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Monday, 8 April 2013

Midi Bistro

This is the last part of the Winterlicious'03 saga. Yes, I know I mentioned that I went to four restaurants this year; unfortunately, I did not get a chance to take pictures while I was at Bodega. It is a very nice (and a bit pricey) French restaurant, and it is probably one of my favourite 'licious events thus far. I'm still sad I won't be able to blog about that for you guys, but if you're interested, check out their website. 

I craved for French food constantly this winter, and we've heard great reviews of Midi bistro, so we decided to give it a go. Le friend and I liked the place right away, as the restaurant is very quaint and cozy looking. Especially during the dead of winter, the restaurant makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

The plate closest to you is a crostini sautéed portobello mushroom, caramelized onion with blue cheese with a salad on the side. The crostini is quite good; they really got the savoury flavour into the mushrooms and onions. On the other hand, blue cheese is a difficult venture. It can easily overpower the delicate flavours of the mushrooms, but this one didn't. Also, people's affinity to blue cheese vary so widely, it is difficult to say how much blue cheese is enough. Midi Bistro managed this well though, there is a nice balance of flavours. My only complaint is the baguette. The inside of the baguette is as hard as the crust making it very difficult to eat. One last note: why are they serving an Italian appetizer in a French restaurant?

Pâté, toasts and gherkins.  

This is my appetizer. Again, the baguette is a bit too hard for my liking. The pâté was a bit chunky and hard to spread. The salad was good though, the dressing is zesty and light, which compliments the pâté well. 

For the main course, we both chose the roasted confit of duck leg with blueberry sauce. First thought that came to mind was how small our main course is. We're not big eaters, but the duck leg left us wanting more meat. We've had a bigger duck leg as an appetizer in Annona. On top of that, the meat is very dry and chewy, the skin took us a minute to saw through. On top of that, the sweetness of the blueberry sauce is way too overpowering. This combination of blueberry and duck is not great. When eaten with the sauce, this dish tastes more like a dessert than a main course. On top of that, the bottom half of the duck leg was fried, and inedible. We were left wanting a lot more.

Poire belle helene - poached pear with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. 

The pear is pre-made at least a while ago. Not only is it just as cold as the ice cream, it is very hard to cut through. The combination of ice cream, chocolate, and poached pear sounds divine, but this dessert left me wanting a lot more.

Crème brûlée. 

They burnt the sugar, which left a bitter after taste after every bite. 

Overall Review: 
Food: 6/10 
The tastiest thing we had was the crostini. Everything else left us wanting a lot more. Winterlicious has really taken a toll on their quality. 

Ambience: 9/10
We loved the cozy feel of the restaurant. It is an intimate yet relaxed setting, good for a date. 

Service: 8/10
The waitress was attentive, and the courses came quickly after one another. I was just a bit disappointed that she did not know what I was talking about when I ordered my dinner using the French name of the dishes on the menu. I understand not everyone speaks French in Toronto, but I think it's reasonable to say one should at least know the name of the dishes they're serving. 

Price: N/A 
Winterlicious/Summerlicious prices are adjusted; not reflective of their normal price range. 

Final Verdict: 7/10
I would give Midi Bistro another try when it is not doing one of these 'licious events, solely based on the fact that I've heard good recommendations from friends. 

168 McCaul Street
Toronto, ON M5T 1W4
(416) 977-2929

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Sunday, 7 April 2013

Ciao Wine Bar

Another place we decided to try for Winterlicious is Ciao Wine Bar, an Italian restaurant in Yorkville. The first thing we noticed is how busy this place is! Though we made a reservation and arrived on time, we had to wait around 20 minutes to be seated. This is, however, not the case for the non-Winterlicious crowd. They were seated within 10 minutes upon arrival. (I apologize in advance for the picture quality) 

 Top floor of the restaurant, where the non-Winterlicious crowd was seated. 

 Basement level, where the Winterlicious crowd was seated. 

 Basement level. 

Top level. 

 Roasted salmon, winter vegetable risotto. 

This is my main dish (sorry I didn't get to take pictures of the appetizers). First of all, if I knew there were shredded olives, I wouldn't have ordered this, but it wasn't in the description. It wouldn't be so bad if the dish didn't depend on the olives for taste. Okay, lets start with the salmon. It is grilled perfectly, the skin is crispy, yet the meat is still juicy and tender; what it's lacking is flavour. They did not season the fish at all. (To be fair, they were relying on the olives for flavour.) This is also the problem with the risotto. 

Ciao should've either included olives into the menu description or flavour the other components of the dish, so people like me, who dislikes olives would know not to choose this dish. 

Chianti braised short ribs with gorgonzola polenta and crispy onions. 

This is my friend's dish. I only had a small bite of polenta, but it is hearty and flavourful. It is very smooth and buttery. The short ribs are even better. Well, it's either that or the disappointment of my entrée augmented my score for the short ribs. The short ribs are very tender, juicy, and the sauce not too salty with a hint of sweetness to it. It may sound a bit ironic, but I wish the Chianti wine flavours would be more prominent; yet at the same time, I wish the sauce was not so overpowering so that it would actually retain the natural flavours of the meat. The combination of the polenta, the short ribs and the fried onions is a bit too heavy for my taste. It would be nice if they could incorporate another acid element, aside from the wine, to the dish somehow. Though take into consideration that I'm just being nit-picky here. 

Panna cotta. 

It is a nice way to end the meal with a panna cotta. The dessert is smooth and creamy. You can't really go wrong with a panna cotta. 

Overall Review: 
Food: 8/10 
I tried to be very conscious of not letting the salmon affect my food ratings since the dish probably would've been great for someone who likes olives. Everything else was on par, and one can easily tell the chefs are definitely capable and very experienced in what they're doing. The reason I didn't give the food a higher rating is because they're lacking the creative element. What makes Ciao different from any other Italian restaurant? Basing it on this meal, not much. I can easily find another restaurant that serves similar food with similar taste. Everything is very good; just not very memorable. 

Ambience: 8/10 
Cookie cutter clean and mod vibe. Like their food, they do it well, but it's not very memorable. 

Service: 7.5/10
It took forever for the waitress to notice we wanted to order, needed our water refilled, wanted to get the bill, and actually pay. Also, I wasn't able to pick up the phone when they called to confirm my reservation on the day of; but when I called back (several times in fact), they did not pick up.
Their saving grace is the fact that they gave us new utensil new cutlery for every course. I really appreciated that. Ciao is the first Winter/Summerlicious restaurant I've been to that has done this. They deserve a pat on the back for that. 

Price: N/A 
Winter/Summerlicious prices are adjusted and is not reflective of their normal price range. 

Overall Verdict: 7.75/10
The 'licious events are not indicative of the restaurants' usual quality; and given the good reviews, I would most likely give Ciao another try in the future. 

133 Yorkville Avenue
Toronto, ON M5R 1C4
(416) 925-2143

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Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Il Posto

For Winterlicious this year, some friends and I decided to try out Il Posto, an Italian restaurant hidden in the corners of Yorkville. This was kind of a last minute/random decision since we weren't able to make reservations for the place we wanted to go. I must say, this place is quite a pleasant surprise to us all. 

One thing I must say about this place is that it is quite hard to find, since you have to walk through this tiny (easily missed) alley to get here.

Grilled calamari, roasted peppers, spicy olive oil dressing. 

This is the appetizer that everyone ordered. It is some of the best calamari I've had to date. It is seasoned perfectly; just the right amount of salt and pepper. There is nothing extravagant about the sauce or the way it is made, but the simplicity of it really compliments and brings out the freshness of the calamari. 

Pan seared salmon with balsamic reduction.  

I didn't actually get to try this, but my friend couldn't stop gushing about how good the salmon was while he was eating. So I guess I'll have to take his word for it. 

 Homemade veal and spinach ravioli with light tomato basil sauce. 

This is what I ordered. I was a little disappointed. As described on the menu, the sauce is light and fresh, since they used fresh tomatoes. The ravioli dough is very nice; unlike the ravioli in Sassafraz, the dough is very tender, keeps the fillings sealed inside the pocket, yet it is very easy to cut through. However, the filling is even lighter than the sauce, so not only is there no contrast, the dish is a bit bland. I appreciate them taking a different route and not over seasoning with a whole can of tomato paste, but there needs to be a balance between keeping the dish light yet flavourful. 

Homemade ravioli of spinach and ricotta cheese, in butter and sage sauce.

This pasta is so good I wanted to steal it from my friend. I don't know how they made it so creamy yet light at the same time. Everything is seasoned well, again, very tender ravioli dough, the flavours of spinach, sage and butter is well infused into the dish. This is a dish I would definitely order again.

Banana chocolate meringue cake. 

My weakness is wine and sponge cake, so this cake was delicious to me. The bottom layer of sponge cake is soaked in a dessert wine (Marsala possibly?), yet it is not too mushy, which takes a lot of skills. (This is the part in which I often fail whilst making Tiramisu.) The banana also brought dimensions to the cake, and since it added new textures to the cake. One tiny complaint I have is the meringue. It's a bit too heavy, it would've been better if it was more fluffy on the inside. 

Overall Review: 
Food: 9.5/10 
I took the fact that this is Winterlicious into consideration. (Food during the 'licious events are often not as good as the restaurants' usual quality). Even taken this into account, Il Posto is the second best Winterlicious restaurant I've been to (aside from Bodega). A friend of mine also came to the restaurant after Winterlicious was over and she couldn't stop telling me how good the food is. I really liked how they took a different direction with their pastas and not overwhelm/cover the dish with heavy flavours. It's refreshing. 

Ambience: 6/10
It's a pass, but everything is very generic looking and seem kind of outdated. 

Service: 9/10
They asked to take my coat right as I entered the restaurant (a very promising start). The waiters were very attentive, welcoming and polite despite the crowd not being their usual customers. We also stayed there for quite a while after we finished our lunch, yet they were very patient with us and did not try to rush us out in anyway (A+ for this)! The only thing is, it took a while for someone to bring me my coat. I had to hunt someone down to bring it to me (as I had no idea where they put it). 

Price: N/A 
Since it's Winterlicious, the price and food are adjusted, so I'd have to return on a regular day to see if the quality matches the price. 

Overall Verdict: 9/10
I would definitely come back since the food is outstanding. I've been craving for their calamari ever since I've had it. 

148 Yorkville Avenue
Toronto, ON M5R 1C2
(416) 968-0469

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Monday, 18 March 2013

High Society

La Société is one of the higher end French restaurants situated in the heart of Yorkville. I walk by this restaurant all the time but could never justify eating here until the past month. One of my best friends and I have the same birthday, so we decided to come here for part one of our double celebration. 

This is the entrance to the bar area, there is a different entrance for the main dining room. 

The first thing I noticed is that my friend and I are the only 20-something in the restaurant. Most of La Société's customers seem to be an established and experienced crowd. You can also tell from the extensive wine list and $1,500 price tag on one of the wine they offer. This restaurant also seems like a popular business meeting-type restaurant. La Société is often compared to a very well known French restaurant called Balthazar in New York. 

The main dining room.

One part of their seafood bar.

Happy me, excited to try the food! 

 French Onion Soup

Since this is a French restaurant, we decided to give the French Onion Soup a try. I was so excited to try this, since they used my favourite melted cheese, Gruyère, from Switzerland. Sadly, I was sorely disappointed by this.It's good when an onion soup has rich flavours, but not so good when it's over reduced to a point of it being musky tasting and way too salty. As you can see, the cheese is burnt, and you can definitely taste the burnt bitterness in the soup. This soup was so salty that I ended up just eating the (unburnt) cheese. 

 Roasted sea scallops with fennel, squash purée and lime butter. 

This is my friend's dish, and the first thing I noticed was how little there is on the plate, considering this is a main dish. However, the scallops tasted great. It was seared perfectly on the outside, yet the freshness of the scallops remain and it is not overcooked. The squash purée and lime butter is a great combination with the scallops. The zesty flavour of the sauce really brings the freshness of the scallops to life. It would be great if this was less salty; again, this dish is over seasoned. 

 My steak frites. Grilled AAA dry aged striploin steak with 'Maître d'Hôtel' butter.

Simply put, this is a great steak. Medium rare, juicy, tender, perfect amount of seasoning. Along with the butter? Perfection. In the taste department, I have no complaints. However, I was disappointed by the portions. This is does not seem like 8 ounces to me.

Overall Review: 
Food: 8/10
I really want to give it a higher rating, since the quality of the food is there. However, 2/3 things we tried were too salty, and the portions were not great for what we're paying.

Ambience: 9.5/10 
As you can probably tell from the pictures, the décor is very nice, and is situated in one of the most fabulous locations in the city (in my opinion). It's a nice place semi-hidden from the busyness of Bloor Street. I took 0.5 off for the spacing of the tables. The tables were a bit too close to one another, and we can hear clearly the conversations beside us without intending to eavesdrop. 

Service: 6/10 
The service was adequate. The disparity in service is so apparent, and there's just no excuse for it. Sitting beside us were a pair of established, and older couple. The waiter would check on them, ask them about the food, refill glasses often, but it took forever for us to get the waiter's attention, let alone him checking up on us. I was not too pleased. 

Price: 7/10
The steak frites was $29, scallop $24, onion soup $12. Even if it wasn't filling, I expected the food to be top quality. Yes, the food quality is high, but the cooking/seasoning needs improvement. 

Final Verdict: 8/10
I would probably give La Société another chance, and give the restaurant a try in the evening. 


131 Bloor Street W
Toronto, ON M5S 3L7

(416) 551-9929

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Sunday, 17 June 2012

Now That's a Wrap!

The Chinese Dragon Boat festival is here again! As a family tradition, we're making glutinous rice.

The tedious preparation that took my grandma two days. We're making both the salty and sweet kind. The day before, my grandma had to boil the red beans in sugar water to make red bean paste, soak the rice, mushrooms and conpoy in water, boil the mung beans, marinade the pork and prepare the wrapping leaves. The next day, we had to boil the chestnuts, lotus seeds, and separate the whites from the yolks for the salted duck eggs.

Et voilà, the end product! Now I will take you through the steps as how to make this.

First, arrange four leaves so it overlaps each other. Then spread the rice in the middle.

Add the premixed mung beans, lotus seeds and shiitake mushrooms. Spread it on top of the rice.

Add a strip of pork belly and the sliced egg yolks on top.

Then the chestnuts. Then cover the ingredients with the mung bean mixture and finally the rice.

Wrap it as such.

Tie it with cotton strings.

Me giving it a try. 

It's harder than it looks. You have to wrap it really tight so the ingredients don't fall out.

Tada! Then you put it in a pot, boil it for 3 hours submerged in water. Then it's ready to eat!

* I will show you the end product once it's done cooking.