Tag Archives: review

Review: Acadia Restaurant

3 Nov

I have been drooling at the prospect of going to Acadia for a few months now.  As more and more reviews from fellow food enthusiasts came pouring in, they made me want to drop everything and head over to Little Italy as quickly as I could. The opportunity arose to go this week and I made damn sure that my reservations were secure.

Nestled into a cozy space on Clinton St. just north of College, Acadia couldn’t be a more welcoming place. Exposed brick walls and beautiful hardwood floors make the space look modern, but not overly trendy.  We arrived at 7:30 to find the place bustling with the din of happy diners from various demographics: families, dates, friends, coworkers, young, middle-aged, older, men, women…you name them, they were probably there.

We were shown to our table beside the open kitchen – a concept with which I am completely in love. Far from the insane, noisy, distracting clatter you  might anticipate, it was the exact opposite. Everyone in the kitchen was clearly in sync with each other with nary a raised voice or dropped implement. It makes for a fascinating floor show. We were offered several kinds of water – no, really – but opted for plain ol’ tap. (Hasn’t killed us yet.) We pored over the drink menu which is extensive, to say the least. The craft beer selection on draught is excellent and we opted for the Flying Monkey and Spearhead Hawaiian Style. Like everything else we’d try that night, we were pleasantly surprised at the quality.

Finally: down to the food. How to choose? Chef Matt Blondin’s menu is not a massive one, allowing the kitchen to focus on producing high quality dishes. We were under strict instructions to try the shrimp & grits, so that was already decided. It was a toss up between the halibut cheeks and the scallops (how often does one get to say that?) and eventually the latter won out. For our mains, we opted for the fish dishes:  yellow snapper with chanterelles mushrooms, bacon and Sea Island red peas and the Yarmouth albacore with blackened spices,  celery maque-choux, brown butter hollandaise and tarragon. We also got a side of farro “succotash” with wild mushrooms and truffle oil to share.

I began with the scallops while my husband dug into the shrimp and grits. The scallops were cooked to perfection. Beautifully seared on the outside, they were soft and unctuous on the inside. Paired with chicken crackling (chicken skin is one of those things I crave…), parmesan crisps and basil leaves, the whole dish was not only delicious, but complimentary. Each element played off the other: salt, sweetness, crunch, smoothness. I didn’t think another app could top it. Then I started on my half of the shrimp and grits. I…was wrong. THIS was spectacular. Served in a ham hock broth, the creamy grits are laced with a savoury pimento cheese. At the bottom of the dish, perfectly cooked shrimp make for a perfect comfort food bite. I seriously considered cancelling the rest of our order to order six more bowls of this.

Next to arrive was the albacore tuna. The plating itself was gorgeous with the pieces of fish arranged artfully on the plate that sat between us, dressed with a stellar brown butter hollandaise sauce. I don’t know how I could go back to regular hollandaise sauce now, it was that good. The fish was pink on the inside, just as it should be and the accompaniments served to enhance, rather than detract, from the fish. The yellow snapper was excellent as well, especially with the incredibly crispy double-smoked bacon, but I must say that I thought the albacore was the better of the two. I can’t imagine any diner being upset with either dish, though, and our scraped-clean plates told that story more clearly than anything else could.

But let us not forget the farro “succotash” that I’d say was more risotto-like than anything. In my opinion, that is a very, very good thing. It was the definition of earthy deliciousness: truffle, mushrooms and grain. I’m sure the cornbread and collard greens are great, but trust me on this one…get the farro. Maybe two.

Finally, we ended our meal with a couple of Blanche de Chambly’s and opted to split the poached Bartlett pear with a cake consisting of condensed milk as well as some pumpernickel crisps and creme fraiche ice cream.  It was a lovely way to end the meal: not too heavy and, once again, well-showcased ingredients that complimented each other in terms of flavour and texture.

Where many restaurants might be showing you the door once your meal is complete, we did not feel rushed at all. Overall, the service was very good: the wait staff was knowledgeable, friendly and invisible when it needed to be. There was a great buzz in the room from the beginning of our meal to the end roughly two hours later, and I have no doubt it continued right to closing. The food was top notch, the service excellent. I’m sorry I waited so long to go, but won’t be waiting that long to return.

*pictures above are not mine.
Acadia on Urbanspoon

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Holy Chuck, That Was a Tasty Burger

6 Oct

I happen to be lucky enough to work for a company that does a grocery order every week, negating my need to seek out or bring lunch with me 95% of the time. On those days when I just don’t want to make something with my own two hands,  I can venture out and have my choice of Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, deli, Italian, health food….it goes on. I tend to opt for the deli or Vietnamese; however, when invited out by a friend to try the brand-spankin’ new burger place in the work ‘hood, who am I to say no?

Holy Chuck Burger opened on Yonge St. just south of St. Clair and has been attracting a steadily growing number of customers. The owners are clearly aiming to make it a fun place to pop in and happily chat with customers as they chow down on messy, delicious, occasionally-gigantic burgers. On my maiden Holy Chuck burger voyage I opted for the cheeseburger (two patties) with caramelized onions, ketchup, mustard, lettuce & tomato. Adding in the fries was definitely a good idea but sharing them with my lunch companion was an even better idea. I’m sure I could’ve finished them, but I suspect it’s for the best I didn’t. They were hot, perfectly fried and nicely seasoned with salt and parsley. All in all, the cheeseburger was pretty much the perfect size for me: while filling, it’s not so gluttonous that you couldn’t eat more than one a month.

Photo courtesy of Eyeline Imagery.

The cheeseburger itself was a glorious mess and I mean that in the best way possible. The griddle-cooked beef was crispy on the outside but still juicy on the inside as evidenced by the trail it left running down my hands. You’re going to need napkins, people, and plenty of them. If the burger isn’t juicy, why would you want it anyway?

And did my lunch partner and I stop at the burger and fries? Oh, hell no. We went in for the deep-fried Twinkie for dessert. As I exclaimed to Johnny, the joint’s co-owner, it’s like a deep-fried sugar bomb and that is just fine by me. My friend and I agreed that we felt like we should be at a fair eating this slightly insane dessert. Considering that the cold weather is on its way, this might be the perfect way to recreate some summertime memories! I understand that there is also a concoction involving bacon-wrapped cookie dough that is battered and deep-fried (notice a delicious, fatty theme here, folks?). I can hear your arteries hardening and your drool hitting the ground.

I am so happy that we have such a fun place in the neighbourhood to go. I understand there are some changes to come, but rest assured that the classics will remain on the menu and there are vegetarian options that look great! If you’re in the area – or even if you’re not – get yourself over to Holy Chuck Burgers. Don’t forget to grab a ton of napkins – you will make a mess.

Holy Chuck on Urbanspoon
 

Review: Guu Izakaya

12 Sep

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Have you ever walked into a restaurant and thought to yourself, “Well, this is going to be different”? It’s an exciting feeling that doesn’t happen all that often; but, walking into Guu Izakaya on Church St., I was definitely overcome by that thought.  Everyone who enters and exits gets a loud greeting and goodbye from the entire staff. A bit overwhelming, but it certainly sets the tone for your evening. The place is an absolute nuthouse in the best possible way.

That evening, I was having dinner with my brother and a friend. We were lucky enough to get seats within a few minutes upon arriving, a rare feat as I understand it. Guu features communal dining, with long tables that seat around 15 – 20 people, as well as seats at the bar where you can watch the chefs work. There is a two-hour time limit for diners and often a 1-2 hour wait for a seat. If you can, go early or prepare to cool your heels for a while. I promise you that it will be worth it.

My two dining companions had been to Guu before so they did the bulk of the ordering. They ordered the best dishes they’d had before and also took cues from our tablemates who’d ordered some fascinating dishes. The menu is set up tapas-style, a fantastic way to sample all sorts of delicious creations. We ordered eight dishes for the three of us which was just about right and all were quite reasonably priced.

The first to arrive was the decidedly (and awesomely) decadent deep-fried brie served with a mango and blueberry sauce.  The four pyramid-shaped morsels were golden and crispy on the outside and gooey, rich deliciousness on the inside. Like, eyes-rolling-in-the-back-of-your-head-good. Next up: the salmon sashimi. Melt in your mouth greatness. It’s one of those simple dishes that really sings based on the merits of great, high quality ingredients.

On to the bacon-wrapped scallops and enoki mushrooms. Holy. Smokes. Bacon-wrapped anything is a winner in my books (see: A’s Awesome Bacon-Wrapped Water Chestnuts), but here the contrasting textures played against each other so beautifully. Paired with the salty pork, the sweet scallop and earthy mushrooms, this dish was so good that it was tempting to cancel the rest of our order and have nothing but this for the rest of the night.

The beef carpaccio was placed before our wide eyes next and it was a lovely, bright contrast to the richness of the dish before. Served with with ponzu, wasabi, mayo & garlic chips, this rare beef was light and, somehow, refreshing. It was nice to have a lighter bite after the richness of the scallops before.

It was at this point in our meal that I noticed a crowd of waiters pause from their constant, frenetic activity. Then I spotted a server with a slice of cake with a candle in it. Guu’s birthday celebrations put Chuck E. Cheese to shame. Not only did the wait staff lead the entire restaurant in a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday”, encouraging everyone to clap and sing along, but even the insanely busy chefs  joined in. At one point, they had the lights flickering on and off. Utter celebrational pandemonium and it was amazing.

Once the place had settled down a little (to be clear, Guu is the least settled place on the planet), the strangest creation of the evening appeared at our table. It was roughly the size of a softball, deep fried and had a wooden knife protruding from the centre. We wracked our brains trying to figure out if we had actually ordered it, decided we hadn’t and dug in anyway. What it turned out to be was a Japanese scotch egg with a layer of pureed pumpkin surrounding a hard-boiled egg. While I was skeptical initially – I’m not a big pumpkin fan, much to the horror of many of my friends – the combination of the creamy pumpkin, rich egg, crispy exterior and tangy sauce was downright addictive. We just about scraped the plate with out chopsticks long after other dishes had been cleared away.

When the spare ribs arrived, it was allI could do to refrain from gobbling them all up myself. The marinated beef was tender and salty, having surely been marinated for quite some time. If you’re a fan of spare ribs, these are a can’t-miss.

The final dishes of the night were the decadent, baked oysters and the light, miso-glazed black cod, a personal favourite of my brother’s. We ordered the oysters because we saw them arrive for another group at our table and they looked so unique! Kind of a twist on oysters Rockefeller, they’re served with spinach and mushrooms, smothered in a potent mayo-garlic sauce and topped with melted cheese…all in a giant shell. This was a thing of glorious, messy beauty. The mushrooms nestled in the there made for an umami bomb of a bite. Definitely give this one a shot, my friends. It’s weird and tasty and I’ve never seen it anywhere else.

Not only was this one of the best meals I’ve had all year, it was by far and away the most fun. Unquestionably, the company helped but the atmosphere at Guu is like none other. It’s not the place to go for a quiet, intimate dinner; it’s the place to go when you want to try innovative, playful and truly remarkable dishes at a pretty reasonable cost. The place is positively brimming with excitement and energy. I can’t wait to go back and try all the dishes I missed on the first go ’round.

Review: La Cascina

18 Jul

Every neighbourhood needs a La Cascina: a neighbourhood restaurant run by friendly, accessible owners who produce delicious, vibrant dishes and a welcoming, cozy, fun atmosphere. (Yes, it really is all of those things.) We have been going for about a year now and we are never disappointed. Everything from the variety of antipasti dishes at the beginning to the decadent desserts at the end is plate-scrapingly great.  We have always found the staff to be accommodating and knowledgeable, not to mention charming without fawning ridiculously over clients.

Our first meal there was a three course prix fixe seafood menu that is now a monthly special. The tuna croquettes were the stand out of the five antipasti dishes, but there wasn’t a morsel left in any of the five small bowls that had been brought to the table. Next up was the linguine vongole, or linguine with clams. The homemade pasta was cooked to a perfect al dente and the brininess from the clams was perfect. Salty deliciousness, I tells ya. The main was a beautiful piece of seared trout, with crispy skin that crackled as you cut into it. I said it then and I’ll say it now: it was probably the best piece of fish I’d ever been served.

After that stellar meal, there was no doubt we’d found a new neighbourhood fave. Subsequent visits have only reaffirmed how much we love the place. Their Valentine’s Day menu was an ambitious, mouth-watering, seven-course extravaganza with oysters, cheese plates, risotto, pasta, mains (choice of lamb or halibut…we had one of each) with a side of unbelievably great roasted potatoes and a dessert. (nb – the potatoes were SO good that when the chef came out to say hello, J grilled him on how he did it and then spent the next two weeks trying to perfect it at home. Mission: accomplished, by the way.)

When my birthday rolled around, J asked what I’d like to do and I replied that I’d love to have dinner at La Cascina. So off J went and discussed with the front of house maven, the fabulous Sharifa, what could be done for a special dinner. We were greeted by our very enthusiastic and sweet waitress who showed us to the prime table by the open, garage-door-type window where we could watch the world walk by. The meal opened with the usual complimentary bread with house-made pecorino oil (crazy hot, I must warn you) and then the five antipasti dishes arrived: braised fennel with cheese & onions; roasted zucchini cooked with almonds;  potato gratin; baccala w/ red peppers; and eggplant. Now, I must admit that I am not normally a fan of eggplant. But this? THIS was delicious. It was creamy and beautifully seasoned. If anyone can get me to like eggplant, it’s going to be chef Luca.

And that's just to start.

Next up was the absolutely-to-die-for ricotta ravioli smothered in truffles. As always, the pasta itself was made well and cooked perfectly; but that truffle kicker? Holy smokes. This particular dish had been on the Valentine’s Day menu and became an instant favourite. The pungent, earthy truffles don’t overwhelm the homemade pasta, but they certainly do enhance it. J and I each had four nicely-sized pieces and probably could have eaten fifty more, but then we wouldn’t have any room for what was to come next…

Hello, truffles. I love you.

Following that fantastic pasta course, a plate of beautifully seared arctic char arrived…..once again, slathered in truffles. This is the way to eat, my friends. The fish had a beautifully fatty layer just under a crispy skin, and the orange/ruby flesh melted in our mouths. The fish alone would have been wonderful; the layer of truffles on top was excessive decadence in the best way possible. It was so good, I took a piece of bread and sopped up the teeny remnants on my plate.

Delectability.

After that kind of dish, what could the kitchen possibly serve that would top it? I’ve had desserts at La Cascina before, so I knew I was in for something good. What I didn’t know was that a luscious, creamy panna cotta topped with berries was headed to the table.  Oh, drool. We devoured every little bit of that dessert, happily scraping up the last little bits and then contentedly sitting back to ponder the wonderful meal we’d just had.

Dessert of Champions

La Cascina is one of those restaurants that you don’t come across that often: it balances local ingredients with authentic flavours in a welcoming, warm environment. It’s a somewhere you want to hang out for hours and I have.  (I went in the fall with a girlfriend and we sat for HOURS eating and drinking wine and never once felt like we were being nudged out the door, which is more than I can say from some other local restaurants.) They often have live music and from 5pm-6pm on weekdays you can pop in for a drink and free appetizers. The menu changes from week to week, so some faith in the kitchen is required. On average, there are generally a couple of pasta options, a meat/fish course and sides to be ordered. If they have the figs, honey & cheese plate available, get it! Or the gnocchi with lamb ragu. Or…well, I could go on.

I can’t recommend this place highly enough: it’s one my absolute favourite spots in the city.

La Cascina on Urbanspoon

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