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

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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!

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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

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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!

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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.

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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.

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Celebrating the Bounty of Apples & Sweetness – Not Far From the Tree Presents City Cider at Spadina Museum!

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Celebrating the apple harvest and everything apple!

I know I was really mean yesterday leaving you all drooling over that apple caramel cupcake like that with no further commentary.  I’ve got the goods all ready to roll tonight though because I went through my eleventy billion photos (more like 95 but close enough), chose my favourite ones to show you all yesterday and today, and got all my apple literature materials prepared!  You know I can’t leave an event without buttons, pamphlets, postcards, and promo materials – it would be a travesty otherwise! 

Yesterday’s City Cider event at Spadina Museum: Historic House & Gardens was unlike any food and/or community event I had ever been to.  It wasn’t meant to be flashy or expensive or inaccessible to the general public.  On the contrary, people of all ages were having the best time ever taking photos of the orchards and gardens, sipping fresh warm apple cider straight out of the press, watching apples being turned into homemade apple butter in a historic 1920s kitchen, noshing on decadent and delicious apple caramel cupcakes from a cupcake truck, and enjoying a little dry apple cider on the side (read: alcohol!).  Babies and little ones were frollicking across the grass, people were running back and forth grabbing little glasses of cider because they were just that yummy, and enjoying everything there was to enjoy about the apple harvest and upcoming fall season.

Apple cider and apple yummies await you!

More importantly though, we were all there to support and engage in a larger-than-life organization, inititative, and cause: Not Far From the Tree, our beloved organization founded and located right here in Toronto, responsible for this amazing festival with the help and support of local businesses such as Pommies Dry Cider and The Big Carrot on te Danforth.

To put Not Far From the Tree and what they do into perspective, consider this: how many of us throw food out on a weekly basis, specifically fruits and vegetables and perishables?  It’s okay, raise your hand – I’m raising mine.  How many of us do so because we 1) bought more than we thought we could eat and ended up wasting it because it spoiled, 2) didn’t take care of our food and inadvertently speeded up the spoiling process, or 3) just didn’t get around to eating it or using it up in time?  Or maybe a combination of all of the above?  It happens.  We’re not heartless people (at least I hope not!); we’re just careless sometimes.

Fresh apple cider being hand pressed!

Apples getting ground up and mushed

Bushels of orchard apples just waiting to be devoured!

Watching the cider magic and quenching our thirst!

Now, envision what happens when this waste is multiplied hundreds and thousands of times.  Think of all the pounds of food waste and all the good it could do if wasn’t wasted.  The mouths it could feed, the good it could do for the environment.  Now think of what could happen if we had a way of cutting this waste down, even just a fraction by putting our food to better use and sharing our bounty or overabudance with others.  Not Far From the Tree does just that.  As an organization dedicated to caring for the well-being of the environment and community, their goal is to maintain one very specific part of our food chain and ecosystem the best they can and distributing its wares: fruit trees!

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The Kick-Off to Apple Harvesting, Juicing, Baking & More! The 2nd Annual City Cider at Spadina Museum, Part I!

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Apple baked goods, cider, orchards, fruit trees, and apple picking in the afternoon sun – it was the perfect day to ring in the season of apple harvesting and the 2nd annual City Cider festival in the city today!  Toronto’s very own Not Far From the Tree, the philanthropic organization that has been picking fruit, donating to community centres and shelters, changing lives, and bringing communities together locally and globally through their events and programs for the past 5 years, teamed up with Toronto’s historic Spadina house and museum for this Sunday afternoon celebration of all things apple related!  I haven’t had this much fun at a festival for a long time and I was absolutely blown away by all the activities and special apple related things they were able to cram into 4 hours! 

I have SO many photos that I still need to edit, so this is just a sneak peek of some of the fun things I enjoyed today before tomorrow’s big post, including a demonstration on how to make apple butter inside Spadina house’s historic kitchen, watching bushels of apples transformed into cider from start to finish, apple caramel cupcakes (YES, CUPCAKES!), exploring the beautiful grounds, gardens, and orchard trees, getting to know more about Not Far From the Tree, and plenty of tastings!  

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Spadina Museum: Historic House & Gardens is located at 285 Spadina Rd. across the street from Casa Loma.

Apple Cider to Warm Up My Morning

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This is how I spend a relaxing, low-key morning – with a warm mug of sweet apple cider and a Homemakers magazine!  😀  Not pictured: Lush Times catalogue.  It was windy, gusty, and bitterly cold yesterday so I hugged my apple cider for a few hours as I thumbed through recipes for chicken and mango stir-fry, and popcorn toppings and seasonings, all the while jotting down blogging notes in my little blue muffymade fashionista notebook.  It was really nice.  The apple cider was delicious, I was enjoying an apple-related something with no worries of blowing up like a blowfish, and I was alone with my thoughts.  I cherish mornings like these.  I love flipping through and reading my food magazines for inspiration and Homemakers has been a long time staple in my life! 

After receiving a free copy at last weekend’s Bloor/Yorkville Icefest, I was transported back to the age of 7 and 8 when I used to read my grandmother’s Homemarkers magazines.  She would get them delivered to her apartment for free and because she couldn’t read English, I would happily read them while I was over there and take them home with me when I left.  I would use them for food collages and I would look forward to the recipes section in each issue every time.  The holiday issues were especially amazing as they would include pullout booklets and all the fixins’.  Sure, I was only 7 or 8 at the time and no where near being a homemaker myself, but reading these magazines ignited a fire in me and till this day the passion to learn is still as strong as it was when I was little.  This “little” magazine will always hold a very special place in my heart. 

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Dark Horse Espresso Bar serves 3 locations in downtown Toronto:

  1. 215 Spadina Ave. (nearest intersection is Queen St. West and Spadina, about a block or two north of Queen on the east side of Spadina)
  2. 682 Queen St. East (located in the Riverside neighbourhood, west of Broadview Ave.)
  3. 684 Queen St. West (located at Euclid Ave. on the north side of Queen)