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&Company Resto Bar

Posted on May 2, 2013 by in Mississauga

3 Stars

- We were invited last week to attend a new menu tasting event at &Company Resto Bar in Mississauga.

First impressions were that this restaurant is HUGE. It’s a good spot if you are looking to throw a large-group party or corporate event dinner. They definitely have room to accommodate large groups for dinner and drinks.

The menu is set up with shareable appetizers as well as traditional entrees. We tried a variety of starters, all which ranged from $13.50 to $16.50.

First, we tried the Louisiana Shrimp Po’Boys. This sharable serving came with three Po’boy sliders, along with a helping of fries. The shrimp were lightly spiced instead of battered like a traditional po’boy sandwich, and were served with creole tartar sauce, lettuce and tomatoes. The buns were a bit oversized for the shrimp in the sandwiches. Something tells me they are better suited for the hamburger sliders also on the menu.

Next up for appetizers is the Charcuterie Flatbread. This was a great value! The flatbread that came to our table was the size of a small pizza. Each of us had a few pieces, which is a great size for an appetizer. As a big fan of a traditional charcuterie board I was interested in trying this out, and was pleasantly surprised. The meat was not overpowered by the cheese, tomato and sauce base on the flatbread. Would highly recommend this one!

Traditional entrees were next… I tried the Surf n Turf, a new menu item, which was $29. I really liked the unique presentation, which each item set up on a long board instead of a traditional steak and potatoes plate. The steak was cooked exactly as I requested. The lobster tail was a generous size, and the lemon-garlic butter sauce wasn’t overpowering at all. It was cooked perfectly too and was very meaty. Unfortunately, the double cheese baked potato was very dry. It seems like they are premade and had cheese, asparagus, and shallots added and reheated. A simply baked potato would have been a better choice for this one. The attempt at an added flair didn’t add much to this dish.

Under recommendation from our waitress, we also tried the Penne Jambalaya. This huge helping of pasta came with big chunks of chorizo, chicken breast and shrimp, in a Sambucca Cajun cream sauce. The sauce tasted a lot like vodka sauce, for those who have never tried Sambucca before. The portion size was impressive, and the pasta had a good kick of spice to it too. Definitely a win, and at $19 it was well worth it.

Once 10pm hit, the music was turned up to a deafening level, and other tables of guests began to arrive, including a few party groups with bottle service for the night. We decided it was time to ask for dessert so we could head on our way. The Brownie Cookie Stack arrived at our table with fanfare. A huge firework candle drew the attention from the tables around us as it arrived. It would be great for a birthday party or function, but as a regular dessert accompaniment it was a little over the top. Again, we were pleasantly surprised by the portion size, a stack of 4 huge, thick brownie and chocolate chip cookies with vanilla ice cream and raspberry drizzle, all for $10. Although the presentation was amazing, the ice cream and sauce just couldn’t bring out enough from the cookies, which were warm but weren’t very moist or chewy.

Overall, the food is comparable to a lot of nightclub-restaurants on King Street in Toronto but at a more affordable price range, and without the 60-minute wait for a table. The service was great, from the manager to the hostesses we felt very welcomed at the restaurant. &Company would be an awesome spot to celebrate your birthday, family function or company party but if you are looking for an intimate dinner party or a romantic evening, this might not be the best choice.

- Karin

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3030

Posted on April 26, 2013 by in The Junction

3 Stars

3030 has young-professional written all over it. Craft beers, slightly pretentious menu and crowd, its Junction location (sigh, I remember the days when they avoided this area). And although I spend quite a bit of time in the neighbourhood, I only managed to getting around to checking it out a few days ago. That’s mostly because it’s a difficult place to notice, with an unassuming, simple ‘3030’ stenciled on the front door, and not much else to identify it.

3030 is huge inside… seriously huge; especially for a place in The Junction. Stuffed full of small table settings and 2 full bars, it seems more like you’re in a concert hall than a neighbourhood restaurant, and that’s with good intention. 3030 is built to be a live music venue that doubles as a food-venue, and in my opinion, not the other way around (although that’s what they go for in the off hours).

One thing’s for sure, they put a lot of thought into their draft selection. The back bar has taps full of local-ish craft brews, including Wellington, Beaus, and even some other, more difficult one’s to find, like the Junction Craft Brewing’s IPA (which was fantastic), a Sawdust City stout, and a Broadhead White. Clearly, they take their beer selection very seriously. The unfortunate thing about the bars though is that with no stools to sit on, you get the distinct that they don’t want you hanging out there.

Much like you’d expect from a place aimed at young-pros in The Junction (sigh), the atmosphere sets it up as a pretty cool place to hang out, with shelves full of board games and walls lined with old-school pinball machines and plenty of interesting art. With the retro pinball machines all lit up in the evening, it gives the perfect backdrop to a night out.

But with just a little ‘5 dollar snack menu’ card on each table, you wonder what about those of us that were there for more than snacks. Our server haphazardly and unconfidently rattled off the items they serve (there was only 4 of them at the time) but not before having to go back to the kitchen a couple of times before she could get it right. I asked if the items changed daily, hence no menus and the difficulty remembering them, but nope, these items had been here for a while she said. While it’s cool to try items out to see what works, I hope that eventually they’ll put together a more permanent and more expansive menu, or at least one that changes seasonally.

Because none of their mains sounded appealing to us, we instead opted for the items on the snack menu. The Butter Chicken Wings, while mostly tasty with the typical strong flavours you’d expect, arrived lukewarm. The Potato Wedges on the other hand, were indescribably and inedibly  hot, which turned out to be ok because they were bland and tasteless anyways. Overall, we just didn’t find any of the items on the snack menu impressive at all.

If you’re in the neighbourhood, 3030 may be worth checking out, but I’d say solely for their draft selection; and although the fact that there isn’t much like it in the neighbourhood makes it the kind of place you want to check out, I’d wait until there is a concert or show you want to see before making the trek. In my opinion, it just isn’t worth going out of your way for.

With a Gabby’s now opened next door, I remember feeling a little upset for them having competition so close from some evil, corporate chain, but really, it’s of little consequence. It’s obvious right away that they’ll both be attracting very different types of people.

– Andre

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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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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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barchef

Posted on January 8, 2012 by in Trinity Bellwoods

Bar Chef

3 stars

- barchef. The name still induces salivating of Pavlovian proportion in me and the likewise shuddering of my wallet.

My girlfriend and I decided a random Monday was cause for celebration and thus a trip to barchef. I say ‘we’ decided, but it was really more her call. Had it been up to me and my budget, we would have been throwing back bottles of 50 at Java Café across the street, where coincidentally enough I took my own mother the next day (still waiting for my Daughter of the Year award).

Upon entering I had to allow my pupils to dilate to cartoonish levels to see my way to a leather couch at which point our waitress appeared dramatically from a cloud of smoke to bring us the drink menu.

Drinks at barchef are more than just that, and a quick glance at the menu makes it obvious. They are delicious science experiments created with ingredients like elderflower, rasped cinnamon, bohemian absinthe, salted butter, and black truffle snow. You won’t find a rye and ginger or rum and coke here. Don’t even ask.

The menu is divided into four sections: punch bowls, sipping, sweet & sour, and molecular. Apparently there used to be something of a “recession menu” with $8 drinks, but I guess because our economy is doing so great these days (???) drinks now start around the $13 mark. This was how much my Four-Seven-Two put me back. Made with bullet bourbon, cola bitters, fresh lime, muddled mint and mint syrup, despite its differences it tasted akin to a Mojito, with a little extra oomph. I wish this came in a punch bowl and that it was socially acceptable enough for me to drink a whole one to myself from my lap and through a straw. As it was, I just made it last as long as possible.

My date went with the Tequila Sunset (the night owl counterpart to the Sunrise version) which was heavy on the cherry and tasted a bit too herbal and medicinal for my liking, but she disagreed. To be honest, after plonking down the better part of $20 for a single drink, saying you like it even if you don’t might be a self-preservation technique. It should also be mentioned for those partial to cherry that this particular drink is no longer on the menu but has been replaced by another more seasonal option, as is what happens at barchef.

The aforementioned smoky haze is owed to the molecular drink menu selections and the bartender’s zest for smoked hickory. That combined with the birch tree printed wallpaper made us feel not unlike we were camping, and it was nice until the smoke reached white rabbit proportions and we were choking on it. Methinks the $45 vanilla smoked Manhattan was a popular choice that night.

The stars I’ve given are attributed to the drinks themselves as I wasn’t a huge fan of the ambience. It was very sexy indeed with all the prerequisites of a trendy hotspot; black velvet curtains, plush leather couches, a giant block of ice astride the bar chipped at request, and lighting so dim it’s difficult to read the menus (note: holding them up to the tealight candles only helps until the menu starts to catch on fire…thank goodness the place is already smoky enough that my contribution went unnoticed), but I felt a tad underdressed and like I was missing a fedora or an ironic moustache.

Although sardonic me could find a lot to poke fun of at barchef such as the drinks listing ‘beach essence’ and ‘green olive air’ as their ingredients, what looks cliché on paper, is delicious in a glass, and I will return. I can no longer drink a plain old mixed drink in this city. Not even a good one. Damn you barchef.

– Rebecca

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Joe Badali’s

Posted on December 5, 2011 by in Entertainment District

3 stars

- You’re downtown, you’re headed to a game and you need to grab a bite to eat before you head there. You take stock of your options and think, “These places all look kind of similar – where should I head?” Might I suggest you check out Joe Badali’s, an Italian-themed restaurant on Front St. West, steps from both the Rogers Centre and the ACC. The spacious bar/restaurant has something for everyone, a key to success for large groups that often book parties there.

A friend and I popped in the other day to check out their fall/winter brunch menu. Given our choice of bar, table or booth, we opted for a cozy booth in the middle of the restaurant and were given three menus from which to choose our meal. A bit overwhelming, perhaps, but our waiter explained that one menu was strictly for their new pescetarian promotion where you can choose the fish you’d like and how you’d like it cooked. Feeling like it was a little early for ahi tuna, my companion and I went for the brunch options: I had the eggs benedictano and he had the steak frites, ordered medium rare. To accompany our selections, we ordered the pear and cranberry cider and the maple bourbon lemonade. (Both drinks made by the fabulous bartender, Katie, who also makes mean After Eights and Monte Cristos.)

A plate of house- made bread was brought to the table, accompanied by olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Warm, crusty and soft on the inside, we polished off that complimentary snack pretty quickly while we sipped our delicious drinks. The wait staff is clearly comfortable with time crunches of customers and took into consideration that the tables around us had a short amount of time to eat before they needed to head elsewhere. The service was swift and friendly for them, while it was a little more relaxed for us – though by no means slow or lackadaisical.

When our brunch plates arrived, we were eager to dive in. Neither my companion nor I had been to Joe Badali’s in quite some time and wondered how brunch would stack up. The portions were a good size and, importantly, cooked as they should be. My egg yolks were runny and the Canadian back bacon was a great salty accompaniment. The ciabatta base was a nice touch, as it worked well to absorb the leftover yolk on my plate. The home fries might have been a bit crispier, but the peppers and onions were crunchy contrast to the creaminess of the eggs. As for the steak frites, the steak was indeed medium rare and had been rested properly before being brought to the table. By the end of the meal, only a few pieces of diced fruit were left in our respective cups.

Since we felt like indulging at this particular brunch, we allowed ourselves to split a very generous portion of white chocolate mousse cake with strawberry topping. Not overly heavy, it was actually quite a nice way to wrap up a meal. As mentioned earlier, we also tried the After Eight and Monte Cristo specialty coffees. Topped with whipped cream and a cherry, these were decadent and deliciously boozy. We allowed ourselves a few minutes – and a couple of glasses of water – before attempting to get up.

When asked about the capacity of the place, we learned that Badali’s can hold up to 750 people, making it a great place for large parties. We also discovered that they set up a secluded patio in the summers, blocking off the adjacent parking lot in order to make it a pleasant place to escape the downtown crush. If you happen to be in the area – say, before a concert, a Leafs, Raptors or Jays game – check out Joe Badali’s. You’re bound to find something for everyone at reasonable prices. And if you’re in the mood for a drink, I highly recommend checking out either the maple bourbon lemonade or pear and cranberry cider. Had it been later in the day when we went, I suspect there may have been a few more rounds of these!

– Carolyn

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Globe Bistro

Posted on December 2, 2011 by in The Danforth

Globe

3 stars

- Much like Ed Ho’s recent earth Bloor West endeavour, Globe bistro’s focus is on local and simple; myself, I find that to be a beautiful combination, if it’s pulled off right that is.

Cut off from the cozy front bar space, you can’t help but notice how welcoming Globe’s dining room is; distinguishingly set tables, character hardwood floors, and an interesting play on shadows and lighting all come together to create a soft and intimate space. It draws you in as soon as you enter, and it gives you the feeling that you’re in for something special.

With considerate, friendly, detail orientated staff, the service at Globe doesn’t disappoint. While it might have partly been because we were among the first tables they had in for dinner that night, we were warmly greeted by the entire front house as we were led to our table. No matter what business you’re in, that type of attention scores big points.

Trouble is, I was there to eat, and most of the food at Globe fell a little flat…

There’s a lot to be said about going local. With hype from the 100 Mile Challenege and a seemingly growing concern for eating local and sustainable, people are looking for food that’s produced closer to home and with a smaller carbon footprint. While Globe’s focus may be on local, it’s hard to identify exactly how close ‘local’ is since they have items sourced from as far as Kelowna and Vancouver.

The West Coast Dungeness Crab starter was overcomplicated, which made it slightly hard to identify what the heck we were eating. Besides the obvious crab meat, which was subtly sweet and perfectly cooked, the plate also had a far-to-large savoury panna cotta and some haphazardly scattered popcorn. Yep. Popcorn. While the consistencies were actually pretty good, it was mostly a confusing dish to eat that came with no explanation.

The Second Winds Farm Elk main was a little too simple; too little color, not enough flavor, and effortless presentation. While the elk loin was perfectly cooked, the braised shoulder was tough and near-tasteless. The best part of the dish was the corn polenta.

Much the same with the pheasant, which also served the meat two ways. While the citrus breast was moist and tasty, the jerked leg was tough and lacking spices.

It’s really too bad, because I truly wanted to love Globe. From the beautiful dining room to the amazing staff, I was sure I was in for something special.

Perhaps simpler is better, especially since what we’re talking about here is a focus on local ingredients. Great cooking is all about balance, and if Globe could just work on simplifying some of their dishes (like the crab starter) and making others slightly more complicated (like the Elk main) and identify where they draw the line on being local, they’d have nothing stopping them.

- Andre

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Real Sports Bar and Grill

Posted on September 10, 2011 by in The Harbourfront

Real Sports Bar Entranceway

3 stars

- Real Sports Bar and Grill is an amazing place to go if you are an avid sports fan. Casual viewers need not apply. A bar boasting North America’s biggest HD TV screen, and at 39 feet, they are not exaggerating, creates a certain atmosphere, but that may not be what everyone is looking for in a sports bar…let me explain.

Real Sports is shiny, flashy and new. The place is decked out with 199 other HD TV screens, all vying for your attention, on top of the main attraction. The bar is lit up with translucent coloured panels, creating a space that feels a bit more like a nightclub than a bar and grill. The wait staff all look really good, but it seems to take the entire quarter of a basketball game to get your drink or order a meal.

Real Sports menu is comprehensive and well thought out. They serve 12 different flavours of chicken wings, and a great selection of sandwiches and burgers. I can attest to the quality of both the Grilled Chicken on Swiss Panini and the Grilled Portobello Mushroom Sandwich ($13, $12). Real Sports also serves of a variety of appetizers, hot dogs, poutine, salads and some filling entrees of ribs, salmon and meatloaf. But here is where the fun stops. I have not had good luck with the appetizers at Real Sports, often finding the portion to be smaller than I expected, and the food lacking a certain something. The calamari was a bit dry, and the chipotle mayo has been done. When I ordered the sweet potato fries as an appetizer, the portion of “5 spice aioli” that came on the side could have been consumed within the first two fries. I was not impressed.

Food issues aside, Real Sports serves up 112 different beers on tap, and a decent selection of wine and whiskey. Expect to pay a steep price, however. With most of the beer prices ranging between $6.25 and $8.50, and wine from $9 up to $23.50 a glass, the “sports” theme of the bar is quickly replaced with the pricing of a mid-range restaurant. I must admit, I have never been able to digest the alcohol prices at Real Sports.

What Real Sports lacks in food and prices, however, it makes up for in location and style. Located walking distance to the Rogers Centre, and across the street from the Air Canada Centre, it is, literally, a 30 second walk to the ACC, giving meaning to the “real” in Real Sports. With more TV’s than you could find inside the biggest BestBuy store out there, you will never miss a game or event again. It really feels like Real Sports is actually playing every sporting event in the world, and you can take your pick.

Real Sports boasts a 90-foot ice bar, which swaggering up to and ordering a drink at feels pretty cool (pun intended). It’s a neat gimmick, but also extremely functional, as those sitting at the bar always have a cold drink. I have just never quite figured out where to rest my hands.

Real Sports is loaded with seating, it always seem that there is a place to sit. With the bar spanning over two levels, all with forward facing booths, there really isn’t a bad seat in the house.

If you are looking for a good time, and not extremely concerned with the quality, or price, of your food and beverage, then by all means, head over to Real Sports; I can almost guarantee you will have a good time. Seeing the 39-foot TV for the first time is a fun experience, especially when your team is playing on it. If you go to Real Sports with realistic expectations, you will not be disappointed.

- Janine

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Souz Dal

Posted on August 20, 2011 by in Little Italy

2 stars

- Alright, alright, so as it turns out I sometimes judge a book by its cover.  Or, in this case, a bar by its’ signage.  Let’s face it, I’m a sucker for good signage.  And Souz Dal has it.  The rusty globe hangs outside like a relic, the name of the bar cut into the side.  Lit, and glowing from within, it reminds me of one of those tin punch-out crafts made from a (insert random legume) can at summer camp.  But much cooler of course.  It was this sign that caught my attention on more than one occasion, beckoning me in when I had somewhere else to be.  Finally, one night a couple of weeks ago, I gave in to its sirens call.  I was a little bit disappointed.

It was devoid of people save for us and the lonely bartender.  I say lonely, but judging by his charm (see: none) he probably liked it better that way.  Granted though, it was early – Souz Dal only has a drink menu – and a few more folk trickled in as the night wore on.

The stars I gave are attributed solely to the bar’s ambience.  Dimly lit, and painted in muted reds and oranges it has an earthy or Moorish feel to it.  Worn textiles and cathedral mirrors adorn the walls, while candles flicker on every table, casting shadows.  The back patio has a similar vibe happening, cloistered in by high walls, and lit by candles wedged in the mouths of old wine bottles.

Now I rarely turn down a good patio, but in this case I chose a seat inside, which says a lot.  Reclined on velvet benches at our table by the open front window, we watched College Street come alive as we perused the drink menu. I was in a cocktail mood, and my friend had read somewhere that Souz Dal claimed to have the “best” mojitos in the city, so that was the first order I placed.

Now I’ve been to Cuba.  I did a little backpacking, starting in Havana and making my way to the South coast.  I wouldn’t say I’m a connoiseur of the mojito because of this, but I did drink my fair share, and like to think I know a thing or two about a good one. And this wasn’t one of them.  There wasn’t nearly enough mint or sugar, so it was overwhelmingly bitter.  I don’t like my mojitos to taste like Kool-Aid, but I do like a little sweetness to curb the edge.

Unlikely to order another of the same, but unwilling to give up on the bar, we tried a few other beverages.  Nothing wowed us.  The Moscow Mule with its ginger beer offered a nice slow burn, but it also wasn’t a repeat offender. The fortune cookie garnish on the lychee-infused Soho martini was fun, but not nearly as tasty as a lychee would have been.

Although funky signage and ambience mean a lot to me, a good drink means even more, so chances are I won’t be returning to Souz Dal.  If however, you are in the market for an intimate date setting (see: empty bar) then head on over.  And if a mediocre mojito is your thing, then you can get them here for $5.75 on Mondays.

- Rebecca

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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