To T.O.: The Rest

When I look back at our Toronto trip, it seemed like all we did was eat! So though I’ve already recapped some of the best meals during our visit, I wanted to capture all of the other great restaurants and food-related experiences we had that week.

Crown Princess

For whatever reason, I was really intent on having dim sum in Toronto. Though Chinatown or Markham might have been the ideal neighbourhoods to locate a suitable restaurant, because of our activities to follow brunch that day, Amanda and I tried to stick to the downtown area. After some digging on Chowhound, we decided on Crown Princess.

Crown Princess

Is this just the lobby?

While we didn’t expect it to be busy on a random Tuesday morning, we didn’t anticipate having the restaurant to ourselves either. It was all the more odd because Crown Princess is perhaps the most sumptuous Asian restaurant I’ve ever dined in – from the plush velvet chairs, chandeliers and marble wall coverings to the embroidered tablecloths and patterned china, it felt like we were in store for a very lavish private tasting.

Crown Princess

Interior

Crown Princess

Not your typical Chinese teapot

Prices were on the high side ($3-6), but not outrageous. Between the two of us, we decided to share four plates. My favourite was the har gao, easily some of the best dumplings I’ve had in some time – the shrimp was plump, and the wrapper was nice and thick. The rice noodle roll was also quite good – the greens added some dimension to the dish, while the pork inside had been diced with uniform consistency – it was clear that these dishes had been made with care.

Crown Princess

Har gao

Crown Princess

Rice noodle roll

The barbecue pork buns were great as well, with springy, fresh dough. The final dish was interesting, though the English translation of “fried shrimp” probably needed more detail – we expected battered shrimp, but instead, were presented with shrimp and fruit in a cream sauce wrapped and fried.

Crown Princess

BBQ pork buns

Crown Princess

Fried shrimp

Service was attentive (difficult not to be for the only table in the restaurant), and it was enjoyable for a light lunch. I’m sure the experience as a whole would have been much different had we been amongst other diners though.

LCBO

Ontario still hasn’t moved to a private liquor retailing system, and I’m sure there are pros and cons about this. Walking through an LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) store, however, there seemed to be one big advantage to having a provincially-controlled chain: better marketing of homegrown products.

Go local

It was great to see shelves of Ontario product proudly displayed under a “go local” banner. While many liquor stores in Edmonton do make it easy to locate Canadian wines, this seemed to be one step further.

Local beer

Nathan Phillips Square Farmers’ Market

Farmers’ markets in Edmonton are confined to late afternoon, evening and weekend hours. However, the trend in other large Canadian municipalities seems to be opening up markets during the day, especially in high density areas. Calgary has experimented with their Downtown Green Market on Stephen Avenue, and in Toronto, we encountered a vibrant, well-stocked farmers’ market in front of their City Hall in Nathan Phillips Square.

Nathan Phillips' Square Farmers' Market

Nathan Phillips Square

Nathan Phillips' Square Farmers' Market

Farmers’ market

Nathan Phillips' Square Farmers' Market

In the shadow of City Hall

It wasn’t ideal conditions for a farmers’ market – although tents sheltered the vegetables from the sun, nothing could stop them from wilting in the +40 degree humidity. The heat just radiated from the pavement, and on a day like that, the shade from trees would have been a welcome respite.

Nathan Phillips' Square Farmers' Market

Zucchini blossoms

Nathan Phillips' Square Farmers' Market

Beans

Nathan Phillips' Square Farmers' Market

Berries

Nathan Phillips' Square Farmers' Market

Asparagus

Nathan Phillips' Square Farmers' Market

Corn

Nathan Phillips' Square Farmers' Market

Basil

Nathan Phillips' Square Farmers' Market

Meat truck

Nathan Phillips' Square Farmers' Market

A hive!

Still, it was great to see so many people out picking up fresh produce on their lunch break, all while enjoying live entertainment.

Nathan Phillips' Square Farmers' Market

Fresh Wednesdays

Amanda and I had a lunch reservation that afternoon, but I couldn’t resist buying a basket of raspberries in an effort to cool off. It was definitely handy to have the water truck on-site so we could wash the berries!

Nathan Phillips' Square Farmers' Market

Water truck!

Nathan Phillips' Square Farmers' Market

Berries

Rosedale Diner and Nadege

While in Toronto, I was able to meet up with Maria for lunch one day. Originally from Sarnia, she had been living in Edmonton for the past few years, but returned to Toronto for a work contract. She steered us to Rosedale Diner, a charming restaurant in Summer Hill.

The menu was made up of comforting dishes, and as soon as I saw the duck confit poutine ($17) on the menu, I knew I would pass up their prix fixe Summerlicious courses. I was disappointed that the Quebec cheese curds didn’t squeak, and that the fries were over-dressed, given they were saturated by the time I started to dig in, but I enjoyed the duck. Maria had ordered the lamb burger and surprisingly, was asked how she wanted it cooked!

Rosedale Diner

Duck confit poutine

Rosedale Diner

Lamb burger

The service was slow (and probably seemed even more so to us because we made the mistake of choosing to sit by the window on the hottest day of the year), but I was glad Maria had chosen Rosedale in part for its location.

After lunch, we wandered over to a quaint row of specialty shops – a high-end grocer, a butcher, a bakery, and a dessert shop. Nadege specializes in the venerable macaron, and though I was beyond full, I had to try one.

Nadege

Beautiful works of art (love the mini macarons on the Marie Antoinette!)

I bought a salted caramel macaron ($2.10), and while the salty-sweet flavour was spot on, the meringue shell was not – it crumbled almost immediately when I bit into it.

Nadege

Macarons

Smoke’s Poutinerie

My sampling of poutine in Toronto wasn’t confined only to Summer Hill. After taking in Wishful Drinking at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, Mack and I wandered over, hungry, to Smoke’s Poutinerie.

I ordered the Montreal poutine (shaved Montreal smoked meat, dill pickle, mustard, $6.99), to see how it would stack up against my favourite dish at La Poutine. I think Edmonton wins this round – I again encountered cheese curds that didn’t squeak in the least – it had to be more than coincidence at this point, right? I also preferred the meat diced – easier to ensure a bit of the smoky meat in every bite.

Smoke's Poutinerie

Montreal poutine

Mack’s Hogtown poutine ($6.99), with double-smoked bacon, Italian sausage, sautéed mushrooms and caramalized onions was much better, consistency-wise.

Smoke's Poutinerie

Hogtown poutine

Le Petit Dejeuner

When travelling, Mack and I always try to seek out a local diner for brunch. On this occasion, it was a little more difficult – because of time constraints, we had to find one within walking distance of our hotel, as we had to depart for the airport in the early afternoon hours.

Le Petit Dejeuner was our destination, and it seemed to be the right choice as a line-up formed outside the restaurant soon after we were seated. The interior was a bit of a mash-up, with warm wall colours that clashed with the aquamarine vinyl booths, but for brunch, the disharmony worked.

Le Petit Dejuner

Interior

I ordered Gal, two eggs, toast, potato rosti, apple coleslaw and bacon ($9.75). The scrambled eggs were particularly creamy, and I loved the crunchy rosti, which would have been perfect with just a little more salt. Mack also enjoyed his eggs benedict with peameal bacon ($12.95) well enough.

IMG_3225

The Hungry Gal

Le Petit Dejuner

Eggs benedict with peameal bacon

Because we saw it on the menu, we had to try their liege waffle as well, made with red fife wheat. It was served cold, which we weren’t used to (Eva Sweet had made sure of that), but it was dense and crunchy with pearl sugar throughout.

Le Petit Dejuner

Liege waffle

In all, I had a great time in Toronto. And I’m happy to say, I’ll be back there very soon – next week, in fact, for a work conference. I’m already looking forward to the food!

To T.O.: Summerlicious Adventures

Summerlicious, Toronto’s bi-annual prix fixe dining event and warm weather counterpoint to Winterlicious, puts Edmonton’s Fork Fest and Downtown Dining Week to shame. I realize it’s not exactly fair to compare our mid-size city’s efforts with those of Canada’s largest municipality, but the sheer number of restaurants (150 restaurants, all told), at every price point, in each quadrant of Toronto, that participate in the festival was mind-boggling.

My experience of Summerlicious made me consider planning my future travels around the event; it encouraged us to sample restaurants that I likely would not have otherwise – both in terms of high-end dining and in choosing lesser-known establishments.

In all, I sampled four Summerlicious menus (notably, Lee Lounge did not participate, cheekily naming their menu that week “Susurlicious”). We did have to make reservations in advance, though we did luck out with at least one known cancellation.

Jump

Jump was my entry point into the Oliver & Bonacini empire in Toronto. With the exception of Olive & Bonacini Cafe Grill, all of the O & B establishments are distinct in name and menu, and vary in level of formality and price, from the cafeteria-style O & B Canteen to the casual upscale Bannock to Canoe, their five-star crown jewel.

Nestled in the financial district, Jump was definitely a business lunch paradise – we were among only a few tables not in office attire. That said, we weren’t treated any differently, and after we arrived, were promptly led to a cozy wooden booth in the heart of the restaurant.

Jump

Jump

I loved the open concept kitchen, which seemed to give the restaurant a continuous sense of movement, with servers streaming in and out of the space with ease. The dining room also felt very warm, helped by the score of windows and skylights – it would be interesting to see how the atmosphere would change after nightfall.

Jump

Interior

The 3-course, $25 prix fixe menu provided quite a few options – our choice of four appetizers, four entrees and three desserts. My wild & tame mushroom soup, with no less than six kinds of mushrooms, had good depth and texture. And though they made do without butter or cream, a dollop would have gone a long way. Amanda’s watermelon and goat’s milk feta salad was gorgeous, summery and fresh.

Jump

Wild & tame mushroom soup

Jump

Watermelon and goat’s milk feta salad

We both couldn’t pass up the pulled pork for our main. It wasn’t the most elegant dish to eat, but then again, we weren’t on a business lunch! It was damn delicious, with flavourful mesquite barbecue sauce and pork that nearly melted in our mouths. The side of bagged kettle chips cheapened it a bit, however.

Jump

Pulled barbecue pork

It’s been a while since I’ve had panna cotta as smooth and silky as Jump’s. Their butterscotch version with salted caramel was just perfect, subtly sweet with a salty finish. Amanda also enjoyed her amaretto chocolate marquise cake – it was her favourite dessert that week, and even now, months later, is something she still thinks about.

Jump

Butterscotch panna cotta

Jump

Amaretto chocolate marquise cake

Jump was a great introduction to O & B. And it wouldn’t be long before we experienced them again.

Canoe

That same day, we had called Canoe (the most recommended Summerlicious restaurant on Chowhound) on a whim to see if we could get a last-minute reservation, as they were completely booked up on Open Table. Lucky for us, they had a cancellation, and we were able to snag a table early that evening. Sure, it meant we had to eat supper only two hours after completing our lunch, but Amanda and I were up for the challenge.

Located on the fifty-forth floor of the TD Tower, Canoe had an absolutely amazing view – we spent the first few minutes agog at the sights outside the window, including the CN Tower, Rogers Centre, Billy Bishop Airport and of course, Lake Ontario.

Canoe

The view

Service was professional and friendly, and matched the sleek but understated room. At first, we thought we’d be in the minority ordering off the $45 prix fixe menu, but seeing the same dishes coming out of the kitchen, we knew others were also taking advantage of the great deal. We had the choice of three appetizers, three entrees and three desserts.

My deconstructed salad featured Ontario bufala mozzarella, and it was a revelation: creamy, with so much inherent richness. It contrasted the fresh pops of peas and celery very well – I didn’t even mind the crab! Amanda wasn’t sure about the cold smoked whitefish and chilled potato puree, but she liked it in the end. It was also her first brush with edible flowers.

Canoe

Ontario bufala mozzarella salad

Canoe

Purdy’s smoked whitefish

Although I enjoyed my pan-roasted Great Lakes pickerel, the sides on my plate were the real star of the show – I loved the sweet corn and corn puree underneath. Amanda’s dish had mine beat, however – her slow-cooked Ontario pork loin was so tender, and even better, the Israeli couscous made us rethink that grain. Apparently, it had simply been cooked with mirepoix and stock, but tasted like so much more.

Canoe

Pan roasted Great Lakes pickerel

Canoe

Slow-cooked Ontario pork loin

Our dessert was a bittersweet chocolate terrine was made up of vanilla marshmallow, Barrie Hill Farms strawberries and basil crème anglaise. I wasn’t a huge fan of the divergent textures, from the spongy top to the sorbet-like layer underneath.

Canoe

Chocolate terrine

As a whole, Canoe provided us with a great evening out – the view alone was worth the price of dinner, but at just $45, it was without a doubt our best deal in Toronto that week.

Trevor Bar & Kitchen

Many of my friends have relocated to Toronto in the past few years – I met up with two of them at Trevor Bar & Kitchen to catch up over dinner. Janice’s coworker had recommended this restaurant, though at first glance, it wasn’t the ideal location on a muggy evening, with no air conditioning and too many lit candles to boot. On any other trip, the dinner at Trevor would have been near the top of my list, but because we dined at so many exceptional restaurants that week, it ended up in the middle.

My favourite thing about my mozzarella and tomato risotto were the bits of melty cheese inside. The rice had been cooked well, and I liked the tomato flavour throughout.

Trevor Bar & Kitchen

Mozzarella and tomato risotto

The second course, a barbecue duck ravioli was a good fusion offering – the sauce, a thin broth, was a welcome, if unexpected, surprise. Presentation-wise, it didn’t seem to have been plated with much care.

Trevor Bar & Kitchen

Barbeque duck ravioli

I ordered the sorbet for dessert primarily because I wanted something cool, but it turned to a soup almost immediately. It was still refreshing, though less pleasurable to eat.

Trevor Bar & Kitchen

Sorbet

Though I imagine Trevor Bar & Kitchen would be a great spot to grab a post-work cocktail and a casual nibble, with the breadth of restaurants Toronto has to offer, I doubt I’d return straightaway.

The Drake – “Summer School”

Chef Anthony Rose’s restaurant, located in The Drake Hotel, was my favourite restaurant experience of the entire trip. The Drake, a hipster boutique hotel in West Queen West, had created a lot of buzz about their pop-up restaurant series, which rotated concepts every few months. In many ways, because Rose is the in-house chef, I’m not sure it would really qualify as a pop-up, but I loved the idea that some of the decor would at least change with each incarnation.

Drake Hotel

Interior

In July, The Drake was transformed into a “Summer School”, complete with kitschy accessories that I was unabashedly giddy over. Everything from the duotang menus, scantrons and Rubik’s cube salt shakers on the table. Offering a menu of 3 courses for $35, a taste of their retro dishes also didn’t break the bank.

The Drake

Giddy

No matter what though, Mack and I agreed that we had to indulge in their too-cool “juice box cocktails”, which were actually served in tetra paks. Who knew drinking from a straw could be so much fun?

The Drake

Cheers!

Amanda and I both chose dishes off the prix fixe list, but Mack decided to select from the regular menu, and opted not to order either an appetizer or a dessert. Amanda thoroughly enjoyed her creamy salad, not hard to do when two of her favourite things – shrimp and avocado – were stars of the dish. I also loved my alphabet soup, thicker than I anticipated, but slightly sweet and rife with perfectly cooked pasta.

The Drake

Salad

The Drake

Alphabet soup

Amanda and I both ordered the fried chicken for our main – it was the best choice we could have made. The chicken had been de-boned, making it easy to eat (bonus!), but was still moist on the inside with a crispy shell on the outside. It was further enhanced with a dollop of wildflower honey on top. The side of cabbage slaw was light and refreshing, and although Amanda was full, nothing would stop her from finishing the rustic mashed potatoes on the plate, as buttery as they were.

Drake Hotel

Fried chicken

Mack’s entree was comprised of an absolutely massive lobster roll ($27), which contained one pound of lobster!  While the first few bites were good, Mack said it was much too heavy for one person. Besides that, the dish came with four sides. His favourite was the macaroni and cheese, with the pickled cucumbers and red onions a close second.

The Drake

Conquer that!

All through dinner, I was most looking forward to dessert. Passion Flakie (sold in the same section as Twinkies, I realize), was one of my favourite childhood treats, and I was excited to see how Chef Rose would elevate it. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite live up to expectations – Amanda’s was underbaked, and mine was overdone. I would have also preferred the whipped cream and fruit layers to have been more silky smooth.

The Drake

Passion Flakie

As a whole though, we had a great time that night. The setting, the service (our waiter seemed to genuinely love his job), and the food helped create something special.

To T.O.: District Diversity

One of the things I liked most about Toronto was the diversity of neighbourhoods – it was great to be able to take in such a variety of areas even in the short amount of time I was there. I know there were many neighbourhoods I just didn’t get to – I look forward to exploring them on my next visit!

North York

On my first night in Toronto, Amanda and I stayed in her ‘hood of North York for dinner. What blew me away around Yonge Street was just how dense it was (the 2006 Census recorded a population of 635,370 in North York, only about 100,000 less than the entire population of Edmonton in that year).

North York

High rises

With high rises all around us, it was a reminder of the kind of amenities that can bloom around that sort of density. One great example was a complex with a Loblaws on a ground floor, entertainment and shopping above that, and condo towers on top – and all connected to a subway station across the street.

North York

Amenities galore

Unfortunately, it was clear what was the priority means of commuting in that neighbourhood: given the number of storefronts that lined both sides of Yonge Street, there was a dire need for crosswalks in smaller intervals. Instead, we saw innumerable pedestrians jaywalking across the five lane road.

North York

Inhospitable Yonge Street

West Queen West

Although Amanda currently lives in North York, her dream neighbourhood in Toronto is West Queen West. An eclectic mix of boutiques and lofts, I could easily see why she’d want to move here.

West Queen West

Picturesque walk-ups

The Spice Trader

The Spice Trader, a great little shop

Dufflet

Cookie from Dufflet – tasted like a Reese peanut butter cup!

Harbourfront

On those hot and humid days, there was nothing better than standing out by the lake, taking in the cool breeze.

Harbour

Feeling refreshed

I didn’t get to do this as often as we would have liked during that week, but I did really enjoy the stroll on the boardwalk we did get to take that night!

Harbour

Out on the lake

Chinatown

Our trek through Chinatown was brief, and focused – Amanda and I spent most of our time trying to track down something for our Mum.

Chinatown

Gorgeous murals

Chinatown

Yum!

We also didn’t wander past the tourist-driven shops, a shame because I know it would have been a great area to eat our way through.

Chinatown

Couldn’t resist a picture of sushi-bobbleheads

Kensington

Kensington, with its hippie sensibilities, reminded me of San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury (though maybe not as rough around the edges). I loved the colourful homes-turned-shops, with wares spilling into their yards and onto the sidewalk. The area actually closes its streets once a week as well for “pedestrian Sundays”.


Charming

Judith Deutsch Park

One of the most rewarding byproducts of exploring a city on foot is the things you end up stumbling upon. Judith Deutsch Park was a fun example of this, a narrow playground we came across on our way from Chinatown to Kensington.

Julius Deutsch Park

Amanda loves to exercise!

The playground was made up of sturdy metal versions of popular gym equipment – everything from an elliptical to resistance machines.

Julius Deutsch Park

Whee!

It just seemed so random, but was such a neat interactive little pocket that definitely livened up a dreary strip of pavement.

Distillery District

Historically, the Distillery District dates back to 1832, and represents the largest and best preserved collection of Victorian Industrial Architecture in North America. The area was purchased by developers and re-opened in 2003, offering a mix of cultural and retail experiences, as well as residential options.

Distillery District

Distillery District

Without a doubt the neighbourhood itself is picture-perfect: the area is enclosed, bastion-style, with brick and stone walls. Paired with the cobblestone, pedestrian-friendly streets, it was no surprise when we saw a wedding party traipsing through for photo opportunities. The Distillery has also been home to all sorts of interesting events, including food truck festivals and Toronto’s first Diner en Blanc.

Distillery District

Photo op

They had some interesting outdoor sculptures as well, which nicely juxtaposed the historic backdrop.

Distillery District

Arts market

Distillery District

Straight out of War of the Worlds

It was a great area to browse – an outdoor arts market was set-up, in addition to some funky gift and houseware shops. We especially enjoyed the art on display at Cube Works, all constructed entirely out of Rubik’s cubes.

Distillery District

Shopping

Distillery District

KD!

Distillery District

Only limited by their imagination…

We decided to grab a coffee at Balzac’s, which seemed to be a top-rated café in Toronto. We were puzzled, then, to encounter a sign that warned that no photography was permitted inside the shop. We had to wonder about this policy, especially for a third-wave coffee shop – wouldn’t they want the publicity from coffee addicts posting candid photos taken of their drinks?

Distillery District

Balzac’s

Mack defied the signage and snapped a quick photo of the interior, which was quite striking. The coffee, on the other hand, wasn’t a highlight.

For lunch, we stopped inside Mill Street Brewery, a microbrewery known for their organic lager (it can be found in Edmonton). The restaurant side was comfortable, serving up predictable, but comforting pub classics. Amanda liked her turkey club, and Mack’s beer-battered fish and chips were decent. My chicken pot pie was all right, though I could have done without the side of mushy, thawed peas and lead potatoes.

Mill Street Brewery

Mill Street beer

Mill Street Brewery

Inside the pub

Mill Street Brewery

Turkey club

Chicken pot pie

We stuck around for the free tour inside the small on-site brewery, which is now mostly used for R & D purposes (at that time, for example, they were trying out an Italian rice brew). Our guide reinforced how small they were in comparison to some of the big fish in the industry – what Mill Street produces in a year can be replicated by Labatt in eighteen hours.

Mill Street Brewery

Cheers!

Although it was a stunning neighbourhood to visit, I was hoping our food and drink experiences would match the grandeur of our surroundings.

Waterfront Night Market

A festival can be considered a temporary neighbourhood, which is how I thought of the Waterfront Night Market. It was such a serendipitous moment when I wondered aloud to Amanda whether or not Toronto hosted any night markets similar to the one found in Richmond, BC – then promptly stumbled across a poster advertising the Waterfront Night Market taking place that weekend.

As we didn’t have a car, we decided to take the free, advertised “fun bus” from City Hall down to the festival site (which happened to be the parking lot of the downtown T & T Supermarket). Apparently organizers didn’t learn from the previous year when similar problems happened – they again only had three buses, resulting in massive wait times. Although we waited an hour for the promised ride, they did avoid a #funbusfail.

Waterfront Night Market

The fun bus, living up to its name

When we reached the festival grounds, it was busy, but not quite as packed as I remember the Richmond equivalent to be.

Waterfront Night Market

I’m sure the smoke could have been seen for miles

It was clearly a food market, with merchandise vendors outnumbered ten to one. The hawkers in particular were entertaining, and reminded me of some of the Asian markets my family and I had visited long ago.

Waterfront Night Market

Meat on a stick

And though we had dinner not long before, we indulged anyway. To do so, Mack did have to get over the overpowering aroma of both stinky tofu and oyster omelettes though.

Waterfront Night Market

The bane of Mack’s existence

Waterfront Night Market

Thirst-quenching

Waterfront Night Market

The strawberry ice drink I ordered (featuring fruit popping pearls) had the consistency of ice cream!

Waterfront Night Market

The tornado potato was unfortunately not crispy

In addition to the vendors, there was a live music stage and an NBA tournament going on – the sights and sounds were almost overwhelming!

I’m happy we made our way to the night market – it was definitely something we wouldn’t have been able to experience at home.

To T.O.: Tourism 101

Out of all the blog posts I write, I most enjoy recounting my travel experiences. If you are a regular reader, however, you know that this category is the most neglected. Because they are the most time consuming, I tend to procrastinate on them, a habit that is becoming worse as the years pass (I still haven’t finished writing about San Francisco, a year and a half later!). I hope to turn the tide with a short series on a week-long trip I took to Toronto in July 2011 to see my sister Amanda. Mack joined me there towards the end of my trip.

This wasn’t my first time to Toronto; I visited a friend for a few days back in 2006. It was a brief stay, but I managed to hit up some of the attractions that I had on my list at that time, including the Bata Shoe Museum and Casa Loma. This time around, although it really didn’t matter where we went, Amanda was game to look at her adopted city from a tourist’s perspective, and I was able to take in quite a bit of what Toronto had to offer.

Watching the Blue Jays

I’m not much of a baseball fan, but I’d never been to a Major League Baseball game before, and tickets were cheap – rail seats at the top level of Rogers Centre were just $10. It was also a beautiful night to be outside, not too muggy, with a breeze to cool things off just right.

Rogers Centre

Rogers Centre

Rogers Centre

The view of the CN Tower

All smiles!

The Seattle Mariners were in town, but the real star that night was Roberto Alomar, who watched the game from one of the sky boxes – he was in town to prepare for his entrance into the Hall of Fame at the end of the month.

Rogers Centre

Roberto Alomar!

I loved the jumbotron, and as a non-fan, being able to keep track of the players and their batting record so far that night – it really made it easier to get into the game. The other noticeable differences between this game and Capitals games I’d been to was the lack of aggressive beer sales in the stands and no “entertainment” between innings – mascot runs or little league pitchers or the like.

Rogers Centre

Batter up!

That said, I didn’t expect that number of extended innings – after runs in the first and second, it dragged on, scoreless, until the eighth, when tie runs resulted in extra innings. Five additional innings to be exact. Finally, after 14 innings and four and a half hours, Rajai Davis stole two bases and scored the winning run.

Rogers Centre

Finally

Being Part of a Live Studio Audience

I’m never really home during the day to watch CityLine, but I knew it was a lifestyle program, and that they filmed with a live studio audience. It seemed like it would be a fun way to spend a morning.

City Line

Holding room

After a short pep talk in the holding room, the audience (99% women) was herded down into the studio. Host Tracy Moore (a bombshell in real life – it’s hard to believe she had a baby a year prior) was gracious, welcoming everyone and making sure the audience felt comfortable.

City Line

With Tracy after the show

The topics explored in that particular episode (which would be aired exactly one week later), weren’t really of interest to either Amanda or myself – children’s activities, resistance training, pet safety issues and random kitchen tips – but it was interesting to see how the production crew had to scramble to arrange the different sets in the tight space.

City Line

Filming a segment on de-seeding tomatoes

And really, it was worth our time just for the parting gifts! We each received a $50 PetValu gift certificate and Body Shop package. Thanks, CityLine!

Experiencing the Humidity

Of all the weeks I could have gone, I ended up choosing the heat wave Toronto experienced last summer. Walking out of Amanda’s basement suite on the hottest of those days (in the morning, no less!), my camera lens literally fogged up when I took it out to snap a photo.

Humidity

Seriously

Given it was +48 degrees with the humidity, people weren’t only joking about being able to fry eggs on the sidewalk – they were literally doing it.

Checking Out the View from the CN Tower

The mothership of tourist attractions in Toronto wasn’t really on my radar those first few days. But after seeing the CN Tower from almost every angle over the course of the week, we decided to just take the plunge…or rather, ascent.

CN Tower

The glass floor

As expected, the views were breathtaking, especially on such a clear day. Given it was the hottest day of the year, the outdoor platform/wind tunnel was also not a bad place to be.

CN Tower

Lake Ontario

CN Tower

Toronto from above

Visiting the St. Lawrence Market

Named by Food and Wine Magazine in 2004 as one of the “World’s 25 Best Markets”, we knew we’d have to check out the St. Lawrence Market on a bustling Saturday morning.

St. Lawrence Market

Outdoor arts and crafts vendors

Their produce was a sight for sore eyes – at that time in Edmonton, we didn’t have the same variety in our markets yet.

St. Lawrence Market

Ontario peaches (we noticed that there was a real emphasis on “Ontario” vs. “local”)

St. Lawrence Market

Multicoloured zucchini

St. Lawrence Market

Beans

St. Lawrence Market

Garlic scapes

The market was spread over several buildings, and was absolutely massive. The main building featured two levels, packed with permanent vendors that would enable anyone to do all of their grocery shopping in one trip. It reminded us of farmers’ markets in Calgary – imports like cheese and olives were permitted.

St. Lawrence Market

Rice vendor

St. Lawrence Market

Seafood

St. Lawrence Market

Whole pig, anyone?

St. Lawrence Market

Peameal bacon was everywhere in Toronto!

St. Lawrence Market

Yum…baked goods (yes, we indulged)

St. Lawrence Market

Great use of QR codes – links to the vendor’s recipes

Given how the market was such a tourist attraction, it was curious that there was no information table in sight – as a result, we couldn’t locate the one vendor we were looking for: Ewenity, a dairy cooperative which sells sheep’s milk ice cream.

We also ended up stopping into the St. Lawrence Market again on Sunday. The smaller building had been converted into an antiques fair. We didn’t buy anything, but we did did peruse the tables, and came across a Lucky Strike tin!

St. Lawrence Market

Antique fair

St. Lawrence Market

We had no idea Lucky Strike was a real company (we really miss Mad Men)

Taking in a Show

Toronto stages attract some big names, actors I wouldn’t have the opportunity to see in Edmonton. One example of this was Carrie Fisher, whose show, Wishful Drinking, was playing at the Royal Alexandra Theatre that week. Based on her memoirs of the same name, Fisher discusses her family, personal life, career and mental health issues.

Wishful Drinking

Wishful Drinking set

Mack and I are both fans of Star Wars, and though that part of her film career was referenced quite heavily in the play (i.e. the “social contract” she signed when agreeing to put on that metal bikini being that she would remain that shape for the rest of her life), we learned a lot more about her. She had many funny witticisms and wry observations (the most entertaining portion was “Hollywood 101”), and involved the audience at times as well. Fisher had a casual way about her, and it was clear that she was very comfortable with herself, her past and her ghosts. I’m glad we were able to go!

Dining with a Celebrity Chef

Or at least, dining in the restaurant of a celebrity chef. One of the only restaurants I had bookmarked prior to the trip was Lee Lounge. In March, I was fortunate enough to be invited to an Element of Taste with Chef Lee at NAIT, during his Chef in Residence tenure. He was humble, and from all reports, was a respectable teacher in the kitchen – I wanted to see if his restaurant lived up to the hype.

We arrived a half our before our reservation (the skies opened up just as we arrived), but were seated right away – later diners wouldn’t be so lucky, as the place was packed by the time we left. The interior was very dim (apologies in advance for the poor photos), but was tastefully decorated, with red accents and a wall-sized family photo at the entrance. And yes, Chef Lee was in the house! We saw him a few times checking in on things in the dining room.

The only blemish to our visit was the waitress – she pushed certain dishes (such as the Singaporean style slaw) much too hard, to the point where we felt guilty when we didn’t order it. All it did was communicate to us that it must have been his most profitable item.

But other than that, it was a note-perfect experience. The spicy crisp tofu was our favourite – well crusted on the outside, and silky smooth on the inside. The sauce also played between sweet and savoury flavours quite well.

Lee Lounge

Spicy crisp tofu

Mack in particular was looking forward to the cheeseburger spring roll (a single one for $7). It should have been pre-cut, but was flavoured with great spices, and really, we loved the idea of simulating a cheeseburger in another form. It begged the question – what other spring roll possibilities are out there?

Lee Lounge

Cheeseburger spring roll

The asparagus and green bean salad was wonderfully balanced – the vinaigrette first presented itself as tangy, but smoothed itself out. We also liked the braised beef ravioli, with thin skins that didn’t overwhelm the beef, and a slightly sweet finish.

Lee Lounge

Asparagus and green bean salad

Lee Lounge

Braised beef ravioli

We finished our meal with a banana cake, served warm, melding the fruit and chocolate in smooth and creamy bites.

Lee Lounge

Banana cake

We would recommend Lee Lounge – there is no doubt the care that goes into the food. That said, it wasn’t my favourite meal that I had in Toronto – I’ll be writing about that in another post!

Random Food Notes

  • I’ve been using the Food Network (U.S.) recipe index quite a bit lately, and for those of you who haven’t perused the website before, I would encourage you to do so. The recipes duplicated on the website are the same ones that are published in cookbooks (e.g. Ina Garten, Giada de Laurentiis), and being the selectively frugal gal that I am, I have amassed quite a collection of paper. Better yet, most of the recipes have accompanying comments written by the general public who have tried whipping up the dish themselves, and often provide insightful shortcuts or helpful modifications.
  • Speaking of the Food Network – I saw boxes of Ina Garten’s dry dessert mixes on sale at Chapters the other day, for $15.99 a pop! Paying for convenience is one thing, but when some ingredients are still necessary to create the final product at that price? It’s a little ridiculous. It seems a trend nowadays for television cooking personalities to brand anything and everything. From Jaime Oliver’s Flavour Shaker to Christine Cushing’s olive oils to Mario Batali’s kitchen accessories and Rachel Ray’s cookware, I’m half-expecting to see, at a store near me, Bobby Flay Throwdown! mats.
  • There was an interesting article in the Globe & Mail today about a Toronto city counsellor’s motion to allow for a greater variety of food to be served by local street vendors. I had thought that hot dogs were a favorite, but had no idea the logic and allowance for them had to do with the decreased health risk that comes with precooked meat. From the article by Jeff Grey: “In New York, for example, the streets are teeming with culinary diversity: knishes, spicy chicken on a pita, Sri Lankan dosas and Columbian arepas, as well as enormous, warm salt-encrusted soft pretzels. Multicultural Toronto should have a similar buffet on its streets, said board of health chairman John Filion: ‘We should be defined by that, not by the hot dog.'” I missed out on my opportunity to snack on an outdoor vendor-cooked hot dog during my last trip to TO, but perhaps the next time I’m in that neighbourhood, I’ll have more selection. When will Edmonton start its own proliferation of roadside snacks?
  • My family and I went to the Plum Flower Cafe (10417-67 Avenue) a few weeks ago, a non-descript Chinese restaurant attached to a roadside hotel. There was nothing exceptional about this small, family-run establishment, so I didn’t feel the visit warranted a full review. They did, however, have Singapore Noodles of reasonable quality:


The Cafe was notable for an eye catching sign up in one of their windows: