Strawberry & Banana Bread French Toast and Hot Cheddar & Tomatoes – Brunch on the Patio at Joy Bistro in Leslieville!

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After a whirlwind of Swiss Chalet Fresh Impressions Tour fun and sneak peeks, Ate by Ate is back with good eats and brunch straight from the heart of Leslieville on Queen Street East!  We took a bit of a detour last week, but just to recap, we took a closer look at the Leslieville Cheese Market, a summer Sunday at Leslieville Farmers’ Market in August, and a foodie district post highlighting some of the great food and drink along the popular east end strip including Majesteas and the brand spankin’ new donut and chicken shop (I know, it still takes a bit of time to wrap your head around it, doesn’t it?), Pauline’s! 

Today, we celebrate weekend brunch out on the patio at Joy Bistro, located right across the street from Jimmie Simpson Park on Queen East!  Leslieville boasts so many great brunch and lunch spots and it was hard deciding where my next adventure was going to be.  I lucked out and managed to grab a great table at Lady Marmalade during a Monday morning last year (yes, there are line-ups out the door even on weekdays!), but aside from one of Leslieville’s most popular eateries, brunch in Leslieville was still pretty foreign to me.  So I did a little research, read up on some TO food literature, and after seeing a shot of their outdoor patio online, I was sold!

Joy Bistro is such a pretty dining spot and you actually don’t realize just how gorgeous it is until you stand directly in front of it from across the street on the south side of Queen.  It’s a beautiful building with an upper level and lots of flowers and hanging baskets everywhere and when you look at it dead on, you realize just how appropriate the space is for all sorts of dining occasions.  On the inside we have the bar and bistro area on the main floor, perfect for some drinks (you should have seen how quickly Joy’s bartender was whipping up those brunch Caesars!), small bites, and a meal by the window with a newspaper.  Then we have the open outdoor patio, perfect for a casual, easy breezy brunch and lunch with friends and family.  Finally, we have the pretty and romantic and ultra charming patio terrace with cushioned seats, flowers, a canopy, and strings of lights that light up the night.  When I realized just how cute and charming that particular dining area was, I vowed that I would come back for lunch and dinner, just so I could dine there and enjoy the atmosphere.  And you know, eat!

I made my first experience at Joy Bistro a weekend brunch one though and I had a great time pairing sweet and savoury together for a yummy and delicious meal!  The great thing about Joy is that their weekend brunch menu incorporates both their breakfast page and their lunch menu, so it fits the bill for parties that either feel more eggs and bacon-y or more salad and sandwich-y.  Their brunch menu was even more fab than I thought it would be though!  The menu they have posted online isn’t their most updated one and let me tell you, the real one is 10 times more awesome! 

 

Prices range from $8.50-$14.50 with most brunch meals coming in at around $9-$11, and some of highlights include their 3-egg omelette with goat cheese, mushrooms, spinach, and red peppers; coconut and oat granola yogurt with sesame, sunflower, and pumpkin seeds (I am over the moon with this one!); Eggs Norweigan (eggs benedict with smoked salmon and spinach); Eggs Willow Grove (eggs benedict with pulled pork – I know, wipe the drool off your chin); lemon ricotta pancakes (oh good god, I need this in my life), and my pick, banana bread French toast with berries and bananas!

After having such a fantastic banana bread French toast meal at The Gladstone Hotel, I thought, “why not give it a whirl and try every French toast brunch menu item there is in the city?  Especially banana bread ones!”  I’ve always wanted to try as many French toasts as possible, but ever since that Gladstone meal, I’ve been paying much more attention to spots with different styles and kinds because the banana bread one was so good.  Joy’s banana bread French toast ($9) is a dish comprised of 3 thick slices of sweet, ultra moist banana bread drizzle with maple syrup, dusted with icing sugar, and sprinkled with blueberries and slices of strawberry and banana.  I thought banana bread couldn’t be any softer, moister, or more flavourful than the ones made at Gladstone, but I was pleasantly surprised by how delicious Joy’s was.  Their French toast matched the Gladstone’s bite for bite and the maple syrup just intensified the flavour even more.  Part of me wishes the whole plate was covered in more fruit so I could have an even bigger field day with it, but the dish as a whole was delicious and so flavourful.

And sides!  We can’t forget sides.  I knew I wanted something savoury to balance out my sweet so I perused their list of brunch sides (priced from $1-$4 for yummies like peameal bacon, home fries, and bacon and sausage) and went with a side of sauteed tomatoes ($1.50) and a side of cheddar cheese ($1).  Holy mother of pearl was this ever GOOD!  The sides came separately on their own, but my intention was to totally sprinkle my aged white cheddar cheese over top my piping hot ramekin filled with the juiciest chopped tomatoes and have it melt over top and was it ever ridiculously foodgasmic!  Cheese and tomato go hand and hand, so if you’re looking for a great savoury side that packs a punch, try this one because it makes you feel all warm and fuzzy and wiggly over how good it is.

After finding out how great and diversified their menu is, I cannot wait to come back and try all the items I listed earlier in the post and to dine in their charming and romantic terrace.  Joy Bistro may not have the powerhouse line-ups out the door that Bonjour Brioche or Lady Marmalade have, but let me tell you, it’s a wonderful spot in Leslieville with so much to offer and I’m looking forward to showcasing as much as I can from here from here on out.          

*****

Joy Bistro is located at 884 Queen Street East in Leslieville, at the corner of Booth Ave. and Queen East across the street from Jimmie Simpson Park.  They serve weekend brunch, lunch, and dinner as well as plenty of drinks at the bar!  Hours of operation: Monday-Wednesday 11am-12am midnight, Thursday-Friday 11am-1am, Saturday 8am-1am, and Sunday 8am-12am midnight.

West Coast Salad, Appetizers Galore, & a Kitchen Tour Fit For a Foodie – The All-Access Pass to Swiss Chalet, Part II!

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My dinner pick: the West Coast Chicken Salad!

The big Swiss Chalet Fresh Impressions Tour Part II post is finally here!  I’m really sorry for dropping the ball this weekend.  Admittedly, I was having too much fun celebrating my birthday with friends and family since Friday and was too tired by the end of each day to prepare this big post, but I’m here now and I’m ready to get back to my regular routine of posting every day as I know I’ve already missed several days in August already and it isn’t even the end of the month yet!  Things have been crazy busy on my end but in a really good way and I have so much to share with you all in additon to this speciall all-access pass. 

Let’s start from the very beginning though so you know how all of this came about in the first place.  I had no idea the Fresh Impressions Tour was going on until a young lady (much like myself ) named Emily Wilch from Mosaic Solutions sent me an e-mail about a week before inviting me to this once-in-a-lifetime type of opportunity and event.  I was floored!  ME?!  In my mind, these types of events were reserved for industry leaders and media socialites who are accustomed to rubbing elbows with other media gurus.  I was honoured and I accepted the invitation on the spot.  I would have been crazy not to!

The special Fresh Impressions Tour menu for the night

Let’s get us some awesome sauce!

I was, however, incredibly curious as to how Emily found me.  I know people read Ate by Ate and find out about it through Twitter, Facebook, and other members of the food blogging community, but it’s not a huge enterprise that is known worldwide if you know what I mean!  Emily replied back saying that she found me via our beloved Food Bloggers of Canada, the wonderful forum and community where I act as Toronto admin and events calendar compiler.  I couldn’t believe my good fortune and I couldn’t wait to get an up close and personal look at and tour through the Swiss Chalet kitchen at Yonge & Gerrard, learn some of the food tidbits and secrets behind the food, and of course, enjoy a really delicious meal with fellow foodies.

Mosaic Sales Solutions is a North American marketing, PR, and social media company that works in collaboration with other service and retail enterprises to create marketing campaigns, events, promotions, and sales and profit-driven agendas.  They have 4 offices in Canada and the United States: 1 in Dallas, 1 in Chicago, 1 in Laval in Quebec, and 1 in Mississauga here in the GTA.  Together, Mosaic and Swiss Chalet partnered up to work on the Fresh Impressions Tour this year, a tour devoted to giving Swiss Chalet lovers across the country from coast to coast an opportunity to get sneak peeks and great eats in and outside their restaurant doors. 

The food truck, coming to a neighbourhood near you!

The goal of the tour is two-fold: 1) to join in on the food truck craze and to give everyone another way of enjoying Swiss Chalet’s famous fries and Chalet sauce in a fun, interactive way, and 2) to invite fans and foodies to learn more about Swiss Chalet as a Canadian-founded business and to connect with those in the food and media industry, and to bring lovers of food and Swiss Chalet together for a night of fun and eating.  The whole point is to make things fun and more accessible, to give everyone a “fresh impression” of the Canadian restaurant that has been a part of many of our families’ lives for generations, and to maybe even encourage both fans and those who don’t dine at Swiss Chalet all that often to try something new.

The food truck really speaks to the popularity of using social media as a mode of promotion and communication between businessses and their customers, something that wasn’t even happening 10 years ago.  I may not be on the smartphone bandwagon (I have one, I just don’t text or have internet on it.  That’s right, I use it AS A PHONE.  Okay, and as a clock and a map), but many people follow food trucks and spontaneous promotions via Twitter and the like, so this tour is a way for Swiss Chalet to open themselves up to a different market and demographic, and let’s face it, keep up with the digital times.

Emily’s photo of me in the cooking kitchen beside the vat that holds the secret Chalet sauce!

Where all the hustle and bustling of meal preparing happens!

Byron, with the quarter chicken dinner plate!

Fresh-cut potatoes just waiting to be turned into delicious fries!

Fellow foodies in the kitchen taking notes and photos!

I was so happy to have my boyfriend and Swiss Chalet lover, Richard, come with me for the event (my special +1!) because it was truly a night to remember.  The event was to run from 6:30pm-8:30pm, but let’s be real, events always last and run longer and later than the stated time and trust me when I say that nobody minded when we were patting our tummies well past 9pm!  Emily, along with fellow Mosaic coordinator, Whitney, hosted the event alongside Swiss Chalet staff, and restaurant manager Byron, who hosted and led our kitchen tour and chicken spring roll making workshop!

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Kitchen Tours, Making Spring Rolls, & Food Trucks! An All-Access Pass to Swiss Chalet’s Fresh Impressions Tour, Part I

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Fries and Chalet sauce, please!

We interrupt your regular scheduled programming with this news bulletin: I WAS IN SWISS CHALET’S KITCHEN YESTERDAY NIGHT!  I took an exclusive, all-access pass tour through their kitchen where they cook and make all their famous food!  I got to hang out with the special Swiss Chalet fries and chalet sauce food truck that’s going on tour across the country!  I donned a special apron to make their chicken spring rolls!  And I got to sit down at a dinner table with marketing and media and fellow foodie folks and stuff my face with everyone!  OH.MY.GOD! 

Before I gush any further and bounce off the walls telling you all about one of the funnest nights ever and how all of this even came about (“you were in Swiss Chalet’s kitchen?!  For a tour?  And a special dinner?  Wait, what?  WHY?!”), let me just say that I have never interrupted one of my own blog series before.  And that I rarely blog about chain restaurants.  To date, I have only ever blogged about two popular sit-down chain establishments: the holiday gingerbread cake from Moxie’s and the eats at Spring Rolls.  You know how I feel about entertaining blog posts on chain spots.  To me, chain spots are just way too formulaic to do them on a regular basis (or in some cases, at all) and the whole point of Ate by Ate is to share my stories, scrapbooking, and photos of places that make Toronto (and its surrounding regions if and when I get to them!) special.  Thus, I only do them when there’s something I want everyone to know about, like the gingerbread cake from Moxie’s. 

You can tell this is big then.  I know this week was supposed to be enirely dedicated to good eats in Leslieville, but I HAVE to take a detour and play show-and-tell for today and tomorrow because I have NEVER had this type of opportunity presented to me before and I feel so happy and blessed that I got to take part in such a fun, memorable, special event at a place I’ve been dining with family and friends since I was a kid.  When I was little and growing up in Scarborough, my parents and I used to order Swiss Chalet take-out every once in awhile and I remember it being such a treat any time we did.  It’s a spot everyone in my family can agree on (my grandparents included!  And my grandpa is a picky eater!), it’s my dad’s favourite place to have a family meal out, my best friend and I have shared many a meal here during our days in university, and I’ll admit it: I finish off my Chalet sauce every single time and mop up my dad’s little Chalet sauce cup too because he generally doesn’t care for sauce on anything.  His loss is clearly my gain! 

I know I don’t ever talk about this type of stuff because of my commitment to keeping the blog focused on the special and unique, but in the context of the situation, it’s fitting and I know there are probably so many of you who have shared these same experiences with your family and friends over the years, so it’s a nice way for me to at least open a dialogue about Swiss Chalet, a place many of us have eaten at!           

The dining room and special table, just for us!

Swiss Chalet restaurant manager, Byron, leading our special kitchen tour!

Where the Chalet sauce cups are, and where all the plates get a final look before being delivered to hungry customers!

Me! In my snazzy red Fresh Impressions apron!

Garlic cheese loaf – one of the MANY appetizers we had to induce all our food comas for the night!

The BIG nitty-gritty post is coming tomorrow (this is more like a photo spotlight and sneak peek, introduction post), but just so everyone is on the same page: what I’m referring to is Swiss Chalet’s special Fresh Impressions Tour that is taking place nationwide this summer, complete with a Swiss Chalet food truck tour (carrying the fries and Chalet sauce so many of us love!) and special get-together events and all-access kitchen tours like the one I was invited to yesterday evening at the Swiss Chalet located at Yonge & Gerrard.  I will be completely honest and say that I had no idea this was going on and that it had already started at the beginning of the month until I was shocked out of my pants (or rather, dress and tights) with an invite over a week ago.  I had SO much fun, I got to share it with my boyfriend, and I ate in the company of some really nice, funny people who made this evening incredibly memorable.  Lots more exclusive photos in tomorrow’s huge post!

*****

If you love the fries and Chalet sauce, check out Swiss Chalet’s Facebook page HERE to find out where the truck is touring, and on Twitter @MYSWISSCHALET #SwissFreshTour.

Sweet & Spicy – The Rich Creaminess of a Crema De Chocolate With Mexican Chilies at Milagro, Part II

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Oh, how sweet it is to cap off a fabulous meal with something…spicy?!  That’s right, folks.  Here at Milagro, the decadent, the sweet, and the spicy strut their stuff together on the runway that is their dessert menu with punchy, spicy chocolates, rich and creamy caramels, and refreshing fruits with a kick of heat.  With such an impressive menu of regional Mexican mains and appetizers, I was beyond excited to dig into whatever they offered for dessert and to my delight, there were more than a few options to tantilize my taste buds! 

Milagro’s dessert menu is comprised of tequilas (digestivos for the end of a meal), coffees and Mexican drinking chocolate, and sweet and spicy dessert creations.  Their menu lists 5 different dessert dishes (priced $6.95 to $8.95), but there’s actually 6 because one of them is a dessert special that changes on a regular basis, based on what’s in season and what’s appropriate for the season.  On this particular day, Milagro’s special dessert was a juicy and refreshing homemade mango ice cream with chili peppers!  I KNOW, you can’t get this anywhere else!   And while it’s something you’d never expect, it completely makes sense because Milagro utilizies spices and manipulates heat in all their dishes to create food that is uniquely their own but still very much in keeping with traditional, authentic flavours and techniques that have deep historical roots in Mexican cuisine. 

      

The 5 desserts listed on their menu include a Flan Con Caramelo (cheese flan with caramel sauce), Trufa Maya (Mexican chocolate truffle), Frutas Con Crema (fresh fruits and berries with sweet crema), Natilla De Cajeta (bruléed goat’s milk caramel custard), and my pick, the Crema De Chocolate, a Mexican chocolate and creama mousse!  Mexican chocolate is something you would find at ChocoSol in its raw, pure form, whether its in thick, round disks, as Mexican drinking chocolate, or in rich, delicious chocolate vegan cookies.  The usage of spices (cinnamon, tamales, chilies, achiote, allspice, and others) is exactly what makes Mexican chocolate distinctive along with its natural, raw, dark bitterness.  This uniqueness completely shines through via this decadent, velvety smooth dessert because only at Milagro will you find a dainty chocolate mousse that will bat its sweet eyelashes at you on the first bite and then turn around to give you a kick in the pants with a rapid succession of little bursts of heat!

The Crema De Chocolate is a rich, velvety smooth Mexican chocolate mousse dessert with two layers of chocolate (one lighter, one darker), blueberries, a spig of mint, chocolate shavings, and – wait for this – Mexican chilies!  You have this glass filled with rich, creamy, airy mousse and as you’re spooning the delightful chocolate in your mouth, you get punched with tiny beads of chilies!  Spicy chocolate may not be mainstream per se in Canadian cuisine, but is it ever a stand-by in Mexican.  I’ve only ever seen spicy chocolate on The Food Network (one of the chefs on “Best Thing I Ever Ate” was raving about this spicy chocolate ice cream in the States) and at farmers’ markets where ChocoSol sells their 5 Chili Bullet flavour as part of their selection of Mexican chocolate.  Otherwise, spicy chocolate has for the most part been unexplored terrain for me up until this point. 

I tried to capture the texture of the chocolate mousse as best I could, but you have to taste it to truly believe it.  The chocolate mousse is so incredibly nuanced in both flavour and texture and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever had.  The mousse is so deliciously fudgy, cocoa-y, and creamy with that unmistakable bitterness that is inherent in real chocolate.  It is not a “sweet” dessert in the sugary sense of the word and it demonstrates beautifully how a dessert doesn’t have to be oozing with sugar to taste amazing.  The texture is perfect because it’s not too thick and dense but it’s also not too airy; it has substance and body to it so that it actually sits and melts in your mouth, letting the flavours sink in. 

And the chilies!  All throughout the dessert there were the tiniest of red beads and they gave off little bursts of spiciness and heat to kick the chocolate mousse up a notch.  The level of spice wasn’t overwhelming and I really think the creaminess of it mellows everything out, from the chilies in the dessert to the spices that might still be lingering from the scrumptiousness of dinner.  It’s a dessert that has so much flair and complexity in terms of flavour and texture and yet, the simplicity of it as a whole is what makes it so special.

*****

Milagro Cantina Mexicana serves 3 locations in Toronto:

  1. 5 Mercer Street in downtown Toronto, between King Street West and Wellington St. West, just west of David Pecaut Square and Roy Thomson Hall in the Entertainment and Theatre District.  They are open 7 days a week from 11:30am-10pm Monday-Wednesday, 11:30am-10:30pm Thursday & Friday, 3pm-10:30pm on Saturdays and 3pm-9pm on Sundays.
  2. 783 Queen Street West by Trinity Bellwoods Park, between Euclid and Manning Ave. west of Bathurst St.  They are open 7 days from 5pm-10pm Monday-Wednesday, 12 noon-10pm on Thursdays, 12 noon-11pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and 12 noo -9pm on Sundays.  The Queen West location serves weekend brunch!
  3. 3187 Yonge Street in uptown Toronto, north of Lawrence Ave. by Ranleigh Ave.  They are open 7 days a week from 5pm-9pm Monday-Wednesday, 12 noon-9pm on Thursdays, 12 noon-10pm on Fridays, 2pm-10pm on Saturdays, and 2pm-9pm on Sundays.   

A Life-Long HG – The Remarkable Rare Tuna, Chipotle Mayo Mexican Tostadas at Milagro Cantina Mexicana, Part I!

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Your heart fills with joy.  You can’t stop thinking and gushing about it.  And as soon as it’s over, you can’t wait to come back for more.  It’s the ultimate in first dates…with food!  Call it infatuation, call it true love; when you’ve found a holy grail place to eat, nothing else comes close.  It is truly one of the best feelings in the world when you finish a delicious, wonderfully foodgasmic meal and think, “Can I live and eat here for the rest of my life?!”  Maybe taking up residence is a little unreasonable, but solidifying an eatery as a life-long dining destination is not. 

We all have them.  Those go-to places that we keep going back to over and over again because they are just that damn good.  Maybe it’s the diner around the corner from your house.  Maybe it’s a bakery in the next town over.  Or maybe it’s that fancy place in the city that you’re more than happy to splurge your hard-earned wages on several times a year.  Wherever the place may be, it’s a place that makes you happy, excited, and probably pretty darn full by the end!  My group of favourites will need to make room for a new member because Mexican powerhouse, Milagro Cantina Mexicana, has smoldered its way into my heart and into my list of holy grails!

Milagro, located smack dab in the downtown core at 5 Mercer Street between King and Wellington (with two other locations in Toronto), is a Mexican food lover’s dream.  Not only is their menu incredibly reasonable in price (a possible $12 for dinner?!), it is also a treasure chest of regional Mexican dishes and ingredients that speak to the diversity of Mexican cuisine and culture: red snapper ceviche with mango and serrano; Tijuana caesar salad, Yucatan pulled pork in achiote; Michoacán style braised pork; Pachuca style lamb slow roasted in a banana leaf; and LOTS of mouthwatering favourites including Oaxaca cheese, fresh corn tortillas, tostadas, enchiladas, burritos, and so much more. 

One very memorable moment during my first visit to Milagro was what my server said to my boyfriend and I.  He asked, “have you ever been to Milagro before?” to which we replied no, it was our first visit.  “Well, you’re in for a treat then!”  Words have never rang more true.  They are so, so committed to bringing authentic flavours, dishes, and ingredients to the table and it is mind-blowing how delicious their food is.  Gone are the stereotypes of Mexican food as being a one-track taco machine.  Milagro doesn’t just banish them – they chew them up and spit them out. 

What makes me so revved up is their variety.  And their prices.  Sure, there are some $18, $19, and $20 items on it, but a majority of their dishes fall under the $10-$15 bracket and for authentic Mexican food at this level of quality and quantity, it is beyond worth it and absolutely affordable as a life-long holy grail.  And the variety of food is remarkable – if you’re a meat-eater!  I’ll preface this by saying that while there are some vegetarian options, there aren’t many, so just keep that in mind if you’re vegetarian or if you have vegetarian friends you enjoy dining with.  Their variety lies in the different types of meat and their cooking styles.  Seafood (snapper, shrimp, rare tuna, octopus), rib-eye, lamb, chicken, pulled pork, and chorizo in grilled, marinated, slow cooked and roasted forms are just some of what you can find on the menu. 

Everything about their food is spot on.  Their portions are fantastic (my boyfriend could only comfortably finish half his burrito.  And he’s a boy!), their ingredients are so, so fresh, and EVERYTHING has a spicy kick in the pants.  There’s even a disclaimer on the menu warning everyone that the food is spicy!  If heat is your foe, don’t freak out.  It’s not “oh my dear god, I need a fire extinguisher in my mouth!”, it’s more like, “woo, that is some damn good stuff”.  Insert a few gulps of water and puffs of air here.  Trust me on this one.  My heat tolerance is at medium-strength and while there was definite spicy kick in every single bite of food, the heat doesn’t linger for very long.  A few minutes later, the sensation was gone for me and I had completely forgotten that I had downed half my glass of water.  You’ll feel it at first, but it’s the type of heat that makes eating spicy food fun, not painful.

For my first visit to Milagro, I went with the Tostadas De Atun ($12.95): crispy, crunchy corn tortillas in the shape of round disks piled high with fresh diced cubes of rare tuna and thick wedges of avocado, smothered in chipotle mayo with crispy fried onion on top.  You know, the stuff you normally get on a traditional dish of meatloaf.  Anyway.  OH.MY.GOD.  MULTIPLIED BY A MILLION.  !!!  I would continue on with the exclamation points but I don’t want to hurt anyone’s eyes so I’ll leave it at three.  BUT OH MY LORD.  This ranks in my Top 10 of best dinners ever.  Possibly even Top 10 best dishes in general.  This was SO, SO delicous and scrumptiously good. 

The rare tuna was so soft and moist, the crunchy, crispy strands on top gave the dish a punch of salty savouriness, the tortillas were so full of warm corn flavour and if I’m not mistaken, the tostadas were drizzled with some olive oil that, combined with everything else, created a dance party in my mouth.  And the mayo.  OH MY GOD THE CHIPOTLE MAYO.  The mayo, in combination with the mouthfuls of creamy avocado and cubes of tuna was unbelievable.  The mayo made this dish.  It was creamy, spicy, and honestly something I’d spread on just about anything and everything.  I could not get over how delicious these rare tuna tostadas were.  And how they reminded me of sushi!  With the exception of the tortillas and crunchy bits, it was almost as if someone had deconstructed the most amazing spicy tuna and avocado rolls with spicy mayo and placed the mountain of goodness on Mexican corn tortillas.  Purely fantastical.

And to cap off one of the most amazing dinners in my life?  Why, Mexican dessert of course!  That’s for tomorrow.  What can I say, I like to be a bit of a tease.  When it comes to good food, it is so worth the wait.            

*****

Milagro Cantina Mexicana serves 3 locations in Toronto:

  1. 5 Mercer Street in downtown Toronto, between King Street West and Wellington St. West, just west of David Pecaut Square and Roy Thomson Hall in the Entertainment and Theatre District.  They are open 7 days a week from 11:30am-10pm Monday-Wednesday, 11:30am-10:30pm Thursday & Friday, 3pm-10:30pm on Saturdays and 3pm-9pm on Sundays.
  2. 783 Queen Street West by Trinity Bellwoods Park, between Euclid and Manning Ave. west of Bathurst St.  They are open 7 days from 5pm-10pm Monday-Wednesday, 12 noon-10pm on Thursdays, 12 noon-11pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and 12 noo -9pm on Sundays.  The Queen West location serves weekend brunch!
  3. 3187 Yonge Street in uptown Toronto, north of Lawrence Ave. by Ranleigh Ave.  They are open 7 days a week from 5pm-9pm Monday-Wednesday, 12 noon-9pm on Thursdays, 12 noon-10pm on Fridays, 2pm-10pm on Saturdays, and 2pm-9pm on Sundays.   

The Summer Patio Dining Series – Baby Potatoes, Bruschetta, & Pancetta…on Pizza! The Pizza Bianca at Vagabondo

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Oh, summer, how I have a love-hate relationship with you.  I get to wear pretty, frilly frocks and sandal flats when you’re around and iced drinks taste all the more delicious with you by my side.  However, you also make me feel absolutely disgusting with your unbearable heat and don’t even get me started on the bugs you unleash in the wake of your fury.  But I can let those things slide – just for a tiny bit – when you hand me nice patios to eat and relax in.  Like Vagabondo on Wellington St. with their fabulous Italian menu and food!

Vagabondo and I actually first met a number of years ago for dinner and dessert one summer night, but I didn’t like the photos I took from that meal, so I sadly never wrote about them on here but still thought about how much I enjoyed the food, the atmosphere, and dining experience.  I finally made my way back for a follow-up summer meal and I can’t stop raving about it.  There are so many things I love about Vagabondo.  First off, I adore the patio and the tumbling water fountain out in the front.  Any patio that has shade and cover has my vote.  Summer evenings and nights are beautiful, but that certainly doesn’t mean I enjoy having the sun shining right in my face or burning the back of my head!  Giant umbrellas dot the spacious patio while pretty patterned couch cushions adorn the red and black booths that hug the patio on two sides. 

And the beautiful water fountain!  It’s the first thing you notice the second you pass by Vagabondo on the street and it’s quite captivating.  I mean, it’s no Greek sculpture, but there aren’t very many – if any – restaurants in the city that can boast and say they have a monstrous sparkling fountain on or outside their property.  It makes sitting on their dining patio so relaxing and soothing and because of the spaciousness of the restaurant property and patio, it’s almost as if Vagabondo inhabits its own little universe, annexed from the rest of the busy, bustling city.

Second, I love how organized their menu is.  Sure, many Italian places organize their menus by appetizers (antipasti, salads, and soups), mains, pastas, pizzas (if they serve them), and desserts, but Vagabondo takes it a step further, making incredibly easy for patrons to navigate the menu and to come to a decision on what they want to stuff their face with.  Case in point: their main meat entrees are clearly divided and organized by type – one section for chicken mains (pollo), one for lamb and beef (carne), one for veal (vitello), one for fish and seafood (pesce), and another for main dish risottos (risotti).  Prices for risottos and meat mains, on average, come in at $20-$28. 

And their pastas?  Divided and organized by sauce: tomato sauce (pomodro), rose (pomodoro cremosa), cream sauce (panna), and olive oil and garlic sauce (aglo’ olio).  I cannot tell you how much this makes me bounce off the walls.  I love this organizational scheme. Instead of sifting through a list of menu items organized with no particular rhyme or reason, you can just zero in on exactly what your tastebuds feel like!  Don’t feel like tomato sauce?  Skip it.  Have a hankering for risotto?  Swoop down to the bottom left of the page.  I LOVE THIS WITH A PASSION.  Prices for pasta range from $17-$21. 

During my first visit to Vagabondo I enjoyed an amazing chicken meal (the pollo porto fino) with fresh steamed vegetables and baby potatoes, and while I desparately wanted to have some pasta, I opted to try one of their pizzas because special Italian pizza is not something I go out for very often.  Aside from my yummy price fixe pizza lunch at Il Fornello, it’s been pretty dry in that department.  So I watered the grass, so to speak. 

   

Vagabondo has 12 different pizzas to choose from (with most priced from $15-$17) and if you’re vegetarian, it’s probably not the best thing for you to go for on the menu as most pizzas have a mix of both vegetables and meat.  Toppings include artichokes, proscuitto, goat cheese, zucchini, eggplant, peppers, baby spinach, chicken strips, sundried tomatoes, feta cheese, mascarpone cheese, sausage, portobellos, and so much more.  My pick?  The Pizza Bianca: white pizza brushed with olive oil and topped with mozzarella cheese, bruschetta, pancetta (why, hello, Italian bacon!), Parmigiano Reggiano, and – wait for this – sliced baby potatoes!

I don’t know about you, but I have fallen so deeply in love with potato pizza.  I never had potato pizza until Linda, momma dolce to Le Dolci’s icing sugar queen and head honcho, Lisa, brought some for us for lunch when I was cupcaking it up during my time at the studio.  Before that I had never heard of potato pizza but after that first bite I was hooked.  Vagabondo’s pizza is DELICIOUS.  It’s a nice big pie on a round metal pizza platter, cut into quarters, and served with red chili flakes in a shaker.  

All the flavours and textures worked beautifully together: the bruschetta gave it freshness, juiciness, and a bit of acidity, the pancetta made it smoky and crispy, the olive oil and mozzarella cheese were foodgasmic together, and the baby potatoes were just divine.  They were sliced into big round coins and the potatoes just absorbed all the flavours while at the same time giving the pizza body and starchy texture.  The pizzas are thin crust and so flavourful and the added kick from the red chili flakes made it taste that much more amazing, not to mention there’s plenty of cheese to go around!  I love my pizzas extra cheesy and boy did this pizza ever deliver in all aspects of flavour, ingredients, and yumminess.

Even if you’re not in the mood to splurge a little more on an Italian dinner, Vagabondo has an express lunch menu with panini sandwiches, pizzas, and similar items to the ones on their dinner menu but in lunch-size portions and with less expensive prices, so it’s win-win for everyone.  It’s one of my favourite spots in the downtown core and I can’t wait to come back and try some pasta, risotto, and dessert!

*****

Vagabondo Italin Ristorate and Lounge is located at 32 Wellingto Street East in the St. Lawrence neighbourhood between Yonge and Church Street.  They are open 7 days a week for both lunch and dinner, and they offer a lunch express menu as well as take-out.  You can view their website and menus HERE.

The 10th Anniversary of Summer Wining & Dining in the City – My Preliminary Picks for Summerlicious 2012!

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Brace yourself for an onslaught of summer patio dining, hungry crowds, and some of the best price fixe menus the city has been blessed with: Summerlicious is celebrating its 10th anniversary this July!  Given what a special milestone this is, I intend to make a big splash, and that means dishing out a handful of posts chock full of tasty appetizers, succulent mains, and sweet sweets!  Over 100 participating restaurants started accepting reservations last week on the 21st and being the eager beaver that I am, I already started hammering out my very rough, preliminary list of dining spots to visit during this crazy 2-week period from July 6th to the 22nd. 

I’m extra excited for this go-around because I feel like I’ll be able to extract so much more out of these experiences to showcase facets I didn’t focus on last year such as summer patio dining, more seasonal fare, and parts of town I haven’t featured yet on the blog.  I am loving the patio dining exploration and I have Eat In, Eat Out magazine to thank for this giant truckload of inspiration.  And as far as seasonal faregoes, I’m hoping that one day I’ll be able to devote entire series and posts to highlight specific seasonal delights all-year round as they come.  I know I have the Fall Harvest series and the Winter Wonderland and such, but I’m talking series solely focused on ONE seasonal ingredient such as strawberries, blueberries, asparagus, and so on.

Ah, memories – my first Summerlicious at Southern Accent

There are SO many fantastic menus available this summer thatit’s going to be painful narrowing the list down, as usual!  My first go-around yielded 15 results.  I knocked out 2 so far.  Sigh.  No one ever said this was going to be easy.  Here are my current 13 picks to choose from:

  1. 5th Element – Indian cuisine, downtown on Queen Street West
  2. Café La Gaffe – French cuisine, downtown in the Grange/Baldwin St. neighbourhood
  3. Earth Bloor West – local, farm-to-table fare, in Bloor West Village
  4. Hot House Cafe – Italian cuisine, downtown on Church St. around the St. Lawrence neighbourhood
  5. La Bruschetta – Italian cuisine, midtown west on St. Clair West
  6. Ocho Hotel – local, farm-to-table fare, downtown Spadina
  7. Peter Pan Bistro – all-rounder bistro, downtown on Queen St. West
  8. Quince – Mediterranean, uptown Yonge & Eglinton
  9. Sambucas on Church – Italian cuisine, downtown Church St. in the gay village
  10. Sarah’s Café and Bar – all-rounder bistro, east end on the Danforth
  11. The Blake House – all-rounder bistro, downtown Jarvis St. near Cabbagetown
  12. The Chefs’ House – all-rounder contemporary, downtown at George Brown College
  13. The Wine Bar – all-rounder bistro, downtown on Church St. around the St. Lawrence neighbourhood

Remember, this is only a preliminary list – I am not planning on eating at all these places!  I’m going to try my hardest to narrow this list of 13 down to 5 and then I’ll be on my way. Visit the links up top to get a taste of what I have in mind, and visit the official Summerlicious site with the whole kit and caboodle HERE!