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.

Montreal’s Wienstein and Gavino’s

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Being in Montreal for the holidays is always an occasion to discover a fresh place to eat. This year I was introduced to Wienstein and Gavino’s. A delightfully authentic Italian restaurant on Crescent at St. Catherine Sts.

A cavernous three-story space with a wrap around main-floor bar is grandiose with vast seating.

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Communal tables in the bar make for cozy group gatherings. There is a well-stocked wine bar next to the open kitchen and brick pizza oven is on the second floor. An intimate chef’s table is also available in front of the kitchen.  The main seating area is on the third floor with great views of the entire restaurant.

You are welcomed with complimentary warm loaf and olive oil and fresh basil.  The Italian menu features classic pizzas, pastas and mains that are honest and authentic.

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Specials are featured each evening includes a salad, a main and coffee or tea. I also like to have a bit of  green in my cocktails, in this case a pretty good mojito. A variety of traditional sauces such as Gigi (tomato sauce, cream, prosciutto, mushrooms, basil) Al Sole (Olive oil, sun-dried tomatoes, butter, white wine, basil, cherry tomatoes) and Gamberi Macchiato (shrimp, garlic, chili peppers, butter, white wine, parsley, cherry tomatoes) are among list of fourteen that are on offer with your choice of pasta.

Mojito

Smoked salmon with penne is my comfort food.  The cream sauce is light and with a respectable portion of salmon.

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One of the featured pizzas is spinach, feta and red peppers. The thin crust is carefully done, crispy and thin and perfect from the oven.

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The desert menu, has classic Italian treats like Tiramisu, chocolate Nociola gelato or particularly rich chocolate cake with is accompanied by Nutella.

Wienstein and Gavino’s has a nice wine list, cocktails and drinks are reasonably priced. The wait staff are quick and attentive, water glasses filled regularly, meal arrived well time and still hot.  While this restaurant has great seating capacity, it’s best to make reservations for the evenings as every table was filled by 8:30 p.m.  W&G is as intimate for two as it is for a table of eight, there are enough options for everyone – all authentic and fresh.  Make your way there on your next visit to Montreal.   Bon appetit!

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Fresh Italian on the Patios at Pastizzia

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It’s time to catch up on my summer’s eating adventures.  We now find ourselves in September, but no matter how many weeks we believe we may or may not have left of outdoor eating, keep enjoying until you can’t.  Across the street from St. Lawrence market is Pastizzia with its great patios, yes, two patios and fresh modern Italian food.

Pastizzia

Cool and modern, it’s a nice respite from a morning of shopping.  The bar is spectacular in the evening for the 30 foot tall wine chandelier.  A private upstairs room is available for functions.

I opted for two appetizers so that I could capitalize on dessert. I started with the fresh and clean Barbabietole salad is red and yellow beets, pistachio mascarpone, arugula and lemon olive oil dressing. Beets are sweet and soft.  The pistachio mascarpone adds a texture to the overall salad.

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The Calamari Fritti is crispy and is accompanied by a sweet pepper & chill lime dip. Two small dishes on a hot afternoon is satisfying, because, well, dessert is always on my mind.

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The Caramella is a caramel and amaretto sticky toffee pudding topped with almond slivers and vanilla gelato. It’s everything you want on a plate for dessert.  The toffee pudding is a sponge of caramel soaked sweetness.  Nuts and gelato, well, you can never get enough.  A not to be missed item and you certainly don’t want to share any. Just sayin’.

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Lots of tables at both patios, but I would suggest reserving or getting there early.

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Challenge yourself, get to as many patios as you can, but certainly get to this one first! Bon appetit, friends!

For details click on map:

Pastizzia

 

 

 

 

 

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 vibe 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!

© Wpd911 - Dreamstime.com - Colorful Day

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

On the Danforth? Try the Louis Cifer Brew Works

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A few weeks ago, I found myself on The Danforth on the cold Thursday night after the previous day’s impromptu snow storm. Cold and looking for a new restaurant to try, of course, I fumbled on the recently opened Louis Cifer Brew Works. An enormous two level space that was former home to a few restaurants over more than twenty years.

A brew house that has a big list of beverages and gastro-pub fare – a little something for everyone.   Their craft beer includes IPA (Indian Pale Ale), lager, blondes and hoptails.  The bar menu includes Bourbons, whiskies and tequila.

From top floor

Two levels make for lots of space to host events. With Steel Dan and Doobie Brothers playing, it wasn’t overly noisy that night, even though there was a party of about twenty people on the second level.  Enough quiet tables for couples and family friendly.

The jumbo wings from the Shareables menu were crispy but a little dry.  It probably would have been a good ideaa to ask for more blue cheese sauce, which is quite good, but not enough.  The Rosemary Fries are crispy and aromatic with the accompanyin roasted garlic aioli.

I always gravitate towards fish dishes, no matter where I am.  The Pan Seared Atlantic Salmon did not disappoint.  It is served with green beans and roasted potatoes over a sweet corn chowder. The chowder is rich and smooth complementing the fish.  It will be hard for me to visit Louis Cifer again and not order this dish.

Creme Brule, yes, another one of my go to desert on a wintry night! Sweet and creamy, I happily devoured ever spoonful

For a cold night, it was busy – lots of good-looking burgers, sandwiches and fish and chips have flown by me as I enjoyed my salmon.

Warm atmosphere, comforting food and enough craft brews to take you through the winter, are good reasons to go to get yourself to The Danforth.  Happy Eating!

Louis Cifer

 http://www.louisciferbrewworks.com/contact/

 

My Fish Taco Fixation

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Occasionally I get obsessed with one food. I’ll go for months craving a certain dish, ordering it consistently at restaurants. Some of my  fixations have included, udon soup, zeppole (Italian pastries made for the feast of St. Joseph on March 19) and chicken Shawarma sandwiches.   My latest little craze has been fish tacos, a bit of a miracle since my first experience eating one was terrible. After many years of hearing about their rise in popularity on the west coast where they originated, it was something I had to try. So, on my first trip to California, eating some fish tacos was a priority. Coast of California

I found a Mexican restaurant in Monterrey and straight away ordered the Baja Fish tacos.  They arrived lukewarm, overcooked and had clearly been re-heated from the day before.  I wasn’t as sophisticated in those days and was too timid to complain or sent them back.  Instead, I choked them down and vowed never to eat one again.

That bad experience didn’t deter me and I continued to give them a try in the hopes of getting a good one and understanding what all the fuss was about.   Since then I have discovered many good fish tacos and have become picky about what makes a good one.

El Catrin’s Baja taco is crispy fried cod dressed with a tasty chipotle lime coleslaw. Cod is a great fish for this dish given its mildness and coarse flake.  The tangy chipotle and lime dressing give the taco a zing but doesn’t overwhelm the fish.  They are three for $15.00, a good sharing plate or a filling meal for one.

El Catrin Fish Tacos

Milagro Cantina’s, La Perla is battered red snapper, tropical slaw and chile crema.  The red snapper is a finely texture fish and light tasting as well.  The tropical slaw lacked a little in flavour but the chile crema and a squeeze of lime make them pretty tasty nevertheless.  On the lunch menu you get two for $12.50 .

Milagro fish tacos

La Mexicana on Yonge at Bloor, has served up authentic Mexican food since 1988 in Toronto.  On a rainy night in October,  I made my way in from the cold to the warm and cosy atmosphere of their place at 838 Yonge St.  The menu doesn’t specify what kind of fish is used, I suppose it’s based on availability.

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The fish taco dish is delicious and a great value as a main at $16.00 for dinner.  The tacos are dressed with cabbage and chipotle mayo.  While the cabbage on top doesn’t add much, the mayo was flavorful. The crispy lightness of the battered fish was an sign of the use of fresh oil in their deep-fryer, always a big plus  – because you can taste the difference.

This only the tip of the Toronto fish taco iceberg, with more “authentic” Mexican restaurants opening every month here, my quest for tasting has no limit and I’ll be on the look out for more.  In the meantime, bon appétit my eating friends.

 

 

 

La Societe – more bar than bistro on Bloor St.

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Lasociete patio2It’s been embarrassingly too many weeks to count since my last post.  Who can believe it’s October already, and I’m trying to catch up on all my writing.  My summer was filled a lot of food festivals and events.  However,  I actually make it to La Societe Bistro in Yorkville after walking past the swank and expansive patio bar at the front of The Colonnade on Bloor W. many times.

On this July day, the second level patio with its many tables is full.  Wait staff in traditional bistro uniforms hustle about on this hot day refilling glasses and rushing to bring orders out.  The spacious interior is filling up as business people start to arrive for meetings over lunch.

La Societe is bistro fare at trendy upscale prices.  Remember, we’re in the Colonnade, home to Cartier, Chanel, Escada and Prada boutiques, to name a few.  While the look and the ambiance attempts to be authentic French bistro, the menu doesn’t necessarily reflect that and veers into contemporary American with selections of burgers and pulled pork sandwiches. Missing from the mid-day menu are cheese plates, pates and charcuteries. Prices compared to other bistros serving lunch is about 15% more for something like a Tuna Salad Nicoise.

Our orders of the LS Club sandwich with frites and the Grilled Chicken Cobb salad is good, but nothing special.  La Societe is not really about the food, it’s about the location, the opulent and luxurious patio. It’s about the chance to be spotted lounging on a chaise sipping Cinzano and exchanging business cards with a guy with a platinum corporate Amex card who’ll be picking up the bill.

La Societe is located at 131 Bloor St. W at Avenue Road.  As of today’s writing the upstairs patio is still  open and will probably remain until the weather grows too cold.  Bon Appetit, my friends!