Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Queen Margherita Pizza (Baby Point)

Last Friday night I paid a visit to Queen Margherita Pizza's second (also newest) location at 785 Annette St just east of Jane. Opened about a year ago, this 115-seat industrial-looking space at Baby Point is quite massive compared to their original location in Leslieville (I've never sat down and had a meal at the Leslieville location but I did attend a wine tasting & pizza making event there last year). Neapolitan pizza aficionados and / or followers of Queen Margherita Pizza (Twitter: @qmpizza, Facebook: Queen Margherita Pizza) should also know that QMP's co-owner John Chetti has secured their third location at 772 Dundas St. slated to open soon.

Late last year, former Langdon Hall Chef Jonathan Gushue joined the Queen Margherita Pizza team taking on the role of director of culinary operations. Gushue's task was to oversee all three QMP locations with a focus on revamping the mini-chain's appetizer menu (Gushue will also lead a new QMP restaurant set to open later this year).

QMP's tiled wood-burning pizza oven is the centre of attention in the restaurant's large open kitchen.

A shot of a cage chandelier.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Saint Tavern / Amsterdam Brewery Brewmaster's Dinner

On Thursday, February 20th, The Saint Tavern (@thesainttavern) hosted their inaugural Brewmaster's Dinner. The restaurant teamed up with Amsterdam Brewery (@amsterdambeer) to kick start the exciting dinner series.

The four-course dinner consisted of select beer and collaborative food pairings by The Saint Tavern's Chef, Jesse Vallins and Amsterdam Brewery's Brewmaster, Iain McOustra. 

Here's a recap of the evening:

Cooked sous vide in butter and herbs, the potatoes were then breaded with potato starch and dried potato flakes before deep frying.

Everything bagel, cream cheese, pickled beet puree, shaved onion, dill pesto
Pairing: Order and Choas - Chardonnay Barrel aged Wit. Aged with Brettanomyces and Lactobacillus for one year

Carrot bacon compote, shaved carrot salad, birch syrup
Pairing: Boneshaker - Classic American style IPA

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Bar Buca: Italian Snack Bar on King West

The much-anticipated Bar Buca (@barbucatoronto) has finally opened! Brought to you by King Street Food Company (owners of Buca, Jacobs & Co. Steakhouse, The Saint Tavern), this 38-seat café / bar at 75 Portland St. opened less than a month ago on January 30th. Serving diners 7 days a week from 7am - 2am, the Italian eatery caters to just about everybody. Go for a cup of coffee in the morning, a quick lunch, a few drinks after work, even a casual dinner Bar Buca's got you covered. And because Torontonians can't get enough of brunch Bar Buca also serves weekend brunch. There's something here for everybody and at any time of day.

Situated right at the entrance is Bar Buca's coffee bar. Ultimate convenience for grabbing a quick coffee before work.

Lunch for us started off with these specialty coffees:

CAFFE CON ZENZERO (left) - Espresso, ginger syrup, cinnamon ($3)
CAFFE BOMBON (right) - Espresso, dolce de leche ($3)

Executive Chef Rob Gentile (@Robb_Gentilecreated a shareable menu consisting of cicchetti (small bites), fritti (fried), piatti freddi (cold plates), schiacciata (stuffed focaccia), hot plates (spuntini) and spiedini (skewers). 

Pork cheek, chili, lemon

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Shiso Tree Cafe: Yōshoku Restaurant in J-Town

Aside from Shiso Tree Cafe (@ShisoTree) in J-Town I am not aware of any other restaurant in the GTA that serves Japanese-style pasta (please leave a comment below if you know of others!) Japanese and Italian restaurants are a dime a dozen in the city but when it comes to Japanese and Italian fusion, specifically pastas (think unagi don pasta with cream teriyaki sauce or sukiyaki pasta with shoyo sauce garnished with shiso, nori and green onions) this little cafe at 404 and Steeles pretty much dominates the scene.

Western-influenced cooking in Japanese cuisine is not a new phenomenon. Here's a bit of history. For many years, Japan isolated themselves from other international cultures. However at the beginning of the Meiji Restoration (around 1868), national seclusion was eliminated and the Meiji Emperor declared Western ideas as means to Japan's future progress. As part of the reformations, the Emperor lifted the ban on red meat and promoted Western cuisine (which was viewed as the cause of the Westerner's greater physical size). As a result a style of Japanese cuisine known as yōshoku, or “Western food,” was created and unlike the typical Japanese cuisine at the time, shoku relied on meat as a common element (meat = taller). Nowadays yōshoku establishments usually serve set menus with a main entree, soup, and salad. Most provide both chopsticks and cutlery (knives, forks, spoons) so you can choose which works best for you. The shoku category is broad, and includes dishes that have become so integral to the diet that many Japanese wouldn't consider them "Japanized" Western food at all, but simply Japanese food. 

Shiso Tree Cafe in J-Town is a quaint little yōshoku restaurant that specializes in Japanese-style fries and pasta.

Shiso Tree Cafe's two-page food menu consists of 5 varieties of fries, 4 salads and 16 pasta dishes plus a soup of the day, garlic bread and a smoked salmon starter.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

2014 Chinese New Year's Eve Feast

I have written about my Chinese New Year's Eve dinner every year on this blog for the past three years. This very important annual "reunion dinner" is where we all get together to celebrate the New Year ("we all" is really just my parents, my brother, my sis-in-law and my niece because I don't have any relatives here). The food we eat at Chinese New Year ("CNY") has traditional meanings related to CNY which helps to bring good luck, longevity and harmony for the upcoming year. For instance, dumplings play an important role in New Year food because of their shape which resembles the ancient Chinese gold or silver ingots. Some of us even avoid meat on the first day of CNY because each new year carries the name of an animal. While my parents are 100% Chinese I'm glad that they are far from being traditional (we be eating meat!) or superstitious (we be washing our hair on New Year's Day!) because in my opinion, most of those taboos are just plain ridiculous. When I think about it I realize we don't do much for CNY besides getting together and eating and giving out red envelopes (especially important for me LOL). When it comes to food we are not obsessed about what we must have for CNY dinner. My Mom will always make several key traditional dishes but she has no problem making - and the rest of us have no problem eating - food that has nothing to do with CNY. Just as long as there's food on the table, we're game.

We never eat out for CNY because we much prefer my Mom's cooking. But this also means a whole lot of work for her; she starts prepping several days in advance and she'll be in the kitchen the whole day on CNY Eve. We are always thankful that she puts in so much time and effort in making all this delicious food for us - not just on CNY but all the time :)

Like last year, aside from making her usual New Year's Eve dinner, my Mom made three different kinds of New Year puddings. My favourite this year is her turnip pudding which had tons of turnips, dried shrimps, Chinese sausage and Chinese bacon. 

From L to R: Chinese New Year cake or Nian Gao "年糕", Turnip cake "蘿蔔糕", and Water chestnut cake ("馬蹄糕")

The cakes were sliced into thick pieces, coated with whisked egg, pan-fried then served with congee for lunch on New Year's Day.

This year my Mom also made these deep fried glutinous rice balls (“煎堆”) with lotus seed paste filling (“蓮蓉”). 

Made with glutinous rice flour and sweet potato, the dough is rolled into balls, wrapped with lotus seed paste, dredged in white sesame seeds then deep fried (these rice balls can also be filled with red bean paste).

I was hooked on these after just one bite.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Winterfeast at Ten Restaurant

I can always count on Ten Restaurant & Wine Bar (Twitter: @tenrestaurant, Facebook: Ten Restaurant & Wine Bar) for a great meal; not once have I left the restaurant disappointed. Best thing? Ten is only a 15-minute drive from my house - it's pretty much the only restaurant I dine at in Mississauga (aside from pho at Pho Mi Asia). 

Last Sunday night I took my parents to Ten to take advantage of the restaurant's limited time Winterfeast menu. From January 28 to February 11, diners can enjoy a three-course lunch for $14.98 or a three-course dinner for $29.95 (plus applicable taxes). What an amazing deal!

Daily charcuterie, condiments, crackers
Fennel salami, pickled wild cucumbers, spiced soppressata, toulouse seche, devils on horseback, goat cheese, pepperoni, Branson pickle, bacon mustard, German wiener, artichoke mustard

This was not part of their Winterfeast menu but there's absolutely no way I can walk out of Ten without having charcuterie and cheese. I've had Executive Chef Nic Prong's (@niccancook) charcuterie & cheese board numerous times and I never get sick of it! Chef Prong always has a wonderful selection of meats, cheeses and condiments.

Here's a look at Ten's Winterfeast menu:

Grilled potato bread

Mushroom ragout, arugula

Salsify, caraway butter crumb, smoked yam, gherkin

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Azure Restaurant & Bar (2013 Winterlicious)

What? Where did the time go? It seemed like just yesterday that I had my Summerlicious dinner at Azure Restaurant & Bar. Is it just me or do you also believe that the rate at which time passes becomes faster as one ages? It's really the only logical explanation! However, this theory seems to be flawed 'cause when I look back at my Summerlicious post it feels so long ago - summer itself seems so bloody long ago. It was July at the time and it was still bright out at 7pm...and get this guys: it was actually hot outside. HOT. OUTSIDE. Do you even remember how that feels like? Because with the ice storm, the polar vortex and all this damn snow I kid you not but I'm forgetting how it feels like to sweat.

*I apologize for the rant. I just came back from shoveling the driveway*

Meh, I guess what I really want to say is this: It's Winterlicious time again (Twitter: @LiciousTO, Facebook: LiciousTO)! From January 31 to February 13, foodies can explore and enjoy 3-course prix-fixe meals at over 200 restaurants in the city. It's a great opportunity to discover diverse cuisine in a variety of local restaurants (especially if you're on a budget!) A side note: It seems like Interac has replaced American Express as the official sponsor of Licious which means advance booking for AE card holders will no longer be available.

Anyhoo thanks to InterContinental Toronto Centre (Twitter: @ICTorontoCentre, Facebook: InterContinental Toronto Centre) I was once again invited to have dinner at Azure (#winterliciousatazure). If you're looking for photos of the restaurant please visit my Summerlicious post because I only took one photo this time...and it's this one:

Do you see a face? So cute, right?! This was the actual view from my seat; I couldn't help looking at "the face" from time to time and then catch myself smiling! Oh such simple pleasures (I'm such a dork).

One of the best things at Azure is their bread basket! I want it all but MUST RESIST.

For WinterliciousAzure is featuring a 3-course lunch at $25 and a 3-course dinner at $45 (you can view their Winterlicious menu here). Their 3-course dinner for two people looks something like this:

Mint yogurt, candied pecans, Ontario beets, crostini
If I wasn't made aware that the salmon was cured with maple whisky I wouldn't have picked up on the subtle flavour. I liked the mint yogurt in this dish; the fresh, peppermint flavour of the mint and the sourness of the yogurt worked really well with the salmon and beets. 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Soos: Modern Malaysian Resto/Bar on Ossington

Soos (Twitter: @soostoronto, Facebook: Soos) is a family-run Malaysian restaurant on 94 Ossington Ave. Prior to opening the resto / bar in October of last year, the Soo family owned and operated Matahari Bar & Grill, a Malaysian restaurant on Baldwin St. for 13 years before selling it several years back.

In the Soos kitchen are Tricia Soo and her son, Zack Soo. The mother and son duo creates small plates incorporating Malaysian ingredients and flavours as well as globally inspired plates. For those of you looking for "authentic" or "traditional" Malaysian cuisine (i.e. food that you will find in Malaysia) you will realize that Soos is not the place for that. As their website states:

"We are not your typical street style Malaysian restaurant. We specialize in Malay-Nyonya (the Chinese influence in Malay cooking) flavours with a contemporary twist. "Malay-dian", if you will...Our mission is to introduce the complex and delicious flavours of Malaysian-Nyonya cuisine by incorporating them into small plates and snacks...."

I thought it is a good idea to emphasize this before y'all start telling me "You know this is not real Malaysian food" or "I'm Malaysian and this is not what I grew up with" and so on and so forth :)

Below is Soos' main dining room. I like the simple black and white stripped wall bearing the bold family name - it's very sleek and modern. Hard to miss are the giant spiky lights resembling the rambutan, a tropical fruit native to Indonesia and Malaysia.

Additional seating at the bar and along the opposing wall.

At the back of the restaurant is The Malacca Room (named after the Portuguese colony). The semi-private dining room seats 12 people.