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Colette Grand Café: Review

28 Aug


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.


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.



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

Look what I found in my camera…

30 Oct

So very cold in my draughty room and definitely little hungover. Wish I could go back to this…

Kenzo Ramen, Yonge and Steeles Location (July 2011)

Shio (salt) ramen
Pan fried gyozas
Cold pickled radish

Summerlicious 2011: North 44°

31 Jul
Hooray for being officially emancipated from summer school! I may finally feel guilt-free about writing stuff other than global development or psychology papers, so here is the very belated review of my experience at North 44–delayed gratification can be a good thing too.
North 44, named after the city’s latitude, seemed like an attractive option for Summerlicious to me because…

a. it’s opened and run by Executive Chef Mark McEwan. Other than also opening Bymark, which is another Toronto landmark, he’s also on food network shows like Restaurant Makeover. That, and I’ve seen the man cook ribs with a white turtleneck on–McEwan is a badass chef.

b. Although its mid-town location is a bit nosebleed to be a hollywood celebrity stomping ground per se, it’s still quite well known to locals and tourists. Quite often, it also known to be graced with the company of local celebs like the chick on CityPulse our moms like.

Having recently been renovated, North44 definitely fits the bill for somewhere you’d take the boss you want to impress, a worthy date, or just a sophisticated affair with some friends. I’m a sucker for soft lighting, wrap around mirrors and candlelight. The spare, yet impactful collection of contemporary art decor was a nice touch but the focus of the room was definitely the open kitchen. Behind the glass partition, you can see the super young and dare I say, sexy chefs putting on their best culinary acts. Dinner and theatre!

Look how close we are! And with the corner sofa seats, this was definitely one of the best tables in the house, in my opinion.

Yes, it is just bread. But look at the pouch, and the butter balls had dimples all over them like golf balls do. How cute!

Sweet-pea ravioli with min, sage, brown butter and crushed pecans.

Derricious, a little on the sweet side for some people but I thought it was entirely balanced by the woodsy flavour of the sage and pecan. I couldn’t help but think of frozen peas as I was eating this, but it’s not bad thing, quite comforting in fact. Frozen peas are better than fresh peas in every respect unless you are literally picking the peas off the vine and de-shelling them within minutes. Otherwise, the flash-freeze process does the job of keeping flavour from deteriorating crazy fast. 

Note to self: make this for myself and housemates when I accidentally buy sweet peas instead of the regular peas and do not know what to do with them.

Red and green pear salad with endive, blue goat cheese and sherry vinaigrette 
The star here was definitely the sherry vinaigrette which carried the tartness of the pears really nicely. Flavours in the salad get along surprisingly well with each other, I didn’t think I would like cheese with pears but neither of them drew too much attention to themselves, it was really easy to taste the salad as a complete whole.
Steak tartare and fresh country toast with fried capers, grainy mustard piped on the side.
love me some minced raw meat and as far as this dish was concerned, the quality of the beef was great enough to make an awesome tartare. I thought it was a little under-marinated and hence, lacking in flavour at first. But it actually made sense because with the mustard and capers riding shotgun, it was exactly perfect.

Roasted chicken with spinach risotto, heirloom carrots and natural jus

Looks pretty good right? In fact, looks pretty juicy doesn’t it? Except my camera just added like 10 pounds of attractiveness to this dry hunk of chicken. Yes, it was sub-par and I’m not even surprised because roast chicken always disappoints. Even McEwan can’t work miracles because roasting a chicken is just about the worst thing you can do to a bird, and I will stubbornly insist that to my dying day (unless magically proven otherwise). There are so many better ways to treat chicken, why you so cruel?! On top of which, it’s sitting on a bed of undercooked and over seasoned risotto. It’s really too bad because the appetizers were so good and so creative.


Pan seared halibut with tempura onion rings, bok choy and miso sauce

This, I quite liked. Halibut was well cooked, though it could have been taken off the heat a bit sooner but that’s just my personal preference for fish on the raw side. I’m not quite sure the asian inspired flavours really came through because the miso sauce ended up tasting more like beurre blanc (emulsified butter sauce). Which meant the bok choy was hilariously random and out of place. Overall though, it was still quite good!


Aftermath of the third main course.

I really hope you didn’t guess it was anything other than steak, because that’s disgusting.

6oz tenderloin with Ontario asparagus and roasted potatoes

A pretty good cut and done on the rare side of medium-rare. It was pretty juicy as you can see but one should never fear a ‘bloody’ steak because the more juices there is, the more flavour. Also, the redness you see is not actually blood, which is a common misconception that seems to cause people to ask for their steak cooked anything more than medium rare–one of my biggest pet peeves is when people say they don’t like steak because it’s too dry, well that’s because you friggin asked for medium (!!!), aka cremated cow.


Banana strudel with chocolate ice cream and sponge toffee

Okay, I had my hopes up for this strudel because when I hear strudel, I think of strudel a la Quentin Tarantino. Ever since seeing Inglorious Basterds, I’ve always loved the idea of strudel because it makes me think of that awesome sequence between Hans Landa and Shoshana eating it together (my autocorrect just tried to convince me I meant to say “shoeshine” instead of Shoshana). I can just imagine her cutting into the flaky pastry and scooping up that ridiculously good looking cream.

This however was not that kind of strudel. Didn’t mean it was bad, in fact the banana flavour was quite intense and fresh and the pool of chocolate sauce on the bottom was so yummy. Alas, I will have my classic cinematic strudel some other day.

I Minted melon salad with seasonal ice.

I was like, what the fuck is ‘seasonal ice’ but as it turned out, it was just sorbet–we had a good laugh. It was pretty good, melons were quite fresh and I believe the sorbet was raspberry.


Summer peach upside down cake with sour cream ice cream

The most interesting thing about this dessert was the sour cream ice cream and I would describe it as very similar to eating frozen creme fraiche. The cake itself was very light and fluffy, not too dense at all and the peach flavour was definitely there.

So, my verdict for North44 would be “worthwhile” and particularly “great atmosphere”. For $45 a person, it was a reasonable meal.
I would say to come during non-summerlicious season so you can get some of the more inventive items on the menu.
Now that Summerlicious is over, I think that as a whole, the festival really does have its pros and cons. For those who just want an excuse to try some of Toronto’s star culinary destinations, it’s a bargain because of the fixed prices. But if you really want to try the best a restaurant has to offer, Summerlicious has too many city-sanctioned restriction to allow anything too inventive. As a result, most restaurants end up showcasing their three basic proteins (fish, beef, and chicken). So that’s it for summerlicious 2011..
Until next time!
Eating: Salmon teriyaki bento box
Craving: a hot hearty stew (I don’t care it’s August)


Summerlicious 2011: Stonegrill

21 Jul
It literally feels like 47 degrees out today and I refuse to step outside, so here’s another summerlicious post!

Second in the summerlicious 2011 lineup was Cabbagetown’s own STONEGRILL. Though known for their interactive cooking method where diners may cook their own meat a la cave man style on a heated stone slab, I was equally excited to try their exotic selection of proteins such as alligator and wild boar.
The prix-fixe dinner was $35 and you can see the menu here.

I would have pinned a photo of the venue here but I hadn’t successfully snapped one. My camera is pitiful in lowlight and I was too embarrassed to lug my huge DSLR around, taking pictures of food. Hypocritically, I hate it when people take stupid pictures of their stupid food. It is a punch to my soul every time I do it myself. See what I will do for this blog, hmm?!

Anyhow, Stonegrill was smaller than I anticipated and the signage/store front was unassuming but sweet, what with its apartment style entrance. Inside however, was quite chic and elegant with a fireplace lounge in the back. Classy, but not fuddy-duddy (check your merriam-webster, kids)

Spinach salad: The passion fruit dressing was just perfect-sweet and tart, goes really well with the baby spinach, walnut chunks and smoked salmon pieces. Fruit vinaigrettes are probably now one of my favourite dressings because the fruit is naturally sweet enough to properly balance the acidity, which is the problem with most vinaigrettes. It reminds me of this salad all the girls at work get the chefs to make, called the Tassamic, I know I’m supposed to know what’s in it, but I honestly don’t. That and I’m also supposed to be a “perfectionist” etc etc.

Oh, and I begrudgingly ate my bed of alfalfa sprouts in this salad. Alfalfa is the most tasteless thing ever, I question the purpose of its existence.

J’s Rooter BBQ Ribs. Babyback ribs braised in rootbeer and red wine, cool eh? Tasted pretty good too.

The seafood soup that R had was pretty tasty and thick like chilli. She even said it tasted like chilli, so there you go. A pretty awesomely decadent way to start a meal I think.

That would be the Wild Boar before and after cooking. Each side only needed about a minute and a half for a nice medium rare sear and once it’s ready, you can stop the cooking process by moving your meat to a side-plate. Surprisingly the stone stayed quite hot throughout the meal and you can re-heat bites of the boar as you eat. We were all initially quite skeptical about ordering this because apparently the smell of wild boar can be quite gamey, a distinctive smell which is common in wild prey animals. I’ve been descriptively told by people who dislike lamb that these gamey meats smell like “death”.
To our pleasure, the boar was perfectly free of gamey-ness which indicates it’s been brined and cooked properly. Boar is a bit more robust than a typical pig, so the meat was leaner. But this is not synonymous with dry, the cooking process sears the outside and locks in the moisture, making for a juicy boar chop.
Also, boar tasted a bit more complex (sweet, earthy, nutty) than a typical pork chop, probably due to the animal’s diet. I don’t really have much to say for the sides (roasted potatoes, broccoli, peas etc) because they were so generic, so I will not be bothered to write about them.
My blackened Louisiana alligator was a pretty good experience. I would personally describe it as a more interesting chicken or maybe a cross between chicken and frog. But that may be because I’m imagining a hybrid land-swamp creature. Given the choice between chicken and gator though, I would probably choose alligator because it has a stronger taste, though this won’t agree with everyone. I’m not sure what cut of meat this was but I’m guessing it’s body meat as opposed to tail because tail is pricier and more desirable.
Despite quite liking the alligator, there were some serious flavour issues in the dish. The mango salsa, that saboteur, was way too over-seasoned and distractingly spicy. Again, veggies were just being veggies.

The chicken roulade was quite juicy and tender. The pesto cream sauce helped boost that moisture level as well, which is important for chicken as it can often be quite dry. Extra points for being stuffed with mozzarella and lobster meat. So really it’s a meat party and did I mention it was wrapped in bacon?

Truffle Royal Chocolate Cake, a basic but velvety rich chocolate mousse cake

A really fluffy looking cheese cake.
In retrospect, I think I’d like to come back just to try their regular menu, I have my heart set on the swordfish or their game combo (choose 3 out of kangaroo, benison, boar, and bison rib-eye).
Overall, a good experience with good food and great company.
Eating: korean cold noodles. It’s retarded hot today.
Craving: Churrrros (please Markham, open more spanish restaurants!)


Summerlicious 2011: Auberge du Pommier

18 Jul

It’s my first year participating in Toronto’s Summerlicious and I was quite excited to begin what is starting to look like an annual tradition for me, at Auberge du Pommier.
Auberge is one of the many restaurants in Toronto opened by the prolific and successful Oliver & Bonacini Company. Among the O & B family of restaurants include Toronto’s favourites such as Canoe, and Luma (both of which are also participating in Summerlicious but sadly I couldn’t book reservations fast enough). So of course I was thrilled to try Auberge, which boasts the title of being “the original jewel in the Oliver & Bonacini crown”. That and Auberge’s modern french menu is usually mad expensive and Summerlicious gives you a chance to try a 3 course set dinner for only $45 a person.

The exterior of the restaurant is beautiful, small and rustic–reminds me of going to someone’s home for dinner.

A gorgeous cottage-like facade and windows with SHUTTERS!! ok, now i’m impressed because what kind of restaurant on Yonge and freakin Yorkmills have shutters.

I was almost sad to go inside but to my delight, was led out onto their gorgeous patio. It looks almost like a green house or I guess you can call it a conservatory (according to Clue, though this one was cute and not at all like somewhere Mr. Mustard could get off-ed)

It looks like I’m being a creep and taking photos of other diners but I wanted to snap a shot of the cute matronly table cloths and the super swanky waiters. A lot of them spoke with incredibly unintelligible, but delightful, french accents. It must have been a requirement on the job application.

Got some olives to keep us busy after ordering from the Summerlicious menu (see menu here
The marinated olives were typical olives. I have a hot and cold relationship with olives, I hate the idea of them and the taste of them but I react positively to their aftertaste. “I guess olives taste like shit no matter where they’re from” was my statement upon putting the first one in my mouth. This was soon after contradicted by myself when I couldn’t resist but to have another. “Okay it tastes like crap” was what I said this time…then I ate yet another and so on wtf!

Next came bread with this INCREDIBLE pureed asparagus spread that you wouldn’t think could outdo butter but it was so rich, light but creamy at the same time.

Appetizer 1: Pâté de Campagne en Gelée

A terrine (basically a brick like thing of meat) of what my palate guessed was chicken liver, ham, and ground pork. Honestly, it tasted like spam but really tasty spam. The gelée ontop (those translucent cubes on top of the pâté) were pickled and quite salty. Nice to look at but didn’t really do anything for me. Beside the whole thing is a really yummy bed of Alsatian potato salad with mustard sauce. Overall, a really nice appetizer but not outstanding.

Appetizer 2: Cucumber Melon Gazpacho

Excuse for this hideous photo but it was so good I couldn’t be bothered with taking a better one. So keep in mind the more ugly it looks in the photo, the better it was in real life. This was my favourite of the meal because chilled soup is great for a hot balmy day and the savoury-ness of the pureed cucumber played off of the sweet melon flavours really well. The consistency was slightly thicker than soup but lighter than a typical puree. The shrimp sitting on top of each melon chunk was just ok though. (watch executive chef Marc St. Jacques make this gazpacho step by step! maybe I’ll try this )

Main 1: Tranche de Saumon
As you can see, the salmon was actually cooked very well. Outside seared nice and golden but when you cut it open, the inside is still pink and tender. Though the fish was by no means dry, i wished there was more moisture from the rest of the dish. That swoosh of green on the side is a pesto made of sorrel (a european plant used in salads usually). It was a nice pop of colour but definitely lacked both flavour and moisture. The bed of smashed potatoes were alright, it was just nice to have some starch. What was fantastic about this dish was the forest mushrooms, soooo flavourful!

Main 2: Medallion de Boeuf
Roasted tenderloin of beef with a watercress and tomato salad. Beef is not bad at all. It was medium well but would have been better rare (like how I have all my steaks) but they never even asked! This I found really weird because almost all places will ask for your doneness preference, but oh well. Roasted potatoes and the salad were nice and the Bordelaise (red wine) vinaigrette was actually out of this world! Just enough tanginess and sweetness to make up for the stupid medium-rareness of the steak.

Dessert 1: Chevre des Alpes
This is was wedge of firm French Alps goat cheese, which was incredibly sharp and earthy at first but the more you eat it, the more mild and creamy it became. Really good with the wafer thin nut bread toast. Also came with this tangy cherry gelatine and swishes of cherry compote on the plate. A very nice end to the meal if you prefer something not overwhelmingly sweet.

Dessert 2: Nougat Glacé
the frozen nougat was actually quite soft and pillowy. The local ontario strawberries were also very fresh. This is definitely more of a rich and sweet dessert, not bad at all!
Overall, my dining experience at Auberge was awesome. I loved the atmosphere and attentive/ultra fancy service the most (got my napkin placed on my lap, awkward but like, definitive of fancy ok?)
The quality of the food was proportionate to the price but obviously, could have been better. The food could have also been more creative but I forgive that since Summerlicious typically means a more streamlined and friendly to the mass public menu than usual.
Would I go back? Definitely for a special occasion since it can be pricey, I would love to try some of their usual items when Summerlicious is over.
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