Welcome to TOFoodReviews! Today is August 30, 2014

Sugar Tooth Fairy Cupcakes

Posted on April 5, 2013 by in Events

5 Stars -

When Tania from The Sugar Tooth Fairy Customized Cupcakes reached out to us to sample her famous cupcakes, we couldn’t say no!

The Sugar Tooth Fairy is a cupcake baking and delivery service. They specialize in customizable cupcake recipes that look amazing and taste great too.

You can check out their website for more information about pricing and deliveries. They specialize in large orders for corporate events, birthday parties and weddings.

The Sugar Tooth Fairy will be selling a variety of cupcakes at this month’s Toronto Underground Market. Make sure to check them out for dessert!

A few stand out flavours we tried were as follows…

  • Amore Red Velvet - I’m a huge red velvet fan and with the mini donut on top, this was the first one I tried. This cupcake is topped with cream cheese frosting. The icing was not too sugary which is what I prefer, and the cake was really moist.
  • Cinnamon Bun - This cinnamon swirl cupcake was piled high with cinnamon icing and a mini cinnamon bun. Extra points for the presentation on this one!
  • All Hail Cookie Dough - This cupcake is a top seller for The Sugar Tooth Fairy, and I can tell why! A cookie dough flavored cupcake topped with extra sweet cookie dough icing and a mini chocolate chip cookie. And inside was a sweet surprise – a ball of gooey cookie dough.

Overall the cupcakes from The Sugar Tooth Fairy tasted amazing and looked great. A lot of customized baking services don’t do a lot of variety with flavors or they sacrifice taste for presentation and these guys definitely don’t do that.

We also loved the personal delivery from Tania and her taking the time to speak to us directly, which she does with every, single order!

- Karin

Nota Bene

Posted on July 27, 2012 by in Entertainment District

Nota Bene

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5 stars

- Beautifully modern and discerning, Nota Bene provides the perfect setting for special occasions and casual dining alike. What makes the experience at Nota Bene so incredible is the total lack of pretense in a restaurant that could easily come across as pompous, and still attract a devoted clientele.

You might find yourself dining with a local politician or celebrity, and a couple celebrating their wedding anniversary, all in the same place. The price is accessible, the quality of the food impeccable, and the service instant without being overwhelming.

We started the evening with Chef David’s lobster tacos and the margarita fiesta specials. The lobster tacos were served in a lettuce shell, with a chipotle cream, veggies and cilantro ($8). They tasted like something you would find in a great coastal city, and not at all heavy. The lobster special is a great way to settle in to a long evening of wonderful food.  The margaritas were phenomenal, served on the rocks with Avion tequila. We tried a couple of the cocktails and loved “Chef David’s” traditional margarita with smoked sea salt. The blueberry and pine tips margarita sounds like a bit of an odd marriage, but worked so wonderfully together that we ordered another.

For appetizers we started with the Hamachi ceviche, which is a yellowtail Pacific fish, infused with coriander, lime, avocado, and jalapeño ($16). This dish came highly recommended by our server, and was absolutely worth the hype. The jalapeños offered a very spicy take on the dish, tempered by the avocado and lime.

Next we tried the cavatelli pasta, with a truffle-scented mushroom Bolognese ($16). This dish was surprisingly soft and creamy without any cheese in it, and the truffle mushrooms were divine. We also had the crisp duck salad with sumac green papaya slaw and cashews ($15), and although I am self-admittedly duck averse, I am told it was perfectly crispy and flavourful, and ending up being the favourite appetizer of the evening for my companion.

For our mains we ordered two Nota Bene favourites. I went with the wild Digby sea scallops with avocado purée, Thai curry paste, mango, papaya and peanut salad ($28). For such a tropical sounding dish, the scallops actually had a very Canadian East coast feel to them, the avocado puree adding a creamy compliment to the scallops. Nota Bene specializes in preparing excellent seafood, and I would absolutely come back for this dish again.

We also tried the braised beef short rib with corn truffle, pickled red onions, queso añejo and coriander ($29). The short ribs were tender, succulent and combined with the sharp taste of the queso añejo and the acidity of the pickled red onion, they were layered with flavour and flat out delicious.

With dinner, we ordered a glass of Ontario Pinot Noir and an Argentinean Malbec. The wine list at Nota Bene is extensive, with the full spectrum of bottles, ranging from the $70 to several hundred.

For dessert we sampled sticky toffee pudding ($12) and S’More ice cream ($10). Needless to say, the sampling turned into finishing. Both desserts were exploding with flavour, the pudding a great combination of traditional pecan praline and spotted dick ice cream, taken with a strong espresso; this is dessert to die for. The S’More ice cream was a fun take on the campfire favourite, with a chocolate and graham cracker crumble.

Go try Nota Bene, twice.  Once to become familiar with all that this brilliantly conceived restaurant has to offer and then a second time to cement the relationship in your black book of regular haunts. Service, quality and ambience are all top rate, yet you still feel the passion Nota Bene has for creating a wonderful experience and forming personal relationships with its guests.

See you there…

- Janine

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Five Doors North

Posted on March 16, 2012 by in Davisville

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5 stars

- Five Doors North is my neighbourhood spot. I have visited it on several occasions, and each time I leave, I debate whether sharing this place with the world is worth having to wait for a table during an already busy dinner rush. My conscience prevails, as 5 Doors North is too great of a restaurant not to review, and share with my fellow TOFoodReviews readers.

A spur of the moment, “Thursday night out” decision, led Andy and I to Five Doors North, knowing we would get a great meal. We were seated in the front area of the dining room, perfect for people watching along the Eglinton-Davisville and Yonge street corridor. The furnishings are worn, kitschy, and mismatched, but only add to the warmth and charm of the restaurant.  The restaurant menu is hand-written and photocopied, followed by an evolving list of specials on the chalkboard, which are carefully selected, and always guaranteed to be great.

The wine list is small and filled with some robust reds. I ordered the Pinot Noir, which I have to say, just didn’t do it for me, it was a bit thin and wasn’t quite what I was hoping for. Andy’s Malbec was fabulous, so we both ordered another glass for the second round. Wines by the glass are anywhere from $7 to $11, and bottles in the $30-$50 range. Overall, wines are priced fairly well, but I would love to see a little more variety to match the diverse food menu.

The appetizer list is long, and everything sounds incredible. They have smoked salmon, Prosciutto, mussels, a delicious polenta dish, on top of the list of daily specials, which included cauliflower soup, avocado bruschetta, and crab cakes. We went with the soup, beef Carpaccio with Pecorino cheese & roasted onion, and the beet salad. First out was the roasted beet salad with scallion aioli & lotus chips, which was wonderful, the goat cheese soft and warm, and the beets sweet and crunchy. The roasted cauliflower soup was smoky and creamy, but not too heavy; a perfect start to the meal, and the beef Carpaccio was some of the best, the cheese and onion offsetting the beef perfectly.

For our mains, I ordered the gnocchi Gorgonzola special and Andy the braised brisket ravioli. The meals were incredible. The gnocchi was awesome, fresh and soft, but the real winner was the Gorgonzola cream sauce. So creamy, it certainly blew my cheese calorie allotment for the week, but so worth it. Garnished with scallions and fresh pepper, the meal needed nothing more to bring out the strong flavours in the Gorgonzola.

The braised brisket ravioli was probably one of the more interesting meals we have ever had. I was unsure what to expect, but the beef was perfect, melt-in-your-mouth, wrapped in fresh pasta, with beef au jus and cream to make up the ravioli sauce. It would be worth phoning in advance to see if this was on the specials menu, as this dish just has to be tried.

The prices are right, entrées run from $14-$20, with appetizers in the $8-$12 range. The service is extremely friendly, with everyone pitching in to seat, serve and check-in. It’s a family run restaurant, and you can tell by the attitudes and the recommendations of the staff that they all love the food at Five Doors North as much as you will.

- Janine

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Aux Delices Cafe de Bayview

Posted on February 4, 2012 by in North York

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5 Stars

- If you are on your way to go shopping at Bayview Village, and you need to stop for a quick bite, look no further than Aux Delices Café.

Situated at the main entrance of Bayview, now in its third year of business at the mall, and judging by the patrons that came through in our lengthy Saturday afternoon visit, this place is a hit with the locals. Being situated in a bit more of an upscale mall, Aux Delices caters to their clientele. Health conscious foodies will delight in their selection of fresh, gourmet ingredients, including Panini’s, pastas, crepes, salads, and even specialties like duck l’orange and homemade gelato, just to name a few. There menu is ever changing, depending on seasonal availability, so there is always something new to try at Aux Delices.

We started our meal with the fresh manicotti and roasted mushroom caps, duck l’orange with mushroom and greens, and roasted eggplant salad. Everything tasted like fresh, home cooking. The manicotti ($6.50) was amazing, with melt-in-your-mouth ricotta, and ripe tomatoes that tasted like they were picked form the garden that morning. The stuffed Portobello mushroom cap with cheese and polenta was an awesome side dish, complementing the Italian flavours in the manicotti, but would be great as an entrée on its own.

The duck l’orange was cooked perfectly, tender and succulent, the sauce was sweet and tangy, and the accompanying side salads of oyster mushrooms and greens, and roasted eggplant were in a league of their own. I would have returned just to try a sampling of all their fresh veggie salads.

Next up, a roasted vegetable Panini, recommended by our host. The yellow pepper, red onion and eggplant were soft and easy to eat, with a nice portion of goat cheese on lovely focaccia bread. Moving into crepe territory, we decided to tackle the ham and cheese crepe ($9.50), with tomatoes as well, and would go back for more. Their crepes are light and fluffy, and packed with ingredients. Even better, your crepe is made right in front of you, and you can add any ingredients you like. A fun experience for kids, too.

For those looking for the “café” experience, they serve up delightful illy coffee, and Rahier desserts, that almost make you feel like you are dining in Europe. Their double espressos were great, nice and bold, and the latte was perfect, frothy and steamed to perfection. The homemade gelato was amazing. I love ice cream, and have been a latecomer to the gelato trend, but I am glad that I tried it. We sampled the chocolate, vanilla and pistachio, a must when having gelato, and they were all very well done. The vanilla and chocolate especially, both true to their flavours, with a natural, nuttier taste, rather than overtly sweet.

Aux Delices Café offers a fabulous dining experience, and allows you to stop in for a fast and easy meal, or linger over a cup of coffee and a pastry. All of their meals are available to go, making it a great option to stop in after work for a ready-made meal.

Gourmet meals ready as soon as you order, great coffee and homemade gelato should have you stopping for a break on your next shopping trip.

- Janine

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Grand Electric

Posted on January 22, 2012 by in Parkdale

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5 Stars

- Let me start by saying I am truly a Latin American food snob. I am fortunate enough to know what the good stuff – the real stuff – tastes like, and I resent those who do it poorly. It’s not difficult food to make, but it takes both time and love to create great Latin American dishes, and it frustrates me when I see melted cheese from a jar smeared on store-bought chips that are passed off as “Mexican food” in restaurants. So it was a relief and a thrill to hear that the head chef from The Black Hoof was helming Grand Electric and promised, “Mexican food, craft beer, brown liquor and loud music.”

I met my dinner companion across the street at The Mascot at 5:45 and watched as a line started to form outside Grand Electric. The Mascot’s baristas suggested that we get ourselves over there before the line up got too long, warning us we’d be eating at 9pm if we didn’t get it in gear. We dutifully lined up at 5:50pm behind two parties. Within five minutes the line had extended half a block behind us. At 6:02pm, the doors opened and people flooded inside. We were shown to a table for two and marveled at just how quickly the small space filled up. Tables were gone by 6:05 and the bar was full a minute later. Music blared, servers started making their rounds and Grand Electric was off and running.

The bar is quite the thing to behold. Bourbon-heavy, it is run by enthusiastic and well-informed staff.  It towers over patrons and is a great focal point for the restaurant. In addition to bourbon, you can try several craft beers including Churchkey and Canucklehead cask ale. Both are excellent, but if you haven’t tried a cask ale, you should know it’s not carbonated. Don’t let that dissuade you from checking it out, though, as it has a fruity and slightly bitter taste. You’ll be hooked after your first taste.

The menu for Grand Electric located at the back of the restaurant on a giant chalkboard. It is split up into appetizers, tacos, specials and dessert. Given the advanced buzz that’s been generated, we opted to try as many dishes as possible. We had the guacamole and nachos (an excellent test of a Mexican restaurant’s mettle), tuna ceviche, chicken frito appetizers, one of each taco, and in the end, we went for the key lime pie for dessert.

Beers in hand, we eagerly awaited our food which came out surprisingly fast considering the kitchen must have gotten just crushed with all of us arriving at once. First up came the guacamole and chips. The dip was generously salted and had lots of lime juice, essential elements both. Without enough of those two simple ingredients, guacamole falls flat, but this was the best restaurant-made I’ve ever had (oh, and it comes with a huge serving of light-as-air pork chicharron as a garnish; a great aesthetic touch as it towers over the guacamole & chips). The fresh corn tortilla chips were also both well seasoned and delicious.

While still munching away on this, our tuna ceviche arrived.  Beautiful pieces of citrus-cooked fish were piled on a fresh tortilla and topped with cilantro and lime juice. My dining companion and I split the tender tuna, staring at each other, and not believing how good such a simple dish could be. The two appetizers were done so well that we were even more eager to try the tacos we had coming our way.

A plate of three tacos was delivered to us, and we hung on every word our server said as she explained which taco was which. The first three were the sweet pork belly al pastor with pineapple, the fried queso (cheese) and spicy arbol chicken. It’s not that spicy, I promise, especially considering some of the other choices. Of these, the only miss was the queso which I thought could have benefited from some salt. Having said that, the other two were simply wonderful, especially the pork belly.  We also tried the Baja fish taco, a lightly breaded tilapia fillet topped with bright, fresh cabbage. The textures of the soft tortilla and the crunchy, crispy toppings had us grinning from ear to ear.

Also on the menu that night were shredded beef cheek and cochinita pibil, a traditional Mexican dish of slow-cooked pork cooked in a banana leaf. Both were winners; tender and tasty with some nice heat on the pork taco. A server helpfully suggested we try the homemade sauces to either amplify the heat or cut it depending on our tastes and the particular taco. Given how busy the restaurant was, I was impressed at how calm, cheerful and helpful the serving staff was throughout the night.

Not-to-be-forgotten is the chicken frito dish we ordered: a mound of crispy, fried chicken pieces slathered in a sweet and citrus-y coating and sprinkled with healthy doses of cilantro, jalapeno peppers slices and little, red, evil chile peppers. I like heat, but skipped over the red chiles in favor of the jalapenos. Sweet, sour, spicy, juicy, crispy, hot…there was nothing about this dish that should be changed. Ever. I will most definitely be ordering this one again.

But let us not forget about dessert! When the small glass jar filled with buttered graham cracker crust, rich, tart lime custard and whipped cream topped with lime zest arrived, my friend and I looked at each other and snickered. “This isn’t going to be big enough for two of us,” we commented. We each grabbed a tiny spoon and dug in. Grand Electric has now spoiled key lime pie for me as this was the best I’ve ever had. Rich, tangy, buttery, creamy and utterly delectable, this dessert truly one of the best I’ve had. Though we contemplated getting a second, our stomachs finally caught up to our eyes and we decided to call it a night.

Overall, this was one of the most fun and delicious meals I’ve had in Toronto. The atmosphere is supercharged in the restaurant, filled with happy customers taking pictures of and devouring the food coming out of the kitchen. While you can hardly say that each dish on the menu is truly, authentically Mexican, it hardly matters when it’s this good. A word to the wise: go early or you will be waiting for hours for a seat, but even if you do end up waiting, it’ll be worth it. There is no other place in the city putting out food like this.

- Carolyn

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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

Tabule

Posted on December 10, 2011 by in Yonge and Eglinton

5 stars

- What makes for a great neighbourhood restaurant? There are certain essential qualities that it must have: a friendly, knowledgeable staff, a charming host, great atmosphere and above all, fantastic food. Tabülé is unquestionably one of these restaurants. Serving amazing Middle Eastern cuisine, Tabülé is a midtown spot not to be missed.

Tabülé offers fresh, intensely flavoured dishes from start to finish. Over several visits, I have had the pleasure of trying about half the menu and have yet to come across a dish that wasn’t utterly delectable. Normally not a big fan of eggplant, I make exceptions here for the babaganüj, a gorgeous pureéd eggplant dip mixed with tahini, garlic and lemon juice. Additionally, the fried eggplant has great char on it and is finished with a lemon & garlic dressing that adds a bright note to the soft, creamy, rich starter. Not to be overlooked are the fresh, pungent tabülé and the labni which is a yogurt cheese mixed with a healthy dose of garlic and topped with zaatar. Finally, the hot cauliflower appetizer was recommended by the host who did not steer us in the wrong direction. Finished with Lebanese tahini, there were polite fights over who would get the last morsel.

Once you have gorged yourself on the hot and cold mezze (starters), it is time to move on the main event. There is always a fresh fish of the day, topped with the bright house lemon and garlic dressing. The grilled mains all come with heaping portions of rice with crispy onions for texture as well as grilled peppers, onions and zucchini. The kefta is certainly a popular option and a tasty one at that. Consider them Lebanese meatballs, made with a mix of ground lamb and beef, tomatoes, onions, parsley, garlic and lemon juice. Always perfectly cooked, they are steaming hot upon arrival at the table, a little bit pink inside. Also fabulous is the charcoal-broiled shrimp that have been marinated in Middle Eastern spices. Spicy and succulent, they are even slightly better with the squeeze of lemon that accompanies this particular dish. You will not want to share them with your dining companions.

While you are thoroughly enjoying your food, take some time to look around and drink in the atmosphere. The restaurant itself is cozy without feeling claustrophobic and the dining room is host to just about every demographic in Toronto. You will see couples on dates, families, birthday celebrations, even bachelorette parties. On Saturday night, people wait patiently at the bar for a table and are entertained by the belly dancing show at 9pm. Though a little calmer during lunch, Tabülé certainly does not lack atmosphere. Upon return visits, you will notice that you see the same wait staff over and over again – a good sign in a turbulent industry. Hospitality is the name of the game here, and it is done expertly.

Should you have room for dessert (and if you don’t, just loosen your belt a little. It’s worth it), check out the künafa ashta. Lebanese custard is topped with super fine shreds of phyllo pastry, pistachios and rose water syrup. Light and not overly sweet, this dish is a superb way to end a meal and is a paradigm of why Tabülé’s menu is so successful: it combines many elements in a balanced, seamless dish. It is at once creamy, crunchy, a bit tart, a bit sweet and is highly aromatic.

Like the final course of the evening, all the dishes at Tabülé balance flavor and texture and, because of this, the food is elevated beyond the ingredients. Pop in for a meal, or have one delivered to you: either way, you enjoy a hearty, mouth-watering meal that will have you coming back for more.

- Carolyn

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Guu Izakaya

Posted on November 23, 2011 by in Downtown

5 stars

- Have you ever walked into a restaurant and thought to yourself, “Well, this is going to be different”? It’s an exciting feeling that doesn’t happen all that often; but, walking into Guu Izakaya on Church St., I was definitely overcome by that thought.  Everyone who enters and exits gets a loud greeting and goodbye from the entire staff. A bit overwhelming, but it certainly sets the tone for your evening. The place is an absolute nuthouse in the best possible way.

That evening, my two companions and I were lucky enough to get seats within a few minutes upon arriving, a rare feat as I understand it. Guu features communal dining, with long tables that seat around 15 – 20 people, as well as seats at the bar where you can watch the chefs work. There is a two-hour time limit for diners and often a 1-2 hour wait for a seat. If you can, go early or prepare to cool your heels for a while. I promise you that it will be worth it.

My friends had been to Guu before so they did the bulk of the ordering. They chose the best dishes they’d had before and also took cues from our tablemates who’d ordered some fascinating fare. The menu is set up tapas-style, a fantastic way to sample all sorts of delicious creations. We ordered eight dishes for the three of us which was just about right and all were quite reasonably priced.

The first to arrive was the decidedly (and awesomely) decadent deep-fried brie served with a mango and blueberry sauce.  The four pyramid-shaped morsels were golden and crispy on the outside and gooey, rich deliciousness on the inside. Like, eyes-rolling-in-the-back-of-your-head-good. Next up: the salmon sashimi. Melt in your mouth greatness. It’s one of those simple dishes that really sings based on the merits of great, high quality ingredients.

On to the bacon-wrapped scallops and enoki mushrooms. Holy. Smokes. Bacon-wrapped anything is a winner in my books but here the contrasting textures played against each other so beautifully. Paired with the salty pork, the sweet scallop and earthy mushrooms, this dish was so good that it was tempting to cancel the rest of our order and have nothing but this for the rest of the night.

The beef carpaccio was placed before our wide eyes next and it was a lovely, bright contrast to the richness of the dish before. Served with with ponzu, wasabi, mayo & garlic chips, this rare beef was light and, somehow, refreshing. It was nice to have a lighter bite after the richness of the scallops before.

It was at this point in our meal that I noticed a crowd of waiters pause from their constant, frenetic activity. Then I spotted a server with a slice of cake with a candle in it. Guu’s birthday celebrations put Chuck E. Cheese to shame. Not only did the wait staff lead the entire restaurant in a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday”, encouraging everyone to clap and sing along, but even the insanely busy chefs joined in. At one point, they had the lights flickering on and off. Utter celebrational pandemonium and it was amazing.

Once the place had settled down a little (to be clear, Guu is the least settled place on the planet), the strangest creation of the evening appeared at our table. It was roughly the size of a softball, deep-fried and had a wooden knife protruding from the centre. We wracked our brains trying to figure out if we had actually ordered it, decided we hadn’t and dug in anyways. What it turned out to be was a Japanese scotch egg with a layer of pureed pumpkin surrounding a hard-boiled egg. While I was skeptical initially – I’m not a big pumpkin fan, much to the horror of many of my friends – the combination of the creamy pumpkin, rich egg, crispy exterior and tangy sauce was downright addictive. We just about scraped the plate without chopsticks long after other dishes had been cleared away.

When the spare ribs arrived, it was all I could do to refrain from gobbling them all up myself. The marinated beef was tender and salty, having surely been marinated for quite some time. If you’re a fan of spare ribs, these are a can’t-miss.

The final dishes of the night were the decadent, baked oysters and the light, miso-glazed black cod. We ordered the oysters because we saw them arrive for another group at our table and they looked so unique! Kind of a twist on oysters Rockefeller, they’re served with spinach and mushrooms, smothered in a potent mayo-garlic sauce and topped with melted cheese…all in a giant shell. This was a thing of glorious, messy beauty. The mushrooms nestled in there made for an umami bomb of a bite. Definitely give this one a shot, my friends. It’s weird and tasty and I’ve never seen it anywhere else.

Not only was this one of the best meals I’ve had all year, it was by far and away the most fun. Unquestionably, the company helped but the atmosphere at Guu is like none other. It’s not the place to go for a quiet, intimate dinner; it’s the place to go when you want to try innovative, playful and truly remarkable dishes at a pretty reasonable cost. The place is positively brimming with excitement and energy. I can’t wait to go back and try all the dishes I missed on the first go ’round.

- Carolyn

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Check out our review of Guu Sakabar

Utopia Cafe and Grill

Posted on August 5, 2011 by in Little Italy

5 stars

- Utopia Cafe and Grill is aptly named. Let me tell you why… One hot and muggy Saturday evening, I found myself walking down College Street in search of sustenance and something cold to slake my thirst. Now, I’m notorious for my inability to make a decision when faced with many options, and College Street has a lot to offer in the way of restaurants. I passed by bistro after restaurant after lounge, growing hungrier by the minute. How did I choose? Divine intervention lent me a helping hand as the sky opened up and let loose a torrential downpour sending me running into the open arms (see: doorway) of Utopia.

It was already jam packed, which had nothing to do with the rain. There was a line-up for tables, but I managed to grab a seat at the bar to peruse both the menu and the environment. What is it about exposed brick and hardwood floors that make a place so cozy? Whatever it is, Utopia has both.

Needless to say, I was immediately enamoured, and when I opened the menu, that bubble remained intact. Now, I wouldn’t call myself a vegetarian, nor would I dive into a steak with gusto, so for a selectavarian such as myself, I couldn’t have designed a more heavenly menu if I tried. All but three of their appetizers are meat free, and they allow you to substitute soy (grilled or breaded & fried) for meat in most of their main dishes. Meat lovers and vegetarians unite!

And if that wasn’t enough, it gets even better! I forgot to mention earlier that in between appreciating the exposed brick and opening the menu, I honed in on the beer selection (tunnel vision at its finest). And it made me smile, for they had KLB Raspberry Wheat on tap. Typically, I like my beer to taste like, well…beer, but I make an exception for KLB, especially in the summertime (although I find excuses to drink it at other points in the year) as the natural raspberry essence paired with the beer itself is possibly the most refreshing combination ever. Like angels dancing on my tongue…delicious, raspberry angels. Its difficult to find on tap, and Utopia has it, so I chalk them up some more points.

I started with the Mumahari Dip (roasted red peppers, pomegranate molasses and walnuts) that comes served with naan. While the dip itself wasn’t exactly visually appealing (but really how many dips are?) with a likening to cat food, I was willing to overlook it. The Everlasting Gobstopper of dips, every bite of the Mumahari started sweet, moved onto nutty and finished with a bit of a kick. Delish.

Between the dip and the KLB, I was already very satisfied, but I wasn’t done yet. Next came my Grilled Veggie & Goat Cheese Burrito. I love a good burrito, and this one didn’t disappoint. Grilled zucchini, red peppers, eggplant, onions and a generous layer of goat cheese came wrapped in a soft tortilla. Served alongside substantial sides of both garden salad and rice, I couldn’t finish it if I tried…and I tried. There is absolutely nothing wrong with leftovers though, and I can vouch that a Utopia burrito tastes just as delicious the day after.

On a tight budget? All of Utopia’s mains hover around the $13 mark which in my opinion is a great deal considering the quality of the food and the very sizeable portions. I can easily see two people splitting a burrito and leaving the place with full stomachs (and wallets). The only problem with this scenario however, is the lack of leftovers.

If Utopia has any drawbacks, it’s that the place is hot in the summer – really, really hot. The lack of air-conditioning combined with the open kitchen may have something to do with it. If I were anywhere else, I just may have been uncomfortable, but I had my pint of KLB, exposed brick, and a smiling bartender that made me feel like I was the only person in the room (okay…now I’m just getting carried away, but that being said the service is genuinely warm). Looking around, even though everyone had a sheen to them, nobody seemed to mind. Everybody just looked happy. People don’t sweat at Utopia…they glow.

For a pasta-heavy neighbourhood, Utopia provides a nice deviation. It’s the kind of place I could eat at everyday, so it’s probably a good thing I don’t live nearby, but it will definitely be my College Street go-to. They also have a four season patio (another good reason I don’t live in the area, as much to my liver’s chagrin, I have an almost instinctual draw to drinking outside).

Utopia is a contradiction unto itself: it’s frenetic, but it’s calm; blazers sit next to longboarders; meat lovers co-exist amongst vegetarians; it’s hot, but oh so cool. As its name implies, this Bohemian spot in Little Italy is truly ideal.

- Rebecca

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* Lead photo credit to Thomas at Tmasoo

The Mugshot Tavern

Posted on July 18, 2011 by in High Park

The Mugshot Tavern

5 stars

- The High Park neighbourhood is near-void of good places to grab a pint. Well, it was until The Mugshot Tavern opened anyways… The Mugshot easily provides the perfect answer to filling that void, and then some. Truly nice owners, delicious food, and a killer environment, this place takes the neighbourhood bar way beyond what it’s expected to be.

If the Mugshot doesn’t have the best draft selection in a 10 km radius, it certainly has the most well-thought-out one. These guys obviously love beer, and more obviously is that they’ve put a ton of thought into what is being pulled from the taps. It’s all craft beer, and some interesting stuff at that. Chances are they have a few you’ve never even heard of, like the King Pilsner and Warthog Ale. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that they’re probably one of only a handful of places in the city with either on tap. Don’t expect to find Canadian or Blue here; what they offer is much more creative than any of that stuff.

The food, and the entire menu for that matter, is equally well-thought out. It’s a killer mix of Southern-soul and comfort food, and they do a dam fine job of pulling it off. You can expect to find Southern favorites, like fried chicken with fritters, and some not so expected ones, like in-house-made corn dogs with chutney. The presentation is pretty decent too and again, goes beyond the typical bar stuff. It’s pretty obvious that the people manning the kitchen know what the hell they’re doing back there. Rarely do I go to a restaurant and have difficulty deciding what to order; at The Mugshot I was torn between a few items.

They’ve done a dam good job of ridding the place of all remnants of the defunct McKenzies that used to take up the place. They’ve clearly spent a lot of time, thought, and energy turning it into something completely new. The environment, painted in bright red and tactfully covered in old-school, famous mugshot photos, is easily the kind of space you could hang out for a long, long time. It’s comfortable and welcoming, the way a neighbourhood local should be. Despite not being an overly large place, it still accommodates nicely, and any excess people can spill onto their cozy rooftop patio.

And the staff at Mugshot? They couldn’t be any friendly. Having only been open about a week or so, you’d never know it by their attitudes. Likely working long hours, round-the-clock, getting the place ready and established, they’re still sociable, out-going, and friendly. I sure-as-hell didn’t feel like a stranger in this joint, and I don’t think anyone with even the teeniest bit of personality would either. Even coming in by yourself is sure to get you some conversation.

It’s clear that, after just opening, they’re still trying to establish their crowd. It’s still sorta random as to the people that might be in there. While one day the bar could be full of seniors, that evening it could be packed with a younger crowd. It seems to be dependent on the time of day, but it’s also, unfortunately, the way the neighbourhood seems to work. Customers are sorta like family; you can’t really pick ‘em.

The Mugshot isn’t just the kind of place you sit, drink, and hide from the world, although it provides that pretty well; it’s also the kind of place that you can unexpectedly get some truly imaginative and delicious food in a comfortable and welcoming space. In a neighbourhood like High Park, The Mugshot Tavern is unrivaled in every respect.

- Andre

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