Tickets on sale for The Stop’s Night Market this week

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Written by Siobhan Ozege, photos by Yuli Scheidt

The Stop’s annual Night Market is nearly upon us. For those in the know, it’s one of Toronto’s most coveted and cherished food events with tickets selling out within hours every year. This year, you’re lucky to have Fat Girl Food Squad watching out for you and giving you the heads-up: tickets go on sale THIS WEEK. On Thursday May 1st for just $65 you get the double-whammy: support the amazing and important food security work that The Stop does, AND eat some of Toronto’s best foods.

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The event itself takes place over two nights, with different vendors each night. Happening on June 17th & 18th from 7-11pm in the Honest Ed’s alleyway, you can eat and drink to your heart’s content. Your ticket includes all-you-can-eat and drink from such FGFS faves as Fonda LolaDundas ParkSmall Town Food Co., and the Dock Ellis among many, many more. There will be savoury apps, sweet desserts, craft brews, local wines, and even some delicious coffee roasters on site. For a complete list of food vendors, you can visit the Night Market website.

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If you’re still on the fence about buying a ticket, we’d suggest reading a bit on what The Stop does. In their own words, “The Stop works to increase access to healthy food in a manner than maintains dignity, builds health and community, and challenges inequality.” This organization runs a number of food programs across the city, including after school programs, community markets and bake ovens, and a drop-in food bank space that serves Toronto’s West End. They’re a great cause, and we’re proud to support them.

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Mark your calendars, you won’t want to miss out on these amazing eats. This will be our second year attending this event, and our mouths are already watering.

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.

Pukka spices up St. Clair West

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

For many of us in Toronto, good Indian food is a hard thing to come by. We’re accustomed to buffet style or muddled flavours. Thankfully, Derek Valleau and Harsh Chawla (both formerly of Amaya The Indian Room) have taken on what they believe has not been filled in Toronto yet: a fine-dining Indian food spot that leaves you comforting for more. That spot is Pukka (778 St Clair Avenue West).

The space is fresh and modern with reclaimed wood table and pops of green, purple and orange throughout. You’ll find lots of funky paintings and soft lighting, which gives it a bit of a romantic touch. I had mentioned to Derek & Harsh when I first arrived that when I lived in the St Clair area some year back, restaurants like this were missing. Derek told me candidly that the area and its residents have been quite kind in their support, especially over the winter months. When Yuli and I attended on a Tuesday evening, the restaurant had ever seat full. This was even on one of the coldest winter nights we were having.

Pukka sticks to classical Indian cuisine. The kitchen is equipped with a clay tandoor oven and the menu is chalked full of seasonal, locally sourced ingredients while using rich spices and creams to take on their house-made curries and rubs.

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The menu itself is divided into snacks & eats. The snack portion has you covered with some intoxicating dishes such as: Baby Kale Salad ($8.90), which seems simple enough but with dates, cashew nut dressing and lotus chips – it brings it to a whole other level. The Vegetable String Chaat ($8.40) is serving up ripe mango and granny smith apple with a little bit of pomegranate seed just for flavour. Mix that in with some delicious yogurt and chutney and you’ve got yourself a winning dish. Another killer starter was the Chicken 65 ($9.60) which had all the feels of good fried chicken. But should you be in the South of India. This dish was spiced with curry leaf, red chili, tamarind, cumin, garlic and other spices and was pretty much, this was off the chain. I could really seem them developing this into a main. But that’s just my personal opinion.

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After inhaling all of these delicious snacks, we thought it would be wise to test some drinks off of the cocktail menu. You know to – ahem – cleanse the palette. First up was the Snapdragon ($9.20) which consisted of vodka, pear nectar, ginger beer & lime. It was sweet and fun, not too over-powering and reminded me of summer. Thankfully, it went so well with everything we were eating. Yuli decided to test out the Chai Town ($8.40) which had bourbon, chai tea, pomegranate liquors and bitters. From my sip, it was pretty delicious.

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Our servers (who were incredibly lovely and so helpful) brought out our dazzling course of mains, who informed us that most of the dishes were gluten-free. So fear not gluten-free fans, you are in luck! First up, we were brought out one of my favourite dishes of the night: Mushroom & Spinach Stuffed Paneer ($17.30). This dish was rich and bold and filling. Plus: paneer cheese is heavenly. Next up, the Pan Seared Sea Bass ($22.40) which consisted of coconut milk, curry leaves and roasted spices. The fish was beautifully cooked and the aromas of the curry was hypnotizing. You know you cannot visit an Indian food restaurant without having Butter Chicken ($17.90) and while it was good, it was not Pukka’s best dish of the evening. Oddly enough, I enjoyed everything else so much more than the Butter Chicken. The tomato infused butter sauce was rich and delicious but the chicken was a bit dry. Nothing terrible but again, not my favourite out of everything that came out. Next up, we had the Madras Pepper Steak ($19.70) which was tender, juicy and served up with caramelized onion and coconut. It was beautifully rich and delicious. This was probably my second favourite main of the evening.

Don’t forget, you have your options of sides too. We opted for the Green Beans ($8.70) with caramelized onions, coconut and turmeric and Rice ($4.60) served up in a lovely little jar (resealable) with so many aromatics. These pair deliciously with all the mains.

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If you’ve left room for dessert, there is that. We opted for the Eton Mess ($7.60), which was a mess of all things delicious: rosewater-soaked meringues in pomegranate syrup and sweet lassi cream. Um, so into it.

So if you’re craving authentic Indian and feel like making the trek to St. Clair West, make a date for Pukka. You will not be disappointed. Reservations can be made daily.

Zengo’s Test Kitchen: A Melody of East & West

Words by Gillian Kreft
Additional words by Lauren Edward

When you start thinking about fusion cuisine a few things cross your mind, but something that most of us wouldn’t think of is mixing Japanese & Mexican food, but the culinary genius that is Richard Sandoval did it, and it is amazing.

My lovely taster for the evening, Lauren.

My lovely taster for the evening, Lauren.

Sandoval’s restaurant Zengo, recently announced its new Test Kitchen Menu combining the forces of Mexican & Japanese food. The menu rotates every few months mixing different Latin & Asian cuisines into one extraordinary melting pot of flavors.

I was invited to test out the TK menu and I jumped at the chance. Since I’m vegan, I brought one of my good girlfriends, Lauren, with me to devour everything that I couldn’t. While Zengo doesn’t advertise as being vegan friendly, they do have a separate vegetarian menu that includes a few dishes that are already vegan or are easily adaptable.

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They started by bringing us out a drink from the TK cocktail menu, the Shiro margarita which included nigori, agave blanco tequila, lime juice, simple syrup, and house-made sour. I’m not usually a tequila drinker but this was amazing, a sugar rimmed glass added just the right amount of sweetness without making it into something that was all about the sugar and not enough about the fusion of sake & tequila.

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Next were the appetizers, a vegetarian sushi roll to share, Terikayi Pork Belly Gorditas “Sliders” for Lauren, and Arepas de Shiitakes for myself.

For me, the corn meal cakes topped with shiitakes, and guacamole  were a bit too spicy but that was easily remedied by taking off some of the jalapeno on top. They were perfectly crunchy while the mushrooms added a nice meaty texture to them.

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LE: “My first plate to try was the TK Terikayi Pork Belly Gordita “Sliders”, a sort of dressed up McMuffin as the manager called them. Hearing this I was initially a little skeptical, but these little suckers knocked my socks off.  Piled atop a crispy masa cake was sliced pork belly, oaxaca cheese, guacamole, carmalized pineapple, and pickled chiles for just the right amount of heat. The meat was tender and tasty and couldn’t have been better complimented by the array of flavorful fixin’s.”

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As someone who eats a lot of vegetable sushi, I can’t say that this roll stood out. It was delicious but nothing that I haven’t had before. They served the aioli on the side and it was so good Lauren kept it at the table “just in case there’s something else” she could slather it on.

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The next drink they brought out was described as an “updated Old fashioned.” Its formal title: The Calamansi Old-Fashioned; consisting of Japanese whiskey, fresh calamansi juice, agave, and bitters. It was a little heavy on the whiskey but still delicious. I can’t say it read much different than the old fashion my grandmother makes when I visit her but maybe she’s ahead of the times.

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When they brought the entrees out I have to say that I wasn’t super excited. I had read the menu prior and noticed the only dish that was vegan was a tofu one. I love tofu, but as a vegan it can get a little lackluster after a few hundred dishes. When the dish was put in front of me, I couldn’t deny that the presentation alone was enough to make me want to lick the plate clean but once I took a bite of perfectly cooked tofu and a chili sauce, there was no stopping me. I finished my plate before Lauren and was begging for one more piece of tofu to soak up what was left of the sauce but alas, I was left with bokchoy & beansprouts which did the job just as well as the tofu.

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LE: “The TK entree was Kabayaki Glazed Lamb Shank Barbacoa. Now, I will admit I am not the biggest fan of lamb, but this dish prompted a change of heart. You know that melt-off-the-bone meaty goodness that so many of us barbecue lovers can’t get enough of? Well, try this. Aromatic ginger, chiles, and tamarand gave this shank some zing, without overpowering the lamb itself. As for the pairings, this is when things kind of fell apart. The lamb was served over a bed of “arroz verde” and pickled vegetables. I really wasn’t a fan of either of these sides as I felt they offset the composition of the dish and added some strange contrasting flavors. The rice was bitter… pungent almost, and spicy. Not the good flavorful kind, but the burn your taste buds spice. No thanks. As for the veggies, well, okra and carrots, they  were arranged nicely but added very little umphf to the dish. Let’s just say that after finishing the lamb itself, I was ready for dessert.”

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What is a meal without dessert? (The answer: sad) I was able to try all three of their sorbet flavors that rotate, Strawberry-yuzu, Blueberry-ginger, and Mango. I would venture to say that the strawberry and blueberry are made in house while the mango is store-bought. Either way, they were all delicious; the strawberry and blueberry were amazing and the addition of the yuzu and ginger made them undeniably the best sorbet I’ve ever had.

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LE: “Dessert, the showstopper of all showstoppers. Folks, on this night the stars aligned and the culinary Gods above sent to earth the perfect post-dinner treat. The TK Avocado Panna Cotta. I don’t think I can effectively do this dessert justice through any description, but if you ask Gillian, there was very little talking and a whole lot of om-nom. Fresh avocado custard, similar to flan, was perfectly sweet with a subtle hint of that avocado flavor. Served alongside this was a mango chutney of sorts with fresh mint, and peanut chocolate cookie crumbs. What kind of mad world do we live in? I never would have expected this to be as good as it was, but it blew my mind and left me wanting seconds. Cheers to good food.”

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Overall, I was impressed with Zengo. The service was impeccable (thanks Ryan!) and they were more than happy to accommodate two diets into one perfectly presented meal. The tofu alone makes me dream about returning. I look forward to what Sandoval’s next culinary mash-up will be.

Meat on Meat on Meat: the official FGFS Turducken Potluck Experience

For those of you following FGFS, you may have come to realize that we’re all about community. The FGFS HQ is located in Toronto and lots of times, we love to just kick-back and hang together with our writers in the GTA as a big grrl gang.

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With the holidays coming up, many of us had families we just couldn’t get to or other circumstances that just didn’t have us partaking in the holiday season. For that, we decided to do what any righteous and bodacious grrl gang would do: have an End of 2013 Potluck!

Each of us were tasked with bringing our own inspired dishes to the table and we invited some of our nearest and dearest friends to join us. Thanks to the lovely people at Echelon Foods, we were treated to the fine wonders of what any holiday dinner should have: a huge ass turducken. So what exactly is a turducken? Well, for those of you not in the gastronomical know: it’s meat (turkey) on meat (duck) on meat (chicken). All in one bird. All prepped.. for your pleasure.

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We ended up getting a Italian Sausage stuffed Turducken and well, the Potluck journey was on! The lovely Leigh Van Maaren took over official turducken cooking duties and well, she did a marvellous job. Not only is she a babe but she’s a badass ninja in the kitchen providing us with gravy, stuffing and glazed carrots as well. The charming and hilarious Aviva Cohen took on the vegetarian pot pie and also provided us with the most badass dessert of the evening: Momofuku Birthday Cake, made from scratch. Yes, we got spoiled. We love you, Aviva. Provided by yours truly (that’s Ama) was a holiday classic: brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower gratin, made up in four-cheeses. And lest we forget the OG Mac & Cheese and Grandma’s Classic Broccoli and Tomato Mac & Cheese put together by FGFS fave Tabby. Oh, plus we had some mashed potatoes. Because: fuck yea.

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It was a night of friends and FGFS family and well, Turducken. The prep time of the turducken took seven hours and well, wasn’t all that difficult. The bird (which weighed in at about 10 pounds) fed between 10-12 people with several leftovers. The taste of the Turducken was… magical. Given there was so much density to the bird, I wasn’t sure how all those meats (on meats) would taste. But it was juicy and tender and full of turducken goodness. If I’m not selling it, check out our Twitter feed for the live results.

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Each of our plates were full of delicious food and cups filled with FGFS writer Siobhan Ozege beautifully handcrafted rosemary-infused vodka. We were all feeling in fine form and quite thankful for the year we’ve had as individuals but also, the (almost) year we’ve had together as Fat Girl Food Squad.

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Praise be to the Turducken overlords for gracing us with this beautiful bird. You gave us just another reason to hang out and well, be our awesome foodie selves.

BIVY introduces their Parisian-style dinner menu

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

Dundas West is changing and owner Pascal Vernhes saw that when he opened up his casual dining restaurant and cafe, BIVY. As I chatted with him briefly one cold November evening, he told me that living in the area, he noticed the lack of serious eateries in the area and felt it was time to introduce something relaxed and comfortable while presenting them good tasting food.

The interior of the restaurant has a bit of a kitschy cottage touch mixed in with a bit of Canadiana. Adorned on the walls are maps and painted murals of mountains, alongside reclaimed wood shelving (housing different products they sell within the cafe). The restaurant itself feels rustic and small, almost as if you’ve been invited to your friends cottage kitchen. The kitchen is fairly open, so you are able to watch your food being prepared.

The dinner menu takes more of a Parisian style approach to food, with prices ranging between $4.50-$12.00, for appetizers and mains. Our server started us off with BIVY’s own take on a charcuterie boards loaded with cured meats and country paté. All of the meats are locally sourced (some suppliers even within the Dundas West area) and all the pickling is done in-house. The board comes in at the price point of $9.00 and adds an element of social eating over a glass of wine. We were treated to several different types of meats and cheeses and loved every moment of it.

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Next up, our server suggested one of BIVY’s top menu items: 2LB of P.E.I Mussels ($12), which come in several different flavours including Bombay (curry & cream), jerk (white wine, onion, tomato & jerk seasoning) among many others. Tonight, we decided to partake in the Catalane, which consisted of chorizo, paprika, cream and peppers. The perfect cook of the the mussels and the delicious sauce was magical. I was literally spooning up the sauce (with its rich, bold flavours) with the Mussels shells and we didn’t leave one single drop in the bowl.

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For our mains, we were treated to bistro standards such as duck confit ($12) and slow-roasted ribs ($9), each which you could pair with sides (extra $4) such as mixed greens, potato salad, fries or coleslaw. The duck confit was juicy and tender and served up directly on the bone, adding in additional flavouring. The slow-roasted ribs used, what looked to be a dry rub and had a small kick. It was not overcooked, just perfect.

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For those with a sweet tooth, BIVY has been known for their Crème Brûlée and the verdict: its great. They do have other offerings for dessert as well, which seem to be seasonal. But the Crème Brûlée is top-notch in our books.

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If you’re looking for a romantic evening out with fabulous well cooked food (I know I have been dreaming of those Mussels since we went), then make the trip to BIVY. You will not be disappointed.

Fonda Lola: the ultimate Mexican Fiesta opens on Queen Street West

What can I say about the newest restaurant opening on Queen West, Fonda Lola? Well for starters: this is quite a bit of history packed into that resto. First things first, as I walked through the door that cold November evening, I was greeted by energetic and kind, Andres Marquez who was slinging drinks behind the bar who handed me a margarita (more on those later).

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From the kitchen walked out Ernesto Rodriguez and Howard Dubrowsky, the two other owners (with Andres). For foodies with knowledge, Howard use to be the former chef and owner of L.A.B. on College. But after coming together as partners and creating the ultimate in Mexican Fiesta, they settled upon the old Lafayette Bistro location (942 Queen West) and Fonda Lola was born. Many renovations and menu preparation was done in advance of this day and night, where several of their friends were invited into the space to join them in celebrating.

So let’s get back to that Margarita, shall we? Fonda Lola makes several tequila-based drinks using (wait for it) kombucha, which is a fermented black tea. At first, I was somewhat skeptical on how this would taste. But let me be the first to report back: it’s good. Like, really really good. Andres has a way at making you feel at ease, letting me try an original kombucha margarita and then a cherry kombucha margarita. All their margaritas come in at the price of $10.50 each. You have the ability to order other drinks such as beer and wine.

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All of the food takes a very traditional approach with recipes straight from Mexico, we are told. The menu is divided up into three different parts: Frio (which consists of appetizers and snacks, $5-8), Caliente (main dishes, ranging from $5-14) and everyone’s favourite dessert. The other appealing thing about Fonda Lola? You can buy out the entire menu for $100 which they have aptly titled the “Mexican Fiesta”.

For starters, we were brought out their Guacamole & Chips ($5) and Trout Aguachile ($8). All of the dishes were paired with chips (made in-house) and the guacamole had an extra little kick to it, which caught you just at the end. It was nice and refreshing. The balance of the Trout Aguachile (very similar to a ceviche dish) was perfect with lots of lime flavours. Nothing overpowered the fresh taste of the trout here, which was excellent.

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Next up, we were treated to their thick-cut Candied Bacon ($5), which had some chill flavouring. Just the right sweet and heat, which makes it good for either a snack or a dessert, in my humble opinion. I mean, you can’t go wrong with bacon and this did just the trick.

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If you’re into Jalapeño Poppers, then you will love Fonda Lola’s take on it: the Panela Popper ($7). This jalapeño marinated Panela Cheese, which is then coated in corn meal is ooey-gooey good while still being light and crispy. Plus, the kick of the jalapeño is still there without being too overpowering.

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Now what would a Mexican restaurant be without tacos? Tacos al Pastor ($10) are served in a hot skillet in three types: pork, beef and marinated tofu. This family style offering also comes with home-made tortillas, salsa and other fixings (including delicious pineapple). I had the chance to try out all three types of tacos and they were all seasoned well and better than tacos I even had while in Mexico, where I had just returned from.

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Open Tuesday to Saturday from 5 – 11 PM, the restaurant is small and is definitely going to become a hit on the Queen West strip amongst those who crave authentic Mexican. Thankfully, you can make reservations. Prepare yourself for the Fonda Lola experience!

A Toast! DIY Holiday Cocktails

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The holidays are almost upon us and with them brings a plethora of family, food, and hopefully, drink. With that in mind, we’ve put together 3 festive cocktail recipes to keep you warm & cheery into the New Year.
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First up is a Chai Spiced Bourbon Cider. Whether you serve it hot or cold, this little gem is sure to keep you toasty all the way down to your toes, even on the coldest of winter nights.
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Ingredients:
for chai concentrate
– 3 scoops/bags of a good spicy chai tea
– 1/2 cup water
– 1/2 cup brown sugar
for cocktail
– 1 oz. bourbon
– 3 oz. apple cider
– 3 tsp chai concentrate
Instructions:
– To make chai concentrate, bring water & brown sugar to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and add chai tea. Let steep for 6-8 minutes, then strain.
– To make cocktail, combine ingredients in a saucepan and heat until simmering and serve warm, or combine in a tumbler over ice.
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When I was growing up, my dad told us about how Christmas was the only time he ever got to eat oranges. They were only available in England around the holiday season and the expense made them a special, once-a-year treat. My family, and many others, still put oranges in the toes of our stockings every year. To honour this tradition, I created this Satsuma Sparkler cocktail. It’s a bit of a refreshing change from some of the heavier, traditional holiday drinks.
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Ingredients:
for simple syrup
– 1/2 cup honey
– 1/2 cup water
– 3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
for cocktail
– 1 oz. gin
– 1 oz. freshly squeezed satsuma juice
– 2 oz. club soda
– 2 tsp honey thyme simple syrup
Instructions:
– To make honey thyme simple syrup, bring honey and water to a boil. Remove from heat and add thyme. Set aside and let steep until cooled (approx. 2 – 3 hours).
– To make cocktail, combine ingredients in a tumbler over ice. Garnish with fresh thyme or a satsuma twist.
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Of course, I’ve saved the best for last. Every sip of this cocktail is like imbibing the very essence of holiday spirit. Naturally, it’s called The Dickens.
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Ingredients:
for simple syrup
– 1/4 cup cranberries
– 1/8 tsp cinnamon
– 1/8 tsp cloves
– 1/2 cup water
– 1/2 cup brown sugar
for cocktail
– 1 oz. bourbon
– 3 oz. ginger soda
– 2 tsp. spiced cranberry simple syrup
Instructions:
– To make spiced cranberry simple syrup, bring water and brown sugar to a boil. Reduce heat to low and add cranberries, cinnamon, and cloves. Simmer on low heat for 10-15 minutes or until cranberries begin to break down. Remove from heat and let steep for 30 minutes to an hour. Strain and set aside cranberries.
– To make cocktail, lightly muddle a few of the cranberries set aside from the simple syrup in a tumbler. Add bourbon, ginger soda, spiced cranberry simple syrup, and top with ice.
Happy Holidays!

Parlour’s winter sharing bites get me off my couch and on to theirs

Written by Leigh Van Maaren

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Tucked in to the basement of one of the oldest rowhouses in the neighbourhood, Parlour at Adelaide and John has turned an old basement in to something great. The actual restaurant isn’t that much bigger than your basement 1-bedroom, but the super cozy furniture and ultra-low lighting give the room a warm feeling that your basement apartment never achieved. It’s impossible not to want to curl up with a stiff drink as soon as you’ve escaped the cold winter streets in to this downtown speakeasy-style bar.

We visited on a Tuesday night to preview the winter sharing menu – which, we were shocked to learn, is created entirely in a kitchen that doesn’t go far beyond that one you’d expect to find in your basement apartment. With no exhaust hood, that means no fryer and no high-temperature cooking, lest the chef fill the entire restaurant with the smell of whatever tasty bite is being prepared.

We settle in to a couple of cocktails – I try the Pink Parlour Martini ($15) and my partner opts for an Old Fashioned ($15). Our drinks arrive promptly and the service throughout the evening is fantastic – far beyond what a couple of mid-20’s OCADU students usually expect. I’m not a huge alcohol drinker, so I’m surprised by just how much I love my little pink drink. The glass arrives, mercifully, without the garish fruit garnish that usually adorns these kinds of drinks. The cocktail is much greater than the sum of its parts – white grape and lychee juice with vodka turn in to a refreshing, not-to-sweet concoction. The Old Fashioned is similarly well balanced; it’s boozy and a bit sweet, with a nice bold kick from the bourbon.

Our food starts to arrive quickly thereafter; we open with the Quinoa Canoes ($7), a chilled quinoa salad in a boat of endive. It’s got a great crunch and makes for a very satisfying vegetarian dish. The balance of flavours and texture reminds me of a spring roll in a lot of ways, but it’s free of the trip to the deep fryer that spring rolls need to make them delicious. This is a dish I liked so much I’ll probably try to replicate it at home, so I can also enjoy it in my pajamas.

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Out next comes out two trays – Beef Tartare ($14) on one, and Albondigas & Sofrito ($13) on the other. We dig in to the Albondigas & Sofrito first – henceforth known by its peasant name, meatballs & red sauce. The meatballs are lamb and beef, which has the benefit of actually having the meatball taste like meat. The lamb gives the beef the flavor that I always wish beef had; so much so that I may have to use this meat blend in my meatball recipe in the future. It’s served up with focaccia studded with beautifully caramelized onion, and we’re happy campers.

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The beef tartare is up next – you can see how a dish like this would work extremely well in their small kitchen, but it’s also excellent for sharing. One of the big priorities when developing the winter sharing menu was food that could be eaten in the variety of different seating setups throughout Parlour; and that means food you can eat while curled up on a period chesterfield or while perched from a bar stool. When it comes to the tartare, I’m an easy sell for uncooked beef, so I’m enthusiastic to dive in. I’m not at all disappointed; it doesn’t have that strong meaty flavor like the meatballs did, but it’s decadent without being too heavy. The truffle aioli and Dijon mustard act as fantastic accents as we scoop up the gems of beef on perfectly toasted bread.

Not long after finishing our tartare, our Kobassa & Mushroom flatbread ($14) arrives. It’s well executed, with little bits of kobassa and sliced cremini mushrooms throughout the perfectly melted fior de latte. The kobassa really steals the show, though – it’s amazingly smoky, and leaves us asking where we can procure such a glorious meat product. It’s sourced from one of the owner’s favourite Croatian delis in Mississauga, we’re told – it’s good enough that we’d be tempted to make the trek there ourselves.

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Finally, our dinner comes to an end with a cheese board for dessert. The board doesn’t offer up anything we haven’t seen before; Oka, Manchego, and Parmigiano-Reggiano. While there are no super soft cheeses, which might be a problem for some, the selection makes it a nice after-dinner snack to work through. The cheese is paired with a delicious marmalade and a house-made truffle honey. We try every conceivable combination, but the consensus is that truffle honey can go on pretty much anything.

The service throughout the evening is exceptional; we felt welcome and well attended to throughout our stay. When I find myself working at an advertising agency instead of slaving away over my thesis and want to unwind in a comfortable place with a drink and some bites, I’ll consider heading over to Parlour rather than heading home with my usual ‘sharing’ snack – a bag of cool ranch Doritos.

Winter is coming to Spin Toronto

Originally posted to Ama’s twice-weekly column on Toronto is Awesome.

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When one thinks gourmet, high-end food – one does not think: ping pong club. But Executive Chef Jon Lovett has taken to changing the minds of King West ad execs and ping pong lovers with his beautifully crafted and inventive table treats specifically with his new Fall/Winter offerings.

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With an in-house meat and breads program, one of the dishes that Jon prides himself on is the Charcuterie Plate ($12). All the meats are cured in-house for perfect smoke and great flavouring. Included was a delicious terrine, which made this just a bit fancier than your normal board and some classic crisps with preserves.

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Next up, we were treated to an array of beautiful and fresh Oysters (3 for $8, sourced from Rodney’s Oyster House) and served with a molecular gastronomy technique of hot sauce caviar pearls. This served as an extra little kick but also made for a stunningly gorgeous dish. I mean, how can you go wrong with freshly shucked oysters?

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Now this could only be a treat your grandmother would love but something that the adventurous and willing will try: beet-root flavoured deviled eggs (6 for $9) and let me tell you: they were probably one of my favourite items. But if that wasn’t up your alley (are you crazy) then these lightly battered in-house preserved pickles, deep-fried (of course) would be more your speed. $8/serving and with a wicked Ranch sauce, it was served up like one of the Blooming Onions you would have at the CNE in the Summer.

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Next up we had an impressive take on an old classic: the Chicken and Waffles Platter ($19), only this time we are delighted with a Stuffing Waffle and King Capon drumstick and yams. The chicken was incredible juicy and married well with all these holiday classic flavours, however I still think I prefer the OG Chicken and Waffles Platter. I’m a die-hard Spin Chicken and Waffles girl, what can I say? Chef Jon has always strived to make fun and unique food and this takes the cake.

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I have to say the next two dishes were two of my other favourites from the night: King Capon drumsticks (3 pieces for $12) and the Pretzels Bites with Cheese Sauce (9 pieces for $9). This chicken was off the chain. The sauce was rich and finger lickin’ good. Lots of Asian flavours and honestly, 3 pieces would not be enough for me. I’d want a bucket full! With the pretzel bites, it was squishy and the epic cheese sauce sold the dish. Just enough tang and the pretzel was not overly salty which was perfect.

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SPiN is a great place to let your hair down after a long day at work and take in some good eats, delicious cocktails (might I suggest the BFF or the Gin Blossom, $12.40 for 2oz. of alcohol love) and night to laugh at your pong mishaps.

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Photos: Yuli Scheidt