Dining around Toronto, 2015 edition

Over lunch recently with my Toronto cousin who now lives in Vancouver, he seemed surprised that I still follow Blog TO. Yeah, I don’t really see why I would stop. It’s just so me to want to keep a finger on the pulse of the city that originally captured my heart. Don’t tell him, but I geek out and keep a list of the recommendations that most interest me then build my trip around the meals!

Congee Star [North York]

My first meal after arriving in Toronto after a mildly stressful and certainly unique flight – first one with E along – would be congee. I gather Lil Sis goes for congee relatively often because she could list off the big congee noodle houses and added which ones she had been so. I selected Congee Star because she hadn’t been to it yet. It’s all about the same…! For a slightly different turn, I ordered shredded duck and taro congee (where the duck was mostly skin) and fried turnip cubes “Singapore style”. For some stability, I ordered the beef brisket soup into which I think several pieces of beef tendon fell.

Origin North [North York]

Since missing a foodie event to Origin several years, I have wanted to try this place. In a different life, I would have rounded out trying Masterchef Canada’s judges restaurants this trip by going to Origin (Claudio Aprille) and R&D (Alvin Leung) but it wasn’t in the cards to go to R&D this time. Brunch at the North York location was very feasible. The space was very big and it wasn’t as busy as the other restaurants (one of them is the O&B) in Bayview Village. We both ordered French toast which has a different, not fluffy texture.

Origin is labeled “Asian fusion” and my duck confit French toast was that with garnish and sauce that included sour cream, hoisin sauce, blueberries and sesame brittle. It was a strange mix and didn’t really work for me. The duck was good though.

Pho 88 [Yelp] [North York]

When we were driving to congee on the first night, Lil Sis mentioned how her boyfriend enjoys Pho 88 and orders their sate broth. I started to want pho intensely so we had it the next night. I also decided this because dessert would also be in the neighbhourhood…

Sometimes it’s the simplest meals that are the best. The sate broth was delicious and spicy and the original flavour of the pho broth still came through. We also noshed on some fried tofu that Lil Sis’ boyfriend likes. He has good taste!

Bake Code [North York]

The Blog TO article about Bake Code, who partners with Chatime, and is a Taiwanese chain opening its first flagship in Canada, got me so excited and I was optimistic I could get scrummy desserts as described in the article given they are open until midnight… not so.

Anything that was worth getting from the cakes display case was sold out already like the Hokkaido Chiffon Cupcake, Japanese cheesecake, strawberry mousse cake and milles crepe cake. We only tried the lemon tart and maple cream tarts. I thought they were tiny and hardly fresh.

I should have picked up the beautiful Goji Berry roll which has goji berry, almond, black and white sesame seeds and sunflower seeds. There were no samples of it left while most of the breads had samples available in straw baskets above their display. I did pick up a bag of five Mr. Chocolate Bean rolls and they are excellent, particularly when heated. It’s like a lava cake that is bread instead.

Pizzeria Libretto [Toronto]

Another place that Blog TO reminded me of when this restaurant opened its University location and another place my foodie group went to but I couldn’t make it out. Right after the Holly Jolly Fun Run, this location was just a 10-minute walk away. For Santa Claus Parade watchers, they have a patio that provides a great view!

I was famished since I barely had enough breakfast. The bread – both savoury and healthier – were very good and the EVOO had some chili oil mixed in which was yummy.

As starters, we ordered olives (surprisingly served hot and one of the varieties was mushy and unappetizingly bitter with a long aftertaste), flank steak (tender cubes) and meatballs.

We decided to try one pizza rosa – Ontario proscuitto and arugula – and one bianca – duck confit. I preferred the proscuitto and arugula which we folded in half to enjoy. The duck confit was garnished with rosemary which is strong and Lil Sis didn’t like how it was not cooked.

Nara Sushi [Toronto]

Our cousin recommended we try this place in their neighbourhood when our visit came to a close and we wanted something casual, Japanese and nearby. They hadn’t been to the restaurant themselves yet.

It’s a small restaurant with under 10 tables but they are kept busy with take out orders it seems.

Big Uncle directed our order towards tempura and sashimi so we ordered a 40-pieces sushi & sashimi boat with 24 pieces of sashimi, 10 pieces of sushi and (six pieces) of California roll maki. The sushi was fresh and tasty and I enjoyed most the salmon and butter fish which I learned was a type of tuna. We ordered a special tempura that wasn’t too unique but it did provide some colourful and plentiful salad and miso soup.

Hula Girl Espresso Boutique [Toronto]

What is this butter coffee? Despite the indifferent Blog TO review of the pre-brewed coffee, I wanted to try their house special of butter roast coffee, grass-fed butter and coconut oil. The shop’s website used to a mouth-watering close-up photo to advertise that coffee and their “crow’s bar” was the perfect breakfast and despite the caveat it is a whole chocolate bar baked inside, I wanted to try it.

After an adventurous drive from Richmond Hill to the original Dundas West location mostly on city streets, I arrived. I was relieved to find free parking just outside and that is possible because its Dundas location out west near Ronscevalles. I bet parking at the newer Ossington and College location would have been hairy.

No “Butter Coffee” in colourful salvaged marquee letters. :( I’m going to have to visit the Ossington location for the picture!

I did order the butter coffee and what appeared to be a crow bar. The cashier who did not exude any great love of selling coffee flatly told me that there wasn’t any butter coffee. I almost sputtered. How could that be so at just 11 a.m.? I had only come for the coffee and was going to ask for a refund but she found the ingredients and made one fresh – the Blog TO article said it is usually prebrewed.

The crow bar/chocolate croissant wasn’t crazy on chocolate and quite nice since I asked for it heated up. The coffee was a touch bitter but with the hint of coconut and butter, I could fairly easily enjoy it black.

Nadege Patisserie in the PATH [Toronto]

Earlier this year, I learned that Nadege had opened a location in the PATH. Their Queen West and Rosedale locations are a little inaccessible when I’m roaming around on my own. Just the day before, I brought some cakes ($7-8 each) and half dozen of their famous macarons ($2.35 each) as a hostess gift but since E required attention, I enjoyed none of it.

A cake was a little to indulgent for just me so I got the raspberry pistachio croissant, some detox Kusmi tea (the same flavour I bought when I discovered Kusmi in Paris) and a couple of macarons (pear chocolate and salted caramel) to go. Since Nadege in the PATH does not have its own seating, I enjoyed the flaky croissant with rich pistachio paste in the food court seating just across the hall. The salted caramel macaron was perfection in a macaron. The pear chocolate one was oddly soft and disintegrated too easily.

Kanga Pie [Toronto]

I heard about Kanga years ago when my friend Lionel Foursquared from there. Colour me very intrigued and excited. After a couple of big days out downtown, I decided Monday would be a night in and I would bring back some meat pies for dinner. When I approached the store on Duncan, I thought my plans were dashed because the shop is not accessible but their credit card machine has tap enabled and the salesperson was accommodating.

You can purchase four frozen pies for a flat rate but I had only three in mind: Traditional Aussie, Butter Chix and Creamy Zucchini. The fourth, as a natural contrast to the Aussie, was Kiwi Classic!

We did not apply an egg wash as recommended but they were delicious nonetheless. It was a three-way tie for me for the three I originally planned to get and I only didn’t favour the Kiwi Classic because of the cheddar cheese. Lil Sis enjoyed the Creamy Zucchini best of all.

Sweet Jesus [Toronto]

With back-to-back BlogTO posts [1 & 2], I felt inundated with desire to have soft serve at Sweet Jesus. If the day before, before we had lunch, Lil Sis wanted to go alone and have ice cream because the shop was just a few blocks from Pizzeria Libretto, I would not judge at all. And I would go alone the next day because I could not leave Toronto this time around without trying it.

The Pimped Out cones creations are not listed on their website and I did not snap a photo of the card describing the offerings. So what I can remember – for I greedily and quickly and messily scarfed it down, it was so delicious – is the fragrant burnt marshmallow soft serve, chocolate coating studded with marshmallows and whipped marshmallow and (the messy part) dusted with graham crumbs. Oh my goodness, it was so good.

Nutella Cafe in Fort York Sobey’s [Toronto]

While in Toronto, I saw the CBC article about Canada’s first Nutella Cafe opening that day. And, what do you know, I already planned on being in that area. Blog TO’s photo of a box of four pastries inspired me but I could refrained from being a copycat as it would start to get redundant since they are all just one flavour: Nutella. I was in it for the pastry, then and tried the super flaky aragosta and balanced it with the delicate biscuit sandwich. They served as a delightful dessert back at the apartment after meat pies dinner!

Wiang Kuk Thai in First Markham Place [Yelp] [Markham]

I had noticed that my friend Melissa had Facebooked/Tweeted/Instagrammed about her favourite Thai place in Markham and I asked her for the name. She has posted picked up bags upon bags of food from this place. I was a little surprised that it is a food court stall but Yelp reviews supported her rave reviews and I was up for some low-key meals on my last day in town so long as Lil Sis was game to drive us around for it.

It is lovely to have a photograph for each option and I could quickly narrow it down – apparently I was in a noodle mood. After I decided to order the “Best Seller” Thai coconut soup, it ruled out curry which is coconut milk based. So I ordered the “Best Seller” Pad Thai. The soup was basic in ingredients with ground meat and flat rice noodles (not vermicelli rice noodles as described) in a creamy tom yum goong broth. The pad thai was tangy and plentiful and we were plenty satisfied with leftover pad thai for Lil Sis’ lunch the next day.

After the meal, I approached the counter to ask for a small plastic bag and saw these beautiful flower shaped pastries being fried up and inquired about them. The male proprietor (I’m guessing) told me it was a cookie but I had other dessert plans. He took this photo for me from close up and broke one up for me and Lil Sis to sample. He had selected a darker one and that is exactly what we enjoyed, a little more roasted/burnt taste!

Woofles & Cream in New Kennedy Square [Markham]

I’m so demanding, I know, because after Thai food in one food court, we were off further east to another plaza and another food court to try Woofles & Cream. I also felt inundated with Blog TO posts [1 & 2] about this shop and took to heart the recommendation to try the lap cheong (Chinese sausage) and seaweed woofle. You can buy woofle and soft serve separately but that is not nearly as Instagrammable or capitalizing on the opportunity. So I got the savoury woofle which paired very well with the not-too-sweet and Asian-flavoured vanilla-green tea twist soft serve. This dessert creation capped off a delicious afternoon and rounded out a great Toronto dining bonanza!

On this day..