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Playa Cabana Cantina – The Junction

Posted on April 1, 2013 by in The Junction, The Junction Triangle

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4 Stars

Playa Cabana Cantina is the latest restaurant to open in Toronto to fuel our newfound taco addiction in the city. It’s located in The Junction at 2883 Dundas St. West (at Keele).

Playa Cabana Cantina is the second location for Playa Cabana – with it’s first location on Dupont (at Davenport). The Junction has accepted it well, considering there were absolutely no reservations available for the whole weekend – but they assured me that they keep the bar open for walk ins.

So we walked in. Right away I was impressed by the decor, there’s plenty of neon-lit signs including a shout out to JUNCTION – WEST TORONTO, and an “Keep and Enforce Prohibition” sign at the bar – perhaps a little tongue in cheek reference to The Junction’s past as a dry neighbourhood until 2000.

The menu here is set up a little differently than other taco favourites like Grand Electric or La Carnita. Instead of ordering tapas style – one taco at a time, Playa Cantina’s menu includes everything from tacos and tostados to burritos and enchiladas along with a side of rice and black or pinto beans.

We started off the meal with guacamole and chips. The chips arrived warm to the table and were extra crispy and fresh. The guacamole was smooth and not too spicy for our tastes. The bartender replenished the chips free of charge too, which is a great touch.

Playa Cabana Cantina has a fresh oyster bar set up, and at $2 a shuck, we couldn’t resist them. They were huge, no skimping here, and were served with horseradish and hot sauce. Then, we each ordered a set of tacos with a side of rice and black beans, after starting off with Amber Agave Margaritas.

The Ancho Braised Shortrib-Brisket Crispy Tacos were served on a corn tortilla with melted cheese, sour cream and pico de gallo. They came to the table piping hot, and the mix of brisket and cheese was perfect along with the extra crispy tortilla. They were reasonably priced at $14 for an entree.

Next up was the Tacos de Pescado (Baja-Style fish tacos) for $13 . They were a little underwhelming in comparison. The breaded tilapia didn’t have the substance to stand up to the guacamole and shredded cabbage filling. Usually I’m a big fan of a good fish taco but this wasn’t the best I’ve had lately.

Personally, I prefer picking and choosing different tacos to try instead of ordering them as a personal entree. The sides of yellow rice and beans were fresh and a great addition, but it would have been great to try a few different kinds of tacos instead of three of one kind.

With another round of drinks coming, we felt the need for some dessert… Unsure of what to get, the bartender recommended the Mexican Flan, so we gave it a shot. After waiting a little longer than necessary (I think the kitchen forgot about us), our bartender arrived with the flan, which was actually 2 mini flan served with whipped cream. He apologized for the delay and said the dessert was on the house.

Overall the personal service at the bar was great, the bartender gave us a lot of recommendations on what to order and was more than helpful. The atmosphere was comfortable and casual, it didn’t have that ‘too cool’ vibe that many new restaurants are picking up on now.

We definitely will be returning to try out the burritos and other menu items along with the amazing guacamole again too. The tacos were flavourful, with fresh, house made ingredients but not the best of what the city has to offer right now.

- Karin

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Chococrepe

Posted on August 4, 2012 by in Trinity Bellwoods

chococrepe

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4 Stars

Crepes aren’t just for dessert folks.  That’s what Dewey Truong, owner of Chococrepe wants you to know.  Yes, they are paper thin, but they aren’t as one dimensional when it comes to their meal potential.  Walking into the Queen West restaurant on a hot summer day, the last thing that I wanted to eat for lunch was a Nutella and chocolate smeared crepe, so it’s a good thing there was so much more on the menu. 

Don’t let the name fool you.  At Chococrepe, the menu is divided into savoury and sweet options.  So yes, they do offer the obligatory Nutella crepe along with a slew of other sinfully sweet creations, but they also have an impressive selection of crepes with fillings usually associated with sandwiches or wraps.

To start off we had the Pesto ($9.25) which came with egg, mozzarella , pesto and arugula served on a buckwheat crepe.  Now I’m not an eggs anytime of the day person as I lump them into the breakfast only category, so this probably wouldn’t be my go to crepe, but it was tasty nevertheless.  The egg was fluffy, the pesto made its presence known without stealing the show, and arugula is never a bad idea. 

All of the savoury menu items come served on buckwheat crepes which are a bit similar to whole wheat wraps in their texture and consistency.  Despite the name though, it’s interesting to note that buckwheat is gluten free, so while I can’t speak for the filling, the crepe itself is a good option for those who are at least sensitive to gluten.

To round out our savoury options we tried the Country and the Chipotle Chicken (both $9.25).  The Country comes stuffed with cheddar and punctuated with wood-smoked bacon and caramelized pear.  I’m not even a huge fan of bacon (I know…sorry) but I loved this crepe.  The saltiness of the cheddar, the smokiness of the bacon and the sweetness of the pear blended so nicely into a ménage a trois of flavour. (What?  It’s French…like crepes…)

The Chipotle Chicken though, with a generous amount of tender chicken breast, mozzarella, arugula, and chipotle mayo, might have been the winner, but I like anything that comes served with a side of heat.

At this point it’s fair to say we were beyond full, and I was convinced that yes, crepes could be lunch, but it wouldn’t be fair of us to ignore the dessert crepes completely.  So we tried two.  The Berry Banana ($8.75) is the Platonic ideal of a dessert crepe.  Covered with sliced strawberries and bananas, then drizzled with dark and white chocolate, it looks like art (think Jackson Pollock).  This crepe had a nice balance of tart, thanks to the strawberries, and sweet, thanks to everything else. 

Our last crepe of the day came in the form of Crunchy Pear ($8.50), also beautiful in design with sliced Bosch pears, a generous sprinkling of crushed almonds, and painted with milk chocolate, it was a bit sweeter than the Berry Banana due in part to the milk chocolate, but won in the texture category.

All of the dessert crepes here are made with the typical sweetened wheat flour and served open-face which gives diners the artistic license to fold, roll, or just dive in as is.  And it just looks prettier.

 Oh, and I should mention that all of the crepes are huge, taking up plates that are larger than your average plate.  My suggestion is to bring a friend, or two, and sample multiple crepes like we did.

Did I forget to mention the hot chocolate?  Oh yes, we sampled a couple.  They take their hot chocolate seriously here at Chococrepe.  All flavours are made with melted Valhrona chocolate and you can have your choice of having it made with dark or milk chocolate (and in some cases, white) and with cream or milk. We really wanted to try the popular Fleur de Sel Dulce de Leche made with dark chocolate, but sadly it was unavailable, so we went with the Pumpkin and the Coconut.  The Pumpkin ($5.95) was made with milk chocolate, so as not to overpower the spice and milk instead of its heavier counterpart.  It was tasty, but I would liken it more to a chai latte than a hot chocolate.

The Coconut (also $5.95) however, made with white chocolate and cream was something else.  It was rich without being cloyingly sweet and the coconut flavour came through nicely.  I can definitely see myself going back for one of these once the temperature starts to drop, but if you’re craving one now, Truong just installed a brand new air-conditioning system that he’s very proud of. 

I would also be remiss not to comment on the excellent service at Chococrepe.  Truong himself is a living doll, and he goes out of his way to make your experience at Chococrepe a memorable one.  He obviously loves what he is doing, and says that he wants eating at his restaurant to be a comfortable and social experience, not to mention a delicious one.  Check, check, and check.

Footnote:  Why doesn’t the saying go “as flat as a crepe”?  Let’s face it, in comparison, the crepes pancake cousin from the West has a bit of a weight problem.

- Rebecca

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The Westerly

Posted on May 2, 2012 by in Roncesvalles Village

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4 stars

Located at the top of the restaurant strip on Roncesvalles, The Westerly is a cozy neighbourhood spot that is sure to please.  The uncomplicated menu features classic dishes done beautifully and just a step or two above others’. Five of us arrived for dinner last week and were greeted the charming co-owner, Tom, who presided over the evening with grace and warmth.

We spent an inordinately long time trying to decide from the 10 appetizers and 10 mains. Each looked better than the next and made our decisions more difficult than usual. While we deliberated, a bottle of shiraz and a custom champagne drink were ordered and a basket of some of the best foccaccia I’ve had in a long time arrived at the table. The crust was crispy and salty and the filled basket did not last long.

After a solid twenty minutes of deliberation, we placed our orders: the romaine heart salad to split two ways; steamed PEI mussels in a grainy mustard butter with a side order of fries; roasted Chicken Supreme stuffed with pulled pork (yes, you read that right) served with bacon & smoked cheddar Israeli couscous; the house burger, made with ground chuck, veal and braised short rib; pan-seared arctic char served atop Israeli couscous with lobster; and roasted halibut topped with salsa verde and served with potatoes and mussels.

When the food arrived, five sets of eyes widened. The plates were beautiful and smelled fantastic.  I’m lucky enough to have friends who share, so I got a little of everyone’s meal. While all were delicious, there were a few outstanding bites that I would return for which I would The Westerly in a heartbeat. The Israeli couscous with smoked cheddar and bacon was aromatic and, surprisingly, not heavy at all. The smoked ingredients permeated the little couscous pearls, infusing them with a ton of flavour.  Next was the burger which was so tender it nearly fell apart in my hands as I ate it, juice running down my hands. It came with a spicy salsa that cut through the richness of the burger beautifully.  Undoubtedly, this is a big crowd pleaser.

Between the two fish dishes, I preferred the halibut. I liked the lightness of the fish paired with the bright salsa verde. There was certainly nothing wrong with the char – it was rich, not overcooked and the lobster-laden Israeli couscous was excellent. The balance and combination of ingredients in the halibut dish, though, really appealed to me and I will likely order it upon my next visit.

Amazingly, we had some room left for shared desserts. I opted to split the warm apple crumble with fresh whipped cream while others went for the lemon tart. The crumble was comforting, filled with cinnamon and topped with large, buttery pieces of crumble. Incredible. Definitely a great end to a meal but I recommend sharing as it is quite heavy – otherwise you may be rolling out of the restaurant, pants unzipped.

I would return to The Westerly, unquestionably. My friends and I had a great time in a charming restaurant in which we were treated well (though there was some miscommunication with a dessert, it was rectified gracefully).  If you haven’t been, add it to your list and prepare for a lovely brunch or dinner!

- Carolyn

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The Kennedy Public House

Posted on March 10, 2012 by in Bloor West Village

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4 Stars

- Sharkey’s is no more! And thank God for that. I mean, I know the restaurant options in Bloor West Village are limited, but I really have no idea how that place hung on for as long as it did. With horrible service, brutal food, and staff that spent more time admiring themselves in the mirror than their customers, they created a place that was meant to be avoided. Yet somehow, it managed to exist on that corner for years.

So, imagine my surprise when I saw the beautiful sight of a building permit and brown construction paper covering their windows one day…

A few months later, The Kennedy Public House was born. And boy-oh-boy, this place is exactly what BWV needs. BWV is virtually void of restaurants serving great food. Ok, so there’s earth and Dr. Generosity, but other than that, your choices are pretty limited compared to the tons of options available to other Toronto neighbourhoods. That’s why seeing something as untraditional in BWV as The Kennedy is such a welcoming sight.

The Kennedy has a cool vibe that, if you know the neighbourhood, you wouldn’t expect to see there. It seems oddly out-of-place while at the same time seems oddly comfortable being there. With a laboriously nice interior space, the entire design is well-thought out and pleasant to be in. But surprisingly, The Kennedy isn’t just nice to look at; it also has exceptionally good food.

The Kennedy’s menu doesn’t serve your typical pub grub; it’s much more imaginative than that. Non-traditional items, like polenta burgers, calamari po’boy sandwiches, and pork belly casoulet easily compliment more traditional pub fare, like wings, macaroni and cheese, and thin crust pizzas. Their menu does a fantastic job of covering everyone while still remaining concise and well-thought out.

Working with a number of local businesses, the Kennedy also proudly sources bread and meats from places you’re probably familiar with, like Cobs bread and Wellington County Beef. Nice. I’ve always found that knowing where my food comes from somehow makes it taste better.

One other thing worth mentioning: The Kennedy has unisex bathrooms, which they’ve pulled off nicely. They’ve incorporated them into the place really well, that is, except for the hand-dryer. Their bathroom hand-dryer must be the loudest dam one in the entire free-world. If you happen to be sitting in the back-half of the restaurant, it might even ruin your experience. Hopefully they’ll turn to either cloth or paper towels, or they’ll just find one that is a hell of a lot quieter.

Keep in mind though, if you’re looking for a relaxing experience, this isn’t the place. With strollers and screaming babies during the day that makes it resemble a Montesorri school, and lineups and loud music in the evening that makes it resemble something at John and Adelaide, The Kennedy doesn’t provide a quiet and relaxing experience; what they do provide is a killer take on food you wouldn’t expect to find in a typical public house.

- Andre

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Pachuco

Posted on January 21, 2012 by in The Danforth

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4 stars

- There is a new kid in town, and his name is Pachuco – named after the look and style of Mexican youth back in the 1930s to 1950s that dressed in zoot ihiusuits. Pachuco opened its doors on Friday, January 13th, perhaps a sign of bad luck, but that shouldn’t hinder their success.

Pachuco is a small (read: reservations) and cozy space, with exposed brick walls, wrought-iron décor, and a pretty impressive wall of wine bottles lit by a neon sign. Even though Pachuco shares a kitchen with older brother and Danforth favourite Embrujo Flamenco, they definitely serve up their own distinctive flavour.

Their menu is well thought out and varied, with an excellent selection of meat, fish and vegetarian dishes. Their appetizer menu alone is worth the trip. With a confident boasting of guacamole flavours, including goat cheese, blue cheese, smoked trout and walnut, and a guacamole sampler platter that allows you to try three of their creations, there is seemingly no end to the interesting flavour combinations. We decided to stick to our guns, however, and go with the traditional guacamole, which was a stellar choice; lots of lime, onion and creamy avocado, but no flavour was overpowering. Their homemade tortilla chips have to be mentioned as well; they were crisp and tasty. I am hoping they will one day provide these in a to-go bag for purchase before you leave. We also ordered the Chile poblana, swathed in an excellent and perfectly spicy tomato sauce, with queso fresco and refried beans, all baked perfectly. The portion size on both entrees was more than enough for two people, and it could easily serve as a great entrée.

For our meals (both $15) we went with the Taquitos de Machaca (coffee and ancho braised beef brisket, with guacamole and honey chipotle salsa), and the pre-Hispanic delicacy of Taquitos de Huitlacoche (corn truffle, onions, jalapeño peppers, Cazuela beans served with requesón-avocado salsa). Where to start? Let’s save the most interesting for last. The braised beef was well cooked and well spiced, the chipotle salsa was a great added touch, and one order of beans and rice between the two of us was more than enough to share. In fact, we both left incredibly full. Their fresh-this-second corn tortillas are amazing, sweet, soft and still warm from the press, prepared just the way you would expect to find them in a traditional Mexican eatery. The Huitlacoche, however, was an adventure in and of itself.

For those who don’t know (myself included), Huitlacoche is a fungus, which grows naturally on corn in damp environments. The fungus is harvested and has been consumed as a delicacy for centuries in Central and South America cuisine. When it arrived, it tasted smokey and earthy; it looked like a dark mash of black corn, onion- and was that a jalapeño in there? Hard to tell. The dish was good, but I can’t say I would strongly recommend it. Overall, I found the food at Pachuco’s to be mostly over-salted, and the Huitlacoche had to be the worst offender. This is the main reason why I would not order it again; although the flavour was very different from any other Mexican dishes I have tried, and I actually did enjoy it, I just could not get over the intensity of the salt.

The drinks at Pachuco’s are excellent, and they offer several flavours of margaritas to choose from with a sampler platter included for just $17! We ordered the traditional lime, pineapple and guava, which were all fruity and tropical and prepared just right, but the mango, blueberry and the strawberry mint also looked great. With our meal, we just had to try the ‘Bloody Maria,’ essentially a Caesar mixed with spicy chipotle. I loved it, and you will too if you are a smoky chipotle fan. I can’t wait to go back and try out some more margarita flavours. For the non-drinkers and children in the group, there are some exciting choices; fresh strawberry lemonade and hibiscus lemonade both looked gorgeous in their bright colours, and I am sure they are also great spiked.

The drinks and food at Pachuco’s ranged from good to very good, and if they could tone down the salt (margaritas included), I would probably rate most of it as excellent. However, I cannot say our overall experience was excellent, but I would not fault them for it in my overall rating. Being that it was their opening weekend, one expects a few hiccups, and I am sure they will be cleared up by the time you visit. I was served the wrong meal at first, and we had to wait about 10 to 15 minutes for the Huitlacoche to be prepared, instead of the fish tacos, (though delightful looking), I was initially served. By the time my dish came around, the other half of our meal was cold. Our side plates and used cutlery were never removed from our table after we finished with our appetizers, and the tables are so small and cramped as it is, there was no room for our mains. Instead of removing our side plates, there was a vain attempt to stuff everything on the table. I eventually had to ask for fresh cutlery and removal of the used dishes from our table. Not once, but twice, we almost had our not-quite-finished drinks taken from us, and we had to ask a few times for extra tortillas. It seemed a little strange to me that you would only get four at a time, and as great as they were, they are very, very small, so I imagine each meal would require a minimum of 3 or 4 on its own.

Overall, I think these are minor complaints, especially since it was Pachuco’s opening preview. I found that the service was friendly and genuine, the restaurant was quaint and ambient, with Latin music, candles and a few kitschy décor details, which made it seem authentic and allowed it to live up to it’s self-proclaimed ‘Modern Mexican’ dining experience.

- Janine

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Our Most Popular Reviews of 2011

Posted on December 17, 2011 by in Feature

- As 2011 is drawing to a close, it seems like a good time to reflect on all that we’ve done in the past year. We’ve been to bunch of great events, we’ve met a lot of great people, and above all, we’ve eaten at a ton of places throughout this fine city. In all that eating, we’ve found some new favorites, and we’ve been to some places we’d rather just forget about all together. But, like with any type of long term relationship, you only remember the good times. So, in no particular order, here’s a look back at some of our most popular posts from 2011 (even though they aren’t all places we loved):

Drake BBQ
The Mugshot Tavern
Hey Meatball
Guu Izakaya
Bamburger
Banjara
O’Noir
Globe Bistro
Earl’s Kitchen and Bar

Earls Kitchen and Bar: King Street

Posted on December 7, 2011 by in Financial District

4 stars

Earls is nestled amongst the business giants at King and University and was teeming with suits and loosened ties on the Thursday night I paid a visit.  The place was packed, and I soon realized that this was not only attributed to its convenient location.  Earl’s serves up some seriously good food.

 I’ll be totally honest right out of the gate and say that I rarely frequent chain restaurants.  If I do, it’s because it’s for a birthday or office party where the show of hands wins.  Chain restaurants don’t usually sell me on coming back for more.  Earls did.

Prior to going, I previewed their menu online and was looking forward to trying some of their new items that promised “West coast flair” and seasonal flavours.  To stick with the seasonal theme (and just because it’s a deadly beer) I ordered a pint of Muskoka Brewery’s Double Chocolate Cranberry Stout to chase everything down.   It turned out to be a fine choice if I do say so myself, especially where dessert was concerned.

We started with the Tuna Poke Nachos ($11.50).  Served on crispy wontons, and loaded with cubed raw tuna, cucumber, avocado and tomato, they looked like they would be a task to eat.  I envisioned myself taking a bite and (if the toppings made it as far as my mouth without falling off) having it crumble, leaving me with half of a naked nacho, or in this case, wonton.  They surprised me though by maintaining their structure (and toppings).  The spicy mango coulis they were drizzled in leant a nice kick with some crushed macadamia nuts paying tribute to the Hawaiian roots of the dish. I’m not normally a big fan of sushi, but in this case the texture of the tuna and avocado married nicely with the crispiness of the wontons.

Next was the Gnocchi with Italian Rose Sauce ($10.50).  I love gnocchi, but it is associated with being too heavy and too filling often because, well, it usually is.  Not in this case.  Earl’s handmade potato gnocchi was the perfect consistency throughout.  Consistent consistency if you will.  And true we shared it, but it was a generous portion and neither of us felt weighted down afterwards.  That wasn’t the best part though.  The title of the dish doesn’t do it justice.  This gnocchi isn’t served in just any ordinary rose sauce… it’s served in a rose sauce made of San Marzana tomatoes, burrata cheese and fresh basil.  This, my friends, is the Margharita pizza of gnocchi.  Enough said.

Being ambitious (see: gluttonous), we welcomed the Pulled Pork Sandwich ($13.50) and Potato & Leek Soup ($7) to our table.  I’ll start with the soup…although in reality that wasn’t the sequence of events.  The soup was creamy and filled with chunks of potato (skin still on…because that’s where all the vitamins are!).  It was good, but let’s face it, it didn’t compare to the main event of this course.  Even halved, our plates were dwarfed.  This is one behemoth of a sandwich.  Piled with tender BBQ braised pork and coleslaw then dressed with a fiery chipotle mayo, this sandwich was a nice balance of spicy and sweet.  It was messy like it should be so keep the napkins close at hand.  I had almost reached my limit but I knew dessert was on the way, so I exercised some will power (says the girl on her third course) and left a few bites on my plate.  I would be lying if I said I wasn’t sad to see it go.

You might think that by this point we were too full to even consider the possibility of dessert, and by daily caloric standards, we probably should have been.  But we laughed in the face of those standards and pushed onward…onward to Warm Gingerbread Cake ($8).  Rarely do I find myself at a loss for words, but this cake found me there.  It might have had something to do with the fact that my mouth was full of the aforementioned cake, but also because it was really, really good.  I could use a plethora of colourful adjectives to describe this cake (see: heavenly, divine, decadent) but it all feels so cliché, and none of them would do it justice anyway, so I’m sticking with good.  Damn good.  It was served warm (as promised), drizzled with salted caramel sauce and with sides of brown sugar apple slices and vanilla bean gelato.  Now on any given day, I’ll take a cookie over a slice of cake, but not on this day (or any day going forward where I’m given the choice between a cookie and this particular cake).  It was impossibly moist and as we ate it we debated about what made it so.  We came to the conclusion that… well, we didn’t really come to any conclusion, except that it was killer, and we would be back for more.  Whoever is slicing the cake at Earl’s isn’t stingy (bless their soul) but that was one plate that went back to the kitchen devoid of crumbs.

Now Earls isn’t the place to go for a quiet date.  The people are loud (because there are a lot of them), and the music is loud (because it fights to be heard over the people), but the food is excellent and the service, equally so.  It’s a hike from my house in High Park to the Financial District, but one I’m willing to make again.  Three words folks… warm, gingerbread, cake.  Do yourself a favour.

- Rebecca

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Woodlot Bakery and Restaurant

Posted on November 28, 2011 by in Little Italy

4 stars

- I’d read much about Woodlot in the last few months: about the fantastic bakery, the locally-sourced ingredients, the simplicity of the food and decor. Between the personal recommendations and the fawning of the print and online food community, the decision wasn’t too hard to make to try it out. (The fact that it was voted one of the best new restaurants of 2011 by Toronto Life definitely didn’t hurt.)

We popped into Kalendar for a drink beforehand (check out the rojo martini if you go. Most excellent.) and watched the world go by, including the chef of Grace, Top Chef Canada contestant Dustin Gallagher. Mental note: must get to Grace! We wandered over to Woodlot and as soon as we opened the door, the aroma from that spectacular wood-burning oven wafted over us. Figuring that was a good sign, we inhaled deeply and sat down at our cozy table. The restaurant looks like it seats about 50 on the upper floor with room for another 10 or so downstairs at the chef’s table. The exposed brick walls are adorned with native Canadian art as well as knickknacks that lend a cottage-like vibe to the place. The waiters are dressed casually and it is explained to us that there is a standard menu, plus a separate vegetarian menu. I perused it quickly and was impressed to find a nice selection that didn’t fit into the standard roast-veg-or-pasta options.

We ordered a bottle of cabernet franc and eventually settled on three courses: the scallop ceviche with black quinoa, whipped avocado and julienned red cabbage; Red Fife whole wheat papardelle with wood mushrooms and hazeluts; whey-fed pork chop with grilled treviso, tri-tip steak with caramelized onions and side of Jerusalem artichokes.

When the bread basket arrived at the table after placing our order, we jumped right in. My dining companion loves bread and watching his face light up after taking that first bite of the gorgeous Red Fife bread was wonderful! I’d read about this particular grain in Sara Elton’s book, Locavore, and was excited to check it out. It kind of makes regular bread taste entirely pathetic. We’d both had a couple of pieces of the various kinds when the appetizer arrived. The scallops were soft, the avocado was whipped into a lovely, airy bubble and these textures were complimented well with the crunchy quinoa and cabbage. I wish there’d been more of it, but we weren’t exactly going to starve.

Next up was the papardelle which was out of this world. Again, the Red Fife made a huge difference in terms of flavour. The wide, handmade noodles were cooked perfectly and provided much more dimension to the dish than you’d have otherwise. It was a very earthy plate, one that you wanted to hunker down with in front of a fire and never stop eating. I hope that’s on the menu year ’round, because I would have it again and again.

The service at Woodlot is quite good, if not entirely exceptional. Importantly, however, they let you enjoy your meal in peace and the timing in between courses is well paced. We needed a little time between the hearty pasta and giant slabs of meat that would imminently arrive at our table. And giant slabs of meat they were: delicious, juicy, perfectly-cooked pieces of meat. My pork chops had that little layer of fat around the outside that you know you probably shouldn’t eat, but can’t help yourself because you know how good it is. The grilled treviso was a perfect compliment, too. The steak was exactly medium-rare as ordered and was incredibly tender. The caramelized onions were an excellent accompaniment – in fact, I’d eat a whole bowl of those if they sold them. Even the Jerusalem artichokes were great – caramelized and not overcooked.

To say that we savoured every bite is not an understatement. Nothing was complicated (though I have a spot in my heart for complex food) or overwrought: in fact, we saw several dishes come out on wooden cutting boards. Dessert was very tempting, but we passed this time. I’d like to go back in the cooler months as I’m dying to try the marrow-infused whipped potatoes. Of course, I also want to go back so I can eat ALL the bread that’s there.

So there you have it. Great food, cozy and welcoming atmosphere. It’s tough to get reservations on a weekend, but the hostess with whom I spoke to make our reservations was gracious and as accommodating as could be. I will definitely be making return trips here!

- Carolyn

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Origin

Posted on November 7, 2011 by in Downtown

4 stars

- I have been itching to get to Origin for months now after a friend of mine had gone and raved about the food. I dug the concept: tapas with a twist. This is definitely not your traditional, Spanish tapas. At Origin, you’ll sample small plates with Asian, Italian and Latin influences. I didn’t find the menu overwhelming, but our server was more than happy to help steer the meal so that similar and complimentary flavours were eaten together.

It was tough to narrow it down, as we would have been happy with just about anything on the menu. We started with the tostones: smashed, flattened and deep-fried plantains with guacamole on the side. The plantains were very well seasoned, with generous use of kosher salt and a light dusting of curry powder.

Next up were the deviled eggs with smoked bacon and gremolata and the smoked cod croquettes with saffron aioli. Both were a big hit at the table, disappearing in a flash. I preferred the croquettes of the two, but I didn’t exactly NOT eat my share of the deviled eggs either.

Those scrumptious bites devoured, we ordered another bottle of wine (three cheers for Monday night dinners with lots of wine!) and anticipated the arrival of more delectable plates. While we waited, we marveled at the strangeness of the cutlery provided. The only way to balance your knife was blade up. That seemed…dangerous. Especially after the third glass of cabernet sauvignon.

Our next dish appeared and we dove right back in (carefully, so as not to cut ourselves on our upturned knives). A gorgeously-presented order from the Mozzarella Bar: bufala mozzarella with pear, rosemary oil, pine nuts that was drizzled with honey and placed on a crunchy, toasted slice of calabrese bread.

Next up was the Bangkok beef salad with peanuts, mint, mango, fried shallots and a sweet and sour dressing. There was a moment of hesitation while we all tried to dance around the fact that splitting this thing among the three of us might get violent. In the end however, we shared well (our kindergarten teachers would be so proud!). This wasn’t an exceptionally complicated dish, but it was done to perfection: the beef was tender and pink; the mangoes were ripe and slippery; the shallots and peanuts added the crunch the dish needed; and the cilantro added the wonderful, bright note at the end. It should be noted that my friend said it was the third time she’d had this particular dish, and it was exactly the same every time. THAT is a sign of a great restaurant.

Our final round of food was to arrive, and we were practically giddy with excitement. We had decided on the Chinois duck with pickled cucumber, hoisin and sriracha sauce on a chive pancake, the curried shrimp with naan and the miso-glazed black cod with soba noodles and a ginger vinaigrette. We knew each dish would be good, but didn’t know HOW good. We had spent the first half of the meal happily eating away and we were by no means disappointed with our choices. But these last three dishes absolutely blew them all out of the water. The duck was crispy and, I must say, substantial. The kitchen does not scrimp on the portions at all with this dish! The sweet hoisin sauce was a great compliment to the duck and the heat of the sriracha. A definite must-order at Origin.

Next up, we attacked the curried shrimp, which was intensely flavoured and perfectly spicy. The soft, aromatic naan bread sopped up the spicy broth that was left after devouring the plump, juicy shrimp. Another dish that hit its mark!

Finally (and kind of sadly), we came to our last dish: the black cod. Black cod is one my favourite fish and I have it a fair bit. When I was out in Vancouver earlier this year, I had it almost once a day. but this black cod might be the best I’ve had…ever. It was flaky, tender and moist. The miso glaze was pleasantly salty and the skin, most importantly, was nice and crispy. The soba noodles were served with the ginger vinaigrette and by the time we were done, there was literally nothing left on the plate. In all likelihood, the best dish of the night though the three of us never could decide on a clear winner in that category.

All in all, I would definitely recommend Origin to anyone who has some reasonably adventurous taste buds and who is willing to share. There is one composed plate that makes a meal – a burger combo with Spanish fries and a float. I have no doubt it’s delicious, but it seems kind of beside the point of a restaurant like this. Go with friends, go on a date, go with family. It’s not a cheap night out, but it is most definitely money well spent.

- Carolyn

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Buster’s Sea Cove

Posted on October 29, 2011 by in St. Lawrence Market

Busters Sea Cove

4 stars

- I know St. Lawrence market is full of great food, but I never would’ve thought that tucked way in the back of the building I’d find something quite like Buster’s Sea Cove.

Keep in mind though, this takeout shop isn’t Rodney’s or Oyster Boy, and I’m definitely not trying to convince you that it is. In fact, Buster’s Sea Cove isn’t even in the same boat. At Buster’s, you won’t find soft lighting, romantic ambience, or table-side service, but what you’re pretty much guaranteed to find, is some killer seafood served up really, really quickly.

Fresh-made fish and chips are the staple in this place, but they’ve got so much more than that. Their huge menu has everything from crab cakes and clam strips to fried oysters and fish-topped salads. And their fish-type sandwiches, something that they happen to do really, really well, are outstanding. I’m not talking about your standard old fried-fish-on-a-bun here; Buster’s rivals the best seafood takeout places with crab cake paninis and seared tuna melts sandwiches.

But don’t overlook the fish and chips either. This little takeout stand easily delivers one of the best plates of the stuff in the city. They’ve got a few varieties of fish to choose from, and each of them is served up expertly battered and crispy. Each plate of fish and chips also comes with in-house made fries and a killer slaw.

Buster’s also has a few other options you wouldn’t expect from a takeout stand. Grilled swordfish, seafood bisque, rainbow trout, even octopus to name a few. It ain’t fine dining by any means, but they truly do push the limits of what takeout is both in quality and selection.

Chances are though, once you get your food you’ll be spending most of your time searching for a place to eat it. Busters only has 4 tables or so scattered around in front of the counter, but if those are full–and they probably will be–you’re on your own. There’s an exit close by to the Market’s back patio and parking lot where most of Buster’s customers end up, but trust me, if it’s a nice day out, that’ll fill up pretty quick too and you’ll be left looking for a place to eat your by-then-getting-cold food.

Truth be told though, even if you’re standing out back of the market among parked cars and alleyways, it won’t matter all that much. You might not even notice. Whether it’s a crab cake sandwich or plate of fish and chips, the food at Buster’s is just that dam good.

- Andre

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