Yum Yum: Lamesa

With such a diverse and international population,  it follows that Toronto’s restaurant scene is equally as varied. Expanding our palate through discovering a new type of ethnic cuisine is one of our favourite flavour pursuits. We’d never tried Filipino food before and, perhaps more embarrassingly, knew even less about what it entailed. When we’d spied Lamesa taking over the old Rosebud space, just down the street from our office (at 669 Queen St. W.), we figured it was a sign to explore new culinary territory!


Exterior on Queen St. W.



Lamesa’s menu changes daily, reflecting food available locally and seasonally, and combines traditional Filipino dishes with French cooking techniques for a dynamic and unusual dining experience. The menu is available a la carte, but our server explained the 5-course prix fixe was the best bang for your buck. At only $35, the prix fixe was a done deal; particularly as we wanted to try as many things as possible. 


We’re obsessed with Lamesa’s custom mural. 



Filipino cuisine is a mash-up of many culinary techniques, including Chinese, Malaysian and Spanish. We started with an amuse bouche of a risotto-like one bite hit of delicious. First course was the Halo Halo Sisig, a blend of beef, pork and chicken mixed with ginger and chiles, topped with a fried egg and Filipino pico de gallo. Our server suggested cutting up the egg and mixing it all together, so we did. We also tried their soup of the day, a creamy mung bean soup topped with pulled duck confit and apples. Would be hard pressed deciding between the two starters, so were glad our dining buddy was willing to share.


Halo Halo Sisig makes an excellent case for eggs for dinner. 
For our mains we had the Pritong Manok, crispy, battered chicken drizzled with an Adobo gastrique/reduction, and the Short Rib Nilaga, braised beef served over cabbage and a bone marrow, potato puree. While we tend to love anything fried, we were partial to the tenderness of the braised beef. The French braising technique, combined with the South Asian flavouring, was an unexpected delight.

So much fried chicken-y goodness.

The pre-dessert (oh, you read that right) was delicate house-made dark and white chocolate bites, with caramel drizzled on the plate. We completed our dinner with two desserts, including a Ginataan with sweet taro chips which is a sweet, coconut milk traditional dessert. The desserts were not the highlight of the meal, but were the most unfamiliar dishes of the night. 

We were impressed by the staff’s attentiveness and knowledge. They were happy to explain any questions about our meal and were able to provide knowledgeable answers in regards to anything cuisine-specific. We loved the prix fixe, both for its value and the range of food items it allows you to try. If you’re curious about Filipino food, this place is a must-try.

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Yum, Yum: Taco Wars

If you live in Toronto, chances are you’ve eaten a taco, or at least thought about eating a taco, in the past month. With a plethora of options to enjoy these tortilla delights, we thought we’d give you a run down of the top spots in the city.


El Trompo (277 Augusta Ave.) 

Perhaps the only cactus grill in Toronto?



Pros: Located in Kensington Market, El Trompo offers the most authentic Mexican tacos of the group.  The menu also offers Quesos Funditos, which besides being fun to say is a clay pot filled with molten cheese. 

Yum. 



Cons: The fillings are pretty traditional, so don’t expect to be wow’d by innovation. Ditto for the cocktail and beer menu. This is a Kensington staple, but maybe not where you’d want to bring someone you’re looking to impress.


Taco tip: While their west-facing patio is often busy, table turnaround is quick so you’re never waiting long. Another bonus? El Trompo offers a Mexican brunch on the weekends, with huevos (eggs) done a few different ways. 


La Carnita (501 College St.) @la_carnita

Look at all that space!



Pros: If you ever had to wait in hour-long line-ups when La Carnita was just a pop-up, you’ll be happy to hear they’ve newly opened a permanent location. With a big dining room, guests are seated and satiated very quickly. We love that they’ve continued to distribute their signature artwork to each guest.

Amazing.



Cons: While we loved their Voltron fish taco, overall our tastebuds weren’t blown away by the steak and chorizo tacos. Plus, a taco joint that plays hip hop? Sounds remarkably similar to another place on our list. 


Taco tip: We got three words for you – Mexican. Sweet. Corn. We highly recommend starting off your meal with this tasty app. 


Playa Cabana (111 Dupont St.) @PlayaCabana

Cute and welcoming.



Pros: Reservations! Not only does Playa Cabana take them, but we highly recommend you make one. We seriously enjoyed the Ancho Braised Short Rib-Brisket Crispy tacos, but were also drooling over their Oaxacan cheese-wrapped chorizo tacos.

Tasty, but a bit pricey.



Cons: Playa Cabana is the priciest of the bunch. We had a bit of sticker shock after a recent dinner there, so be warned – tacos ≠ cheap. As well, vegetarians get a bit jilted on taco choices.


Taco tip: The extensive menu has a wide range of offerings outside of tacos. The Spicy Mole Enchiladas were delicious and we’ll definitely be ordering the Poblano Chile Rellenos the next time we’re in. 


Grand Electric (1330 Queen St. W.) @grandelectricTO

Simple, yet satisfying.



Pros: You may have heard some buzz about this Parkdale hotspot. And, well, the buzz is warranted. Tacos are nearly perfect – ultra-affordable at around $3 each, creative toppings/flavour combinations and the fish taco is one of the best we’ve ever had – Mexico and California included. We also dig the casual atmosphere, 90s hip-hop soundtrack and extensive bourbon list. Non-pretentious. 

Tacos come served on one big tray. Tough to decide which to eat first.



Cons: The wait. Lining up for 2 hours is worth it maybe the first time, but gets tired pretty quickly. Plus, sometimes you get booted out of your seat after having ordered, for another party that’s been waiting longer (true story). They also no longer take phone numbers when the patio is open so you can’t leave and come back, and definitely don’t take reso’s. Another “trend” we’re tired of. 


Taco tip: Come hungry. Very, very hungry, so you can order one of each taco, plus guac and any of the other non-taco menu options. They’re all amazing. Also, make sure to try whatever their daily special is, especially if they have their fantastic pozole on offer.


Tacos El Asador (690 Bloor St. W.)



Pros: Nostalgia! This Koreatown joint (yep, tacos in the heart of kimchi land) has been around for ages and is one of the original spots in the city for authentic Central American eats. It’s also cheap, so was a go-to date spot for those of us who did undergrad in the city. Cute and cheery inside, with tons of colour, picnic tables and Latin music playing. If you like spice, their salsas and hot sauces are muy caliente. 

Carne asada.



Cons: It’s small. But perfect for this heat – take them to Christie Pits. Sometimes the tacos can be a bit dry. 


Taco tip: If you love nachos, order them here to get a sense of how they should truly be served (sorry, Sneaky Dees. Yours aren’t so authentic). No sour cream, but they’re served with a ton of toppings – beans, fresh avocado, cotija cheese, jalapeños on the side, etc. Grab a Negro Modelo to go with.


There you have it: our guide to the best tacos in the city. Buen provecho!



Yum, yum: Barque

A trip to Austin, Texas a few years back introduced us to the delectable world of Southern BBQ. Us northerners were hard-pressed to find anything similar, until a wave of BBQ joints popped up here in Toronto. The Stockyards was one of the city’s trailblazers, offering delectable fried chicken and pulled pork up on St. Clair West. Now the (relatively) new kid on (a different) block is Barque – purveyor of all things smoked, from ribs to brisket to cocktails.

Photo via Blog TO.

Self-identified by chef-owner David Neinstein as “Toronto’s Urban Smokehouse”, Barque puts a downtown spin on the classic BBQ joint combining a comprehensive wine list and craft beers with smoked ribs, brisket and chicken. They also find playful uses for their signature candied bacon, such as rimming the glass of their Caesar.  

Photo via Blog TO.

We recently went to Barque for dinner and were seated at their back bar, overlooking the kitchen. For those who are interested in what goes on behind-the-scenes, this is the best spot in the house! It also helps when kitchen staff slip you a few pieces of candied bacon to nibble on while looking over the menu.

We decided to start off with the pulled lamb nachos ($10), followed by the sampler platter for two ($38). We highly recommend getting the sampler platter, as it allows you to, uhh, sample many different meats. You can choose three out of the following options – pork ribs, beef ribs, brisket and chicken – along with two sides. All of the sides are delicious, but we highly recommend the pickled platter as it’s the perfect complement to the smokey meat.

Eating Barque’s beef ribs made us feel like Fred Flintstone (we mean this in the best way possible), and their brisket was melt-in-your-mouth delicious. While we rarely order chicken when dining out, Barque made us reconsider our stance. They tout their chicken thighs as “Competition Winning” and we can see why.

We would definitely go back to Barque for dinner and can’t wait to try out their brunch menu as well. They also offer a “Family Dinner” on Sunday night, served as a prix fixe, family-style meal. Best of all? They accept reservations, a rarity in Toronto these days. 

Barque is at 299 Roncesvalles Ave. Visit their website for more info or find them on Twitter and Facebook

 

My hood: Amalia

As mentioned earlier, I recently moved to Toronto (four months ago). I was lucky enough to find a cozy place to rent in Little India. And I must admit it was love at first sight!

This little neighbourhood is full of great little spots to keep occupied either shopping, eating or entertaining. After moving, I realized that the main strip of Little India is actually home to many Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Afghan and Sri Lankan restaurants, cafés, videos/DVD stores, clothing stores, electronic goods and home decor stores. Even more interesting, along with Jackson Heights in New York and Devon Avenue in Chicago, it forms one of the largest South Asian marketplaces in North America.

 Very eclectic Gerrard St. E. 
Image via Richard McGuire.
Often people (ahem, mom) have told me that I am an old soul. I like simple things, like sitting in my backyard and reading a good book while having a glass of wine. This is where the Gerrard/Ashdale public library comes in handy. This is a great library because it offers one thing that makes it invaluable in my books (pun intended) – they stay open “late” three times a week (8:30 p.m.!). Also, the people working the library are as charming as pie, and always offer great suggestions. I recently picked up Him Her Him Again The End of Him and have been enjoying it very much.

Another great thing about my ‘hood is the incredible variety of restaurants that are along a two kilometer strip. I discovered the first of many Indian restaurants, the Regency Restaurant on my first night at the new house. Amazing butter chicken and naan. They have an excellent choice of plates on their buffet, and also some tasty tandoori, samosa and pakora dishes on their menu.

Don’t let the understated signage fool you – delicious eats inside.
Image via blogTO.
After filling up on yummy food I head to Rang Home Décor and see what’s new. They carry a wide range of cute furniture accessories like throw pillows, fixtures and ottomans that are really unique and make any room pop with colour.

Lastly, what makes my ‘hood the greatest is the Fairford Roden Public School where they have a decent sized football field and basketball court. Can’t find me at home? Take a look on the field or the court and come shoot some hoops with me.

This playground is actually really fun, even though it looks gloomy here. 

Thanks for stopping by my ‘hood – see you in the east end! 




Yum yum: National Burger Month

It was recently brought to our attention that May has been dubbed National Hamburger Month, so in the name of research, we spent the month looking for our favourites burgs in the city. We love a good eat on the fourth floor and (almost) nothing can beat an all-star burger. If you have a craving, head to one of these spots.

Sustainable ingredients, quality flavour
This casual, cozy resto has two excellent burgers on their menu (along with some other mouth-watering, scrumptious items like the curry club wrap). Their burgers are made with certified organic beef, and topped with fabulous condiments like brie, spinach and roasted red peppers.

Image via blogTO.

Quirky Burgers

South St. Burger Co.
Very few quick-service resto’s can match up to the greatness that comes out of the kitchen at South St. Starting with their great service, their epic burgers are incomparable simply because of the huge variety of toppings available: chipotle BBQ sauce, olives, blue cheese, mango chutney and spicy ketchup are a few of our faves.

Image via Toronto’s Best Burger.

Best new burger
The Burger’s Priest 

Located off the beaten path (at Queen and Coxwell), The Burger’s Priest offers simple hamburgers with a twist. To be a true connoisseur of their burgs, order from the secret menu. Try the newest concoction, Judgment Day, in honour of the Rapture. On your trip, expect fresh ground beef, a soft bun and simple, classic toppings, all griddled to perfection.

Image via Yapping About Food.

Gourmet Burgers

The Harbord Room, referred to by NOW magazine as “the hottest bite in town”, sure knows how to cook a burger. The naturally-raised beef burger is a culinary dream. Seriously, just ask this guy. Served on a yummy Fred’s Bread egg bun, the combination between the beef, sharp cheddar and caramelized onions are sure to please every single one of your taste buds.

Image via WebLocal.
Unexpected – who knew?
Origin
Known for it’s tapas-style menu, Origin has one of the greatest burgs we’ve tried yet. This tasty bite is crunchy on the outside, moist on the inside, and is brilliantly contrasted with creamy avocado, smoked mayo and arugula. Mmm-mmm, good.

Image via HelloToronto.
Boss’ favourite
Stockyards
Best BBQ around town. Get the ‘animal burger’. Two mustard seared 3 oz. patties, American cheese, sauce, lettuce, pickles, caramelized onion. Apparently as good as an In-n-Out, if that’s your thing. It’s definitely ours.

 Image via The Beef Whisperer



So, whether you are into quirky toppings, holy hamburgers, or gourmet renditions of this American classic, we sure hope you enjoy your next trip to any of these resto’s for a piece of happiness in a bun. Got a beef with one of our choices for best? Tweet us what you think is better (@rockitpromo).

A Visit From… L’Unita head chef Stephen Gouzopoulos

They say that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Ask Stephen Gouzopoulos, head chef of L’Unità restaurant, and he won’t contest it. However, cooking and making people happy is a passion of his, be it man, woman, or his wife, who ceaselessly motivates him.

On the fourth floor, we’re pretty much obsessed with the Food Network and, well, all things food. We’re fascinated by the life of a chef, be it starting their day early at a fisherman’s wharf to score the freshest catch of the day, or where they eat when they’re not feeding us.
We asked Stephen to give us a day in his life. Here’s what it’s like to walk in this chef’s footsteps:
8 a.m. – Wake up, take dog for walk and feed.

8:30 a.m. – Have breakfast with my wife, who teaches Pilates, yoga and reiki.

9:30 a.m. – Coffee, check emails and what’s new in the city food-wise.
10:30 a.m. – Get ready for work, walk my dog again, and head to work.
Noon – Arrive at resto, check stocks, set up kitchen.
12:30 p.m. – Accept produce, order check product (very important) and sign invoice.
12:45 p.m. – Set station, get ready for prep.
1 p.m. – Start short ribs braising.
1:30 p.m. – Start meat and fish butchery.
2 p.m. – Accept remainder of deliveries, check product.
2:15 p.m. – Head out to Riverdale Farmers Market, talk with farmer Ted. Gather produce     for remainder of week.

3:15 p.m. – Back at resto, unload produce. Continue to prep for night’s service.

4:30 p.m. – Review specials with FOH (front of house).

5 p.m. – Put up staff meal (tonight it’s fried chicken and salad).

5:15 p.m. – Set station for service and do station checks (check other cooks’ work and stations).

5:30 p.m. – Service begins.

5:30 to 10 p.m. – Service: orchestrate service, ensure food quality is up to standards and control the flow of the food and FOH.

10:30 p.m. – Pack up station and clean kitchen.

11:30 p.m. – Place orders for following day.

Midnight – Go home for dinner and time with my wife.

For those dreaming of becoming the next top chef, start practicing with a hand-picked recipe from L’Unità:

Pork chop with braised escarole, honey roasted shallots and pine nuts

– Butcher bone-in pork loin into 12-oz. chops.

– Brine pork for seven hours.

Brine

500 grams salt
400 grams sugar
4 cardamom pods
Half a bunch of thyme
3 bay leaves
10 peppercorns
1 head garlic
4 litres water


– Bring all ingredients to a boil. Ensure salt and sugar are dissolved and cool.

– Once cooled, fully submerge pork chops and place weight on top to keep chops covered in brine for seven hours.

– Remove and rinse.


Escarole

– Blanch escarole in salted boiling water and shock in an ice bath.

– Reserve for later.

Honey roasted shallots

5 large shallots
4 tbsp honey
2 tbsp olive oil
Half a bunch of thyme
2 bay leaves
2 cloves garlic

– Peel and quarter shallots. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Celsius. In a large frying pan, heat honey and oil over medium. Add garlic, bay and thyme. Once honey is melted, add shallots.

– Toss to coat shallots in mixture and place in oven on the bottom rack. Roast for 10 minutes, or until a dark golden colour is achieved.

To finish the dish
– Grill mark the chop and then place on pan in the oven eight to 12 minutes for medium.

– In a small frying pan, heat up 1 tsp of olive oil and add blanched escarole. Season the escarole with salt and pepper. Add 1 tbsp of honey roasted shallots and 1 tsp of toasted pine nuts. Cook until all ingredients are hot. Taste for seasoning.

Plate the dish and top the pork chop with Kozlik’s maple mustard. Enjoy.

*Our pork comes from Perth Pork. A heritage pig farmer in Perth, Ontario hand-delivers the meat every week.

Rave: The lovely things about winter

Even though Wiarton Willie predicted an early spring, it seems as though winter is not giving up anytime soon. So, we’ve decided to embrace these last few snowy weeks and focus on what we love about winter.


Random strangers shovelling/blowing out your sidewalk and driveway.
There’s nothing better than waking up in the morning, dreading that first snap of cold hitting your face as you head out to shovel, and discovering some early bird has already taken care of your patch of concrete for you. #payitforward



Sitting in a warm and cozy restaurant window at night, watching the snow fall outside. 
The trek to the restaurant might be filled with cold waits for the TTC and slushy sidewalks, but once you’re inside, it almost beats sitting out on a patio in the sun. A warm, dimly light room, delicious dinner and good conversation with someone you love to spend time with is a pretty kick-ass way to hang out indoors.



Bright, sunny skies with fresh white snow covering everything. 
The cold, grey days with fierce winds are the worst of winter, making us long for spring. But there is something pretty magical about waking up to a fluffy blanket of snow sparkling in the sun.



Tobogganing. 
Hopefully you’ve rediscovered your inner kid and taken advantage of our killer snowfall this year by sliding down a hill on a toboggan, Crazy Carpet or even a plastic garbage bag. It’s one of the best ways to enjoy a day outside. And burns a lot of calories.



Wearing layers. 
Whenever fall rolls around, we get pretty excited to layer on our cozy sweaters, jackets, boots and hats. Even by this point in the year, it`s still a great feeling to be wrapped up in a yummy, thick scarf.    


What is your favourite part of winter? Tweet us @rockitpromo.