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Colette Grand Café: Review

28 Aug

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My introduction to Colette happened in the casual bakery-cafe section of this new Thompson Hotel establishment. Though the restaurant serves a wonderful menu of modern French dishes, having first heard of Colette through an encounter with a delight sample of their double chocolate cookie, I was anticipating another exquisite experience of its French pastries and viennoiserie.

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Visiting Colette Grand Cafe is like suddenly finding yourself in Southern France—inspired by that idyllic region, the dining room also features hints of the countryside with a predominantly yellow, blue and white palette, reclaimed-wood furniture, and a large wooden bookcase in the middle that displays china dishes while also serving as a space partition.

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I enjoyed the fact that the property is loosely divided into a bakery-cafe, a lounge and a formal dining room. The transition between each functional space is seamless and mostly conveyed through the use of subtly shifting decor. While the library-style lounge features beautiful reclaimed-wood tables, inviting wingback armchairs, and kitschy knick-knacks, its formal dining room appears more polished, but also having the same natural wood and soft blue tones carried over.The bakery-cafe is airy, with plenty of seating, barrel vaulted ceilings, and hand-painted tiles. Customers are free to choose from an enticing array of pastries and confectionaries at the counter before choosing a comfy banquette to sink into.

The profiterole creation was a perfect combination of buttery, flaky, and creamy—the oddest balance of purity and decadence. I was impressed with the quality of ingredients used in the cookie sample I received before visiting Colette’s and that’s what primarily drew me to another visit. I was not disappointed with this particular choice and would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a healthy sized dollop of mascarpone cream with his or her afternoon coffee. The chocolate stone, unfortunately, looked and sounded more impressive than it actually tasted. Filled with dark chocolate mousse, milk chocolate whipped cream, cocoa nibs and flourless chocolate cake; I would say this one lacked the complexity and decadence of the profiterole—an unexpectedly one-note dessert that didn’t quite hit the mark for this chocolate-enthusiast. As for Colette’s coffee, I imagined that most bakery visitors would wish to accompany their sweet selections with a coffee or espresso. Which is why I was surprised and disappointed to be served a rather average cup of cappuccino and a rather disagreeable double espresso served without an espresso cup. Continuing the same theme of average, the classic butter croissant was also underwhelming.

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Overall, I liked my experience at Colette’s just enough to believe another visit may be worth while, especially for a full lunch or dinner next time. However, it seems as if it’s decor and atmosphere definitely stole the spotlight from the food.

550 Wellington St. W., 647-348-7000
colettetoronto.com
@colettetoronto
Owner: The Chase Hospitality Group
Chefs: Executive Chef Michael Steh, chef de cuisine Matthew Swift and executive pastry chef Leslie Steh

Review: La Carnita

28 May

Hello this is Calvin! Megan is forcing me to write about our dinner at La Carnita. Instead of asking me nicely to write about our food adventures she just issues vague threats to me every few hours or so, which, I dunno, seems to working thus far so good for her I guess. Prior to La Carnita we were at High Park looking at cherry blossoms through our phones/camera lens, which turned out to be pretty meh since you really are just crowding around a bunch of pink trees with a bunch of other asians. I’d wager you’d get more out of it if you had a picnic there, or a ball to throw around, or something other than just going there to take photos of the cherry blossoms, because you’ll soon realize that they all look…the same. Anyway, we got hungry and headed to La Carnita despite much protestation from both of us because we are lazy and the restaurant was far (and we took the subway down so we didn’t have a car), so much so that we called Arthur (who was in Markham) and asked him to have dinner with us in order to manipulate him into driving us to our destination. Before we could reach him though, we somehow ended up on the subway and were already well on our way to our dinner. Arthur came down anyway.

La Carnita, like a lot of restaurants (for whatever reason) do not have signage out front that explicitly state the name of the establishment, which can make it a pain to locate them sometimes. Luckily, the exterior of La Carnita is all black, with a white Day of the Dead skull on the side of the awnings; the placemat at the front spells out the word GRINGO in bold white type. Pretty sure we were in the right place.

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I was a little bit disappointed when the hostess greeted us in English instead of Spanish to go along with the whole theme. Not that I understand any Spanish of course, but panic and confusion and desperate glances at your friends and awkward smiles are part of the fun when trying new things. We were seated near the back and very quickly settled ourselves and started to comb through the menu.

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The menu is anchored by a healthy selection of tacos (which the waiter recommended 2-4 for each person), complimented by a variety of starters and desserts. We ordered the Mexican Street Corn and Rice & Corn Frituras for starters, and since there were 3 of us, we ordered one of each taco (there are 6, excluding that of the daily special). The starters came and they were all well and good, although the corn was probably a bit overpriced at $8 for 2 pieces. The frituras were like Mexican takoyakis, only stuffed with brown rice and corn instead of octopus.

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Our half dozen tacos arrived shortly after. The server explained to us which each one was, but we weren’t really listening, because you know, hungry. We all picked one and went to town, and about 10 minutes later, no more tacos. And still hungry. So we ordered another half dozen, skipping on the ones that were just alright and doubled up on the ones we fancied. We also got the daily special taco, which had mixed mushrooms in it.

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Of the ones that we all tried (I think we all didn’t try at least one of them), our favourites were the Tostada de Ceviche and In Cod We Trust, but all of them are worth a shot. The tacos are not that big (and are priced accordingly, with most of them under $5), so you can definitely get away with ordering all of them without looking like a taco monster.

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We finished off with some churros and the bill came to just north of $100 for 3 people; if you order drinks then it’d be more, but the pricing is pretty reasonable. By the time we left the restaurant it was cold out and we were glad for Arthur’s companionship but mostly for the transportation that it came with. We sang loudly and poorly to Taylor Swift songs while he tried to get us back to Finch Station as quickly as possible. Overall, it was a good dining experience and we’d definitely come back, but only if Arthur drives us straight there. And maybe could take us shopping or something before that.

Yuzu Sushi and Sake Bar

14 Aug

At some point Calvin and I became jackals when it came to sushi, and Hanabi the village we terrorize. But once in awhile, usually due to all that shame associated with eating there three days out of seven, we try somewhere new.

Awhile back, we saw Jiro Dreams of Sushi at TIFF Lightbox. Supposing the post-sushi-porn-cravings and the drive uptown did not make for a good situation, we (meaning Calvin) did some research and staked out the nearest semi-reputable place to try.

And so we found Yuzu.

Sushi Deluxe (Chef’s Selection): 12 pieces of nigiri, 6 pieces of maki

“It’s the best sushi I’ve ever had!!!” is a common verdict on the review circuit and for the most part, I found this to be true. But then again, the only thing I found to be different from Hanabi was the price tag and the disorientation typical of dimly-lit downtown sushi bars**. (One time at Selina’s in New York, and contacts-less, I turned around to Calvin and asked “who’s talking to me” when we stepped inside its swanky abyss).

YUZU bento:tempura, sashimi, sushi, your choice of teriyaki,
chef’s selection of side dishes in 2 layer bento box

Sushi, like good love-making, is simple. It’s more about quality than novelty and other than that, you only just need a skilled man to make it. After years of sneaking in occasions for sushi into as many situations as possible, I realized this meant a ceiling of sorts for how good it can get. At some point, unless you’re eating in the company of Jiro, sushi just reaches its zenith of goodness. If you’ve found a place that makes you weep from joy a little on the inside (or outside), consider a bit of your life fulfilled.

Uni (Sea Urchin) Sushi

Uni (Sea Urchin) Sushi

**Possibly, the best part about their location is the corridor in the basement leading to the toilets. Whoever was responsible for their film poster collection (including a retro Amelie, a Kirosawa, and a Wong Kar Wai) had interesting taste.

http://yuzunohana.ca/
236 Adelaide St W
Toronto, ON M5H 1W7
Neighbourhoods: Entertainment District, Downtown Core

The Works Gourmet Burger Bistro

15 Jun

Hello! I’m Calvin, Megan’s boyfriend/personal assistant. I was asked several months ago to do a guest post on this blog, an offer that I immediately accepted and immediately after that did everything in my power to put off, not because I dreaded doing it, but because I am incredibly lazy. Megan’s in Sudbury(!?) at the moment* so I figure that I’ll get this post up before she returns this afternoon so it’ll be all surprise!!! Here’s your two week late guest blog post!!*

Anyway, the place I am reviewing is the Kingston location of The Works, a chain gourmet burger joint that we’ve visited a few too many times recently, mostly because of Megan’s crippling addiction to a particular burger there (to be explained later). I was previously aware that there was one in Downtown Toronto but according to the website there is a whole shitload of them there, as well as in Ottawa.** The Works wor…operates and looks much like your typical wings place, only substituted with burgers. They’ve got stupid names for their food but at least the ingredients are listed, so you if get duped into ordering some burger with peanut butter and bananas*** on it then it’s your own dumbass fault. It’s not fast food either, since the burgers usually take 15-20 minutes to be prepared, which is their angle for pitching you the TOWER OF RINGS right after you order. It’s just a bunch of onion rings stacked up to…shampoo bottle height? Beer bottle height? I’m just looking around the room for something to compare it to. The onion rings are a tad iffy actually, mainly because the ratio of fried batter to onion is so hilariously skewed to the former that there might as well be nothing inside. Or maybe onions are just really scarce in Kingston. Regardless, I would avoid it and opt for something else if you’re in need of an appetizer—there are quesadillas and steamrollers? that could be worth a shot.

As for the burgers themselves, well…they’re burgers. They’re cooked adequately and the portions are sizable (apparently this is the correct Canadian and American spelling, whereas sizeable is the preferred British and Australian spelling. I looked it up! THE MORE YOU KNOW★★★). They will taste slightly or dramatically different depending on what kind of shit you fancy stuffing in there, and The Works will give you a healthy variety of shit to choose from—you can even choose what type of meat you want (beef, turkey, elk, and a few more) to go with your choice of the 70 or so topping combinations that are offered. The food is good, but the appeal of the place is going back and trying a new burger and picking your favourites—without the gimmick, the burgers aren’t that far off quality–wise from say, South St. So it’s basically Pokemon, only instead of capturing and training them to the very best like no one ever was, you just eat them.‡‡

Here are the types of Pokeburgers Megan and I have tried thus far:

Chili Millie – our famous chili, cheddar cheese & a dollop of sour cream

Tastes like someone snuck some lukewarm Tim Horton’s Chili in your burger. Not too much though, like two spoonfuls. RATING: EHHH

Fire Station #6 – avocado, salsa loco, sour cream & jalapeno peppers

Better! Tastes like flames or perhaps Daenerys Targaryen. RATING: FIRE & BLOOD

The Mother of Dragons definitely got a horse meat patty for her burger.

Jamaican Jerk – fiery jamaican jerk spices, sweet green chilies, monterey jack & ripe tomato

Sounds interesting, but honest to god it just tasted like a plain burger with some relish to me. Maybe I was expecting something more like Fire Station #6 and got the burger equivalent of Kofi Kingston instead. RATING: SNEAKY AND RACIST

M-Ange’R Burger – caramelized onions, avocado & havarti cheese

“Oh my god I love this! It’s the best! I want to have its children so I can eat its newborn baby burgers! ONOMOMOMOM” RATING: A++ WOULD CONSUME AGAIN

Looks terrifying.

Sopranos – pesto, grilled eggplant, sliced tomato & havarti cheese

I don’t remember if this was any good because it was too long ago, I can’t even make a crappy Sopranos reference here because it’s one of those shows I keep on putting off because they’re off the air and there is no urgency to catch up for the upcoming season(see also: The Wire, Deadwood). RATING: ???

Teriyaki Melt – sauteéd wild mushrooms, teriyaki sauce & swiss cheese

Self explanatory, it was aight but you can probably do better. I only ordered this because I’m Asian and I felt that it was expected of me. RATING: SLANT–EYED

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So it’s definitely a mixed bag. I think the best way to approach The Works is to drag along a bunch of friends/co-workers/siblings you can bully, make them all get different burgers, sample all of them, pick your favourite, then forcibly remove said preferred burger from your friend/co-worker/sibling if it happens to not be your own order, which is almost certainly the case. Megan would do this to me all the time if she weren’t so fond of her MAN-JUR burger.‡‡‡

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*That was written 5 weeks ago.
 
**They have since added even more locations, including Markham and Aurora which means I will be a fatty EVERYWHERE I GO.
 
*** Hunka Hunka Burnin’ Love – peanut butter, strip bacon and fresh banana slices. SOUNDS DERICIOUS.
 
‡ Not quite World’s Shortest Man height.
 
‡‡ I wonder if that’s an ability you can give to one of your Pokemon in the games, that they can eat other Pokemon in your party to automically gain levels and maybe learn a technique from the recently pokechowed or something. Is it cannibalism if Pokemon eat each other? But they’re all so different! 
 
‡‡‡ Overheard pronunciations of the M-Ange’R Burger range from MAN-JUR (amurrican) to MON-SHAE (poor french) to some retarded hybrid like MON-JUR which is probably correct. Personally I’m waiting for ME-ANGRR or even better, MANGA. 

Bombay Bhel Thornhill

8 Apr

Bombay Bhel

230 Commerce Valley Drive East
One of the first things I typically do when I make a trip back to Markham, aside from sleeping for 12 hours continuously, is make a beeline for Bombay Bhel in Thornhill. It’s hard to find amazing butter chicken or lamb korma in Kingston because every single place offers an overly sweet cashew-based variant whereas I’m a tomato-base girl all the way. Here you realize I’m a crazy.
Bombay Bhel is really an affordable version of Thornhill’s better-known The Host, which is just across the street. I prefer the former not just for its price but their butter chicken’s always richer, and gives you more chicken for your buck. As far as the York Region area goes, I’m quite confident Bombay Bhel is probably the best you can find.

Vindaloo (top), Lamb Korma (bottom left), Butter Chicken

Baby It’s Cold Outside :: Spin Dessert (Kingston)

30 Jan

I’ve never been warm to the idea of dessert as an entire meal in of itself; yet when Spin Dessert opened their new Kingston location, I knew our meeting would be imminent. Already a veteran of the dessert-café game, Spin Dessert found a new home on 260 Princess St. for the same delicious fare and urban chic aesthetics of its original Toronto venue. A little different from its neighbors traditional design scheme, Spin’s most attractive feature is its open concept design. The first level is split up by demi-stairs into levels. The elevates section in the back is a smattering of Parisian café tables that is a nice alternative to the plushier, banquette seating arrangement at the very front of the store. Take another look and you’ll notice there’s an entire basement level that is visible from above through a transparent balcony. Exposed piping of course, is just icing on the cake to cap off this atmosphere of cozy sophistication.

We set our minds to attempting the biggest, baddest thing on the menu, thought our larger than life appetites could handle it. It also doesn’t hurt, certainly, that the workings of the bakery and espresso bar are on full exhibition and the selection of in-house cakes behind their shiny glass displays speak for themselves.  We ordered “Baby It’s Cold Outside” which is one of many tempting options amongst the January Red Velvet promotion. It’s a red velvet party of red velvet cake smothered in red velvet ice cream, white chocolate shavings and whipped cream. I was worried the cake would drown in the ruby sea of liquid velvet but it positively held its own—super moist and unbelievably rich cream cheese flavor.
Next up is the very interesting “On the Floor”; pistachio ice cream on waffles might be intimidating to some but it was something I swore I needed to try. Being a bit harder to find and unconventionally savory, I commend Spin Dessert for venturing outside of the box. Pistachio ice cream is great for having a salty bite that can pull ice cream’s sweetness in new and interesting directions, but unfortunately Spin Dessert’s rendition fell a little short and offered an ice cream that didn’t taste too different from your traditional, vanilla based ice cream, albeit a little nuttier—but definitely still incredibly creamy like all their ice creams and generous with chunks of real pistachio nuts. To wash it all down, I ordered a great chai latte but ended up clutching to my iced water for the most part to cope with so much ice cream.


Overall, there are mixed emotions about Spin Dessert; the ingredients are amazing so all the waffles, ice creams, crepes taste flawless, yet there’s something to be desired in terms of originality and diversity of flavors to keep me coming back.  I don’t mean different flavors of ice cream because Spin has got that covered, but outside of that flavor range, it would be more exciting to see less traditional desserts to match its modern aesthetic. Keep in mind that I am speaking purely from the dessert perspective since Spin does also offer a savory crepe selection and all day breakfast menu that is waiting for you to try. The portions also seem a bit excessive and I spotted quite a few people sharing an order between each other.  I recommend coming to Spin Dessert with lots of company, a big appetite, and a fair sweet tooth. For a moderate dessert lover like myself, it has been a great day for new experiences but will definitely be purging my system before my second visit.

New York 2011: Nougatine at Jean-Georges

11 Jan

Nougatine was a surprise favourite. Being away from home and walking 8+ hours a day through tourist-ridden Manhattan triggers the lizardy part of my brain to crave humble, hearty home cooking. So Nougatine, being the swanky affair that it was, was not initially very appealing to the cranky, weary traveller in me. Once the actual food made an appearance however, Nougatine quickly became one of the highlights of the trip for me. It’s a strange fusion of classic french cuisine and rustic french cooking that’s elegant and comforting at the same time.

Jean George is the genius behind every fried appetizer lover’s dream–fried calamari with basil salt, citrus-chilli dip. Amazing crunch that doesn’t at all sacrifice the tenderness of the calamari nestled inside. Then again, rubbery calamari is probably the last thing one would expect from Jean George, even if Nougatine is the smaller storefront attached to Jean George proper, the actual restaurant that is astronomically more expensive.

Slowly cooked beef tenderloin, miso butter and roasted Brussels sprouts.

Sautéed red snapper, spaghetti squash, sesame broth and chili oil

Spiced pear clafouti hazelnut crunch, roasted almond ice cream

Warm apple crumble tart granny smith sorbet, date puree

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