From the last meals at Niagara Street Café under chef Nick Liu's command, to the IDS show, and Robbie Burns Day, the Spotlight crew has had a busy week.
This past week I ventured to Buca for the first time. I've had Chef Rob Gentile's food at events in Toronto but not at his restaurant. Glad I finally went! The charcuterie and bread twists went beyond expectations, while the house made rabbit sausage on polenta was just the hearty meal I needed.
Forever last minute planners, we turned up at L'Ouvrier without a reservation on a Saturday night. Fortunately, 6:30 is too early an hour for most diners and the hostess seated us quickly in the nearly empty room. Steak tartare and a mini charcuterie plate kicked things off. The smoked ham hock croquettes from the charcuterie plate were the most interesting of the starters; smoky and sweet, they were light and greaseless. The much touted scallops, accompanied by a generous portion of Israeli couscous, were a smidge overcooked but all was forgotten at the first bite of the butternut squash ravioli. Silky pasta tossed in a lemony fresh sage cream sauce, this dish is a conversation stopper as in I-can't-talk-now-I'm-too-busy-eating.
Barque Smokehouse puts a spin on the traditional brunch by adding something barbecued to almost every dish. Here, the pancakes come with smoked duck and chevre, the Benedict comes with smoked brisket and BBQ hollandaise, and BBQ pulled chicken is incorporated into the cheesy scrambled eggs. Just right for those mornings when you want your brunch staples with a twist.
After comparing Loblaws and Longo's in a post on my site I've become a bit more aware of the selection in general at other grocery stores. There seem to be two moulds from which No Frills are formed: They're either the best selection-wise or the absolute worst. I finally made it to the franchise at Lansdowne and Dundas and am happy to put it squarely in the former category. Pork belly, frozen steamed buns, and Diamond Crystal kosher salt are all carried at this No Frills (and not at either or both of the Loblaws and Longo's in question).
The list of unusual items I spotted includes sliced cow face, banana sauce, and the seasoned pork fat (banha amarela in Portuguese) that is pictured above. Incidentally, if anyone knows more about this please leave a comment below.
Michael Di Caro
This week I had the privilege of eating at Niagara Street Café twice during head chef Nick Liu's last week behind the pass. He's always been a creative chef, weaving childhood influences of his Chinese background into the bistro food of the Café. The result is refreshing, exciting, sometimes whimsical, but always deliciously satisfying food. The highlight was beef ribs tenderly braised, stripped off the bone and reformed and fried to crisp perfection complete with some salsify sticking out to mimic the rib bone. Served with greens, cornbread and coleslaw it was a playful way of reinventing southern barbecue for the bistro. Complete the experience with mac and cheese topped with his signature sweet, salty and savoury bacon jam and you have the makings of a fantastic dinner. Cap it off with your neighbouring table offering the share a glass of their vintage Champagne over some great conversation and you've got a meal you won't soon forget.
I celebrated Robbie Burns Day for the first time this year. Scotland is very dear to me. One of my favourite places in Toronto is The Ceili Cottage in Leslieville and they celebrated Robbie Burns Day with a Scottish themed menu, Scotch tastings, the Piping in of the Haggis and bagpipe music. While I did try some of the haggis, especially made by The Sausage Partners, my dinner was the Venison Callops, Potato Stovies and Braised Kale. With Ceili's famous Sticky Toffee Pudding and a dram of Scotch, it was an excellent first Robbie Burns Day for me. Next year, The Caledonian!
Mark & Jen occasionally host a game night at their house, usually featuring poker and Rock Band. Thanks to a friend (Cheryl Bulpitt), a new (and rather addictive game) was introduced: Bananagrams. It's like scrabble, but far more fun, exciting and dynamic. If you enjoy word games, be sure to try this one out. In terms of food, they usually stick to the "junk" category, serving up chips and other items. One of Jen's "dirty little secrets" is her guacamole, which is wildly popular. And straight from a package. "Garden Fresh Gourmet" zesty guacamole has just the right hint of spice, an excellent creamy texture, and is delicious. They buy it at Loblaw's, but it can probably also be found in other locations around the city.
I had the chance to check out the highly anticipated Interior Design Show last Thursday during VIP night. There were a number of highlights; a tour of the Miele Show Haus, the GE Cafe collection that includes items designed with foodies in mind. Also, the IZM hand-crafted collection caught my eye with its timeless pieces (tables, sideboards, dressers).