Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Toronto Christmas Market 2015

If you have ever traveled to Europe around November or December, then you should be familiar with the traditional open-air Christmas markets where thousands of people wander through in celebration of the holidays. The markets are full of food, drink, music, holiday décor, and traditional gifts that are all reflective of the culture in that region.  Whether you’re sipping gluhwein (mulled wine) in Hamburg or munching on pepparkakor (ginger biscuits) in Stockholm, the markets bring people together to experience the true essence of the season.

Luckily for us in Toronto, the Distillery District hosts its own version of the European Christmas Markets. The Toronto Christmas Market has been around since 2010 and is known as one of the best Christmas markets in the world.  The Market captures the authenticity, charm and traditions of a European market, while adding Canadian flair to make it a native experience. The event takes place from November 20th to December 20th and offers guests hundreds of locally hand-crafted products, traditional European and Canadian eats, winter warming drinks, over 320 stage performances, and exquisite festive lights and decorations.

This is my 4th year attending the Toronto Christmas Market and it’s something I look forward to every holiday season.  Whether you’re wandering around with friends, a significant other, family or even alone, you will feel the true spirit of Christmas.

I went to the Christmas Market this year on the opening day and spent the entire evening indulging in some of the best food, drink and shopping that the market has to offer. 

Started the afternoon off with cocktails and snacks at Cluny Bistro

Explored the markets just before the sun went down to get a good idea of where everything was located. I also made note of some must-visit stalls.

Dropped by Pure Spirits Oyster House & Grill for some of the best oysters in the city

Experienced the lighting of the 50-foot tree ceremony with musical performance by Francesco Yates

Indulged in food from French Canadian Poutine, Schnitzel Haus, Woodcutter's Grill and Kase-Sandwich

Warmed up with boozy drinks such as Hot Toddies from the Pure Spirits Patio and Mulled Wine from the El Catrin Patio

Snacked on assorted cookies from The Sweet Escape Patisserie, Mayan Hot Chocolate from Soma Chocolatemaker, Gourmet Chocolates and Drinks from Maisonette

Gifts galore such as coloured laces from Gentil Uomo, fashion socks from GOTSTYLE, shoe polish and discount card from Heel Boy (kudos to the wine and cheese spread inside the store)

Facial Treatments from Jacob & Sebastian, Bourbon-infused Maple Syrup from Blackbird Vintage Finds and Colourful clothing from Desigual

Cartman Ornament from RetroFestive, Holiday Ornament from Bergo Designs, Star Ornament from Mint Boutique and Funny Christmas Cards from Distill Gallery

The Toronto Christmas Market is open Tuesday to Sunday with free admission during the week and a $5 charge on weekends. Children under 12 are free before 2 pm on the weekend. The $5 weekend charge is new to the Market this year, however proceeds from the admission cost go help grow the non-for-profit festival and support the Daily Bread Food Bank, Plan Canada and the Toronto Star Santa Claus Fund.

Visit the TO Christmas Market today and share your pictures and experiences online using the hashtag #TCM15. I promise it will be one of your favourite experiences of this year’s holiday season!

Monday, November 23, 2015

&Company Resto Bar + Giveaway!

Christmas is coming sooner than expected my foodie friends! Thanks to Zomato, my go-to app for finding delicious eats, two lucky winners will win a gift certificate valued at $70 to wine and dine at Mississauga’s &Company Resto Bar.

&Company Resto Bar is your go-to spot for an atmosphere full of interactions, libations, taste and rhythm all in one.  The impressive venue was constructed in 2011 with two massive floors, a capacity of 450 people, state of the art sound and lighting system, and an amazing rooftop patio. In the evening the restaurant is open for dinner where chef Ron Stratton creates stunning dishes with a contemporary twist on classic fare. At night, a vibrant club experience comes to life with popular djs, premium drinks and exclusive events.

Photos from &Company and Zomato

I made my way to &Company for dinner on a Friday night and the venue itself was big, bold and inviting.  From the moment I stepped past the large steel doors, I felt that this was the perfect type of place to come and unwind with good friends and company.  Large tables and booths were awaiting guests, and many whom were already dining there were celebrating birthdays and other memorable occasions.  We were seated by some friendly wait staff who were curious to know if it was our first time at the restaurant. After a brief welcome and overview of the restaurant, we explored the appealing wine and cocktail menu that had a variety of options to choose from. The food menu was separated by starters, mains and desserts.  After some tough deliberations, here's what we went with:

Smoked Pork Nachos - In-house smoked Ontario pork, tomato salsa, lettuce and avocado cream - $14

 Caprese Grilled Flatbread - Housemade dough, tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella cheese, roasted garlic balsamic and fresh basil - $21

Chicken Supreme - Cornflake crusted chicken, butternut squash purée, white cheddar and jalapeño biscuit - $26

Banana Brulee - Banana custard, chocolate shortbread and fresh berries - $13

The Smoked Pork Nachos were beautifully arranged on a large wooden board with succulent shredded pork piled high on each tortilla chip. I ordered this as a main dish for myself and couldn't even finish it all. The Caprese Flatbread was another huge portion and each inch of the flatbread was covered in fresh and flavourful ingredients.  I especially loved the balsamic glaze. The Chicken Supreme was fried perfectly with melt-in-your-mouth batter. The flaky biscuit below nestled itself into sweet butternut squash purée which made for a combination of absolute flavour. For dessert we split a Banana Creme Brulee. The banana custard was rich and creamy with the perfect amount of sweetness and banana flavour.

Overall the food, atmosphere and friendless of the wait staff made my experience at &Company a very memorable one.  I didn't end up staying for the club night, but if you're in the Missisauga area, this is the place to be if you want to get fancy and feed your social appetite. 

You can check out more reviews on &Company by searching for the restaurant on Zomato. Zomato allows you to discover new restaurants, check out menus and photos, read reviews, check ratings, filter based on mood and location, and even build your own foodie social network. Used by millions of people every day, Zomato is the world’s local restaurant guide in over 22 countries around the world and they want you to ensure that you never have a bad meal again.

Enter below for your chance to win! Contest ends on Monday November 30th.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

iYellow Drinks School

This month has been a month of new learning experiences for me especially when it comes the art and science of mixology. I had an amazing one-on-one cocktail making lesson with Julien Salomone from East Thirty Six last week (full review to follow) and then on Dec 10th I'll be attending a very exciting cocktail making class as part of iYellow's Drinks School.

The drink school semester for fall 2015 started on October 15th with a second class on Nov 19th and the final class on Dec 10th.  Each class teaches you how to shake, stir and create classic cocktails.  Adam McDowell, drinks writer from The National Post & resident drinks expert on CTV’s The Social, hosts the event and ensures that you leave the class with a few tricks up your sleeve on how to concoct the perfect cocktail. The unique event is held at the iYellow Wine Cave conveniently located just steps away from the Osgoode subway station.

There are still spots available for the last class on Dec 10th where we will be making holiday cocktails! The class is only $69 which includes cocktails, sparking wine and snacks.  This is the perfect class to attend with friends for an interactive night of drinks and fun! Book a class now before it sells out: http://iyellowwineclub.com/event/fall-2015-drinks-school

Stay up-to-date with all of the fun classes at iYellow Wine Club by following them on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The WORKS - Gourmet Burger Bistro

Seven different patty options and over 50 gourmet burger variations. Sound enticing? If so, The WORKS Gourmet Burger Bistro has you covered for the ultimate burger experience!

The WORKS is known for their creative topping combinations, which bring curiosity to one's palette in imagining what a burger topped with grilled pineapple, a sweet/spicy sauce and brie cheese would taste like. They call this one the ‘Crappy Tire’ (Canadian Tire dollars accepted). Or what about the Elk on a Beech?  A lean elk patty topped with avocado, beech house sauce, sundried tomato and feta cheese. The variations are endless and if you can’t decide on one of the 50 combinations, you can opt out to be boring and create your own gourmet burger by picking one of the seven different patties (100% fresh Canadian beef, cheese stuffed beef, chicken breast, ground turkey, gourmet veggie, portobello mushroom, and lean domestic elk) and then adding your desired toppings.

Aside from the gourmet burgers, The WORKS features a full menu of appetizers, sandwiches, salads, shakes, alcohol and gluten-free options.

The WORKS is currently featuring their ‘Stuff’d’ menu, which surpasses their current selection of interesting toppings! The three limited time burgers are not only topped with toppings, but the insides are also stuff’d with them. These unique burger creations are for the ultimate foodie who is looking for variety and extreme flavour. If anyone can even finish their stuff’d burger, I bow down to your amazing eating abilities. The featured burgers this time around are: The Loaded Lucy, the Reese PBC, and the Burgeroni. 

Here's what I tried:

The Tot Mess - potato tots, beer & bacon cheese sauce, caramelized onions, bacon bits, green onions and gravy for dipping

2001 Shake Odyssey - Caramel, Peanut Butter & Oreo Cookie

Tower-O-Rings - Crispy breaded onion rings with 2 dipping sauces

Loaded Lucy - Cheese stuffed into a beef patty and topped with bacon, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles and mayo

Reese PBC - Reese Peanut Butter Cups stuffed inside a beef patty and topped with crispy onion strings, bacon, and more Reese candy

I really enjoyed The Tot Mess because of the cheese sauce...Anything deep fried and covered in cheese is guaranteed deliciousness! 

The Loaded Lucy was definitely fully loaded with regular burger toppings on the patty and melted cheese inside.  It was really messy and heavy, but the gooey cheese inside was addictive. This is a good burger to share with someone.

The Reese PBC was ordered out of curiosity as I don’t think it is something that would interest me otherwise. It was definitely odd taking a bite out of a big juicy beef burger and having melted chocolate and PB seeping into my mouth. I didn't hate it, but I didn’t love it; it was just unusual, but I would suggest trying it out! 

The Tower-O-Rings were some of the best I’ve had. Crispy and crunchy and served with two delicious dipping sauces. 

I do regret not trying a burger off of their everyday menu, but I can always go back for that. The important thing is that The WORKS burgers are 100% AAA Canadian beef, hand-pressed daily and really tasty!
Photos taken by Brian DaSilva

The WORKS has over 24 locations in Ontario, so if you happen to stumble across one and you're craving a burger, I definitely suggest you trying them out!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A Recap of 'Evening at the Market'

Last week the historic St. Lawrence Market hosted ‘Evening at the Market’, a gastronomic event celebrating the various merchants of the market.

For $75, guests explored the upper and lower levels of the south market from 7 to 10 pm in a lively atmosphere full of circus acts, live music and a plentiful supply of food and drink. 

Live music from The Yonge Kings & Circus Acts from Zero Gravity Circus

From the moment I entered the building, all I could smell was fresh parmesan from the sizzling risotto and the smokiness of polish sausages on the grill. The food options were overwhelming, but I slowly made my way to many of the vendors to sample the exquisite foods that they had been busy preparing. All of the merchants were very excited to be showcasing their foods and some of them even shared stories about the many years they had worked at the market proudly serving Torontonians. They take pride in what they sell, and rightfully so, as the St. Lawrence Market contains over 120 specialty vendors known for some of the best quality foods in the city.

Chef Lora Kirk and Lynn Crawford were in attendance giving live cooking demonstrations.

Some highlights of the night:

Scheffler'sMeats & Delicatessen -  Homemade Porchetta

Uno Mustachio - Eggplant Parmigiana

Dnister Ukrainian Store - Cabbage Rolls, Perogies, Sausages, Salads

Manotas Organics & Fine Foods - Fresh Guacamole with Tortilla Chips
Aren't We Sweet"Gateau de Soiree" - Vanilla Bourbon French Pastry Cream Square

Rube's Rice - Seafood Paella

Cruda Cafe - Pumpkin Pie Tarts

St. Lawrence Pizza and PastaRavioli with Beef and Cheese, Variety of Gourmet Pizzas

Olympic Cheese Mart - Mac and Cheese with Truffle Oil

La Boucherie Fine Meats - Mini Burgers, Chicken Breasts, Sausages

Yianni's Kitchen - Apple Fritters with Cinnamon

Urban Fresh - Chicken Liver Mousse on a Purple Potato Chip

Domino Foods - Baci chocolates handmade on-site by Chef Christian Pritchard of Aurora Imports

Unlimited Wine from UNION and Beer from Amsterdam Brewery

The entire event was well organized, with what seemed to be an endless amount of food and drink, wonderful entertainment and a great gathering of people. Most importantly, the event not only supports Toronto's passionate shopkeepers that have kept the market thriving for over 200 years, but also FoodShare Toronto, a non-profit agency working to improve access to affordable and healthy food from field to table.

All in all, it was a fabulous event and one that makes me proud to be a Torontonian. Looking forward to next year’s event already!