Friday, March 28, 2008

24. Jewish: Free Times Cafe

Free Times Cafe
320 College Street
(between Bathurst and Spadina)
416 967 1078

The Free Times Cafe, which opened in the south Annex over 25 years ago, has three areas: the bar, the bistro and a larger room at the back which hosts live music nightly. We sat in the bistro section where the decor is a fusion of Victorian parlour and urban chic. Before long, two young ladies at the table opposite were skyping on their laptops.
Like the venue, the menu is divided into sections - Canadian, European Jewish Deli and Israeli Middle Eastern cuisines. Highly recommended is the sweet potato, carrot and ginger soup, small $3.95. We order the Shistawook (marinated grilled chicken breast ) pita with fries $9.25 and the small sized blintz and latke combo, served with apple sauce and sour cream, $7.95.
The Premium house red wine, Masi Valpolicella, was reasonably priced at $6.95 a glass, as was the fair trade, organic decaf coffee at $2.25. Total for two dinners $38.91 plus tip.

Ambiance (4)
Service (3)
Food Presentation (3)
Food Quality (3)
Value for Money (4)

Saturday, March 22, 2008

23. Ukraine: Amber European Restaurant

Amber European Restaurant
2372 Bloor Street West
(just east of Jane St)
416 763 6164

It's easy to walk along the north side of Bloor Street and pass by Amber European Restaurant with its narrow storefront. I have memories of dining there with my older sister when we were teenagers and thought ourselves adventurous and sophisticated for sampling Ukrainian cuisine. I wonder if the business is owned by the same family today.
We were warmly greeted by the serving staff and cheerfully elegant interior. It was quiet when we got there at noon on Saturday but it quickly filled to capacity. Ice water with lemon and rye bread and butter are brought to our table promptly.We order: borsch (cabbage and beet soup) $4.75; chicken soup with meat dumplings, $4.75; potato pancakes, that come with sour cream and applesauce on the side, $7.90; chef salad, $4.95; potato and cheddar pirogies, $10.80; cheese blintzes (crepes filled with cottage cheese and applesauce), $12.00; coffee, herbal tea and soft drinks $2.20 each. The house specialty, Amber schnitzel [pictured here], is a huge portion and comes with a full-sized salad for $20.95. Total bill including tip was just over $100 for six generous lunches.
Although the restaurant is bright and spotlessly clean, there is nothing about the decor that evokes the feel of traditional Eastern Europe.

Ambiance (3)
Service (3)
Food Presentation (3)
Food Quality (3)
Value for Money (3)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

22. Chile: Jumbo Emapanadas

Jumbo Empanadas
245 Augusta Ave
(Kensington Market)
416 977 0056

To Kensington Market and Jumbo Empanadas where you order at the counter and the food is delivered to your table. You need a help yourself approach as they were busy Sunday lunch time with take-out and the friendly waitress was rushed off her feet. We purchased vegetable empanadas, stuffed with mushrooms, spinach, onions and peppers, $3.99. Corn Pie: beef and chicken layered with onion, olives, egg, raisins and topped with sweet corn, $7.60. Humitas: mashed corn, onion and basil wrapped in corn leaves and steamed, $3.99 - a nice speciality. Chilean Salad: lettuce, avocado, tomato, onion and broccoli in an olive oil and cilantro dressing. There was very little oil on the salad - " I haven't enjoyed a salad so much in a long time".
Coffee $1.25, bottled water $2.00. We took home pastries alphajores - flaky layers with "dulce de leche". The empolvados melt in your mouth with pastry dusted with icing sugar - $2.00 each. $36.00 for three generous lunches and pastries to take home. Would I go there again? Yes.
Rating: Ambiance (2)
Service (2)
Food Presentation (3)
Food Quality (3)
Value for Money (4)

Saturday, March 8, 2008

21. China: Dragon Delight

Dragon Delight
825 St Clair Avenue West
(between Oakwood and Christie)
416 657 1448

We trudged through yet another snow storm to 813 St Clair Ave West to find the Exquisito Ecuadorian restaurant not only closed but replaced by a Japanese restaurant called Sushi Sugar. A lesson in not trusting everything you read on the web and a reminder to phone ahead.
Now famished, we duck into the Dragon Delight a few doors down where we were warmly greeted. With a pot of jasmine/green tea in front of us we started to thaw out as we perused the extensive menu.
We selected: Vegetable egg roll, $0.99; Vegetable spring roll $1.45; twin mushroom delight, $6.95; vegetables with cashews, $6.50; Hunan garlic shrimps, $8.95 and ShangHai thick noodles with medium spices, $6.95; vegetable fried rice, $4.50. Of our choices, the ShangHai thick noodles and Hunan garlic shrimps got top marks. Not all the dishes arrived at the same time. For $53 including tip, three of us were well fed and came away with a small "doggy bag".
Most of the diners were local regulars and they do a brisk business in take-outs. "Corner Gas" on tv did not make for a Chinese atmosphere. The decor was typical of Chinese-Canadian restaurants where more food is sent out than eaten in, although they do have a liquor license.
It wasn't what we set out to do, but we'll count the experience as part of the adventure.

Rating: Ambiance (1)
Service (3)
Food Presentation (3)
Food Quality (3)
Value for Money (3)

Saturday, March 1, 2008

20. France: Ma Maison

Ma Maison
4243 Dundas Street West
(at Royal York Road)
416 236 2234

To Ma Maison Boulangerie, Patisserie and Traiteur, where Chef-owner Patrick Alléguède has built a reputation for high quality, authentic French fare. It's located in an unlikely part of town, not what you would call a 'destination'.
On this windy Saturday afternoon, folks are lined up for counter service, and jostling for a table in the dining area which seats sixteen. We sample: bread pudding with crème Anglaise and coffee $7.45; Chicken and mushroom crêpe $3.00; an equisitely light salmon, spinach and dill quiche with tangy beet salad; and superior quality hot cross buns.
There is plenty of parking. A refrigerated case offers "gourmet meals to go". French music contributes to the ambiance. One of our number is a semi-regular here and a newbie is already planning a return trip.

Rating: Ambiance (3)
Service (3)
Food Presentation (3)
Food Quality (4)
Value for Money (3)