Divino’s never managed to fill Terroni’s shoes

Divino Pizza
Divino Pizza
Sorry, I've never developed a taste for chicken pizza

After perennially-packed Terroni moved out in late 2010, Divino moved in in early 2011. But the newcomer has never managed to fill Terroni’s very large  shoes and whenever I go there — mostly to pick up takeout — I wonder how much longer Divino can hang on.

Divino definitely has some good dishes — the casareccia with homemade spicy italian sausage, garlic, rapini and red peppers is a personal favourite — but it’s not something I want to eat all the time. So why did they take the angel hair with lobster off the menu just when I was getting addicted? And do they really think that the lobsterless linguine di mare that has replaced it will make us forget what came before?

Along with its shifting menu and lack of white pizzas, Divino also has a service problem. Wait staff are friendly, but they’re not particularly efficient and meals, no matter what time of day, take much longer than they should. Even when we were the first arrivals for the newly revived brunch, we waited forever just for coffee. Yes, it was a nice bagel with lox and cream cheese, but I could have assembled things faster at home and that’s including a trip to Montreal Bagel to buy the ingredients.

If  Divino’s going to succeed, they’re going to need to staff up properly, find a menu that works for them and then quit changing it. Oh yes, they could also add a few killer desserts, which neither Terroni nor any of the other neighbourhood Italian joints do particularly well.

Divino Italian Cuisine on Urbanspoon

The Monk’s Table: Don’t take that poverty vow if you want to hang here

The Monk's Table on Yonge St.
Everybody would be happy to know your name

The Monk’s Table is one of those places where you get the feeling that everyone is trying very hard to be a regular, even if they’ve only really been here two or three times before.

In theory, the Monk’s Table should be great. The food is supposed to be way better than the average pub fare (a reputation earned in the days when this was still the Abbot on the Hill), it’s a good space if a tad cramped, and the staff are chatty enough that they reinforce the feeling you could easily become a regular. But there’s a problem and it’s this: Once you leave, the whole experience becomes eminently forgettable, not to mention that you spent more than you bargained for. In short, you don’t care if you ever go back or if you become a regular.

This is not to say that the burgers and the curries aren’t decent. And items like crème brulée pâte do indeed zing up the menu not to mention sticky toffee pudding for dessert. But, compared to Wylie’s down the street, it’s far more expensive and not really worth the price premium. In short, it’s hard to get by on a monk’s stipend here, which might explain why they’re always auditioning regulars who eventually decide they’re not cut out for the Monk life.

The Monk's Table on Urbanspoon

Harry’s Social Kitchen: Why oh why isn’t it what I wanted it to be?

Bang bang shrimp at Harry's Social Kitchen

Bang bang shrimp at Harry's Social Kitchen
Another Harry misfire: Bang bang shrimp ($13) are tasty enough, but too much (cost and portion) for an appetizer and too little for a meal
Yonge and St. Clair is way overpopulated with sushi joints and Italian restaurants. We desperately need a diner or a Lady Marmalade or a Rushton, but it seems we’re not indy enough or the rents are too high or both, which means, instead, we got Harry’s Social Kitchen.

Maybe I’m bitter because I had high hopes for Harry, that there would be comfort food and cocktails for not unreasonable prices, that it would serve a great weekend brunch and that it would be a fun place to hang out. Alas, those dreams have been quashed. Harry is stingy on the tuna and cod, serves frozen fries, calls his sandwiches “handhelds,” doesn’t do Saturday brunch, and, as of late, has been completely closed on Sundays.

I do give Harry’s credit for trying but after six months, it doesn’t appear to have hit its stride and I’m wondering if it will even be able to survive much longer.

Won’t someone please give us the restaurant we need?

Harry's Social Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Holy Chuck: Average burgers with interesting but pricey shakes and sides

The Holy Chuck signature burger

The Holy Chuck signature burger
The Holy Chuck is ithe signature burger
Call me old fashioned, but when a burger, fries and shake get up into the $20 range, I expect either a little bit of atmosphere or an extraordinary eating experience. Given that Holy Chuck, the new(ish) burger joint at Yonge and St. Clair is a classic flourescent-lit, order-at-the-cash-and-eat-in-an-uncomfortable-chair-at-a-table-that-may-or-may-not-have-been-wiped-clean type of place, the onus was on the food to turn in a spectacular performance. All it managed was a “meh.”

To save room for the other stuff, I chose the Jr. Cheeseburger (all dressed, hold-the-hot-peppers) for $5.99. It was fine but my tastebuds couldn’t tell that the meat had been ground on the spot.  When I saw the $4.29 price tag for the sweet potato chips, I thought twice about ordering them but then caved. They were good enough that I had them on their own a week or two later only to be disappointed when they arrived slightly soggy.

If you choose the cheaper French fries at $3.29, know that they’re seasoned with thyme, a practice I disapprove since, at best, it does nothing to improve the fry experience and, at worst, it detracts from it.

Holy Chuck’s crazy milk shake flavours seem tailor made for a bucket list, but after trying the Reese’s Pieces and Banana, and the Bacon, Fudge and  Sea Salt, I no longer feel that I’ll have to return to sample the Peanut Butter and Jelly and Grandma’s Apple Pie. At $5.49 each, that $11, I can spend at Greg’s.

What else do you need to know? My teenaged eating companion really likes the Holy Chuck signature double cheeseburger with caramelized onions, which at $9.99, she should. And she’s a fan of the deep fried Twinkie, not the shakes, when she wants something sweet.

Here’s the entire Holy chuck menu.

Holy Chuck on Urbanspoon

2012 Montreal Highlights Festival will feature Belgian and Seattle chefs

Calling all foodies: Highlights Festival (Montréal en Lumière) makes a great late February break

Montreal en lumiere 2012's honorary president, Yves Mattagne, chef of Brussels’s Sea Grill, will cook his signature fish and seafood dishes alongside host chef Normand Laprise

In 2012, the fine dining part of the Highlights Festival is featuring the Belgian regions of Brussels and Wallonia and their complementary cuisines.

Visiting chefs include Yves Mattagne, the honorary president and youngest and most promising of Belgium’s rising talents, who will cook three special dinners at Toqué!

And what would a Belgian foodie fest be without the chocolate? Never fear, there are also two amazing artisan chocolatiers coming to town.

This year’s featured city at the festival is Seattle, which is sending six visiting chefs along with several vintners. The big names include Matthew Dillon of the Corson Building, Jason Franey of Canlis and Thierry Rautureau
of Rover’s.

Here’s the festival’s complete 10-day program.

And here’s an article of mine from La Presse on how Toronto has better restaurants than Montreal. (But not a better restaurant festival)

Trevor for foie gras in Toronto

The interior of Trevor's Kitchen and Bar in Toronto

My daughter really wanted some foie gras for her birthday dinner so I set her to work, scouring the internet to find where in Toronto they did it best at a price that wouldn’t bankrupt me.

After extensive research,  she suggested Trevor. Even though the reviews were a bit iffy, I agreed to give it a whirl because a lot of the bad comments were about the service and those complaints were, in my opinion, completely outweighed by the fact that the menu included macaroni and asiago cheese with seared foie gras ($21). Having read about it, I knew I was going to have to eat it — and probably all the other intriguing foie gras offerings as well. Those include:

  • foie gras lettuce wraps with foie gras & smoked duck $19
  • salt cured foie gras club sandwich with dill pickle chips $19
  • seared foie gras with buttermilk pancakes, smoked pork belly & spiced apple $19
  • truffled goat cheese poutine with seared foie gras $23
  • add seared foie gras to an entrée $15

We decided to make the foie gras dishes our main courses so we could also have appetizers and dessert and not end the meal feeling totally stuffed.

The interior of Trevor's Kitchen and Bar in Toronto
Trevor's restaurant occupies a basement space and is divided into restaurant (shown here) and lounge sections

In keeping with this plan, to start we split the seared scallops with smoked duck & split pea purée ($18) and the roasted beet salad with fried halloumi, cashew butter & crispy shallots ($15).

We each got a plump delicious scallop complimented nicely by the purée, but the smoked duck went missing in action as far as my taste buds could tell.

As for the beet salad, I have mixed feelings. I don’t really understand why beets are so popular on high-end menus and only chose this one because the other salad choice was arugula and, lately, every time, I’ve ordered an arugula salad it’s been a great mass of greens with way too little of the other ingredients and left me irritated that I paid so much for so little. But I digress. Given all that, as beet salads go, this one was excellent with red and golden beets, salty, crispy cheese and cashews so fresh they made you vow to forgo run-of-the-mill nuts forever. We put the bread with surprisingly salty butter  to good use cleaning the plates.

And then, we were ready for the pièce de résistance.

My daughter had chosen the foie gras poutine while I, of course, picked the macaroni with foie gras. Both her dish and portion of foie gras were far larger than mine, which was fine because it was her birthday dinner and she’s a growing girl, but had circumstances been different, I might have been peeved that her foie gras slab was almost 50% bigger. Although I had been asked if I wanted the larger “lounge portion” and declined, I’m assuming — given the price points and logistics — that my skimpier piece of foie gras was just a fluke and that normally what increases in size is the pasta part of the portion not the foie gras.

If you love foie gras and even if you don’t particularly care for poutine, you still have to try foie gras poutine somewhere that does it well so that you  can understand why the gourmet poutine trend, that all began at Pied de Cochon in Montreal,  has taken the foodie world by storm. First off, if it’s done right and Trevor’s did it right, there is absolutely no traditional poutine sogginess. You just get a bunch of a fantastic flavours and ingredients, which are combined together into a whole that is so much greater than the sum of the parts.

The mac and cheese with foie gras is a bit of a different story. Fabulous one plus fabulous one adds up to nothing more that fabulous two. Not that fabulous two is anything to complain about. It just means that, unlike with the poutine, where it makes sense to combine all the ingredients into one mouthful, with the mac and  cheese, it’s better just to have a bite of foie gras and then a bite of the pasta.

Being well brought up, my daughter eats her vegetables and even likes them so we had a side of  roasted brussel sprouts with sweet onions and speck aka bacon. It’s hard to go wrong here and Trevor’s didn’t.

Had it been my birthday, I would have chosen caramel apple crumble for two with chantilly cream and rum raisin purée for dessert, but it wasn’t so instead, we both opted for the chocolate rice pudding, burnt marshmallow, smoked caramel and graham cracker gelato. The pudding is deep fried and they give you around twice as much as you really need. While I have a sweet tooth that allows me to finish mammoth desserts, not everyone would be able to given that this one, while good, wasn’t outstanding.

I haven’t mentioned wine until now because all I had was a glass of Cava. Given what we ate, it seemed like the choice that would work best with my meal.

And what of the service so disparaged in the reviews? When we first sat down, it took them forever to take and bring our drink orders. I was worried since it was early and the restaurant was almost empty, but after that things picked up and service was unfailingly polite and, if anything, on the speedy side.

Would I go back? Yes, definitely. I’d like to try out both the seating in the lounge area and the foie gras club sandwich with dill pickle chips.

Trevor Kitchen and Bar
38 Wellington Street East
Toronto, Ontario, M5E 1C7

P. 416.941.9410
F. 416.941.9218

Tues – Sat from 4pm

Trevor Kitchen and Bar on Urbanspoon

XocoCava: Best croissants in midtown Toronto

I’m from Montreal so I don’t kid around when it comes to croissants. When I say Xococava’s are the best, that means they are absolutely, undeniably the best, beating Patachou hands down for both butteriness and flakiness. The only drawback is that Cava, first and foremost a chocolatier, doesn’t open until 10 a.m.

The other thing you need to know is that Cava’s Spanish-style hot chocolate is so good that if you try it just once, you will likely never drink straight coffee on the premises again. Customers are so addicted to the drinking chocolate that Cava actually stopped making chocolate croissants. Even the fiercest chocoholics couldn’t combine a chocolate drink with a pain au chocolat.

If you go in the afternoon or evening, try the churros, which come dusted in cinnamon sugar and ready for you to dip in chocolate.

There’s golden sponge toffee, s’mores, ice cream and chocolates to take home.

Wylie’s midtown Toronto pub serves decent Thai food

You don’t go to Wylie’s for the decor. You go for a pint and a curry — a Thai curry. Because, go figure, this place is some kind of strange hybrid of English pub and Thai / Malaysian restaurant. But wait, it gets even more complicated. Wylie’s also does Indian curries, and some of those come with Greek salad.

Personally, I recommend the takeout or the delivery (minimum order = $15) because I prefer the atmosphere at home and saving money on beer.

Wylie’s is definitely as good or better than some of the Thai and Asian restaurants a few blocks north at Yonge and St. Clair.

Try the green chicken curry. And I hear the breakfasts are good too although I can’t vouch for them personally.

Wylie 2 on Urbanspoon

Capocaccia Café: Pizza all the way

We usually get the Giuseppe and/or Dante, both white pizzas, to take out, as eating in causes the bill to add up really fast. While the pizzas are not cheap, they are excellent quality so worth the splurge.

Alas, not everything on the menu offers great value. We’ve been really disappointed by the Charcuterie plate, which was mostly prosciutto and kind of mingy.

The staff is always friendly.

And I’d like to give their brunch a try too.

Update: There have been a couple of pizza disappointments as of late. One day, the prosciutto got left off the Guiseppe and on another occasion, the crust wasn’t its usually pleasingly perfect self. When you charge Capocaccia prices, this type of inconsistency isn’t acceptable. We’re falling out of love.
Capocaccia Cafe on Urbanspoon