Posts Tagged ‘Oliver & Bonacini’

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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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 ;)


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


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.

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


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.

{pineapple, brioche, macadamia nut and vanilla}


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.



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.


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


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.

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


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.

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


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.

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


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 ;)


{sour cream ice cream and blueberries}


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.

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


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.

TIFF Bell Lightbox, 2nd Floor
330 King St. West



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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.


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:



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

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

{pineapple, brioche, macadamia nut and vanilla}


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

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

{braised beef cheeks, crispy potato chips, celery root purée, caramelized sunchokes, watercress and wild mustard jus}
{gallo mussels, spanish chorizo, piquillo pepper and saffron rouille}
{northern woods mushrooms, sweetbreads, hazelnut, celery and porcini cream}


{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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Is it too much to expect that a dish served high-styles at a restaurant opening will be the same dish, when you order from their menu weeks later?

Months ago, fell head over tummy in love with the tuna lettuce wraps at the O&B Café Grill opening / media launch (timely, this post is not). Generous hunks of Ahi tuna dipped in a wicked good citrus soy, topped with crispy taro and ginger…may or may not have staked claim beside table.

S had to tear me away to meet other food lovers, writers, chefs, publicists…and while peppering them with questions, I’d sneak in a rave or two about the tuna lettuce wraps, and we’d inevitably make our way over to sample (again and again).

Fast forward a few weeks, returned with friends and eagerly anticipated a repeat performance. Instead, was hit with an underwhelming version of the wrap. Lonely iceberg shells with 1/3 Ahi tuna and little to no presentation…for shame! Would’ve been comical, had it not been so disappointing.

A little pizzazz for the opening, absolutely – but expectations were set for something quite stellar, particularly if same dish was offered on the regular menu. Granted, we didn’t need it to be served on a beautiful slab of wood, but imagine meeting Megan Fox, when you were expecting Angelina Jolie. The poor man’s version. Deflating.

O&B Cafe Grill: tuna lettuce wraps (Jolie-styles)

Yet, we’re still drawn to her. Like a moth to the flame. A dirty flame.

Anyway. I’ve been back, several times…with fingers crossed each time. Out of sheer stubbornness or because we enjoy their patio & play the repeat game? Whatever the reason, have continued to order with hopes that the wraps would improve over time.

And on 3rd attempt, 3 months after launch…while still not Jolie-styles, certainly better.

O&B Café Grill: tuna lettuce wraps (fox-styles)

Random Q: Perfectly circular…what happens to the excess lettuce?

The things we ponder.

Out of all O&B restaurants, the least spectacular. Mind you, not competing with their brothers & sisters. Casual, bistro bar bites with a few gems like their mushroom soup and grilled calamari. Have a go if you haven’t tried… the heat lamps will keep you warm.

Oliver & Bonacini Café Grill
33 Yonge Street

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Simple menu. Local ingredients. Attention to detail. Casual charm. Canteen.

O&B’s newest restaurant with a home in the TIFF Bell Lightbox…yep, just in time for film fest.

Defying the notion that simple fare can’t be done well, Canteen’s menu is centered around familiar, comfort foods. Pasta (gnocchi, tagliatelle), pizza (calabrese, al parma), pressed sandwiches (chicken BLT, prosciutto), steak frites, mussels etc. with a weekly chef’s menu that changes based on seasonality.

Two encounters in the past two weeks. Our first was complete with C listening to me lament over forgotten camera every time a new dish was brought out… plated with care and served in beautifully heavy French cast iron cookware…we were all over the presentation. I’m partial, can’t help it.

A feast for the eyes, and our first indication of Chef Jason Bangerter’s influence. Second indication? Housemade ketchup. Seriously, try with the handcut fries…addicting. Third indication? Edible flowers. Try the Soma brownie. Could keep going, but he really does have his hand in everything. A little touch here and there…exceeding your expectations for casual dining.

Imagine spending eight years at Auberge and then making the leap to Canteen/Luma (higher-end lounge, opening Sept 12). Worlds apart and difficult to believe…unless you’ve experienced his personality. Warm, engaging and incredibly personable – he’s just as passionate about creating the finest French cuisine or $7 beef brisket sandwich and $11 mac & cheese.

Returned this eve, with camera in hand, and enjoyed a handful of new dishes. No repeats. Yet.

Stand-outs so far: the salads (thai coleslaw, beet root, israeli couscous), chicken liver parfait and desserts (soma brownie, lemon posset).

New challenges, exciting launches…and if both restaurants survive TIFF (Sept 9 -19), they’ll survive anything. Including the noise on King St.

Canteen: handcut fries & housemade ketchup

Canteen: chicken liver parfait

Canteen: gallo mussels

Canteen: lemon posset w/ chantilly & berries

O&B Canteen
330 King St. West, TIFF Bell Lightbox

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