So when neighbourhood Italian place Filippo's closed a few years back, I was seriously bummed. SERIOUSLY BUMMED. I kind of loved Filippo's. And I heard at the time that the location was going to be taken over be the people who owned The Rushton, a restaurant I'm not overly fond of, thanks to a few unpleasant experiences, just across the street. The rumours proved true and after a big reno, Catch opened -- a high-end seafood joint promising "sustainable" choices. (I like the idea of sustainable seafood, of course, but  skeptical of "sustainable" claims since the word seems to mean different things at different restaurants.) But enough about that. I didn't notice any issues with Catch's offerings from an environmental perspective.
The place is pretty pricey so Nate and I have only been a couple of times. The first time was last summer. I was a little disappointed. I'm not sure why. The food was good, but the prices felt too high on that occasion and I didn't love having to sit on a high stool (some tables are bar height for some reason). Maybe I was still lamenting the loss of Filippo's.

Then, we heard our food-expert friend James had been and that he'd loved it so we decided to give it another go. About a week ago, Nate and I popped in on our anniversary for the oysters I was craving. We had no reservation and the place was full, but they fit us in at the bar, which was fine (though we had to sit on those tall seats again).

Bottom line: Daaaaamn were those oysters good.
Now, if you know me, you know I'm freaking crazy about oysters and the fact that they're so expensive is one of the chief sadnesses of my life. (Clearly, I have a pretty good life, eh?)

I wrote about Biff's not too long ago, just because of their relatively cheap bivalve offerings. (They have buck a shuck!) But on this particular trip to Catch, Nate and I resolved to splash out a little and accept the $3/each price that you see at most oyster places. (At Catch, you can get a half dozen slippery wonders for $18 or a doz for $36.). We were not disappointed. First of all, compared to almost all the oysters I've ever had, the ones we had at Catch were huge. Big mouthfuls. Almost too big. 

We had a selection of three different kinds - some from Nova Scotia, some from Massachusetts and some from Washington state. All were very fresh. The Washington ones were less to my taste, being a little too... I dunno, meaty? I'm not sure. I still liked them, but they were my least favourite of the three options. With toppings like vinegar, salsa and horseradish etc., they were fine. The Massachusetts ones were lovely -- large and fresh tasting and the most salty of the bunch. The Nova Scotia ones were my overall favourite -- huge, not overly salty, and also a little sweet. Overall, the platter was excellent, and because the oysters were so big, I didn't mind the price tag. (Had the teeny little oysters we had at Biff's been $3 a piece, for example, I would have been pissed.)  

Anyway, besides oysters, we also had four raw clams on the half shell ($2.50 each) which was probably a mistake. They were a sandy and it turns out neither of us is very keen on raw clam. Maybe baked, they would have been better. They felt thick/rubbery and crunchy (because of the sand) to me, and they were a bit fishy tasting, but I really think that's a personal thing rather than a fault of the restaurant. It was an experiment.

We had an appetizer of Haddock Croquettes with a Harissa Aioli for $9, which was good. Basically they were haddock balls, falafel-sized, on a little plate with the mayo-like aioli and some arugula. Decent size for the price. (Nate, who has a huge appetite, especially liked this.)

Finally, we had two signature drinks - Ceasars - which were $13 each (a little pricey) but they were also REALLY good. Each came with a freshly pickled olive, a round pickled onion, and a large smoked mussel on a skewer. I have to say, that smoked mussel was shockingly good. It might even be the best smoked mussel I've ever had. For real. It had a light bacony taste, and it wasn't at all oily (like many smoked mussels). That mussel was amazing. 
amazing or not, mussels look kinda gross up close

So, what else can I say? Catch has sort of won me over, at least for the oysters. It's basically the only seafood option for miles around, though, so I don't have another local joint to compare it to. It's expensive, but as a once-in-awhile sort of thing, worth it, I think.

Catch
744 St. Clair W.
Toronto, ON M6C 1B3
(416) 658-0568
www.catchit.ca
 
 
It's been way too long since I've done a restaurant post, so today I thought I'd share a little about my recent experience at Prop, an Italian pasta-type place on St. Clair west in Toronto. 

As I say in the title, it's not bad. It opened in the neighbourhood a few years ago and seemed to thrive despite a relatively negative review from Joanne Kates. It's still open and seems to have people in it regularly, so obviously, it's got something going for it. That said, my experience was a bit blah.
When Nate and I were there, we had the Grilled Sardines appetizer, which was well-reviewed, but which we both found to very fishy, which is usually a sign of less-than-fresh ingredients. That said, it's possible that sardines are just not our thing. 

Next we had the Bucatini (with Pancetta and Spicy Tomato Sauce - $16) and the Spaghetti Nero (with Cuttlefish Ink and Squid - $18). Both were a little disappointing. Portions were a little undersized and tastes just so-so. It wasn't BAD, but neither option really lived up to my expectations. We had wine (by the glass) and our final bill landed somewhere around $100 before tip. That felt to me like a bit too much for such a casual bistro experience. (The restaurant calls itself a "caffe" after all.)
The space is minimal and a little cold, in my opinion and staffers slow to acknowledge patrons. (A lot of Yelp reviewers deem the service "rude.")  All in all, it was a very mediocre experience. With some other great pasta options in the neighbourhood, I can't really understand why Prop hasn't had to step up its game in order to stay in business, but what do I know? 

My advice is this: try it if you feel like it, but keep your expectations fairly low to avoid disappointment.

Prop Caffe
St Clair Ave W.
Toronto, ON, M6C 1B5
(416) 792-3313
www.propcaffe.ca
 
 
Okay, dudes. It's been too long since I've written a review, which makes no sense at all since Nate and I have been spending a fortune on take out and restaurants. (Folks with no kids: Does this ever happen to you? You just get into an "eating out" phase? Bad for the pocketbook, but good for the soul, I say.) 

Anyway. Several weeks back we hit up a place we'd never been to before: Biff's Bistro (an Oliver and Bonacini restaurant down on Front St.). 

We went for one reason and one reason only: CHEAP OYSTERS. In fact, I think the oysters at Biff's may be the cheapest in the city. See, the restaurant runs this happy-hour-type oyster special that starts at 5 pm every night. Oysters on the half shell are only $1! Usually, they're $3. They come with basic toppings only - lemon wedges and horseradish, but frankly, that's good enough for me. Additional toppings may be available, but probably at a price. I didn't check. All I cared about were the oysters. Slippery, salty, wonderful oysters. Only $1 a piece. It was like a dream.
I don't know if you're aware of this, but $1/each is basically a wholesale oyster price. I'm not even kidding. I'm crazy for oysters lately. So crazy, I've been looking into trying to buy them wholesale for myself. So that Nate and I can have a feast of only oysters. (I don't know why I want to do this. I have just been craving oysters lately. I'm not preggo or anything, so who knows where this craving is coming from.)

Anyway, Nate and I headed to Biff's a little early, arriving at 5:30, which was smart, because they get a limited amount of oysters in each day, and they sell out fast. So if you want to take advantage of the $1 special, be early and order quick. When we were there, they'd sold out of their 700 oysters (which is the number they happened to get that day) before 7 pm.

Now, to be fair, these are not fancy oysters. The ones we had were perfectly fresh, but they were also on the small side. I think they were malpeques from PEI. Nothing wrong with that, but if you're a true oyster lover and want more variety and options, this isn't where to get 'em. This is where you get cheap oysters. And when you're eating something that usually costs $3 for less than a mouthful, you've got to compromise a little.

We ate three dozen and boy was I happy.

Anyway. Enough about the oysters. Here's the rest of Biff's dinner menu
Otherwise, Biff's was just so-so, in my opinion. Sitting on the patio (on one of the last warm evenings of the year) was nice. The french bistro vibe and outdoor furniture were nice too. In addition to the oysters, we had the Crispy Pig Ears and Rinds (shown above), which were sort of mediocre. The rinds seemed like the sort of stuff you could get in a bag from the supermarket, while the crispy ears were more chewy than crispy. Still, not bad. Nate also had an order of Steak Frites. Steak and fries and vegetables. For $26 (on top of what we already ordered), it was the cheapest hearty-looking thing on the menu, and since we were already splurging on the night out, we wanted to keep our costs down). It was fine, but nothing special. If not for the cheap oysters, it would have been a disappointing meal for the price.

Anyway, there's my review of Biff's. The oysters make it worth it. Everything else was ho-hum.
 
 
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So Nate and I ventured out to a new(ish) place in the neighbourhood for burgers last night: Chuck and Co.

We'd been meaning to go for awhile, but only just got around to it.

The menu and website promised "globally inspired" fare, but frankly, the burgers were really just burgers. Sure, some of them had some interesting spices (like marsala) worked into the mix, but they're still just burgers.

Still, they're good burgers.

Nate had the much-lauded Montreal Burger $7.50 (apparently called one of the "best burgers in the city" by Toronto Life). I tasted it, and while I'd say it was good, I wouldn't go that far. The smoked meat is ground right into the chuck and it was a little dry for my tastes.

I had the cheapest burger on the menu: the Chuck Burger ($6) and was certainly satisfied. The meat tasted like real meat (as opposed to those horrible patties you get at fast-food joints) and the ciabatta bun was hearty and satisfying. My only complaints would be that there was a little too much mayo on it, and it didn't come with a pickle. (I love my toppings and like it best when there are lots of options. You get your usual lettuce, tomato, onion, here, and ketchup, etc., but nothing fancy, really.) I NEED MY PICKLES!

We also tried the fries. I had the 50/fifty fries -- a half-sweet potato, half-regular combo, which was a nice option, but not cheap at $4.50. The sweet potatoes were pretty mushy, but good nonetheless. The regular fries were better.

Nate had "twice-fried" fries, $4. They tasted the same as mine...exactly. Maybe twice-fried fries are their standard? I'm not sure. Regardless, they were crispy, chunky and good. We had to ask for salt for the table, however. As a lover of the white and artery-hardening stuff, I hate to have to ask for it. Vaguely embarrasing.

It's like, "I know it's unhealthy and I know I'm a horrible person who's sure to bloat later, but could I have some salt please?" MOAR SALT. Sigh.

Anyway. We enjoyed ourselves and will definitely go back. I'd even say that the Chuck and Co. burgers were better than those from the much-talked-about Stockyards across the street.  (Ya. I said it.)

*Update: after posting this, I received a tweet from @chuckandco that mentioned that they DO have pickles and that I should ask for them next time. Word to
Chuck and Co.
672 Saint Clair Ave. W.
Toronto, ON M6C 1B1
(416) 533-3500

* image from the Chuck and Co. website.

 
 
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A couple of weeks ago, my sister and I finally got around to going to Tea at the Windsor Arms (a posh hotel in Toronto).

It was... okay. Fun. Sort of silly. Like playing dress up.

The hotel has been serving "Tea" since 1927 and there's definitely a retro vibe about the whole affair. You show up, sit in the French-style tea room, choose your tea (from a wide selection which includes fair trade and organic varieties) and then you eat tiny sandwiches. Each person is served a full pot of tea, and the food arrives on a tiered cake stand.

Our tea was a "full tea" featuring a menu of four large scones, a selection of the aforementioned teeny sandwiches - smoked salmon, cucumber, etc. - and an array of sweet desserts (petit fours - mini cakes, tarts and the like). Plus (of course), clotted cream and fancy jams.

Though there didn't seem to be a lot of food at the table, both of us were too full to finish.

Here's a peek at a bit of the room we were in, complete with a display of silly hates. The room we were in is actually adjacent to the main tea room. I feel like they sat us away from the fancier guests. Maybe we didn't look right. Or maybe it's because we paid as part of a Groupon on Living Social deal. I don't know. My sis set it up. Snobs. ;)

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All in all, the experience was nice. I would recommend it as a holiday treat for a mother-daughter duo or a pair of friends. But beware, it's not cheap. Full Tea is $30 per person (not incl. tax/tip) on weekdays and $38 per person on weekends. And around the holidays, the price goes up again to about $43. That's a lot for a couple of scones and a few baby sanwiches. But I guess you're paying for the experience as much as for the food. 
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Oh... one more thing. I really liked the upholstery the Windsor Arms had on the banquette seating - brown and cream. Any idea where it's from or what it's called? Here's a close up:
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Ferro Bar and Cafe (which isn't a bar/cafe at all but a full bar/restaurant) has been in my life for a long time.I grew up in the St. Clair West neighbourhood and the little Italian restaurant opened when I was about 12 years old. 

In the mid-1990s, my then-boyfriend even did a co-op placement at the place, which serves fairly classic Italian fare. (He - the boyfriend - wanted to be a chef. I think he learned something. At the very least, how to chop a lot of garlic.... but I digress.)

Ferro is a nice place, but it's never top of mind when I find myself trying to think of where to go for dinner. I've had good experiences there... and less good experiences. I've popped in for wine with the girls, tried their much-lauded lobster dishes, and been overwhelmed by their antipasto platter (which is enourmous and way too full of veggies). It's always been... okay. Just okay. I haven't had any particularly bad experiences, but I never really loved it, either. And then, out of the blue, I had a GREAT experience there that completely turned me around.

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After casting our votes in the election this past Monday, Nate and I were flying high, riding the orange wave. (We didn't know the Conservatives were going to take a majority, so we weren't yet bummed.) We were feeling great. And we decided to pop into Ferro for a celebratory sort of supper. Just a spur-of-the-moment sort of thing.

It was delicious!

Nate had a linguini with a garlic cream sauce and parma ham. I had a mushroom risotto. Both were fantasic. (Okay, mine was just good. His was fantastic. The rice in my risotto was a tad undercooked, and while rich and dark, I found the mushrooms weren't as satisfing as meat, but all in all, I was very happy.) We both drank house white. which is the cheapest wine on the menu at about $6 or $7 a glass. The bill came to around $50, pre-tip.
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Being in the space was nice too. What was current in the early days of the restaurant now feels dinstinctively vintage. Very 1993. It's like stepping into an old episode of Friends. The name - Ferro - means something like "iron" or maybe even "wrought iron" and that plays out in the dated decor. But there's something warm and charming about it.

Anyway. I recommend you go. That linguine was truly tasty. I've been dreaming about it ever since. Yum.

Ferro Bar and Cafe
769 St. Clair Ave.
Toronto, ON, M6B 1B4
(416) 654-9199

* All images from the Ferro website.
 
 
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I hate Rocco's Plum Tomato, but I have a couple of friends who love it and that, combined with my inability to voice an opinion in person or to deny a friend their desire, means I have been to this disappointing establishment several times.

It's NEVER good. Open up a can of Ragu, tip out some canned shellfish, overcook some white pasta and get your spouse irritated with you (in order to mimic the vibe from Rocco's slightly-surly wait staff) and you've basically got yourself a Rocco's Plum Tomato experience.

For $20 to $35 a person, per complete meal, you'll get goof that's the kind of bland that gives all Italian a bad name. At the same time, the blandness is what I think must appeal to Rocco's many fans.

You know who they are. They're the types of people who grew up on Spaghetti-Os and refused to eat most non-white foods for most of their youth. They grew up in small towns and have flooded into Toronto for work. Lucky for them, we have Rocco's. It's a comfort to know that even in the big city, one can savour the taste of home.

Sigh.

Rocco's Plum Tomato in the Annex (on Bloor West) is currently closed for reservations, which makes me hopeful. (FYI: it's the beginning of September 2010 as I'm writing this.) My hope is that along with a new interior, Rocco's get some a personality to match. Maybe a new chef? One that's been to Italy? Or at least one who knows that sauce in a jar/can is sacrilegious.

Rocco's Plum Tomato
585 Bloor St W
Toronto, ON M6G 1K5
(416) 539-9009

 
 
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I've been going to Fresh for years, but having moved out of downtown, I hadn't been in awhile. I was there last week with a friend and frankly, the hiatus just confirmed one thing: Fresh was and is fabulous.

A vegan/veggie paradise, Fresh offers food that is hearty and healthy, with options for those who love organics to those seek the wheat-free.

I'm a card-carrying carnivore, so at first, I was skeptical that Fresh had anything to offer me, but I love it. It's always filling and even without meat, when I eat there, I never feel dissatisfied.

My favourite thing to order is the small middle eastern plate. (It's $8, or $11 if you'd rather have a large). I've had it the last FIVE times I've been to Fresh. I know I should branch out, but I'm addicted.

The middle eastern plate comes with golden falafel balls, hummus, tahini & toasted organic whole wheat pita. It's garnished with parsley, spiced green olives, tomato & cucumber. The pita is incredibly soft and tasty. Mmmm. I want some right now.

Anyway.

Another of Fresh's stregnth is blended juice and smoothies. I don't like anything thick so I tend to mix my own by asking for a combination of what I like. (Apple juice, cranberry juice and strawberries, for example.) The results are unbelivably delicious, but they don't come cheap. My 3-blend juice will run you $6 for 16 oz. Protein shakes are even more. As a result, I often skip the drink in favour of water with my meal, but if I had a little more coin, I'd indulge more often.

Fresh downsides include the fact that it's crowded and at peak times, you'll almost always find yourself waiting for a table. It also tends to  be filled with... if not hipsters, then hippish types. The decor is certainly hip. With lots of colour and pattern, it can feel a bit frenetic. And the seating is tight, so you may be mashed almost right next to someone. If you're not a bearded new-veg-head, you may feel out of place. (In fact, my partner Nate hates Fresh because he feels it's pretentious, but I think he's being silly.)

What you might not know, even if you're already a fan: you can take out. Call in advance and pick up to save time. Fresh uses biodegradable take out containers, which is nice. They also sell refridgerated sandwhiches and stuff like that if you're in a hurry.

It's not a five star restaurant or anything, but it's good and it's healthy and I like it.

Fresh (Juice for Life)
326 Bloor St. W
Toronto, ON M5S 1W5
(416) 531-2635

* Image from the Fresh website.

 
 
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In Toronto, the hippest things never hold their lustre long, but maybe The Black Hoof will be the exception to the rule.

The restaurant is all about charcuterie (cured meat being smokin' hot with foodies at the moment). Though, admittedly, in the last year, interest in the trend has already fizzled a bit.

And that's what the Black Hoof really is: a place that capitalizes on cool. The tiny restaurant is nothing special, the wood-encased back patio is cramped, the sweaty servers are young and a bit bored and snooty. The food is... well, it's delicious. But it's also not for everyone.

What can I say? I like meat. I LOVE meat. And I love charcuterie. I'm not afraid of it. Pork-belly pastrami with a side of crispy pig's ears? Bring it on.

The place, despite humble looks, isn't cheap. Two people who really want to eat can expect to spend $100 (including wine). Nonetheless, I would recommend it for a special treat if you're a carnivore like I am.

Be aware, however, that the place turns into a bit of a bar late at night. It seems to be where all the city's coolest servers go to hang out once their shifts end. So if you're going to go and aren't interested in interrupting hipster revelry, go a bit early.

The Black Hoof
928 Dundas St W
Toronto, ON M6J 1W3
(416) 551-8854


* Salami photo by Gabriella Fabbri from Stock Xchng.

 
 
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I've been living in Toronto (for the second time) for more than three years now and I have yet to find REALLY GOOD Chinese takeout. I don't know if it's because my tastes have changed in recent years of it because take out just sucks everywhere, but it's frustrating either way.

Ginger Blossom Asian Kitchen
is the latest place Nate and I have tried and they're... okay. They deliver to our neighbourhood (unlike our favourite brick and mortar places) and their food is palatable. We haven't tried everything on a menu, of course, but here's my experience so far:

Their Hot & Sour Soup is okay, as is their Won Ton Soup. A single serving is $3.50, which is normal.

Ginger Blossom's Deep Fried Shrimp Dumplings are delicious because they're deep fried (and most deep fried things taste good). They come with a side of a very thick and addictive mayonnaise. (Or maybe the addictive thing is just me.)

Their Wonton in Spicy Peanut Sauce is awful. Gooey and drowned. Their Szechuan Chicken is way too sweet (imo), but their Beef with Oyster Sauce is decent and their Tofy with Minced Pork is surprisingly tasty. (The Minced Pork seems gross at first, like grade B ground beef or mystery meat, but it's actually really yummy. On rice, this dish is a favourite.)

What you should know: within their delivery area, drop off is free as long as you order more than $25 worth of food. Otherwise, it's $2. If you order more than $28 worth of food before taxes, you get a free item from a predetermined list. I recommend the Deep Fried Chicken Wings. (See note above about how all things deep fried taste good.) If you order more than $48 worth of food and you pick up and pay cash, you get 10% off and a free item. Don't forget to ask for these perks or you won't get them.

Ginger Blossom Asian Kitchen is nothing special. It's not authentic or impressive. But if you're looking for take out that isn't awful, it's a decent choice.

Ginger Blossom Asian Kitchen
256 Christie St.
Toronto, ON
(416) 537-3388