A Winter Lunch of Harvest Salad, Sourdough & Clam Chowder – Keep Toasty at Earls Kitchen & Bar

Leave a comment

DSCN0217

Winter pro: I learned how to use our snow blower this year and am pushing and dragging that thing around like a winter warrior.  Winter con: there is so much freakin’ snow outside my house you can’t even see me behind the damn mountain of it.  Granted, I’m short (coming in at a generous 5 foot 2 inches) but our mountain of snow is so tall it even obscures my brother who’s 6 feet tall!  It’s been a loooong time since I’ve experienced a winter like this.  And this is coming from a girl who was born and bred in Canada and would lay in the snow inside a snow fort as a kid and just look up at the sky without a care in the world.  What can I say?  We’ve been a little spoiled the last few years here in Toronto so being slapped with so much snow and such bitterly cold temperatures all at once week after week has taken a bit of getting used to.

And I’ll be honest, it’s been especially stymying for me generating blog content.  I’ve never cancelled and switched around my plans more than I have this winter and the cold weather has really pushed me to get creative with the logistics of my outings.  I don’t fare so well in extreme temperatures (hot or cold) as both give me bad migraines so at any given moment I need to hop indoors to warm up to keep myself from being exposed for long periods of time.  Thus, the cold weather has, unfortunately, prevented me from taking those long exploration walks around the city that I love so much, relegating me to the more retail-oriented parts of town.  Which is not necessarily a bad thing!  But let’s be frank: malls get boring real fast and they do me no favours in the food blogging department.  And you all know how much I thrive on variety!

DSCN0198

So I’ve had to put my thinking cap on and figure out how to go about taking photos and trying new places still staying relatively close to the indoors and I think I’ve come up with a few pretty good solutions for myself.  One such outing led me through the underground PATH downtown (which is one of my favourite things in the city) through the Sun Life financial building and straight into the warm and welcoming arms of Earls Kitchen & Bar on King Street West and York Street.  Who would have thought I’d be walking through an insurance building to do food blogging!

Earls Kitchen & Bar is a place I’ve been meaning to try for years and while having a case of cabin fever isn’t exactly the best reason for finally going, I’ll take it.  Because it’s a wonderful place and a place I’d be happy to go back to for meals and meals to come.  If you haven’t been, make the effort because the food is delicious, the staff is so friendly and accommodating, and the restaurant is beautiful and lovely inside.

DSCN0204

DSCN0205

DSCN0207

Located at 150 King Street West in the financial district hubbub, Earls has a gorgeous outdoor patio out front (which I will be sure to enjoy come summer!) and two large dining areas inside including the large bar and adjoining dining room, making it quite the haunt for the business lunch crowd.  The dining room makes you feel like you’re eating inside a log cabin.  It’s so warm and cozy and nice.  And their menu has warm and cozy written all over it.  While it offers lots of pub fare such as appetizers (calamari, prawn and mango rolls, dry ribs, chicken and wontons), burgers, tacos and sandwiches (angus beef on brioche, chicken tacos, chicken with brie and fig on ciabatta, roasted portobellini and red pepper on sourdough), it offers just as many dishes that will warm you all over on a cold winter’s day such as meaty steaks and seafood, ribs and chicken, roasted root vegetables, curry and pasta (I’ve heard fantastic things about their fettuccini!) and what I had for lunch: sourdough, soup and salad!

DSCN0225

Their chicken and field mushroom fettuccini was calling out at me like a foghorn but I really wanted to try something more lunch fare-ish and I don’t post nearly enough about soup so I jumped at the chance to try Earls salad, soup and sourdough meal ($13.75).  The meal comes with your choice of Caesar or Harvest salad, Earls Famous Clam Chowder or featured soup (which was cream of mushroom at the time), and sourdough bread.  What better way to celebrate the season than with harvest salad and cozy clam chowder?!

DSCN0218

DSCN0220

Earls’ Harvest Crunch salad is a beautiful, bright and refreshing mix of baby greens, purple kale, watermelon radish (possibly the prettiest vegetable to grace the earth), sunflower seeds, slices of pear (which I sadly couldn’t eat because of my allergy but it was lovely to look at nevertheless and thankfully there weren’t too many slices so I didn’t have to feel awful for leaving them on my plate) and dried fruit (apricots and cranberries) dressed in citrus vinaigrette with shaved parmesan.  I was all over it like peanut butter on jelly – I hardly ever see watermelon radish in salad!  I love crunch and texture in my salads and the fruit, seeds and radishes made it so enjoyable to eat, not to mention the parmesan gave the salad that yummy hit of saltiness, balancing out the sweetness from the dressing and fruits.  It was a such fab presentation of the winter bounty in salad form.

And the clam chowder and sourdough bread.  You will never look at clam chowder and sourdough the same way again after you have it here at Earls.  For starters, it was presented beautifully on a wooden serving board.  Second, the clam chowder was hearty and scrumptious, chock full of diced tomatoes, celery, carrots, potatoes and meaty clams in a smooth and creamy broth sprinkled with freshly chopped parsley.  It filled me without making me feel like I ate something too creamy or too saturated.  It was just SO DARN DELICIOUS.  It was so full of substance and it ate like a meal, pairing beautifully with the sourdough bread beside it.

DSCN0223

DSCN0227

The gigantic wedge of sourdough knocked it out of the park.  It was golden to perfection with a crunchy crust on the outside, a moist and buttery inside and this amazing sweetness from the little bit of honey that was drizzled over top.  I couldn’t believe my tastebuds.  I sat there chewing on my sourdough thinking, “what the heck is this delicious taste that I am tasting?!”  It was sweet and light and unlike any sourdough I had ever had and then it dawned on me that there was a bit of honey on it.  It was fabulous on its own and as a dunker for the clam chowder.

This first visit to Earls made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside for more reasons than one and I’d love to go back to try at least ten other dishes!  Given how winter isn’t going away any time soon, I just might take advantage of the cold and make a return trip before the season is over for more winter comfort eats.

DSCN0197

*****

Earls Kitchen & Bar is located at 150 King Street West at York Street in the financial district in downtown Toronto.  They are open 7 days a week at 11:30am Monday through Sunday, with weekend brunch service on Saturdays and Sundays.  Earls Kitchen & Bar serves multiple locations in the GTA and across the country.  Visit their website at http://www.earls.ca/ for more info on their menus and locations.

Advertisements

It’s Taco Time! Pulled Smoked Chicken Tacos in Root Beer BBQ Sauce at Peter Pan Bistro

Leave a comment

food collage

It’s June, it’s warm out (well, actually, it was a bit nippy today, but it sure was humid and gross over the weekend!) and that means it’s time for some tacos on Ate by Ate!   With so many weekend brunch posts making their way into the Weekend Brunch Series, I thought, “hmm, I should really do some more lunch posts”.  After all, on an every day basis lunch is the highlight of my day!  I cherish my lunch hour downtime at work.  And lunch is what got me by throughout all my years in university, keeping me sane, fueled and content.

Doing weekend brunch has been so much fun though and it’s so easy to get caught up in the allure of having different menu items that are only available to me when I’m available during the week and I know many people who work the grind during the week feel the same.  But I mean, it’s not I calculate these things!  I eat what I eat based on cravings and where I feel like going, and sometimes I truly do feel like going for weekend brunch 5 times or weeks in a row!  But a little planning and strategic munching go a long way, especially when you just need to give yourself a kick in the butt to go to a place you’ve meaning to go to for ages but just haven’t.

DSCN0067 - Copy

DSCN0070

DSCN0071

And that is how this post was born.  I felt like going to Peter Pan Bistro on Queen West, I felt like having lunch as opposed to brunch and by golly I felt like tacos!  Summer just screams tacos to me and it’s anybody’s guess as to why I haven’t posted more yummy taco photos and posts on here.  Because I do love them, especially fish ones (like the fish tacos from Wish Cafe!).  But for whatever reason, I haven’t showed them off here as often as I have other things, so I think it’s high time we plump up the taco lovin’ on here!  Introducing the Southern Californian Pulled Smoked Chicken Tacos with Root Beer Sauce from Peter Pan Bistro on Queen Street West!

Peter Pan Bistro, located at 373 Queen Street West at the corner of Queen and Peter St., is lunch and dinner bistro cafe that has quite the history here in the city (you can read more about it HERE on their site).  It’s a peaceful, pretty space with a lot of history and character to it: pale yellow paint on the walls, stained glass in the windows, high ceilings, flowers in vases on the tables, a super long bar and seating booths that look like church pews to boot!  It has this charming, old-school (their daily menus are hand-written and photocopied) meets culinary luxe vibe to it (if you ever order or get a glimpse of their salmon lunch you’ll know what I mean!) and it just shows their culinary philosophy: be modern and grow with the times and trends, but don’t sacrifice heart or ingenuity to do it.  They serve pulled smoked meat and po’ boys but they sure haven’t transformed into a hipster dive to do so, that’s for sure.

DSCN0078

Their menu is chock full of daily specials (daily soup, omelette, pasta, pizza and quesadilla) and they have a scrumptious regular menu that reads like a sweet and simple storybook: salads and appetizers (PEI fresh water mussels with chipotle cream sauce and calamari with dill-caper aioli and Mediterranean salad?!  Sign me up!), sandwiches (panko crusted chicken, smoked white cheddar and brie grilled cheese, and their newest addition, a fish po’ boy, among others), pasta dishes (penne mac n’ cheese, basil pesto linguine and seafood fettuccine just to name a few) and mains and entrees which incorporates the daily omelette, pizza, and quesadilla within it.

DSCN0074

Before I stuffed my face with tacos, I enjoyed their potato and leek soup of the day ($5) with their special complimentary bread that was so nice and warm and herby and yummy!  I know there are two camps when it comes to bread served before the meal: those who love it to pieces and would probably eat a whole basket of it and those who couldn’t care less and stare off into space as they wait for their food to come.

Let’s just say Peter Pan’s bread will put you in the first camp.  You’ve been warned.

Then came my beloved tacos.  I was all over their pulled smoked chicken in root beer BBQ sauce tacos ($14) like mud on a pig!  The pulled meat was such a treat for me (I don’t eat pulled meat much and not because I don’t enjoy it, but because I simply don’t have it very often) and the pulled smoked chicken taco filling was smothered in guacamole and cheddar!  With a mountain of mixed green salad on the side!  In olive oil!  Did I mention the guacamole and cheddar?!  OH MY MOTHER OF PEARL.  I am not kidding when I say that I felt like a roly poly ball afterward when I left!  I was full and happy and full.  I know I said that twice but it was so good it deserved a second mention.

DSCN0090

DSCN0084

DSCN0093

Their pulled smoked chicken tacos were served in 2 big grilled flour tortillas with guac and shredded cheddar cheese melted inside and just dripping in savoury sauce.  Even their salad was fantastic and boy was there ever a lot of it!  It wonderful having half the plate in tacos and the other half in veg.  THAT’s the kind of meal that makes me wiggle.

Let me say though that I am not about to specifically write about the root beer BBQ sauce that smothered my chicken.  I don’t drink beer.  I don’t even drink root beer.  EVER.  So for me to yap about the complexity of root beer flavour or to discuss the flavour profile of BBQ sauce would be very silly, so I will just say that my tacos felt like heaven in my mouth because they were so soft, seasoned perfectly (it’s always a good thing when you don’t feel as though someone dumped a whole salt shaker into your food), didn’t fall apart or get mushy, were so far from skimpy (did I ever feel like I got my money’s worth!) and were perfectly melty and ooey and gooey on the inside.

DSCN0080

And let me say that after this great lunch and meal, that I will be back for those po’ boys and salmon dishes.  And calamari.  And penne mac n’ cheese.  Oh!  And their patio.  This ain’t Neverland; it’s honest-to-goodness delicious food land.

*****

Peter Pan Bistro is located at 373 Queen Street West at the corner of Peter Street and Queen.  They serve lunch and dinner daily from 12 noon to 10:3opm from Sunday to Wednesday and 12pm to 11:30pm from Thursday to Sunday.  They’re also a main fixture in both Winterlicious and Summerlicious!

Sweet AND Savoury? Walnut, Pear & Bufala Mozzarella French Toast Weekend Brunch at Origin!

Leave a comment

French toast weekend brunch at Origin Restaurant in Toronto

Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith.  Take risks.  Do things you never thought you would do.  And for me, on that sunny, beautiful Saturday morning at Origin on King St. East, I did just that: I ordered something sweet and savoury.  No, no, I don’t mean I ordered a sweet dish and a savoury dish.  Oh no, I ordered myself a dish that was both sweet AND savoury.  I know what you’re thinking.  “Um, yeah, SO?!  It’s not like you ordered wild boar or rabbit!”  You’re right, sweet and savoury dishes are run-of-the-mill and no big deal in the culinary world.  But here’s something I’ve never revealed on Ate by Ate: I HATE SWEET AND SAVOURY THINGS!  HATE!  WITH A PASSION!  *cue pounding fists*

You all know I’m kooky-crazy for my sweets and desserts.  You also know I’m heads over heels for savoury things like eggs benny and spicy sushi.  But you didn’t know that I’ve always hated things like teriyaki, maple bacon, and maple sausage.  Some people break out in hives when their eggs aren’t served with ketchup.  Some people take a temper tantrum when the food on their plate touches each other.  I hate my meat sweet.  And any other sweet and savoury combo aside from peanut butter and jelly (what can I say, it’s a childhood thing that’s never left my heart).  Always have, most likely always will.  Don’t even try to sell me on strawberries and balsamic because I will just scoff and turn the other cheek.

Origin Restaurant Toronto dining room

Origin Restaurant Toronto dining room

Origin Restaurant Toronto dining room

So what in blue blazing hell possessed me to order something sweet and savoury for weekend brunch at Origin then?  The menu.  I couldn’t help it.  Against my better judgment, I took a chance on their French toast with bufala mozzarella, poached pears, and warm walnut brittle ($16) and ended up absolutely loving it to itty bitty pieces.  I love bufala mozzarella, I felt like French toast that morning, and the thought of having pears I could actually eat (remember my ridiculous raw fruit allergy that makes me swell up like blowfish?) made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Let me tell you though, this was no easy thing to overcome.  I took a deep breath.  “You can do this, Debra.  You can order something you know you may not like”.  There were so many things on Origin’s weekend brunch menu I wanted to try but I dug my heels in and stuck with it and lucky for me, it totally worked out!  I love it when a scrumptious, delicious dish proves my taste buds wrong and totally blows me away.  I never thought this could happen.  I never thought I could enjoy something that was both sweet and savoury.  But I did and I enjoyed it in a beautiful dining space in a restaurant I’ve wanted to visit for ages.

tea at Origin Restaurant in Toronto

Origin Restaurant menu Toronto

Origin, located at 107 King Street East at King and Church (with 2 other locations in the city), always felt like an eatery that was out of my league and out of reach.  I first learned about Origin several years ago when I saw a photo of their adorable pink, frothy froo-froo ice cream float in an issue of Toronto Life.  I had this misconception that it was much too upscale for me but after a co-worker raved about her dinner there, I knew I had to finally buckle down and go one weekend.  And given how Origin serves up a kick-ass weekend brunch menu (I looked it up online, hemmed and hawwed over some of the options, and gulped down my saliva – what else is new?), that was the perfect match for me.  So I suited up for busy day out (market, cupcakes, brunch, and more) and made my way over to the beautiful restaurant and bar.

DSCN0595

French toast weekend brunch at Origin Restaurant in Toronto

And I do mean beautiful.  Brick walls, funky light fixtures, big windows, chic black, gray and white accents and a killer patio that I cannot wait to pounce on in the summer!  One of my favourite things about Origin is their kitchen.  It’s right in the middle of the dining area and you can literally see and hear all the action.  You hear the chefs calling out orders to each other, you hear the sizzles and skizzles, you can see the food being plated and so much more.  I love it when the cooking staff are integrated into the restaurant; it’s make things much more transparent and more communal.

Aside from 3 different kinds of French toast, $13-$17 (one even has duck confit!), they have burgers and sandwiches (a breakfast burrito $15, a peameal sandwich $11,a killer grilled cheese $7, and an Origin burger with chipotle aioli and arugula $17), an egg white frittata with fior de latte, tomato and pesto $13 (you can bet I’ll be coming back for this one!), smoked pork belly and fried eggs $16, a daily quiche $12, and number of sides to outfit your meal such as Spanish fries, beet and goat cheese salad, and deviled eggs.

French toast weekend brunch at Origin Restaurant in Toronto

French toast weekend brunch at Origin Restaurant in Toronto

My beloved French garnished with several sprigs of fresh basil and served with bufala mozzarella, poached pears, and warm walnut brittle, was all sorts of rich, sweet, savoury, decadent, warm, buttery, soft, crunchy, juicy, and YUMMY.  One of the reasons why I think I enjoyed it so much was the savoury and sweet were clearly identifiable but completely in harmony and balance with each other.  I love sweet brunches and breakfast dishes but at times, it’s almost too sweet and a bit much.  But because of the bufala mozzarella and basil (which, oh my god, was delicious), that savoury saltiness cut right through the sweetness of the walnut syrupy sauce and pears.  And it worked the other way as well.  The sweet juiciness of the pears and warm sauce and the inherent milkiness of the bread kept it from being too salty and the type of dish that makes you want to guzzle water down.  The whole thing just worked.

French toast weekend brunch at Origin Restaurant in Toronto

AND!  The bread!  Oh my gosh, the bread deserves a standing ovation.  It’s not your typical challah.  Origin does their French toast using fresh-as-a-daisy French brioche!  BRIOCHE!  It is so soft, buttery and milky and even though brioche was not listed on their menu, it was unmistakeable the second I bit into it.  And our sweet server confirmed when I asked her.  Origin made me feel so welcome and relaxed, they gave me great food, and they completely knocked down my disdain for sweet and savoury dishes down a notch (I loved my brunch, but don’t expect me to nosh on teriyaki anytime soon!) as well as proving my preconceived notions about them being out of my league wrong.  Bring on the brunches and patio!

Origin Restaurant & Bar in downtown Toronto on King Street East

*****

Origin is located at 107 King Street East at Church Street in downtown Toronto.  They serve 2 other locations in Toronto (Liberty Village and soon-to-be Bayview Village in North York!).

Potato Pancakes & Sweet Apples – Weekend Brunch at ViVetha Bistro in Yonge Lawrence Village!

Leave a comment

DSCN9677

Happy St. Patty’s Day, everyone!  Okay, so today’s weekend brunch post isn’t an Irish one but it does involve potatoes so that’s something!  I’ve missed blogging about weekend brunch so much.  Aside from cupcakes and sushi, it’s my favourite  thing to write about on Ate by Ate and it’s the one series on the blog I’m most passionate to see grow.  I started a fun “Get Cracking – Egg Breakfasts!” photo gallery on Ate by Ate’s Facebook page that I can’t wait to add more to (can you tell I love eggs in all its forms?!) and I’m so happy that I’ve been able to rack up over 20 posts on weekend brunch meals in the city thus far!  And that’s not even counting the non-weekend breakfast posts I’ve done.

I’m especially excited about this particular post though because I’ve been trying to integrate more pancake related material into the series and this totally fits the bill in a non-traditional way – we’re talking pancakes potato-style!

DSCN9676

DSCN9688

My family and I love potato pancakes.  I’m obsessed with crispy potato rosti with sour cream, my brother and I love wafer thin, crispy hash browns, my brother has had the potato pancakes from Futures Bakery, and one of my all-time, favourite home-cooked dishes made by my mom is her potato patties with green onions and diced barbecued pork.  She mashes freshly boiled potatoes, mixes the green onions and pork in, shapes them into cute little patties, and throws them into the skillet to get them gorgeously golden brown.  It is such a treat and it’s been a favourite of mine since I was little.  She doesn’t make them often just because they’re a little more time-consuming and labour intensive, but when she does, everyone in the house is over the moon!  One of these days I’ll give it a go and we’ll see if they measure up!

DSCN9675

This post features a potato pancake weekend brunch meal from uptown bistro, ViVetha Bistro in the Yonge & Lawrence neighbourhood!    This spot is AMAZING!  I cannot wait to come back for another round.  Their food is delicious, their menu is varied and big, and their space is sweet, sunny, and cozy.  And how did I discover such a fabulous spot?  By walking around.  Again.  I make my best food discoveries just strolling around on a relaxing day of exploration.  I was in the Yonge & Lawrence neighbourhood months ago and while I was walking, I see their menu taped to the inside of their front window and knew off the bat I had to come back for some delicious eats.

ViVetha weekend brunch menu offers a little bit of everything – plenty of different egg breakfasts (lots of omelettes and eggs benedict), pancakes and French toast, and salads, sandwiches, and pasta.  Yes, pasta!  It wasn’t until I started going to Italian and European-style brunch spots that I became used to seeing pasta on the brunch menu.  You’re talking to a girl who grew up eating congee for breakfast when she was a tiny tot, then Fruit Loops cereal, and eggs and ham as a kid and then dim sum woven in every so often.  I was always used to having noodles for breakfast as well, but pasta is a little different.  It’s like how I had my spinach pappardelle bolognese pasta dish at Terroni Centrale last November .  It was the first time I ordered pasta for brunch and I have to say, I LOVED it.  You think you’re not hungry enough to eat it but trust me, you are.

DSCN9679

DSCN9678

Anyway, prices are incredibly average and reasonable.  I’m accustomed to seeing weekend brunch prices hovering around the $11-$15 range but at ViVetha, you can easily order a meal for under $10.  Many meals come in at $8 or $9 with some of the more entree type plates (like pasta and such) averaging $11-$14.

They also offer weekly brunch specials that are separate from their permanent menu.  I love that!  It keeps things exciting, new and fresh that way, especially if you’re a regular.  I had the hardest time choosing between my meal and one of the weekly specials (an eggs benny with beef tenderloin tips, smoked salmon and bocconcini – OH MY GOD).  But I went for my potato pancake meal because I really wanted to have something pancake-related, plus there was PLENTY to make my mouth water in this dish!

DSCN9680

ViVetha actually has two potato pancake menu options, one that is served with bacon and sausage, and the other that’s served with smoked salmon and eggs.  You can probably guess which one I chose.  That’s right, the one with my beloved smoked salmon and eggs!  My potato pancake platter ($11) was comprised of two big potato pancakes (shredded potatoes and green onions fried golden brown), slices of smoked salmon, 2 eggs any style (I had mine fluffy scrambled!) and a generous helping of sweet sauteed apples, sour cream and capers, and some fruit on the side.  EVERYTHING I LOVE!  Potatoes, sour cream, apples I could eat (recall my raw apple allergy!), smoked salmon, eggs, and some nice salty capers.

I was so happy.

The meal really plays on eastern European flavours (apples/applesauce with potato patties!) and the whole dish was just really balanced as there were equal portions of everything.  There were lots of different textures and flavours going on that complemented each other: the crispiness of the potato pancakes which was crucial to preventing the meal from being too “soft”, the sweetness of the apples that cut through the saltiness of the capers and smoked salmon, and the sour cream which gave a nice punch of cool tanginess and creaminess to the whole dish.  Truly though, the apples make this dish.  Anybody can say that they had potatoes with their breakfast (hash browns, home fries, whatever), but not many can say that their potato brunch came with a sweet order of apples!

DSCN9684

DSCN9686

ViVetha is truly a gem in the neighbourhood and in the city in general.  I have French toast, pancakes, pasta,  and more eggs benny calling my time for future visits!

*****

ViVetha (or ViPei as it is also known as) serves 4 locations in the city.  This particular location is located in uptown Toronto at 3334 Yonge Street, right by the corner of St. Germain Ave., in the Yonge & Lawrence neighbourhood on the west side of Yonge Street.  Even though it’s somewhat in between York Mills and Lawrence, trust me when I say that it is much easier and faster to get here from Lawrence!

Seared Tuna, Apple Cider & Gingerbread Men Wreaths – A Wintery Weekend Lunch at Bannock

Leave a comment

DSCN9457

When I think of winter and the holiday season, I think of Christmas, yes, but I also think of the ultimate cozy, winter comfort scene: gingerbread and spices, snow, Christmas greenery, hot drinks, and a comforting plate of food, all in a warm and peaceful ski house.  A place where you can sit back and relax and watch the snow gently fall outside a window, all the while noshing on good eats.  Bannock, located at the corner of Queen and Bay Street on the ground floor of the city’s iconic Hudson’s Bay Company flagship store, may not be a ski house, but it does offer us foodies everything cozy and comforting in a wine bar, bistro type of atmosphere.  Think warm woods and browns, rustic accents, and a wine rack to boot!  I love the window seats that look out onto Queen West and I’m smitten with their seasonal holiday decorations: ice cream and candy cane trees, and gingerbread man wreaths!

Bannock is part of what I call the Oliver & Bonacini restaurant collection.  Partners Michael Bonacini and Peter Oliver have been putting their culinary, business, and restaurant management expertise to work for over 20 years, opening 8 different restaurants, each with a different look, feel, and menu.  Oliver & Bonacini restaurants have a little bit of French, some Italian, some Parisian, and some classic northern Canadian among a number of other cuisines.  One thing each and every O&B dining establishment has in common though is the intent of making every dining experience a fine dining one, even the most casual eateries!

DSCN9443

DSCN9471

DSCN9466

Bannock falls under O&B’s ‘Canadian comfort food’ umbrella.  Aside from the food and menu itself, its Canadian connection?  Bannock’s name.  Bannock, as a food, is a type of flat, biscuit-type quick bread common in Aboriginal and Inuit cuisine and this type of bread is incorporated into a number of Bannock’s dishes including their sandwiches, pizzas, and garlic and herb bannock appetizer.  The unique thing about Bannock is its dine-in and take-out components.  It fuses both the casual and fine dining experiences together under one roof.  On one side you can hop in during your busy lunch hour and grab a sweet treat, a sandwich on artisan bread, or a soup or salad (or some of everything!), or sit down for a quick drink with a book or newspaper.  On the other side, you can relax with a glass of wine and enjoy fresh fish, hearty meat dishes, grain salads and more with twinkling lights sparkling above you.

In order for an eatery to live up to its promise of Canadian comfort food, it obviously has to demonstrate this through its dishes and menu selection.  Bannock offers Monforte dairy and Canadian cheeses, Atlantic fish, Ontario venison, Alberta ground brisket, west coast tuna and more and goodness is their menu ever delightful!  My boyfriend and I counted at LEAST ten menu items that we wanted to try and come back for the next time around.  And that time after that.  And then the time after that.  I can tell we’ll be eating here a lot over the next year or two.  On my Bannock wishlist: mac and cheese with wilted spinach; crooked spinach salad with taro sticks, mixed pickles, and goat feta; salt cod donuts; Atlantic haddock and shrimp cake with chips and dill pickle tartar, vegetable cobb with avocado, barley, deviled egg, thunder oak gouda, and living sprouts; tofurkey scallopini with mozzarella, roasted garlic, squash mostarda (an Italian condiment that comes in the form of mustard married with syrup) and quinoa; and biff’s fried bologna and eggs with bannock, smoky tomato, and duck fat potatoes.  Prices come in at around $13-$22 for mains with most ringing in at $14-$16

DSCN9460

DSCN9451

And this is just their lunch and dinner menu – they have a Sunday brunch service!  BRING IT ON.

Despite all the menu items I wanted to stuff my face in, I had to choose one so I chose Bannock’s seared BC albacore tuna ($19) with wax beans, smashed fingerling potatoes, root crudités (whole, small vegetables), and bagna cauda, a warm dip that is typically served with the vegetables and that is made with garlic, anchovies, olive oil and butter.  Oh!  And fresh apple cider ($5) with a cinnamon stick!  I am so, SO in love with their apple cider.  I love apple cider but it’s tricky to get that perfect balance of sweetness, warmth, and  fruitiness without the overpowering acidic tang and sourness from the apple.  Either that or that slightly rubbery taste you get when you drink apple or grape juice.  Their apple cider is perfect though.  It didn’t make me pucker and it was just really crisp and refreshing in a warm and cozy kind of way!

DSCN9485

DSCN9483

DSCN9478

And the tuna is delicious!  There were five thick pieces of tuna (like little tuna steaks) and they were so fresh and meaty.  What I really loved about it, aside from the smooth texture, was the tiny bit of fat on each piece.  It made it that much more savoury and soft and flavourful.  I was also a really big fan of the smashed fingerlings (they were really flattened which was really cute!) and the bagna cauda sauce that I used for the tuna, cauliflower crudités and potatoes.  I’m a huge fan of beans and I love it when I get both green and yellow ones, so I was a happy camper in that department; the only thing I wish was different was more beans!  That and maybe some more fingerlings.  But truly, I was full afterward and was really satisfied with my meal and how everything complemented each other.  The vegetables cut through the meatiness of the tuna while the tuna itself gave the whole dish its heartiness.

There’s so much to try here at Bannock and there’s so much to love!  It’s right across the street from the Eaton Centre, they serve Sunday brunch, and there’s about half a menu waiting for me every other day.  You know I’ll be back.

DSCN9430

*****

Bannock is located at 401 Bay Street at the corner of Bay and Queen Street West, on the ground floor of the Hudson’s Bay Company.  It is located across the street from Old City Hall and the Eaton Centre and is open for 7 days a week.  Their grab-and-go coffee shop hours are 7:30am-8pm Monday to Friday, 9am-8pm on Saturday, and 9am-4pm on Sundays.  Their dining room hours are as follows: 11:30am-10pm Monday to Friday, 11am-10pm on Saturdays, and 11am-4pm for Sunday brunch service.

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).

A Wine & Cheese Bar and a Courtyard Oasis – A Weekend Brunch Photo Spotlight at Caren’s in Yorkville, Part I!

Leave a comment

There’s a first time for everything!  Well, most things anyway.  I’ve never dined in a wine and cheese bar before and while this meal and first visit was strictly devoted to brunch, sans the wine and cheese (I could have had some, but I didn’t – this time!), it still counts as a dining experience in a beautiful, posh and classy wine and cheese bar in one of my favourite parts of town.  Welcome to Caren’s Wine & Cheese Bar on Cumberland St. in Yorkville!  My co-worker, Pat, who adores cheese even more than I do, told me about this wonderful gem run, in part, by cheese consultant and tastings extraordinaire, Tiffany MacIsaac.  I must have passed by the adorable house the bar is housed in a million times but I never realized it was such a popular destination until Pat brought it to my attention.  And I do mean popular – I was not the only one lined up at 11:30am sharp this morning out on their pretty front patio!  Yorkville is truly a gift of food that just keeps on giving.  Enjoy the photo spotlight; full-length Part II post to come tomorrow!

*****

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).