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I recently had the pleasure of celebrating a friend’s birthday with two of her girlfriends over dinner. It was especially nice to see her and catch up – it’d been months since our last adventure (which included heavy poutine consumption at London’s newly opened Smoke’s. I was instantly transported to Montreal during my first encounter (delicious fries with just the right amount of crisp, smothered with gravy and curds), only to face disappointment during a revisit. I certainly hope this chain’s inconsistency does not prevail.)

Food-wise, it’s interesting to be reminded of how far the boy and I have deviated from the norm. How far we’ve grown in the last few years with our ever rising culinary skills and penchant for interesting flavour combinations. Which leads us to almost never going out for dinner unless we’re going for the best, and make an event out of fine dining spearheaded by creative and innovative chefs. Some folks spend their entertainment budget on movie or video games; I splurge on food. And I have no qualms saving my pennies to savour fine dining, but am adverse to to spending on mediocrity. Case in point: we planned part of our last trip to NYC around dining at Wylie Dufresne‘s currently Michelin star rated wd-50, and even had a chance to meet the molecular gastronomist himself!

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Some time ago, the boy promised to take me out on a real date. Unfortunately our last pre-summer/treeplanting weeks in London were filled with errands – moving the contents of our apartment into storage, on his part: final papers & exams, on my part: wrapping things up in the lab so as to leave things at a natural breaking point for the next research assistant.

Putting London on hold, we decided to postpone the date until Ottawa.
Enter e18hteen.

Classically trained Matthew Carmichael’s menu features local ingredients. Despite the unsurprisingly little amount of ‘adventurous’ foods, the dinner turned out extremely tasty. We created our own tasting: they “usually” only allow blind tastings if the entire table partakes, so we couldn’t manage to convince the waiter to serve a few extra blind dishes in addition to one order of the tasting menu.

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We’ve landed ourselves in the little town of London, in a 825 sq ft 2 bedroom apartment that’s costing us less than the 1bdrm Montreal pad.

Perhaps I should rephrase myself: we’re now located in Canada’s 10th largest city. Ahem. It takes a little getting used to when you’ve lived in Montreal for the past 5 years…

My biggest concern moving here was that there’d be a lack of food scene – but I’ve been proven wrong so far! After 8 weeks of London-ing, we’ve had beautiful food (outside of our own kitchen, of course) at Garlic’s and The Only on King.

A couple of Sundays ago, the boy and I had garlic ice cream. Yes, true to the name of the restaurant, they tried to prominently feature garlic in all of their dishes, including dessert! Pleasantly surprised, it was pretty damn tasty: the spicy kick from the raw garlic balanced well with the vanilla in the ice cream. The waitress seemed to think we were “brave” to try the chocolate covered garlic garnish (that would’ve benefited from being slightly less sweet) – perhaps most of the patrons are less daring than us. Food was okay – satisfying, but not as creative or original flavours as I would’ve liked.

The pan fried northern Lake Erie yellow skinned wild pickerel was done perfectly – every time I order fish at a restaurant (which seems to be rare), I wonder why I don’t order fish more often! It was served with a little too much remoulade, though (which went well with the potatoes, but overwhelmed the fish if you glopped it on). The boy had the the braised dorset lamb shank, accompanied by a jalapeno & mint jelly. It was nice. Satisfying.

Tonight, we dined at The Only on King – and even had a chance to meet the chefs Jason and Paul and sneak a peak at the kitchen! (drool… I want one of those). The boy’s surprise tasting menu was of beautifully autumn, and started with a chestnut soup with apple crème fraîche. An heirloom beet salad with chèvre and smoked bacon on arugula, a gnocchi and perch dish, and cornish hen done just right. Dessert? A deliciously rich and smooth chocolate tart. His mum (who suggested the lovely restaurant after reading in En Route that it was on the top 10 list of new restaurants in Canada) had a fantastically balanced endive salad featuring a blue cheese dressing, apples, and pecans. And a main of perch and dessert of sticky toffee pudding (which came with a fantastic vanilla ice cream). My rillettes to start were accompanied by lovely olives and marinaded artichoke, and the rib eye with creamed spinach and chanterelles was fantastic. The meat was cooked perfectly – and thank goodness they didn’t ask how one would like it done, because it precludes the possibility of morons ordering it medium well or well done! And I must confess (rather sheepishly) – this is the first time I’ve had chanterelles, and I’ve definitely fallen in love with them. Plating was a little less exciting, but the tastes more than made up for that component.

I’m looking forward to visiting The Only again, and seeing what Jason and Paul will whip up (their menu changes daily). Lovely atmosphere, and a cozy dining area that seats about 30. And part of their decor? They have a meat block and a duck press. How cool is that?

The Only on King
172 King Street; 519.936.2064
**** (of 5)

Garlic’s of London
481 Richmond St; 519.432.4092
*** (of 5)

Our lunch visit yesterday to the new burger bar m:brgr left much to be desired. The burgers were good, yes, but definitely overpriced for what they’re worth. And it wasn’t anything that couldn’t have been made at home for tastier. The reasonable burger price of 8.75$ doesn’t reflect your total bill (as expected – I’d already peeked at the menu on their website) since toppings add up. A few toppings later, and your burger ends up being closer to 18$. The portobello on the boy’s burger were slightly lacking in flavour, and unable to hold up against the beef. My burger, topped with house-smoked bacon (which I will admit was quite tasty) and cheddar that was too mild for my liking (especially against the pickle). Moreover, our foodie companion’s fried egg was overcooked (isn’t the whole point to have the runny yolk meld with the sandwich?).

The one saving grace? Excellent coleslaw (also as expected – it’s the same stuff served at Moishe’s, and it’s the stuff that turned me onto coleslaw in the first place). Okay, and their lightly battered sweet potato fries were pretty tasty as well. But aren’t burger joints supposed to highlight burgers?

I’m glad I tried the restaurant, but the hype is overrated and my first visit was likely my last. Don’t be fooled by their tagline “required eating”.

2025 Drummond; 514-906-2747
Dinner for 2, before tax, tip and drinks: $45-$75

This weekend landed me in Toronto, and happily reunited with a dear friend who’s been missing in action for 5 months. Okay, not really MIA per sey, unless you count disappearing to Berlin for the summer as such. Sadly, our academic paths have led us to be in different cities, but alas! It gives me yet another excuse (beyond my mother’s rendition of oh-so-good Chiu Chow styled duck) to come visit.

We caught up in the yuppy neighborhood of Yonge + Eglinton, where yummy mummies were plenty, dog-walking (and child-walking) on sidewalks. With Sunset Grill being packed (and neither one of us extremely craving the greasy spoon: to be honest, I’m still recoiling from the Quebec protein of August), we sauntered north along Yonge. A few restaurants seemed to serve brunch, but Amore caught our eye with its menu displayed prominently beside the door. C-Food, for example, had this silly little tv screen on the patio, that stayed too long on the ’15$ prix fixe’ screen, without divulging the details of this special. It wasn’t that Amore had a spectacular menu, per sey, it just, well, had a menu.

Reasonably priced enough (brunch items seemed to mostly hover at 9$ or so), we took a seat on the ‘patio’ – a crammed 3 table space in front of the restaurant. Unfortunately, it proved not to be the best seat of the house, as the autumn winds and shade quickly cooled our ordered items. I suppose I’m still in denial that summer is quickly fleeting.

I was sorely disappointed with the overly lemony hollandaise sauce on my bennys. Which leaves me still on a quest to find the perfect rendition of this sauce. The last time I had eggs benedict, I was in North Bay where the joint served a way-too-thick version of the sauce (did they put cornstarch in it?!). And unfortunately, my dear friend was unimpressed with the undercooked potatoes that came with her spicy italian sausage frittata (the bread was a redeeming factor, however.) Coffee was standard, as far as coffee goes when it’s served at 2.3$/mug.

Spending QT was more of a priority today, so I think I wasn’t actually as frustrated (vocally, anyway) with the food as I would usually be. Sometimes, even good service can’t make up for the food. When I’m in the area next, however, I’ll probably be venturing elsewhere. Like Grazie Ristorante, for example (a fave of my dear friend’s).

Amore Trattoria
2425 Yonge St.
* * (of 5)

Part of the long weekend was spent in Ottawa, during which, unsurprisingly, there existed a repeated theme of food. Easter dinner with the boy’s family included: a creamy broco-cran salad, a lettuce salad with uber sharp red onions, spiced butternut squash soup, turkey (served with a nutty pecan stuffing), clove-studded ham, vegetarian quiche, sweet potatoes, apple pie, cherry-apple pie, lemon meringue pie. (!!)

Onwards, post dinner adventures: brief catch-ups with friends, meeting of the fiancée, cigars on the rooftop of a 20-something story building. And then? Someone wanted shawarma. Do you know how difficult it is to find a joint that is open on the Sunday night/Monday morning of the Easter long weekend? Scouring downtown Ottawa shortly after 1am, we finally landed on the corner of Elgin & Gladstone. Marroush International is a very moderate joint, with a very nutsy balding and mustache wearing owner. Entertaining. Random. And “full service” entails a dramatic unwrapping of your sandwich, complete with the rip-plus-toss-with-a-flair of the foil covering. All in a farcically sexual (but so very unsexy) manner. I was trying to parse the expression on the face of a North Bay-er: was she creeped/shocked/entertained/laughing/etc? I didn’t order anything myself, but snuck a bite (or two or three) of the boy’s sandwich. Thumbs up from him.

After sleeping off the randomness, we met with an old friend of the boy’s for lunch. It seems that cross-city franchises have different expectations at their various locations. The boy, when in Winnipeg last summer, had positive remarks regarding drinks and cocktails at Moxie’s. I, on the other hand, encountered a version in Toronto (the one at Fairview mall) that left me wanting much, much more. If memory serves me, I had ordered the soup/sandwich combo – my soup was tepid, and my club sandwich was lacking bacon and tomatoes. Due to my preconceived notions of Moxie’s nation-wide, I had to do a slight double take this past Monday: we walked into a modern looking venue that was large and two-storied, with an open kitchen (though the fake wood-fire oven was disappointing), and attractive waitstaff. I soon discovered tjat the washrooms were just as trendy (I’m a fan of the tiled trough sink). Then, the food. For what it was, it certainly surpassed my expectations (the fries did, however, leave me parched for the remainder of the afternoon). I ordered the portobelo baguette-sandwich, and the boy and friend seemed to find their respective steak sandwiches just dandy (open-faced steak sandwich, which was the special of the day, and greek salad steak wrap).Back in Montreal, the snagged turkey leftovers (now sitting prettily in the freezer), hopefully imply that we’ll finally get around to making a savoury, curry pie.