Cafe – Toronto Edition

So as I was back for the holidays, of course I used this opportunity to hit up as many cafes as I could. Although I didn’t visit that many thus far, I had already fell in love with two of them:

Early Bird Espresso

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Obviously I had come to Toronto and immediately looked up some promising cafes. I had set my sights on this one as a study destination after seeing one of my friends post a picture on Instagram. At the time, I had no idea where the “hot spots” were. But upon going to several locations, this is probably my number one favourite spot. They have quite a bit of seating, though the cafe is quite busy and popular at most times (that I’ve visited anyway). I love the big communal table right at the front, and people are usually quite friendly.

Their coffee is pretty much the best balance between acidity and earthiness that I tend to like (I veer more on the earthiness than very acidic roasts). If you order their flat white, they present it beautifully on this geometric plate. The milk is steamed to a smooth texture, and bubbles appear on the top about 30 seconds to 1 minute after you’re served. They have quite a few snacks to select from (lots of cookies, some cakes), though I’ve not tried any yet.

The location is definitely a little awkward for me, being someone who does not live downtown. However, it is definitely easily accessed by local transit (right near the Queen West streetcar). There are a few restaurants around, but I haven’t been able to explore this area yet.

Boxcar Social

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A bar at night, this very masculine, industrial looking bar has their furniture custom made by JM&Sons. There is plenty of seating upstairs (from my guess, this used to be a house), so you never have to worry about being unable to find a spot.

I loved the friendliness of the baristas. It’s easy to tell they really just enjoy making coffee and meeting new people. The clientele seems to be from teenagers to elderly, which is great because you get all kinds of conversations going on. Due to its vicinity to Summerhill station, there’s also many restaurants nearby, and is quite easy to get to.

 

I can’t wait to get back to Toronto and visit these favourite spots of mine. It might be until summer that I can try out new locations, but I’m quite content with these two that I’ve discovered over the break :)

~ kehwon

Maison Boulud – Golden Square Mile

tfung and I had the pleasure of celebrating some special occasions all in one. It’s our 4 year anniversary in two months, I’ve finished school and just have internship now, and he had just finished carms tour. We’re moving on in our lives to the next stage and we’re both very excited. So we decided to spend some money on a nice meal. Since he was visiting Montreal, I proposed going to Maison Boulud, which is by the famous Daniel Boulud, a glamorous restaurant located inside the Ritz-Carlton Montreal.

We glammed up for the occasion, which ended up being a little awkward, as when we first walked in, we saw two people in jeans and a v-neck sweater. But I thought, it’s our night, we want to make it special. We were seated near the fireplace, and the waitress came to make sure we were comfortable. She briefly explained the menu, as we had inquired about the tasting menu.

The tasting menu is $95, and +$90 with wine pairing. She informed us that it would be an amuse bouche, and appetizer, a pasta, a fish, a meat, and a dessert. The dishes would come from the a la carte menu that we were given.

In the end, we decided on just getting an appetizer and a main dish each. Thus, the dinner began.

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We started off with the amuse bouche, which was an arancini with a cheese filling. It came on top of a small bowl filled with rice, which I thought was very fitting, given the ingredients of an arancini. An by far, it was the best one I’ve had! The cheese was not overpowering or overwhelming, as I’ve found in my past experience. The size of the arancini was just right, fits well in one bite (although someone with a smaller mouth could have it in two). The rice was perfectly cooked, still maintaining the first texture. The crust was not too crispy, but gave enough of a contrast to the firmness of the rice and the softness of the cheese. Overall, an excellent start.

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Next, I had the octopus carpaccio, which displayed their excellent plating technique. Obviously an amazing dish to look at, the various ingredients also gave for new and interesting experience with every bite. I love dishes like this. The octopus was tender and retained its original flavour, with the light olive oil dressing, paired well with the Kalamata and Amfissa olives. There was also some capers, seasoned white potatoes and parsley on the plate, with the sweetness of cherry tomatoes. Overall, the dish was an excellent appetizer, giving that glimpse into all the various flavours and textures one may want to explore at the beginning of a meal. It definitely opens up the appetite and senses, and the possibility of making new combinations of flavours and textures every bite was extremely fun.

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tfung had the egg yolk ravioli, which was one very large and thick ravioli. Inside was light fluffy goat cheese with an egg yolk in the center. Extremely interesting appetizer, however the truffle butter that was promised did not deliver the truffle flavour one would expect. It was also swimming in butter, which was not very appetizing to either of us. The ravioli itself was executed well, but did not impress.

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For the main, I had the Princes Scallops capelleti, in a butter sauce with Iberico ham. The capelleti and the scallops were adequately cooked. The dish did not impress me, it was swimming in butter and I became full from all the fat that I had ingested. The size of the scallops were mediocre, with good flavour and texture. It was not an impressive dish, and did not meet my expectations of a restaurant of such calibre.

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tfung had the Beef duo, which consisted of a tenderloin and braised ribs, with some roasted garlic potatoes and chantarelle mushrooms as sides. The tenderloin was well seasoned, and grilled very well on the outside with good flavour on the crust. It was juicy and moist on the inside, retaining its juices. As it is tenderloin, it did not have any beef flavour that I personally look for in steaks. However, for tenderloin, it was done very well. The ribs were flavourful and infused with red wine. But unfortunately, it was extremely dry, and being placed on the same dish as the juicy tenderloin, it gave huge disappointment.

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Of course, because Maison Boulud is known for their desserts, I had to get at least one. tfung wasn’t interested in desserts and had ordered a red wine to pair with his beef. I opted for a lighter option after the dripping fat I had just ingested, and ordered the Pear Sorbet on Meringue, encapsulating cooked pear and walnuts. The dish was garnished with crème fraîche and some flower petals for colour and topped with a gold flake. As expected, the dessert was amazing. The meringue was not too sweet, and was pretty much perfect. Paired with the cream and the sorbet in the same bite, all the different textures was amazing. The dish was definitely not too sweet, and because pears were the main ingredient, not too tart either. A good finish following a mediocre main course, I think the evening ended on a good note.

Overall, I have to say the best aspect of the restaurant is the service. It was absolutely perfect, they were attentive, the timing of the dishes was impeccable, and they were not too annoying (which I find can often happen when waiters and waitresses are too attentive). They knew exactly when we wanted something, and knew when things were going well. The decor however, was not my personal style, so I didn’t enjoy that as much. Also, because some patrons come from work, and some come for a special occasion, the dress code was all over the place – some in jeans, some in nice dresses and suits (us). I definitely think the desserts were extremely well done, and judging from others’ comments, that is what people go for at Maison Boulud. That being said, the fact that both the mains disappointed us was unacceptable. It was a shame, and I wished it would meet our expectations in the least. I had not expected Maison Boulud to disappoint us like this.

Service: 5/5
Food: 8.3/10
Atmosphere: hotel, cozy, slightly rustic
Price: $50-75/person

Maison Boulud on Urbanspoon

Town – Centertown

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I got into Ottawa at around 8:30, and we were able to walk to the restaurant that we’d made reservations to within 20 minutes. It was a painfully cold evening, and we were more than ecstatic to get into the restaurant and be seated right away. Although the waiter was slow, we understood that he was also swamped with all the patrons in the cramped restaurant, making it incredibly difficult to efficiently move around.

We had requested that the dishes come all at once as we were pressed for time for a second part of the evening with friends. They were very accommodating, and notified us that as soon as the kitchen was finished with a dish they would send it out. 2014-12-06 22.37.04

We had the octopus terrine, which was garnished with kale chips, white beans, radish and a pesto dressing. It made for an extremely fitting appetizer, with a smorgasbord of textures and flavours. The octopus was a little overcooked from what I would have liked, but it provided a nice contrast to the crunchiness of he kale chips and the radish.

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We also ordered the meatballs in meal-size, which came with 4 shredded mozzarella-garnished pork meatballs that were the size of half my palm. It was definitely a good size to share between two people, as eating it alone would have been a little overwhelming due to the high fat and richness of the meatballs and sauce. The meatball itself had a good proportion of meat to fat, such that it wasn’t too rough and dense, but not so fatty that it felt disgusting in the mouth. The sauce was quite a pure tomato-based concoction, which is right up my alley, as I do not enjoy a very cheesy or creamy type of tomato sauce. Obviously various herbs and spices were added, but it wasn’t in an overwhelming proportion. Overall, I thought that the meatballs were quite good, although I wouldn’t come back just for the meatballs.

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Our last dish was the tagliatelle and duck ragu, which looks like a small portion, but with the amount of fat combined in the dish, it was filling enough if this was my main. The duck was a little on the gamey side, which is a little rare in my experience. The pasta was more on the firm side, which tfung enjoys but just a touch too firm for my taste. The sauce was decently flavoured, but didn’t quite fit my palate in terms of the richness. Personally this was my least favourite dish, but might be due to my very picky and particular taste with regards to gaminess.

Town is nothing new, nothing extraordinary in terms of food, decor, and service. I was not particularly impressed with anything, but makes for a decent meal on a night when you just don’t want to cook and want to treat yourself slightly to some fattier food.

Town on Urbanspoon

~ kehwon

Yasu – The Annex

Because we were craving for sushi, we decided to treat ourselves for the Christmas by going to a relatively new omakase restaurant on Harbord St. We had arrived for the 6:00pm seating, and were the first ones to get there, so we could get acquainted with the restaurant. We were greeted by one of the two waitresses (ours was Amy), and saw the two sushi chefs (Yoshi) busying themselves with final preparations.

The set up is extremely similar to the one that Nakazawa displayed. However, due to the fact that there was no restaurant service, the wait between pieces was less and there needed to be less people working, which also decreased the amount of (potential) chaos in the room. There are 3 rounds of 13 seating per evening, and the switchover time in between is quick.

We were impressed with the ginger that was provided, as we are both not fans of ginger. This one had a very faint sourness, with a good amount of sweetness, which balanced the ginger’s spiciness. It provided for an excellent palate cleanser, whilst still being a treat itself.

As I was driving, we did not order any sake or alcohol with the meal, but were lucky enough to try some of the Tatenokawa sake, courtesy of a very kind gentlemen sitting close to us. This sake is, as explained, the highest quality sake, as each grain of rice is polished down to remove any impurities and husk. It was incredibly smooth, and had a slight floral taste.

Some highlights of tonight’s fish were:

Seabass from Greece: the texture was almost like scallop; less chewy than most fish but not as buttery as white tuna.

Marinated Maguro: silky texture, soft

Smoked Spanish Mackerel: the amount of smokey flavour was excellently balanced, which was also able to soften the taste of mackerel that some people may veer on the dislike side.

Ocean Sea Trout: Slightly fatty, good flavour and well balanced. The thickness was perfect and was key to the overall mouthfeel

Hamachi: being tfung’s favourite type of fish for sushi purposes, this took the trophy for best overall nigiri of the night (the ootoro came in a close second). It’s just a perfect balance of everything, perfectly levelled. Not too fatty, not too firm, not too chewy, the flavour was not overpowering or lacking.

OVERALL

The food, the atmosphere, the company were absolutely amazing. I love how quaint the restaurant felt. It was proper, done well, and didn’t have that stuffy prestige that Nakazawa tended to have looming over your head. It was relaxed, easy, and extremely enjoyable. The chefs were not overly chatty, but still maintained that friendly banter from time to time. They were efficient and honoured the art of sushi to the best of their ability. The waitresses were both proficient in pronunciation of the Japanese fish and products, which I personally find affects my perception of the restaurant immensely. I was overall very happy with the meal and the evening, with the price and the service. I highly recommend anyone who is a sushi lover to come here. It is worth the money to experience all types of fish around the world (not just in one area as most omakase may tend to present), and if you’ve never been to omakase, this is definitely one that should be on your list.

Service: 5/5
Food: 9.3/10
Price: $80 (plus tax + tip), any extra pieces will be charged accordingly
Atmosphere: clean, simple, quaint, quiet, not for large groups (max 4)

YASU on Urbanspoon

~ kehwon

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Albion Rooms – Byward Market and Lower Town

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Tfung was doing some work in Ottawa, and I had the chance to take a small getaway from a stressful time at school to visit him in the capital of Canada. We booked for Albion Rooms, which is advertised as a farm-to-table restaurant. Fitting with that edge, the interior had a very rustic-chic feel, with an interesting juxtaposition between their slightly more feminine pillows with the very manly reclaimed wood plus iron combo. Each table was lit with an obligatory mason jar center candle, and the water glasses, down to the menu was very modern-rustic and simple.

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We ordered the scotch egg, which was a mix of chicken, pork and herbs enveloping a 6 minute fresh egg, breaded and fried. It was served on a bed of apricot, apple, pear mix and some microgreens. The herbs created a very sharp flavour, which both balanced with the gamey taste of the meat, but still standing out on its own. The breading was done well, and the egg was runny enough without soaking the whole dish.

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I ordered the squash pasta with shaved aged cheddar and rapini. I was a little disappointed in the flavour of the dish, as I had a craving for a saltier, more hearty pasta. The flavour was weak, but was therefore able to showcase the pure taste of the butternut squash as well as the flavour of the pasta itself. The pasta was cooked al dente and was freshly made. The rapini was a little too burnt/smokey for my tastes, but definitely added the heartiness that I had wanted.

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tfung ordered the beef short ribs, on baked potato and asparagus. The beef ribs were incredibly tender and melt-in-your mouth. The sauce was sweet but smokey at the same time. I definitely thought it was a plus that there was enough sauce to try it with all the other ingredients in the dish. The asparagus was cooked well, with the outside still slightly crunchy and the inside thoroughly cooked. The baked potato was nothing fancy, although they put a slight twist to the regular sour cream and mixed in whipped butter and herbs.

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Overall, I loved the atmosphere, the service was acceptable, and the food was good. I didn’t think it was anything phenomenal, but given that it’s inside Novotel, and right next to the Rideau Canal Center, it was definitely a good stop for us after a day of shopping. If you’re into farm-to-table concepts, I would take some time to check out at least their appetizers and alcoholic drink menu here!

The Albion Rooms on Urbanspoon

~ kehwon

MTL Cafes – Montreal main island

So in my absence from the blog, I’ve had a lot of chances to try many new cafes in MTL. I’ve rounded up some of my favourites!

Buck15 Espresso

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Just love the decor in this small, cozy cafe. The simplicity of the furniture, the fact that they burn byredo candles in their bathroom (not to mention the interesting mirror they have in there), and of course the warm smiles of the baristas there. They recently added to their toastboss selection a favourite of mine: Avocado Egg Toast with Sriracha. This definitely upped their game in my books with regards to making me want to take the metro there for this sweet breakfast or brunch!

Cafe 8 oz.

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A super relaxed big, bright space with many tables and one communal table for patrons to study their insane course and have enough space to have all their notes sprawled out – oh wait, that’s just me. Cafe 8 oz does amazing sandwiches which is perfect if you’re looking for a quick lunch. I’ve become their “cortado, english-speaking” customer, and their warm welcomes are always something I look forward when I go in to do some work. Their coffee has a slight sharper note than most of the other ones I have, slight acidity, but not too acidic for my tastes. A quick walk from the metro, 8 oz is new to the Rosemont area and definitely worth checking out. Make sure you order some of their food!

Larue et Fils Jarry

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Although Larue et Fils isn’t a new cafe, its new addition is somewhat newer. I love again the white tiles, the yellow communal tables, and just how relaxed the shop feels. You get a mix of patrons here, people studying, people walking their children, people coming to chat, couples stopping for some coffee. I love it. The only bone I have to pick with them is the fact that they use Quebon as their hot chocolate. Personally that’s not what I expect in a hot chocolate, but to each their own. They don’t have as extensive of a food selection, but the coconut/date squares we had last time were pretty good, not to mention their cookies :)

There will be more posts on cafes but for now I’m really taken by these three. I am dreading the day I leave Montreal for good, but hopefully I will discover my way through the cafe world in wherever I end up later in life!

~ kehwon

Meat – Old Strathcona

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A group of us had a craving for mountain-loads of salty delicious meat and decided to indulge ourselves in a visit to a restaurant that serves just that. Meat, as the name suggests, is a smokehouse with a wide selection of BBQ, house made sauces, and a great selection of local beers on tap. Meat takes no reservations so seating is prioritized on a first come first serve basis. We arrived with a party of 6 at 5:30 pm on a Saturday evening, and the restaurant was already full. We had to wait an additional 40 minutes to be seated, which was expected given its popularity at the moment. While we conversed over beers in the waiting area, I admired the contemporary, clean, open layout of the restaurant and a nice use of a blue/white colour scheme.

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As we were finally seated at our table, which was designed to look like a large outdoor bench, we browsed through the simple, well organized menu. The types of meat were clearly laid out as were their sides and beer selection. We wanted to try a bit of everything, so we decided to try the Meat Platter and added a half pound of extra brisket, extra order of sausage, and a few extra sides.

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Meat Platter: 1/2 lb Brisket, 1/2 rack BBQ Ribs, 1/2 lb Pulled Pork, 1/4 Smoked Chicken, Fried Chicken, and 1 link of Andouille Sausage. Sides: Mac And Cheese, Brussels Sprouts, Butternut Squash Chicken Stew, Creamed Corn, Large Garlic Fries, 2 Pickles

Let’s start with The MEAT:

Beef Brisket – Tender, slightly dry, nice crispy charred crust, and medium smoke flavour. Overall, quite enjoyable and paired extremely well with the cherry and bourbon BBQ sauces.

Pork Ribs – Tender, slightly dry, blackened outside, and medium smoke flavour. The smoke enhanced the flavour of the ribs and paired well with the spicy and bourbon sauces.

Pulled Pork – Soft, moist, and medium smoke flavour. Paired well with the bourbon sauce.

Andouille Sausage – Flavourful combination of spices and light smokiness. They were excellent and we were glad we ordered an extra serving. Best enjoyed without any sauce.

Smoked Chicken – Tender and moist inside with rich smoked outer crust. It can be had without sauce or with the spicy BBQ sauce.

Fried Chicken – Very crispy outside with a moist inside and not greasy. Definitely memorable fried chicken. Best enjoyed with no added sauce.

The Sides:

Mac & Cheese – Creamy but not cheesy enough for my taste. There was nothing special about this dish.

Garlic fries – Crispy fries with rich garlic flavour. These fries were phenomenal.

Brussels Sprouts – Shredded and served like a warm salad. This was definitely an interesting new way to enjoy brussels sprouts and it was definitely good.

Creamed Corn – Infused with subtle dill flavour. It was a little on the watery side, but still a very enjoyable side dish.

Butternut Squash Chicken Stew – Shredded chicken stewed in a creamy butternut and tomato sauce with spices of cumin and coriander. The descriptions sounds better than the dish tastes. The butternut squash was very subtle and the dish tasted more like a weak version of Indian butter chicken

Overall, the meat was good, but not outstanding. It was not too dry, not too salty, and not too overly smoked. The BBQ sauces that accompanied the meat were great though. We enjoyed the Cherry and the Bourbon sauces the most. The sides, however, were hit or miss. The Brussels Sprouts and fries were a definite hit. I wouldn’t recommend the chicken stew or the mac & cheese though. Overall, if you are looking for a place to eat BBQ meat and to relax over a few local beers with a group of friends, Meat is the place where you want to be.

Service: 3.5/5
Food: 8.0/10
Atmosphere: Contemporary, Smokehouse, Relaxed
Price: $30-40

~Thomas

Meat on Urbanspoon