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.

It’s always sunny at Colette Grand Cafe

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Colette Grand Cafe is in the exclusive Thompson Hotel at Bathurst and Wellington St. W. By day this area of Wellington St. is relaxed with limited traffic and only the voices of children playing in the parkette across the street. Colette’s sophisticated and elegant blue and white decor make it like a French holiday complete with over-smiley waiters hurrying about.

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Arriving for a late lunch I am shown to my table at windows that border the dining area.  The oversized wing chairs in the lounge are taken up with casual business types. It’s busy, but it doesn’t have the noisy din as some of the other French restos and bistros in the city but I’m a little puzzled by the folk /rock soundtrack that’s playing. Maybe expecting to hear Edith Piaf songs would’ve been cliché.

As expected there’s a solid collection of wines and a tempting list of drinks. While I don’t entirely recall what the contents of this beverage is, it’s called Pirate Radio and is one of those drinks that about halfway through you experience invading your senses.

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My starters are delicate cheese straws, carrot salad fresh and simply dressed and accompanied by a delicate salmon pate. Shaved radish and celery complement the lightness of the salmon rillettes.

The main course of duck confit arrives and is just as perfect as described. Hearty and garnished with pistachios, the duck confit is one the finest I’ve had a French restaurant in some time.DuckThe traditional dessert tray is offered to diners with full bellies but gluttonous eyes. Colette’s is a glittering collection of French pastries.

Desserts

Cake of any kind, especially complex fruity beauties are my kryptonite. But you can’t miss all the other awaiting sweet treasures.

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Colette is a break you can enjoy in an afternoon. The kind where you treat yourself to a refreshing meal and talk. It’s a hotel restaurant, so expect to pay accordingly. The service and attention to detail is impeccable. Finding another time to dine here again, is high on my plan. Bon appetit!

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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.

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

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The traditional Duck Confit is enhanced with a Maple sauce.

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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.

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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

 

 

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 17 is National Ice Cream day, so you better get yourself to Bean and Baker Malt Shop, pronto!!

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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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/

 

St. Lawrence Market, Saturday in Pictures

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I spent Saturday afternoon at the market, navigating the shoppers to capture the stores that I like to go to.  These photos are from the walk around.