Saturday, September 29, 2007

Caffeine on Queen, Part II

In my continuing quest for the best coffee in Toronto, or maybe I should say the most Seattle-like coffee experience in Toronto, the current title-holder is Dark Horse. They have all the right ingredients:

*Cute, slightly geeky baristas who perk up at the opportunity to muse aloud about the best beans (Dark City, Intelligentsia, 49th Parallel?), are more than happy to gossip about the latest addition to the local independent coffee scene (Manic Coffee) and only have good things to say about the owner (Mike Lee);

*A slightly hip, slightly irreverent atmosphere, clean but not immaculate, with newspapers strewn about;

*A chrome, high-end espresso machine (ok, I can't remember which brand, not being a true geek myself);

*Simple white cups and saucers; and

*A perfectly pulled espresso, with a thick crema and a slightly chocolately, slightly sweet flavor

Yeah, I'd say they have it down.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


The sweet crunchy pomegranate makes a lovely theme for a crisp fall evening out. We started out with pom kirs at our place (champagne with Pama pomegranate liqueur), followed by an impromptu espresso at Manic Cafe (see: and dinner next door at Pomegranate, a restaurant accurately described on their website as a cozy, unpretentious spot for reasonably priced Persian specialties. What their description fails to convey, however, is how innovative and delicious the food is!

What impressed me most was the richness of the textures and flavors, aided by braising and the judicious use of herbs, dried fruits, nuts and pom syrup. For appetizers, we had the spinach borani ($3.75), a dip of sautéed spinach, garlic and creamy yogurt and zeitoon parvardeh ($2.95), a tapenade of green olives marinated in a pomegranate walnut sauce with a generous amount of fresh garlic, both served with toasted pita bread. We probably could have done fine with three entrees for four people, but when we couldn't narrow down our top 4 choices, we just ordered them all!

*Qeymeh ($10.95) a tomato-based tangy stew of yellow split peas, lamb chunks and dried lime topped with cinnamon
*Adas Polo ($8.50) lentils, dates and raisins blended into a saffron basmati rice topped with crispy onion, lamb shank and barberries (an important ingredient in Persian cooking - see:,3605,1512761,00.html)
*Morasa Polo ($14.95), slivers of seville orange peel, almond and pistachio with diced carrots and barberries blended in saffron basmati rice served with a braised lamb shank, creamy yogurt and salad.
*Fesenjaan ($13.95), a classic Persian stew of boneless chicken breast, ground walnut and pomegranate syrup.

An Australian Shiraz, picked from the reasonably priced wine list ($17-$40), was a perfect match.

420 College Street

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Manic Mania

There we were, innocently walking along College Street near Bathurst, when out of the corner of my eye I saw "Intelligentsia" peering from a storefront window. A Pavlovian reaction ensued: heart racing, mouth watering, I looked up to see a sign for Manic Coffee. Outfitted with a high-end Synesso espresso machine and a six foot shelf lined with bags of beans from Chicago-based Intelligentsia Coffee, I knew I had entered nirvana. What could make the experience even grander? It was opening night and drinks were on the house!

My machiatto was good, but only alluded to the chocolately sweet and nutty taste I remember. It was technically prepared well, including a perfectly formed flower in the foam, but something was missing... I'm chalking it up to opening night obsession with form over substance and look forward to returning in a few weeks.

426 College Street, (416) 966-3888

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

My Search is Over

I've been searching for "Katmandu rich sauce" since we left Washington DC in 1991. Katmandu, a Nepalese and Indian restaurant near Dupont Circle was a favorite, with its tender chicken simmered and served in a rich, creamy tomato curry the color of burnt orange. I always wondered what secret ingredient led to its addictive quality.

My search is finally over. Katmandu rich sauce has reappeared as Rangoli's butter chicken and the secret ingredient turns out to be fenugreek. I couldn't help myself - two trips to the "all you can eat" buffet for lunch, and a take-out order later in the week for dinner. But that's not all. The menu at Rangoli goes beyond the usual suspects of masalas, vindaloos and biryanis. We tried mushroom kaju mutter, for example, a surprising combination of mushrooms, fresh green peas and cashew nuts in a fragrant sauce of tomatoes, garlic and toasted coriander seeds. Lamb simmered in Kashmiri-spiced almond and yogurt sauce made for a delicious roganjosh.

Our piping hot take-out order for two, complete with pappadum and little containers of chutney and raita, came to about $45 - with enough left over for my lunch the next day!

Rangoli, 1392 Yonge Street, south of St. Clair, 416-967-4111

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Hummus on Harbord

Don't let a nearly empty dining room at 93 Harbord tempt you to reconsider your choice for the evening and pick from one of the many nearby Italian joints instead. Although it may not be "hot" at the moment, chef/owner Isam Kaisi's reasonably priced and interesting North African and Middle Eastern dishes and friendly service make it a worthwhile stop.

Our appetizers were delicious: The grilled octopus was stuffed with a tasty mixture of peppers and feta. The hummus was a creamy version drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice that added a welcome tang. The accompanying pita bread was fresh and served warm. Our main courses were even better: braised lamb shank served with a dollop of minted yogurt and couscous-crusted red snapper topped with matchstick slices of mango and chili-lime butter. We ordered a bottle of red wine at first and then ran back to the waiter to switch to a bottle of cava which turned out to be a wise choice. The baklava was tempting but pistachio gelato on College Street beckoned. Unfortunately, the hunt for the real stuff (at least the creamy, intensely flavored version I remember from my trips to Italy) will go on after two failed attempts (including the much-touted Sicilian Sidewalk Cafe, which I'm embarrassed to say we tossed in the trash after waiting in line for 15 minutes...).

93 Harbord St. (at Spadina Ave, 4 blocks south of the TTC stop)