Foodie on Foot – Toronto: Ovest Cucina e Vineria

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CAFE PACIFICA CHINESE NEW YEAR BUFFET LUCKY DRAW:

Thank you for the huge response. The lucky winner Wing Ng has been notified. We’ll be doing another give-away soon – please tune in!

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Chinese blog posting: http://taiyangbao.ca/food/430615/

Ovest Cucina e Vineria : Pamper your loved one with divine Italian cooking this Valentine

ovest-152

Ovest Cucina e Vineria. 788 King Street West. Toronto. T: 416 214 6161   http://www.ovest-to.com/

Words: Anthio Yuen                  Photos: Jonathan Fan

Opened in November of 2014, Ovest Cucina e Vineria is one of Toronto’s newest Italian restaurants and wine bars in the city’s bustling King West area.  At just a few months old, Ovest has already been met with rave reviews. The anticipation plus perhaps the crisp temperature typical of a winter evening in Toronto or the early onset of hunger, I was eager to go inside and try it for myself.

Greeted at the door by Marco Celio, Ovest’s general manager, who comes from local restaurants Buca and Terroni, gave me a quick tour of Ovest.  The restaurant’s design was inspired by old cantinas in Italy which often served double duty as casual drinking establishments and wine cellars, fittingly so here, giving Ovest a decidedly rustic but modern tone, highlighted by dark stone and wood accents throughout restaurant.

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Centering the 4,700 square foot space is a stunning bar and salumi station, adorned with antique wine barrels and presses. A beautiful walk-in glass vineria behind the bar holding the restaurant’s 120 varieties of Italian wine is close by.     ovest-141

Taking his cues from Sicilian cuisine with French and seafood inspirations, Chef Luca Stracquadanio (who comes to Ovest from the Terroni group of restaurants in both Toronto and Los Angeles) wants to create a contemporary menu featuring regional Canadian ingredients.

Ovest’s menu is simple but purposeful.  Each dish features a key ingredient, enhanced by only a select few complementing flavours. As noted by Chef Stracquadanio, “we use simple ingredients, maybe one or two things to allow the true flavour be expressed.”  One should not confuse simplicity of ingredients, however, with lack of complexity. The dishes at Ovest were unique and equally refined.ovest-126

A signature antipasto at Ovest is the Carpaccio De Pesce Spada, or smoked swordfish. Cured and smoked in-house, sliced thinly, and then garnished with fennel, orange and olive oil, the swordfish had a delicate and creamy texture with just a hint of smoke.      ovest-122 The Caprese Di Tonno was another featured antipasto, which is whipped “bufala” mozzarella topped with tuna tartar. While the two came together nicely, the simple puree of basil and olive oil underneath the cheese added a bright, earthy flavour.   ovest-125Carpaccio di Polipo, or Octopus Carpaccio followed offering surprisingly meaty and heavy texture. Thin slices of octopus were drizzled with lemon, olive oil and a salsa verde made with capers and anchovies; then topped with pomegranate.

Following the antipasto, Chef Stracquadanio brought over two main courses: Gnocchi Con Astice, which is black squid ink gnocchi with fresh lobster and Merluzzo, or black cod. The gnocchi came tossed with large chunks of lobster, tomatoes and a light bisque made of the lobster. The dish was intense and rich and definitely one to indulge for lobster lovers. The pan-seared cod, with crispy and smoky skin, was served on a bed of earthy-sweet lentils.

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The dessert was another high note of the evening—a thin chocolate praline, topped with chocolate crème and pistachio, wrapped in a chocolate “nest”. The dish was visually stunning and texturally appealing. The chocolate crème was smooth and dense, almost mousse-like, while the praline and pistachio added bits of crunch. The nest itself was very unique, looking actually like a birds nest but made with very thin strings of chocolate. ovest-133

Overall, Ovest provides a relaxed but upscale dining experience, perfect for those looking to embrace a different approach to Italian cuisine. A great atmosphere for the upcoming Valentine’s, be it an intimate one for the two of you; or a happy get-together for friends and families.

 

 

 

Restaurant Review – Merchant’s Oyster Bar

Merchant’s Oyster Bar (1590 Commercial)

Words & Pix: Stephanie

$15 half dozen oysters

This is the first time it happened: Coming home hungry from a $145 dinner! True, $30 was spent on liquor and dinner was shared by Henry & me.

While I appreciated the simplicity of the 2-page typed-up menu in a store-bought folder, I was puzzled by the style and plating of the food which seemed to be going a different direction. Drink list was decent, the organic “Scandal” lager was delightful, but the menu system was pretty confusing.  It offered 3 set-dinners:  $31 was a snack + 1st and 2nd course (Henry’s choice); $34 gave you the 1st & 2nd course + dessert and $39 was for all 4 courses; which was whatIchose. However, a few items demanded 1 or 2 or 3 dollars more. This “I deserve more” notion reminded me of some restaurants’ Dine Out menus stuck at a reluctant price bracket.

Beet cracker close-up

Dinner began at a good pace and the first three courses were impressive. $15 half-dozen raw oysters came with freshly-shaved horseradish and was divine, so we ordered another half-dozen.  The plate of 3 baked oysters belonged to Henry who had to pay $3 extra. His second course was a lovely Sun-choke creamy soup garnished with sun-choke chip and confit eggyolks. So far so good!

Crab & vermicelli

The first of my 4-course dinner started with a beautifully prepared beet cracker made in-house. But the joy of the cracker was interrupted by the arrival of the 2nd course – Dungeness crab and vermicelli salad ($3 extra). Said to season with coconut, the scarce crab meat, shy flavour and the stringy rice noodle did not do anything to my palate or my hunger.

Ling cod

Our two abstractly-plated;  empty looking mains arrived at the same time, short rib accompanied by few withered strands of baby carrots for Henry and Ling Cod with grilled diced potatoes for me. The 2” square rib and 1” X 2½” cod were dry, small, overcooked and bland. They consisted nothing really substantial to inform my tummy “you are fed”!  I was the luckier one – at least there was a bed of fresh pea shoots on my plate. Perhaps the chef decided to shrink the meat portion slightly for the sets, or we’re supposed to be filled up with beers and cocktails? Hm…were there breads or buns I could order?

Short rib

Dessert was quite creative and gratefully enjoyed because it helped fill up the space in my stomach a bit. The off-green 2 Kit-Kat size Mojito Pana Cotta on a rectangle plate was dressed interestingly, but the flavour was subtle yet refreshing.

Pana Cotta

When I pushed the empty dish away, I was thinking about where to go to ‘touch-up’ before heading home but decided against it when the bill came.

 

This Christmas…

AM1470 Sound Bytes: beyondchopsticks.com with Deborah Moore

1/鯖魚善賣Buckets/bags of Herring for Charity 4th Fishermen Helping Kids with Cancer

Richmond and Victoria, B.C.

The 2014 Herring Sale will take place this Saturday, December 6 in Steveston, Richmond, from 8am to 4pm (at the south end of Trites Road: 12740 Trites Road) and at Finest at Sea Seafoods in Victoria, BC between 7am to 4pm (27 Erie Street).

Pacific Herring in Buckets

A key factor behind this success is the commercial fishing industry’s commitment to cover literally all costs related to the event, so absolutely every penny raised from the sale of herring is contributed directly to help kids with cancer. “The best thing about the herring sale is that 100% of the money goes to the kids,” says Brent Melan, the Burnaby fisherman who came up with the idea for the event and captains the seiner, MV Prosperity,  that catches the herring for the Herring Sale.  Brent adds, “I am only one of over 100 volunteers who so willingly donate not only resources but endless hours of time to plan and run this event most effectively and efficiently. Key people and companies donate everything for the event from the fishing vessel, unloading facility and fish bags, to their time devoted as boat crewmen, forklift drivers, traffic controllers and fish baggers. In fact, volunteers have bagged more than 10,000 twenty-pound   bags of herring since the event started.”

All you have to do to support this meaningful fund-raising event is to go out there this Saturday and purchase one or two buckets or bagful of herrings! http://www.fishermenhelpingkidswithcancer.com

1/Traditional Caviar Service at Cactus Club Café 珍品魚子醬 與加拿大鐵廚

http://www.cactusclubcafe.com

Cactus Club celebrates this festive season with Chef Rob Feenie’s newest and creative concepts, fit for both romantic moments and get-together sharing.

My favourites are:

a/ Ocean Wise British Columbian caviar – Divine Sturgeon and Acadian Sturgeon caviar with brioche toast and blinis, served in a beautiful half-moon shape glass sculpture. The theatrical presentation is only the beginning of an exotic culinary journey – savour each and every bite!

A crest of caviar

b/ Ocean Wise Albacore Tuna Sushi Tacos – The unique crunchy yet flaky taco shell carries an Asian touch, perfect for group munching.

c/ Beef Carpaccio – Olive oil lovers behold! Domenica Foire Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Italy that dresses those paper-thin slices of Canadian tenderloin is an award winning product chosen to compliment the sweet flavour and juicy sensation of the meat. For $40, you can purchase a bottle of this ‘World’s Best’ Olive oil, each signed by Chef Feenie. Proceeds will go to The Boys club Network to benefit youths in our communities.

beef carpaccio

Future attraction: An exclusive dinner to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Chef Rob Feenie winning the Iron Chef America title in the Battle Crab episode with his “Dungeness Crab Rolls”. YOU COULD WIN AN INVITATION!!

Iron Chef Dungeness Crab rolls

 

2/ “Forage” Holiday Cheer  $35四道菜節日大餐

Chris Whittaker of Forage is a well-respected and very talented chef. I was fortunate enough to be invited to his home and savoured a one of a kind multi-course “Moose” dinner. This definitely is one of the top ten meals on my 2014 best list.

Chef Whittaker making a moose pot-roast at home

This holiday, Chef Whittake is offering a four-course menu for $35 each for you and three of your families and/or friends to indulge into at his restaurant “Forage”, an award-winning restaurant on Robson. The added bonus is – everyone will take home a house made cranberry preserve.  Please note: minimum reservation is for four people and reservations are absolutely required.

訂位:604-661-1400   網頁www.foragevancouver.comhome-made Tortelloni

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Foodie on Foot – Kobe, Japan

Kobe ChinatownWords & Pix: Stephanie Y

For serious foodies, Kobe means one word – BEEF! It indeed was the renowned Kobe beef that drew us in.  We were lucky enough to experience two Kobe beef encounters, for snacking and for a late lunch; all took place in Kobe Chinatown bordering Motomachi, the most crowded, noisiest and tastiest part of town.  Both encounters were sensational and needless to say expensive, the three grades were $3000-yen apart (C$30), glad to say every bite was worthy.

Kobe beef encounter #1

Kobe beef bowl

It was the young man yelling and waving a cardboard with the food pictures and the phase “Kobe Beef” that stopped us, we then noticed the line-up in front of the street corner where an  open kitchen was located.  The kitchen was the restaurant and the street was the dining room – our definition of true street food! Approximately 40gm of Kobe beef was served in burger form; sliced, sauteed and put on rice; or strip of loin, grilled and cut on rice.  Y$1200 gave you the AA-equivalent grade, $1500 AAA-grade and $1800 champion-grade. Our chosen AAA-grade beef was grilled to our desired doneness, medium rare, sliced to ¼” thick, served with chopped green onion and the beef jus on rice.

Kobe beef encounter #2

Kobe Beef restaurant

In a tiny but comfortably arranged restaurant offering nothing but Kobe Beef  that were grilled and served like steak. Though there’re only 25 seats, the restaurant was one of the quieter eateries in this neighbourhood. Perhaps not too many folks were willing to cough up that kind of money for a piece of steak; or likely because the restaurant charged 5% on top for paying with your credit card, even when the bill was a 5-digit one.  The “set” came with a bowl of soup made with the beef jus, a nice salad and a bowl of rice.  The same three grades applied here and the price ranges similar but since this was a real western-style restaurant, the dollar figures tripled.  For Y$8800, Henry chose the 120gm Champion grade which came certified. I was not quite ready to pay C$88 for a steak dinner hence opted for the next grade which still cost me $5500 (C$55). Both beef dishes came with pan-fried vegetables and were beautifully plated.  Along with the salad, the soup, the beef sets were substantial enough.

Beef-biting notes:

Champion-grade Kobe beef is without a doubt, heavenly! Supreme marbling knits in the al dente mouth feel. The ‘oh mine’ thrill upon entering the mouth echoes with the crisp yet moist; meaty yet buttery euphoria your palate will remember for a long time. Each bite gives you the first bite umami that keeps making love to your senses.

Kobe beef

AAA-grade Kobe beef worked fine medium rare since a little bit of chewing will expand the flavour profile and enjoyment. The thick slices of beef carried a melt-in-your-mouth texture but charred outer layer and the tender core layer combined to create a demanding depth.

If your wallet does not object, go for the champion grade and order it ‘rare’ – the only way to embrace the divinity of  the flavour and texture granted to Kobe beef to the fullest. We both agree the 120gm set of Kobe beef is good enough to satisfy the indulgence, however, the qualitative pressure beef bowl is produces as good as the well-plated beef set in the restaurant. But of course, if you so desire, do go all out.

The All-around Left Bank

Watts (middle) and Restaurant Manager

751 Denman St, Vancouver, BC V6G 2L5 (604) 687-1418

http://leftbankvancouver.com  @leftbank.van

Words and pix: Stephanie Yuen

I was pretty upset upon hearing the news that one of my favourite French restaurants in town was no more. My disappointment turned to anticipation when I realized the restaurant decided to re-invent in order to enhance Vancouver’s market trend and food lovers’ savvy desires at large to the fullest. It had in fact undergone a renovation make-over and revamped remarakably.  Last month, Le Parisienne on Denmen Street morphed to become Left Bank, a modern French Bistro with a west coast twist.

The first thing I did when I walked into the door of Left Bank was to greet and congratulate owner John Blakeley on the restaurant’s fresh new look. Blakeley happened to be a veteran restaurateur who has long been regarded as the intuitive Frenchmen behind great French restaurants. It’s about time for Vancouver to establish its own mood of French cuisine without the heavy duty traditional bearing on the shoulder.

Fresh grape and goat cheese truffle

Contemporary, inviting, warm and unpretentious, Left Bank now opens its arms to all walks and generations of cuisine lovers, locals and visitors alike. With a wide-open style dining room, the restaurant is also a relaxing bar, a brunch café, a caterer, a cozy eatery that serves casual fare. Along with refined French cooking, there is live music patrons can swing to in their seats.

Sockeye salmon & lemongrass cream

While authentic French cooking will always be the backbone of Left Bank, Chef Spencer Watts wittily blends Pacific west coast colours into his culinary palette. Albacore tuna cone combines aioli with nectary mango; sockeye salmon winks with lemongrass cream; raita (Indian yogurt salad) mellows the lamb tagine, brilliant pairings of French and Asian cuisine I say! What about the 5-spiced Duck Confit Tempura? The pungent Chinese five spices, crunchy tempura and classic duck confit all in one bite!

Roasted lamb tangine topped with raita

No, you don’t have to sit in to enjoy Left Bank’s newest creations, order in advance, come by and take out – to Stanley Park, to the beach, or even to a party!

A $15 cup of coffee and a soggy sandwich

La Cuisson

Words and pix: S. Yuen

When it comes to coffee, I am the scrooge. Well, the same could be said about bubble tea. The urban life-style concept of spending $5 or more on a cup of caffeine-loaded beverages on a regular basis just doesn’t sit well with my bank account. Though I admit, with the right company, the right ambiance and fine coffee or tea; relaxing moments and good conversations can be had.

As a food writer, I had tasted a $60 cup of Kopi Luwak coffee. Yes, that famous coffee originates from Java and Sumatra, home to Luwaks (small civet-like animals) who eat the coffee cherries, digest the fresh but get rid of the beans via natural bodily functions and wella; these beans become the jewel of coffee! Why, the natives are smart enough to notice or smell the fragrant aroma emitted by these beans caused by the so-called “special digestive system” of the Luwaks. Thanks to the even smarter marketers who not only call the Kopi Luwak coffee “The most delightful coffee you can find” but also charge an average of $60 per serving! The overall experience of a ‘digested and passed out’ coffee was decent, though I had to try very hard to sniff and detect the illusive aroma and failed, the steamy dark liquid was layered with complex coffee flavour and was indeed velvety, but would I pay $60 for that, the answer is still a big no.

Obviously, the $15 per cup coffee was no Kopi Luwak but a Jamaica Blue Mountain.  This is no ordinary coffee either, says so on the Blue Mountain Coffee website. Hand-picked in single estates, small-batch roasting only on the shipping day and shipped in barrels, the whole process is regulated, carefully monitored and certified. A cup of Blue Mountain was what I ordered with a prosciutto & mozzarella sandwich last week at La Cuisson.

I was granted an unexpected afternoon break when a meeting was cancelled last minute. To embrace the leisure time, I decided to browse around in a neighbourhood I seldom visit – Kerrisdale and it didn’t take long at all for me to wonder into La Cuisson Café, a relatively unknown place with a few small patio tables and chairs out front. Once inside, I could tell the owner was attempting a Brasserie atmosphere. Tended by youngsters, the clustered counter lies adjacent to a huge glass showcase filled with cakes, pastries and stuff. La Cuisson offers both eat-in and take-out service, with a simple menu of sandwiches, salads and delicate desserts and special coffees such as Blue Mountain coffee.

Blue Mountain coffee beans

First arrived was the plate of sandwich, the supposedly made to order gourmet offering came buried in a dressed salad. When it was dropped in front of me, I had an elapsed moment thinking that I had ordered salad instead. Being creative is a good thing, but when it comes to food, practicality takes priority. Why the kitchen opted to load the salad on top and soil the quartered sandwiches was beyond me. The fact that there was no chef or a kitchen supervisor and the sandwich was made by any staff that could make it might explain why.

Next came the Blue Mountain served in a fancy set of cup & saucer, may be 5 to 6 oz. Silky smooth, mellow and hot, no cream needed (it was not brought either), a lovely cup of coffee indeed. But a $15 price tag? I had the same sensual satisfaction from a cup of Italian coffee years ago in a mall café called Little Darling who also served the most decadent piece of home-made Kahlua cake found nowhere else. There, I paid $3.00 for each mug of coffee and $0.50 for a refill. Yet for some strange reasons, Blue Mountain Coffee has achieved a brand-name status (much like Gucci, Channel or Coach) in the Chinese coffee-drinking arena.  However, if you talk to random customers sipping a cup of Blue Mountain in a similar café, the chance of them having a clue why each cup costs $15.00 (sorry, no refill) is pretty slim.  Ergo, brand name effect would be the only explanation.

There is nothing wrong paying $15 or $60 for a cup of coffee, but it is the value of that price tag I am looking for! I do wonder, in a blind-tasting scenario, how much will savvy coffee drinkers be willing to pay for the Blue Mountain or the Kopi Luwak?

 

 

An afternoon with burgers and sliders

Words: Stephanie Yuen (Chinese blog: http://taiyangbao.ca/food/359591/

The receipt of Vanfoodster Richard Wolak’s invitation to one of his recent Tasting Plates events to spend one afternoon with numerous burgers prompted two reactions. Henry’s was “Awesome, let’s do it!” Mine was “Huh? Burgers”?

Anyone could tell I am not too enthusiastic about burgers, for simple reasons: Ground meat is off-beat and boring. Burgers is so uniformed. My hands are too small to hold and eat burgers without making a big mess.

Good old Richard assured me these were sliders (mini-burgers) with special touches. In another word, they would all be gourmet burgers.  Why mini burgers are called sliders is beyond me, may be they are small enough to ‘slide’ into the mouth?  Nevertheless, I had to admit, this afternoon of burger adventure proved to be quite an eye-opener.

We started late and due to the participating eateries spreading from Gastown to Denman, we only had enough time to taste 4 burgers. This worked to our advantage – it gave my stomach a break in between burgers and gave Henry a refreshed­ palate for the next pint of beer.

Milestone's burger

First stop: Milstones Robson.

The “Stacked Burger” was a classic: The cute skewer of cherry tomato and pickle added vivid colour to the stack. Moist and fluffy were the juicy patties with perfect thickness. I felt in love with the crunchy Tuna Taco which was definitely a pleasant surprise. Bravo to the chef who went out of the way to create something unique and so tasty!

Henry loved the King Heffy Imperial Hefeweizen from How Sound Brewery. “Perfect drink for burgers and tacos!” was his cheerful comment.

King Heffy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next up was Yagger’s Downtown (Pender Street)

We had the choice of: Yagger’s Famous Cowburger OR Housemade Chorizo Burger. Since there were two of us, we naturally ordered one of each. The existence of both organic beef & pork in one patty in the cowburger was not unusual, but interesting. The double smoked bacon and aged white cheddar would be forever enticing; with chipotle peppers and peppercorn mayo, the burger scored even higher.  The “kick” inside the ground chorizo & beef patty was very engaging and was an excellent partner with cold beer. Once again, my palate loved the side dish “Mac & Not So Blue Cheese” white cheddar& gorgonzola cream sauce on jumbo mac noodles and smartly garnished with fresh bruschetta.

Yagger's two burgers

3rd Stop: The Bismarck Bar

Bismarck Chorizo Prawn Slider applied top ingredients generously, that included using brioche buns, combined to offer layers of flavour and a truly gourmet profile.  Being close to Roger’s Stadium, the Crunchy and extremely flavourful Stadium Fries that came with the slider were the first to disappear.  Classic burger & fries

Last stop: Buckstop Denman

Henry and I both agreed, their Venison burgers stuffed with blue cheese, mushrooms and horseradish aioli was a show stopper.  Two slices of tender loins of venison, not ground, told me 1/ Not all burger meats are minced. 2/ Burgers can be as tasty as any other well-prepared dish. Who knew blue cheese and venison loins are merry couples? The bowl of warm and crispy house-made potato chips was all so seductive, I had to warm myself 8 times to pull to a full stop! Oh, the running-out meter helped too!

Venison burger platter

 

Our sincere apology to the ones that we missed:

Kobob Burger – Mini Bulgogi (Marinated pork with veggies) rice burger, served with a piece of Korean pancake and Kimchi.

DeeBee’s Organics at Whole Foods that offered choices of one of the flavoured Teapops: Berries and Cherries, Minty Mint, Southern Iced Tea, Tropical Mango and Toasted Coconut.

 

 

 

Famiglia Supper Series – Communal Table at La Pentola

Words & pix: Stephanie Yuen

http://taiyangbao.ca/food/323138/

I always love communal tables, quite likely because that’s how meals are served in Asian homes; but more so because communal meals allow you to enjoy multiple courses all at once! When the invitation to go to last month’s La Pentola Famiglia Supper, I shouted out a big “YES”! What could be better than a rustic Italian dinner served family style inside Yaletown’s most notorious boutique hotel on a cold and damp Sunday evening?

Opus’s family supper served communal style is a great way to meet new friends, embrace the culinary culture of Italy and of course, share a bottle or two of wines. This is also a great venue to create your own supper event – a special celebration or a birthday party – when your food is prepared by a talented chef and served by friendly and able staffs. The best part, the 10-course dinner is at $55 per person, boiling down to $5.50 per course each!

I’ve been told about the scrumptious La Pentola Famiglia Supper Series which takes place every last Sunday evening of the month only here, and was warned beforehand to bring a big appetite. To prepare, I walked extra distance to the next Skytrain Station and hopped onto the train, surely glad I did!

IMG_6067Once seated at the round table where my friend Kelina and I were greeted by fellow ‘diners’, we ordered our drinks. Not usually a cocktail fan, only because my stomach doesn’t always agree with the recipes, but I found myself sipping away the tall glass of Opus Bar’s featured cocktail “Montmorency” infused with orange and vanilla aromas. With certain resistance, I reminded myself to go easy with the drink since the first platter of the 10-course family supper arrived.

Here’s the 10-course menu we indulged that evening:

Speck (cured meat), mustard fruits (pear and zucchini), canederli (bread dumplings) – Can’t believe how wonderful it was to start a meal with poached pear and fluffy dumplings that reminded me of mini green onion pancakes.

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Carne salata, greens, parmesan – What a plate of colourful lettuce – oh, more parmesan please!

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Trout, apple puree, roasted chestnuts – Apple and trout? Yes, they’re meant to be together!

 

Fennel and blood orange salad, pine nuts, speck. – The pairing of the fennel and blood orange was as good as how the fennel was cooked.

Spatzle, duck confit, duck jus – A juicy and moist version of spatzle that complemented the duck jus beautifully.

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Salt cod, potato, cauliflower, caraway – I fell in love with cauliflower all over again, and again!

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Tortellini with brown butter and sage – That’s what al dente was all about.IMG_6084

Cotechino, lentils, squash, Brussels sprouts – The pork sausage (cotechino) using all renegade meats such as pork rind, cheek, neck muscle and shoulder was singing my tune.

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Grilled venison, porcini, polenta, juniper butter – What to devour first, the venison, the porcini or the polenta?

 

 

Tamarind Ice Cream – treated acidity of tamarind cut through nicely with the silky ice cream. The slice of meat on top was bacon!IMG_6099 Chef Lucais Syme has prepared a roasted pig and a lamb for previous Famiglia suppers, but the above 10 courses showcased classic Italian cooking technique and communal fares perfectly. The next family supper will be this Sunday, Feb 23rd.  Reservation is recommended. 604-642-0557

http://info@lapentola.caIMG_6096

Dine Out Galore

Henry & Stephanie Yuen (Chinese blog – http://taiyangbao.ca/food/304664/?variant=zj-hans  )

No matter if you’re a foodie or not, you’ve got to know about “Dine Out Vancouver”! Being in its 12th year, the chance of you hanging out with friends or families in one or more of the Dine Out participating restaurants during the 15 days of Dine Out in past years should be pretty high.

The fact is, from 40+ restaurants to the astounding number of 263 today, and that media from as far as Britain is discovering how successful “Dine Out Vancouver” has been, and with the price tags of $18, $28 and $38 for a 3-course meal, we Vancouverites should be supporting this wonderful food & wine event. Besides choosing and dining in any one or two or more of the 263 restaurants, there’re dozens of fun-filled events which are hosted by some of the city’s who’s who characters. For instance, our very own Man About Town Fred Lee (CBC & The Province) will be conducting The Grape Debate 2014 on Friday, Jan 31 at the Vancouver Public Library. $38 gets you into the Debate, followed by wine tasting presented by Alumni UBC and the Wine of British Columbia.????????????????????????

We urge you to log onto http://dineoutvancouver.com , check out the list of restaurants from each group and the different events taking place between Jan 17 to Feb 02, and book your seats ASAP! Don’t forget to find out how you can win prizes – what about ‘Dine Out For a Year Contest?

We started riding the Dine Out waves by previewing these three restaurants.

A)   Roma BurgerYaletown, W. 4th,  River District$18  and  $28

Located in three different areas with distinctly different backdrops, you may feel like the three Roma Burgers are not related.  Well, their settings and ambiance do vary, but they’re offering the same Dine Out menu.  There are plenty mains to choose from for non-burger fans; such as the Fish and Chips and a Quinoa Burger for vegetarian which is amazingly delicious and well-structured! But I guarantee you will fall in love with those appetizers and salads. No one says you cannot share your fries, the wings and of course, keep those mini donuts to yourself!

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Drinks:  The mellow and fruity Prospect Winery Major Allen Merlot will not disappoint any wine sippers. Juicy, lengthy with subtle woody aroma, it does go well with the dripping burgers.  Most of the white wines are from our own backyard, plus a good selection of easy to please wine on taps. Craft beer fans can take a look at the black board for choices.

Our $18 recommendations:

The Fish Shack

Hapa Izakaya – Kitsilano

Luke’s Corner Bar & Kitchen

Memphis Blues

Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts – Bistro 101

Trattoria Italian Kitchen

       B. The Parker  $28

Another non-orthodox vegetarian restaurant in town whose slogan of ‘sustainable & sexy’ put them on the list of 2013’s new ‘hot spot’ in town.  Of course, Executive Chef Curtis Luk’s partake in the last Top Chef Canada had already given them the edge.  Everyone loves the fresh, local ingredients Luk sources and applies brilliantly.

 

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The plates are so beautiful, the flavour and textures so rich, the execution in fine details, so please do not consume them in a flash,  take the Cauliflower appetizer as a great example – do enjoy with your eyes and noses first, than indulge – you may easily forget what you’re eating are non-meat dishes. IMG_5969

Drinks: Out of the 4-page menu, only 1+1/3 belongs to the food section, the remaining spaces are all about cocktails and wines, a strong indication of how much attention is given to making sure diners enjoy their liquid food as much.  Cocktails with fun or fancy names are very tempting, but we found the Liquidity white, a BC Okanagan blend to be quite a palate-pleaser. Floral and refreshing, this  will pair well with most of Chef Luk’s vegetarian creation.

Our $28 recommendations:

Cactus Club Café (Bentall, English Bay, Park Royal, Yaletown)

Café Pacifica (Pan Pacific Hotel)

Campagnolo

Cibo Trattoria

Forage (Robson)

The Italian Kitchen (Alberni)

Le Parisien

Provence

Pastis

Pier 73

Siena

Tap & Barrel (Coal Harbour, Olympic Village)

C. Wildebeest  $38

Located on Hastings in the Gastown district, Wildebeest interprets the ‘wild’ in its name artfully.  Daringly created dishes served communal style put the restaurant onto the honour roll. It did not take long at all for Wildebeest to develop its very own image and secured its luring power.IMG_5972

From a simple salad such as the Wildebeest Salad with crunchy apple, winter herbs and frozen mascarpone; the Lamb Tartare dressed with heritage onions, horseradish emulsion and mustard seed gastrique; to the Roasted Chick’etta’ with winter squash and black garlic vinaigrette, the dining process is a sensational experience. Please note: Dine Out menus are individual plates.

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Drinks: Wildebeest offers an extensive wine list, including a couple of Junmai Sake. We thoroughly enjoyed what went into our glasses: Wildebeest’s own label wines, a red (Gamay & pinot Noir) and a white (Riesling, Gerwurztraminer & Pinot Gris) blend that match Chef Wes Young’s cooking style and food profile nicely.  A diligent collaboration with Road 13 Winery resulted in 50 cases of each blend. By the look of the crowds in the dining room, it won’t take long for Wildebeest to consider another new batch.

Our $38 recommendations.

Coast Restaurant

DIVA at the Met

Five Sails Restaurant

Hart House

Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House

The Keg

L’Abattoir

Pidget

Yew Restaurant + Bar (Four Seasons Hotel)

 

 

 

Maboroshi & sushi

Eat Toronto – The joy of sake pairing at Ki Modern Japanese + Bar

Ki decor

Ki Modern Japanese + Bar
181 Bay Street  (416) 308-5888  http://www.kijapanese.com

Words & pix: Henry & Stephanie Yuen

(Chinese blog: http://taiyangbao.ca/food/289821 )

We were not expecting to see standing-room only happy hour crowd at 7pm on a Monday night.   The thought that perhaps we had the dates mixed up while trying to convince ourselves today was not Friday diminished when the hostess found our reservation in the book. We found out later such is a normal restaurant scene on most weekdays in popular restaurants around downtown Toronto, thanks to the financial and corporate offices inside every towering building spilling out flows of well-dressed ladies in high-heel shoes and nicely-suited gentlemen who gather after work to grab a drink and a bite, to socialize with the peers and quite often, to execute some ladder-climbing motions with managements or sealing business deals. Oh yes, the commercial pulses in Toronto are on a much higher speed, during and after business hours!

But of course, there is always the harsh reality that restaurants without good food and apt vibe will still be left out of the scene. The contemporary décor and energetic crowds in front of the stretch cocktail bar set the mood the instant you step inside Ki. High ceiling, geometric furnishings and attractive colour schemes feed the vibration.  It has the casual feel of an upscale chain restaurant and the detailed elegance of an oriental fine-dining club. The girls at the reception and our service team of duo greeted us warmly and provided attentively, indicating calibre staff training which is a must but not necessary found in all restaurants.

We  believe the best way to see how Chefs work with the freshest ingredients available in the market is let them take care of our order and allow the surprise factor to elevate the dining pleasure. To add to this anticipated Ki experience was the presence of Ontario’s very first Certified Advance Sake Professional Michael Tremblay, the Head National Sake Sommelier designing and perfecting Ki’s sake programs in both the Toronto and Calgary locations.

Maboroshi & sushi

The protégé of N. American’s renowned Sake Expert John Gauntner, Tremblay hones his Sake knowledge by going to Japan’s top Sake Breweries to observe and talk to the masters all the time. The impressive sake menu at Ki’s confirms Tremblay’s profound passion and deep lore in this ancient art.  For sake enthusiasts, ‘sake’ conversations with Tremblay, as he unveils the how and the w5’s of sake making, from choosing the rice and water to the histories of the families and their breweries, is inarguably the highlight of sake-dining here. Tell him what you’re having; his pairing recommendation often becomes the integral part of the meal.Tremblay suggested two sakes, one cold and one warm, to charm our palates that evening. “Cold sake should stay between 10 to 20C while warm sake can be sipped at 40 to 55C. Some sake can be enjoyed at room temperature.” Tremblay explained, “Place unfinished opened bottles of cold sake back to the refrigerator, 2nd fermentation will take place otherwise.” 

Abocore tuna with a beautiful floral designWe started with Nakoa ‘Maboroshi’ Junmai Ginjo from Hiroshima served cold in a wine glass. Hiroshima is the birth place of ginjo and Nakoa Brewery started in 1871. Brewed from 58% ground grains, this Maboroshi Junmai ginjo has a beautiful written Chinese character meaning ‘mirage’ on the bottle.  Clear and crisp, this mildly sweet ginjo is quite mellow with subtle aroma, a good sake for beginners and to wake up the palate, no doubt a lovely start to a great dinner, it can be sipped on its own too.

To go with this, we had the Albacore Tuna Tataki with Sweet Chili Dressing, the Torched Salmon Belly and sesame and white miso sauce garnished with dried red pepper and ginger, shaped like a flower. The plate of 6 pieces of almost carved-like sushi was so beautiful it took our breath away for a few seconds, luckily our desire to sink our teeth into it stayed put. You can imagine how exotic one of the sushi – Iko Squid marinated in white truffle oil was and how excited we were to indulge!

Juicy pork bellyWith hot items, we had affably served warm sake from Ontario Spring Water Sake Co. here in Toronto.  Meaning ‘creek’, the‘Izumi’ Junmai Nama Genshu was poured from a dark clay pot into authentic sake cups which we sipped with admiration. Using premium junmai rice grown in California and water in Ontario, Izumi is a floral unfiltered wine with a lengthy finish. Interestingly, different aspects of the wine character surfaced and somehow harmonized with the nutty-sweetness of the crispy-skin pork belly, the creamy texture of the soft yet firm scallops and the capturing soy-flavoured grilled short ribs.  Higher alcohol content and bolder structure give this wine length and depth.

Jumbo scallopsNicely presented warm sake

The popularity of sake in Toronto has been on the rise, as indicated by sold out sake events and festivals. Ki’s sake menu is likely one of the most listed and descriptive sake menu in Canada. We both agreed the simple but functional menu is an education tool in itself, a good read for sure for novice or veteran sake lovers. With Tremblay’s immense knowledge in sake and his tireless effort reaching out and explaining to each table ordering sake; no wonder Ki’s sake program is so successful.