Lucky Dip – Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

In Toronto:

Chefs on the move: Dustin Gallagher is leaving Grace (503 College Street) to travel, and will be replaced by Kevin Castonguay, formerly of Woodlot. Sous chef Misha Nestreneko takes over the stoves at Marben (488 Wellington Street West) now that Carl Heinrich has left to open his own place.

William Serre from Acadia Restaurant (50C Clinton Street) and Andrew Wilson, Chef de Cuisine at Colborne Lane (45 Colborne Street) took top honours last night at the Nella Cucina Discovered Culinary Competition.

I keep hearing  the voice of Tichina Arnold from the TV show Everybody Hates Chris, but L’Unita Enoteca (134 Avenue Road) can now boast “my restaurant has 7 desserts!” Mike Angeloni (who has previously done pastry for Spendido and the Hoof restaurants) has created a dessert menu of Italian favourites; doughnuts, cannoli, biscotti… yum.

Continue reading “Lucky Dip – Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012”

Wouldn’t You Like to Be a Taster Too?

As the food charity season winds down, we finish off with the biggest of the lot. Last night, Second Harvest’s Toronto Taste took over the lobby of the Royal Ontario Museum, as well as much of the street along Queen’s Park as 2000 guests descended upon 60 chefs and restaurants, and over 30 beverage purveyors for a night of eating in support of one of Toronto’s most beloved food charities.

There is no possible way the average person can sample every item, and even though Greg and I tried to share things, we still couldn’t get to even half of the things on offer. But here’s an idea of what we came across.

Above: steamed pork buns from All The Best Fine Foods and 100km Foods

Continue reading “Wouldn’t You Like to Be a Taster Too?”

A Toast to the Roast

A few years ago, Toronto was all over the communal dining trend. Restaurants installed big harvest tables and hoped that customers would not just bump elbows but start up a conversation with one another. But because Torontonians are mostly of the “keep to yourself, mind your own business” variety, the communal table wasn’t a huge success when it came to the average customer.

So what to do with those big old harvest tables that customers avoid like the plague? Unless a restaurant can book a large group to take over the thing, it’s kind of like a no man’s land.

Thank heavens for the resurgence of comfort food and lots of talk in the press about the importance of family dining. The idea of Sunday dinner is often romanticized by chefs like Gordon Ramsay who once created a campaign in conjunction with his F-Word series to get Britons to go back to the tradition of Sunday dinner.

It’s not a bad idea, really – most people enjoy eating a big ol’ roast – it’s all the prep and cooking that sucks the fun out of it. So a number of restaurants are now serving up family-style meals, often on Sunday, and usually, but not always, communal. Here’s a few that we found…

Continue reading “A Toast to the Roast”

TV Party Tonight!

Okay, not tonight. Thursday, actually. But if you can hold off until then, the folks at Grace (503 College Street) will serve you up a TV dinner like no other, paired with some kick-ass cocktails and a big screen TV showing old episodes of M*A*S*H and I Love Lucy.

As a follow-up to their incredibly successful summer BBQ series, owner Lesle Gibson and Chef Dustin Gallagher wanted a weekly winter event with the same fun and casual atmosphere. Something kitschy and communal that evoked the warm homey feel that Grace is so well-known for.

This past Thursday, Grace Upstairs was graced by a 33-pound brined and roasted turkey in order to re-create the first ever Swanson TV dinner, made available to the public in 1954. It was accompanied by authentic mashed potatoes (right down to the frozen pat of butter); mixed veg that included peas and organic carrots; stuffing made from mushrooms, apples, garlic, sage and onion; housemade cranberry sauce; turkey jus; and apple crumble made with apples from Algoma orchards.

And because it was bigger than your average TV dinner (we joked that it was one of those “Hungry Man” versions), a compartmentalized Indian thali tray worked perfectly.

Gallagher popped in and out (regular service was still taking place in the main restaurant downstairs), leaving the TV dinner service in the capable hands of cook Bryan Lavers.

Lavers explained that they spent a lot of time researching the various brands and types of TV dinners, right down to digging through the boxes in the frozen food section of the grocery store, and hoped to recreate them all, suggesting upcoming weeks will include pork chops with mushroom gravy and biscuits, fried chicken, roast beef, and ham that they plan on curing themselves. He said they’re still working on perfecting the Salisbury steak, which is apparently harder to recreate out of quality meat than they thought.

A slight wrench got thrown into the plan when a vegetarian showed up (old school TV dinners don’t come in vegetarian versions), but owner Lesle Gibson graciously found a replacement in the form of Gallagher’s famous mushroom gnocchi.

For $20, this hearty meal of a main plus dessert might be a bit more money than the plastic microwaveable tray from the supermarket frozen food aisle, but the quality and quantity of food certainly makes this a great deal no matter how you look at it. Paired with a glass of wine or one of Grace’s outstanding Manhattans, this might just be the coolest meal deal in town.

TV Dinner Thursdays take place every Thursday at Grace Upstairs, starting at 6:30pm. $20 gets you the TV dinner feature of the night. Tax, tip and beverages extra.

Comfort and Grace


503 College Street

There’s a recession coming. Gas prices are going up, the housing market looks set to crumble and everyone is preparing to tighten their belts. Inevitably, at the table, our thoughts will turn to comfort food. Hearty, healthy fare from the family recipe books will win out over expensive, exotic ingredients or dishes we can’t pronounce. The trend toward local and seasonal produce and admonishments to not eat anything our great-grandmothers wouldn’t recognize as food has us considering the delicacies of past generations, only with a more genuine attitude. The retro kitsch of “comfort food” and thirty-dollar meatloaf has been replaced by what Grace chef Dustin Gallagher refers to as “modern farmhouse”; a more elegant, timeless way of eating that honours the past and the present, using fresh, seasonal ingredients with a nod to tradition, family and the classics.

Continue reading “Comfort and Grace”