty but still, my favourite fish taco is still at La Carnita.

The Grilled Octopus with Wasabi Salsa.

Octopus TacoPhoto Credit: Toronto Life
Grilled octopus taco with wasabi, daikon and avocado pico de gallo.

The octopus was tender and citrusy, grilled lightly to ensure it wasn’t rubbery and tough. The wasabi added a unique heat to the taco which added a deeper level of depth of flavour then your traditional heat inducers don’t add. The avocado added creaminess. The flavours and textures of this taco were complex but working in perfect harmony together.

The Korean Beef Taco Beef TacoPhoto Credit: Toronto Life
Korean Beef taco with Korean barbecue beef with house-pickled pears

This was my favourite of the three tacos. The beef was tender and easy to bite into. It was juicy and the sauce was spicy but sweet. Korean flavours start of as sweet and then hit you with a subtle heat that builds through the meal. The house-pickled pears reinforced the Korean theme of the taco and add a fresh, cool, crispiness that helped ease the spicy burn with every bite.

I really enjoyed my meal here. The cocktails were different and unique, but still well priced. The tacos had a real depth of flavour that made them complex but still enjoyable and not too overpowering. And of course, the company was unparalleled.

Definitely worth the trip to Koreatown – 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… Again…

I am determined to try all the tacos at Playa Cantina. We went for tacos (yes, tadalafil again) last weekend and I enjoyed three new tacos.

IMG_4662The Venera Frita: Fried scallop, drug toronja salsita, try pickled jicama

IMG_4770The Langosta: Half lobster, platano coleslaw

IMG_4771The Pulpo: Chipotle grilled octopus, Spanish chorizo pico

My favourite was the pulpo. It was a perfect combination of spice and texture. It was extremely filling. I typically order 3 tacos but if the pulpo is one of them, I suggest you order just 2.

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!

Milagro – Part II

Before Easter my sisters, order GC and I went for dinner at Milagro.

Milagro - IITop left, clockwise: Tacos Rosarito with sauteed shrimp, refritos, crema, aguacate and salsa rosarito.

Trio botanero: guacamole, refritos and pico de gallo.

Tacos la Perla with battered snapper, tropical slaw, and chile crema.

Panela Burrito with arroz, refritos, guacamole, chipotle-mayo, jalapeno and fresh cheese a la plancha.

As per usual, everything at Milagro was delicious. Highlights for me included the refried beans (both on their own and in tacos), the housemade tortilla chips, the shrimp in the rosarito taco, and the corn that came with the burrito.

Next time, I swear, I will order something other than fish tacos.

Happy munching!