Sunday, July 30, 2006

Toronto by the Mouthful

Saturday Dinner Goes Canadian!




This week's Saturday Dinner wasn't dinner at all. Instead, it was an all-day gastro-tour of Toronto where I was visiting my husband, Mike, while he is spending two weeks there for work. I had never been to Toronto, so I searched online for guides to restaurants and cultural events, but I was mostly interested in food. One of the best ways to spend a day in a big city is meandering around with a few points of interest in mind, stopping for drinks and snacks at various places along the way. It's sort of like a pub-crawl for foodies.


Toronto is a huge, modern city, but there is good public transportation, so a car is not a must. We found that most of the neighborhoods we were interested in were quite close. The number one destination on my list was the St. Lawrence Market, so that is where we headed on Saturday morning. The market, named one of the 25 best in the world by Food & Wine magazine, according to the market's excellent website, was established in 1803. The South Market building, pictured above, was Toronto's first city hall, but since 1901, has housed the city's finest meat, seafood and produce vendors as well as many other gourmet and specialty stalls.


Fresh ravioli being rolled out in the South Market. We had a sample...tasty and a perfect al dente.


Most of the sampling you'll do at the market is probably from the cheese vendors...we didn't try a cheese we didn't like, but the best was a soft, brie-like cheese that tasted of wild mushrooms.


One vendor had several antipasto bars like this full of olives, roasted vegetables, cheese and stuffed grape leaves. We had to try some, so we picked out roasted artichoke hearts, grape leaves and fantastic, nicely charred oyster mushrooms, all coated with olive oil. We wished we could enjoy some wine with our antipasto, as we've been known to do, so we took a look in a liquor store across from the market. There, we discovered one of the greatest innovations ever introduced to the wine world: the single-serving wine juice box!
As you can see, this incredibly convenient product fits nicely into the pocket of your cargo shorts when you are on the go. We got a grenache-shiraz from France that was medium-dry and spicy with fruit flavors in the background...even tastier than we expected!


After our mini-lunch at the market, we walked several blocks to the Distillery District, a national historic site that was once the largest distillery in the British Empire. Today, it is a pedestrian-only village where you can enjoy a sunny afternoon relaxing in one of the several beer gardens and listening to the live music that started early on Saturday afternoon. In the past few years, the area has become one of the city's most popular entertainment districts. We wandered around the cobblestone streets between all-brick, Victorian industrial warehouses that now house innovatively designed restaurants, unique shops, theaters and art galleries.


Mike enjoys his Mill St. Coffee Porter at Pure Spirits in the Distillery District. The bartender insisted that he taste the coffe porter first, becase "you either love it or hate it." We didn't hate it; not at all. Across from the restaurant, Mill St. Brewery has a shop where you can sample all their microbrews and buy a six pack to take home. I loved the Stock Ale with an amazing pineapple flavor that could get addicting.


Enjoying another local beer, Steam Whistle, a light and summery pilsner.


One of the day's highlights was a stop in Soma Chocolatemaker in the Distillery District. This beautiful shop roasts their cacao beans on the premises, and you can watch the confections being made behind large glass panels, above.


Soma has chocolate bars, chocolate-covered nuts, hot chocolate and homemade gelato, but I was mersmerized by the stunning truffle display case.


We tasted (clockwise from top left) an olive oil truffle, an aged balsamic truffle, a pecan praline and a chile pepper truffle. The texture of the thick rich chocolate inside the shells was a little different in each truffle and the flavor of the balsamic was more pronounced compared to the subtle olive oil. The one that made me rave like a chocolate-fool was the chile pepper. It was spicy with a hint of heat and the most memorable texture that was rougher on the tongue than any of the others. Go to Toronto and go to Soma.

After a lazy afternoon in the Distillery District, we headed up Yonge Street, hoping to cross College Street, another area with lots of great restaurants and cool shops. This part of Yonge Street reminded us of New York City. Like NYC, there is so much to see (and eat) in Toronto that a weekend was not nearly enough. We did find College Street, but were so hot and thirsty that we didn't make it any farther than a little Greek restaurant just west of the intersection of Yonge and College. I thought it was just a hole in the wall takeout place, but Mike said, "they have a bar," so we went in. The name of the place was Greek Islands which is also the name of our favorite taverna at home in Fort Lauderdale. I should have known this was a good sign. The restaurant was very cute and cozy with whitewashed walls and blue accents. They had a good selection of Greek wine which we've come to enjoy a lot lately. On the advice of the very hospitable bartender, we ordered a half liter of dry white wine to go with the cold appetizer sampler, a heavenly selection of fresh dips served with warm pita bread.

The sampler had (clockwise from left) feta cheese, tapenade, Greek Yogurt dip, hummus, baba ganoush (eggplant dip), taramosalata (fish roe and potato dip) and a whipped feta and red pepper dip (in the center). The amazing bubble gum-pink taramosalata was my favorite and had a light texture and a hint of potato flavor.


We ended our day at Brix, a wine bar and bistro near our hotel that turns a bit clubby after 9:30. We had some juicy grilled mini-ribs and some cocktails while we listened to an 80s cover band. It was too dark to photograph the food, but I did manage to get this majestic shot when we stopped in for a beer on Friday afternoon: A lovely Hoegaarden, one of my all-time favorite beers, fresh from the tap.

We had so much fun walking and eating our way through Toronto. What cities would you like to do a foodie pub-crawl in? It's a great way to sample all kinds of local delicacies, as well as to discover little gems like this...

The condom on the right reminds me of Mr. Hanky from South Park. Hi-de-ho!

1 comment:

Cyndi said...

What a fabulous and fun post! I'm so envious of folks who get to experience things like that. Especially the St. Lawrence market - that's like a food carnival. What fun. I think Portland, Oregon would be a fun place to do a foodie tour, or maybe even parts of LA.