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!

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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 17 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!

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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.

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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.

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

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.

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.