Surrounded by Yellow Fall Leaves & Butter Avenue Macarons

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Pick a macaron, any macaron…

Aside from Macaron Day, I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a macaron eating experience more than I did during this past Thanksgiving weekend.  Wait a minute…macarons?!  For Thanksgiving?!  That’s right.  I didn’t have turkey.  Or cranberry sauce.  Or even pie.  I had macarons!  And for the first time in a long while, my craving for macarons outweighed my craving for cupcakes (I did end up getting some cupcakes later on in the day, but the point is that I wanted macarons and purchased and ate them first!).  A little unconventional but just as delightful!

Sitting on a park bench across the street from Butter Avenue Patisserie & Cafe on Yonge Street in uptown Lawrence, surrounded by a flurry of rich, golden yellow leaves, I held my treasure box containing half a dozen beautiful, delicious macaron jewels bursting with fall colours and pumpkiny, nutty flavour and savoured the moment.  It was wonderful and just what I needed to wind down during the long weekend.  I finally took the time to do one of the things I love most: taking photos of flowers and parks and pretty fall trees.  I breathed in the cool air outside during a great walk, bundled up in my fall coat and scarf with a warm belly full of great food.

My sweet treat goody bag!

It was gloomy, gray, and chilly out but I loved it because oddly enough, it felt cozy and comforting.  It was almost as if I was suspended in time in a little glass globe, peering into the distance at the wonderland of gorgeous gardens and fall trees around me.  Amidst all the craziness and busyness of work and blogging and everything else going on, I finally felt that feeling of inner peace and calm settle in and it felt amazing.  I got all of that from a walk and a box of macarons?!

You betcha.

Butter Avenue and I go way back.  While it’s true that the oh-so-chic macaron patisserie and cafe hasn’t even been in TO for a year yet, I stumbled on it waaaay back in 2011 (nearly a year ago actually!) when it was still under construction with a piece of paper tacked on the front door announcing the macaron fabulousness that was to come!  I was ecstatic!  Especially since it would be in a neighbourhood I loved strolling through.  So why did it take me 7 months to make this first visit?  You know me.  I only go when I’m good and ready.  And, you know, when I get around to it.  The wait is over though and Butter Avenue has finally made its way to the pages of Ate by Ate in true haute couture fashion!

The sleek, modern macaron cafe boasts 14 flavours of macarons on any given day (or at the very least, 10 if certain ones sell out) as well as tarts donning macarons in a bounty of flavours such as black currant, chocolate, lemon, and more, mini macaron gift cups, dainty shortbread cookies, plenty of loose leaf tea, coffee, and coffee drinks to enjoy with your macarons treats inside the cafe or to go.

Much like La Bamboche, some of Butter Avenue’s macaron flavours are definitely Chinese and Japanese-inspired (in addition to the French, the seasonal, and the fruity) and it’s so interesting seeing how the flavours you’d normally expect to see in a Chinese bakery, for example, play out in a macaron cafe.  It’s a spacious cafe with seating near the front and it’s totally feasible to have a nice, quiet afternoon here with a cup of coffee or tea with some treats with a few friends.  Macarons are $2.25 each or $13.50, tax inclusive, for a gift box of 6.  I admired the colourful array of delicate macarons, opened my mouth ready to order two, thought better of it, and ordered the dainty box of 6 instead.

Go big or go home.

Seeing that it was a crisp fall day, I absolutely positively had to pick the pumpkin spice.  A fall macaron experience would be incomplete without it!  My treasure box of 6 macarons: pumpkin spice, white chocolate strawberry, matcha, matcha chesnut, pistachio wild cherry, and cafe au lait.  They came in a beautiful, adorable yellow and white gift box (which I’m totally keeping!) and were delightful from top to bottom.  If I had to choose my favourites, they would have to be the cafe au lait and the matcha chestnut in 1st and 2nd, and the matcha and pistachio wild cherry next.  I loved the pumpkin one too, but if we’re talking about standouts and flavours that are just incomparable to other macarons, these are the ones I adore most.  It’s surprising that the white chocolate strawberry one didn’t make the list, right?  I enjoyed it okay, yes, but I really thought the white chocolate could have been much more powerful.  The strawberry jelly filling was fabulous though, so that was what I liked best about that one.

The cafe au lait knocked my socks off.  It was absolutely amazing, like creamy, coffee mousse cake embodied in a macaron.  I love pistachio desserts (ice cream, cookies, macarons, you name it!) and I was delighted when I was met with a fruity, thick cherry filling after biting into the pistachio wild cherry one.  I also adore green tea flavoured things like baked goods and green tea in general and the green tea chestnut, especially, made me wiggle with glee because it reminded me so much of my childhood.

Left to Right: Pumpkin Spice, Matcha, White Chocolate Strawberry, Pistachio Wild Cherry, Matcha Chestnut, Cafe Au Lait

It made me think of Chinese and Korean bakeries.  Chinese bakeries always have chestnut vanilla cakes that they make as birthday cakes and growing up, I never liked the chestnut cake, only because I thought I had an aversion to anything nut (I seriously did not touch nuts, let alone eat them and it wasn’t even because of an allergy!) and because I wasn’t old enough to appreciate the texture and taste.  The macaron reminded me of the Korean bakeries I used to go to with my parents too because the macaron was like the perfect marriage between green tea, chestnut (a la Chinese bakery cake) and those walnut paste cake balls that you get from Korean bakeries! Between this one and the cafe au lait macaron, I was in heaven.

It was an afternoon of quiet happiness and beautiful fall scenery and I had Butter Avenue’s delicious macarons to make it that much more memorable.

*****

Butter Avenue Patisserie & Cafe is located at 3467 Yonge Street, at the corner of Yonge St. and Yonge Blvd. (a little confusing, I know!) north of Teddington Park Ave., between the major subway stations of York Mills and Lawrence.  They are open 6 days a week (closed on Monday): 11am-8pm Tuesday-Thursday, 11am-10pm Friday-Saturday, and 11am-7pm on Sundays. *Photo captions of macaron flavours coming soon!*

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Fluttering Into the Thick of Summer – Juicy Lime Vanilla and Fairy Pink Cupcakes at Bakes & Goods

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Light and sweet and pretty – just as a cupcake should be!  Bakes & Goods has fluttered into the thick of summer with their soft and creamy cupcakes decked out in sweet flowers, ballerina pinks, and fruity summer flavours that taste even better than fruit juice.  With so many new cupcake shops cropping up, so many I need to make return visits to, and so many I still haven’t been, cupcake duty has turned into quite the triple threat!  Each season brings new and exciting flavours to try and decorations to admire; heck, some cupcake bakeries even dish out the shiny and new once every month so it’s dizzying and fun keeping up with everything that comes out. 

I made a return visit to Bakes & Goods in Yonge-Eglinton and my eyes lit up the second I walked into the little shop.  Fluffy pink flower lanterns!  Pink butterflies!  Pink flowers!  And…is that a lovely new white bench I can sit on to eat my cupcake over there?!  I want to take this moment to say that I love their newly added bench.  I buy single cupcakes all the time and more often than not, I just want to eat my cupcake right then and there.  It’s much easier to take photos, there’s waaay less room for handling catastrophes (did I tell you all about the time I knocked my cupcake box over in a shoe store at the mall and nearly burst into tears?  Well, now you know!), and it feels nice sitting in a happy place like a cupcake shop as opposed to a concrete slab by the side of the road.  And it’s also fun seeing people coming in and out of the shops, seeing what flavours they choose and demonstrating just how enjoyable the cupcakes are when people glance over and see me stuff my face.  With the combination of pretty decor and a seating arrangement, I felt jubilance coming out of my ears and everything inside was so pretty it made me momentarily forget how hot it was outside and that much more giddy over my afternoon cupcake break.         

In addition to the regulars such as cookie crumble, chocolate ganache, and lemon meringue, Bakes & Goods had a slew of new flavours on hand that day that screamed summer fun in the sun including a chocolate mango (come to mama!) and my pick for the day, a delightful fruity tutti lime on vanilla!  I don’t know what it is about sour citrus fruits that make me so happy, but I can’t get enough of lemon and lime desserts.  Any time I can get my hands on a lemon or lime cupcake, I’m on it like a bad rash, especially lime since lemon flavours and combinations are a little more common at cupcake shops than its green sister.  If my memory serves me right, aside from the Lime n’ Licious from The Cupcake Shoppe down the road, I think this is the only other time I’ve had a lime cupcake and I was beside myself when I saw that they had this one.  The cupcake ($2.75) was vanilla and lime in cake and lime buttercream in frosting adorned with Bakes & Goods signature flower candy on top, this time in sunny yellow.

The cupcake looked very cool since the cake was tinged with green from the lime and the buttercream was so bright and cheerful.  I know the texture of soft, whippy buttercream isn’t for everyone (my boyfriend doesn’t care for it but my mum loves it) and at times, it’s a hit or miss even for me, but luckily, this time was a hit and I really enjoyed it and thought it was delicious.  The lime flavour was fruity without being overpowering or too sour (or artificial for that matter) and it was SO soft and fluffy.  The part that really struck a chord with me was the combination of the lime buttercream and the very top of the cupcake.  I could have sworn I imagined it, but it was there and unmistakeable: a golden vanilla graham cracker texture and taste.  My tastebuds nearly did a double take.  The cake itself was light as air but when I bit into the top of the cupcake right where the buttercream met the cupcake, I was met with this warm, sweet slightly graham crumb texture and made the cupcake taste like a key lime pie!  I couldn’t believe it.  I don’t know if this was a lucky result or intentional, but either way, it made for one very fab cupcake that I happily scarfed down!

I hope all my fellow Canadians who have the Civic Holiday long weekend are enjoying their time off immensely and having a lot of fun!  I’m actually laying low and enjoying some much needed sleep, quiet scrapbook time, Olympics watching all day long (I’m so proud of Team Canada!), and working on a ton of blog housekeeping.  Happy weekend, everyone!         

*****

Bakes & Goods is located at 2523 Yonge Street in the Yonge & Eglinton neighbourhood.  The bake shop is situated on the east side of Yonge Street between Sherwood and Keewatin Ave., several blocks north of Eglinton Ave.  They have recently moved into this new home from their original Bathurst and Ranee location (around the Lawrence West area) and are open 6 days a week (Monday-Saturday) at 11am.

Something Special to Call Your Own – Countryside Strawberry Trifle in a Sweet Little Jar at Simple Bistro, Part II

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When I think of summer desserts, I think of fresh summer berries, juicy sorbets, and sweet, creamy custards and puddings in their frozen and non-frozen states.  I think of chasing down the ice cream truck and devouring soft serve ice cream cones like they’re about to go out of style.  And then there are the childhood memories of turning your tongue purple from licking popsicles and getting brain freeze from chugging freezies down at the speed of light.  As fabulous as those things are, summer just got a lot more interesting: savour the sweet taste of summer with dessert – in a jar! 

What used to be exclusively reserved for canning and preserving and holding spaghetti sauce and pickles in many of our kitchen pantries has now transformed into chic DIY food projects and a creative and adorable way of presenting desserts.  People are using little (and sometimes not so little) glass jars to create one-of-a-kind gifts and some very cute and portable sweet treats, and I think part of the appeal lies not only in the aesthetic but also in the singularity and portion control factor along with the “Ooo, this is special and was made just for me!” type of mentality.  The humble little glass and metal food storage container has taken the foodie world by storm: granola and yogurt parfaits in a jar, layered cookie and cake mix in a jar, cookbooks devoted to these decadent little morsels (the brand spankin’ new Desserts in Jars: 50 Sweet Treats that Shine by Shaina Olmanson!) and in the case of Mount Pleasant’s Simple Bistro, summer strawberry trifle in a jar!

Simple Bistro’s dessert menu is comprised of four different desserts ($9 a la carte or $4 when you order one along with you meal) including a vanilla blancmange (a dessert similar to that of a panna cotta) with blueberry compote and candied mint leaves, a lemon curd tart with Limoncello chantilly and candied lemon zest, a chocolate Black Forest cake with milk chocolate mousse, dark chocolate ganache, and kirsch soaked cherries, and my belove dessert, the strawberrry trifle!

Like any food decision I make, this choice entailed a ton of hemming and hawwing.  My thought process: “How could I give up an opportunity to have something lemon?  Vanilla and blueberry are a perfect combination!  I really don’t eat vanilla desserts often enough” and so on and so forth.  The strawberry trifle sounded so lovely though so I made up my mind and stuck with it.  I had no idea this dessert was going to be THIS fabulously adorable!  And of course, wonderfully delicious! 

When my little strawberry trifle in a jar arrived at my table, I gaped at it for the longest time trying to wrap my head around the fact that my dessert was brought me to in a sweet little country farmhouse jar filled and layered with little strawberries, light-as-air crème patissière (sweet pastry cream custard), little lady fingers, and Fragoli strawberry liqueur.  Even though I’m not 100% sure about this, my gut was telling me the strawberries were Ontario ones, just from the size and sweet taste of them.  I had Ontario strawberries at their peak last month and as soon as I bit into one, I knew right off the bat that’s what they were without even being told or without the strawberries even being labelled as such. 

The dessert was amazing.  I couldn’t believe how fluffy and airy it was and oh my goodness, the lady fingers were to die for!  These were not your run-of-the-mill bone-dry lady fingers that are way too cakey for their own good.  These were sweet little lady finger biscuits sprinkled with sugar (my guess would have to be demerara sugar) and they tasted SO unbelivably good with their bright and sweet syrupy, caramel taste.  The dessert in a jar just made it all the more summer-like, like it was made to be eaten out in the countryside on a porch on a summer day.  It was delightful and the perfect ending to my summer morning brunch meal.  

*****

Simple Bistro is located at 618 Mount Pleasant Rd between Eglinton Ave. East and Davisville Ave. in Mount Pleasant Village.  They serve weekend brunch on Saturday and Sunday from 11am-2:30pm.  Visit their website HERE to view their menus and for more info.

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!

Baked Omelettes With Asparagus, Roasted Red Pepper & Goat Cheese – Checking into Hotel Gelato for Breakfast!

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I LOVE finding new breakfast, brunch, and lunch places!  The thought of relishing a good meal in a comfortable cafe makes me feel all dreamy and floaty on the inside.  And if you can believe (which I think you all can), I spent a good deal of time last week circling spot after spot in one of my Toronto magazines of all the places that offered breakfast and weekend brunch.  Aside from cupcakes, sushi, and pasta (my three great food loves), nothing gets my engine running more than a great breakfast and lunch cafe. 

I love the vast array of menu items, I love the feeling of freshness during the day (and admittedly, it makes my life easier taking photos in the daytime), and I just love the idea of sitting down to a great sandwich, brunch dish, and/or cafe drink with dessert.  I enjoy dinner, yes, but as Daphne Oz on The Chew reiterated on one of the more recent episodes, “eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper”.  Although in my case, I’d change that to a queen and a princess.  But you get the idea.  And it does, in fact, ring true for me.  I eat dinner almost out of necessity rather than want.  The star of the show is my breakfast and lunch and I sure as hell eat like it.  So, what’s my latest breakfast/brunch escapade?  Hotel Gelato on Eglinton West!

Hotel Gelato is a beautiful sit-down breakfast, lunch, and gelato cafe with an open, airy, inviting atmosphere.  Located on Eglinton West in the Upper Village neighbourhood, iIt’s exactly the type of place you envision yourself relaxing in during an easy Sunday morning or afternoon brunch, a midday coffee break, or a bright and refreshing weekday lunch with your best friend.  With its sleek black and white decor and upholstery, it’s pretty and fancy pants without being overly frou-frou and pretentious. 

In all honesty, I was taken aback when I stepped inside.  I knew it was pretty from the photos I saw on their official website, but I was not expecting it to be THIS pretty.  Chandeliers clothed in sheer black, clear plexi tables and chairs, comfy black upholstered chairs by the cafe’s front window, black and white wall decor, a beautiful fireplace mantel with candles, orchid flowers, and a sleek espresso bar and machine in acid bright turquoise!  In a nutshell, Hotel Gelato is NICE.

I was overjoyed when I viewed their menus online.  In addition to the gelato that makes them famous (and oh boy is there ever a ton of gelato goodness to devour!) and the cafe drinks and desserts that can ordered up at the front, they serve weekday breakfast from 8am-11:30am, weekend brunch, and all day lunch.  Although a number of their daily breakfast items appear on their weekend brunch menu, their weekend brunch menu does have some very special items that are not available from Monday-Friday including their challah French toast and their – wait for this – LEMON RICOTTA PANCAKES!  I almost bounced off the walls when I found out they served this.  Weekend brunch would have to wait though as I decided to stick to their daily breakfast menu first. 

Menu items include breakfast sandwiches with either peameal bacon or smoked salmon with eggs, flavoured mayo, and different cheeses, baked eggs, waffles, breakfast parfait, smoked salmon and cream cheese with bagels, and more.  Prices range from $8-$12 for most items, with a separate set of prices ($3.50-$5) for extra sides including daily scone, basket of mini almond, chocolate, and apricot croissants, peameal bacon, and toasted ciabatta with butter and preserves.  As much as I wanted to inhale a breakfast sandwich or smoked salmon (and, come to think of it, their waffles), I went with their baked omelette because I got to choose my fillings and toppings! 

The baked omelette ($8) is made with three eggs and herbs and comes with crusty bread to go with it.  Filling and toppings ($0.75 each) include aged cheddar, goat cheese, Jarlsberg, portobellos, sauteed spinach, smoked ham, bacon, asparagus, and roasted red peppers.  Wanting to inject some veggies into the meal, I chose asaparagus (how very spring-like!), roasted red peppers, and goat cheese because I love goat cheese like crazy. 

T0 my surprise, my omelette and bread were accompanied by a dish of fresh fruit (how sweet!) and my omelette, just like the menu said, was literally baked!  I don’t know why I forgot about that detail, but I was delighted when my breakfast was brought to my table.  The omelette was baked into a small baking/casserole dish, almost like a skillet or casserole and the fillings dotted my baked eggs like a beautiful mosaic.  It was piping hot and so unique to any egg dish I had ever had.  And I was also pleasantly with how much bread I was given – almost like a little mini sliced loaf of delicious crusty bread!  I know the menu specifically said grilled flatbread as opposed to crusty French baguette, but frankly, I didn’t care because the bread was so good and so darn cute!

The asparagus was crisp and flavourful and the goat cheese in the omelette was to die for.  There were creamy, tangy pockets of goat cheese throughout the entire dish and it truly went a long way in making the omelette burst with flavour and dimension.  The eggs were light as air and so, so fluffy.  Keep in mind though that the eggs for this particular dish are baked and thus well done and thoroughly cooked.  If you’re like me and you like your eggs a little runny, just mention it to your server because the dish is cooked well done by default. 

It’s really just based on preference because my mum, for example, reeeeally doesn’t go for runny eggs and prefers hers cooked from top to bottom.  If you love your eggs the way my mum does, no sweat.  If you like yours the way I do, ask them if they can undercook them just a tad and if they can’t (which I can’t imagine them not being able to do, but for the argument’s sake let’s just throw that our there), just choose another menu item.

I am so, so looking forward to coming back because there’s so much more to try!  There’s the gelato (hello, creamsicle and strawberry shortcake oh my god), the drinks (teas, pumpkin spice lattes, and pot of hot chocolate?!), the lunch paninis and sandwiches, and yes, the multitude of breakfast and weekend brunch items waiting for me!  Like those lemon ricotta pancakes.  It’s only a matter of time.

*****

Hotel Gelato is located at 532 Eglinton Ave. West just west of Heddington Ave. between Avenue Rd. and Bathurst Street.  They serve breakfast and lunch every day from Monday to Friday with a weekend brunch menu on Saturdays and Sundays.  Their breakfast menu is available from 8am-11:30am and lunch all-day.

The Sushi Lunch Special Series – Shrimp Tempura & Spicy BBQ Butter Fish Rolls at Sakae Sushi on Mount Pleasant!

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It must be the week of new foodie districts on the blog!  Earlier in the week we paid our very first visit to Fresh on Crawford, yesterday and the day before we explored a tiny part of Ossington Ave. and Ossington Village with an amazing Cuabn lunch at Delux, and today, we’re doing sushi for lunch on Mount Pleasant Road!  Aside from my cupcake post on Lollicakes last Hallowe’en, I haven’t featured any yummies from the neighbourhood since.  There are some fabulous cafes, sweet shops, gourmet food purveyors, and classic Italian restaurants in the area and while you wouldn’t automatically associate sushi with Mount Pleasant, I have found a great spot, one with a terrific sushi roll lunch special and a classic appetizer at a great price: Sakae Sushi!

Located at 643A on Mount Pleasant Rd., Sakae Sushi is an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant that serves both lunch and dinner with a separate, non AYCE menu.  I actually found out about Sakae Sushi just by walking by and grabbing a take-out menu from the front entrance during a nice walk several months ago.  I pored over the menu, realized they had a fab sushi roll lunch special 7 days a week, and had an epiphany about something very important and useful.  I realized that with all the sushi take-out menus I had I could actually start price comparing and cross-referencing items from different sushi spots in the city.       

We know many of them serve some of the same types of rolls and similar dishes, but how many of us truly know where the best bargain is between them all?  I don’t think any of do because it’s virtually impossible to know the price points at every single sushi spot in town.  But I know my method would at least narrow things down a little bit.  And that’s how I came to the conclusion that, in addition to a great sushi roll lunch special, Sakae Sushi has one of the most reasonably priced classic appetizers around.  It may not be the most inexpensive, but it’s definitely one of them.  Which appetizer am I referring to?  Why, the classic shrimp tempura of course!

Shrimp tempura, one of the simplest and most beloved sushi appetizers around, is oddly enough, not as readily available as one might think.  Now obviously we’re not taking into account AYCE menus, we’re talking straight lunch, dinner, and a la carte menus.  I LOVE shrimp tempura like nobody’s business, but so many places serve it along with tempura vegetables and not on their own and I always wished that I could order the shrimp by itself without the vegetable component just because I prefer my vegetables non-tempurafied.

Once I started cross-referencing items between menus, I discovered that there were a handful of places that served the appetizer on it own.  YES!  Now, all I had to do was figure out which one offered the best deal.  Guess who came out on top?  Sakae Sushi, with 5 giant, crunchy, delicious shrimp tempura for $6.50!  Other places priced theirs for $8, some places didn’t offer as many pieces for the same price point, and so on.  Their shrimp tempura is fantastic.  They’re big, they’re perfectly fried (not greasy), and the shrimp is so soft and delicious.  They come with a dish of ponzu sauce, but in all honesty, the sauce isn’t even necessary because they taste fab on their own.

Sakae Sushi also offers a number of lunch specials including grilled meat bento boxes and my favourite, sushi roll combos!  One of the reasons why I like their sushi roll lunch special is because I get to mix and match and choose which rolls I want.  For $7.50, the lunch special includes a miso soup, a salad, and your choice of two kinds of sushi rolls from a list of 13 with 6 of each kind.  Sure, there are places that offer sushi roll lunch specials for $6.50 or $6.99, but like I said, the roll sets aren’t predetermined and the sizes of the rolls here are big and very reasonable.  As well, their sushi roll selection is great in my opinion because they offer vegetarian options, you aren’t limited to california rolls in every single combo (my biggest pet peeve), and there are some rolls you can’t really get anywhere else.

I chose a tofu and avocado roll and – wait for this – a SPICY BBQ BUTTER FISH ROLL!  I was SO excited to see this when I looked through their take-out menu in the beginning just because butter fish rolls aren’t something you find at many places and certainly not spicy BBQ varieties!  I was really happy with the size of the rolls (one roll makes a veeery decent mouthful) and my rolls were delicious.  The avocado was creamy, the tofu was savoury with a bit of sweet mixed in and the texture was wonderful as it resembled bean curd sheets. 

The spicy BBQ butter fish rolls were A-MAZING!  The butter fish wasn’t in its raw sashimi form but instead, grilled and incredibly flaky and meaty and delicious.  Exactly like a grilled salmon fillet, but butter fish.  The rolls were stuffed with flaky grilled fish, tempura bits, and sweet and savoury BBQ sauce in between it all.  It had a little bit of kick, but for those of you who have a low tolerance for heat, no worries, it’s not light-my-mouth-and-butt on fire spicy.  Lots of flavour and texture without the fire!  This is a top notch roll and definitely one of the more unique ones in the city when it comes to lunch special offerings.

Ever since Haru Zushi by Yonge & Davisville left my heart broken when they packed up, I haven’t been able to find another sushi spot that let me mix and match rolls the way their menu allowed me to do – until now.  Sakae Sushi is a lovely spot in a lovely neighbourhood and I’m going to be really happy going back for more.  Especially for that awesome shrimp tempura. 

*****

Sakae Sushi is located at 643A Mount Pleasant Rd. at the corner of Hillsdale Ave. East on the east side of Mount Pleasant, south of Eglinton Ave. East.  They are open 7 days a week for both lunch and dinner and offer AYCE for both.  They are open from 11:30am-10pm from Monday to Friday and from 12 noon-10pm on weekends.  They provide take-out and delivery, and you can view their official website HERE.

Caution: Mouthwatering Grilled Cheese Ahead! The Blueprint of a Grilled Cheese Sandwich at The Construction Site

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A classic sandwich lunch: the grilled cheese!

Ever since I found about National Grilled Cheese month in March, I’ve been mulling over all the city’s grilled cheese offerings (at least the ones I know of!) and hemming and hawing over which one would be my first grilled cheese experience of this special month.  I’ve had a few yummylicious homemade grilled cheese sandwiches at home (I made a grilled cheese, dill, and tomato on a crusty baguette a few days ago and a tuna cheddar melt on French white for lunch today!), but we’re talking grilled cheese outside my kitchen in TO.  Introducing The Construction Site: Grilled Cheese at Work on Yonge & Eglinton! 

The Construction Site at Yonge & Eglinton opened up late last year in 2011 and it is so, so cute.  Not fa-la-la cotton candy cute, but clever and thematically cute!  You can tell a lot of thought went into the particular look the grilled cheese spot was going for, especially in the details.  First off, we have the decor and aesthetics.  You won’t find anyone drilling or hammering away inside (thank goodness, could you imagine?!), but you will find construction-esque things like smooth wood pillars (donning the freshly sanded and primed look!) with nuts and bolts screwed in, yellow construction signs, and wooden frames showcasing pretty posters of cheese hanging on the walls.  Oh, and the walls!  Think of construction drafts and blueprints, but instead of floorplans and architectural drawings, we have outline drawings of sliced bread, swiss cheese, wedges of cheese, cheese graters, and slotted sandwich flipping spatulas on a pretty shade of pale cornflower blue wallpaper.                        

Love the walls!

Ooo, someone's having a grilled cheese & tomato...

The scrapbooking, patterned paper lover in me hyperventilated.  Can you tell I’m smitten?!  I LOVED themed places!  I love it when places brand their image based on, and according to, a specific theme and then run with it.  It makes the atmosphere and overall look so much fun to work with and you get to be really creative when executing the details.  My absolute favourite aesthetic detail about The Construction Site aside from the wallpaper is the food boxes.  Forget the paper bag, styrofoam box and ho-hum take-out container – everyone gets their grilled cheese sandwich order in an adorable flat, square, cardboard flip-top box with a cute-as-a-button construction cheese sign sticker emblazoned in the corner!  I was in conniptions over this!

One of the cutest food boxes ever!

Funny enough, I actually wanted to grow up to be a construction worker when I was in the 3rd grade.  While many other friends wanted to be ballet dancers, models, makeup artists, and doctors, I wanted to build stuff, carry a toolbelt, and lay bricks.  You guys know I don’t lay bricks (not real ones anyway – I lay Lego bricks with my boyfriend!), but I do construct things out of paper and have a scrapbook “toolbelt” at my disposable.  That’s not too far off the mark then, right?  I felt like I was on a construction site (minus the long, deafening clanging noises and hard hats), sitting on a workbench (or a crane on a sunny day) with my cardboard box on lunch break.  Open up the box and there’s your lunch greeting you like an old, reliable friend.  What a wonderful feeling.

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