Melted Brie Panini and Lemon Basil Crème Brûlée – Dining at Cafe Nicole For Winterlicious, Part II!

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The great thing about loving your Winterlicious meal?  You know your money went towards some delicious food that was well worth the dining experience.  The bad thing?  Visions of the food won’t stop dancing around in your head and all you can think about is running out the door to have more!  Winterlicious lunch at Cafe Nicole was fabulous and I would do it all over again if given the chance.  More salmon salad, more crème brûlée, more crunchy panini bread and melted, ooey gooey brie cheese.  Yesterday was Part I with the citrus cured salmon salad and today is all about the panini main and crème brûlée dessert!

With every Winterlicious menu I hem and haw over, there’s always one course I have difficulty making a decision about.  Most of the time it’s the dessert course because I enjoy sweets so much, but this time I had a harder time choosing between the main courses.  That’s not to say I didn’t want all 3 dessert options though because I certainly did!  However, my decision to dine at Cafe Nicole was mostly guided by my excitedness over the lemon basil crème brûlée so it was just a matter of choosing between appetizers and mains.

The citrus cured salmon gravlax I wrote about yesterday was almost a no-brainer for me given how much I LOVE salmon and salmon in and/or salad, but the mains tripped me up a little.  I was honestly happy with all 3 choices.  Even though a huge part of me was going gaga for the truffled mac and cheese and the herb grilled chicken with almond and currant cous cous options, I ultimately decided on the smoked turkey and brie panini with strawberry, basil, and red pepper jam because I thought the inclusion of basil fit so well with the dessert I was choosing.

I know aesthetically speaking, the herb grilled chicken with cous cous probably would have given me the “prettiest” photos, but I have to tell you, the turkey and brie panini was one of the best panini sandwiches I have ever had.  EVER!  Sandwiches, in essence, are simple dishes in terms of preparation, but they can be incredibly delicious and complex given the ingredients and flavour combinations.

There are so many reasons why this panini sandwich was amazing.  First off, the bread was perfectly grilled.  There were beautiful grill marks on the sandwich and every single inch was a crunchy, crispy delight.  The filling didn’t weigh the sandwich down, it didn’t get soggy, and the flavours were wonderful.  Punches of the red pepper jam filled my mouth every few bites and provided the sandwich with subtle smoky flavour while the sweetness of the strawberry and the fresh bite from the basil leaves cut through the savouriness of the cheese.  

The greatest thing about the panini though was the melted brie cheese.  It was unbelievable.  It was melted all the way through and the savoury cheese literally dripped down the sides of my sandwich and some of it even stretched in that delicious, cheese-strings-on-my-pizza way that makes us all wiggle with glee.  My meal came with a side of French fries, but clearly, the panini sandwich was the star of the show!

Amazing grill marks!

To end off the mouthwatering lunch, I sat back and savoured every single spoonful of my lemon basil crème brûlée, spooning it out of its ramekin.  It was EVERYTHING I hoped it would be and more.  I don’t know about you, but I’m wary of flavoured crème brûlées.  I had this one mango crème brûlée in the past that was delicious, but unfortunately, not flavoured with enough mango.  To be completely honest, the mango flavour was entirely lost.  You don’t want the flavour to be subtle, you want the flavour to punch you in the tastebuds because otherwise, you might as well just eat a regular crème brûlée; why bother with the song and dance of a weak flavoured one?

This crème brûlée was so far from weak.  My entire mouth was enveloped with the sweet and citrusy brightness of the lemon and that subtle minty pepperyness of basil that was amplified by the actual basil leaf on top.  I couldn’t believe how ridiculously good this tasted.  I thought the crème brûlée from Southern Accent was to die for, but this one existed on a whole other level.  It was so smooth, so creamy, so airy and light, and so lemony.  It was like eating the smoothest lemon cream you could imagine with rich licks of buttery caramel.

It wasn’t a crème brûlée with a cracked glass shard-like surface on top though.  The caramelized layer of sugar sits on top and literally just melts right into the rest of the crème brûlée when you start to dig into it with your spoon, giving you flavourful notes of both lemon and caramel in many spoonfuls.  It was bright, sweet, and lemon sugary on the one hand, and rich, buttery, caramel, and vanilla on the other.  I ate my crème brûlée as slow as humanly possible just so I could make it last and it was such a sad moment when I got to the bottom of the ramekin and spooned the last little bit.  My only consolation is knowing that this little dessert convinced me to eat at Cafe Nicole for Winterlicious, and that I ended up with another fabulous Winterlicious experience in my tummy.


Cafe Nicole is situated inside The Novotel Hotel in downtown Toronto at 45 The Esplanade.  The dining establishment literally sits across the street from The Old Spaghetti Factory and it is steps away from The Sony Centre and the Yonge and Front Street E. intersection.

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