Tag Archives: winterlicious

Cafe California

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Cafe California exterior

Another Winterlicious joint, Cafe California, was a big trip into my past.  For one thing, it is named after the State I was born in, which is also a bit of a reminder of the politics that lead to my family being deported [don’t even ask what they were, if you’re curious watch a Michael Moore documentary], and as if that wasn’t enough, it was in the exact same neighborhood as my old school, Church Street Public School, and what happened there is personal too.  If you’re really curious about it… stop being a busybody [a joke, of course].  This was also when a big snow storm was supposed to arrive, but the hordes of shoveling neighbors and trucks skidding on slush was the day after we went, so we made it just in time.

snow storm toronto

Ironically for a restaurant named after a State where the only seasons are hot summer and not that cold winter, Café California was adorned with snow flakes everywhere that added a really nice touch [or just honoring Winterlicious].  Right next to it is Acme Burger, which also stirred memories of the time my sister worked at one, for two seconds.  Why it’s called that, is like asking a teenager about Sir Francis Drake, and the only answer they get is because of the video game series Uncharted.  For those who don’t know what that means, it’s like asking someone about Nazis but without telling you something from Indiana Jones.

Since there wasn’t a TNT explosion or an anvil that beaned someone on the head, I’m assuming it isn’t related to the factory.

image courtesy of ohbythewayblog.blogspot.com

image courtesy of ohbythewayblog.blogspot.com

Now let’s finally step away from memory lane, indestructible coyotes, and gun-toting archeologists  and back to the restaurant that I’m supposedly reviewing.

Cafe California interior

Another place that is armed with a coat rack, which is a big plus, and also really friendly service. The décor was pleasant as well, including the beads on the windows, and the square lay-out of the seating area.

But all this is mostly irrelevant if the food is bad.  Actually, it’s rather like a summer blockbuster movie with 3-D HD Surround Sound special effects when the story is bad.

Winterlicious menu

Winterlicious menu

About the menu above, I noticed that a lot of the foods, especially when they came to the table, where Indian in some way.  If an Indian person, by that I mean someone born and raised there, had eaten here, they would’ve enjoyed it.  I had the spring rolls, my grandmother had the beet and goat cheese salad, and my mom had the daily soup, which was a mild curry.

Clockwise from the top: My springrolls, Mom's curry soup and Nana's beet salad

Clockwise from the top: My springrolls, Mom’s curry soup and Nana’s beet salad

All were actually really nice, the beets and goat cheese were not too strong in anyway, the curry was likewise really good in a more herbal way, and the vegetarian spring rolls had flavour that worked most excellently with the plum sauce.  I also liked how there were warm but without a giant steam pocket that burns your mouth after biting into it.  Note: the curry soup had something  in it that sank to the bottom of the bowl, and my mom couldn’t finish it because of her nut allergies.  I would say that you should ask the waiter about the ingredients used if you have any food allergies.  I noticed how, along with other cultural cuisines, Indian dishes were quite popular, and were handled well.

Complimentary bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping

Complimentary bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping

The free bread was great, since they offered fancier marble and rye breads with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, instead of cheap and easy garlic bread.  I think that shows some extra care.

For the main course, I had the beef stir fry with mango, my grandma had the curry chicken, and my mom had the grilled Atlantic salmon.

Beef Tenderloin and Mango Stir-Fry

Beef Tenderloin and Mango Stir-Fry

The stir fry was splendid, the beef was perfect for it along with the sauce, and I thought the tropical salad went with it surprisingly well.

Chicken Madras

Chicken Madras

The chicken had a nice sauce, and was milder, and I’d recommend it to people who don’t like as much spice as I do.

Atlantic Salmon Fillet

Atlantic Salmon Fillet

I really liked the salmon, which surprised me because usually I don’t care for that type of fish, I think the grilling helped with that.  We all agreed the veggies were done just right; the carrots in particular weren’t over cooked.

At this point I was thinking that they’d have to really tank [top] the desserts to get a bad score, which is very unlikely to happen.  Or is it predator drone the deserts in this modern era?  Maybe it’s F-18, but I’m just guessing. (Editor’s note: I believe Callum is doing a play on words with the use of “tank”; leading to the drone and F-18 reference.  We’re not sure.)

Sometimes the author of this blog goes off on some weird tangents

Sometimes the author of this blog goes off on some weird tangents

I had the, surprise, surprise, chocolate mouse cake, my mom had the crème caramel, and my grandma had the five berry desert.

Chocolate Mousse Cake

Chocolate Mousse Cake

The chocolate cake was okay, but not as moist as it sometimes is, I’ve often said that they are hard to mess up, but some places actually have had better chocolate cakes, but this one hasn’t fired its missiles completely.  I’ve had far better at other places but I’ve also had far worse, but this wasn’t the highlight of the meal for me.

Five Fruit Crumble

Five Fruit Crumble

The berry dessert was probably the best, it was crunchy and the berries were sweet and a little bit sour, and yes, it had walnuts.

Creme Caramel

Creme Caramel

The crème caramel was light and had a sweet, caramel taste that.  Actually I find that there’s hardly any flavour in most crème caramels, I personally think they taste like sugared aerosol would[aerosol’s an incredibly light and air-like solid used by NASA to get comet fragments in space], so I don’t like them that much.  All I can say is that this didn’t taste eggier than an omelet, unlike the one from Le Petite France.

All in all, Café California, although the name [coming from the guy who rambled about F-18s] makes no sense, is quite a nice place, and the multi-cultural techniques were really good.  This is recommendable for sure, and perhaps even a good go-to place. So, final verdict—ah, what’s this?

Oh great, it’s the F.B.I..  I think they’re not too pleased about those political cracks.  All right, I don’t have much time, they’re inside the house.  I recommend this place immediately foavopwhnv avho[ry9 bklgt=t8yqaun b

[Anyone who doesn’t get that that was an elaborate joke needs to stop taking things so seriously.  Peace.]

Cafe California 538 Church Street
Cafe California on Urbanspoon

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La Petite France

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la petite france exterior

Le Petite France is the first place I’ve been to this year via Winterlicious.  I owe them quite a few other places, some that I loved like Fifth Element, some that I disliked like C5 or Peter Pan, and one that I absolutely despise known as Wish [the horror, the horror].  So I have four characters to thank here, Winterlicious, my mom for doing all the technical stuff and eating the food with me, The Toronto Transit Commission for taking all the way across the city to this place, and Bill Gates for inventing the Windows system I write this stuff on.  I’ll also mention Eddie Izzard because he’s in this post. Like pretty much every restaurant I reached through ‘licious, this is far out of our price range normally.  Since French cuisine is usually pigeon-holed into being freakishly expensive, and the fact I was born in California probably hindering my Canadian French-learning abilities [related Friends clip below], I’ve never tried much French cuisine outside of Harvey’s poutine.  Needless to say I wasn’t expecting that here.

We got here at one o’clock, and it was busier than the Apple Store at The Eaton Center when a new model comes out on Saturday.  Or maybe it was the same, I’m more than happy being a few generations behind.  This is where I give a huge kudos to the severs, one waiter, one waitress, and [I think] one bartender, since the service was quick for us in a way that it seemed like there weren’t about twenty or so other tables for them to attend to as well.  They also were friendly after the meal, which shows actual caring, something really important in customer serving and something forgotten in other fancier restaurants [excluding Fifth Element, of course].

la petite france interior

While you may want to come here during Winterlicious for better prices, the bills aren’t that sky-high anyway, so you could come here anytime anyway.  Considering this, the décor and setting was more expensive than you would think, with coat racks, and cloth napkins in the wine glasses.  Here’s the menu.

la petite france menu

The Waiter said the soup of the day was cream of mushroom, but when mom got her soup of the day, it was orange.  This had me thinking that it was the funny kind from the woods that gave you hallucinations, but mom said it tasted like potato.  I think what happened was that they had cream of mushroom but ran out and the waiter wasn’t informed because it got too hectic in there.

Mushroom soup?

Mushroom soup?

As for the actual soup, to be honest it was a little bland, but all it missed was salt and pepper, which was at the table anyway.  I had the crab cake, which was a generous size for a prefixed menu appetizer, and was delicious.

Crab cake appetizer

Crab cake appetizer

It was good by itself, but I liked the spicy seafood sauce with it and the mango [that’s what it tasted like] salsa worked as a counter-balance.

Then came the entrees, which were both meat dishes.  Mom had the Chicken with mashed potatoes  (editor’s note:  Coq au Vin, actually)  and I had the pork tenderloin [the second time quitting pork failed, this time for reasons more complicated than the first time] stuffed with apple and sided with roasted potatoes. Both came with peas and gravy.  I was a little surprised how North American that style of cooking was, but Italians don’ta talk likea thisa and the Irish don’t eat horsemeat so maybe I just had my expectations a little off.  Since the staff was nice, venom isn’t flowing into Windows Vista, but I’ll still keep a sense of constructive criticism, instead of going ‘yippee kay-ya mo!#@%%!@’ with literary weapons like I’ve done with other places.

Stuffed Pork Loin

Stuffed Pork Loin

It was hard to see how they were going to ‘stuff’ apple into that particular cut of meat, and all I really got was a small burnt skin in one of the two tenderloins.  If I may suggest, if you really want to serve apple with the pork, I’d recommend a marmalade or salsa, or a different cut of pork that has enough room inside to fit apple in.  I’m no French chef, but I’m just throwing out theories.  For the meat itself, it was nice, I wouldn’t say fall-off-the-bone tender, but it had a nice toothiness to it, my only problem was that it took longer to cut with a knife, although sharper silverware could fix that.  My mom said she found it a little dry.  The potatoes were a little bland, if you want my opinion I’d cut the potatoes into large slices, or mini potatoes into smaller quarters instead of tiny cubes, that way the flavour isn’t so spread out.

Coq au Vin

Coq au Vin

Mom’s chicken was nicer, and the mashed potatoes were tasty and different, with a heavy hand with the butter, no comment if that’s good or bad.  The gravy was nice, although mom got more particular about its consistency, but everyone loves to argue.

Now for dessert, and there’s no cake or death this time.

I had the Chocolate Mousse Cake [how Canadian] and mom had the {insert name of French dessert please (Crème Caramel)}.

Chocolate Mousse Cake

Chocolate Mousse Cake

I rather liked the mousse cake, I’ve often said that the big problem with it is that it’s easy to get right, indeed, only Peter Pan got it messed completely, if memory serves.  But they did a good job here as well, with some nice touches like the berry sauce, the garnish, and those little crunchy chocolate bits inside.

Creme Caramel

Creme Caramel

Mom’s {name}, which I thought was a lemon tart because of the yellow colour, was all right but tasted mostly like egg.  Mom says it’s because it was over cooked.  I’ve never cooked one-cell dishes before [the egg yolk and whites are just one giant cell], well, to be honest I’ve never cooked anything excluding sandwiches or microwaved leftovers, so I really don’t know what to say.  That kind of light dessert isn’t my taste anyway, I prefer heavier ones.

pic courtesy of ingestiondigest.com

pic courtesy of ingestiondigest.com

If you’re wondering how heavy, one time I literally had a dinner sized plate of chocolate, with two brownies, three scoops of chocolate ice cream, three spurts of whipped cream, and drizzled hot fudge at Mr. GreenJeans .  While the portions are certainly generous here, they won’t kill you, and they won’t leave you bankrupt either, unlike practically every eatery I’ve disliked.

On a scale of thumbs, with a maximum of three thumbs up for the five best, and two thumbs down and a very rude blurred finger up for the absolute worst, I think the consensus here is one thumb up.  The only part of the meal I personally had any valid complaints about was the main course, and mostly for the pork tenderloin.  The setting was brilliant, the service friendly and quicker than The Flash, and La Petite France is nicer than any other restaurant in the area, especially the mall across the street.  If you’re in the area, I’d recommend this to you and your friends.

La Petite France 3317 Bloor Street West
La Petite France on Urbanspoon

C5 Restaurant

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Just like my Big Daddy’s…. review, this is another restaurant we tried out via Winterlicious.  In the same building that has the C5 Restaurant there are also ancient artifacts and taxidermied  animals.  Can you guess it?  It’s the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum).  I have no idea why they named it C5,  they should have named it after something that compliments the museum.  The restaurant was probably not too happy when the ROM was (I think deservedly so) named the 8th ugliest building in the world.  We wanted to try out this restaurant because Corbin Tomaszeski is their executive chef.  He’s a Food Network star who’s been on Restaurant Makeover and is now on Dinner Party Wars and we wanted to see how one of these Celebrity Chefs actually cook.

Inside C5 looking back towards the bar area

Even though the outer crystal looks like an alien lifeform trying to eat the ROM, the inside is actually quite pretty.
As it is at the top of the ROM, C5 has spectactular views of downtown Toronto.

Their Winterlicious Menu

As you can see, a lot of the ingrediants are much fancier than what we usually eat.  A lot of this is the kind of stuff you would see on a FoodTV show.

Beef carpaccio

As it turns out I hated all of the ingredients in this.  I’ve  never tried black garlic before or completely  RAW beef.  I also don’t like herb-like ingredients as a central flavour profile.  And personally I think the cheese could have used a bit of a stronger taste as the garlic and greens overtook it.

Mom's appetizer - Cauliflower Soup

Since I hate cauliflower, when I had a sip of this soup it made me gag a little bit. But that’s the cauliflower, not the soup.  My mother said it was “nice” but it could have used some pepper.  I thought that was a good statement and probably would have agreed with her if I actually liked cauliflower soup.  However, there were  no salt and pepper shakers on the table.  Maybe the chefs are paranoid of people messing up their flavour profiles, but any decent critic knows you don’t season the food before you taste it.

Main course - Chicken Pot Pie

For me this was definitely the best part of the meal.  It had a flavourful gravy, delicious crust and large pieces of tender white chicken meat.  I think one of the problems when eating out is getting food that is so super heated you have to wait a long time before you can eat it.  This dish was pleasantly warm and stayed that way throughout the meal (my mom said it was because it was baked in a “tureen” , which sounds alarmingly like “latrine” to me).  The only downside of this dish was that the vegetables (not the side salad) were so bland that I didn’t even notice that they were there until my mom pointed them out.

My dessert - Panna Cotta

In a nutshell the Panna Cotta was nice but I wouldn’t order this from here again until I had tried some of their other desserts; because it was not better than average.

Mom's dessert - "Peaches & Cream"

Just so you know, “Peaches & Cream” translates to buttermilk shortcake with preserved peaches.  I think this dish should be named “Conning You Out of Your Money”.  There is no reason why anyone should pay for this dessert; it was dry and really small.  When I saw a waiter walking by with this I thought it was a free appetizer, like the bread that sometimes comes to a table (no kidding).  My grandmother makes an Upside Down Cake that is 100 times better than this.

Even though this is only our second post on higher end restaurants, it is clear that my Winterlicious experience has a continuing theme regarding “Rich People Food”.  Obviously we have a different palette than people who are used to all these luxury ingredients.  All of these are food network/Iron Chef ingredients ie eggs that are so rare they might as well be DoDo eggs, and the ever occurring Arugula that doesn’t miss a single episode of Chopped.  So far we think it was a waste of our money.

 C5 Restaurant 100 Queen’s Park

C5 Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Big Daddy’s Bourbon Street Bistro And Oyster Bar

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Despite what the incredibly long name would suggest, Big Daddy’s Bourbon Street Bistro and Oyster Bar is a Cajun restaurant.  A place like this would usually be out of our price range, but we used a thing called Winterlicious.   This is a city sponsored program to bring clientele to the restaurant hot spots of Toronto.  You make a reservation with one of the participating restaurants and when you get there they have a fixed price menu for you to pick from.

Prix fixe menu for Big Daddy's..

For me the menu choices was pretty much a no-brainer. But first let me show what the restaurant looks like.
Unlike most of the restaurants we visit which are either in an ethnic neighbourhood or around our area, this was downtown in what my mom told me was the  “Entertainment District” (which I thought was closer to the beaches area).

This is just a part of the interior, its way bigger than this

We actually noticed a lot of details that we aren’t used to in other places because Big Daddy’s is much fancier than our usual choices.  Don’t forget, my mom is really cheap.  We were very excited by the cloth napkins and the paper doily under the teapot.  I also noticed that the glasses were a bit fancier.

Free bread and butter

Even the bread and butter is fancier. Notice that the butter does not come in little plastic containers with peel off tinfoil.

Popcorn Shrimp with Smoked Tomato and Pepper dipping sauce

Of the many things I like about this appetizer: the shrimp was very fresh tasting and not mushy.  I also liked the nice light batter (not greasy) and the delicious dipping sauce.

Jambalaya

The meat was the saviour of this dish.  They were generous with the sizes of the pieces: the chicken was so tender that a man with no teeth could have eaten it.  Big slices of andouille sausage was just plain delicious and was the only spice in the dish.  Nice big pieces of shrimp but only one or two for each serving.  But the sauce could have definitely used more flavour.  I’ve never had Jambalaya before so I don’t know what it’s supposed to taste like, but mom said this wasn’t it.  It wasn’t horrible though, just quite tomato-y and not much else.

Big Daddy's Bourbon Beignet

Long story short, this was excellent. I loved the chocolate sauce (I was scraping the plate to get it all), powered sugar and donut-like beignet itself.  These would make for the perfect Sunday breakfast.

I’m not sure if I would like to eat here again.  Mainly I would like to try some other Cajun restaurants and see how they compare.

Big Daddy’s Bourbon Street Bistro and Oyster Bar 212 King St W
Big Daddy's Bourbon Street Bistro & Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon