Toronto

The Guild

Location: 1442 Dundas St. W, Toronto, ON
Price: (Brunch) $-$$
Executive chef: Mani Binelli

photo-17 It was quite the hike to get down to Dundas and Dufferin for a Sunday brunch, especially traveling all the way from the boonies (Pickering), but based on the number of raving reviews I’ve recently read…I knew it was going to be well worth it.

Parking was difficult as per usual in the city of Toronto, but it was a gorgeous day, so walking a couple of extra blocks wasn’t an issue. As we were getting closer to 1442 Dundas St. W, the aroma of smoked bacon was overwhelming and we couldn’t possibly walk any faster.

photo-10We arrived to a long narrow entranceway leading to the hostess stand, where I couldn’t help but notice a wall, separating the entrance way and the dining room. In the summer it wouldn’t quite matter, but in the winter it protects the guests from the cold Canadian winter breeze. Brownie points.

We were then greeted and informed by the hostess that there would possibly be a wait-time regarding dishes coming out, because staff were unable to prep early enough in the morning. Without hesitation I said it’s OK…my mind was set on dining at The Guild.

photo-9However I was unaware at the time that we could have made reservations and were forced to sit at a narrow wooden bar top along the street-front window. It was kind of cramped and kind of awkward for the three of us, but we were able to chat and people watch, my favourite combination of pass-times.

photo-11As my eyes scoped out the restaurant, the décor was mesmerizing…every thing had its place. Scattered along the wooden bar top were various sized mason jars filled with beautiful exotic plants, moss, and a unique miniature dinosaur figurine hiding deep within.

The stainless steel paneled ceiling with impeccable detailing against the exposed brick wall was breath taking, and the rustic wooden tables with burlap, upholstered seating gave it that country feel.

photo-14Our server came over, politely introduced himself and asked what we cared for to drink, I ordered an Americano, my mom ordered an Earl Grey tea and my sister stuck with her water. With the Americano came a precious miniature glass milk bottle, and the Earl Grey tea bag came perched up like a little pyramid in the cup. Simplicity transformed into something unique…again more brownie points.

photo-16Out of nowhere, three on the house, fresh-baked beignets topped with icing sugar were placed in front of us. After being informed our food might take a little longer to arrive, the beignets were a great customer service tactic and I was impressed…not to mention starting off the Sunday morning with decadent fritters for breakfast was amazing! I will also add in that I am officially off of my crazy, no-wheat diet! I am no longer torturing or constraining myself from indulging in delicious food, so without further more, I cannot wait to dive straight into these delicious treats!

photo-18They were warm and fresh out of the oven…crunchy on the outside and light and airy on the inside. The icing sugar lightly dusted on top gave it just enough of a kick to wake up my taste buds first thing on a Sunday morning. Most of all, it made us completely forget about waiting.

photo-15Shortly after we inhaled the beignets, our dishes arrived. Well my mom and sisters I mean…mine trailed a few minutes behind. Both my dates ordered the thick cut maple-dipped bacon, sous-vide eggs with Yorkshire puddings and a goat cheese yam gratain. The smell was unreal and beautifully plated.

I ordered the celeriac potato pancake with house trout gravlax, sous vide egg, spinach, creamed goat cheese and what I believe was salmon roe caviar.

photo-12It too was beautifully plated, and my eyes ate it up quicker than my mouth could. The smoked trout was overpowering, but then again trout normally is. However paired with the creamed goat cheese, the sous vide egg which was like butter, the bitter spinach and the dense potato pancake, it was delicious! Then every once in a while I would get a mouthful where the salmon roe would pop in my mouth and it was divine…salty, but very tasty. Every ingredient had its purpose, marrying the dish and making me feel like I was in heaven…a heaven I was sure to come back to.

I then had the privilege of tasting the smoked bacon…unbelievable. Hands down the best bacon I have ever eaten! Thick cut so each bite was a substantial one, crunchy on the outside and tender on the inside with a settle hint of maple…my mouth is watering thinking about it. The goat cheese yam gratain was smooth and melted in my mouth, solidifying the need to come back again. Safe to say, when I do return to The Guild, I will most definitely be indulging in the maple-dipped bacon dish…it is literally to die for.

Although it took a little while for our dishes to be cleared, it was a full house, and I’ve learned to look past that minor detail when staff are overly busy…so no complaints. In which case all of my high expectations were met, from the food, to the décor, to the service. After a $46 bill for three people, The Guild stands as one of the best, reasonably priced brunches I’ve had…kudos! I will absolutely venture back!

 

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Toronto

Gusto 101

Location: 101 Portland St, Toronto, ON
Executive chef: Daniel Mezzolo
Price point: $-$$$

photo-64What can I say, dining at Gusto 101 has been a long time in the making. From their popular Arancini, to their dollar an ounce wine, to the new retractable rooftop patio, where better to celebrate my champagne birthday? That’s a rhetorical question…

When I arrived with three of my best girlfriends, it was 9 p.m. on a Saturday and there were people everywhere. It was buzzing, and electric and as I overheard a woman tell guests it was a two hour wait, I instantly knew this was one hell of a hot spot. We were then greeted by a woman who plugged the name of my reservation into her nifty little iPad, and with much thanks to owner Janet Zuccarini for the reso, we were escorted to our table in a mater of minutes.

Yes, that man photo bombed and posed for this photo...
Yes, that man photo bombed and posed for this photo…

As we walked through the hustle and bustle of the restaurant, I couldn’t help but be mesmorized by the rustic, industrial décor. It was a sight for sore eyes, especially knowing it was once an auto body shop. Everything from the draping lamps, to the cinder block and exposed brick walls, to the clipboard menus were unique and had its rightful place.

Once seated, our server came over with a complimentary bread basket, a bottle of flat water, and highly recommended a couple of their most popular appetizers. With that being said, we started the evening off with the Mozzarella di Bufala, which is a fresh mozzarella, heirloom tomato and arugula salad, drizzled with basil oil and topped with a smoked paprika and Parmesan crisp. To accompany the salad, we also got the Arancini, which are mini deep-fried risotto balls made with Arborio rice, wild mushrooms and Fontina cheese, placed in a tomato sauce.

photo-59To drink, was Gusto’s very own Gusto Rosso, a Cabernet Sauvignon & Malbec designed by winemaker Alejandra de Miguel. It was delicious and best of all, it was only a dollar an ounce…now that’s raising the bar, pardon the pun. But Gusto offers two house wines on tap, the Gusto Rosso and the Gusto Bianco, which is a Pinot Grigio all for a dollar an ounce, something not too many restaurants offer…brownie points! We too had a glass of the Gusto Bianco and it was great, not overly dry like a lot of pinots so it was refreshing.

Then after a couple glasses of wine our apps came, and by no means am I insinuating we were waiting for a long period of time, we were just thirsty.

photo-55The Arancini was beautifully plated and literally to die for! The warm, crisp exterior was immaculate but the wild mushroom risotto paired with Fontina was the star of the dish. The earthy and predominant flavour of the wild mushrooms was mouthwatering but somehow subtle, and then dipped in the tomato sauce gave it just enough sweetness and freshness to balance out the dish.

photo-58Next was the Mozzarella di Bufala, it was fresh and subtle, and a perfect pallet cleanser. The basil oil gave it the zing it needed, and then paired with the smoked paprika and Parmesan crisp, it brought the dish to life and added much needed texture.

After devouring our appetizers, and carefully inspecting the rustic clip-board menu’s, I finally decided on the Spaghetti Chitarra allo Scoglio, which is a house made spaghetti with shrimp, baby scallops, mussels and clams in a white wine, tomato sauce.

photo-56When the dish arrived, the aroma made me weak in the knees and the presentation was beautiful. Digging in, the pasta was much thicker than the average spaghetti noodle, making it extremely filling. At first it was slightly too al dente for my liking, but after a couple bites I quite enjoyed the texture. It was authentic spaghetti, not something you get to indulge in everyday, and that on it’s own was marvelously enjoyable.

The white wine tomato sauce was spectacular, seasoned perfectly and complimenting the richness from the seafood quite beautifully. In terms of the seafood, the shrimp were way too well done and in all honesty, uneatable. I’m also not a fan of baby scallops so I knew I wasn’t going to care for them, but on top of them being miniature, they were gritty and much like the shrimp, uneatable. The clams and mussels were beautifully cooked, and of a good substantial size, making up for the disappointing shrimp and scallops.

photo-69Unfortunately, there were some downfalls in regards to the service department. One being when our server cleared all of my guest’s dishes while I was still eating…forcing me to either hurry up or eat alone, both of which completely put me off. My second issue was when another server brought over my main course, I was taking photos of the other dishes, which really isn’t too uncommon in this day and age, and the server made a comment regarding “Instagram,” in a sly, ditsy manner. I brushed it off the first time, but when he said it a second time while placing down our dessert, it was obvious he was mocking me…again, completely putting me off.

photo-68However, there were many more memorable moments during the evening than the downfalls, in which case I let them go. When it came time for dessert, we got the Dolci Platter, and in substitution of the house made biscotti, we got decadent macarons. In the Dolci Platter we got limoncello with lemon air, pop rocks and candied celery, a chocolate sponge toffee cake, and a hazelnut coffee mousse. Everything was delicious, but the limoncello with pop rocks and candied celery was some crazy ‘Chopped,’ style creation that I couldn’t get enough of. Although I’m typically not much of a sweets girl unless macarons or creativity are involved, this dish made one happy camper!

Overall my evening was spectacular. I ate great food, drank great wine, and it was all in the company of great friends. Not too mention the shot of Grappa that I was so privileged to have received for my birthday got me feeling pretty good, and was certainly a great way to wrap up the night. I cannot wait to return and bask in the ambiance of the new retractable roof-top patio while drinking Gusto Rosso and indulging in authentic Italian pizza. It was a pleasure Janet, until next time.

Oshawa · Toronto

Urban Smoke – Fusion BBQ

Location: To be announced
Price: $

usfbWord on the street at Durham College was that an “Eat St.” style food truck from Toronto was coming to campus for a couple of days. Beyond excited, I knew I was in for a treat…but the day I had planned to indulge, they had to cancel due to unexpected spring-time flurries. I missed my chance…or so I thought.

After finishing my final exam of the semester, I was joyfully leaving the campus in hopes of not returnng for five gracious months, but from the corner of my eye, I spotted something big, black and truck-like in shape. My heart skipped a beat and I knew I was going to be hanging around campus just a tad bit longer…the truck was back!

photo-30My tummy was grumbling and I was giddy upon arrival, instantly being drawn to the red carpet style waiting line, where I skimmed over the delicious, but small menu. It read items such as a classic pulled-pork sandwich, a brisket sandwich grilled cheese style, a portabella mushroom burger and brisket poutine. I was seriously tempted to try one of everything but settled for ‘The Dirty Bob,’ also known as the brisket grilled cheese.

When my name was called, I swooped up my take out box, which was made of cardboard NOT styrofoam…a much healthier and environmentally friendly choice might I add, and I tore it open like a kid on Christmas morning.

photo-34In front of me was a massive, perfectly grilled cheese sandwich stuffed with juicy barbequed brisket, Swiss cheese, and sautéed mushrooms and onions. The caramelized bark on the brisket was to die for, and they sure did not chince out on the quantity of meat. It was fully loaded and enough for two, maybe even three sittings. My only complaint would be the amount of cheese, or lack there of. When I think of grilled cheese, I think of a big gooey mess, but there wasn’t an adequate amount to give it that true grilled cheese feel. None the less, it was delicious!

For $8, the amount of food proves you really get a good bang for your buck, and in fact I wish I wasn’t such a broke student so I could have tried a couple other items as well. Although it’s hard to always track down the truck because its constantly on the go, they do keep an up-to-date Twitter feed as to there daily whereabouts. https://twitter.com/UrbanSmokeTruck

Toronto

Caffe Doria

Location: 1094 Yonge St, Toronto, ON
Price point: $-$$

I had been recommended to go to Caffe Doria through a number of people, and so off I went. After a meeting with an online editor, I stopped by for a little lunch on my way home.

I’m always the first one to feel sad when I see people eating alone; it’s a weakness of mine. I automatically assume the worst; their husband or wife is deceased or they have no friends, whatever the case may be, people eating alone is heart wrenching to me. And here I find myself worried that people are viewing me the same way, yes I’m eating alone at a restaurant for the first time in my life. Breathe Amanda, you can do this.

However as a critic, eating alone is a completely different experience and it certainly has it’s pros. I am granted the ability to observe more in depth, scope out the place from top to bottom and notice things I may not have noticed had I been wrapped up in a conversation.

When I got to the corner of Yonge and Roxborough, I saw a quaint, charming little café with a blue canapé making it warm and inviting, like a café I can imagine on a posh cobble stone road in the heart of Paris.

When you walk in, to the immediate right is a store long counter top with various baked goods such as cupcakes, pie and fresh baked loaves of bread. It’s charming, and homey, exactly what a café is supposed to resemble.

The shelves along the back wall were lined with packaged coffee beans, wine, and Nutella? I suppose it is trending. And when I sat myself along the large storefront window, a young hip man asked if I would like a menu, I nodded.

He gave me a few minutes to skim things over, and by a few minutes, I mean I thought he had forgotten about me. Shortly after he came to take my order, I got a soy latte, the soup of the day, which was garden vegetable, and the spring salad, containing arugula, cucumber, avocado, pine nuts, shaved parmesan and a mustard dressing. Mmm, now my tummy is grumbling.

photo-7Before I knew it, a glass of water was placed before me, with a set of cutlery and my big bowl of garden veg. “Wait a second, why did the soup come before my latte?” I thought. Anyways…

The soup was delicious. The broth wasn’t overly salty which I must say I notice quote often in a garden veg soup and the combination of vegetables was nice. There weren’t too many potatoes, which is how I like it, and there was peas, carrots, celery, green beans, the usual. But then there was corn and broccoli, a nice change in texture, and the corn helped sweeten it up a bit.

photo-4Then came my latte…finally. A bit disappointed though as there wasn’t much of a design in my foam. I’m like a little kid excited about craft day at school when I receive my latte from a little café. It’s an art to create art in milk foam and something that definitely makes a place unique, but there was nothing but a caramel coloured blob sitting in the cup in front of me. Sigh, delicious none-the-less and not burnt! I’m a happy camper.

photo-8Then came my spring salad. Beautifully plate with a mountain of arugula in the centre of the plate, lined with thinly sliced cucumbers, and topped with pine nuts, shaved parmesan and avoca…wait!

What is that brown thing? That…that brown thing plated face up is supposed to be avocado?

photo-3Wow. Last time I checked avocado is green? I am appalled that not only the cook thought it was acceptable to serve a brown avocado, but the fact that my server also thought it was acceptable dumbfounds me. This dish with a no-good avocado passed through two people and was placed down in front of a paying customer (of which critiques dishes). Good call boys!

However, that’s just one of my issues with the dish. It also came with cucumber, pine nuts, arugula, shaved Parmesan, and a mustard dressing, Out of all the ingredients listed, the only enjoyable aspect was the cucumber. The mountain of arugula was overwhelming, and severely under dressed to the point where I could not distinguish any trace of what was supposed to be a mustard dressing! Then there are the pine nuts, which in my opinion should always be roasted…but the pine nuts were raw and dull, very disappointing. Then the lack of Parmesan on the plate was the dreadful cherry on top. The sting from the aged Parmesan was the only ounce of flavour on the plate, but unfortunately I was only provided with two micro pieces not fit for a mouse.

Yes, if you’re wondering my afternoon did continue to get better. I pushed the plate to opposite end of the table indicating I was finished, at which I glanced at my phone to do a time check. I’m always curious to see how long it takes for my dishes to be taken away. The clock read 4:13 p.m.

As I patiently waited, I looked over at the pastry counter and eyed a jar that said ‘Fitness Cookies.’ Well, out of curiosity I was eager to try one, so I continued to wait for my server to acknowledge me so I could order one. My phone now read 4:24 p.m.

I could’t help but notice my server, who had been situated behind the counter, chit chatting with other employees for what I counted was 21-minutes. My clock then read 4:34 p.m. and by that time, nobody had come over to my table. That is absolutely unacceptable!

So I packed my things, put on my coat and walked over to the counter to ask for my bill. Not once did any body ask how my meal was, not once did anybody apologize for me having to get up to ask for my bill, and not once did anybody say thank you or have a nice day when I was leaving.

Will I ever go back? Out of curiosity, yes. But will I personally recommend it? No.

 

Toronto

LEE

Location: 601 King St West, Toronto, ON
Executive chef: Susur Lee
Price point: $$-$$$

photo-10Featuring 191 restaurants, Toronto’s Winterlicious is that time of the year when those on a budget can enjoy a glimpse into the world of fine dining. It’s not everyday people can justify enjoying an $18 beverage or a $20 appetizer, and so I plan on taking full advantage of it.

For a while I’ve heard people rave about the Asian-French fusion style of chef Susur Lee, and with that being said his work has landed a spot on my top-ten must-go-to restaurants in Toronto.

photo-9Upon arrival to Lee, the Asian inspired entrance and main dining room was filled with a unique assortment of fancy upholstered chairs, beautiful artwork and a bar to match, decked to the nines with fine liqueurs that was in a good way, an eye sore.

With one swift move, the host asked for the name of our reservation and wisped away our coats, leading us to our table. Into the second dining room, which was less Asian inspired, was warm and cozy with exposed brick walls and exposed wooden ceiling beams making our experience seem more intimate. However as exciting as it was to being sat next to the large store-front window and to be granted the ability to people watch, the cold Canadian draft was a bit unbearable at times.

photo-1 copyOut of anticipation, I cheated a bit and had a previous scope of the online menu. So I was excited? I knew a week in advance what I was ordering from the beverage down to the dessert. “Did you have a chance to look at the drink m…” said our waiter, but before he even had time to finish the sentence I blurted out, “I’ll have the Oyster Caesar please.”

The waiter was kind enough to excuse my eagerness and when he brought over our bevvies, explained the method on how to properly enjoy it. We were to take a sip of the Caesar, suck back the oyster and finish it with another sip, allowing all the flavours to combine and the desired experience to be complete. It was exquisite with the perfect balance of spices and the oyster was chilled perfectly. However the chunks of tomato in the Caesar made it sloppy and awkward to drink at times, and there was an overwhelming amount of cracked pepper on the oyster, which tainted the final taste in my mouth.

photo-4We then went on to order from the prix fixe Winterlicious menu, and being on a wheat-free diet, my choices were made easy. To start was the curry butternut squash soup with crab, cucumber and pistachios. The balance of the curry with the butternut squash, and the richness of the crab was a wise and unforgettable choice. It was velvety and decadent, and I would gladly have accepted another bowl until my dates and I were tantalized by this gigantic and questionable mountain of food that was placed on the table next to us.

photo-2Our waiter explained it as Lee’s signature dish known as the Singaporean-style Slaw, which is a recommended must have for first-time diners. So out of curiosity and hunger, we ordered it. The dish contained 19 different components and textures from peanuts, to cucumber to crispy shallots and was tied together with a salted Japanese plum dressing which was divine. Sweet and salty…it’s hard to beat.

For the entrée, I chose the slow braised beef with a smoked potato and leek puree, topped with sour cream and chives.

photo-6When I say the beef fell apart on the plate I’m not exaggerating. Pushing your fork and knife through the beautifully tender piece of meat was like cutting air. The subtleness of the smoke in the potato and leek puree was delicious and the sour cream gave it that silky touch. The sour cream with chives however gave it a baked potato feel and in my own personal opinion, lowered the class of the dish and made it seem a bit disjointed.

The portion size was shocking as well. It was huge, and going against my rule of not overeating, had to force myself to finish even half of the beef, not to mention a fraction of the puree. The lingering after taste was a slight hint of cinnamon or maple, it was delicious but not overwhelming in the sense that I felt I was eating dessert. In fact, it made me forget how full I was and had me craving the final course of the evening.

photo-8For dessert was Panna Cotta topped with milk foam, fresh raspberries and a caramel sauce along with a French and Chinese Tong Yuen, which is a warm sweet-rice dumpling topped off with chocolate nougat. The milk foam was an interesting choice for texture, it was light and airy but there was no real flavor or purpose in my opinion other than for presentation. The dumpling was odd and extremely difficult to eat. It was almost impossible to get your spoon through it, therefore a steak knife was definitely a missing component. I also hate to be offensive towards the tradition of dumplings or towards chef Lee, but I found there wasn’t much flavour. The caramel sauce on the other hand was incredible and I wish I could have had a second serving of it with the Panna Cotta…delish!

The service was immaculate and something to make point of. Our water glasses were constantly being topped up, dishes were always properly placed down with an appropriate and knowledgeable description and our table was constantly being wiped clean. The only point of criticism that can be given in the service department was the wait in which it took for our dinner plates to be cleared. They sat around for a good 10 minutes, which isn’t appalling, but there were enough employees working at the time that the plates could have been cleared in a timely manner.

All in all, my Lee experience was definitely worth the $230 bill at the end of the night (for three people that is). As a student, it was a dagger to the heart knowing I wasn’t going to be dining out for the rest of the week and that my blog was going to be taking a hit, but it was most definitely worth it. I look forward to the day when I can afford to return…because I will certainly be going back! My compliments to chef Lee.

 

Toronto

The Amazing Ted’s

 Location: 404 Old Kingston Rd, Toronto, ON
Price: $

ted1The smell of bacon and breakfast sausages fill the air the second you step foot out of your car, and your mouth instantly begins to water ferociously…hunger setting in. Welcome to Ted’s…“Coffee?”

The Amazing Ted’s is nothing short of your standard greasy spoon, hole in the wall breakfast joint, except there is one catch. The establishment, located on Old Kingston Road and Lawson (Highland Creek Overpass) in Scarborough has been around since ’54 and is a staple in the lives of those who grew up in the area.

The weekend favourite is buzzing with regular locals who crave their Ted’s fixing but expect to wait, the line up is almost always extending out the front entrance and into the front parking lot, however it’s worth it.

ted3 It’s outdated décor gives it that authentic feel. The warn out turquoise leather upholstered booths tearing at the seems, the stainless steel splash back you see in old diners, and the original exposed brick still in tact.

A menu stacked with traditional breakfast items such as pancakes and French toast, omelets, chopped or boneless steak and three eggs with your meat of choice (bacon, sausage or peameal), home fries and toast.

ted4I decided to be daring, ok that’s my sense of sarcasm, and got three scrambled eggs with bacon and home fries, hold the toast. As my mouth watered over what was about to arrive, I sipped my orange pekoe from it’s warn out mug and basked in all the glorious photos and old newspaper clippings hanging on nearly every square inch of wall space. Without failure, each time something new catches my eye and I can’t help but focus on the history Ted’s has bestowed.

As the servers hustle their asses off because of it being a full house, it’s incredible how quick the food comes out. I think I counted less than five minutes until the mountain of deliciousness was set in front of me waiting to be devoured.

ted5The scrambled eggs were perfectly seasoned and juicy, but it never hurts to add a little pepper. The bacon, incredible every time. Exceptionally crispy, not to be mistaken with burnt and I can actually eat it without having an overwhelming amount of grease residue left on my fingers. The home fries unfortunately are disappointing as they are usually under seasoned and undercooked…which is ground for instant indigestion. Luckily I’m not a potato kind-of-girl either.

ted2The turn around is rather quick, although I never felt like I was being rushed out. People go for the good grub, not to sit and chat over free coffee refills, that’s just how Ted’s operates. In and out in 25 minutes, not too shabby as my Sunday morning tasseled hair was beginning to frighten people. $20 brunch for two including tip, I’m a cheap date…on Sunday’s that is. Until next time Ted, it was a pleasure.