toronto food. right now.

from last night's 4suppers featuring a collaboration between Chef Basilio Pesce of Porzia and Chef Matty Matheson of Parts & Labour
I'd like to preface this post by saying that I don't claim to be a culinary expert of any sort. I am simply someone who has grown up with a deep appreciation for food. I was inspired to write this post following conversations I had with a friend as well as the chefs during (another SUPERB) 4suppers last night. It's also because of other thoughts and observations I've had about the food scene in Toronto. 

The most significant thing I've noticed in the past couple of years after having moved to Toronto from New York is how collaborative and supportive the culinary community is toward one another. I've made more connections in Toronto's food scene compared to when I lived in New York, so perhaps it isn't fair to say. There seems to be a great deal of mind melding and camraderie going on (uniquely) in Toronto than other cities (like New York, Montreal too, apparently). If the same types of collaborations are happening in New York, perhaps I'm just not plugged in. The chefs I've discussed this with in Toronto agree with me. Is New York just too competitive a place in general for the same thing to happen? Maybe? Naturally, there is still competition in Toronto. For the most part, it seems to be a friendly and supportive sort. Toronto chefs seem genuinely excited about what their peers are doing – at least for the most part. The competitive creative energy seems to yield positive results. I witnessed this energy at this year's fantastic Terroir Symposium. I see it in the 4suppers at Porzia (not only because I co-host this event!), in The Group of 7 Chefs, at the many different chef battles at 86'd hosted by Ivy Knight, at Food Truck Eats, at Death Row Meals events, La Carnita's pop-up roots and today at Slurp Noodlefest, etc. I could go on and on. 

What results from these collaborative relationships are dining experiences that are not only incredibly inspired but also really innovative. My friend Socky last night commented that the camraderie is very Canadian. But I'm not sure whether the same energy is happening on this scale in other Canadian cities. What is very Canadian to me is to be shy and humble about the fantastic food that's coming out of this city's best chefs. Is it also very Canadian to wait until people like David Chang or Anthony Bourdain recognize the creative energy and talent that's happening in Toronto for the city to realize it? 

It's the very innovation and inspiration that is making this moment in Toronto a very exciting place to be. Any others in Toronto agree with me?


afternoon tea delights

I had the loveliest of lunches with a friend here in Toronto this week. It was at none other than Red Tea Box – a local gourmet tea purveyor, maker of specialty cakes and restaurant. It had been years and years since I've been there and was looking forward to coming back. We didn't stick to the original plan of having high tea (of which they had a choice of three types: traditional, Asian and Moroccan). There were just too many options. Their menu was larger than I expected. So this is what we ate:

Cucumber infused water
A pot (or two) of Lavender Earl Grey tea (amazing stuff)

The October Lunch Bento special:
- Spiced Braised Lamb with Coconut and Almonds on Garlic and Rosemary Scented Polenta (also really amazing)
- Creamy Spinach and Chickpea Fritters with Tahini and Pickled Apples & Beets
- Garlicky Rapini

- Dulce de Leche Espresso Cake
- Hot Chocolate Brownie slice with Caramel (I've forgotten the actual name)

I was truly impressed at how flavour-packed and artfully made everything was. The food has so many flavours were infused into every dish. And considering the amount of earl grey tea I've been drinking lately, I appreciated their lavender earl grey that much more. It was amazing. The back house area behind an adorable courtyard where we sat was also very cozy. It made for such a great afternoon for catching up and consuming a whole lot of delicious food.

One thing I will note about Red Tea Box is that you won't find a website for their business. Apparently the owner is averse to the whole idea (and apparently also averse to free press/promotion via blogs). It's pretty hard to believe these days. I suppose they've done quite well for themselves over the years without the need for online presence so who am I to judge? They don't even have an email address. Crazy, right?


dutch boy burger


A friend called to my attention a new burger joint in the neighbourhood called Dutch Boy Burger a couple of weeks ago. So we decided to
walk over there for lunch and try it out. I was naturally curious about the name. The story is, a Dutch Boy paint store used to be in the
same space. The new owners decided to keep and capitalize on the familiar brand name. The extra large Dutch Boy Paints sign established
a great classic diner aesthetic to the small space.

I ordered the Dutch Boy Burger (stout-soaked cheddar sauteed crimini shrooms & caramelized onion; fries included for $8.50) shared a 
generous plate of onion rings and a Foxton Park White Birch soda. So what's the verdict? Everything, including the soda, was really really 
good. The portions are generous, everything fresh and juicy. I must point out that their (Vidalia) onion rings might be the best I've had.  
The batter they coat the rings with was very thin and crispy (and not at all 'bready'). Biting into them revealed the sweetness of the tender  
Vidalia onions. Perfection. And for the comfort food connoisseurs: they fry absolutely everything in duck fat – only on Sundays. Also a nice 
detail to point out, it's also a good spot for locavores. Their suppliers are primarily local. Next time you're in Prospect Heights having drinks  
at Franklin Park, go through the back door and have yourself a burger and rings (the two establishments are attached). 


inspired dining : zenkichi

To continue my birthday week of decadence, my friends Melanie and Jacquelyn took me to Zenkichi Modern Japanese Brasserie in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It was my first time and I have to say that it has to be New York's best. First of all, the interior design reminded me immediately of one of my favourite films: In The Mood For Love. The space is very dark, cavernous and maze-like. The reception area looks and feels like a spa and definitely sets you up for the dining experience. Each table was very private, you don't really feel other diners. There is also a button to call the servers, otherwise, they really leave you alone. The service was superb, almost ceremonial. A shade separates your table from everything and it gets lifted and lowered as each course is delivered to your table. The lighting design of this very dark space is also well done. It all makes for one of the sexiest restaurant designs I've seen in New York. And the food? Well, I was very impressed. We had the 3-course pre fix and a sake flight. Everything from beginning to end was incredible. I loved my Saikyo black cod main course (above, marinated in Saikyo miso) – probably the best I've ever had. The desserts (I had the chance to try both) were: Frozen Black Sesame Mousse (chocolate-based silky frozen sesame mousse) and Matcha & Blueberry Rare Cheesecake (blueberry infused Japanese-style, non-baked cheesecake with bitter Matcha green tea powder from Kyoto). They were simply amazing. All of it made for a truly superb dining experience. A great way to end my birthday week (thanks to Jac and Mel!). I will definitely be back – next time I will bring a hot date ;)

New Yorkers, what are your favourite sexy dining spots?

The Amazing Sake Flight (they have over 50 varieties)

inspired space for art and food : loading dock


My friend Dave Pinter clued me into the existence of the coolest new Brooklyn spot: Loading Dock. The restaurant features Baja-style Mexican food formerly of Brooklyn Flea fame. It's very casual and inexpensive. I love the fact that the restaurant is built into a former garment factory and that the space is also an art gallery. Everything in the space is retains a warehouse feel, rough-hewn and spare. As my friend Dave referred to it: "60-grit" feel (as in sandpaper). The charm is it's unpolished restraint. They also didn't fill the dining area/gallery with too many pieces of furniture. They've mixed mid-century chairs with work tables. I adore the fake fireplace flanked by old Adirondak chairs and fur pelts. Staying true to it's taco truck roots is the kitchen – an actual taco truck built right onto the front of the building. We got in there JUST before people started streaming in and managed to get a couple of quick photos literally seconds before everyone sat down. I can't fail to mention that the food did not disappoint, we loved our dishes! The second this place gets a liquor license, it will quickly become the newest, hottest new bar in Brooklyn. It would make a great event space too. It's another Brooklyn favourite. I will definitely be back – and soon!



at home in ditmas park : purple yam restaurant


I had the rare treat of dining out on Filipino food this weekend. Unlike Korean or Malaysian food, for instance, Filipino food hasn't become mainstream (though it's only a matter of time). So when I have it, it's usually at home or with family.
I've been dying to try Purple Yam, a reincarnation of the now closed Cendrillion restaurant in SoHo. They opened in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn — out of the way, but I knew it would be worth it. I read about their tocino sliders a couple of weeks ago and could not get it out of my head. So our menu for the evening was as follows:
1) Tocino sliders (sugar-achuete cured pork) in purple yam pan de sal bread, served with pickled persimmon
2) The special dumplings – with shrimp and water chestnuts
3) Pomelo, green mango and jicama salad
4) Chicken adobo (braised in vinegar, garlic, soy sauce and coconut milk)
5) Pancit bihon (Philippine rice noodles with chicken, pork and veggies)
1) Halo halo (Philippine iced dessert with sweet beans, palm seed, cocogel, coconut sport [macapuno], jackfruit, topped with flan and purple yam ice cream)
2) Champorrado with coffee ice cream (sweet rice in chocolate and cream)
My friends and I LOVED it – even more than the original. It was such a treat for me and the best meal I've had in a while. It's as tasty as home cooked meals but with an occasional innovative twist utilizing all the authentic ingredients. The staff was sweet, as was the owner and gracious host, Amy Besa. My favourites had to be the sliders (we had three orders of it), the adobo and the desserts. Their house made ice cream is to die for, especially the coffee one. Purple Yam is so worth the trip out. Think of it as a mini-field trip, it's only a few stops past Park Slope on the Q train. Their back patio area surrounded by bamboo looks really lovely too. I'll definitely be back.
Loved the lighting sculpture at the front of the restaurant


building on bond


Last weekend, I took a break from a photo shoot to have a late brunch with a friend at Building on Bond. There was something about this place that I just really loved. It had the look and feel of the wood shop classroom I took drawing classes in back in high school. It had the kind of laid-back neighbourhood charm only Brooklyn (former bodega space) can offer. They have everything from the flat file drawers, wood shop tools, salvaged fixtures and school chairs. The space is founded by design and construction company, Hecho, Inc. – the restaurant/bar space also houses their offices and workshop. Apparently, the place became so popular, they had to dedicate more space to the restaurant area than originally planned. My favourite part of the space were the tables that had the rolls of paper built in and held in place (as place mats, of course) by metal clamps. This place made me wish I lived on this same little corner of Brooklyn too.


the secret of division street : bacaro

Last weekend a friend suggested dinner at Bacaro. It is tucked away on Division St. where the Lower East Side meets Chinatown. In a part of town you would never expect it to be. I became instantly in love with the decor – especially the chandelier. I loved the dark woods with marble table tops and old world charm. It felt as though everyone there was in on the big secret about this hidden gem. It's very intimate and very romantic. The downstairs was even more intriguing. Instead of a wide open space, it was a maze of smaller nooks, semi-private rooms, some with a different chandelier hanging in it surrounded by all brick walls. I managed to snoop around and snap these photos without being noticed.

We dined on small plates of very thoughtfully prepared Italian food. Everything was delicious. It was a lovely evening. I definitely want to go back.

chinatown brasserie

The craving for good Chinese food started last week, the Lunar New Year. I had not been to Chinatown Brasserie in a little while and my cousin's birthday became another excellent excuse to go. Our lunch menu consisted of: Shanghai Soup Dumplings, Shrimp and Snow Pea Leaf Dumplings, Szechuan Chicken and Shrimp with Spicy Hoisin Sauce and half Peking Duck to top it all off. What a great meal. Even the chocolate fortune cookies were good. It was the best Peking Duck I believe I've ever had. Highly recommend it.

Then we walked down to Tai Pan Bakery for some Taro Milk Tea and cakes. Perfect ending.

The interiors of Chinatown Brasserie are also gorgeous. It's the other reason I dine there. It reminds me of one of my favourite films, In the Mood for Love. No surprises that their website uses it's famous soundtrack. Below is a little iPhone photo essay to give you a little taste of everything.

All photos taken by myturtleneck

a gem in cobble hill : henry public


Henry Public in Cobble Hill was where I spent my Saturday night this past weekend. I had been wanting to try it since they opened in the fall. Great little bar and the staff was incredibly sweet. It felt very much like an authentic nineteenth century speakeasy – which is what they were going for. Nothing about this place was pretentious. A friend in the film world tells me the producer of Fantastic Mr. Fox, Jeremy Dawson, is part owner. I can actually see this place as Wes Anderson set. Interior design aside, I also loved their well-considered (and very small) menu of comfort food. The grilled cheese sandwich with apples was so worth braving the cold for!





russian shabby chic : mari vanna

Mari Vanna is a Russian restaurant that opened in June in New York city's Gramercy neighbourhood. It's been described as someone's Russian lady's shabby chic apartment in St. Petersburg – only with a much larger vodka selection. The restaurant is officially taking walk-ins this week (initially only open for private parties). I love everything about this room – from the chandeliers, wallpaper to the dusty shelves of books. Gorgeous space! Anyone up for Russian fare?

All images from