Vice Canada Gets the Munchies in Toronto

If you’re not familiar with VICE magazine, then this is me introducing you to something to help up the cool quotient in your life. A free lifestyle magazine, VICE is always cutting edge on all the important stuff like fashion, food, music, books, film (bah! I kid.. kinda). You get the picture.

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Somewhat recently, VICE introduced the beta version of its Canadian website chock-full of interesting local content. Whoever they have chosen to have their ear to the ground in Toronto has done this city proud. The “Munchies” section, which visits popular and innovative food and drink establishments in city, represents Toronto wonderfully.  The concept: choose a hot restaurant, take its owner(s) and staff around to their favorite spots in the city, feed them copious amounts of alcohol and food and take them back to their own kitchens at the end of the night for late night grub.

There are 3 videos so far, all worthy of watching. I’ve been to all of these places and will vouch for the excellence of each of them.

Meet Jenn Agg + staff/friends, who visit Parkdale’s Grand Electric for tacos, Kensington Market’s Cold Tea for drinks, then end the evening in her kitchen at The Blackhoof.

Meet Executive Chef Masaru Ogasawara who takes you to my favorite Italian restaurant in the city, Enoteca Sociale, followed by drinks at the Toronto Temperance Society (remember when I snuck in?!), and then back to his Guu empire.

Finally, meet Grant Van Gameron, who starts out celebrating the 1st anniversary of Bellwoods Brewery at the Ossington resto/brewery, chows down at 416 Snack Bar, heads for more drinks at the beer empire Bar Volo, then caps off the night at his newly opened and much acclaimed restaurant, Bar Isabel.

My week in food

Between Winterlicious, goodbye dinners, and the new Izaykaya on the corner, this has been a big week in food and I’m scared to say, there’s only more to come.  While I’ve got 24 whole hours off eating out, I thought I’d take an opportunity to recap this week’s culinary delights.

First stop: Harbord Room on Monday to say thank you and goodbye to two lovely friends who are leaving us for the Big Apple.  Despite living in the neighbourhood and frequenting the Harbord House, I had somehow never made it across the street.  Our dinner dates had long proclaimed Harbord Room to be the best restaurant in the city and without hesitating, requested that we make it the destination for our last supper.  And am I ever glad we did.  The Harbord Room is the perfect balance of classy and casual, the kind of place that simultaneously makes you feel at home and out for a special meal.  We started with a round of Manhattans garnished with the most incredible house soaked cherries that tipped the balance and made this my new favourite Manhattan in the city.  Our team of four then shared a variety of largely seafood based starters, from the squid ink linguine to the octopus salad, each of which was beautifully presented, and more importantly, delicious.  At one of my date’s suggestions, I had the burger and there is no doubt in my mind that my friend was right: this is hands down the best burger in the city.  Or anywhere, ever.  Topped only with aged cheddar and carmelized onions, you know a burger is good when something this simple blows your mind.  I’m not generally a big meat eater, but this naturally raised and insanely tender beef was so good I can’t imagine not ordering it every visit.  Despite our extremely full bellies, we contemplated dessert because it too sounded amazing, but ultimately settled on one more Manhattan to top off the night.  Don’t make the mistake I did – go now and go often, you’ll be glad you did.

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Next stop: Ryoji, the new ramen and izaykaya joint ON MY STREET CORNER.  It’s opening was pretty much the best news ever and I’m surprised it took me two whole weeks to make it there.  Although Ryoji has about a dozen locations, the Little Italy outpost is the first outside of Japan, and didn’t disappoint in maintaining a traditional izakaya atmosphere (or at least my understanding of such).  Having been inside the old school pizza joint that previously tenanted 690 College, I was immediately struck by the impressive renovations and design efforts that went into the dramatic transformation.  The restaurant is large, with ample seating and a variety of unique dining nooks.  In the mood for a beer and a quick post-work bite, we pulled up two seats at the bar, where we could watch the food prep in action.  Service was somewhat scattered, but friendly, and our waitresses’ broken english and extreme enthusiasm fit perfectly with the frenetic vibe.  Despite the cold, neither my date nor I were feeling ramen, but rumour has it Ryoji is a strong contender for best in the city.  Instead, we sampled the ryoji rainbow roll (a unique, lighter take on the traditional rainbow roll), the zucchini tempura (omg kind of goodness), the poki salad (hawaiian style sashimi salad), and the carpacio.  Everything was fresh, beautifully presented, and, with the exception of the daily special (some kind of fried shrimp which looked stunning but tasted like nothing), delicious.  I can’t wait to go back for the ramen and look forward to eating my way through the rest of the menu. Continue reading

Wine Flight Wednesdays at Salt Wine Bar

Last Wednesday, inspired by a sign outside advertising “wine flight Wednesdays” we had noticed on a chilly quest for Pho the Sunday previous, my boyfriend and I paid a visit to Salt Wine Bar on Ossington.  Salt isn’t new to Toronto, but for reasons unbeknownst to me, seems to fly fairly low on the restaurant scene radar, which turned out to be a wonderful change.  We were able to secure a reservation without hassle, our table was quiet and comfortable, and the service was perfectly attentive.

Perfect for a week day date night, Salt strikes the perfect balance between rustic casual and cozy romance.  In a nod to the wine bar theme, the walls are flanked with wooden shelves displaying a carefully curated collection of wine, which serves as a perfect background to the flickering candlelight throughout.  The menu is tapas style, featuring a selection of largely seafood and meat based Spanish and Portuguese inspired dishes.   We started with a round of cocktails, which I was somewhat surprised to discover a wine bar did so well (and at a much more reasonable price than cocktail specific bars in the city).  My manhattan was one of the best I’ve had in the city, no doubt to the house made charred cedar bitters.

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On Wednesdays, Salt offers wine and port flights that allow patrons to sample four different grapes or blends from one region at one low price point.  The night we visited, Italian wines were on offer. For $17 we sampled a prosecco, a pinot grigio, a valpoliccela and finished with a wonderful amarone.  Although not specifically paired with our food (the flights are pre-set), Philip Carneiro, the restaurant’s extremely knowledgeable “wine guy” suggested the order in which we sample them and which wine would pair best with each of our small plates.  While we enjoyed all of the wines we tried, the 2008 Capital de Roari Amarone by Luigi Righetti was a stand out.

We started with the Ontario Buffalo Mozzarella with cherry tomatoes, olives, pine nuts and basil, in a sherry vinegar reduction ($10) and the yellowfin tuna ceviche with mango, mint,cucumber, avocado, red chili ($14).  I nearly died over the mozzarella and if in the privacy of my own home, would not have hesitated to lick the plate clean.   The ceviche was fresh and summery and the combination of the cool fruit and hot chili made for a nice contrast.

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Holiday Gift Guide: The Foodie / Home Chef

As Toronto quickly becomes cemented as a Foodie town, we’ve got no doubts that you’ve got a budding chef or food connoisseur on your list of people to buy for this year.  We’re big fans of food ourselves and have put together this guide with our own loves in mind!

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1) Perfect for stocking stuffers, small gifts, or thank-yous to holiday hosts, fancy salts, vinegars and oils are a gift that will always be appreciated and never be wasted.  There are gourmet shops around the city selling these items, some at a premium, some at a discount. For salts and great spice blends in pretty packaging, check out The Spice Trader on Queen St. W. or order online. Crescendo just opened in the Distillery Market and is known for its incredibly flavored oils and vinegars.  For bargain prices, check out HomeSense!

2) We’ve both been to the wine and cheese classes offered by the Leslieville Cheese Market, and they are fun, informative and delicious.  Even better, they’re $20! For your beer-loving foodie, beer and cheese classes are also offered. ($20)

3) A wine saver pump is a great gift for your favorite wine-o’s. The wine vacuum takes out the extra air from an open bottle of wine, helping slow down the oxidation process so the wine keeps longer. I know we all love to polish off bottles, but sometimes a nice wine is great to savour! (from $10)

4) There are cookbooks for every taste, whether your foodie is focused on being healthy, trying to master the perfect chilli in the slow cooker or hell bent on learning to make macarons. Chapters is a one stop shop, but there are some great smaller stores staffed with people who can really speak to the books to help you pick out the perfect one. Try The Good Egg in Kensington Market, you’ll want to browse for hours!

5) Seemingly every time we head up to a cottage with a food loving gang in tow we manage to fill the trunk with excessive food and supplies.  Heaven forbid we go two days without our precious sea salts!  Pick up this Mobile Food Survival Kit and help simplify the travels of your foodie friends. ($25)

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