Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Langdon Hall's Holiday Brunch

1 Langdon Drive
Cambridge, Ontario


In her opinion:
Cambridge doesn't have a lot to be proud of in the way of food...sorry if that offends anyone...but that is my honest opinion. Yes, there are some good if not amazing places but they are few and far between. So whenever I have a chance to promote one of those amazing places...I do. Langdon Hall is the leader of Cambridge's amazing places and with the recent addition of Chef Jason Bangerter, it's even better.

Chef Bangerter came to Langdon Hall at the end of October to replace departing Grand Chef Jonathan Gushue. We have been big fans of Chef Bangerter since his days at Auberge du Pommier and became bigger fans when we finally met him at Luma. We were thrilled when he took this new position and had been itching to visit Langdon Hall.

We decided that Langdon Hall's Holiday Brunch was the perfect opportunity. This was a wonderful escape for Edgar and I. Anytime I get a chance to enjoy the splendour of Langdon Hall, I take it. If you haven't had a chance to eat here...please try...if you have, you know exactly what I'm talking about. As you drive up the wooded, curvy drive you are transported to another realm of service and grace. It is refinement at its best.

Fig Side Car

We were shown to a lovely table for two by the windows. Our attentive server introduced herself and took our drink orders. She also delivered delicious sourdough bread and house-made butter to the table. After checking out the brunch menu, I had made my choices. However, Chef Bangerter came out for a visit and to say hello. I asked for his opinion on my choices...I ended up changing what I had picked! As a result, the beautiful glass of Argentinian Malbec that I had ordered was switched for Edgar's Fig Side Car. This is a gorgeous martini of brandy, Grand Marnier and fig and orange flavoured syrup. 

For my appetizer I order the "Oxtail and Foie Gras Terrine served with port wine shallots, pickled honey mushrooms and watercress."

Really delicious. The flavours of the terrine itself was perfection. The delicate port wine shallots were the perfect accompaniment to the heartiness of the terrine. The velvety smoothness of the foie gras was exquisite.

We were surprised with a dish delivered to our table by Chef Bangerter himself. He brought us a dish off his tasting menu. "Slow-poached B.C. scallops with a hazelnut and sun choke purée and truffle dressing".

In a word...superb. It was just so delicious. The scallops were perfectly cooked. The puree was velvety and delicious. The truffle dressing was so so good. The perfect gift from the kitchen.

For my main course, Chef Bangerter suggested the pickerel so I choose the pickerel. It was served with double smoked bacon, fennel, celery root and white wine mussel nage

I'm so glad I took Chef Bangerter's advise. This was absolutely wonderful. The pickerel was cooked perfectly. The celery root, fennel and white wine mussel nage was very well executed. It was light and fresh and flavourful. A perfect brunch main course.

We were rewarded with a pre-dessert by the kitchen. A lovely "blood orange sorbet with a ginger cookie crumb". 

This was light and refreshing and just beautiful. The blood orange flavour was delightful.

For my actual dessert, I choose the "Dark Chocolate Caramel Tart with rosemary white chocolate crumb and toasted walnut ice cream".

In a word...decadent. I love chocolate...but chocolate and caramel is a real treat. This was just excellent.

Overall, the whole experience was wonderful. It did not disappoint. I am thrilled that Chef Bangerter took the position at Langdon Hall. Langdon Hall made the right choice in picking Jason Bangerter to replace Jonathan Gushue. He brings creativity and excellence to the position and Cambridge is lucky to have him.

In his opinion:
Returning to Langdon Hall is always a treat for us no matter how many times we do it in a year. Being that it is practically down the street from our place is also an advantage, as is the fact that it is one of the best and highest rated restaurants in Canada.

The Christmas season is a particularly great time to visit but this time we had an added bonus. The new Executive Chef is none other than the man that made Auberge du Pommiers, the best French restaurant this side of the Atlantic, the one and only Chef Jason Bangerter. I was quite excited to see what Chef Bangerter would do with the menu even though he has only been in the position for a few months, but his touch was already felt in the food.

After having my "Fig Side Car Martini" drink practically "stolen" from me by my significant other, I ended up with her choice of an Argentinian Malbec which wasn't bad at all. Chef Bargenter graced us with this presence at table to say hi and catch up before our meal. To start I opted for the "Citrus Cured Albacore Tuna with radish, delicate herbs and creme fraiche". 

The presentation was exquisite. In this case the Tuna did all the talking and not only looked amazing but tasted even better. Buttery smooth and melting in your mouth delicious. The creme fraiche worked well to add a bit of tartness to the tuna. The radishes were super crunchy and seemed pickled and again very tasty.

Chef Bargenter brought us a surprise dish to kick off our main courses. Slow-poached B.C. scallops with a hazelnut, sun choke puree and a truffle dressing. This dish was nothing short of spectacular and as I tweeted almost immediately, perhaps the best dish I have ever had in all my visits to Langdon Hall. The sweet poached scallops melted in your mouth and the toasted hazelnut provided the perfect contrast in texture, an ingenious touch. The sun choke puree was creamy and the black truffle shavings just enhanced the scallop taste to a whole new level. I find it hard to describe this dish as it left me basically speechless as I ate it and for those that know me would understand that is no small feat.

For our second main course, I had "Braised Lamb Shank with creamy cornmeal pudding, truffle, parsley and sheep's milk cheese". I'm a huge fan of lamb shank and this one was spectacular. Perfectly cooked and even that fatty part of the lamb was delicious and offered its own texture. The bed of cornmeal pudding was a perfect pairing for the meat and the truffle shaving just made the dish so much better. 

Our first dessert, courtesy of the kitchen was "Blood Orange Sorbet with ginger cookie crumbs". I must admit that it took me almost eating the whole sorbet to pinpoint its flavour to be blood orange, maybe because I don't usually have blood oranges but it was delicious. The idea to pair smooth ice cream with any type of texture crumble is simply genius, playing with the textures makes things all that better.

For my second dessert, I ordered "Honey Creme Caramel with butternut and honeycrisp apple and gingerbread crumb". The velvet texture of the creme caramel was perfect and barely required a fork to cut into it. The sorbet was exquisite with multi flavours with each bite and again the texture complexity of the gingerbread crumb made every mouthful a delight.

Our meal was once again amazing and exceeded our expectations. It didn't reach the 3 + hours proportions of my last 8 course tasting menu did but we still ended up being on of the last couples left the dining room. Langdon Hall will be in renovations to extend the kitchen and the dining room and that is good news to any foodie. Let's hope it won't take too long to complete as I'm already on pins and needles to return.

The Good: Great meal with the highlight of the outstanding scallop dish. The service was impecable as expected and the dining room was very inviting.
The Bad: Hard to get a reservation during Christmas but with good planning, anything is possible.
The Verdict: The results of a visit to Langdon Hall's restaurant seems predictable. But that is only because it always delivers on its promise and treats its customers to an amazing experience. The addition of Chef Bargenter is already being felt in the fresh, innovative dishes that he has introduced and be on the lookout for much more very soon.
Thanks to Chef Bargenter for the lovely experience and to Langdon Hall for being simply the best!

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

Langdon Hall on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Au Pied de Cochon

534 Avenue Duluth Est
Montreal, Quebec


In her opinion:
Just like back in 2011 (our last culinary adventure in Montreal)we had our first dinner at Au Pied de Cochon. This is Martin Picard's restaurant...Picard is the folklore foodie hero who is a culinary giant in the province of Quebec and among the world of food. We had had the pleasure of meeting the man last year when he was on his cookbook tour. A gentle giant is what I called him with a mischievous laugh. So to say that I was excited about getting a much sought after reservation is an understatement.

Au Pied de Cochon is in the Plateau and in an area where parking is a problem. So much so that by the time we arrived at the restaurant after fighting traffic, it took Edgar about 30 minutes to find a parking spot. During that time I waited patiently hoping that he would arrive...the staff were fabulous during that time making sure I had a drink and warm bread and butter. As I sat waiting for Edgar and Ethan to arrive, in walks Martin Picard. I had hoped that he would be there but I hadn't held my breath. So when he walked in looking exactly as only Martin Picard can look, I was so excited. You see, I equate my favourite chefs the same way some of my girlfriends equate rock stars. They are my foodie rock stars!

What's more...he's even more of a rock star to my foie gras loving hubby! So I asked our server if Chef Picard was hanging around for the night because my husband would love to meet him. What does she say..."I don't know...I'll ask him"..."No", I say, "Don't bother the man!" She of course didn't do what I asked and here comes Martin Picard (MP) to my table...the conversation went something like this:

MP - "Hello, you wanted to know if I was staying here tonight"

Me - "Oh, hello (this said completely in awe). Yes, I was asking because my husband is a huge fan and he would love to say hello to you. Unfortunately, he is trying to find a parking spot."

MP - "Oh yes, it is very difficult to find parking and no, I am heading to Cabane du Sucre tonight...you know it?"

Me - "Yes, of course...we tried getting a reservation but couldn't succeed."

MP - "Yes, it is very hard."

Me - "Actually, we've met before in Toronto during your cookbook signing tour".

MP - "Ah oui. That's fantastic! The next time we meet, I will remember you! I be here for a little while maybe I will meet your husband! 

I waited patiently hoping and praying that Edgar would arrive before Chef Picard left. But the foodie gods were having none of that and about 15 minutes later, in walks my darling husband and son with no Martin Picard in sight, just like the elusive Polkaroo of my childhood. I was just thankful that he did had been able to find parking.

Oh yes, back to the reason we came in the first place - the food...we started with two glasses of Au Pied de Cochon beer. This is a nice light beer with great flavour.

For a starter, we ordered "Codfish Fritters" to share.

These are lovely little bites of codfish and potato, seasoning and onion with a crispy crust served with a tangy dipping sauce. Really really good.

For my main, I had decided that I would order the "Pied de Cochon", the restaurant's signature dish.

What they didn't tell me was that it was enough to feed a family of four easily. It was about the size of my 7 year old's head. This consisted of a "pied de cochon" or pig foot which had been de-boned and deep fried. It is served with a vinegar based sauce with onion and tomato. It was also served with creamy cheesy potatoes and a croquette made up of piggy parts, herbs, wine, onion, garlic and porto. The "pied de cochon" (so much nicer than saying pig foot or trotter) was very delicious. The meat was succulent with the right amount of fatty goodness. The sauce was perfect since it provided the acidity needed to combat this fatty dish. The potatoes were succulent as well. I wasn't a huge fan of the croquette but the fact that I wasn't exactly sure which piggy parts I was eating had something to do with that!

It looked like I hadn't even made a dent when I called it quits. I am not kidding when I say that this is huge. I packed it to go. The other sad part is that the size of my main left no room for dessert. I could barely move. 

The staff, service, food and atmosphere is amazing at Au Pied de Cochon. If you want excellent food created by a French Canadian foodie god, go here! Good luck getting a reservation but it's worth the challenge and if you see my friend Chef Picard tell him Julie said hello. 

In his opinion:
Saying that I get giddy and excited every time I visit Au Pied du Cochon is a bit of an understatement. Most guys get like that at the Hockey Hall of Fame but to me this is like the Hockey Hall of Fame, the Air Canada Centre and the Rogers Centre all in one. If you ask around, there is a good chance that the average folk won't know who Martin Picard is, but in the food world he is a food God. Cooking what he wants, how he wants and making no apologies for any of it.

Who else would get away with having a recipe for beaver and squirrel sushi in his cookbook or open a sugar shack as a restaurant or terrorize the streets of Montreal with a wine bottle in his hand and causing havoc with Anthony Bourdain and his close buddies from Joe Beef restaurant? Martin can...and he does.

The premise of this restaurant is pretty simple...the most decadent food known to mankind, humongous portions and foie gras everything. One has to be prepared when eating here and that usually means no breakfast and a light lunch....the portions are that big. I even had to be careful with not overdoing it on the delicious bread brought to the table.

With a nice cold refreshing "Au Pied du Cochon" beer at hand I started working through the appetizer of codfish fritters. For a Portuguese guy that sees codfish in the same level as bacon, it's almost impossible not to love every codfish dish that I get served. They came wrapped in paper, as you would get served chestnuts in the streets of Paris and they were delicious. Moist, tender and packing full codfish flavour without being overpowering.

Then it was time to pick my entree. On my last visit I had "Foie Gras Poutine", yes, you read right...and it was as close to food Nirvana as I have ever come in my life. I mean Poutine in Quebec and topped with Martin Picard's Foie Gras? If it gets better than that, I haven't experienced it...but wait. Was I in for a new Nirvana experience when I order the entree this time? Maybe...

So of course I pick the "Piece de Resistance" dish of the restaurant called "Duck in a Can". It is exactly what the name says and how it sounds....lots of "Duck in a Can". Inside the can is as follows,  1/2 a duck, 100 grams of Foie Gras, balsamic demiglaze, buttered cabbage and 1/2 roasted garlic and thyme. They bring you a can full of delicious duck and dump it on roasted bread and celery root puree. The can of duck is cooked in simmering water for up to 28 minutes. WHAT A MEAL!!

This was probably one of the best dishes I have ever had and indeed an experience for the ages...You must like duck and you must be adventurous but judging by the amount of videos on youtube showing the can opening and duck reveal, there are many of us out there. At $43, it is the second most expensive thing on the menu for a single dish but well worth the price.

Needless to say that I found my "Foie Gras Poutine" match and it was right here in the same place 2 years later. Hands down the best non-calorie counting restaurant in Montreal and a perfect example that a Michelin star type of Chef can open a restaurant to serve what he likes and be successful. Besides being my favourite Canadian Chef he is also an inspiration for chefs everywhere, taking Quebec cuisine and its local produce to a whole new level. I missed talking to him this time but the words of our last meeting are still engraved in my mind. I asked..."Were you really trying to kill Anthony Bourdain with food during his Montreal TV episode?" He responded, "WAS?? I still am trying..."

The Good: Amazing food, huge portions and the the perfect setting to showcase the food of a culinary genius.
The Bad: Hard to get a reservation for (not as bad as his other restaurant Sugar Shack), expensive dishes and parking is a nightmare...you almost need to camp out for a spot.
The Verdict: What can I say that hasn't already been said. Anthony Bourdain puts it on his top 3 restaurants in the world, chefs adore him and critics respect him. The restaurant lives up to his philosophy of a great place to enjoy great food. If you get a parking spot early you may even get to meet the man himself.

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

Au Pied de Cochon on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Rotisserie Romados

115 Rue Rachel Est.
Montreal, ON 


In her opinion:
I had been dreaming about this chicken since the last time I had it in 2011...yes, it really is that good. When we planned this trip to Montreal, I honestly looked at other Portuguese Rotisserie places but my taste buds kept reminding me just how good it had been and in the end they won out. 

Just like in 2011, we began our culinary adventure by starting at Rotisserie Romados. There was a huge line by the time we got there at 12:30pm but the efficient kitchen staff got orders done in a quick and precise order. When I got up to the order window, I knew exactly what I wanted too! It was a 1/2 chicken meal for this girl with a bottle of diet coke.  The half chicken meal consisted of half a chicken of fresh, well seasoned rotisserie chicken, French fries and salad. And it too was handed over in record time to go to the counter to pay. At the pay counter they give you the remained of the meal deal consisting of a bun and a pasteis de nata.

Well, it did not disappoint at all. This was just excellent as always. I had opted for the spicy sauce and I'm glad that I did. It was just hot enough...not too hot but had just the right amount of kick. The French fries were yummy just like I remembered and were great for sopping up the chicken juices and sauce. This was a lot of food. Enough that I used half the breast to make my son a chicken salad sandwich and I was still quite full that I couldn't finish the pasteis de nata. The pasteis de nata still tasted great when we had them two days later.

I love love Rotisserie Romados. I was actually pretty bummed when I had heard they had closed down due to a fire a few months back. I was so happy and excited that they had opened back up within months of closing down. They did a great job with the remodel and reconstruction and most importantly, they kept their chicken the same.  If you live in Montreal or are visiting Montreal. Visit this wonderful little Portuguese treasure in the heart of Montreal. Even as I wrote this post, my mouth was watering just thinking about how good this chicken is and the next time I will be able to have it!

In his opinion:
We have all been in the situation where everyone around you tells you that you must try a restaurant because they love it, they go there every chance possible and the food is amazing. Romados is that type of place...the type of place that you can expect line-ups at any time of the day because it is that popular and good. It isn't a "I should try", more like a "must try".

Located in Montreal, on the corner of Rue Rachel E and Rue de Bullion this place is an institution and brought many tears to the locals when it was gutted by a fire in January, 2013. There are many BBQ and Portuguese chicken places in Montreal but ultimately none match up to Romado's. It was an incredible loss that would take a little longer than expected to come back to life. It did and in my opinion, better than ever.

The concept is simple at Romados, give you amazing food, in crazy portions for an insane low price. Portuguese BBQ chicken is in some parts an unknown food item and that is a shame for so many reasons. The famous Piri-Piri sauce is a staple in this cuisine and does wonders to chicken in particular.
Romados takes advantage of this recipe better than anyone that I have ever seen, outside of Portugal that is.

We opted for take-out (which is a huge part of Romado's business) and stood momentarily in the famous line-up to get our order in. I must highlight that the line-ups go quickly due to the highly efficient ordering system set-up.

Since it was still early in the day, I chose to "just" get the Romado's Chicken Poutine for myself. In this poutine, they take the famous BBQ chicken and shredded it on top of fresh cut fries and drown it with yummy gravy and Quebec's famous cheese curds until the point of melting it. Every single bite of this deliciousness was a "foodgasm" to me. Bite after bite I was reminded that I was combining some of the best of Montreal with Poutine and Portuguese BBQ Chicken. If there was smoked meat on the side it would have completed the circle.

I paired my poutine with my favourite juice drink, Sumol which is a Portuguese fizzy drink available in many fruit flavours (my favourite being pineapple). I also got to have some chicken given that my other half couldn't finish her 1/2 chicken dinner.

The Good: Great BBQ chicken, amazing prices and portions to serve a few people for next to nothing in price. The highlight of every single Montreal trip that I take.

The Bad: it's 6 hours away from my house....
The Verdict: This is undoubtedly a gem that for the people that know it, can't live without it and for the people that will try it for the first time, oh what i would give to experience that feeling again.

I give it 4 out of 5 Olives as rating

Rotisserie Romados on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Charred Rotisserie House

244 James Street North
Hamilton, ON


In her opinion:
I have a passion for really good Portuguese style rotisserie chicken. Always have, always will. I am one of those people that would be happy eating chicken every single day if that was the only thing available. Now don't get me wrong...I love pork and beef ! Probably more then chicken. NO, for sure more then chicken but chicken is a comfort food for me and actually for most people...think about - chicken soup, roast chicken, hot chicken sammies. Oh yes, chicken has always had a soft spot in my heart and the Portuguese style rotisserie chicken is one of my favourites. I have been lucky to enjoy some really good examples of this delicious, juicy poultry in the past...her in Cambridge (Bairos Supermarket), in Toronto (Piri Piri Grill House) and in Montreal (Rotisserie Romados). But now, I've had the pleasure of enjoying this chicken in Hamilton at Charred Rotisserie House!

I first heard about Charred on Urbanspoons' Talk of the Town list...it was number two in Ontario (it's now number one). That caught my attention so I did a little investigating and realized that this was the Portuguese style of chicken that I prefered. What I didn't realize was that Mark Morgenstern of Hamilton's Morgenstern's Department Store had opened the restaurant in an old building down the street from the store that had been in the family since 1968. So it wasn't a Portuguese but rather a Hungarian Jew who was running the show. And that made me wonder what that would mean for the chicken!

I convinced Edgar that we needed to try this new chicken place and so on Sunday afternoon we headed down to James Street North in Hamilton. For those of you familiar with Hamilton, you will know that this area has made a recent revival. When I attended McMaster University in the late 80s early 90s this section of Hamilton was thriving; however, with the recession that hit this steel town hard, James Street North took a major hit and by the time I came back to Hamilton in the 1993-1994 to complete my post-grad diploma this areas was dead. So to say that I am thrilled by its rebirth is an understatement. That is why anytime a new restaurant opens up in the area, I feel a need to try it out...you can see that in our Hamilton blog posts...most of them if not all of them are on this street!

Charred is not huge...the decor is minimalist in nature...its basically brick walls, original tin ceilings, chalk board menu with the amazing aroma of rotisserie meat in the air. When we arrived we were greeted by our server who gave us a smaller version of the menu and told us to take a seat. The restaurant was empty and we had the whole place to ourselves. We sat up front and studied the menu. Our server brought us water and took our drink orders. They serve Coke products so I was a happy girl.

We opted for the whole chicken combo with 3 sides. We got two house salads and a roasted potato. We also ordered a regular poutine with Charred chicken. 

The chicken arrived cut into quarters with three types of dipping sauce...I'll call them mild, medium and hot. I loved the medium or what they referred to as spicy.  I am not a huge lover of extra spicy that can hurt so this was perfect. The chicken itself was perfectly cooked. It was juicy and succulent and the skin was crispy with the right amount of charred flavour. Excellent Portuguese style rotisserie chicken even if it was Portuguese!

The sides were great too. The salads consisted of lettuce (not the pretend veggie known as iceberg lettuce), tomato, cucumber (don't know what they tasted like because I didn't have any - after all, Chef John Horne didn't serve them to me!) and shredded carrots. The house dressing was nice and light with a bit of piri piri sauce if I'm not mistaken. The roasted potatoes had a nice flavour but I can honestly say that they weren't my favourite. The poutine was outstanding. The fries were perfect...almost shoestring and cooked to a golden brown. The gravy was flavourful and delicious. The cheese curds had been tossed in mild piri piri sauce and added an extra hit of flavour. The Charred chicken on top just added to the chicken flavour. Really really good.

Mark Morgenstern came to visit us during our meal to ask what we thought and we had the privilege of talking to this gentle man. Mark explained who he was, why he decided to start a restaurant after being in the clothing business for so many years, how a Portuguese employee put him on to the idea of starting a Portuguese style rotisserie place and how a man named Jorge and Chef Shane McCartney of McCartney and Son helped him realize this endeavour. We reminisced about Hamilton and what James Street North was like in its heyday. Mark is a really nice man and I wish him nothing but luck with this new adventure.

Overall, an excellent lunch at Charred Rotisserie House. I would recommend this restaurant to anyone who loves Portuguese style rotisserie chicken, you won't be disappointed. 


In his opinion:
It is fair to say that anyone would be a bit skeptical of a Hungarian person opening a Portuguese style rotisserie BBQ chicken place. Probably not because it cannot be done, but just for the fact that it is improbable. What would they know about it? Could they reproduce the famous Piri Piri sauce that makes this dish famous?

In comes Charred, a Hungarian-Jewish-Canadian owned Portuguese rotisserie BBQ (Churrasco) joint in downtown Hamilton. Culture jokes aside, this restaurant does not sell itself as a Portuguese BBQ chicken place but rather just a BBQ chicken place that happens to use Portuguese style technique and hot sauces.

The restaurant is very well appointed and nicely decorated. It is inviting, bright, clean and mixes a bit of modern with the old in its decoration (the ceiling is original to the building). The staff is friendly and the menu choices are basic but well priced.The focus here is chicken and chicken on the BBQ to be more precise. The menu is written on a chalkboard but also available on a regular menu card to read at the table.

We opted to have a whole chicken meal and a Charred chicken poutine. The chicken came cut into 4 pieces and served with a choice of 3 sides. Our choices were 2 house salads and roasted potatoes. 

There was plenty of food in this serving, the salad was fresh and well balanced with the light dressing, the roasted potatoes were flavourful and a good portion.

The chicken had to be the test to the legitimacy of this endeavour. The smell was right on, the colour of the crispy skin was also spot on but it was the taste after the first bite that validated the meat. It was indeed very good and truly does justice to the Portuguese style rotisserie Chicken I know and love.

The 3 different sauce options, mild, spicy and extra spicy, were also very good, with my favourite being the extra spicy. All sauces are made in house by the way. The poutine was also a highlight with its fresh cut fries, very good gravy and cheese curds with a bit of spice thrown in the mix.

Overall, it was a great lunch with great service, including the owner coming to talk to us for a bit. The take-out option is a plus, allowing you to take this goodness home for a very good price.

The Good: Tasty chicken, well appointed room, great service.
The Bad: Good but limited menu. 
The Verdict: Much like Anthony Bourdain who worked at Les Halles which employed only Mexicans in this very French Restaurant in New York, it is possible for Hungarians to make Portuguese food properly and the proof is Charred. Next time you are on James Street North in Hamilton, don't pass on this opportunity to have some good Rotisserie Chicken.

I give it 3 1/2 out of 5 Olives as rating

Charred Rotisserie House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Mercer Hall

104 Ontario Street
Stratford, ON


In her opinion:
Many of you know that I equate chefs to rock stars in my foodie world. I've had the privilege of meeting quite a few of these rock stars...the tormented but talented beyond belief Jonathan Gushue/Kurt Cobain, the hip and wonderful Vij Vikram/Neil Young, the always charming and giving Jason Parsons/Bono, the super sexy David Rocco/Adam Levine, the extraordinarily gifted Jason Bangerter/Marcus Mumford, the dynamic and super cool John Horne/Ewan Currie but I had yet to meet my foodie Gord Downie. That was until I met Tim Larsen of Stratford's Mercer Hall Restaurant at this year's Savour Stratford Culinary Festival.

Tim Larsen is cool, down to earth and a locavore. His cooking philosophy is impressive and his cuisine even more so. After watching Tim and Sean Collins at the Local Chef spotlight presentation at the Toronto Star's Culinary Stage where they prepared a "Bloody, Hearty Breakfast", I knew I needed to visit Mercer Hall Restaurant. Why not for a Thanksgiving brunch?

Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that my family usually doesn't make a big deal about, so we often look for great places to eat on this holiday and often come up short. But this year while I was on Facebook, I noticed in my news feed that Mercer Hall Restaurant would be opened on Sunday and Holiday Monday...so why not. We debated about the Nosh Monday - all you can eat tapas adventure or the brunch. But in the end it was all about the "Chicken and Waffles"!

Mercer Hall Restaurant is a nice long room with a good looking bar on your right that greets you as you walk in. The room is divided into three areas - the bar area, the middle dining room area which shares space with the kitchen and the end dining room area(those are my descriptions and not the restaurants). They are all nicely decorated and illuminated by some gorgeous chandeliers  The place is classy...no doubt about it but it is also unpretentious. And it's that combination that makes you feel welcome.

We were seated by the lovely Jessie Larsen (chef Larsen's wife) who also served as our very efficient waitress during our meal. After filling our water glasses, Jessie asked if we wanted a drink to start our meal...well, since it was Thanksgiving and I have a lot of blessing to be thankful for; why not have a drink drink? I decided on the Aperol Spritzer. A wonderful combination of Aperol, Prosecco, orange juice, soda and a slice of orange. 

This drink is not overly sweet with its unique infusion of sweet and bitter orange. It was a good way to start my brunch off.

For my main, I knew exactly what I wanted and had actually call dibs two days prior to ordering it when I made the reservation for brunch. It was definitely all about the "Chicken and Waffles". Described on their menu as 14 herbs and spices, 
Belgian waffles, maple syrup and house-made hot sauce.

In a word - FANTASTIC-AWESOME-INCREDIBLE-SUPER-DELICIOUS-GOODNESS...I know...that's actually 6 words - I can't help it. It was one of those dishes that you were already sad after the first bite because you knew it would eventually come to an end. I loved it. The fried chicken was boneless thighs and fried to perfection. The Belgium waffles were light, airy pillows of goodness. The maple syrup and house-made hot sauce, the cement that brought the whole dish together. It was by far some of the best, if not the best chicken and waffles that I have eaten.

We don't normally order a whole dessert each after a wonderful main but I wasn't passing up the chance to have Chef Larsen's dessert. I decided on the "Sticky Toffee Pudding". It was served with a caramel and pecan sauce, caramel ice cream and a beautiful sugar wafer.

I love sticky toffee pudding - it's comfort food at its best and this dessert did not disappoint. I ordered it along with a cup of coffee and that combination is heaven. The cake was delicious, the pecan caramel sauce incredible. The toffee ice cream...refreshing and delicious. I really enjoyed this dessert.

We had the pleasure of a visit from Chef Larsen during our brunch where we talked food and most importantly about his love of the Big Mac, which really hit home with me! His visit only reinforced his passion for local food and my opinion about what a fabulous guy he really is. Definitely my Gord Downie!

Overall, I loved our brunch at Mercer Hall...I will definitely return. It's one of those places that makes you feel welcome because their food is beyond incredible, their service is perfect and the overall ambiance - fabulous. Unpretentious and extraordinary sums it all up! 

In his opinion:
Mercer Hall, I have been wanting to try this place for a very long time. The reputation gathered by this establishment in the very little time it has been open is truly commendable. Also, it is not easy to establish oneself in a city like Stratford that already has many great culinary destinations ranging through all types of food.

After meeting Chef Tim Larsen at the Savour Stratford event, we made it a priority to go and check out his restaurant and I was pretty excited to do so. Some of the marvels of the restaurant also became a hinder in deciding when to go and eat. On Mondays they have tapas night (Nosh), and I'm a huge fan of tapas, maybe stemming from my 3 trips to Spain. Then there is the already legendary brunch served everyday and let's not forget Thursday is oyster night. Then of course there are some specialty days as well...

So many options and a decision had to be made. So for our first time we chose the brunch option. We arrived at restaurant and it is well decorated somewhat "pubish" but better appointed and modern than a traditional English pub. Very inviting and bright with plenty of space and a few different areas to dine in. The prominent bar occupies the whole entrance to the right and it seemed like a popular place to just hang out and have a few drinks.

I perused the menu for a few minutes, undecided on what to order (surprise, surprise) so I decided in the meantime to order myself a cocktail. I went with the Negroni Spagliato. I know it sounds like something dark from Italy but its actually campari, sweet varmouth, procesco and a slice of orange, very good and refreshing even if a bit more tart than I expected.

Negroni Spagliato
I finally made up my mind and since I couldn't pick the the Chicken and Waffles (someone called dibs on it, no names though), I decided to go with the already famous Mercer Burger. This burger consists of an outstanding short rib patty (oh so good), emmenthal cheese, mushroom "ketchup", roasted shallot aioli and heirloom tomatoes. After one bite into that burger it hooks you into wanting to bite again even if you haven't chewed the last bite, it's that good.

Fortunately I was able to pace myself, take one bite at a time, not chock and savour this extremely tasty burger (that sounded like Pulp Fiction). Anyway, it is a great burger and the fries that were served with it were fresh cut and perfectly done. Big mention has to go to the roasted shallot aioli that I requested for my fries, I could dip anything on that all day and night, very good!

For dessert, the decision was so much easier. As soon as I heard the words crème bruleé the decision was made. If you are a reader of the blog you know by now that those words are like Kryptonite for me...I gotta have it! Especially since this particular crème bruleé was espresso flavour and came with soft cinnamon mini doughnuts. Delicious.

The Good: Great menu, outstanding locally sourced food and a creative chef. The service was also very good.
The Bad: It's closed for 2 days (Tuesday and Wednesday) during the Winter Season.
The Verdict: Outstanding restaurant that rivals any other in Stratford. The food is great, the menu inspired and a chef that uses traditional techniques in a forward thinking menu. A must try when in Stratford.

I give it 4 out of 5 Olives as rating

Mercer Hall on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 19 October 2013

The Artisan Baker

1423 Yonge Street
Toronto, ON


In her opinion:
I only recently found out about the Artisan Baker. When I read about this midtown cafe that had recently opened up, I was quite intrigued. The idea of a French chef, Bruno Beaudoin using local products in a traditionally French method made me smile. On a trip last summer to Prince Edward County we stopped in at L'Auberge de France in Belleville, Ontario and sampled some French pastry before heading down into the county. Much like Chef Jean-Marc Salvagno from Avignon, France and L'Auberge de France; Chef Beaudoin from Lyon, France and the Artisan Baker capture the taste's of a French bakery or cafe in Canada.

We had enjoyed a lovely lunch in the city at Chiado, but wanted to stop in and try what the Artisan Baker had in store. We were shown to a table by Sean who would also be serving us. I ordered a coffee with cream and a glass of water. We then asked to see the dessert menu.

Sean brought over a lovely tray of desserts for us to choose from. Since we had had a three course lunch at Chiado, there wasn't much room left for a full dessert. So we opted to get one dessert for the three of us to share and since little man wanted the berries from the beautiful berry cream puff, that's what we got. 

Sean brought over the berry cream puff and all three of us dug in. I tweeted that one single bite had transported me 6000 kilometers to Paris, France and that's exactly what this pastry tasted like. It was just like the pastries we had enjoyed during our trip to Paris. These were excellent.

We also picked three other pastries to bring home. We got an almond croissant, a chocolate eclair and a mille-feuille. The almond croissant was excellent. The cream filling was very delicate and delectable. The pastry itself was gorgeous. It was perfect croissant pastry. 

The chocolate eclair consisted of excellent choux pastry filled with delicious chocolate custard. It was very good.

The mille-feuille had a lot to live up to...afterall, mille-feuille has been my favourite pastry since I was a little kid...I love puff pastry. This pastry was very good. The puff pastry itself was excellent, the icing absolutely delicious and the pastry cream was soft and delectable. 

The Artisan Baker is a great spot in midtown Toronto which serves breakfast, lunch, dinner or just coffee and dessert. I hope to return for dinner soon. 

In his opinion:
Every chance that I get to sample a little bit of France in Canada, I jump at the opportunity. This is because I love French cuisine and also because French chefs tend to love their food more than their families, possessions and even "La belle Pais", France itself.

French chefs have the reputation of being extremely dedicated to their craft. Most want to take their passion everywhere including school cafeterias in France that boast classically trained chefs. Unfortunately. this was the wrong day for us to be visiting this great establishment as we had very little room for food after finishing a 3 course meal at Chiado.

We decided to split 1 dessert and take a couple more home. There was never any guarantees that the extra "to go" desserts would make the hour drive home as it is indeed hard to know you have French pastries in the car and not eat them.

I ordered an iced Latte that was very well done, perfectly balanced and extremely tasty. Refreshing also taking in consideration the hot temperature outside but emphasis on the taste above it all. 

We were shown a plank with the available desserts and ended up picking the Berry Cream Puff. The pastry we shared was absolutely delicious. The puff pastry itself was so soft and fresh and worked very well with the berries and chantilly cream. 

The Artisan Baker is extremely nice and inviting with a plethora of sweets and great food as well.

For some amazing French pastries or equally good French food (or both), check out the Artisan Baker, well worth the visit!

The Artisan Baker on Urbanspoon