Monday, I eased into my fifth week in Toronto with a trip on the streetcar to Etobicoke. There, I headed to Lola’s Gelato to visit my friend Tiffany and work on some social media copy–naturally, I couldn’t pass up a cup of gelato (and a cookie) while I was there.
On Wednesday, my sister came in from Boston and we hit the ground running. We headed straight to Famiglia Baldassarre, a pasta wholesaler in Dovercourt Village that’s open for lunch four days a week from 12-2pm (cash only). After about an hour wait in line, we placed our order–cavatelli con sugo e salsiccia (tomato sauce + sausage), fresh burrata and focaccia.
The al dente cavatelli, tossed in a light tomato sauce, accompanied by a piece of pork sausage, and finished with a delicate sprinkling of grated parmigiano + micro basil perfectly represented the beautiful simplicity that is Italian cuisine. The burrata–mozzarella + stracciatella both made in house–was the best I’ve ever eaten. The olive and tomato studded focaccia was pillowy soft, and the roasted tomatoes were bursting with delicious super concentrated flavor. I’d wait in a line anytime for that meal.
After lunch, we went to Starsky Fine Foods, a Polish supermarket in Mississauga, a city just to the west of Toronto. Inside this massive supermarket, tons of Polish and Eastern European staples can be found including: pickled herring, pickled vegetables, a hot bar, large deli (head cheese, sausages, hams, etc.) and cheese counters, frozen pierogis, cookies and other sweets including an overwhelmingly extensive bulk candy area—cherry, prune, hazelnut, marzipan, and various liquor-filled chocolates dominated this section. We collectively bought about 5 pounds of chocolates!
Other things we picked up included a smoked sausage, bigos (sauerkraut stew), beet salad and poppy seed roll–a sweetened yeast bread with a dense sweet filling of poppy seed.
That evening we walked to nearby Avling Kitchen + Brewery on Queen St East. We tried a couple of their beers–I was a big fan of the Esperta, a light Belgian Ale that was super fragrant + fruity. We also shared a couple of dishes, a savory turnip cake covered in buttermilk ranch and an order of crispy salt + vinegar spuds with malt aioli.
After Avling, we went to Pinkerton’s Snack Bar on Gerrard St. East, a hip divey type of bar specializing in classic cocktails and Asian-influenced bar snacks (menu changes weekly). I enjoyed a bourbon sour and a boulevardier, a bourbon-based negroni. Food-wise, we had ahi tuna tostadas and a pork neck pancake–sticky braised pork on a savory kimchi pancake–the latter so delicious we ordered another one to share.
Thursday, my sister and I went up CN Tower–a popular tourist attraction I’d actually recommend. Afterwards we went to WVRST, a beer hall specializing in artisanal sausages–I highly recommend sharing an order of their duck fat fries.
Later on for dinner, we went to Antler Kitchen + Bar on Dundas West. The restaurant specializes in seasonal + regional Canadian cuisine–much of the game meat dominated menu sourced + foraged by chef/owner Michael Hunter himself. To start, I had the Venison Tartare, with pickled wild mushrooms, lemon balm, sea buckthorn berries, caper aioli, and sourdough toast–delicately gamey, briny, savory, bright and acidic, this tartare blew me away.
For my main, I ordered the Stuffed Ontario Rabbit with a morel duxelle, carrot puree, rabbit barley fricasse, and currant agrodulce–I know I just raved about my starter, but this dish topped it. As soon as I tasted my first bite of rabbit with some carrot puree, I blurted out–and couldn’t stop saying this while eating–”OH MY GOD.” It was an edible religious experience.
Dessert was a Maple Bacon Glazed Cruller with a chaga chai ice cream and shaved maple fudge–the ice cream was particularly delicious.
To anyone living in or visiting Toronto, I recommend, no, I implore you to make the pilgrimage to this restaurant.
Friday morning, we ate breakfast at White Lily Diner. I had a stack of griddle cakes topped with maple syrup, apricot compote and cottage cheese. My sister and I also shared a side order of hash browns with malt aioli.
For dinner, we went to Quetzal, a restaurant specializing in regional Mexican cuisine, much of the cooking is done over wood-burning grills.
The menu geared towards sharing includes several sections: cold bar (ceviches and salads), masa (fresh tortilla bases), vegetables, from the grill (meat and seafood), and dessert. We thought it was going to be pretty pricey to order a bunch of different dishes, but luckily our server informed us that we could order smaller portions of most dishes found on the menu.
To start, we had a ceviche of red bream + bay scallops. Fresh, bright, and refreshing, with a delicious celery leche (the marinade that ‘cooks’ the seafood), this was a great introduction to the meal.
Next from the masa section, we had the Empanada Oaxaqueña, a stuffed blue corn tortilla with smoked chicken and mole amarillo, served with a fresh cucumber salsa and crema. Yet another delicious dish–the cucumber salsa was especially unique.
We then had runner beans, Hokkaido scallops, squid and sweetbreads, all cooked on the wood-fired grill. Acidic, bright, spicy, smoky, savory, sweet–amazing flavors we tasted and enjoyed in all of these dishes. The runner beans–covered in an unexpected combination of toppings including coconut, cotija cheese, pickled onions and grapefruit–and the sweetbreads were my personal favorites.
For dessert, we shared a type of coconut custard with compressed pineapple in hibiscus syrup, and fresh Ontario strawberries with an herbal ice cream + morita chile meringue–both dishes serving as tasty palate cleansers to round out the meal.
Our meal at Quetzal was full of interesting and complex flavors, textures, and colors–an amazing sensory experience I won’t be forgetting anytime soon.
On Saturday, we had brunch at Maha’s Egyptian Brunch with my friend Tiffany. I had a honey cardamon latte and the Egyptian Falafel–an Egyptian version of a Scotch egg with falafel wrapped soft boiled eggs. Flavorful, colorful, and fresh, our introduction to Egyptian cuisine was delicious. Tip: Get here early before the line gets long.
Afterwards, went to Serano Bakery and then walked to Riverdale Park East before my sister’s flight back to Boston.
Only three weeks left here in Toronto, and what a fantastic experience it’s been. Cya next week!