Archive | YYZ drinks RSS feed for this section

Labatt vs Craft Beer: When Goliath Tries to Wear David’s Clothes

22 Sep

 

One of my favourite places in the world - Bellwoods Brewery.

One of my favourite places in the world – Bellwoods Brewery.

Hey pals, I’m blogging from the Okanagan this week! Stay tuned as I do have a lovely post about Kelowna-based restaurant RaudZ in the works but for now, I just wanted to quickly share a reminder I received on the importance of knowing the origin of your food and drink.

It’s pretty much the understatement of the year if I say I like craft beer.   Craft beer is enjoyable because it iss made skillfully, driven by passion and community. When you care about your art, you sacrifice time and energy for the slightest details and in return, these small nuances get noticed and celebrated by the educated consumer.   Even if you’re new to beer tasting, or not a beer fan at all, you can still appreciate earnest effort and that is a-plenty in the craft beer industry.

So like anything good and pure, big corporations want to profit from it. And instead of perfecting a beer, they perfect spreadsheets and marketing budgets and then bully their way into an organically created community.

If you haven’t already, check out Ben’s post on Labatt’s expensive and intentionally misleading ad campaign for Shock Top, a beer which is commonly misidentified as a craft beer .

From Shock Top's website

From Shock Top’s website.

Hey, I’m not terribly ‘Shock Topped’ about this (PUN!) – these actions are in line with Big Corporation’s mandate to please shareholders. Okay, so if you’re not surprised they’re capable of that, then why all the hate Alice?  Corporations will be Corporations!  Yes, but there’s something different about imitating real passion and hard work.  I just can’t tolerate that. 

You can cram catchy slogans and expensive giveaways and celebrity endorsements down my throat.  I know what that is.  But when Goliath tries to disguise themsleves as an artist who poured sweat blood and tears into their work, then that’s an outright lie.  You can test my patience for irritating pop songs in your advertising campaign, but you cannot go ahead and skew with authenticity.

But we also have a far more powerful comeback – and that’s our purchasing power.  We can simply not buy Shock Top.

Trust your tastebuds and your common sense. Meet brewers, farmers, and the artisan behind your products.  Always be purposeful with your wallet.

That’s all I wanted to say. 

Love from the Okanagan Valley,

Alice

Sam Adams Backyard BBQ: a symphony of beer and cheese

27 Jul

Everyone knows that wine and cheese go together like Velveeta and rednecks. Beer and cheese, however, is less of a common pairing in these parts. This makes the Backyard Barbecue co-hosted by Samuel Adams and the Cheese Boutique at the Workshop on Roncesvalles a bold move. The good news is that it worked, and masterfully so. The bad news is that it’s not a regular occurrence.

 

The lush, inviting back patio at Workshop

The lush, inviting back patio at Workshop

Afrim Pristine, of Cheese Boutique fame, used the lush, treed setting of the Workshop’s back patio to showcase an innovative cheese and charcuterie board that actually incorporated the Sam Adams Boston Lager into the cheese. Afrim sourced a cheese from Quebec and then gave it a luxuriant bath in a vat of Boston Lager for thirty days. The result was gloriously nutty, hard yet creamy, and understandably well-paired with a pint of cold Sam Adams. Just in case there wasn’t enough beer involved, the cheese was served with a Boston Lager reduction. I welcome this sort of dedication to the art of cheese-making, because Toronto truly does not have a cheese of its own. While the beer used was from Boston, Afrim’s innovation is a solid step in the right direction.

 

Afrim's cheese and charcuterie board

Afrim’s cheese and charcuterie board

 

The other items on the board were thoughtfully paired with the Sam Adams beers on offer. The robiola from Piemonte, while not marinated in beer, was nonetheless a fantastic pairing with the Sam Adams Summer Ale. The beer’s citrus notes cut through the creaminess of the cheese like a good Chablis would have. The Sainte Maure was clean-tasting, with the grassy notes that are the hallmark of this type of cheese. Again, it went very well with the light Summer Ale. The Bleu d’Auvergne was very well ripened and full of bold flavour, and it screamed for a powerful red wine rather than a beer.  That said, the cheeses were generally very well paired with both the Sam Adams beers.  Aside from the outstanding Boston Lager-marinated cheese, the best pairing in my opinion was the Summer Ale with the Italian robiola.

 

Lamb burger with Sam Adams

Lamb burger with Sam Adams

Workshop’s contribution was equally solid. The lamb burger was lovingly grilled over charcoal by Mat, and the minty goat yoghurt spread was the perfect complement to the pleasantly gamey meat. The accompanying corn and cherry tomato salad was fresh, spicy and a good demonstration of how local, in-season produce can elevate salad to a delightful art form.

 

Mat grilling up some juicy lamb burgers over charcoal

Mat grilling up some juicy lamb burgers over charcoal

The entire evening was well executed.  The Sam Adams beers were thoughtfully paired with cheese, charcuterie and BBQ in ways that heightened each component of the meal.  As well, Afrim and Mat gave fantastic service to the diners, and took the time to explain each course in such detail that their passion for food and drink was immediately apparent.

 

3.61 out of 5 brown thumbs up, and a nod to Afrim and Mat for the excellent service.

 

NB. All photos were taken by Mauricio Jose Calero.

Patois: Caribbean-Asian Soul Food

14 Jul OG Fried Chicken

My childhood pal Ren recently moved back to Toronto after a stint in Vancouver.  With all the traveling I’ve had to do for work the past 5 months, we simply haven’t had a proper catch-up yet.  The worst, right?!  So a good ol’ fashioned friend date was top priority last week.

With Ren’s and my respective Caribbean and Chinese backgrounds, we couldn’t have picked a better place to have our hangout than at Chinese-Jamaican chef Craig Wong’s newly opened Patois on Dundas West.  I’m so glad we ended up there because guys, the food was SO good.

Being the gentleman that he is, Ren made us reservations.  A personal place card held our table and encouraged us to tweet & ‘gram.  Miss Manners is probably weeping inconsolably into her hanky knowing our cell phones are active at a dinner table but hey, #hashtags and drool-inducing photos are the lifeblood of a restaurant’s PR (and without which, YYZ Gourmand posts would just be filled with the words, “Trust me, it looked good!”).  It certainly made me less self-conscious about (quickly) snapping some food pics!

Place card

When we were in Brooklyn last summer, MCyyz created a drink by mixing a house made hot sauce with tamarind juice.  It was divine and we affectionately called it a ‘tamarind Caesar’.  Well, Patois offers a cocktail called the Island Iced Tea ($10) and it was reminiscent of that drink and, dare I say MCyyz, it was better than yours.  (GASP!)

Island Ice Tea

Island Iced Tea

It’s not a fancy cocktail with rim and twisted lemon peels but it is so well balanced and hit the spot.  You should all know by now that I love when a consumable is simultaneously sweet, savoury, and spicy and this drink was just that.  Made with jerk spice, rum, vodka, gin, tequila and Cointreau…it had 6 of my favourite things in life.

We started off with an order of Ackee ‘n Saltfish ($14).  We were too greedy (I blame the super strong cocktail) and we totaled two of the saltfish fritters before I remembered to take a picture.  The crispy not-overly-salty dried salted cod croquettes contrasted nicely against the sweetness of the red peppers and the soft buttery ackee.  A simple Caribbean staple that was well executed.

Remaining third of Ackee 'n Saltfish

Remaining third of Ackee ‘n Saltfish

Ren and I decided to split their Yardbird Special ($32) which came with 1/2 order of O.G. Fried Chicken, 1/2 order of Juicy Jerk, slaw and dirty rice.

OG Fried Chicken

OG Fried Chicken

The OG Fried Chicken came out first and was accompanied by sriracha sauce, refreshing basil watermelon and (what we think are) pickled asian pear.  The chicken was amazing.  Not greasy, fried perfectly, and juicy inside. I normally can’t stomach too much fried chicken skin but yeah, I totally ate all of it.  Oh let me give you stomach-growl-inducing closeup.

OG Fried Chicken closeup

OG Fried Chicken closeup

The slaw side wasn’t particularly memorable but the dirty fried rice was such a treat.  They’ve emulated a ‘wok heat’ flavour and the sweet Chinese sausage used gave me childhood flashbacks while the cajun spices made me wish I had beads to throw.

Dirty Fried Rice

Dirty Fried Rice

Last but not least, we were presented with churrasco rotisserie roasted jerk chicken.  This is the first time I’ve had jerk chicken that wasn’t barbequed.  And it certainly lived up to its menu name of Juicy Jerk.  So incredibly tender and juicy.  I do wish the jerk seasoning was a bit more prevalent but they used a good quality chicken and I agree one shouldn’t distract from quality natural flavour.  But to satiate my crazy addiction to spice, we were given a house made habanero sauce.  Oh it made my lips burn which meant I was happy.

Juicy Jerk

Juicy Jerk

Patois is a true fusion restaurant with creative ideas but it still manages to satisfy my craving for familiar comfort food.  The menu is well thought out, well executed, and definitely an homage to soul food.

Patois on Urbanspoon

Mata Petisco Bar: small plates, big soul

13 Jul
The roadmap for our feast

The roadmap for our feast

Roughly translated, petisco means tapas. Uh oh. Tapas/small plate/convenient-excuse-to-overcharge restaurants are opening in Toronto as often as a certain Teutonic country scored goals in a certain World Cup semi-final game. It’s not often that a new one promises a new twist on the concept, and actually delivers.

Cherry and I were invited to the media launch of Mata Petisco Bar, which purports to bring a South American style of small plates – driven by Brazilian flavours – to the western reaches of Parkdale. They actually manage to do it, and that’s because they’ve nailed down the one thing that ultimately matters the most: the ingredients. We thoroughly enjoyed navigating my way through the generous, seven-course tasting menu without having heard of, or being able to pronounce, a number of the ingredients. For instance, we had never heard of a malagueta pepper before, but I can tell you that it makes the single best spicy aioli I’ve ever had. Mata’s key ingredients – from the corvinha in the ceviche to the picanha cut of beef in the sliders – have clearly been chosen with thought and care in an effort to bring genuine Brazilian and South American flavours to their dishes. I could write forever about each of the seven dishes that were placed before us, but the highlights should be enough to get you on a streetcar/bike/pack mule to Queen and Roncesvalles.

Corvinha ceviche

Corvinha ceviche

The feast started with seafood. The lobster pastel on the amuse-bouche plate had an unctuous filling that was a great contrast to the crispy-fried shell, and the freshness of the lobster certainly came through. The corvinha ceviche really got things going – the fish was perfectly tender – not chewy or rubbery – and the cucumber added a necessary crunch to mirror the bite of the lime. The caipirinha that was served with the first courses was well balanced and an excellent complement to the bright flavours of the seafood.

The smoked chicken hearts were a good transition from sea to land. While they weren’t the stars of the show for me, I found that they were cleverly paired with an arugula salad – the peppery greens complemented the smoky meat. However, the cauliflower purée and ancho chilli oil did not pull their weight and added little to the dish.  When the picanha sliders came out, a collective “wow” rose from our table as we got a whiff of the passing plates. This was followed up by another, louder “wow” when we tucked into them. The picanha, a relatively fatty cut of beef popular in Brazil, was smoked in-house and was grilled to, well, melt-in-your-mouth. The cachaça-caramelized onions were the perfect topping to cut the fattiness of the meat. However, the aioli was the best part of the slider for me – the malagueta peppers added heat without overpowering the palate. This balanced flavour came through in the sliders, and the whole package was complex and immensely satisfying.

Barbecued octopus

Barbecued octopus

The sliders were followed up by a barbecued octopus plate that reinforced how well the grill minders have mastered their art. I was convinced that the cephalopod was cooked on a charcoal grill – the smell and flavour was distinctly smoky. However, they only have a gas grill, which makes their ability to get so much flavour out of the grilling process all the more impressive. The octopus was tender and not at all chewy, and the char on the outside gave it a delightfully smoky flavour. However, I think that the fantastic malagueta aioli would have been a better pairing than the balsamic and raspberry reduction and heart of palm puree that rounded out the plate.

The crescendo of the meal came in the form of a so-called “poutine” – a term which has been bent, twisted and stretched beyond all recognition by the restauranteurs of this city. Unfortunately, “carbs, curds and gravy” doesn’t have quite the same ring, so we’ll have to suffer through more bastardization of the term “poutine” until a Torontonian wordsmith popularizes a different, home-grown expression. Terminological ranting aside, Mata’s “poutine” was a fitting tribute to the essence of the dish. The cheese curds were incredibly flavourful and creamy – so much so that they managed to stand up to the smokey, velvety beef cheek slathered in red wine demi, and to the generous heaping of scallions that cut through the rich meat and gravy. A rich and flavourful end to a well-executed meal.

Beef cheek poutine (yes, we ate that little bit of cheek that tried to escape. Stupid cheek.)

Beef cheek poutine (yes, we ate that little bit of cheek that tried to escape. Stupid cheek.)

Despite groaning under the weight of all the fantastic food we had eaten so far, we attacked the avocado crème brulée with gusto when it arrived. Cherry had some trepidation about whether she would enjoy it, given her general indifference towards avocado. However, the dessert won both of us over because the traditional texture and flavours of crème brulée were respected, and the avocado notes were subtle.

Mata’s media launch was a great success and, given how well the kitchen executed such a wide variety of dishes, I’m really excited to go back and try their brunch offerings and the other items on the menu.

3.81 out of 5 brown thumbs up.

Mata Petisco Bar on Urbanspoon

Bastid’s BBQ 2014: Beers, Brisket and Beats

9 Jul Bastid BBQ Apron

HEY before you ignore this blog post for a dusty Kit Kat you just found tucked between the pages of last year’s enlarged font Readers Digest crammed behind the couch, just know this: the Bastid BBQ is worth you going out RIGHT NOW (you can take the Kit Kat with you) to buy a 2015 calendar JUST so you can save-the-date for the next one.  I’m sorry Toronto, but if you weren’t at the Queen & Peter parking lot last Saturday for the 4th annual party, you really missed out.

Skratch Bastid (aka Paul Murphy), is hands down a crazy skilled DJ and, true to his East Coast roots, a really nice guy.  He seems so approachable and full of joie de vivre; the entire event felt like an intimate back yard party with me and my closest ginormous crowd of friends. ALSO there was BBQ BRISKET.  Ya, nice talented guy and tasty beef: my eyes were basically hearts the entire night.

Partly sponsored by Steam Whistle Brewery, refreshing pilsner was on hand as we cooled down from dancing under the sun.  And by dancing, I do mean awkwardly elbowing strangers and bopping slightly off-beat.  I was totally adorable.

Cheers to beers!

Cheers to beers!

When Skratch hosts a party, every detail is looked after, including event staff wardrobe.  How great are these aprons?  They were also on sale for purchase!

Bastid BBQ Apron

Bastid BBQ Apron

So how was the food, Alice?  Well, I’ll be honest.  I was picturing more grills and typical BBQ fare such as burgers, sausages, ribs, and sauce-drenched chicken thighs.  I was slightly disappointed when I saw that the one true BBQ offering, Stoke Stack BBQ, was actually from a food truck (where’s the outside grill so I can soak up the delicious delicious smoke smells?).  The other option was Toronto sweethearts and faves La Carnita.  Although they did have a grill, and their tacos are amazing, it still wasn’t really what I pictured for a BBQ.

I opted to check out Stoke Stack BBQ since they were new to me.  Everything on their menu sounded amazing but I’ll let you guess what I picked.

Stoke Stack BBQ menu

Stoke Stack BBQ menu

Damn straight I got the Franklin, a brisket sandwich!  And because I have a serious addiction to heat, I sweet talked my way into a side of pickled jalapenos.

Stoke Stake BBQ's brisket sandwich

Stoke Stake BBQ’s brisket sandwich

The brisket was stupid tender and I’m a fan whenever bourbon or espresso is used in BBQ sauces (it cuts the sweetness and tang nicely, and it brings out the richness of beef).   And it didn’t overpower because it wasn’t over-sauced so you can actually taste the brisket.  The bun was pillowy soft and the cool crunchy slaw provided the needed contrast. Oh and this camera angle didn’t do it justice, but my $10 sandwich easily weighed, like,10 lbs.   It was a LOT of meat.  This sandwich was SO good that if Skratch Bastid himself came up to meet me, I probably would’ve said, “Hold on, Paul.  Let me finish this sandwich first.”  Excellent work, Stoke Stack BBQ,  I will be a repeated patron.

It was a day of cold Steam Whistle beer, fantastic brisket sandwiches, excellent beats and a generally great vibe from the crowd.  Then Skratch Bastid himself did two sets and I may be biased, but I’d say they were my favourites of the night.

SkratchBastid

Bastid BBQ was a great party.   Hopefully next year more actual ‘BBQ’, but everything else – don’t change.

Folks in Calgary and Vancouver, you still have a chance!  Get your tickets NOW!

Fahrenheit Coffee: the Latin dance party of espresso bars

24 Jun

This review has been a long time coming. When I wrote about the best coffee in the downtown core, I intentionally left out Fahrenheit Coffee (@FahrenheitTO), and not just because it’s closer to the St. Lawrence Market than King and Bay. Fahrenheit is more about good friends hanging out than wanker bankers talking about the next deal. Fahrenheit is where you want to go, not where you have to go.

fahrenheit 2

When you set foot in Fahrenheit, it’s like stepping into your living room when you’ve got friends over for a party.  The baristas know everyone – I often go there with Alice and, when either of us go alone, they ask where the other is!  The Latin music is just loud enough to create a fantastic energy without making your conversation a yelling contest. The layout is communal – the long, narrow wooden table in the middle of the space all but forces you to be social.

fahrenheit 1

Fahrenheit would be a winner solely based on the fantastic atmosphere. However, it manages to do what only the very best establishments can – marry a great ambiance with truly high-quality products. Crudely put, the espresso is fucking awesome. These guys have mastered the art of extracting subtle flavours and notes out of an incredibly intense beverage, to the point where their selection of beans “on tap” comes with tasting notes. The Diablo is a mainstay, and their Brazilian option is well-balanced, with the surprisingly specific flavour of peanut butter. However, of all their current offerings, the Sulawesi espresso is the standout. It is reminiscent of a 2009 Savigny-lès-Beaune – pleasantly acidic, with delicate fruit and earth tones but a powerful structure. If you could classify espresso like wine, this would be a premier cru.

If you go to Fahrenheit, be prepared to be just as invigorated by the ambiance as by the coffee. There’s no better place to start your day this side of Yonge Street.

4.02 out of 5 brown thumbs up.

How to eat and drink like a (cheap) pro in SFO

19 Jun

A few months ago, our resident banker went off to San Francisco to indulge in the finer things. I was inspired and, on a whim, I went out there for a few days of food, beer and wine with a friend of mine. However, instead of doing the name-brand, reserve-ahead-or-fail restaurant circuit, we relied on our ability to ferret out a good hole-in-the-wall while wandering around. We found enough of them for me to write a review of biblical proportions, but I’ll spare you the time (and the eye strain) and give you the best and worst of what we had.

 

Beer

MagnoliaMagnolia (Haight Ashbury): this neighbourhood brewpub is a winner on all counts. The bar has a simple rustic feel, the basement brewery vents into the bar to give it the scent of sweet mash, and the staff regularly make jokes about the “colourful” people who walk/stagger by. The beer is fantastic as well – the Stout of Circumstance is as black as bitumen, velvety smooth and has a balanced yet complex flavour. Best of all, pints are generally $4! We almost didn’t leave. 3.94 out of 5 brown thumbs up.

901 Columbus Caffe (Telegraph Hill): $2 local microbrews from 5PM onwards and, despite being a few blocks from Fisherman’s Wharf, nary a fanny pack tourist in sight. Need I say more? 3.39 out of 5 brown thumbs up.

 

 

 

 

 

Wine

IMG_1717

Chateau Montelena, Calistoga

Chardonnay, Cave de Lugny, Mâcon-Lugny (Burgundy): yes, the best wine we had was a $12 bottle of French chardonnay from the grocery store. Sadly, Napa and, to a lesser extent, Sonoma, are the Disneyland of wine. There are some great products, but the prospect of paying upwards of $15 for a tasting and $40-$60 for a decent bottle is mind-boggling. The two valleys have embraced the dog-and-pony show of touristy wine tasting to such a point that anyone with a modicum of knowledge about wine can see through the charade. If you do happen to fall into this tourist trap, go to Chateau Montelena for some genuine Napa Valley history and Bouchon Bakery for the best baguette on this side of the Atlantic. Napa gets a dismal 2.38 out of 5 brown thumbs down.

 

 

 

Meat

IMG_1696

Whole roast chicken with warm bread salad, Zuni Café

Zuni Café (Hayes Valley): a Market Street institution that doesn’t disappoint. We chose the roast chicken for two because it was cooked in a brick wood-fired oven, which is code for “food sex orgy in your mouth”. The warm bread salad that was served right on top of the expertly butchered whole chicken provided just the right texture contrast, and its pleasantly acidic vinaigrette was the perfect companion to the impossibly tender meat and flavourful skin. Service was prompt and efficient – Zuni Café is very obviously a well-oiled machine. 3.71 out of 5 brown thumbs up.

Busters’ roadside BBQ pit

Harvest Moon Café (Sonoma): we wandered into this cosy restaurant after hearing high praise from two different wineries. That night, the kitchen had created a meatball plate with a red mole sauce and rice that paid tribute to the Italian-American original while marrying distinctly Mexican flavours. The menu changes frequently, but I hope they keep bringing back that innovative and well-executed dish. Try to get one of the two seats that face the open kitchen. 3.53 out of 5 brown thumbs up.

Busters Southern BBQ (Calistoga): the smoke from their roadside, wood-fired outdoor BBQ pit made us literally stop in the middle of the road and make a U-turn.  Armed with a baguette from Bouchon Bakery and some serious hunger, we ordered a pile of plump pork loin with a side of spicy homemade BBQ sauce and proceeded to make the most gloriously sloppy sandwiches known to man. Washed down with our Cave de Lugny chardonnay, this shockingly cheap yet satisfying lunch may have been the best daytime meal we had.  For this, and for the cavalier service from the sardonic till-minder, Busters gets 3.78 out of 5 brown thumbs up.

 

Seafood

Anchor Oyster Bar

Anchor Oyster Bar, Castro, San Francisco

Anchor Oyster Bar (Castro): if you like your seafood fresh and your sauces buttery, this is the place for you. My friend’s vat of seafood pasta was large enough to feed the whole Bay Area for a week. Each element was very well executed – the shrimpswere perfectly juicy and sweet, the pasta was fresh rather than dried, and the sauce burst with flavour thanks to generous helpings of butter, fresh herbs and garlic. My comparatively light pan-fried sole was full of subtle flavour and needed nothing more than a squeeze of lemon to be brilliant. The service was friendly in a neighbourhood-haunt kind of way – welcoming without being overbearing. 3.68 out of 5 thumbs up.

Point Reyes

Drake Bay oysters at Cafe Reyes, Point Reyes Station

Café Reyes (Point Reyes Station): one word – OYSTERS. They come from literally just down the street, and are so fresh that they barely need a squeeze of lemon to induce the culinary equivalent of post-coital moaning. They are amazing enough to overshadow the restaurant’s superb wood-fired pizzas. They also go well with the spirited drive up the winding coastal road from the city. Get out of the city and go there (but not in a Ford Taurus, which is a detuned tractor compared to any other modern car). 3.79 out of 5 brown thumbs up (but a big fuck you to the car).

 

Coffee

Castro Coffee Company (Castro): a hole-in-the-wall in the truest sense of the word, this tiny café barely has enough room to stand let alone sit.  There are likely more coffee beans per square foot in that shop than anywhere else in the world, all of which are expertly roasted in house.  Their espresso has an excellent full-bodied mouth feel and a nice long crema.  A house creation, the café Africano is an incredibly complex and deeply-flavoured blend of espresso and rock sugar.  The people who served us seemed to know everyone who walked in the door, a testament to how much the locals appreciate the quality of their coffee.  My friend ordered an americano and, when he was asked whether he wanted a 12oz or 16oz cup, he instantly realized they understood that the feeble and touristy would order the larger cup in order to fill it with useless milk and sugar, and the true cognoscenti would get the smaller cup and drink it black.  If you need to stay alert while eating and drinking in San Francisco, make sure you get to this incredible little gem. 3.82 out of 5 brown thumbs up.

VIA Rail: Derailing my Tunnel Vision and Setting the Platform for Train Meals

10 Jun A refreshing start!

Sorry about the title.  I know I have a problem.

I recently had the pleasure of taking a VIA Rail train from Windsor to Toronto for the the return leg of a business trip.  I’ve always preferred to travel by train versus plane for shorter distances.  Tell us why, Alice!  Oh, okay I will.

  • If you factor in the time required to show up early for airport security, a journey by express train takes about the same time as a short-haul flight.
  • There is GLORIOUS wifi onboard which means I can download stock photos to get that last minute PowerPoint completed (aka stream Mad Men from Netflix and gasp audibly whenever the plot thickens).
  • No pesky seat belts! I can (safely) rebel against personal safety and stand up whenever I want (which proved to be not very often).
  • And lastly – and most importantly –  I can actually afford Business Class on VIA…

…Business Class – the land of hot meals and cocktail carts!

Let me set the scene.  I was a bit cranky after a tough couple of days in Windsor and was really looking forward to going home.   Once on the train, I sank into my luxurious leather seat (with enough leg room for an entire basketball team) and I didn’t even have time to exclaim, “AUGGGH I COULD USE A DRINK!” before someone came around with a cocktail cart and a packet of nibbles.  Gin and soda, please!

A refreshing start!

The last time I was in Business Class, I was offered a descriptive paper menu detailing three meal choices and a server came around to take my order (just like at a restaurant!).  Unfortunately, I think they stopped doing that.  I admittedly love reading menus so this was a bit of a bummer (but okay, fine, we’ll let the trees live).  Instead, the server came around with the meal cart and I had to pick on the spot.  And instead of fancy schmancy descriptions, he only said, “Beef, seafood or vegetarian?”.    I chose beef…and red wine.

Nothing like a hot meal!

Never would I have thought I’d say this, but man, I was impressed.  This was probably one of the better onboard travel meals I’ve ever had.  The beef tenderloin was well-seasoned and cooked to a perfect medium and was not dry.  My broccoli was crisp and my potatoes cheesey.  The salad was a creative mix of butternut squash and feta on a bed of wheatberries (I think?  Again, would’ve loved a menu!).  The chocolate cake looked pretty good but I renounced those calories for a second…er, third glass of wine.

Coffee and tea were offered to accompany the dessert, as well as an organic fair trade piece of dark chocolate.  Just when I was about to go for my post meal cool-down nap (much to the chagrin of fitness gurus everywhere), a digestif cart appeared and next thing you know it, I’m sipping a port and watching the scenery of Southwestern Ontario whizz on by.

It was such a pleasant end to a rather stressful business trip.  Looking forward to taking the train again for a weekend getaway!

 

If you’re like Alice and always on the lookout for a quick and cheap getaway, keep your eyes on this site, where every Tuesday VIA releases some extremely discounted fares!

 

 

Dog Days @ Montauk

14 May

Going to a restaurant or bar alone has a certain allure. It can allow you to enjoy a meal or drink and be able to focus entirely on what you’re consuming – meditation by imbiding, as I like to call it. Alternatively, it is a great opportunity to meet other serious diners, or just do some serious people watching.

I was able to enjoy such an evening two weeks ago thanks to a Dog Days pop-up at Montauk. Montauk is one of my favourite places in my neighbourhood, but I like it so much that I’ve avoided becoming a regular – I’m trying to savour the love affair.

This sign outside of Market707 on Dundas gave me good reason to go:

Nothing better than an ombre sign.

Nothing better than an ombre sign.

I did tweet Montauk to assure that it was a real thing, and it was. I called up MC, who is usually up for anything food related and he said he’d come. But guess what that punk did to me on the Sunday evening? BAILED. So, I could either stay at home and wonder what this thing was all about, or just go by myself and find out.

When I bring friends from outside of my neighbourhood they wonder out loud if we are actually in Toronto.

When I bring friends from outside of my neighbourhood they wonder out loud if we are actually in Toronto.

I got there just before 9, and I took my place at the bar and ordered the set Dog Days meal of soft shell crab, corn and fennel salad, crack stiks and the peach and ginger julep. All that was a mere 20 bones. The julep hit the spot – it was sweet with a kick. It reminded me that I hadn’t enjoyed a memorable one since one of my fave bars, Goodnight, closed down in 2012.

And the food? Both its preparation and presentation were a performances. Perched up on the small stage-like space that over looks the bar, the cooks had a clear view of the patrons in the bar, just as a the patrons did of them. A finished dish was then transported… via a pulley system! And boy, was the food ever good, here’s an awful photo that doesn’t do it justice:

Dear dinner, you deserved so much more than a styrofoam plate.

Dear dinner, you deserved so much more than a styrofoam plate.

Eating alone at the bar, you can be absolutely shameless. I didn’t care the the gorgeous girls sitting beside me were likely judging me for almost licking my plate and eating as much with my hands as you can when you’re in public. The fried soft shell crab came in a banh mi bun which was a perfect texture combination, especially when paired with the corn and fennel salad. And maybe you knew what crack sticks were, but I found out they are shaved sweet potatoes which are then fried. Not your usual Sunday night dinner.

Not being usual seems to be at the heart of what Dog Days is about, not knowing quite what to expect as a diner, or who might be there, is all part of the allure. It was a perfect solo surprise. Even if next time, I’ll make sure to invite someone who doesn’t bail at the last minute!

Wondering when their next event might be? Follow them on Facebook and Instagram. And if you ever want to go to Montauk, let me know and I’ll be there faster than you can say hot-bartenders-and-negroni-on-tap.

Craving some Good Food and Drink?

2 Apr

Then head down to the Good Food and Drink Festival this weekend!

untitled

Toronto has a lot to celebrate: Spring finally showed up this week, and the Leafs don’t totally suck. Best way to celebrate anything in the city? Eating all the delicious food we have on offer! It’s not yet street festival season, so the Good Food & Drink festival kicks off the season at on the Exhibitions grounds, in the Direct Energy Centre, Hall D. The fun kicks off this Thursday (April 3rd) with a VIP Preview Party, which at 50 bones includes 10 drink tickets – which, in the Toronto food festival scene is a bargain!

If you’re only free on the weekend (the Good Food & Drink festival runs until Sunday April 6th!), the tickets are also totally affordable: $12 in advance and $15 at the door.

I had the pleasure of attending the festival last year, and it was a lot of fun.

If you get the "couples" package - it includes a fun tasting glass like this one!

If you get the “couples” package – it includes a fun tasting glass like this one!

On top of being fun, easy to navigate and with a good selection of food truck, vendors and wine, it was also totally unpretentious. The affordability factor (thank you, Toronto Star!), meant that entire families were there together and vendors got to interact with a more diverse group that they might at other festivals. In its 22nd year, the festival continues to grow while serving the community and profiling local food vendors. Remember to check their Live Demos schedule so you don’t miss your favourite chef, beer sommelier or food writer present!

This year, the dynamic bottomless pit duo and YYZGourmand writers, Alice and MC, will be attending and representing the blog. Here’s one thing that I saw last year and I hope makes a return this year (for Alice’ sake!): 

For the love of Belizan hot sauce, save some of this for Alice!

For the love of Belizan hot sauce, save some of this for Alice!

If you’re looking to end your hibernation and enjoy some good food (and drink!), and don’t want to break the bank. This is the festival for you. Go get your tickets and keep your eye open for two  people who are overly fond of hot sauce and “sauce” when you’re there this weekend!

We would like to thank The Good Food & Wine Festival for generously providing us with tickets for two of our gluttonous writers!