Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Salsateria Rebel Foods

Salsateria Rebel Foods
10 Wyndham Street North
Guelph, Ontario


In her opinion:
We wanted to keep it local since we have recently blogged about two awesome Toronto restaurants. So instead of going to Waterloo, we drove the opposite direction to Guelph. Urbanspoon came to the rescue with their top 10 list of the best Guelph restaurants. So we decided that the number 2 choice would be our pick - Salsateria.

Downtown Guelph has been changing and morphing into a lovely spot with some very nice spaces to eat. Salsateria is right in the heart of the action! This is a nice big space with a small patio.  

There was no room on the patio so we took a table by the open window. Our waitress came to take our drink order right away. I ordered the Spiked Strawberry Lemonade.

This was an awesome drink for only $4.75. It was a sparkling lemon with strawberry flavour, vodka and chopped strawberries. Very refreshing and absolutely delicious.

We decided to order an appetizer to start out our meal.  We ordered the "Antojitos". This was served with sour cream, guacamole and house made fresh salsa.

These little snacks were absolutely delectable. The cream cheese, cheddar cheese, salsa, black olive combo was so so good. I enjoyed this appetizer very much.

For my main, I picked the "Beef Steak Taco Thali". This was a deconstructed taco plate with steak cooked in what seemed like an adobe sauce, green salsa, guacamole, tomato, lettuce, onion, Mexican cheese and sour cream based sauce all in a thali dish. It came with six tortillas.

This was very good. I enjoyed the dish very much. Basically it's a make your own taco plate. The meat was flavourful. The guacamole and green salsa were both outstanding. I enjoyed the cheese...not to powerful. The sour cream sauce was very good.  Overall, a very good dish.

I enjoyed our dinner at Salsateria. The service was good, the food was good and I enjoyed the atmosphere. I would definitely recommend this restaurant to anyone who enjoys Mexican food even vegans and vegetarians!!

In his opinion:
Salsateria is situated in the old "Van Gogh's Ear" location, which has great corner location of Wyndham and MacDonnel Streets, smack dab in downtown Guelph.

The only Mexican like restaurant I knew in the downtown area was Gringo's Burritos, and that is long time gone, so I welcomed the idea of traditional Mexican food in the downtown area.

I must admit that the improvements in downtown Guelph have been very impressive. The look and feel of the downtown area is much improved with the recent revamp of Carden Street and the splash pad added.

Salsateria is a very big space and feels like a mix of sports bar, Mexican tienda and futuristic diner with those round booths. Somehow, it works together and makes for an inviting place. There is also a nice patio wrapped around the restaurant.

The Antojitos that we had for an appetizer were very good. Add a good dose of salsa, guacamole and sour cream as dips and this dish was elevated to much higher ground.

I got myself a Mill St. Organic to start (I know, very Mexican LOL) and browsed the menu for some treats. I wanted to stay away form the usual burritos, quesadillas type and settled on having the Chicken Chimichangas.

The plate was a good portion, pico de gallo was extremely tasty and went awesome with the rice. The salad was regular but plentiful. The chimichangas were good, the tortilas were a bit dry, overcooked (fried) perhaps but the overall taste was great. The chimichangas were topped off with some sour cream and refried beans, instead of the traditional avocado mix or cheese.

The Good: This restaurant, although not traditional, does have a decent amount of Mexican flair. Food was good and tasty. Service was excellent!
The Bad: Location attracts some "locals" to the patio and they stay there all day. We ate inside!!!
The Verdict: Good to have a decent Mexican place in Guelph and with the pub/good food mix it should do well.

I give it 2 1/2 olives out of 5 as rating

Salsateria on Urbanspoon.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Scarpetta - Toronto

Thompson Hotel
550 Wellington Street West
Toronto, Ontario


In her opinion:
For our second anniversary dinner this year, we picked Scarpetta at the sexy Thompson Hotel. Scarpetta has been on my food radar for a while and I'm glad we had the opportunity to try it. We opted for the Summerlicious menu since it seemed like the best value. However, we also opted to try one of their signature dishes that wasn't on the Summerlicious menu.

To start, we ordered the "Crispy Fritto Misto". This item was not on their Summerlicious menu but I had heard such good things about it that I had to try. It is described on the menu as seafood, vegetable, herbs and lemon. 

Let's just say...this was absolutely delish.  The kitchen had split the serving onto two plates, so the above picture is of half the actual serving. The seafood (calamari and shrimp) was crispy and delicious. The vegetables were cut into julienne strips and fried perfectly.I noted potato, sweet potato, eggplant, garlic and zucchini. This was sprinkled with deep fried parsley, sage and rosemary. Very very good.

For the first course of my Summerlicious menu, I picked the 
the "Creamy Polenta". This is served with a fricasse of truffled mushrooms.

Where to start? First, I have never had such delicious polenta in all my life.  It was beyond words but I'll try...creamy, buttery and absolutely delectable. The fricasse of mushrooms was an absolute dream.  This combination consisting of earthy mushrooms, caramelized onion, chives and white truffle was truly unforgettable. 

I was pretty full after the first two courses, so when our waiter came over with a server bearing two bowls of complimentary tomato and basil spaghetti, I was both grateful to Chef Hunter and a little apprehensive. Afterall, I still had my main course and dessert. But this is a Scarpetta signature dish and I had a blog audience to think about!

Well, I can see why it is a signature dish. Probably one of the best spaghetti dishes I have ever had. Tomato, garlic and basil melded together in perfect harmony! 

For my Summerlicious main course, I picked the "Heritage Pork Chop". This was served with braised endive, apricot mostarda and fava puree. 

This was a very generous portion of perfectly cooked pork. It was perfectly seasoned and I could pick up notes of Dijon, rosemary and thyme. The braised endive was delicious. The fava puree and whole fava beans provided a degree of freshness. The apricot mostarda added the right amount of sweetness. Overall, a very well composed dish. 

For my final Summerlicious course, dessert, I picked the Amedei Chocolate Cake. It was served with burnt orange-caramel gelato and espresso sauce.

This cake was awesome. Only second to the Julie gateau at La Plage Restaurant in St. Barths. It was moist, rich and so so delicious. The gelato was also very nice. Smooth and luscious. The perfect accompaniment to this outstanding cake.

We got a table visit from Chef Hunter after our dessert course. He was very gracious. Great guy! And he officially has my vote for the hottest chef in Toronto.

Photo courtesy of @Chef__Hunter
Overall, the perfect anniversary dinner.  I was very happy that we spent our 14th anniversary at Scarpetta. I would like to return to their rooftop lounge and more of Chef Hunter's delicious food!

In his opinion:

When chef/restaurateur and now Food Network star Scott Conant decided to expand his Scarpetta franchise to Toronto back in 2010, it was received with open arms by foodies and critics alike. After all, this quintessential NY Italian eatery was already a household name before it was diploid to Toronto, Miami Beach, Beverly Hills and Las Vegas.

The Toronto location of Scarpetta is inside the ultra chic and sophisticated Thompson Hotel and its decor is a perfect match to the hotel's sleekness and modern lines. The Bar is outside the dining room and it's majestic. It provokes a sense of being grandiose but the flashy "look at me" kind, well matched with the "art" wall that sits in front of it.

As you enter the dining room, the sleek, contemporary lines carry on the same theme, with lots of wood and glass, floor to wall windows and black trimmed glass doors. In the middle of the room, the S shaped banquets are very spacious and conducive to mingling and food sharing, this was very well thought of in the planning.

The server took our drink order and comes back with the bread basket. Well, that's when the night began for me. An assortment of breads ranging from focaccia cubes, Ace dinner rolls, multi-grain bread and the crowd favorite, the Stromboli. Stromboli for those that have not yet had the pleasure (and I do mean "the pleasure"), to have it, is essentially a turnover type of Italian bread dough filled with cheese (usually mozzarella) and salami (usually capicola). To quote my tweet while eating it "those of you that have not had Scarpetta's Stromboli, are missing out a lot". It was that good. The bread was served with 3 choices of spread/dip. Olive oil, eggplant caponata and mascarpone butter.

Bread basket and 3 bread dippers.

Having already a good idea of what I was going to order (for a change), we put our order in but also decided to try something off the regular menu. Crispy Fritto Misto is a lighly battered mixture of fried vegetables and seafood. Delicious, light, crispy strips of seafood and thinly sliced vegetables sprinkled with parsley, garlic and rosemary, and a healthy dose of salt as topping. The type of dish you can eat all day and night. This recipe is featured by Chef Conant on the Food Network site, so click here to get it.

My appetizer was one of my favourite dishes, "braised short ribs of beef". Served on a bed of farro risotto and with sliced summer vegetables. The ribs were perfectly done, with a hint of smokey taste and melt in your mouth delicious. The risotto was also perfectly executed.

While waiting for our entrees, Chef Michael Hunter was so kind to send us a complimentary dish of Scarpetta's famous Spaghetti. I'm the first one to admit that the thought of spaghetti brings me back to my childhood and my mother's attempt at Italian food, which failed miserably every time. Reluctantly but knowing that this is what they are known for, I dove into the spaghetti with tomato and basil, and bite after bite, my old memories were being erased and replaced with new ones of a much higher caliber. Inadvertently, Chef Michael Hunter's attempt at making me like spaghetti, worked like a charm, and I was very happy.

For entree, I chose the Roasted Organic Chicken with fava beans, asparagus and herbed Spaetzle (egg noodles of soft texture). The chicken was tender and moist with flavourful crispy skin and the Spaetzle was delectable and soft.

After I had indulged in a few repeats of Stromboli bread, I picked "Espresso Semifredo" (creamy, fluffy coffee ice cream pie) for dessert. It came with mini whoopie pies, homemade granola and creme anglaise. The ice cream especially was just amazing and subtle with just enough espresso taste not to be overpowering. I followed up with my usual espresso dopio and by then I was so full and fulfilled that I could not eat another morsel of food, even if I tried (and I didn't).

Chef Michael Hunter come to see us at our table, wishing us a happy anniversary and thanking us for being there. He was very courteous, humble and friendly in his short visit to our table, but long enough to make us feel special on our particularly great night.

Let's not forget that in late 2010, this restaurant was getting horrible reviews for service, pretentiousness and bland food. Those are things of the past as the service was impeccable and Chef Hunter has turned this kitchen around to truly reflect the original NY taste and flavour.

The Good: Great presentation and execution of "Italian home cooking", delivered in a contrasting contemporary room. Signature dishes live up to and surpass their reputation.
The Bad: Out of the 5 amazing servers that helped us, one particular lady (that only brought us the desserts) was not up to the caliber of this restaurant.
The Verdict: Sophisticated and soft ambiance rooms that serve "homemade food" are not easy to come by, especially when they make the combination seem like a marriage made in heaven. Go try them and have their signature dishes, they are well worth it.

I give them 4 Olives out of 5 as rating

Scarpetta on Urbanspoon

Monday, 16 July 2012

Canoe Restaurant and Bar

66 Wellington Street West, 54th Floor
Toronto, Ontario


In her opinion:
For some reason, the foodie gods have aligned my wedding anniversary and Summerlicious so that they occur in the same time frame. This means that we can have two or three anniversary dinners for the price of one! Since we love food this is the best anniversary gift ever! 

This year we decided on Canoe and Scarpetta to celebrate our 14th anniversary! Scarpetta is a new choice for us. But this wasn't our first time at Canoe, having been quite a few times now. In fact, we had celebrated our 12th there and it had been unforgettable, so we were hoping for the same. Well, Chef Horne far exceeded our expectations.

We arrived 20 minutes ahead of dinner service, so we sat at the bar looking down on Toronto and enjoying a pre-dinner drink.  I had my favourite Oliver and Bonacini staple...a glass of Biff's Juicy Red (read our review here). What can I say...it's my favourite wine of the moment. It was perfect.  The bar was filled with people waiting for their tables just like us.  At exactly 5:00 pm, we were shown to our table for two next to the kitchen.  This is a great spot to watch the action in the kitchen while enjoying your meal.

We were asked if we wanted still or sparkling Q water.  At $2.50 per person this is the best bargain out there!  We were then given some lovely red fife bread and a beautiful chickpea spread.

For my starter, I ordered the "Yarmouth lobster and cod mousse". This is described on the Summerlicious menu as being served with "lemon emulsion, Cookstown radish, capers and watercress".

This was outstanding. The mousse was served with toasted baguette which I feel is necessary to enjoying a good mousse. There was also preserved lemon on the plate which provided an incredible sweetness to the overall dish. The capers and lemon emulsion provided the right amount of tartness.  This was so so good.  I truly could eat this every single day and never get sick of it.  Absolutely delicious.

For my main, I picked the "Wellington County Beef" which is served with "Portobello mushroom pickles and creamy Alliston spuds".

The meat, a delicious tenderloin, was cooked a perfect medium. There was carrots and green beans on the plate to accompany the potatoes, prepared in two ways - as creamy mash and potato chips. As well, there was a delicious braised beef under the sliced tenderloin which had the most incredible flavour. It was served with a jus. This whole dish was excellent. A truly refined meat and potato dish which evoked your senses.

For dessert, I choose the "B.C. Cherry Clafoutis". It was served with "toasted almond cream and rum raisin ice cream".

The kitchen had written "Happy Anniversary" on our dessert plates...a great touch and Chef Horne sent out a dessert wine to accompany each of our respective desserts. He sent Peninsula Ridge Estate Winery's Ratafia with my dessert. This was a brandy like wine which was not to sweet and had flavours of hazelnut, creme brulee and caramel. However, I switched with Edgar's dessert wine which was the 13th Street Winery's 13 Below Zero Riesling. Or otherwise known as nectar from the gods...amazingly good! 

The whole meal was out of this world. It exceeded all of my previous Canoe experiences and I can honestly say it was one of the best meals I have ever had. Chef Horne came to see us after our meal and talked food and restaurants with us. We were given two little boxes of Soma Chocolates as an anniversary gift. Great services, great meal and overall, great experience.

In his opinion:
Contrary to most of Toronto's food critics' opinions, my favourite restaurant in Toronto and perhaps in Canada is actually Auberge du Pommiers, and not the critically acclaimed Canoe. Perhaps it's my unwavering love for French food or the fact that my many visits to Auberge have all been superb. We have had a few "ok" experiences at Canoe through the years, but something definitely took a turn for the better a couple of years ago.

We were then treated exceptionally well through exceptional service,  amazingly crafted food and the collaboration of flavours and dishes that is expected from such a high rated establishment. The next experience after that was equally impressive and memorable, only to fall short on the service end of things, but I suppose sometimes even servers have "off" days. 

Our return to Canoe on this rainy Sunday afternoon, approximately 6 months after the last experience was awaited with much anticipation, expecting the same great food and an improvement on the service of the last sitting.

While waiting for our table, we sat at the bar facing the lake with Canoe's famous views, Bacardi and Coke in hand, gazing at the beauty of the city. Despite a cloudy rainy day, the views from the 54th floor of the TD tower never cease to impress me, even after many visits.

With the precision of a Swiss masterpiece, the maitre'd came to show us to our table at 5 PM on the dot. We were seated near the kitchen, only a table away from where we had our most memorable Canoe experience only 2 years ago.

Having studied the menu in advance, I still found myself indecisive about my selections, but only because everything seem to be calling my name. I finally made my decisions and relayed them to a very attentive and well humoured waiter named Ian. He brought us our sparkling water, as another server brought us some red fife bread and a delicious chickpea spread to go along with it.

The appetizer arrived and the presentation was flawless. Chilled summer sweet pea soup with wild flower creme fraiche and dungeness crab. The green radiant colour in the centre of the plate was only a preview to the outstanding tastes that awaited.

Served almost lukewarm, the pea soup was delicious with balanced flavours that were offset by the creme fraiche and the dots of sour cream. The crab was the perfect texture contrast to the smooth, creamy soup and complemented it very well.

For entree, I ordered the Willowgrove Hill pork chop, served with Guelph navy beans, celery root puree and lavender apricot compote. I'm not one to be ever at a loss for words but as I tasted my few first bites of this dish, all I could say was WOW.

Besides being a very generous portion and one of the best pork chops I have ever had, everything on the plate somehow majestically worked together extremely well. The glaze with hints of mustard, rosemary and thyme were a perfect pairing for the tender, juicy chop and complimented it perfectly. The navy beans with corn provided the crunchy contrast in texture to the velvety pork.

For dessert I opted for the strawberry panna cotta with lychee ginger comsume and Thai basil sorbet. The basil sorbet was extremely delicious and refreshing and worked well with the gelatin smoothness of the panna cotta. The kitchen staff had written "Happy Anniversary" on both our dessert plates, a gesture I found to be quite kind and very appreciated.

To top this amazing culinary night, we were treated to some Canadian dessert wine (see above for descriptions), and an unexpected visit from Chef John Horne himself. He was so kind to ask about our experience, talk food and restaurants and even took time to praise one of his mentors, Chef Jason Bangerter, another chef I idolize. 

It isn't a coincidence that our last few amazing visits to Canoe coincide with the collaboration between Executive Chef Anthony Walsh and Chef Horne's appointment to chef de cuisine. They continue to elevate the standards of this benchmark of Canadian cuisine. I'm unsure if Canoe will ever de-throne Auberge as my favourite restaurant in Toronto, but Chef Horne is surely making one hell of a case for it.

The Good: Impeccable service with attention to every detail meets culinary genius. Canoe is the only real homage to true Canadian food in my opinion. They validate parking as well (bonus).
The Bad: I wish I could find something to pick on but (un)fortunately this time around, our visit to Canoe was flawless.
The Verdict: Experiences like this one is the very reason I love blogging about food and restaurants. When the calibre and reputation of a restaurant perfectly aligns with the service and food experienced in any given night, that is the essence of a great dining experience.

I give it 4 1/2 Olives out of 5 as rating.

  Canoe Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 14 July 2012

The Works Gourmet Burger Bistro

The Works Gourmet Burger Bistro
92 King Street South
Waterloo, Ontario


In her opinion:
So there has been some buzz recently about The Works, Waterloo's fairly new gourmet burger joint. I wanted to see what all the buzz was about.  So we took our little man and ventured to Waterloo.

The place looked pretty full as we approached it; however, they had a few tables available and sat us right away.  Our informative waiter explained how to order their delicious burgers and how they take about 20 minutes to cook.  He also explained that they would be a little pink. 

Our waiter took our drink orders right away. He told us about their refreshing lemonade that was not on their menu. That's exactly what I ordered to drink.

The lemonade came in a 500ml measuring cup...interesting. It was indeed refreshing and delicious.  Not too tart and not too sweet. Just right.

We started off by ordering one of their "High Octane Poutines" - the Fajita Poutine. It is described on their menu as hot fresh cut fries with jack and cheddar cheese, oodles of gravy, sauteed onions, green peppers, Salsa Loco and sizzlin' fajita chicken.  It was huge.  It came in a small bucket. It was absolutely delicious. A very interesting flavour combo.  So good.

For my burger, I choose the beef "Rambo Burger" with a side of sweet potato strings.  It is described on the menu as "mushrooms, smokey bbq, cheddar and double smoked bacon".

I could taste the smokiness of the bbq sauce and bacon right away. The mushrooms and cheese added the right amount of balance to the burger.  I didn't think the burger was pink but rather well done. I would have preferred if it had been more pink but it was still quite good.  The sweet potato string fries were also very good. Overall, a very good burger. It was too much for me to finish...so I brought lunch for tomorrow.

It's nice to have another gourmet burger spot in the region.

In his opinion:
Who doesn't love a good burger joint? I mean, besides vegetarians and calorie counters, but there is even burgers to please that crowd in most menus these days. At the Works you can find vegetarian alternatives and even domestic elk burgers. Sorry calorie counters, you are S.O.L....but again "burger" says it all.

The Works is a franchise of gourmet burger joints that has enjoyed a lot of success and awards all over Ontario and is now finally in our Region. Located conveniently in downtown Waterloo, it seems to be packed every time I drive by.

Sooner or later it was inevitable that I would stop in and give it a try. I like the exterior look with the big open windows and catchy curb appeal.
Inside more of the same, decorated in an industrial, outdoor style, it's cozy enough but not too neighborhood burger joint like. Thank God, because I couldn't take another 50's theme burger place.

The menu is quite extensive and for all of you "always in a hurry" type, this is not Burger King. Your burger will take 20 minutes to cook, so relax, have a coke and a smile...or some really good poutine while you wait because it will surely be worth it.

We started off with a poutine ourselves. There are so many to choose from and they all sounded great. We picked from the "High Octane Poutine" part of the menu and settled on the "Fajita Poutine". I'm glad that we each didn't order one because these poutines are huge. Served in a large tin bowl or small bucket, it was delicious. Great combination of toppings and flavours (see above for description).

For my burger (above),  I picked the "Perimeter Burger". Loads of avocado, beach house sauce, sun dried tomato and feta cheese. It was extremely delicious and the combination of flavours in outstanding. The patty itself is huge and the bread is soft but firm enough to keep things together. Can't wait to try a few other burgers on their menu and I will surely return.  As a side I had the spicy die-cut chips and it was good. I prefer the sweet potato strings myself.

The Good: Great atmosphere, the staff was super attentive and the managers were checking in periodically to ensure a good experience. The burgers are huge and very tasty. Great selection and taste.
The Bad: Beef patty itself tastes rather bland. Not sure if it's because of the sheer size of it but thankfully the whole burger works great together.
The Verdict: As long as you are not expecting "drive thru" type of speedy burgers, there is absolutely no reason why you should not be coming to The Works for all your burger cravings. Try it and do it often.

I give it 3 olives out of 5 as rating.

  Works Gourmet Burger Bistro on Urbanspoon

Friday, 13 July 2012

Novocento Caffe

Novecento Caffe
1228 St. Clair Avenue West
Toronto, Ontario


Photo courtesy of Novecento Website.

In her opinion:
I knew that I wanted to eat dessert in this little cafe in the Corso Italia area of Toronto when we drove by it on way to find a place for lunch. Their patio is just incredibly pretty. It definitely has curb appeal.

We asked to sit outside and a waitress came to take our order right away. After an amazing meal at Rio 40 (read blog here), just up the street, we were kind of full so we decided to share a dessert and have coffee. We ordered a strawberry gelato for our little man and a wild berry tart for us.  Of course the gelato was not on par with the processed ice cream that he is use to...so mom and dad ended up having it. The gelato was excellent. It was fresh tasting and delicious.  

The wild berry tart was light and airy. It was sweet and tart tasting all in one. The perfect dessert after a perfect meal. 
This is a great place to hang out and people watch and enjoy a little bit of Italy!

Wild berry Tart

Strawberry Gelato

In his opinion:
On St. Clair Avenue, just down the street form Rio 40, there is a little Italian cafe/snack bar with a nice size patio, perfect for an after meal drop-by or even a mid afternoon snack.

This is a cool spot for some dessert, ice cream or a nice espresso. Don't get me wrong...It still is a see and be seen in the patio type of place, that is frequented by the cool gang and the ones that think they are cool. I thought I saw what looked like  some Italian organized crime "look a likes", branding some shady business in the back of the patio, but hey....it is located in Corso Italia after all!

It is not because I have one of these everywhere I go, but rather I just wanted fit in, so I ordered an Espresso dopio from the waitress. It had a bit of punch, perfectly made with just the right amount of roast. I have a hard time finding a good espresso, even in T.O. but I must admit, this one hit the spot. 

I shared a slice of  the wild berry tart and the strawberry gelato. The gelato...mama mia...was to die for, something that I would have all the time if I was the ice cream/gelato type, which I'm not. However, I can always be persuaded to give it the old college try once in a while.

The wild berry tart was also delicious, flaky, soft bottom and what seemed to be every berry I have ever seen sprinkled on top. Fresh, tasty and light enough not to mess with my just finished lunch.

Whether inside or on the patio, hungry or just for a drink or coffee,  go give Novocento (nine hundred) a try. It's worth it. Grazie mile!

Novecento on Urbanspoon