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

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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).

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Ate by Ate’s 200th Blog Post! Celebrating the Memories & Great Times With Cupcakes From Dessert Lady

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It’s the blog’s monumental 200th post! 😀  I know it might have made more sense to celebrate the 100th, but I kind of made an oopsie and didn’t realize it until it was too late.  I’m so excited though that this is the 200th post!  When I started the blog, I was a little worried that I wouldn’t be able to keep up, that I would fall off the wagon and stop blogging altogether if I let complacency and laziness set in.  I knew I wanted to make my food scrapbooking a focal point and I knew I wanted to post about a variety of things so that there would be a little something for everyone to take away.  It’s not that I was necessarily doubting my ability to write food posts (I can talk anyone’s ear off about food), it was more so an anxiousness about keeping the inspiration fresh and genuinely being excited and loving what I talked about.  The last thing I wanted was to feel “bored” or to come to the conclusion that there was nothing else out there to inspire me.  You all know there’s never too much love for cupcakes though!  To celebrate this milestone, I present to you delicious cupcakes from Dessert Lady in Yorkville!

Dessert Lady is a bakery and chocolatier located on Cumberland St. in Yorkville that also serves ice cream and sorbet.  They deliver, take phone and in-store orders, and they also do catering.  They bake extravagent cakes (think special occasion), birthday cakes, pies, tarts, cookies and shortbread, chocolate truffles, biscotti, and of course, cupcakes!  What’s really great about Dessert Lady is their prices.  If you’ve kept up with the cupcake posts, you know that many of the cupcakeries in Toronto price their cupcakes around $2.50-$2.65 on the lower end.  While Dessert Lady has 3 tiers of cupcake pricing (which I will explain later on in the post), their cupcakes start at $2.00.  I KNOW.  How awesome is that?  Even if the $2.00 ones are basic flavours, it’s still worth mentioning and duh, eating.  Because we all know that if we can get a delicious cupcake for $0.50 less, we will.

My two picks: roasted pineapple coconut with vanilla buttercream frosting (because you all know how much I love coconut!) and a chocolate cupcake with raspberry frosting, both priced at $2.50 each.  And if you’re wondering, the adorable tiny nautical dish is mine.  Yes, that’s right, I have dishware with me when I take photos.  Well, I kind of bought it that day and thought it would be adorable to use it, so technically I’m not a crazy girl who carries around dishes with her.  Technically.  And the reason why I have the cupcakes photographed the way that I do is because photography is prohibited in the store.  Sigh.

The cupcakes are beautifully frosted and decorated.  The piping is very clean and the attention to detail is adorable.  The pineapple coconut cupcake is frosted with vanilla buttercream with toasted coconut flakes on top, dried sweet pineapple studded throughout the cake and -get this- there’s a little flute of white chocolate on top! 😀  The chocolate cupcake with the raspberry buttercream is a simple one, but really, top notch stuff. 

Although I loved them both, I have to say that the raspberry chocolate knocked it out of the park.  This even surprised ME.  You’d think that I would like the pineapple coconut more because, well, it’s me, but the raspberry chocolate was all sorts of awesome.  Their raspberry frosting was SO fruity and the tartness of the raspberries wasn’t tamed down with an overabundance of sugar.  You can literally SEE the texture and composition of the raspberries in the buttercream.  Their cupcakes are soft and their buttercream frosting is light and whippy, but not “buttery” in that filmy, greasy way.  It has enough thickness and body to it that it actually tastes like creamy frosting in your mouth as opposed to something melty and thin in consistency.

Dessert Lady prices their cupcakes using 3 different tiers/categories: Premium ($3.00), Contemporary ($2.50), and Classic ($2.00).  Taken from their menu, premium cupcakes include the following flavours:

  1. carrot cupcake with walnuts and cream cheese frosting
  2. coffee cupcake with walnuts and pecan crumble frosting
  3. red velvet cupcake with cream cheese frosting
  4. rich fudgy chocolate cupcake with mocha buttercream frosting
  5. spicy mango cupcake with tangy lime buttercream frosting

 Contemporary cupcake flavours (priced at $2.50 each), are the following:

  1. chocolate cupcake with chocolate buttercream frosting
  2. chocolate cupcake with raspberry buttercream frosting
  3. pumpkin cupcake with cinnamon buttercream frosting
  4. roasted pineapple coconut cupcake with vanilla buttercream frosting
  5. tangy lemon cupcake with raspberry buttercream frosting

And finally, the classic cupcake flavours (priced at $2.00 each):

  1. banana cupcake with vanilla buttercream frosting
  2. classic chocolate cupcake with vanilla buttercream frosting
  3. classic vanilla cupcake with vanilla buttercream frosting

I love the prices are so reasonable and in line with so many other cupcakeries around the city.  The fact that they offer several flavours at $2.00 is a bonus.  I know quite a few people who aren’t into fussy, complicated, flashy flavours (unlike me of course, ha) and prefer simple vanilla and chocolate.  If that’s the case, this is a steal for you and it’s very worth it because they are yummy. 

In my opinion, I’d wouldn’t pay too much attention to red velvet, just because other places sell that flavour at a less expensive price.  Even if it’s amazing, I know I can also get an equally amazing red velvet cupcake for less somewhere else.  The only blip in the 3-tier pricing arrangement I can see is when you purchase half a dozen or a dozen and you want to mix and match BETWEEN tiers.  There’s a set price if you purchase half a dozen classic cupcakes, for example, but you run into trouble if you don’t want all 6 to be from that one category.  In a case like that, I can only assume that you’d have to pay for each cupcake at its individual price, unless of course they’re willing to cut you a deal.

Thank you to everyone who follows the blog and enjoys the posts.  I hope everyone’s enjoyed the scrapbooking aspect of it and the stuff I’ve chosen to write about thus far.  It’s been so much fun in so many ways and I’ve met some wonderful people and made some really sweet friendships because of it.  Here’s to another 200 posts 😀

*****

Dessert Lady is located at 12 Cumberland St. in Yorkville on the north side of the street, west of Yonge St. and north of Bloor St.  They are open 6 days a week from Monday-Saturday (they are closed on Sundays and are only available for consultations by appointment) and are open for business at 10:30am on all 6 days.  If you are interested in seeing other cupcakes from Dessert Lady (and other cupcakeries in Toronto in general!), check out Alexandra’s blog, Vivid Memories where she documents her cupcake tour of Toronto!