Coming up for air

3 Dec

Sorry for the long, awkward radio silence on our end. Just a quick summary of our story as of late:

  • Robin’s been busy with two years (no summer break!) of school and, in her not-so-spare time, growing her event and wedding photography business.
  • I was busy with a long and difficult sale of my pharmacy. It’s an understatement if I say that the process took a lot of time and energy from me.
  • one of our cats had what was, thankfully, an acute case of renal failure.
  • I spent 2 weeks in Belgium and the Netherlands and Robin and I spent 2 weeks in the Andes and jungle of Peru.

So, with everything going, you can imagine that, when dining out, our first priority would be to enjoy our meals, downtime and each other’s company and not to be taking photos or blogging about what we’re eating.

We’ll see how things proceed from here, but expect the bloggin’ to pick up in the next while. Hope our photos will whet your appetite…



La Carnita – brunch menu

5 Feb

Brunch menu at La Carnita, Toronto

Brunch. One of the 5 most important meals that we have. Yet, on the weekend, brunch becomes the focal point for many people.  People are probably tired from working all week or from the late night they had the night before, and we strive to find the ultimate restaurant where we can stuff our faces with the perfect mix of flavours, meat and grease.

When we were invited to the preview of La Carnita’s brunch menu, we swooned.  When we were in Costa Rica, my 6 AM breakfast usually consisted of a hearty Latino beef stew. It cured the aches and pains from the previous day’s hikes and gave you the will and strength to continue with your day. The prospect of a delicious Mexican brunch option that would shake the aches and pains that come with the winter doldrums and that was crafted under the watchful eye of La Carnita’s Andrew Richmond gave me enough strength to leave the house before noon (!!!) on a cold Sunday morning. God bless you, Andrew.

The Proud Mary and Let It Burn, La Carnita brunch

You can’t have a brunch unless you have an eye opener. Two of La Carnita’s new drinks will open your eyes and then some.  The Proud Mary is their take on a Bloody Mary and it is bloody incredible. La Carnita uses tomatillo juice instead of tomato juice and you get a refreshing and citrusy Tromba tequila-based drink that will disappear down your hatch at an alarmingly fast rate.  Let It Burn plays on your three senses – you have the visual impact of the sprig of fresh romsemary, the incredible smoky smell of the “smoked” Mezcal rinse and the delicious flavour of the tequila, juices and rosemary.

Guillijo granola and yogurt, La Carnita brunch

We started off on the lighter side of brunch, trying the guillijo granola and yogurt. The yogurt is topped with guava, pineapple and hibiscus and is laced with a coulis made from an mild Mexican chilli. The berry-flavoured chilli paired very nicely with the fruit and the mild sweetness of the yogurt.

Potato and yucca homes topped with a poached egg at La Carnita brunch

I’ll admit that I was partially hung over before starting brunch and I needed something hot and comforting in me, stat.  The potato and yucca homies topped with a poached egg would be the perfect start to curing my head hammers. A savoury beef cheek ragout interlaced with thinly sliced jalapenos topped a tasty hash menage. Perhaps this will be Mexico’s ode to poutine?  A bottle of La Carnita’s hot sauce is a mandatory accompaniment to this dish; the extra sweet heat of the hot sauce takes this dish up to another level.

Crispy chicken torta at La Carnita's brunch

The crispy chicken torta is a hand-held sandwich of perfectly-fried chicken resting on a bed of guacamole and salsa fresca and tickled with a habanero honey glaze and crema. This was sweet, crunchy and creamy and didn’t last more than three minutes. My hangover didn’t stand a chance.

Chorizo sausage taco at La Carnita's brunch launch

La Carnita takes their chorizo taco and brunchified it.  Imagine salty and spicy sausage topped with spicy maple syrup. It is Mexican mouth candy with a gentle afterburn.

Cochinita pibil tostada at La Carnita, brunch launch

We ordered the cochinita pibil tostada mainly because we love anything topped with a fried quail egg. The braised pork rests on guacamole and, instead of your standard tortilla, you get a crispy-yet-stable tostada, which allows the quail egg to be enjoyed in all of its rich glory. While brunch was stellar to this point, the tostada was one of my favourite dishes. Rich but not heavy, flavourful yet subtle and, surprisingly, not messy to eat.

Lamb bacon and eggs taco, La Carnita brunch

This is probably as close as La Carnita will get to huevos rancheros, and that’s fine by me.  The lamb bacon and eggs taco will give brunchers their morning bacon and eggs fix, but, of course, with a tastier twist.

Roasted pork belly sope, La Carnita brunch menu

I really want to post the Youtube clip of Vince Carter in the slam dunk competition, crossing his arms and mouthing “it’s over!” The roasted pork belly sope, ladies and gentlemen, will go down as one of the best brunch dishes in this great brunch city.  You have a Mexican version of Eggs Benedict, served on a sope and a delicious mound of roasted pork belly. This is gringo brunch porn at its finest. The buttery and citrusy hollandaise sauce that covers the perfectly roasted pork…adjectives do not do it justice.

Mexican hot chocolate, La Carnita brunch

I was curious as to why hot chocolate would be a dessert item and not a beverage item.  One taste and I found out why.  Think of someone taking a molten chocolate cake and melting it down, and then covering it with a homemade marshmellow that is lightly toasted and served hot.  This was an indulgent yet justified finish to an amazing brunch.

La Carnita’s brunch will be the first Mexican brunch to be offered in Toronto.  Call it Mexican-Canadian fusion, call it gringoeats or call it whatever you like – it doesn’t matter because it is a great way to chase your hungries (or hangover) away.  Go there before word gets around because it is all but guaranteed to be a top Toronto brunch destination.

La Carnita
501 College St
p: 416-964-1555


Photos by Robin

Words by Richard

Ritz Restaurant

23 Oct

Ritz restaurant, Toronto

I normally resent when someone tells me, “you should eat at so-and-so! You’ll love it!” But, for some reason, a sign that declares  “You love our t-bone steak”!, yet there isn’t a t-bone anywhere to be found on their menu, makes me squee. Welcome to the Ritz, East York’s hidden gem. It’s a time warp of sorts; Ritz is a legitimate 1960s diner, with wood panelled walls, vinyl multi-coloured bar stools and table-side juke boxes.  Just like the sign promoting the t-bone, the jukeboxes are relics from an era long gone.

Ritz restaurant, Toronto

You can’t not love the Ritz. There’s one person who runs the front of the house, and when I say “run”, I mean that she’s literally at a near-run pace, flitting from the bar to the cash to the kitchen and back serving tables.  She does it all with kindness and a huge smile on her face.

Filipino breakfast/lunch menu, Ritz restaurant, Toronto

The menu has two parts to it. You have your typical North American diner food, including BLTs, club house and steak sandwiches. We saw the club house, which seems to be a long-forgotten sandwich in these parts, and I think I’ll be introducing one to my belly in a future visit.  You can also get a Canadian breakfast, which includes three eggs, home fries and bacon (“regular or crispy?”, you’ll be asked).  But what we came for were their Filipino breakfast and lunch offerings. You don’t expect a restaurant called the Ritz, located just a stone’s throw from Greektown, to be dishing out Filipino morning fare.

Adobo chicken and pork ribs, Ritz restaurant, Toronto

We decided to get the Adobo pork ribs and chicken and to get the Filipino breakfast.  The chicken and ribs came smothered in adobo sauce and with a side of rice and a cafeteria-like corner of steamed vegetables. I dug into the hot, breaded cutlet of chicken and enjoyed the savoury gravy and slight spice it had. The ribs were cooked tenderly and were still bone in. It was a delicious hot mess and the ultimate Sunday morning hangover food.

Filipino breakfast special with Filipino sausage, Ritz restaurant, Toronto

Robin ordered Filipino sausage as her breakfast meat, which is a sweet, bright pink sausage of lord-who-knows-what-meat-it-is. But it doesn’t matter. It was tasty as sausage sin, and was sitting on a mound of over-easy eggs and rice.

Leche flan, Ritz restaurant, Toronto

Robin was still hungry after her $4.95 breakfast (you read that correctly), so she ordered a Filipino dessert. We were brought a leche flan, which was a yummy condensed milk custard cake that we polished off in minutes.

This quirky little throw-back restaurant feels more like it belongs on an American backroad than in Toronto…except for it serving Filipino food.  Whether its for their decor or their food, there’s no way you can’t find some love for the Ritz. Unless, of course, you showed up for the t-bone steak.

Ritz Restaurant
310 Donlands Ave

AwesTRUCK 2012

16 Sep

Food truck at AwesTRUCK 2012

AwesTRUCK was the Double Down of food truck events.  You have a food truck event that showcased Toronto’s fledging food truck scene, which was wrapped with people’s choice awards for food trucks. Around that, you had more pop-up food vendors serving their innovative eats and Ontario beer, wine and spirit vendors serving their unique offerings. The only thing that would have made AwesTRUCK that much more awesome? A LASER SHOW.

The day started with a 2 hour “VIP” event, which allowed all ticket purchasers to, essentially, eat all they could eat for their price of admission. The tickets sold were limited and this left few line-ups and lots of room to enjoy the surroundings, view the artwork hung for the occasion and gawk at the amount other patrons were eating.  This also featured an awards ceremony which highlighted some of Ontario’s cutting edge and new food trucks, as voted by food truck patrons.

El Gastronomo Vagabundo winning an award at AwesTRUCK 2012Dobro Jesti winning an award at AwesTRUCK 2012

Ole! Fidel Gastro wins an award at AwesTRUCK 2012

After the award ceremony ended, the rest of the ticket holders were allowed in. More eating (and drinking) ensued. Belts were loosened.  More food trucks opened up to serve the masses. Here are some pictures of the yumminess served up to over 1500 patrons:

Tacocat menu at AwesTRUCK 2012

Tacocat menu

Babi & Co serving up Indonesian street food at AwesTRUCK 2012

Babi & Co serving up Indonesian street food

Fidel Gastro at AwesTRUCK 2012

Fidel Gastro

Meatball sliders from Rome'n Chariot, AwesTRUCK 2012

Meatball sliders from Rome’n Chariot

Grilled cheese from Gorilla Cheese, AwesTRUCK 2012

Grilled cheese from Gorilla Cheese

Tequila Tromba mixologying it up at AwesTRUCK 2012

Tequila Tromba mixologying it up

Thanks to Suresh Doss, Frank Kocis and the rest of the volunteers who organized the event and made it run smoothly. A big thanks to all the vendors involved:

Food trucks:

Blue Donkey
Cupcake Diner
Dobro Jesti
El Gastronomo Vagabundo
Gorilla Cheese
Rome’n Chariot
Southern Smoke Barbecue
Fidel Gastro
Gourmet Gringos

Pop-up vendors:

Babi & co.
Big E’s Grinds
Dat Chick Craze
Grindhouse Coffee
Mr. Spinners with Waffle Bar
Taco Cat
Tide & Vine Oyster Company


29 Jul

TO Food Fest - Scarborough

Toronto Underground Market has done a number of great things for Toronto, including launching the careers of a number of aspiring chefs.  It has also inspired others, such as TO Food Fest, to create neighbourhood festivals that promote neighbourhood chefs, bakers, restaurants and caterers. TO Food Fest was held on July 29 in Scarborough and, while not prolific among the Twitterazi, it had many interested Scarborough and Markham residents attending.

How About Those Meatballs at TO Food Fest in Scarborough

How About Those Meatballs at TO Food Fest in Scarborough

TO Food Fest had a mix of established vendors and vendors that were new to the food scene. One of the exciting new vendors was How ‘Bout Those Meatballs?! Meatballs made from a mix of pork and beef, slow cooked in his Nona’s sauce and then served on a charcoal-grilled bun? Yes please! The meatballs were incredibly simple and they tasted just as if they were served from a grandmother’s kitchen. Juicy and tender and very meat forward, they were incredible. The spices were simple and it was all about the meat, the sauce and the technique. I could have eaten twenty of these, but we had other booths to sample.

Bake'n at Toronto Food Fest in ScarboroughBake'n at Toronto Food Fest in Scarborough

Bake’n was sampling their bacon-laden desserts, like bacon caramel popcorn, bacon cheesecake and sticky toffee bacon cake. The winner was the sticky toffee cake, which wasn’t overly heavy or cloyingly sweet. It was warm, tasty, gooey and delicious and didn’t leave you with a sugar hangover after you finished it.

Fruitysplendour at Toronto Food Fest in ScarboroughFruitysplendour at Toronto Food Fest in Scarborough

Fruitysplendour were more or less the definition of eye candy. Their designs were beautiful and skillful. We had to get close before we could believe that they were actually made from fruit and vegetables!

Comida Del Pueblo at Toronto Food Fest in ScarboroughComida Del Pueblo at Toronto Food Fest in Scarborough

Comida Del Pueblo is a TUM favourite and makes one hell of a grilled cheese sandwich. Their take on grilled cheese is made with a homemade jalapeño cornbread, refried beans and cheese, then covered with guacamole and sour cream.

Pativa Restaurant at TO Food Fest in Scarborough

I’ve sworn off Indian food for over 5 years. I find that the over-use of ghee spoils a lot of otherwise delicious meals for me. I was pleasantly surprised to be introduced to Pavitra Restaurant. Their chef believes in letting the spices and meats do the talking and either minimizes or eliminates the use of ghee in his dishes. I decided to put a halt to my Indian food boycott and tried his samosas with chicken tiki masala.  He was true to his word; the tiki masala gravy didn’t have that greasy heaviness that I’m unfortunately accustomed to, and was rich only in seasoning and flavour. We’ll definitely be taking the trip to Guildwood to eat at Pavita!

Tacocat at TO Food Fest in ScarboroughSquid Taco from Tacocat at TO Food Fest in Scarborough

Tacocat was another newcomer to the food festival scene. Imagine 20 friends – all university grads – wearing Nyan Cat-esque purple t-shirts and offering Asian-style tacos. Robin tried the squid taco and was instantly in love with it. The pineapple mayo and salsa with the deep-fried squid was surprisingly refreshing and not a combination that is tasted often, which is a shame!

Some of the many vendors at TO Food Fest in Scarborough

With limited time and stomach space, we weren’t able to cover some of the other booths, including Filipino food, beef-cheek buns, pulled pork kimchee sandwiches, macarons and cupcakes. It was great to see strong food options coming out of Scarborough and we can’t wait until next year’s festival.

TO FoodFest

The Feasting Room

28 Jul

The Feasting Room, Toronto

The tip-to-tail food movement’s still going strong, and Toronto’s newest pop-up restaurant, The Feasting Room, is the latest restaurant to join the charge.  The concept is simple: every week, the restaurant chooses a new protein and then serves you a multi-course tasting menu using different cuts from that animal.  I decided to make a reservation during “lamb week” because lamb is so darn fun.

Menu, The Feasting Room, Toronto

Tip-to-tail Menu, The Feasting Room, Toronto

The Feasting Room makes use of Little Italy’s Orbit Room during its pre-bar hours and they do a pretty decent job disguising the bar as a restaurant. At our table, we were presented with a a twine-bound wine-list and a post card that hinted at what cuts would be served to us. We passed on the wine pairing (an additional $35 per person; we wanted to restrict our consumption since it was a Sunday night) and stuck to the regular tasting menu.

Lamb pastrami amuse bouche, The Feasting Room in Toronto

Our server happily informed us that, in addition to our six-course meal, two amuse-bouches would be on their way.
The first snack was house-made lamb neck pastrami served with pickled green beans and Kolzik mustard.  It had a subtle smokiness to it and a modest pepper kick to it.  It made for a very tender and tasty starter.

Fried sheep's testicles with mint aoli, The Feasting Room in Toronto

The second amuse was ballsy. Literally.  Lamb testicle croquettes with a smoked mint aoli.  While we’d seen our share of lamb balls while in Basque country, we were never adventurous enough to try them.  When they’re breaded, deep fried and placed under your nose, you’re going to give it a go – and I’m happy we did.  Think of chicken nuggets, but more tender. They were soft, fried bits of goodness and paired well with the mint aoli.

Grilled lamb heart, rocket, shallots, garden beans with a pickled walnut dress, The Feasting Room

We officially started our meal off with a grilled lamb heart salad.  This take on grilled heart was really interesting; heart wasn’t the salad’s centrepiece, but instead was an accompaniment to the rest of the parts, which included rocket, green beans and shallots, and it let the pickled walnut dressing be the focal point. The meat was surprisingly tender, sliced thinly and dispersed throughout the salad. The salad was a great start to our dinner.

Lamb liver parfait with a fois gras "crust", pickled peaches and blueberries, The Feasting Room

Our next course was lamb liver parfait, “sealed” with a layer of fois gras and sided with pickled blueberries and peaches.  Here’s where lamb gets tricky.  Offal such as liver will normally have a stronger taste than your standard cuts of meat, but gamey lamb offal has the chance of overwhelming the palate.  I admit that the first bite of pate did leave a stronger-than-accustomed aftertaste, but that was quickly chased away with the subsequent chomps. The fois fat helped to take some of the gamey edge off and, very quickly, we were in pate love. I was making little capped snowmen with the pickled blueberries.

Lamb liver parfait and shameless blueberry snowmen, The Feasting Room

“O hello, Frosty da Parfait Snowman!”

We shamelessly scraped the jar down to the glass. Yum.

Lamb brains with cauliflower 3 ways, tahini, sumac and zatar, The Feasting Room

We them moved northward and had a zombilicious serving of lamb brains mixes with cauliflower three ways (puree, florets and dried chips) and tahini.  If you’ve never had brains before, fear not.  It had a rich and creamy feel with a relatively mild taste.  Pairing brains with cauliflower was a playful palate take on cauliflower gratin, and the finishing spices of sumac and zatar that were mixed with the deep-fried florets were an intelligent interpretation of comfort food. And no, I can’t avoid the brain-related pun. Sorry.

Semi-pulled lamb shank, sheep's milk cheese curds and French-style potato "poutine", The Tasting Room

It feels like we’re still riding the poutine wave, with every restaurant offering their take on the Quebecois dish. The Feasting Room offered a neat angle, making a semi-pulled shank poutine that was served with sheep’s milk cheese curd and French-style potato.  This dish worked very well when a bite of cheese made it to my fork and mixed with the potatos and lamb. The cheese offered a kick and a saltiness that worked really well with the rest of the dish. Without the cheese, the dish was good but not spectacular. So like to kids in those horrible 1980’s commercials: “(more) Cheese please!”

Pan-seared kidneys, roasted lamb leg and spatzele "steak and kidney pie", The Feasting Room

Our server brought us two mini casserole dishes and proclaimed that we were about to eat the chef’s take on steak and kidney pie.  The kidneys were pan seared then deglazed with Worcestershire sauce and chicken stock. They were then placed in a casserole with lamb leg, veggies, a Guinness sauce and house-make spatzele.  The kidney was by far the strongest and gamiest of cuts we tried, having a strong sharp taste to it.  The small casserole made it difficult to cut up the kidney and mix it with the spazele and other large, awkward cut of meat.  The cute casserole dish could have worked if the meat was in smaller pieces or there was less kidney. Otherwise, a different vessel might have elevated our enjoyment of this dish.

Sheep's milk ricotta cheesecake, raspberry coulis & compote with vanilla-spiked whey, The Feasting Room

The menu was completed with a sheep’s ricotta cheesecake, topped with raspberry coulis and compete and accompanied by a espresso cup’s of vanilla-dusted whey. It was a neat yin-yang dessert that played on the “nothing is wasted” theme of the restaurant.  The ricotta gave the cheesecake a  refreshing flavour to it instead of a typical sweet-and-creamy cream cheese cheesecake.  Pouring spoonfuls of whey as cheesecake chasers was definitely the tasty way to go.

We were stuffed and really enjoyed our meal, but made sure we didn’t linger too long.  At 9:30, the restaurant morphs back into a bar, so unless you enjoy audibly hearing about the bartender’s recent escapades, book a reservation to eat before 7:30.

Words by Richard, photography by Robin

Bees, Mead and Cheese with Rosewood Estates

23 Jul

Getting ready for an evening of bees, mead and cheese

Last Thursday, Le Dolci in Dundas West held an evening of mead, honey and cheese tasting, hosted by Krystina Romen from Rosewood Estates. Rosewood is an apiary, a winery and a meadery. Krystina gave us some background on the beekeeping side of things and explained how they produce honey. It’s a really interesting process. Some quick facts about beekeeping:

-A single honeybee will fly approximately 50,000km and visit over 1,000,000 flowers to make one pound of honey. Good thing that the average number of bees per hive is 75,000!

-A worker bee (most of which are female) lives for about 30-42 days. The Queen Bee, however, lives between 3-5 years.

-Honey never goes bad and doesn’t need to be refrigerated after opening.

-Bees only fly within a 5km radius of their hives. That means that by carefully selecting the location of a hive, it is possible to control the types of flowers that the bees use to make honey. Rosewood’s bees make their honey from wild flowers, clover, mint, goldenrod and Russian sage.

Wildflower Honey tasting

And then we got to the tasting! First we tried Rosewood’s honey. It’s 100% raw and unpasteurized, and because of the natural process of its production, its taste can change from year to year depending on which flowers are more abundant. It was mild and sweet, but the sweetness wasn’t overwhelming. I tried it later on some blue cheese and nearly died. That is a pairing that you should try whether or not you’re a fan of blue cheese. It just might convert you!

2009 Mead Blanc from Rosewood Estates Winery & Meadery. Mixed with Gewurztraminer juice.

The first mead that we tried was the 2009 Mead Blanc. It’s fermented with Gewurtztraminer juice and aged in a stainless steel tank to preserve its unique aromas of mandarin orange, ripe pineapple  and lychee. We paired this with a mango & ginger Stilton and the two got along very nicely on my palate.

Mead Noir from Rosewood Estates Winery and Meadery. Blended with Pinot Noir.

Next we tried the Mead Noir, which is a new release. It’s produced in the same way as the Mead Blanc, but is fermented with Pinot Noir juice. It had flavours of fresh strawberries, dried raspberries, and apricot.

2007 Mon Cherie Sour Cherry Mead

Next was the 2007 Mon Cherie, blended with sour cherry juice. I had expected something much more sour, but it was very sweet. Krystina recommended that we try this one with one with chocolate and it was a winning combination.

2008 Mead Royale

The 2008 Mead Royale is aged in French oak barrels for 8 months. It was sweeter than some of the other meads that we’d had because it wasn’t blended with anything. This is a pure honey wine. It had wonderful hints of caramelized pears, and a very viscous mouth-feel. This paired beautifully with the goat Beemster and would go well with other sharp cheddars. This is the only bottle that we tasted that night that’s currently available at select LCBOs.

Krystina Roman from Rosewood Estates Winery & Meadery

I forgot to take a picture of the last glass of mead… After 4 glasses can you really blame me? This was the most luxurious of the meads that we tasted. It was the 2006 Grand Reserve Ambrosia, aged in French oak barrels for 2 years. It had a very rich and complex nose and was nice and full bodied. The sweetness lingered but wasn’t overwhelming. I paired this one with some blue cheese dipped in honey and swooned! Another swoon-worthy food pairing suggested for this mead: Duck liver pate.

At the end of the tasting, Krystina had a bottle of the Mead Royale to give away to the person who could answer this question: Which of Rosewood Estates’ meads are aged in oak barrels? Guess who got the answer right! It pays to be a blogger who takes notes. 🙂

A bottle of the 2008 Mead Royal, won for correctly identifying which 2 meads from Rosewood are barrel aged.

Thanks to Stella at Food Junkie Chronicles for asking me to join her as her guest for the evening, and thanks to Le Dolci for being such lovely hosts.

La Carnita

2 Jul

La Carnita

When word got around that La Carnita, the darlings of Toronto’s new pop-up restaurant trend, were setting up a brick-and-mortar restaurant, many foodies held their collective breaths. Would an every-day restaurant lose some of the excitement and exclusiveness that its “Tweet today, gone tomorrow” incarnation had?  Could they keep quality and innovation going over time when they’re serving food on a daily basis?

The answer is very simple.  La Carnita’s restaurant breathes the culture and vibe that grew with the various pop-ups and food events.  It’s a logical progression of an idea that matured over the past year, and we diners get to reap and eat its delicious rewards.

It’s inevitable that people will compare La Carnita to Grand Electric, so let’s get that out of the way. La Carnita is like Grand Electric’s gainfully employed older brother. It doesn’t have the fun “f-you!” punk attitude that Grand Electric has. It’s more grown up and has a sophisticated hip-hop feel.  Think of East LA meets Ossington meets New York with hip hop playing – but not blasting – but with less hip irony that other west-end joints are thought to have.  There are also three visible differences: La Carnita does not have a patio, La Carnita focuses on tequila (versus bourbon) and La Carnita has more inside seating than Grand Electric. La Carnita will also take your phone number and call you when your table is ready, where Grand Electric doesn’t offer that courtesy anymore.

Interior, La Carnita

From the bat-signaleque Meathead sign in the front, to the gold-toothed “GRINGO” threshold welcoming you into the restaurant or the graffiti-tagged walls and chicken-coop light fixtures inside the restaurant, you’re hit with a chiq yet cool-trash vibe that greets you at every turn. It’s clear that Andrew Richmond, the guy behind La Carnita, has a background in design. Every element of this place has been carefully selected to reflect La Carnita’s “steez”.

Menu at La Carnita

The menu is focused and to the point. We came for the tacos but wanted to also eat our way through the delicious starters.

Mezcal chipotle pate & tortilla chips, La Carnita

We ordered the tortilla chips with mezcal chipotle pate. The crispy, house-made tortillas and the pate were lightly sprinkled with a zesty chilli powder, combining the creamy liver goodness with a nice kick of heat.

Mexican street corn, La Carnita

The Mexican street corn tastes as delicious as it looks. The gentle dribble of  Mexican crema and queso  played well off the grilled corn flavours, with the nice chilli kick to chase the flavours down.  Normally I wouldn’t be squeeing over corn, but this corn is squee-worthy.

Avocado mango salad, La Carnita

The avocado mango salad is a nice take on the Thai style of mango salad. The presentation was nice; you have a few springs of cilantro and shredded mango sitting on top of a perfectly-ripened half avocado.  The flavours were excellent, with the creaminess of the avocado playing off the citrus tones of the mango quite well.

And now: taco porn.

Tacos at La Carnita

Tacos at La Carnita

Tacos at La Carnita

With six tacos on their menu, its easy for a couple to order one of each. So we did, and ate our way through: cod, beef tongue, skirt steak, chorizo, chicken and a vegetarian taco. The toppings are also more intricate than what you find at other taquerias. Each taco was delicious with the beef tongue being my favourite and the ever-faithful fish taco (named “In Cod We Trust”) being Robin’s list topper.  None of them disappointed.

More taco porn:

Tacos at La Carnita

Tacos at La Carnita

For dessert, we decided that we needed a palate cleanser. We shared the key lime paleta. Its now what you expect when you’re ordering a key lime dessert.

Key lime paleta at La Carnita

This fruity key lime pie-flavoured ice pop is a delicious combination of tart and sweet, with a graham cracker-like crust that has a pinch of salt to it. I’m not sure how quickly the paleta melts, since ours disappeared in 2 minutes.

La Carnita’s Underground Market and pop-up days may be on hiatus, but that’s not a bad thing.  Toronto now has another great option to get our Latin American soul food fix, and it’s a pretty perfect way to get that fix.  Come for the tacos, stay for the ambiance, tequila and the rest of the delicious menu.

La Carnita
501 College St

Photos by Robin. Text by Richard.

La Carnita on Urbanspoon

Agave Y Aguacate and Rock Lobster

19 Jun

Menu for Agave Y Aguacate, Kensington Market

When I was a kid, I knew two types of Mexican food.  I had Taco Time, which was my food court staple, and I had Chi Chi’s, which was known for its sour cream-ladden chimmichangas and deep-fried ice cream.  As you can tell, Winnipeg wasn’t much of a Latin American food hot spot and, truth be told, neither was Toronto until a decade ago.

Agave Y Aguacate is hidden in the back of a non-descript food co-op in Kensington Market.  The chefs prepare your meal for you on top of hot plates, which allows you to smell the heavenly aromas that fill the air while they cook up your lunch.

Lunch at Agave Y Aguacate, Kensington Market

We ordered the anita tostada and beef tongue. I’ve had the anita tostada before and declared to Robin that it was one of the best dishes in Toronto.

Anita tostada at Agave Y Aguacate, Kensington Market

A toastada is covered with pinto beans,tomatoes, onion, garlic, mint, habanero and Luis Suarez`s chorizo. Honestly, do I need to go beyond that description to tell you how amazing this dish is? The mixture covered sits on big slices of fresh avocado and is covered with pecorino fresco, puya sauce and home made crema fresca.  The smoky, savoury chorizo “stew” combined with the fatty, creamy goodness of avocado, pecorino fresco and creme freche makes this a comforting yet incredibly detailed dish.

Beef tongue at Agave Y Aguacate, Kensington Market

Beef tongue is served as a mole, which is a spicy cocoa Mexican sauce. This mole is pumpkin seed based and is flavored with ancho, pasilla and guajillo chiles, cloves and black pepper. On top were crispy pieces of dried cassava. The mole itself was delicious, but if you’re not comfortable eating tongue you may find the meat ‘s texture to be off-putting. Its served in cubes instead of shaved, which was perfect for me.  The meat is incredibly soft and tender with a tender give to it that steak or stewing beef doesn’t have.

Lobster taco at Rock Lobster, Kensington Market

We noticed that, set up across from Agave Y Aguacate, Rock Lobster’s new kiosk was newly open.  Rock Lobster’s more known for its popular food truck, but as of last week, they set up a retail space in Kensington Market. Since it was literally a 3 step shuffle to walk over and order from Rock Lobster, we thought we would give it a try. They had their famous lobster roll on the menu, but we had ordered too much from Agave Y Aguacate already, so we stuck with the lobster taco.

While the store front is non-descript, the chefs cooking inside definitely aren’t. Kengington market has won us over with the amazing lunch options at Agave Y Aguacate. Chi Chi’s, I’ll never forget thee (unfortunately)!

Agave Y Aguacate and Rock Lobster

214 Augusta Ave
Toronto, ON

Words by Richard, Photos by Robin

Leslieville Pumps

14 Jun

What do you get when you combine southern barbeque, a gas station/convenience store and vintage kitsch and plop it down in the heart of Leslieville?

We present to you:  Leslieville Pumps

Leslieville Pumps General Store and Kitchen

Here, what once was a Leslieville  eyesore  old gas station has been spiffed up to look like a Wild West storefront. Reclaimed wood is used to give it that chic tack that will either make you squee or rub your eyes in disbelief. Inside the decor continues with the southern theme, but also includes bits of Canadiana, like a Hudson’s Bay tin and a flock of mallards dangling above the grab & go fridge.

Inside Leslieville Pumps General Store & Kitchen

Inside Leslieville Pumps General Store & Kitchen

It was hard to choose just two sandwiches to eat because all four looked irresistible. We ended up getting the beef brisket and the chicken thighs.

Chicken thighs sandwich at Leslieville Pumps General Store & Kitchen

First we tried the smoked chicken thighs. The thighs themselves were moist and had hints of cinnamon. I liked the idea of the garnishes, especially when I learned that Judd, the owner, grows as much of his own produce as he can and incorporates it into his food when it’s available.  Chicken, in my opinion, doesn’t smoke as tastily as beef or pork, and while we liked the sandwich, it wouldn’t be our first option. It was more taste neutral, but don’t take that as a bad thing.  If I’m eating chicken, I like big and bold versus subtle and kind. I wouldn’t kick that sandwich out of bed, that’s for certain.

Beef brisket sandwich at Leslieville Pumps General Store & Kitchen

The beef brisket was really amazing. It had a distinct smokey taste without tasting too much like a campfire. Judd told us that he smokes his meat with a mix of mesquite and hickory. The beef was tender and served in chunks and the homemade barbecue sauce was sweet and smokey. The grainy mustard and crispy onions were perfect complements. If the pulled pork is half as good as the brisket (and I’m sure it is), then I know when I’m getting next time I visit.

Poutine at Leslieville Pumps General Store & Kitche

We were both pretty full, but when the owner, Judd, told us that he used goat cheese curds and gravy mixed with his homemade barbecue sauce in his poutine, we decided that we might have room for that, too. It was still steaming when it came to the table and the garnish of oregano leaves was a nice touch. There was a generous amount of both cheese and gravy on the fries, and the goat cheese curds were perfect. I tend to enjoy a thicker, fattier chicken gravy rather than beef gravy on my poutine, but this was still very satisfying.

Poutine at Leslieville Pumps General Store & Kitchen

We ended our meal by grabbing a string of Fizz candy (remember them? How the colour on the pouch never matched the flavour inside?) to eat on our drive home.  Its a dangerously short drive to the Pumps, and the temptation to try their pulled pork and fried pickles means that we’ll be back very soon.

Leslieville Pumps General Store & Kitchen
929 Queen Street East

Words by Robin and Richard. Photos by Robin

Leslieville Pumps on Urbanspoon