Looking for Scaramouche, we hardly saw any way-finding off Avenue Road. There was only one humble old sign somewhat tucked away behind the luscious greenery.

Benvenuto Place is a quiet little corner and Scaramouche is occupying a part of the first floor of an older residential building. There was a sign on the side with a door further down the sidewalk, but an overall residential feel was very prevalent in the area. To our first glance, the apartment building even seemed a tad run down (in retrospect, we found out later that the building has a lot of cache to it with units over one million dollars).
Entering, we passed a large mirror and we walked down the stairs, welcomed by an interesting wooden light feature and by the friendly staff who all moved seamlessly our way when we started taking some photos. It was 6pm. and we were the first to arrive in the main dining room, the Pasta Bar was more popular and on a lower level to the side. There was not much of a view from there unfortunately.

Scaramouche itself greeted us with abundance of grey tones. The cushiony banquette sofa had an aged feel of luxury to it. Our waiter Marcus enhanced the feeling of being royally treated – he was very polite and knowledgeable. After making our main meal choices, we felt confident enough to outsource the wine pairing to him. He also told us the Scaramouche story behind the naming – the French opera hero with a constantly changing appearance. One of the only décor elements inside the restaurant was an aged wall graphic depicting the character in various outfits. Unfortunately the illustrated graphic wall seemed faded and didn't bring in the oomph. With the warm shades of grey all around, we thought the place was missing a few accents. Perhaps our dishes were it.

Our orders were an attempt to follow the chef's mood as we went with daily specials more than anything else. Matzutaki Mushroom, Cucumber Cold Soup, Partridge Breast Filled with Chanterelles and Swordfish with Heirloom Tomatoes…shortly after we finished our order, an assortment of fresh breads landed on our table. The filled basket included a sweeter and nutty one we particularly liked with a touch of freshly whipped butter. The restaurant was filling in quite quickly, by 7pm, we almost every table was already taken. We saw some apparently corporate gatherings, but also some family celebrations taking place. Scaramouche was definitely favoured by a more mature crowd.

Cups of mouche bouche surprised us - cantaloupe soup with tempura flakes, cream and a refresh hint of mint. Not every restaurant goes to lengths to give their guests a tiny appetizer of sorts. We greatly enjoy when this is done, almost like chef is coming down to greet you with something special he or she thought of that day. Our Cucumber Soup arrived in the meantime - it was cold and refreshing. Mon Cheri was not a fan of its puree consistency, but even he appreciated the mashed cucumber with some fresh greens and radishes to top of it. It was a beautiful dish with that light broth drizzle - there was a nice minty hint, it was a bit salty, lightly oiled with a cilantro aroma crowning the bouquet. A wine for that was a 2013 Riesling from Tawse - initially crisp, citrusy followed by a light sweetness, no intense aftertaste - very traditional German in style.
Matzutaki Mushrooms (Chef's special that day) were not far behind. Not only the ingredients here were interesting, but also the way it was all prepared with mushrooms made three different ways: thinly sliced (raw), diced and sautéed chunks. To complement, mashed cauliflower and florets took up part of the plate. Some tempura flakes gave a tad of sweetness. We had this piece of art with the great addition of Pinot Noir - 2013 Pearce-Predholmme, light nose of older fruit perhaps dried, no heavy aftertaste, lingering fumes of alcohol on the palate.
Our first main was a Partridge Breast Filled with chanterelle and herbs, wrapped and roasted in paper-thin smoked bacon. The hints of smokiness was delightful! Every little detail about the dish was taken care with a great level attention. Even the slice of corn was carefully arranged in to strategically offset the heavier smoky flavour from the other ingredients. The wine match – Rioja 2009 Crianza Muerza - only oaked for six months and aged in bottle for a year - a bit in the light side. The wine opened up the dish further, another great choice by our waiter Marcus.
For the last main we had Swordfish with Heirloom Tomatoes. The heavy looking swordfish meat was served with citrusy sauce with a hint of bacon, confit. It was once again a delight to look at the beautifully presented dish. A combination of sweet peas, slightly bitter artichoke were offset by a citrus making the dish quite refreshing. The rosemary flavour added some tension to somewhat dry meat. Cauliflower mushroom also contributed a lot to the dish with its texture and saltiness. We had 2014 Pinot Blanco from Nals Margreid to match. With its tangy acidity, it was not as memorable as the other choices.
For dessert, we chose their famous Coconut Cream Pie made with fresh coconut custard, Chantilly cream and while chocolate shavings. I liked it a quite a bit while Ma Cherie was put off by the strong coconut flavour - it reminded too much of Bounty taste. She definitely appreciated the tender texture and beautiful chocolate addition. A great dish to share!

Making the parallels with the French opera' title character, the restaurant was a hero in disguise. Unnoticeable, tucked away under a residential building out of the beaten path, but packed with energy to surprise and attack your senses with flavour. A great special occasion spot.

Jacked Up Coffee


Like every morning, Cherie and I come out of the subway across from the classic 1920s Union station, and enjoy the view. However, one late summer morning, our view that way was juxtaposed by a beautify vintage Citroen van from the 40s. We really felt like we stepped into another era. What kept us grounded in reality is the fresh blue colour with the bold letters reading - Jacked Up Coffee.

We walked up to the side, where the long back window was completely flipped up, functioning as a tiny awning. As Jack greeted us, we were eager to learn more about this surprising initiative. It turns out that the blue truck has been around for 2 years now, making its way around the city. During the week, you can spot it at farmer's markets, like the St Lawrence one. Other times it can surprise you without a warning. Talking to Jack, we also found out that it is retrofitted with two sinks, three machines and is fully drivable.

With a black board on the side, this portable cafe, delivered plenty of coffee drinks and even a few tea options. This morning Cheri and I went for their Cortado and Macchiato.
Keep an eye open as the truck sometimes offers pastries, from local bakeries they pick (as the van does not have a full kitchen).

The cups were small and plain with no branding. In a smaller (shot-sized) cup we received the Macchiato. Presented with a leaf shape from the milk addition, this drink had a subtle warm floral notes, followed by an intense tart taste which really did the waking up part. The Cortado came in a slightly grown up shot cup. It was an option I enjoyed more as the acidity was more subtle and the aroma came out a bit more. It also had more milk mixed into it to it was easily palatable. We used the small side table with condiments to shoot our morning zing. The Cortado we took with us until we found a nice spot between the TD towers.

I initially thought that Jacked Up Coffee is missing an opportunity, not having some tables and chairs around for people. However a part of me enjoyed that fact that people are encouraged to be creative - find a spot in the city and submerge in the environments while enjoying their hot drink. There is something romantic about slowing down in the morning, taking a few minutes of piece and quiet while getting "jacked" with energy.


Purple Penguin


We stopped at Purple Penguin on our Coffee Tour with Savour Toronto (read our review click here). It was the last destination on our tour so we sat down for a quick meal, being intrigued by the original menu.

At the onset, we noticed plenty of purple (surprise!). The exterior had two hues as well as a bright green one to add some variety and vibrancy. This little place sure got lots of attention in the neighbourhood due to the bold colours, but we wouldn't have though it is a cafe. The circular logo doesn't mention the word cafe, nor does it imply a food or coffee visually. It definitely sticks to representing the words purple and penguin, only.

Inside, there were some purple hues as well, such as the comfy upholstery. Sliced tree trunk tables also captured our attention instantly. Overall, the interior went well with the indie-community central café groove. This café is owner-operated, which we thought was great! We were curious to find out from June (the owner) that Purple Penguin opened about a year ago and holds community-focused events as well as live music (harp) on occasion. Now that must be worthwhile to witness!

Although June (the owner) was busy, she spent a few minutes with us to go over the popular menu items. Purple Penguin prides itself for Apple Fritters. We tried them as part of our food tour. Not being big connoisseurs of this type of sweets, we could not fully appreciate the subtitles of the fried apple dough. With an honest heart, we can state that Purple Penguin apple fritters are way better than Tim Hortons’ ones. Fried Bagels made by Open Oven drew our attention to a much higher degree. The bakery is next door so the Montreal style and wooden fried bagels were super-fresh on the inside, yet nice and crispy on the outside. We tried one of their very flavourful Cinnamon Garlic bagels as a part of our tour.
In addition, we also ordered their Peasant sandwich on Celtic multigrain organic bread. It's contents included sun dried tomatoes, feta cheese, spinach and some homemade caramelized onion. It was reasonably priced and loaded. We though the caramelized onions nicely offset the acidity of tomatoes and feta. We also could not resist trying their pro-biotic frozen yogurt in a cone, like ice-cream. It was very yummy and with less fat than a traditional ice-cream. An experimental treat, we though.

Visit Purple Penguin if you are around. Actually, go out of your way to visit too… June puts her heart into this café, everything is made lovingly and the atmosphere is filled with care and attention. We will likely will be back here at some point to hear the harp live music.


Bairrada Churrasqueira Grillhouse

www.bairrada.ca/ We were lucky to be invited to a Zomato Meetup event at Bairrada Churrasqueira Grillhouse. It turned out to be a spectacular feast of almost four hours of food indulgences in their fun company!

Cheri and I arrived a bit early, after the long stroll from our downtown offices. Bold, serifed letters glowed in orange with a heraldry-like image on the side. In retrospect, the sign did not do the place justice. The stone-clad facade with black mullions helped the place seem authentic.

Our initial welcome was at a tall counter which reminded us of take-out. We entered a long room with the kitchen on one side and a guest-room on the other. The dining area had beige walls and floral pattern (blue & white) tiles on one side, opposing was a brick wall with generic incandescent lights. Simple tables, low lighting - at this point our expectations for the restaurant were pretty low as it didn’t seem that the interior ambiance was an important consideration for them.
We were lucky that our event was in their large backyard patio. A long wooden communal table awaited us under the tall trees. We did find the occasional flat-screen TVs a bit distracting and un-needed, but I am sure Portuguese sport fans would disagree and find it very fitting.
We couldn't resist the urge to stand up and walk around a bit. Their waterfall, little bridge and trellis scene were poetic - a little oasis in the city.

A fragrant pig roast greeted our noses, the patriarch of owner family was carving it up for everyone interested to try. We got some pig skin insights from him and learned about how he started Bairrada Churrasqueira back in 1989. The pig itself on a skewer was a very memorable view. We got the full show, as he skilfully sliced the meat off. He was aided by a younger man who helped rotate the roast. The meat was carefully examined after the skin was peeled. The whole process was truly a feast for our eyes.

We started off with some bites from their barbecued pig roast, it was cut in small pieces making it easy to enjoy. They were warm, tender and fresh. Since Cheri and I haven’t had pork for some time, we found the meat quite pungent.
Our waiter, Jerry, had a charming Portuguese accent and was very enthusiastic about all the dishes. He made a fun presentation for the Chourico a Bombeiro, as they set a few sausages on fire and cut them for us. Meat came in unique clay bows that fit them perfectly. Their flavour was unlike any other - juicy, slightly spicy with a lovely thick skin. We enjoyed them as well as plates of Queijo Fresco - fresh, young Portuguese cheese. I should note that quite a few of these dishes were meant for sharing. That created a fun, communal atmosphere at the table. The whole group was also sharing pitchers of their refreshing Sangria, as we went around the table introducing ourselves, helping to further elevate the mood. Our last appetizer was Lulas Grelhadas (Grilled Calamari). All of you calamari fans out there, should try this authentic dish. It came as a bigger piece neatly cut into the stripes. It’s charcoal flavour added slight bitterness which was nicely offset as one squeezed the lemon wedges on top.
Next came individual plates of Gambas a la Plancha (Tiger Shrimp). The two large shrimp came fully shelled with eyes, wiskers and plenty of legs. We should note that a few people were weirded out looking at them, not to mention touching them. I though it was a rather genuine experience as one had to sink their fingers to take them out from their oily sauce and clean them prior to eating. Once we got to the smokey meat - the garlic and parsley which initially topped them came through subtly.
Tomate e Pepino were next to land on our table — a plethora of veggies which we thought was random at first. In reality, it was a salad which took me back to my childhood: cucumber, tomatoes, onion drizzled with vinegar, oil and some salt - light and simple, perfect for the warm weather.
Sardinhas landed on our table a tad after the salad. These grilled sea salted fish were not what we expected (quite opposite from the marinated, jar, store-bought variety). They were medium sized fish covered in dark ash with plenty of bones which is why we asked Jerry for a demonstration on the best way to eat the dish. He politely showed us a coupe of times with a fork and knife - which was quite difficult compared to instinctively using just fingers. Prepare to get dirty as their crispy skin was quite ashed. It was also a bit bitter. Some of the small bones, I thought, even added to the taste. Some folks at our table voiced their concern that the amount of work cleaning the fish was not worth the meat. The concerned voices soon dimmed and went back to enjoying the process. It was a fun experience eating these sardines at the end - a great way to slowly consume something.
At this point we were content with the amount of food, but it turns out Bairrada Churrasqueira had lofty expectations for the sizes of our stomachs. They were not yet done surprising us with dishes. Next, we had their Frango no Churrasco in traditional clay pots. These BBQed chicken wings and drumsticks came with a side of potatoes drizzled with olive oil, steamed broccoli and some pickled veggies. The chicken was tender and crispy, slightly on the spicy side as it was dressed with their house sauce. A special grilling stove was brought in from Portugal to cook bird just the right way: not too dry, not overly juicy.
Last, but not least from our entree dishes was Bife a Casa. Jerry let us know that this dish used to be called Peasant Stake as it came topped with an egg. The new name aged House Steak had an even better explanation, as the meat was topped with palla pala, like shingles on the roof. These were homemade chips which were crispy, greasy and salty, but nonetheless yummy. The homemade gravy all around was also an important part of the Casa, as it added the warmth and comfort. Also we got some steamed veggies on the side, and more of that marinated veggies mix which we both found a very pleasant addition. This wholesome dish was served individually and was a tad too much for us to finish. It was unique and delicious. It was close to 10pm and we were getting stake with a fried egg on top of it. Definitely a challenge, not every brave soul at the table stood up to the task of eating it fully, but Mon Cheri did. According to him, it was one of the best stakes he ever had.

Finally, for dessert we had their Nata do Cei - cream from heaven. It came topped with some cinnamon and looked like rice pudding to the naked eye. The angelic taste was present - smooth, with areas of grainy sense of breadiness, it was light and pleasant to the palate. To top our experience even further, we had some of their recommended porto - smooth and lingering in it's finish. They really went above and beyond to make us feel special. The owner, Dennis, even came a few times throughout the night to check in on us. We got the royal treatment as we enjoyed all their genuine dishes. It was a beautiful food journey which we now want to go back and share with our parents.

PS: In addition, throughout the night we got to know Derek Vieira, an area sales manager at Zomato, who also enjoyed chatting with Jerry in their mother tongue - Poutguese. Pam Westwater and Pardis Parhizgar from Zomato’s community engagement team in Toronto kept everyone entertained and talking. We even had Samantha Singh, visiting from their Ottawa office, who had plenty of recommendations on where to go when visiting the Capital City. We enjoyed spending time with the fun, energetic people behind Zomato.
Bairrada Churrasqueira Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Savour Toronto Coffee Tour


Our little sister had given us this tour as a Christmas present, and we finally made the time to give this experience a shot.

We got in touch with the company via email and got a list of available dates to take this tour - about one running every week. Our meeting spot was in the East end of the city, at Tandem Cafe (www.tandemcoffee.ca) on a Saturday morning. There were about eight of us, guided by Suzanne - a petite, knowledgeable lady with a t-shirt and hat branded Savour Toronto (a nice touch). We settled at a small space near the back of the cafe by their green wall, and the tour started.

Each of us got a canvas bag with information sheets on the tour and some interesting coffee terms and facts. But...at this point the crowd was more delighted to see cups of Cortados (one of the terms we learned that day) popping up in front of us. It is an espresso cut with a small amount of warm milk. This strong drink filled about half a cup and was a very pleasant way to kickstart the morning. Suzanne was diligently bringing hot cups over as she gave us a crash course on the history of coffee supported by a few laminated images. We learned that coffee history began in Ethiopia, about the two main types of beans: Arabica and Robusta, however there are also a lot of other varieties which are much less known. After Ethiopia, the coffee culture spread to South America - ideal tropical climate for the plant to do well. At that point our visit to Tandem cafe (ran in tandem by Michie Yamamoto and partner Eugene) was over and we got outside

We walked across the street to learn about the Corktown neighborhood name and theories of where it got started. We also stopped to admire one of Toronto's historical landmarks - Enoch Turner Schoolhouse. This was one of the first public schools in Toronto. Built in 1848, it is now partially a museum and an event space. We thought that telling us about the surroundings was a unique touch to make this tour more holistic and neighborhood centric. We spent the next three and a half hours hopping to cafes, bakeries and enjoying local art. Our tour took us through plenty of local gems and got us tasting their treasures while on our sunny stroll.
This quick historic stop gave us just enough time to get to Roselle Desserts opening an hour early just for our tour us.

Roselle Desserts (www.roselleto.com) was there just for us so we had the tiny space for ourselves. This place started a couple of years ago by Roselle and her partner, both George Brown graduates. We enjoyed some of their light Mango Lime Coconut Mouse. In addition a small bite of their smooth and soft sea salt caramel which was pleasantly on the bitter side was on the plate. Lastly we had a taste of their sweet and nutty Pistachios Merengue. We were quite impressed by all these small but intensely flavorful confections.
At this point, Suzanne passed us pages on how coffee is roasted. She was very encouraging of the DIY movement and even took out a roaster machine to demonstrate us how easy it was. We marveled at a bowl of green beans passed around for us to examine and watched them turn yellow and shades of brown as they spun in the popcorn-machine like roaster a few moments later. A uniquely nutty smell spread across the room, followed by some more burned notes. We heard the first and second crack and learned about pyrolysis and the Mueller reaction in the process. In a humming near-silence of the roasting process, one could hear Ma Cherie’s fingers tapping the phone screen in search of a roasting machine on Amazon.
We took a stroll passing the subtle art pieces by the bridge then the recently opened and trendy Odin and, finally reaching Mary Macleods' (www.marymacleod.ca) only retail location. Welcomed by the sweet smell of fudge, we all picked a shortbread to try right after walking in. Their light and simple Traditional was a great lighter choice, especially next to their Wheat Walnut which was packed with nuts and hints of spices.
Next stop was St John's bakery (www.stjohnsbakery.com), another great gem on our tour. Their purpose of their existence is a sweet one - proceeds go to support the local community mission next door. Watch out for their aged and noisy loaf slicer. When working, it is a complete attention grabber, not letting anyone else say a word. We peeked into their behind-the-scenes space and tasted fresh, one-of-a-kind breads.
We slowly made our way to Riverside, getting to Ambiance Chocolate (ambiancechocolat.ca). Suzanne pointed out the Riverdale's BIA and some conceptual graffiti art under the bridge. We were just in the mood for some of their truffles, further giving in to our taste buds. Everyone got to try two, followed by a refreshing cup of cold and thick liquid Chocolate! One forget-me-not truffle is their Scotch Whisky Caramel. Maybe you can get buzzed if you have a dozen of these….
We finally made our way to the next coffee stop, the new, lofty location of Boxcar Social (www.boxcarsocial.ca) in the East end. The tour took an hour stop there for a full coffee experience. Our barista was a curious one, with a mathematical approach to the craft of coffee. We tried three cups of coffees, which we watched get ground and poured-over brewed. Each one was Ethiopian from two different locations and variations of processes pre-roasting - natural and washed. The brewing process took some time, but felt quite therapeutic and Zen (observing from the side anyway). While tasting, we learned that or barista (and perhaps Boxcar Social in general) have a relatively purist view of working with coffee. They believe that certain coffee beans only can be roasted a certain way. One bean cannot be both light and medium roast. Another curious fact that we learned here was that milks adds fats to the coffee when covering the tongue with an insulating coat masking the flavor of coffee.
Last but not least, we finished our tour at the nearby new Purple Penguin (www.purplepenguincafe.com) cafe. The owner June, really put her heart into this cafe. We tried their apple fritters as well as some of their wooden fried bagels specialty. Cheri and I were quite tempted by their menu and decided to stay for lunch. Watch out for our next post with a more in-depth review.

During out walks, we learned from Suzanne that Savour Toronto specializes in food tours. That explained the healthy mix in of bakeries and pastries on our coffee tour. However, we (no doubt) really enjoyed ourselves during this half day tour. Suzanne's holistic historic and cultural approach made this experience one-of-a-kind for us. We are already planning who to give this tour as a present to.
 Tandem Coffee Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato Roselle Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato Mary Macleod's Shortbread Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato St. John's Bakery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato Ambiance Chocolat Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato Boxcar Social Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato