Wilbur Mexicana Restaurant

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

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

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

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

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The Pressed Cubano from La Cubana

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

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

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

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

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

Happy munching!

Easter 2016

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

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

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Sabai Sabai

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next we enjoyed the housemade spicy lao sausage.

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

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

The Khao soi.

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

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

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

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

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

Happy munching!

A3 Napoli

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

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

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Dirty Bird Chicken + Waffles

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

Torteria San Cosme

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

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

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

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

I ordered the Cubana sandwich.

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

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

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

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

GC ordered the Milanesa sandwich.

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

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

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

Happy munching!!!

Coffee

For a long time there was a common misconception that I didn’t like coffee: I don’t drink coffee every morning, I don’t own a coffee maker and my hot beverage of choice is tea.

IMG_3395Latte from Buds Coffee Bar in The Beaches.

IMG_5154Latte from Sorry Coffee Co. in Yorkville.

When I was in high school and everyone was starting to drink coffee, I made a conscious decision to not become a coffee drinker. I didn’t want to become reliant on coffee. I didn’t want to wake up and be a zombie until I had a cup of coffee. I would enjoy the sugar-packed, whipped cream covered coffees from Starbucks on late night coffee dates with the girls but no other coffee.

IMG_3422Flat White from Early Bird Espresso & Brew Bar on Queen West.

IMG_5219Americano from Portland Variety on King West.

In university I spent hours in Second Cup but again, not drinking coffee. Al worked at Second Cup and would fill espresso cups with whipped cream, caramel sauce and chocolate shavings – if and when I get diabetes, I will clearly point to events like this. Coffee was still a vehicle for ridiculous, sugary toppings and not about the coffee itself.

IMG_3435Latte and cranberry scone from I Deal Coffee, uptown.

My love for coffee began with my love of brunch. I switched from orange juice to coffee in order to take advantage of free refills and longer brunches. One cup of coffee slowly turned into two or three and sometimes even coffee before brunches.

IMG_3590Latte and biscotti from Fabricca at Shops at Don Mills.

In 2015 my brunch habits changed. It wasn’t financially viable or healthy to continue with my excessive brunching ways. While I still brunch more than most people, I have taken to going for coffee on weekend mornings with Giancarlo. We are discovering the city, grabbing coffee and visiting different neighbourhoods.

IMG_3920Chai latte from Boxcar Social in Summerhill.

IMG_5388Latte and empanadas from Odin Hus on King East.

Anyone who knows me, knows I don’t go east of Yonge. But lately, you can find me there on weekends. The East side of Toronto has so many more coffee shops and the coffee shops are not all clean, simple and modern. They future coffees brewed with local blends and treats that go beyond your typical scones and croissants. They are big, lofty spaces, conducive to long sits alone or with someone.

IMG_5486Flat white for him and chai latte for me from Boxcar Social in Riverside.

IMG_5430Flat White from Crafted Coffee on Ossington Avenue.

We are working on our coffee game at home. We have the traditional Italian Moka machine and a larger espresso maker. We are making espressos and lattes. I want to take a latte art course and buy a coffee bean grinder to make the freshest coffees. I want to perfect my biscotti recipe (actually, find a biscotti recipe and make it my own) and constantly have some sort of treat to accompany a good cup of coffee. I want our house to be the type of house where people can randomly drop by and there will be coffee and pastries/desserts to be enjoyed.

IMG_5492My relationship with coffee has revealed how great coffee can be. Coffee can be sipped from a huge mug while snuggled on the couch with a good book. An espresso can be enjoyed in the backyard in the summer while looking on to a homegrown tomato garden. A latte can be clutched while strolling in and out of vintage shops on Queen West or Queen East.

The city can be discovered through good cups of coffee.

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!

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!