After seeing that TABASCO Canada sent an incredibly talented group of Toronto chefs to Avery Island, LA, the birthplace of TABASCO sauce, I knew that a tasty and spicy collaboration dinner was in the works (watch the video here!). When I received my invitation to this event, in a gorgeous package I might add, I was excited, instantly hungry, and ready for a spicy adventure that would literally ignite my taste buds and set my palate on fire (excuse the heat based puns)! I keep a small bottle in my desk to ensure that my food is always full of flavour and that no one else in my office will get their hands on it! The Group of 7 Chefs or band of brothers as they call themselves; Nick Liu (Dailo), Scott Vivian (Beast), Dustin Gallagher (People’s Eatery), Bertrand Alépée (The Tempered Room), Steve Gonzalez (Valdez), Anthony Walsh (Canoe), and Chris Brown (Citizen Catering) are all huge talents in the Toronto restaurant scene, and I have had the pleasure of dining at many of their restaurants. I couldn’t wait to taste their TABASCO inspired dishes anticipating a ton of creativity and a load of heat!
The event was hosted at Propeller Coffee (50 Wade Ave), which is a beautiful event space! The space was decorated to display the true feel of Avery Island, the Louisiana birthplace of TABASCO. There was such attention to detail including photographs, barrels, and the largest collection of TABASCO I have ever seen!
The drinks were definitely flowing! There was a range of different cocktails utilizing TABASCO in very unique ways including a caesar, mojito, and daiquiri that were delicious and packed a punch. The jalapeno mojito was my favourite, which was a mix of Bacardi Superior, lime, mint, TABASCO green sauce, and garnished with cane sugar. It was boozy and fresh with a kick of spice. The caesar was also a crowd favourite utilizing the TABASCO chipotle sauce. I loved the garnish of shrimp, corn, and pepperoni!
Steve Gonzalez (Valdez):
This edible caesar really reminded me of the drink! The combination of clam, crab, pickled vegetables, tomato, horseradish and TABASCO was a nice lighter dish to start off my evening of gluttony!
Chef Nick Liu (Dailo):
As soon as I ventured over to Nick’s booth, I could smell the fragrant TABASCO dashi and my mouth began to water. Once I saw lobster, I was sold! Lobster with shrimp and scallop, even better! The flavour of the dashi was well developed with just a subtle hint of spice. The wasabi peas and mushrooms added a nice freshness to the dish, and you could really taste the sweet lobster in that boudin sausage. This was my favourite part of the dish!
Chef Scott Vivian (Beast):
The boudin sausage ball had the perfect amount of spice, and was perfectly fried creating a nice crispy exterior. The potlicker aioli was outstanding. I would definitely lick up every last bit of this sauce if a spare pot was lying around. I soaked it all up with the tender collard greens and spicy pickled celery.
Chef Chris Brown (Citizen Catering):
Hands down one of my favourite dishes of the night! This dish was so rich and full of flavour. The salt crusted wild boar was tender, juicy and melted in your mouth. The biscuit was flaky and buttery and that white gravy was so creamy. This was definitely a representation of the South on a plate. I wish I had brought tupperware to steal some of those biscuits!
Chef Anthony Walsh (Canoe):
Another favourite for me! This dish was OMG delicious. I have never been to Louisiana or had gumbo, but I can imagine this is as authentic as it gets! My friend Katy (my eating companion for the night) who recently came back from New Orleans said it was perfectly authentic with just a hint of Canada. Watching Chef Walsh torch the crab and piece together this dish was a sight to behold. It had everything I love in a warm hearty smoky stew. Duck, crab, pork belly, okra, cornbread, gooooooood! Every ingredient was cooked to perfection. I would love a container full of this to eat everyday!
Chef Bertrand Alépée (The Tempered Room):
I know it sounds redundant that so many things were my favourite, but this was another dish at the top of my list. This croissant was the best I have ever had! Rich, perfectly flaky, and full of butter! The pulled chicken was tender and really took in the flavour of the TABASCO chipotle sauce. The apple rémoulade provided a nice burst of acidity and freshness to balance the richness of the pastry. After speaking with Bertrand, we decided that we need less pressed juice and more pressed butter!
Chef Dustin Gallagher (People’s Eatery):
This was the perfect sweet and savoury ending to the culinary adventure that took place. The corn flavour was so intense and prevalent through every element of the dish. Sorry Kernels, but this salted TABASCO caramel corn was out of this world with the perfect amount of spice! The olive oil corn cake was so moist and the corn sorbet the perfect element to cool down the burning sensation in my mouth.
If you were brave enough you could taste the three year aged TABASCO pepper mash and earn your silver spoon (technically the not so ancient order of the not so silver spoon). I took a taste and at first didn’t feel so bad, but slowly the heat crept in and consumed my entire mouth and lips with the fiery pepper heat. The TABASCO sweats began and after receiving my spoon, I found my saviour in Augie’s Ice Pops! The belgian chocolate and chipotle and cucumber lime and tabasco had a nice kick but definitely cooled my burnt palate.
The Golden Scale: 10 out of 10 on the heat and tastiness scale!
The Golden Rule: All of this delicious food inspired me to write a haiku:
Chefs cook with passion.
Spice and heat, TABASCO treat.
Lips and tongue still numb.
This was an incredible event! The organizers did an amazing job putting everything together and the chefs really pulled out all the stops on their dishes! My favourite parts of the night revolved mainly around baked goods (corn cake, corn bread, biscuits, and croissants) as well as spicy cocktails! I cannot wait for TABASCO to invite me to Avery Island 😉 I am also looking forward to trying the rest of the chef’s restaurants that I have yet to visit or better yet I want to invite all of you chefs to come cook in my kitchen (seriously though)! I will host the crawfish boil! Thank you Angela and team, and TABASCO for making this a night I won’t forget.
It’s been a spice 🙂
Follow @tabascocanada on Instagram to see more behind the scenes photos of the event and hundreds of photos from the trip to Avery Island. After the event, TABASCO® Canada is launching an Instagram and Facebook contest. Show them how you feed your original with TABASCO® Sauce by posting photos with the hashtag #feedyouroriginal. They’ll be giving away prizes every week and a fantastic grand prize trip at the end of the contest!
Dandylion (1198 Queen St. W) is a wonderful example of a vegetable focused menu that really left its mark on me. I am generally all about fat, salt, sugar, and more fat, but I was struck by the light, simple, and flavourful dishes that the wonderful Jay Carter (of Centro and Susur Lee’s many endeavours) and his team created. This was another restaurant at the top of many best of lists (#2 Best New Restaurant – Toronto Life, #5 Now Magazine New and Notable) and at the top of my restaurant bucket list. The menu consists of a rotating three appetizers, mains, and desserts making it easy to try an assortment of dishes that are simple yet present each ingredient as if it were the star. Dandylion is a refreshingly bright note in the Toronto restaurant scene and a must try!
Sourdough bread and fromage blanc (Complimentary): I am happy to see a restaurant that does not charge for bread, and baked in house at that! The fresh baked bread with a crusty exterior and soft chewy centre covered with the soft cheese was a great start to the meal.
Asparagus, trout, fennel ($18): A dish that truly exemplifies the veggie-centric focus of Dandylion! The asparagus was perfectly cooked and fresh. Combining the trout, fennel, and asparagus in each bite was basically like biting into a garden!
Pork terrine, mustard, green tomato ($16): One cannot go wrong with pork terrine! The fattiness and creaminess of the terrine with the crunch of celery and tomato made this dish both hearty and light. Making pork terrine into something I would classify as light is no easy feat. I loved the grainy mustard sauce to coat each bite. One of my favourites!
Cod, charred beans, bonito sauce ($24): So many delicious vegetables on one plate! Beans, zucchini, and romaine, oh my! The fish was tender and flaky with a crispy exterior that I loved. I sopped up that bonito sauce with every last ingredient left on the plate!
Roast striploin, corn, shrimp butter ($28): I took a taste of this dish and the meat was so tender and juicy. Again this was a dish that could’ve been heavy but with the addition of the corn salad, felt very light.
Yogurt sorbet, rhubarb, pink peppercorn ($9): Sweet, spicy, and again chock full of vegetables! One of the lightest yet most satisfying desserts I’ve had in a long time. The combination of rhubarb and sorbet worked very well together, and the flavours aligned with my love of a tart dessert. However, there was just enough sweetness to balance everything out.
Chocolate cake, matcha, avocado ice cream ($10): This flourless chocolate cake was decadent without being too sweet and heavy which is tough to achieve! The matcha avocado ice cream was the perfect cold and creamy accompaniment again finding a great balance between dessert and something we commonly utilize as a vegetable (avocado).
The Golden Rule: Beautiful atmosphere, attentive service, and light and refreshing food! Dandylion was a great example of the importance of vegetables and simple flavour combinations in a dish. I actually felt good leaving the restaurant despite tackling six of nine menu items. I would recommend going with a small group so you can try a healthy portion of the menu! A wonderful feature of Dandylion is that the menu changes constantly, so it is definitely an opportunity to go back and witness more of the kitchen’s creativity at work!
The Golden Scale: 8.5/10!
Unofficial Instagram: penelopegale2014
I finally had the pleasure of crossing Boralia (59 Ossington Ave) off my restaurant bucket list! I have been meaning to go ever since it opened as my incredible chef friend Mike is part of their amazing kitchen team. Not only this, but they have received high praise from Toronto Life (#5 Best New Restaurant), Joanne Kates (#6 Top 100 Best Restaurants of 2015), and many others. The unique concept of Boralia is intriguing in a very dense restaurant scene in Toronto and I was eager to try something different. Chef and owners Evelyn Wu and Wayne Morris have come up with a menu based on dishes inspired by historic recipes of Canadian early settlers and indigenous peoples. Dishes are based on recipes ranging from the 1600s to the 1800s as listed on their menu. I was excited to kick it old school and try some of the dishes that fed our nation’s earliest inhabitants.
Chopsuey croquettes ($6): These were the perfect small bites to start the meal. Just like an arancini with an Asian twist, they were perfectly crispy on the outside and soft on the inside filled with sticky rice, mushroom, and sausage. I have an obsession with soy sauce so the sauce on top was like crack for me.
Kedgeree ($14): You can’t see the beautiful flaky smoked whitefish in this picture but it’s under there! The crunchy and light rice crackers were the perfect vessel for the fish. As our wonderful server told us,those rice crackers were definitely addictive!
Spiced scallop crudo ($16): One of my favourites of the night although the dishes were all unique and delicious in their own rights. This crudo was exceptionally light and playful. The pairing of raw scallop with ginger, pickled ramp, chili, and cucumber water worked beautifully. The hint of spice from the chili and ginger with the cooling cucumber water was a refreshing change from the heavy dishes I’m used to ordering (love these just as much).
Venison liver and foie gras parfait ($15): This was the one heavier dish we ordered and even this was still bright and fresh with the addition of the blackcurrant red wine gastrique. The foie and liver parfait was creamy, rich, and melt in your mouth. I loved spreading some on the crisps and popping a few of the currants on top for a nice burst of acidity with each bite!
L’éclade ($15): The star of the show! I had heard that these were a must order and they did not disappoint! They arrive under a glass cloche filled with smoke, and once uncovered you can immediately smell the pine needle scent. Dunking each tender mussel in the pine ash butter at the bottom of the bowl created a delicious bite, and wonderful end to the meal!
The Golden Rule: The ambiance, service, and food at Boralia made for an incredible dining experience. I actually left the restaurant with a spring in my slightly wobbly step (thanks to a few bottles of wine) rather than having to be rolled out, which was a nice change. I would highly recommend ordering dishes to share to get a taste of what the team has created. Special shout outs to the scallop crudo and mussels! The servers were incredibly knowledgeable and friendly, which made for an even greater evening. Try to book the harvest table at the back if you can to get a view of the kitchen at work. I never liked history in school, but this was a history lesson that I can get into!
The Golden Scale: 9.5/10!
I had planned on taking my dad and his best friend out for a nice dinner downtown, but I knew I needed to pick somewhere special. After extensively looking over my extremely long list of restaurants that I wanted to try (I can’t keep up with you Toronto), I settled on The Carbon Bar (99 Queen Street East). I knew this would be the perfect choice, considering their love of BBQ, and my love of all things edible. I have been watching what the restaurant had been doing from afar for too long, and was ready to sample some of the delicious Southern fare that David Lee, Yannick Bigourdan, and Franco Prevedello (Nota Bene, Splendido) created. The restaurant was stunningly beautiful on the inside, with high ceilings, a beautiful centre bar, and open kitchen. Everything from the lighting down to the booths was very chic and oozed luxury, but in an inviting way. An enticing smell wafted through the air from the kitchen, and I knew we were in for a treat. One cannot go wrong when a wood-fire pit is involved. Considering it is very tough to get my family downtown to meet me for dinner, I was excited to show my dad and his friend a real taste of what Toronto has to offer.
What I drank:
The Deal Closer ($14): This was a delicious mix of tequila blanco, cardamom, ginger beer, grapefruit bitters, and campari. It was extremely refreshing, and light but with a kick. Great summer cocktail!
Shishito peppers ($8): Perfect sharing dish! Spicy, salty, tender. These peppers packed a nice little punch without overwhelming the palate. I loved the addition of the pit-fired eggplant dip. Any excuse to use the pit is a good one, and the eggplant dip was a great accompaniment to these gems.
Tunisian Octopus ($26): Anytime I see octopus on a menu, I must order it. After debating between the meat and this dish, I decided I would simply sample a few bites of off my dad’s brisket plate. What are fathers for, if not to share some brisket with their daughters. The dish came with a sizeable tentacle, cooked to perfection with a nice smoky flavour. It was tender with a bit of chew, which I liked. The fennel salad, candied cherry tomatoes, and lima beans helped to create well-balanced texture and flavour with each bite. I loved the chimichurri with the octopus! The hint of garlic and parsley really helped to enhance the flavour.
Brisket ($19): Both my dad and his friend ordered the brisket. Clearly I stole a slice of meat, and it was delicious! It was tender with just enough fat to make it juicy. You could really taste the smoky flavour from the wood-fire pit. I enjoyed the dry rub, and with just a small dip of their BBQ sauce we were in BBQ heaven. Both of the men loved it!
TCB Slaw ($4): The corn nuts added a nice bit of crunch to the slaw. Overall a nice classic take on cole slaw with a twist!
Collard greens ($5): The mix of collard greens and chipotle created a flavour combination I haven’t experienced before. These were delicious!
Banana Toffee Cream Pie ($16): Of course we had to finish off an incredible meal with dessert! I had read many things about this pie, and it did not disappoint! It was just sweet enough, without being overbearing. You could tell the whipped cream was freshly made, as it was perfectly fluffy and creamy. My favourite part was the crust and toffee. I could’ve taken this down myself, but of course we split it three ways.
The Golden Rule: I am very happy I chose this place for my father/daughter/father BFF dinner! The atmosphere and food were amazing, and everyone left feeling satisfied. This is high-end BBQ done right. It has the perfect amount of sophistication and flavour, without the pretension. I would recommend this place for a nice occasion or a date (they will definitely be impressed). Our server was very attentive, always making sure that everything was going well, which made the experience even better. I plan on returning to order the pit master platter, and partake in many more of the dishes I did not get to try. Another great part of The Carbon Bar is their GBD (Golden, Brown, Delicious) Mondays, where they have soft shell crab po’ boys for $10 at present and quarts of Labatt 50 for $9. Sounds like my kind of Monday!
The Golden Scale: 8/10!
For the second installment of our office supper club, I decided to once again choose from my long bucket list of restaurants in Toronto. My colleague is friends with the co-owner of The Whippoorwill Restaurant and Tavern (1285 Bloor St. W), Shawn Creamer (also owns the Dakota Tavern), and he had told me marvelous things about their food. Bonus points go to Shawn for also being a member of the awesome local band The Beauties! Along with co-owner and chef Tyler Cunningham, The Whippoorwill has become a dining destination for both locals to the neighbourhood and beyond. The menu presents an array of mouth-watering choices, that made it hard for our large party to settle on any one single item. On top of that they had so many specials for the day that sounded amazing, making ordering even tougher. I knew that NOW Magazine named their burger the best over $10 in 2013 (Winner of Best New Restaurant as well), so that was a strong contender, but everything sounded very delicious and unique. Immediately upon walking in to the restaurant, we felt at home in the retro-kitschy dining room. The bar along the wall presented like an old school diner, and there were so many things to look at, I was in heaven. Our server was also amazing! She had a ton of insight into the various drinks and menu items, and was also extremely helpful in the serious debates many of us were having over what to order. I know that I will be back to try the rest of the menu very soon!
What I drank:
Hemingway’s Mistress ($8): This was one of the special cocktails for the night playing on the theme from a tiki party they had a few nights before. It was made of anejo rum, pisco, maraschino, grapefruit, passion fruit, lemon, and strawberries. Great boozy cocktail in an awesome glass!
What I ate:
Oysters ($3 each): I love oysters and these were perfect! The pickled chilies added a nice hit of spice to accompany the horseradish. I wish I knew it was oyster happy hour (ended up being $7 for three), because I would have ordered a ton more!
Corn ($5): This was one of their special sides for the day. A few of my colleagues ordered it and it seemed to be a hit!
Champs ($5): Another $5 special, I originally thought this was a mushroom dish according to the name, but I was pleasantly surprised to find out it was mashed potatoes topped with cheese and spinach. Mashed potatoes are one of my favourite foods and with the added bonus of cheese, this was the perfect comfort food.
Rainbow Trout ($24): After much struggle and debate I settled on the trout. The combination of ingredients and flavours sounded too good to pass up. The fish was accompanied by wild ginger dashi, asparagus tempura, shiitake mushrooms, and watercress in a seaweed broth. The fish melted in your mouth and was extremely flavourful. I loved the mushrooms and asparagus for texture, and the watercress for a hint of bitterness. The broth was very smoky, which made for a unique taste!
The Whippoorwill Burger ($14): I was so tempted to order this after my colleague said it was the best burger he had ever had, however I was coming off the indulgences of Bonnaroo, and had planned a detox (has not panned out yet). I knew I could probably snag a bite or two off one of the many burgers on the table, so I felt a bit better about choosing the trout. My colleague was nice enough to cut me a sizeable chunk and after biting in, I knew why Shawn had told me the burger was dreamy. The ground prime beef burger was so tender and juicy, and all the accompaniments worked perfectly in each bite. I loved the punch of the Russian dressing, and perfectly melted cheddar cheese especially. It is definitely a messy one, yet in the most incredible way!
The Golden Rule: This was such a perfect choice for our supper club, with a wide range of dishes and drinks, in such a comforting atmosphere. The food was amazing and the service even better! The plating was such a treat for the eye, and the hodge podge of dishware fit the restaurant aesthetic perfectly. I recommend going with a group so you can get a taste of multiple things off the menu. I promise that you will want to once you read it! I love how they have a lot of choice including chalkboard specials, although that can be a problem when you want to eat everything. Definitely will be back to try many more things (and eat a whole burger)!
The Golden Scale: 9/10!
Being the resident foodie of the office, when a few of my colleagues thought we should start up a monthly work supper club, I was put in charge of picking some great restaurants for us to try. Thinking this would be an easy task with a few interested parties, I was ready to take on the challenge. To my pleasant surprise, 11 people were in for the first installment of the CARAS Supper Club. After much painful and intense inner-debate on where to go that could accommodate our large party, I settled on Lamesa Filipino Kitchen (669 Queen St West). I have been following what they have been up to for a while now, and was excited to try something to halo halo (mix mix) things up a bit for the first dinner!
What I ate:
Fish cakes ($5): This was the first dish I shared from their bar snacks menu (everything $5). The fish was very tender and tasty with the right amount of crispiness from the batter. The tomato and onion added a nice bit of freshness to each bite.
Mango salad ($?): This was one of the best mango salads I have had with a great combination of ingredients and flavours! It was sweet, salty, and fresh in all the right ways. There were slices of mango and heirloom carrots, with arugula, cornicks, bagoong shrimp chimps, and a sweet mango chutney with bagoong caramel. There were some flavours I had never experienced before, which made for a fun tasting experience.
Vegetable fritters ($5): This was the second dish from their bar snack menu that I tried. Great crispy fritter that was light and not too greasy!
Halo Halo Sisig and Rice ($10): This dish sounded so good I needed to try it! There was a choice between white and garlic fried rice. Clearly there was no question, what the right choice was. The mixture of garlic fried rice, meat, and a fried egg was something I could not pass up. Once I managed to break the yolk, the delicious egg oozed into the mixture of meat and rice creating a symphony of texture and flavour. Standout dish for me!
The Golden Rule: Overall, it was a great experience for our first supper club! Unfortunately, they were one server down for the night when we first got there, so service could have been slightly faster, but I can’t fault them for something beyond their control. The prices were reasonable, and the food and flavours unique and tasty. Many of us had never had Filipino cuisine, and this was a great introduction!
The Golden Scale: 7.5/10!
When I first heard that Susur Lee was opening up a new Dim Sum/Chinese spot Luckee (328 Wellington St. W) just down the street from me, I could hardly contain my excitement. The thought of being able to stroll a block over for delicious Asian fare, especially by the renowned Lee, just confirmed I made the right decision moving downtown. I had been looking over pictures of dishes for a while, when I finally decided to make a reservation and head over. Luckee is part of the SoHo Metropolitan hotel, taking the place of Senses. With a gorgeous streetfront sign that you can see a mile away, I knew the inside would be just as beautiful. The room was a mix of modern and retro Chinese decor with an incredible open kitchen. There was a private dining room hidden by beautiful painted shutters, and bar seating to watch the amazing chefs at work. We received a dim sum menu and an a la carte menu, which were both filled with tantalizing dishes. We had a tough time deciding, but settled on ordering a few dishes from each menu.
What I drank:
Aura ($16): This mix of vodka, cucumber, mint, and citrus was light and refreshing. This was a great way to start the meal, with just the right amount of booze.
What I ate:
Har gow ($7): Classic shrimp dumpling. Light and delicious!
Shrimp cheung fun ($9): This rice roll with ginger, green onion and soya juice was incredible. We couldn’t resist ordering seconds! I could not get enough of the soft noodle exterior combined with the crispy interior. The shrimp were juicy and cooked to perfection, and that soya juice was out of this world (I dunked everything we ate in it)!
Siu mai ($7): The chicken and shrimp dumplings had great flavour and texture. The dumpling was light with a very meaty filling!
Szechaun kung pao shrimp ($19): This was another hit for me! The shrimp were tender and glazed in a delectable sauce, which I again dipped many of the other dishes’ components in. Everything worked beautifully together. The chilies provided a hint of heat and the cashews a nice crunch. A must order!
Luckee duck for 4 ($38): Perfect for sharing! The duck was perfectly tender with a crispy skin that I might have hoarded from the others. This dish came with some delicious garnishes including a kumquat marmalade and hoisin sauce, along with crunchy cucumber and green apple. Whole wheat wrappers were given to create mini duck burritos. I loved creating different flavour combinations, including an epic final bite with a nice chunk of crispy duck skin!
Yunnan fried garlic rice noodles ($16): These garlic noodles were so light, they could probably float. The crab, egg, and pepper provided nice flavour contrasts in each bite.
Braised black pepper beef bao ($7): Sorry for the poor quality photo. By this point, we were taking pictures by candlelight (and I was also in a lovely food induced stupor). This bao had a nice chewy dough with some delicious beef inside. I would’ve liked a bit more beef to bao ratio, but overall delicious!
Rice donut ($4): No photo on this one as it came out too dark, but these little balls of heavenly goodness were incredibly yummy. The egg custard was pure buttery deliciousness, and the sesame gave a nice texture and flavour to this decadent dessert.
The Golden Rule: Both the dim sum and Chinese dishes were superb. They were excellent takes on classic dishes, and I enjoyed every bite. I highly recommend the cheung fun, kung pao shrimp, and the duck! If you are feeling adventurous, you can provide chef with a price point per person, and put your stomach in his hands (minimum $50 per person). Next time I will definitely be doing this, and soon! Your best bet is to go with a large group so you can sample as many dishes as possible from the diverse menu. The service was fairly good for a new restaurant, but a little bit of inexperience comes with anything new. If you’re out to get Luckee (we all are), hit Susur Lee’s new spot!
The Golden Scale: 8.5/10