Something Special to Call Your Own – Countryside Strawberry Trifle in a Sweet Little Jar at Simple Bistro, Part II

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When I think of summer desserts, I think of fresh summer berries, juicy sorbets, and sweet, creamy custards and puddings in their frozen and non-frozen states.  I think of chasing down the ice cream truck and devouring soft serve ice cream cones like they’re about to go out of style.  And then there are the childhood memories of turning your tongue purple from licking popsicles and getting brain freeze from chugging freezies down at the speed of light.  As fabulous as those things are, summer just got a lot more interesting: savour the sweet taste of summer with dessert – in a jar! 

What used to be exclusively reserved for canning and preserving and holding spaghetti sauce and pickles in many of our kitchen pantries has now transformed into chic DIY food projects and a creative and adorable way of presenting desserts.  People are using little (and sometimes not so little) glass jars to create one-of-a-kind gifts and some very cute and portable sweet treats, and I think part of the appeal lies not only in the aesthetic but also in the singularity and portion control factor along with the “Ooo, this is special and was made just for me!” type of mentality.  The humble little glass and metal food storage container has taken the foodie world by storm: granola and yogurt parfaits in a jar, layered cookie and cake mix in a jar, cookbooks devoted to these decadent little morsels (the brand spankin’ new Desserts in Jars: 50 Sweet Treats that Shine by Shaina Olmanson!) and in the case of Mount Pleasant’s Simple Bistro, summer strawberry trifle in a jar!

Simple Bistro’s dessert menu is comprised of four different desserts ($9 a la carte or $4 when you order one along with you meal) including a vanilla blancmange (a dessert similar to that of a panna cotta) with blueberry compote and candied mint leaves, a lemon curd tart with Limoncello chantilly and candied lemon zest, a chocolate Black Forest cake with milk chocolate mousse, dark chocolate ganache, and kirsch soaked cherries, and my belove dessert, the strawberrry trifle!

Like any food decision I make, this choice entailed a ton of hemming and hawwing.  My thought process: “How could I give up an opportunity to have something lemon?  Vanilla and blueberry are a perfect combination!  I really don’t eat vanilla desserts often enough” and so on and so forth.  The strawberry trifle sounded so lovely though so I made up my mind and stuck with it.  I had no idea this dessert was going to be THIS fabulously adorable!  And of course, wonderfully delicious! 

When my little strawberry trifle in a jar arrived at my table, I gaped at it for the longest time trying to wrap my head around the fact that my dessert was brought me to in a sweet little country farmhouse jar filled and layered with little strawberries, light-as-air crème patissière (sweet pastry cream custard), little lady fingers, and Fragoli strawberry liqueur.  Even though I’m not 100% sure about this, my gut was telling me the strawberries were Ontario ones, just from the size and sweet taste of them.  I had Ontario strawberries at their peak last month and as soon as I bit into one, I knew right off the bat that’s what they were without even being told or without the strawberries even being labelled as such. 

The dessert was amazing.  I couldn’t believe how fluffy and airy it was and oh my goodness, the lady fingers were to die for!  These were not your run-of-the-mill bone-dry lady fingers that are way too cakey for their own good.  These were sweet little lady finger biscuits sprinkled with sugar (my guess would have to be demerara sugar) and they tasted SO unbelivably good with their bright and sweet syrupy, caramel taste.  The dessert in a jar just made it all the more summer-like, like it was made to be eaten out in the countryside on a porch on a summer day.  It was delightful and the perfect ending to my summer morning brunch meal.  

*****

Simple Bistro is located at 618 Mount Pleasant Rd between Eglinton Ave. East and Davisville Ave. in Mount Pleasant Village.  They serve weekend brunch on Saturday and Sunday from 11am-2:30pm.  Visit their website HERE to view their menus and for more info.

Vegetarian Brunch Crêpes, Mushrooms, & Goat Cheese – Lazy Summer Sunday Brunch Mornings at Simple Bistro, Part I

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You’re strolling down the street feeling the light morning breeze through your hair and the warm sun gently beaming down on you.  It’s peaceful, it’s relaxing, and you look forward to what the day will bring as you pass by sweet bakeries, cafes, and gift shops.  And then you reach your dining destination.  You’re here, you’re hungry, and you’re ready to sit back and enjoy a delicious meal.  Ah, there’s nothing like a lazy Sunday summer morning brunch on Mount Pleasant Rd. 

Sunday brunch (or weekend brunch in general for that matter) is, in my opinion, one of life’s most luxurious treats and one of my favourite things in life to enjoy in the company of friends, my sweetheart, and nice people.  Aside from afternoon tea, it’s my favourite type of meal and food occasion.  There’s a certain air of tranquility and freshness about weekend brunch that makes it so special.  Different menus, different atmosphere – it’s all in the little things.  It’s a time to slow things down, to savour all the sights, tastes, and aromas, and to soak in every precious moment.  Our lives are so full of hustle and bustle every day what with work, school, home, family, friends, children; weekend brunch affords us that little nugget of time to do something fun and out of the ordinary and everyday.  And Simple Bistro on Mount Pleasant Rd. is one of the many weekend brunch spots in the city that make the weekends feel extra special.

Simple Bistro is the quinessential sweet and simple French cafe.  It’s small, quaint, and intimate, with sweet vases of flowers on every table and a hefty wine list to boot.  In addition to weekend brunch, they serve lunch from Wednesday to Friday from 11:30am-2:30pm, and dinner daily from 5:30pm-10pm.  Brunch is the highlight for me though.  Because of the bistro’s fold out ceiling to floor front windows, weekend brunch is made all the more fabulous with fresh air, gentle breezes, and soft sunlight filtering in.  Simple Bistro and summer work beautifully together and I took it upon myself to experience this lovely treat on a gorgeous Sunday morning. 

Known for its fresh and simple French cuisine, Simple Bistro offers a weekend brunch menu on Saturdays and Sundays, serving a mix of both French classics and brunch staples with the majority of main dishes priced from $11-$16.  Here you’ll find the popular Croque Monsieur grilled sandwich served with bechamel on the side, the classic Vichyssoise creamy soup of leek and potato, heirloom tomato salad, duck confit hash, French toast with blueberry compote, and my pick for the morning, Crêpe aux Champignons! 

Simple’s mushroom “crepe of champions” (I know it doesn’t actually mean champions, but it looks like it and it might as well be because it’s so yummy) ($14) incorporates soft scrambled eggs, spinach, leek, sauteed mushrooms, and goat cheese, all encased in big egg sheet crepe folded over top.  A number of brunch items include frites on the side, but I lucked out and had spring mix green salad tossed with a light vinaigrette as a side to my mouthwatering vegetarian crepe.

Their Crêpe aux Champignons brunch dish is wonderful in so many ways.  Let it be known that this crepe was chosen waaaay advance of this first visit.  Being the excited day planner, meal planner, and foodie that I am, I had previously looked Simple Bistro up online and perused through their weekend brunch menu first.  Because their menu is sweet and simple (one page!), it was so much less difficult for me to narrow down my choices.  It was between the French toast with blueberry compote, the heirloom tomato salad, and the Crêpe aux Champignons and the crepe dish held on to win this round because my weakness for spinach, goat cheese, and mushrooms got the best of me. 

First off, the crepe is huuuge.  Folded over, it covers half an entire large dinner plate.  Second, it is stuffed.  The crepe was so fat and plump the warm spinach, melted goat cheese, leeks, soft, slightly runny scrambled eggs with herbs, and shittake mushrooms were brimming out of it when I cut the crepe open and lifted up part of the top half to snap a few photos.  This was no flimsy, flat crepe.  Now I know we’d all expect the best from a French bistro type of establishment but if something is poorly made or executed, it is what it is.        

And finally, the yumminess.  Oh my lordy.  I think I murmured, “this is so good!” about 10 times throughout the entire meal.  The spinach was perfectly cooked (not overdone and mushy), the scrambled eggs were done just the way I loved them (silky and slightly runny), and the mushrooms were divine.  They were so flavourful, juicy, and plump and the entire crepe just screamed with creaminess, savouriness, and warmth.  It was such a happy, spring-like meal.  The crepe itself was beautiful; a sunny yellow egg sheet that wasn’t the least bit dry and it reminded me of Japanese tamago a little bit, only obviously much thinner.  I loved it not only because it was scrumptious but also because it was easy on the palate and on the stomach.  You’d think a crepe of this size would leave me keeled over in a food coma but it was surprisingly airy and light and it left me feeling so good and satisfied afterward.     

No meal for me is quite complete without a little something sweet though, so the story isn’t over just yet!  Tomorrow I’ll be featuring a special summer dessert from Simple Bistro – in a jar!  My first brunch here was wonderful and judging by the people who also came by for some brunch love right when they opened their doors/windows at 11am, it’s a well-loved neighbourhood spot that is truly a gem in the Mount Pleasant area.

*****

Simple Bistro is located at 618 Mount Pleasant Rd between Eglinton Ave. East and Davisville Ave. in Mount Pleasant Village.  They serve lunch from Wednesday-Friday from 11:30am-2:30pm, dinner daily from 5:30pm-10pm, and weekend brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 11am-2:30pm.  Click HERE for more info and to view their menus.

The Sushi Lunch Special Series – Shrimp Tempura & Spicy BBQ Butter Fish Rolls at Sakae Sushi on Mount Pleasant!

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It must be the week of new foodie districts on the blog!  Earlier in the week we paid our very first visit to Fresh on Crawford, yesterday and the day before we explored a tiny part of Ossington Ave. and Ossington Village with an amazing Cuabn lunch at Delux, and today, we’re doing sushi for lunch on Mount Pleasant Road!  Aside from my cupcake post on Lollicakes last Hallowe’en, I haven’t featured any yummies from the neighbourhood since.  There are some fabulous cafes, sweet shops, gourmet food purveyors, and classic Italian restaurants in the area and while you wouldn’t automatically associate sushi with Mount Pleasant, I have found a great spot, one with a terrific sushi roll lunch special and a classic appetizer at a great price: Sakae Sushi!

Located at 643A on Mount Pleasant Rd., Sakae Sushi is an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant that serves both lunch and dinner with a separate, non AYCE menu.  I actually found out about Sakae Sushi just by walking by and grabbing a take-out menu from the front entrance during a nice walk several months ago.  I pored over the menu, realized they had a fab sushi roll lunch special 7 days a week, and had an epiphany about something very important and useful.  I realized that with all the sushi take-out menus I had I could actually start price comparing and cross-referencing items from different sushi spots in the city.       

We know many of them serve some of the same types of rolls and similar dishes, but how many of us truly know where the best bargain is between them all?  I don’t think any of do because it’s virtually impossible to know the price points at every single sushi spot in town.  But I know my method would at least narrow things down a little bit.  And that’s how I came to the conclusion that, in addition to a great sushi roll lunch special, Sakae Sushi has one of the most reasonably priced classic appetizers around.  It may not be the most inexpensive, but it’s definitely one of them.  Which appetizer am I referring to?  Why, the classic shrimp tempura of course!

Shrimp tempura, one of the simplest and most beloved sushi appetizers around, is oddly enough, not as readily available as one might think.  Now obviously we’re not taking into account AYCE menus, we’re talking straight lunch, dinner, and a la carte menus.  I LOVE shrimp tempura like nobody’s business, but so many places serve it along with tempura vegetables and not on their own and I always wished that I could order the shrimp by itself without the vegetable component just because I prefer my vegetables non-tempurafied.

Once I started cross-referencing items between menus, I discovered that there were a handful of places that served the appetizer on it own.  YES!  Now, all I had to do was figure out which one offered the best deal.  Guess who came out on top?  Sakae Sushi, with 5 giant, crunchy, delicious shrimp tempura for $6.50!  Other places priced theirs for $8, some places didn’t offer as many pieces for the same price point, and so on.  Their shrimp tempura is fantastic.  They’re big, they’re perfectly fried (not greasy), and the shrimp is so soft and delicious.  They come with a dish of ponzu sauce, but in all honesty, the sauce isn’t even necessary because they taste fab on their own.

Sakae Sushi also offers a number of lunch specials including grilled meat bento boxes and my favourite, sushi roll combos!  One of the reasons why I like their sushi roll lunch special is because I get to mix and match and choose which rolls I want.  For $7.50, the lunch special includes a miso soup, a salad, and your choice of two kinds of sushi rolls from a list of 13 with 6 of each kind.  Sure, there are places that offer sushi roll lunch specials for $6.50 or $6.99, but like I said, the roll sets aren’t predetermined and the sizes of the rolls here are big and very reasonable.  As well, their sushi roll selection is great in my opinion because they offer vegetarian options, you aren’t limited to california rolls in every single combo (my biggest pet peeve), and there are some rolls you can’t really get anywhere else.

I chose a tofu and avocado roll and – wait for this – a SPICY BBQ BUTTER FISH ROLL!  I was SO excited to see this when I looked through their take-out menu in the beginning just because butter fish rolls aren’t something you find at many places and certainly not spicy BBQ varieties!  I was really happy with the size of the rolls (one roll makes a veeery decent mouthful) and my rolls were delicious.  The avocado was creamy, the tofu was savoury with a bit of sweet mixed in and the texture was wonderful as it resembled bean curd sheets. 

The spicy BBQ butter fish rolls were A-MAZING!  The butter fish wasn’t in its raw sashimi form but instead, grilled and incredibly flaky and meaty and delicious.  Exactly like a grilled salmon fillet, but butter fish.  The rolls were stuffed with flaky grilled fish, tempura bits, and sweet and savoury BBQ sauce in between it all.  It had a little bit of kick, but for those of you who have a low tolerance for heat, no worries, it’s not light-my-mouth-and-butt on fire spicy.  Lots of flavour and texture without the fire!  This is a top notch roll and definitely one of the more unique ones in the city when it comes to lunch special offerings.

Ever since Haru Zushi by Yonge & Davisville left my heart broken when they packed up, I haven’t been able to find another sushi spot that let me mix and match rolls the way their menu allowed me to do – until now.  Sakae Sushi is a lovely spot in a lovely neighbourhood and I’m going to be really happy going back for more.  Especially for that awesome shrimp tempura. 

*****

Sakae Sushi is located at 643A Mount Pleasant Rd. at the corner of Hillsdale Ave. East on the east side of Mount Pleasant, south of Eglinton Ave. East.  They are open 7 days a week for both lunch and dinner and offer AYCE for both.  They are open from 11:30am-10pm from Monday to Friday and from 12 noon-10pm on weekends.  They provide take-out and delivery, and you can view their official website HERE.

Hallowe’en Headquarters – A Spooky & Sweet Cupcake Lover’s Paradise! Lollicakes on Mount Pleasant Road

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Happy Hallowe’en everyone!  I hope everyone’s had a freakishly fun weekend and Hallowe’en day so far!  My Hallowe’en was spent snapping a gazillion photos for the blog today and looking at some of the cutest Hallowe’en treats and paraphernalia!  I may hop around the city on a regular basis, but I don’t think I’ve jumped on and off the subway and streetcar as much as I did today.  I was all over town hitting up some of my favourite places to capture the once-a-year occasion in all its orange-and-black glory.  I promised you all treats for tonight, so I’m here to deliver a nice helping of Hallowe’en posts, just in case you didn’t already fill up on sweet treats!  Kind of like the giddy emptying of a trick-or-treat bag 😀  Let’s get started!

Up first: Hallowe’en at Lollicakes!  Lollicakes is a cupcake bakery and merchandise retail shop located in uptown Toronto on Mount Pleasant Rd. just north of Davisville Ave.  If you’re the type of person who squeals over cupcakeries and the design and retail concept of “the cupcakery”, you will go bananas over Lollicakes because this shop is EVERYTHING CUPCAKE and more!  Do you like to collect cupcake related things?  Is your house or apartment adorned with cute cupcake kitchen tools, accessories, candles, photos, and recipe books?  Does the thought of outfitting your kitchen or room in true cupcake fashion make your heart flutter?  If you said yes to even one of those, you need to come here.  It is a cupcake haven.  Or heaven.  Or both.

Not only does Lollicakes sell fresh baked cupcakes on a daily basis, but they also sell all of the following: cupcake recipe books, wrappers, toppers, stands, trinket boxes, backpacks, makeup bags, picture frames, aprons, oven mitts, wallets, luggage tags, notepads, clipboards, paper stationery, cards, and cupcake and cookie baking tools and equipment.  You can pick your jaw up from off the floor now – it’s a cupcake dream come true.

Hallowe’en is awesome here at Lollicakes.  They have so many cute Hallowe’en related baking accessories and of course, Hallowe’en themed cupcakes and trinkets.  They have pumpkin trinket boxes, Hallowe’en cookie cutters, treat bags, and lots of sweet eats.  By the cash and counter today they had buckets and baskets of frosted cookies decorated like ghosts and jack-o-lanterns, chocolate covered R.I.P. treats on a stick, and plenty of frosted regular and mini cupcakes with Hallowe’en chocolate toppers and sprinkles!  Regular cupcakes are priced at $3 and mini ones come in at $2.  Granted, prices are higher if they come with the giant chocolate toppers, but if we’re talking about base price, those are the prices we’re working with.  This puts Lollicakes in the mid-to-higher range among other cupcakeries in the city.  The low-end (price-wise, not quality!) is around $2.50 and the high-end is about $3.25-$3.50.

Lollicakes is also the type of cupcakery that focus more on the asthetics than on flavour menus.  Every cupcake lover has their preferences.  Some love having 20 different flavours of cake and frosting to choose from while others find that type of system way too fussy and prefer having simple vanilla and chocolate cupcakes that are prettily decorated.  For the record though, Lollicakes does vanilla and chocolate cake and frosting, period.  Their vanilla buttercream frosting comes in a rainbow of colours and their cupcakes are often decorated with different kinds of sprinkles and sometimes fancy chocolate toppers.  For Hallowe’en, they had vanilla and chocolate cupcakes with orange, purple, and bright monster lime green frosting with colour coordinate sprinkles, as well as a cute silver tray of cupcakes with the Hallowe’en chocolate toppers already on them.  Eyeballs, skulls, skeleton hands, spiders and cobwebs, witches’ fingers, the whole shebang!  

My parents (and probably some friends) would be over the moon about Lollicakes because their cupcake confections are not too sweet.  If you’re the type of person who enjoys the idea of cupcakes but shudders at the thought of sickly sweet frosting and/or cake, you would most definitely breathe a sigh of relief when eating these because the sweetness level is a little lower.  With Lollicakes’ cupcakes, think fluffy.  Don’t think dense.  The frosting is thick but with a fluffy texture to it.  The vanilla flavour is subtly sweet and you don’t get any of the “butter” taste which is a good thing in my opinion.  The cake is incredibly soft.  If you prefer a denser cake, these probably aren’t for you but if you “mmm” at the thought of pillow-soft, airy fluffiness, these fit the bill.  I think a lot of cupcake devotees will either love them or hate them.  If you enjoy sugary sweetness with thickness and density and heavy vanilla flavour, you won’t enjoy these.  However, if you’re like my parents and can’t stand that type of texture and strength in sweetness, these are more your speed.

One of the things I really adore about Lollicakes shop is how it isn’t age-specific.  Even though they have cute, kid-friendly items, it’s the type of shop that doesn’t alienate its older cilentele.  There’s something for every type of cupcake lover here: the collector, the interior decorator, the beginner, everyone.  You can find cupcake items in other stores, but to have an entire shop dedicated to cupcake things alone in this capacity with this type of selection is rare.  They have items here I’ve never seen at other places and I think it functions as a fabulous gift shop for birthdays and holidays.  Part of me whimpers every time I leave the shop though because everything is so darn cute and in my opinion, perfect for my own house.  One of these days I’m going to end up living in a house just like Hansel and Gretel and then I’ll really be in trouble.

 

*****

Lollicakes is located at 559 Mount Pleasant Rd. just north of Davisville Ave.