Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A Detour to Seattle

Having had many terrific meals over the 14 years we lived in Seattle, it says a lot that I would take up space here to report on one we had on our first trip back. I remembered eating at Monsoon once before and enjoying it, but our dinner there on Saturday night was nothing short of extraordinary. The James Beard Foundation got it right when it observed that Chef Eric Bahn "artfully merges the traditional flavorings from his native Vietnam with the bounty of the Pacific Northwest, and neither component is overshadowed by the other."

I can't get the carmelized idaho catfish claypot with coconut juice, green onions and thai chilies out of my mind - sweet, salty, spicy and sour all at once. Another stellar dish was the grilled monterey squid stuffed with duck meat, basil and jicama, with each flavor taking center stage as you ate. The Washington white corn and berkshire pork belly were a delicious combination - but perhaps even more inspired was nodrog's instinct to dunk a spoonful of both in the claypot to soak up the broth! The wine list was no less impressive - with many reasonably priced and interesting choices. Our recent fascination with German white wines was easily satisfied with a Hexamer riesling spatlese. Who says screw-tops can't compete with cork?

Now, how to convince them to open a branch in Toronto?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

March On Over

Wanted: Good value take-out sushi on the way to the Docks Drive-In

Found: Good value take-out sushi worth driving across the city for!

Sushi Marché is a take-out find! Fresh fish, perfectly sticky rice and low overhead (take-out only) were the key ingredients of our $65 dinner. After "oohing" and "aahing" over the beautifully arranged platter, it didn't take long to down 2 California rolls, 1 hamachi roll, 1 shrimp tempura and avocado roll, 3 orders of hamachi sashimi (6 pieces), 2 orders of tuna sashimi (6 pieces) and 2 orders of unagi sushi (4 pieces), with the help of chilled sake from the LCBO!

1105 Queen Street E

Caffeine on Queen

We'll eventually take our planned whirlwind tour of espresso bars along Queen Street East, but this afternoon we got as far as Red Rocket Coffee at 1402B (just east of Greenwood Avenue). The staff "hellos" from the moment we walked in and the friendly chit-chat while we ordered immediately gave the place a welcoming atmosphere, but we were blown away when the manager delivered a just-baked pastry "on the house" when he heard we were new to Toronto! So much for low-carb livin... And the espresso? Our single macchiatos - with their dark chocolate finish - were the perfect pick-me-up!

Friday, August 17, 2007


I do not purport to be a barbecue aficianado - indeed, I wouldn't even begin to enter the raging debate that I've personally witnessed among natives of Texas, North Carolina and Kansas City as they each defend the honour of their regional recipe. But what I can say is that the Black Camel serves delicious pulled pork with spicy barbecue sauce. Primarily a take-out joint with a few outside tables, Black Camel offers sandwiches of slow roasted beef brisket, pulled pork, pulled chicken or veggies, and on the day I visited, pulled lobster (prompting foodie nodrog to remark: "pulled must be the new confit").

4 Crescent Road at Yonge near the Rosedale TTC

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

What Were They Thinking?

OK, let me see if I've got this right:

Money donated by Michael Lee-Chin to the Royal Ontario Museum: $30 million

Money spent to renovate the Royal Ontario Museum, including construction of the Daniel Libeskind-designed Michael Lee-Chin Crystal: $270 million

Money spent by the federal Canada-Ontario Infastructure Program to build the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal: $30 million

Money spent on tacky "push" and "pull" stickers on the doors to the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal: $2

This is architecture abuse!

Photo courtesy of nodrog

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Dumplings Galore

Strolling Spadina in the middle of Kensington Market, it's hard not to notice the Chinese woman in the storefront window shaping wonton-wrapper dumplings by hand. In a matter of minutes, the counter is piled high with dumplings, ready to be steamed or pan-fried. We took a seat at the Dumpling House Restaurant and ordered the $6 steamed medley - four each of 3 flavors from a list of about 10 options. We tried the pork and cabbage, shrimp and pork, and seafood. Oh, and the leftover beef dumplings the guy next to us urged us to finish as he got up to leave (no, we don't usually forage other tables for food, but since he offered...). They were all delicious, with just the right balance of chewy but not too thick outside and flavourful inside. We also shared the egg drop soup ($4), which had a rich broth filled with swirls of egg whites and floating paper-thin mushroom slices. This counts as the "cheap eats" I've been looking forward to since we decided to move to Toronto!

328 Spadina Ave, 416-596-8898, Open 11 am - 11 pm

PS: They only take cash, but there are two ATMs within two blocks.
Photo courtesy of nodrog

Thursday, August 9, 2007

An Island Oasis

The ferry to Centre Island was packed with people from stem-to-stern on Sunday afternoon, mainly families with kids in strollers and coolers filled with food for a feast. As the crowd spilled out onto the island, we began to wonder if we had made the right choice of excursion on this civic holiday weekend. But after a few minutes' walk, we left the hoards behind and began to find peace, quiet and a refreshing breeze along a path leading to a hidden gem: The Rectory Cafe. A pleasant smell beckoned us closer and we suddenly realized we had no choice but to enjoy a late lunch on the lakeside patio. Grilled salmon caesar salad and iced tea for two, please!

Lovin' Livia

Tucked within Lileo, a clothing store in the Distillery District, Livia serves up healthy and delicious juices, salads and sandwiches. We ordered a $7 salad with a tasty combination of greens, pumpkin seeds, avocado and papaya, with a can of tuna mixed in for an extra $4 - easily enough for two hungry eaters to share. That plus a double espresso macchiato from Balzac's Coffee and you're good to go!

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Cava Delights

Rated by Toronto Life Magazine as one of the best new restaurants in 2007, Cava is a tapas bar located in a mall on Yonge just north of St. Clair. The service was excellent. When our cava mojitos were taking a bit longer than one might expect, our waiter brought us complimentary half-glasses of cava to toast with and take the edge off a long week. The dishes were served in a logical order at appropriate intervals:

*Watercress and roasted beet salad with marcona almonds - the crunch of the salty, oily nuts hidden under the watercress elevated this dish from ordinary to special
*Pinchos of sockeye salmon machaca and avocado - I had high hopes for this dish, but it was disappointingly bland and boring
*Croquetas of cauliflower and manchego with roasted tomato sauce - same comment as above
*Roast boneless quail filled with spiced chicken and served with Moorish style spinach - now you're talkin' - a great combination of flavors - close your eyes and you're in Morocco
*Swiss chard with pine nuts and currants - a tapa bar staple, good but not great
*Crispy braised pork belly with buckwheat noodle, new potato and savoy cabbage gratin - this may have been the best dish - lovingly prepared, it had that "slow food" quality, with a surprising combination of ingredients and flavors that "worked"
*Broiled, cider-glazed sablefish with black rice and escarole - a close tie for best dish - the fish had a crispy glaze on the outside, tender and melt-in-your mouth on the inside. The black rice cooked al dente had a pleasant nutty flavor.

The bill for two with wine came to about $105. PS - don't make the mistake of asking for the menu. Look down - it's the napkin holder!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Worth the Wait

If you enter Pastis without reservations on a busy night, and the friendly owner Georges Gurnon says "it will be a few minutes, why don't you have a drink at the bar" and when twenty minutes go by while you sip champagne, he again says "it will be just five more minutes, they are paying their bill" and he tempts you with a slice of house-made pate on toasted french bread, and you suddenly realize it's been 20 more minutes and you're thinking of finding another place nearby to eat, do not be tempted because dinner here is worth the wait! I only need to describe the dishes and I think you'll be convinced:

*Herbed goat cheese on a bed of arugula with sweet pepper oil
*Creamy fish soup with a subtle note of pernod and freshly grated parmesan to sprinkle on top
*Pan-seared liver, prepared medium rare, in a delightful sauce with cloves of garlic and cubes of bacon, accompanied by a mound of crisp frites
*Veal scallopini with just the right touch of lemon, atop handmade tagliatelli
*A reasonably priced bottle of Alsatian pinot gris

Needless to say, we had no room for dessert...

At about $200 for 2, it's not cheap eats by any means, but I'd say it's a good value for the price - the food is delicious, the service is gracious, and the bustling French bistro atmosphere is a treat!

1158 Yonge St. (at Marlborough Ave)