Tag Archives: Toronto

Eating With My Hands at Lamesa

23 Oct

Any chance I get, I love to eat my food with my hands. Bacon? I eat with my hands. Scrambled eggs? Piled on toast and eaten with my hands. I have been known to eat gooey, rich chocolate cake with my hands and no one can convince me otherwise that it doesn’t make for a more joyful experience. (You people and your cutlery-for-pizza ways? I do not understand you.) So when I was invited to take part in a kamayan dinner at Lamesa last night, I was genuinely excited. Sitting down at a table draped with banana leaves and eventually adorned with brightly coloured, intensely flavoured food is my idea of a great dinner. Every Sunday, Lamesa is offering this kamayan (translated, means “hand to mouth”) dinner for a very reasonable $40/person that would be great for everyone: a group of friends, a family, a date. Best to make reservations and to know that this is not a fast meal: the idea is to sit with those you care about to share and enjoy a meal together. It’s a Filipino tradition that the owners and chefs want to bring to our awesome city and I think it’s a fabulous addition. It’s a feast for the senses.

Refreshments in hand, our table watched (and drooled) while head chef Rudy Boquilla and chef de cuisine Joash Dy elegantly placed the four different sauces on top of the banana leaves. First was the bagoong caramel, a fermented shrimp paste, followed by a soy garlic puree, sawsawan gel and housemade hot sauce. The sawasan gel was a table fave: thick, sweet and salty, it was made with soy, vinegar and garlic. Every once in a while, I would find another little pocket of it hidden under rice and I’d swipe whatever bite of food I had in my fingers through it. They could bottle and sell this stuff.


Next to be served was a salad comprised of sour mango, arugula, radish and pretty heirloom carrots paired with mango chutney. This was followed by a sisig lettuce cup: iceberg lettuce piled high with chopped chicken, pork and beef cooked with chili, garlic and onions. Light and crunchy, these were light bites that helped to balance the rich meats that were to come.


In the middle of the table, chef Dy spread out generous heaps of garlic fried rice topped with crispy garlic bits. On top of the rice, mussels and clams cooked in a broth of coconut milk, ginger and garlic. In between the shellfish, smoked, boneless bangus (marinated milkfish) were artfully placed. The smokiness of the fish and the brininess of the shellfish were making our mouths water. Next to come was the hands-down winner of the night: the crispy chicken adobo wings. This is not to say that the kare kare oxtail (braised in a peanut garlic sauce) wasn’t succulent and beautiful, because it was; but, this chicken was incredible. Maybe the best fried chicken in the city. A grand statement, to be sure, but it has to be tasted to be believed.




The array: smoked fish, mussels, corn, oxtail, chicken adobo wings, rice, kale chip, pea shoots, lettuce cup and chicken tinola broth.


Halved calamansi, pickled egg and mango chutney.


Not to be left out were the grilled corn, bok choy, kale chips, sweet purple yam cornbread, pickled egg and fresh calamansi that dotted the table. To say this was an epic meal would almost do it a disservice. It was a fun meal. A balanced meal. An “I am so full but can’t stop eating” meal. An “oh my god, did you try this with that??” meal. A meal one does not soon forget. Check out Lamesa at 669 Queen St. W., just west of Bathurst. They will be putting on the kamayan dinners every Sunday night – don’t forget to make reservations!







Fresh Canteen Grocery Service

16 Sep

You worked all day. Getting home in rush hour is a hassle and you just didn’t have the time or desire to hit the grocery store. You’re home now and you’re starving. You want to have something healthy for dinner but you don’t have all the ingredients you need so you throw your hands up in the air and pick up the phone and order delivery.

Let’s rewrite this scenario:  you worked all day. Getting home in rush hour is a hassle and you just didn’t have the time or desire to hit the grocery store. You’re home now and you’re starving. You want to have something healthy for dinner…so on your way in the door you pick up the box of ingredients you ordered from Fresh Canteen and prepare yourself a healthy, flavourful, properly portioned meal.

This second scenario sounds more appealing, non?

From six possible entree options, I tried out the Jamaican chicken dinner. The box was delivered Tuesday afternoon and I received an email notification when it arrived. (Note: in speaking with owner Matt O’Leary , he told me that the boxes are packaged with materials and ice packs that allow the ingredients to remain unrefrigerated for up to 24 hours. Additionally, all the materials are recyclable. ) When I got home, I opened up the box to find all the ingredients I would need: two chicken breasts, pineapple salsa vegetables and herbs, 1/2 cup of quinoa and individually packaged spices. Included in the box was a step-by-step recipe card with clear instructions and pictures.

fc box

Food is snug as a bug in its recyclable packaging.

fc menu

Helpful recipe card.

The whole meal, from the time I opened the box to the time I sat down to eat, took 40 minutes. It didn’t require me to use any special kitchen tools and the only things I needed from my own pantry were salt, pepper and vegetable oil.  I wondered if there would really be enough food for two of us but we were quite full – in fact, there actually might have been too much salsa. That being said, having extra red pepper and pineapple salsa on hand is not a bad thing: it makes for a good snack later!

fc chicken

fc veg

fc final

Fresh Canteen is serving most of the GTA thus far, delivering a package of three meals once per week. “We know people are going to order out, too,” Matt tells me, “but at least they can have enough food in the fridge for a few days so they can eat healthy meals at home.” FC is a great service for those who love to cook but don’t always have the time to get to the grocery store. Each week the menu options change and there are fish, chicken, beef and vegetarian dishes from which you can choose. Check them out, folks. It’s a great service run by friendly, knowledgeable people who care about your food as much as you do.

Distillery District’s Mexican Fare: El Catrin

2 Aug

I had the pleasure to attend the opening night of El Catrin, the new restaurant replacing The Boiler House in Toronto’s Distillery District. The massive space has been transformed into a fabulous south-of-the-border(s) venue with a massive mural taking up the entire north wall. It has to be seen in person to be believed, but here’s a shot from my perch at one of the high-tops:


The Mexico City-born chef, Olivier de Calvez, and his team prepared an eight-course tasting menu for the launch, each item paired with an impressive cocktail. We started off with fresh tortillas and table-side guacamole with three salsas ranging from mild to hot and nueces picante: mixed roasted nuts rubbed with Mexican spices.  The peanuts and walnuts were a big hit at the table, with many of us squirrelling them away in our bags to snack on later. Accompanying this course was the enormous traditional margarita. In all honesty, tequila and I are not amigos so I am not a great judge of a good margarita; however, those who like them reported back that it was excellent.

Evil margarita.

Evil margarita.

The second course of the night had what I considered one of the best dishes we had that night: ceviche de atun. The beautiful ahi tuna ceviche was done up simply with lime juice, olive oil, watermelon and habanero. It was light, refreshing and I would have been thrilled to eat five or six more servings of it. It was served with a pepino diablo, a tequila-based drink traditionally made with cucumber, jalapeno, pineapple juice and basil. The glass was rimmed with spiced salt and the tequila was not overpowering. Along with those five or six additional ceviche dishes, I could have had as many of this drink. Happily.

Ahi tuna ceviche

Ahi tuna ceviche

Pepino diablo

Pepino diablo

Next up were the Mexican staple tacos al pastor: shredded pork marinated in pineapple and axiote topped with cilantro and chopped onion. It paired nicely with the fuego sandia, a popular drink at our table made with watermelon, tequila and some heat. Nicely balanced, this was my second favourite drink of the evening. Brought out shortly after the pork tacos was my absolute hands-down winner of the evening: tostada de higado de pato. Seared foie gras placed on top of a freshly-made tostada and served with a mezcal mango syrup, poblano and pickled red onion. By turn sumptuous, crunchy, spicy and rich, this was a stand out of the night. I was not as big a fan of the accompanying drink, however, the hibisco rosa. Unfortunately, all I could taste was the rosewater which gave the drink a soapy taste. Some people quite liked it; I couldn’t do more than a couple of sips.

Foie gras tostada

Foie gras tostada

Fuego sandia

Fuego sandia

A lovely, light cactus salad followed and then camarones al ajillo, jumbo shrimp sautéed with guajillo pepper, garlic, lime juice, white wine served over red rice, black bean purée and guacamole. The shrimp was plump and beautifully cooked but the guacamole needed more salt and a little more lime juice.



Our final main was a gorgeous braised short rib with black mole sauce, sweet potato purée and sugar snap peas. The meat was incredibly tender and the mole was lovely and complex with the warm, rich flavours you should expect of the complex, multi-ingredient sauce.

Braised short rib

Braised short rib

Topping off the indulgent evening were two desserts: the classic churros and a barra de chocolat, which is best described as a Mexican Nanaimo bar. It was spiced and smoked with hazelnuts and chocolate and I was in love after one bite. The heat sneaks up on you after a couple of bites which is fine by me. If you’re not a fan of spicy food, you might want to stick with the churros and their chocolate, cajeta and strawberry sauces.

Churros and Mexican chocolate bars.

Churros and Mexican chocolate bars.

No doubt, El Catrin will do well in its spot in the Distillery. There is a fabulous, sprawling patio with separate bars and a fire pit for chilly fall evenings.  There is a separate room for private parties and the bar itself is quite lovely. There was a great buzz in the air at the launch, and not just due to the copious tequila- and rum-based beverages. Should you go – and you should – do not miss the ceviche, the short rib or the foie gras tostada.

Spotlight Series: Korean Village

27 Jun

This is the second in a series of monthly posts about some of my favourite smaller spots in Toronto.  I love getting to know the people behind the great food we have in this city!

You can’t miss Korean Village Restaurant. Even in a sea of Korean restaurants and stores, it stands out with its huge yellow sign. Located just west of Palmerston on Bloor, Korean Village is an institution. Opened in 1978 by a Korean pop star and her husband, it catered to other newly-immigrated Korean families and its popularity steadily rose to the point where, now, film executives and stars pop in for dinner during TIFF or whenever they happen to be in town. (As you walk in, you’ll see walls adorned with many, many autographed pictures of stars and the owners.)

Chances are that if you spend an evening here – and they’re open 365 days a year – you’re likely to meet Jason Lee, son to the owners, server extraordinaire, occasional manager and jack of all trades. Jason is the kind of warm, charming presence that makes a restaurant stand out over its competitors. I had the chance to sit down with him not long ago and he impressed upon me how important his job is to him and his enthusiasm for customer service is astounding. He is happy to make recommendations to first-timers who might be overwhelmed by Korean Village’s immense, 12-page  menu. What is he most proud of? “The beef ribs are my personal favourite,” Jason says. Marinated for hours and hours, I can attest that they are tender and rich. I actually forgot myself and started eating my portion before taking this picture…

Beef short ribs

Having been here before, and after talking to numerous people who have as well, I couldn’t argue. The sides are especially great: the kimchi, pickled cucumbers, bean sprouts and spicy pickles are all made expertly, with a nice crunch. If you order the bbq platter – and I recommend you do. It’s leaps and bounds above the chain Korean bbq spots – all these sides will come with it and they are a wonderful accompaniment.

Fabulous – and partially eaten – side dishes.

The kitchen takes a lot of pride in their dishes and make just about everything by hand including the outstanding dumplings. Do not miss these lightly fried delights, stuffed with beef, green onions and various spices.

Other specialties of the house? “I often recommend the bibimbap and sweet potato noodles,” Jason explained. Both are traditional dishes and you could certainly do worse. I happened to love bibimbap and I will certainly be trying this the next time I go.

I have no doubt that most other restaurants in Korea Town have many of the same dishes but going to Korean Village Restaurant is such a fun experience, one that Jason, his parents and the entire staff works hard to maintain. I have heard stories of first dates, business dinners, late-night-not-entirely-sober-drop-ins and massive groups all showing up at the restaurant, all to be shown a great time with delicious food. I do not pretend to be an afficionado of Korean food, but I know what I like: I like great food and great service. I have found both in spades here. Both Jason and his mother are gracious hosts who genuinely want their guests to enjoy themselves. “My mom told me to be a hawk,” explained Jason. “Pay attention to the details.” Clearly, he and Korean Village Restaurant have taken this to heart.

Like this post? Check out the first Spotlight Series article!

My Epic Meal at Centro

10 May

In the last couple of months, J has become friends with one of the wait staff at Centro. Trevor has been insisting that we come in one night to check it out; that we were missing out on a great dinner; that we’d be well taken care of. After a few weeks, we decided we had nothing to lose (except the ability to fit into our pants, apparently) and made a date to check it out.

We walked into the high-ceilinged, heavily-mirrored dining room and were appropriately agog. The room manages to be at once cozy and grandiose. We were shown to a corner table with tall banquette seating with a great view of the dining room. We watched the waiters practically dance around the tables, expertly serving their well-attired clientele. Trevor greeted us, took our drink orders and told us to sit back and relax. Since we’d be having the chef’s tasting menu, all decisions were out of our hands which was just fine by us. My only request was no olives, please. (I have a well-documented hatred of them. I have tried them a few times and I just. Can’t. Do it.) Three hours and seven courses later, we walked out two happy and very full customers.

Two separate starters arrived at our table to begin: piping hot arancini stuffed with pesto risotto and buffala mozzarella, sitting on tomato chutney and a beautiful charcuterie plate with boar salami, guanciale, prosciutto, pate, rye crostini and pickled vegetables. Both plates were stunning to look at and had our mouths watering for more. Following the opening dishes were colourful plates of pickled beets topped with that same creamy buffala mozzarella, pesto and light, crunchy bread tuiles. Light and refreshing, this was a great follow-up to the heavier course before it.

Two courses down, five to go. (Not that we knew how many courses were headed our way. Just that we were going to eat. And eat. And eat.) Next up was perhaps the most delicious scallop dish I have ever had. A single seared scallop in a Meyer lemon sauce, topped with capers and brioche crumbs. Incredible. The sweetness of the scallop was offset – but not overwhelmed – by the briny capers, sharp lemon sauce and the crunch from the bread all came together in a few perfect bites.

The fourth plate? Oh my. This was a gorgeous, rich braised short rib and maple-glazed sweetbreads with crispy leeks, a sunchoke purée and a red wine gastrique. Rich, unctuous, sweet…heaven on a plate. The sweetbreads were absolutely delectable – even J, who was a bit dubious initially, absolutely loved them. They were nice and crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, just as they should be. Folks, if you want to try something a little different, I can’t recommend these enough. Chef Symon Abad knows how to handle ’em.

Around this point in the meal – about an hour and a half in – I am thanking all sorts of gods and monsters for not having worn a belt. No one plate was huge, but they were starting to add up. The short rib was wonderfully fatty (not overly, though) and rich. I was thinking that there couldn’t be much more. Like, maybe dessert next? J suggested that there might be pasta on the way, but I just didn’t think that was going to happen. That is, until bowls and seafood forks arrived. Okay. So this was not dessert coming up. No, in fact, it was a lovely pasta course (score one for J!) of squid ink fazzoletti (“handkerchief” in Italian) served with crab, mussels, clams and shrimp in roasted garlic and red pepper sauce. Yes, you read that right. An impressive dish on an impressive evening.

“Okay, that’s got to be it, right? We’ve had meat, pasta, seafood…that’s gotta be it.” I exclaimed. Trevor and another waiter came and cleared away everything but our glasses from the table and I figured that could only mean one thing: dessert.

Trevor: “Okay, folks! Just a main and a dessert to go!” *laughs and walks away*
J: “Did he just say a main?”
Me: “Nahhh, he’s gotta be kidding! I mean, we have no cutlery, no side plates, and he laughed! I’m sure he was just kidding.”

Ten minutes later, forks and sharp knives were placed in front of us. Dear god. Trevor was nearly giddy as he placed veal tenderloin and calf’s liver on potato rosti, red cabbage and pearl onions in front of us as our eyes widened. “Your mains!” he proclaimed. As full as I was, there was simply no way I was not going to try this. The tenderloin was seared on the outside, juicy and just a little pink on the inside. Excellent. I could have eaten four pounds of the potato rosti it was so good. Unfortunately, I’d pretty much hit my wall. I could not have eaten another bite of this rich, tasty plate. J fared better than I but still couldn’t finish. We didn’t want to waste anything so we had what remained packed up.

We paid a quick visit to the chef and his brigade to thank them for a fantastic meal. It was nice to, you know, stand up. Maybe we should’ve gone for a walk around the block between courses!

And what arrived for the seventh and final course of the evening? Two different dishes: a lovely, light, layered cake with rhubarb filling and a plate with freshly-made mini-donuts dipped in maple sugar and served with squash-maple purée and crème fraiche ice cream. Oh my. A fabulous way to end an extraordinary meal. We sat, mildly dazed, sipping ginger tea for a little while, watching the staff clean up for the night, contemplating the past three hours of food extravaganza. A beautiful meal in a beautiful place. The pedigree of chef that’s come through Centro is of the highest quality (Marc Thuet, Michael Bonacini, Chris McDonald…it goes on) and chef Abad upholds the restaurant’s stellar reputation.

Spotlight Series: La Cascina

8 May

This is the first in a series of monthly posts about some of my favourite smaller spots in Toronto.  I love getting to know the people behind the great food we have in this city!

When people ask me, “What’s your favourite restaurant in the city?” my answer is, invariably, La Cascina. Since popping in a couple of years ago for what turned out to be a delicious, filling, relaxing, and surprising meal, J and I have been going back more and more frequently. It’s our go-to for a nice meal. We know we will be treated well by the staff who cater to their guests’ needs without being obsequious nor pushy. It’s the kind of place you go on a date, for a birthday dinner, with family or friends to linger over wonderful Italian food and wine.  Recently, I had the chance to sit down and chat with chef Luca and front-of-house manager, Sharifa, to discuss Abruzzo, Toronto and many things in between.

Having owned a restaurant of the same name in the Abruzzo, when chef Luca arrived in Toronto he was disheartened to see that the hospitality he worked so hard to achieve back home didn’t really exist here. He found dinner here to be a standard, two-hour maximum affair, with restaurants more concerned with flipping tables than satisfying customers. “In Italy, eating is a passion. We had a ‘destination’ restaurant: people would drive for two hours, arriving in the afternoon for lunch and staying through dinner.” With 15 years in the kitchen under his belt and yearning to recreate this kind of atmosphere, Luca opened a restaurant in Woodbridge with much success. As they are in the current location at Avenue & Lawrence, patrons are allowed to take their time with their meals, enjoying every last bite.

Of course, a welcoming atmosphere isn’t worth much if the food is mediocre or even average. Always striving for authentic Abruzese food, Luca vehemently explains, “You will not find veal parmigiana or fettucine alfredo on the menu. Customers sometimes would ask and we would have to explain that we don’t do that here. We have to educate them. It was hard in the beginning but we are winning people’s trust.”

What will diners find on the menu? An ever-changing array of beautiful dishes. Cold antipasti platters of cured meats and young cheese; hot bowls of farro, of braised fennel with onions, of roasted zucchini and almonds. Any pasta option they choose will be made to order and will be incredible. There is always at least one meat and fish option and once a month, Luca and Sharifa host a fish and seafood evening (i sapori del mare). These nights feature succulent, well-executed dishes like rich arctic char topped with truffles and briny linguine vongole.

I asked Luca what his favourite dish to cook was and it happened to coincide with the first dish he learned to make: pasta carbonara. He spent much time trying to perfect it when he was younger and, as he spoke about it, you could see the passion in his eyes. Already a pretty animated person, he was practically giddy when explaining that what you really needed is a few key elements of the highest quality. It’s not a difficult dish to create; but, to make it excellent, you have to have the best, the freshest, ingredients. “You don’t need cream. There is no cream in this restaurant because people in Abruzzo would never use cream. You just have to make it right.” Indeed – and he does. I had some that night and subsequently told all my friends about it. I returned two weeks later with a girlfriend and it happened to be on the menu. She is not a huge fan of pasta, but my effusive praise had convinced her that she had to try it. We split an order and the look on her face was one I recognized: pure food-induced happiness.

A question I love to ask people – especially chefs – is the old, “If you were stuck on a desert island, what five ingredients would you want to have with you?” The chef rhymed off the first three in rapid succession: “pasta, bread and eggs.” After a little further thought, he added truffles and lamb. I, for one, wouldn’t mind being stuck on that desert island if he were there to cook all those things for me.

I encourage you all to come to this wonderful restaurant. There is always something new to experience and Sharifa & Luca constantly strive to bring more to the customer. They are budding sommeliers and stock some lovely Italian wines. (A personal favourite of mine is the Nicola Di Sipio Montepulciano 2008.) Come for the atmosphere: meet Sharifa, the ever-gracious and knowledgeable manager. Come for the friendly and warm service. Last but certainly not least, come for the simple but remarkable food. It’s going to make you re-evaluate the other Italian restaurants at which you’ve been eating and may well spoil them for you.

Death Row Meals Supper Club: Taco Madness!

16 Jan

Two hours.  Six creative, delicious tacos. Six alcohol pairings. One most excellent afternoon.

Created by the fine folks at Living. Loving.Local, Death Row Meals Supper Club brings together great chefs  in our fair city to produce their version of a particular dish. This month was hosted at Milagro Cantina, where the chefs crafted their own versions of a taco, showcasing their considerable talent and creativity.

We settled in about 15 minutes before the event was to begin and there was already a great buzz in the room. Upon signing up for it, no one knew exactly what theyd be feasting on and the anticipation was palpable. We sat at long tables, chatting with those we’d come with and those we had just met while wonderful smells wafted forth from the kitchen. Everyone curiously perused the score sheet we were given that listed all the tacos we would be sampling, as well as spots to score the tacos on taste, originality and presentation. There was also a spot reserved for a bonus point should we feel the desire to award it.

After a quick welcome from the host, out came the first round! Large plates of Rossy Earle’s gorgeous braised & pulled chipotle-smoked duck topped with chayote & tomato pickled slaw, culantro lime cream and duck skin chicharrons on top of green plantain tortilla tacos arrived in front of us. One bite in and the 60 or so people in attendance went quiet and a simultaneous, “mmmmmmmmmmmmmm” could be heard. What a fabulous way to start off this competition! Not only did this taco look great, the combination of flavours and textures hit all the right notes.

Next up was Steve Gonzalez’ grilled adobo pork with tomatillo and corn relish, roasted garlic and lime crema on top of a  refried bean tortilla.  While the idea of the refried bean tortilla seemed fabulous – it was certainly something we’d never seen – it did make it a little tough to eat the taco itself.  The tortilla didn’t hold together all that well and many of us found ourselves trying to trying to eat the tender pork medallions while holding everything together with our fingers. The pork did go nicely with the cold Corona, though.

Third on the docket was one that most of us were really looking forward to from the description: braised beef cheek and smoked beef tongue taco with avocado crema, pickled red onion, cilantro, and duo of house smoked hot sauces. Yes, please! The cheek was melt-in-your-mouth good and the smokiness of the two hot sauces came through loud and clear. This was messy deliciousness, folks. Chef Tom Davis did a nice job on this one and it paired beautifully with the Trapiche wine served. Definitely one of our faves.

On to the fourth – and to the dreaded tequila! (Tequila and I used to be amigos. Now, we are civil at best.) Charlies Burgers put forth their offering of a carne asada taco using smoked and grilled marinated kobe knuckle, fresh flour tortillas, salsa taquera garnished with grilled scallions.  This particular taco got mixed reviews at our table. It seemed that some diners got a nice, tender piece of meat while others had pieces that were chewy and tough to bite through. That’s a real shame considering the calibre of chef and how much others were enjoying theirs.

Chattering away with my table mates, I looked up to see that taco number five, created by Nick Liu, was arriving on those giant platters, along with some Steamwhistle. The platters were lowered on to the table and we all “oohed” and “aahhhed.” Ten perfectly round jicama “tortillas” with crispy octopus, smoked paprika caponata, chorizo bacon, spicy tomato aioli were gazed upon with nothing less than awe. We all dove – we were past politeness now – to grab one. The taco’s crunchy, crispy textures were an unexpected delight. The octopus was perfectly cooked and the hot sauce, while not tongue-searing, provided some nice spice. Pencils scribbled furiously when this one was finished up.

Finally, Arturo Anhalt delivered a taco de longaniza (a spicy stret style chorizo) en salsa verder, with onion and nopales (cactus). This particular taco definitely had the most depth of flavour, almost like eating a rich chili. It reminded me a bit of a molé: lots of rich flavour with notes of heat, citrus and chocolate. I also quite enjoyed the tortilla which had a great char on it. This was probably the most technically accomplished taco of the afternoon and felt like the chef was quite comfortable making it: like he’d been eating it all his life.

At the end of the day, most of us agreed that the octopus and duck tacos were our favourites. (In fact, during the post mortem with my dining companions, we decided the ultimate taco would be a combination…a “ducktopus” taco if you will.) Clearly the rest of the fine folks in attendance felt the same way as chef Liu and chef Earle’s offerings took the top two spots. Regardless of who won, it was such a fantastic way to spend an afternoon! Fabulous food, wonderful people, great vibe: no way to go wrong. Keep your eyes peeled for the next installment featuring up-and-coming sous chefs from around the city!

For some great photos, check out The Food Junkie Chronicles.

Dishcrawling on King St. West

2 Dec

I heard about Dishcrawl via Twitter a few months ago and it sounded like a fun concept: tour and sample dishes from different restaurants in specific neighbourhoods with like-minded foodies. The catch? You don’t know the restaurants until you arrive at the meet-up spot! Throw caution and control to the wind, show up where you’re told and try some new things.

My girlfriend and I anxiously awaited the email telling us where to head for our first destination, having bought our tickets weeks in advance. The day arrived and we went down to Thor Espresso Bar (35 Bathurst St.) where fifty other Dishcrawlers had gathered. Co-owners Patrick and Tom provided espressos and americanos to everyone there, a welcoming sight on a very cold evening. The guys use a mix of beans from South and Central America and they make for a wonderful, rich drink. They also feature some lunch options and snacks like the incredibly sinful looking donuts. One of the Dishcrawlers couldn’t help but buy one for the road and I can’t say I blamed her.


Thor boys contemplating their Slayer machine

When we had all gathered, Gretchen (half of the fabulous Dishcrawl team), led our group to Wabora, a swank Japanese restaurant located at the Thompson Hotel (550 Wellington St. West). We were seated in front of the very busy sushi chefs and were greeted by Wabora’s charming manager who explained what we would be eating that evening. He was quick to point out that Wabora was not strictly sushi restaurant, but also featured a hot kitchen to provide a delicious meal to satisfy any taste. Plates of crispy fried chicken pieces smothered in a sweet and spicy sauce arrived at the tables moments after and were quickly devoured by the hungry guests. Next up were the fresh salmon and dynamite rolls from the sushi kitchen. I thought the sushi was great: the fish and crab were fresh and the dynamite roll was spicy and had lots of crunch. My girlfriend and I agreed, though, that there was too much mayo for what was served, but that’s a matter of personal taste. Finally, an unexpected dessert course came to our table: four spoons with ice cream and deep-fried, chocolate-filled cigar cookies. Our table went silent except for the occasional, quiet, “Oh my god” followed groans of culinary happiness.

Sushi at Wabora

Crispy chicken at Wabora

So where does one go after Japanese food? Why, a German sausage hall, of course! Wvrst opened this past summer and has been on my hit list since (609 King St. West). Featuring everything from pork to elk to kangaroo sausages and duck fat fries, this place is an original in Toronto.  Great, relaxed vibe, friendly staff and an excellent variety of beers on tap – it’s no wonder this place was an instant hit. It’s no frills food, attitude and atmosphere and I can’t wait to try it again. We were told that it was much busier in the restaurant than they’d expected, so the service was delayed longer than we’d anticipated. No one seemed to mind too much, though, as friends old and new chatted away happily over pints. The fries arrived first in paper cones with ducks drawn on the front, served with several dipping sauces. Not too long after, rounds of rabbit and beef sausages with sides of jalapenos, sauerkraut, red peppers and onions started showing up at the table. I opted for the rabbit sausage and was not disappointed. In fact, I will likely have that again in addition to the kangaroo which I’m told is fantastic.

Wvrst sausage platter

Duck fat fries

Sushi and sausage cravings filled, it was back down Bathurst to get a sneak preview of Cheesewerks (56 Bathurst St.), an artisan grilled cheese shop scheduled to open in a couple of weeks. A funky little joint making great grilled cheese sandwiches and homemade soups, the owners have clearly put a lot of thought and hard work into their venture. I was particularly excited to see that they had Red Fife wheat bread on their menu! The menu is exclusively cheese-based and they have thought out potential dietary restriction issues by providing cow, sheep and goat cheese as well as gluten-free bread. When we reported back to a friend that these options would be available, she was so thrilled! She hadn’t allowed herself to get excited about the place but is now very much looking forward to checking it out.

Cheesewerks in action

To wrap up the night, we got adorable little packages of cookies from Wagamama (766 King St. West) to take home. (The shop was long-closed before we could get there.) Tasty, homemade cookies were an excellent way to end a night full of delicious food!

As for Dishcrawl itself, I think it’s a fabulous idea that only has room to grow. I might suggest that they take smaller groups in the future if only to alleviate the crush on the kitchens. Wvrst was unexpectedly busy the night we went (likely due to the Leafs game on TV) and that put both groups behind on time. When we’d reached our final destination, you could feel some of the energy from the beginning of the night start to wane. Having said that, I think it’s a fun way to check out restaurants in an area of town you might not frequent that often and meet some new, like-minded people. I’ll definitely keep it on my radar.

Barque Binge

26 Oct

Not too long ago, I put up a post discussing the best BBQ in Toronto. It’s definitely a contentious debate, with each restaurant smoking and cooking things their own way, the “best” way. So far, the fried chicken at the Stockyards has been my favourite BBQ menu item and I’ve been anxiously awaiting a dinner at Barque Smokehouse. I’d heard nothing but raves from those who had been, some of whom had tried other places and some who had not.

A group of us opted to check out the ever-changing Sunday night family meal. The menu is different every week, offering up nine – that’s NINE – courses from appetizers through dessert. There are three seatings on Sunday: 5pm, 6:45 and 8:30. Just enough time for everyone to enjoy a sample of each dish from the large, family-style platters that arrive at your table. Our menu consisted of the following:

  • Celeriac Soup with Celery…

Normally not a huge fan of celeriac anything, this soup was warming and hearty with chunks of caramelized celery and I loved it. On a cold, winter day I would want an entire vat of it all to myself.

  • Lamb Antillidos…

So what is an “antillido?” Think Mexican wrap with shredded lamb. Everyone got a small portion of this appetizer that had a spicy kick to it. If this were featured on their regular menu, I would not hesitate to order it again.

Celeriac Soup & Lamb Antillidos

  • Tempura Vegetables with Soy Dipping Sauce…

Oh, lordy. There was a bit of a fight over these at our table. We had a couple of latecomers at our table who were very lucky to get any. The platter was filled with lightly battered taro root, eggplant and sweet potato chips. We could easily have polished off another plate of them, especially when accompanied by a fantastic soy-based dipping sauce.

Tempura Veggies

  • Smoked Chicken…

Not your average chicken. Everyone got a thigh and a leg rubbed with a curry powder concoction that was downright addictive. The chicken itself was a beautiful pink colour, taken on from the smoke. It was juicy, tender, smoky and truly finger-lickin’ good.

  • Honey Mustard Ribs…

The ribs did raise a few points of contention (as they are wont to do…). 90% of the table thought they were great and we even had one anti-rib convert! A couple of people at the table would have preferred a more fall-off-the-bone type rib, but there was no denying the flavour. Barque provides a container of their BBQ sauce that you can add as you wish with a brush. Most of us took advantage this great mixture of flavours and at least one diner had to restrain herself from chugging the BBQ sauce directly from the cup.


  • Sausage and Red Pepper Flatbreads…

Delicious little bites packed with flavour. Yet another hit at the table. Sausage and red pepper is a classic combination and they were great together on the crispy, but not overdone, flatbread. Luckily for us, there was enough for two pieces each…


  • Mixed Greens with Cucumbers and Cranberries…

Okay, so this wasn’t great. The greens were fresh, but more cranberries and definitely more dressing was needed. A salad is an excellent idea on a meat-heavy menu, but it seemed like a bit of an afterthought.

  • Crushed Potatoes…

Smashed chunks of potatoes accented with herbs, garlic and copious amounts of butter? Who wouldn’t like this dish? There was some debate as to whether or not tongs were the ideal serving tool but I dug it.

Smashed Potatoes

  • Cookies and Crumble…

There is a very good chance that of all the delectable things put in front of me on Sunday night, the apple crumble might have been the best. I like being surprised by a dish, especially a dish I know well. (My husband makes killer crumbles so I’m spoiled in this department.) I was fortunate enough to get one of my own and I must tell you that there wasn’t a morsel or drop of anything left when I was done. Don’t get me wrong: the chocolate chip and cappuccino cookies were really good, but that crumble was almost too good for words.


Salad aside, each bite of each item was excellent. The ambience and service in the restaurant were both excellent. Barque’s a cozy, cool place to have a great meal aided by prompt, friendly, fun service. I’m told that seats at the bar by the kitchen are great, as you can watch and chat with the chefs while they do their thing. If you go on a Sunday, don’t expect to linger: the line up for the next seating will begin early. But that’s okay: you won’t be able to eat any more anyway and Roncesvalles is a great neighbourhood to wander through afterwards!

 There is no question about whether or not I’ll be returning. It’s simply a matter of when.

Barque Smokehouse on Urbanspoon

Inaugural Toronto Underground Market!

26 Sep

I remember reading about this neat thing in San Francisco where different food vendors came together at one location to sell their amazing wares a few months ago. I bemoaned the fact that this wasn’t happening here, in a city filled with so much great food!

Over the next few months I started following more food-related Twitter accounts and came upon Toronto Underground Market. I was elated to see that they had taken up the mantle from the fine folks in San Fran! I waited very impatiently for the tickets to the first TUM event to go on sale and, as soon as they did, snapped up two as quickly as I could. Then began the month-long wait for the actual event at a great venue, the Evergreen Brick Works.  This place has a special meaning to many people, especially for my husband whose neighbour/babysitter/teacher poured her heart and soul into helping revitalize this space as it had long gone unused. Sadly, she passed away this past winter but we know she’d be beyond thrilled to see the BrickWorks being utilized for this kind of event.

Four of us embarked upon this food adventure with high hopes and cash in hand. All the plates and drinks were very reasonably priced from as low as $2 and up to $8 though we didn’t come across anything that much. Most of the dishes we sampled were in the $3-$4 range and were worth every penny. Our first stop was at the ever-sought-after La Carnita station. These guys have caught fire: they’re incredibly popular taco stand pops up from time to time downtown and the line ups start early. They’ve generated a cult following using Twitter and it showed when we arrived at the Brick Works. Their stand had – by far – the longest line but I can tell you that it was worth the 20 minute wait.

While I waited with The Hot Biscuit, the hubby and a friend went in search of beer and food. They brought back pints from Beau’s Lugtread Lager and absurdly delicious pulled pork quesadillas with pickled onions, cilantro and a slice of fresh jalapeno served with a tomato & melon gazpacho, courtesy of Shi-Naki. With another 10 minutes or so ahead of us in the La Carnita line, J headed over to the West Side Beef Co. and brought back stellar beef po’ boys. The teeny little slider weighed about 12 lbs and was stuffed with organic, fresh beef smothered in sauce, surrounded by a fresh, soft, sweet bun. Drool. Possibly the surprise-best dish of the night.

When we finally got to the front of the La Carnita line, we were greeted by some very friendly folks who took our order (2 each of the Mexican chorizo tacos and tacos de lengua) and gave us the requisite piece of art that always accompanies a La Carnita tasting. With one bite, we knew why these folks are so popular: the beef was spicy but very well balanced and the chorizo was tangy, smoky and paired nicely with sweet fruit. Definitely a hit and was unquestionably at or near the top of many, many people’s lists.

One of the good things about standing in line was chatting with the folks around us. People would have these fabulous plates of food and you couldn’t help but exclaim, “Gosh! That looks so good…where did you get it??!” One dish in particular looked so neat that we had to seek it out: deep fried quails eggs at Bistro Filipino. Happily, it was a slightly shorter line and, again, worth every minute. While  I waited, our friends sought out multi-flavoured rice at Vijaya’s & Krishna’s Pure South-Indian Vegetarian Cuisine while J went to track down more beer. The rice was big hit and a mammoth plate of food. Three kinds of rice and a few other things on the plate that could have been a meal unto itself.

Beer in hand, J returned and we got our order of quail eggs along with chicken marinated in annato seed served with a side of garlic rice and pickled vegetables. The eggs were as delectable as they looked: creamy, salty and piping hot. I could’ve gone back for several more servings  and I wouldn’t have been the only one. I overheard many “I just had to get more” conversations among those in line.

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Those plates devoured,  we began our wait for dessert. The line for the various kinds of popovers at Popover Girl’s station was likely the most cheerful one. How could you not be happy waiting for these fluffy, buttery delights? There were savoury and sweet options available: bacon, cheddar, jalapeno, chocolate, red pepper & feta, pistachio tapenade, onion….take your pick. There are no incorrect choices here. The HB and I opted for the chocolate popover filled with pastry cream while our friend went for the cheddar option. Both smelled and tasted absolutely divine. We did our best to savour these pastries as best we could, but ultimately we found ourselves snarfling them down.

While debating going for Just-One-More-Dish, I couldn’t help but eye the macaroons at the Lunch Room’s table. A plate had already been purchased by the HB to take home to her boyfriend and after very little deliberation with myself, I decided that was a hell of a good idea.  A plate of four giant, chocolate-drizzled coconut macaroons for $3? I’d be silly NOT to get at LEAST one plate to eat later.  It was a good call: J and I dove into them when we got home and were not disappointed. The coconut inside was chewy and soft, sticking to your teeth in the best possible way. Hands down the best macaroons I’ve ever had.

Overall, this was one of the most fun food-related events I’ve ever had the chance to go to. It was well organized:  volunteers were thereto clean the little tables and empty garbage bins, to direct traffic and to answer any and all questions. Some of the vendors did run out of food but not until at least more than halfway through the night.  Having done event-work before, I was most impressed with how well this whole event turned out. If you’re lucky enough to get tickets to the one in October, I advise you to go earlier rather than later. Shuttle buses run from Broadview every half hour, but seating is limited. Go with an open mind and an empty stomach and you will leave one happy, full, foodie camper.

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