Tag Archives: Summerlicious

Signs

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signs restaurant

Signs, as the hearing but ASL-fluent host explained to us, is a unique concept restaurant whose servers and staff are all deaf people, in a meal experience designed to teach the general public about basic sign language and the deaf community. My family got the opportunity to eat here thanks to the Summerlicious event that several eateries across Toronto participate in. Essentially, each restaurant offers a smaller sample menu at a lower price to allow people to try out their take on a three course meal. It obviously works, as my blog has covered numerous restaurants through Summer/Winterlicious that it otherwise wouldn’t have been able to comfortably afford.

Callum & Nana

Me and my grandmother aka Nana

Even though none of us have severe hearing problems, my family does have some prior experience with American Sign Language. My mom had a deaf friend when she was sixteen, and quickly became fascinated with learning and studying the language, it eventually proved to be useful when she became an ER nurse and especially when she had me.

As my other blog (Autism Thinking) has pointed out, I was born severely autistic and non-verbal, so I was taught sign language as a bridge to speaking English. I have seen been re-learning the language I lost, which among other things has helped me communicate with a deaf teammate on my Special Olympic basketball team. However, Signs is very inclusive and encouraging of people who know no signs at all, and menus are provided to quickly teach basic signs so you can order your food and hold basic conversation with your server.

 

Compared to other ‘licious menus, Signs had a surprisingly extensive menu, going beyond the minimum three options for the appetizer and entrée rounds, with four and five options respectively. We weren’t allowed to take pictures, as the menu has signs for each food item and the restaurant owners understandable didn’t want people to copy their idea. As such, I’ll simply cover the dishes that we did try.

spring roll

My Vegetable Spring Rolls

My mother had the carrot ginger soup, my grandma the watermelon gazpacho, and I myself tried the veggie spring rolls with spiced dipping sauce. First off, all of the food came to us at just the right temperature, and this was consistent throughout the meal. That should go without saying, but all too many places let their food sit before serving, making it lose the freshness and warmth that I enjoyed so much here. For instance, my spring rolls remained toasty until the entrée arrived, and packed a fresh vegetable mix with mild wrapped inside a light and flaky pastry. I should also mention that the dipping sauce, while not spicy, was pleasantly sweet in a way not unlike good plum sauce.

carrot ginger soup

My Mom’s Carrot Ginger Soup

On the other hand, the carrot ginger soup had more bite than one would think, having just enough ginger to be prominent without being spicy or overpowering. Combine that with the mild creaminess of the carrot, and you’ve got yourself a classic heart-warming soup.

gazpacho

Nana’s Watermelon Gazpacho

However, the appetizer I would recommend by far would be, surprisingly, the gazpacho. There wasn’t much taste if watermelon in it, not that watermelon has much flavour aside from the noticeably absent sweetness, but there was a hint of tomato. What made this bowl was a plethora of fresh herbs that combined with the cold temperature to make something that could only be properly described as “crisp”.

jumbo ravioli

My Jumbo Ravioli

By the time a truly appetizing appetizer round was over, our entrée arrived with perfect timing. I ordered the jumbo ravioli, three huge cheese-stuffed ravioli (it doesn’t sound like a lot, but I really mean huge) in a spiced cream tomato sauce with what I noticed to be a bit of coriander sauce drizzled over as well.

beef cannelloni

My Mom’s Baked Cannelloni

My mom had a beef cannelloni in a rich and red tomato sauce covered in cheese, while my grandmother had a plate filled with goat cheese agnolotti (her favourite) and a sauce similar to what I had.

cheese ravioli

generous filling

What really struck me was how generous the filling of each ravioli really was. The warm, creamy cheese gelled perfectly with the orange sauce that offered little hints of nuanced spice one could notice building up bite after bite.

agnolotti with goat cheese

Nana’s beloved goat cheese pasta

The goat cheese ravioli were smaller and more numerous, with a powerful, tangy filling that I found to be of high quality but probably too strong for a person like me to eat an entire plate.

chocolate cake

Signs “Chocolate Avalanche”

For the dessert round, my mom and I both had the chocolate cake, while my gran decided to try the cannelloni. As a chocolate fan, I quite liked the cake we were offered, as it focused more on having mild taste of cocoa instead of just being sweet and brown-coloured. The texture worked well too, managing to be both richly filling and gently spongy all at once.

cannoli

Who can say “No” to a second dessert?

However, my grandmother–who has a low tolerance for sweetness–found her dessert too sugary which meant I had more of it than she did. I, on the other hand, quite liked its flavour: the pastry comes off as a high-end waffle cone and the filling had the right combination of density and creaminess to compliment its sweetness. I would say the cake is better for those woke like their desserts rich and mild, whereas the cannelloni is for people who like some creaminess sweetness that is balanced by a crunchy pastry shell.

signs restaurant interior

Before I wrap up, a couple of notes on the service. They are very friendly and non-intrusive, which can be a problem in some other places. Communication isn’t a problem, even if you struggle with the signs given to you on the cards (I, for instance, am still rather slow and difficult to read), the servers still manage to get their message across. Personally, I’ve found that a fair amount of deaf people are very good at using body language, not the stereotypical mime charades, but common motions such as facial expressions and universal hand gestures like the thumbs-up. On a smaller note, Signs’ atmosphere is obviously quiet, but is not unnaturally or audibly so. You can hear the customers next to you to a reasonable degree and the washrooms even had soft music playing.

To summarize, Signs is a unique concept restaurant created to help educate the general population about the deaf community while offering a skillfully prepared meal. It works on both fronts: on a purely technical level, you can come here on a date or with friends/family for a satisfying and interesting meal, while the establishment greatly helps spread awareness about this group of people who have adapted to life without a certain sensory organ that we all take for granted. I highly recommend it to anyone who was already interested in it, or looking for something truly different and unique.

Signs 558 Yonge Street

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

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The Local Company

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The Local exterior

What’s the best time to go to a night-time club/restaurant to see it at its peak operation? No, not on a Friday night  but at 6:30 on a Wednesday when no one will be here because it isn’t party hour yet. Well, there were a few people. By the way, this is another Summerlicious.

The Local… something. The sign on the front says Restaurant, which didn’t quite make sense to me because ‘restaurant’ wasn’t the name of The Local Company, but it tells people what this place does anyway. It’s a restaurant, where people are served food, as opposed to an eatery, where people just go to have something edible crammed down their throat, like McDonalds [you know something is wrong with a place that has fries that can’t rot and that many customers].

The Local Interior

Anyways… the interior was pleasant and more suited for a classy and family friendly club than the ones that people get wasted at. The menu also had lots of really nice choices, with a lot of variety for good measure.

Four Cheese Aracini Balls

Four Cheese Aracini Balls

Every one had the Four Cheese Aracini Balls which were basically cheese balls deep-fried in a breading and sitting on top of tomato sauce. They weren’t only tasty because of a classic Italian idea, they were delicious because they were well-executed. I think it’s going to show that people are doing Summerlicious better this year than the last.

What a brilliant idea - deep fried cheese

What a brilliant idea – deep fried cheese

The next choice was easy for my family to decide, which is different from when I usually order and I’m sitting there like I’m trying to answer a Jeopardy question, any other game show I can out-answer the contestants… but Jeopardy goes the extra mile there]. In case you were thinking that was a clever reference, it’s actually Alex Trebek’s birthday by the time I’m writing this [on IMDB].

Lemon Herb Chicken Supreme & Drum

Lemon Herb Chicken Supreme & Drum

I had the chicken, my mum the salmon, and my grandmother the risotto. The portions were the size of something you would get when paying full price, and not 15 dollars. The chicken was delicious and tender, with the just right amounts and types of seasoning, and the {other rice like stuff} was far more interesting than regular white rice or french fries [excluding the home-made kind, I mean the ‘we put salt on potatoes so now you feel them on your tongue’ species of Spudnik].

I am not a big fan of salmon, [spud, spud, spud, not Spudnik the soviet space satellite)!   Sorry, I thought we were still in the Space Vehicles category, I’ll pick Back to the Review for $1,000] but I still liked The Local’s salmon, it’s not my first choice but I could eat it no problem.

Atlantic Salmon Niscoise Salad

Atlantic Salmon Niscoise Salad

Please understand that is high praise since I rarely enjoy salmon at all. And I think I just plain don’t like the risotto  for the same reasons I don’t like salmon, not because it was badly done.

Risotto with Roasted Beets, Asparagus & Shaved Parmesan

Risotto with Roasted Beets, Asparagus & Shaved Parmesan

As always with Summerlicious, we get to the desserts, in some odd fashion, after the two other courses. I had the molten cake, mom the Creme Brulee and grandma the Phyllo Strudel.

Double Chocolate Cake

Double Chocolate Cake

I have to say the chocolate cake was different but good: it was lighter than usual, and slightly drier but not in a bad way, and the filling was a rich and wet counterpart. I liked it because it was different.

The molton centre of the chocolate cake

The molton centre of the chocolate cake

The Creme Brulee was good on a technical level, but I am still not a fan enough to get into the details of it, and the strudel were delicious, I would say they are as good as the molten cake with their crunchy, delicious-sauce covered sweetness.

Creme Brulee

Creme Brulee

 

Phyllo Strudel

Phyllo Strudel

So I would recommend The Local Company, without making some kind of horrible pun about being ‘in the local area’ [except I sneaked it in didn’t I?], and would definitely say it’s a great non-Greek place in Greek-Town, especially if you are within walking distance. Ciao for now.

The Local Company 511 Danforth Avenue
The Local Company on Urbanspoon

Morgans on the Danforth

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Morgans on the Danforth
Summerlicious is here! So was the annual street festival in Little India, but by the time I went to it with food in mind, there was torrential rain, a fire truck and, from what I hear, a ruptured/blown up propane tank. Nice. I was at Morgans on the Danforth on Saturday when it was nicer [and by that I mean 39 Celsius with the humidity, ironically very close to New Delhi weather]. So I can’t review the festival this year, sadly, but then there’s the Taste on the Danforth, God there’s a lot of stuff going on the minute school stops.
Morgans interior
Anyways, Morgans on the Danforth is a pub that could easily pass as a restaurant or family place, but also one that has a very large menu of alcohol, maybe even enough to tide over a citizen of The Czech Republic [they drink the most beer in the world, and some people literally bathe in Guinness], but it looked good. So did the classy, air-conditioned seating and the talented singer/guitarist who was also a friend of someone in our group named Dan.

The waitress was lovely, and one of the owners, I always love it when the owners/managers start serving because it shows they really care, was also quite polite [rhyme time!]. Morgans was apparently having some trouble with all the orders, since this was their first Summerlicious, but they took it with grace, I didn’t even notice til they told us.
Two versions of their Caesar salad.  The top accommodating Dan's no dairy and the bottom one accommodating Callum's no bacon

Two versions of their Caesar salad. The top accommodating Dan’s no dairy and the bottom one accommodating Callum’s no bacon

Dan and I had the Caesar salads, and mom had the tomato soup. Both were delicious, and appetized without filling up. I noticed that while the salads were on small plates, they filled them and were bigger portions than some other places’ salads. The dressing was perfect, the veggies ultra-fresh, and the cheese the perfect touch.
great flavour and the crostini was like a biscotti to coffee

great flavour and the crostini was like a biscotti to coffee

The soup was smoked, which was far superior than the bland taste associated with tomato soup usually.
Next up were the main courses, by the way mom was the only person who ordered something different, so you’ll only see two menu items from each course [men like the same things I guess, which probably explains the success of The Fast and Furious saga, using the mid-life crisis theorem].
image courtesy of dbcovers.com

image courtesy of dbcovers.com

The men had the Angus burgers with fries, and mom had the pizza. The burgers could rank in some of the best I’ve had, along with Big Smokes, Burger Stomper’s and The Works.
Morgans' Pizza Frita Margherita   the lightly fried dough was a fantastic twist

Morgans’ Pizza Frita Margherita the lightly fried dough was a fantastic twist

What makes them different from a lot of Toronto’s super-modern burgers is that instead of bizarro combinations and recipes, some of which are simply gross, Morgans uses top-quality ingredients to make good food. That includes everything from the juicy, flavourful beef to the home-made fries and smoked ketchup.
Editor’s note: Callum is still not eating pork, he took the bacon off before diving in.
I will never be fully happy with bottled ketchup again

I will never be fully happy with bottled ketchup again

I’m telling ya Morgans, you’re wise to avoid that store-bought stuff, burn Heinz at the stake if you have to, the do-it-yourself brand is way better.
Last but not least are the just desserts. I had the apple-cake [not pie, cake] and mom the {creme-boo-le type stuff she had}, we think she likes lighter courses that you can eat with a spoon.
like the crumbly part of an apple pie on top of a moist sponge cake

like the crumbly part of an apple pie on top of a moist sponge cake

The apple cake had a wonderful crunchy apple pie layer on top, and a delectable cake underneath: perfect with the ice-cream. Mom’s pudding was nice too, but I’m not the kind of person to comment on that sort of dessert, I like really filling stuff.
Burnt Sugar Bundino - basically a really nice caramel pudding

Burnt Sugar Bundino – basically a really nice caramel pudding

This is the part of the review where I conclude and try to lend advice to anyone who works at the restaurant who is reading this. I hear that Morgans is struggling with Summerlicious (just a bit overwhelmed with the demand, but very gracious about it), and I do worry about how the full portion sizes are worth quite a lot more than the 15 dollar bill, but I also say that it might pay off with positive reviews like this one, and word-of-mouth. All I can say is that you might feel a little panicky with huge amounts of customers, but you really just look extremely professional. Keep it up, in other words. I whole-heartily recommend Morgans on the Danforth with an extra helping of acclaim.
Morgans on the Danforth 1282 Danforth Avenue

Morgans on the Danforth on Urbanspoon

Wish

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I wanted to say that we haven’t posted for a while, so Wish is actually the last restaurant we went to when Summerlicioius was on.


We were seated outside by the staff and even though we usually don’t eat on patios, in this case I was happy as it was too crowded on the inside.

A montage of the inner decor and a glimpse of the tight seating

Is it me, or is it weird that they a deer head in this restaurant?


Their Prix-fixe menu for Summerlicious.

Our appetizers

First of I’ll start with the best thing; my shrimp.  Even though you could go without it, the sauce was quite lovely and the shrimp tasted very fresh.  However it was luke warm.  I’m pretty sure “sautéed” is different from room temperature.  Mom’s soup was probably the worst of the bunch as it was bland and with very little apple taste.  It was described as an Apple/Corn gazepacho and tasted mostly of corn and potato.  As for Nana’s salad, she said it could have used more salt but the goat cheese was excellent.

Sliders from left to right: Angus, Turkey, Salmon

Again, starting with the best, I introduce my three sliders.  I think by far the weirdest of the bunch was the turkey slider.  That’s because it tasted like they stole the meat filling recipe from a dumpling house and used it for burgers.  I’m not saying it tasted bad, it was actually the best of the three.  Which does not look to good for the other two sliders.  The laziest one by far was the Angus burger.  I’m pretty sure the mentality behind the making of this – if we use a more expensive meat, we won’t have to come up with a recipe that is above mediocre.  I thought there was too much dill in the salmon slider and while I will admit I m not a huge dill fan; it would have been nice to have another condiment or spice as well.  Even thought the dill critique is unfairly biased, the fact remains that this burger was also very dry.

Nana’s Fish & Chips

The fish and chips were definitely a pro and a con.  The pro being that they were not cheap with the portion of fish and it was pleasant tasting.  The con being that the batter was so greasily horrible that I actually threw my sample back to Nana’s plate. And consumed large amounts of Coca-cola to get the taste out of my mouth.

Mom’s pasta

In her own words..my Mom’s pasta was “atrocious and poorly executed”.  The rapini was so badly cooked as to infuse the entire dish with an overwhelming bitterness. It was inedible.  So basically, avoid this like you would a broken vial of smallpox.

I think I picked the best dishes from the prix-fixe menu, out of the three of us, so we’ll start with my dessert first.

My dessert – Molten Chocolate Cake

Even though it is decidedly easy to make a molten brownie, they still did a good job.  It was reasonably moist, and tasted mostly of chocolate as opposed to sugar.

Nana’s apple tart

Much like the Molten Cake, Wish picked another dessert recipe that is hard to mess up but unlike the cake this tart does have some flaws.  Nana said that she thought that it was too sweet and that the apples were mushy.  She prefers her apples in pieces, not like applesauce.

Mom’s Key Lime Tart

In short, the Key Lime Tart was awful. Too much dry chocolate crust and not nearly enough Key Lime. Seemed like a good idea but was bad, much like this restaurant. Also reflecting the fare at Wish; all three desserts were clearly pre-made frozen products.

Maybe the service is frozen too, because it didn’t take a long time to eat our food but we spent an hour and half here.  The waiter was not rude but he seemed bored and a bit snooty.  It could be that it took a long time to prepare our dishes, but considering it came to the table barely warm one can assume that it sat around for a while before being brought to our table.  The last atrocity which deserves a special place in my post are the fries.  As shown in the previous pictures, they were so cheap with the portions it would probably make most customers wonder why they even bothered to serve fries at all.  They appeared scraped from the bottom of a better batch as they were stuck together in greasy cold lumps.  For my closing, which will undoubtably show the quality of Wish,  I will end with one more picture.


They should use the Wish in their name to dream up a better restaurant.

Wish 3 Charles Street E
Wish on Urbanspoon

Peter Pan Bistro

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After we had gone to 5th Elementt  we decided that Summerlicious is worth a go and that the restaurants will put in a decent effort.  So our hopes were elevated as we walked into Peter Pan Bistro.  

Despite looking like a pretty average size restaurant, it’s a bit bigger once you get inside.


I don’t exactly get why the name of this restaurant is associated with the flying boy with happy thoughts, because the food certainly didn’t make us happy enough to fly.  I am in no way trying to imply that the food was horrible, but it definitely wasn’t great.


I decided on the sesame chicken wonton, soft taco and chocolate brownie from their prix-fixe menu. My mom’s choices were the gazpacho, pasta and tiramisu.


As is clearly visible for all to see, this is not in any way a wonton. There was no chicken in it, nor any chili sauce. Instead there was Portobello mushrooms with a cream sauce, because as we realized while writing this blog…. they brought me the wrong appetizer. Even though I consider this to be a down point in service, it was actually pretty tasty.


In my mom’s opinion, this was the best part of her meal. It was pretty good, this soup was creamy with an earthy freshness.  We would order it again, if we were to return to this restaurant, but unfortunately we won’t.

The outside and inside of my soft taco

This soft taco was average at best, mediocre at worst.  A good way to start this critique is with the chicken.  White meat only, in big tender pieces but they were few and far between.  As for the sauces I preferred the barbecue sauce (which tasted jarred) over the guacamole, which was just a bunch of bland.  This is the only thing I feel fortunate to have been given in small amounts, as more of it on this taco would have tainted it.


The pasta in a nutshell; surprisingly nice and hot (instead of the usual lukewarm stuff other restaurants pull on us), a little too small portion wise and tasted so average it was disappointing as a restaurant critic but would be satisfying as a home dinner.


I have a special affinity for chocolate so when comes to brownies and other such treats I become a lot more critical.  Having tried tons of these types of desserts (probably two or three times a week) I have a good basis for comparison.  Deserts have been more moist than this, since this was so dry I actually had trouble cutting into it with my fork.


Closer to the other end of the spectrum, the tiramisu was light, fluffy and with a yummy coffee undertone.

Food aside, you are seated in a lovely atmosphere and with service lively enough that your food comes to you when hot and ready, instead of letting it sit somewhere getting colder.  Details are miniscule however when it comes to the big question – is Peter Pan Bistro recommendable?  Before I answer with a hands down yes, I figure price is a factor as important as anything else.  Including drinks, tax and tips are whole meal rounded out to 70 big ones, and that’s with the prix- fixe Summerlicious menu.  Normally this meal would probably be $80 + easily.  Throw in the disappointment we experienced with some of the elements of our meal and the hands down “yes” quickly morphs into a hands down “no”.

Peter Pan Bistro 373 Queen Street W
Peter Pan on Urbanspoon

5th Elementt

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The Fifth Element is a 1997 movie starring Bruce Willis. It also has nothing to do with this blog post, so if you want to learn more about the movie you should go back to the search engine.

Interior shot of 5th Elementt. Sorry no outside shot, what can I say…my mom forgot

In case you were wondering, the two “t”‘s is not a typing error, that’s actually how the restaurant name is spelled. We came to this Indian Fusion restaurant via Summerlicious 2012. There has been some discussion among foodies that the “Licious” programs are not a fair representation of the restaurants. These rumours were started by some of the fancier food critics who had tasted from these restaurants off their regular menu and found the food to be much better. After hearing this I was reluctant to use “Licious” at all for my blog posts. And this is why we were so surprised by the outcome of our trip to 5th Elementt.


The above picture is of the appetizer portion of the prix fixe menu.


This is the entrée part of their Summerlicious menu.

And their dessert selection.

For the appetizers I had the Crab, my mom tried the Chicken Pakora and Nana ordered the Mango Salad.


There is one word I can use to describe this dish: exquisite. The crab was surprisingly fresh given the restaurants location (nowhere near a coast or fish market) and was really tender. The curry sauce was an excellent pairing without overpowering the delicate flavour of the crab.


Generous pieces of chicken, fluffy batter and sweet mango dipping sauce made for a pleasant appetizer.

As demonstrated by the appetizers, 5th Elementt’s plating is beautifully done. Nana found this salad light and refreshing as well as generous with the mango and clementine segments.


This was so good I actually scraped off all the sauce that was left at the bottom of the plate. Flavourful beef with just the right amount of chewiness was complimented by the savoury/spicy sauce.

My mom ordered the salmon as that is her favorite fish and she wasn’t disappointed by this dish. In fact, it was so good that she continued to eat it until it was finished, even though she was full and making herself uncomfortable. Perfectly cooked salmon (firm, not mushy) was paired with a delicate but flavourful curry sauce. The rice in all the dishes was fluffy and perfect for absorbing all those gorgeous sauces.

Nana was very happy she went with this choice instead of the Butter Chicken, which let’s face it you can get anywhere. In fact, she liked the Paneer so much, she wouldn’t even let us have a teeny-tiny taste.


This is Mom and my first time trying a souffle. It actually tasted a lot like a molten cake but none the less was extremely tasty. With a rich chocolate taste, they were not too sweet and had a wonderful soft (not molten) center. It also went really well with the ice cream.

Nana is a cheesecake snob and was originally reluctant to try this. For one thing she never orders “flavoured” cheesecakes, or one’s that are topped with fruits. So she was pleasantly surprised by this one. She found it light, refreshing but still “cheesy” enough and enjoyed the two sauces that decorated the plate.

But the food is not the only highpoint of 5th Elementt. The service was very gentlemanly and attentive, and it all took place amongst slick European decor with Indian music in the background.

I’m pretty sure this clears up those rumours about Summerlicious and we will definitely be visiting this restaurant again and again.

5th Elementt 506 Queen St W
5th Elementt on Urbanspoon