May 24, 2010

Gluttony on the go: Toronto, part III

Another place that my friend and I happened upon during my trip to Toronto was the Grindhouse Burger Bar in Downtown Toronto. We had been walking around the area taking in the sights for the better part of the early afternoon and popped into this eatery for a late lunch.

Address: 365 King Street West
Phone: (416) 977-3010
Style: specialty burger bar

Let's start with the great things about this place.

Grindhouse prides itself on the quality and locality of their food. Indeed, everything is made in house and all their burger meat is naturally raised, and hormone, antibiotic and GMO-free. With that kind of conscious effort that goes into the food, it's no surprise that the patrons are willing to pay a bit more for the small portions that they get. Or, in my case, appease the disappointment that there was no desserts available that day. (But more about the small portions and disappointment later.)

It also helps that the place has a snazzy decor to match its personality. With its plush red seats, exposed brickwall and carefully chosen colour palate that extends all the way to the bathroom, it gives off a comfy-yet-sophisticated vibe, which is perfect for its no doubt trendy clientele of downtown urbanites.

The seats lined next to the wall are plush and booth-like. Note the pillows and wall ornaments.

Marble tabletops with little flower centerpieces, slick-looking and (more importantly) well-stocked bar, a harmonious use of red and mellow yellow paints...full points on ambiance and aesthetics.

Then came the food.

Our first reaction was to marvel at how small the portions are. My friend's fish 'n chips was rather small for a 12$ meal, whereas I was skeptical whether my burger and side order of onion rings would even fill me up.

My burger and onion rings. You can tell how small they are in comparison to the mayonnaise dish.

My friend's fish 'n chips. There was exactly four pieces of fish, and only a small handful of fries underneath.

But hey, we thought, if this food is as delicious as it looks and sounds, being all organic and healthy, then its worth its pricetag. Plus, if you think about it, 12$ isn't really that much for a really delish mid-size dish...right? After all, an appetizer from a fancy restaurant would easily set you back more than just 12 bucks, no?

Well, the thing is, this isn't a fancy-schmancy kind of place. And even if it was, I'd still expect the food to be worth its price tag. What Grindhouse aims to be, that is a healthy and specialty burger bar, is all for naught if the burger itself doesn't live up to standards. And boy did my burger not live up to standards. I'm not saying that it was the worst burger that I ever had, but the meat was just on this side of bland and just short of being juicy. Even the onion rings tasted mostly like batter and seasoning. My friend's fish 'n chips were similarly just a bit too tasteless to justify its price.

My meal looked great and I had high expectations due to the restaurant's philosophy, but in the end it just resulted in deeper disappointment. It feels like they started with all the right ingredients, but went wrong somewhere in the process and wound up just out of reach of the wanted result. Which, in a way, is almost worse than being a seedy, lowly-rated eatery. At least that way, you walk in with zero expectations and only end up being mildly surprised by whatever enjoyable food you get, whereas in Grindhouse's case, everything seems so great that you come to expect something fantastic on the food front, only to be sorely disappointed.

Bottom line: great intentions, great presentation, but food doesn't deliver.

May 23, 2010

Gluttony on the go: Toronto, part II

After an afternoon of browsing through the shops of Kensington Market and eating empanadas outside in the sun, we headed over to the ever-affordable Java House Café for some fruity, girly, alcoholic winding-down time. 

Address: 537 Queen Street West 
Phone: (416) 504-3025
Style: an eclectic mix of sandwiches, Asian and pub fare
Hours: I quite honestly have no idea, though I have heard that they open early enough for people to get their morning coffee, and they close at least after 11pm on a Saturday

First off, this is not a place to go if you're looking for a fantastic food experience. Judging by that one evening that we spent there, I'd say that drinks---not food, is this place's forte. Well that, and location (right at the corner of Queen W. and Spadina) and its ridiculously well-priced menu. A sandwich will barely set you back 4$, whereas their generously-sized cocktails start at just over 6$. All in all, my group of three paid a bit over 100$ for 5 pints of the local Steam Whistle brew, 8 cocktails, a pad thai, a BLT sandwich and a plate of nachos. So in other words, it's a great place to hang out with your friends and knock back a few on a breezy  evening. 

Things started out well enough with a delicious piña colada. Sweet, with nice whiff of rum and just enough pineapple flavour---just the way I like it. 

Then came this disappointingly bland pad thai. I could see the colouring, but couldn't taste any of that beloved sweet-tangy flavour. Even the chicken was bland. *sigh*

But a nice lychee martini (sans lychee fruit though) and a very good gin&tonic later, I was ready to try another one of their plates. A BLT was ordered and...well, it tasted like a BLT. Bacon, lettuce and tomato doused in mayo and slapped in between two slices of white bread. Had I tried to make this at home one rushed morning, it would have probably ended up tasting the same. 

They slightly redeemed themselves with the nacho plate. It was appropriately greasy and unhealthy, and they didn't skim on the toppings. (I was however to be once again disappointed when I was informed that they had no desserts that day.) 

So bottom line: go there for drinks, ambiance and the terrace, but not for food. Should you get peckish though, go with failproof dishes that won't set you back too many dollars, in any case. (Oh, and I also hear that they make pretty good coffee in the mornings. That I'd be willing to try!)

May 7, 2010

Gluttony on the go: Toronto, part I

Hi all!
I recently had the pleasure of spending five days in Toronto visiting a friend and taking in the sights. As I am wont to do on all trips, I ate and ate and overate. *sigh* But hey, at least I remembered to take pictures this time!
Day 1: browsing and eating at Kensington Market

Address: 245 Augusta Avenue
Phone: (416) 977-0056 

Style: Latin cuisine, empañadas
Hours: Mon-Sat 9am to 7pm; Sun 11am to 6pm

Smack in the middle of Kensington Market is this little gem. Affordable prices, fresh and delicious food, and a patio deck to bask in the springtime sunshine. Absolutely delightful. I can´t wait to go back again and try their famed corn pie, which has layers of meats, olives, onions, eggs and raisins baked in sweet corn---oh yum!

The place is called "JUMBO empañadas", but we chose to go with the mini ones instead. By all accounts, they are equally delicious and affordable, at only 1$ per piece! (The jumbo ones go for 3.99$ each.) Picture are two beef and two chicken mini ones, with a side of dipping salsa. 

This is the beef one. Absolutely delicious. 

The chicken one. Not as good as the ground beef, but still quite delicious. 

Crisp, fresh and simple Chilean salad. Lettuce, tomato, avocado and onions in a lemon juice/olive oil/coriander vinaigrette. A perfect warm weather side dish. 

And to wash it all down: Mango nectar! (I am absolutely besotted with all things mango and all things nectar, so this is pretty much beverage-nirvana for me...) 

Coming up next: a cheap place for good drinks and mediocre food, TO's infamous street-vendor hot dogs, a so-called specialty burger house and more!