The George Street Diner

GSD1

One thing Toronto doesn’t lack are decent retro diners. One of my favourites being The Senator, tucked neatly behind Yonge and Dundas Square. Another classic diner that’s also tucked away from nearby Jarvis and Richmond streets is The George Street Diner, which was taken over by Ash Farrelly of The Senator in 2007, and given a fresh coat of paint. But can that paint still remain fresh after 8 years, or has it begun to chip away?

A quick lesson I learned right away was to not go during weekend brunch time. The place is slammed and the staff is stressed. While waiting, people who came in behind us were seated at the bar right away, the staff assuming that we wanted a booth. Though their assumption was correct, it would have been nice to at least been offered a bar seat. Additionally, it was easy to see who was a regular there, and who wasn’t, as the staff were always cheerful and polite to the regular customers, while being a bit hurried with those of us who were new. Though I respect that a business treats their returning clients as gold star customers, it doesn’t mean that new patrons don’t deserve at least smile. However, as noted above, this was during a busier time of the day.

Brunch menu

Brunch menu

The brunch menu was pretty simple, which I appreciate. A simple menu without a laundry list of options means that this place knows their best meals and it doesn’t take me an hour to decide.  We ordered the Irish breakfast and the Canadian breakfast. The difference being for 45 cents more, you get a fried tomato, your choice of breakfast meats, and soda bread with the Irish breakfast.

Though there isn’t anything spectacular to report about the food, that necessarily isn’t a bad thing. It’s exactly what you’d expect from brunch food. The portion sizes were not too huge, the home fried potatoes were soft while a bit crispy on the outside, and the soda bread was pretty decent. The only major downside being the food was a little bit cold by the time it got to us. This might be due to the lack of heat lamps over the area where the plates are left for the servers to pick up, which also happens to be right by the door where it was -10C outside.

GSD_Food

Though I wouldn’t recommend going way out of your way to The George Street Diner, it’s a good spot to hit if you’re nearby and feeling famished for some comfort food.

T.O. Bites Rating:
B-

Pros:
– Good portion sizes and prices
– Classic diner feel

Cons:
– Really busy during weekend brunch with stressed staff
– Food may be a bit cold with the server pickup area being right next to the front door

The George Street Diner on Urbanspoon

Review: Rawlicious (Yorkville)

If you’ve ever read my review of King’s Cafe or heard me mention about how much I love Fresh on Bloor, then you know I love vegetarian food restaurants.  The way these places cook up amazing meat free dishes show me that if I have a lot of disposable income, I could totally be a vegetarian (but then I remember that I like bacon too much.)  Raw food is a different story.  I’ve had some not-so-pleasant experiences at raw food restaurants; crumbly dried food, weird textures, and missing the comfort that warm food in the mouth gives me.

I had spent a few months going back and forth about whether I was willing to venture back into a raw vegan restaurant.  I figure for the sake of a review, I’d take one for the team and do it.

After doing a bit of researching on yelp and urbanspoon, I decided that we’d order the two most popular dishes:  the taco wrap ($9.00) and the pad thai ($15.00).  Our food came out relatively quick which would be expected since there isn’t any baking involved.

The pad thai had zuccini and kelp noodles covered in a zangy yet creamy thai flavoured sauce.  I initially had expected that I’d miss having actual starchy pad thai noodles in my meal, but I didn’t. The zuccini and kelp noodles were long and stringy like normal spaghetti noodles and the crunch you’d get with each bite made it even more satisfying.  The dish had a few pieces of cashews in it (they weren’t really crumbled and mixed in like I had expected, much like peanuts are in non-vegan pad thai) and, to be honest, it could have used a few more cashews.  The sauce, though really good the first five or so bites, got to be too much.  I understand that the sauce is used to help you forget that you’re eating a wholly vegan dish,  but there was way too much sauce on it that you were literally left with a soup of thai sauce at the bottom of the bowl.  Overall I enjoyed the dish and was quite glad that the portion was huge.

Taco wrap

Though lacking a taco shell, the taco wrap quite crunchy, thanks mostly to the giant collard leaf that wraps around it.  The whole ensemble was kept together neatly with a toothpick.  Though the taco wrap doesn’t have as much flavour was a traditional taco, the mix of guacamole and salsa on top of the nut loaf made up for it with such an interesting texture.  This is quite a messy dish though as the sauce drips everywhere so keep that in mind if you’re on lunch break from work and don’t really want to get your clothes covered in sauce.

Pad Thai

Rawlicious has an excellent selection of desserts that usually cycle on a daily basis.  The server (who possibly may have been the owner) made sure we knew that.  In fact there were a few instances while we were still finishing up our entrees that she asked if we wanted dessert.  Though I think an attentive server is nice, I couldn’t help but feel as if there was some underlying pressure on her behalf to make us consume more food.

I’m glad I went to Rawlicious.  I had a positive experience with the food being served there and it did exceed my expectations.  I do eventually plan on going back for dessert some day soon though.

T.O. Bites Rating:
A-

Pros:
-Delicious and healthy vegan food
-Fast, prompt, and attentive service

Cons:
-The prices are a little bit on the high side, but so are most raw and vegan places
-The server was a bit too promoting of the desserts

 
Rawlicious Yorkville on Urbanspoon

Review: Five Rows Craft Wine of Lowrey Vineyards

[Ed. note: Chef Adam Wright, the writer of this review, recently took me on a tour of some vineyards at Niagara-on-the-Lake last month. Though I usually keep T.O.Bites reviews within the GTA, we had such a wonderful experience with this particular winery that left Chef Wright feeling compelled to compose a review along with offering his expertise on suggested pairings with the wine. Enjoy!]

Never have I thought that I would be traveling down a county dirt road to get to a gem of a vineyard in Niagara-on-the-Lake, but that’s exactly what three friends and I did on our mouth-watering Grape Safari. Five Rows of Lowrey’s Vineyard is definitely the jewel of Niagara-on-the-Lake.

When we arrived at the Lowrey Vineyard, Wilma Lowrey graciously greeted us. She welcomed us into the small barn like building to taste some of the wines the Lowrey family has been perfecting over the years. We tasted a number of wines that Mrs. Lowrey paired with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano and, what looked like, Raincoast crackers.

The first hit maker was their 2011 Pinot Gris ($25/bottle). It was fresh and crisp with light fruity apple and melon notes. I envision this pairing well with a lobster macaroni and cheese. I also envision me “tasting” the entire bottle before the latter dish is done.

The second, to none, tasting was their 2008 Shiraz ($50/bottle). It has unique cocoa bean and dark berry nuances that, together, would be a perfect pairing to a coffee crusted tenderloin of beef wrapped in double smoked bacon.

The finale was, in my opinion, the highlight of the entire tasting. The 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine ($45/bottle) was offered last as it is traditionally done. It left the most complex flavour on my palate. It was almost like black cherry candy and wasn’t as sweet as most icewines I have tried before. It reminded me of my early teenage years when my parents, horrifically and irresponsibly, let us try some of their sweet dessert wine paired with remnants of berry filled pie left in my mouth.

During the tasting, there were Five Rows devotees visiting from Ohio, US. They mentioned that their entire street now loves Five Rows wines. They risked life and limb to get a couple cases across the border, which definitely speaks to how good and unfortunately limited the Five Rows wines are.

With their memory evoking capabilities and the intimacy and care you would expect from a smaller vineyard, Five Rows wines are sure to please most palates. They have been showcased in many notable Toronto restaurants such as Canoe and Ruby Watchco. I sincerely hope that you get out and enjoy the smaller things in life like a fine wine with great food or a bumpy dirt-road trip out to Niagara-on-the-Lake with a bunch of great friends.

http://www.fiverows.com/

[note: as of this writing, if you try to access the Five Rows website through a Google search, Google will tell you there’s some bad-mojo going on with the website and it won’t let you visit it.  Though my guess is there’s a mix-up with Google’s search and the website is probably fine, I’m not going to hotlink the above URL just as a precaution.]

T.O. Bites Rating:
A

Pros:
– The Hostess (great story teller and hospitality)
– Free tasting
– The wines

Cons:
– Limited quantities (less than 500 cases per year)
– Limited hours for tastings (11am-5pm on weekends between May 1st – December 31st) or during the week by appointment only

Review: Fabarnak

I had trepidations about going to eat lunch at Fabarnak after hearing that one of their goals is to hire community members who’ve faced barriers to employment.  Though I think that it’s a great program, my presumptuous attitude was that the quality of the food would suffer.  I’m glad to report that I was proven wrong – Fabarnak is fabulous!

The restaurant, which rests at the bottom of the 519 community centre in the heart of the village, offers two menus depending on when you go – a dinner and lunch menu through the week and a brunch menu on Saturday.  We ordered the glazed ham sandwich with a beef and mushroom soup ($10), a bento box with oysters ($15 for the large), and a risotto ($13).  We also ordered a round of chicken wings as an appetizer ($6). One of the reasons that makes this a harder review is that Fabarnak changes their menu quite often so what we ordered may not be available the following week so keep that in mind.

The food came out pretty quickly (within 8 minutes of ordering) but we were initially shocked by how small the portions were.  Then again, this restaurant sits somewhere in between a high end cafe and a fine dining establishment so we decided to overlook it for the sake of this review.  However, they could have used smaller plates because those chicken wings did look a little silly.

I’ve never had oyster mushroom and beef soup before so I didn’t have much to compare it too.  It was more like a velouté, but actually a lot thicker.  The taste was smooth but a little bit on the weak side. I felt it could have used something to bring out the mushroom taste a bit more.  The chicken wings had a nice glaze on them but it never permeated beneath the skin so the chicken lacked any interesting flavour.

When our mains arrived, we were once again greeted with large plates that had a smaller serving.  However, the food was good enough that we decided to overlook it again.  Unfortunately I couldn’t try the risotto myself due to my shellfish allergy but I was told that it was one of the nicest that they’ve eaten recently.  The bento box came with two oysters, a lemon cookie on top of a lemon sorbet, a lobster lettuce wrap, and fried potatoes.  Everything was great about the bento box, including the sorbet.  The lobster lettuce wrap had a mustard type sauce on it which I’m told gave it a nice kick.  The glazed ham sandwich was beyond my expectations.  It was full of flavour, with a bit of sweet and spiceyness in each bite.  To top it off, the bun it was served in was nicely toasted and had a good crunch to the outside of it.

I would recommend giving Fabarnak a try.  Though their menu changes quite frequently, it also gives reason to go back again and try something new.  The training program was initially the cause of my hesitation from trying out the place, but I now consider it a bonus to the experience which gives you a bit of a warm feeling after paying your bill even though it’s a bit high.  The only major issue I have with the place is that they charge you full price for each coffee refill you get ($1.75) which is pretty unheard of for most restaurants serving lunch or brunch.

T.O. Bites rating
B+

Pros:
– Great food that is of high quality
– The warm feeling you get knowing that you’re helping out those who have experienced barriers to employment
– The wait staff are nice and incredibly friendly

Cons:
– The dishes are way too huge and make the smaller portions look even tinier
– Charging for coffee refills is a bit of a stretch

Fabarnak Restaurant and Catering on Urbanspoon