#DineAustralia Has A Lot To Offer Travellers

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Apparently not everyone got the memo on Australia being a food and wine destination so there’s a few people in Toronto trying to spread the word. When asked what awaits you on the end of a 17 hour flight to Down Under most people could offer up images of vivd beaches and coral reefs, thriving urban centres and vast rural landscapes. But what should you eat and drink once you’re there?

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In lead up to Australia Day this year, Tourism Australia,  and chef John Placko put on a good spread at 2nd Floor Events making a persuasive case for the continent to be my — or anyone present’s — next destination.

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As we toured the space, taking in but a small offering of what Australia has to offer, a video played on a loop against a bare white wall. In between bites of kangaroo sliders, and sips of Barossa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, I sat and stared transfixed by images of a women draping white table clothes over tables in a open stretch of badland at the base of a red shale mountain. The sheer beauty of it had me totally taken in. In my mind my bags were already packed. I think this image will be engrained in my mind until I make it a reality for myself.

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At one point in the evening representative from Tourism Australia, and wineries from the continent’s different provinces and regions spoke with such pride and excitement about people from not just Canada, but all over, discovering what they’ve always known: the good stuff is here. We were treated to a video update from Oshawa Ontario’s own Greg Snell, winner of the Greatest Job in the World contest. Greg now oversees the lighthouse on Kangaroo Island and is a steward of the wildlife there.

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John Placko, a lad from the province of Sydney himself came up to talk with pride about what there is to find back in his home country. Placko’s touch was all over the dishes served up. Foams, reductions, and sous vide fish and meat were part of each set up.

It was a wonderful evening, and while I was so throughly impressed with the #DineAustralia experience, I cannot get the images of Australia’s beautiful landscapes out of mind. Maybe the first time I leave this continent will be for that great one at the bottom of the Pacific.

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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.

Greece makes its mark on the Beaches with Trinity Taverna

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

It is not often that food has brought me out to the East End, but on this cold blustery night – Yuli and I decided to make the trek to an oasis hidden within a beachfront restaurant property with promises of authentic Greek food stylings. That place was Trinity Taverna.

Owned and operated by Peter Morentzos of Morentzos Restaurant Group and Danny and George Foulidis, the team has spared no expense at making this expansive (600 seated) restaurant with stunning lakefront views pleasing to both the eyes and stomach.

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Upon entry, you’re greeted by bold Mediterranean colours and a gorgeous ceiling made-up from thousands of birch branches, creating a Greek villa feel. The bench seating comes equipped with glorious pillows and a beautiful view of the open-kitchen. Beside the kitchen, you’ll notice the fresh seafood counter, whom Peter Morentzos told us shipped in fresh almost daily. They also have a very expansive wine list, including many Greek wines. If you’re uncertain of which wines to pair or have never had a Greek wine, not to fear — their sommelier is very wise and knowledgeable in all things Greece and wine. For example, he treated us to a beautiful red (Boutari Naoussa Xinomavro), which just made the top 100 of the Wine Enthusiast list.

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Chef Pierre Restivo and his kitchen team turns each ingredient into journey through the roads of Greece. For our appetizers, we were delighted with the Trilogy of Spreads, which included six different tastes such as house-made tzatziki (using a goat-milk yogurt, bringing out a smoothy richness and tang), tarama (smoked salmon, caviar and garlic) and htipiti (feta and spicy red pepper). Each of the dips had their own richness and I was seriously considering asking the kitchen to send me with a vat home. Alas: I did not work up the courage to do so. If only snacking at home could be this — elegant.

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Next up, we were brought out a Lamb Tartare (lean lamb loin, fresh mint, shallots, thai chilli oil and quail’s egg). I have never been much of a tartare fan but thought, when in Rome. So I took a chance on this dish and have been dreaming of it ever since. The kick of the thai chilli oil mixed in with the beautiful fresh taste of tartare. Perfect, especially for a lamb tartare. Something so very rarely seen.

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To balance things out, we tried out their Iceberg and Romaine Slaw where razor-thin cucumbers and julienned iceberg are married together with a sweet, simple white-wine vinegar dressing. The results are light and refreshing.

We decided to take the seafood counter out for a spin, testing out the following hot offerings: Shrimp & Feta, Baked Scallops and their standout trophy dish, the Octopus. The tomato and feta sauce served up with the shrimp was hearty and brilliant. If I’m not mistaken, we scooped up every last bit of the sauce. Now let me tell you about those scallops in three words (and trust me you’ll thank me later): saffron béchamel sauce. If that doesn’t scream to you: get in my mouth, I don’t know what will. But that Octopus – it was glorious. Grilled and prepared with an aged balsamic, it was pretty much everything.

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We also munched on some of my favourite offal meat, sweetbreads. Pan-seared in a lamb stock, white wine reduction and truffle oil, the meat was juicy and tender and packed many of the flavours in. The house-made sausage was up next, delivered with hints of citrus and delicious flavour.

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But let me tell you this: the main dinner offerings is where they win everything. We were treated to a sampling of four dishes: Rabbit Stifatho, Veal Cheek Moussaka, Trinity Taverna GYRO and Pan-Seared Lamb Chops. From these four dishes, the two that stood out to me the most were Rabbit Stifatho and Veal Cheek Moussaka. First things first, the rabbit in a delicious stew of onions, tomato confit and cinnamon. The braise leaves the meat to be tender and the flavouring really comes out in this winter hearty Greek dish. With the Veal Cheek Moussaka, you’re taken into a cosmic heaven of foodie delight with layers of scalloped potatoes, braised and stewed veal cheeks, tomato-confit sauce and eggplant once again in a beautiful béchamel sauce. Decadence at its best.

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A note of advice: leave room for dessert because you will want it and well, by the end of this feast you will be sluggish with so much delicious food. Treat yourself to the wondrous Feta Cheesecake (topped with caramelized figs) or Baklava.

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This restaurant is a perfect escape from the everyday Winter blah’s and also to find your own road to Greece right here in Toronto.

All photos by Yuli Scheidt.

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!

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

The Whippoorwill Restaurant Launches New Menu and Teams up with Facebook Canada

Recently, Facebook Canada announced it would be working on a new initiative titled, “Grand For Good”. The project was the first agency education program of its kind for Facebook globally, which pairs Greater Toronto Area (GTA) small businesses with Canada’s top media agencies.

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One of the businesses that was able to take part in this program was The Whippoorwill Restaurant and Tavern (located at 1285 Bloor St W). The project came just in time for the launch of the Whip’s new Fall/Winter Food & Drink menu as well, which includes seasonal dishes and old time favourites like the burger.

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But Whippoorwill offers up more than just great food and drink. Every Tuesday and Thursday, the restaurant will be bringing in local musicians, like bluegrass, swing and blues acts (for no extra charge). Just a little added bonus for the residents of Bloordale and patrons of the Whipp!

I had the chance to speak with owner/operator Shawn Creamer and Executive Chef Tyler Cunningham about the menu, the restaurant and being a part of the “Grand for Good” campaign.

FGFS: Tell me about how Whippoorwill came to be a part of the Facebook Canada, Grand for Good campaign.

Shawn Creamer: We were lucky enough to know someone who works at Facebook Canada, and they sent us a message saying this would be a wonderful opportunity for our business.
We looked at all the ways this program was planning to help small businesses (like ours) and it seemed like a perfect fit for us.

FGFS: When you were building the bones of the restaurant The Whippoorwill, for the look and feel of the restaurant?

Shawn Creamer: The idea was to go with rustic, warm and comfortable. We wanted you to feel like you were dining out, but maybe you were dining out up at your cottage.

Tyler Cunningham: We wanted a space that one could sink into, a space that could make you forget what it is like outside. A space filled with familiar things used in unfamiliar ways, a space that is constantly evolving along with our guests and us. A space that the neighbourhood would feel comfortable calling their own.

FGFS: Whippoorwill is all about seasonable and fresh.  Tell me about the new menu that you’ve just launch that follows this adage.

Tyler Cunningham: I am very in touch with the seasons and the moods they evoke. I don’t want to serve guests a heavy meal. I would much rather advocate for vegetables. I like to design menus according to the moods of the season. For example, in summer time I use a lot of Asian, bright, crunchy, fresh and spicy flavours that make people feel light and uplifted. Now that fall is upon us I am letting big flavours come into play. I’m taking on more of a European style with this menu. You can expect more roasted, braised and earthy more satisfying flavours to be present. visit the Food Terminal twice a week, and meet with farmers there to see what their sense of change is and what is available. I can offer guests a true taste of each season highlighting the best ingredients.

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FGFS: Recently you have launched a very inspired cocktail list put together by the very talented Japhet Bower.  How did you all come to collaborate and what is your ideas behind this beautiful list of potions.

Tyler Cunningham: Japhet is a very inspired fellow; I have been working with him over the past few weeks on his new menu. He loves to play with pop culture and childhood memories to inspire him. I love his passion and it is inspiring for me to see his process. We are always brainstorming on ways to get the very most from the ingredients he uses and new and inspired innovative ways to prepare and present them. This is only the beginning of what is to come. He is very talented and we are blessed to have him.

Shawn Creamer: There was a lot of cocktail tasting before we settle on a list – those were delicious weeks!

FGFS: Besides having an in-house cocktail program, do you have any other programs in the restaurant that are in-house (breads, sauces, pickling, etc.)?

Tyler Cunningham: Aside from our rather extensive cocktail program, yes we do everything but make bread here (due to lack of space). We do our best to preserve as much of the past seasons by doing as much canning as our schedules will let us. We also do all our charcuterie in house including smoked bacon and sausage at brunch. All pastry work is done here and of course the brunch biscuits are a monster on their own. All sauces, all everything, all the time!

FGFS: What has the experience and reaction been from residents of Bloordale to your dishes?

Tyler Cunningham: For the most part, the neighbourhood has embraced the food at the Whipp. I encourage a great deal of feedback, as I do not wish to be living in vain. So guests are very quick to mention if they are ever not feeling a dish. We have been getting a lot of great feedback on our latest launch. Some of our regulars dine with us 4-5 times a week, so I think we are doing ok (I hope!).

Shawn Creamer: When we opened up The Whippoorwill, we wanted to be a neighborhood restaurant first and we took a lot of feedback from the residents as to what they would like to have on their plates and in their cups. Bloor and Lansdowne is becoming a destination location on its own – thanks to great neighbors like The Emerson, Through Being Cool, Brock Sandwich and Zebuu – and it feels like we are not only a neighborhood restaurant but are showcasing for the city.

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Don’t miss your chance on checking out the Whippoorwill Restaurant and Tavern’s new menu. In the meantime, check out their Facebook page daily for specials and updates on who is playing in-house.

All photos taken by Jessica Blaine Smith, reused by permission by The Whippoorwill Restaurant & Tavern

No Bull Burgers keeps it fresh, local and organic

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

Sometimes when you’re looking for food, you just want the classic burger & fries. Well guess what Toronto? No Bull Burgers has just what you’re looking for to satisfy that craving and they are doing so without any of the fillers or processed ingredients. Just plain, pure and simple hamburger goodness.

No Bull Burger has been serving customers in the Queen and Parliament area for some time now however co-owner (part of the father/son team) Tony Tsakanikas decided it was time to expand the business and venture into the Upper Beaches area. Just recently, No Bull Burgers opened at 1019 Kingston Road in a bigger, brighter and more family-oriented expansion.

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When I sat down with Tony, he told me: “I just recently punched a home in the area and fell in love with the neighbourhood. There was no doubt in my mind that this area would be the perfect spot for our second location.”

As soon as guests walk through the door, they are treated to a variety of fresh, local and organic burgers prepared and treated on the grill-top. All burgers in the menu come with your choice of toppings (the usual: ketchup, mustard, pickles, etc.) as well as the option for guacamole,caramelized onions, sauteed mushrooms, and roasted red pepper sauce (all free of charge).

But if that had not sold you on No Bull’s brand of burger offerings, then perhaps their signature burgers like the Redneck ($8.95/burger only), which has beer battered peameal bacon, two types of cheeses, homemade whiskey BBQ sauce and a fresh 4 oz. house-made patty, made fresh with local and organic beef. Topped with lettuce and tomato. When I chatted with Tony about the signature burgers he told me, “A lot of the Signature Burgers came from trial & error over time through development with the staff. Sometimes we’ll change some of the signature burgers up and we’ll have regular customers asking where that burger has gone.” In chatting with Tony, he told me that they are hoping to develop a monthly feature burger, like a Turkey Thanksgiving Burger perhaps. I tried out the Redneck Burger and it was delicious! All the toppings were fresh and the burger was juicy. The biggest highlight was the beer battered peameal. A great burger, in a great spot.

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But if burgers aren’t your thing perhaps, then No Bull has other offerings: poutine (ranging in price between $5-9, you can get everything from Cheeseburger to Pulled Pork) or milkshakes (served up with Kwartha Dairy’s famous ice-cream) or perhaps you’re feeling like sandwich today (brisket and pulled pork on the menu, daily).

All food is made ready to order and takes about 8-12 minutes from time of order. Tony tells me, “Since we’ve opened the new location, we’ve had a really great response. There was a demand for food is this area and now, we’re offering it.” He tells me that with this location since its bigger than the original Queen and Parliament location, people can sit down, relax and enjoy their burgers without hurry.”

Check out No Bull Burgers, one of Toronto’s best kept (burger) secrets.

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At Last, Toronto’s Food Truck Pilot Program is All Systems Go

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Food Trucks enter pilot program (photo provided by Yuli Scheidt)

One small step for Toronto, one giant step for Toronto food trucks. Yes, everything you’ve heard is true: as of August 1st, the city of Toronto is rolling out a pilot project to allow food trucks to serve in five parks around Toronto.

This has been a long-time coming. Thanks to many passionate city hall councillors including Josh Colle and Mary-Margaret McMahon, this pilot project will now be able to take flight.

Food trucks in Toronto, up to this point, have not been allowed to operate on public streets and have been restricted to serving on private property (such as the Sony Center or Roy Thomson Hall).

With this food truck pilot program in motion, trucks will now be able to set up and serve at five city parks: Woodbine Park, Sherbourne Commons, Roundhouse Park, Canoe Landing and Allan Gardens.

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Participating trucks in pilot program (photo provided by Yuli Scheidt)

In total, 24 food trucks have been asked to participate in the pilot program. All trucks in the pilot program must have city licences and a permit to operate on city parkland.

Some of the participants include:

Blue Donkey, Buster’s Sea Cove, Caplansky’s, Dobro Jesti, Fidel Gastros, Gourmet Bitches, Gourmet Gringos, Hogtown Smoke, Smoke’s Poutinerie, Stuft Gourmet Sausages, Sweet Snow Shave Ice, The Food Dudes, The Rome’n Chariot, and Urban Smoke.

Many people in the Toronto area have expressed their delight and excitement about the long awaited pilot project and having the city finally ‘loosen the chains’ on the Toronto food truck scene. However, only time will tell if the pilot will open the roads permanently to future mobile gastro-treasures on Toronto city streets.

Cool City Oyster Yard Nestles into 99 Sudbury

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Photos by Yuli Scheidt

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

Cool City Oyster Yard is now open off to the side of 99 Sudbury. It’s hidden away just far away from Queen West that you feel like you’ve reached a beachside paradise. The restaurant patio is made of reclaimed wood and overhead you are surrounded by big summery umbrellas. If you close your eyes hard enough, you may just think you have reached paradise. But then you’ll hear the chimes of streetcars soon enough to remind you you’re not too far from home.

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Cool City Oyster Yard is the brainchild of Marco Petrucci (El Mocambo) and Executive Chef Michael Pataran (one-time resort chef in the Caribbean). Together they joined forces to bring a space that provided beach-front chic while still providing great eats. This translates in all the little details being taken care of upfront: brown paper being laid down on the tables, bars made up of packing skids and uncovered patios.

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First up, we decided to try the namesake oysters out. Available in seven to nine varieties daily (we were able to try that day Washington’s Kumamoto and Nova Scotia’s Northern Nova at $3.10/each, P.E.I.’s plump Lucky Limes at $2.75 each, Nova Scotia’s Green Gables and New Zealand’s Coromandels at $3.50 each.), dozens are discounted and served on trays. You are served up house-made condiments with your oysters including a Jalapeño lime, Bahamian hot pepper sauce and my favourite, Japanese pickled shallot and cucumber vinaigrette.

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Of the oysters presented that day, our two favourites were the plump and juicy New Zealand Coromandels and the slightly tangy Lucky Limes from PEI. Shucker Misha was quick and efficient at his job, ensuring that no oyster meat was left on the shell thus not making it difficult to slurp back. He was also very entertaining to watch behind the bar, as he took a moment to show off his impressive shucking skills.

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To wash down our oysters, we ordered up some beautiful summer-time drinks: the Pimm’s Cup and the Bahama Mama cocktail, which consisted of pineapple, Malibu and orange (just to name a few). The cocktails on the menu are beautifully executed and well done. They are all excellently paired with the dishes and again pair well with the beachfront vibe. Cocktails are available by the pitcher ($45) along with draught beer. Plus, lots and lots of sake.

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But if oysters aren’t your thing, they offer so much more. Take for example the Hamachi ($21) dish that we ordered up. Served with wasabi peas, rice flake crust, pea puree, snap peas, radish and a pickled cucumber slaw – the dish was fresh, clean and embraced everything about summer. All the flavours sing together and the Hamachi really comes through as the true hero.

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Finally as a final treat to ourselves, we finished off with something that could only be described as simply irresistible: Popcorn Prawns ($16). These plump, battered shrimp from heaven are batter fried covered in a chive aioli and then smoked in lemon salt. As soon as the plate in set down on your table, this scent of deliciousness hits your table and the first bite your take cannot be described. This was probably the best dish I had of the evening.

The patio does tend to become packed quickly, as seating is only for 45-50 people and is weather dependent. But if you’re in the mood for some delicious cocktails and oysters, then head on over to Cool City Oyster Yard.