Essence of Unionville – Sunday Brunch Buffet Review

H and I CRAVE Sunday brunches and buffets, and most especially for special occasions.  For our anniversary this year, we decided to try the Essence of Unionville.

It has been a while since we visited the Hilton Toronto/Markham Suites Conference Centre & Spa, and we were pleasantly surprised by the changes since then.  The hotel’s décor is modern, sleek, and minimalist, yet very welcoming.

I would like to point out that I had many questions while writing this review, and I was amazed at how responsive Genson Navaprajah, the General Manager was.  I knew he was a busy man, but he took the time to answer all of my emails himself.  I found this extremely refreshing, as I know firsthand that most executives have an assistant to take care of these matters.  I can certainly see that Genson is very hands on in running this hotel, and passionate about customer feedback, whether positive or negative.

Upon arrival, Ruben, the Food & Beverage Outlets Manager; Aleena, the Food & Beverage Supervisor; Scott, the Executive Sous Chef and our amazing server Barbara, extended a warm welcome and congratulated us on our anniversary.  Even though they were busy setting up for the brunch, he or she took the time to answer all our questions.

Let’s get to the buffet …. a smorgasbord of sweet and savory food, all made in house with super fresh and flavorful ingredients.  Nathan, the hotel’s Pastry Chef, Scott and the rest of the culinary team really outdid themselves.  I have to say, I saw Scott several times, working just as hard as the team, and not in the kitchen where I expected him to be.

H was immediately drawn to the crab legs and sushi – his favorites, while I was already looking at the dessert table. We were literally at opposite ends of the buffet!

I truly wish we had the time (and stomach) to sample everything, so we will definitely cover that in a return visit – stay tuned!  All the food stations were visually appealing, and had an amazing array of succulent dishes.

Here were the brunch offerings on our visit:

Croissants, Fruit Danishes, Cinnamon Rolls, Muffins

H tells me this all the time – “Don’t fill up on the carbs!”  As a home cook, passionate baker and dessert/pastry lover how can I not?  Nevertheless, I have to be honest – I am a bit of a pastry snob.  I had my hesitations because I have been to many buffets and have eaten some soggy, margarine or shortening based pastries.  I could tell from just one bite that these were not the case. The croissants and danishes were flaky and buttery, no doubt, because Nathan uses only unsalted butter (no shortening here)!  They were really scrumptious, and I had to stop at one each.  Such regret …

Scones

I took one look at these super tall scones and thought, “Yes, it’s going on my plate,” despite H’s eye roll.  I honestly wanted to eat a second one.  Why you ask?  It’s just a plain looking scone right?  Nope, these were tender and fluffy, yet held up well to a smear of butter.  The scones had just the right amount of raisins and on my first bite, I detected a bit of sweetness.  Honestly, I can’t explain further – you will have to try them!  I asked H repeatedly to take a bite, just one bite, but he was too focused on his crab and sushi!

Freshly Baked Olive Ciabatta Buns

Classic Eggs Benedict

Maple Sausages and Crispy Bacon

The maple sausages had just the right amount of sweetness.  The bacon was exactly the way H and I like it – crispy!

Omelet Station

Piccata Chicken Breast with Lime Cream Sauce

The chicken was tender, and the slight tang of lime lightened up the cream sauce.

Steamed Mussels with Thai Curry Coconut Sauce

This is where I draw a blank!  Why did my plate only have three mussels? (See below for what’s on our plates).  Well, other than the fact that I had other dishes to try, I really regret not going back for more!  H and I love steamed mussels, but the Essence of Unionville’s version is absolutely delicious.  The coconut curry sauce was mildly spicy and the mussels were succulent.  H and I love Thai food, so we hope this dish makes another appearance on our next visit.

Alberta Prime Rib with Natural Pan Juices

The prime rib was perfectly cooked, medium rare to medium.  I was surprised when the server cut our slices.  I should say, “thick” slices.  Have you ever been to a buffet where the roast beef was paper thin?  Not here!  The prime rib beef was seasoned with garlic, salt and pepper, so simple – nothing else was needed.  Let’s talk texture, because I have had my share of tough and chewy beef.  Our slices were so tender and juicy that we had seconds!

Cajun Roasted Potatoes, Vegetables

Trout with Teriyaki Sauce

Lamb Leg with Mustard Sauce

Cheese Tortellini with Tomato Sauce

Mixed Greens, Veggie Spirals and Cherry Tomatoes

Caesar Salad

Broccoli Mandarin Orange Salad, Pasta Salad, Quinoa Salad, Asian Noodles

Antipasto

Crudités

Crab Clusters

H and I love crab!  What a coincidence; the night before we were watching “Deadliest Catch,” and then we were eating crab!

Crab crackers were supplied, along with these cute compressed hand towels.  Our sever Barbara was telling us a funny story about the first time she saw them.  She thought the server was giving her mints.  Why the heck was she given mints at the start of her meal?  LOL!

All you have to do is drop the compressed “mints” into the water and POOF, a hand towel appears.  Did I say cute?

Peel & Eat Shrimp | Marinated Kiwi Mussels

The shrimp were jumbo sized, cleaned, and not water logged!

Assorted Sushi

H is a sushi lover while I tend to stick with California rolls.  H commented more than once on how thick the fish were sliced.  I don’t know which he enjoyed more – the sushi, crabs or prime rib.  I would say all three!

Assorted Deli Meats

Smoked Salmon

What’s on our Plates

Assorted Sushi

This review is long huh?  Thanks for staying with me because I left the best for last … desserts!

Crème Brûlée

Double Chocolate Dipped Strawberries

Don’t they look decadent?  I ran into Scott on my second round and he asked if I was going to have one.

Cointreau Cheesecake

This was one of our favorite desserts.  When I first saw the dessert section, I thought, “They’re so small!”   I was wrong; they are the right size, especially when it comes to cheesecake.  Besides, being a dessert lover smaller means I can sample more!  Cheesecake is very rich and filling, you really can’t eat a huge slice of it.  This Cointreau cheesecake was very creamy and on the light side, especially with layers of Joconde sponge, brushed with a Cointreau syrup for a hint of unexpected flavor.  I had two!

Chocolate Eclairs

Petite chocolate eclairs generously filled with a chocolate crème chiboust, and a light touch of Drambuie.  They were delicate and mouthwatering.  I said “they,” but in all sadness, I only had one.

Chocolate Mousse Infused with Kahlua

Chocolate mousse can be a bit boring, so a touch of Kahlua made all the difference.  I did go back for another one …

Mango Mousse Infused with Brandy

If you love mangoes, this mousse is for you.  Lusciously smooth and airy, and not too heavy.

Crème Caramel

Passion Fruit Cheesecake

Another winner!  This cheesecake had layers of Dacquoise sponge cake.  The cream cheese filling and passion fruit puree provided a burst of flavor.  The blackberries added a nice tang.  I think I had two, but who is counting?

Mini Blackberry Tarts

These mini tarts had a buttery (all butter, no shortening) and flaky crust, and were filled with a light pastry cream, topped with tart blackberries.  I restrained myself and had only one.

Apple Crumble

Vanilla Sauce & Fresh Whipped Cream

Raspberry and Mango Sauce

Panna Cotta

Assorted Fresh Fruit

Swiss Apple Flan with Almond Cream and Bourbon

This was another one of my favorites.  The addition of almond cream laced with Bourbon truly complimented the thinly sliced tart apples.  I’m starting to repeat myself, but just looking at the pictures while typing this makes me CRAVE Nathan’s exceptional pastries.

Mango Charlotte

A very light chocolate sponge cake layered with sweet mango mousse.

Chocolate Rum Cake

Can you see how light, moist and chocolaty this cake is?  H can be picky when it comes to cake.  He prefers cakes with a light texture and whipped cream.  I took only one bite and wish I had my own slice.  H finished the rest in record speed.  He said it was his favorite cake, and really enjoyed the layers of chocolate sponge with a hint of rum, chocolate mousse, and chocolate Chantilly cream.

Since the Essence of Unionville offers all of these exquisite desserts for sale, I found a good choice for H’s upcoming birthday …. Shh!

What’s on our Plates – Part 2

6″ Hazelnut Milk Chocolate Cake

This cake totally surprised us!  What a beautiful site (for a dessert lover!).  We were so full from the buffet, so we took this home to enjoy.  We love dark chocolate and it’s my preferred choice when baking.  I thought milk chocolate would be overly sweet, but it wasn’t.  The cake layers consisted of Joconde sponge, hazelnut praline coated with rice krispies and milk chocolate.  The filling was velvety smooth, creamy, and over the top decadent.

I have to add that all the cakes were light and not cloyingly sweet.  This is very reminiscent of Asian or European desserts.  The cakes tend to be sponge based, and the frostings are not your typical buttercreams that consist of butter and icing sugar.

I cannot tell you how much we enjoyed this brunch.  There were so many surprising aspects.   Barbara was very efficient, always filling our juice or water glasses.  Our empty plates were taken away without having to ask.  In addition, what server is going to tell you to eat more and take your time?  We never felt rushed to leave.  Barbara wasn’t the only one, another server Victor, encouraged us to try more dishes and enjoy our brunch.  Service was definitely on point, but not overly intrusive.

Stay tuned for a return visit so I can provide you with an update …

Hilton Toronto/Markham Suites Conference Centre & Spa
8500 Warden Avenue
Markham, Ontario L6G 1A5

Sunday Brunch Buffet:  11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.
2 hours complimentary parking
Current price:  $38.50/adult, $20.00/child
Includes juice, tea or coffee
Taxes and gratuity are separate
Reservations:  905-470-8500 ext. 2067

Disclaimer:
This is not a paid advertisement.

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Big Smoke Burger Review – In Search of the Best Burger

Our quest for a great burger continues …

We’re always looking for that perfect burger – juicy and delicious with the ideal ratio of beef: 70% – 80% lean to 20 – 30% fat, accompanied by crispy fries and onion rings!

While we’ve dined at Big Smoke Burger a few times, we decided to try the North York location this time.  Did I mention that I was looking forward to a mouth-watering burger and fries all week long?

Big Smoke Burger

The restaurant is clean, modern, and very relaxing.  Normally we dine at the Yorkdale Mall location, which is just as good, but we liked eating at a stand alone location where we’re not tempted to shop, and we can take our time.

Big Smoke Burger

Big Smoke Burger

The new test menu featured easy to read menu items with photos of the actual burgers.  “Eating with your eyes” definitely appeals to most people, and the first handcrafted burger that caught my attention was “The Beast.”  I let H enjoy that one while I chose the “Smoky Cheddar Bacon Burger.”

Wasim, the General Manager was kind enough to bring our order over and I had my camera ready!  H thought, “Wow, can I just eat the burger now?”

Let’s talk about the bun first because there is nothing worse than a soggy bun.  I actually noticed right away that Big Smoke Burgers buns are firm and nicely toasted.  They’re not bready (is that a word), and can definitely hold up to their generous toppings.

Speaking of toppings, Big Smoke Burger sautés fresh mushrooms and caramelized onions onsite.  All their sauces are house-made and while I’m typing this, I clearly forgot to try any of them!  Don’t do this; make sure you try at least one of them!

On to the beef!  The burgers are made with fresh triple A Canadian chuck, and never frozen.  They are charbroiled to perfection and not heavily seasoned.  We ordered our burgers “not pink” and they were still juicy.

The “Smoky Cheddar Bacon Burger” had everything I wanted – crispy lettuce, tomatoes, bacon, pickles, white cheddar cheese, onions, ketchup and mayonnaise … need I say more?  As you can see from the picture, the ingredients are fresh!  Look at the crisp lettuce!

Big Smoke Burger

Big Smoke Burger

H clearly appreciated that I ordered “The Beast” for him.  What a perfect burger, with sautéed mushrooms, smoked Cheddar cheese, crispy bacon, an oversized breaded onion ring and house made “Big” sauce.  H said the texture and complex flavors of this burger was easily his favorite.  He offered a bite, but I declined because I could see he was thoroughly enjoying it.

The Beast

The onion ring was just as large as the burger!!

The Beast

The Beast

On to the fries, oh my gosh!  These are fresh, hand-cut daily PEI potatoes with just a bit of skin left on – again, not frozen.  They were crispy and just lightly seasoned with salt.  My only complaint was having to share them!

DSC_0006

One of Wasim’s awesome team members checked on us to see if everything was okay, and I’m embarrassed to say that we only nodded and smiled – that’s what happens when you have two serious foodies enjoying awesome burgers, fries and onion rings.

Simply amazing!

_____________________

Is it too soon for a return visit?  Heck no!  We came back the very next weekend because five pictures of their burgers were not enough to share with you.  Here are some more!

It was nice to see Wasim again, and this time we decided to try totally different burgers even though we really enjoyed the ones we had last week.

I ordered the “Spicy Burger” with caramelized onions, house made chipotle mayonnaise, jalapenos, lettuce and tomato.

H ordered the “Double Smoke Stack” – two patties with smoked Canadian cheddar, lettuce, pickle, onions and “Big” sauce.  What great choices.

My burger had a bit more spice than I was used to so half way through, I switched with H.  Being a spice lover, this burger was a hit for him.  The Double Smoke Stack was now another favorite, and the sauce was nothing like the “Big” secret sauce that we all know about.  It was tangier with more body and really complimented the burger.

We had to have a large order of their fries, and this time we remembered the dipping sauces.  The rosemary garlic was addictive, and I don’t know how I can go back to just regular ketchup!  H really liked the chipotle dipping sauce which had a nice smoky kick.

The burgers were again very juicy and flavorful.  The toppings just as fresh as last week, and the fries were hot and crispy.  It’s great to see such consistency.  We had a really awesome meal and dining experience!

It’s been several weeks now and we are definitely craving Big Smoke Burgers!

Disclaimer:

Food courtesy of Big Smoke Burger, however, the comments and my review are unbiased.  This is not a paid advertisement.

Victoria’s Restaurant (The Omni King Edward Hotel) – Sunday Brunch Buffet Review

It has been a while since I wrote a restaurant review, so I could not think of a better establishment than Victoria’s Restaurant, located in The Omni King Edward Hotel.

H and I absolutely love brunch, and Victoria’s is a favorite of ours.  We even celebrated our 1st wedding anniversary at the hotel!

Built in 1903, the historic King Edward Hotel was Toronto’s first luxury hotel and in recent years, underwent a $40 million dollar renovation.   The world-renowned hotel was home to numerous celebrities and was also featured in film and movie sets.

The lobby is both grand and elegant.  We still take pictures each time we visit!

Victoria’s Restaurant is located in the Sovereign Ballroom, which is truly exquisite with floor to ceiling windows and large teardrop chandeliers.

As usual, we requested a table for two by the windows and arrived early to take pictures.

There is a lovely harpist playing during Sunday brunch.

I chose to publish this review based on our Canada Day brunch buffet, which also happens to be Canada’s 150th birthday.  Executive Chef Daniel Schick and his team really outdid themselves, and it was obvious that a lot of time and thought went into planning the menu.  We were thrilled to see many diverse dishes inspired by provinces within Canada.

We started with grapefruit and orange juice, which is included in the price of the brunch, as well as coffee and tea.  There was also maple iced tea, which was refreshing and sweetened by Quebec maple syrup.

If you have not guessed by now, I am a huge cake lover, so instead of following H who tends to go straight for the food items, I headed to the dessert table.  I had to look at the ginormous Canada Day cake.  I took note of all the desserts before finding H.

The brunch was cleverly laid out, with beautifully presented platters of tantalizing food.  Every time we are at Victoria’s, H jokes that I tend to gravitate towards the pastries, and true to his comment, that is where I headed next.

Here is just a brief description of what we enjoyed:

Croissants

The croissants were flaky and buttery, perfect with a dollop of high-quality jam.

Assorted Fruit Danishes

The danishes were also fresh and very flaky.  I loved the blueberry one!

Blueberry Scones

The scones were moist and flavorful with a generous amount of wild Canadian blueberries.  I liked how they were not too sweet.

Chilled Scallop and Shrimp Salad

We always enjoy this delicious cold salad.  It is an excellent choice and is well prepared.

Devilled eggs with Newfoundland Caviar

The caviar was a pleasant surprise and provided an upscale dining experience.  We had just watched an episode of “Chuck and Danny’s Road Trip” where Acadian sturgeon was highlighted. We have tried caviar from New Brunswick; however, the Newfoundland caviar was firm with a buttery texture; very decadent and sumptuous.

Poached Salmon

Poached Salmon is another dish that we love seeing at the brunch.  The salmon was perfectly poached, and only required a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. While other establishments feature whole poached salmon, we prefer Victoria’s version of individual fillets.  Not only was it easier to plate, but it provided an elegant presentation.

Roast Chicken with Fruit Salsa

White Wine and Herb Steamed PEI Mussels

We love PEI mussels, either hot or cold, and were happy to see them offered again.

Antipasto

Charcuterie

Wild Mushrooms

Quebec Pork Creton

The forcemeat-style pork spread looked very similar to pate.  The pork cracklings were crunchy and tasty.

Heirloom Tomatoes with Bocconcini & Basil Vinaigrette

Three Sisters Prairie Grains with Orange Lemon Dressing

Watermelon, Mint and Figs and Goat Cheese

Pairing sweet watermelon with salty goat cheese was scrumptious, and the figs added another level of texture.  I had to go back for more!

Fennel Arctic Char with Kozlik’s Maple Mustard

This was a very popular offering and we struck up a conversation with other guests on how much we love fennel.  It was nice to see a higher quality condiment smartly paired with maple syrup.

Potato Salad with Prosciutto

I can never resist potato salad.  I love Victoria’s version with just the right amount of tangy dressing and slivers of salty prosciutto.

Buttermilk Pancakes with Quebec Maple Syrup

The infamous St. Lawrence Market Peameal Bacon with Fried Egg Sandwiches

Breakfast Bangers and Bacon

Eggs Benedict

No brunch is complete without eggs benedict and Victoria’s version does not disappoint.  H had two!

Scrambled Eggs with Snipped Chives

King Edward Beef Wellington

This classic dish is irresistible and the filet mignon was tender and flavorful. It is definitely the highlight of our brunch every time.  H enjoyed it so much that he did not even notice the Three Province Poutine sitting right next to it!  I forgot about it as well … so sad.

Three Province Poutine

Chicken and Waffles

This was by far one of our favorite dishes.  It is so popular nowadays, and we were so happy to see it at the brunch.  The chicken was crunchy and moist with a hint of garlic.  The Belgian waffles were thick and crispy, perfect with just a drizzle of Quebec maple syrup.

KD Mac n Cheese with Ketchup Chip Crust (kid friendly)

Pulled Pork Braised in Ottawa Beau’s Beer

East Coast Corn Fritters on Summer Succotash

I loved the corn fritters and they were flavorful with a slightly crunchy coating.  The fresh succotash was the perfect accompaniment.

BC Smoked Cedar Plank Salmon

We love salmon and it was great to see it offered both cold and hot.  Again, the slightly smoked salmon only required a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

Roasted Vegetables

What’s on our plates

My favorite part of any brunch/buffet!  Desserts!

Beaver Tails

The sous chef suggested a squeeze of fresh lemon juice!

150th Canada Day Cake

This cake was a showstopper.  As a cake lover, I was stunned to see such a beautiful cake.  Embarrassingly enough, I just stood and stared at it, as any cake lover would! The fondant and decoration were well executed.  I truly wish I had room for more than just one slice, and I was thinking of this cake for days afterwards!  The vanilla sponge was mouth-watering moist, and I think I tasted lemon curd and Italian Meringue buttercream.  The cake was sumptuous with the addition of sweet and tart berries.

Summer Fruit Crumble

We loved the crunchy buttery crumble combined with fresh berries.  To gild the lily, we drizzled crème anglaise over top and the simple dessert became sublime.

Gateau Basque

This is one of my favorite cakes and is a regular feature at the brunch.  It has an intense almond flavor and is truly decadent.  I feel transported to France with each bite.

Fresh Fruit Tart

The shortbread crust was buttery and had a nice firm texture.  The pastry cream and whipped cream were luscious and again paired well with the tart berries.

Chocolate Espresso Mousse:

H is a chocolate and coffee lover, so he always enjoys this dessert.  The mousse was smooth and creamy with a dark chocolate flavor enhanced by espresso. The whipped cream and serving size is perfect.

The Great Canadian Butter Tart

Wow, it was nice to see this classic Canadian dessert added to the Canada Day brunch.  What I immediately noticed was how thin the crust was.  Most butter tarts have a very thick crust and less filling.  These tarts were the opposite and had a generous filling.  The crust seemed to melt in my mouth and had a distinct maple flavor.  I am sad to report I only ate one.

Intense Chocolate Truffle Cake

We have eaten this cake many times in the past and we love it.  When I dipped my fork into the cake, I could immediately detect how tender the sponge was!

The chocolate truffle filling really is “intense” and super delicious.  The dark cocoa powder makes for a great finish and cuts down on the sweetness.

Crème Brule

This is another classic dessert that we love seeing at the brunch.  I did not have room to enjoy it this time, but H sure did!

Rhubarb Parfait

When I downloaded all the pictures I had taken, I noticed there were so many dishes we wish we had sampled!

Mini Cheesecakes

Chomeur Maple Pudding

Great Plains Rice Pudding

Mille Feuille

Nanaimo Bars

Fruit Band

Crème Caramel

Vanilla Cream Filled Profiteroles

What’s on our plates

Overall, the food was very well presented and bountiful with appetizing flavors.  The variety of dishes were both classic and innovative.

David Watson, Director of Outlets at The Omni King Edward Hotel checked on us every now and then, and answered any questions we had.  His presence elevated our dining experience, and created fond memories of an amazing brunch experience.

The staff are genuinely warm, welcoming, graciously polite and attentive, yet not intrusive.  The service is what you would expect from The Omni Group.  It was also nice to see Hector again.

We are definitely still thinking of the brunch so a return visit is imminent!

Disclaimer:

Brunch courtesy of The Omni King Edward Hotel.
The comments and my review are unbiased.
This was not a paid advertisement.

 

Bannock – Summerlicious Review

Summerlicious (July 4 – 20, 2014) is an annual event in Toronto that highlights the city’s top restaurants over the course of two weeks.

You can choose a prix fixe menu from over 200 restaurants. Lunch prices are $15, $20 or $25 and dinner varies from $25, $35 or $45 per person.

This was our first visit to Bannock.

We were intrigued as the restaurant, which is part of the Oliver & Bonacini group is described as offering Canadian comfort food in a casual fine dining atmosphere. Bannock is located in downtown Toronto, across the street from the infamous Eaton Center.

Bannock

I actually had a craving to make bannock bread just from the name alone.

I thought the restaurant had a good ambience; dark lighting, simple, clean lines with Canadian décor throughout. I always like an open concept kitchen.

Bannock   Bannock

One of their popular menu items is the roast duck poutine pizza. It certainly is decadent from what I read in terms of nutrition. The Toronto Star lists the pizza at over 2,000 calories, more than 100 grams of fat and 4000 + grams of sodium! Perhaps a good idea would be to share this with a group.

We decided to order from the Summerlicious menu, so we could review it as such. Our server Marcel was very gracious and attentive, explaining the menu items in detail.

THREE-COURSE DINNER

25.00

excludes taxes + gratuity

APPETIZERS

iced bloody caesar soup
MONTREAL STEAK SPICE, CLAMS, CELERY

smashed cucumber and head cabbage salad
PICKLED WATERMELON, RUTABAGA, MINT, GREEN CURRY

smoked salmon + salt-baked beets
SPLIT AND SWEET PEA HUMMUS, GRAPEFRUIT, GRENADINE

MAINS

dredgeman’s fish pie
PACIFIC COD, SCALLOPS, SHRIMP, CRÈME FRAÎCHE, TARRAGON

roast beef bulgogi hawaiian pizza
PINEAPPLE, GOCHUJANG, GREEN ONION

mama kyle’s meatloaf
GROUND BRISKET, BACON, CHICHARRÓNES, BIRCH TOMATO CATSUP

buckwheat soba noodle bowl
MUSHROOM FAUXLOGNESE, GARLIC MUSTARD GREENS, CHILI PONZU

DESSERTS

cortland apple fritter
MAPLE AND CIDER DULCE DE LECHE

o&b artisan croissant bread pudding
SPICED CHOCOLATE, PEANUT BUTTER, KAFFIR LIME

bannock ices

For our appetizers, we ordered the smoked salmon with salt-baked beets and the smashed cucumber and head cabbage salad. We love beets, and these were deliciously prepared with a blend of unique ingredients.

Smoked Salmon and Salt-Baked Beets

The cucumber and cabbage salad had a refreshing crunch, but I found it too salty. I tasted more of the soya sauce and sesame oil than I did of green curry.

Smashed Cucumber and Head Cabbage Salad

For our entrees, we tried Mama Kyle’s Meatloaf and the Dredgeman’s Fish Pie. The meatloaf plate had three kinds of pork: within the meatloaf, as well as bacon wrapped, and topped with fried pork rinds. Again, salt was at the forefront of the seasonings. A kick of spice was added to the meatloaf which was very moist, but the bacon could have been crispier. The pork rind was chewy and stale, quite disappointing.

Mama Kyle’s Meatloaf

The crust on the Dredgeman’s Fish Pie was flaky and rich.  The filling was merely a heavy cream sauce with very little seafood to be found. I did bite into “one” lonely bay scallop.  It would have been satisfying to have chunks of seafood, even small chunks, rather than flakes, which were very difficult to find!

Dredgeman’s Fish Pie

The Oliver & Bonnacini Artisan Croissant Bread Pudding was good, but nothing out of the ordinary. The chocolate peanut butter sauce was a nice change from a regular Crème Anglaise.

O&B Artisan Croissant Bread Pudding
I almost cried when I saw the Cortland Apple Fritters.  Okay, that’s a bit dramatic … but two of the tiniest bite-sized fritters were placed in front of me. I simply stared at them. I concur with most reviews I read; they were indeed, dense, chewy and dry :( :( :(

Cortland Apple Fritters

As this was Bannock’s Summerlicious menu, perhaps the regular items would fare better. We may give Bannock another try at a later date.

After our dinner, we walked across the street to the food court at Eaton Center!

On to our next craving …

Pan on the Danforth – Summerlicious Review

Summerlicious (July 4 – 20, 2014) is an annual event in Toronto that highlights the city’s top restaurants over the course of two weeks.

You can choose a prix fixe menu from over 200 restaurants. Lunch prices are $15, $20 or $25 and dinner varies from $25, $35 or $45 per person.

Pan on the Danforth

This was our first visit to Pan on the Danforth. We arrived early, so we had our pick of tables! The restaurant was very cozy and dark, with a nice shaded patio.

Pan on the Danforth   Pan on the Danforth   Pan on the Danforth   Pan on the Danforth

Our server was Agapios, and he was super efficient and very friendly. Did I mention he was funny?

We started with the Trilogy of Spreads: Taramosalata (made with fish roe), Humus and Tirokafteri (feta cheese).  A plate of grilled pita bread while simply prepared, was addictive!

Trilogy of Spreads
We also shared an order of Kolokithokeftedes, which are zucchini croquettes with Feta, Kefalograviera cheese and fresh herbs.  The croquettes were unique and lightly fried to perfection.

Kolokithokeftedes   Kolokithokeftedes

We chose the Pan Chicken Souvlaki as our entrées.  Tender cuts of grilled and marinated chicken breast served with new mini potatoes, rice, and salad. I was a bit hesitant as we’ve experienced rubbery chicken most every time we’ve had souvlaki! Imagine my surprise when I bit into moist and tender chicken! I have no doubt the chicken was marinated in yogurt. I’ve tried this method at home many times and the results have been amazing. The portions were generous, but we managed to finish every bit.

Pan Chicken Souvlaki

We decided to try the Karidopita for dessert. It’s a honey walnut cake served with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. The cake was dense with a course crumb and studded with tons of walnuts, soaked in syrup – it was very decadent.

Karidopita
The Danforth, also known as Greektown, is a vibrant community and a great place to take a walk after an enjoyable lunch.

~ ~ ~

We were happy to return to Pan on the Danforth a few days later to try their Summerlicious dinner menu!

What a pleasant surprise to have Agapios as our server again. He was just as funny and sincere as our first visit, and is a really nice guy!

We sat out on the patio this time and enjoyed the cool breeze, despite the dark clouds and pending rain!

Here’s that delicious grilled pita bread again!  It’s brushed with garlic olive oil!

Grilled Pita Bread
For appetizers, we ordered lightly fried  Calamari with Tzatziki sauce. Delicious!

Calamari can be quite hit and miss in terms of texture. The Pan’s version is tender. I’ve never seen rings so large; they looked like onion rings!

Calamari
The Spinach Pie without phyllo was interesting.  I was intrigued.  Bites of melt-in-your-mouth Feta cheese, spinach and dill …. mmm.

Spinach Pie
There were no debates on what to choose for our entrees. We both love braised lamb shanks and ordered their version, Arni with Monastiri Orzo Pasta.

Arni with Monastiri Orzo Pasta
This is one of H’s favorite dishes, and I’ve made it many times at home. I normally braise the lamb shanks for several hours and was happy to hear that Pan on the Danforth does the same. The shanks were fall-off-the-bone tender, covered in a thick tomato sauce. The orzo was perfectly cooked. I could tell that H was thoroughly enjoying his meal!

For dessert (my favorite part), we tried the Strawberry Vanilla Passion Sponge Cake with a custard cream filling, and the Milk Chocolate Sponge Cake with Chocolate Syrup.

Strawberry Vanilla Passion Sponge Cake   Milk Chocolate Sponge Cake with Chocolate Syrup
Agapios was kind enough to bring us Baklava to try!

Baklava
Another excellent meal and we had barely enough time to make it to our car with the pelting rain!

Pan on the Danforth also has a live Greek band and belly dancers on Friday and Saturdays nights.


Disclaimer:

This is not a paid advertisement.

Montana’s Cookhouse Review – In Search of the Best Burger

Montana’s Cookhouse

Our quest for a great burger continues … We’re always looking for that perfect burger: juicy and delicious with the ideal ratio of meat – 70% lean to 30% fat, and accompanied by crispy fries or onion rings!

We’ve only dined at Montana’s Cookhouse a few times; for their ribs, so we had to try their burgers. The décor is outdoorsy and casual, service was efficient and the menu had a lot of variety.

Montana's Cookhouse

Montana's Cookhouse

Montana's Cookhouse

Montana's Cookhouse

Montana's Cookhouse

Don’t you love their cute mason jars?  I have these at home, and they’re useful for so many things other than jam.

Montana’s Cookhouse

We ordered the Chipotle Firecracker Burger which is topped off with bacon, crispy deep fried Cajun spiced onions, Monterey Jack cheese, deep fried jalapeno slices, and chipotle honey bbq sauce.  Their hamburger meat is 100% sirloin, brought in every other day, and not frozen.

We were excited when the burgers arrived – talk about huge!  The requisite squish was necessary in order to take a bite.  My taste buds immediately found the bbq sauce too sweet and overpowering, but the crispy onion straws and jalapeno peppers were a hit and added complex flavors and textures.  The burger itself was a bit on the dry side.

Chipotle Firecracker Burger

Chipotle Firecracker Burger

As a side note, in Canada, chain restaurants will cook their burgers “non-pink” or “cooked through,” in order to comply with the Ministry of Health.  It’s actually illegal to serve medium-rare burgers in Canada, but I have seen some other places accommodate this request.

In the U.S., it’s common to see burgers pink or even quite red! Not something we crave, but it’s a personal choice. Here’s an interesting article on why medium-rare burgers are taboo in Canada.  Play it Safe With Hamburgers is another good article to read.

Back to our burgers … they need some tweaking, and I would definitely suggest a less sweet bbq sauce!  The fries were quite good, with a bit of skin left on, and were hot and crispy.

Additional:

On a previous visit, we tried their Pulled Pork Sandwich.  It was a mess; sorry I don’t mean that in a good way.  The meat seemed pre-made, frozen, and just heated with a lot of apple butter bbq sauce, again, way too sweet.  It deflected from any smoky flavor the pork may have had.  On a positive note, the deep fried onion straws were a nice accompaniment.

Pulled Pork Sandwich

The Beef Brisket Sandwich fared a bit better, but again, was drowning in Texas bold bbq sauce. Personally, we like sliced beef brisket versus chopped or pulled style.

If you order any of their sandwiches or burgers, I would suggest having the bbq sauce on the side.

Beef Brisket Sandwich

Check back soon for another burger review!

Jerusalem Restaurant – Review

Jerusalem Restaurant combines our love of Middle Eastern food with H’s addiction to buffets!

They have three locations: Toronto (established in 1971), North York and Mississauga. Their lunch and dinner buffet is available at 2 of their locations – North York and Mississauga, and offers an extensive variety of Middle Eastern cuisine. On Friday and Saturday nights, there is entertainment, including a belly dancer.

We’ve dined at Jerusalem Restaurant numerous times over the years. The food is aromatic and flavorful. We love the fresh hot pita bread which arrives right after we’ve returned from the buffet tables – just in time to dip with creamy Hummus and Baba Ghanoush! I try not to make a meal out of this, but I fail each time :(

Jerusalem Restaurant

Jerusalem Restaurant

Jerusalem Restaurant

Jerusalem Restaurant

Belly Dancer 1

Belly Dancer 3

The buffet items include a huge assortment of cold salads, appetizers, seafood, meats, pasta and rice, pizza, side dishes and desserts.

While I can’t recall every single dish, here are some of our favorites:

  • Hummus
  • Baba Ghanoush
  • Eggplant Salad and Fried Stuffed Eggplant
  • Tabboule
  • Fattoush
  • Cold Beet Salad
  • Shish Kabobs (also referred to as Shish Kebabs)
  • Falafel (our absolute favorite, so crispy)!
  • Whole Sea Bass
  • Bamia (Okra Stew)
  • Kafta (Beef Kebab)
  • Lebanese Rice and Chicken
  • Lamb (dinner only)
  • Vegetarian Pizza
  • Baklawa (also referred to as Baklava)
  • Sesame Cookies
  • Pistachio Shortbread Cookies
  • Rice Pudding
Garlic Pita Bread

Garlic Pita Bread

IMG_1886

Freshly Baked White and Whole Wheat Pita Bread

Tahini, Baba Ghanoush and Hummus

Tahini, Baba Ghanoush and Hummus

Beet Salad, Chickpea, Tomato and Eggplant Salad

Beet Salad, Chickpea, Tomato and Eggplant Salad

Various Bean Salads, Chickpea Salad, Pickled Turnips

Various Bean Salads, Chickpea Salad, Pickled Turnips

Couscous, Red Cabbage Salad

Couscous, Red Cabbage Salad

Sun Dried Tomatoes, Couscous

Sun Dried Tomatoes, Couscous

Olives, Cold Salad Items

Olives, Cold Salad Items

Jerusalem Restaurant's Delicious Rice with Vermicelli

Jerusalem Restaurant’s Delicious Rice with Vermicelli

Stuffed Eggplant, Fried Fish Fillets and Roasted Cauliflower

Stuffed Eggplant, Fried Fish Fillets and Roasted Cauliflower

Chicken with Vegetables, Lentils

Chicken with Vegetables, Lentils

Roast Beef

Roast Beef

Whole Sea Bass, Fried Salmon Fillets, Roasted Vegetables

Whole Sea Bass, Fried Salmon Fillets, Roasted Vegetables

Roast Chicken, Roast Potatoes, Roasted Zucchini

Roast Chicken, Roast Potatoes, Roasted Zucchini

Fried Salmon Fillets, Lasagna, Roasted Vegetables

Fried Salmon Fillets, Lasagna, Roasted Vegetables

Jerusalem Restaurant's Delicious Rice with Vermicelli and Chicken

Jerusalem Restaurant’s Delicious Rice with Vermicelli and Chicken

Assorted Pizzas

Assorted Pizzas

Assorted Pizzas

Assorted Pizzas

Desserts

Desserts

Desserts

Desserts

Rice Pudding, Fresh Fruit

Rice Pudding, Fresh Fruit

Desserts

Desserts

Desserts

Desserts

Desserts

Desserts

Desserts

Desserts

What’s On Our Plates (from the last several months, not during one visit)!

Brocolli, Fried Fish Fillets, Falafel, Hummus, Kafta, Beef Stew, Roast Beef, Chicken Shish Kabob

Brocolli, Fried Fish Fillets, Falafel, Hummus, Kafta, Beef Stew, Roast Beef, Chicken Shish Kabob

Lasagna, Rice, Roast Beef, Chicken Shish Kabob, Falafel, Hummus, Beet Salad, Roasted Asparagus

Lasagna, Rice, Roast Beef, Chicken Shish Kabob, Falafel, Hummus, Beet Salad, Roasted Asparagus

Whole Sea Bass, Kafta, Roasted Asparagus, Roasted Onions

Whole Sea Bass, Kafta, Roasted Asparagus, Roasted Onions

Pasta, Tabboule, Falafel, Roasted Asparagus, Chick Pea Salad, Chicken Shish Kabob, Kafta, Lentils, Hummus

Pasta, Tabboule, Falafel, Roasted Asparagus, Chick Pea Salad, Chicken Shish Kabob, Kafta, Lentils, Hummus

Rice, Falafel, Chicken Shish Kabob, Kafta, Salmon Fillet, Bamia

Rice, Falafel, Chicken Shish Kabob, Kafta, Salmon Fillet, Bamia

Beet Salad, Chicken Shish Kabob, Bamia, Falafel, Kafta

Beet Salad, Chicken Shish Kabob, Bamia, Falafel, Kafta

Beet Salad, Fried Fish Fillets, Falafel, Roast Beef, Tabboule

Beet Salad, Fried Fish Fillets, Falafel, Roast Beef, Tabboule

Whole Sea Bass, Bamia, Chicken Shish Kabob, Kafta

Whole Sea Bass, Bamia, Chicken Shish Kabob, Kafta

As you can see, H is very talented at deboning a whole fish!

As you can see, H is very talented at deboning a whole fish!

Various desserts

Various desserts

Rice Pudding

Rice Pudding

The service is friendly and very efficient; Cathy and Hagop (Jacob), who have been there forever, are the nicest servers you’ll meet. I will definitely have to update this review as I cannot remember everyone’s names, but we really enjoy ourselves each time we visit.

Reservations are recommended for Friday and Saturday nights; they can get busy at times. Another tip is to get there shortly after they open, when all the items are fresh and hot.

Congee Queen – Restaurant Review

We’ve been frequent customers of Congee Queen for many years, and I finally found time to write a review.

The food is Asian fusion, and you’ll find everything from congee to noodles, fried rice, stir-frys, BBQ meats, Thai, Vietnamese dishes and bubble tea.  The portions are generous, and the prices are reasonable.

Cantonese Chow Mein

Cantonese Chow Mein

Spice and Pepper Salt Squid

Spice and Pepper Salt Squid

Salmon Congee

Salmon Congee

Deep Fried Dough Fritter|Crullers (Youtiao)

Deep Fried Dough Fritter|Crullers (Youtiao)

Fried Rice Noodle with Beef and Black Bean Sauce

Fried Rice Noodle with Beef and Black Bean Sauce

Chef Special Fried Rice with Scallop, Shrimp, BBQ and Preserved Sausage

Chef Special Fried Rice with Scallop, Shrimp, BBQ and Preserved Sausage

Curry Beef with Rice

Curry Beef with Rice

BBQ Duck Noodle with Soup

BBQ Duck Noodle with Soup

Fried Vermicelli, Shrimp, BBQ Pork, Singapore Style

Fried Vermicelli, Shrimp, BBQ Pork, Singapore Style

Fried Chili Turnip Patties

Fried Chili Turnip Patties

Fried Rice Noodle with X.O. Sauce

Fried Rice Noodle with X.O. Sauce

Fried Tiger Shrimps and Chicken with Mango

Fried Tiger Shrimps and Chicken with Mango

Red Bean with Ice Cream Freeze

Red Bean with Ice Cream Freeze

There were times when our experience was hit or miss and this is quite dependent on the time of day you visit.  When it’s busy, the food will be fresher (in my opinion).

Congee Queen currently has four locations within the GTA (Greater Toronto Area), and the menu is the same at each one.  They also have an afternoon special, Monday to Friday, from 3:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.  Combos include a specialty drink such as bubble tea or our favorite, red bean with ice cream freeze.

Some of our cravings are:

  • Salmon Congee – B3
  • Cantonese Chow Mein – E14
  • Fried Rice Noodle with Beef and Black Bean Sauce – E28
  • Beef with Spicy Sambal Chow Mein – E23
  • Chef Special Fried Rice with Scallop, Shrimp, BBQ and Preserved Sausage – H5
  • BBQ Duck Noodle with Soup – 18A
  • Curry Beef with Rice – (lunch menu)
  • Fried Bean Curd with Vegetables – K20
  • Fried Tiger Shrimp and Chicken with Mango – K4
  • Fried Chili Turnip Patties – K43
  • Tung Choi with Garlic – K21
  • Deep Fried Shrimp with Salad Sauce (mayonnaise) – K24
  • Spice and Pepper Salt Squid – K36
  • Baby Bok Choi with Garlic – K29
  • Red Bean with Ice Cream Freeze – R6

Tips:

  • Ask your waiter to make your dishes with less oil and less salt, and then repeat the request!
  • The Spice and Pepper Squid dish is really hit or miss.  It can range from tender to chewy, and is quite salty, so ask for less salt