Let’s Go to the Ex-treme!

CNE Entrance arrWhere do the deliciously good – but, bad for you – and hungry meet? The EX! Also referred to as the Canadian National Exhibition, this 18-day stream of fun carnival rides, games, competitions, and shopping is Toronto’s annual gathering spot for the latest finds – including, fair fare.CNE Ferris Wheel arr

Carrying a no holds bar approach to all that is blissfully sweet and fried, satisfying your need to feed is by no means difficult. Here, walk and feast your way to a surplus of guilty pleasures. Sugar shack or hot potato stand, food caddies are not so far nor away. Already bagged or cooked to order, merry-go-round your way to a vast selection of artery-clogging classics – cotton candy, popcorn, hamburgers, corndogs, and more.CNE Cotton Candy arrCNE Corn arr

Topping the list, however, of fried ‘show-offs’ remains one intact batter-dipped reveal – the “Colossal Onion.” Move aside “spiral spuds,” this novel take on the onion ring is an atypical festive blossom. Deep-fried entirely whole – in all its fist-size splendour – there’s minimal chance of losing any fly-away pieces of this golden bulb. Inherently, the only disappearing act is the devouring of this layered vegetable aromatic – one crispy strip at a time.CNE Colossal Onion arr

The CNE, undoubtedly, is known for its grand spectacle of unusual eats. Just follow the arrow-route road, and enter an enclosed snack-attack compound – the “Food Building.” CNE Spice Cream arrAlso, home of the infamous “Cronut Burger,” weird-food aficionados can easily exchange one missed tasting opportunity for another. Taking taste buds on a flavour ride, Just Cone It puts a spin on the common crêpe cone by making theirs “dirty” – with a smear of Nutella. Fans of edible geometry can even get their hands on the “Spice Cream” cone. Combination of hot and cold, this fully-loaded handheld comes equipped with vanilla ice-cream, chocolate hazelnut spread, bacon bits, and chilli peppers. Evidently, the math is simple – sweet plus savoury equals an irresistibly refreshing piquant treat. CNE Sand Sculpture arr

Aside from the collaboratively entertaining dinner and dessert duo – “dinnert” wrap – the sand sculpting competition and garden show are worth a look as well. CNE Chuck arrBut, on my day off, I had my eyes set on one specific site – the Food Network Celebrity Stage. If it sounds, looks, and cooks like Chuck, can it be? ‘Absolument!’ Yes, indeed, I was in the presence of Chef Hughes, doing was he does best – sharing his passion for food – live on stage! Accompanied by Danny Smiles, former Top Chef Canada competitor, the tag-team prepared a storm of dishes for two fortunate audience members. Still happy-go-lucky – post the hour-long demonstration – I received my share of attention from the Montréal natives with a brief, yet memorable, encounter. Delightful to watch, both on and off-screen, these masters of the trade are kind, skilled and clearly hardworking – above all, the ‘exhibiting talents’ at this year’s fair.

Copyright © DISHFUL, 2013.

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Cloud Nine Dining with a Rear Window

CN Tower Exterior arr“You spin me round…baby!” En route to downtown Toronto, I knew the exact upscale destination to celebrate a momentous evening. Among the city’s innumerable fine-dining establishments, I was in pursuit of an unconventional experience; someplace ‘different’ that also included a tantalizing gourmet menu, and a room revealing of an unforgettable illuminated skyline. Given an epicurean’s glass is always full – of pleasure – clearly, I wasn’t asking for too much.

360 V View arrConsciously deciding to break with habit – forgoing typical ground-level eating – I made my way to one of the tallest free-standing buildings in the world, the CN Tower. Standing erect, at 1151 feet, this modern architectural wonder inarguably boasts an impressionable exterior. Fixated on the revolving pod, however, I had my sights on another engineered structure – a scenic meal, at 360 Restaurant.

Acrophobe or not, there are only two means of “moving up” within this high-rise. Choice is yours, climb 1776 steps or take a 58-second elevator ride. Luckily, unaffected by vertigo, boarding one of six operating glass elevators was the appropriate decision to heed. Time is money, after all, and at 22km/hour this vertical trip certainly guarantees a timely arrival, and peak return on investment – one risk worth taking for a scrumptious reward. 360 Menu arr

Eyes wide open, I stepped into the elevator and was ready to be lifted – up and away! Saying ‘adieu’ to pedestrians, canvassing the city streets below, these moving figures quickly turned into tiny specs to later diminish from view altogether; and, all in less than a minute’s time. To sum up, this ride was over before it began! “Hakuna matata,” nonetheless, as transporting infinitely beyond – my usual boundaries – directed me to an out-of-this-world ‘vining’ and dining venue.

360 Appetizer arrPicture this: soft candlelit indoor ambience, a panoramic view of T.O.’s skyscrapers, and astute servers patiently waiting to seat, treat, and indulge your every beck and call. Gourmand novices rejoice – you’re home! In this revolving bubble, the sky’s the limit when it comes to spoiling your love of executively prepared cuisine and a vast selection of bottled fermented grapes. Rightly understood, there’s indeed an on-locale humidified cellar that houses thousands of aged wines.

360 Main arrBeautiful sights studied and absorbed, I was set for my close-up – a three-course meal. To start, my olive garden appetizer consisted of sliced freshly hand-stretched buffalo mozzarella, sautéed rapini and earthy wild mushrooms, tomatoes, and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar reduction; a polychromatic burst of sweet, tart, salty, slightly bitter and creamy components. Already covering several flavour profiles, my second plate was apparent of a richly satisfying feast. In this case, plating more – in hearty texture and taste – does result in an absolute ‘merrier’ patron. In subsequent presentation, glazed Cornish game hen served with tenderly crisp ‘haricots verts,’ and a sweet bed of starch tubers reinforced an exuberating inner-sensation – royal treatment for a day! 360 Dessert arr

The procession of monarch eats, thus far, only left me welcoming the glorified crown finale – enrobed dark chocolate mousse. Exclusively decadent and adorned with touches of seasonal fresh berries, this towering dessert was cater-made – a custom-designed ending – to stand over the ‘crème river Anglaise,’ where raspberry coulis strategically rules the waves. Fit for a queen or a queen of – artichoke – hearts, high-times do call for high-measures as seen and lived in this ‘elevated’ dining experience.

Copyright © DISHFUL, 2013.

My Big Fat Greek Day

Danforth Street arrFor some Torontonians, sizzling days of summer can only mean one thing – food festivals! No myth here, this city is host to an eclectic array of international cuisine, including a three-day marathon of the finest in street meat. Joining the urban stampede, I made my way to the heart of Greek Town – Danforth Avenue – for ‘opa’ worthy skewered carnivorous bites.

Hellenic Gods smiling, I got more than just Greek fare at this year’s Taste of the Danforth. Conveniently guided by ballooning clouds of grey, where there is smoke there’s undoubtedly fire. Pleasingly so, charcoal-flamed ‘hot spots’ served my senses well, guiding me to paramount offerings of authentic Mediterranean cuisine ranging in starters, mains and desserts. Danforth Salad Souvlaki arr

Fueling my inner-Olympian – long distance food traveller – I commenced my epic feast with an iron-rich favourite in spinach and cheese wrapped spanakopita; an aromatic herbed triangle not to be missed, unless you’re a fictional character – sorry Popeye. Fortunately, being in the right place, I moved on to witness more appetizing butter-brushed layers of flaky phyllo sheets. Also in production and ready for consumption, baklava! Soaked in mouth-watering simple syrup, this nutty package uses the same thin dough to contain an energy-boosting filling of ground walnuts and sugar. Sweet or savoury, masses clearly are all Zorba’s at heart, embracing life’s simple pleasures – delicious
handmade pastries.

Danforth Quail arrEntertainment abound, folkloric sounds of bouzouki (mandolin) kept me pleasantly occupied as I recorded another personal best, in expected wait-time, as I stood in queue for succulent pieces of marinated meat. Ears melodically-content, I knew I was in for more enriching lessons – a plate of classical foodology upon receiving grilled souvlaki. Yes, it does taste like – moist lemon and oregano-infused – chicken! Also available on a stick or gyros, try flavourful tender pork carvings with some thick and zesty garlic tzatziki or opt for something new and ‘gamey’ at this triathlon of eats – whole roasted quail. Basted in its golden juices, this gorgeous bronze bird spins – like no other – on a spitfire, low and slow.

Clearly having fun, my day at the Danforth was made more eventful with a celebrity sighting. Meeting and greeting former NHL player Nick Kypreos was unanticipated, yet a pleasant ‘taste’ of welcoming charm. Delighting hockey enthusiasts, young and old, Mr. Kypreos was kind to take time to engage with fans at this local autograph signing. Evidently catering to more than just hungry appetites, this downtown food festival feeds all your senses – proportionately Greek full.

Copyright © DISHFUL, 2013.

American Pie

Penn's Farm Horses arrTravelling borders, you know you’re in Dutch Country – Pennsylvania – when you see: miles of relaxing green pastures, man-made windmills, and a landmark of tradition in unchanged symbolic Germanic references in décor and timeless regional cuisine.Dutch Pantry Windmill arr

High hopes for “sugar pie, honey bunch?” Taking it easy, I got a taste of old-country heritage along a roadside stop, at the Dutch Pantry; the next best substitute to grandma’s kitchen. Offering smothery warm and comforting hugs – on a plate – the fritter and apple dumpling selections will undoubtedly leave you cinnamon-kissed with wholesome love. While tart lemon meringue and coconut cream pies also remain fixtures on the classic menu, one freshly baked good left me both amused, and equally intrigued – “shoo-fly pie.” Dutch Pantry Motif arr

A deep-dish delight, formerly unbeknownst to me, I marveled in fascination as I wanted to learn more. And so, I had to take an intermittent pose from my daily business – of eating lunch – to detect this charming ‘wunderbar.’ Es-pie-onage in effect, examination of the golden and flaky crust exterior is revealing of flour and butter used for this typical pastry dough base. Continuing with a subsequent character profile, “shoo-fly’s” bubbly and burnt tinged surface is accurately indicative of its moist filling; a mixture of brown sugar, magnesium-rich molasses, eggs and creamy butter that makes for an unapologetically luring humble pie. Analysis and inspection complete, I deduce this syrupy shelled dessert to be a homegrown native – this state’s ultimate ‘sweetie pie.’ Dutch Pantry Menu arr

Still, why ‘shoo’ and ‘fly’? Eureka – I got it! Matching the modest lifestyle and traditional fare of the Pennsylvania Dutch, the answer is as understated. Irresistibly aromatic, the pie’s sweet contents are too tempting to ignore, making perfect sense for its attraction and one’s aim to detract – “shoo” away – flies. It’s that simple! Baking no-fuss pies, the Pennsylvanian Dutch unclutter life from unnecessary complications, and refer to things as they are – no sugar-coating. City folk or not, all can agree that this simple pie is what it is – ‘das Deutsch-gut!’

Copyright © DISHFUL, 2013.

Stop and Savour Violas!

Retiro Park arr“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet…” Irrespective of title, Juliette was right to hold intrinsic value in matters of true substance – her Romeo. Agreeably, beauty can be identified anywhere and at any given moment.

La Violeta Exterior arrRoses in full bloom, how can one pass on inhaling nature’s potpourri? At Parque del Buen Retiro, I did just that – stroll and sniff – in a not-so-secret garden. Ethereally intoxicated – ‘love’ at first scent – my senses were showered by this madrileño park’s euphoric blend of floral sweetness. One balmy splash, ‘al fresco,’ and I wanted more of Mother Nature’s offerings. People consume herbs, I pondered, why not flowers? Seriously! Skepticism aside, consider the following: tarragon, rose water, and perfume; we’ve all either tried, heard or spritzed one of the aforementioned blossom-rich contents.La Violeta Candies arr

Amazingly, having formerly asked, I did receive sought-after aromatic nectar at La Violeta – a greenhouse of violet hard candy. Located in Plaza de Canalejas, this confectionary boutique specializes in sophisticated bonbons that leaves ‘green thumbs’ in the know for something wonderful – what doesn’t grow together can still go together. Creatively pairing the edible purple flower with melted sugar, potent essence is used to ultimately cultivate a new species of fragrant ‘caramelos’ (candy). La Violeta Tin arr

At this candy orchard, a little – shrunken violet – goes a long way. Lovely in look and smell, the solid state of these concentrated indulgences leave odds in your favour for requited and enduring taste – to the last frosted petal! Both an edible bouquet and ideal souvenir, ‘caramelos’ are highly enjoyable and come attractively packaged in motif boxes, tins, and glass or porcelain containers of varying sizes and price points. With my very own capsulated bunch of ‘eau de violette,’ parting Madrid allows for a continuum of such sweet ‘blue’ nostalgia.

Copyright © DISHFUL, 2013.