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!

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

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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Bourbon in the Afternoon at Home of the Brave

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It’s sunny but breezy and cold.  No matter, it’s Thursday before the long weekend and I need to get away from my home office. It’s been a long week in front of the desktop and I need a diversion.  A quick ride on the streetcar down Spadina to King St. W gets me to my destination.

Whisky:Bourbon2Home of the Brave is on the second floor above Lou Dawgs at 589 King St. W.  My spirits begin to lift as I walk up the stairs to the sound of Jessica by the Allman Brothers.  Yep, this was what I needed and it was going to be good.

It felt a little like 6th Street in Austin on a sunny afternoon.  The atmosphere is laid-back and the soundtrack is Doobie Brothers and Bob Dylan tunes.  My friends from Kentucky and Maryland are lined up to welcome me; George Dickel rye whisky, Knob Creek bourbon and of course, Johnny Walker.  The lunch crowd is made up of tables from the creative shops along King St.W, there sitting around MACs throwing ideas back and forth.

IMG_7894The urban saloon shelves are lined with mason jars and pieces of Americana on the walls.The graffiti chalkboard design above the bar are the descriptions of the 13 American Colonies and Benjamin Franklin’s, Join or Die cartoon.

 All your favourite vintage bourbon or rye whisky cocktails can be had. A few house cocktails a rotating number of what they call, guest book cocktails are featured.

IMG_7898I had a “Sure thing, Dave” which was a cool combination of grapefruit juice, bourbon (I believe). Order one if you go on a really hot day.

The comfort food menu criss-crosses the U.S. with items like Philly Cheesesteak, Maryland Crab Cakes, Chicken and Waffles.

I decide to go light and have the beet salad.  A tasty salad of pickled Heirloom beets, prosciutto, house smoked ricotta, balsamic reduction, crispy parmesan, walnuts with cider dressing.IMG_7906

The staff is smiling, laid-back and happy to help explain the menu.  The service is efficient at both the bar and on the floor, orders are flowing from the open kitchen at the back. Philly Cheesesteaks and Ribwiches come out of the kitchen quickly, so do a lot of their signature, Freedom Fries – fries with coriander catsup, malt vinegar, Manchego cheese and herbs.

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The best place to sit is at the bar which spans half the space. The space between the seats is roomy and the view of the choice of Bourbon, Rye and Whiskies will keep you planning your next drink, and the drink after that.

IMG_7899While the daylight hours get longer, but it’s not that warm yet that the crowds are out in the middle of the day, Home of the Brave is a good place to languish in the afternoon with a bit of Bourbon in a bar that reminds you of someplace else.

Other interesting related links:

http://www.gq.com/life/food/201311/bourbon-whiskey-family-tree

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/30/dining/bourbons-masters-of-the-craft.html?hpw&rref=dining&_r=1

Crazy Uncle – fresh and natural summer cocktails at the LCBO

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Crazy Uncle

crazy uncle daiquiri webI was recently introduced to Canada’s first-ever, one pour culinary cocktail, Crazy Uncle.  I am a daiquiri aficionado and have tried many ready-made cocktails, but been disappointed with them being either too sweet or too artificial tasting.

Crazy Uncle was developed by two Toronto brothers, Bruno and Davide Codispoty who commissioned renowned mixologist, Frank Solarik from Toronto’s Bar-Chef, one of the top 100 bars in the world, to create these fresh and flavourful one-pour cocktails.

What makes Crazy Uncle different for me?  It’s many things, but mainly it’s the original blend of natural flavours which hit the mark and the right amount of sweetness.  I was intrigued by the Basil Lime & Honey Daquiri and was not disappointed.  It’s a mellow drink, perfect for sitting at home on the patio or enjoying with friends.  It’s wonderfully light and the basil gives it an exotic undertone, complementing the sweetness of pineapple and coconut.

Crazy Uncle cocktails come complete with a packet of sugar rimmer.  The Basil Lime & Honey Daquiri comes with a  lime rind and elderflower sugar rimmer, a perfect complement to this cocktail.  All you have to do is fill the glass with ice and a straw and you’re all set to go.

I was so impressed with the Basil Lime & Honey Daquiri I decided to try something a little different.  I was a little reluctant, but I decided to go outside my comfort zone and try the Mint & Cola Bitters Julep.Julep  This one was a real surprise!

Think of your favourite cocktail that features cola and take it up a notch, that’s what the Mint and Cola Bitters Julep is like. I found it was a great drink to have with casual foods like pizza or tacos. The flavours of cardamom, star anise and clove add spice and give this cocktail a sophisticated touch.

These inspired ready-to-drink cocktails developed right here in Ontario are the best I’ve had. So take a run to the LCBO and give Crazy Uncle a try.  Crazy Uncle sells for $18.96/1000 ml,  you won’t find any ready to pour that more original and sure to be a hit at your next summer party.  Better get to the LCBO before the season is over!

Cheers, everyone!