Thursday, September 29, 2011

Toronto: Round-Up

16 ways to my heart

I must confess, I'm terrible at thinking up Top 10 lists because I fear myself and others.  It's not necessarily a self-esteem issue, but rather, a self-preservation mechanism.  It's scary to to compile a finite list of favourite things because that should never be set in stone (or in this case, set in a photoshopped collage on the internet).  I also fear others because their rath can be brutal.  There's a chance I may leave or include things that other people feel so strongly about that they sling insults and utter threats.  It's a wicked world we live in. 

Yet I have a fascination with other people's lists.  Even though I may not agree with everything, I always come away with either having learned about a new place to try, or being driven to give something a second chance because their sheer enthusiasm makes me re-think what I thought.

October is one of my favourite months, so I thought between now and the end of 2011, I would put together a list of my happy eats, starting with Toronto.  These are my favourite dishes, not restaurants, dishes...from dirrtttyyy eats to fancy chic. 


Toronto never looked so good.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Toronto: Chung King Garden Restaurant

get fat, two ways

Holy chow, I left downtown.  Doesn't happen often, nor is it rare, it's more like on occasion.  I make that trek for priority one friends only. 

On Saturday, I went up to spend the day with my favourite uptown family ("My FUF").  It was pre-decided that we would do peking duck night.  I left restaurant choice to them, for a couple of reasons.  The first is because they are Taiwanese, and the second is because I trust them.  There's also the added buffer that I knew we wouldn't be going to Chinatown as the lady of the family sees that place like I do, i.e., we approach it with extreme caution, although in her case, she wouldn't approach at all. 

My FUF took me to Chung King behind Pacific Mall in Market Village.  It's fairly unnoticeable, but for the line of people waiting.  We had reservations obviously, because My FUF knows to how to plan.  I love planners.  I'd still love them if they weren't planners.  But they are.

It seems this is the place to go for authentic Mandarin and Szechuan food, and more importantly, this is the place to get roasted duck.  As we sat at our table, I noted that server after server walked out with a duck, took it to a table where they were happily dismissed with a happy nod, wave or word.  He or she then promptly disappeared only to return with same duck, chopped up.  With each duck I saw, the more room I made in my stomach.  This was the first time I had peking duck where they bring the crispy little quacker out for me to see before I eat. 

We also ordered Szechuan Beef - thin strips of crispy chewy beef with a kick - and Birds Nest. Now I thought the latter was greasy seafood and broccoli in a deep fried chowmein bowl.  I would be wrong.  See, I come from a long line of people who don't particularly like Chinese food (crazy right).  So if and when we ate it, it was usually mainstream and mainstream birds nest is just that.  My FUF gasped when I told them, and lady of My FUF simply said, "that would be wrong".  She also shook her head.  Shame on me.

Birds Nest is actually a crispy bowl made out of deep fried potato shreds.  The seafood and vegetable medley inside is garlicky, not greasy, and said medley includes bamboo, water chestnuts, carrots, etc. and not just broccoli.  Now, doesn't right sound more delicious.

It was a proper birds nest, and proper tastes good.
We also had duck two ways (there is a third way - soup - but we decided to skip it).  The first option is the most common way to have peking duck.  The skin and slivers of meat are cut up and served with crêpes, hoisin, cucumbers, and scallions.  The second is also a wrap.  Using the rest of the meat from the duck, it's diced and fried and served with lettuce cups.

My duck was perfect.
Crispy, silky, meaty, fatty but not oily.
It's about $40 for duck two-ways.  I totally could have eaten it myself.  Shoulda, coulda, woulda...

Chung King Garden on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Toronto: Gandhi's Cuisine II

always good, always Gandhi's
:Queen West:

I haven't been to Queen and Bathurst in a long time. 

I discovered that Winner's opened at Queen and  Portland.  It's on the third floor and pretty fabulous.  A Joe is also opening.  Consumerism is spreading like wildfire between Queen and Spadina and Trinity Bellwoods. 

Your stomach may not love it, but your mouth will...
I also discovered that Gandhi's tastes the same.  A year ago, 6 months ago, today.  Dirrrttyyyy good. 
Filled with goodness.
I have a bit of indigestion right now, but dirrrttyyyy does that.

Gandhi's Indian Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Toronto: Bannock

O Bannock!
:Queen + Bay:

grilled alberta lamb rump...shake that rump...

"Truthfully, I think the city is saturated with Oliver & Bonacini restaurants..."  Déjà vu, I know.

Last night I went to number eight.  It's been open for about 3 weeks.  It's "Canadian comfort food".  And they called it Bannock.  


My guess is that somewhere in the O&B hierarchy, someone thought using the Old English word for flat bread was truly Canadian because it was "brought to Canada through Scottish explorers and traders...".  I must have skipped that lesson during social studies.  That's right, in West Coast Canada, "history" is "social studies".  Gawd I don't miss high school at all. 

The reviews for Bannock so far are so bad.

But when Aerie messaged me and suggested Bannock, I was down.  I get down with anything, at least once.  And I'm always down for meeting with Aerie.  Always.

We bantered over cocktails and ban-uhk.  Not literally, because they didn't sound appealing. 

mighty canuck > the hbc
There were many things I liked (and many things I could have done without).  I'll start with the good.  I like the concept: easy to-go counter cafe meets casual dining.  I also appreciate that they use Canadian ingredients, like PEI mussels, BC albacore tuna, etc.

Now on to the stuff that could lead a bad review, if this were one, which it's not...quite.  Not everything on the menu sounds good.  And in my opinion, a lot of things are just set up to fail.  Take the lobster roll - Aerie and I both wondered why they would do one.  Good lobster rolls are few and far between and I doubt that Toronto is the best place place to throw one down.  Other things just sound wholly unappetizing.  For example, the table next to us ordered the roast duck poutine pizza.  Now don't get me wrong, I love duck.  I love poutine.  I love pizza.  I love duck poutine and I love duck pizza.  But duck poutine pizza?  I'll pass.  Too too much isn't always so very very good.
Service was great - friendly and attentive. Kitchen was not.  Open concept means I can see where the hold up is. Our food took a long time.  There were extended delays.  Not sure what was going on because the tables weren't full.  I will let it go.  They knew it.  They apologized for it.  I'm over it.

Overall, the food shows promise.  Aerie and I shared a poutine.  Just poutine, because we love poutine. It wasn't Top 10 material, but it was still very good, even with chicken gravy.

Then we shared the grilled Alberta lamp rump and St. Canut pulled pork tourtière.  While lamb is self-explanatory, tourtière  may not be.  Allow me, it's a meat pie from Quebec and is traditionally minced.  Why then does Bannock call it pulled pork.  Misleading but good.  The honeyed root veggies too.  As for the packet of Heinz ketchup; I think it was intended to be fun and whimsical.  I thought it was lame.

The lamb was really delicious.  I could have skipped the prairie grain pilaf, only because it tasted so very healthy.  I wanted mashed potatoes or risotto.  I don't do well with whole grains.

Aerie and I got some sugar to go. I had the sour cream donuts.  Shocker.  Y'all know I have a problem with donuts. 

Aerie liked her butter tart.  She said the puff pastry crust was an nice surprise from the usual shortcut pastry.  She also liked the flavour.  I trust Aerie.  So should you.

How were my donuts you ask?  They tasted better than they look.

Overpriced at $8 and definitely won't make Toronto Life's best donut list, but I would like the sauce.  Anyday, everyday, everywhere.  I think it was dulce de leche.  So heavenly.

Well this was definitely one of my longer reviews.  I needed to take it all in and sleep on it.  This is what came out.  My final answer?  I would go again.  But not for dinner.

I would go again for lunch. Final answer.

Bannock on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 16, 2011

Extra Extra: Food Truck Eats

for you...actually, more for me
:Distillery District:

Good folks, it's Friday. Sorry, I have nothing to share. This whole week was full of the usual garb or lacklustre eats. Although, I'm going to Sushi D tonight. I'm excited. Yes, yes, I'm excited. Sushi D means good company and rock shrimp. I love shrimp. Like a lot.

It's a date!
 Picture courtesy of the World Wide Web.
So last week a friend told me that the Food Truck thing I went to (a couple months back) was actually Part 2 of 3.  What?  I missed Part 1?  How?  Tell me, who I gotta hang with to get my game back?  Obviously, said friend.  Anyway, he was so kind enough to tell me I could get more info here.  Gawd, I love the Daily Dish.  I also love this Suresh guy who started it all.  Don't know him, don't matter, he rules.

Now you know.  To be honest, I kind of don't want y'all to go, only because I get grumpy in crowds.  But it is outdoors and it will be a beautiful autumn night (knock on wood) so I'll pop a patience pill just for you.

Dirrtttyyy eats all night long.  Sounds so wonderful.  Nuit Blanche and Truck Eats.  See you there.  I 'll be there, under a lover's sky.  Eating, under the moonlight...til the sun goes down.

This post is to remind me.  Like a virtual post-it.  Life is so hectic these days, I need actual cues.  I'm a visual person.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Herbal Recovery Eye Cream by Jurlique

got that loving feeling
:Pricey at $55:

I'm still saying NO to Sephora.  Holt Renfrew must be loving it. 

I dropped by on Monday to pick up a new eye cream.  I'm almost finished my Pure + Simple one.  Will post about that soon.  I haven't because I'm walking the line between skip and like.  Figured I'd finish the entire tub before I gave my final answer....

Unlike Jurlique's eye cream which got me all hot and bothered so I had to share.

Up until Monday, I had only tried samples of Jurlique products because it never reaches my bubble, at least not close enough to break through.  I know it was founded by Jurgen and his wife Ulrike.  And they say what's in a this case, love.  Anyway, these two have a farm of sorts in Adelaide Hills, Australia.  And it is there that they create their products in an environmentally sustainable way.  There's a valuable lesson in there: eco-friendly things from down under will cost you. 

But quality eye cream will always cost you.  Funny that these creams are eye-goughing.  Always have, and always will be.   But a little goes a long way. 

Enough with the proverbial quips. 

The Herbal Recovery Eye Cream dispenses like medicated cream.  I'm not crazy about that, but it's probably more sanitary than always dipping your fingers into the same pot.  I try not to double-dip, but sometimes when you're in a rush in the morning, you just do.

Jurlique smells very herbal.  I'm not crazy about that either. 

They call it a "high performance" eye cream.  I scoffed when I heard that.  High performance.  Seriously?  But I can't argue because it delivered on all fronts.  It brightened and refreshed the eye area, provided longlasting moisture, and seemed to soften fine lines.  Yes, I have lines.  Dammit.  

This is what I call up close and personal:
Left - Naked | Right - Jurlique
 In case you missed it.  One more time with handy arrows:

Left - Naked  | Right - Jurlique
How did they do it?  Apparently with arnica, eyebright, cucumber, safflower, and chamomile.

My eyes, much like the rest of me, requires tender loving lasting care, and that's exactly what I got. Okay, I changed my mind.  I like herbs. 

Mental note.  Ask BFF if Jurlique is cheaper in Australia.  If so.  Ask BFF to get some.

Love it.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Toronto: Dragon Pearl Buffet

you right, i wrong
:York Mills + Don Mills:

This plate causes me anxiety.  All my food is touching!
This post is for my "gooder" friend MinnieA while back she mentioned Dragon Pearl.  I ignored her.  It's technically not my fault.  Dragon Pearl has a whole lot going against it.  It's Chinese food.  It's a buffet.  It's gimicky - see here (that pearl has zero appeal to me). 

Nothing works in its favour. 

But last weekend Dragon Pearl caught a break.  See, once in a blue moon, I get a chinese buffet craving.  It's very specific.  It's always short-lived, and the last three went unsatisfied with no repercussions.  Had I not been with Minnie the day of said craving, I would have been over it. 

But I was with her.  Lucky for Dragon Pearl.  She insisted I would like it.  She insisted it wasn't the usual chinese buffet.  She pointed out the free lobster tail.  Twice.  She also pointed ou that it was the large meaty kind and not the scrappy piddly pieces.  She  concluded by saying it might be the best Chinese buffet in Toronto.  Big words for little girl. 

Persistence pays off:

Sushi - Sashimi - Lobster
She was right.  Dragon Pearl is not your mother's buffet.

It will by no means make your heart sing from culinary delight, but it might make you dance, albeit offbeat and poorly.  A dance nonetheless. 

The entire place is full of petrified wood. It makes for very dramatic dining but odd.  That aside, the food is not bad - there are some terrible things but doesn't every buffet?  Overall it's not as greasy, and there is more substance than filler, including handmade noodles and peking duck.  I LOVE PEKING DUCK.

Not the greatest.  But for all-you-can-eat, it's good enough.
Minnie was right. I bow my head in shame.  And while I won't be going back anytime soon, if I had to do a buffet, I'd do Dragon Pearl.  It's $25 for dinner per person on weekends ($21 Monday to Thursday).  Other bloggers have said it's expensive.  Really?  Mandarin is $18 for dinner per person on weekends.  $7 for better food.  Sounds reasonable to me.

It is the best Chinese buffet I've had.

Yes.  I went there.

Dragon Pearl on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 12, 2011

Toronto: Prairie Girl Bakery

oh the cute cupcake
a little sweet tasty treat
one bite to happy
:Business District:

Happy Monday.  Did my haiku make you smile?  I'm in a great mood because it's celebration time.  The fall is always marked by birthdays.  Many, many, many birthdays, including my favourites.  

I had a few this weekend, and one included these mini treats:

Hello Prairie Girl. I've been meaning to come see you but I've been so busy. Thanks for coming to me.
I still don't quite understand the cupcake emporium, but it looks like the workerbees at King and Yonge do.  I get that they're cute.  Mini versions of big things draw out the kid in all of us, but it's still just cake.  I guess I'm just not a fan of cake.  All that aside, I can admit that cupcakes are pretty cool.  They're convenient and multi-faceted which means you can get a little of a lot (i.e. several flavours all in one).

My friends, new and old, are fans of Prairie Girl.  I got to analyze them on Friday while at a birthday party.  As an avid baker, I like to think my opinion matters here, moreso than over there. As with ALL cupcakeries, you get a lot of icing, like extra extra.   Likely for two reasons.  The first is that more is better than too little and the second, presentation; they just look better.  Their prices are average for haute cupcakes: $2.95 for one ($31.95 for a dozen) and $1.75 for mini ($18.95 for a dozen).

I tried the Chocolate Peppermint.  The cake was good but plain chocolate. I thought that it could have at least been mint chocolate. The icing was good, but it wasn't pepperminty. The red sprinkles were peppermint...I think. In the end, I wanted more peppermint.  
He's cute right, but he left me wanting. Typical.
The key to a really great cupcake is the icing because it's not so hard to make a good moist cake.  Since most of the cupcakes fell over in the box, I took it upon myself to try all the icing NOT on a cupcake.  

I tried: Chocolate, Cream Cheese, Peanut Butter, Lemon, Strawberry, Coconut, and Vanilla.
Collectively they were all alright!  Note the exclamation mark.  Alright! is not Alright.  It's better, but not quite good.  Although the peanut butter icing is good!  I enjoyed it very much.

In the end, I give Prairie Girl a thumbs up because their icing is not too sweet.  That is a tremendous feat in my opinion.  It is difficult to get an entirely sugar-based substance to not be too sweet, but still have flavour and maintain good consistency.  

I am still on a sugarhigh.  

 Prairie Girl Bakery on Urbanspoon

P.S. Although the story of the Prairie Girl Bakery is cliché - successful executive escapes bigbad businessworld for frills and giggles - I still appreciate their story.  What I don't appreciate is the Cupcake Girls.  They make me dislike the cupcake world.   I can't stand them.  I find them really annoying.  It doesn't stop me from enjoying their cupcakes if they're in front of me, but can someone get them off television.  They're about as interesting and entertaining as a carwash.

I was going to leave the Cupcake Girls alone, but then I got high.
Now I just insulted them, and I know why.
- cause I got high, cause I got high, cause I got high.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Anti-Fatigue Eye Roller by Aveeno

eye ball
:Cheap at $15:

I've tried a rollerball before.  Here - since I don't expect you to remember everything I do.  I certainly don't. 

My rollerball fascination came from this guy I once met.  He's a tall drink of handsome and he swears by the rollerball.  He called it an instant effective fix.  I didn't disagree, but I'm not partial to band-aid solutions.  Obviously I didn't tell him that, he's too hot to disagree with, at least face-to-face.

Aveeno has come out with its very own and I got my paws on it on Tuesday. 

Much like its predecessors, it's compact and applies easily.  The ball surface (i.e. diameter) seems bigger than the other two I've tried (see above and Garnier's).  The pen itself is fatter.  But that's just aesthetics. 

Aveeno took the active ingredient southerwood, as well as vitamins A, C & E, to create a liquid that "depuffs" and moisturizes the eye area.  Southerwood extract is reported to have cleansing and protective properties.  All together, the formula promises to combat the look of dark circles while infusing the under eye area with a whole lot of goodness.
It certainly smells fresh, but I found that it tingled more than I would have expected from an Aveeno product.  My experience with Aveeno is that it's on the gentle and delicate side, but within a few seconds of applying the eye roller, I felt a faint tingling sensation.  Fast-forward four days, and the tingling is much less, but still there.
Four days may not be enough time to see visible benefits, and I analyzed these photos for a good 10 minutes:

Top: Clean | Bottom: + Aveeno Eye Roller + 15 minutes
Left Eye: Clean | Right Eye: Aveeno Eye Roller
But it is enough time to decide if the pros outweigh the nothings.  In all fairness, I don't have a serious undereye problem.  That said, after four days of consistent use, the benefits weren't tangible enough to make me a fan.  It certainly goes some way in speeding up morning depuffing, but I feel the delicate skin under one's eye balls requires more moisture than Aveeno could impart.
My final answer?  It's complicated.

Did you party last night and need a quick fix?

Get it.  It's an easy solution and doesn't use caffeine like Garnier, nor is it as pricey as the Body Shop.


Are you looking for anti-aging treatments?
Do you have dark, persistent circles?
Do you have sensitive skin?
Are you looking for an all-around eye cream?

If you answered yes to any of these, get a proper eye cream.  Not all of life's shortcuts are a good idea.

Skip it.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Yorkville: Gelato Simply Italian

goodbye summer, hello fall

It's cold today.  I love it.  I love the fall.

Summer's will be closing soon.  That makes me sad. 

I wonder if Gelato Simply Italian will do the same?  Not that it will make all that much difference to me. 

Let me break out my double-negative.  I didn't not like it.  It was good, and I appreciate that they don't sample certain flavours in the interest of nut allergies.  While I love nuts, my BFF is deathly allergic to walnuts, so over the years, I've become more aware of how serious these allergies can be.  I feel for them.

This particular gelato shop is on Cumberland.  Duh, that's why it's so expensive, right?  The owner is evidently a gelato aficionado of sorts, i.e. he's had a hand in a few other stores: Il Gelateria and another Gelato Simply Italian in the Yonge-Davisville area. 

I didn't not like it, so I give it a yes, no, maybe.

Yes, my gelato was good. 
No, it is not better than Soma.
Maybe, I'll give it another try.

Gelato Simply Italian on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 5, 2011

Montreal: Les Givrés

ice to warm the heart

For the umpteenth time, my sister loves ice cream.  Prior to my visit last weekend she sent me a few links...for ice cream.  One was for Les Givrés.  I like the logo - igloos are rad.

So after a day of sweltering heat and humidity, I suggested we stop by on our way home.  Needless to say, she didn't say no. 

Les Givrés is getting a lot of reviews, and most people are loving it - myself included.  What's not to love?  Everything is homemade.  Even the cones.  They're not the waffle cones you might expect.  Rather, they have funky contraption that pops out regular cones - you know the kind you grew up eating.  I call them the McDonalds cone - because my earliest memories of eating ice cream cones was from McDonalds, on a Sunday, after church. 

Les Givrés has a lot of flavours.  Scooped out and served by friendly faces.

Something for everybody.
I went with the caramel ice cream with roasted marshmallows and café.  Yum yum.  Double yum means it gets my stamp of approval.  My sister got chocolate and vanilla.  I think I called her boring...haha, one could argue she's just loyal to the originals.
P.S. We also had a chocolate chip cookie.  I didn't like it.  My sister didn't like it.  That's okay, after all, it is an ICE CREAM place and the ICE CREAM was delicious.

Les Givrés on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 2, 2011

Toronto: Black Camel

baby, i'm howling for you

Bana has been talking about Black Camel for some time.  I was hungry and found myself at the Canadian Tire near the Masonic Temple.  The bell in my brain rang and I texted Bana to get the exact coordinates of this sandwich shop she was dying to take me to.  I was delighted to find it was just a block away.  I pitterpattered over. 

Love at first sight?  Yes, because I like weird creatures.  Like the platypus, and the camel.  They're funny looking.

Gags aside, Black Camel is my favourite kind of joint.  Divey with divine dirrrrttyyyyy eats, and friendly, genuine people taking your order.  

They have (amongst other things) sandwiches with pulled pork, beef brisket, seared steak, roasted pulled chicken and a veggie option (and enticing one at that, tomato, pepper, argula and eggplant), all of which you can customize with sauces and toppings.  The prices are reasonable in that it starts at $7 for a sandwich.  I got pulled pork with BBQ sauce and onions.  It was tasty.  Not too sweet, good consistency and really smokey.  The pulled pork is soft, tender and meaty.  The opposite of bad pulled pork which is stringy and gets stuck in your teeth on your first bite.  Shame.  This, however, is quite the opposite:

Oh momma!
I almost got two.  Good thing I didn't.  The sandwich is legitimately big.  I will be back next week as the beef brisket is calling my name and I will be going back with Bana. Because I not only owe her, I heart her. 

Again, at the risk of sounding redundant, it must be said again...this was so good.
P.S. Don't you love it when you finish something really good and look down and find droppings! It's like a bonus.  Makes me happy.

P.P.S.  I appreciate any restaurant that "really knows" their food.  What do I mean?  Black Camel's napkins are sturdy, tough even.  None of that rough wafer-thin cafeteria crap.  Perfect for the mess that will ensue.  They also give you a wetnap.  All things I need.  I also need a bib. 
Black Camel on Urbanspoon