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!

 

 

 

 

Celebrate Ice Cream day with these Toronto cones

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This Sunday, July 17 is National Ice Cream Day. The day you can legitimately eat as much ice cream as you want.  I think 2016 can best be described as year of the cone, as the lowly ice cream wafer waffle is making way to more substantial dough based cones from Mexico and Europe.  Stuffed with sweet fillings, they’re oversized and over the top.

Pancho’s Bakery in Kensington Market features a churro cone.  This sweet baby is freshly made, sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and served slightly warm.

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Sauce is poured into the cone, filled with ice cream and topped with fruity cereal, walnuts or coconut.

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Dulce de Leche, chocolate ice cream and walnuts is a delicious combination.  It’s served in a plastic cup and spoon so that you can scoop up all the deliciousness.

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The next great cone is Eva’s Original Chimney’s which started as a food truck but you can find them at the Union Summer market until September 5. A very popular vendor at the market where you’ll find Bay St. suits lining up at lunch for  one of these.  Try to get there earlier in the week, Monday to Wednesday and later in the afternoon, there will be a much shorter queue and a lot less waiting.

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These crispy and light chimneys are baked and rolled in sugar and cinnamon. Fillings include apple compote, Nutella and strawberry preserves and topped soft-serve ice cream, more chocolate, bits of brownies or fruit.

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So far  I’ve had Eva’s Apple Pie and Berrylicious.  The soft-serve is great tasting and better than what you’ll get anywhere else. There are still a couple on the menu, so I guess I’ll have to go back!

Enjoy National Cone day on Sunday.  Drop me a line and let me know how you indulged.  Bon Appetit, friends!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

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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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.

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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.

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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

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.

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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/