24.3.15

Le Gourmand

http://legourmand.ca/

It seems that everyone knows about Le Gourmand. It is a focal point for folks meeting around Spadina and Richmond / Queen. We also go there once in a while for a great atmosphere and yummy baked goods.

NOSE & SWIRL
La Gourmand had a bit of a communal feel to it with its main traffic area covered in tiles and warm coloured wood in the middle of the large hall. There are some high chairs and a lot of small tables to choose from. When surveying the tables, we discovered small Victorian metal details. 
To set us in the right mood, light rock was playing in the background (Elton, Eagles, and other upbeat ones). Our challenge was to actually concentrate on choosing what we want - La Gourmand praises itself for also being a store of gourmet food and all the shelves were lined with exotic tins and packages. We noticed some beans, chocolates and original oils. To accompany the food selection, old classic posters and signs covered one of the walls.

PALATE
This time we got their Almond Financier and a much praised Chocolate Chunk Cookie. By the way, there are plenty of breakfast items, sandwiches and salads to choose from. We found it strange that these chalk boards were on the end wall, a wall you can fully read once you have ordered.
The almond treat was like a baked vanilla custard with a delightful chewy crust. Not too sweat, slightly grainy and very pleasant to palate. As far as the cookie went, it did feel home made - bready, uniquely shaped with a hint of burnt grease. For our drinks, we asked for London Fog and a regular Earl Grey. The barista made our specialty tea just the right sweetness with some foamy milk froth on the top. La Gourmand option of London Fog was, in our opinion, significantly better than Starbucks edition of the same. 

FINISH
We read an interesting note on their website with regard to franchising - La Gourmand does not believe in it - they are open to partnerships as far as food retailing goes, but are not up for expansion in a franchise manner. An interesting approach, we thought.

Le Gourmand on Urbanspoon

15.3.15

Boxcar Social

http://www.boxcarsocial.ca

I actually met someone on a business meeting at Boxcar. It was his suggestion and I was sold within my first moments of reading about the place.

APPEARANCE
The area is actually quite lovely for a weekend stroll. Boxcar Social was filled with a humming crowd on this sunny Sunday afternoon. Their unique, illustrated logo did not grab too much attention but rather blend in with the neighbourhood. Boxcar's lot was narrow, perhaps maybe to resemble an actual boxcar. Off the street, the exterior consisted of tall windows with black frames and their rectangular sign. For those who would like to make a bold shoe or sock statement, your preferred spot should be on the high chairs by the window - you will find yourself slightly elevated so bypasses would have a clear view of your original outfit choice plus you get plenty of lighting on display. The seats are also something to be mindful of if you are wearing a mini skirt.

NOSE
We climbed a few stairs and entered. If it wasn't for the long line of people, we wouldn't have known which way to go. As we stood stood behind a few ladies at their bar stools, we got to to eavesdrop on their conversation. They were quite aware of us listening, but everyone seemed to be up and close in each others' space, anyway.
We read their long, packed blackboards which were organically edged on the brick wall. The categories included Scotch, Bourbon, Beer, Wine as well as Coffee and Other Stuff. Our waiting space was under a ceiling with exposed black pipes and simple light bulbs with cables messily twisted around them. Lights near the back kept the prominence of their black wire, but were on a stage series circuit and created a wave pattern. The arrangement seemed to be hastily put together, without too much thinking about the effect on the design.

SWIRL
It took a while to get to order. The two baristas were not in a particular rush. They were very committed to the task, definitely not about servicing quantity but showing quality in their craft. The payment system was also a tad slow. Either way, we asked for their Mocha and Americano. As we payed, we realized that there was a door leading to their second floor right by the payment area. Quite the high traffic zone there, just in case one started feeling too cozy with the amount of personal space available.
The stairs themselves were long, steep and smallish - something you could expect from this old Victorian house. The upstairs area was so tight that one would have to make sure there was no ongoing traffic coming before endeavouring upon the climb. It was worth overall, even the air felt lighter there. The space felt very familiar to me. I brought me back in time to my university room-mates rental house - narrow, with stripped down white walls and experimental art hanging with no particular intention of permanence. The beaten up wooden floor and random furniture also added to the deja vu, but the best parts of the entire restaurant were the unique vintage objects: a large wooden radio, a dusty kodak camera by the wall and beautiful shelves made of chunks of wood supported by twisted pipes.

PALATE
I enjoyed my Mocha at the "shoe display" area facing Yonge, I strongly considered the patio, but I was not brave enough as it was still brisk outside. The Mocha was lovely - with slightly sweet dark chocolate and the perfect amount of froth. The ambiance of Boxcart Social was truly amazing. This place seemed to be thrown together like a boxcar and the fellow freight hoppers really added to the vibrant mood. It was an ideal place for a a consultation on my city building project.
Cheri picked a spot upstairs on one of their cushioned sofas by the old radio, and  undoubtedly submerged in the atmosphere there as well.

FINISH
In retrospect we probably should have gone for their Featured Coffee Flight or tried a few of their unique coffee blends which had very promising taste notes.
We will definitely be back to try out the evening ambiance with less virgin of drinks, like their exciting Whisky Tango.

Boxcar Social on Urbanspoon

Ee Sushi

eesushi.ca

Ee Sushi is listed as one of the top places to eat sushi in Oakville downtown. It was surprisingly quiet on Sunday around lunch hour in the area -  the time we decided to check it out for a quick bite.

NOSE & SWIRL
Walking in, first thing we noticed was the hand-carved, wooden stair railing leading upstairs. With prolonged, continuous, organic shapes, it left a strong impression on both of us. We both were a bit distracted for a few moments as we entered the open two story restaurant, with a trendy bar on the lower floor and a mezzanine-like second floor. We followed, as the waitress invited us for the second time, to come upstairs. The rest of the interior was actually nothing to write home about. In fact, their fake crystal chandeliers seemed off, aesthetically.

PALATE
Their a-la-carte menus looked uninspired, but did the job. We ordered Yaki Udon, a Bento Box Lunch and Edamame to start. While we waited, the sound system played some new age rock. A bit disconnected for the space, but Ee Sushi was filling up with more people who did not appear to mind.
Yaki Udon had a slight burned grill smell and a bit of bland broth in the bottom. We didn't find it very flavorful, but the sesame seeds on top were a nice addition to the pile of noodles, veggies and chicken. Plus the portion was generous, considering the affordable price. For the Bento, we asked them to replace the Californian Roll for Spicy Salmon instead which was accommodated for an extra dollar. The salmon teriyaki part of the bento was surprisingly dry, and again lacking in flavor.  The Spicy Salmon roll was actually the best part of the dish - fresh, tender with a creamy sauce.

The people coming in all went for their All You Can Eat menu. We will learn from them next time we come. Overall our dishes were nothing memorable, but no doubt an honest meal for a good price.

EE Sushi on Urbanspoon

13.3.15

Nook

King St. West became gentrified very fast. With all the fancy new restaurants popping up around Portland and King, where does one go for a quick lunch not to break the bank? A dilemma especially persistent for Ma Cherie who works in the area. Nook has been our choice for quite some time now.

APPEARANCE
The bright green stand-up sign is visible from King as well as ever-present awning making a difference for the otherwise tucked-in cafe. Even with their clean signage, we're not too sure we would have simply stumbled upon Nook when looking for lunch. This is where word-of-mouth makes all the difference. Everyone seems to know about Nook, and recommends it.
Note that in the summer they bring out chairs and tables, making a small patio area, tucked in the King St alleyway.

NOSE
A few short stairs lead down to a semi-basement space with exposed pipes, wood and brick. The most memorable part are the glass cubes of light hanging from the ceiling. Other than that it is simply furnished. No time to waste here, coming down the stairs you turn the corner and are instantly greeted and asked for your order. To be honest, there were days that we find that extremely annoying as we need some time to read through their black board menus. Unless people make eye contact, that probably means they are not ready.

SWIRL
Nook specializes in panini sandwiches. There are plenty of them - chicken, turkey based as well as tuna and veggies. The best part of ordering a panini is that a combo gives you an option of their daily soup side or two salads side. There are always 6 unique choices of salads. This combo comes up to $10 after tax. It is very filling. I often just come and grab a large salad, which is a mix of your choice of 3 salads. Another great option is their chili (and yes, they do make a vegetarian one as well). A lot of men go for their "special" which is a baked dish. That day it was Curry Chicken with Rice.
Lastly, there is a relatively new part of their menu with smoothies and hot drinks. Plenty to choose from in this section too!

PALATE
We went for their Tuscan Turkey Club and Maple Walnut Chicken paninis. After paying and deciding to stay in, we took a seat on their high chairs by the window facing King Street. We both really disliked our seating, as the tables are uncomfortably high, or perhaps the tall chairs not tall enough. Ether way we felt like children at adult table. On a positive note, it is an ideal choice if you are wearing clothing you are afraid to get food onto. The staff were very quick to bring our food. The Tuscan turkey club had plenty of pesto, some bacon, tomatoes and provolone. A great combination. Their Maple Walnut one had chicken, brie, walnut and maple syrup - a heavier choice but a unique one. We also took a side of their  salads - an interesting wild rice with sting bean and papaya, as well as broccoli with cherry tomatoes and almonds. Both were original and refreshing.

FINISH
This place is owned by an Asian couple (we believe). They are always very friendly and only have staff which could be easily mistaken as their family, they all work so well together. Overall, we like Nook. Much like a lot of other people employed in the area. It is a place for locals, a place to grab something you know you like, a place where the staff will likely know you by name and serve you a delicious meal with high efficiency at a low price.
I must note, if you have a sweet tooth, they also make plenty of pastries. I personally am a big fan of their brownie - not too sweet, very chocolaty and filling, with a great moist texture.
Lastly, rumor has it that they are open for breakfast too! We will be back, sometimes more than once a week.

Nook on Urbanspoon

12.3.15

Fratelli Village Pizzeria

http://www.fratellis.ca

We actually passed Fratelli many times on our way to visit our sister&brother who lives in the area. Unfortunately we never noticed it before. Might have been a narrow sidewalk or us simply not expecting a restaurant around there.

APPEARANCE
Nothing much to boast about here, a clean and simple front with a fair amount of glass. Their word mark is written in not easily readable script font with an oven illustration which does the restaurant no justice. They only reason we know it's an oven and not a bee hive is due to the tagline "Classic Wood Oven Pizza". We parked on the side in a somewhat dark alley, plenty of parking spots though. There was no direct way to get in from the lot, so we took a small trip around the building looking for the entrance. Later on we noticed a rail garage door shut for the season – it was actually well integrated in the interior and lead to the parking area. We should check the place out in the summer to see how that changes our experience.

NOSE
We were welcomed by a man smiling at the bar, we believe the owner. He was there all night, looking very content to see us. We passed by a wall with a window-like opening, giving a great panoramic view of the restaurant - a live painting. On the way to our table, we also passed their open kitchen area with a chalk board filled by specials above - not a very obvious place to be read, but a good idea.
The interior was very open, walls were painted a warm brown with stone faced sections, stone-tiles floor and black furniture. They had interesting wine storage shelves with wood lettuce, but we didn't think its a good idea to have them near the ceiling with direct light at them. Unless they were decorations, this is not the best way to store decent wine.

SWIRL
Our waitress quickly brought us up to speed on what’s new and exciting at Fratellis. We asked our waitress to recommend us some dishes and perhaps what's popular. She strongly suggested Victoria's pizza and their salads. She also mentioned sharing an appetizer and a pizza is a good idea.
Their neatly organized menu seemed to be geared towards pizza selection more than anything else although we noticed a decent selection of pasta dishes with home-made sauces. There was a side Wine List cart, dominated by Italian and Californian one at reasonable prices. Their house wine was available in a variety of sizes from 5oz all the way to a little carafe. We made a mental note to get a glass or two next time we are here.
At last, we ordered their White Pizza on special and Milan's Pizza, there was no choice on size all are 11". Their daily soup also appeared quite appetizing - creamy bacon, potatoes and leek.

PALATE
As we waited, lounging music was playing in the background putting us in the right mood. As we were quite hungry, we did miss not having bread or something to munch on. Perhaps the appetizer recommendation was not to be ignored.
It took a little bit over fifteen minutes for our pizzas to arrive, but we were hungry enough to dig in at once, burning ourselves a bit against the hot crust fresh out of the oven. That wood-burning oven was in the corner, open for viewing as one of the restaurant attractions - it was topped with little mosaic-like stones. The pizza's crust itself was thin and floury. We found White Pizza quite an interesting and remarkably flavorful choice. It came with copious areas of ricotta cheese, smoked salmon, the dish was adorned with plenty of spinach, red onion and some delicious fried capers (the most original ingredient for us). Although there was no sauce, this pizza felt quite filling. Milan's Pizza was more traditional - tomato sauce base, red onions, grilled chicken, feta and a tad of mozzarella. The best part were the sundried tomatoes - an intriguing addition.

FINISH
Fratelli is quite a place for the neighborhood. Definitely a restaurant to visit with your family in the evening, or even on a date. We found it not pretentious, but wholesome. The service was great and staff very knowledgeable. Check it out if you are in the area!

ps In retrospect, we regret not checking their dessert menu.

Fratelli Village Pizzeria on Urbanspoon