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Famoso – The Annex

Posted on July 9, 2012 by in The Annex

Famoso The Annex

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2 Stars

- Walk in to Famoso’s new Annex location and there is no mistaking the kind of restaurant you have entered: a popular, loud hang out for students, families and friends alike. It’s a casual place with daily deals (movies, cheap wine on Wednesdays, etc.), TVs showing Blue Jays’ games and young staff working feverishly to keep up with the sit-in and take-out clientele.  It’s got a pleasant, relaxed vibe and people seemed to be rather enjoying themselves.

Once seated in our booth, we perused the menu and our lovely server explained how the restaurant works: you write down your order on the notepad provided, bring it up to the counter and hand it in. You can either pay right away or begin a tab. Any subsequent orders can be placed through the wait staff. I assume this method is effective for those in a hurry, but it did seem a little odd considering how often our server checked in on us. She also expounded upon the “red sauce” pizzas made with Campania tomato sauce, fior-de-latte mozzarella, basil and pecorino romano cheese. (The “white sauce”pizzas are made with a garlic and olive oil sauce instead of the tomatoes.)

We opted for the prosciutto-wrapped mozzarella balls for an appetizer, the funghi tartufo and San Andreas pizzas and, for dessert, the dolce and banana dish. As with any self-respecting pizza place, they had San Pellegrino on the menu so got an Aranciata (my fave) and a Limonata. My dining companion kindly took the order the counter while I scoped out the huge place before me. Famoso has really nice exposed brick walls, comfortable booths and, by my count, at least three staff members per table. There are a lot of eyes on tables and not much gets missed. The staff is universally nice, if perhaps inexperienced. It lacked a certain finesse, but made up for it in sweet charm.

Our appetizer arrived and I’m glad we asked for salt, pepper and chili flakes. The mozzarella balls were tasty, but the red sauce (which would appear later on our funghi pizza) was very, very sweet. For my liking, too sweet.  A dash of salt and some chili flakes were necessary and helped considerably. I was hoping for crispier prosciutto, too; as a start to the meal, it was pretty average. If you’re going to get an appetizer, I would recommend you try a salad. They looked fresh and tasty.

Our funghi  tartufo pizza arrived fairly shortly afterward. It consisted of roasted white mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, truffle oil and parmiggiano reggiano.  Again, it was better with the salt and chili flakes.  The crusts at Famoso are a bit thicker than is the trend right now, but I liked the chewier texture. I only wish that this pizza had been left in the 900-degree oven a little longer as it needed a little more crispiness to counter the soft, melting cheese that was starting to soak through the crust. (A note: I took a slice of this one home and had it two days later. I have to say, it tasted much better as a leftover!)

Our second pizza – the San Andreas – was a “New World Pizza” with a white sauce, chili-lime marinated chicken and fresh mozzarella. It was then baked and topped with avocado slices, diced roma tomatoes, onion, cilantro, a drizzle of cream and a lime wedge. Certainly not traditional, but pretty darned tasty. The pizza seemed to have stayed in the oven just that little bit longer and had that nice char on the bottom. The lime juice provided a bright flavour and the chicken was tender. (I’d have liked a little more chicken, but that’s a bit of a nitpick. It was a good pizza.) Were I to go back, I would steer my companions toward it if they wanted to try something a little different.

Finally, dessert. This was my favourite dish of the four we tried. A long, rectangular plate of roasted bananas coated in caramelized brown sugar, topped with pecans and caramel sauce and a scoop of ice cream in the middle arrived at the table and my eyes widened. This looked and smelled fantasti and tasted even better. The bananas were piping hot and creamy and contrasted beautifully with the crunch of the sugar and the chill of the ice cream. That dish was devoured in what had to be record time.

Overall, Famoso is…fine. There isn`t anything in particular that stands out but there isn’t anything egregiously wrong with it, either.  It caters to a wide variety of tastes so it is sure to be a good option if you are going out with a group with varying tastes or dietary restrictions or preferences. Do not bother with the prosciutto-wrapped mozzarella balls, but do not skip dessert.

- 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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Terroni Queen West

Posted on October 25, 2011 by in West Queen West

4 stars

- So lately I’ve been on a bit of an Italian kick. Maybe its the changing of the seasons, and I’m subconsciously trying to carbo-load for the winter months ahead and preparing for hibernation. Whatever it is, this past Monday I was looking for just that at Terroni on Queen West.

The camp is divided on Terroni. People either rave about it or complain about the pretentious servers, the ‘no-substitution’ rule, or the slice-it-yourself pizza. Being a fan of this place, I have a rebuttal for each of these complaints.

While (some of) the servers may seem a bit curt at first, I owe this to the fact that Terroni is busy – always busy – and their no-nonsense attitude is often mistaken for pretentiousness. Our server, although brusque, took our order diligently while complementing our choices, had our wine to the table in no time, and managed to pour two glasses of the stuff from the awkwardly shaped porcelain decanter without dribbling it everywhere (which is something we later failed to do).

As for the no-substitutions rule, if you want to choose your own toppings, then head on down to that infamous sub-par pizza joint (you know the one…with its orange boxes and redundant title) and stuff your crust while you’re at it. Since when did slicing pizza become a chore? Just a few simple back and forth motions with a knife and voila! Freshly sliced pizza.

Regardless of the division, Terroni is always packed. Monday at 9:00 found us one free table upstairs, which was where our preference lay anyway. Although I do love to pull up to the bar, it tends to get a bit clustered on the lower level, and while the upstairs isn’t exactly quiet, shouting across the table isn’t required.

Our waiter promptly brought us the menus and we poured over the apps and the twenty-nine – yes, twenty-nine – pizzas they have to offer.

We started with the Funghi Assoluti ($12.95):  breaded and baked oyster mushrooms served on arugula, sprinkled with parmesan, and drizzled with a balsamic glaze.  It was superb, but sharing proved to be problematic, not because the portion wasn’t large enough, but because we simply didn’t want to. Social graces saved us, but I had visions of the two of us in an Animal Planet-esque showdown… circling the last mushroom with fangs bared and hackles raised.

We chased all of this down with a velvety Piemonte that was oddly served in a jug, which made it difficult to pour. Our server made it look effortless, but us? Well, we just made a mess. I did manage to solve the problem however (pour from the side, and not from the oddly shaped lip) and fortunately for us we had a seemingly bottomless half litre.

No sooner had we finished sharing the last ‘shroom was our pizza delivered to the table. We went with the Primavera ($15.95) to contribute to our daily recommended dose of veggies and to somehow convince ourselves that we were being healthy. All of the pizza at Terroni is thin crust and ours was weighed down heavily with tomatoes, red pepper, (more) mushrooms, and artichokes with a few black olives decorating the centre of the pie.

Now when I say thin-crust, I mean it.  Maybe I’m just speaking for myself here, but I have absolutely no difficulty finishing a whole pizza without any assistance at Terroni. I’m a big fan of folding slices before biting into them, and the crust at Terroni is so thin and pliable I always envision myself folding a whole pizza in half,…and then in half again…and then having my way with it.  Once again, as with the sharing, social norms seem to get in the way…

- Rebecca

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Bar Salumi

Posted on October 14, 2011 by in Parkdale

Bar Salumi Storefront

4 Stars

- Bar Salumi is the unassuming sister bar-come-restaurant to The Local Kitchen in Parkdale.  It might be a little too unassuming for its own good, as many people seemed to question its whereabouts when I mentioned its name…but maybe Bar Salumi doesn’t like the spotlight.  Indeed, its sign is almost an afterthought, with the store’s original signage for an antique shop, dominating the storefront.

My friend and I had been meaning to go ever since she discovered they served Burrata pizza.  She really has a thing for that cheese, and I can’t say I blame her. It’s delicious.  We went awhile back, excited at the prospect of this new twist on a Margharita pie, only to find out the chef was on vacation and they were only serving up the liquid portion of their menu.  Normally I wouldn’t have a problem with this, and in some cases I would actually prefer it, but that night we were hungry and consequently, deflated. My friend entered the chefs ETA in her phone, and we vowed to return.

Two weeks later, the alarm sounded, reminding us that the chef was back to work (and also that she had golden potatoes ready to harvest in Smurf Village).  We went the very next day.

As it was on our previous visit, Bar Salumi was quiet and dark, illuminated by flickering chandeliers (leftovers from the former antique shop maybe?) and tea light candles housed within mason jars.  Hanging legs of prosciutto fight for space with ceiling fans, and a boar’s head watches diners from high above on the back wall.  I know it might not sound like it (what with the strong presence of dangling cured meat and taxidermy) but it has a real romantic vibe happening.

There is no kitchen at Bar Salumi, so our personable apron-clad server was also our chef.  The menu is a small one, focused on pizza and apps, so diners can watch as everything is prepared behind the bar. It did get a bit hot, what with the pizza oven operating from within the same room, but think how cozy that would be on a winter’s night.

The menu is presented on the wall in cafeteria style (or bowling alley) fashion, with those little plastic letters that slide in and out, and I half expected to see nachos and cheese listed somewhere.  More menus were brought to us on mini clipboards, and because the food menu was unnecessary as we had fully rehearsed our order, we paused awhile over the drink list.  They offer a thoughtful selection of reds and whites as well as some interesting cocktails.  We went with two glasses of Malbec ($12 each) to go with our starter of olives & nodini with ricotta salata ($4).  So far so good, except that I couldn’t help but think the nodini crackers weren’t the most functional choice for the cheese…more like basketball hoops for the olives.

Our pizza ($14), although not wood-fired, did come served on a cross-section of a tree trunk.  With the creamy white Burrata blending with the red of the San Marzano tomatoes, punctuated by basil it was like an homage to the Italian flag.  I wish I could say that the Burrata we were so looking forward to, made it the penultimate Margharita experience, but it was like any other made with Bufala.  The two are from the same family after all, so I’m not sure what we were thinking.  Cheese does things to people.  That being said however, we weren’t disappointed, as the sauce was tangy, the crust was crispy, and it was big enough for both of us to eat and still take home leftovers.

I wouldn’t rank the pizza with the likes of pie giants, Terroni or Libretto, but Bar Salumi is rife with ambience where the aforementioned aren’t.  The promise of Buratta may have lured me in the first time, but it’s the character that will bring me back.

- Rebecca

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Hey Lucy

Posted on September 24, 2011 by in The Annex

4 stars

- Geez. There seems to be some negative buzz surrounding this place. Most of the stuff I read made it seem like there wasn’t any shot of much good coming out of it. So, imagine my surprise when the food was good, the service was attentive, and the overall experience was one that I’d come back for.

In all fairness, a lot of that negative stuff I read was about their Theatre district location on King West, which I’ve neer been to, but that just doesn’t hold much value for me. The fact is, most of those places on that strip of King seem to get a bad rap. Get ‘em in, get ‘em fed, get ‘em out; that’s their philosophy as they wait for theatre goers to arrive, and then again when they hope for them to come back after the show… thankfully, Hey Lucy’s Annex location isn’t anything like that.

With their soft lighting, chandeliers and black-and-white cow print seats, it’s difficult to describe what exactly they were going for when they designed this place, but somehow, it works well and provides a nice backdrop, particularly for a date night. The ambience is hip, the decor is comfortable and cozy, and the space is of a decent enough size that it can easily accommodate both large groups and couples.

Hey Lucy is busy in the summer evenings, mostly because of their killer patio that lines the entire side of the building. Perfect for people-watching, this packed space is a nice addition to The Annex, and it holds up well against other patios on the street (except for Pauper’s Pub!).

Probably what Hey Lucy is most well-known for is their martinis. They’ve got a pretty decent martini menu with some interesting things on it, like the Godzilla and the Freedom 55, but man, these guys are expensive. Although they do come with a minimum of 2 ounces of booze, you can expect to shell out 9 bucks plus taxes for one. And while that may seem ok at first, having a few of them can easily add up… trust me on that. If martinis are your thing, but getting ripped off for them isn’t, then you’re definitely going to want to come back on a Wednesday. Wednesday is Martini Wednesday at Hey Lucy, and the prices drop to 4 bucks for the exact same martinis. But come early, other people like a good deal when they see one too, and this place fills up pretty quickly.

Their menu doesn’t follow any sort of style; it’s a bit all over the place, but it’s still the sorta thing you might expect from a place like this. Pastas, wood-fired pizzas, paninis, sandwiches, all of it is pretty good, but unfortunately, this can unexpectedly change once the place fills up. In Hey Lucy’s case, it’s better to go when it isn’t that busy.

While I wouldn’t go out of my way to go to Hey Lucy, if you’re in the area and looking for a night out, Hey Lucy provides nicely.

- Andre

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Parkette Kitchen and Bar

Posted on March 19, 2011 by in Liberty Village

4 stars

- If you venture away from the downtown core, just outside the hustle and bustle of the 9-5 crowd, the theatres and skyscrapers, you might just find a restaurant that is surprisingly unique and that shows some real passion. You can still see the CN Tower, but it all seems far removed from the tourist-focused mentality. Preparing food requires creativity and there is no better place for the chefs of Parkette to find artistic inspiration than on Queen West beside Trinity Bellwoods Park.

A very tiny restaurant, Parkette offers an equally small, very succinct menu with starters, second courses, salads, pasta, pizza mains and desserts. The server tells me, “our dishes are meant to be shared, like family-style,” and so we did.

A meal for two should typically be made of three dishes; a starter, a salad and a main or a “second” and two mains, and so on. They offer, what I would call, up-to-date traditional Italian food. Our starter of mussels in tomato broth, topped with fennel and white beans ($10), was just light enough to leave room for the heavier mains of beef cheeks on bed of polenta ($16) and ricotta gnocchi with oxtail ($14). The beef was tender enough that only a fork was needed to pull the pieces apart and, though not experienced with polenta, I thought it was appropriately soft and that it held up to the rich beef.

As mentioned in previous reviews, I am a new gnocchi-addict. Parkette’s was not so dumpling-like as I’ve had before and it was certainly not topped with your typical pasta sauce. Little packets of tender potato, assumingly kept so soft by the ricotta, were paired with oxtail and sun-dried tomatoes in more of an aus jus, than a sauce. I think I had a bit more than my fair share of that dish – at a $14 price-point, this was the best of the night. The ingredients are bold, but the layered flavours hold up perfectly.

Humble, but delicious, Parkette offers carefully prepared food in a great atmosphere; natural woods, stemless wine glasses and paper napkins prevent the tiny interior from becoming claustrophobic. Parkette does almost make you feel like you’re having a lovely dinner in the park.

- Nicole

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La Bettola di Terroni

Posted on January 30, 2011 by in Downtown

4 stars

- Out on a cold winter’s week night, some friends and I thought we’d head to Terroni on Adelaide for a casual bite. Not having a reservation, on what appeared to be a very busy night, the hostess recommended that we try their new venture, La Bettola di Terroni, which was close by.

Once we arrived, we were all immediately impressed by the glass-walled pantry in the entranceway. It is always comforting to find a restaurant that flaunts its freshness. To me, it screams, ‘Come in! We know what we are doing!’

We took the advice, and waited for a table in a very cramped entrance way. With three other patrons in front of us, the hostess desk seemed very busy, but soon we were greeted and seated having had a table reserved at the suggestion of the hostess at Terroni.

The first thing we noticed, sitting at the end of a very long shared table, was how loud the music was. A mixture of 60s R&B and 70s Disco; it was far too loud. We actually couldn’t even hear each other. Being a trio, I had to use my friend to the left to convey what I was saying to the friend sitting opposite me. At one point, while trying to explain my thoughts on my salad to the person across from me, they smiled, nodded, and asked ‘so what salad are you having’? I’ll admit the restaurant was packed, bustling, and full of all the noises that come with that, but despite that, the music was the biggest contributor to the noise.

Our server soon appeared and did a great job answering all the questions we threw at him about red and white wines. He spoke well and seemed to truly care about recommending something we’d enjoy. Unfortunately, upon his return he gave the white to the red drinker and vice versa. To his credit, he noticed his own mistake and did not make it again with any of the refills.

Looking at the menu, anyone familiar with Terroni will find a lot to like here. It is, as their website describes, a sort ‘best of’ all the food at Terroni, with something for everyone.

Bread arrived with olive oil to dip. The oil had a nice earthy bitterness and was quite enjoyable. Our salads arrived soon after: a Giuggiolosa with mixed greens with Cambozola cheese, grilled peppers, pine nuts, black olives, honey and a Barbabietole e Caprino with roasted beets, goat’s cheese, lamb’s lettuce, pistachios, candied lemon zest, and anchovy balsamic dressing. The Giuggiolosa was slightly too sweet and could have used a few more of Bettola’s exceptional olives to add some more saltiness, but the Barbabietole e Caprino was near flawless. The beets were well roasted, and the flavours all stood out, as they should have.

Looking at the menu, one of my guests fondly remembered having eaten Arancini di Modica on a ferry ride once from Italy to Sicily, so out of nostalgia, we ordered them. Arancini are breaded and deep-fried balls of rice, cheese and other fillings. At La Bettola di Terroni, they’re filled with mozzarella and a pork ragout. They were a step above their peasant food origins, but all of us agreed that they weren’t spectacular, didn’t live up to the nostalgia, and we wouldn’t be compelled to order them again.

Our pizzas arrived soon after. Having been to other Terronis before, I knew what to expect, and so we decided to split two pizzas between the three of us. Although thin crusted, they’re not small.

We ordered a Smendozzata, with sausage, red onion and gorgonzola on a tomato base, and a C’t Mang with prosciutto, pear, walnuts and honey with gorgonzola and mozzarella on an olive oil base. The Smendozzata was classic Terroni style, and just as expected. The Gorgonzola was sharp and salty, and the sausage had a hint of fennel. Tasty. The C’t Mang was also excellent, with the perfect combination of salty and sweet, and a nice sharpness from the Gorgonzola.

Overall, it was a good meal. With La Bettola di Terroni, the Terroni family has added another feather in its cap. La Bettola di Terroni serves classic, Italian comfort food and serves it well. Besides the noise level, it’s be a great place to take a date, bring the family, or bring friends.

- Guest Contributor

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Lil Baci

Posted on December 1, 2010 by in Leslieville

4 stars

- I’m a sucker for top-notch pizza. By top-notch, I mean pizza that is served sizzling and fresh and made with high-quality ingredients. Pizza like that is true craftsmanship; pizza like that I could eat every day. In my continuing effort to find superior pizza, I looked to Lil’ Baci in Leslieville. My visit didn’t disappoint me.

Lil’ Baci’s dining room is a decent-sized dining space, but the tables are packed pretty tight, so don’t expect too much privacy. You’ll likely hear everything that the table next to you is talking about. If you need to escape your neighbour table, in the warmer months you may want to check out the cute backyard patio. Comfortable, busy, and social, it’s the place to be when the sun is out.

When I’m eating Italian food, I like to start off with a glass of red vino or cold Italian beer. Lil’ Baci’s wine list is small but thorough and their beer list offers some nice Italian choices; Moretti and Perroni are my personal favourites.

Lil’ Baci has a seriously amazing dandelion greens salad.  If you’ve never had dandelions as food before, this would be the one to expose yourself to it. The greens are slightly bitter, but the bitterness works well topped with shaved Parmigiano, cracked black pepper, and freshly squeezed lemon. Perfect starter.

And the pizza, they do it right. Lil’ Baci has a savoury and seasoned tomato sauce base that expertly compliments the four cheeses that are layered on their Quattro Fromagi; my personal favorite.  They’ve got some other really outstanding pizzas to choose from like the Margherita (with tomato, basil, and mozza), the Lil’ Baci (with pecorino, sausage, and fennel pollen), and the Gorgonzola Dolce (with gorgonzola, Yukon gold potatoes, and caramelized onions). All of their pizzas are served on signature thin crust dough that is seared and blistered perfectly.

Lil Baci has got a really small pasta menu. Ridiculously small. There’s only three items. But still, these 3 items are done perfectly. They’re all made with quality ingredients and use that great tomato sauce that’s on the pizza. My favorite is just the plain ole’ Spaghetti and meatballs.  It’s got just the right amount of fresh basil, sauce, and Parmigiano. The portion size isn’t huge, but with that dandelion salad and something from their Insalata menu, it’s more than enough.

Lil’ Baci also has a Panino menu, which surprisingly is different from their pizza menu. I love the Panino Tonnato. Packed with Italian tuna, caper aioli, sun-dried tomatoes and arugula, it’s perfectly pressed into an amazing bite.

The dessert menu has a few options, but when I was there I had a lemon prosecco tart. The crust was buttery, but a tad on the dry side. The custard-like lemon filling had a refreshing prosecco flavour, which balanced the acidity nicely.

I head to Lil’ Baci when I want some decently priced Italian food and some amazing pizza. Lunch or dinner, what you end up with is a steal anywhere in the city!

- Guest Contributor

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