Montreal’s Escondite Cerverceria de Barrio – a must visit

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If you’ve read this blog for some time, you’ll know that I love Mexican food for its flavours, texture and some of the heat. And well, there’s also nothing like a cold Tequila cocktail on a hot afternoon.  On my travel’s this summer I was fortunate to come across a few new Mexican places in Montreal.  Escondite Cerverceria de Barrio is one of the newest, having opened in the spring of this year.  More than just a good Tequila bar, there’s some serious food being served here.

The interior as with many new tacos and Tequila bars has the cantina atmosphere with dark spaces and large murals.  The atmosphere is lively and very busy on this early Friday evening, all tables are reserved.

The cocktail menu includes virgin drinks and of course, lots of Tequila based beverages to cool you off from the Montreal humidity.  I have a Cartel de Santa, a mix of Mezcal, hibiscus syrup, lime juice, soda and hibiscus foam. Refreshing with good flavour and the depth of Mezcal.  

Of all the Mexican restaurants I have been to, the appetizers are some of the best I’ve had.   The guacamole is served with warm tortilla chips. The spicy butter melts gracious flavour into the warm, sweet and tender cornbread.  These two are must haves.

The Baja tacos are seasoned and tasty.  The avocado crema and slaw add extra flavour without overpowering the fish. The Al Pastor taco is filled with pulled pork, pineapple and coriander. I thoroughly enjoyed the Ensalada de Mango – a salad of mango, cucumber, corriander, chilies, peanuts, crispy shallots, Chamoy dressing.  It’s sweet, savoury and the peanuts and crispy shallots add a unique texture to this salad. 

The quesadillas took a bit of extra time as we were told there was a problem with their ordering system. The Quesadilla Sincronizada de Hongos Tortilla is sauted mushrooms, Oaxaca cheese, aged cheddar and Black truffle paste that just puts it over the top. The truffle paste harmonizes well with the cheese, it turns a simple quesadilla into something a little indulgent.

There was no way I wasn’t having the warm made to order churros with Nutella.  Gently fried and sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, not to be missed folks.  Despite the wait for the quesadillas the service was attentive, food arrived hot and well timed.

If you have the opportunity to be in Montreal, make sure to make some time and a reservation to go to Escondite Cerverceria de Barrio, 1206 Union, Montreal, it’s a good time!

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Les Filles du Roy

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La Maison Pierre Calvet was built in 1725.  It is a heritage site and one of the oldest buildings in Old Montreal. It was the  home of Pierre Calvet, a Montreal trader in the eighteenth century. The building is home to Les Filles du Roy restaurant.

The restaurant and the inn opened to the public in the sixties.  The small nine room hotel has 18th Century decor complete with authentic period furnishings. It has been one of my favourite restaurants for over twenty years for its consistent quality of traditional, but updated French cuisine.

Front Entrance 3The house has great significance to establishment New France and Quebec. Official visitors to the home have included Louis XIV and Benjamin Franklin. Franklin visited the home during the American Revolution of 1775 to collaborate with Pierre du Calvet.

Calvet was declared a traitor by the British for this and sentenced to several years in prison. Learn more about the home by clicking here: Maison du Pierre Calvet.

The interior reflects the French architecture and furnishings in Montreal during the American Revolution.

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Les Filles du Roy is classical French and French Canadian cuisine.  Traditional dishes like the torchon de fois gras is updated with apples and ice cider.  Locally grown Quebec ingredients have always been part of the menu. (Scroll over images for descriptions)

Mains are quite hearty.  The Veal Osso Bucco is fork tender and vegetables are steamed and fresh and crisp.

Osso Bucco

The Walleye is a large flakey fillet accompanied with a mushroom purée.

Fish

The traditional Duck Confit is enhanced with a Maple sauce.

Duck Confit

The service remains as it has always been, excellent.  The outdoor terrace is walled and serene with only the sound of the fountain.

Les Filles du Roy has a long history in Old Montreal and for good reason.  It’s an interesting restaurant to visit and explore a bit of French history through its food and decor.

If Old Montreal is part of your travel plans, Les Filles du Roy is a destination that you won’t want to miss.  Bon Appetit, friends.

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http://www.pierreducalvet.ca/english/restaurants.html

Via Vai lighting up Bay Street

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The section of Bay St. between Bloor and Dundas St. W. has long been in need of a neighborhood hot spot.  The area has acquired a few more restaurants in recent years but nothing as bright and bold as Via Vai.

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Opened at the end of April, Via Vai is an immense art gallery like space that spans four stories high.  The elaborate mural and glass paintings are the work of Italian artist, Sandro Martini and were completed in 2012. A mural by local Toronto artist, Hajar Moradi is featured at the back of the restaurant.

Interior west sideAs I understand, the building was formally the sales center for the Burano Condo development.  After admiring the towering views, I finally settle down to read the menu, a single page of Neopolitan pizza and pasta dishes.

Salad

I start with the Insallata del Palladio – kalettes sprouts, pancetta, green apples, DOP Piave with valdobiedene procecco vinaigrette.  Crispy and refreshing, the pancetta adds just a little saltiness to bring out the sweetness of the apples and the tartness of the cheese.

Pizza

I love leafy greens, especially on hot summer days, they add a certain lightness to foods, so with that in mind, I have the Marinara Pizza.  My pizza arrives, its thin crust, risen and well-baked around the edges, dressed with prosciutto, tomato, Parmigiano and arugula.  This simple pizza is satisfying and not complicated by too many toppings, just basic and well done, the way it should be.

IMG_4632It is the end of lunch hour and the sun is shining, there is time for me and room in my stomach to enjoy dessert.  The Tortina Alla Pistochi is rich but light flourless chocolate cake.  The Tortina is rich but light. The crunchy and intense chocolate flavour is highlighted by the raspberry coulis.

The service is friendly and efficient, water glasses are re-filled regularly and courses are well-timed.  I order a cappuccino and sip it while I admire the spine of wine at the opposite end of the restaurant.  I am told that each shelf is dedicated to the different Italian wine regions. I make a mental note to eventually explore all levels and each region on my next visits.

Manager, Jordan Lazaruk and Chef, Joe Friday are part of the great team at Via Vai, taking great care to make sure that your experience meets their standards for excellence and service.  The restaurant has become a popular spot for private events, it’s not hard to see why.  There’s an informal patio outside, if you want to bask in the sun.  I however, prefer to sip my cappuccino slowly and soak in the art and light of this delicious afternoon.

A great place to meet friends, any time  – also, a fabulous event space, Bay St. north of Dundas St. now has a beautiful dining destination.  Bon Appetit, friends.

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Via Vai – www.viavai.ca

 

 

Get yourself to the Bean and Baker Malt Shop!

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Bean and Baker Sign

Liezel and Bren Anderson are hoping to create memories for a new generation of a malt shop customers.  After over a year of planning, they’ve opened the Bean and Baker Malt Shop where you can get a proper milkshake or ice cream dessert, as well as other homemade sweet or savoury treats.

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Tuesday’s hot humid weather was a good excuse, not that I needed one, to get a malted milkshake, so I headed out to find Toronto’s newest spot.  The Bean and Baker Malt Shop is at corner of Grace and Harbord Streets by Bickford Park. The store in a earlier life, housed a drug store with a counter that served ice cream. Liezel and Bren have done a brilliant job creating a great old-fashioned soda shop, replete with a chromed red and white interior, checkerboard floor, swivel stools and uniformed soda jerks to serve you.

The blackboard menu lists the treats including sodas, shakes, malted milkshakes and coffee creations.  A sweet assortment of pastries made daily by Liezel, who is a former pastry chef, includes flaky cherry hand-pies, lemon meringue tarts, éclairs filled with a creamed custard and the popular bacon and pecan butter tart.  For those who are not big sweet tooths, there are savoury pies from Wisey’s, the New Zealand style bakery on Roncesvalles.

I order the espresso shake with coffee ice cream and malt. It comes garnished with whipped cream, a malt ball and some crunchy bits of chocolate. Served in a tall glass with the remaining shake left for you in the metal cup.

MaltedA good milkshake is about the ratio of milk to ice cream. Bren’s espresso malted shake floats at the midpoint between being solid enough to hold a straw upright but runny enough to easily be sucked up the straw.

The coffee meshes well with the nutty, buttery notes of malt, which heightens the richness of the ice cream.

I try to take my time drinking it, but it’s going down pretty fast. I am tempted to have a second one, it’s that good!Empty Glass2

Another dessert they make is the Old School lunch pie. It’s a combination peanut butter and chocolate pudding pie with raspberry jam on a graham cracker crust topped with whipped cream. I look forward to trying this later this summer.

Dietary restrictions? No problem. Bean and Baker offer gluten-free, non-dairy and even vegan ice creams so that everyone can enjoy cold treats.

If you’re in the mood for an old-fashioned soda or ice cream or sweet treat this summer, you know where you need to go!

Hey, Sunday, July 19 is National Ice Cream day, so you better get yourself to Bean and Baker Malt Shop, pronto!!

Maman in First Canadian Place

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Maman, the Parisian inspired bakery from New York’s SoHo district opened its second location here in Toronto on July 6, in First Canadian Place.  The bakery is in the space formerly occupied by Szechuan Szechuan on the second level food court.  The fast-casual café bakery is owned by Michelin starred, Chef Arman Arnal of La Chassagnet in the South of France and designer/baker, Elise Marshall.

The bright farmhouse chic, in blue and whites is cosy with communal tables and a wall of windows that gives it a standalone feel.

Opening hours are bright and early at 7:00 a.m. when you can get a variety of freshly baked croissants, yogurt and coffees. Lunch time offerings include traditional French favourites like Croque- Madame, Quiche, salads and fresh baguette sandwiches.  I selected the lunch box of ham and cheese Quiche and a salad of fresh greens, strawberries and goat cheese.

The Quiche Lorraine was warm, with a flakey crust and actual pieces of ham and a savoury filling where you could actually taste and see the cheese. A good change from the tasteless and rubbery Quiche available in food courts. Lemon-Thyme Madeleines are buttery treat with coffee for that mid-afternoon lull, keep one handy in your desk drawer.

A number of retail items are also available including teas, popcorn and South of France styled goods. The line up moves quickly, but always wise to get there starting about 11:30 a.m.  Most customers are grab and go, so seating up to about 12:30 is pretty good.

Maman is worth the walk over from whatever food court you inhabit in the vast Toronto Path system. They are looking soon to add a cocktail hour. It’ll be a nice place to relax after work and I look forward trying to it.  Bon appétit, fellow eaters!

Cake

 

Luckee – Indeed, Great Chinese Food!

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After a bit of a blogging sabbatical, I launched back full throttle ready to attack my restaurant bucket list. Luckee, by Susur Lee was the restaurant I chose to get back into my food groove. Located at 328 Wellington St. E., Luckee opened about a year ago, and it is Lee’s latest dining project, where he works new flavors and dimensions to elevate the traditional style and taste of dim sum.

In traditional dim sum service, steamers contain many small pieces of dumplings.  Luckee’s servings are larger with big shrimp and lobster pieces.  The Chicken Cheung Fun was recommended by the waiter and was very popular at the table.

(Hover over images for descriptions)

 

You need to try a variety crispy, savoury and sweet dishes from the menu as each dish is a creative experience in texture and taste. The staff is helpful in explaining and providing menu suggestions to complement your order.

The second course included two tasty chicken dishes and my favourite, Luckee Duck with Chinese pancakes and foie gras, which is similar to the Peking and Char Sui duck on the menu at Lee Restaurant, one of Susur’s other restaurants on King St. W.

A list of simple desserts is available. Traditional mini egg tarts and a refreshing mango dessert were enough to complement stomachs that were full, but was a nice finish to good evening filled with many dishes.

It’s sophisticated Asian, in a quiet section of Wellington St. with parking right across the street which makes it a convenient and pleasant location.  If you’re looking for a dim sum experience without the clatter, the noise and lots of small plates crowding your table, Luckee will be a very satisfying and far more elegant experience.

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Bon appetit friends.  It’s time I take off to explore more food at Summerlicious 2015.  Back with more stories soon!

 

 

Grapemasters, bringing the best Spanish grapes to Ontario winemakers

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I was happy to jump back into the spring season with a lively conversation about the making of Spanish wines with Certified Grand Master Winemaker, Charles Fajegenbaum, owner and consulting wine maker purple grapesfor Grapemasters.

Charles, who also runs Fermentations at 201 Danforth Avenue, has a loyal and steady clientele of wine connoisseurs and hobbyists. Recently, Charles announced that after many years of effort and research, fresh, frozen crushed grapes from Spain’s Catalonia area will be finally available in Ontario.

“People thought I was crazy going to Catalonia and shipping crushed frozen grapes back to Canada but I wanted to offer my clients with an opportunity to make their own wine with a higher calibre of grape than those trucked in from California’s wine regions,” says Charles.

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Joan Pujades (left) Charles Fajgenbaum (right)

In 2012, Charles met Joan Pujades, owner of Mas de la Caçadora in the Montsant Appellation in Catalonia. The two hit it off instantly and soon Charles was helping to hand-harvest 20 tonnes of some of Spain’s premium wine grapes, destined to be de-stemmed, crushed and frozen before being shipped back home, where they are held in freezers until required. The result is a product that rivals fresh grapes with the added benefit that the product is available to be made into wine at any time of the year.

The Montsant Region has a long winemaking history.  It is a region known for its perfect grape climate and family run vineyards and wineries.

Some of the wines: Sampled included two wines from Joan’s, Mas de la Caçadora winery.  The Rosa La Guapa Red,  a coupage of 90% Carignan, 5% Grenache Noire and 5% Merlot. Fermented in open oak barrels then, after it has been pressed, it is covered for a further 10 months.  Rosa La Guapa is an intense, full-bodied wine.

Quom of 40% Merlot, 25% Carignan, 25% Grenache Noire and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged for 9 months in French, American and Hungarian oak barrels.  It is lighter than a California Cabernet.  A lively and full-bodied with an intense red cherry color.

The third wine, Temperanillo from Grapemasters. A dry but fruity medium to full-bodied wine. A refreshing red that pairs well with many foods, however something a little piquant, like spicy sausage, or of course, a zesty Spanish cheese like Manchego is ideal.

A Grenache Noir Clos 2012 was also part of the tasting.  Grenache Noir forms the backbone of many fantastic wines, including Chateauneuf du Pape or is used as a complimentary blending grape with Syrah or Carignan, or even completely on its own where it typical flavors of cherry, currant and licorice show through.  It is far richer in character than typical California Grenache.

Charles has entered wines made from his Spanish must in various competitions and the feedback has been very encouraging.  In 2013, a Tempranillo/Merlot blend scored a bronze and a Grenache Blanc/Macabeo scored silver.  At the Ontario Provincial Competition in 2014, where 14 wines made with the frozen must took medals.

“No other ‘make-you-own-wine’ establishment is doing this,” says Charles.  “And my clients have welcomed the flexibility the must gives them in being able to make world-class wine at any time of the year.”

To understand Charles’ journey to getting the best frozen Spanish must, take a look at this short video:

“We have a great partner in Mas de la Cacadora, whose wines are also available in Canada through 30.50 Imports,” adds Charles.  “30.50 Imports distribute the Mas de la Caçadora offerings to the restaurant and hospitality industry in Ontario. This is another plus for our clients who know that our frozen Spanish must comes from the same vineyard whose wines are being sold to recognized establishments.”

So, if you’re a winemaker looking for a new product to make your own wine, or if you’d like to find out more about wine making but don’t know how or where to start, make your way to Fermentations.  Charles is the expert that you seek to answer all your questions and get you started.

Click on the image for more information on Grapemasters.

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Cluny’s in the Distillery District

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It’s December 26, and while many of you have barely digested and recovered from your big Christmas dinners, I know there are also a lot of you looking forward to more eating for New Year’s.  So with that in mind, let me recommend Cluny’s in the Distillery District.  A few weeks ago, I ventured into this beautiful new restaurant on Tank House lane for a solo brunch.

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Washed in natural and warm lighting, Cluny’s is like a very large European cafe, there is an intricately laid blue and white tiled floor separating the space into grouped tables and intimate spaces.  Bouquets of cream and buttercup yellow flowers in large vases, showcase the bakery buffet where staff prepare your baskets of croissants and breads.

Maria

The raw bar is stocked with a daily selection of oysters, claims and shrimp.  Behind the bar is the bustling kitchen, efficiently sending out orders or egg dishes, burgers and salads from the brunch menu.

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My server greets me warmly and asks what my preferences for my morning pastry basket to accompany my French press coffee.

French Press

My oeufs en cocotte, eggs cooked in a vessel like a small dutch oven, arrives with a grilled tomato, greens, truffle and fries.  It is a dish that feels indulgent for a sunny but cold Sunday morning.  I am thrilled that the frites are still quite warm, and soak up the truffle mayonnaise very well.

Oeufs en cocotte

I people watch from my seat at the raw bar, where the friendly staff tell me about the menu and the features with entusiasm.  I also get a great view of the other dishes guests are enjoying at the bar next to me.

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Photo Credit: Cluny Bistro website – clunybistro.com

The dinner menu features traditional bistro fare including foie gras dishes, mussels and frogs legs as well as some continental favourites to satisfy kids and non-seafood eaters.  My best part of the menu for me,  is the selection of cheese dishes, which includes my favourite, Sauvagine stuffed with truffle and sauteed in wild mushroom.

A wonderful setting, lots of seats – however, it is popular, so many sure to call ahead and make a reservation.

 Cluny Bistro – 35 Tank House Lane, Distillery District, Toronto, Ontario

2014 Holiday Recipes and Entertaining Tips

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The rush I guess began on December 1 or maybe you’re really organized and started your planning last year for this year’s entertaining.

This year I’ve included tips for getting organized and ready as well as some pairing suggestions for charcuterie. There’s also a great new Blood Orange Martini from the LCBO Holiday issue that I have included as a link. It’s a beverage that I would savour alone once all the cooking is done!  Click on the links below the images for the recipes and tips.

Happy holiday planning and enjoy your entertaining!

6 Tips for Sensational Entertaining

 

 

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Baked-Cowboy-Chili-CasseroleBaked Cowboy Chili
 
 
Roasted-Cauliflower-and-Red-Rice-GratinRoasted Cauliflower and Red Rice Gratin

 

 

 

Blood Orange Martini from LCBO

 

Eating my way through the Distillery District Christmas Market

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The holidays are just a license to eat and to buy treats for friends that we hope will share them with us.  Sunday’s sunny weather brought many people out to Toronto’s Distillery District to eat and drink to keep warm. There are only about two weeks left for the annual Christmas market.  If you’re going on the weekends, get there before 2:00 p.m. so that you can shop and then settle down in one of the many good restaurants for lunch and cocktails.