Bourbon in the Afternoon at Home of the Brave

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It’s sunny but breezy and cold.  No matter, it’s Thursday before the long weekend and I need to get away from my home office. It’s been a long week in front of the desktop and I need a diversion.  A quick ride on the streetcar down Spadina to King St. W gets me to my destination.

Whisky:Bourbon2Home of the Brave is on the second floor above Lou Dawgs at 589 King St. W.  My spirits begin to lift as I walk up the stairs to the sound of Jessica by the Allman Brothers.  Yep, this was what I needed and it was going to be good.

It felt a little like 6th Street in Austin on a sunny afternoon.  The atmosphere is laid-back and the soundtrack is Doobie Brothers and Bob Dylan tunes.  My friends from Kentucky and Maryland are lined up to welcome me; George Dickel rye whisky, Knob Creek bourbon and of course, Johnny Walker.  The lunch crowd is made up of tables from the creative shops along King St.W, there sitting around MACs throwing ideas back and forth.

IMG_7894The urban saloon shelves are lined with mason jars and pieces of Americana on the walls.The graffiti chalkboard design above the bar are the descriptions of the 13 American Colonies and Benjamin Franklin’s, Join or Die cartoon.

 All your favourite vintage bourbon or rye whisky cocktails can be had. A few house cocktails a rotating number of what they call, guest book cocktails are featured.

IMG_7898I had a “Sure thing, Dave” which was a cool combination of grapefruit juice, bourbon (I believe). Order one if you go on a really hot day.

The comfort food menu criss-crosses the U.S. with items like Philly Cheesesteak, Maryland Crab Cakes, Chicken and Waffles.

I decide to go light and have the beet salad.  A tasty salad of pickled Heirloom beets, prosciutto, house smoked ricotta, balsamic reduction, crispy parmesan, walnuts with cider dressing.IMG_7906

The staff is smiling, laid-back and happy to help explain the menu.  The service is efficient at both the bar and on the floor, orders are flowing from the open kitchen at the back. Philly Cheesesteaks and Ribwiches come out of the kitchen quickly, so do a lot of their signature, Freedom Fries – fries with coriander catsup, malt vinegar, Manchego cheese and herbs.

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The best place to sit is at the bar which spans half the space. The space between the seats is roomy and the view of the choice of Bourbon, Rye and Whiskies will keep you planning your next drink, and the drink after that.

IMG_7899While the daylight hours get longer, but it’s not that warm yet that the crowds are out in the middle of the day, Home of the Brave is a good place to languish in the afternoon with a bit of Bourbon in a bar that reminds you of someplace else.

Other interesting related links:

 

The Bourbon Family Tree

http://www.gq.com/life/food/201311/bourbon-whiskey-family-tree

 

The Rum Exchange, the newest bar in Toronto’s Financial District

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rum exchange official

The Rum Exchange in the heart of the Financial District, is the latest entry to the Toronto bar scene.  Opening last week it is the only bar devoted entirely to the lively spirit of rum.  Located at 67 Richmond St, a simple rum barrel marks the spot of this hip new bar that will surely be the new hangout for laid back suits and hipsters.

Manager Rumen Dimitrov (founder of Pravda and Troika), says that the Rum Exchange “will not only educate you and broaden your horizons” but will also be an authentically great time.   Fifty-five rum selections will be on offer, including a number of top shelf bottles, like Flor de Cana from Nicaragua and Ron Zacapa, a premium rum produced in Guatemala.

A completely black interior is surprisingly cosy with its chandeliers and lit candles. The long space is lined with a single row cocktail tables made of rum barrels and a large U-shaped sofa at the very back. Lots of room to mingle and sway to the sounds of  DJ Kayson, the resident house DJ.

The focus at The Rum Exchange is the return to the classic rum cocktail. Opening night rum tasting included Cuba Libres, Mojitos and their signature drink the Eye Opener accompanied by small tasting plates of charcuterie.  Rum tasting can be reserved in advance and is a great way to learn about rum and get a lesson on mixing cocktails the right way and savouring rum the way it was intended.

The highlight of the evening was the tasting of  the Ron Zacapa spiced rum, accompanied by a tasting plate of Cuban cheese, guava paste, salted chocolate with caramel.  While the Rum Exchange is not a bar restaurant, a selection of small plates from local Caribbean suppliers will be featured accompaniments.

If you’ve got a long relationship with rum and are an aficionado or you’re just looking to discover the lively spirit that rum can be, The Rum Exchange needs to be on your list of bars.

Eating at El Catrin, Mexican Restaurants Part 2

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MuralI’ve been excited for the past two weeks about my reservation at El Catrin.  If you plan to go and do the evening dinner thing and eat after 7:00 p.m. , it will take at least three weeks to get a table, so just be warned.  My two-week wait was hastened by the fact that I took the single remaining reservation for last weekend.

Awarded as one of Canada’s Best New Restaurants 2013 by Sharp Magazine, El Catrin is a cavernous, but spectacularly colourful restaurant in the Distillery District. You walk in to stare up at a grandiose Mexican mural painted by street artist Oscar Flores.  The mural took 100 days to complete and is stunning work of art.

elcatrin wallOn the opposite wall of the restaurant is what can only be described as a temple of Mezcal and Tequila.  The drink menu is two pages of Tequilas and ten types of Mezcal straight up or in a variety of cocktails and bebidas - drinks. My first order was a Paloma Brava – Milagro Reposado, agave, grapefruit, muddled citrus and soda.

However, the Miel Quemada (Burnt Honey) mezcaltles is fresh, smooth and soothing.  Made with Cha Cha Joven mezcal, Cha cha cha ” ( which means “very, very, very ” good in zapoteco )  is the name of a famous Zapoteco poem which tells the history of mezcal from the beginning, to the present day and this is where the name comes from.*

The drink is a mix of Cha Cha Joven, house made honey, fresh lemon and grapefruit bitters.  I had a cold the night I was there and this drink was like a hip, pumped up, alcoholized  version of Neo-Citran and I think much more effective in making you forget that you have a cold.

This is a small plate restaurant, where ordering and sharing three plates per person is the recommended standard. Oliver Le Calvez is the Executive Chef and one of Mexico’s top chefs and his menu is based on the traditional flavours of Mexico.

Of the six or so plates we ordered there were some like the Tostada con higado de pato, a foie-gras tostada.  If you don’t like foie gras or the taste of  “foie”, liver, this is not for you.  It was good, but needed something more to accompany the rich flavour.

There are the usual standards like the fish taco.   The Baja fish taco here was tasty and not greasy.  I’ve had others at the many new Mexican street food places that have popped up over the past year, and this is one of the better ones, it wasn’t bland or greasy.

The Gobernador taco is sautéed shrimp and lobster with chipotle mayonnaise. Refreshing and I probably would’ve just eaten these all evening – it’ll be a great dish to eat out on El Catrin amazing outdoor patio.

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Photo Credit: Gizelle Lau – Globe & Mail

If you’re idea of Mexican food is limited to chimichangas, a red and yellow taco kits and your local burrito shop, this will expand your horizon some. There are some creative dishes, albeit somewhat with the hot peppers toned down, but they’re small plates and will give you a good view of the many flavours of Mexico.   The food is good, it’s fresh, but I long for a place that serves dinners and not just “tasting” items.  But I have to say, it’s the drinks, the bar and the patio that will keep me coming back.

Links:

Cha Cha Joven Mezcal - http://trndmonitor.com/product-spotlight-cha-cha-cha-mezcal/

Mexican Brunch, like you’re on vacation at Milagro Cantina – Mexican Restaurants part 1

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I’ve proclaimed January 2014 my month of latino foods.  It’s been freezing like hell here and like everyone else I’d like to be seaside listening to the surf and indulging in a hedonistic lifestyle. Milagro PosterBut alas, my only option right now is to find some Cumbia Colombiana on YouTube to listen to and venture out into the deep freeze to places where the food is spicy and the decor is bright and takes me away.  This is the first instalment of a series of three or so posts about some of the places that have become new favourites.

My constant look out for all things new and tasty brought me to Milagro Cantina on Mercer St for brunch.  I’ve eaten more than my share of good and bad eggs Benedict across this city and Mexican brunch immediately got my attention.

Brunch on Saturday is never as busy as on Sunday.  We arrive early and there weren’t many people seated, which does kind of make me wonder if this is an sign of the Milagro interior1food or the service.  Nevertheless, after looking around some, there was a big group seated in the private dining area who seemed to be enjoying themselves.  A number of tables had quiet couples, slowly sipping the last of their coffees.

It’s noon and I debate whether it’s too early for a cocktail. Traditional margaritas, mojitos and enough other drinks made with various categories of Tequila – I’m beginning to see this list as a work plan for repeated visits.

My guest has the Tacos Rosarito; sautéed shrimp, refritos (refried beans); crema, avocado and salsa rosarito.  Fresh shrimp sweet and not overcooked and just a small amount of crema to enhance the avocado.

I have the Acapulco Sunrise and the Huevos Mexicana.  The eggs are tasty and I love the richness of the homemade refritos.  The best part of brunch is of course having dessert.  Brunch justifies getting up and late and eating later because you can allow yourself dessert, that’s my story anyways.  So we finish with the Mexican French toast.  French bread soaked in goat’s milk and eggs with warm cajeta (caramel) sauce.

Milagro French toastBy the time we are finishing our meal, about 1:30 p.m.  it’s getting busier.   The decor is soothing and the music smooth. There’s no rush here, it’s really laid back. Service is a little spotty, they come by take your order, and then someone else comes back to take your order again.  The food arrives at a relaxed pace – maybe just taking a little long but nothing is missed.  Yeah, so maybe that wasn’t so great, but heck we weren’t in any rush.  It’s just like being on vacation, just remember what the poster below says, and Happy Eating!!!

Milagro Tequila

Related Stories

Playa Cabana – Sweet Play on the Fries-curds-gravy

Did  I mention, I love Mexican?

All things butter and sweetness, Nadège – Toronto

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There’s nothing like stepping into a place that is all things butter.  Butter is one of my favourite foods, sweet, creamy and when done properly, light.  Sweet pairings of fruit, custard and chocolate surround you.  You have no choice but to surrender.

Nadege is fine patisserie, in a word, art. When you first walk in to the Nadege location at 780 Queen St. you are struck by the design, the exuberant colours of arranged patisseries, like objects d’art set against by bright white walls.

Nadege display

Everything  is perfect, nothing out-of-place and the smell of filtered coffee wafting through the air.  I like to look through the big window at the back at the pastry chefs and apprentices working with butter, sugar and crème patissière.

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Nadege was one of the first places in Toronto to offer the very colourful and vogue macarons.  If you’ve not been initiated to macarons, then you must find your way down here as soon as possible.  While there are so many flavours, I love the vanilla ones.

Nadege madeleines

Boxes of tender, crumbly Madeleines are available in different flavours, simply boxed for gift giving.  Homemade marshmallows are like eating candy flavoured clouds,  full flavours and not overly sweet.IMG_7276

On a recent visit I had one of the turkey sandwiches, fresh roasted turkey, cranberry relish, old cheddar and slightly heated.  In addition, they also have croissant sandwiches with equally wonderful fillings.

sandwiches nadege

Other items of butter wonder, include these miniature almond kugelhopf – Austrian bundt cake topped with crunchy sugar glaze.  There’s no excuse not to get here, it’s right on the 501 Street Car line and right next to Trinity Bellwoods Park.  You can also find them at 1099 Yonge St (at Marlborough).

kugelhopf

Sexy coffee, Nespresso Toronto Boutique Bar

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signageThe 14,000 square foot Nespresso Toronto Boutique Bar opened in November on Yorkville Avenue, one of only two in Canada.  I ventured in today to take a look inside this great coffee tasting salon and machine showroom.

It’s Monday, December 30 in the middle of the afternoon and lots tables available.

The showroom is busy with after Christmas shoppers, using gift cards, I suspect.

I pick a seat in the centre of the store to get the best view of this massively bright, coffee emporium in Yorkville.

Clad in the usual black attire, the staff is well versed in explaining the concept.  The Nespresso Bar  offers a coffee and light sandwich and sweet menu.  Each light offering intended to be “paired” with, if you will, the various Nespresso coffee blend. The cappuccino and two small pastries is $9.00.  For downtown, and for Yorkville, it’s reasonable.

The cappuccino foam is extreme cream and looks lovely as everyone knows, in a  glass mug. It’s delicious too.  I had requested a bolder blend but it wasn’t as strong as I would’ve liked, but overall pretty good.

Let’s be clear, this boutique isn’t about the food, it’s a showroom for Nespresso capsules and high-end machines.   The museum walls showcase the various levels of machines as well as only the best accessories.

grand crus

Nespresso introduced the Pixie in the summer at less than $200.00.  You get a sampler of 16 of the 19 flavours to try. On another day when I have time, I will go back again and try another.

When it comes to owning one,  I’m not sure whether buying yet another coffee machine, one which requires individual pods is  something I want to commit to.  I will keep my twenty-year old French press and continue enjoying the work of baristas who love crafting a perfect drink.

My search for the World’s Best Cup of Coffee

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This scene from Elf makes me laugh every time,  of course, it has to do with coffee.  It seems like there are only two things we quest for, one is the meaning of life and the other is “where serves the best cup of coffee?”

As much as I have a been a Starbucks devotee since they opened their first store in Toronto, it’s just time for a change, time to move on from a tall Pike in a grande cup, and the calorie laden Cinnamon Dolce Latte.  In the past months,  I’ve spending more of my coffee dollars at smaller independent coffee shops

Here are a couple of new hangouts, in no particular order.

Manual Labour Coffee

One of the more interesting vendors at the Good Food Show and the best smooth, creamy and HOT cappuccino I’ve had in a while.  Manual Labour Coffee offers coffee catering service  from their 1969 travel trailer.  The man behind the  espresso machine is Matthew Taylor formerly of the Mercury Espresso Bar in Leslieville.  Catch them at events and on movie sets.  Check out their site at  www.manuallabourcoffee.com

Dineen

It was bright and peaceful last Saturday morning as the sky was light from the many big snowflakes whirling outside, I sat and looked through the big windows enjoying an Americano Misto.   Located at 140 Yonge St. this heritage building was the former location of the Dineen Hat & Fur Co in 1897.  Now restored to its former glory, it is home to the Dineen Coffee Co .   Baristas masterfully prepare each cup carefully.  The staff is friendly and knowledgeable about the coffee they serve.  A limited pastry choice, but all made with pure butter.  There are more choices in the sandwiches and quiche.  It truly is a beautiful building and it almost makes you feel like you’re in Paris or some far away place.  Go for the coffee and enjoy the experience. Take a look at the photos.

Sam James Coffee Bar

This is third location to the Sam James Coffee on Harbord Street. Situated in the PATH underground at St. Andrew’s station, beneath the SunLife building.  While the other two locations caters to hipsters and students,  this locations sees mostly suits looking  for a change from Tim Horton’s or Starbucks.  Rich, robust and flavourful blends, I always want more.  My cappuccino never lasts the long walk back to my office at lunch.  Think I’m going to start buying two at a time.  They feature doughnuts by Dough by Rachel on Thursday and Friday – a real treat and worth the walk.

Other notable independent coffee houses -

The Mercury Espresso, Leslieville  and Balzacs in the Distillery District.

It’s Food Season, Folks!

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But I suppose you all knew that already.  Where did November go, we’re twelve days from Christmas?  I have about a dozen stories in semi-finished states that I am trying to get done.  As you know food blogging can be daunting, remembering everything you ate, taking notes and pictures, meeting people and then sitting down and writing.

Harvest season, now the holidays have filled up my calendar, leaving little time to write but always room to eat!  Tonight I was looking for some DIY inspiration and found this very pretty and practical do it yourself gift.  Hope your days have already been bright.  Mine have been filled with reservations at a couple of places I want to cross off this year’s restaurant bucket list.

Stay tuned, back with many stories over the holidays. For now, off to search for panettone.

diy xmas gift

Kingyo, Toronto – Big taste on small plates

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It’s Saturday night at Kingyo, its full, it’s noisy, the atmosphere is frenzied and it’s one of the best Japanese restaurants I’ve been to in a long time.  We arrive about 8:00 with no reservations (the website says you have to reserve at two days in advance) . We’re told the wait is about 15 to 20 minutes, but we don’t mind, the giant screen TV is currently showing an episode of one of my childhood favourites, Ultraman – you couldn’t get more retro Japanese than that.

Kingyo is an  izakaya (居酒屋) which is a type of Japanese drinking establishment which also serves food to go with the drinks.  The food consists of small sharing plates, think Tapas, same idea.

While we wait the hostess brings us the drink menu.  Many choices of course, including Sho-Chu which is Japanese vodka, plum vine, various mojitos and beers.  Finally, a table is IMG_7180ready for us.  As the hostess shows us to our table the entire wait and bar staff loudly welcome with a rousing Japanese greeting.  The staff do the same when guests leave – so there is a constant roar from the staff relaying from the front of the house  to the kitchen staff and the guests leaving.

I see a few of my favourites and some very interesting items that I’ve not had before.  A wonderfully helpful and efficient wait staff  eagerly describe the items on the menu in their best English.

I order the Goma Ramen Salad with Spicy Cod Roe, a cold salad with salty sea kelp with cod roe sesame dressing. The most refreshing dish on earth right for me, cold ramen done right.  The black cod‘s buttery texture comes through and is not hidden by the sauce.  My only slight disappointment is the chicken karaage with magic pepper blend.  The “pepper” blend is mostly salt and the chicken, well, it’s just fried chicken pieces – not very exciting when there were so many other choices.

Definitely worth trying the drinks on the menu, the Japanese vodka – Sho-Chu is smooth.   Desserts if you have room, they are unusual and tasty.  There were mostly custard items the night we were there,  but I’m told the black sesame ice-cream is outstanding.  Small plates can make for a big evening – so happy eating, everyone!

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Doughnut Destination: The Doughnut Plant, New York Restaurant Week – Part 4

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It’s three o’clock on Monday afternoon when I finally make it to The Doughnut Plant at 220 West 23rd Street between 7th and 8th avenue.   All the seats are taken and there is a line up in front of the showcase.  There are empty spots in doughnut display as they run out of flavours.  A woman scurries back to pick another flavour because they’ve just run out of the featured peach.

Doughnut shaped cushions adorn the walls, bags of their own blend of coffee beans line the shelves.  The three servers behind the counter move quickly trying to pack orders for customers as well as phone orders that are to be picked up.  A woman ahead of me leaves with three dozen.

We order a Tres Leches cake doughnut and a square filled coconut cream raised doughnut. I debate whether I should also order a Valhorna chocolate doughnut,  but I’ve consumed so many baked goods and desserts in my 72 hours in Manhattan.  I finally decide not to,  it would mean too many hours on the treadmill trying to work it off.

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In 1994, Mark Israel converts a  basement on the Lower East side to a bakery where he spends his nights creating his handcrafted doughnuts.  His doughnuts have been on the menu at high-end food boutiques like Dean & Deluca and Balducci’s.    In 2000, he opens his first location at  379 Grant Street, four years later he opens his first store in Tokyo,  Japan where he now has an amazing nine locations.   His second location  where I am in the Chelsea Hotel, was opened in 2011.

The doughnuts are made from locally sourced organic ingredients.  As well, he has flour milled to his specification.

It’s late afternoon and just the right time for a pick me up like a doughnut.  A space big enough for the two of us to sit at on the window sill is freed up.  We hurry over with our two precious doughnuts.  I have waited months to be here and I cannot wait to savour every bite.

The Tres Leches is moist and has the taste and texture just like the cake. I eat slowly, this is so good, coffee goes down so well.  The trademark square filled donut is filled with a thick and creamy coconut custard.  The glaze melts onto our fingers, this raised yeast doughnut is light and has that homemade taste.  We linger enjoying every bite.

I am so happy that the world has rediscovered doughnuts, good doughnuts, homespun doughnuts with inventive flavour twists. I finish my doughnut.  It’s time to  leave and I am sad that my time in New York is almost over, there are still so many original flavours to try. On my next visit, this will be my first stop.

Go out there  folks, enjoy the doughnut revival taking place, there’s got to be a great artisan shop where you live.  I’ll be out tracking down more of these.  Bon appetit everyone!