9.4.15

Art Square Cafe

www.art-square.ca

It appeared that folks come to Art Square café to see the art and randomly walk over to the café side. We saw surprised glances from the gallery visitors as our crepes were delivered to the table and we prepared to have a full meal.

APPEARANCE
An old Victorian house (much like the majority of buildings in the area) with a big glass facade proudly displaying artwork inside could be very easily mistaken for an actual gallery. The cues of a café came with the large black pan structure as well as the illy logo on the side. Nevertheless, as we walked up the stairs and opened the door, the feeling of intrigue and inspiration took over us and did not leave us for some time. Having theAGO across Dundas with its gleaming, spaceship-shaped upper section contributed to this mood.

NOSE
We walked through the gallery all the way back where the café was and wondered how many people might have actually never make it all the way back. Perhaps the experience is to wonder through the bright gallery area (white walls, black frames) and eventually end up at the café. It is a challenging task to remain a gallery and yet still try to operate a successful café without compromising on either. Our waiter was prompt to settle us in their fresh cafe area - with green walls, black details and warm wooden floors. After all our questions, the waiter ran us through the menu choices, which included an array of sweet and savory crepes as well as interesting coffees and desserts. The menu has plenty of stock photos and was spaced out on quite a few pages. As we both picked a sweet and savory crepe, we placed our order with a couple of glasses of their house wine. To our surprise, the crepes had an option of being made with buckwheat flour, which we gladly did for half of our orders.

SWIRL
We noticed a fairly strong detergent-like smell coming from our tabletop. Other than that, the setting was actually quite pleasant. If you are a fan of having ample personal space – Art Square might not be your best option. We were there on a rainy Thursday evening - the night of reception for the Ryerson Chang school gallery and some of the photographs were on the wall right above us. That supplied us with a steady flow of curious gallery-goers glancing over our heads. We enjoyed our simple L’ambiance glasses of blended wine, while listening to Sting. The wine was nothing special, except for the generous amount.

PALATTE
We had a Mediterranean Savory Crepe with red peppers, feta cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, dry thyme and mint, topped with green and black olives. The combination of flavors was refreshing, Ma Cherie was a big fan of this crepe. However we wouldn’t recommend getting in on buckwheat, as it really dried it up. For our second crepe, we chose their Spinach and Walnut variety. It came loaded with baby spinach, feta cheese, walnuts, extra-virgin olive oil, black pepper and a tad of sweet paprika. It was a good choice for buckwheat as it was quite oily. The flavors were all quite subtle and the feta seemed also ricotta-like. The dash of paprika was a much needed addition, enhancing the taste for the dish. After about 5 minutes of finishing our first set of crepes, we decided to check on our dessert crepes, but the waiter had read our minds and had them out for us in no time!
For their dessert crepes, Mon Cheri was a big fan of the Homemade Jam and Brie Cheese crepe. It had excellent homemade strawberry and orange jam paired with the promised fresh Brie. The jam was not too sweet, yet the brie balanced it off beautifully. Some powdered sugar crowned the desert, but was there more for decoration purposes. The last crepe we shared was Chocolate and Pistachio with organic, fair trade dark chocolate. This somewhat bitter crepe was a great option, especially accompanying a Turkish coffee - another specialty of Art Square, which comes in a traditional turkish tea cup and with a side of Turkish Delight. We both were very content with this crepe – dark chocolate lovers you should indulge away!


FINISH
Overall, we were very excited to see this unique space operate and try to bring a new experience to dining and art. It opens up a conversation around art in cafes being more than wall decoration. We also think there is unique opportunity for serendipitous encounters, it would be interesting for the cafe to encourage that somehow.
Art Square is an interesting spot to visit. It has a middle-eastern hint to it with their coffees, pistachio, and honey infused options, while having a decent selection of more contemporary everyday choices. The owners care about their clients and will try to make you feel comfortable. Art Square could be interesting for a late evening snack as well.

Art Square Cafe on Urbanspoon

3.4.15

Local Public Eatery

www.locallibertyvillage.com

Living nearby, we have walked by Local Public Eatery many times. Origin Restaurant used to be occupying this large garage space not too long ago.

APPEARANCE & NOSE
Our attention was drawn to the rustic chains and hooks attached to the patio fence. In a different setting, these could have passed for a meat factory processing equipment, although a bit unsanitary... In Liberty Village, these gizmos are more likely to be there for bicyclists' convenience. At any rate, the patio was almost full even though it was only +5 outside. The interior section was packed and on a waiting list, so we decided to join the brave crowd on the communal benches outside, welcoming the first sun-rays of spring.

SWIRL
Throughout, we noticed plenty of metal dimensional signs and some with incandescent light bulbs. The patio itself, was spacious, consuming a good chunk of the parking lot. The menus were simple, printed on brown paper and functional. A Toronto map with various unique landmarks was on the back side - something to ponder upon while you are waiting for your meal and beers.  
We asked the waitress to better explain their Rotation Taps option - the freshest kegs from seven categories - lager, wheat, mild ale, American ale, India Pale Ale, something dark and something seasonal. Unfortunately we learned about this option when we already ordered had beers in hand - a Guinness and a Steamwhistle (both on tap). We got a taste of Nickel Brook Cause and Effect (a touch too floral and aromatic) and a Shock Top (light and watery, but not what we were looking for our food choices).

PALATE
Fish Tacos were highly recommended, but we ended up with the Local Burger - cheese and jack cheese, hot sauce, pickles jalapeño, onions. It came on a large bun cover with poppy and sesame seeds. We also had their House-Made Organic Veggie Burger - brown rice, arugula, almond and melted Swiss cheese. Veggie burger came cut in half and stabbed with a few sticks, to help consume it. Both were excellent choices loaded with interesting ingredients. Should note, we both tough it was a missed opportunity that the fries came with a side of simple ketchup. 

FINISH
A bit on a pricier side, a great place to bring your friends over for a genuine pub fare with a twist and good selection of beers on tap. Now we need to go back and get a seat inside to experience the interior - with repurposed city lights, it is one-of-a-kind.

Local on Urbanspoon

29.3.15

B. Good

http://www.bgood.ca/

An ideal place to go to before visiting the Green Living Show on a sunny Sunday.  Our friend suggested it, as he had heard about it in the States. We had no objection, how can one resist a burger which is also not bad for you!

APPEARANCE
Nothing memorable to meet the eye from the outside - small, red sign on a large dark brown facade with a bright green door. Overall an odd colour palate - bright red, green and a dark brown. Our expectations were fairly low at that point.

NOSE
Plenty of light once inside, with bright green chairs and light birch tables that pop out at you. As we walked towards the back to order, we spent a few minutes reading their "Where Our Real Food Comes From" map, installed on a red wall partially faced with a new brick. A map of Southern Ontario was prominently displayed, as their beef, bread, ice cream, cheddar, potatoes and seasonal veggies were all from around the area. Good they did not put avocados on there...some stuff was not meant to be local. More real estate on the walls was occupied by the menus which the gathering crowd was marveling upon while the cashiers tried to chat them up. We noticed plenty of smoothies to choose from, an abundance of kale & quinoa dishes, of course, burgers. I was quite happy to see that they only had 6 "Made As" dressed combination options, followed by a list of extras and sides. It was just the right amount not be confused when your thoughts are already galloping in anticipation of a flavorful meal. We ordered their Adopted Luke as a turkey burger and their seasonal Joanie as a beef burger. Veggie and chicken patties were also an option. We also took some of their hand cut fries.

SWIRL
Before sitting down, we were drawn to the books on the side "how we do what we do". The subtitle was quite catchy: "Ingredients, Nutrition & Stories of Food Made by People not Factories". We enjoyed flipping through one of these books filled with curious details. Ones that caught our eye included - their Toronto shop partner for an all the natural ice cream and the fact that their meat paddies are freshly ground on site.
Another personal touch were the mini table standees showing B. Good employee names and their stories. We took a seat, submerged in their young vibe - listening to light, indie music surrounded by couples around us, some families and groups of friends.

PALATE
The traditional beef burger had a great patty with slightly spicy, fresh avocado and coleslaw to offset the explosion of flavours. The turkey patty was a bit drier, but the mushroom, caramelize onions, gouda and bbq sauce gave it a unique smokey feel. Both burgers were a mouthful and a decent value for the price. The meat quality seemed to confirm that it was freshly ground and never frozen. Sweet Potato Fries lacked an interesting sauce on the side - somewhat of an opportunity missed here - but were what we expected.

FINISH
One of the best finishes after this meal was the fact that we didn't feel heavy nor get any heartburn.
Overall, we had a wholesome experience at B. Good and could recommend it for all the burger lovers. Too bad the restaurant was not licensed for alcohol - a glass of cold, local brew could go well with the experience. At the same time, The Works is just next door.  B. Good does not directly try to compete, it is a different type of fast-casual and we are happy we tried it out. It has a consistent message all around and, despite being a chain, maintains a personable attitude.

PS: B. Good is partnered with The Regent Park Community Food Centres to make a difference in the lives of less fortunate. Here is some more about that: http://cfccanada.ca/regent-park-cfc
B Good on Urbanspoon

26.3.15

Sultan's Tent

www.thesultanstent.com

Sultan's Tent and the associated Cafe Moroc do deserve a few words and more than one visit as your experience might be quite different depending upon when you visit. With all the recent development around St. Lawrence Market, there are a lot more people strolling on Front Street at all times. Sultan's Tent is ever-present with a sidewalk sign and a prominent hanging one above, hard to miss it.

APPEARANCE
We walked through the pointed arch entrance and were submerged into the atmosphere right away. Some French music was playing as we walked through Cafe Moroc into the dining area without meeting a single soul. Admittedly, we were there early, it was barely 6pm. After meeting our host, we were escorted even deeper into the restaurant. The main dining area had lower seating structures reminiscent of tents with thin fabric walls - orange, warm brows and some green colors persisting.
We studied the menu for a few moments. It had a red leather cover and with warm beige pages and borders throughout. While decorative, it remained elegant, nicely themed and spaced out.

NOSE
Shortly after we settled among the cushions, our waiter David came over and offered water as well as a quick rundown of what's good. We followed some of his recommendations Moroccan Cigar (Maftoul), Braised Harigma Beef Cheeks as well as some Hummus and a Lamb Shank. While there was a prix-fixe menu option for $55 (which was also the weekend minimum), David recommended to go a-la-carte instead. We could not help thinking about bed bugs and dust potentially collected by the vast number of pillows lining the benches. This unhealthy paranoia could only be fixed by wine, so we ordered Cabernet Shiraz from Jacobs Creek (fairly safe choice considering we were not certain on what kind of flavors our dishes will deliver) and another Shiraz this time from Don Couragu, South Africa.

SWIRL
The initial soundtrack of old French songs morphed into something Turkish sounding and eventually became a more generic lounge music. Glancing around and waiting for our order, we noticed the intricate lanterns on our table as well as the unique, large and slowly rotating fans everywhere. There were also several ottomans around us with a short back support, contrasted by the tall chairs at the regualr tables - different seating areas but yet nicely coexisting in the same theme.

PALATE
Another signature dish we briefly considered was Harira Soup - tomato based with lentils chickpeas and Moroccan spice. Sounded very interesting, but we had a feeling our order would already deliver plenty of food. Maftoul - Moroccan cigar - was probably the most unique dish we tried that day. The ground beef was mixed in with some raisins and wrapped in a fried phyllo, later on drizzles with spicy chipotle aioli. It was a very flavorful, a tad spicy but a very interesting choice. These cigars went very well with our Shiraz. Next came our hummus. We were somewhat surprised by the crisp pita served. While it was home-made, we did not find anything extraordinary about the humus itself. A nice touch was to put a bit of their unique El Ouzzania olive oil and a few marinated olives on the side. The main dishes were large and very flavorful. Harigma Beef Cheeks were praised by our waiter as a unique meat rarely served in restaurants. It was unique indeed - definitely cooked for a long time to a great degree of tenderness, as one dug into the dish it came off like pulled pork. It was was served with chickpea ragu, caramelized onions, raisins and almonds. The Lamb Shank had caramelized dates, cashews, saffron rice and seasoned veggies with meat falling of the bones. We were pleasantly surprised that the lamb was not too pungent, but still with a distinct taste. The side dish combinations with the meats were remarkable and we found that being the most enjoyable part of our experience.  

FINISH
Hard to tell whether Sultan's Tent truly offers an authentic Moroccan fare, as we have never been exposed to the true cuisine of that area. At any rate, it was an interesting experience for us with some original dishes in a non-standard setting. Now, we need to come back during their belly dancing show - to experience their colourful, energetic vibe.

The Sultan's Tent & Café Moroc on Urbanspoon

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
Le 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 - Le 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. Le 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 - Le 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