Tag Archives: restaurant review

I wish I had a mom who made dumplings…

Today friends and I went for a celebratory dumpling snack session at the newly located Mother’s Dumplings. My very excited friends have just bought a house, and wanted to tell me the news in person, over coffee, about this BIG step. I am so proud of them, and can’t actually get my head around the fact that my contemporaries are buying houses, but that’s besides the point. (Last night my very dear old friend from Georgia also told me that she had bought a house in a subdivision in the suburbs of Atlanta, complete with two car garage…so very different scenarios, but it seems to be a burgeoning theme…).

Steamed Dumplings

So, food, of course, to celebrate. As we were already in the market, Kensington that is, we decided to head over to Spadina and check out the new location and test out the scrumptious little dumplings. It took us all of about 2 minutes to read the menu, decide on a smattering of yummy sounding dishes, and then gab about the house and life until our order was brought to our table, freshly rolled, filled, and pinched.

We shared “Boiled Vegetarian Chives and Noodles Dumplings”, “Steamed Vegetarian (bak choi, mushroom, tofu) Dumplings”, “Smashed Cucumber Salad”, and “Da-lu noodles (meatless option)” and “Wonton (northern style) Soup”. Unfortunately there is liberal use of cilantro at Mother’s Dumplings, which I wasn’t expecting and which I loathe, as a garnish on many of the non-dumpling dishes. The Smashed salad that I was so intrigued by from the listing on the menu was inedible because of those delicate green leaves, and I couldn’t partake in the Da-lu or Wonton Soup, so I’ll refrain from commenting on those. My friends seemed to like them very much, for what it’s worth, albeit they did add a lot of hot sauce, soya sauce, vinegar, and chili oil to everything.

But the DUMPLINGS! O My My, they were good. Three ladies worked side by side at the same counter churning out the pretty packages. One made the balls of dough for the skins, the next lady rolled them out and the third lady filled and pinched them closed. Filled up generously in 18 different variations, there’s something for everyone (as long as you can eat wheat). Customers also have the option of taking the little parcels home as take out, or frozen.

I wish I had had more time to watch the ladies in the kitchen work their magic through the glass pane that kept us apart, but had to eat and run.

Avoid the tea which smells and tastes like moth balls. Do eat the dumplings.

Dipping Sauce Preparations

Gregory’s Special Dipping Sauce Concoction

1 1/2 Tbsp Soya Sauce

1 tsp Vinegar

1 tsp chili oil

Mix in the appropriate little dish and use to dip your dumplings. (If not spicy enough, Gregory also suggests using “cock sauce” or Sriracha)

Dining in the Dark at O Noir Toronto

O Noir - Toronto

Descending into a 1950s buffet-style, hotel supper spot, I started my journey into a few hours of blindness. It was dim at sunset, but would be always, due to the lack of natural light in the depths of an old Church Street hotel. The carpet showed its age, telling of the kind of heavy traffic this space must once have entertained. Nobody schmoozing in the lounge could remember exactly what the place had been before, and nobody had ever been there, but we could agree that not much had changed from whatever it was. Anticipation was palpable amongst the guests invited to a unique fundraising event in support of Toronto People with AIDS Foundation and the Friends for Life Bike Rally. Each guest shelled out $60.00, $25.00 of which was donated to Harvey Malinsky’s campaign to raise $28,000.00 in total. I took my parents with me to dine in the dark.

O Noir is a restaurant staffed by blind waiters, at which guests are led into darkness to eat with all four senses. We could not see the room, our plates, where our cutlery was placed or the strangers sitting across from us at our table. Smell, sound, touch, and taste were heightened by the pitch darkness. We could see nothing save the Indiglo of one of our fellow diner’s wristwatch. Trying to keep the colours of my dinner inside the lines of my plate, and consistently thinking I had succeeded to fill my fork with grilled calamari, roast chicken, or vegetable ragout, only to bring an empty fork to my lips, was all part of the experience. Time and time again I failed at eating blindly. I changed my strategy, put away my table manners and social graces, licked my knife to ensure I wouldn’t drop it on my lap and have to Shout it out later, and used my grubby hands to feed myself this tasty mystery meal. The sound became deafening, as guests got more comfortable with the darkness. Instead of communicating through body language, or eye contact, friends would up their volume to be acknowledged, and it was horrifyingly loud. I could hardly keep my attention on the fascinating situation I found myself in. The food was good, but it wasn’t really about the food. We were stepping into a reality that is almost impossible to understand. Putting trust into our servers to guide us to our seats, serve us what we had ordered, to anticipate our movements and navigate around our chairs, purses, gestures, and requests was nerve racking and pushed me right out of my comfort zone. I generally eat with my eyes first. Not knowing what was in front of me, not knowing what to expect, and not being able to see how my food was presented was challenging and intriguing. I was thrilled.

Restaurants of this genre are popping up around the world in Paris, Montreal, Australia, LA and New York, and Canada contributing 5% of profits to organizations that support people who have barriers to sight. Our waiter, Victor, told us that all of the staff was hired through the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB). The concept is novel, but a novelty the restaurant remains. I will likely not seek out these dining rooms where I travel, nor will I be likely to visit Toronto’s O Noir again any time soon. It will be interesting to see how long the business stays afloat. I can’t imagine there would be very many repeat customers. That being said, it is well worth it to push your boundaries and do something out of the ordinary, and I highly recommend going to O Noir in order to do just that. Enjoy!

I don’t get it, Brassaii… where was the food?

The Sublime Martini by Belvedere and Brassaii

I was invited last night to attend the re-opening party at Brassaii by an acquaintance who swings in very different circles. I had honestly never heard of this HUGE restaurant/lounge tucked behind Crush on King St. just West of Spadina. It was a cavernous, artfully lit space, full of the VIP guest-listed and Media reps. Quite beautiful. There was a lot of milling about, drinking martinis and commenting on one another’s fur vests, but not a whole heck of a lot of food. I toted a Sublime Martini written on the menu as featuring Belvedere Vodka (sponsor for the evening), stirred (actually shaken) with fresh pressed grapefruit juice and a wisp of Jasmine syrup (undetectable), sprinkled with wild blueberries (not wild, but cultivated).

With Bruce Woods (not to be confused with Bruce Wood of Salt Spring Island, yeah, that’s what I thought too. Too bad.) at the helm in the kitchen, and all of the advertising about him, I was hoping to sample some of the new menu. I got to try two tiny hors d’oeuvres – one a “Duck prosciutto + balsamic fig chutney + mascarpone cheese” garnished with a little green sprout; the second was a spoonful of tuna tartar “avocado + tropical fruits + wasabi mayo + crispy wonton”. Neither were any good, the avocado-tuna number sat like an ugly, colourless glob in a ceramic spoon and felt like guacamole mush, with no indication of tuna on the palate.  The duck prosciutto looked pretty, but basically tasted like the toasted baguette upon which it sat. All in all, I was just confused about the idea behind gathering the influential people of that scene this place is catering to, but not actually putting their best foot forward. Maybe those were their best feet. Apparently this place has a wicked patio in the summer though, and I’ve heard great things about the Triple S Lunch, and weekend brunch, which ranges from $8-19 for an early meal on Saturdays and Sundays. If anyone would care to take me there for brunch, I’d be happy to give this place a second chance. The menu doesn’t make a concerted effort to use or promote local eating, so it’s not at the top of my list.

What was much more interesting last night, however, was the menu at Buca. Featuring Whey-Fed Pork, ricotta di bufala from Stirling, ON, and other house-made cured meats and sausages in “The Room”. We stopped by there for a quick drink before heading down the street to Brassaii. I had a quick chat with Peter Tsebelis and Chef Roberto Gentile, who were very open to and enthusiastic about answering my nit picky questions about suppliers and the interesting, local ingredients on the dinner menu. I definitely look forward to someone offering to take me there for dinner, hint hint…

Impromptu Dinner on Harbord with my BFF

So, I’ll set the context. Picture Banana Republic at Bloor and Bay full to the brim with enthusiastic Waterloo alum, anxious to score with the discount on all store merchandise, and looking for a little networking/style advice. A couple hundred young professionals clutching their winter coats (and bike helmet, oh, that was just me…) roaming around a store with Naked Grape (I hate to advertise for them here…) spritzers sipping through straws and wondering why they decided to spend a precious Thursday evening milling about with strangers. It was hot in there, busy, and poorly organized. Alex and I spent most of our time in one of two fitting rooms which we co-occupied trying on bleached denim shirts and canary yellow dresses that fit more like scalloped chiffon curtains.

We needed comfort food. A chilly, somewhat directionless, walk south-west found us on Harbord. So many choices. Harbord Room, Tati, The Boulevard Cafe, but we decided to sample the local fare at The Harbord House. Months earlier, I happened to be cycling behind a guy who wiped out on some loose gravel turning a corner. I sat with him for a while to make sure he was okay. We spoke for a while, I wanted to make sure he didn’t have a concussion, and he turned out to be the owner of The Harbord House, and since then I had meant to go in and check it out.

I am very fond of French Onion Soup. I love the often sweet-salty, aromatic, and slippery qualities that come with those short handled bowls of yummy. But, arguably, the best part of a French Onion Soup is the bubbly, melty, stringy, browned, chewy, oily CHEESE on top!!! Cheese became the theme of both of our dinners, as Alex opted for pub classic, Mac and Cheese boasting cheddar, jack, parmesan and ermite on penne.

Veg Friendly Apple-Thyme French Onion Soup at The Harbord House

This veggie-friendly version of the classic was the perfect companion to the debriefing of a ridiculous event, catching up on the gossip, and weighing the pros and cons of opportunities that lay ahead.

The menu certainly promotes it’s effort to work with local flavours. Berkshire Pulled Pork Sandwiches, the Hoser Burger with certified Angus beef and peameal bacon. It does a good job, could do more, but the price is right, the atmosphere casual, and a great spot to stop in and have a bite sans pretension.

Morsels of Heaven at Cava

After a brisk and lengthy bike ride, I stopped in to see Doug Penfold at Cava for a bite. Started with some bubbly in pink, snappy breadsticks, Pinchos with cold duck breast, green olive and anchovy, and the piece de resistance, chocolate! Never in my life have I put something so divine on my tongue as the White chocolate and lemon, and then the milk chocolate and fennel pollen – squares of pure pleasure.

Pinchos

Chocolates from Xoco Cava

The solid wood bar is a great place to sit and chat with Alessandro and Kyle while perusing all of the many wine bottles placed just so above the bar. A menu featuring huitlacoche crepas, alongside paella, and many other locally sourced Spanish tapas, this restaurant deserves multiple visits to try everything on the menu. And when you decide to go, invite me with you!

Lunch at Calico Cafe

Calico is a great new-ish restaurant at Bloor and Brock, using many locally sourced ingredients and offering a veggie/vegan friendly menu of freshly made, whole and hearty foods. Open for brunch, lunch and dinner.

British Columbia Fare

Sooke Harbour House - Dungeness crab broth with crab mousse, calendula, and roe (not sure what kind)

Sooke Harbour House - Dungeness crab broth with crab mousse, calendula, and roe (not sure what kind)

Sooke Harbour House - Even the butter is beautiful!

Sooke Harbour House - Even the butter is beautiful!

Sooke Harbour House - Grilled Scallop on albacore tuna maki with grand fir aioli

Sooke Harbour House - Grilled Scallop on albacore tuna maki with grand fir aioli

Just have to share some of the amazing things I got to experience in the mouth department!

Sooke Harbour House - Breakfast perfection in the Grandifolia room!

Sooke Harbour House - Breakfast perfection in the Grandifolia room!