The Calm After The Storm – Finding Winter Comfort in Rigatoni & Smoked Pulled Chicken in Tomato Cream Sauce at La Vecchia

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The day I enjoyed this hot and delicious, soul-soothing dish of pasta at La Vecchia was a day of kerfluffles of epic proportions: it was the Monday after the ice storm.  24 hours after the city was cloaked in a sea of white and frozen water, knocked out of power left, right and centre and 2 days before Christmas.  And there I was taking 2 buses and the subway into town at the crack of dawn before daylight had even peeked out from the pitch-black sky.

I know.  I can hear the shrill “are you crazy?!” shrieks shouting at me in the distance.  But having a weekday off before Christmas was hard to come by and I just wanted to go out and do some blog work.  Beyond frustrated at the holidays being turned upside-down in more ways than one, I threw caution to the wind and headed out anyway.  I knew it was going to be messy.  But I did it anyway because I was fortunate enough to still have power in my home and able to exit my house and street for some fresh air so it just didn’t make any sense to waste a day if I wasn’t physically homebound, especially since there were specific things I wanted to accomplish on that particular Monday.

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So did I end up doing exactly what I set out to do?  Not exactly!  The power outage in many pockets of town definitely threw a wrench into the first part of my agenda (I bused northbound on Avenue Road, gaped at the wreckage and ghostliness out the window, mentally scrapped my plan and just stayed on the bus as it doubled back around at the end of the route!) so I shrugged it off and decided to sit down to lunch a little earlier at one of my favourite restaurants in the Yonge & Eglinton area, La Vecchia!

I enjoyed weekend brunch there so much during my first visit last March.  I promised myself I would go back for their salads, sandwiches, mains, pastas and of course, more weekend brunch and while it took awhile I finally made my way back and had a fabulous lunch to boot.  I haven’t done pasta justice on Ate by Ate so going to La Vecchia served two purposes: to get some scrumptious pasta in my belly and on the blog and to warm up with some really fantastic comfort food.  With snow and ice surrounding you from all sides, nothing else would do.

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La Vecchia’s lunch menu offers 8 different pasta dishes ($9 to $12) including penne in spicy tomato sauce with olives and scallions, linguini with shrimp, mussels and calamari, spaghettini with Italian sausage, mushrooms, peppers and onions and capellini with grilled chicken, olives and roasted red peppers.  After seeing my boyfriend have their amazing Rigatoni Romani during our first visit though, I knew without a doubt THAT was the dish I needed to have.

The Rigatoni Romani ($11) is served smothered in hot and creamy blush sauce (light cream tomato sauce) with smoked chicken, portobello mushrooms and lots of creamy, tangy goat cheese crumbles on top.  A bright crunchy leaf of radicchio adorned my heart-warming dish and my server graciously spooned some Parmesan cheese and cracked some fresh black pepper over top to complete the mouthwatering masterpiece.

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I admit, rigatoni wouldn’t normally be my first choice off the bat because long pasta noodles are the way to my pasta-loving heart.  My 3 favourite pastas are pappardelle, linguini and spaghetti.  However, that certainly doesn’t mean I don’t love all the others!  I simply don’t have them as often.  After this meal though, I thought to myself, “girl, you need to have more rigatoni in your life!”  Rigatoni is lovely for so many reasons.  The ridges and tubes catch every ounce of yummy sauce and its cylindrical shape is just plain fun.  It reminds me of childhood and shapes and all that fun stuff.

Anyway, I could write a novel on why I love this pasta dish so much.  It was so saucy, so creamy and so comforting.  And it stays hot!  As you dig through it, steam keeps escaping from the bottom up so you’re never left with cold pasta.  The sauce is super smooth and savoury, the rigatoni is cooked perfectly, the portobello mushrooms are juicy and meaty and the chicken?  Oh my goodness.  We’re not talking about plain old strips of chicken.  We’re talking smoked chicken that resembles pulled pork.  In tomato cream sauce.  Surrounded by cracked black pepper and goat cheese.  It is HEAVEN.  The chicken gets all nice and shredded as you’re eating it so you have this great texture to the dish that you wouldn’t have otherwise if was strips or pieces or even a cutlet.  It really plays up the warmth and comfort factor and it is so satisfyingly filling.

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We might think to ourselves that pasta dishes are easy enough to execute but it’s the little things and attention to detail that makes all the difference.  This wouldn’t be the star that it is if the pasta wasn’t cooked right, if the mushrooms were watery, and if the chicken was dry, tough and overcooked, things that could feasibly happen if it wasn’t executed properly.  But thankfully for me they got it spot on and I had a lunch to remember on one very memorable day of the year.

*****

La Vecchia is an Italian eatery that serves lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch (11am lunch Monday-Friday, 10:30am-3:30pm brunch and 3:30pm dinner on Saturday, and 10am-3:30pm brunch and 3:30pm dinner on Sunday).  They are located at 2405 Yonge Street on the east side of Yonge Street several blocks north of Eglinton by Broadway Ave. in the Yonge-Eglinton neighbourhood.  You can view their menus and contact info on their website HERE.

Stories, Comfort Food & Melty Havarti, Avocado & Arugula Macaroni & Cheese – The Heart & Soul of Cheesewerks

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I know Toronto is no Edmonton or Calgary or Winnipeg when it comes to the Canadian winter experience, but I have to be honest: this week was freakin’ cold.  Having to rapidly blink so my eyelashes don’t stick together cold.  Kenny on South Park cold.  I need to hug myself in my 5 layers of clothes all day long to stay warm cold.  You’d think I’d be immune to it or at the very least used to it having been born and raised here.  Sadly, that is not the case.  I am a squealing, teeth-chattering mess every winter and the only thing that saves me is sitting on my hands, wrapping myself up in a blanket burrito on the couch, and eating and drinking hot food and drink.  Comfort food and hugging my mug or bowl all the way.

It’s a little crazy to think that after 720 posts on Ate by Ate (yes, we’re getting closer to the 1000 mark!) comfort food isn’t everywhere on here.  I love the classics and I love my hot comfort food: hot soup with or without grilled cheese, classics like spaghetti and meatballs, beef stroganoff (SUCH a weakness of mine!), mashed potatoes and gravy with turkey or roast beef, and of course, MACARONI & CHEESE!  There needs to be so much more of that on here and I’m hoping to feature more posts on these mouthwatering types of dishes come the new year.  So, where does one go in Toronto for some good old fashioned mac ‘n cheese?  Cheesewerks!

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Located in the west end of the downtown core on Bathurst St. near Wellington, Cheesewerks is a delicious emporium of cheesy goodness featuring a plethora of grilled cheese sandwiches, mac and cheese, cheesy weekend brunch, sides and soups, local and artisinal foods, and lots of wine, craft beers and fun drinks.  We’re talking double smoked cheddar sandwiched between cracked peppercorn sourdough bread, asiago with BBQ pork on green onion potato bread (the Beijing), double-cream brie with caramelized onions and apricot chutney on walnut-raisin bread (the Charleston), swiss melted on roast pork and smoked ham with dill and lime mustard (the Miami), roasted tomato cream soup, and housemade lemonade, sweet tea and sodas just to name a handful!  The spacious diner is bathed in shades of yellow and orange and is the perfect place for both a get-together lunch with friends and a warm, comforting meal all by your lonesome.

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Honestly though, describing their food and menu alone does not do them justice.  Cheesewerks is my foodie soulmate.  Yes, you read right: my foodie soulmate.  Not a sushi bar.  Not a cupcake bakery.  A grilled cheese and macaroni and cheese diner.  Why?  Because of their love, passion, enthusiasm, creativity, heart and communal engagement.  I called it an emporium for a reason.  Cheesewerks is a family-run operation committed to engaging with the community not only through their delicious food but also through their food events, personal connections and stories.

Cheesewerks hosts foodie trivia nights every month, they’re at the centre of all the action at the Great Canadian Cheese Festival every year in Picton, Prince Edward County, Ontario, they have a ton of fun with National Grilled Cheese Month with specials and events every April, they host amazing Country Mouse, City Mouse food tours in and outside of Toronto to showcase the breadth and wealth of cheese making talent in our province’s farming, artisinal and organic food industry and they are constantly reinventing their menu with new additions and different ideas.

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And the personal connections and stories?  From the heart of head cheesehead Kevin Durkee.  Each and every single one of those menu items is named after a city that has played a significant role in his life whether it’s the city he was married in or a city he worked in at one point in his life.  When I found that out after talking to him during my first visit I was floored and my heart just expanded ten-fold.  Because it’s the same way I approach so many things in my life and how I approach this blog, through heart and stories and special moments.  It’s about being one with your passion and your craft and truly owning it.  And that’s how it should be.  While a business is a business and a restaurant exists to serve food and ultimately make money, having that personal connection and having that engagement with the community is irreplaceable and untouchable.

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During my first visit to Cheesewerks earlier in the year, I had such a hard time narrowing down my choices (what else is new!) but I knew I wanted a macaroni and cheese.  The awesome thing about the menu is that you can have all the fillings of a grilled cheese sandwich made into a mac ‘n cheese for pretty much just a dollar or two more (grilled cheese sandwich items range from $7 to $10 and mac ‘n cheese dishes $8 to $11).

I loooove my avocado and arugula so I chose the Los Angeles in macaroni and cheese form ($9.50) to enjoy.  Ooey gooey havarti cheese mixed with elbow macaroni, mashed avocado and arugula topped with crunchy baked bread crumbs.  It is comfort food heaven in a bowl.  And I washed it all down with a tall glass of their housemade lemonade.  Let me tell you, this stuff is filling.  I know, I know, it’s pasta, of course it’s filling.  But you always think macaroni is no big deal because the noodles are so cute and small.  Trust me, if you want hearty comfort food that will keep that tummy warm and chugging through a winter day, their mac ‘n cheese fits the bill.  If my memory serves my right I think I even had leftovers that I took back home!

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My mouth is watering just looking at these photos again and given how we’re clearly in the thick of cold weather season (technically winter doesn’t start until the 22nd so I’ll just call this cold weather season), I am hell bent on making a return visit over the holidays.  Whether it’s trying their weekend brunch, a grilled cheese, ordering their famous tomato soup or downing another bowl of delicious macaroni and cheese, it’ll be happy memories in the making and stories to tell.

*****

Cheesewerks is located at 56 Bathurst St. near Wellington St. and Niagara St.  You can check out their official website HERE for their menu, promotions and events and follow them on Twitter @CHEESEWERKS

On My Kitchen Table: Spinach Fettuccine Pasta With Crushed Tomatoes, Vegetables, & Chicken Meatballs

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Let’s talk pasta.  I live for pasta days.  I get excited seeing Mario Batali make fresh, homemade pasta from scratch on The Chew (homemade stuffed ravioli and pappardelle in olive oil, mushrooms, and buttered sage!  OH.MY.GOD), I daydream about ravioli, linguine, and egg noodles, and I almost always dive for the pasta dishes at self-serve, pay-by-weight buffets at supermarkets and gourmet food stores like All the Best Fine Foods and Daniel et Daniel.  The seafood linguine at The Pickle Barrel was even one of my favourite dishes back in the day when my high school friends and I used to frequent the restaurant for girls’ night get-togethers.  And yet, for a pasta and noodle lover like myself, I don’t eat it often enough and it’s sadly one of the more neglected foodie areas on the blog.  I am totally committed to changing that this year though; I love pasta too much to not see it shine! 

I had three very memorable pasta and noodle meals this past month though, including a delicious ramen and pork gyoza dumpling noodle-in-soup bowl, an amazing pesto chicken fusili from Daniel et Daniel (fact: pesto makes everything heavenly), and an Italian all-you-can-eat feast for my brother’s birthday at Frankie Tomatto’s where I had crab stuffed ravioli bathed in a light garlic, tomato, and parsley cream sauce, spaghetti and vegetarian meatballs, and braised beef and butternut squash pasta.  It was wonderful.  

It’s hard to get my pasta fix on a regular basis.  And by regular basis, I mean almost every day.  My entire family has different carborhydrate tastes.  There’s me, the pasta and noodle lover in the flesh.  Then there’s my mum who happily claims she could live on nothing but bread.  Then there’s my brother who will eat rice, bread, and pasta but not really noodles.  Finally, we have my dad who is, what my mum and I call, a “human rice bucket”.  It’s maddening trying to find things we all love sometimes.  Thus, when my mum suggested having fettuccine for dinner, I did my happy-fists dance! 

For dinner: regular and spinach fettuccine in tomato sauce with chicken meatballs, red, orange, and yellow bell peppers, button mushrooms, celery, crushed tomatoes, shredded mozzarella cheese, white pepper, and parsley flakes.  I love different cream sauces (garlic, mushroom, portuguese, white wine, the whole shebang) but every so often, tomato sauce hits the spot and for me, it has to be a tomato sauce devoid of meat.  Just plain old crushed tomatoes and herbs does the job.  I currently have my eye on some udon noodle bowls at a few sushi spots in town, some Portuguese chicken spaghetti, any and all kinds of macaroni and cheese, and ravioli.  Lots of ravioli.  The year is still young so we’ll see how many dishes I get around to enjoying!

*****

To view Ate by Ate’s archive of pasta related posts, click here.  More posts to come!

Bring On the Chinese Street Food and Diners – Curry Fish Ball Spaghetti!

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Break out the Chinese street meat because it’s curry fish ball time!  Curry fish balls and I have a long history and we’ve made some wonderful foodie memories together over the years.  In a nutshell, curry fish balls are a popular snack in Chinese street food culture and they are often served on a stick in sets of five or any other number the vendor happens to be selling them at.  They are covered in spicy curry sauce that is absolutely delicious, and depending on the consistency of the sauce, you’ll usually get a little container to hold them while you eat them off the skewer so the sauce doesn’t drip all over the place.  And by that, I mean all over your hands and clothes! 

In addition to fish balls, there are beef, pork, crab, and lobster balls and they’re all available to buy in Chinese supermarkets.  I’ve enjoyed them in their traditional Chinese street meat form on a skewer (and we all know how gaga many of us are over food served on a stick!), I’ve ordered these on a whim in Chinese malls as my afternoon snack (and loved every minute of it), and have even witnessed some high school friends selling homemade ones at school for a business project!

Even though I’ve never experienced Chinese street food culture in Hong Kong or China firsthand, I have had the pleasure of enjoying many of the foods in the comfort of my own home since I was a little girl.  I would eat them whenever my family and I would do Chinese hotpot, and my mum would go grocery shopping at some of the Chinese supermarkets and pick up fresh fish paste and fish balls.  She would either make them into crispy fish cakes or put them in soup broth to hang out with my soup noodles.  One of my favourite Chinese comfort foods growing up was a warm bowl of ramen noodles in soup with green onions, and dumplings, wontons, or fish, beef, or pork balls with a little red vinegar drizzled over top.  This meals still makes me feel all warm and fuzzy till this day.    

Even though I’m no stranger to the Chinese fish paste and fish ball market, I don’t eat curry fish balls very often and I almost always take advantage of the opportunity to have them when I can.  Enter my beloved Chinese and HK style diners, specifically the one my family and I have grown to be quite fond of over the past couple of months: Ho Garden Chinese Restaurant located in the plaza at Woodbine and 16th Ave. in Markham.  From the outside, Ho Garden looks completely unassuming.  I can say for a fact that unless you went right up to the front window and saw the large poster advertising some of their HK style dishes, you wouldn’t know what was inside.  Often times, diners will have big front windows so that those from the outside can easily see how busy it is inside with customers eating, dishes of food on the tables, tall glasses of drinks, the whole bit.    Ho Garden is a little different because their front window is much higher up which doesn’t allow you to see customers inside enjoying their food, and for another, the restaurant signage up in thr front isn’t flashy and could easily be missed.

Hainanese Chicken Rice (Ho Nam Gai Fan)

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Ho Garden is often very busy though and one of the draws is its location.  Being a part of the large plaza with a number of dining options, at a busy intersection (it’s literally seconds away from the highway exit), and surrounded by a huuuge residential neighbourhood, has attracted a local neighbourhood which just continues to grow.  You would think that the other dining establishments would pose some stiff competition but the beauty of it is that the plaza’s offerings are so different and multi-faceted that they really don’t step on each other’s toes.  You have a Greek restaurant, an AYCE sushi restaurant, a wings and ribs sports bar, an ice cream shop, a pizza shop, a Chinese congee, rice, and noodle restaurant, and a coffee shop, literally all inhabiting the same space.  Which works perfectly for me because this foodie paradise isn’t too far from home! 

Another one of the enticing draws is the price range of food.  Now, Chinese and HK style diners aren’t all that expensive to begin with (ordering a dinner meal and a drink that comes up to less than or around $10 is awesomesauce in my book), but Ho Garden does one better by offering plenty of meals for $4-$6 and combo meal sets that come with a main, a drink, and a soup for around $7-$8.  Granted, of course there are more expensive menu items, but those cater to the large family crowd with dishes such as multiple course dinners, whole steamed fish, and several others.

I saw curry fish ball rice/spaghetti on the menu and for the first time in goodness knows how long, I didn’t need to pull my hair out over deciding what I wanted to order.  Done and done.  Finally I wasn’t the last one to decide what she wanted to eat!  I love spaghetti to pieces and this meal didn’t disappoint at all.  It was so delicious and satisfying and I am so happy I had it.

The curry sauce was savoury and spicy (not tears-streaming-down-my-face spicy, but definitely “Ooo, my tastebuds just got punched and my cheeks feel a bit warm now” spicy), the fish balls were super soft and moist with great flavour (they can have a tendency to taste rubbery), and the chunks of potato mingling with the fish balls were fantastic.  Many Chinese curry dishes include potatoes (such as my classic favourite Chinese Portuguese chicken dish, and my dad’s classic favourite, curry beef brisket) and I absolutely LOVE it when they use nice starchy potatoes because they hold up really well in sauce.  They were yummy and they absorbed and sopped up the curry sauce real good!

Even though Phoenix will always hold the number 1 spot in my foodie heart, the food at Ho Garden is great and I have yet to be disappointed with anything that I’ve eaten here.  The portions and prices are terrific, there’s a good selection of HK style and Cantonese dishes, and it’s a great local place to have a wholesome good meal.

*****

Ho Garden Chinese restaurant is located at 9255 Woodbine Ave. at the corner of Woodbine and 16th Ave. in Markham.  They serve and are open for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea time, and dinner.

On My Kitchen Table: Vegetable Fettucine Alfredo With Creamy Roasted Red Pepper & Mushroom Alfredo Sauce

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It’s been awhile since I last posted photos of my mum’s home cooking, so I figured I’d try my best to get in at least one more post before the sun really starts setting early.  I’ve come to the realization that if I want to take photos of my mum’s cooking, I can only do so during the spring and summer months with the exception being weekend breakfasts.  If I’ve learned anything over the past year writing this blog, it is that I absolutely HATE using flash on my camera, I HATE the yellow glow that my kitchen light casts on everything in photos, and chasing the sun does not always result in the nicest photographs.  Taking 10 photos resulting in only one nice one and cursing about it later also does not help. 

Okay, so I took away more than one nugget of knowledge over the past year, but I’m not lying when I say that I can’t take any more photos of home cooked dinners after September.  By the time I get home, wash up, put away my things, and head on down to our kitchen table, I’m already squinting and reaching for the lightswitch.  And I know other food bloggers who face the same dilemma!  How did I manage to post so many photos of my mum’s culinary endeavours last winter then when I first started the blog?  Here’s a secret: they were all “backlog” photos, meaning I had a stockpile of photos I had saved for months, even before I went live with the blog.  Aside from some of the scrapbooking, I don’t talk about “behind-the-scenes” stuff much (maybe I should?!), but this was definitely one of the ways I prepared weeks, even months, in advance before Ate by Ate’s launch and I’m relieved it paid off!

We had pasta night yesterday and I thank my lucky stars that my brother made the initial suggestion because, really, we don’t eat pasta as often as we’d like because of my dad’s distaste for it.  But as my mum likes to say, “it’s one meal, he can suck it up!”  She says this any and every time she wants to make pasta for the three of us or when she wants to go to Frankie Tomatto’s for some occasion or another.  Ah, marriage 😀  And funny enough, these photos are actually of my dad’s plate of pasta just before he sat down at the dinner table.  When my mum asked me why I was taking photos of his and not mine, I said, “his looks a little prettier on the plate” to which she replied, “oh…I’m sorry!”  *snort* I had a good laugh over that and told her I didn’t care how the heck mine looked; I was just grateful to be having pasta! 

Anyway, the pasta of choice was fettucine alfredo and we had ourselves a gorgeous Fall colour inspired dinner that left me in a happy food coma for the rest of the night: fettucine pasta noodles with green and yellow bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, and chopped green onions (I love green onions/scallions so much I will eat it with almost everything) with a creamy fusion of roasted red pepper and mushroom alfredo sauce.  I relish meals like this and it was the perfect meal to warm us up on a chillier day.

In less than a week, the official first day of fall – September 23rd – will be upon us and I don’t know about you, but I am so, so excited about all the fall activities going on, the cooler weather, and the anticipation of tree leaves changing colour.  I’m really hoping to get out to an apple orchard this time around (can you believe the last time I went to one was when I was 6?!) and continue getting in as many farmers’ markets visits as I can before the outdoor ones start packing up for the year.  I’m preparing SO much fun stuff for the blog and I can’t wait to unveil a fabulous Fall Food series at the end of the month!  There will be lots more details to come, but for the time being I leave you with my weekend food baby.  

All I Need Is Cheese – Red Bean Ice Drinks With Whipped Cream and Cheesy Pasta Hong Style Dishes at The Phoenix

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Okay, so that statement isn’t entirely true.  I need more than cheese to complete my life.  But I do love cheese a whole lot!  And what better way to spread my love for cheese than to show you all some insanely delicious cheesy pasta HK style dishes from Phoenix restaurant!  Phoenix is my favourite Chinese diner to eat at and I’m really lucky that all of their locations are in and around Markham – one of the locations is actually just a 10 minute drive/bus ride away!  I can’t believe it’s already been so long since my first post on Phoenix way back during Ate by Ate’s first week on the internet.  That was the first week of December and here I am enjoying my last month to month and a half of summer and so much has changed since I started the blog.  For one thing, I graduated from grad school with my MA and am no longer a student and for another, I’ve never felt like I’ve learned as much as I have this past year and I have so much to take away with me.  And to think it’s all because I love food as much as I do!

I have always loved pasta, cheese, and numerous kinds of seafood and it’s one of the things I enjoy the most when I eat at HK style diners.  Of course I enjoy my rice dishes, but more often than not, I gravitate toward the spaghetti, the macaroni, the rotini, and any other type of pasta that happens to be on the menu.  Aside from the drinks, it’s one of the things I look forward to the most when I know I’m coming here!  I’ll probably sound like such a simpleton when I say this, but I get SO excited at the thought of spaghetti 😀  And because HK style diners like Phoenix have so many different spaghetti and pasta combinations, I get to pick and choose to my heart’s content!  They have everything from pasta with sausage, pineapple, mushrooms, sauteed veggies, and fish cutlets to dishes with sauces like tomato, black pepper, white cream, garlic, and mushroom.

It just so happens that these two delicious dishes I’m showing you today both have seafood and cheese: 1) a spaghetti dish with baby clams, cream sauce, a little bit of baked, melted cheese on top, and a giant puff pastry to go along with it! and 2) a HK style macaroni and cheese meal with incredibly soft macaroni covered in ooey gooey pull-apart cheese, served with crab meat, squid, and shrimp.  Not only do I adore how fast Phoenix dishes out their meals, but I’ve loved everything I’ve ever eaten here and these meals were no different.

The quality is bang on and they set themselves apart from others with such a large selection of menu items that have both HK and Chinese staples (chow mein, ho fun, tong mein) and unique, unexpected dishes (c’mon when have you EVER been to a place that served puff pastry with clam spaghetti?!).  Everyone has their own version and definition of comfort food, and this is definitely one of mine.  It warms, it satisfies, and it makes me feel wiggly happy all over.  Pasta and cheese – it doesn’t get any better than that!

I may have stuck with what I knew I loved when it came to the food, but I did the unexpected when it came to ordering my drink: I ordered red bean.  Let’s put this another way: DEB DOESN’T LIKE RED BEAN AND NEVER HAS.  So why in the world did I order it?!  Because after all these years of wrinkling my nose and puckering my mouth, I’ve given red bean another shot, the same way I’ve given chocolate mint a whirl and the same way I’ve done a complete 180 when it comes to bell peppers.  Growing up, I would always turn down the red bean dessert that came at the end of the Chinese restaurant dinner (tong sui), I wouldn’t touch the pineapple red bean buns with a ten-foot pole, and I would ignore the red bean drinks on the menu and pretend they weren’t there.  To say the least, I was not a fan.

But I’ve had a change of heart as of late (and by that I mean in the last few months) and it’s been growing on me.  There aren’t a lot of things I don’t like to eat (healthy things, of course!), so I make a conscious effort to give the things I used to dislike a shot and I realize that I rather enjoy them now.  And it feels great opening myself up to it all.  Thus, enter the red bean ice slush drink with the sweet whipped cream on top.  I liked ^_^ 

These photos, and the meals they capture, are special to me.  Not only do these photos depict two different meals that have two very specific things I love in common (seafood and cheese!), but they also tell the story of a girl simaltaneously branching out and staying in her comfort food zone.

*****

Prices for mains range from $6-$9 and many meals include your choice of drink, with an additional charge added for special drinks like slushes, floats, and ices.  Phoenix serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, along with a selection of appetizers, snacks, desserts, and tea time specials.  Phoenix’s 3 locations are in Markham and Thornhill:

  1. 1 Raymerville Drive, Markham.  Intersection of McCowan and Raymerville Drive south, located north of Hwy.7 and Bullock Drive, south of 16th Ave.
  2. 7155 Woodbine Ave., Markham.  Intersection of Steeles and Woodbine, just north of Steeles.  Off the 404 Steeles highway exit
  3. 8190 Bayview Ave., Thornhill.  North of John St, south of Langstaff Rd.

Mangia, Mangia! An All-You-Can-Eat Italian Feast at Frankie Tomatto’s

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I’m so excited to finally post pictures from Frankie Tomatto’s!  Not only is this my first AYCE post for the blog, but it’s also a post that’s very near and dear to my heart.  My family and I went out to Frankie’s a little over a week ago to celebrate my brother’s birthday and this outing was just one out of the many we’ve had as a family over the last decade.  Me and Frankie Tomatto’s go waaaaayyyy back.  I feel like I’ve grown up with this place because, just think, I’ve been going here to celebrate birthdays (mine, my brother’s, my mom’s, and my grandpa’s) on and off since I was 13.  I’m 25.  Do the math!  Even though my dad isn’t the biggest fan of pasta or Italian food, the rest of my family and I looooove Frankie’s and we always enjoy our time and meals here (dad just humours us.  It’s 3 against 1.  If he wants to eat, he’s going to have to, ha).  It’s one of the few places that’s been a part of my family’s foodie history for years and it’s a happy celebration staple for us.  They have hilarious birthday packages and I remember they sang to me on my 14th birthday! 😀

Taking and posting these pictures has been a process in the making.  Taking pictures at an all-you-can-eat buffet is extremely difficult.  Think about it: for one, you’re concentrating on visiting station after station of delicious food and bringing your plate back to the table and devouring it because, hey, the rest of your family ain’t going to wait around for you.  Second, it’s a self-serve buffet so there are people milling around EVERYWHERE.  You try to take a picture and you end up with someone’s arm in the shot.  You’re scared that if you’re not careful, your hand will slip and your camera will fall into a dish of spaghetti and meatballs.  And then there are the blurry pictures of eggplant parmesan and bruschetta because you were trying to be discreet and you took the pictures too fast.  It takes patience, my lovelies, so congratulate me on getting one decent shot for every five bad ones!  I couldn’t get any decent ones of the dessert bars though.  There were lineups up the wazoo at the icecream and sprinkles station!

Frankie Tomatto’s is an all-you-can-eat Italian feast located near the intersection of Woodbine and Steeles Ave. West in Markham, and if you’re a sucker for themed restaurants like me, you’ll love it here.  The decor is adorable (think faux wine cellars and Roman architecture) and the selection of food is just fantastic with the multiple stations of Italian fare and good old fashioned comfort food.  Antipasto, seafood, pizza and bruschetta (a section that is referred to as “Al Forno” meaning “from the oven”), vegetarian, and yes, plenty of pastas and desserts! 😀  Some notables and favourites: eggplant parmesan, grilled salmon, veal with lemon butter, spaghetti, tomato tortellini, Italian rice balls, cheese gnocchi, fettuccine, roast beef, salmon wellington, Italian potato pancakes, rice pilaf, chicken tetrazzini, steamed vegetable medley, and lots of salads, pizzas, and bruschetta and crunchy breads!

Frankie’s also has really great price promotions and deals throughout the week.  My family and I took advantage of the Friday early bird dinner special the week before: from 5pm-5:30pm, dinner is only $13.99 which is insanely cheap for a Friday evening all-you-can-eat!  I mean, I know I’m accustomed to eating earlier because, well, I eat at all points in the day and I know others aren’t really used to that, but seriously, take advantage of the deal if you can because it is so worth it.  And maybe next time I can get those pictures of dessert for you all.  Mangia, mangia!

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Frankie Tomatto’s is located at 7225 Woodbine Ave., 2 blocks north of Steeles Ave. West on the east side of Woodbine.  It’s also easily accessible from Highway 401, 404, and 407.  Click here for information on prices, hours, birthday packages, and specials.