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Category — EAT – what

DELICIOUS DISH

I recently had the pleasure of taking a Delicious Dish cooking class with Occupational Therapist-turned-self-taught-chef, Carolyn Cohen. I’d heard about her classes for years and was intrigued, mostly because the menus were hoarded secrets. Sharing recipes was considered to be horribly bad form. Verboten? Forbidden fruit? I wanted in!  After managing to coax a few tidbits from some willing rule-benders, I tried a couple of recipes.

And they were, indeed, delicious dishes.

It wasn’t long before I was on Carolyn’s email list. Schedules were listed, but menus were not. And while I debated whether to sign up, the classes would fill up and sell out within hours of being posted. Who was this Carolyn Cohen? And what was she serving??  Finally, a friend asked if I wanted to join a private group she was organizing and I jumped at the chance.

The class was designed to be healthy, family-friendly, good for entertaining, and gluten-free optional. I’m not so healthy, tho’ I try to start the week that way. My family rarely eats the masterpieces I cook, and I am nothing if not a glutton for gluten.

I was in.

A week before the event, the original organizer had to drop out, along with half the class. After a mad scramble to collect a minimum of ten bodies – ten $95 pre-paid bodies – we ended up with 13 and were rarin’ to go!

Carolyn called me to plan the menu. At her suggestion we swapped some of the original planned mains, and we agreed to go completely gluten-free. We had a celiac among us, as well as the founder of the Gluten-Free Garage. In fact, I’m honoured to have posted this piece as a guest-blogger on the GFG web-site.  Click here to check it out. You’ll find loads of gluten-free ideas and information. And no, you don’t have to be gluten-free to check it out.

But I digress….

The night of our class, we descended upon Carolyn’s kitchen, where she commandeered 13 of the chattiest ladies in town. Pouring glasses of red, to go with the quinoa pizza bites she’d provided as a starter, Carolyn got right down to business.

She was a mountain of information both healthy and practical. Onion goggles to stop the waterworks. Kevlar gloves to prevent slicing off fingers. A list of suppliers and shops – and salts. Kitchen scales. Dough scoopers. Slicers. Pine nuts. Olive oil. She had it all covered.

Chef Carolyn Cohen in her onion goggles!

Chef Carolyn Cohen in her onion goggles!

We all laughed, learned and ate. A lot.

The Menu:

First up was quinoa with beets, radish and…wait for it….crispy Brussels sprouts. Anything with crispy Brussels sprouts and I’m in. But look how gorgeous this golden quinoa is with its beautiful Brussels sprout collar. Divine.

Winter Quinoa with Crispy Brussell Sprouts. Note the collar!

Herbed Quinoa with Crispy Brussels Sprouts. Note the collar!

 

Kale is the roughage du jour. The king of green. It’s everywhere. Healthy and tasty as it may be, I’ve always preferred mine wilted and tossed into a stir fry or sauce (or ratatouille! Yum!). But this Southern Italian Kale Salad, a cousin of the one at Toronto eatery Gusto, was crazy good. Made with black kale and Parmesan, it was totally addictive. I easily could’ve downed the entire platter….

Black Kale. Kavarro Nero. Lassi Nate. Call it what you will, it's sublime.

Black Kale.Dinosaur Kale. Cavalo Nero. Lacinato. Call it what you will, it’s sublime.

Chipotle Chicken burgers with Guacamame. These sliders were smoky goodness on a gluten-free bun. Spicy and beyond tasty and – get this – cooked under the broiler! Who knew? And that stunning bright green topper? It’s a dip! It’s a sauce! It’s NOT guacamole, but guacaMAME. Avocado + Edamame = one tasty topping. On anything. Or nothing!

Chipotle Chicken sliders with Guacamame Spread. Asombroso. Ole!

Chipotle Chicken sliders with Guacamame Spread. Asombroso. Ole!

My fave of the night was the Seared Tuna with Smoked Sea Salt, Sesame and Pepper crust. On a soy-maple glaze. This ain’t your gourmando’s ahi. It’s albacore! And it’s better, believe it or not. None of the gristle, all of the taste. And the glaze? Sublime! Instead of finishing it off on top, the seared tuna is sliced and sandwiched with a sliver of jalapeno before resting on a bed of glaze. Brilliant!!

Ladies prefer blondes. Blond - aka - albacore tuna. Nothin' like canned.

Ladies prefer blonde….tuna! Albacore, that is. Nothing like the canned.

And then there were the cookies: Granola cookies. Family-friendly, no doubt – if there are any left. Our crowd inhaled them, some of us even sneaking in extras. And by extras I mean thirds. OK, fourths. They taste neither gluten-free nor healthy, in the best possible way.

 

So good you won't believe they're not gluten. You may even think they're Quaker Harvest Crunch!

So good you won’t believe they’re not gluten. You may even think they’re Quaker Harvest Crunch!

Carolyn has generously allowed me to break with protocol and publish a recipe! Allow me to present The Granola Cookie, by Delicious Dish. Resistance is futile.

From DELICIOUSDISH: THE GRANOLA COOKIE

“These are cookies that you can bake and not feel guilty about eating them
afterwards! Make them and enjoy them; delicious cookies just don’t get any
healthier!” Carolyn Cohen.

INGREDIENTS
2 cups (8oz/225g) rolled oats, I like the large flake or old fashioned for these
1 cup (4½ oz/130 g) of brown rice flour (or any flour of your choice)
¾ cup (2 oz/55g) shredded unsweetened coconut
1 Tbs. cinnamon
¼ tsp. sea salt
¾ cup maple syrup
½ cup canola oil
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans, optional
½ cup small raisins or chocolate chips

DIRECTIONS
1. Preheat oven to 350°F or 325°F convection. Line several cookie sheets with parchment.
2. In a large bowl, combine, oats, flour, coconut, cinnamon and salt.
3. On a smaller bowl or measuring cup, stir together the maple syrup, oil and vanilla.
4. Pour wet ingredients into dry and stir until evenly combined.
5. Fold in walnuts, raisins or chocolate chips.
6. Using a soup spoon, scoop batter into mounds onto the prepared cookie sheet. You may need to form them into mounds with you fingers. They may appear as if they are not coming together, but they bake up great! Don’t worry about crowding the pan a little, they do not spread.
7. Bake for 15 minutes or until lightly browned.

Makes 3-4 dozen
Copyright 2013. May not be reproduced or used for commercial purposes without
permission of Delicious Dish/Carolyn Cohen.

For more info, contact Carolyn Cohen 416.200.3522 / deliciousdish@rogers.com

Carolyn offers classes all year round, day or evening. Private or GenPop. Your kitchen or hers. Be warned – if you head to her place I might be the one loitering outside, looking for scraps…..

 

 

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September 23, 2013   No Comments

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TUM, TA TUM, TUM YUM!

Yesterday my pal – and faux business partner – Vern and I hit the one-year anniversary of TUM – the Toronto Underground Market. It’s not a farmer’s market, not a food expo, it’s more a place where budding chefs/official gourmands/people cooking in their home kitchens all meet to showcase and sell their wares. Some are restauranteurs. Some are food truckers. Some are caterers. And some are phenomenally talented cooks who want to shill their shit and have nowhere else to do so. Toronto by-laws are such that to make and sell food you need to jump through a lot of hoops. Which is why certain people who cook and sell homemade goodies out of their homes Do. Not. Exist. Anyhoo, whichever way you…um…slice it, TUM is a festival of food. We ate our way through it and here are our greatest hits…

To begin, we each wolfed down a “Cannele”.

Cannele. Not Canelle. No cinnamon here….

Originally hailing from Bordeaux these little custard treats came in orange and vanilla. I liked. Vern loved. And we were off.

Next stop: Caramels. Vanilla and sea salt. Sadly, the evidence has been ingested and there’s no photographic proof that I ever had any. So maybe I’ll pretend it wasn’t me that sucked back 5 in about 5 minutes. But I will tell you that real deal caramels (again, made the “French” way) don’t stick to your dental work!

Tucked away between an outer wall and storage units was a line up. A couple of guys cooking, a lot of yelling…Who were these people?

Fidel Gastro. Rebel without a kitchen.

Fidel Gastro. Brilliant. Hilarious. Cute. They were the rock stars of the entire event. People were lined up to sample their wares. Including us. We skipped the “Phad Thai fries” (WTF?! Next time!!) and went for the Gorgeous Jorge (peanut butter pulled pork, bacon jam and crackling. Grilled.) Saltiest and tastiest $5 I’ve ever spent. Our version became the “High Maintenance Jorge”. Because they cut in half. A good thing, ‘cuz we may have come to blows over this sandwich. So good we had to go back (and line up) twice. To bring home the bacon for our men.

And speaking of bacon…..That was definitely the theme of the day.

Cayenne-candied bacon. SPECTACULAR!

Leonard Pig Candy were flogging candied cayenne bacon ($5 for 2 pieces!) as well as chocolate-dipped bacon and bacon jam. We tried the milk-chocolate dipped strips. Yuck.

Not everything tastes better with chocolate.

Bacon-jam however, was $8 well-spent. Divine! Not to be confused with President’s Choice “Bacon Marmalade” (which is revolting). I don’t know what I’ll be doing with it, aside from sneaking a spoonful every once in a while. I just know it was incredible.

Ideas for Bacon Jam. I’m not the only one who needs it but doesn’t know why.

The accompanying bacon-mouth necessitated we bypass the line-ups for butter-chicken and waffles, Rock Lobster Company lobby-rolls and the carvery offering up “Canadian-Canadian Food” like roast beef and turkey.

Theeeeeere’s the beef.

Until we saw yet another line-up at “Hot Bunzz”. Korean Short Ribs with egg bun?! Three mushroom with cheese bun?! How could we resist?

Resistance was futile….

These were a bit herb-y but still….great texture! Needless to say, it was time for the sweets. Donuts from Dough by Rachelle (maple bacon, double chocolate, sprinkles). Cinnamon Buns by Little Tomato Catering (PB&J, maple bacon – again with the bacon!) and brownies, brownies and more brownies.

Not as good as kitchen co-op….

The most beautiful sweet things were the baked goods by Sullivan & Bleeker Baking Co. .

Taste as good as they look.

We split a “dirty dozen” mini-cupcakes. Flavours included mint chocolate, cookie dough, red velvet, ‘smores and more. Deeeelish.

Samosas filled with fresh veg and butter chicken. Cairo street food. Philippino BBQ. Thai curry boxes. Indonesian shrimp sticks. Backyard kitchens. Random tacos. On and on and on it went.

And that was just the daytime market! Apparently the night market is even better with booze, tunes, concerts and more vendors. Maybe by next month – turns out TUM is on monthly. So are weight watcher weigh-ins….. But until then….bring on the bacon!

October 1, 2012   No Comments

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CLIF CRUNCH

Full on disclosure: this post is sorta sponsored.

A few weeks ago I was sent a care-package! How exciting!! It was packed with “CLIF CRUNCH” Granola Bars in a handful of flavours: Blueberry Crisp, Peanut Butter and White Chocolate Macadamia Nut. I was asked to sample them as a back-to-school snack.

Good news and bad news. Let’s save best for last.

First off, they’re full of nuts. So sending them to school would be quite the safe-snack transgression. And with so many children suffering from lethal allergies there’s no way I was rebelling and ignoring the “no nuts” food policies at our school. Believe me, there are puh-lenty of other…ahem… nutjobs who might, but I’m not one of them.

Secondly, they are very very crumbly. So eating them in the car was out. Too shmutzy and again, I’m not having any anaphylactic reactions on my watch if I can help it.

Doesn’t sound promising, does it?

I left them sitting on my kitchen counter and they were soon discovered by my 7 year old. He took a bite of the peanut butter one and introduced it to my 4 year old. Together the two of them ate their way through most of the samples, stopping only to offer their older brother a bite of blueberry. He wasn’t in, but I was. And guess what? It was pretty good. Didn’t have that “boo-berry” faux-taste. Instead, it was like a super crunchy oatmeal cookie. Meanwhile, my two kids devoured the nutty ones. I couldn’t believe it! I’m a baker and they’re used to, I think, the best homemade cookies and bars around. While they don’t turn their nose up at an Oreo or – sometimes – a bear paw, I’ve never managed to get them to eat anything remotely granola-bar-ish.

CLIF CRUNCH bars are made with 70% organic ingredients. They’re free of trans fats, hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup and all kinds of artificial crap – colours, flavours, preservatives. At $4.99 for a box of 5 double bars, they’re not crazy pricey either. They can be found at most grocery stores in the natural aisle as well as many health food stores, making you feel super-righteous when you buy them.

As far as granola bars go, there waaaaay better than those old-skool nature valley ones. If allergies are a non-issue and you find yourself looking for a healthy-ish treat definitely give these babies a whirl.

September 5, 2012   No Comments

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Hopgood Burgers Priest

Two hotspot restaurants. Both offering up comfort food. Both hailing from the East. One from the far-off coast of Nova Scotia. The other from the wilds of Leslieville. Yep, we’ve been eating well….At Hopgoods Foodliner and Burgers Priest. Terrible non sequitur. Terrific eats.

BURGERS PRIEST

First off, we head east to Burgers Priest. But not all the way east. The iconic burger joint, recently ranked third best resto in TO by Zagat’s, has opened a spot on Yonge between Lawrence and Wilson. There’s a bit of a backlash of course, with claims that the new location isn’t as tasty or friendly as the first but whatev. I’m a bit late to the meat patty party and I just wanted to see what the dealio was. In the battle of the burger, this is the King. The spot with the secret alterna-menu. The one that has burger lovers lined up out the door, down the street and around the block. The real question is: is it worth the hype?

HELL YEAH! Especially if someone else does the picking up. I was blessed with a meat-lovin’ man whose absolute pleasure it was to head over to Burgers Priest and bring home the bacon (-double cheeseburger). With a couple of extra burgers on the side, no less. We mowed our way through the aforementioned classic with all the fixin’s. Yes, it was that good. Bacon was perfectly crisp, tomato slice tasted like a tomato. And were those Vidalia onions? Because they were sweet and crisp and delicious. Next up, “The Priest”. Picture two portobello mushroom caps with a whack of cheese. Now drop it into the deep fryer. YUM! This is the Official Vegetarian Option. They call it…The Option. We took that Option and raised it – atop a real beef patty. Oh yes we did. Veggie/real deal combo. Slide some panko-crusted deep-fried jalapeno peppers underneath and we found our winner! As an added extra, we also sampled “Jarge Style” per their suggestions. This was a burger fried in yellow mustard and topped with fried onions. That sucker put us over the edge. A bit of a lingerer, that final burger was not needed for so many reasons (and calories and fat grams). But now we know for next time. And despite the major meat hangover, there will absolutely be a next time. We failed to taste the piece de resistance of the secret menu: “Vatican Style”. Or perhaps “Tower of Babel”. Every website has a different name. Either way, they’ve replaced the bun with….grilled cheese buns!! Top and bottom. Disgusting? Delicious!

Pictures don’t do these meat parties…I mean patties…justice. Nor does this:

Out. Of. Control.

These are the homemade candy bar desserts at Hopgood’s. One is a maple square. The other, some kind of ridiculous fudge/rice crispie combo slice of heaven. Beautifully wrapped up. Could’ve had several. Then again, my compadres and I had tried almost everything. Marinated lemony halibut. Oysters. Smoked mackerel on homemade oatcakes. And even – gasp – lamb heart tartar. Full confession: loved the surf. Not the turf. I’m not a huge tartar fan at the best of times. But lamb? heart? Too lamby. Too organ-y. I tried to be adventurous. And failed. Tho’ the dehydrated cream bits – which sounds vile – were delicious. Like little morsels of dried ice cream or something. The others liked it.

Heart of Lamb. The toasties were tasty....

All this was followed by a seared tuna in/on seaweed broth – divine. Scallops were ordered because the mashed potato balls on the side sounded too good to resist. The creamy kale was fantastic. Best of all, however, was the steak ‘n shrimp. We were warned that it wasn’t a steak per se, but more like brisket. Call it what you will – it was sublime. Definitely the winner of the night.

Room was plain -and packed. Great vibe. Great food. Great staff. They’ve clearly drunk the Hopgood KoolAid. They were as excited about each plate as we were. In some cases, more so! They didn’t serve coffee, as they were trying to keep the party going. They did, however, bring us some kind of milk liquor which was a creamy, dreamy dessert of a drink.

The big debate was whether or not Hopgood’s was a 10. Perhaps not, but it was pretty damn close. The place was packed with happy diners, tho’ no line out the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it-door. Not yet….

April 10, 2012   1 Comment

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Mmmmmm….MIAMI!

Aaaahhhh, Miami…. America’s Riviera. Playground for the rich & famous. Southern home for Canadian Snowbirds. And some damn fine food. Everybody’s got their go-to’s in Miami. For every name dropper at Joe’s Stone Crab, there’s someone waiting at Prime Italian. While Micheal’s and Michy’s battle out over in the design district, fressers cruise the inland strip mall “Bagels” looking for jumbo bakery baskets and salad scoops in sloppy second reincarnations of Wolfie’s and Rascal House. Locals claim there are no Asian restaurants in the 305! They oughtta head on over to Hakkasan or Zuma. Or stop into any number of sumo/samba/samurai spots for fabulous maki and bizarre sushi combos.

Yup, everybody’s got their fave Florida finds. Herewith, some of mine!

PRIME

Be warned: at this hip American steakhouse they make you wait. And wait. And wait. Luckily, their cocktail list is sublime and, better still, the complimentary bar snacks:

Yep - that's one tall glass o' bacon!

The menu is outstanding – carnivore or not. In fact, for us the steaks were the least interesting part of the menu. It was all about the starters and “accessories”. We went for tuna sliders, house chopped salad, rapini and truffle fries. And of course a lovely whack of tenderloin. Tater tots and beets ‘n blue? I’m coming for you next time!!

Tuna sliders on Brioche. Just as tasty the next day!

Hardly healthy. But oh so tasty. Enough for 6.

Deep fried oreos. That's right. Deep. Fried. Oreos.

My pal and I split everything. And we shared the entire meal again the following day. Yup, we doggie bagged half of it – and there were leftovers from the leftovers. All in all over the top, in the best possible way.

OLA and THE DINING ROOM are sister restaurants. Actually brothers. I was torn between the two Latin lovers so, in the end, had both!

OLA – or, Of Latin America – has Chef Douglas Rodriguez at its helm. My pal loved loved loved her meal at his eponymous, now closed, resto at The Astor so this was a must-dine for her. Slick and sophisticated in The Sanctuary Hotel with over ten ceviches to choose from, it was crudo paradiso. We ordered a few but the lobster ceviche was the standout. Homemade corn bread nearly put us over the edge, but we pushed our way through shortrib empanada, braised pork, and sugar cane tuna…..YUM!

Gedempt pork.

Seared tuna pops!

Little brother’s The Dining Room was just as good. A tiny space south of 5th on Lincoln with only a handful of tables, we sat street-side, protected from the rif raf (ok, hungry starers) by a sweet white picket fence. We were warned that they didn’t serve OLA’s crazy bread (thanks goodness, a girl’s gotta bikini to fit into!) but that their butter was better! Garlicky – and true! Ceviches lobster and cobia were fresh and tasty, while the duck salad was a hit. We taunted our friend M for ordering the vanilla squash soup….Until we tried it. Divine! Next up came a delicate halibut, fantastic filet churrasco flanked by tomato, blue cheese and chili salad, and a crazy crispy brazed pork.

I still don’t know which sib I preferred! Do both!

One of the prettiest places in town has got to be Cecconis.

Beautiful. And boasts a retractable roof!!

Located in the old school glamour of the chic and understated Soho Beach House hotel, it boasts an extensive Italian menu and incredible staff. Sure they meander off the menu a little – shrimp became lobster tail, accompaniments were swapped – but they do it with such aplomb that it works, even when it shouldn’t! Chopped tuna salad is made table-side with bespoke spicing. The pizza is paper thin and perfect for sharing, the risotto with sausage was surprisingly light and delicious, and the snapper carpaccio was practically inhaled. In fact, at our dinner we were so busy chitchatting with the enchanting waiter we forgot to take pictures!! Except for the dessert.

Disappointing Dolci

The list of “must-eat” Florida resto’s goes on….Sra Rodriguez, Carpaccio, Barton G, Wish, Nobu, The Miami food trucks. No wonder there’s an obesity problem in the States. Miami alone is a 5-pounder weekend. But worth every ounce.

February 26, 2012   2 Comments

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What Happens in Vegas? Manny Pacquiao.

Manny Pacquiao, Pride of the Philippines.....

Sin City. Lost Wages. The Entertainment Capital of the Worrrrld.

I’ve just returned from my maiden Vegas voyage and am already plotting ways to get back to that desert oasis. Yep, it could be an addiction. Garish, smoky, crowded and cheesey, I absolutely adored it. And I’m not even a gambler! I tried to be. I really did. Roulette, craps, blackjack and slots – gave each one a shot and lost, lost, lost and lost. I got on a bit of a…. ahem …roll at “Casino War” but my luck soon turned.

Did I care? No! Because Vegas is fantastic. Shopping, eating, checking out the human freakshows, both on stage (“O”) and in the streets (never seen so many surgesized racks). What’s not to love? And we went on a quiet weekend! Sure, I would’ve liked to have lounged poolside, but this was a special occasion getaway. Not only was it my man’s birthday, but we were there as VIP guests of renown photographer David Drebin as his incredible Manny Pacquiao book hit the stands (and the web!).

From the shops....

To the screen via Miss July...

To the toilets...The Book is everywhere!

Our all-access pass took us from the pre-party (Giovanni Ribisi! Jason Lee! Jeremy Piven!) to the floor (Mike Tyson! Magic Johnson! Too many basketball players to name! Or recognize!). Playboy playmates and Idol castoffs, Mexican Grammy winners and “Eye of the Tiger” Survivor singer, this show had it all. Plus Bill Compton.

Team Bill ('til Eric shows up)

The fight itself was somewhat lukewarm, but being there was hot!!!

Modern day Coliseum

I’d always liked Rocky (and, um Sugar Ray Leonard) but now I can honestly say I’m a fan of the bloodsport. Bring on the Boxing!!! Or at least, another trip to Vegas!!

Ringside!

EAT: We hit Milos for fine Greek (via Montreal) dining. Their octopus and stone crabs were divine, but their “Milos Special” (razor thin fried slivers of zuchinni and eggplant on a bed of tzaziki) were sublime. Their whole fish was, I thought, overrated, its consistency not unlike chewed gum. Eeeewwwww.

Breakfast at Mon Ami Gabi at (The?) Paris was hilarious. French signs, servers greeting us with “bonjour” and baguette served in paper bags. All we needed were some cyclists avec paniers to make the experience complete. Funny thing is, apparently they have ’em, but we didn’t spot any in Le Casino.

Wolfgang Puck – he’s not just for airports! The guy’s got spots all over the town. We headed over to MGM’s version post-fight for pizza and salads. Tasty.

Beso, Eva Longoria’s Latin Steakhouse, was recommended to us. We were hesitant. But it also happened to be attached to our hotel. So we went. And, despite the stacking of chairs and closing up rituals of the servers (while we were still eating!!) la comida está buena. As were the drinks – in particular their Skinny Colada (coconut vodka, pineapple juice, lime. Zoinks!)

The Buffet. You can’t go to Vegas and not sample their legendary hotel buffets. Or can you? We went once and loaded up on shrimp and bacon. The rest was, well, too buffet-ish. Still, had we known the all-you-can eat extravaganza was included with our daily rate we may have gone back to sample the breakfast pizza (for real) or the award-winning dessert.

I lied. We did sample the award-winning desserts at Jean-Phillippe Patisserie. Their cinnamon danish? Not. Normal. Mind you, the brown sugar coffee cake at the hotel beanery wasn’t too bad either!

Despite eating like piggies, we managed to squeeze ourselves into some new duds. For as much as Vegas is a gamblin’ town it really is all about the shopping.

My fave find was DNA 2050, located in the slick ‘n stylish Cosmopolitan Hotel. His ‘n hers, jeans ‘n tops with a side of footwear. Loved it. Shopped it. Bookmarked it. Also fell for Dutch cosmetic emporium Skins. See ya Sephora, this all-white, upscale product shop has stuff we’ve never seen – nor heard of!

But they was just the beginning. Forum Shops at Ceasar’s (where they really do have folks in Ancient Roman get ups announcing the arrival of the emperor! And Scoop NY!), Crystals for the hoitiest of toity (even the…um…adult shop, Kiki De Montparnasse was couture-ish), the Fashion Show Mall for weekend Runway shows and a myriad of department stores, Miracle Mile for more common finds, and of course the Outlets. It’s impossible to get to them all. But it can’t hurt to try!

VIVA LAS VEGAS!!!

View from (almost) the top of The Aria

November 16, 2011   1 Comment

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RESTAURANT ROW/ROW

Where should we eat?

It’s the war-cry heard around the world for restaurant going foodies. And ever since Ossington Avenue took over as Toronto’s reigning restaurant row (sorry, Harbord) the question’s become “where should we eat…on Ossington”.

Everyone’s got an answer. An Ossington guide. A must-have, must-eat hot spot. But this is a tale/toast/roast of two restos: Boehmer vs Paramour. Slick vs cool.

But where should we eat?

Boehmer is gorgeous. With it’s huge windows and beautiful lighting, it’s the street’s showstopper. But don’t let the dazzling facade fool you. We booked a table, arrived on time for our 8:30 rezzie and were shown to “the lounge” for a drink. I hate when restaurants do that. I understand it, but not when they are a handful of four-tops sitting empty. All, apparently, reserved by others. How do they decide who gets to sit and who must wait? It seemed everyone is herded to The Lounge first. In protest, we skipped the drink – tho with one cocktail called “Steve” we were tempted. But we waited until we could nest at our table. And, funnily enough, we were shown right to it as soon as we said nyet. Conspiracy?

But on to the food. In keeping with the spirit of beauty, everything on the menu sounded fantastic. Except the bread, which they charge for. Apparently it’s worth it, but it looked like plain ol’ baguette to us. We passed, opting for the cauliflower soup (maple glazed bacon!), fois gras (maple glazed apples!) and beet ‘n goat’s cheese salad. Fois gras aside, the other apps were pretty ordinary. Mains arrived and the disappointment continued. Scallops on special were anything but. The fish was ish. And the beef bordered on airline – steerage, not business class. The best part of the meal was the side of roasted Jerusalem artichokes. Divine.

Talk about false advertising!!! Nothing special here except the lighting and there motorcycle on display. Quite stunning if you like that kind of thang. But overall this felt like a big penis-extension of a restaurant. Super-duper styley but when you get down to it, fails to rise to the occasion.

And then there’s Paramour. It’s the cozy, down-to-earth opposite of Boehmer. The alternative arty chick to Boehmer’s popular all-talk, prom queen. It was all-chick over at Paramour. For real – vaginas on everyone except the dishwasher. The menu had us spoilt for choice. You know when everyone gets a starter plus one “for the table” that you’re on to a good thing – or things, like the Roasted Corn and Jalapeno hush puppies. And that mayo…. The bread, free of course, would’ve been worth paying for: homemade foccaccia with carmelized onions to dip it in. BLT salad – with proper lardons – was huge. And delicious.

Three halibuts were devoured. The accompanying cauliflower puree was a little disappointing – but only because we could’ve had a trough-full! And the chicken -yes, someone ordered the chicken – was polished off enthusiastically. The side of rapini was unnecessary, but tasty. Of course there was no dessert to be had here. Too much bread and hush puppies. Also – poached pears? Erm….Pass.

Obviously there’s a clear winner in this dining destination smackdown. Paramour‘s substance over Boehmer‘s style any day….Book ‘er down….You’ll be glad you did…

November 9, 2010   No Comments

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State of the Union

Word of mouth is huge in the restaurant world. Well in all worlds, but especially for foodies. Buzz+hype+critical mass = big business for chowhounds.

We’ve all heard about places that are spectacular. We stalk the site, try to book, and somehow make our way. Some live up to the hype, and some do not. What I’ve noticed recently, however, is that there’s much ado about a whole lot o’ nuthin’. Nuthin’ appealing, that is.

I blame the Locavore revolution. If I lived in California or in the Mediterranean I could get excited. Even some far-off tropical island would work for me. In these places I’d probably be so used to eating locally grown food that I wouldn’t have to label it. But I live in Canada. Practically-but-not-quite Midwestern Canada. Even tho’ we lean to the East, we’re smack dab in the middle. The only coast is Lake. And it’s a long cold winter. Eating locally grown food at the beginning of April is a challenge. Big time. Especially when said locally grown food seems to be too meat-y (only root veggies here!), adventurous (tongue, brains, innards) and silly (granola foam?!)…

Challenging.

Another challenge is trying to get a table on a busy Saturday night. On Ossington, Toronto’s latest It street. We were four hungry souls, out of the prowl, looking for dinner. We were wingin’ it old sckool….No bookings, no rezzies, no clue…

We split off and tried the olde walk-in approach. Without much luck….

Until we hit Union. Like it’s neighbours, it too was filled to the gills but they agreed to let us loiter at the bar until the small window table/bench/bar was free. I’d read about it the place. I’d studied the very small menu. Union prides itself on having sowed, hoed, and growed their food. It says so on their website. It wasn’t for me. And yet…here we were. Blood sugar lowered, getting desperate, and cranky, it was Go Union or Go Home.

So we Unionized.

And it was, in a word, awesome.

Being forced to order something you wouldn’t normally go for was a locavoric eye opener! Nervously, we perused the menu. Pasta special was ravioli with cheese, beurre blanc and….rabbit. Next, the fish special: grilled Spotted Lake Trout, or Splake. Geddit? Splake = SPotted LAKE trout. May as well have called it Splat. Pass. Luckily, there were no face parts on this menu (one of our group got suckered into veal cheeks the week before. We were over facial food before we sat down).

We looked for stuff we could share while standing. Started with a plate of Elk Sliders. Insanely good. Tempted-to-order-another-round (not to share) kind of good. Then we tucked into a tiny cheese plate. Laughably small. And yet….packed quite a punch. We could’ve used more than a sliver of bread each but we got past it.

And then we sat down at the bar. Somewhat uncomfortable with a persnickity waitress/bartender, the odds continued to be stacked again this place. But the Union salad, with it’s fat slabs of bacon, creamy goat’s cheese and mini rosti was a winner, ditto the sticky ribs. Polenta – yeah, two of us actually ordered polenta! I know – crazy!!) was crispy and cheesy with a side of braised greens that went down a treat. Didn’t leave a drop! Apparently the real winner was the Plat du Jour: the Union Steak Frites that our pal swore was the best he’d had. Ev-ah. The piece de resistance? The massive side of smashed potatoes that came with the mains. A total surprise, they were laced with some kind of sour cream ‘n chive-ish concoction and set alongside a slew of fries. With mayo. Yep, the steak frites came with frites AND a side of fries! Who knew? It definitely made up for the puny cheese platter.

We finished off with a communal molten chocolate cake. There was some debate over dessert. My man wanted the apple parfait but claimed he was full, and I secretly hoped the bread pudding would be ordered by someone…ok me…but the chocolate cake won out. Like the rest of the meal, it was damn fine.

And it wasn’t even that pricey! Which just goes to show you…erm…. you can’t judge a restaurant by its menu. Sheesh….who knew? Proud Canadian hockey fan, and now, food patriot? Viva la Revolucion!

3 comments:

Anonymous said…

your true calling!

9:19 AM

Anonymous said…

American Idol, please!

5:20 PM

Anonymous said…

I’ve passed by the Union, but now I won’t be passing it up. Thanks for slumming it in my ‘hood! Though I recently got a non-wait, non-rezzie table at Foxley– when Libretto was gonna be too long. An off night for the renowned F? You should have hit the noodle shop on the other side of the street. Don’t judge that book by its cover. Delicieux!

April 13, 2010   No Comments

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Glutton for San Fran

My man turned 40 last week. Trying to figure out where to go and what to do for this particular fellow was a bit of a nightmare. He’s one of the most social cats I know, so a party could be deadly – in every way. And trying to pick a handful of pals for an intimate soiree would result in no end of ribbing, jabs and possibly even stabs, so that was out. A weekend away with the family was out of the question. Aside from the fact that we’d be going South in December, hanging with the under-6 crowd wasn’t really the ideal way to ring in a 40th. Plus we do that every day, so no chance Lance. The whole thing was giving me enough anxiety to give me a mid-life crisis.

So away we went. Gone. Outta here. Sa-yo-na-ra. Adios suckers.

Aaaaahh….if only it were that simple. Planning an escape in mid-November is less than ideal. The hot spots aren’t hot, the exotic spots are too far for 3 days, and the close ones had the same weather sitch as being home. Hit or miss. My man claims he’d be happy in a neighbouring basement with a couple of bottles of wine. But we all know that would suck. Everybody says that – they don’t care, they could go anywhere, etc. CRAP! Having spent one birthday in Niagara Falls, and another in Los Angeles, can you guess which was infinitely more enjoyable?!? Uh-huh, go west young man.

And so we did. Our surprise destination was San Francisco. My man always talked of it adoringly and I’d never been so it really was a no-brainer (once I got the idea into my head, that is).

The big reveal came the day of his birthday. In verse. I contemplated the at-the-airport suprise but post 911 airports aren’t so festive. Plus half the fun of going out of town is bragging….I mean, getting excited about it. Plus, let’s face it – it’s hard enough to pack for myself, let alone choosing his outfits.

He read my dare-I-say awesome poem (which I wanted to post but he wouldn’t let me and it is/was his birthday) and, as I suspected, he hadn’t a clue. Genius surprise! California wasn’t even on his radar for this birthday, which could be why it was all the sweeter…

That, or the food.

Who knew the City by the Bay was such a gourmet paradise? “Fog City”??? Totally inappropriate. Every day was sunny and glorious. It should be renamed “Food City” because, aside from walking off all the meals on those crazy hilly streets, all we did was eat. And some other stuff which I shall leave to your dirty little imaginations. This is a family site for f&cksake!

Frisco. NorCal. SF. San Fran. In three days we couldn’t possibly sample all the city had to offer….Nor did we have a chance to venture away from the city limits, let alone the rest of the Bay Area or 49-Mile Drive. But we did see – and eat – blew our mind.

First off, the Hotel.

Campton Place
in Union Square. We thought of a couple others but this was the winner for us terms of location – and price. It’s part of the Taj group of hotels. Swanky swanky. Tho this once was kinda Taj-lite, it was still AOK. Especially because of the INCREDIBLE concierge, Kyle. He figured us out in about 7 minutes. Maybe he’s somewhat telepathic, or maybe we’re easy reads, but either way, he had us down and pointed us in the right direction.

Taj Campton Place

But back to the food….

First stop, Yank Sing. Best Damn Dim Sum. Ever. Apparently there are two locations. We hit the one in the Rincon Center. As we walked through a deserted (and very clean) financial district we hit this odd – and empty – mall. And then we followed the waft of garlic and found ourselves in dumpling heaven. Traditional dim sum like Har Gow and Sui Mai? Stupendous! Szechuan chicken? Crazy. And the chili fried green beans? We wanted to take the sauce home….Oh, wait, we did! Yes, you can even get their “delightfully spiced” (their words) chili sauce to go. the only regret? That we didn’t buy some more when we had the chance. And they don’t do mail order (I’ve already checked).

From there it was a short walk to the Ferry Building. On Saturdays there’s a farmer’s market there. We were too stuffed from our dim-sum-a-thon to go too wild, but there’s an old saying that you feast with your eyes. So we did.

After sleeping off the jet lag (and dim sum hangover) we hit Spruce in Pacific Heights. The bar and main dining room were pretty amazing sights to behold. Which is why we were somewhat amused to find ourselves sandwiched between the pensioners’ table in the back room. Kinda felt like losers, to be sure, but, as would be proven time and time again in this town, the food made up for it. Fine food, fine wine, and the nicest waitstaff in the west.

Sunday found us skipping breakfast and hitting the hotel’s open air gym. Nothing like a sweat to get you ready for brunch! Especially at Absinthe in Hayes Valley. Kyle pointed us in its direction, but we ordered two massive breakfasts and some (literally) bad-ass pork product sides all on our own. Duck Confit Hash? Corn Cakes with wilted chard and poached eggs? Homemade sausage and bacon? Accompanied with beers and cocktails? We were outta control. And so was the food. Again. Best Bacon we’d ever had. And, like so many of Our People, we know bacon. A little too well…This one was smokey and maple-y and ridiculous. And stayed with us for hours, so we could enjoy it throughout the day.

Next stop was Foreign Cinema. No, not a movie, another bloody restaurant! This one was in the Mission. With an enormous outdoor patio and screening of flicks on their outdoor screen, we’d heard this place was not to be missed. But to be honest, we could’ve. Missed it that is. The setting far-surpassed the meal. It was tasty enough, and the wines were nice, but we probably should’ve blown it off for a Sunday night movie instead.

Monday took us to Nettie’s Crab Shack on Union Street. We stumbled across it by mistake and it was a damn fine find. Especially the Cobb Louis. And the Bloody Mary. Oddly enough, the woman who ran the place had worked at all the restaurants we had been to. In fact, she overheard us arguing about the gluttonous theme of the weekend and insisted we keep the reservation we had for dinner that night.

Yes, we argued. Once. All over Gary Danko. The restaurant, not the man. I managed to snag us a reservation – apparently quite a challenge. And I’d heard that if there was one place you HAD to go to, it was there. And my man felt full. He was finished with eating. He couldn’t stomach another restaurant meal. It was our last night in Frisco and he was done with dinners.

Except, in the end, we went to Gary Danko. And, in the end, he didn’t like it. He LOVED it. Riding the cable car over there helped, but the meal was over the top. The service was impeccable, the food divine AND they brought us a birthday dessert. They remembered why we were there in the first place – even tho’ I seemed to have forgotten! They have a roving cheese plate that they cut ‘n serve table side. They have petit-fours that come with the coffees. And they send you home with a prettily-wrapped breakfast cake for the next day. Yum yum and yum.

We did other stuff too! I swear. Union Square was shopper’s paradise. A little overwhelming but we managed. Hayes Valley is a great afternoon out. Restaurants and cake shops aside, they have some awesome independent boutiques. Sean, Gimme Shoes, Flight 101 to name a few. Chinatown, North Beach, Russian Hill, Cow’s Hollow… All walks, all the time. And yes, we walked UP Lombard Street, the crookedest street in the world.

We also hit Alcatraz. The cruise, the walk, the audio tour. Aside from being iconic, cool and a great morning out, it saved us hundreds – in shopping and calories. We needed the break between meals. And we needed to NOT spend it shopping. Being shipped off to The Rock was just what we needed to round of our 4-pounder weekend.

If you’re heading to San Francisco, enjoy….And bon appetite!

November 22, 2009   No Comments

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Isa- what?

There’s a new crash diet in town. And I’m all over it. All. Over. It.

Look – I’ve tried every diet there is. The nutrisystem deliveries? Revolting. Nutritionists? Evolved into whack-job emotional eating therapy sessions. One summer I tried the Montignac/GI Diet/Suzanne Somers thing with a friend of mine. After a month or so we agreed we’d never felt better; never had more energy; never enjoyed so much cheese. She looked tremendous. I couldn’t do up my pants. And of course as any who know me know….I’m a Weight Watcher lifer – right down to the app on my iPhone.

I know what you’re thinking – obviously having been on every diet means that I….erm… needed to be on every diet. Not so. OK, maybe a little, but I was rolling along quite nicely until I got pregnant. Over and over and over again!

With each weekly WW meeting I figured out new and improved ways to beat the system. And then suddenly, the system stopped working for me. Or maybe I stopped following it….Either way, I’d reached that dreaded zone we never-say-diet-it’s-a-lifestyler hates: The Plateau.

So when my dear friend told me she was going to do a “cleanse” I poo-poo’d her. Crash diet now, gain it back later. That’s what I’d heard, read, studied. Belittling her efforts became a bit of a sport. What was she thinking?

Question is, after she lost 11 lbs in 11 days – what was I thinking? And when could I start?

September 8 was D-Day. After all, Labour Day’s the new New Years, right?

Bring on the Isagenix.

My new mantra became shake, shake, meal. Breakfast and lunch are replaced with these shakes, followed by a “healthy” meal. And I must tell you the first day was brutal. BRUTAL. I was warned I might suffer a headache or two, but when I crawled under the covers, fully clothed, ice pack on my head and gel mask on my eyes, I thought I was in rehab. Turns out this cleanse was, in every sense, a detox. I also happened to have had a tetanus shot that morning. I can blame the shot. Or the lack of Diet Dr. Pepper. Either way, I was sure this was it. The end. The end of isagenix, and the end of my life.

But the sun rose again and I carried on. Shake, Shake, Meal. Shake, Shake, Meal. I ditched the gag-inducing Ionix (a Vitamin B liquid/motor oil that failed to get my engine running) and stuck to the shakes. I added a few pineapple chunks and a smattering of mango to the vanilla and I swear, it could’ve passed for a pina colada. Almost.

And then came cleanse day number one. The moment of truth. I shot back 4 ounces of the Cleanse for Life liquid and waited for the magic to happen. I had to do 4 glasses of the stuff which, while not completely vile, isn’t something I’d ever savour. But whatever natural speed/appetite suppressant was in there was working. It was a breeze. So much so that I went for it and did another cleanse day the next day.

Now, if someone had told me I’d drink nothing but 16 ounces of some sort of aloe vera berry juice I’d have shown them the door and ordered Chinese, just to prove them wrong. But I did it. With only mild cheating. A couple of carrots here, a cuke or two there. And then there are the oddly compelling IsaSnacks. Strange little wafers that taste like chalk and yet…..become somewhere comforting when there’s nothing else to chew.

And so it went….For 11 days.

I stepped on the scale, whipped out my measuring tape – supplied by the kind folks at Isagenix to prove their point – and….Lo and behold, I’d lost 10 lbs. And 18.5 inches. I don’t know how. I don’t know why. And to be honest – I don’t care. I did get a bit nervous that there may be some sort of heart-attack inducing natural speed in there – but according to my trustworthy chiropractor – it’s all good. In fact, he wants to start taking it now too!

It’s no secret that the whole isagenix world is based on a pyramid scheme. Tho’ I guess it’s not a scheme if it works. But there’s a shady feeling about the whole thing. And yet… I’m all over it. Hook, line and sinker. I don’t miss my diet pops or my processed turkey sticks. I have a new-found appreciation for water, almonds, and tea. I know how evangelical I sound – ironic when you consider one of my many sidelines of work is writing inspirational blogsites – but when something works, it works.

Oh – and for those naysayers who wonder how much more I’ve gained back? I’m down another 3lbs . Schadenfreude – kiss my shrinking ass! Everybody else, hop on the IsaTrain – it’s a sweet, clean ride…..

2 comments:

Anonymous said…

you should send this to them and get paid – I’m serious

3:15 PM

kyra said…

yay! i’m about to do another 11 day. starting thursday. the day after my birthday. gotta have my cake and eat it too!!!!!!!

September 9, 2009   No Comments

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