In Love With the Three “S’s”: Sandwiches, Sweets & Scones – Afternoon Tea at Annona at the Park Hyatt in Yorkville!

Leave a comment

DSCN9502

This past week has been bitterly cold (by Toronto’s standards; folks from Edmonton or Winnipeg are free to chuckle and/or roll their eyes) so it’s no surprise that I’ve been guzzling cup after cup of hot tea to warm me up from the inside out: milk oolong, apple custard herbal, green dragon pearls, and birthday cake rooibos just to name a handful.  All warm and cozy, all yummy.  I’m making a nice dent in my tea collection which makes me super happy because the more my family and I drink, the more room there is for new ones!  So amidst all the jolly tea chugging, I thought to myself, “hmm, I’m really behind on afternoon tea blogging, I should get on that.  Like, now.”  I have folders upon folders of photos I have yet to post just waiting to be shared with you guys so I hope y’all are in the mood for some afternoon tea posts because there’s going to be a generous amount of them in the coming weeks and months!

I’ve done afternoon tea about 15 times now and it’s become one of my favourite things in life, not just because I’ve enjoyed many of them with my best friend but because they’re such luxuries.  Some folks go on trips.  Others buy shoes.  Or nice electronics.  I do afternoon tea.  It’s a treat, one that delights me and inspires me, so much so that I’ve devoted an entire bulging scrapbook to it with a sequel waiting in the wings.  The tranquility that comes from pouring hot tea from a beautiful teapot into an equally charming and dainty teacup; the anticipation of the tiered stand being placed on the center of the table, brimming with finger sandwiches, scones, and sweets; and the utter joy that comes from appreciating pretty things, yummy things, and the awesome company and friendship that’s right in front of you.

DSCN9478

DSCN9460

DSCN9474

While I’ve enjoyed each and every single afternoon tea experience for different reasons, my favourite place, hands down, is Annona inside the swanky Park Hyatt hotel in Yorkville on Avenue Rd.  I’ve been to Annona twice and both times were absolutely fantastic.  Not only is the food delicious and the space relaxing, the service is beyond gracious.  One of the things I love about having afternoon tea here is the sense of balance.  Their dining room feels luxurious without being too formal or stiff, their dainty china is colourful and whimsical, and their menu, which changes every so often, is chock full of variety.  You can tell how much effort they put into their menu because it’s unlike anything you’d see or get at any other place.  You can tell that they’ve made a conscious effort to give you a different type of experience and taste sensation with each finger sandwich and dessert: there are pinwheels, savoury tarts, sweet tarts, savoury cones, white bread, wheat bread, pumpernickel, cakelets, cupcakes, macarons, different cheeses, meats, vegetables, fruits, the list goes on.

DSCN9461

Their afternoon tea, available on Saturdays and Sundays from 3pm-5pm for $36 per person, is comprised of a gorgeous assortment of five different finger sandwiches, three small scones, and SIX different sweets and desserts in addition to the loose leaf tea from their tea menu and clotted cream, jams, jellies and preserves for the scones.  There are 12 loose leaf teas to choose from including several different greens, blacks, and herbals, my favourite being the Eros, a yummy orange and vanilla dessert tea.

DSCN9487

DSCN9483

DSCN9486

They bring you your plate of finger sandwiches first, followed by a silver tiered stand containing the scones and sweets.  While their menu does change periodically (which you can view on their website here), here’s an idea of the type of savouries you can expect based on the delicious assortment I enjoyed the two times I went: crispy cone filled with a creamy Boursin cheese mixed with cranberries and crushed walnuts; smoked salmon and chives with cream cheese on pumpernickel bread; chicken and asparagus salad pinwheel; watercress and cheddar cheese whole wheat pinwheel; shredded cucumber and carrot with hummus on white bread.

And if five different scrumptious finger sandwiches weren’t enough to tickle your variety-loving self, the desserts surely will!  There is seriously no shortage of awesomeness when it comes to all the different types of sweets you get with your afternoon tea.  There’s a mix of fruit desserts, chocolate ones, and ones with nuts (just a note to those with allergies – which I’ll actually get to later on in the post) including a lemon white chocolate vanilla cupcake, mixed berry tartlet, plum tart, raspberry macaron, peppermint white chocolate layer cake, and a decadent pistachio double chocolate eclair with chocolate custard filling, chocolate drizzle, and plenty of crushed pistachios on top.  I just love how Annona mixes things up, plays with different flavour combinations and textures, keeping things fresh and exciting.  Their afternoon tea is, in my opinion, so modern, contemporary, and fun.

DSCN9507

DSCN9510

DSCN9515

It’s crazy to think that there’s even more to love about Annona, but there definitely is.  I mentioned how gracious their service is earlier in the post and I meant it whole-heartedly.  It’s not just in the way their staff services you in person but also in the care and attention they give you when you make your reservation.  Annona is the first place I’ve ever placed a reservation for online and I absolutely love it because I’ve written notes for them regarding requests I’ve had for seating (given how I’m a blogger and obviously take photos, I always request a table beside a window so that I’ll have good lighting) and regarding my best friend’s allergies, asking them if there is any way to substitute those with other menu items and they have taken every single word to heart and have granted me everything I’ve requested with no question or hesitation on their part and with no reminders for them on my part.

I can’t even begin to express how much those gestures mean to me because it shows me that they truly care about making the experience a good fabulous and memorable one.  Not only did they grant my request for a window table each time, they actually went out of their way to make different pastries for my best friend.  We were floored.  So much time, attention and care was taken and we were never made to feel guilty or like a burden for making these requests which I really appreciate.

DSCN9495

If you love afternoon tea as much as I do, enjoying it at Annona will be a happy foodie experience you won’t soon forget!

*****

Annona is located inside the Park Hyatt Hotel in Yorkville at 4 Avenue Road, just north of Bloor St. West.  Their afternoon tea is available on Saturdays and Sundays from 3pm-5pm; reservations are not specified as absolutely required on their website but I would highly recommend making them just in case.  You can call them at 416-324-1567 and also visit their website: http://hyatt.com/gallery/torphannon/tea.html.

 

Creamy Chicken Soup & Saucy Curry Rice & Smoked Haddock Kedgeree with Poached Egg – Warm & Delicious British Flavours at The Oxley!

1 Comment

DSCN0348

Okay, who else has been glued to the television (or their laptop or tablet or phone) watching the Olympics this week?!  My brother and I love watching sports.  Always have, always will.  It’s a very special thing that bonds us together as siblings so when the Olympics roll around every 2 years (summer and winter, don’t forget!) it’s like a sports and television party in our living room.  We’re fascinated by the events, we’re captivated by the speed, the crazy flips and spins, and down-to-the-tenth-of-a-second finishes, and we love the feeling of celebration and pride for our team and athletes.  We stay up late watching recaps from the day and we catch whatever coverage we can early in the morning before leaving the house.  It’s so much fun and I love it.

Watching the Olympics take place in Sochi totally inspired me to do a little research on Russian food and Russian food in Toronto and while I’ve found some very cool options to check out, I really don’t think I’ll be able to go to them and then post before the Olympics are over, but at the very least it’s given me some creative juice to work with.  So even though I don’t have any Russian cuisine to share with you guys, I do have overseas eats for you all today: British food from The Oxley!

oxleycollageoxleycollage1DSCN0361

Aside from the photo spotlight post I did on my British cookbook, this is the first post on Ate by Ate about British food and I’m so excited!  Going to London is on my bucket list of places to visit at some point in my life.  I salivate at the thought of visiting Twinings, Harrods and Hummingbird Bakery so until I can fly across the Atlantic and park myself down at one of the many afternoon tea spots, bakeries and pubs there, indulging in some British fare here in the city will have to soothe those daydreams for the time being.

The Oxley, located on Yorkville Ave. in Yorkville in a drop-dead gorgeous two-storey cherry red brick house, is the sister restaurant to The Queen and Beaver in downtown Toronto, a popular English pub and watering hole that serves both British and Scottish food.  The Oxley is all sorts of fabulous.  During the summer, it’s like being around an English courtyard and in the winter, it warms you up and makes you feel so cozy with its part English pub, part bar, part home living room vibe.  You should see the place inside.  I had the luxury of sitting and eating upstairs (a food blogger needs her natural light by the window!) and it’s unlike any other dining area I’ve ever been in.  With its long bar with leather bar stools, mahogany tables, hard-wood flooring, black armchairs, deep purple cushioned seating, floral wallpaper, paisley patterned rugs and Union Jack by the bar window, the upstairs dining room is like a scene out of Sherlock Holmes novel.  And I got to have a corner seat by the window all my by myself.  I LOVED IT.

This is prime real estate, folks.

DSCN0314

DSCN0337

DSCN0340

DSCN0345

Their menu is so full of warmth and British character and flavour.  I will preface this next part though by saying that if you’re looking for an inexpensive meal, look elsewhere.  I think The Oxley is an amazing place to have a special lunch or dinner but if you’re just looking for something simple and casual money-wise, you’re not going to find it here simply because many of their mains come in between $16 -$24 (with appetizers $8 – $14, sides a la carte for $6, bar menu bites $8 – $12, and bar menu mains $18 – $26).  Which is fine with me!  I’m not made out of money but I’m constantly considering and evaluating what means the most to me and what would give me the most happiness so I don’t mind putting down the dough to enjoy a meal here because it’s worth it to me every once in awhile.  But I know others may feel differently so I want to be completely honest with you guys so you don’t get the impression that this is something you can do every day!

The menu is chock full of British classics including rabbit and potato pie, fish and chips, Stilton and mushrooms on toasts, Huntsman’s pie, venison and mushroom suet pudding, and fish pie and peas.  I went all out on the winter comfort food with my choices: Cream of Chicken with Tarragon Soup ($8) and Smoked Haddock Kedgeree with Poached Hen Egg ($16).

DSCN0350

DSCN0349

DSCN0354

Let’s start by talking about the dishes.  Yes, the things we put our food on.  I wanted to squeal out loud.  They are SO pretty.  Tea dishes!  Beautiful china with flowers and patterns and scalloped edges.  My heart wanted to burst from happiness just by looking at them.  Meals come with bread and butter which I happily devoured as I had foodgasms over my cream of chicken with tarragon soup to start.  The soup is so delicious and creamy and not overly salty or seasoned or rich in the least.  It was perfect and so savoury with just the right amount of thickness to it.  With a bright green chive on top, it was both bright and comforting at the same time.  And honestly, along with the bread, it would make an incredible light meal all on its own, it’s THAT good.

And now for the smoked haddock kedgeree with poached hen egg.  In it’s stripped down essence, kedgeree is a rice dish with boiled fish and eggs rooted in Indian-British colonial culture and history, with lots of room for many different interpretations and spins on it.  Could this be any more perfect for me?!  This dish has Deb written all over it because it incorporates all my favourite foods, textures and flavours.

DSCN0357

DSCN0359

The Oxley put their signature on it with their mouthwatering, scrumptious version: hot rice bathed in curry sauce and spices, chunks of flaked haddock fish, toasted sliced almonds, bright green peas, and a beautiful and pristine poached egg on top.  There is so much to adore.  The rice is saucy, the almonds give the dish crunch, the smoked haddock fish provided savoury meatiness, the peas give it colour and homeyness (and I just love peas!) and the delicate poached egg just takes the whole thing to another level once you poke it, allowing the sunny yellow yolk to make the rice even more creamy and saucy – if that’s even possible!  It’s gorgeous to look at and even more satisfying to eat.

I’m so happy I finally got to visit The Oxley (I’ve been wanting to go since last summer!).  The staff was so nice to me, allowing me to sit by the window like I wanted and being so attentive and gracious and I felt like I was in another peaceful world sitting in their upstairs dining room looking out at the grey sky and Yorkville streets below.  The food was wonderfully delicious and the experience felt…special, like something you couldn’t have anywhere else.  And that was the real beauty of it.

DSCN9529

*****

The Oxley is located at 121 Yorkville Ave. at the corner of Hazelton Ave. in Yorkville, between Bay Street and Avenue Rd.  They are open 7 days a week serving lunch, dinner and weekend brunch: Monday to Friday 11:30am to 3pm for lunch, 3pm to 5pm Bar Menu, Monday to Saturday 3pm to 11pm for dinner, Sunday 5pm-10pm for dinner, and Saturday & Sunday 10:30am to 3pm for weekend brunch.  You can visit their official website at http://theoxley.com/

A Veggie Gem in the Foodie Treasure Chest – Quinoa, Kale & Vegetarian, Vegan Delights at Lola’s Kitchen on Church Street!

Leave a comment

DSCN9551

As someone who isn’t vegetarian or vegan, I sure do love my veggie meals and veggie food spots!  I adore my beloved Mela Cafe, Fresh, King’s Cafe, Earth & City and Sadie’s Diner and could feasibly eat my way through these places and others on my list) for an entire year and be just peachy (okay, not eating sushi would be crazy talk in my world but let’s just hypothetically envision it for this post).  But just when I thought I was content and satisfied with the yummy vegetarian and vegan options in the city, I am knocked off my feet by an amazing, wonderful, DELICIOUS accidental discovery!

After all this time, I had no idea Lola’s Kitchen existed.  LOLA’S KITCHEN.  By Bloor and Church St.  Smack dab in the centre of the downtown hub.  And right under my nose this whole time!  I don’t know whether to be disappointed in myself for having this allude me for so long or to be joyful that this dining destination is now lovingly in my life.  I think I’ll go for the latter, it’s happier.

DSCN9566 - Copy

And it truly was an accidental discovery.  Long story short, I was googling red velvet whoopie pies in TO and found Lola’s Kitchen on the 2nd page of search results through a random yelp review with a red velvet whoopie photo!  Lola’s changes up their desserts on a regular basis though so the whoopie pies aren’t a regular fixture, but I don’t even care because that search led me to them!  And if you’re wondering why I was searching for red velvet whoopie pies…well, I can’t tell you.  It’s a secret, sorry guys!Anyway,  now that you’ve heard my preliminary gushing, write it down on a sticky note in red marker with exclamation points and circle it!  Oh and post it on your mirror.  Because you’ll want a reminder every day, trust me on this one.

lolaskitchen.collage

Lola’s Kitchen, located at 634 Church Street, just south of Bloor, is a fantastic eatery with more vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options than I can count on my fingers and toes!  Housed in a pretty Victorian-style house with a front patio to boot, Lola’s Kitchen dishes out lunch, dinner and weekend brunch to the masses (I know, I might as well float up to heaven right now) with plenty of salads, grain bowls, tacos, burgers, sandwiches and sides to choose from with prices ranging from $11-$14 for most mains, $3 to $7 for small plates, salads and sides.

It is such an interesting space to me, not just because of all the mouthwatering food they offer on their menu but because they are just so damn good at catering to all different types of appetites and people.  I love how they’re not one-dimensional.  Their menu offers a scrumptious array of bistro-style vegetarian and vegan dishes (with some meat dishes available as well!) that are simultaneously trendy and chic yet casual and comforting, surrounded by a halo of health and wellness.  It’s Fresh meets food truck meets bistro meets pub meets fine dining.  We’re talking quinoa and brown rice bowls with fresh vegetables on the one hand and vegan tacos, pulled pork, corn fritters and kale caesar salad on the other.

lolaskitchen.collage2

lolaskitchen.collage3

Not only is there is there a juxtaposition in foods, there’s also a noticeable difference between clientele!  While I was here stuffing my face I noticed suit-clad business folks at one table and a student couple right next to them at the table to their right.  And then there was me noshing by myself.  I gotta say, it’s not something you see very often.  Let’s face it, we know some spots are very niche.  But Lola’s Kitchen just attracts everyone and that’s the beauty of it.  It’s incredible how they have the atmosphere and food to make a business meeting, friendly get-together, university student hangout and romantic date work in the same space.

While I had a reeeally difficult time choosing between all the awesome food (what else is new?), I opted for their California bowl ($14) because I LOVE grain bowls and rice bowls and the sheer abundance of kale in it made me salivate before my dish even hit the table!  So many of their dishes have veggies like sprouts, kale, beets, cabbage, spinach, peppers, sundried tomatoes and avocado and grains like quinoa, couscous, and brown rice.  The California bowl was a glorious mountain of shredded purple kale, a bed of quinoa, sliced avocado, sundried tomatoes, sunflower sprouts, sliced almonds and sunflower seeds and 3 wedges of grilled tofu, all drizzled with a yummy cider vinaigrette.  This is a pure bottomless pit of deliciousness!

DSCN9554

DSCN9552

DSCN9563

There was so much texture and colour and flavour and the vinaigrette, if you can believe it, made this dish!  It’s crazy how something so simple can make or break a dish.  I know I love quinoa and kale and avocado and everything else on this plate, so how does one elevate foods that are already so great on their own when they’re put together?  There’s the texture and crunch from nuts and sprouts, and then there’s the vinaigrette that gives the dish so much of its flavour and keeps everything moist.  And it was incredible just how much of it there was on the plate.  You don’t realize it until you start digging in but holy mother of pearl it’s the gift that keeps on giving and it’s exactly the type of meal that will fill you up and make you feel so good afterward.

If I could, I’d come here every single week.  There are that many wonderful options to choose from.  I want to attack their weekend brunch, I want to try their kale caesar salad (polenta croutons oh my god!), their vegan tacos, their black bean, mushroom and walnut burger, portobello and brie sandwich and SO MUCH MORE.  I’m so super excited to finally share this with you guys because I’ve been holding onto this for a month!  I love sharing different dishes from my fave places, but I know there’s nothing like brand new content and material to keep things fresh and exciting so I hope you’ll all try them out and enjoy the food as much as I did!

*****

Lola’s Kitchen is located at 634 Church Street, just south of Bloor St. East.  They are open from Monday to Friday for lunch and dinner from 11am-10pm and Saturday and Sunday for weekend brunch and dinner from 10am-10pm.  Visit their website HERE.

Vegan Food Fairy Tales – Winter Kale Salad & Mushroom Barley Risotto with Sage at Prime at the Windsor Arms Hotel, Part II

3 Comments

Food fairy tales are hard to come by.  You know, instances when you have the perfect food served in the perfect place in a gorgeous setting with a wonderful atmosphere with fabulous service and music to boot.  It’s hard to have everything rolled into one!  But food fairy tales do come true and when they happen, you cherish them and hold them dear to your heart.  Even though my list isn’t very long (I love many places and things I’ve eaten, yes, but we know only the knock-my-fuzzy-socks-off spectacular get to be on a list like this), there’s always room for more.  The latest addition to the storybook?  Vegan lunch at the Windsor Arms Hotel!

Luring me in with their delightful afternoon tea service just wasn’t enough, they had to bait and hook me with an ENTIRE VEGAN BRUNCH, LUNCH AND DINNER MENU too!  When I first found out about the magical weekend vegan brunch menu a number of months ago through the online food community grapevine, I thought it was too good to be true.  Especially at a fine dining establishment like Prime restaurant which brings about visions of steak and wine and other dishes that are as far from vegan as you could imagine.  But it wasn’t a myth and if that wasn’t enough, there was an accompanying vegan lunch and dinner menu on the Windsor Arms Hotel website in all its shiny glory, just waiting for me to pounce on it.  And so I did.

Admittedly, I was hoping to do chocolate afternoon tea at the King Edward during the Toronto Chocolate Festival but got on it a little too late and couldn’t get a seating.  So I thought to myself, “well, I still want to be in an afternoon tea type setting…oh my goodness, I can do vegan lunch at the Windsor Arms!!”  Hurray for lightbulb moments and thinking on my feet!

Dining at the Windsor Arms in Yorkville is one of my favourite luxuries.  It makes me feel like a princess every single time.  It’s so beautiful and majestic and regal and I feel like I’m being transported to a far away land where everything is sugar and spice and everything nice.  Sitting in a plush, cushion booth in Prime was so relaxing I felt like I was in a spa.  Soft music floated through the dining room, soft sunlight filtered through the curtained windows, and I was about to have a fab fall comfort vegan meal with a pot of hot mint tea and my sweetheart sitting across from me.  It was perfect.

Prime’s vegan lunch and dinner menu features a bounty of seasonal ingredients and what’s great about it is that it’s so easy to mix and match your dishes because the menu is divided into 4 sections – appetizers, entrees, sides, and desserts – and each category has its own flat price.  Appetizers are $12, entrees are $18, sides are $7, and desserts are $14.  You could easily choose two appetizers as a meal, an appetizer and a side, an entree and a side, just an entree, and all of the above with dessert – if you can eat all of it!

Dishes include cornmeal crusted tempeh steaks with spiced sweet potato coconut mash; zucchini and carrot spaghetti with almond parmesan cheese, vegetables, and ground “walnut” meat; marinated winter kale salad with sundried tomatoes, avocado, walnuts, hemp seeds and more; nori rolls stuffed with a creamy ginger dill sunflower seed pate; teriyaki tempeh and vegetable stir-fry with steamed quinoa; raspberry cashew cheesecake; almond butter chocolate truffles, and SO much more.  I’m telling you, their vegan menu is a divine specimen sent from heaven.  There’s just nothing else like it in the city and I love that.

Meals come with a basket of fresh, soft-as-pillows bread with butter (and the bread is garlic crusted!) and while I don’t know too much about the selection of beverages, I went with my Windsor Arms tried-and-true loose leaf tea in a pot, this time going for refreshing mint!  I wanted to try more than one dish so I went with the two appetizer route: marinated winter kale salad tossed with hemp seeds, walnuts, raisins, sundried tomatoes and avocado in a creamy lemon dill tahini sauce with shaved apple, and the wild mushroom and pearl barley risotto with crispy sage and truffle oil.  The menu just radiated with warmth and comfort and I chose these two because 1) I love kale, 2) I love risotto, and 3) I wanted something light and then something hearty.  Done and done.

First, the winter kale salad.  It is so light and refreshing.  The kale was shredded into long, crinkled leaves and the dressing was absolutely delicious.  It wasn’t heavy but it was noticeable enough to give the kale that bright punch of creaminess and flavour that complemented the creaminess of the avocado.  The avocado was diced into the most adorable tiny cubes, the big chunks of walnuts worked perfectly with the salad to give it crunch (and I LOVE crunch in my salads), and the sundried tomatoes gave the dish additional body to make it fuller and more meal-like.  While I would’ve gone lighter on the sundried tomato front (they’re great but the cured flavour can get overwhelming!), it was lovely dish with so many textures and dimensions of flavour.  And the apple?  I pawned that off to my sweetheart.

Now, the wild mushroom and pearl barley risotto.  OH.MY.GOD.  I have to say, I love my kale to pieces but oh my word did this dish ever knock it out of the park!  First off, the smell of the dish made my mouth water even before I dug my fork in (yes, I eat rice-like dishes with a fork.  Because I like to and because I can).  It smells SO AMAZINGLY GOOD.  Like a mix of warm cream with bit of parm and cheese and nuttiness.  If you love creamy, this is your dish.  Everything just melts in your mouth and it was so delicious having a risotto that utilized something other than the traditional arborio rice just because it’s always nice to have something different.  I’ve never had a barley risotto before and it was such a different texture but a good one because it made the dish feel even more hearty and comforting.

The mushrooms were creamy and so soft, the truffle oil provided that extra hit of richness, and crispy sage?  THIS made the dish!  Herbs as just a garnish?  Please.  I ate the crispy sage right off the top, eating a few leaves on their own and mixing the rest into my risotto.  It was so delicious and unlike anything I’ve ever had.  The crispiness cut through the richness of the dish and it had a forest type of flavour to it with a tiny hint of mint.  It’s hard to explain but trust me when I say that it’s fabulous, especially in this dish.  I didn’t have any room for dessert after, but I had no doubt in my mind that I would be back for many rounds to come.  Food fairy tales do exist and the wonderful thing is that there are no limits on how many times you can go back to the storybook and retell the stories, experiencing in a different way each time.

*****

The Windsor Arms Hotel is located at 18 Saint Thomas Street, just south of Bloor St. W, between Bay St. and Avenue Rd.   In addition to their afternoon tea service, Windsor Arms Hotel is also known for their fine dining and most recently, their newly added vegan menus at Prime restaurant!

Tea, Sunshine & A Beautiful, Fairy Tale Vegan Lunch at Prime at Windsor Arms Hotel, Part I!

Leave a comment

*****

The Windsor Arms Hotel is located at 18 Saint Thomas Street, just south of Bloor St. W, between Bay St. and Avenue Rd.   In addition to their afternoon tea service, Windsor Arms Hotel is also known for their fine dining and most recently, their newly added vegan menus at Prime restaurant!

Scones & Strawberry Marshmallow Macarons – Afternoon Tea Treats on a Fall Morning at Yorkville Espresso Bar

4 Comments

Ste. Anne’s coconut black tea at Yorkville Espresso Bar!

An espresso bar and cafe with amazing tea, delicious scones, and adorable macarons among other afternoon tea-style sweets and treats?  In the picturesque neighbourhood of Yorkville?  That’s a cafe after my own heart!  Yorkville Espresso Bar, located at 3 Yorkville Ave. just west of Yonge Street near the Toronto reference library and just steps away from the Cookbook Store and my beloved Italian-vegetarian Mela Cafe, is a new cafe that just opened up last year and after my very first visit, I think it’s a wonderful and splenderific addition to the neighbourhood.  Brunch, vegetarian, Mexican, ice cream, macarons, Italian, Middle-Eastern, pub classics, and now a new espresso bar and cafe – aside from Kensington Market, Yorkville is truly my ideal place to eat to my heart’s content.

The pretty Yorkville park nearby

I know, there are plenty of cafes in the area including Lettieri and Zaza, not to mention around the city in general, so what makes this space so great?  The thing about cafes is that they have to offer something different, something a little more unique in order to stand out from the others.  Because let’s face it, it’s not like we have to go very far to fetch an Americano, a cappuccino, or an espresso and while yes, every cafe will have their own way of making these drinks, it’s the atmosphere and the food goodies that accompany these drinks that will make us foodies feel compelled to come back for more.  Some cafes offer the comfort factor with plushy seats to relax in while you read, sip, munch, or type away on a laptop (or a tablet, sigh), others are great as meeting spots for friends, and then the are the ones that are fabulous purely for the food and drink.  THIS would be Yorkville Espresso Bar’s forte.

It’s a small space so you wouldn’t necessarily see large groups inhabiting it, but it is cozy enough for you to sit down with a friend and a coffee, tea, and light meal or snack.  And let me just say, Yorkville Espresso Bar is awesomesauce in the food and goodies department.  There is something here for everyone: the sweet tooth, the vegetarian, the gluten-intolerant, and the just plain hungry!  Often times I’ll shy away from certain spots, not because I think their drinks are bad persay, but because I want something a little more special than baked goods wrapped in saran wrap in a basket or baked goods that look as though they just got a shot of steroids and a bath in grease.  That could be the food snob in me tsking but really, it’s unappealing and I know I can’t be the only one who feels this way!

Yorkville Espresso Bar is great though because their selection of food and sweets changes on a pretty consistent basis (from what I gather on their Facebook page where they announce menu items for the day), they’re always coming up with new and unique yummies to showcase, they offer a number of gluten-free menu items (see below in the next few paragraphs for examples!), and you know everything is fresh and hot off the press because the adjoining kitchen studio that handles the baking, cooking, and catering for the espresso bar doles them out throughout the day.  They were already baking their 2nd round of scones at 10am on a Sunday morning because they sold out of their 1st round.   Can you believe it?!

Oh!  And I can’t forget about their tea!  I honking LOVE the tea.  They get their teas from Ste. Anne’s (Ste. Anne’s Extraordinary Teas), which is actually a spa located in several spots in Ontario (Grafton and Port Hope) and the whole concept behind the tea is driven by the relaxing spa experience.  I had their black tea coconut tea with my cinnamon scone and strawberry marshmallow macaron (I KNOW – MARSHMALLOW!) and I loved it to itty bitty pieces.

Their food menu is insane.  Let’s start with the savoury, gluten-free muffins first.  These are items that have graced their display case of goodies over the last few months:

  • sweet potato chocolate chip muffins
  • sweet potato and cranberry muffins
  • carrot and beetroot muffins
  • blueberry flaxseed muffins
  • gluten-free, vegan chocolate zucchini muffins!

Other savoury bites include jalapeno cornbread, brioche with dates, Parmesan, and thyme, 8-year old cheddar and chive scones, and bacon and thyme scones.  Okay, now the sweet stuff including cupcakes, gluten-free sweet muffins, sweet scones, chocolate and confectionery, and more:

  • mini chocolate cupcakes with mango and Nutella frosting and dried mango
  • mini chocolate cupcakes with mango buttercream frosting
  • mini chocolate cupcakes with mocha buttercream frosting
  • mini chocolate berry cheesecake cupcakes

Continue Reading »

Potato Leek Soup with Grano Padano Cheese & a Smoked Salmon, Potato Rosti Brunch Dish at Caren’s Wine & Cheese Bar, Part II!

Leave a comment

All you need is cheese.

It’s more than just the name of a magazine to me – they’re words to live by!  I know cheese isn’t the healthiest of foods (yes, yes, sodium and fat content and all that jazz), but as a foodie and lifelong lover of cheese, I can’t imagine life without it.  I sample fresh Ontario cheeses from the farmers’ markets.  A burger just isn’t the same if a melty, gooey slice hasn’t been melted in it.  I’ve been known to eat cream cheese-and-nothing-else sandwiches.  And don’t even get me started on the extra shreds I sprinkle onto my tacos, enchiladas, burritos, omelettes, and pasta.  We don’t have enough space in this post for that novel!  So it makes complete and perfect sense why a wine and cheese bar would be my dining dream come true.  Sure, I may not drink wine but I make up for it in cheese consumption!  How Caren’s Wine & Cheese Bar on Cumberland Street in Yorkville alluded me for so long is beyond me.

Housed in a tall, beautiful Victorian style home bathed in shades of gray and charcoal with stone accents and warm pops of green and orange, Caren’s is quaint and sophisticated and yet completely accessible and I don’t just mean physically accessible by public transit!  I know many of the eateries and establishments in Yorkville (and the neighbourhood itself) may come across as upscale and out-of-reach to us average folk, but I’m telling you, appearances can be deceiving and I’ve certainly allowed my preconceived notions inform my decisions about places before I got the chance to know them in the past.  Behind the chic, polished exterior is warmth, comfort, and homeyness oozing with wonderful food and drink, a peaceful, inviting atmosphere, and one of the nicest places to dine in the city.  It’s romantic, it’s inviting, and it’s SO PERFECT for relaxing weekend brunch meals, intimate dinner evenings, and get-togethers and cocktail parties.

So, how did I find out about Caren’s?  While I would love to say that I “stumbled” on it during a beautiful walk through the neighbourhood, I can’t.  I owe this one to my sweet coworker, Pat.  While she and I were discussing yummies and fun things in Yorkville (I was raving about Mela and she was raving about stationery – great minds think alike!), she mentioned Caren’s and how she was cheese classmates with Tiffany MacIssac, Caren’s master of cheese.  Curious beyond belief, I looked up the Yorkville gem online and immediately fell in love.  Cheese!  Weekend brunch!  Yorkville!  That was certainly all the convincing I needed!  And what impeccable timing.  I wanted to take a stroll through Yorkville anyway so I made it my mission to go to Caren’s for weekend brunch this past weekend and the plan went out without a hitch (fter all my flub-ups, fall-throughs and disappointments as of late it was about time something went my way!).  Weekend brunch, 11:30 am sharp!

Caren’s menus focus on French cuisine with some Italian and European influences in conjunction with local, Canadian fare – after all, it is a wine and cheese bar!  Their extensive brunch menu incorporates a number of brunch classics (French toast, omelettes, pancakes, eggs benny and more) as well as plenty of savoury soups, salads, and sandwiches, and featured items that highlight their wonderful selection and offering of cheeses.  Brunch prices are $10 on the low-end and $20 on the highest end, with most menu items coming in between $12-$16.  Their menu offers 19 dishes with additional sides at extra charge including parsley home fries, apple wood smoked bacon, chorizo sausage, house cured gravlox, and more.

You can enjoy your meal in the comforts of their ground floor dining area and bar, their outdoor front patio, their intimate 2nd floor dining room, OR – wait for this – their ridiculously gorgeous back patio courtyard that might as well be a cabana oasis!  I was shocked out of my leggings when I stepped into their back courtyard to snap a few photos.  It is breathtaking.  Cushions, lanterns, soft glows, palms – THIS is where an amazing cocktail party takes place!  Caren’s will rent out their dining areas for private functions so this is definitely something to keep in mind for everyone!

I had myself my own little food party in the form of weekend brunch yesterday.  I’m not kidding.  I ordered a ridiculous amount of food and by the end, I was truly stuffed!  On Deb’s plate: Caren’s soup of the day ($12), creamy roasted potato and leek with tomatoes and Italian grano padano cheese (like I would have a meal here without any cheese – pish!) and their eggs pacific ($13), a dish of potato rosti, salmon, truffled eggs (insanely fluffy scrambled!), fruit and greens, and creme fraiche.  Their meal-size soup was monstrous!  I should have known better.  I was expecting a side bowl, maybe a medium-sized bowl.  Nope, meal-sized.  But I have no regrets.  Because it was mouthwateringly delicious.

Creamy, smooth, and velvety, I had freshly cracked black pepper sprinkled on, and the olive oil, tomatoes, and cheese made the soup so flavourful and savoury.  The texture was perfect and the tomatoes gave it that hint of freshness and juiciness.  It wasn’t heavy at all and the cheese?  I could eat it by the spoonful.  Similar to Parmigianno Reggiano, it was grated onto the soup and it gave the soup that extra hit of savouriness and meatiness to make it really feel like a meal-size soup.

And my eggs pacific.  OH.MY.GOD.  Smoked salmon lovers, you need this in your life.  I have NEVER had a meal that gave me so much thick, savoury, slices of smoked cured salmon in my life.  Half the time, meals will often fall short of the desirable amount.  But this?  Fit for two meals.  Slice after slice of amazing, scrumptious salmon filled my plate with a fluffy mountain of eggs, potato rosti rounds underneath, and a huuuuge dollop of red onion capered creme fraiche.  I’m telling you, the salmon and creme fraiche MAKES this dish.  If there was anything I’d change, I’d make the potato rosti a little thicker, but that’s about it.  It was truly delicious and the creme fraiche just brings everything together as you can use it for the potato rosti, the smoked salmon, and the eggs.  It breaks up the salty, cured flavour of the salmon and keeps it from becoming too overwhelming.  And the soup, a spontaneous choice in the beginning, proved to be a great complement to the meal!

Even though I never feel like I have enough time to enjoy everything I want to enjoy during my days out, I feel fulfilled that I got to try this wonderful dining spot out and you can bet that I’ll be back for more weekend brunch.

*****

Caren’s Wine & Cheese Bar is located at 158 Cumberland St. in Yorkville, just east of Avenue Rd.  They are open for lunch (11:30am-5pm from Monday to Friday), dinner (5pm-10pm Sunday to Tuesday and 5pm-11pm Wednesday to Saturday), and weekend brunch (11:30am-4pm Saturdays and Sundays).