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Sunday Pleasures

What better way to spend your Sunday? Enjoyed a few weeks ago with girlfriends; it was an afternoon filled with the loveliest company,  life musings, piano playing, and far too much gossip.

A simple spread: parmigiano reggiano, cantenaar, grapes, fig jam, grainy mustard, cornichons, sundried tomatoes, artichokes, olives, cherries, peppers, garlic hummus, roasted tomatoes w. buffala mozza & basil on a fresh baguette.

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January = a month of tiny gluttony. I know, two words that should never sit side by side.

And 23 days too late.

In my pathetically weak defense, I DID start this post 23 days ago. And if I don’t complete, N will shoot me her “work/life balance” look. So let’s give a try (speaks the girl who’s going on vacation for 3 weeks in 3 days).

Hello tapas. Hello Wine Bar, Malena and Salt Wine Bar. Sans photography, written snapshots.
Hope you enjoy :)

 

{WINE BAR}

Sorely disappointed. Wasn’t overly enthused about the menu (which changes on a daily basis), but still optimistic a few dishes would stand out. Sadly, no. Qualicum bay scallops were overcooked, tomato ratatouille too sweet for the braised beef cheek, and the B.C fluke, pulled pork poutine and risotto simply didn’t live up to their expectations. Enough moaning, you get it. Highlights: Beautiful use of the space. Ambiance. Open kitchen. And we all admired the pickled jars lining the back wall & the recipe wallpaper in the ‘loo. Would I recommend to others? Negative.

http://www.9church.com/
9 Church Street
416.504.9463

 

{MALENA}

Beautifully serene, with meticulous attention to detail – from decor to the menu designs, it’s quite lovely. You do feel as if you’re a guest in someone’s house, even if it’s accompanied by the feeling that one must be on their best behaviour. Fitting for its Yorkville locale. Dishes are influenced by some Greek love, some Italian love, and all quite memorable. Worthy of the prices? Debatably no. Would I recommend to others? Debatably no. Unless, it’s a special treat. Then, by all means yes.

Outstanding

Rodney’s oysters on the half shell – agro dolce & ‘bomba’
Seared maine scallops with winter squash & raddichio risotto

Honourable Mentions

Grilled octopus with pancetta & root vegetable fregola, greek yogurt & orange agro dolce
Sheep’s milk ricotta gnudi with braised rabbit, spinach & crisp parsnip

Sadly, forgettable

Squid ink chitarra & lobster with tomato, fresh herbs & calabrian chillies
Warm chocolate budino with local preserved strawberries, honeycomb & fresh whipped cream 9.
Greek honey ‘loukoumades’ crispy fried doughnuts with attiki honey, pistachios & cinnamon crema

http://www.malena120.ca/
120 Avenue Road
416.964.0606

 

{SALT WINE BAR}

Darkly inviting and intimately familiar, imagine the inside of a wine & pickled goods cellar. You’d really like to stay a while, wouldn’t you? We certainly did. The newest kid on the Ossington block, she’s a sexy mix of Spanish and Portuguese. Really, quite lovely. Interior aside, the menu has the potential to be stellar. But, when only a handful of dishes hold our attention and dessert takes the limelight; it’s not there yet. Would I recommend to others? Yes. I do feel compelled to come back. To try other dishes. Introduce others to it. Discuss over a bottle of vino or two.

Outstanding

Braised oxtail consumme with garlic mashed, tthyme
Wagu beef crudo with truffled quail egg, parmesan croutons, watercress
Brown butter creme brulee
Cinnamon churros with dark pot of chocolat

Honourable Mentions

Striped beets on bed of arugula, goat cheese, marcona almond, tarragon & citrus vinaigrette
Pulled pork sandwich with guacamole
Oyster mushrooms on toasted baguettes with parsley & garlic
Lobster bisque ‘basque’ style

Sadly, forgettable

Grilled calamari (this one didn’t really stand a chance after disappointment over no octopus)
Rapini with garlic, chili, olive oil

http://saltrestaurant.ca/
225 Ossington Ave.
416.533.7258

 

Next on the list: LEE LOUNGE

Expectations are through the roof. Can’t help it. Susur commands it…for me anyway. And I peeked at Toronto Life’s review last night. O my. 1. Peking duck rolls 2. Asian-style salmon ceviche. Y’all know my long-standing mission. Find the best ceviche in the city.

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You may rave about a restaurant. And why do you rave? The Food. Cocktails. Ambiance. Service. Super cute waiter. That ONE dish on the menu.

Alas, 2010 is wrapping up & I have a penchant for making lists (bright yellow sticky notes are a girl’s best friend)… this one had to be done!

[Sidebar] One must always be prepared. To fill awkward silences. Make witty small talk. Entertain hrs of conversation. You know, if ever stuck in an elevator… on a double blind date… job interview…  you see? Countless needs. So yes, I have my list ready.

And I’ll have you know that I tried (albeit half-heartedly) to narrow down to top 10. Silly conventions. Let’s make it a top 18 with a bonus list.

Below, you’ll find my most blathered about dishes in 2010. Any day, any time, anywhere.

Made up of the city’s finest*:

18. Enoteca Sociale: Grilled octopus
17. Le Select Bistro: Steak tartare
16. Guu: Salmon natto yukke
15. Burger’s Priest: Cheeseburger
14. WoodLot: Potato puree & bone marrow
13. Mildred’s Temple Kitchen: Profiteroles
12. Biff’s Bistro: Chicken liver parfait
11. O&B: Grilled calamari
10. Grace Upstairs (BBQ): Grilled lobster
9. Marben: Roasted beef
8. Black Hoof: Charcuterie
7. Tutti Matti: Beef carpaccio
6. C5: Corn salad
5. Cava: Foie gras
4. Scarpetta: Polenta with truffled mushrooms
3. Foxley: Black cod with truffle oil & asian greens
2. Luma: Burrata
1. Foxley: Arctic char ceviche (surprise!)

luma: burrata

C5: corn salad

Guu: salmon natto yukke

 

And these six are special. It’s like being asked to pick your favourite child. Impossible.

  • WoodLot: Handcut pappardelle w. wild boar ragu
  • Tutti Matti: Handcut pappardelle w. pulled beef brisket
  • Mengrai Thai: Red curry w. lychee & pineapple
  • SukhoThai: Red curry (gaeng phed)
  • Nadege Patisserie: Salted caramel macaron
  • Moroco Chocolat: Salted caramel macaron

nadege: salted caramel & pistachio macaron (photo cred: Tina H)

 

For the past 12 months, have eaten my way through the city… with many friends, many bottles of vino, and many O MY! moments. Glorious fun. Pure unadulterated fun. So much fun, planning to do it again next year. Who’s joining? ;)

 

*Excluded – mama’s cooking. Y’all know why…homecooking is simply incomparable x

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Sometimes, my hard little heart bursts with so much love for my mother.

Birthday was last last week. Half-expected we’d go out for dinner. More than half-hoped it was home-cooking. Train’d it back into the ‘ville, walked through the front door, stopped… and smiled.

Mama was cooking.

And cooking up a storm! Slaving over the stove from the minute she had gotten home…deliciousness wafting through the house…table set as if we were entertaining, bottle of wine breathing… her little 5″1 (if that) frame practically jumping with excitement. And my father beaming b/c he had actually kept the secret. I know, right? The sweetest.

Menu for the eve:

  • tofu & egg drop soup
  • lobster w. fresh ginger
  • king oyster mushrooms & scallions
  • basa fillets, vietnamese-styles
  • asian greens with garlic & mushrooms

Seriously delicious & made with love. The BEST combination. Don’t worry bro, I’m sure you’ll get the same treatment next week.

Sadly, didn’t have my camera. Snapped w. iPhone – Hipstamatic.

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Today was a good day. And today, also consisted of two slices of pizza, two cheeseburgers & fries.

Wow. Slightly embarrassed.

Balancing act flew out the window, didn’t it? Daily scoffs at M & K may need to cease for a while. In hindsight, not so brilliant. At the time, quite… like this one:

After a fantastically good client preso, J & I were riding a high and decided to celebrate with burgers. And not just any burgers.

Burger’s Priest burgers.

So, there’s been great hoopla & debate over the best burger joint in the city. Will neither confirm or deny, but when a convoy of cars from Church & Bloor make the trek (and I mean, trek) over to the eastest end of Queen & Coxwell for lunch… you know it’s something serious. Crazy agency folks.

Would defend, compare and throw opinions around, but 6hrs later, still in a slight food coma and can only focus on one thing at a time. So, singularly-focused this post will be.

P.s – will never forgive you guys for not telling me that day. So, this convoy comes back and they rave. Rave about the patties. Rave about the ground beef. Rave about the patty to bun ratio. Rave about how good it is. Rave about how they can’t describe why it’s so good. Rave about possible best burger in the city.

Colour me green.

So, I make them promise to take me the following week.

When that day came, so much anticipation from so much internal hype. And let me tell you… hype FULLY justified. Not disappointed. In the least. Raved to friends, strangers, anyone who would listen. And 6 weeks later, 2nd trek was made.

The patties! So fresh. Grounded daily, never frozen. You see ’em grilling, and your tastebuds start to salivate. Buns are buns are buns, but something happens when they meet freshly grilled ground beef. Chemistry! The combination of incredibly soft patties, slightly charred, flanked by two unassuming buns and fixings, if you so desire… kinda fantastic.

This eve, honed in on the Combo (cheeseburger, fries & drink) and threw in an extra cheeseburger for the road.

Listen, I’m a fat kid at heart. But, not that fat.

These burgers are not large. In fact, quite small. However, may have to retract claim after tonight. Deceivingly small. Having eaten two cheeseburgers and 1/4 of the fries (ok fine, 1/2)… not so brilliant on my part. Regrets? Never. You eat, enjoy & digest… yep. Sorry Ma, most unladylike post.

As for the pizza, no good story. It was there for taking. So, I ate it.

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New obsession. Slow-roasting. Garlic. Tomatoes. Frankly, anything we can get our hands on.

Surprise! I do in fact, turn on my stove every once & a while. Figured I’d take a break from tales of restaurant gluttony. And regale you with tales in the kitchen.

FYI: Best smell in the world is garlic roasting. Someone should really make a candle for it…imagine? L would probably kill me.

Recipe (almost) diligently followed from “Cooking for Friends”.

{Ingredients}

tomatoes: 8-10 plum or 2 cups cherry tomatoes
extra-virgin olive oil: about 1/4 cup
sugar: about 1 tsp
garlic: 2 cloves, thinly sliced
sea salt & ground pepper

serves 4-6

{Instructions}

Preheat oven to 300F. Lightly oil a rimmed baking sheet. Arrange tomatoes, cut side up, on prepared baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle evenly with sugar, garlic and generous amounts of salt and pepper. Roast tomatoes until deep red and wrinkled, 2-21/2 hours for medium or plum tomatoes and 1 hour for cherry tomatoes.

Remove from oven and let cool on baking sheet. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Note: 1 of 12964 slow-roasted tomatoes recipes with 12964 different temperatures / length of time to roast. From 2 hours at 300F, to 7 hours at 225F to 12 hours at 200F….bring it on.

tomato & white bean salad

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Sunday Breakfast

So needed today.

Egg sammie with havarti on flaxseed rye…damn delicious.

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8 days of great anticipation. Not gonna lie, may have had a mini countdown.

Too much build-up? Nah. Why would you want to suppress the excitement? Keeps it fun ;)

Get ready, this post has perma-smile written all over it.

8 ladies. 8 little black dresses. Lovely bride-to-be. Private room. Intimate setting. Dark wood panelling, blonde wood highlights. Beautifully grand table. Cream leather chairs. Complimentary flutes of prosecco. Sets the scene quite nicely, non?

We’re ready to dine.

Chef Jason walks in, welcomes us warmly and within seconds, manages to charm the stilettos off every single lady. Hell, we probably would’ve agreed to eat pig’s feet had he suggested it.

So, we order and the perks of dining with 8…wider menu coverage! Excited and could hardly wait to try as many dishes as possible. Most excited to try the burrata and butter poached lobster.

When our apps arrived, all of the ladies waited…bless their sweet hearts. For what? Grace? Oui, of sorts. I’ve had the pleasure of dining with most (more than once), and over time, have established this unspoken “grace period”. Pattern as follows: Dish arrives. 10 seconds to snap a photo (or 5). Nod of gratitude. Permission to eat ;)

APPS

BURRATA
{fresh mozzarella cheese with beetroot, roasted eggplant, marjoram and pine nut vinaigrette}

LUMA: BURRATA

Grace periods granted, and while intent on capturing last neurotically perfect angle – T, upon her first bite of the burrata caught my attention with “O wow, you need try. Now”. I glance over. She’s nodding emphatically. My eyes widen. Anticipation builds again. First taste. Would it live up to its expectations…

Be still my heart.

Best mozza you’ll ever taste in your lifetime. Ok, best mozza I’ve ever tasted in my lifetime. No exaggeration. So fresh. So unbelievably fresh. So light. And the marjoram and pine nut vinaigrette…don’t know how he does it. Frankly, don’t care. Just give me more. Or, we could sit and stare at this fabulous dish all day long…look at that presentation!

[Sidebar] Not a beets fan. Very much want to like, because they’re so damn pretty. And, anything that pretty must taste good, right? Well, with some mozza & v, best beets ever tasted.

SCALLOP SASHIMI
{sliced thinly w/ celery leaves, herbs, radish & ginger vinaigrette}

LUMA: SCALLOP SASHIMI

Always drawn to scallops. And sashimi. Lingered over this one on the menu. Slices of sashimi with a subtle hit of ginger; vinaigrette was a delicate balance for buttery smooth scallops.

FOIE GRAS TORCHON
{pineapple, brioche, macadamia nut and vanilla}

LUMA: FOIE GRAS TORCHON

If heart wasn’t already set on the burrata, foie gras torchon was a close runner up. Cava still lingers as best foie gras, and willing to try others…just to see, you know? And this was close. Very, very close. Wish I had snuck in another taste. Imagine, scrambling across that beautifully large table in black dress. Would’ve ruined all pretense of classiness. Promptly. Alas, next time. But, wait! Must have the burrata again. Oh, the dilemmas we face sometimes.

MUSHROOM SOUP WITH TRUFFLE SHAVINGS
{amazingess}

LUMA: MUSHROOM SOUP WITH TRUFFLE SHAVINGS

Chef Jason popped back in at this point with a surprise dish and the smell that wafted over…oh la. Truffles. If ever an ingredient could be described as pure decadence…if ever an ingredient could add that element of je ne sais quoi… if ever… you know I could go on. An adaptation from his signature dish at Auberge, he served with a knowing smile; knowing we’d fall head over tummy in love.

Must feel nice to always be right. We practically licked our little saucepans clean.

MAINS

RICOTTA GNOCCHI
{light tomato fondue, basil, sunchokes and roasted garlic}

LUMA: RICOTTA GNOCCHI

Gnochhi like you’ve never had it before. A cloud of ricotta. Yes. A cheese cloud. Most apt description I could think of. And not heavy at all. Oxymoron? Perhaps…just go with me here. 3 ladies ordered…3 identical exclamations of ahhh, so good”. If you’re a gnochhi lover, try Luma’s. You’ll never go back.

BAKED SALMON
{gallo mussels, spanish chorizo, piquillo pepper and saffron rouille}

LUMA: BAKED SALMON

The baked salmon had caught J’s eye and if we were honest, the salmon simply acted as a conduit for everything else…mussels, chorizo, piquillo pepper and saffron rouille. Fleeting impression from one forkful…spicy & flavourful. Damn table was too big. Couldn’t scramble.

ROASTED COD
{northern woods mushrooms, sweetbreads, hazelnut, celery & porcini cream}

LUMA: ROASTED COD

Who doesn’t love mushroom foam? Who doesn’t love mushrooms? Who doesn’t love porcini cream? Perfectly cooked. Flaked immediately at the touch of your fork. Fleeting taste.

BUTTER POACHED LOBSTER
{steamed potato, corn, grilled leeks, lime and coriander pistou}

LUMA: BUTTER POACHED LOBSTER

High expectations. May or may not have had lobster two nights prior at EPIC at the Fairmont. Listen, it was the best week of dining and I was celebrating the gorgeous bride-to-be. How that directly translates to permissible lobster, haven’t quite worked it out.

Focus your attention on this dish. Now, that’s some serious foam. Too much? Oui. But, underneath serious foam is incredible lobster. All of the work is done. All of that succulent meat is yours for taking. Sigh. Barely remember steamed potato, corn and grilled leeks…too intent on lobster. Managed a remark about the lime and coriander pistou…something to do with a lovely balance of flavours. Really, it’s an art form – articulating pure enjoyment of food ;)

DESSERT

LEMON TART
{sour cream ice cream and blueberries}

LUMA: LEMON TART

Verdict: Best lemon tart in the city. I kid you not, the rumours are true. Believe ’em. Light, creamy and tart with a brûléed top and a thin layer of crust. Ridiculously good. Small scoop of sour ice cream and the combination is lemony tartiness h-e-a-v-e-n.

OPERA CAKE
{almond sponge cake with layers of mocha buttercream, chocolate ganache with popcorn ice cream & caramel popcorn}

LUMA: OPERA CAKE

Will be honest. This takes a back seat. Way back seat to the lemon tart. A huge chocolate & caramel fan. But when up against lemon tart goodness, no contest.

Whew! Indulge, we did. Our little black dresses were a wee bit tighter at this point. Worth it? Absolutely.

Overall, food was outstanding. Service was impeccably warm & attentive. From the extra little touches, to the wonderful team of 5-7 who rotated seamlessly throughout the night, to the generosity of general manager Richard and Chef Jason – it was a spectacular dining experience. Many many thanks for making our night so special!

[Sidebar] Mildly disturbing how often I think about the burrata. Kinda like a good date. Wait. Nevermind. Let’s not go there.

Good thing we’re back at Luma on Friday. To get my fix, of course.

LUMA
http://www.oliverbonacini.com/Luma.aspx
TIFF Bell Lightbox, 2nd Floor
330 King St. West
647.288.4715

 

 

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Life has been hectic. In a great way hectic. Playing catch up, and so much to share. Rewind back a few weeks, shall we? My dearest & bestest was getting married and as maid of honour, was responsible for planning her final ‘single’ party.

I had wanted to do something a little different, fun and interactive for the bride-to-be. Toyed with the idea of private cooking classes at the Calphalon, The Chef UpstairsDish Cooking Studio etc. but sadly, we’re not made of money. <pause> Don’t even say it. Blissfully unaware. <longer pause> Fine. Personal restaurant track record MAY beg to differ.

Reached out to friends for more reasonable ideas and suggestions flew in – from inviting Massimo Bruno to cook a family-style dinner to oyster shucking at Oyster Boy to a simple themed potluck to private dining at Toronto’s newest restaurant Luma. The last suggestion came from Luma’s own Chef Jason Bangerter.

He was offering an intimate 14-seat private room for exclusive dining and a grand meal to remember.

Should’ve seen my face.

Beamed like I had just won the mayoral debate.

If the room was available that night, it was ours. And a few days later, confirmed. Bless his heart, this was going to be the best experience ever. Then…then, it gets better. I know, right? Then, Chef Jason asked if I wanted to design the menu for the eve.

P-a-r-d-o-n.

Had Christmas come early?! Sweet j, this was fantastic.

T’was the early season of giving, so I called in my clever strategist and talented art director into a meeting. Pourquoi? Well, common denominator lies in our passion and slight obsession with food. K is our resident chef and E is a budding macaron maker & appreciator of all things French & wine. As 90% of our conversations – when not work-related, of course – center around food, they were perfect.

With that, extremely important meeting was called. Urgent. Needed ASAP in main boardroom. Moi, frantic? Never. Ahem. Ever so kind, both rushed to my defence. And projected on the screen was Luma’s menu. 1) select three appetizers 2) select three mains 3) select one dessert. Go!

Should’ve seen us. Like three little pigs in mud, so happy we were. Laboriously debated each dish, drooled (quite literally) over every ingredient, balanced several options against tastebuds, sacrificed dishes for others… and this is what we ended up with:

———————————————————————————————————–

APPS

BURRATA
{fresh mozzarella cheese with beetroot, roasted eggplant, marjoram and pine nut vinaigrette}

SCALLOP SASHIMI
{sliced thinly with celery leaves, herbs, radish and ginger vinaigrette}

FOIE GRAS TORCHON
{pineapple, brioche, macadamia nut and vanilla}

MAINS

RICOTTA GNOCCHI
{light tomato fondue, basil, sunchokes and roasted garlic}

BUTTER POACHED LOBSTER
{steamed potato, corn, grilled leeks, lime and coriander pistou}

GRILLED BEEF TENDERLOIN
{braised beef cheeks, crispy potato chips, celery root purée, caramelized sunchokes, watercress and wild mustard jus}
-or-
BAKED SALMON
{gallo mussels, spanish chorizo, piquillo pepper and saffron rouille}
-or-
ROASTED COD
{northern woods mushrooms, sweetbreads, hazelnut, celery and porcini cream}

DESSERT

LEMON TART
{sour cream ice cream and blueberries}

———————————————————————————————————–

Best menu ever. And obviously torn with the last main dish, we left it up to the executive chef to make the executive decision. But, oh so proud we were with our selections…as if we had created these dishes ourselves. Can you imagine?? What great fun we’d have.

[Sidebar] Always try to approach life with this much enthusiasm. Good for the soul.

Oh my, could not WAIT to dine. Too bad it was 8 days away.

To be continued…in tomorrow’s gluttonous edition of LEKIM.ca

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