30.7.16

Garlic's of London


www.garlicsoflondon.com

We were on our way through London and Garlic's (along with Tasting Room) was one of the most recommended places - we just had to check it out on this Saturday afternoon.

APPEARANCE
The restaurant is not very noticeable from the outside - it has a narrow storefront and huge windows which might make it stand out more in the evening. The quirky writing had a decorative, illustrative feel which can be a bit hard to read for those not knowing what to look for. Inside, our attention was captured by the ever-present yellow brick clad the walls with bold abstract, splash-like art - the same style on all walls. We thought it was a bit repetitive but we liked the funky mood it set. Garlic is a bit small, but cozy. Warm colours added to that comfy feeling.

NOSE & SWIRL
We noticed some branded products on display by the bar, namely garlic honey. A novel idea, presentation could be better though. The selection was simply laid out on the tray in no hope of attracting significant attention from the patrons, almost seemed like a last minute thought. To get ourselves going, we asked for a glass of Viogner ConoSur and a Lindemans Bin 65 Chardonnay. Unlike food, wine had no added garlic to it. We ordered Pan Seared Salmon Salad with a 5oz Atlantic salmon filets on organic quinoa as well as a Garlic Cuban Sandwich with shaved pork.

PALATE
After our fresh bread arrived, it took only another fifteen minutes to get the rest of the food. Salmon came nicely garnished with shepherds feta, dried cranberries, and toasted pine nuts in truffle oil with some local greens. It looked marvellous and only had a hint of garlic to it. Music was changing to something a bit faster paced as we dug into our dish. The salad was flavourful while the filet was simple (asking it for medium cooked was a good idea). A generous chunk of fish had light garlic with quinoa adding substance and feta for a kick. Our Garlic Cuban sandwich was not too large. It had marinated and shaved pork loin with Genoa and Soppressata style local salami, aged cheddar, dill pickles and light Dijon mustard all in between a panini pressed crusty bread. Dijon and the large pickle slice on the side made a salty difference here. The sandwich was a better deal for the money and more of a original dish, in our opinion. We did not feel too much garlic in it. We also had garlic fries in a small container on the side, which came generously covered with a cloud of thinly shredded parm and topped with chives. There was also some fried garlic pieces with the fries - yum. Once again, surprisingly not over the top garlic.
One more exciting dish we got to try was House Churned Roasted Garlic Ice Cream. We got a sampler portion which was a great idea to allow patrons to try something exotic without committing to a full portion. The ice cream was awesome - quite refreshing and almost like wild garlic herb in taste. There were even pieces of roasted garlic inside. It sounds like an odd dish, but mint in ice-cream is not too radical, so why is garlic?

FINISH
Our expectations were quite high and we cannot say we were blown away. While falling somewhat short of great, our time at Garlic was a very good experience. Friendly service, reasonable prices and excellent food were all present. Furthermore, the setting was enjoyable and garlic theme came in as an added bonus.

PS: Leaving, we noticed that the entrance corridor was finished in stucco-like style and Tuscan orange colour. We found it to be somewhat off the main theme. Also, instead of abstract paintings on the walls, how about a bit more garlic theme inside? This could be fun if done tastefully.

20.7.16

Montecito

www.montecitorestaurant.ca

Montecito has been on our radar for some time now. But then again who wouldn't be interested in a restaurant themed around director Ivan Reitman's work? It definitely helped having a work function there to get a full flavour of their various dishes.

APPEARANCE
The area has gone though quite a few changes since the block was once owned by the Reitman family had a carwash on the corner. Our city has really grown and changed, and we are glad to see buildings as breadcrumbs of Toronto's history.
Today there are plenty of condos popping up around the area and it can be rather loud and dusty, yet Montecito maintains an upscale look.
From the outside, it is a rectangular glass structure attached to a tall condo, with bright orange umbrellas on the patio. The golden, handwritten sign has a sense of cursive fluidity, yet there is a second layer of coastal landscape giving it depth. It is quite complex for a street sign, but there is a sense of class to it, hinting a southern landscape of refuge. The main entrance is to the side and visitors walk by brand statement of a metal cypress tree silhouette on elongated white subway tile, arranged in a herringbone pattern to get to the glass door - simple yet magnificent.

NOSE
A large hostess stand greets folks upon entry with a single large dried floral arrangement and the cheeky marshmallow man sculpture on the side. Note that the marshmallow man (Ghostbusters!) with his twin in a window frame up above. This area is separated from the dining space by a large floating mirror wall. Our seats were near the kitchen area on a couple long high tables. On our way, we passed by a monochromatic open area with numerous black and white photos of Ivan Reitman - setting a rather serious stage for this comedy loving director. The focal point of this large space was a warm lighting feature - multiple cylindrical lights with arms, protruding out of the centre columns with wights holding them down at different heights. It brought in some visual stimulation and a sense of quirkiness to the space. The seating in that large room was also quite neat - double seat sofas for all tables, and, if you are really lucky, you could sit by their staircase on director’s high chairs. Too bad we didn't get to try these.

SWIRL
We settled at our live edge, wood slab table, ready for us with cutlery tucked in embroidered cloth napkins - a subtle and stylish branding execution. Our pre-set menu seemed to offer choices, but we soon learned we are dining traditional French style with everything coming to our table in the middle, to be shared. No hard decisions had to be made choosing what to get.
I got a glass of Renegade White 2014 from Niagara's 16 Mile Cellars. I was surprised to find out that there were only few California wines. For a restaurant named after a town close to Santa Barbara, I expected more West Coast selection. The Renegade White was inoffensive and easily forgettable - medium body, bright and lightly fruity. It did go quite well with the beautiful Kale Salad. That salad, although from the side it looked plain, had a lot to fool the eye. Lemon juice, crunchy crumbs, plenty of aromatic pecorino and that anchovy dressing throughout just made it all balanced with the meaty smell.
Our main dishes were JW Roasted Potatoes, Rainbow Trout, JW Chicken and Grilled Eggplant. I was happy to see dishes which the chef was proud enough to place his initials in front of.

PALATE
First arrived the plates of roasted potatoes in a black hot skillets with a container on the side filled with grated parmesan cheese. The veggies themselves were lovely deformed abominations, looking very organic with their skins perfectly dark and crusty. I don't think there was a single person on my table who didn't love this dish – it was taking us all back to childhood breakfast tables. We even went as far as talking about the process to make them sparking an enthusiastic conversation. I must admit that as much as I enjoyed the dish, I though the larger potatoes were quite dry inside.

Next came the Rainbow Trout presented on a bed of bright and halved fresh cherry tomatoes. There was plenty of basil oil as well as some pea sprouts sprinkled around and presenting the dish with artistic flare. The skin had a great texture so piercing through it for sharing was a challenge, the fish fought back. When it came to flavour, I really think the chef forgot to salt it lightly, or perhaps that was to reinforce the California inspired cuisine. I did catch a swampy taste to the lightly smoked meat, which I wasn't too fond of, but it was only my picky nose on the table who picked up on it. I somehow expected the bed of tomatoes to be slowly toasted, they were fresh and crispy instead and still an enjoyable side.

Our chicken was served on a bed of arugula with plenty of salsa verde on top. By the time I got to it, only chicken breasts were left so I settled for one. My piece was dry and almost made a ball in my mouth as I chewed it, however the perfect skin did make up for it - thin and crispy. Overall the chicken meat was of a high quality and rumour has it that the leg was much juicier. There was a unique marjoram taste in that salsa verde as well as a bit of that lightly bitter extra virgin olive oil adding to our palate.

Unfortunately, I could not try our last dish of roasted eggplant as my plate was quickly cleaned up when I took a washroom break. I heard a fellow colleague experience the same as her cutlery rested on the plate in no way signalling the end of a meal.

I thought it was surprising that there was no sign to guide me to the washrooms. It turned out to be on the second floor, passing by staircase winged lights - a charming addition contributing to a vintage, magical feel. Upstairs, I had a peak at their lounge area by the window - definitely a nighttime vibe with some wear and tear from all the partying (a few cracks in the glass and broken edges). Continuing on my quest, the washrooms had a turn-of-the century vault feel with their signs to the lighting and fixtures inside each small room. Adding to the mystery, rumor has it that one of the washrooms is a private one for when celebrities come in. They also get their own entrance to the restaurant and a private section - completely undercover.

Many artifacts scattered throughout the room made me linger - old cameras, books on filmography, and some really random ones like a neon pig statue.

I came back in time for dessert. Everyone got their own small French press with tea or coffee. We had plates of numerous delicious baked delicacies - brownies, blondes, cream puffs and cookies. While ours were not presented in a fancy manner, the neighbouring table did have a nice arrangement – what a beauty. We were fortunate that one lady on our table had a gluten allergy and decided to share it with us - it turned out to be the most exotic flavored sorbets I've ever had. There were two scoops - with the smell and taste of a real passion fruit and guava.


FINISH
Looking at the menu later on, Ontario with the local food choices was outlined specifically. Although inspired by a city far away, Montecito's menu is all about submerging into the local Ontario foods, just like most popular restaurants opening today. Nothing wrong with that, but it's good to know as one tempers their expectations if searching for Californian fare. Some of the visiting celebrities will get a taste of the best Ontario has to offer here.

Montecito Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

23.6.16

O&B Canteen

www.obcanteen.com

APPEARANCE & SWIRL
Canteen’s logo is clean, simple with a bit of character, not too memorable overall. The patio scene was what grabbed our attention instead with its bustling action and a promise of good times. We walked through the inside first, past the orange glass which was a bright and bold interior detail adding character and energizing our mood. Not enough patio spots? The walls retracted to open up the restaurant to the outside creating a lovely transitional space.

NOSE & PALATE 
We did get a spot outside. While the flower baskets were a nice touch, we found the fake turf grass not the best match. It looked a touch too forced for the setting. We both thought the cubic drinks menu on the table was a cool one - memorable and smart as it doubled it’s use as a weight. Our dinner was Albacore Tuna and Artichoke and Goat Cheese Flatbreads which we promptly ordered. Food only took ten or so minutes to arrive. Our favourite was Tuna with its tender, small fish chunks of exceptional freshness and quality accompanied by large potatoes with skin and cilantro garnish. Scallion mayo and green olive salsa accompanied a side of capers for a much needed zest here. In addition, Piquillo peppers brought in a touch of sweetness. As for the flatbread sandwich, it was wholesome and filled with roasted tomatoes, grilled red onion, olives and basil, but lacking uniqueness and excitement. Perhaps it is better suited as a sharing platter instead.
We did not feel fully satisfied and so we had to dive into some deserts. Out of S’more Pudding (graham cracker crumble, toasted marshmallow) and Carrot Cake, the pudding came up a clear winner. It was curiously presented in a cup and was just the right balance of sweetness and smokiness. The carrot cake square could use more nuts - we fell on two walnuts – and was very buttery in smell making it heavy. Not the best option for a hot patio day.

FINISH
Perfect location, courteous staff and reasonable prices for interesting food – Canteen is well worth a visit. Top patio spots probably get filled fast during festivals or peak times, but most of the seating is quite decent.

O&B Canteen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

12.6.16

Sushi on Bloor

www.sushionbloor.com

There are a lot of Sushi joints around Bloor and Bathurst and Sushi on Bloor is one of the most famous ones. Our friends invited us for a dinner and we did not regret spending an evening there.

APPEARANCE
From the outside there was not much to talk about – many over-the-top large signs visually screaming, white with red letters and some accent black. We found a depiction of Sushi Roll inside one of the letters a bit on the cheesy side. Overall, the typeface used in the logo was of a more transitional style - poor blend of a classy 18th century font with a stencil execution.
There was an obvious lineup and, even though we had a reservation, we had to wait to be seated for about 10 minutes. It is Sushi on Bloor’s new location and still not very accommodating to swarming waiting patrons inevitably blocking the passageway.

SWIRL & NOSE
Walking to our table near to the counter, we noticed that walls were filled with randomly taped notes. General noisiness and greasy marks on the drawers created a marketplace atmosphere further enhanced by the heavy use of wood. A glass Japanese painting was the main artwork piece, but an array of awards lining the walls was focusing our attention. These recognitions were especially noticeable on the bland grey wallpaper behind. We promptly ordered California Roll, Spicy Salmon, Sushi Pizza with Salmon, Philadelphia Roll and their popular Crunchy Roll.

PALETTE
Our waitress was brief, not too interested in talking, but quite efficient. We felt a bit of annoyance coming from her at our additional questions and requests, but nothing to formally complain about. It took only ten minutes to get our rolls, just in time we finished with the complementary Miso Soup - which was actually not cheaply prepared, for a free item. One thing Sushi on Bloor is famous for is the freshness and we were not disappointed. While the fish is fresh in most Sushi restaurants we go to, some of the finer details are usually amiss. In particular, cucumbers are often soggy. Sushi on Bloor was on top of their game here – top notch fish, rice and veggies in perfectly crafted rolls made us salivate even just looking at our plates.
We should note that the Sushi Pizza with Salmon included sticky rice fried in a patty shape and topped with a few smoked salmon slices folded like a flower, and decorated with onion and sesame seeds. There was a bit of mayo to add some interest and flavor as well as a bit of tobiko. The dish was definitely well presented, but it was very rice dominant and heavy. As for the naming "pizza", definitely didn't have to do with dough or tomato sauce or cheese. Note that there are plenty of curious menu items worth trying - University Roll, Rock and Roll, Casa Loma and Sky Zone Rolls. They had fun with their menu.

FINISH
We had an awesome Sushi dinner in downtown at a reasonable price point and fast service. Even though Sushi on Bloor is in a new location for not that long, it felt not well maintained. By the end of our meal, all of our minor grievances seemed a bit less concerning. Food is the king at Sushi on Bloor, not interior nor service, from our experience.