Monday, September 3, 2012

What We Ate

Usually when we plan a vacation, we (well, I), spend a lot of time researching restaurants/food. Toronto was no exception, but it just seemed so hard to get a grasp, to pick some places, to have a plan or a list of definite try places.

I used Urbanspoon, where reviews seemed almost too positive to be true, especially when the same places reviewed on Yelp were given less than positive comments. I asked people who lived in/visited Toronto, like Food Collage, for suggestions. I searched 'Toronto Best Restaurants' and 'Toronto Must Eats.' SP's company has a Toronto office and we asked them for suggestions. I read Toronto food blogger sites, looked at TV travel/food shows, and then, I just gave up.

Toronto is a huge city. We did not plan to use the car much once we got there, which meant walking, lots of walking, or the public transit system, and since I am in a wheelchair, we wanted to minimize the reliance on public transportation since sometimes there can be issues. Like when we used the subway to go to ROM and discovered there was a 2-3 inch gap between the platform & train car, perfect for wheelchair wheels to sink into, plus the platform and train car were not at an even level.

Plus, since were in Canada, our phones would be roaming, so we weren't going to use them unless there was free wi-fi. This meant our opportunities to quickly consult and look up information on our smartphones while on the go were limited.

I ended up making a list of 3-4 casual places in each 'area' as a guide. I did not make reservations anywhere upscale/fancy/on a best of list because I did not want to deal with making sure we were in the right neighborhood at the right time via public transportation nor did we really want to deal with driving in Toronto traffic then trying to park. We did drive to Casa Loma because that was the easiest way to get there with me in the wheelchair, but as an example, it took us 15-20 minutes to get from the hotel to Casa Loma and then nearly 1.5 hours to get from Casa Loma back towards the hotel and over a few blocks to The Distillery District, where parking cost $3/hour or $12 max.

Beer Bistro was suggested by someone from SP's company's Toronto office. It's not technically wheelchair accessible, but SP went in and asked and the really nice and helpful hostess took us around the block and in through the employee's entrance, which has no stairs. We did not have reservations, we arrived around 8 pm on a Monday and were seated right away, thank goodness, because it was late, we were really hungry and getting snippy, we had been walking for a very long time, it was breezy and I was getting chilly, and the 2 places we had tried before this had way too many stairs.
This was our favorite meal of the trip. SP got a hard cider, I drank water. We shared a Roasted Red Pepper & Tomato soup with white cheddar beer croutons. So delicious. Pureed, not chunky, that lovely roasted red pepper flavor with the tomatoes, a combination we both really like. Beer Bistro offers a lot of kinds of mussels and SP tried the New England ones, with potatoes, bacon, leeks, cheddar, parsley, and a touch of cream. He said they were good. Sorry, this was over a week ago after a lot of vacation activities and I don't take notes when we eat out so that's the best I can do about the mussels!

My chicken, however, is memorable because it was so good, so tasty, one of the best meals I've had out in a while. Grilled Stuffed Chicken Breast with oatmeal stout goat cheese, creamy polenta, green beans, blistered tomatoes, and balsamic stout glaze. The green beans were crisp. The tomatoes soft and flavorful. The polenta so creamy, so tasty, it must have been one of those things infused with magic dust it was so good. The chicken was moist, juicy, and the skin was so crispy, fused to the skin, but not greasy or overcooked. I ate it all. One of those I wish I could lick the plate dishes.

Toronto has several markets. St. Lawrence Market was recently named by National Geographic as the best food market in the world. We walked over after we went to the Hockey Hall of Fame, and we walked back to our hotel at the harbourfront from the market. It is a lot of walking, but SP is a good walker! So much food!!! I think there were 3 large cheese counters. It was cheese heaven and made me wish we had a kitchen in the hotel room so I could buy cheese and prepare some sort of meal.
And so many meats. If we had had access to a kitchen, I am sure SP would have bought one of these to try his hand at cooking, and to see what it tastes like:
Ostrich, camel, crocodile, boar, duck, kangaroo, venison - and not just one cut of these 'exotic' meats but several cuts. The was a mustard shop with many, many kinds of mustard. We had been so hungry after the HHOF that we ate before walking to the market, so we didn't  try some of things I had on my list, like the 'World Famous Peameal Bacon Sandwich' at Carousel Bakery, seafood from Buster's, a crepe from the crepe place. I wish we had been hungry, but we just weren't. We found a tea shop that sold the loose leaf tea we've been trying to find here in Pittsburgh at our usual tea places but they haven't had it in stock, so we stocked up plus bought a new kind.

That evening, after walking around the harbourfront and a rest at the hotel, we decided to get a quick dinner near the hotel and tried Harbour Sports Grille.
We tried sitting outside at first, but unfortunately, a group of 3-4 tipsy women came out, grabbed a table next to us, and lit up, sending cigarette smoke wafting in our direction. I really, really, cannot stand cigarette smoke smell, so we asked to move inside. We weren't super hungry, so SP had a house salad that was OK, but at $6 seemed pricey for what he got. We shared a pizza, and it was just OK pizza. Service was great, food was decent, but if we're in Toronto again, I would not go back here.
After the HHOF and before St. Lawrence Market, we grabbed a quick lunch inside Brookfield Place at a place called Marche. Marche seems to be an European chain and the Toronto location seems to be the only one in North America. When you enter, the greeter/hostess hands each person a swipe card. The place is set up like a market, and there's different 'stations' like pasta, crepes, pizza, omelets, salads, sandwiches, rosti, rotisserie meats, baked goods, desserts, breads, etc. plus a tea & coffee bar and the tea & coffee bar also serves wine and alcoholic coffees. You can walk around and check everything out and then go to the food station you want, order, hand over your swipe card, the worker swipes your card, hands it back, makes your food, you get your food and find a table, eat, and then present your swipe card to the cashier on your way out to pay.

The day we ate lunch there, we shared a smoked turkey crepe, with roasted red pepper spread, cheese, and lettuce. We also shared focaccia with bacon, tomatoes, and roasted red pepper. The crepe was delicious. Other filling options that day were smoked salmon and some kind of curry or Indian spiced chicken. The focaccia was yummy, too, with lots of bacon and pepper.

Another evening, after doing a lot of walking, we deliberately walked back to the hotel via a route past Marche so we could grab a quick dinner. We shared a small salad from the salad bar, cheese ravioli with sauteed green & yellow squash, and we each had a dessert, flan with berries for SP and tiramisu for me.
The ravioli was quite good. We decided it's definitely a huge step up from Olive Garden and maybe almost on par with pasta at Bravo. SP said the ravioli were cooked ahead of time and kept cold, but the squash was freshly sauteed, then added to warm sauce, and then the ravioli added long enough to warm it, and then plated. It felt light to me, not heavy like some pastas. He liked his flan, especially all the berries, but I'm not sure it was true flan because it didn't look like flan I've had before and the texture looked off a bit, but SP said it was a tasty version of flan. My tiramisu was the same: very tasty, light, but it didn't seem like a true tiramisu since there weren't many ladyfingers or much booze taste. But you can see the desserts in the case before you choose to purchase them, so it was clear to both of us that we might not be getting true versions but that they would probably still be tasty.

We found the workers to be very friendly. Our empty plates were promptly cleared after asking if it was OK to clear them. After I got settled at a table during a busy lunch hour, a worker brought me a glass of water and a napkin/flatware. Another one was very nice when I flagged her down to ask for the free wi-fi password. I liked that the seating areas didn't scream cafeteria or fast food, they were nicely lit, comfortable, away from the hustle and bustle of the food area. And for the price, it seemed like a great deal. Lunch was around $22 and dinner around $33, but that includes tax, gratuity, and all the foreign transaction/credit card fees for using our American credit cards in another country.
After many of our morning activities, usually around 2~3 in the afternoon, we were hungry, so we would grab food from the nearest source before moving on to the next activity. Like at ROM. We were so hungry after the dinosaurs and everything else that we decided to head down to the cafeteria. We shared a sandwich and soup in their cafeteria. In spite of being a pre-made sandwich, it was tasty, not soggy or wilted, and on a brown bread, which made SP happy especially since it was a ham sandwich, and the mushroom soup was really good. Lots of mushrooms. I thought it might be with beef broth because of the color, but SP said the signs at the soup bar spelled out the kind of broth and ingredients for each soup and the mushroom soup was made with chicken broth.
After ROM we walked to Kensington Market. It was quite the walk, but since the nearest accessible subway stop for ROM and for Kensington was the same, we walked. I didn't get to try Cafe Pamenar, which was on my list, because we didn't feel like coffee or a drink nor were we hungry for a snack, but I did try a cheese empanada from Jumbo Empanadas and I made sure to have space in my belly for The Grilled Cheese.
This place was also suggested by SP's Toronto co-worker. Ooey, gooey, grilled cheese? Yes, please! It's not accessible, there's one huge step, but there are a couple picnic tables outside. SP went in, took photos of the menu for me, we made our selections, and then he went back in and ordered. He tried the gazpacho, which seemed very dark for a gazpacho. He said it was good, but really, I don't think he's ever not liked a soup, especially gazpacho. We shared a grilled cheese with cheddar, caramelized apples & onions, bacon, and avocado. So good. Nicely grilled bread, not too buttery or greasy, a good amount of  nicely melted cheese, soft apples, the bite of caramelized onion, and smushy, gooey avocado. It maybe could have used more avocado, but overall, this was a very tasty late afternoon snack.
On our walks, we went in search of a tea place I had stumbled upon during all my research: Herbal Infusions Premium Tea on W. Adelaide Street. You know there was no way we were not going to seek out a tea place! Upon entering, we saw the wall of tea. Dan, the proprietor, is very friendly, knowledgeable, and had no problem with us opening and sniffing nearly all the canisters of tea! Black, green, white, herbal, rooibos, mate... so many. Orange Creamsicle, Caffe Latte, Apple Pie Cinnamon, Campfire (with tiny marshmallow bits!), just to name a few I sniffed. We both ordered an iced tea. Spicy Cherry for me and Toasted Almond for SP. The Spicy Cherry was good, but the Toasted Almond was really, really good. So good that we bought a huge bag of it to bring home! So good that we wanted to stop back Saturday morning before our drive home to get tea to go, but they were closed that Saturday.
We walked through a bit of Chinatown near Kensington, enjoying the sites like the hog's head in a window.
Our day at Casa Loma was much like our day at ROM. We spent 3-4 hours from late morning being tourists and then felt famished so we shared a mozzarella~proscuitto~arugula panini with vegetable chips and a chocolate croissant in the Casa Loma basement cafe. The croissant was good but not especially flaky. The sandwich was fine, too, nothing memorable but definitely tasty.

Our last Toronto touristy fun was to visit the Distillery District. It's a national historic site and was once home to The Gooderham and Worts Distillery. The area is brick lined streets filled with shops and eateries and the buildings are the largest and best preserved collection of Victorian Industrial Architecture in North America. This means lots of exposed brick walls, amazing exposed wood beams. Very old, quaint, beautiful. 
Our first stop was Soma Chocolates where we got two flavors of gelato, strawberry & peach, to share. The peach was creamy and peachy. The strawberry was creamy and had great strawberry flavor but it was a very sweet strawberry flavor. We both preferred the peach. The chocolates looked and sounded terrific, but we weren't hungry for chocolate and we were afraid that if we bought some, they would melt as we walked around or would melt in the car on the ride home.
Brick Street Bakery is not accessible, so I sat outside at one of the cute marble topped tables while SP went inside. He bought treats for the next day: a lemon poppyseed cookie and a chocolate croissant, which was very flaky and buttery and delicious.
SP tasted some sake at Ontario Spring Water Sake. He tasted three kinds and enjoyed some little snacks.

After more wandering and looking at a display of the distillery's history, we decided to get some dinner at Mill Street Brewery. There was a 20~25 minute wait for a non-smoking seat outside, so we sat inside. It's spacious, lots of exposed wood, the usual brewery/pub decor, a fireplace in the center of the dining room.
SP chose a stout. I chose a Pellar Estates (Niagara winery) chardonnay. Later in the evening, our server brought SP a generous sample of the ginger flavored beer, which he liked but not as much as the stout.
We shared Crabcake Sliders for an appetizer. Mill St. Lemon Tea Ale marinated crab cakes topped with smoked paprika aioli and pickled ginger in brioche.
They were tasty. I really liked the brioche instead of a too hard or too squishy bun and it was a good size, it wasn't too big a bun. The pickled ginger added a nice jolt of flavor, the crab cakes were moist and tasty.
SP had the Island Chicken Salad napa cabbage, sweet peppers, avocado, oranges, Mill St Lemon Ale citrus vinaigrette and topped with grilled Caribbean spiced chicken.He said it was a nice jerk seasoning on the chicken and a good salad. He helped me finish my meal: Lobster & Avocado Club crispy bacon, lettuce, avocado, tarragon aioli, ancient grains bread.
It was good, not great. Not too mayo squishy. I think it was missing the avocado, which made me sad once I discovered that halfway through eating it! Definitely filling.

Mill Street Brewery is a good choice for dinner. It's slightly above average pub food, very friendly servers, and a nice atmosphere.

After dinner, we walked over to Balzac's Coffee:
We shared a large latte. I didn't think I could drink even a small coffee because I was so full, but we had heard the coffee was really good and I wanted a little something after dinner. It's really neat inside, exposed brick and wood beams, huge green barn-like doors to enter, Balzac's art on the walls, old fashioned coffee grinders on the walls. So much character - I wish we had a place like this near us! We took our newspaper so we could sit and relax and read while we sipped a very delicious coffee with a design!

And then vacation was over, except for the drive home. Even though we didn't have any of our usual vacation 'fancy/expensive' dinners out, we still ate a lot of tasty food. Maybe next time, now that we've done a lot of the tourist/sight-seeing things, we can make a better effort to go to some of the places on the 'Toronto Best Restaurants' lists.

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