Sunday, February 28, 2010

Duck Galore in Quebecois Cuisine at Cafe du Lac

Followers of this blog know that I have some certain favourites for food - duck, foie gras, truffle. Anything with those three really can't go wrong! Last night, Tony and I ventured out to Etobicoke to visit Cafe du Lac, where the Quebecois cuisine features duck in many ways, poutine with short ribs, and foie gras that can be added to every meal! Our friend Stella had advised us to call ahead to book the "duck in a jar," which without ever seeing the actual description, I trusted would be a good bet (I totally get caught up in the exclusivity factor that I have to order ahead of time).

I regret that our visit to the mall earlier in the day meant we already had some "low class" poutine from Hero Burgers, and so we passed on the delicious sounding appetizer. We opted instead for the Farmer's Pate, created by the chef, and the blended mushroom soup that came with Tony's prix fixe special. The soup was delicious and reminded me of the great meal we had in Paris at Cinq-Mars. The arrival of my duck in a jar was an ordeal for the entire little restaurant - the chef came out to witness the "unveiling" of the duck, making the waiter just a little nervous that he wouldn't screw up this masterpiece. The duck is literally cooked in a jar, and served upside down on a plate, to be carefully removed by the waiter to maintain its standing shape. Applauses around were heard as the waiter successfully removed the jar and no tumble of duck was heard. I should mention that this didn't happen EVERY time this main was served, maybe it's just because I was extra excited, as was the table beside us, and we broke out in applause and cheers together. The arrival of Tony's special, boar chop, seemed ordinary in comparison! Our two mains couldn't have been more different - my duck was rich, decadent, fatty, and delicious (did I mention it was stuffed with foie gras!?), and Tony's boar chop was surprisingly simple, yet distinct in taste, and I loved that it was served with colourful vegetables. Truth be told my duck was a little tough to cut through, but every bite was heavenly, from duck, to foie gras, to cabbage and mashed potatoes. We left nothing un-eaten!

We are mostly downtown snobs, too lazy to make the trek outside to eat very often, but Cafe du Lac was definitely worth it. It sits in a little strip mall - in fact, you'd easily drive past it without knowing what you are looking for. It is fine dining food in a neighbourhood establishment, with friendly and personable staff that is excited about their food. In fact, we had arrived early for our reservation, and the waiter did not realize that we had already claimed one of the limited duck in a jars we called ahead for - I was pleased that they were still saving the main for us (even though by then we would have been incredibly late), and in the end, meant that the table next to us got a chance to snatch up the "freed" duck. Cafe du Lac is a wonderful little restaurant with modern Quebecois cuisine that we will certainly be back to...although maybe not so soon as I am still feeling full the day after!

Sukiyaki Hot Pot at Nami

On Friday here in Toronto, we were covered in snow. Although I never need an excuse to hot pot, it is always the meal of choice in the wintery cold, and this week was no different. While Tony and I normally favour Ematei, we joined our friends Julie and Daniel at Nami to try out their version of nabe (Japanese hot pot). What could be better than sharing a delicious meal over cold beer and chatter with friends on a Friday night??

The sukiyaki hot pot is one for meat lovers - served with thinly sliced Black Angus to be simmered in sweet soy sauce base. The waitress got our hot pot started, pouring the sauce into a shared black iron pot and filling it with onions and other vegetables to bring out more sweet flavours. The broth is rich, and the meat is cooked to your heart's desire. I favoured the other items that came with our platter, like tofu, udon and vegetables as a means to offset the intense flavour of the broth, but the significant meat portion sure was filling for the boys!

Nami was a nice change for us, and I found the sashimi appetizer to be quite fresh, deeming a return to be inevitable. Julie and I are both avid mushroom lovers, and our mixed mushroom platter from the grill was delicious. The hot pot is set up cost/person (2 min), so there's always room to order other items when visiting with friends! Maybe next time we'll try the bonito broth based Yose Nabe.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Valentine's at Canoe!

Few restaurants in Toronto are better known than Canoe, where I had the fortune of celebrating Valentine's Day this year (albeit on Saturday the 13th because Feb 14th was dedicated to Chinese New Year!). Situated on the 54th floor of the The TD Tower, the view is spectacular! First, I have to mention that the service is amazing. Tony had mentioned we were celebrating our recent engagement and we were welcomed with champagne and congratulations from all the staff, from our hostess, the sommelier to our waiter. Nothing like feeling extra special on a big night out! I'm normally hesitant to go out for Valentine's because the set menus are not always the best. Canoe offered a wonderful 4 course meal with 3-4 options in each course - felt like a full menu to me! Tony and I also had the wine pairings, which we couldn't seem to drink fast enough to keep up with our meals.

Course 1:
"Lover's Breakfast" - I was in love indeed, foie gras with peameal bacon served with toast and a mini croissant soaked in a maple infused sauce. There was even a quail egg cracked on top! It was incredibly indulgent and still leaves me wanting more. I apologize I don't have any pictures to share of my favourite dish of the night - I'm always a bit embarrassed to take pics at fine dining establishments but I gave in after the first course, knowing I would have lots to say! Think of me next time you snark at the people taking pictures of their food :)

Hamachi and dungeness crab pizza - hamachi sashimi and served on tops of piles of dungeness crab on a flat bread (which I ate separately anyhow). While both were fresh, and paired with fantastic crisp wine, the foie gras was too amazing to compare.

Course 2:
I LOVE soup and was glad this was our second course. I went with lobster bisque, which although delicious, could not measure up to my all-time favourite at Cannery in Vancouver. There were only traces of lobster and I could have really used some large chunks of meat!

Tony had onion soup with duck breast, a unique combination that we have not had before. The onion soup was an exceptional quality, very sweet and light. We both happily lapped up our second courses.

We were given a nice pallet cleanser before the next course, sorbet in soda, a refreshing touch before our mains came.

Course 3:
I opted for the Mac n' Cheese, which is not a typical choice, but I was sure it is a dish Canoe is or was once known for. This was high end mac n' cheese, served with scallops and giant prawns, but ultimately, a case of "mismatched expectations" as my friend Stella would say. I was imagining a hearty seafood pasta dish, but instead there was no "mac" at all, but a rich cheese served over prawns and scallops with risotto and peas. To be fair, the dish was quite well done, but I dislike peas, and although it was on the menu description, there were a lot more peas than I had imagined! The taste of the dish was hardly what I expected. As a side note, I was imagining a lobster risotto I once had at Nu restaurant in Vancouver, which sadly does not appear to be on the menu anymore, but it was one of the best pastas I have ever had in my life!

The elk tenderloin main (1st picture above) was really wonderful , and served with a beautiful red wine. he meat was tender, perfectly seared to medium rare, and literally melted in your mouth. Was happy the waiter told us this was his preferred choice, over a regular tenderloin.

Course 4:
For dessert I had a delicious double chocolate tart served with raspberry mousse and hazelnut meringue. Tony had the pistachio financier, which is a small French cake. We both enjoyed the chocolate tart more but did enjoy the light financier.

Overall, Canoe was a wonderful Valentine's experience. Surprisingly, the restaurant was not very busy, but we were also lucky to be seated by the window away from the main dining room where it was much quieter. It is definitely a great splurge for any special occasion! I highly recommend the wine pairings if you have the opportunity because it really made our meal special and we enjoyed every glass.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

WINTERLICIOUS: Trevor Kitchen is Chic and Delicious!

Trevor Kitchen is one of those really cool restaurants that you can go again and again, with friends, for a party, for a date - it has a warm, modern vibe that isn't too pretentious. And the food is good too! Last night, we went with our friends Allyn and Gloria for our next Winterlicious outing.

First I have to mention that the Winterlicious menu is very good - an assortment of choices for appetizers and mains. There were several that I would have been happy to eat, but of course, could not resist the duck confit shepherd's pie. In the end, this was probably my favourite food of the night, the duck was drowned in a delicious gravy with light mashed potatoes on top. I was glad we still had bread on the table as Al and I both took to cleaning out our bowls of any remnant sauce. Yum! Tony had the ricotta gnocci - also delicious but simply overshadowed by the unique shepherd's pie. Gloria had the parsnip soup, which was a beautiful colour when served, and although I did not taste it, I have no doubt it was delicious as well. We had a great start to our meal!

For mains, I had surf & turf - Alberta beef with jumbo pawn and goat cheese poutine. Honestly, how could I turn that down? My steak came perfect, medium rare but closer to rare (I appreciate when they get it right!), but my poutine was a little cold and generally unspectacular. Tony's suckling pig with split pea puree (pictured) had a very unique taste with just a hint of spice. Gloria's port braised beef cheeks was delicious - a very tender, homey dish served with a horseradish cream that added just a kick to the beef cheeks.

Dessert was a WOW experience for me - the passionfruit tiramisu was served as a big fluffy pastry and I devoured the entire plate. Al had the chocolate and caramel torte which came with a smooth peanut butter chantilly. Although I am generally not a fan of caramel or peanut butter, this dessert was undeniably very unique. Tony had a creme brulee to finish his meal, and although it was good, again, I felt it was overshadowed by my delicious tiramisu and Al's unique torte. To top it all off, our bill came with freshly made blue cotton candy - what a fun way to finish our meal! We left happy, bellies full, and tongues blue.

I highly recommend Trevor Kitchen, a fun place for a drink and of course, a great place to have dinner. We had a great experience and felt like it could have been any night at the restaurant, not defined by Winterlicious but it's a bonus that our three course meal was only $35....simply can't go wrong!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

WINTERLICIOUS: Quality Food, Service, and Ambiance at North 44

North 44 has been our favourite Winterlicious outing to date, and we couldn't resist making another stop in this time around. I fondly remember the braised pork belly and rabbit pappardelle we had last year! We originally took a Friday, 9:30pm reservation, which of course was less than ideal, but when calling to confirm, we thankfully landed a 6:30pm cancellation!

Seared ahi tuna with jalapeno, coriander and sriracha mayo - firm, fresh and tasty light flavour bringing out the best of the ahi tuna.
Steak tartare with fried capers - delicious but not exceptionally unique.

Pan seared supreme of Artisan chicken, egg yolk and truffle risotto, onion compote and natural reduction - "supreme" refers to the chicken breast that has been removed when raw (just eating chicken breast after it is cooked doesn't count!). I rarely, if ever, order chicken in a restaurant, because it is almost always dry and rough; but this chicken dish was unbelievable, it was incredibly smooth and silky in texture and the meat was firm and juicy. The risotto was also heavenly, prepared just perfect - I can never resist a truffle infused dish!
Organic salmon with crisp skin and bok choy - while this was less unique than my chicken, the fish was quite fresh, boasting a clear salmon taste (rare out here in Atlantic salmon). The fish was served beautifully with a light foam and traditionally prepared bok choy bringing out the fresh flavours.

We both had the delicious dark chocolate truffle tart. The biscuit bottom tasted like shortbread (yum!) and the indulgent chocolate was exactly the right finish to our meal. On our last visit, the dessert paled in comparison to the appetizers and mains, but this time, the dessert really completed our meal. This tart was to die for!

North 44
is undeniably one of the best restaurants in the city - great food, great ambiance. They deliver exceptional food with quality service that you expect from a fine dining establishment, sacrificing nothing during Winterlicious. The restaurant was well staffed and our dinner came quick, allowing North 44 to turnover several times - good planning, and great way to attract loyal patrons. While we've never splurged for a regular meal, we know it can only be better from our small experiences during Winterlicious!

Delicious Pastries at Holt Gourmet

While out shopping last weekend, we made a pit stop at Holt Gourmet on a whim. I originally just wanted a drink, but could not resist the beautiful displays of colourful pastries! We had a mango chocolate tart, as delicious as it looks, and a slice of peach almond pie. The mango chocolate tart was indulgent yet not too sweet, and the pie was just heavenly, I loved every bite! Next time you're out on a shopping trip and need a snack break, stop in at Holt Gourmet (1 floor below main) and have your pick of sweets, pies, and other savoury snacks in the modern, spacious cafe.