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.

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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.

*****

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!

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!

*****

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.

Summer Days Drifting Away – Memories of Summerlicious at Southern Accent

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Summer days have certainly drifted away, that’s for sure!  Although there’s no snow on the ground just yet, it’s definitely scarf and mitten weather.  Even though it’s winter, I’m really excited to still share scrapbook layouts and meals from those sunny, languid days.  One of my favourite days from the past summer was when I went to Southern Accent for Summerlicious with Richard.  Located in Mirvish Village at 595 Markham St. (Bloor and Bathurst), it’s one of my favourite places not just for the food, but for the beautiful, adorable decor inside! *squeals*  It makes the scrapbooker in me prance around the room because, as the name of the restaurant alludes to, it’s a Cajun and Creole restaurant with colourful lanterns, streamers, and Mardi Gras memorabilia galore; it’s a dream and it makes me want to go to New Orleans even more.

Being the foodie that I am, Summerlicious is also a delicious dream.  Summerlicious (along with Winterlicious) is a food fest  during the month of July (and January-February for Winterlicious) devoted to price fixe menus across the city.  Over 100 restaurants participate, and if you’re like me, it’s an amazing way to try out a new restaurant or to order dishes you wouldn’t normally order because it’s out of your price range.  For me, price fixe menus for dinner are always at $25.  That’s my threshold.  Choice of appetizer, entree, and dessert, and we’re good to go.

Going to Summerlicious this time around was SO much fun and the price fixe menu made me so giddy!  Vegetarians be warned though: although they have fantastic vegetarian dishes, they don’t have a lot and they have a daily menu (in conjunction with the permanent menu) that changes each day, so it’s best that you call in advance to find out if there are enough options to suit your fancy.  Hush puppies, bourbon chicken, blackened shrimp, ugh, the food is SO GOOD.

I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed this meal.  EVERYTHING that I love so much rolled into one.  For my appetizer, I chose the roasted eggplant and bocconcini stacks with roasted red pepper and basil pesto.  I love bocconcini cheese and pesto like nobody’s business, oh my god.  The combination of olive oil and roasted vegetables was amazing.  My entree gave me, by far, the most delicious corn on the cob I have ever had.  Perfectly grilled and sprinkled with paprika.  Sitting on top of a light and fluffy rice pilaf were skewers of juicy pork tenderloin chunks with sweet grilled mango.  And the finale?

Richard’s pecan pie and for me, strawberry rhubarb crumble with oatmeal topping and vanilla bean icecream (!!!).  Needless to say, I was stuffed after this meal.  These pictures were so much fun to scrapbook and each and every single meal at this place is wonderful and memorable.

*****

Scrapbooking materials used: white, red, and golden rod cardstock by Recollections, patterned paper by DCWV, journalling tag by Anna Griffin (Darcy Collection), alphabet stickers by ATD and Recollections, starburst stickers by Sticko, 5-petal flower punch, adhesive gems.