Rave: long weekend

The first long weekend of spring! You can practically taste the beer on the patio now.

Whether you celebrate this time with Easter eggs, Matzoh balls, splashing colour on someone’s face or some other way, enjoy this day off by taking a walk outside, scout out some crocuses and be thankful that it seems (fingers crossed) that the snow is gone for the year.

Rave: Fun St. Patrick’s Day facts

It’s almost that time of year again…one of the best holidays of
the year (sorry, Christmas). The day when honorary Irish throughout North America take to the streets to
celebrate the (hopefully) good weather, green beer and general camaraderie. You know all
the secrets behind Valentine’s Day, and why Halloween started, but do you know
the mysteries behind St. Patrick’s Day? We shed some light on the matter.

1. The Chicago River is dyed green every year

Okay, maybe you knew about this one. But
do you know how the tradition
? In 1961, a plumber was attempting to trace sources of illegal
pollution in the river by using chemicals, and the surrounding water turned green
as a side effect. An idea sprouted, and today roughly 40 pounds of (safe)
powdered vegetable dye is used to change the river’s colour, but the ritual is
officially still sponsored by the local plumber’s union. If only Lake Ontario could be as colourful… 

2. The Toronto Maple Leafs used to be known as
the Toronto St. Patricks

Turns out clovers may have been luckier
than leafs. Our beloved hockey team was named the Toronto St. Patrick’s for eight
years, from 1919-1927, before eventually turning into the Toronto Maple Leafs. The
team won the Stanley Cup in 1922. Since the name change… well, you know.

They’re wearing green, promise. 

3. All the myths you’ve about St. Patrick heard are false

Turns out, St. Patrick was not Irish (he was born in Wales), and the colour to celebrate his day was blue,
not green. He also didn’t chase away any
snakes, he’s not actually a saint, and the first St. Patrick’s Day parade was in New York, not Ireland. But we still can’t get enough of this fun-filled day. Unfortunately for Ontarians, St. Patrick’s Day is currently only an official provincial
holiday in Newfoundland and Labrador (but we are keeping our fingers

4. You are skipping an important tradition

The “drowning of the shamrock” is a ritual where a
shamrock that has been worn during the evening is removed and tossed into the
last drink of the evening. A toast is made and when the drink is finished, the
shamrock is taken from the bottom of the glass and thrown over the left
shoulder. So don’t forget to raise a
glass to your BFFs come the end of the evening, and make sure you’re sporting a
shamrock for good luck.

5. It is always gorgeous in Toronto on St. Patrick’s
Day…so enjoy.

By some quirk of nature, there
has been unusually gorgeous weather in Toronto for approximately the past eight
years. We’re probably jinxing it now, but it’s no secret that Torontonians pour
into the streets to celebrate, make new friends and memories, rain or
shine. Get creative on St. Patrick’s
Day. Turn your beer, cookies, pancakes
or even champagne
into holiday-themed treats with food colouring.  Get outside and see the parade, check out one of Toronto’s lovely parks or trails,
or haul out the costume box and ready for a night out with friends. Slainté.

Yum Yum: Home Bar Essentials

Here on the fourth floor, we love to entertain. With the holiday season fast approaching, what better time to prepare our home bar to host any friends and family who stop by for a visit? Cocktail culture can be a bit overwhelming, so here’s a run down of the basics: 

Things will get wild with the right bar.

The Alcohol
Let’s get started with the most important part of a home bar: the alcohol. As you may have noticed when out on the town, the basic bar consists of a standard set of liquors (vodka, gin, rum, rye and scotch), beer and wine. This combination ensures all guests will find something that suits their tastes. These staples can be stocked on a budget or to reflect finer tastes. While not for everyone’s tastes, we also like to stock our bars with bourbon and some sort of bubbly (Prosecco is a lower cost alternative to champagne). 

A standard selection of spirits (plus tequila!) 

The Fixings
Stocking up on a variety of mixes is just as important as alcohol itself. We recommend having the following on hand: soda water, tonic, ginger beer and cranberry or orange juice. If you’re feeling like experimenting with cocktails, then bitters are your new best friend. Bitters are an essential for most cocktail recipes, and act as a binding agent for different flavours. If you’re going to have two bitters in your bar, the classics are Angostura (required for Manhattans and Old Fashioneds) and Peychauds (used in Sazeracs). However, there are so. many. bitters out there. Experiment away! Stop into BYOB for an insanely comprehensive offering. Some fresh cut lemons and limes, olives and maraschino cherries provide a finishing touch. Oh, and don’t forget to pick up some ice!

So many bitters, so many cocktail possibilities. 
The original maraschino cherries, made in Italy.

The Tools
Glassware is the obvious place to start. Your bar should have rocks glasses (great for most mixed drinks), coupes (a fancier way to serve cocktails, also perfect for bubbly), Collins glasses and wine glasses. A cocktail shaker is a given, as is a wine/beer opener. Less obvious, but great to have on-hand are a citrus zester, jigger, bar spoon and vermouth mister (for your martini-loving friend). Finally, one of the latest trends in cocktails is XL ice cubes. The Tovolo King Cube tray makes 2-inch cubes, which melt slower than traditional cubes and cause less dilution. Finally, the piece de resistance for any home bar is where you store it. We have been dying to pick up a bar cart, to house all of our goodies (you listening, Santa?). 

Sleek, beautiful bar cart. 

Gold-rimmed glassware. You fancy. 

With all of the above, your best bet is to buy a few things at a time knowing what cocktails they will make and slowly grow your home bar as you experiment with new drinks! Finally, please remember to drink responsibly this holiday season. In particular, never ever driving or letting a friend drive when drunk. Stuck for a ride home? Download Uber for quick, hassle-free lift. 

Yum, Yum: Drift Bar and Kitchen

The Bloordale area just scored with a new easy-going joint that hits the spot. Drift Bar and Kitchen is both restaurant and casual bar. It blends a sweet beverage list with an eclectic, little dining menu featuring homemade fare. This is the type of one-two hit that we love. Good homemade food, dive-bar comfort.

This is a wonderful place to have a drink with friends at the end of a long work day. Add a few apps or a gourmet sandwich from the ever-changing menu and you have the makings of a fab Friday night.

We checked out the poutine, starring what co-owner Damian Gaughan calls “18-hour gravy.” It has depth of flavour that goes on forever and when combined with double-fried potatoes and authentic cheese curds, the outcome is perfect comfort food.

Thick, tasty peameal bacon burger, complete with homemade bun.

We also tried the smoky, satisfying peameal bacon burger, and then gave the bean and cucumber salad a whirl. Both were fresh and simple. The made in-house bun on the burger takes it from good to awesome, and the salad was nicely seasoned.

The decor is relaxed and rustic-vintage. Lots of wood, reclaimed materials and a nice sized beer list on a chalk board. 

Delicious bean and cucumber salad with lime and cilantro. 

As for service, the staff members seem truly happy to be there, and the consideration that owners Gaughan and Matt Michowski put into every detail make it an all-around much needed shining star in the Bloor-Dufferin strip. They also serve soups, salads, sandwiches and sides, as well as brunch on the weekend.
Drift Bar and Kitchen (1063 Bloor St. W.).

City Living: Open Roof Festival

Last week we had the pleasure of checking out Bruce MacDonald’s Trigger, at the Open Roof Festival, Toronto’s best outdoor film and music series. Kicking off its sophomore season, the festival runs every Thursday until September 1 and treats Torontonians to a performance by a local indie band, followed by a cool film, all outside at the Amsterdam Brewery
 Image source.
We really loved being able to bike to the venue, where the Toronto Cyclist Union provided complimentary valet bike parking. Festival goers can also enjoy various pints of Amsterdam beer (including the new 416 Urban Wheat beer), freshly popped popcorn or can bring their own snacks while watching the film.
Image source.
Many of the films have previously shown at some of the world’s most prestigious festivals including Sundance, Hot Docs and TIFF, and have not yet been commercially released in Canada. Next movie we’re uber stoked for? On August 11, ORF will play Conan O’Brien’s Can’t Stop, a documentary chronicling O’Brien’s life after losing his gig as the host of The Tonight Show. 
Image source.
Make sure to bring a sweater in case it cools down at night, grab a beer, and hang out at the Amsterdam Brewery while enjoying some good music and great films.
Tickets are available for $15 and can be purchased at www.openrooffestival.com 
Follow Open Roof Festival on Twitter at: @OpenRoofFest

PS: This week’s screening of Kick Ass is gonna be a good one too – and our own Matt Austin will be hosting the evening. In his wordsThe main actor, Aaron Johnston, will be a huge star by 2012. See him now.” See you there!
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Happy Victoria Day Weekend

We would like to wish you a very safe and happy long weekend. Thank you Queen Victoria for giving us our first long weekend of the summer, a.k.a. summer’s unofficial kick-off.

Our top five things we packed for the weekend:

Sunscreen (one can always hope).
A case of beer.
Umbrella (let’s face it – it always rains on this weekend. Especially if you go camping).
Friends and significant others.
Image source
We hope you enjoy the holiday.

Bisou bisou from the fourth floor. xx

Yum, yum: 416 Snack Bar

If you’re a regular reader of our blog, you would know by now that we like to eat. So when 416 Snack Bar (181 Bathurst Street) opened up just a hop, skip and a snack away from the fourth floor, we were one of the first to check it out.

The transformation from Johny Banana is pretty complete – it’s tough to recognize it as the same space. Owners Adrian Ravinsky and Dave Stewart have done an amazing job making it a cool local bar. They even chronicled the transformation on their site (check it out here).  
 Very cool photo installation on the ceiling.

Longtime friends, Ravinsky and Stewart both grew up working in the restaurant industry (most recently at Buca), and basically held every job in the business – from bus boy to server – except in the kitchen. 

The concept for a snack bar versus a regular restaurant was inspired by a trip Ravinsky took to San Sebastian in Spain. Small local restaurants served communal platters of snacks called centros (shared platters of ham, squid and other treats), which was exactly what he wanted when he was enjoying beverages, rather than a full meal. They figured that everyone wanted savoury, delicious snacks while drinking, and not many bars in Toronto did that. They were pretty bang on. 
The 416 menu.

It’s a great idea, and all of the items on the menu are delicious. The hot dog is house-made from beef short ribs and a bit of pork back fat for flavour, as is the tangy sauerkraut that tops it. The Napolitano pizza pocket is similarly made at the restaurant, including the dough, and is stuffed with fresh mozzarella, basil and tomato sauce. Both were a perfect size to accompany a freshly poured pint of Hoptical Illusion.

Ravinsky and Stewart try to make as much as they can themselves, and you can taste the difference (clichéd, but true). They plan on switching up the menu regularly to take advantage of seasonal produce. There was talk of a grilled asparagus dish and their version of a Caprese salad. Yum. 
The cozy bar

Another fun fact that sets them apart? A no-cutlery rule. Every snack has to be able to be eaten by hand, which will be an interesting challenge for the Caprese salad (maybe it will be skewered?). But we’re definitely hooked enough to come back and find out just how that works. 

This little spot is casual-cool, unpretentious and tasty. Just the way we like our snacks and our local watering hole.

Yum, yum: Quinn’s Irish Lamb Stew

One of the best St. Patrick’s Day parties in the city can be found at Quinn’s Steakhouse and Irish Bar. This Thursday, this authentic Irish pub (owner Gavin Quinn came to Canada from Ireland) will have live Irish music, dancing and all the Irish fare you could possibly eat in one day.

Here’s one of their great recipes from chef Paul Pisa that you can whip up on your own if you can’t make it down to the Sheraton Center.

Lamb and Guinness Irish Stew
Photo by R. O’Brien.
6 to 8 servings
2 lbs lamb shoulder                                            
3 Tbsp. oil                                                               
2 Tbsp. flour                                                           
2 large onions, coarsely chopped                          
1 large clove garlic, crushed (optional)           
2 Tbsp tomato puree (dissolved in 4 tbsp water)    
1 ¼ cups Guinness stout beer                                    
2 cups carrots, cut into chunks                              
1 sprig of thyme 
Salt and freshly ground pepper (to taste)
Cayenne pepper (a pinch)
Fresh parsley, chopped
1.   Trim the lamb of any fat or gristle, then cut into cubes of 2 inches (5 cm) and toss in a bowl with 1 tablespoon of oil.
2.   Season the flour with salt, freshly ground pepper and a pinch or two of cayenne. Toss the meat in the mixture.
3.   Heat the remaining oil in a wide frying pan over high heat. Brown the meat on all sides. Add onions, crushed garlic, and tomato puree to the pan. Cover and cook gently for about five minutes.
4.   Transfer the contents of the pan to a casserole dish, and pour some of the beer into the frying pan. Bring to a boil and stir to dissolve the caramelized meat juices on the pan.
5.   Pour the mixture and remaining Guinness onto the meat; add the carrots and thyme.
6.   Cover the casserole dish and simmer very gently until the meat is tender, two to three hours. The stew may be cooked on stove-top or in a low oven at 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
Add salt, pepper and cayenne to taste. Scatter with chopped parsley.

For more details on Quinn’s and its other fine establishments (Shopsy’s, PJ O’Brien and The Irish Embassy), check out quinnssteakhouse.com or follow them on Twitter. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!