July 29, 2011

Summerlicious @ Bymark

My last Summerlicious meal this year took place at Bymark. I've always wanted to try Mark McEwan's restaurant, but most of them are too pricey for my budget! So I thought Summerlicious was a good opportunity to try one of them out.
Instead of the typical salt and pepper shakers, the two condiments were placed in little ramekins with a spoon. Cute, but it was harder to sprinkle evenly.
We got a choice of ciabatta, olive, or multigrain bread. This was the ciabatta, which was unfortunately served cold. I prefer my bread to be at least warm.
For my appetizer, I chose tuna tartare with avocado salsa, vegetable spring roll and spiced aioli. This was my first time trying tuna tartare, and I had imagined it to taste like tuna sashimi with seasoning. However, I thought my tartare was slightly under-seasoned. I also wanted the texture to be slimier and less firm, and I found that chewing on bits of congealed fat was rather unpleasant. The spring roll was also pretty ordinary. The only thing that I really enjoyed was the creamy avocado salsa, which was tangy with a little kick of heat. 
I ordered the B.C. halibut in banana leaf because it was the most expensive option on their regular menu (hence I would be maximizing the value of my meal). But I should've known better than to order an Asian-inspired dish at a non-Asian restaurant. The halibut sat on top of leek hearts, beets, fingerling potatoes and some light coconut broth. I never really enjoyed fish unless it was deep fried or steamed to tender perfection, and this was neither.
My boyfriend didn't like any of the Summerlicious features, so he ordered off the regular menu. He had a roasted prime rib sandwich with caramelized onion, roasted pepper and horseradish aioli. I liked his sandwich a lot more than my own course. The slices of prime rib were really tender and flavourful. After sampling his sandwich, I regretted not ordering the turkey sandwich instead for my main instead. Lesson of the day: don't just go for the most expensive item on a fixed price menu!
His sandwich also came with a size of fries. They were also really delicious! Interestingly, the paper cone container had stock listings all over it, a clever play on the restaurant's location in the financial district. 
For dessert, I opted for a more whimsical choice: house made ice cream sandwich with a white chocolate banana lollipop. The small dessert was a pleasant ending to the meal, and I particularly thought that the white chocolate banana lollipop was very cute, even though it was basically just a piece of banana with a white chocolate casing. All in all, the meal was satisfactory, but I wished I had come here for a regular lunch rather than for Summerlicious. Out of the four Summerlicious meals that I had this year, only Canoe wowed me. I'm starting to lose faith in the Toronto-licious events.
Bymark on Urbanspoon

July 20, 2011

Summerlicious @ Sassafraz

Sassafraz is housed in a gorgeous yellow Victorian house in the heart of Yorkville. I've read many positive reviews about this fine dining institution and I was genuinely excited to enjoy a Summerlicious dinner here.
When I walked into the restaurant, I was stunned by the elegance of the interior. The restaurant was truly a beautiful space. I loved the skylight that poured into the room.
The towering wine shelf is an eye-catching piece in the room. 
Knowing that the portions will be small, I allowed myself to indulge in the bread, which was quite tasty with butter. It was nothing spectacular, however.
Like I said, chilled soups seem to be very popular for this particular Summerlicious. This vichyssoisse with lobster and truffle essence was the third chilled soup that I had. It was better than the one I had at O & B Café Grill, but not as good as the one from Canoe. For me, the soup was overly sweet and I needed more salt to balance out that sweetness. The chive oil in Canoe's chilled soup was incredibly aromatic, whereas for this soup, I couldn't really detect that truffle essence.
I loved the vibrant colours of the Creole spiced gulf shrimp on corn grit cakes with cayenne bell pepper sauce. The dish was very beautifully presented and put a smile on my face. It was also very tasty- the shrimp was nicely cooked and had that perfect springy bite to it. I also enjoyed the touch of heat in the cayenne bell pepper sauce. I've never had corn grit cake before, so I was surprised that it had a fluffy, egg-like texture, almost like a quiche. It was a great vehicle for soaking up the delicious sauce. Overall, the flavours were complementary and I enjoyed this a lot more than the soup.
For our mains, both of us chose the Dungeness crab cake with adobe cream and jicama salad. Usually, I always get something different from my dining companion so I can try out more dishes, but I really love crab cakes! This one, unfortunately, didn't exactly live up to my expectations. The crab cake was full of crab meat, which was great. However, I'm more partial to pairing crab cakes with something creamy, usually some sort of mayo-based dip or aioli. While the sauce here was tasty, it lacked that creaminess that I desired. As well, the jicama salad was warmed by crab cake, which made it less refreshing. I would've enjoyed it more if it stayed cold.
For dessert, my boyfriend chose the rose water scented chilled cherry soup with dark chocolate mousse, crisped rice croquant and vanilla tuille. From the description, I had imagined the main component of the dessert to be the cherry soup. When it arrived, I was pleasantly surprised that the chocolate mousse was the star of the dish. The mousse was delicious: intensely chocolatey and smooth, and the rice croquants were crispy delights! Unfortunately, I didn't try the vanilla tuille or the cherry soup, but the chocolate mousse alone was quite successful.
For myself, I opted for the blueberry tartlet with white chocolate crème diplomat, toasted meringue and lime gelée. Once again, I found the description to be quite misleading, because I imagined the tart to have a blueberry filling. In reality, it was a white chocolate cream tart garnished with blueberries. That said, I still enjoyed it because I absolutely love white chocolate. The toasted meringue was like a melted marshmallow, adding a creamier dimension to the tart. On the other hand, I didn't appreciate that lime gelée, which I found to be shockingly sour to my palate. On the whole, the tart was very refined and fitting for this dining environment, but I actually prefer my pastries to be more rustic, perhaps a little more buttery and greasy (like the gooey pecan tart from Canoe!).
I think the most enjoyable aspect of my meal was the lovely dining ambiance. As I said, the restaurant is stunningly beautiful! However, there were other glitches that marred the meal. For instance, the food all came really fast one after the other, but our server was not very attentive. We had to ask for water refills multiple times. Worst of all, during the dessert course, there were these little bugs flying around that were very bothersome, and our server never noticed. All in all, I would be willing to pay $25 for the food that I had, but I felt that the remaining $20 went to the décor. Ultimately, I'm not sure that I would come back to Sassafraz. Even though the restaurant is beautiful, the service wasn't perfect, and I'm reluctant to pay a premium just for prettiness.
Sassafraz on Urbanspoon

July 19, 2011

Keung's Delight (Midland location)

Keung's Delight's Midland location is not as nice as the one at Steeles and Warden, even though the décor is quite similar. 
On a hot, sunny day, a red bean and black jello drink was delightfully refreshing.
I didn't enjoy this particular dough fritters rice noodle roll, which is something I usually love. The rice noodle was too sticky and the dough fritters were not crispy enough. All the pieces just ended up stuck together.
Thankfully, fried turnip patties with XO sauce redeemed the meal. Although I would've preferred a drier texture to the overall dish, the flavours were really delicious with the XO sauce. However, I still prefer Congee Wong's execution of fried turnip patties.
Belacan (馬拉盞) fried chicken wings were very crispy, but I couldn't really taste the Belacan in the seasoning. Nevertheless, I enjoyed these wings, despite their greasiness. 
Deep fried crispy milk blocks were very yummy but rather heavy. After eating three pieces, I felt really stuffed. Not a very light end to the meal. Next time, I'll need to save more stomach space to conquer these delectable milk blocks!
Congee Wong on Urbanspoon

July 18, 2011

Vancouver Day 3 @ Twisted Forks

Twisted Fork Bistro
This restaurant did not allow reservations, so we went at 5:30pm when it just open for dinner service.
We got a seat immediately, but there were already a lot of people inside. 

Their contemporary decor was very creative.

Summer breeze cocktail ,very refreshing

Homemade Sour dough bread
I can never have enough of those. The bread was nice and soft. Along side with whipped butter. I swear I can just eat that for dinner.

Fresh Mussels
One pound, with cream, herbs and fresh tomatoes, served with frites
The mussel was very fresh and delicious (no sand) and almost every clam shell had a piece of clam in there. The fries was a mix of potato fries and sweet potato fries, and it went really well with that rich creamy sauce. After we were done with the clam, we soaked our bread in the cream sauce to make sure we don't waste a drip of it.

Cured BC Duck Breast with ratatouille, potato puree, green beans,
 squash and rhubarb jam, finished with duck jus
Coming from a Chinese family, we were engineered to think that the best way to cook duck is to BBQ it.
This dish has changed my mind. The tangy tomato taste of the sauce complimented the duck breast surprisingly well. I highly recommend this dish.

Braised Pork Belly, with potato puree
I have to say this dish was good, but not good enough. The pork belly had a great chuck of fat that was 
a little disproportional to the amount of lean meat it has. Also skin wasn't quite crispy enough. What saved the dish was its sweet sauce that used spices like star anise, fennel seed and black pepper. 

I had a great experience eating here. I would come back again to try their brunch menu, which is superb from what I heard.

Vancouver Day 2 @ Aki Sushi

Walking into the restaurant, I felt like I was really in Japan. All of the waitresses and chefs there spoke Japanese, and there were also a lot of Japanese customers. They set up the grill outside for their customers to watch them cook.

Chef grilling our Black Cod

Assorted Sushi Lunch Combo.

Lunch Box A: Sashimi, Short Rib, Chicken Karrage, Sunomono and rice with miso soup
The chicken karrage was a little bit bland. It needs a little bit more salt, but the texture was nice and crunchy. Sashimi was fresh, especially the tuna. Usually in other Japanese restaurants I feel that tuna give a weird fishy aftertaste, but this tuna didn't. The short rib was nice and juicy.

Tempera Udon
The tempera was soaked inside the soup, so it turned a little soggy. However the noodle was nice and chewy ,just the way I like it.

Black Cod 
Their Black Cod was just cooked, which kept the fish juicy and flavorful. 
The skin was not as crispy as I would like it, but I guess this is the trade off.

House Special roll
Tuna, salmon, avocado, crab meat. snapper, salmon skin and flying fish roe.
This is the ultimate sushi, with everything you can imagine. The roll was as size of the palm of my hand! The sushi was nicely wrapped, since it didn't fell apart as I was taking it apart to eat. Taste wise, I have to say the sushi was very normal, but it was extremely filling.

Overall, I would definitely come back to this restaurant again. The quality of their food was above average, and I find it very entertaining watching the chef grill the fish and meat.

Aki Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

July 17, 2011

Summerlicious @ Canoe (again)

Last year, I went to Canoe for a summerlicious dinner, and I was slightly underwhelmed by my experience. Since then, the restaurant has undergone a renovation, so my interest in dining here peeked again. However, I wasn't willing to fork up $45 per person for dinner, so this time around, I opted for lunch at a much more reasonable $25.
In truth, I really couldn't see the results of the renovations at all. The restaurant looked exactly the same to me as it did before, or perhaps my memory fails me. Maybe these walls weren't like this before?
Firstly, the bread was already vastly improved from last year. I quite enjoyed their house-baked bread with lemon chickpea spread. As expected, the spread tasted like hummus, but the addition of lemon was refreshing and contrasted well with the richness of the olive oil.
We also ordered a honeydew lemonade because it was such a hot day. I felt a little guilty for splurging out for a drink that I totally didn't need.
Chilled soups seems to be a very popular menu item for this year's Summerlicious. After the disappointing experience at O&B Café Grill, I decided to give it another try, since the other two appetizer didn't appeal to me. This was the chilled Holland marsh leek and potato soup with marinated baby shellfish and chive oil, and it was exactly how I imagined a well-executed chilled soup should be: creamy, smooth, and refreshing. The chive oil was a great aromatic addition that really elevated the flavour profile. Every spoonful of this delectable soup was a delight! Canoe re-instilled my faith in chilled soup.
For our entrées, my boyfriend predictably chose the Wellington County flatiron steak with smashed Cookstown fingerling potatoes, corn and wild leek aioli. This dish was also really well-executed. I usually find the flatiron cut to be too tough for my liking, but the steak was surprisingly tender and had a rich, meaty flavour. In addition, the creamy leek aioli was ridiculously good and I made a great effort to mop up every last drop with the accompanying veggies. Flavours aside, I also liked the presentation a lot, and I thought it was a very well-composed plate.
The most disappointing dish of the meal was my Yukon gold potato gnocchi with fennel, comfort cream and vine ripened tomato broth. The gnocchi themselves were pretty good with a soft, but slightly chewy texture. The tomato broth was also incredibly aromatic (and acidic). Unfortunately, I'm not a big fan of pasta in broth, as I much prefer my pasta with sauce. I also wasn't sure what the "comfort cream" was, since nothing on the plate was remotely creamy at all. However, I wouldn't say that the dish was bad, but I enjoyed the flatiron steak a lot more. In retrospect, I should've ordered the pan fried walleye instead.
For my dessert, I went with a safer choice: Canoe pecan tart with cherries and crème fraîche ice cream. I absolutely loved it! The tart filling was perfectly gooey and rich, full of delightfully crunchy pecans, and encased by a thick, buttery tart. My boyfriend thought that it was a little too sweet, but it was perfect for my sweet tooth. The pecan tart was truly an amazing end to my meal.
The other dessert was the bitter sweet chocolate terrine with vanilla marshmallow and Barrie Hill Farms strawberries. The terrine resembled a layer cake with different components for each layer. The bottom chocolate tier was very rich and intense, which my boyfriend loved. Compared to my tart, it was also not as sweet. The middle fruity layer complemented the chocolate well.  The top layer composed of lightly burned marshmallow, which added a creamy dimension to the terrine. Personally, I'm not a big fan of marshmallow, so I preferred my pecan tart more. But if you love dark chocolate and marshmallow, you will love this dessert (as my boyfriend did).
I had an outstanding meal at Canoe that wiped away the memory of last year's underwhelming Summerlicious dinner. We were disappointed that we didn't get a window seat, and as a result, didn't really have an opportunity to enjoy the stunning. However, the food was excellent, and I felt almost happy to pay $25 for the meal (I'm usually very cheap). I was also very full from the meal, despite the relatively small portions. In future licious events, I would definitely consider coming back here for lunch. 
Canoe Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon


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