Jim's Restaurant

Mon Cheri eyed this little family diner ever since we moved to the neighborhood. We thought it might be a good introduction to the East part of town for us.

Situated on a corner of a small plaza, Jim's had a local feel to it. I would have definitely passed it by, if it was not for Cheri's sharp eye. Their narrow horizontal sign really made this place seem like a variety store. "Jim's Restaurant" written in a simple sans serif followed by the tag line "the Best Westerns". With two Coke logos on either side, we knew what we were in for. Some metal chairs lined the front, for those who wanted to observe local folks passing by. In a case of chilly weather, like that day, there was another line of chairs (high chairs, to be exact) right by the window. Overall, not very easily approachable setup, I would say

We were faced with an open concept once inside with some seating by the bar and plenty of light from the large front windows. The shades of brown inside make the place cozy and out-dated at the same time. Plenty of laminate everywhere added to the diner feel.
Despite our initial reactions, we were really charmed with our elderly yet swift waitress - Debbie. She asked for tea of coffee straight away. I decided to try their beer, which our waitress couldn't comment on as she confessed she is not a beer drinker. In reality it was a light and plain ale - food friendly and good for the price.

We submerged in the atmosphere as we waited for our order. The demographic was mixed - family with kids, older couples, college students, middle-aged men... There was no music, but plenty of chatter and kitchen sounds. It seemed that the owner was the chef as well. He was not shy to remind the two waitresses when a new customer had entered. There was a large TV in the corner with CP24 on (definitely a powerful distractions). Overall it is a pretty tiny place with tables nice and close - keeping the community bonding.

My home-made burger arrived open and loaded with thick slides of pickles (a must), lettuce, tomato, onions, relish - note that I opted in for all the toppings. It was a great burger and with a side of fries, which I luckily upgraded for Greek fries. This means that the potatoes were served with grated cheese and a light vinegar, oil and pepper dressing. Took me back to fries back home at the Balkans, where feta is an essential addition to almost everything.
Cheri had to order their famous Western. He was smart to ask for a side of salad instead of home-fries. We managed to see the pile of them ready in the open cook top - definitely a heavy dish, probably ideal for a hung-over morning. Their house salad had a Greek theme with plenty of feta, olive oil and olives. I was not impressed with the Western though. It was light on veggies and overall salty, heavy and a bit over-done. The portion was generous though.

We should note that as our sweet Debbie was writing down our order on carbon copy paper, she did warn us that changing sides meant a change in price. She inquired to check with the owner for us but we decided that it can't be that bad. Also, note that they only accept cash (with an ATM in-house).
Despite all the not-so-perfect details, we really enjoyed this place. Felt very true and warm.


The Senator Restaurant


This was our second visit to the hard-to-miss Senator Restaurant next to Yonge and Dundas. This appears to be one of the oldest establishments in Toronto and quite a place to experience.

A massive mural ad on the side wall from the street was noticeable from afar. The front of the restaurant was also hard to miss with a neon blade sign and a front-lit 3D typographic sign proudly spelling Senator. The typeface used was cursive with a sense of age, very much fitting the theme here. On the inside, we immediately noticed the unique booth arrangements along the wall adorned in brown leather. These seating spots created a somewhat intimate option in an otherwise crowded restaurant even though the separators were not tall at all. The muted warm dark wood, dim lighting, voices humming, mirrors lining the walls…missing a jazz band and a thick cigar smoke to fully take us back to the 30s or so.

We chatted up our waitress to find out some of her favorite dishes. Our choices were their Stuffed Meatloaf with Mashed Potatoes and Fusilli with Veggies. After ordering, we read up on the Senator's history from the back of the menu. While 249 Victoria site has been utilized since 1860s, the original name was Busy Bee. The restaurant became known as Senator only after the war.
Meatloaf never made it to our table...we got the Senator burger delivered instead. We did not particularly mind and were kind of short on time, so no hard feelings there. For the burger itself, we found that the patty had great texture and spices, definitely freshly made which made a big difference for us. However the meat was quite thick with some pink in the middle. A side of pickles, caramelized onion, a big tomato slice and a lettuce leaf were organized around, to finalize the burger. As a side, we had thinly cut, well salted salty fries which was a well-balanced addition. This burger was worthwhile to try and served at a reasonable price.

We did enjoy having a Dijon mustard bottle on our table, which we think consistently makes for a great condiment.
The pasta arrived with plenty of oil, grilled zucchini, tomatoes, slightly dried spinach and some parmesan on top (which was not the highest quality unfortunately). Fusilli did turn out to be a heavy, filling dish compared to what we expected by the description, but very pleasant nonetheless.
To top the meal off, we had some of their Amsterdam Downtown Brown Ale on tap - an easy going option. A curious detail was that no two glasses matched on our table, all seemed to be from different collections.

With all the business around, we kind of thought that Busy Bee, while being decisively less classy, could still be a good name to describe the atmosphere around. It was akin a proper food place for us, especially considering we were heading to see a play right after. Senator made us feel different in a good way. With all the indie places and trendy cafes on every corner, there is a still a tasty piece of history waiting for you right in the heart of Toronto.


Braised Restaurant & Bar


A completely random walk-in for us. Does not usually happen, especially for a small family gathering. A good thing about Queen St. East is how vibrant it became. There are lots of very appealing-looking places in the area nowadays.

A red neon sign of the word "braised" with extended ascenders caught our eye, with it's sense of simple elegance. We concluded that signage works well here. Another curios element was the metal garage door - their front facade. We decided to give this place a try and check if they can accommodate our large group walking in without a reservation. The restaurant was more adventurous on the inside. Beyond a small stand greeting us, we could notice the bleached brick on one side and a mix of refurbished wood and metal elements throughout. Exposed lights, wooden tables, colourful modern paintings, and dark concrete floor completed the semi-industrial warm style, in our eyes.

We decided to get their three course special for $30. We picked the combination of Cesar Salad, Roasted Chicken Breast with Tomato Mushroom Cream and a Chocolate Mousse for dessert. In addition, we got their Seared Mahi entrée for a good measure. Our waitress recommended that we should definitely try their Black Stone 2013 Californian Syrah after hearing the few vocal people express their interest in a sweeter red wine. We promptly ordered a bottle of advertised vintage though the bottle was looking at us from the wine case with shelves right next to our table. We keep on getting surprised to see mid to high price range restaurants storing their wine exposed to light and temperature like that. We suspect it's more of a display case not used to store anything decent.

As our waitress got to know us, she shared that the chef here is a Russian lady. A curious fact, we thought.
At any rate, after our flavourful Cesar Salad with quality Parmesan, came our mains. The Roasted Chicken Breast and Mahi Mahi plates arrived. The former dish was spectacular! In addition to the thick tender meat itself (which was nicely grilled) a garnish of roasted potatoes and steamed broccoli nicely accented the simple meat. They were all artistically pilled in the middle and drizzled in sauce. The seared Mahi Mahi we did not enjoy to the same tune mainly because the thick piece of fish was a bit bland half way through. The chef did go out of her way to compensate which is commendable - the rosemary and thyme beurre blanc drizzle was an element we didn't get enough of. Based in a bed of quinoa and steamed kale, the Mahi Mahi was nicely piedestaled. A special callout to the lightly cooked wilted kale and the tender grilled lemon half on the side.

Lastly, our Chocolate Mousse came. It's light,smooth texture was ideal. The subtle blueberry flavour added that oomph to finish our experience with a smile.
Apart from the gourmet dishes we should mentioned, the citrusy humus (with hints of horseradish) and warm white bread to start with which got us going on this chilly October night. The curious interior ambiance, energetic staff and reasonable prices all contributed to our enjoyment of Braised.

Braised Restaurant & Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Milagro Cantinas


Ma Cherie’s work is right next door along Mercer so we were eyeing Milagro for some time now. Finally we made it there for lunch.

The restaurant looked especially appealing in the summer months with its large patio on John - woven chairs filled with guests on sunny days. In early October it was understandably empty outside.
The restaurant looked quite dim from the outside window, so we had short-lived doubts whether the place was even opened. Ma Cherie noticed their lowercase wordmark had a linear texture, making it simple, trendy and light.

As we walked in, we were welcomed by a fork between a hostess booths to the left and kitchen to the right – kind of odd in terms of the first impression. But there were interesting details to compensate including large wooden carvings in shape of leaves and dripped candles with plenty of colours. The main sitting area vaulted space was culminated in a white ceiling somewhere high above in relative dimness. Some of their oversized pillars were wrapped in a chalk board material and Mexican movie posters were towering above us. To summarize, the atmosphere felt simple, but it could be fitting for Mexican theme plus the colonial vibe might have been significantly more applicable in the summer with a cold Mojito in your hand.

There was lots to read on the menu with a whole separate section for alcoholic beverages. agave flights, plenty of margaritas, list of tequila and mezcales and a separate selection with wines (blancos, rosados, tinto) - an appropriate selection for a dinner with a spark. There was Salsa music playing in the background as we ordered La Perla tacos with Beer Battered Cod and Tinga, their pulled chicken plate. Although it was busy for lunch, our waitress Anne did not keep us waiting for our food. The tacos had habanero crema, pico de gallo and tropical slaw inside two soft shell tortillas. It was meant to be mild from what we gathered, but ended up more like medium. It actually, turned out to be a very good shareable dish for a reasonable price. Tinga had its pulled chicken simmered in tomato and chipotle with a side of Mexican rice and sliced avocado. Not dry at all, however spicy once again. The nice addition of avocado made helped out palate take a break from the spicyness. The generous load of rice had an interesting texture (buckwheat like) lacking moisture. Several tortilla were served on a side. The dish was considerably spicier and we enjoyed it less, since we felt there was something missing. The portion was large and also offered for a decent price.

This is an inaugural Milagro location and it has been around for close to ten years now. Quite an achievement for a downtown restaurant, but there is more to like here besides the ability to stay afloat. Milagro was generous with food quantity and quality, hospitable and fast. There were also some intriguing desserts: churros, flan, natilla, truffa maya, etc. Our plan is to be back here in the summer and try out some of these on the patio.

Milagro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Enoteca Sociale


We heard about Enoteca Sociale from various people and it has been on our list to visit for sometime now.

A tall, custom laser-cut door with a map of Rome welcomed us. Inside, the place was filled with warm reds, beige, and brown tiles. The wall on one side was clad with beige brick and had occasional aged-looking small windows. Opposite it, all the windows brought in plenty of warm shades from the sunset. There were a few cage lights suspended with white wires stretching inconsistently and shamelessly. They had a charm to them nonetheless. French cross-back chairs added to the eclectic feel.

We decided to enjoy our evening at their small side patio. It was a hard decision as the interior was definitely an ambiance worth submerging into as well.
A menu with not too many options (at the same time just enough) was handed to us. Just as cleanly designed (and a tad edgy) was their lengthily wine list. Our very polite waiter, Scott, walked us through the options with plenty of detail and we gladly followed his recommendations.
As we waited for all of us to gather, we decided to give their Aranchini a try.  We enjoyed the warm sun rays from this early-fall sunset, while talking to sister under the two trees on the patio. One thing we were supposed to see is the child-like illustrations on their outdoor black board - a cat on a table enjoying wine. An odd choice which we didn't think reflected the atmosphere.
Cheri and I ordered a couple of glasses of wine to match our meals - the classic Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe and their fancy Veal Rigatoni.

We snacked on their fresh bread with olive oil, while waiting for the meal to arrive and sipped on Calcaire 2013 blend (Norman Hardie) - mainly chardonnay, some pinot gris, riesling. It was medium bodied, not acidic, nor oaky but floral and light. We also had their Valpolicella Ripasso 2012 (Musella, Veneto) - medium bodied, light smoky hints and very easy going.
We enjoyed the Aranchini which we remembered we have had in a Portuguese place before. Compact rice and cheese, fried in a shape of a ball, they were sitting in a lovely tomatoe-based sauce. Definitely a good choice for sharing. Our Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe was a very well done classic. We found the pasta was quite al dente - a bit too chewy for our liking. The generous amount of Pecorino cheese, which had even melted in chunks and the light creamy white sauce made all the difference here. The dish was a tad spicy from all that pepper, but added the necessary oomph. We enjoyed this dish, no doubt, however Cheri expressed his dislike at how salty it was.
The Braised Veal Shank rigatoni had a variety of veal - some pulled meat as well as soft bone marrow bits. This time, we felt that the al dente pasta added a chewy texture to balance off the tender meat. Topped with gremolata herbs mix gave the hints of gamy meat a pleasant twist.

Even though both our dishes seemed like small portions, they were just right. The wines also helped enhance the dishes and enjoy a slower Italian atmosphere. Knowledgeable service, excellent atmosphere and affordable prices for quality meals make it hard not to recommend Enoteca Sociale to anyone in the neighborhood or passing through. Bring friends along as well!

Enoteca Sociale Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato