Monday, June 24, 2013

Weekly Roundup - The Negative Nelly Nosher

Hidden Valley Ranch Tzatziki - Ever since Hidden Valley Ranch sent me their trio of different flavoured ranch dressings, I have been having so much fun playing around with all three, creating some recipes inspired from the get-go by the zingy ranch dressing, and some tossed in as a last second after thought to kick up the flavours in the dish I'm making. A few weeks ago while making some jerk chicken, I decided to make a dip to go alongside the chicken to cool down the taste buds from the hotter than hell jerk sauce. I decided to whip up a quick tzatziki sauce, but amped up with a little bit of original Hidden Valley Ranch. The fresh, herbaceous flavours in the ranch dressing worked perfect with the garlic, cucumber, and dill in the tzatziki, and was the perfect cool down sauce for my super spicy jerk chicken. Make sure to follow me on Instagram to see what other Hidden Valley Ranch combos I come up with!
Playa Cabana Cantina - To celebrate my sister Justine's graduation from University, my family and I wanted to take her out to a nice dinner. Justine's only criteria: there must be good drinks! I can think of no better way to celebrate than a pitcher of tangy and sweet Margaritas, so we decided to check out the recently opened Playa Cabana Cantina in the Junction. A big fan of their Dupont St. location, I had high hopes for their new spot. The new space is small like the original location, but with a different, "hipper" vibe thanks to large antique-looking signs eclectically flanking the walls and space. I absolutely loved the look of the Junction Playa, but I have to say that the service wasn't as up to par as the Dundas location. This could very well be an isolated incident, but our server seemed to have a less than savory attitude that, being a server myself, left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. It was one of those times where you get the feeling as though it's a great inconvenience that he is serving you. Like I said, I'm a server, so I totally understand when things can get overwhelming, or a table is being difficult and you may come off a bit cold at times, but neither was the case in this instance. Ah well, what can you do? We still enjoyed a nice Mexican meal and many pitchers of margaritas! I also have to remember that although I love me some fried fish tacos, Playa's meat tacos always leave me happier. If I want a fish taco, I will be going to La Carnita!

sip & Savour Ontario - Every year I look forward to October to take part in one of my favourite food and wine events in the city, sip & Savour Ontario. Lucky for me, this year I didn't have to wait all summer to get my wine and dine on, as the event was held this past Wednesday. The event was once again held in the Historic Distillery District Fermenting Cellar and featured some of Ontario's best wineries pouring many of the award winning wines from the Ontario Wine Awards. Although wine is the highlight of the event, no event is complete without delicious food. Eight chefs were on hand serving up delectable food pairings for the wines, as well as sponsors The Dairy Farmers of Canada and Stonemill Bakehouse providing samples of some of their best breads and cheeses. If you've been following along my blog you will know that one of the most exciting additions to this years event was a stationary food truck, Le Petit Popelin, serving up sinfully sweet French pastries. One of my favourite parts of the event is where guests and chefs can interact and learn in the live culinary theatre. Throughout the event, three different chefs are featured in the theatre, giving guests demos on how to create savory dishes paired with signature wines. I was lucky enough to grab a spot in the first demo and try out Chef Brad Livergant of The Fifth's Beef Tartare, which was absolutely delicious! Chef Livergant also happened to be serving my favourite food pairing of the evening, Duck Confit Crepes! Check out the sip & Savour Facebook page to see more photos from the event!

The Happy Hooker - With a name as catchy and blush-worthy as The Happy Hooker, how can you not be curious to try a taste? Ever since the fish and taco shop opened a few months ago on Dundas West, I have been dying to go in and get hooked on their delicious-sounding fried fish offerings. Although I have been hearing the most buzz about their fish tacos, I felt like the classic Fish and Chips was the way to go to really get a good initial feel of the place. With cloudy skies and pouring rain, it was easy for my friend Rita and I to grab a seat in the tiny, humble space. Sharing a very similar taste in food, both Rita and I ordered the Beer Battered Fish and Chips (only $9!!) with a side of coleslaw ($1.50). Our order arrived promptly on two large trays spilling over with numerous pieces of fish and lots of crispy house-cut fries. The fries hit the spot (especially when dipped in ketchup kicked up with their super smokey house hot sauce) but I hate to say that I was a little bit disappointed with the fish. My first piece of fish was tasty, although I would have preferred just a little less batter, but my second, larger piece of fish didn't seem like it was cooked through enough. The fish appeared a little raw and tasted kind of slimy, an issue that Rita found with some of her fish as well. We both wondered if perhaps the fish wasn't dry enough before being coated in the beer batter and fried. Based on all of the other positive feedback I have been reading on The Happy Hooker, this could very likely be an isolated incident. I think I'll have to give The Happy Hooker another chance, next time trying out their fish tacos, and hopefully I'll leave a little happier. 

lil Baci - Now at my final post of the roundup, I can't help but feel like I'm a bit of a negative Nelly over here, as I'm about to share another less-than-impressive experience at another Toronto restaurant. I really do hate sharing negative experiences at restaurants, but after going to so many, and having so many fantastic experiences at various restaurants, I can't help but feel disappointed when a place doesn't quite hit the mark. More than anything, it's the disappointment of spending money (which is certainly a limited resource at 25-years old) for something that leaves me wanting more, when I know that I could have had a great meal for the same price (or less) somewhere else. It was mainly a cost thing that had me a little bummed about my disappointing meal at lil Baci. Sure, the food was OK, but if I'm going to be shelling out more than my usual average night out, I expect it to be great.

On beautiful Friday night, my mom and I were craving a patio and pasta. After a good experience at lil Baci before, ordering their pizzas (although the service was horrendous! Our server was texting while asking our order!) we decided to check out the Italian spot once again. Thanks to the heat, neither of us had too much of an appetite, so we decided to split a pasta, their Pappardelle with slow-roasted duck ragu and honey mushroom parmigiano at $19, and a caprese salad at $16. I'm no stranger to spending money at restaurants (my wallet will sure tell you that!) but already that's more than I would want to spend on a casual night out. For that money, already I'm expecting a great atmosphere and service (which were lacking), or at the very least a fantastic meal. Both dishes were just OK. Let's be honest caprese is caprese, so I'm going to be happy no matter what, but this one wasn't anything to write home about and was already more than I'm used to spending on caprese. If I'm spending that much dough, I better be oohing and aahing about the quality of the olive oil, or perhaps heirloom tomatoes, or a special presentation, but I'm afraid I couldn't say that. The pappardelle was small and lacking in flavour, and although I appreciate house-made pasta, the texture on the pappardelle noodles wasn't great. While writing this, I find myself drawing comparisons to one of my favourite Italian eatery's in toronto Terroni, where their drool-worthy Pappardelle with homemade spicy sausage, button and oyster mushrooms, peas, and parmigiano is only $17.50 and completely knocks my socks off in terms of flavour, texture, and presentation. Let's also compare their caprese salad, which features fruity, lick-your-lips olive oil, for only $12.95. On top of this, while dining at Terroni, you can also always count on a wonderful atmosphere. What can I say? The proof is in the that pappardelle.

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Listening To:
Arcade Fire - Deep Blue

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