13.7.15

A Taste of China

http://www.wineportfolio.com
http://tasteofchinarestaurant.ca

Ellen Douglas, a producer of Wine Portfolio CNBC's hit show got in touch and invited us for a soirée of Vino Verde wine matching with Asian food. A very interesting premise, we thought and agreed on the spot.

APPEARANCE
This lovely event was hosted in the heart of Chinatown - A Taste of China restaurant. From the outside, this spot did not stand out from the hoard of similar-looking places lining Spadina and adjacent streets. It did have a bright red banner with the name in Chinese characters, a translation as well as a phone number. The facade also had grey granite tiles, but what made it’s appearance lose in class and authenticity was all the window clutter - long folded out menu pages, plenty of stickers of recognition, some news articles and the neon sign.

1st NOSE
On one side, the interior had white boards and chalkboards with plenty of Chinese characters - perhaps daily specials, we thought. The other side was full of mirrors, helping the space feel larger. There were blue metal chairs and basic tables both rectangular and circular with numerous layers of plastic table cloths probably to make the cleaning easier. The walls were light green and beige with dark wooden elements and an authentic floral patterned carpet. The ribbed wooden-planked ceiling had circular metal decorative plates with writing on them. Overall, the interior had a sense of authenticity to it.

SWIRL
We met everyone, and begun our journey talking about the origins of Vinho Verde - an up and coming area in North West Portugal. Kevin Fox, a producer of Wine Porfolio as well as Ellen were entertaining and very knowledgeable. We touched on many points about the Vinho - naming, terroir, processes, varieties, current consumption... We also set the premise that restaurants with Asian food, do not tend to specialize in wine pairing or even have decent wine choices. That was the point everyone agreed on. Cheri and I have stopped ordering wine in Asian venues due to being burned in terms of quality on multiple occasions. Throughout this evening, our opinion changed.

2nd NOSE
In the next couple of hours, our palette was introduced to three white wines and four dishes - rating, sharing and discussing.
The ambiance of the restaurant was busy with cutlery clicking, phone ringing and no music. The owner, Ling was great at addressing all our needs. She also gave a full description for each dish as she presented it.

PALATE
We started off with their Fried Shrimp Balls with a side of sweet sauce. The balls were large, breaded and fried. We had this dish with a light and crisp Quinta da Aveleda 2014. The vinho appeared very clean, almost water-like in its appearance. This white wine blend was dry and citrusy. We thought it was an easy and light match for our shrimp appetizers. The sweet sauce did create some conflict with the light-bodied wine, we agreed that the shrimp balls with a bit vinegar instead would be a better option.
Next we had their Vegetarian Glass Noodles dish. It was a light dish served warm. There were mushrooms, peppers, onion, and soy bean sprouts. This simple dish added interesting nuances to our taste buds. we enjoyed it with Muralhas de Moncao. This vinho verde was also bright, with a light sparkle feel. There were hints of peach and apricot on the nose as well as a clean finish. I thought it enhanced this dish quite well as both the food and the wine were in the same light weight category. We agreed that the mushroom, especially, created an intrigue with Muralhas de Moncao.
Next, we had their Cod with Green Beans - an item off the restaurant's chalk board. It was creatively served in the fried fish's skin as a shell, filled with green beans, sweet peas and carrots, then topped with bite-sized pieces of the white cod. This plate was a real treat. The fish was tender and juicy. It had hints of garlic and ginger in the sauce. We enjoyed this dish with the Muralhas de Moncao wine, once again. This wine was now a bit different with the cod - a pleasant surprise, we though.
Lastly, we had their Spicy Filet Mignon with Broccoli. This was a heavier dish, yet the way the thinly sliced beef was prepared made it very tender. The steamed broccoli made a bed where the beef lied, mixed in with a bean sauce, spicy red peppers and some green ones. As we are not used to spicy food, this was quite hot for us, while Kevin ate it and assured us this dish is very mild. The suggested match for this one was CDV Brazao, Arinto 2013. This wine was medium-bodied, definitely smoother than the previous two. We talked out the subtle tasting areas in our palettes - as the wine started off crisp and then sweetened up near the end and the sides of our mouths. It was a unique wine, however for this meaty, hot dish my palette would have preferred a buttery Chardonnay.

FINISH
We were surprised to find much complexity and intrigue in these Portuguese "green wines”.
This soirée left us all feeling surprising content, it was definitely a contribution to the slow food movement. Time and dimension warp when in good company and conversation one shares food and a few bottles of wine.
As for A Taste of China, if you ever feel intimidated to try a Chinese restaurant, this is just the place for you. Ling, the owner, is known to help people find out what they like and guide them in making decisions through the overwhelming choices and culture surrounding one as soon as they step through the front door. We should note, that we were happy to see all these wines were served in fresh glasses every time. We will definitely be back for more, hopefully when the menu gets some unique wine selections.

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Dineen Coffee

http://dineencoffee.com

Located inside a historic Dineen Building where, according to Dineen website, W. and F. Dineen Co., a fur clothing maker used to be. The building is also, apparently, one of the oldest ones in Toronto. Too bad there was construction all around and sprawling skyscrapers popping up on every corner thus blocking the full view of this Victorian, marble-clad building. The house is also listed as a Toronto Heritage Property.

APPEARANCE & NOSE
Huge windows provided a clear view of the beautiful interior. We walked in through a large patio, a space enjoyed by quite a few people wanting to be part of the outside social scene while enjoying the light breeze and bright sun. We continued inside, pointing out interesting interior details to ourselves. Floors were finished in a colorful patterned tile, somewhat resembling a carpet. We also noticed faded brick all around, black thin columns supporting the tall ceiling, menus on wall mirrors - all indicating decent taste in design while avoiding tackiness which is a trap many busy interiors fall into.

SWIRL & PALATE
Options for food were scarce to say the least. It was 5pm to be fair, but still... We got a Breakfast Western Bake  - a scone with bacon, egg, onion and cilantro. To put it simply, it was not up to par: light in flavour and did not even have an option to be warmed up.
On the other hand, we had Blonde Bake with chocolate chips and walnut which was a great choice! Crumbly, not too sweet and well-balanced even through we thought it was made earlier in the day and not too fresh by the time we got it.
Teas and coffee appeared to be the speciality here. We got Roasted Almond Decaf Tea which was sweet, but unfortunately besides the overwhelming almond flavor, there were no other interesting tastes or smells. Earl Grey tea was good, but not mind blowing. We decided that we should come back and try out other options.
Seating at one of the circular marble tables, we settled on a elegant milky pink leather bench we really enoyed the vibe. There was even a short second floor mezzanine space which appeared functional with some storage tucked away, and a light we say through the cupboard-like walls. 

FINISH
Mostly young professionals surrounded us. With PanAm games going on and Dineen being right on Yonge, a lot of tourists were camped out all over to catch up on their social life through free WiFi. It got fairly loud, but the atmosphere was cool and hip. Definitely a great spot for a quick date, a catch up with friends or to grab a coffee on your way elsewhere. We wondered if clients with more progressive beliefs would have had an issue knowing that a fur factory was located in the same building for a long time and gave this coffee house it's name...but then again...this can be overlooked for a good beverage in an interesting setting.

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12.7.15

Test Kitchen

www.testkitchenrestaurants.com

We thought…maybe chefs are interns or ingredients are not known to be safe for consumption and need further research. Turned out none of that was true, the restaurant just called Test Kitchen. It did not appear that anyone was out to set up experiments on us. The experience turned out to be good, but lacking some feist as it was rather ordinary.

APPEARANCE & NOSE
You will likely run into Test Kitchen walking or driving up Brant. This running in might be quite literal as their patio extended right onto the walkway and curb-side parking. A cute idea, but a lot of work for a seasonal add-on. We though it might be even better to have more greenery around, to help cool patrons down. Passing traffic provided some breeze, apart from all the traffic noise. We glanced inside - it was dark and A/C was not working so we mindlessly opted for the patio.

SWIRL
iPad menus were easy to use and prominently featured their $10 lunch special: a tapa dish with a glass of wine. We found it to be a great deal. The staff was very friendly and we got out drinks coming right up - a relief after few hours of golfing right before that. We ordered their Shrimp Po'boy thinking about our New Orleans experience as well as Heirloom Carrot Tart. They came with an option of a glass of their house wine (white or red) to go along with the dishes. We decided to try a glass of each - Ontario Konzelmann Unloaked Chardonnay and Cab Sauvignon. Even though we were on Brant, the traffic did not bother us too much, besides the convertible Ferrari revving its engine right in front of Test Kitchen. All would have been okay, but the proud owner decided that there was not enough effect so he passed by twice. At any rate, being on the patio was a great way to soak up the summer sun.

PALATE
With regard to food we though both options were quite good. The Vienna loaf bread used for the Po'boy was the right consistency. Some folks in New Orleans believe that the right bread is the biggest component of a proper po'boy – we tend to agree. The rest of the ingredients were also up to par: fresh shredded iceberg, remoulade sauce, tomatoes, pickles and a side of salad. It came with a side of a slightly citrusy salad. The Remoulande was similar to tartar sauce, but with a Cajun twist. The dish was simple and flavourful, the only issue we had with it was the fried shrimp being a bit on the chewy side. Heirloom Carrot Tart was a great balance of ingredients: roasted mushrooms, puff pastry and goat cheese, with some hazelnuts on top. It was actually quite dark and crusty. We, once again, had a side of salad which balanced out the opinionated goat cheese. Tart could be a better match for a cooler weather, as it came warm and comforting. As for wine, both were dry and young – not too much character and very much drinkable on a patio that warm day. The amount is small, so treat them as starters. We decided to snack a bit more, and ordered a Grilled Cheese Sandwich as well. There was smoked gouda, roasted mushrooms and some caramelized onions. A bit light on content with the gouda not flavourful enough, we found. The side of home-made ketchup was not memorable nor adding much to the dish. The fries were worthwhile and a generous amount.

FINISH
Test kitchen prides themselves with being innovative in their dishes, but ma Cherie and I were not convinced. We did think there was something to the idea of encouraging people to try tapas, which allow the chef to experiment and change up.The place is definitely worth a visit, especially for their $10 lunch special with wine. We were not sure whether the patio will remain open in some shape of form outside of warm season, so maybe go to Test Kitchen before the summer ends as abruptly, as it began.
ps there will be another Test Kitchen in Burlington (this time on Appleby) later on in August this year.
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5.7.15

Creperie Catherine

www.creperiecatherine.ca/

We stayed a few minutes away from Creperie Catherine and eyed it everyday for breakfast. On our last day in Mont-Tremblant, we finally made our way in. A large brick house with a narrow porch looked authentic and we were in search of something local to enjoy.

APPEARANCE & SWIRL
We were a bit confused at first as to where to enter - there were bunch of doors to choose from, one of them leading to the B&B. We finally found the right one and marched in. Inside, we thought the white walls with black furniture were a great backdrop for all the little collections and decorations. We went around the full restaurant - bar area, booths, tables with chairs and finally the sunny back patio. Seating inside could also be a decent option if you are into little sculptures, vintage posters and art everywhere. But it was sunny and warm so our path was straight though.

NOSE & PALATE
Our waitress Sandra was nice although a bit rushed. We did get a chance to practice our French as well. She was great at switching and occasionally was not aware which language she spoke. Now thats a skill! A big bike trail is right next to the Creperie so there were a few folks seemingly just jumping off their bikes and coming in for a quick bite. Considering the general heaviness of the dishes available, we wondered how successful would be the subsequent biking or might it result in a nap somewhere down the trail.
Our choices were a Benedictine and Special Catherine - the two crepes on the menu with a start signifying authenticity. The Benedictine consisted of two eggs, melted Swiss cheese, white crab along with black forest ham, and home-made Bechamel sauce. We added their asparagus option, to ensure we are in for the real deal. We found this thick crepe was underwhelming in flavour, but overwhelming in size. We were also disappointed that the asparagus was probably old as it was chewy and stringy. It was somewhat compensated by the generosity of crab meat, which was the most flavourful part of the dish. This is definitely a good dish for sea-food lovers.
Secondly, the Special Catherine consisted of an egg, melted swiss and cheddar cheese, black forest ham, and we opted in for the mushrooms.  This crepe had lots of cheese, but the two type were not flavourful but rather just buttery and heavy. In addition, we though the mushrooms inside were in very large chunks. If you love cheese and are in the mood for some comfort food - definitely a must try.

FINISH
We saw another intriguing option on the list - chilli cheese waffle. Could be something worthwhile to try. Overall, we found Creperie Catherine not the best choice if you are in search of a healthy breakfast on the way to a hike or a biking trip unless... If it is -30c outside and Mont-Tremblant is covered in snow, then you might as well load up on warm comfort food at Creperie Catherine and be on your way!

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3.7.15

Au Coin

http://www.hotel-monttremblant.com/resto-pub-en.html

Au Coin is located inside a historic Hotel Mont-Tremblant originally constructed in 1902 and rebuilt in 1918 following a fire in the village. It was definitely a magnificent old house which caught our attention in an instance as we were passing through.

APPEARANCE & NOSE
Besides the glorious building façade, we noticed some more interesting elements putting guests in the right mood to unwind - a natural stone wall from the street to elevate the sunny patio, contrasting black furniture and red umbrellas, a large retractable awning as well as lots of flags everywhere - generally a festive atmosphere all around helped.

SWIRL & PALATE
Being a self-proclaimed resto-pub, the selection was mostly geared to beer lovers. We asked for Soupe à l'oignon Gratinée, Plateau de Fromages D'ici and Croque Monsieur with Fries. To further enhance the summer ambiance, we got a pitcher of the local Bières Boréal Blanche for $20 - light and citrusy. 
As we waited, a lot of expensive sports cars started rolling down the street - Vipers, Lamborghinis, Corvettes, you name it - we got the full show. We though this luxurious presentation might be for us, but it turns out there is a racetrack nearby and that might have been a day for these exotics to flex their steel muscles. An occasional ripping of a powerful engine roared through the idyllic, otherwise quiet, village setting. 
The dishes were heavy, which we should have probably expected based on what we ordered. We might have overdone it for a warm patio evening in terms of our choices. The soup was salty and a hearty one. Not the best French Onion soup we tried, but appeared to be freshly made and worthwhile overall. The Local Cheese Board needed more of an introduction – we found out that there was goat cheese, double crème, blue, old cheddar with some greens sprinkled on top. There was also a small side of a sweet red jam, flavor-wise it was colored sugar in our opinion. This plate was great but was lacking small condiments to make it a real dish and help one experiment with the flavors a bit more. Also, better alcohol pairing would have been beneficial. The Boréal Blanche is great to sip as cold water, as it is quite weak in character. For the Croque Monsieur, we were not too happy about the fries mostly. Potatoes were raw in the middle and overly greasy. There was also a tiny side of salad in a paper cup - cabbage and carrots with no dressing. It did not quite offset the fried/oily galore on the plate. As for the croque itself, the Swiss cheese taste wrestled with the other components and apparently won the battle for taste. Ham was also there, but as a sidekick. Overall it was very bread and a tad too soft and gooey in texture. As if we did not get enough, we also got a Poutine for the table. A bit salty, but all the indigents appeared to be in right proportions. 

FINISH
As a side comment, service was a bit rushed and one of the dishes was prematurely taken away from us, but maybe that was for the best.
We would say come here for a beer with traditional pub fare if you are into this kind of food. The setting is gorgeous, patio has a nice view with a breeze, plus prices are reasonable. We are thinking a winter trip here for their hearty dishes would be a good call. Beer and light snacks in the summer.