|Red Snapper special|
A few weeks ago, my family was getting together for one last reunion before my parents set off to Mexico. We needed to find an accessible location during Friday evening rush hour for people coming from Milton, Oakville, Toronto and Burlington both by car and by train. I suggested the new Oliver and Bonacini at Oakville Place.
Conveniently located less than a five minute drive from the Oakville GO Station, this venue turned out to be the ideal choice for our last supper. I always get a bit nervous choosing restaurants for my family, because my parents are both ‘foodies’ who cook well and enjoy fine dining. So it was nice to impress them with this choice – a restaurant that is both pleasing to the appetite and not too heavy on the wallet.
Although they have a mixed repertoire of food on the menu, it is primarily Italian, and they do their food very well. Most of us opted for seafood: tender scallops with artichoke and fresh parmesan, grilled calamari in a lemon brown butter sauce, and a scrumptious looking portion of battered fish and chips. The special of the evening was a red snapper with jerk roasted potatoes, wilted spinach, pineapple salsa, and a plantain that served both decoratively and as an accent flavour to the rest of the dish.
The service is also worth mentioning; our waitress was professional and charming, and attentive to our sometimes unique requests. And for those who are interested in the aesthetics and overall atmosphere of a restaurant, this gets top rating. In an industry where the trend has become low lighting and dark furniture (think Milestones or Moxie’s’ west coast influences), Oliver and Bonacini comes as a refreshing surprise. There are clean lines in white and silver, with darker accents in the seating areas. Birch and greenery dot the landscape, which is decorated with images of food and the environment it comes from. You can see part of the kitchen from the dining area: a high marble counter with low lighting in white and silver, and decorated with preserves and other food items, as well as recipe books in the shelves along the front.
The atmosphere was a bit quiet for a Friday night, but perhaps it is because they are still building a reputation. I hope this recommendation brings them the busy nights they deserve!
Well, ladies and gentleman, I have found it. The pizza crust that true pizza lovers dream about can be found at Pizzeria Libretto on Ossington. It’s thin, melts in your mouth, and has that natural taste that only real pizza ovens from Naples, Italy can bring. This pizzeria is the only certified “Vera Pizza Napoletana” in Canada, translated as a “true Neopolitan pizza” experience. When you taste pizza like this, you wonder how places like Pizza Pizza can even claim to be selling the same thing. They should be ashamed of themselves!
Unfortunately, I’m not the only pizza aficionado who feels this way about Pizzeria Libretto. It is a hugely popular spot, so expect to be waiting at least half an hour to be seated. We went on a Monday, thinking we could avoid the line, but we still had to wait 45 minutes before we got a table. The convenient thing is, and it makes you wonder why every restaurant doesn’t do this, they take down your cell phone number to call you when the table becomes available. That way, you can go for a drink elsewhere while you’re waiting.
And it’s worth it. Your taste buds will be satiated while you wait for the pizza, with fresh bread and olive oil with a dash of chilli spice. I sampled two pizzas: the “Hot Peppers” and the “Duck Confit”. The first pizza consisted of house made sausage, fresh basil, tomato, mozzarella in small concentric slices, and of course, hot peppers. Being a fan of spicy food, I will say that I could have taken the hot peppers a little hotter, but otherwise, the pizza was terrific. The sausage was fresh and had some kick to it, and I just couldn’t get enough of that crust. On the other hand, the unique duck confit pizza with pears and a white sauce was a sweet alternative to the more traditional tomato pizza, and the flavours were expertly combined.
We ordered two bottles of red wine between six of us, and each ordered our own pizza. Even with the alcohol, it was a very affordable meal, at approximately $36 including tax and tip. The service is friendly, and they are gracious about taking any leftovers home. You might wonder how I avoided eating the whole pizza right then and there; it was challenging, but my will power paid off for a delicious lunch the next day.
When the pizza crust is right, my favourite thing to do is fold the pizza over itself, for a multi-layered bite; my friend Nicole like to roll hers up like a wrap, and let the olive oil drizzle down. Whichever way you like it, Pizzeria Libretto will live up to your expectations.
Pizzeria Libretto: 221 Ossington Ave., Toronto, just south of Dundas.
Italy may have lost the qualifying game for the knockout stage of the World Cup, but it will always win when it comes to food. I have recently had a love affair with thin crust pizza, which all started after eating the finest specimen at La Bottega in Montreal in March (see article “Baguettes, butter and cheese…”). Now it has become a game of trying to find that pizza again. It is a familiar emotion for foodies everywhere – you sample something so delicious at a restaurant (this is usually coupled with a positive atmosphere and experience with friends), and yearn to relive that experience again. This is my dilemma and also my mission this summer: I am on the hunt for the perfect Italian pizza.
Attempt #1: Terrazza Restaurant, 372 Harbord St., Toronto (one block east of Ossington)
This restaurant is situated in an area of Toronto called Dufferin Grove, and the front patio of Terrazza (which literally means “terrace”) certainly lives up to the name, as it is bordered by trees both coniferous and deciduous. It is charming in its modest size and strings of white lights hung across red brick walls, and the staff is friendly and accommodating. We ordered a fabulous pitcher of Sangria for $20, a great deal, and enjoyed the complimentary bread, olives and olive oil. As most Friday nights call for, we opted for two pizzas; the first, a classic margharita pizza with bocconcini, and the second, a spicy salami pizza with gorgonzola and peppers. They were both thin crust, delicious, and hit the spot, and the whole meal was very affordable, so I would definitely recommend this restaurant.
Attempt #2: Marcello’s Pizzeria, 3175 Rutherford Rd., Vaughan
Marcello’s (pronounced with a “che” sound), was recommended by someone who knows Italian food well, as her family is from Agrigento, Sicily. A group of us shared delightful seafood appetizers of calamari, both grilled and fried, and mussels in a tomato-based sauce. The flavours married well with the fresh lemon slices, and it was hard to resist both the appetizers and the fresh bread with spicy olive oil. Of course, in my desire to recreate my thin crust pizza experience, I choose the “Diavola” pizza with spicy peppers, spicy salami, olives, onions and mozzarella, which turned out to be very good. Although the spiciness caused me to pause a few times to wipe my eyes, the pizza was flavourful and had a nice crust, cooked just right. The staff was also very kind, and even let us bring in our own birthday cake, a rare treat in the restaurant industry. If you are heading to Vaughan Mills and are looking for a good dinner place, this would be a good, affordable bet.
Despite my two very positive experiences at these restaurants, I still have not found the perfect Italian pizza. Is it out there? Who knows. I may need to return to Montreal, or even fly to Naples, to find out. But in the meantime, Toronto and the rest of the GTA will be my dinner plate as the hunt continues. Let me know if you have any restaurant suggestions for me to try out!
Ever since I was a young thing, I have been cultivated to savour the finer things in life: good art, French wine, and fresh hamburgers. Now the last item may seem a bit surprising, but anyone who has tried my father’s notorious burgers knows the difference between the real thing and the frozen calamity that comes pre-packaged. Even going out to restaurants, I am often disappointed with the quality of the beef, and the lack of flavour.
But on Friday night, my hamburger dreams came true. My fiancé and I wanted to check out a new area of town, as we tend to stay around the west end, and blindly chose Allen’s pub among all of the other restaurants near Broadview and Danforth Ave. We were enticed by the lively atmosphere when we walked through the door; it was packed with people, and the international beer list filled up two massive chalkboards, both good signs. Although it was busy, we were seated within 15 minutes, having enjoyed an Amsterdam Framboise and a Steigl at the bar in the meantime.
The menu includes traditional pub fare from the isles, such as fish and chips, and a variety of curries, but being indecisive and unsure in a new place, we asked the waitress for advice. She drew our attention to a page of the menu we had overlooked, where she suggested I try the “chopped” steak, which she described as “like a hamburger” but made with the real deal. They also do hamburgers “a la carte” and have various other cuts of high quality beef to choose from, but the unique thing about Allen’s is that all of their beef is butchered in-house, and they are committed to hormone- and pesticide-free products whenever possible.
Although I was a little underwhelmed with what came to the table – it looked like an oddly-shaped hamburger patty without the bun – after the first bite, I went to burger heaven, and didn’t come back down from that happy place until much later that evening. They cook it to order, so what some people might consider odd for a hamburger (pink on the inside at medium-rare), it is in fact the best way to enjoy fresh beef. This is the lesson my father has been trying to teach me ever since I started eating solid foods, and I have finally learned it.
So if you’re looking for a good pub with fine food and a friendly crowd on a Friday night, look no further than Allen’s Restaurant, located at 143 Danforth Ave. You can also check out their website at http://www.allens.to/allens/aboutus.shtml, for more information on dining and special events.
My old boss, who lives three blocks away from me in the High Park area, told me about a new café in the Junction called The Good Neighbour. And a good neighbour he was indeed!
This little hot spot is located at the corner of Annette and Quebec Ave., and its style is 19th century industrial meets modern chic. It retains some of that historical Junction charm: it has wire light fixtures with exposed bulbs, a few red brick walls, a wooden, warehouse floor (finished, but still with a natural look), and blends these with elements of the modern: white walls, white columns, and a coffee bar that is done in shiny, silver tiles embossed with a stylish floral design. They paid attention to small details like house numbers, #102 and 104, on the bathroom doors, and create an open space between the back hallway and the café with a large, multi-panel window. Overall, there is an airy, eco-conscious feel to the place, as fresh flowers in a variety of colours adorn the tables and countertop, and serve-yourself water aromatized with fresh cucumber and orange slices is available in glasses instead of paper or plastic cups.
They sell your usual café fare – espressos, lattes, loose leaf teas – at competitive prices, and offer delicious pastries to snack on. In the refrigerated counter section, a stylized sign in cursive writing reads “Paninis coming soon”, so you will be able to have lunch with your Americano in the future. According to the espresso expert, Nick, the Americano here is definitely worth checking out.
I was surprised to find out that The Good Neighbour had only been open for two weeks, because it was already buzzing with so many customers! There were girlfriends catching up on Saturday night’s events, people reading or working (me and my fiancé!), a group of folks chatting around the modern fireplace on comfy chairs, women who had just finished outdoor bike training, and trendy young families with new babies in tow. It was a friendly atmosphere, with lots of smiles and comments exchanged between strangers; the place certainly lives up to its name, bringing people from all over the neighbourhood together.
The Good Neighbour Espresso Bar is located at the corner of Annette and Quebec Ave., on the northwest side.
Travelling to big cities is exciting for various reasons, but one of the things we look forward to the most is trying out new restaurants and new combinations of food. Montreal and Quebec City did not disappoint, and we were taken on a bit of a tour gastronomique of this great Francophone province.
Now perhaps my title is a bit of a stereotype or misnomer, but it is quite standard as a guest at someone’s home to nibble on baguette and to sample some of the unique, wonderful cheeses that Quebec has to offer. They have hundreds of varieties, but in Ontario, we are only exposed to a small percentage, which is a true shame! Quebec residents, monks, and cheese-makers alike have been making award-winning cheeses as far back as the 17th century. A well-recognized favourite, Oka, was established in Quebec in 1892, and used a special process of aging the cheese on cypress wood from the southern United States. It has since been sold to a commercial cheese company. One of my personal favourites is a Perron cheese, an aged cheddar infused with a 10-year port, made in Saint-Prime. I managed to bring some home, but I can’t imagine it will last long. From blue cheese to camembert, from goat cheese to sharp cheddars, Quebec is the place for cheese.
And it is also the place for restaurants. Our first night in Montreal, we dined at the trendy La Bottega in Little Italy. It boasts a true wood-fired oven, imported directly from Italy, and the mouth-watering thin crust pizzas are a testament to what a difference authentic Italian makes. We ordered a few different pizzas to share between four people, and were impressed with the more complex flavour of the rapini and sausage pizza. But we were also pleasantly surprised with the simple delicacy of a plain tomato pizza with buffalo mozzarella. The sauce has a sweetness to it, complimented by fresh basil, and the thin crust just melts in your mouth. I will definitely make the effort to go back for this! Also, don’t miss the lamb ‘popsicle’ appetizers – they are tender and to die for.
Montreal has been known for its wicked breakfast places, and Les Enfants Terribles in Outremont (1257 avenue Bernard) certainly lives up to this reputation. Its wood décor, supplemented by whites and blacks, is somewhere between trendy bar and modern cottage, making it a comfortable place to spend a few hours on a Sunday morning. We opted for the café au lait in a bowl, the best and only way to have it in Quebec; it is so delicious you don’t even need to add sugar. My eggs Benedict, always a tough one in restaurants, were perfectly runny, and the Hollandaise sauce was light, but full of rich flavours. The service was friendly and professional, and I would highly recommend this family-friendly place to anyone who visits Montreal.
Another memorable experience was our last night in Quebec City, dining at Panache restaurant in the old town. It is part of the Auberge Saint-Antoine, a small but very fancy hotel in the lower town, closer to the St. Lawrence River. We reserved online at OpenTable.com, which listed the restaurant as expensive, at three dollar signs, but not the top four (this was a little misleading, but I think the Quebec City tourist area is overall more expensive than Montreal). It had great reviews on sites like Trip Advisor, and often appeared in top ten lists for the city. We were excited and glad to avoid walking around aimlessly trying to find a place to eat, as you often do when travelling to new places. We even dressed ‘fancy’, or fancier than we had been for the rest of the trip. And I am glad we did! When we arrived, the average age was about 40, and most of the men were wearing full suits.
The place was beautiful – exposed wood beams cascading across and above grey stone walls, it was once a 19th century marine warehouse, now turned exclusive (and a little stuffy!) restaurant. But maybe this atmosphere is warranted; the food was delectable and different from our other meals in Quebec, and the overall service was good. We dined on scallops, guinea hen, and various complementary amuse-bouches brought to the table, all with delicious savoury high notes, such as the asparagus and poached egg appetizer, served in a shallow bowl surrounded by a sort of parmesan ‘mousse’. In the end, I would recommend this place, just be prepared to dress as though you’re going to a wedding, and maybe save it for a special occasion.
So if you’re looking for your own ‘tour gastronomique’ in our great country, look no further than la belle province; whether you’re dining in on fine cheeses and wine, or going out for a romantic night on the town, Montreal and Quebec City have much to offer.
Click on the link for more information on the history of Quebec cheese.