Kale Pesto & Artichoke Linguine, and Summer Strawberries, Rhubarb & Lettuces – Summerlicious at Trios Bistro!

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summerlicious collage 1 trios bistroWhen was the last time you had a makes-me-wiggle-with-happiness meal?  Mine was last Saturday.  Okay maybe it was yesterday when I excitedly ordered a Chicken McNugget Happy Meal and got my adorable Despicable Me toy (shhh, that’s between us).  But if we’re talking fine dining, it was Saturday.  It was a beautiful day.  A little on the hot and gross side, but a picture-perfect day nevertheless.  The seats were cushy, the place was gorgeous, and the food?  Fantastic.  One by one the dishes came: fresh and crunchy bibb lettuce, savoury artichokes bear-hugged by pesto and pasta and juicy berries in a flaky pastry surrounded by vanilla and whipped mascarpone.  I sat back, relaxed, and breathed a sigh of relief as I savoured the first Summerlicious meal of the season and the first Summerlicious meal in two years!

It’s about damn time Ate by Ate got back on the Summerlicious/Winterlicious wagon and believe me, this was no easy feat.  You’d think that a girl who loves food as much as I do would be pirouetting around the city during an annual culinary event like Summerlicious, right?  So wrong.  Summerlicious should be the highlight of the summer season for me.  Over 100 restaurants with special price fixe menus, many of them bursting with seasonal yummies?  You’d think that it was tailormade.  But alas, it is not.  And instead of looking forward to it, I almost dread it.  I know, I’m talking crazy.  I love Summerlicious in theory, in essence.  In actuality?  It drives me nuts.  It’s any wonder I made it out for a meal this year because I was thisclose to bailing again.

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I gotta tell you, not only do I have a hard time choosing between menus and places (which really isn’t even the hardest thing about the event anymore; I’ve accepted the fact that I’m just a horribly indecisive person who hems and haws for eternity), but I have a really difficult time finding a place that serves Summerlicious lunch with a menu I can’t refuse during the weekend!  I would love to do dinner, I really would.  But when the bus service in your area ends ridiculously early for a Saturday night and your close-to-Union-Station options are, hence, more limited, you’re looking at Summerlicious lunch during the day as your best bet.  So during my search, I kept clicking menu after menu after menu, double-checking with the actual restaurant sites to no avail.  So many of the spots I wanted to try only served dinner on the weekend and it became so frustrating I wanted to throw in the towel and give up.

Then along came Trios Bistro at the Marriott.  The beautiful Trios Bistro at the Marriott hotel by the Eaton Centre.  It saved me.  It saved me from banging my head against the wall and going 3 years without a Summerlicious adventure.  Maybe it was meant to be.

summerlicious collage 2 trios bistro

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Trios Bistro at the Marriott is a beautiful space.  I’d even say a little on the majestic side with its high ceiling and windows overlooking Trinity Square, lush booth seating and carpeting, and pretty chandeliers.  And it’s peaceful and relaxing.  There’s no rushing; just delicious food in a lovely environment and atmosphere.  During normal, non Summerlicious and Winterlicious days, Trios serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and is open to the public and not just to hotel guests (SCORE!).  Its proximity to the Eaton Centre and to the downtown core in general was perfect for me and it awesome being able to take advantage of a spot I’d never been to.  Their Summerlicious price fixe lunch menu ($20) was perfect for both my boyfriend and I (anything with chocolate, chicken, and fish will satisfy the sweetie.  Just, you know, not together.  Oh and anything without tomatoes and onions as a option is a gold star bonus because he hates the stuff) and we both left happy and full with scrumptious food in our bellies.

Here’s the Summerlicious menu lowdown: I chose their bibb lettuce and heirloom tomato salad as my appetizer (sliced radishes, shaved carrot, and lemon greek yogurt dressing), the linguine vert as my main (oodles of linguine noodles drenched in hazelnut kale pesto, artichokes, baby leeks, a mountain of peas and a smattering of grated grano padano cheese), and for dessert, a local strawberry and rhubarb strudel pastry with berries and glaze, whipped mascarpone and vanilla cream.

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Everything was so simple but so HUGE on flavour.  This was such a fantastic meal and I feel like I got my money’s worth and than some.  I was so happy with the portions (the doggy-bagger in me was absolutely thrilled that I ate everything and didn’t need to take anything away in the sweltering heat!  I am not a fan of wasting food on my plate) and as soon as I took the first bite of my food, I KNEW I had made the right choice to come here for Summerlicious.  The last thing anyone wants is to blow that amount of money on a crappy meal!

There were so many highlights: even with the dressing the bibb lettuce was so crisp and fresh, the tomatoes were ridiculously juicy and the dressing.  OH.MY.GOD.  It tasted divine.  It tasted like this crazy marriage between yogurt dressing and rich buttermilk!  It was so fragrant and the aroma of it literally beckoned me to the salad bowl.  I mean, I was uber hungry to begin with but this just tipped the scales.

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The pasta was perfectly cooked with just the right amount of pesto and olive oil sauce and the artichoke chunks were ginormous and delicious!  It was perfect for me because I love pasta like nobody’s business and it incorporated both things I love and eat regularly (peas and pesto!) with things I don’t eat regularly like leeks and artichokes.  This dish was a gift that just kept on giving with all its flavour and texture.  You had that little bit of starchiness from the peas, the juicy, savouriness from the artichokes, the freshness and nuttiness from the pesto and the smooth, velvetyness of the linguine noodles.

And then the finale: the strawberry-rhubarb strudel!  I was so happy that I could actually savoury the rhubarb.  I know this sounds stupid, but let’s be frank: some places would probably err on the side of strawberry with just a hint of rhubarb.  Not at Trios.  Every mouthful was crispy paper-thin layers of pastry sprinkled with sugar (it wasn’t soggy and it wasn’t stodgy) with juicy berries and sweet whipped mascarpone and vanilla sauce.  It was great because even though it was a strudel there was plenty of surface area to soak up the vanilla and cream and there was a great balance between sweetness and summer berry tartness.

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I am so relieved this Summerlicious meal worked out and while it wasn’t anything necessarily out of my comfort zone, I still got to enjoy many foods that I don’t eat often and for that, it was well worth it on its own.  Because Summerlicious isn’t just about taking risks and trying foods completely out of your element at a discounted rate; it’s about finding that perfect food match that makes a meal memorable from top to bottom.  And I’m so happy Trios Bistro could make that happen for me this time around.

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Trios Bistros is located at 525 Bay Street at the Toronto Eaton Centre Marriott Hotel in downtown Toronto just south of Dundas Street West.  You can follow them on Twitter @TriosBistro and you can check out their Summerlicious menus and their regular menus HERE.

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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!

Portobellos, Creminis, Arugula, Scamorza Cheese & More – The Funghi Pizza & Pizza Price Fixe at Il Fornello!

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Pizza has made its way to Ate by Ate!  After 400+ posts, the great big pizza pie is finally getting some serious love and attention!  I love pizza (I only know of 2 or 3 people who actually don’t – the horror!) but you know how it is: ordering pizza from your local pizzeria takeout joint and having your hot and fresh pizza out of the cardboard box doesn’t really make for the most stellar photography.  Unless you’re out to wine and dine, pizza is generally consumed in the comforts of your school cafeteria, elementary school day pizza day lunches, at home in your PJs in front of the tv, or among friends at a movie and games night pizza party.  

Pizza is one of those foods that I just don’t order when I’m dining out and it’s not because I don’t want to.  I definitely do, but I have to be honest, the prices are a deterrent.  I know the ingredients and toppings are and can be stellar, but when a pie meant for an individual person costs $16, I cringe.  There are many pizzas around the city I’d love to try, and maybe I will someday, but for now I’d much rather either make my own (making pizza dough and my own pizza creation is something I’ve always wanted to try!), or else it’s something I have to think long and hard about if it isn’t the variety delivered in a cardboard box.     

Enter Il Fornello.  This Italian eatery serves up a menu of linguine, spaghettini, ricotta ravioli, gnocchi, antipasti, appetizers, and salads (insalata) with fresh mozzarella and ricotta di bufala, veal fettucine, chicken parmigiana, and a host of wood-fired, thin crust pizzas.  The menu is comprised of so many foods I love.  Pasta?  Check.  Fresh mozzarella?  Check.  Pizza?  Check, check, and check!  And yet it has taken me so long to sit down to a meal here!  It’s not the type of place my family would necessarily go to (remember, my dad does not feel the love for pasta) and for whatever reason, the opportunity to enjoy a meal here has evaded me all this time. 

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The Countdown is On! Getting Our Forks, Knives, and Napkins Ready for the 10th Anniversary of Winterlicious

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I have some good news and some bad news.  Bad news first.  Today, the 3rd Monday of January, is apparently known as Blue Monday, the saddest and most depressing day of the year.  I had no idea such a thing even existed!  We’re well-acquainted with the phrases, “winter blues” and “winter doldrums”, but Blue Monday wasn’t introduced to my vocabulary until today.  Stemming from holiday and Christmas debt, gloomy weather, and struggling new year’s resolutions, Blue Monday is allegedly the universal day for frowns and sad faces. 

I like to keep positive the best way I can though.  I may not have much money and things in life could be different, but I’m enjoying great food every day (taking advantage of winter’s comfort food offerings!), I have wonderful friends, and I have my scrapbooking and the blog which led me to all of you!  So here’s the good news: Winterlicious is in 10 days and I’m planning on sharing more than one Winterlicious experience with you all on the blog!

Last year's delicious Indian meal!

Last year’s Winterlicious meal at Amaya’s Bread Bar was so wonderful and I’m so happy I decided on them in the end.  The restaurant was so vibrant and colourful and the food was light, delicious, and a joy to eat – c’mon, who can resist basmati rice in a pretty metal bucket?  It was my very first time taking part in the event and it was a total success for me.  I’ve enjoyed Summerlicious several times but for whatever reason, Winterlicious never made it onto my plate until last year.  It fights through the glommy January winter clouds and shines like a ray of sunshine in my book! 

I don’t know if anyone else is excited as I am about this year’s Winterlicious, but I’ve been poring over the list of restaurants and the price fixe menus for over a week now!  Even though the prices are very reasonable for many of the meals and establishments, I’m not at a point in my life where I can go all out and splurge on the $45 dinners or on the many amazing culinary events.  If I could, I would be all over the fish-themed menu event and the chocolate one happening in February.  I LOVE themed menus and the culinary events are so great because they’re a little more intimate, they’re educational, and they’re unique.  It pains me not to be able to go to these, but I feel fortunate that I can at least partake in Winterlicious in some capacity. 

How adorable is this year's promotion photo?!

I stuck to the $15 lunch price point and started my process of elimination from there.  The only rules I made for myself this time around?  I wasn’t going to choose a place I had already been to (outside of the Winterlicious program) and, as much as I loved last year’s Winterlicious at Amaya’s Bread Bar, I wasn’t going to choose Indian food simply for the sake of eating a different type of cuisine.

The process of elimination has been painstaking, but I think I’ve finally narrowed my list down to the few I really want to enjoy this year.  I’m going to keep my Winterlicious picks a secret until I blog about them (ohhhh, you want to know where I’m going now so we can compare notes!  I’m mean, I know.  I like the suspense!), but totally feel free to share your own methods of choosing and what you want to get out of this year’s event.  This year is a big one: it’s Winterlicious’ 10th anniversary!  And for that reason alone, I’m determined to make this year’s experiences great ones.

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Winterlicious and Summerlicious are annual price fixe food events where over 150 restaurants across the city take part in.  Click here to view all restaurants and menus.  Restaurants started taking reservations on the 12th, so if you want to secure your spot, give your top spot a ring.

Soaking Up the Sun and Good Food – Preparing My Taste Buds for Toronto’s Summerlicious!

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In a matter of two weeks, Toronto will be kicking off another summer of price fixe menus and good food with the annual Summerlicious event taking place from July 8th-24th!  The concept and execution is exactly the same as Winterlicious and the only difference is that it takes place in July every year.  I’m always excited to see which restaurants are participating and what their menus have to offer, especially now that they’ve made it a point to specify exactly which meals are vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free.  It makes it much easier to figure out if a particular restaurant can offer you enough options to make it worth your while and this is particularly important if you’re going with a group of friends with varying tastes, diets, and lifestyles. 

Even though I love both Winterlicious and Summerlicious (and this year’s newest addition, Veggielicious!), I’ve actually only taken part for the past two years, going out for two Winterlicious outings and one Summerlicious.  I don’t go for the big ticket menus though and will always, always stick to the $15 lunch menus and $25 dinner ones.  In all honesty, even if I could afford the fancy pants places, creating parameters for myself with this budget helps in narrowing down my choices which means less hair-pulling when it comes to actually making a decision.  I have a hard enough time as it is because I’m so indecisive!

I’m really lucky to have had good experiences during the times I’ve taken part.  Never have I felt that a meal wasn’t worth it or that I made a bad choice.  I had a great Winterlicious lunch this past February at Amaya’s Bread Bar near Yonge St. and Lawrence Ave., a really fun time with my friend Sally the previous Winterlicious at Big Daddy’s Crab Shack & Oyster Bar on King St. West (no photos because my camera was unfortunately stolen not long after, ugh), and an AMAZING, memorable meal at Southern Accent (which is where the delicious photo up top was taken!), located in Mirvish Village.  My boyfriend and I have already made a decision that we absolutely MUST go back for another Summerlicious meal because it’s one of our favourite places to eat in the city.

I’m no expert on fine dining, but if I could offer any tips and opinions, these would be it:

  • Decide what your budget is.  If you’re new to the price fixe fest, it is overwhelming trying to decide what you might want to try and what you want skip.  The list of restaurants on the Summerlicious website specify what price points each of the participating restaurants are operating at during the duration of the festival, so at a quick glance you can either make a note or move on.  My budget has ALWAYS been the $15 lunch and the $25 dinner and I’ve never once strayed from it. 
  • Compare lunch and dinner menus at the same restaurant.  If you find a place you think you might like but you’re not sure whether to go for the lunch or the dinner or ditch the place entirely, read both menus and see what the similarities and differences are between them.  Chances are there may only be a difference in one main or a dessert and if that’s the case, the $10 or even $20 difference between lunch and dinner just isn’t worth it.  Look for variety between menus if you need to make a make-or-break decision.
  • Stay away from places that offer ho-hum, every day eats.  A place might make a mean Caesar salad, but you don’t need a price fixe menu to enjoy such a classic staple which you can enjoy any day of the week.
  • Piece together all 3 compenents of the meal (appetizer, main, dessert) and do some quick mental math to see if you’re actually getting a sweet deal.  If the main iself is normally something that runs close to $20 (or if appetizers and desserts go for $10 normally) and it’s being offered on a $25 price fixe menu, you know you’ve hit pay dirt.  This is one of the reasons why I LOVE Southern Accent during Winterlicious and Summerlicious because their mains sit around $18 on their every day, permanent menu, not to mention their food is just amazing.

If you plan on hitting up a place (or two…or even three, ha!), let me know what you’re contemplating!  As well, if you have past experiences you’d like share, feel free to leave a comment here as I love hearing about what others have to say about their meals!

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Southern Accent is a cajun and creole restaurant with beautiful New Orleans and southern inspired decor and amazing food.  They are located at 595 Markham St. in Mirvish Village near Bloor St. West and Bathurst.  The Summerlicious list of restaurants and price fixe menus can be viewed here.

Price-Fixe Menus and 3-Course Meals – Prepping My Taste Buds for This Year’s Winterlicious!

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Winterlicious starts tomorrow! 😀  And y’all know I’m excited for that!  For those who don’t know, Winterlicious is an annual foodie event in the city of Toronto where over 100 restaurants participate in offering special price fixe lunch and dinner menus, as well as special culinary events and presentations throughout the duration of the festival.  The food fest starts tomorrow on the 28th, and runs until February 10th and you can bet I’m going to haul my tooshie to at least one awesome eatery! 

I posted about my amazingly fun Summerlicious dinner experience at Southern Accent when I first started the blog almost 2 months ago and I also did Winterlicious for the first time last year with my dear friend Sally at Big Daddy’s Crabshack and Oyster Bar.  So I’m excited to try something new for Winterlicious!  The price fixe menus offer 3-course meals (appetizer, main, and dessert) and prices range anywhere from $15 for lunch to $45 for dinner, with $25, $30, and $35 menus in between.  As well, if you have a day and time in mind, it certainly doesn’t hurt to make a reservation as many of these restaurants fill up their seats quickly for this event. 

This time around I’ve set my sights on lunch menus and I’ve really taken the time to pore over the Winterlicious website to narrow down my choices.  I’m not afraid to say that I want bang for my buck and that I’ll toss out options that aren’t up to snuff.  I want to be able to tell right off the bat when I go over a menu that the establishment wants to go above and beyond with no strings attached.  There’s just no sense in going if you feel you can try any of the dishes any day on their permanent menu, or if the dishes are things you’ve seen and heard a million times over.  That’s the beauty of Winterlicious and Summerlicious to me; it enables you to go crazy and to try things you either wouldn’t normally try because they’re out of your comfort zone, or things you’ve always wanted to try but couldn’t because of the price tag.

I’m soooo looking forward to this!  And I’m also really looking forward to a bunch of things I have up my sleeve for the blog in the near future.  The Lunar New Year (or Chinese New Year as I normally refer to it since I’m Chinese) is next week (Februrary 3rd!), and Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, so I’m definitely going to take advantage of them both to share a bunch of photos and stories with you guys.  I’m not a sucker for seasonal and celebratory occasions for nothing! 😀  For those planning on munching away at Winterlicious, have fun and feel free to share your awesome eats and experiences here with me!  See y’all tomorrow ❤