It’s Harvest Season

It’s been a weird summer, especially for farmers, but those fruits and vegetables keep on coming regardless. This being the peak of the season, there’s no better time to enjoy a meal prepared from locally-sourced ingredients.

The Gladstone Hotel continues its Harvest Wednesdays series until mid-October with a variety of prix fixe dinners and tasting events featuring produce from Chick-A-Biddy Acres CSA Farm, as well as many other local producers of meat, cheese, produce, grain, honey, wine and beer.

If you haven’t made it out to a Harvest Wednesdays event yet, it’s not too late – the prix fixe dinners continue on August 26th, September 2nd, 16th, 23rd and 30th, and October 14th. These four-course dinners are $35 plus tax and gratuity and wine pairings are also available.

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Sunday Brunch – Boho Bistro

Boho Bistro
392 Roncesvalles Avenue
416-516-7446
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $46

Didn’t this place used to be bigger? The pretty little bistro on Roncesvalles has a bit of a split personality – last year, owner Fergus Munster split the place in two and installed a classic pub called Liver Bird in the back half. The kitchen continues to turn out traditional bistro fare in the front along with some really brilliant gastro pub grub for the back room, and at brunch, it’s a combination of the best of both styles, jazzing up the classic brunch dishes with unique Boho touches.

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Stop Walking Past and Come on In

Caffino
1185 King Street West
416-588-9010
Dinner for two with all taxes, tip, wine and coffee: $110

I’ve walked past Caffino a hundred times – literally – without ever going in. When I worked in Liberty Village I would consider grabbing my morning coffee from there, but the Roastery was closer to work and on cold winter mornings, travel time really did count.

Even living 5 minutes away wasn’t compelling enough, especially when hot new places started popping up nearby. Their website didn’t help – the menu page never worked at all and the only thing I could find was a list of celebrities who had eaten there, which is more of a reason to stay away than make a beeline for the place in my book. (Their current website is no better –  it’s just a splash page with a note about it re-launching in December ’08.)

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Sunday Brunch – Globe Bistro

globeswinedine

Globe Bistro
124 Danforth Avenue
416-466-2000
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $60

So here’s a conundrum… where to take visitors who are into eating locally for brunch? There are lots of dinner options out there, but brunch, if the restaurant is even serving it, seems to be a lot of the same old, same old.

Fortunately Globe Bistro fit the bill, and our friends from Buffalo were on board as soon as we started reading the locally-sourced menu to them over the phone.

Upon arrival, we immediately start off with coffee and The Baker’s Basket ($10); an overly generous basket of scones, cornbread and cinnamon loaf with strawberry and pepper preserves. The value for money theme of the warm and flaky pastries is one that runs throughout the meal. Despite using local products, which can cost more, Chef Kevin McKenna manages to offer up hearty servings at a reasonable price. We’re impressed with both the quality and quantity of the pastries – the basket is enough for four of us to split.

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Where Chefs and Farmers Come Together

chefmarket_stjohnsbread

The world of the professional kitchen is a far cry from cooking at home – in so many ways – but the most obvious is the scale on which restaurants work compared to the home cook. Chefs dedicated to offering dishes made from the best ingredients spend a lot of time tracking down the products – and producers – who can consistently provide them with a quality product.

For years, most restaurants have worked with restaurant supply companies or importers at the food terminal, and the idea of working directly with local farmers seemed painstaking and difficult. How could a chef know which local farmer could supply enough potatoes for their famous frites? Or which grass-fed beef was the best?

The idea of bringing chefs and local farmers together has gained momentum in the past few years as the local food movement has taken hold in the GTA. With more than 20 farmers markets for individuals spread out across the city, wouldn’t it be a great idea to set up a farmers’ market just for chefs? A place where farmers and chefs could meet, where wholesale orders of large quantities could be accommodated and where a chef could put in an order and it could be delivered to their kitchen door.

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Sunday Brunch – Morning Glory

morningglorysandwich

Morning Glory
457 King Street East
416-703-4728
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $30

Morning Glory is one of those neighbourhood joints that fly under the radar. A popular Corktown breakfast spot since December 2003, it now tends to get overshadowed by Gilead Café, just around the corner. But on the Sunday morning we visit, the flow of customers is good, with many headed for the small but cute patio out back.

Inside, wooden tables sit in front of the church pews that line one wall. It’s a wee spot, only 20 seats, and the kitchen is smaller than what I work out of at home. A staff member washes dishes by hand while another pulls back an undersink curtain to pull out an iPod attached to the stereo system. It may look all retro and kitsch but they’re embracing technology.

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Sunday Brunch – Nyood

nyoodsmokedsalmonNyood
1096 Queen Street West
416-466-1888
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $50

Those folks that make the clam and tomato juice are on some kind of campaign to make the Caesar Canada’s official cocktail but they’ll get no support from me to do it. The very last thing I want to even think about when sitting down for brunch is the salty burning combination of vodka, clamato juice and celery salt (or whatever it is that goes around the rim of those things). Seriously… no. So we’re not off to an auspicious start when our group of four sits down at Nyood for brunch on a recent rainy Sunday to be presented with an amuse of teeny versions of Nyood’s cherry tomato Caesar. Three of the things sit and taunt us throughout the meal and the lone Caesar drinker at the table is happy to stop after just one.

Coffee, please, all around, and keep it coming. Which, thankfully they do, and it’s even decent stuff.

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Afternoon Tea – Still a Lady’s Domain

kinged_sweets

Le Meridien King Edward
Victoria’s Restaurant
37 King Street East
416-863-9700
Afternoon tea for two with all taxes and tip: $65

Afternoon tea often gets categorized as something fussy and old-fashioned. Perhaps it’s the dainty china, or the teeny pastries or even the sandwiches with the crusts cut off. It also has a reputation as being very girly, its origins firmly ensconced in British tradition dating back to 1661 when Catherine of Braganza brought the custom with her from Portugal when she married Charles II.

In modern usage, many places serving afternoon tea have taken to calling it “high tea”, a custom that makes tea aficionados screech with horror. For my part, I make a point of avoiding places that claim to serve “high” tea yet roll out tiered trays of scones and pastries – if you don’t, as a restaurant, even know what meal you’re serving, that doesn’t leave me with any faith that you’ll be able to do it well.

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The Flavours of Summer Are Set to Shine at Harvest Wednesdays

harvestjulyravioli

It has spawned countless copycats, and has earned Chef Marc Breton a local food hero award from the Toronto Food Policy Council. It brings together farmers and local food producers with the people who eat their food. It has created friendships and communities, and has taught urbanites how easy (and delicious) it is to eat with the seasons.

Harvest Wednesdays is back for its fourth year, offering up dishes made from locally grown produce, as well as locally-produced meats, cheeses, wines, beer and more.

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Sunday Brunch – Merci Mon Ami

mercimonami_croissant

Merci Mon Ami
171 East Liberty Street, #107
647-436-3832
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $40

As had been made evident on this site before, I am not a patio person, especially a streetside patio. But on a quiet Sunday morning, my bags loaded with goodies from the Liberty Village farmers market, I can’t help but be completely charmed by the front patio at Merci Mon Ami.

And charm is the operative word here. This Liberty Village sandwich shop does most of their business on weekdays, opening for breakfast and lunch and closing at 3pm to focus on catering. Inside, the space is elegantly decorated and seating is two long communal tables, but the patio is pretty iron chairs and tables, pots of flowers and a sunny view of the market tents.

The market plays a big role in Merci Mon Ami’s brunch menu, with many of their ingredients including maple syrup, produce, honey, meats and bread sourced from no further than across the parking lot.

Potential customers should know that the card is a short one – 4 mains and 3 baguette sandwiches are all priced at $13.50. There’s also a mixed green salad ($6.19) and sides in the form of croissants, bacon or yogurt and granola ($3.10 each).

The French toast and Croque Monsieur look appealing but we opt for the other two mains instead.

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A Summerlicious Survival Guide

trevor_lamb

It’s that time of year again. Summerlicious (July 3rd – 19th);  when diners flock to Toronto’s restaurants in search of a cheap meal, and restaurant staff groan and complain at the long hours and stiffed tips. Summer (and Winter) Licious are self-perpetuating catch-22s. Diners expect poor service and so tip poorly regardless, while servers expect poor tips and so give bad service. It’s enough to make some of us avoid the whole thing completely. But it doesn’t have to be that way. With just a few basic rules in place for both customers and restaurants, Summerlicious could be a lovely, enjoyable, even civilized event. Here’s how…

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Chowing Down with ChowBella

chowbellatrinaCulinary tourism. It’s a funny phrase but anyone who has ever planned a trip based around where and what they’ll be eating is, in fact, a culinary tourist. And as our palates become more sophisticated, culinary tourism is actually a growing industry.

But how to find the best places to eat on your trip? Sure, it’s easy enough to turn to forums like ChowHound or a restaurant rating site, but there’s no real way of telling whether the people offering advice or reviews a) share your tastes and interests or sense of value for money, or b) know what the heck they’re talking about in terms of quality and authenticity. So it makes sense to turn to someone with expertise in the local food community; someone who knows all about local food and wine, where to shop and where to eat.

A culinary concierge can offer a variety of services, to both travelers and locals, that make eating in a particular city a delight rather than a nightmare. Here in Toronto, Trina Hendry of ChowBella Culinary Experiences & Concierge is an expert on the local dining scene and can advise both visitors and locals on everything to do with food, from the best places to dine to food festivals and events.

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Sunday Brunch – Sage West

sagewestbreadpudding

Sage WestClosed
924 College Street
647-346-6183
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $30

Most people are probably more familiar with Sage Café on McCaul Street than they are with her sister restaurant Sage West. It’s one of those places you really want to like; it’s a pretty space that doubles as a lounge with live salsa bands and dancing in the evening; the staff is friendly and accommodating. The food… well the food is just mediocre.

We arrive to discover only one other table occupied, yet the extensive menu has many things crossed off. The chicken pot pie and the potato latkes are no longer on offer, and the chicken burrito handwritten onto the printed menu is also not available. Our server tells us the restaurant is in the process of changing the menu to reflect a move to more Latin-American fare (thus the salsa dancing), but the scratched out menu sheets are still kind of sloppy.

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There’s Nothing to be Nervous About

 

Trattoria Nervosa
75 Yorkville Avenue
416-961-4642

When we last talked to Chef Andrea Nicholson back in late November, she was at the helm of a sinking ship. Despite her best efforts at creating an accessible, locally-sourced menu of classic Canadiana with a fine dining twist, 35 Elm Street, the restaurant where she worked as the executive chef, was failing. In fact, only days after we ran a profile on Nicholson and her work at 35 Elm, the place was abruptly shuttered.

“We were told while we were prepping for dinner service,” the chef remembers. “It was such a slap in the face. It breaks my heart.”

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Toronto Taste 2009 – Good Eats in Pictures

Fabulous whitefish sandwiches from Epic at the Royal York.

We came, we saw, we ate.

Second Harvest’s Toronto Taste fundraising event was, by our observation, a resounding success. Spread out over Cumberland Street and the Village of Yorkville Park, over 30 of Toronto’s top restaurants, as well as a number of wineries and breweries, offered samples of their finest fare. While tickets were $225 a pop, attendees were offered unlimited food and drink, plus the opportunity to rub shoulders with some celebrity chefs including Michael Smith and Mark McEwan (anyone who lingered too long at the One booth could also have earned themselves a cameo in an upcoming episode of McEwan’s TV show The Heat), not to mention event host and TV personality Carlo Rota. It was wonderful to see attendees dressing up (I was tempted to start snapping photos of cute outfits as well as the luscious food) and even a little bit of rain didn’t put chefs or guests off their game.

Here is a collection of pics taken by Greg and I throughout the evening. There wasn’t a lot of signage or a list of who was serving what, so some of the food porn doesn’t have a chef or restaurant attached to it. Apologies in advance to the chefs who I haven’t been able to match to their food. If you were there and can identify the chef/restaurant of the mystery dishes, please let me know.

Finally, thanks to the organizers for such a fabulous event, to all the chefs and restaurants who made it a true feast for the senses and to the many, many volunteers who went out of their way to ensure that guests had forks and napkins and clean plates. Congratulations to you all – truly a job well done!

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Sunday Brunch – Bonjour Brioche

Bonjour Brioche
812 Queen Street East
416-406-1250
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $25 (cash only)

People seem to either love or hate Bonjour Brioche. I regularly come across raves about their exquisite pastries and breads, but the service, and the line-up on weekends, can be a sticking point. In fact, in order to ensure we’d get a table to do this review, we actually visited on a Friday. Even then, by noon the place, including the patio, had filled up.

I suspect that a big part of Bonjour Brioche’s charm is that it’s so charming. Mixed furniture, pretty blue cotton tablecloths and tchotchkes mix well with display cases of tarts and cakes and baskets of bread, brioche and flaky croissants.

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The Many Flavours of Riverside

Greg tells many great stories of the time he lived at Queen and Broadview in the late 80s, upstairs from one of the guys from  Skinny Puppy. Those stories almost always come back to the fact that there was a dearth of restaurants in the area back then, and save for but a few greasy spoons, you pretty much had to leave the neighbourhood to find a decent place to eat.

What a difference a couple of decades makes, with the recently-named Riverside District having become a magnet for young families, boutiques and galleries as well as hip restaurants, cafes and food shops. A stroll along Queen Street East from the Don River over to Carlaw offers up any number of great places to eat and shop for food. And let’s not forget the coffee.

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Sunday Brunch – La Tortilleria

La Tortilleria
1040 St. Clair Avenue West
647-344-2429
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and hot chocolate: $30

Rubbernecking as the St. Clair West bus rumbled eastward on a Saturday morning, the hungry husband and I both see the sign at the same time “Now serving weekend breakfast”. So we pass up the roti at the Green Barns Farmers Market and walk back to Dufferin to La Tortilleria. Because we loves us some Mexican food.

However, when we arrive we realize that our knowledge of Mexican food really only involved the more typical dinner entrees – what the heck do they eat for breakfast in Mexico anyway?

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Be Vewwy Vewwy Quiet – We’re Hunting Donairs

donair_primetime1

In a city that prides itself on being one of the most multi-cultural in the world, it’s laughable to think that it’s difficult to find authentic Canadian foodstuffs in Toronto. From balut to yak milk, grape leaves to berebere spice, somewhere in the small ethnically-oriented neighbourhoods of our city, foreign food items can be found. Yet when it comes to classic Canadian dishes, it’s easier to book a flight to Halifax than it is to find an authentic version of an east coast favourite like the donair.

Those who are unfamiliar with the experience of stumbling drunkenly to the infamous “pizza corner” in the wee hours of a Halifax night to gorge on that city’s most beloved street food might not understand that a donair is not the same as a gyro. Same premise, yes, but many differences.

The meat is different (beef for donairs versus lamb for gyros); the donair sauce, made with evaporated milk, sugar, garlic powder and vinegar bears only visual resemblance to the traditional tzatziki-based gyro sauce, and I’ve seen people come to fisticuffs over the addition of toppings beyond the de rigeur diced raw onions and tomatoes.

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On the Shelf – May 24, 2009

Here’s a few new things we came across this month that are definitely worth sharing.

Margaret’s Artisan Bakery Crisps
We came across these at the Ontario Cheese Society tasting in late April. Better known for their Margaret’s Artisan Flatbreads, these organic flour crisps from MJ Fine Foods are made in Vaughn and come in a variety of flavours that pair wonderfully with cheese, pate or dips. I’ve been treating them like the British version of “crisps” and have been eating them like chips. Favourite flavours include rosemary pistachio, mango curry and cashew, caramel apricot almond and cranberry pumpkin seed. They retail for around $5 a box and are available at gourmet food shops.

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