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!

 

 

 

 

Where to get the best frozen treats on a stick in Toronto

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Frozen treats have been trending over the past two summers. Artisanal and small batch ice cream and frozen pops on a stick stores are popping up with surprising and exciting flavours.

The hot and humid days last week had me working my list of ice cream shops and paleterias that needed to be sampled.

Strawberry, guava and coconut ice pop

My first stop was Kekou Gelato House at 394 Queen St W. It’s late Wednesday afternoon with no lineup, so I take my time, review the menu and scan the display before deciding on the vegan Strawberry, Guava and Coconut pop.

The freshness of the strawberry and guava blend beautifully together.  The coconut top layer brings this tropical treat together with a creamy finish.  Kekou has many choices including traditional dairy gelato but the vegan options are delicious and are made in-house with real fruit.

Next stop, Wrestlers paleteria in Kensington Market.  Opened just this May, this basement store below La Tortilleria is a long, sparsely decorated space with enough seats to stay awhile enjoy your dessert. But as you walk to the back where the cases of paletas are, suddenly the room lights up with happy colours and bright flavours.

Paletas menu

The menu lists twenty different flavour combinations split between dairy and water/ fruit juice based.

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I have the Pina Colada paleta, just plain this time.  You can pimp your paleta by having it dipped in chocolate and sprinkled with a variety of optional topping for a few extra pesos.

Pina Colada Wrestlers

Last but certainly not least on this frozen pop recognizance mission, I hit up Seven Lives Paleteria which also opened last month in Kensington Market.
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A bright and cheery bubblegum pink store with all forms of traditional Mexican soft-serve, non-dairy delights and toppings to make any sugar rush better.  What you will find here is cold, hot, sweet and spicy treats you won’t find anywhere else.

IMG_7476 The daiquiri paleta has an unusual base of Tajin – a seasoning combination which includes chili peppers, sea salt and dehydrated lime.  Traditionally used in Mexico as a seasoning on fresh fruit such as pears, apples, oranges, etc., it boosts the flavours and is mild enough for anyone to enjoy.

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I found the Tajin a bit overwhelming at first, but it reminded me of a poolside drink from a beach holiday. It’s a taste that you have to acquire, and I’d try it again with a different flavour ice pop.

IMG_7479If you’re looking for something more than what Popsicle Pete offers, there are so many new combinations of creamy and fruity, sweet and savoury to amp up and cool your hot summer days.  Toronto is bursting with frozen goodness vendors this year, so go and discover what’s new.  Bon appétit, friends!

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

Summerlicious 2014 – Bodega French Restaurant

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Going to Bodega is kind of my own personal signal that summer has officially started.  For the past four years Bodega French Restaurant the first stop on my Summerlicious itinerary.   So why is Bodega my favourite?  Well, there’s a few things.

First, it’s in Baldwin Village on the very quiet and quaint Beverly St.  This wonderful little enclave of restaurants north of Dundas feels like a getaway from the usual downtown core. The interior of Bodega is cosy and is the popular spot for couples, but as I dine alone quite a bit, the patio is a great place for single dining and people watching.

Second, Bodega’s Summerlicious menu is one of the best values on the list of restaurants.  For an extra $3.00 to the Summerlicious $20.00 lunch menu you can get a glass of house wine.  An option I always take. The multigrain bread is homemade and served to you slightly warm, a great start with my glass of white. Rabbit terrine is a regular feature of the Summerlicious menu and a choice I look forward to every year.

The crispy skinned duck leg confit is savoury and tender.  The grilled Stealhead is a rustic dish of trout atop a bed of quinoa topped with mustard sauce. Third, the service is very attentive.  A very hard-working efficient wait staff make sure thatBodega Patio3 water glasses are refilled, orders arrive at the same time and are hot and well-timed.

I whiled away the afternoon with my wine watching the lunch crowd slowly leave.  I am firm believer that there’s always time in your life for traditional French food, don’t you? Enjoy the Summerlicious 2014 opportunity to try the menu because there are only a few days left.

http://www.bodegarestaurant.com/

 

 

 

 

Brasserie Les Halles – New York Restaurant week, Part 3

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Les Halles front

It would not have been a complete trip to New York without a visit to the Anthony Bourdain‘s home base, Brasserie Les Halles.  My reservation is  for two at seven-thirty on Saturday night at the Park Avenue location.

Two-hundred and ninety-four restaurants, including Les Halles,  take part in New York restaurant week which goes from July 22 to August 16th.  Restaurants offer prix-fixe menus for lunch at $25 and dinner for $38.

By New York standards seven-thirty is still a little early for dinner in this town that never sleeps, but the patio is full when we get there.  The hostess checks our reservation and shows us to our table.

The interior is old but charming and warm, the bar seats all taken with New Yorkers having wine and cocktails.  At the table next to us they are watching one as a cook prepare their bananas foster in the traditional way, table side.

inside les halles

While the Restaurant Week menu does offer a good choice of dishes that make up the prix-fixe menu, we decide to try some of the other offerings.  We order the escargots and the Croutons de Coulommiers rotis, au miel et poivre, that is,  Brie topped with honey, cracked pepper, roasted and served on croutons.  The escargots are smooth, rich and tasty, melted butter does that to food.  The Brie is lightly drizzled with clover honey, light to the taste – not too sweet or heavy.

We are most excited about our side order of Truffle Mac and Cheese, we both immediately dig in.  The mac and cheese is perfect, the truffle oil is a great addition, however we both felt there was just a little too much, which made the flavour quite intense – nevertheless it didn’t stop us from devouring it.

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My daughter ordered the Magret de Canard, Sauce Grenade.  Beautiful med-well done duck breast with a pomegranate sauce, scalloped potatoes and French beans.  Typical, traditional bistro food – a hearty dish with soul.

duck les hallesThe Mignon de Porc Maison with garlic confit and mashed potatoes is mine.  Simple pork tenderloin, tender without a lot of overwhelming sauce or seasoning.

pork at les hallesA few glasses of an excellent French house white wine to make a good meal great, wine really can do no wrong with food.  The restaurant is  just about full by the time we are finishing up our meals.

We relax for a while feeling satisfied and happy with the food this evening, but we are not done, onto dessert.  We choose the featured dessert, the Frozen Walnut Mousse.  I also order a Cafe Les Halles with Kahlua, coffee, crème Chantilly and flambé with Grand Marnier.

It’s a comfortable evening in Midtown Manhattan.  The patio is still full with people enjoying the night and the slower pace of traffic along Park Avenue in the evening.  We walk a for few blocks talking about which part of the meal we enjoyed most.  I will go back on my next visit and I recommend you give it a try next time you’re in New York – honest bistro food, served the way it should be.

Happy eating, everyone!