Saturday: Tales from the Bottomless Pit
My week-days are usually dull. Obligatory morning work outs followed up with afternoon serving shifts (and occasionally followed by swim sessions) usually leave me couch-bound with a good book, or a good reality TV show, a bowl of ice cream and cool whip (or burnt popcorn) for the remainder of the evening. And I love it…sometimes even more than I love my weekend indulgences (but that’s only when they don’t go as well as I’d hoped…a bad meal can make me preeetty moody). I love biding my time with my set meal plans all week long, working hard at the gym, so that come Friday or Saturday, I am quite hungry and well-deserving of a treat, or several.
This weekend was no exception. You see, my mama is quite the amazing woman: generous, to a fault, when it comes to those she loves, but frugal when it comes to spoiling herself. Nights out on the town are rare for her, as she can’t justify spending the money on dining out when she is perfectly (more than) capable of cooking an amazing meal at home. But we all need to do a little movin’ and shakin’ every once and a while, so with Summerlicious upon us, I thought it the best opportunity to get mama out of the kitch for once, and into the city she loves so very much for a couple nice meals. Opening weekend we decided to go Greek and had a great lunch experience at Ouzeri (read about it here). This weekend, closing weekend, we decided to visit our most favourite part of the city, Yorkville, for a meal at the semi-recently-opened Ciao Wine Bar. We invited my big bro, CS, fellow pizza aficionado, along as a kind of re-do birthday meal in his honour (as his experience with my mom at Toula the past Monday was less than satisfying).
Well, let bygones be bygones, because our lunch at Ciao definitely surpassed every expectation that Toula failed to fulfill (or so they told me). I had dined at Ciao before in the winter, and thought it was okay but nothing spectacular. But this meal turned me into a believer, and a possibly candidate for Ciao’s official mascot. (Think I could get my hands on one of those life-size costumes, possibly of a mega pizza slice?)
Let me just start by saying how much I love the atmosphere. I’m usually one for smal ler diner-like homey feeling places. Big restaurants tend to strip away the feeling of intimacy I enjoy when I’m dining with good company. But somehow, Ciao, even despite it’s multi-leveled grand-ness, is seeping with European warm-ness. Maybe it’s because of the close tables, maybe it’s the old school brick arches that decorate the bottom floor, or maybe it’s the slabs of curing meat reminiscent of the salumerias of Italy…whatever it is, it works. My grumpy hungry pre-fed mood was instantly replaced by my giddy chitter chatter even before we received our fresh warm foccaccia and kalamata olives.
To be honest, I’m not surprised by the inviting atmosphere and Italian authenticity in the food: Ciao Wine Bar is the newest restaurant venture of the well-known Liberty Group, where there is no shortage Italian heritage. (President and CEO-Nick Di Donato, Executive VP- Pat Di Donato, VP of operations-Vito Ferrone, to name a few)
To start, CS, and I chose the Insalata Caprese, while my mom opted for the Arugula Raddicchio Endive Salad. I had enjoyed that salad the last time I was there, so I decided to try something different. I was kind of disappointed by the portion of greens I received, but I guess it was probably a good thing, as gluttony would soon take over once my main arrived. The seasoning on my bocconccini was enough to give it a nice taste without making the light cheese seem overpowered (or soggy). But I would definitely recommend the arugula salad first–so fresh with a lemon and oil dressing, and the Portobello mushrooms are grilled to a meaty goodness.
For our mains, Mom-Sac and I both went for the Diavola Pizza–with mozzarella, roasted red peppers and spicy Calabrese salami. CS went his normal vegetarian root, and got the Quattro Stagioni (normally one of my favourites)–consisting of 1/4 grilled eggplant, 1/4 roasted pepper, 1/4 grilled zucchini and 1/4 grilled mushrooms and black olives. I usually go for the veggie-loaded pizzas, but was so content with my saltier meatier choice that I wasn’t even tempted to steal CS’ leftovers. It was amazing. Thin crust, wood-oven at its best. Not burnt and crunchy, not too greasy, and with a nice fluffy crust still intact (of course with some obligatory crunchy patches). AND–added bonus–it was humongous. But that didn’t stop lil’ old me–I ate everything. CS and Mom-Sac stared at me in shock (and probably disgust), with their plates only half clean, as I happily shoveled the last piece of crust into my mouth. I explained to them that my heart really does belong to pizza and when I find a good one I do not let any of it go to waste. I even had to finish off some of their discarded pieces, just so I could live with myself! (this was strictly out of concern for the environment and our continent’s serious waste issues)
I asked our waitress to quickly clear our plates, before I ended up eating the equivalent of two personal pizzas. Plus, with my salty tooth satisfied, I was twitching for something sweet. We all chose the Cannoli Siciliani, a beloved dessert of my childhood, featured at almost all Italian functions and the occasional Sunday family lunch, coming from none other than our lovely corner Molisana. I loved them–I’m not a fan of custardy cream so I loved the cheesy ricotta filling these ones had (and the hint of lemon was nice too, lemon in dessert is so essential to me). But the crusts were a bit too cookie-like and crunchy than we prefer. It didn’t matter (again), I ate all three, plus Mom-Sac’s discarded half.
I don’t know why so many people knock Summerlicious. Every one of my experiences this year were great. I was both shocked and grateful at the value of each and every meal I ate. And as for poor service? Really, it wasn’t that horrible. Maybe not the quickest, but who cares? When I go out to eat, I want to relax and take my time anyways. It is a rare occasion to dine without having to get to work, get to the gym, clean the house, so when I get out to a restaurant, I don’t want the experience to end before I have time to remember it even beginning.
Sunday: Confessions of a Health Fanatic
My normally food-adventerous Saturday was kind of swapped for Friday this week. After longer-than-expected lunch shift, I came home and enjoyed a standard weeknight meal of leafy greens+lean protein. I went to bed early in anxious anticipation of my morning 10km run with EC and her bf RB .
The Beaches Jazz Tune Up was held in, ugh, The Beaches (Toronto’s East End:Victoria Park, Coxwell, Queen St East areas).
Today was my first time ever visiting the area, sadly, but I must must share with you just how much I loved it there. EC said it right, this place just screamed me. With both The Beaches’ Jazz Festival, and the Tune Up, the strip was buzzing. The strip is lined with the types of specialty shops I always look for in the city: chocolatiers, pie shops, gluten free bakeries, and street side fruit markets (where I scored the giant size white flesh peaches I fell in love with Positano). Happy people were everywhere– and not just any kind of happy people–happy people with dogs. Okay something you must learn about me, I love dogs probably more than I love humans. Seriously–it’s actually possible I’ll forfeit children in my future for a house filled with labs and miniature bulldogs. I probably annoyed EC and RB by the end of the day with my constant gawking at every pooch which strutted past us, but I just can’t help it. I grew up with dogs my whole life– when I was younger we had Chico and Juno, and after they passed we got Mugho (whom I essentially grew up with). All three were beautiful Laborador Retrivers (obviously my absolute favourite breed). I knew Mugho best, as Chico and Juno passed when I was still pretty young, and he was always a best friend of mine–my guardian on nights I spent alone when M-Sac and Mom-Sac both took night courses and CS and Daddio were at work late, a source of humour when he constantly ran into closed doors, and the occasionally annoyance when he creeped up on me as I lay on the couch to give me a face wash with his tongue. (I miss you fattie)
Anyways, back to The Beaches, needless to say, I was tempted more than once to untie one of the Mugho-dogs (my family’s term for Labs) who patiently waited for his owner to finish brunch at the countless cute cafes and diners that line Queen St East, and take him home with me.
After an awesome run (we all finished in less than an hour Go Team, my time was 48mins and 51 seconds, woo hoo!), we took a stroll down Queen for a lovely brunch at The Beacher Cafe. It was actually the quintessential diner experience. Our server, who spoke to us like we were old friends, apologized in advance for her potential poor service due to a late night at the Jazz Festival. Her witty and sarcastic personality with dry humour=fit the bill perfectly. EC got the smoked salmon scrambled eggs with home fries and Texas toast (with a side of PB, they know the way to EC’s heart) (which looked amazing and prompted me to text Mom-Sac to add smoked salmon to her Fortino’s list), RB got Egg’s Florentine, which featured poached eggs on sautéed spinach with a buttery croissant and The Beacher’s famous house Hollandaise sauce. I, feeding off my fit-feeling from a successful run, went for the Health Breakfast–poached egg over sautéed spinach, fresh fruit, cottage cheese and an english muffin.
All of our meals went down with ease and served as the perfect re-fuel. Even despite being quite a ways down Queen, the place was still jammed (we grabbed one of the last patio seats). From the welcome in and seat yourself service style (complete with a seat yourself sign probably still standing from opening day over 20 years ago), the faded blue carpeted floors, and the background buzz of locals out for a late brunch after a later night at the Jazz Festival, we couldn’t have asked for a more authentic Beaches experience. Maybe one day, if my salary permits, I might consider myself a local too, for now, it will be a thought that remains in my dreams.
**Note: I must encourage anyone interested in signing up for any type of run to try out The Beaches Jazz Tune Up next year. They cater to every level of runner with 5km, 10km and 20km runs. The route is flat and the views make for a beautiful distraction–you start off running along the famous Beaches boardwalk and then move on to Lake Shore where your face to face with the Toronto Skyline. It’s a training/ warm up for the Scotiabank Waterfront Marathon, so it’s seriously affordable (if you opt out of the souvenir t-shirt, you only pay $5 for registration). You’ll definitely find me there next summer.