Rich, Decadent, Fudgy, and Frothy – The Beginnings of Hot Chocolate Season! A Delicious Year in Review

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I never leave home without my mittens and knit hat, my breath is starting to come out in round puffs when I’m out (especially in the mornings) and today I actually saw some flurries gently float about outside my window at work.  The crisp, colourful season of fall is far from being over in my book, but there’s no denying that we’re pretty much on the brink of hot chocolate season!  And I am so excited to get the Hot Chocolate Series back up and running after a hot and sweltering summer and so far, a very rainy fall!  I’m hoping to feature more flavoured hot chocolates (mint, candy cane, and even  pumpkin and gingerbread!), more pretty “drink” art (maybe someone can create a snowflake in my hot chocolate for me!), and some decadent white hot chocolate drinks if I can get my hands on some.

Even though I think eating ice cream during winter is more common among folks than drinking hot chocolate in the summer, I’m sure there are some who sip their hot chocolates all year-round.  If you’re one of those someones, this post may not whip your cream much but if you’re the type that sticks to hot chocolate when the weather outside is frightful (or you know, just chilly), you’ll be happy to see this Hot Chocolate Series Year in Review recap!  Just in time to get some great ideas on where to go to get that cup of chocolatey goodness!  Below is a recap of all the hot chocolate drinks that have been featured on Ate by Ate:

And if that’s not enough chocolate for you, the first photo on this post features a delicious dark chocolate hot chocolate from Arepa Cafe on Queen St. West and the peppermint hot chocolate from Fresh is also fantastically fabulous!  I haven’t put up actual posts for these two drinks simply because I don’t have enough photos to warrant a post (not to mention I don’t like the photos I took of my peppermint hot chocolate at Fresh so I’m waiting for the day I can do “re-takes”!  Keep warm and cozy everyone!

A Moment to Cherish – Yours Truly (in Poached Egg & Salmon Form) on Page 16 of Toronto Life Magazine

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I am trembling as I write this because I am beyond excited and overjoyed.  I’ve been going crazy because I’ve been keeping this a secret for the past month and now I can finally post about this and let everyone know the happy news: I GOT PHOTOGRAPHY PICKED UP BY TORONTO LIFE MAGAZINE!!!!!!  My beloved photo of my poached egg on salmon and mascarpone from my first post on L’Espresso Bar Mercurio will forever be memorialized on page 16 of the newest and latest special Neighbourhoods issue of Toronto Life Magazine!!!  I am still reeling from the excitement, happiness, and anticipation and my heart won’t stop fluttering.  This is one of the happiest, proudest moments of my life and I am relishing it.  This is my very first piece of published work and I couldn’t be happier that it happened with Toronto Life and more honoured that it was used to illustrate part of their feature on Adrienne Clarkson’s favourite spots in her favourite neighbourhood in Toronto, The Annex.

The magazine JUST came out, it’s on magazine shelves now, and if there was a strait jacket in the house, somebody would have put me in it because I swallowed every urge to run out the door to get my copy the second I found out it was released last Friday.  Logic told me that they needed to be delivered, sorted, and displayed to and in stores before I could hug and squeeze my own issue so I waited until today to grab one and I am telling you, it was one of the most amazing feelings in the world. 

I made a beeline for the magazine rack, spotted the magazine, and felt my heart do a cartwheel.  My heart was thudding in my chest as my trembling fingers held the glossy magazine, fresh off the press and I thought to myself, “this is silly!  Why are you so nervous?!”  But I was a silent basketcase nevertheless and as I vigourously flipped the pages and landed on the one with my photo staring back at me, it took all the restraint in the world for me not to hug the stranger beside me.  Instead, I gushed to the cashier.

The original, before getting edited and dolled up

As I checked out, the cashier paused to take a look at the cover, commented on how interesting the issue looked, and it was at that moment that I blurted out, “I just got my first photo published in this issue!!”  It felt so good to let someone, anyone know!  Aside from my family, my boyfriend, and my best friend and another close friend, no one else knew about this.  I kept my mouth shut for a month (I didn’t see the point in telling everyone until I had photographic evidence!) and it damn well almost killed me.  I was shaking with giddiness and babbling like a buffoon as I showed her the page and she asked me, “what your name, dear?”  “I’m Debra.”  “Congratulations, Debra.”  I walked out, hugging the magazine in my tote bag, feeling like I was walking on air.

I bought a new Philosophy lip gloss from Sephora to celebrate, Full of Fortune Cookie, and the sweet passage on this collection’s packaging (which Philosophy’s brand is known for) summed up exactly how I felt about the good fortune and blessings I’ve been given:

“A bright, sunny future is ahead of you.  Make the most of your talents, and they will be recognized and rewarded.  Believe in yourself and others will too.  Give thanks for your blessings, and more good things will come your way.  Keep your glass half full, and it will never go empty.  Love in abundance, and you will receive more love in return.  Eat right and sleep tight and you will live a long, healthy life.” – Philosophy

My name & photo credit!

*****

The special edition Neighbourhoods issue of  Toronto Life magazine is out on magazine stands and will be displayed until December.  To view the original L’Espresso Bar Mercurio post, click HERE.   

Perfect Poached Eggs on Smoked Salmon and Mascarpone – Breakfast at L’Espresso Bar Mercurio’s!

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Over the past three years, I have developed a keen sense of what I call my “food instinct”, the little radar and gut feeling that has allowed me to zero in on places that give me good vibes and good eats.  Not necessarily the best and most amazing spots everyone would love (because we all have different preferences and tastes), but the best places for me.  I instinctively know whether or not I’ll enjoy a spot and one of the ways I can tell is by looking at their breakfast and brunch menu, if the place has one.  That, for me, is a tell-tale sign.  If the breakfast menu doesn’t light a fire in me, it’s a no-go.  If it makes me do a happy dance or if it makes me squeal, “oh my goodness, I want this, this, and this!” over and over, it’s a winner. 

And that is certainly how I felt after perusing Mecurio’s breakfast and brunch menu over a month ago!  Not only do they serve weekend brunch, but their every day breakfast menu contains a whole slew of adorable Italian tramezzini sandwiches and a very delicious sounding French toast among other items!  Add to that an extensive and impressive list of loose leaf tea and you have yourself a menu with endless delicious possibilities.  Tramezzini sandwiches are a cross between tea sandwiches and the traditional club sandwich.  If you frequent Hong Kong style diners especially, you’ll know exactly the type of club sandwich I’m referring to.  Think of the adorable white bread sandwiches that are cut into triangles with their crusts cut off, but in brunch fashion.  I was in conniptions.  Even though I was going gaga over the menu of Italian breakfast sandwiches, I went for something else during this first time breakfast adventure at Mercurio’s. 

I promised you all a breakfast post from L’Espresso Bar Mercurio when I wrote about their hot chocolate and chocolate ganache kisses last month, so here it is in all its poached egg and smoked salmon glory!  I have come to the conclusion that I love poached eggs just as much as overeasy ones.  I get so excited when I see poached eggs on a menu.  I don’t know which aspect I love more: the delicate dome shape or the runniness of the eggs after you poke them.  Poached eggs and smoked salmon are two of my favourite things and I will take them in every shape and form (remember the delicious smoked salmon eggs benny from Futures Bakery?) because every place has their own unique interpretation and style of presentation.

Mercurio’s is in the form of a bruschetta, just not in the traditional sense.  Most of the time, we think of diced tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, and onions when we think of bruschetta, but in this case, it’s a cured meat and cheese type of bruschetta on toasts.  Their salmon bruschetta breakfast ($7.95) comes with two servings of multigrain toast smothered in creamy mascarpone cheese, slices of cured smoked salmon, and two giant poached eggs, with a healthy sprinkling of freshly cracked black pepper for me!    

These eggs were perfectly and beautifully poached with runny yolks (runny yolks are a must!  I’ve read stories of people having poached eggs that weren’t really poached because they were literally hard-boiled!) and the smoked salmon was sliced in that perfect, “I’m thick enough to give you that great meaty scrumptiousness but also not so thick I look like sashimi” style.  These were some of the best poached eggs I’ve ever had and I think it was the combination of thick, runny yolks and that perfect, bubbly egg white exterior that’s thick around the bottoms and edges but paper thin around the dome that really made them great.   

After having yet another delicious poached egg (and smoked salmon) breakfast tucked under my hat, I am beyond excited to eventually try their French toast and their tramezzini sandwiches!  My stomach is already grumbling at the thought of breakfast sandwiches with scrambled eggs, bocconcini cheese, brie cheese, roasted peppers, turkey, spinach, and more.  And best of all?  Mercurio’s offers a 20% discount on all food items with student ID.  Delicious food and a discount; it doesn’t get any better than that.

*****

L’Espresso Bar Mercurio is located at 321 Bloor Street West at the corner of St. George Street right across from St. George subway station.  It is sandwiched between the ROM and the Bata Shoe Museum (the shoe museum is literally just steps away) and it is an espresso bar, dessert cafe, and brunch and lunch spot all in one.  They are open 7 days a week from 7am-11pm from Monday-Friday, 10am-4pm on Saturdays and Sundays.  They also offer weekend brunch.

A Chocolatey Kind of Morning – Hot Chocolate & A Chocolate Ganache Kiss at L’Espresso Bar Mercurio

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While almost everyone is continuing to ransack the grocery stores, drug stores, and candy shops for discounted chocolates and candies (you know who you are), the bombardment of red, pink, and heart printed paraphernalia has come and gone for yet another year.  What hasn’t saluted us goodbye though is our passion for chocolate and the frostiness of winter, which has managed to give us a few nasty surprises over the past two weekends!  How do we remedy the stubborness of winter sleet and snow then?  With chocolate, of course!  The heart-shaped boxes of bon-bons might be gone (or being plucked off the shelves by chocolate bargain hunters as we speak), but in its place now are chocolate bunnies and chocolate Easter eggs, so the presence of chocolate is going to remain at the forefront of our seasonal celebrations for quite some time still. 

I love my chocolate in the form of hot chocolate and chocolate cookies best and L’Espresso Bar Mercurio gave me what I like to call, my “chocolate morning”: a cup of frothy hot chocolate and a rich, fudgy, melt-in-your mouth chocolate ganache kiss!  After walking past this lovely cafe and espresso bar more times than I can remember (I admit, I am on Bloor Street A LOT), I finally came here for a sip and nibble one morning and now I can’t stop daydreaming about what I would eat my next time here!  I’ve wanted to come here for so long and I’ve always loved the air of sweetness and romance I’ve felt from it.  It’s a place that exudes fancy without actually being over the top fancy pants.  L’Espresso Bar Mercurio, located at 321 Bloor Street West, is a bright and fresh brunch and lunch cafe and espresso bar with enough coffee, loose leaf tea, lattes, and warm and cold drinks to quench the thirstiest of sippers. 

         

Sandwiched between the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum) and the Bata Shoe Museum in the University of Toronto neighbourhood, Mercurio’s is the perfect place to have brunch with the girl friends, a light business meeting lunch, and/or a warm drink and dessert with a friend.  With it’s fresh colour palette of white, gray, and green, it’s a lovely coffee date destination that affords casualness with that extra bit of fancy thrown in.  The cafe and espresso bar has big windows, allowing for ample natural light to stream in (perfect for us budding food photographers!) and in the spring and summer, a pretty patio off to the side for that little bit of privacy and romance (let’s not forget from where the name of the cafe is derived!).

Mercurio has a number of different menus to suit all sorts of appetites and tastes: a weekday breakfast menu, a weekend brunch menu, an everyday lunch menu, a vegetarian and vegan menu, and a huge menu of loose leaf teas, coffee drinks, and more.  In addition, the dessert selection is out of this world!  Pies, tarts, tortes, cakes, shortbread, giant cookies, homemade doughnuts, biscotti, dessert croissants, and sweet gluten-free options.  The cafe is both takeout and dine-in, which is great for those who want to quickly hop in for a quick coffee and pastry to go, and for those who want to sit back and relax for a sit-down meal.  As an added bonus, all food items come with a 20% student discount (yes, that most certainly includes university and college students!) with valid student ID.  Given its proximity to the University of Toronto, it makes perfect sense.

Their menus are located right by the front door, allowing everyone the opportunity to ponder their food choices even before being seated.  Conversely, you can also walk in, grab an available table first, and then hem and haw.  The eatery is bar service only, which means that everything is ordered and paid for up at the cash.  Servers and staff bring your food and tea to your table, but there are no menus to flip through and order from when you’re seated.  All of that is done up at the front, which I quite like because it reduces the amount time it takes to flag down a server to order, for the bill, and so on.  

My chocolate morning was comprised of a small hot chocolate (120z, $3.20) and a sweet little chocolate ganache kiss dessert.  In a word, my hot chocolate was frothy.  The chocolate was placed at the bottom of the cup to warm up and melt while hot, frothy milk was poured on top.  The hot chocolate was light and milky without being watery and perfectly chocolatey without being overly sweet, artificial, or overpowering.  It was simple and delicious.

My hot chocolate was totally and completely enhanced by my chocolate ganache kiss.  A thick layer of rich, smooth, and creamy ganache was sandwiched between two soft chocolate cookies.  It was so incredibly good.  So fudgy and so soft; the texture was bang on.  The cookies weren’t hard or crispy and the ganache wasn’t runny, mushy, or overly thick.  Together with the hot chocolate, it was wonderful.  You would think it would end up being chocolate overload (I know, such a thing does exist!), but they balanced each other perfectly.  The chocolate ganache kiss lended a full-bodied richness to the hot chocolate while the hot chocolate lended an airiness.

I am so excited about trying their loose leaf teas and a number of their breakfast and lunch items.  Trust that I will get around to attacking their breakfast sandwiches, vegetarian and vegan items, and other desserts!  In the meantime, I will happily reminisce over my sweet chocolate morning. 

*****

L’Espresso Bar Mercurio is located at 321 Bloor Street West at the corner of St. George Street right across from St. George subway station.  It is sandwiched between the ROM and the Bata Shoe Museum (the shoe museum is literally just steps away) and it is an espresso bar, dessert cafe, and brunch and lunch spot all in one.  They are open 7 days a week from 7am-11pm from Monday-Friday, 10am-4pm on Saturdays and Sundays.  They also offer weekend brunch.