Monthly Archives: November 2012

Restaurant Review: Bannock

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Tucked into side of The Hudson Bay Company at the corner of Queen Street West and Bay Street in Toronto is the home of Bannock.  This space originally housed The Bay’s signature label line, which I never saw anyone shopping in.  It’s nice to see the space transformed into a yummy eatery.

With a total of 4,348 square feet, Bannock is part grab-and-go café, part coffee shop, and part dine-in restaurant. The architecture reflects the menu – eclectic and approachably Canadian – featuring antique pine and hemlock reclaimed from one of the Queen’s wharfs that sat under the waters of Lake Ontario at York Street for over a hundred years.   The owners Oliver and Bonacini also own the likes of ‘Canoe’ and ‘Auberge Du Pommier’ in Toronto.

Bannock’s honest approach to food is rooted in familiar, wholesome ingredients that are reflective of Canada’s rich regional and cultural diversity, delivered in an innovative and playful way. Everyday classics are revitalized as the Chefs pay homage to traditional Canadian comfort foods, putting our cultural favourite’s front and centre. Bannock breads are integrated throughout the entire menu including artisan sandwiches and pizzas. Bannock garnishes are also added to soups, salads and main courses.

I have been meaning to come to Bannock for ages.  I decided to make a reservation for my best friend and I for our birthdays last week.  When we arrived we were seated at a lovely banquette table for two with a great view of the restaurant.

Marcel our waiter greeted us jovially and presented us with menus.  He provided us with some interesting recommendations for specials and left us to decide on our meal options.

My friend and I opted for the pickerel taco + cucumber apple salad on a steamed bun with caviar tartar as appetizer for each of us.  The bun was warm, doughy and indeed very comforting.  The cucumber salad had a chili punch to it.  We were advised by the server that the wine we ordered would make for a nice compliment to the appetizer.  The cucumber was fresh, crunchy and was a contrast to the softly steamed bun.  The caviar tartar was something to marvel over.  It was lush and oozed goodness throughout the taco.  Happiness.

The wine we ordered was the Pinot Grigio, Argento, Mendoza for $32.  It was a perfect accent to our evening.  It  anchored our appetizer and entrees choices.  It’s a great feeling when you are sipping away at a sweet but mild white between bites.  Very soothing and amplified the flavours within the meal.

For entrees my friend ordered the Seared B.C.  Albacore Tuna.  It came with wax beans, smashed fingerlings, roots crudités, banga cauda.  The Seared B.C.  Albacore Tuna was prepared beautifully on the plate.  The tuna was generous and could be swallowed whole – it was that soft.  It looked like Turkish delights only larger in depth and quantity.  The smashed fingerlings, roots crudités, banga cauda provided the colour and the background sounds to the main meal.  It was light enough that my friend felt satiated and had room enough in her belly for more wine, martinis and dessert.  Isn’t that the best feeling after having a gourmet and pristinely prepared meal?  Perfection.

I ordered the Ontario Venison Chuck Chili which came with great northern beans and bannock.  Bannock, also known as fry bread, skaan/scone or Indian bread, is found throughout North American native cuisine.  Today, bannock is a growing culinary trend across Canada with non-aboriginal people.  The bannock in my meal was prepared on site at Bannock.  It was lovely.

My friend and I had a conversation if the venison would make a good choice for dinner.  Would it be too gamey?  It wasn’t.  Again, perfectly prepared and plated.  The Venison Chuck Chili had a kick to it.  The spring onions added a nice texture next to the chunky chili and soft northern beans.  The bannock that was placed to the side was a gentle addition to be either eaten alone or to sop up the chili.  The venison was robust and very filling.  My friend actually helped me finish my meal.  The bowl wasn’t heaping but if you do order this dish either be prepared to take some home with you or have your friend help.

After dinner we ordered two Niagara Martini’s to start us off on the right foot for our dessert journey. Additionally we ordered a warm smore’s pie and a canoe fireweed butter tart.

The Niagara Martini’s indeed were lush.  We were glad to end our evening with these martini’s as oppose to starting with them.  They were light enough and kept the giggles and celebratory mood through our desserts.  The warm smore’s pie and a canoe fireweed butter tart were supreme.  The warm smore’s pie could be enough of a trigger for choco-holic’s to land them into a Chocaholic’s Anonymous meeting.  Ecstasy.  The slightly toasted marshmallows infused with the chocolatey brownie.  Definitely campfire worthy without the sticky mess.  Civilized but also pure debauchery.

The Canoe Fireweed Butter Tart is a good choice is you slide onto the other side of the sweets scale.  I personally prefer my butter tarts with raisins.  This one did not come with raisins but regardless it was just as buttery as I expected.  The crust was flaky but also sturdy enough to hold together the treat.  Very posh and would be perfect if you were wanting something sweet and light after a heavier meal.

The service that accompanied our meal from Marcel and Jackie was genuine, warm and dedicated.  It’s nice to be seated in a nice restaurant and not feel rushed and most importantly treated like a regular after one visit.  Classy yet comfortable.

The Café/Coffee Shop is open for breakfast and stays open well past dinner hour. The dining room is open for lunch and dinner Monday to Saturday and is open for brunch on Sundays.  Check out Bannock when you have a moment – A truly Canadian and comforting experience.

Bannock

401 Bay St., Toronto, M5H 2Y4

Phone:   416.861.6996

http://www.oliverbonacini.com/Bannock.aspx

An Ode To The Perfect Veal Sandwich at ‘Nonna’s Place’

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I have been craving a proper veal sandwich for ages.  As I perused a list from another popular blog, I noticed one restaurant that sold veal sandwiches was listed as number one.  It was a chain and had pricey fare.  Hmmm.  No.  As I looked farther down the list, I came upon Nonna’s Place.  The name – there was something about the name.  I made my decision – they would be getting my money today.

When I walked into the door at Nonna’s Place on Bloor Street just west of Lansdowne station,  I was immediately filled with warmth.  There was a man sitting and eating a veal and pasta dish quietly.  Ah yes, I know that body language.  A love affair with one’s food.  This was a good sign.

I have had steaming hot veal sandwiches in the past where the sandwich looked gorgeous on a plate and the cheese was melting off the ends and have been gutted after the first bite.  I always feel nervous when I walk into a shop selling veal sandwiches – am I about to be disappointed?  Again!!

Nonna knows her veal sandwiches.  The bun was fresh, fluffy and yet firm.  The veal was beautifully breaded, plentiful, jammed into the bun, the sweet peppers were fresh, juicy and aromatic, the cheese a nice compliment to the whole sandwich.  Ladies and gentlemen, the angels were singing – ‘the perfect veal sandwich’.

As Joanne, the owner and I chatted – I noticed her husband and son working away quietly in the kitchen.  Joanne told me the story of Nonna’s Place with a zest that could only come from love.

Nonna’s Place started as a dream for an ambitious Italian immigrant couple in 1964. Rocco and Francesca Zuccaro wanted to create a business that would support their young family while reflecting their Italian culture. A true Canadian Dream!  😉 Originally known as Shaw Grocery, the Zuccaro family supplied the Bloor Street and Symington area with their daily groceries. As time passed Francesca and Rocco continued expanding their soup and sandwich shop business. After 44 years the Zuccaro’s retired, leaving the Shaw Grocery store in the hands of their eldest daughter.  Joanne changed the Shaw Grocery name to Nonna’s Place as a tribute to her parents.

A true mom and pop shop.  Supporting these local shops is a no brainer.  The prices are fantastic (Veal $6.00, Grilled Strip loin Steak $7.00, Meatball $5.50, Eggplant $6.00 etc.) and the service genuinely professional and appreciative.   Joanne even makes her own Biscotti.  You can also pick up other Italian staples and pasta dishes from her shop.

Keep it in the family with Nonna’s Place – I know where I’m going if I’m having a craving for some proper Italian nosh.  By the way, I needed a nap for two hours after that sandwich.  That says it all.

Hours

MONDAY-FRIDAY

8.30AM – 4.30PM

Nonna’s Place

1419 BLOOR ST WEST
TORONTO,ONTARIO,CANADA
M6P 3L4
Phone:  (416) 531-7367

http://www.nonnasplace.ca

Staycation Essentials

For the next two weeks I am on a Toronto Staycation.  I decided earlier this year that I was going to scale back and do some off the beaten track walking tours, discovering of new neighbourhoods in my hometown and most of all visit Toronto’s finest museums, galleries and attractions at cheap and cheerful pricing.

Before I start on the Essentials of a Staycation, let me tell you how great it is to wake up in my own home, make my own hearty breakfast with tea and being able to lounge a bit before heading out.  I like the feeling of not having to rush and just moving slow after a year of work where I am run off my feet.   I came home a short while ago and warmed up some spaghetti and meatballs I had made last night with a glass of wine.  It’s a good life!

Now onto the Staycation Essentials.  I purchased three essentials which I used today to the fullest.  The three pieces I encourage you to pick up are the City Walks: Toronto, a TORONTO CityPASS and the Moleskine City Notebook:  Toronto.

City Walks: Toronto

50 Adventures on Foot

By Neil Carlson, Maps by David Lindroth

4-1/16 x 5-5/8 x 1-1/4 in; 50 cards, tri-fold intro card, 50 color maps

Published in February, 2008

This deck of cards comes complete with detailed maps and insider information.

Walks include:

The Harbourfront

Queen Street West

The Entertainment District

Toronto Islands

Bloor Street

REVIEW:  I want to be on my feet and walking for the bulk of the next few weeks in Toronto.  There are so many neighbourhoods I want to explore and get to know a little better.  The ‘City Walks: Toronto 50 Adventures on Foot’ is the perfect for my needs.  The cards are a perfect size to slide into my Moleskine and to refer to quickly as I am walking.

Sure TTC (transit maps) are okay but you want quick tips in an easily digestible fashion, The ‘City Walks: Toronto 50 Adventures on Foot’ is your ally and a nice compliment to the TORONTO CityPASS. The CityPASS will put you in key neighbourhoods and the ‘City Walks: Toronto 50 Adventures on Foot’ will guide you to explore further into the attraction’s neighbourhood.

The information on the card is brief; it provides public transportation ideas, excellent hints on cool and off the beaten track cafes and restaurants to check out as you travel from one destination to the next, interesting notes on what you should be observing and shortcuts.  The maps are colourful, a decent font size for review, defined landmarks so you know at a glance where you are and most importantly closest subway and bus stops if you get fed up and want to stop walking.  😉

http://www.chroniclebooks.com/titles/city-walks-toronto.html

TORONTO CityPASS

Toronto CityPASS is a booklet of admission tickets to Toronto’s 5 must-see attractions at 43% off the combined admission price. Save US$ 46.42 per adult and US$ 34.23 per youth, ages 4-12.

Included Attractions:

1.CN Tower

2.Royal Ontario Museum

3.Casa Loma

4.Toronto Zoo

5.Ontario Science Centre

CityPASS booklets are valid for nine consecutive days beginning with the first day of use.

Booklets include one-time admission tickets, detailed attraction information, coupons and a map.

REVIEW:  So as you can see – a really neat and comprehensive way to see a city by using a CityPASS. Plus offering and amazing value for the budget friendly traveler like me.  Speaking to what I mentioned earlier in this post – by using a CityPASS you are introduced to not only the best in cultural activities and exhibits but you can also venture out to off the beaten path jaunts that you wouldn’t necessarily would have been exposed to. The element of surprise whilst travelling makes me happy.

I am planning on visiting the Royal Ontario Museum, Casa Loma and the CN Tower using my TORONTO CityPASS in the next 2 weeks.  Attractions I have not visited in years and they are in my own city!

Sometimes strictly limiting your research to that of a travel book and internet searches isn’t all that and a bag of chips. Check out the CityPASS next time you travel to a big city. They are currently available in cities such as:

Atlanta | Boston | Chicago | Hollywood | Houston | New York | Philadelphia | San Francisco | Seattle | Southern California | Toronto

CityPASS

Customer Service

1 (888) 330-5008

Mon-Fri, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. MT

Sat-Sun, 8 a.m.-2 p.m. MT

info@CityPASS.com

http://www.citypass.com/toronto

Moleskine City Notebook:  Toronto

The City Notebook is easy to use and self-contained. It’s for city travelers who come and go;

occasional and regular visitors – for tourism, leisure, work, culture. It’s also for city residents, as it’s

the pocket-sized pad to accompany new urban lifestyles.

The City Notebook reflects the individual lifestyles of people who are independent and free-thinking.

People who live their lives at a fast pace, always connected, but who can relax and enjoy themselves; people who are creative, and selective in their tastes.

The City Notebook is a perfect companion for those exploring the magic of the city.

The City Notebook is useful in planning a trip, organizing a stay, gathering information, news,

internet addresses. During a trip it’s helpful to note down useful information, personal reflections,

addresses, experiences. In this way you can retrace your journey, revisit memories, exchange

information, and update it for your next visit.

Each 228-page notebook is thread-bound, featuring a black cover, elastic closure, inner pocket and

three bookmarks in different colors.

It includes:

 Key map with the layout of the city

 Subway map

 Zone maps

 Street Index

 Translucent sheets for tracing itineraries over city maps

 City File – a tabbed organizer for food, drinks, people, places, books and 48 adhesive labels for personalize it according to individual preferences

 Detachable sheets for exchanging messages

 Blank pages for jotting down information, recording discoveries and stories

REVIEW:  I own quite a few Moleskine notebooks but this City Notebook for my fair city of Toronto is a godsend.  I have a Smartphone but I’m pretty old school.  I like being able to look up addresses in a notebook, I like to write down by hand my thoughts, experiences and most importantly write down ideas to follow up on when I get home.

The compact ability of the Moleskine City Notebook is also helpful.  I don’t want to be carting around a mega backpack in my own city so being able to pop in a lil notebook with a pen is all I need.

The maps are detailed and up to date.  If you don’t want to look like a tourist in your own city, the map sizes are perfect.  For visitors this notebook is for you.  You won’t look like you have a sign that says ‘rob me’ with this discreet notebook.

The 96 page archive with 12 tabs, 76 blank pages, 32 removable sheets for loose notes, 12 translucent sticky sheets to overlay and reposition are the luxe elements to this notebook.  When I am at home I like to dump all of my pieces of papers and notes on the floor and to provide my thoughts with some sense of order.  When I’m on the road this notebook has helped in offering me some OCD comfort.  Everything has a place in this notebook and the pages are so soothing especially when you want to capture all of your thoughts before they are whisked away in the romance of a city moment.

If you are a newbie traveller or a seasoned one like me, Moleskine City Notebook for Toronto is what you need as part of your toolkit to keep your organized, creatively stimulated and focused on the next destination to be conquered.

Check out Moleskine’s other awesome City Notebooks!

http://www.moleskine.com/web/us/