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best pastas in Toronto, 2014

I've always loved Nota Bene, but I had a notably bad dinner there a few days ago, including a very disappointing squid ink chittarine.

The first one they sent out had prawns that were extremely mushy. The second one was better (the prawns were still noticeably mushy, but better...I assume that the problem in both cases was that the head wasn't removed soon enough after they were caught, but that's not an excuse), but it was drowned in oil. The dish basically tasted of oil...very little garlic taste, and the zucchini added nothing.

My app (the salmon tartare special) was unmemorable, and my wife really didn't like her crisp duck salad (which is normally one of her favourite appetizers there; this time it was mostly salad with a few overdone strips of duck skin).

The only good dish of the night was another pasta dish: my wife's cavatelli pugliese. It was really delicious.

So pasta-wise I did really like the cavatelli, but that chittarine was bad. I hope it was just an off night.

Hot sauce in Kensington - Jungle Boy?

Hey mlgregoire,

Just following up to see if there's any news on the recipes...I was in Kensington yesterday and it brought everything back to mind. If you prefer to email directly I'm at strongbad78910 (at) gmail (dot) com.

Food Events - 2014 (Toronto area and rest of Ontario)

I went to the May 4th event and I have to echo the comments below about the April event...it was great. I didn't put in an effort to try to remember what I had so I can't really comment on any particular food items except to say that I was happy to very happy with almost everything I got.

The big plus, though, was the fact that you would never have to wait more than a few minutes in line at any given table to get food. Totally worth the $10 entrance fee. I would be much more willing to attend any future food event if it was run in the same manner.

The Bacon Nation

I had a bacon-wrapped hot dog from their food truck last week and I wasn't impressed.

The hot dog itself was fine at best, although the cheese sauce pretty much overpowered everything else. Also, for what was supposed to be a "double-wrapped" hot dog, the amount of bacon wrapping was a) fairly small (just a bit around the middle of the dog it looked like), b) not crispy at all, and c) fairly tasteless (I couldn't taste anything other than sausage and cheese sauce). Also, the fries were terrible. Limp and tasteless.

My friend got a reuben from the food dudes truck parked beside bacon nation and it looked (and he said it was) great. Also much more food for a similar price. I wish I'd got that.

Grocery items that you can't find in Toronto (but you can in the states)

The sticks are less common than the four-stick blocks, but they're definitely out there. We always get the sticks at Loblaws...forget the brand, but it's nothing fancy. There's a PC version as well that comes in sticks (http://www.loblaws.ca/en_CA/products/...).

The 420 Smokehouse

I had their daily special last Sunday (biscuits and gravy with eggs and a turkey sausage) and it was really great. Everything was well seasoned (especially the gravy) and not as heavy as biscuits and gravy can sometimes be. This should definitely be a regular brunch item (oh...they serve brunch now, which is good, although they should really post their brunch menu online).

The only complaint I would have about the biscuits and gravy was the square bowl thing they served it in (you can see a picture of it on their twitter feed on their website)...sort of forces you to mix everything together (which some people probably like, but I'm not a big fan of). A bit of a minor quibble, though.

The Costco Thread - Ontario - 2014 - April to June

We've never received our executive coupons, in the mail or otherwise. We've complained to customer service about it twice and each time they've promised to fix it, then still no coupons. I don't think that we're going to stay with executive after ours expires this time.

Hot sauce in Kensington - Jungle Boy?

Fantastic! Thanks very much! Paris was a character and his hot sauces were among the best I've ever tasted...it would be a crime to let them go un-enjoyed! :)

Hot sauce in Kensington - Jungle Boy?

I'll once again bump this thread up, hoping that one of his relatives has his hot sauce recipes stashed away somewhere. These things are a gold mine! If you're not going to sell them again, at least send them to me so I can make them for myself!

The 420 Smokehouse

Consistency is one thing I've noticed that they do have problems with. I've had their smoked meat sandwich three times; the first was the first week it opened, and it didn't really have much taste. The second was maybe a month ago, and it was great...tender, juicy, and with a good smoke flavour. I had one last weekend and while it still had a good flavour, it was too dry (even though I asked for it fatty).

Same issue with their ribs; I've had great ribs there (smoky and just the right amount of chew), but I've also had meh ribs. Their dry-rub St Louis ribs last time were quite good (although a bit dry).

As for other things, the one time I had their pulled pork the pork itself was fantastic (it came unsauced, which I generally don't prefer but I liked it here). The bun was a bit too doughy for the sandwich, but the pork was quite good. Similar thing with the burger; it was generally very good, although the bacon (while tasty) was thick and difficult to bite through. I also had the jerk wings once and they were very tasty (the jerk sauce was quite spicy...I like heat so I was okay with it, but something to think about).

Anyway, I assume that they're just working out the kinks...I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, though, since when they're on, they're very good. Even when they're not, they're still a solid neighbourhood option.

The Old Toronto Restaurants you make the wishes for the comeback

Not a restaurant, but I really miss Paris (aka Jungle Boy), who used to sell the best hot sauces I've ever had off of a folding table outside a storefront on Kensington, just south of Baldwin.

He passed away a number of years ago and his sauces sadly died with him. I've never been able to find their equal since.

The 420 Smokehouse

I've eaten there three times and I can say that it's a great addition to the neighbourhood and it will hopefully only get better with time. This is somewhat of a long review, but I like this place and I really want it to succeed (we need more places like this in Cabbagetown).

I've had the smoked meat sandwich, the St Louis ribs, the fried jumbo chicken wings, and the pulled duck sandwich (an off-menu special).

Smoked meat: I had some of my wife's (she ordered it lean) and later got one of my own (I got it fatty). I have to admit, I wasn't a huge fan of hers; I found it a bit bland. I liked mine quite a bit better, so it might be the fact that mine was fatty or that they were still tweaking the recipe (the first visit was the week after they opened, the second was about two or three weeks after that). I found my sandwich to be very satisfying, although I wouldn't complain if they upped the smoke and spicing somewhat.

St Louis ribs: despite being advertised as a dry rub, they came sauced, which I thought was a bit strange. They also didn't remove the membrane on the back of the ribs, which I'm not a fan of. That being said, the ribs had a great smoke flavour and were cooked perfectly. I liked these very much (I also note that they've since changed the menu to show that you can have them as a dry rub or with ale sauce, so maybe you actually can get them dry).

Chicken wings: these were indeed jumbo...pretty huge, actually. They're not really like battered fried chicken (more like breaded and fried), but the coating was quite tasty regardless. I wasn't a huge fan of the hot sauce they drizzled over them, but the wings themselves were great. Could maybe use a bit more seasoning in the batter (and maybe have the hot sauce on the side), but otherwise very good.

Pulled duck sandwich: I was expecting loose pulled duck on a bun, so it was a bit strange to get what looked like a duck burger patty. When I tasted it, though, I really liked their version. The patty seemed like it has been fried in a pan, and was somewhat crispy as a result (which was very nice). The sauce and other toppings complimented the duck very well.

Sides:

Fries: the only time I had the fries was with the duck sandwich, and I thought they were a bit over-fried. I normally like extra crispy fries, but these ones had a ridiculously crispy exterior and almost no interior (some of them were essentially hollow, like the inner potato part had been fried completely away somehow). They were nicely seasoned, though, so they're not bad by any means. A bit less cooking and I think they'd be great.

Coleslaw: I'm not a fan of this. It's vinegar-y (not creamy), which I normally like, but it frankly doesn't have much taste.

Side pickled vegetables: they now offer a pretty good choice of sides (fries, rice & peas, sweet potato, kale, cornbread, potato or caesar salads, poutine (for a small extra charge) or smoked meat poutine (for a larger extra charge)) with your ribs (they didn't when I first went), so I'm not sure if they're still offering the pickled vegetables we got with the ribs (and with the chicken wings). Anyway, they have to do something about these. They were essentially tasteless. My least favourite part of the meal. I hope they've phased them out.

Other comments:

The two-top tables near the window are strange...I don't think they're restaurant tables (they have little drawers in them that open, they seem somewhat fragile, and they're a bit too narrow and too high for two people to eat comfortably). They should get better tables for these seats. Other than that small comment about the tables, the restaurant has a nice decor and a nice feel (although the chalk board is riddled with spelling mistakes, which makes the OCD speller in me cringe). I could definitely hang out here for some drinks.

On that note, beer selection is generally pretty good, wine selection seems very good (although I've only ever got beer).

The staff has always been very nice when I've been there.

Price-wise, some may think it's a bit on the expensive side. The recent change to the menu whereby you get a free side with a few of the items (they should really offer a side with all of them...why do you get a side with the pulled pork sandwich and the pulled duck but not with the smoked meat? Or the chicken wings? Any why are you forced to get the caesar salad as a side for the calamari sandwich?) definitely helps, though. I personally don't mind paying for good food so I'm okay with the prices.

Overall, as I said, I think that this is a great addition to the neighbourhood. Looking forward to seeing it get even better.

Lobsterlicious at Scaramouche

You're right about them not offering it Friday, at least. We went two weeks ago on a Friday after reading about it here, and were somewhat disappointed not to be able to order it. I'm sure it says it on their website, but if someone's going to go based on reading about it here (as we did) I just wanted to re-emphasize what you noted about the availability. The regular menu was still delicious, though, so we were definitely still happy.

Scaramouche Faves?

We ate there last week, and I second the recommendation for the gnocchi app. It was fantastic, and probably the single best dish we had that night.

For desserts, the coconut cream pie is sort of their thing, but I preferred the kouign amann (it was small but absolutely delicious).

Caplansky's Deli

I had a sandwich at Caplansky's a couple of weeks ago and it was really good. Fatty (as ordered), so it almost melted in my mouth, and really tasty. Could it use more smoke flavour? Yeah probably. I still really liked it, though.

That being said, I've had sandwiches from there probably five or six times before and at least one or two of those times they weren't that great, so if that was my comparator I likely wouldn't be impressed. If they can keep giving me sandwiches like the one I had a couple of weeks ago, though, I'll be a happy man.

Now if only 420 Smokehouse would actually open, I might have something even closer to home to compare Caplansky's to...

Awesome NEW "MICRO-BAKERY" in Cabbagetown: Cafe Olya !

This place is fantastic, but I think that they need to work on having a more dependable selection of baked goods. We live in the area and often stop by between about 10 and noon on a Saturday or Sunday, and you never really know what they're going to have (or whether they'll even have anything). We stopped by last Saturday at about 10:30 and they were out of everything (well, they had two of something left, but it didn't interest me).

I know that's it's a small operation and that they have limited production and display space, but I think that they need to do what they can to step up their bakery game (the bakery is, after all, the real appeal of the place). I'd really like to be able to count on the fact that they'll always have some standard options (at least croissants and maybe pain au chocolats) if I show up before 11 on a weekend day.

New Pizza Joint at Donlands and Danforth - Big House Pizza

I have issues with the fact that they don't deliver to Cabbagetown. It's literally a ten minute drive away. Sure I could drive there and pick it up, but I'd rather order from somewhere else.

Cabbagetown these days?

I live in Cabbagetown, and it's unfortunately not much of a foodie destination. Other than HOP I would recommend Kingyo...it's one of the best restaurants in Cabbagetown in my opinion. F'Amelia is another option (it's not my favourite, but some people seem to love it). Zakkushi might be an option if you're into yakitori. We get delivery from Rashnaa a lot and it's quite good (the restaurant itself doesn't quite have the ambiance of the others, though, if you want to eat in).

The Costco Thread - new products, old favourites, interesting items

I bought the caviar a couple of weeks ago and ate it tonight (it had a best before date of late January 2014...sort of surprising). When I bought it I had to negotiate around a Ukrainian woman telling me that $90 for that "small amount" was a rip-off, and that I should try Yummy market (I called Yummy...they sold "black caviar" for a fair bit more than Costco).

Anyway, I'm hardly a caviar expert, but I thought it was good but not great. The only other "nice" caviar I've ever had was from the guy at the St Lawrence Market, and while it was a fair bit more expensive (I don't entirely remember, but I think it was $165 for 30 grams vs. costco's $90 for 50 grams) it was also quite a bit better. The texture especially in the costco version was a bit on the mushy side...maybe due to the fact that it was packed into the tin within an inch of its life.

Anyway, at $90 for 50 grams it's probably a good deal. I don't buy caviar often enough that I'm trying to save money, though, so I doubt I'll be buying it again.

Ben & Izzy's

That's funny...I was just thinking the exact same thing (about Caplansky's).

For the record, I went to Ben & Izzy's once and wasn't impressed (meat was dry, too thinly sliced (didn't ask how I wanted it sliced or whether I wanted it lean, fatty, etc), spicing wasn't strong enough, and they were out of the matzoh ball soup). Service was also pretty slow, especially given that we were literally the only people in there.

Delivery from any downtown restaurant!!!

Are you sure about the no-markup thing? Their website says:

"If you would like Hurrier to make a purchase on your behalf, we place a $50 hold on your credit card during the checkout process. Once we complete the purchase, the hold is removed and we will charge you for the actual delivery fees, the cost of the items that we purchased and a 5% surcharge on any purchases that were made on your behalf."

Not that 5% is crazy or anything, but it is something. Or did I misunderstand, and you meant no markup if you've already paid for everything?

Anyway, it does sound like a great service...I may have to try them out some time.

2013 Food and Restaurant OPENINGS

I love that sign. Also, if they smoked elephant, I'd be first in line (although I would feel sort of bad about the whole 'endangered' thing).

Cronuts, anyone know if anyone makes them in Canada?

I was in the MLG Loblaws on the weekend and picked up one of their "croissant doughnuts" (just the regular flavour, not the maple glazed or whatever the other flavour was). It wasn't hot out of the oven or anything, but it was really very good (frankly I wasn't sure what to expect, but it was much better than I was thinking it might be). Nice light texture...not exactly like a croissant inside (not as buttery or flaky), more of a hybrid between a doughnut and a croissant. No filling inside.

No idea if it's anything like the cronuts from NYC, but it definitely made me want to try the ones from the Maple Bakery in Vaughan that people are discussing below.

The Croissant Chronicles

Patisserie 27 at Jane and Annette has my favourite croissants in the city. Light, very flaky, great butter flavour...I just wish they weren't way out in the west end.

The Croissant Chronicles

I agree. Daniel et Daniel may have had great croissants at one point, but they don't anymore.

Great croissants (and other baked goods) are available just up the street, though, at Cafe Olya (although they don't bake very many and you never know what they're going to be baking at any time, so they're not a reliable source).

White Brick Kitchen (Bloor and Euclid), Anyone been?

Thanks for the update. I do want to try their fried chicken.

White Brick Kitchen (Bloor and Euclid), Anyone been?

I went for brunch last weekend and wasn't blown away. Three of us (including me) got the Scotch-ish eggs, and one of us got the eggs benny.

The Scotch-ish eggs are eggs coated in panko and deep fried, served on a buttered slice of baguette. They had a sauce drizzled over them, but I couldn't taste it. The eggs were basically just deep fried eggs that didn't taste like much except grease, and the baguette didn't add anything. I was really missing the sausage from real scotch eggs (or anything else to add flavour). The person that got the eggs benny didn't seem too impressed either.

Anyway...I won't be rushing back. If I did I'd try one of their sweeter brunch items. I'd also like to try their chicken...too bad it doesn't appear to be available for brunch anymore.

White Squirrel Snack Shop

I was wondering if it had something to do with the fact that we were in there fairly early (not long after they opened) on Saturday...the wings took forever to come out, too...maybe they were waiting for the grill to heat up and just went with what they had?

Anyway...I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and probably give the wings another try next time I'm down there, just because people really do seem to love them (and because I'm a big wing fan generally). If the sandwich is any indication, I do believe that they can probably make a very tasty wing (although they really need to do something about that granola!)

White Squirrel Snack Shop

Went on the weekend with my wife for brunch - she had the yogurt and granola, I had snack-size portions of the cubano and the spicy-sweet wings. Overall impression: hits and misses, with the misses outnumbering the hits.

The good: I really liked the cubano, and I thought it was a fair portion size for $6 (bigger than I was expecting as a 'snack'). The cheese wasn't overwhelming (I find fried sandwiches are often really heavy with cheese and grease) and the pickles, slaw, and mustard balanced it out well. I'd definitely order that again.

The not-so-great: I didn't love my wings. The sauce was actually pretty tasty, but I prefer to be able to tell how a wing is cooked, either fried (ie they're crispy) or grilled (nicely charred). These wings were supposedly grilled, but you wouldn't have known it from the wings themselves. I also thought they could have been meatier. Wouldn't order these again.

The bad: My wife really didn't like her yogurt and granola. The yogurt was very thick (I don't mind thick yogurt, but this was much thicker than even most greek yogurts you see around), and the granola tasted old...not crunchy at all. Fruit was a bit of cut-up apple.

Anyway, I liked my sandwich enough to go back and try some of their other menu items, but I have to admit I was a bit let down, especially with the wings after all the good comments they get here.

ISO Bread Proofing Basket - under $30

I'm pretty sure that I got mine at Nella Cucina on Bathurst, but I don't remember what I paid for it unfortunately.