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.

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.

 

 

 

New York City Summer Street Food

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It’s a sunny Sunday morning and there’s a lot of bustle outside the hotel room window, nothing unusual I think, it’s Manhattan and there’s always something going on.  I head out and make way to 46th Street where vendors of all kinds are setting up,  jewelry, scarves, suitcases, T-Shirts, pretty much anything you want is there.  It’s like a big bazaar is coming alive in the street.

As I get closer to Lexington Avenue the smell of grilling food is getting stronger and it is with much excitement that I see the food vendors prepping and setting up for the day. It’s early morning still and it’s all just getting started, but already I’ve gotten a new suitcase from one of the vendors to bring home all the new pairs of shoes I’ve bought on this trip.

There is an endless variety of summer items like sunglasses and towels but there are lots of foodstuffs as well, like teas, herbs and varieties of curries.

The crowds grow as we get closer to 59th Street and 5th Avenue it’s lunch time by now, and on this day there’s nothing I was looking forward to more than eating again – which is pretty much how I spent the first forty-eight hours of this trip.  Of course, that was the original purpose, to do food recognizance for my next articles.

The bottom of 59th street is looking a bit more like a carnival with everything from the usual hot dog and sausage vendors, a lemonade stand and everybody’s favourite, the Wafels & Dinges cart.  I am, however, craving authentic foods, dishes that are full of flavour and spice.  As I get a little deeper into the crowd, I smell something that will satisfy me at the “Authentic Mexican Grill”.  If you read this blog regularly, you know Mexican food is a big favourite of mine.

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We have Mexican food in Toronto, but there’s something about street food like this that somehow makes it more interesting and certainly tastier.

IMG_6691I order the Nacho Platter with chicken, it’s a ton of food for $8.00.  There’s some confusion with the order because they thought I’d ordered beef and not chicken.  Some words are exchanged in Spanish with the man on the grill, then there is some laughter as they apologize to me in Spanish.  They ask if it would be okay to put some chicken on top of the beef.   You can’t beat that, and I couldn’t have been happier.

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It’s a great heaping mess of deliciousness, beef, chicken, salsa verde, sour cream and cheese.  My daughter and I could barely finish it, but we did our best.  Our next stop was something sweet to top the nachos, because we really did need more carbs and desert was not too difficult to find here.

I have a tremendous weakness for all things Italian, men, wine, food and oh yes, sweets.  So when I spotted cannolis that were brought in all the way from Brooklyn at the Fortunato Brothers stand, we immediately bought two.  The cannolis were sweet and creamy inside the fresh crispy shell.  I really could’ve used a latte to finish, but it was very hot and I think I would’ve exploded!

When I am away from home and exploring new foods and places to eat, I always consume way more than I usually do.  The energy that I had used to walk my way all the way through this street fest was now replenished.  It was time to walk back to my hotel for a nap and to plan for the evening’s eating destination.  I always have food on my mind.

So if you’re in New York on a summer weekend, make sure that you find your way to Central Park by 5th Avenue and 59th and eat something for me.  Happy eating my friends!

 

 

 

 

Me.n.u Toronto’s Newest Food Truck

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Saturday night, June 14 a hungry crowd starts to line up at the north corner of University and Queen for the much-anticipated launch of the Me.n.u (pronounced Me & U – get it?) food truck.
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Started by two friends from Thornhill, Ont., Allen and Bryan invested a few years of their life travelling and researching to make sure they had the skills to fuel their passion for food.  The Me.n.u truck’s Asian Fusion street food is an exciting addition to the Toronto food truck scene.  The high spirited team and emcee Joe outside the truck, kept the energy going and made things interesting and entertaining throughout the evening.  He and the team made sure orders were complete, filled quickly and that everyone was happy and satisfied.

Joe Emcee Menu

Saturday’s launch menu included their signature Rice Balls available in Porkilla, Angry Birds and 1Up (Veg) – very filling and reasonable at 2 for $6.00.  Also featured were –

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IMG_8054some creative mashups of traditional and popular street fare, including the Smokin’ Peking Duck poutine – fries with gravy, shredded duck, crispy duck skin, topped with just a touch of cheese and green onion.  Let me just say, there were no fries left unaccounted for when I was done with this dish.

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The roti taco was filled with satay chicken, spicy mayo (I think) and fresh veg. The roti as soft taco shell is light flaky container for the filling.  A pulled beef brisket version is also on the menu.

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Some good vibes playing and happy faces chowing down on some of the best Asian fusion street food in the city.  So, 1 order of Smokin’ Peking Duck poutine, one roti taco and two rice balls and a bottle of water for a total of $20.00 was tasty, filling and great value for two.

IMG_1294Congrats to the  happy and  hard-working crew inside the truck, including Allen and Bryan.  Look for them at the around the city and at the usual food truck outposts and make sure you get in line – it’s well worth the short wait.  Want to learn more about them, visit their website http://menutdot.com/welcome/ 

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7 1/2 lbs of fries, curd cheese and gravy, kids!

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The steady light drizzle and chilly weather didn’t stand in the way for hundreds of hungry poutine fans this past Saturday, October 13.  For the third year in a row the World Championship Poutine eating contest was held at Yonge Dundas Square in Toronto and was hosted by Smoke’s Poutinerie.

“If you’re going to Yonge Dundas Square, don’t forget to wear french fries in your hair.” Lol!

They came dressed in their french fry finery to chow down on that great Quebecois delicacy, poutine.  The long line up for free fries, gravy and cheese curds started at 11:00 a.m. and went all the way through to 5:oo p.m.  The big show however started at 3:00 with the Amateur World Poutine eating championship.

Going into this I had no clue what the difference was between an amateur and a pro.  Turns out, pros go from food eating contest to food eating contests eating the most of whatever is served for big cash.  The entertaining MC warmed the crowd up with poutine facts and folklore up to the 3:00 p.m. amateur competition.  The entrants to this first round of the championships were mainly skinny male university students with stomachs made of cast iron and a few courageous women.  We all remember those university days when we could eat anything and everything, not gain weight and go to a bar crawl the next evening.

The amateur event was six minutes of intense carb consumption.  The winner claimed victory after eating 7.5 lbs of poutine goodness.  While I couldn’t stay for the pro event an hour later, the winner of that event I hear finished more than 10 lbs to claim first prize.  Here are some of the highlights of the days activities and the amateur event.

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This week in food – Musings of a restaurant bon-vivant, Week of Sept.14-20

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This week’s food and restaurant scene news as I see it from Toronto and across the universe.

Lately it feels like a lot of restaurants are opening, making it seem like the Fall is the season for new eateries to come onto the scene, just in time for Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.  The reality is that many restaurants planned to open in the Spring, but get caught in delays with building/renovating the space, getting equipment, getting permits, passing inspections,  hiring, training staff and at some point probably ran out of money,  which pushes back a restaurant opening to months later.

It’s exciting when a long-awaited restaurant opens.  When a restaurant closes on the other hand, it is a sad finale and a financially crippling end to a dream. I folded the first page from Bourdain’s Kichen Confidential chapter on Owner’s Syndrome a few years ago when I first read the book –

Kitchen Confidential

Kitchen Confidential (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“To want to own a restaurant can be a strange and terrible affliction.  What cause such a destructive urge in so many otherwise sensible people? Why would anyone who has worked hard, saved money, often been successful in other fields, want to pump their hard-earned cash down a hole that statistically…will prove dry? That chances of ever seeing a return on your investment are about one in five.  What insidious spongi-form bacteria so riddles the brains of men and women that they stand on the tracks, watching the lights of the oncoming locomotive, knowing full well it will eventually run them over?”

This passage always comes to mind when I read about celebrities and other people with lots of disposable cash, opening restaurants or worse yet, chains of restaurants.  This week I read about Eva Longoria’s new Las Vegas restaurant SHe which will open on January 1, 2013.  It’s a steakhouse for women, high rolling women nonetheless, yup the ones who smoke cigars. Her previous entrepreneurial venture, Beso Restaurant in Las Vegas is now closed (didn’t do well)  and SHe will be in the same place.

Based on the descriptions, it sounds more like a Hollywood soundstage, where the decor is everything and well, yeah, they also serve food. Not sure if this is true, but given the restaurant’s tie with Mortons Steakhouse, it’s highly probable that a Wagyu Porterhouse will be offered for a mere $250.00.  But this is the type of meal you’d want to eat while wearing your Manolo Blahnik’s, n’est-ce pas?  Let’s watch this one, any bets on how long it will last?

So onto stories about real people and real food.  Seems like American style food trucks are finding a niche for themselves in Paris!  Street food is not new to Paris by any means, it’s one of the few places where you can find a sidewalk vendor hawking crepes made with real French butter.  Cantine California and Le Camion Qui Fume (The Smoking Truck) are two that have parked in the streets of Paris since April.  Although many of the customers are American ex-pats, the trucks are very popular with the younger French crowd who are fans of the New York and California lifestyles and food culture.  I will be following this one closely.  Read the related articles to find out more.

Speaking of French food and food trucks, Smoke’s Poutinerie  will be holding it’s very own World Poutine Eating Championships on Saturday, October 13 between 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. at Yonge Dundas Square.  There will also be FREE poutine, so you know I’ll be there.

Well that’s it for this week.  Have fork will travel.  Happy eating!

 

Bagels and Beer – great nosh at Caplansky’s

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I’ve haven’t been home to Montreal for a while and miss good deli food.  When I do go home, there are always many requests from friends, bosses and neighbours to bring back a brisket or two and “real” Montreal bagels.

My brother told me about this place he’d been to on College St, called Caplansky’s a couple of months ago that reminded him of Ben’s, Schwartz’s and Dunn’s, Montreal delis we’d go to for great smoked meat and his favourite breakfast of, two eggs, tongue, rye bread.    Today was Caplansky’s third anniversary and, of course, this was a great reason to go down and have a toast to making College St feel a little more like home to this ex-Montrealer.

 I crave the Bagel, Lox and Cream Cheese Platter and today, I ordered a beer in honour of their third anniversary.

The great thing about going to a deli for brunch is that it lasts you two meals (me anyways).  Full and satisfied without bursting is – my favourite feeling.  Here’s a couple more of my new favourites:

You could share this Leaning Tower of Caplansky with a friend, it’s enough to do that, but why?  Keep this all to yourself, challah french toast with Mandel’s cream – the best.

Someone say brisket?  It’s a lot of good food and we never seem to have trouble finishing everything.

The staff is great and there’s a choice of  four beers on tap.  Save room for rugelach… I dug in (I love these)  then remembered I needed to take a picture!

Find a reason to get there, if not find the Thunderin’ Thelma truck on Twitter @caplanskytruck. You won’t go hungry.

Kosher pâté, that’s what chopped liver really is… and good for you.  Happy eating.

This week in food – Musings of a restaurant bon-vivant

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There’s so much daily news about the food and restaurant scene that I thought I would compile the highlights of the  past week as I see them.  Follow me on Twitter to keep current on local and international epicurean happenings.

Labor Day has come and gone.  A fabulous summer now just a memory I toasted with a couple of bottles of Sauvignon Blanc last weekend, but the food scene is still hot going into the Fall and there’s so much eating, drinking, savouring and making reservations for that I need to set up a project plan to manage it all!  Here’s a summary of cool stuff  from the food and restaurant scene for August 31 to September 6.

Restaurants and Chefs

Charlie Trotter‘s in Chicago closed in grand style and nothing less would have been appropriate.  Charlie, his wife Rochelle with help from renowned chefs and an army of staff put on an intimate gala affair on August 31.  This behind the scenes video shows the enormous admiration and respect other chefs have for Mr. Trotter’s innovations and contributions over the past twenty-five years.  Watch the video.

Anthony Bourdain

This season will be the last of Anthony Bourdain‘s No Reservations.  Gosh, I always hate the end of a great food show but he will be on CNN once again travelling and discussing food in different cultures.  I hope he can maintain some of the gritty, bawdy food porn style on this network.

So closer to home Weslodge is getting a lot of press.  Opened on King St. in July, it’s the new stage for the young, hip wannabes with their Gold Amex cards.  It’s now on my list of places to get to before the big pre-holiday reservation party rush.  From mains of burgers to lamb shoulder, small plate choices that range from seared bonito to buffalo tartar with foie gras.  Cocktails come in single servings or a bottle size.  Hmm, wonder if I would get questioning stares if I dined alone and got a bottle of Orange Spiced Old Fashioned?  Don’t know, but going to give it a try.

Susur Lee and sons’ new restaurant Bent opened August 29th.  Once again we are treated to unique Asian creations and a great list of sakes. Located at 777 Dundas West and open Tuesday – Saturday.  Stay tuned for more on this one from me.

Food and Food events:  Caffeine, Caffeine, Caffeine

Toronto will be hosting the Canadian Barista Championship as part of the Canadian Coffee and Tea Show.  The annual trade show is open to entrepreneurs independent and chain operators this weekend.  So if you want to know what it takes to be a tea sommelier, this would be the place to get that information.

Caffeinated Maple Syrup will be making its way to a breakfast table near you.  As reported by the Huffington Post ‘the all-natural supercharged syrup packs 84mg of caffeine per serving — more than some energy drinks. So, you can stop soaking your waffles in Red Bull now.’  I’m thinking it would make a great breakfast shooter.

Start the day with a double rush of caffeine and sugar.
Photo credit:Wired Wyatt via [Thinkgeek]

In other maple news, a quarter of Quebec’s maple syrup reserves was stolen by thieves from a warehouse in St-Louis-de-Blandford.  Not much detail of how this sticky heist carried out, but police say while the estimated value of the maple syrup is $30.4 million (yes, millions) there will be no appreciable impact to the world maple syrup supply.  Thank goodness.

The Toronto International Film Festival kicked off this week. Yes, there will be high profile actors in town promoting their films, but there will also be much about where they eat.  Changing it up a little this year  Mark Macdonald has worked to bring food trucks and film together.  Slowly but surely Mark is getting food trucks the profile they need in this town and doing a great job.  Look forward to late night noshing following the films.

Have a good week of eating, folks!

Food Trucks rise up

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An article today in the Wall Street Journal speaks to the battle that’s starting between food trucks and traditional bricks and mortar restaurants.  Traditional restaurants are feeling the squeeze by the innovative food truck entrepreneurs.  Several cities in the U.S. and have enacted challenging parking laws and time restrictions for food trucks.  With the popularity and demand for easy to access street food, more issues will no doubt emerge.  Here is a link to the story http://ow.ly/cT2H8 

Toronto City Council recently voted to expand the menus of Hot Dog carts to include some pre-packaged items.  As the demand number of food trucks continues to grow in Toronto, we will continue to support the vendors and hopefully get support from Toronto City Council with issues such as parking and designated area for the trucks.

What are your thoughts on street food?  How popular are food trucks in your town?

Toronto Food Trucks

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There are many things that I love, but there are two things that I am passionate about, food and technology. I love food, all kinds of foods, comfort foods, ethnic foods, vegan foods, and especially dessert.  There isn’t much I haven’t tried and there isn’t much that I don’t like.  For me, a vacation to a new city means hours spent researching the best places to eat, not necessarily your five star, upscale, reserve six months in advance type places, but just good food of any kind.

So last summer when I was in L.A. I was on a quest to find interesting food trucks.  Every Tuesday night in Santa Monica food trucks gather in the parking lot of a local museum to serve up some of the best fusion fare on wheels.  Maria’s featured amazing homemade pastas and sauces made by real Italian women as the truck states and Global Soul had an interesting mix of tasty plates. 


Returning to Toronto, it was with a bit of disappointment when realized that we didn’t have as many trucks on the road as some other Canadian cities including Calgary and Vancouver, who are very much ahead of us.  However, I was not the only one who believed that we too, should have more mobile food availability.

Despite some challenges mainly with city by-laws and the licensing required to operate a food truck in Toronto, I am happy to say things have picked up considerably since last summer.  Last summer three guys, whom I think are brothers since their last names are all MacDonald set up a site called http://www.torontofoodtrucks.ca and have been advocating, supporting and reporting on all developments in the city related to getting more food trucks on Toronto streets.  Now, they have a daily update of all food truck locations across Toronto as well as Hamilton (which was ahead of Toronto in term of food trucks).  

Today I ventured down to Queen and Jarvis to a parking spot on the south side of Jarvis where four trucks, Blue Donkey, Buster Sea Cove – which you may recognize from their location in St. Lawrence Market, Gourmet Bitches and Sweetness Bakery.  Craving seafood I opted for the lobster roll from Buster’s Sea Cove.  For $10.00 I enjoyed a roll filled with fresh lobster, mayo with a side of lemon, a slice of dill and a bag of  Miss Vicky’s chips.  

Buster’s Sea Cove

Of course, I had room left for dessert.  For  $3.00 I had the chocolate sundae cupcake from Sweetness Bakery, moist homemade chocolate cake, vanilla buttercream, chocolate glaze and a Maraschino on top.  It couldn’t have been more complete or delicious  Indeed, it tasted just like a chocolate sundae, only maybe not as filling.

Chocolate Sundae Cupcake from Sweetness Bakery

Follow Toronto Food Trucks on Twitter for daily locations of all food trucks and visit their site to get updated on all food truck events and news as the MacDonald guys and their growing number of followers advocate for less stringent parking restrictions and more opportunities and visibility for what is a growing legion of foodies.