Batter Up: Canteen Serves Up Corn-Dog Realness

Listen up Toronto and listen up real good. I have found some legit corn-dogs.

None of this fried and disgusting stuff that makes you feel like you’re going to be sick afterwards. Oh no. This corn-dog was heaven-sent and thy heavens name is Oliver & Bonacini’s Canteen!

To celebrate the beginning of a new Blue Jays season (I wonder if my homeboy Drake has stocks in the Jays too?), the O&B team developed this fab new deal titled, Dugout Dogs. Beginning on April 4th, enjoy a blue cornmeal Dugout Dog, doubled up, for your pleasure for just $12 with a pint of Mill Street Tankhouse to wet the whistle for $5.

The Dugout Dog offers up more than just dogs & beer, which in theory you could get at the Jays game (for way more than $12, might I add). This thick and juicy realness is all beef, gluten-free served up with house-made mustard and ketchup and plated up with dem thick Yukon Gold fries.

This deal happens on every time the Jays play at home from 11AM onwards. If you don’t think you’ll be able to eat dem dogs in-house at Canteen, then don’t feel like you’ll strike out on this deal. Take them to go!

Go march your butt down to Canteen and check em out for yourself. Sports fan or not, Dugout Dogs are where its at.

Matt Basile is not just another Rebel without a Kitchen

For those who are familiar with the food truck scene in Canada, the name Matt Basile is one that should ring a bell. He is the owner/operator of the Fidel Gastro food truck and his most recent endeavour, a “brick and mortar with the heart of a pop up”, Lisa Marie on Queen St West.

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But in the last two years, Basile has taken on a new journey.  Thanks to the Travel + Escape Network, he now spends three months of the year on the road. His whirlwind new show, “Rebel Without a Kitchen” (airs Tuesday at 9PM ET/10PM PT) shines a spotlight on street food scenes all throughout Canada and the US.

The second season just launched a few weeks ago and I had the chance to sit down with Matt to chat about food, television, and creature comforts.  We even had time for an arm wrestling match.

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FGFS:  So how did you decide where you wanted to visit for this season of Rebel Without a Kitchen?

Matt:  The whole thing about season one was us building our business here in Toronto. What we wanted to do with season two was take what we had created and bring it to other cities and bring some of that influence to other cities and how does that reciprocate. The cities that we picked were a combination of places that we really wanted to go and that were really setting the stage for street food in North America, the cities who would let us visit and finally was there an event that we could really tap into or that made sense for us to really visit. We definitely hit some really important cities [in season two] that tell a really important food story.

FGFS: In your three-month journey, where was the most memorable and why?

Matt: Are we saying memorable or best city — because I have two for totally different reasons. I would say LA was my favourite city. It was warm and I think overall they just have everything there including an emerging restaurant scene. They are in the midst of really changing how people approach food concepts and also pushing the street food scene. There is this casual coolness with LA but it is also very business-focused as well. It has the best of all these world. I kept thinking, “You know what? I could live here.” It was very cool. It really wasn’t what I was expecting at all. The most memorable stop I would have to say was Cape Breton. From the second we got off the plane to the second we arrived in Sydney, everyone was so helpful and so lovely. Everyone loves what they produce locally there and is so proud of what they do. They are so incredibly local in what they do but are so open to worldwide culture and food. There were people at the street food event I was at from Jamaica and Pakistan and all over. The chef that I was working with was so genuine and we still text to this day. I’d have to say Philly was the biggest food surprise for me. I wasn’t expecting much from there and it was incredible. Great food scene, great bar scene, and really heavy into craft beers. The city was also very musical and historical. I wouldn’t have put those words into my preconceived notions of Philadelphia.

FGFS:  Are there any recipes or tips/tricks that you found while out on the road for Rebel without a Kitchen that you have now brought back and implemented into your own kitchen?

Matt: 100% I would say not so much recipes but more so types of cooking. So for example, our trip to New Orleans had a really big influence on our cooking. The sauces that I pushed myself to learn while in New Orleans immediately came back with us to Toronto and played a role with us in the restaurant. Same with when we went to Austin, Texas and learned the concept of BBQ. Bringing it back with Moroccan flavours (like they do there) and then making it something different here in Toronto. It was really easy to say, “Whatever dish I make in this city, I’m bringing back” but in other cases, those dishes sparked new ideas using those influences. I think specifically because I don’t have any formal training, that is how you learn — the more you eat, the more you learn.

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FGFS: You left a job in advertising to follow your dream and work in food. What made you do it since you didn’t have any formal training?

Matt: I grew up Italian, so food was always a very big part of my life. I grew up working in butcher shops to pay for school. I went to school for advertising and marketing because I loved coming up with ideas and concepts and connecting with people. I was at a point in my life where I was putting a lot of time and effort into these ideas, but I should have been doing this for myself. By process of elimination, I realized the only thing I really knew how to do was food. When I met my partner Kai, she gave me this extra push to go forward with what I wanted to do. Sometimes you need this perfect storm of the right people around you that help you believe in yourself and that help you create an extension of who you are. If you can make a living — albeit a thin one — of it, then it is something worth going for. If you can make your own job and your own path and a positive contribution, then why not?

FGFS: What prompted you to start Lisa Marie (the restaurant extension of Fidel Gastro)?

Matt: We sat down and said, “We have all this business but we aren’t capitalizing on it the right way”. So we just realized we weren’t running the business effectively and it was very fly-by-night and realized we needed to operationalize. So what that meant was: we wanted a commercial kitchen in this city. Nothing more, nothing less. We were recommended by a friend of ours that someone had a space on Queen West with a kitchen. It wasn’t until this point where it dawned on us, “Wow, are we looking to open a restaurant?”. Thanks to Kai — she handled all the negotiations — we put a bid in on our current space. Originally, our bid didn’t go through.  So we just kind of gave up and figured we would find something eventually. But the day after my grandfather’s funeral, we got a call saying we got the space. The rest is history. We didn’t have a concept, but we just knew what it would be. Keeping it on brand, we named it Lisa Marie — since the food truck’s name is “Priscilla” and Elvis is on everything. The menu is constantly changing and evolving. It’s fun and approachable food.

FGFS:  What is your idea of relaxation?

Matt: Kai and I love cooking big Italian meals for one another. We also really like going to get massages. Sometimes when we order out, we love getting Vietnamese, Korean, or Thai food and eating it in bed. This concept may or may not be called “picnic,” and may involve watching television. But so much of what we define as relaxation does not include work, as so many of our work days are 22 hours. Anything that is not work-related is relaxation.

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All photos by Rochelle Latinsky

 

Amaya Group of Restaurants take on Indian Street Food

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I am a huge Indian food fan. One of my go-to take out joints on Just-Eat.ca is Amaya Express on Ossington. So when we were invited to check out the new spring menu at Amaya the Indian Room on Bayview, I was pretty excited. This would be some OG stuff, as it is one of the original Amaya Group of Restaurant locations.

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The Amaya Group of Restaurants was founded back in 2007 by Chef Hemany Bhagwani which currently has 15 locations to date. Chef Bhagwani told us that for the new spring menu he waned to recreate the Amaya experience from start to finish with some new dishes drawing inspiration from India’s vibrant street food culture whilst dipping its toe into some molecular gastronomy.

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Chef Bhagwani started us off with a beautiful amuse bouche consisting of a Yogurt Egg filled with Pomegranate Juice. This was a light airy and simple bite that started off our meals just right.

From there, we were given another amuse bouche of sorts, which was one of their street foods inspiration dishes: Prawn Papdi Chaat with cumin and chutney. Very similar in texture to a ceviche, it was absolutely delicious and all the flavors married so well together. I could have had several more of these, if offered.

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Next up, we were served this new version of Pakoras. Now with kale and tomato chutney. Oh my glob, these were out of this world. Kind of like crispy, deep fried kale chips but little balls. Then with the chutney? Get out of here!

We were finally shown a bit of the seafood side of Amaya with some Scallops paired with pickled lemons, shallot confit and coconut snow. It was beautiful presented and a lovely light taste.

You would think that Tandoori Chicken could not be any different but this was incredible. Spicy, tender and delicious – something about it was great. Plus the foam on it that created a enhanced simple flavor.  Oh, and dem cheese balls. Need I say more?

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Back on the seafood tip, we were treated to some more Prawns (simply titled the Amaya Prawns) – which were juicy and bursting with flavour. Add a bit of beet gel to it and you have yourself a whole new dish. Plus: I am not lying that these were some of the biggest prawns I have seen in my life.

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I would have to say that my favourite dish of the evening though was the Lamb Tenderloin with the Wasabi Ice Cream on top. I was a little bit taken aback when I heard Wasabi Ice Cream but trust me: it works and with all of these flavours. I want more. Please just give me more of this dish forever and always.

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If I haven’t sold you on Amaya’s new menu or on heading to Amaya, then I don’t know what could. They have put so much heart and soul into all of their new offerings, it comes through in each of the plating’s and each of the menu offerings. All of the menu items are so innovative yet so familiar that it’s so comforting. Worth heading to the main location on Bayview! Also of note: all menu items are reasonable priced (between $12-$18) so this makes a great dinner out.

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Photos by Yuli Scheidt

Real Talk: It’s true, I’m a high-functioning alcoholic

Trigger warnings: addiction, drugs, alcohol, abuse, depression, anxiety

Before I begin this Real Talk entry, I just want to go on the record by saying that I am not a registered physician or addiction specialist. I am writing this from my own personal experiences and struggles. I am not suggesting that you follow what I have done. I am simply sharing my story and hope that I can provide some prospective and helpful information for those looking for further help.

It should be known that I have always grown up around the bottle. One of my very first memories is tugging at my father’s pant leg around the age of three begging him to make me Kool-Aid. Instead he poured beer into my Kool-Aid man cup and I took a huge gulp. I don’t think he did this intentionally but there it was – my first sip of the sweet nectar at the tender age of three.

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My father is an alcoholic. I have seen him at his best and I have seen him at his worst. I have seen him at his highest and his lowest. Because of this when I was growing up, I vowed that I didn’t want to be like him. But what I didn’t know then was that addiction was a slippery slope that I may or may not have a choice of falling down. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependencies, research has shown conclusively that family history of alcoholism or drug addiction is in part genetic and not just the result of the family environment.

When I re-kindled the flame with alcohol at age 15, I knew I had fallen in love. Alcohol gave me something — feelings, an escape, uninhibited tendencies and well, fun Yes, I had a fake ID and was going to bars and nightclubs at that age. Nobody was going to stop me from getting that ‘fix’, if you will. As I grew older, I could drink more than most of my male friends. Have you ever seen a 5″2′ girl chug an entire bottle of vodka or Jameson in one evening without throwing up? This was me and I thought like this was something I should be proud of.

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People loved inviting me out. They knew with me they would get a show (dancing or otherwise) and I’d always be the last one standing or know where to hunt down (more) free drinks. But all it really was me self-medicating through the bouts of anxiety and depression I was feeling.

Throughout my formative years, I came to realize that downers were my drug of choice. I didn’t like feeling happy and up. According to the George Mason University Wellness, Alcohol and Violence Education website, downers affect most of the basic processes that happen in your body to keep it alive by slowing or inhibiting processes causing users to experience sedation, dis-inhibition of emotions and impulses, muscle relaxation and drowsiness. Basically, I just wanted to numb the pain of the world that I was experiencing. If that meant being a functioning alcoholic then so be it.

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Over the years, friends would recommend that perhaps I should slow down on the drinking or people would even stop hanging out with me because I was “out of control” but I never thought I had a problem. All I remembered was having good times and I couldn’t understand why friends couldn’t get on board with that. Sadly, in between all those good times there are a lot of dark, dangerous and humiliating times. I want recount the stories but they happened and sadly as I hurtled myself towards my 30th birthday it seemed things got more real. What was I doing with myself and why?

Life started to get complicated when I got close to thirty. I think my mind opened up and realized that I was (by the definition) a high-functioning alcoholic. I had a full-time job and was a published freelance writer. All really truly amazing things, but I began to realize that perhaps other people were not the problem anymore and I was the problem. Perhaps my life choices while drinking were a problem. All of the dates in the first 3 months of my relationship with my current partner, I was hungover for. Suddenly, the drinking and my alcoholism started to make me feel ugly.

But from this there was regrowth and revitalization and strength. All of which I didn’t know I had within me. I should first go on record as saying, I’m not a sober person. I still drink. However for those that know me know that I barely drink a fraction of the amount that I drank in the past and now I know my limits. I started to re-evaluate my life and those in it. Were they party friends or real friends? Would they love me with or without alcohol? Some friends left me by the wayside as the less I partied the less we hung out. I realized I was just another fixture in the background of their party. For some of those realizations, it hurt immensely as you thought you were “real” friends. But for the people who stuck around to be real friends, they gave me the strength and confidence I needed to re-build myself.

Coming out of this alcoholic fog was when Yuli and I sat down and really discussed making Fat Girl Food Squad a reality. It was when I was introduced to my current partner whom I love so dearly and he’s been such a supportive person. But also when one of my other best friends promised to take me to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, if I ever wanted more support. It was from having all of these emotional stongholds in my life that happiness emerged, clarity came and I decided to put the drink down.

So why did I feel compelled to write this? I want others to know they are not alone. I came across this study that states that more women are binge drinking and self-medicating with alcohol. Other fearless and powerful women (Jen McNeeely of Toronto’s She Does the City recently spoke to how to support a recovering alcoholic) are going through this each and everyday and you don’t have self-medicate with alcohol. There is a way out and things do get better.

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Poppin’ Bottles of Fresita in the Petite and Sweet lab

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Just the other week, I was invited out alongside my Fat Girl Food Squad co-horts to a fun and fabulous evening hosted by Fresita and Petite & Sweet Bakery.

This event was unlike any other event I had ever been to with promises of sweets, treats, some crafting and a lot of Fresita. I had never had the chance to try Fresita before and it was a pink Chilean sparkling wine that was made with hand-picked strawberries. Sound delicious? Well, it was.

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I got to share in the evening with some other radical blogger babes like Lisa Jackson (from Eat Drink Travel), Kaitlin Wright (from She Does the City) and Taylor Stinson & Nathalie Sehgal (from the Girls on Bloor) while we walked through the doors of the Petite & Sweet headquarters (who were featured on Food Network’s own SugarStars) and took in the elegant beauty of the sweets table. It had everything from macaroon chairs to Fresita-flavoured marshmallows. It was heaven.

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Bottles of Fresita were popped and we sipped and nibbled our way through the evening. The lovely ladies at Petite & Sweet gave hands-on instructions on how to frost our own cupcakes. For me, I had never used a piping bag so this was a whole new experience. For my friend Ashley who tagged alongside me, she was an old pro at this and helped me out. The results weren’t too shabby.

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For me, I am not the biggest sweets person in the world so when we were shown to make Chocolate Covered Pretzels with Icing and Toffee Bits – it was game over. It was obviously my favorite snack of the evening and so simple to make. Melt some chocolate in the microwave, double-dip (no one is judging) and then carefully drizzle icing and toffee bits on top. Let sit for 10-15 minutes and you’ve got yourself one delicious snack.

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As the night winded down, we were asked to take part in a little DIY crafting and prepare our own gift boxes. I’m not going to lie: I am not a crafty person what so ever. Thankfully my friend Rachelle who I brought alongside me was because the box she put together was off the chain! I attempted to make something myself but after getting two strands of ribbon and feeling disappointed in myself, I just gave up. Thankfully I had a glass of zee ol’ glass of Fresita to ease the pain.

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This evening was everything a girl would want: sweet and crafty and delicious. Plus: I got to make some amazing new friends in the process. Thanks to Fresita Canada and Petite and Sweets Bakery for having me out.

All photos taken by Kailee Mandel

Lookin’ Good Girl: Chatting with Rachel Holt of PRiMAALA

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When you’re a plus-size gal in the city, all you want is to be forever fashionable. But strolling into the local mall can often times be a struggle with all the plus-size goods picked over or just not your style. The struggle: it’s real.

But over the course of the last few years, the fashion industry has started to stand up and take notice to us fashionably fierce femmes who want nothing more than to have more selection in plus-sizes. Some of these stores even come in the form of brick & mortar independent shops much like the recently opened shop PRiMAALA (803 Dundas Street West) in Toronto by fabulous lady, Rachel Holt.

Rachel & myself chatted inside the beautifully designed store that specifically caters to the forward-thinking and high-end side of women’s fashion in sizes 12 to 24. The store is light and airy with clean, modern and chic elegance as soon as you walk in. The store is open (in concept) with several fitting rooms in the back and lots of natural light and mirrors.

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Having had an extensive background in the fashion industry, Rachel studied at Ryerson University. For her final thesis, she designed one of the school’s first plus-size collections pushing boundaries and challenging the ideal of fashion normalities. She tells me that she worked for months on her collection sourcing fabrics from New York and creating something luxurious that the plus female would respond to. The response to her collection was bold and it was from this thesis project (and other in-life frustrations), that awoke Rachel’s inner-being to provide an outlet (outside of the online realm) for the plus-sized female.

With careful thought into location (her home at Dundas West happened almost by chance) and into the brands that she would carry, Rachel has tried to keep shoppers happy with the bountiful options available to them. This includes Lundstrom, Comfy USA, James Jeans, Eileen Fisher and Lovefresh bodycare – just to name a few. Rachel tells me, “I have really made a considered effort to make everything contemporary but also suitable for the entire range of sizes.” Her vision is that no matter what size you are, the piece you will try will look awesome. Another thing to note with PRiMAALA is they are the first retailer in North America to carry much sought after line, Caramakoma. “I noticed this line in 2009 and it had always scared me to try and buy something online,” Rachel candidly shared “but I really took the plunge when I bought for the store and it has worked out really well”.

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Since PRiMAALA opened its doors, Rachel tells me the response has been phenomenal with a current look from the store just appearing on Breakfast Television the week we chatted, “People seem to be really excited about the store and what we’re carrying and it feels good”. Touching on the media and fashion industry’s shift in working in body diversity and body positivity, Rachel tells me, “There was a huge article about plus-sizes in The Grid last year, which showcased some great boutiques and fashions and five years ago, you would have never seen something like that.” Thankfully, she believes some of this trickle-down effect comes from catwalks such as Christian Dior or models like Crystal Renn amongst many other celebrities advocating for body positivity and self acceptance inside of fashion and out.

The store at 803 Dundas Street West is just the first step in Rachel’s plan for PRiMAALA. Eventually she would like to work on an in-house line but she does tell me, “I want to get the store to the point where it is a well oiled machine before I introduce that,” as well as learning more about her customer base and what they are looking for. Right now at the end of the day, her goal number #1 remains the following: making people feel fabulous. “I want to make people feel really good about themselves and to know that they are incredible even though they may not fit the mould of what the fashion world has put out for them.”

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To visit PRiMAALA, its operating hours are Tuesdays-Fridays, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m., Sundays, noon to 4 p.m, closed Mondays. Or check them their website!

East Thirty Six breathes new life into St Lawrence Market area

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Originally posted to Ama’s weekly column on Toronto Is Awesome.

A new restaurant has opened up in the St Lawrence Market area taking over the former Lucien spot on Wellington. Opened by restauranteurs Julien and Devon Salomone (the same owners who brought us Boutique Bar) bring us the newly revitalized cocktail and food restaurant, East Thirty Six.

As you walk through the doors of East Thirty Six, you are greeted with opulent wood finishes (retrofitted), beautiful overhead blue-purple art-deco lighting fixture and lovely pops of silver and purple everywhere. The room is cozy but gives off a certain richness and warmth, no matter where you are seated in the room.

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The cocktails here are stellar and not to be missed. Co-owner / mixologist Julien Salomone runs the beverage program and has paid great details to the making of such cocktails as the Rum Row (House-made spiced rum, apricot liquor, lemon juice, ginger syrup, tonic float) or French Connection (Muddled cucumber, gin, chartreuse, lillet blanc, coriander syrup, peychaud bitters, coriander tincture). Each of the cocktails range in price between $12-14 a drink but every sip is totally worth it. At the end of the evening, we were even treated to one of Julien’s barrel aged cocktails (off-menu) and this man knows what he is doing.

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So how the food from East Thirty Six measure up? On the evening in question, we were treated to a lovely selection of their offerings from their new upcoming menu. Some of the standouts from the evening were our Winter Salad (castelfranco, kale, endive, ricotta salata aioli, focaccia) which was full of flavour and rich. So many times you encounter a salad with hard, tough croutons and this was just perfect. Next up, Scallop Crudo (lardo, celery, tequila, lime) was one of the dishes with wow factor. It had a freshness that you look for in a crudo with the lardo adding that extra bit of kick.

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Next up, we were treated to a big trend I have been seeing on menus across Toronto (and something I’m not angry about because I love) cauliflower. This dish was served up with capers, preserved lemon, brown butter, hazelnut, parsley and was stunning. The hazelnuts added the nice crunch to it and the lemon gave good acidity. I could ate a whole other plate of this. Next, probably my favourite dish of the evening: Bone Marrow with Chicken liver mousse and toast. Beautifully prepared and absolutely a pleasure. I did not want to share this and reluctantly had to. The marrow was buttery and delicious. A must have.

 

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Rounding in to some of the final courses, we were treated to a flakey and beautifully plated Halibut (with artichoke, carrot, fennel, white wine and lemon). Each piece I put into my mouth was melt in my mouth goodness and the veg in the broth was just an added bonus to the dish. As our final treat, we were shown a dessert course and brought out a lovely Lemon Custard. As I’m not much of a sweets person, I was unsure how I would feel but this tangy sweetness was just right in my books.

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East Thirty Six is open daily for dinner at 4pm and is perfect for an afterwork cocktail. To learn more about the restaurant, visit their website.

Destingo bring authentic Italian to Queen Street West

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Originally posted to Ama’s weekly column on Toronto Is Awesome. 

Queen Street West is not known for its offerings of Italian fare. However, restauranteur Monika Vacca decided to go forth and change that. With a prime location (including 1,500 square feet) including large beautiful windows draping the restaurant with tons of natural sunlight and a casual stroll away from Trinity Bellwoods, Destingo was born.

The restaurant while vast also oozes of old world charm and rustic feel. The fare is much of the same, sticking to traditional classics. Case in point, one of the appetizers they have on the menu, Prosciutto di Buffala ($13.95). With a dish this simple, it could be so easy to mess up but all flavours complimented each other with just the slightest bit of olive oil. Our next appetizers was the Grilled Calamari ($14.50). My issue with Calamari a lot of times is: restaurants do not get it right. But Destingo got this dish so right. It was probably one of my favourite dishes of the evening. All across the huge pieces were grill marks. It kept me wishes there were more plates to come. Finally, we launched into the Beef Capriccio ($12.95) which was tender and melt in your mouth goodness.

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Main courses are handled with intense care over at Destingo and you have many selections, even if you are gluten-free (just ask your waiter for specifics). We launched into the Funghi Risotto ($18.95), which could always be a make or break situation for a restaurant. In this case, this dish was not one of my favourites. This risotto was a bit heavy handed on the saffron and too al-dente for my liking. Perhaps a personal preference? For meat options, we checked out the Veal Scaloppine with oregano in a basil tomato sauce ($18.95), which was super old school Italian and so delicious. Finally, we ended off our meal with Gnocchi four Destingo ($14.95), which was probably my favourite dish of the evening. Pillow-like gnocchi in a creamy and cheesy sauce which was not at all overpowering. It was good until the last bite and then some.

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Like any good Italian restaurant, Destingo offers up traditional espressos, cappuccinos and other coffees with Creme Brûlée and Tiramisu. This will help finish up and encapsulate any meal. Alas, I decided not to partake in any of these goodies while I was there, as I don’t have much of a sweet tooth myself.

As the Queen West neighborhood continues to develop, as does it need for more contemporary and casual date spots or family oriented & unpretentious supper houses, Destingo becomes the spot to go. Since my original visit, I have been back once more for lunch and I was still impressed with all the offerings and what they had. From good food to good prices and staff whom are willing to help you in making great choices (from food to wine), Destingo has you covered.

El Caballito Tequila Bar introduces the Midnight Taco

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El Caballito located on King West is serving up more than just midnight tacos, it also is a lovely little tequila bar in the home of downtown Toronto. Opened since the beginning of February and located near Simcoe Street in a dimly lit basement, as you walk down the stairs you are met with feast for your eyes & ears.

With a live DJ (at least on the night I was in attendance) and lots of neon lights with Mexican style murals, the space feels like you’ve entered this authentic Mexican speakeasy of sorts. With plenty of banquettes and tables (the restaurant seats 120 comfortably), you have the ability to come with a large group or a couple pals. Whatever the choice may be, you will feel cozy and comfortable and still be able to have a conversation – even with the music playing. This I can absolutely attest to.

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As mentioned, El Caballito has a private tequila tasting room which seats four people at a time. Bar Manager, Manny, will walk you through the ins and outs of all things tequila and keep you in good hands. El Caballito currently has an extensive tequila list containing of 64 blanco, resposado and anjeo tequilas and mezcals sold by the ounce.

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But in order to keep all the down, how does the food size up? We were given a small tasting of the menu to discover including the Flank Steak Tacos to start loaded with bell peppers, roasted onions, salsa verde and cheese. The slices of steak were cooked to perfectly and thinly sliced making it juicy and tender. The salsa was heavenly, and the cheese cooked onto the tortilla. I could have eaten about 10 of those tacos in no time.
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Photos by yuli scheidt

Next up was the Tamarind Ceviche (including tortilla shells made of jicima and mango) and holy flavour explosion. This was probably one of the best dishes of the evening. It was light and a quick bite. But it was the perfect sweet and spicy. Plus: jicima tortilla shells? Get out of here!

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I was brought to cheese heaven via El Caballito empanada dish which had chicken, tomato sofrito, chipotle and arrived covered in cotija cheese. Delicious and packed a perfect 1-2 punch.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get better, we were delivered the Quesadilla de Quintero which was stacked with zucchini, bell pepper, cheese & salsa roja on a corn tortilla; Cheesy, light and so good.

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Nothing finishes off a dinner like dessert, so we saddled ourselves up to face the finish; churros! El Caballito provided us with cinnamon doughnuts with vanilla custard, and while I may not be a sweets person, I was most  into this. Another thing that I’ve noticed is that churros are something that are hard to do right, but El Caballito’s did them justice.

So while Toronto is filled with many Mexican restaurants, journey out for something a bit different and take on this tequila bar and midnight taco for size.

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Cafe Boulud makes home in Toronto’s Four Seasons Hotel

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For many foodies, Daniel Boulud (New York based celebrity chef) is a commanding force in the realm of french cooking. When he decided to bring his restaurants (on the second floor and the downstairs bar) to the Four Seasons hotel chain, it would be an understatement to say those in Toronto were excited.

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photos by yuli scheidt

Originally posted to Ama’s weekly column on Toronto Is Awesome.

Cafe Boulud sits on the second floor overlooking the beautifully iconic neighbourhood that is Yorkville. We were seated by a window which gave us a great 180 degree view of the restaurant whilst still being able to peak outside to see fabulous men and women outside walking the streets. One of the things that I wasn’t too sure about when coming to the Cafe was how the dress-code would be since being housed in one of the cities finest hotels. Let me assure you: while dealing with fine dining at its best, the atmosphere is not stuffy at all or entitled.

The first thing that caught my eye (upon walking up the stairs into the Cafe) was the pop-art portraits of some iconic celebrities such as Madonna. It added a bit of whimsy to the space but also gave a little nod to the indulgent celebrity nature of our city. The dining room is quite large and spacious with a bit of romance in the air.

Just recently, Cafe Boulud released their winter menu which would take on tradition, classic French cuisine while exploring all things worldly. Both Yuli and myself were excited to try this but also try out their Winterlicious menu, which was also happening at the time of our visit. We decided to eat, drink and be merry.

For the three course pre-fixe Winterlicious menu ($45 per person), we decided to indulge in the Lentil Dahl (made with Garam Masala, Coriander and Yogurt) and Grilled Albacore Tuna for our apps. The Lentil was simply rich with full flavour pop. It was one of those dishes where if you could stick your face into the bowl and lick every last drop, you probably would. Alas: I don’t think that is Four Seasons behaviour. The tuna was juicy and tender with beautiful citrus undertones. I’ll have to thank Yuli for sharing with me.

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Next up, we decided to order a couple of appetizers from the Main Menu to see what this new winter menu was all about. We ordered up some Sunchoke Risotto ($21) and the Crispy Duck Egg ($18). Ever since my first experience with Sunchoke I have been obsessed and this risotto did not disappoint. Keeping it simple with porcini mushroom and aged parmesan cheese, it was cooked to perfection and simply wonderful. This would be perfect as a main, as well. Now onto the Crispy Duck Egg which was serving up all kinds of brunch realness. The Duck Egg coupled with the button mushrooms and crispy bacon and all the yolk. I can’t know even handle the goodness. I would like this delivered to my bedroom each and everyday. Hopefully this could be arranged.

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Back to our Winterlicious main courses, where I decided to par-take in the Roasted Lamb Shoulder with Heirloom Carrot and Potatoes. This dish was not too heavy with beautiful cuts of lamb. The natural jus added a great flavour. Perfect for the diner who loves meat & potatoes: hearty and bountiful.

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On the Main Menu, we decided to check out two of their Main Courses from the winter menu: Pan Seared Digby Scallops ($38) and Ontario Venison ($41). Large Nova Scotia scallops arrive with some fingerling potatoes, in a tomato-saffron broth and left my mouth singing. The scallops were beautifully caramelized and were perfectly cooked. Yuli mentioned that her Venison dish was seasoned perfectly and had a nice rich glaze of natural jus.

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The desserts here are show-stoppers and although we stuck to our dessert pairings from the Winterlicious menu, our choices were hard. I opted for the Carmel Pear Sundae and was not disappointed.

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From the kitchen staff to the wait staff, the team at Cafe Boulud have worked hard at executing Chef Daniel’s vision into this exciting Toronto restaurant and the results resonate all throughout. If you are looking for a beautifully romantic evening out or simply a fancy brunch, you will find everything you are looking for and more at Cafe Boulud.

  Cafe Boulud on Urbanspoon