Ottawa is 3,366 km from Mexico but quite suddenly I am a mere 10 metres from truly authentic Mexican cuisine. The drab, generic strip-mall location is quite a distance away from Cabo San Lucas but this should not deter you from experiencing the genuine Mexican classic dishes found at Taqueria la bonita.
Next up, we went for the Coconut-poached halibut. The buttery and tender fish was topped with mango, Thai basil and fresh chili giving every bite an elegant and complex mix of fresh, spicy and sweet.
Finally dessert time had arrived. I’ve never had donuts at a sit-down restaurant, but I was ready. Bring on the white chocolate mint and the white chocolate with cranberry mini donuts. Served pipping hot, they were light and airy with a sweet thin glaze. Easy to eat and share, they were very much worth the wait. I can see myself becoming obsessionally passionate about these swoon-worthy creations.
One thing I observed as the restaurant passed from buzzy happy hour to more serious dinner service, the space retained an almost serene atmosphere, a calmness that can only be described as a pleasure to the senses. We were able to have a conversation without resorting to hollering at each other. Very refreshing.
As for the food, it belongs in rarefied circles. Sidedoor’s chef Jonathan Korecki has been able to elevate the lowly donut and taco and make them so good that they transcend mere adjectives. Having now dined there, regular appearance on the “best-of-the-best lists” come as no surprise. Consider this food blogger’s taste buds amazed. My dreams are now occupied with tacos and donuts!
To travel to Boston is to be transported into a world juxtaposed between modern and historic. Gleaming contemporary architecture sit by centuries-old brick structures. Monuments to fallen heroes live side-by-side with Hubway bikes. It is a city that has carefully preserved its history yet is undaunted by the future. Always striving to move forward yet never forgetting where it’s been.
Much the same can be said for its cuisine. Classic dinning establishments are revered all the while new innovative eateries are championed. The art of good eating is a vital component of Boston. On my latest jaunt, I acted as if I had been suddenly dropped into the epicenter of this vibrant city and I set off on a little culinary adventurism. Determined to discover old as well as new heroes.
|229 Harvard Street, Brookline, MA|
|Butternut Squash, Ricotta and Cranberry|
|Spinach, White Bean and Roasted Garlic|
|Mashed Potato, Bacon and Scallion|
I stayed at one of the most historical hotels in all of America and I can’t recommend it enough. Opened in 1855 by Harvey D. Parker and located on School Street near the corner of Tremont, not far from the seat of the Massachusetts state government, the Omni Parker House Hotel has long been a rendezvous for politicians.
The hotel was home to the Saturday Club, also referred to as the Saturday Night Club, which consisted of literary dignitaries such as Charles Dickens, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Oliver Wendell Holmes. Sr. Charles Dickens resided in the Parker House for two years in his own apartments and first recited and performed “A Christmas Carol” at the Saturday Club at the Parker House. The Parker House currently holds possession of Charles Dickens lock and key to his apartment door and also his mirror.
The Parker House perfected the Boston cream pie, which is more of a cake than a pie. Created by Armenian-French chef M. Sanzian at Boston’s Parker House Hotel in 1856, this pudding and cake combination comprises two layers of sponge cake filled with vanilla flavored custard or crème pâtissière. The cake is topped with a chocolate ganache.
The joint effort of a former Californian and a Boston chef, Dorado brings authentic Mexican to Boston’s Brookline area. Dorado tacos are the real deal. Made with soft homemade tortillas, they’re stuffed with your choice of grilled sirloin steak, marinated chicken or perfectly charred veggies. I went for the fish taco ensenada. Beer-battered Atlantic whitefish, cabbage, salsa fresca, pickled onions and Baja crema. Its the crunch of the fish and all those flavours that make this tacos irresistible. I’m still thinking about it weeks later. I also tried the house-made chorizo taco with guacamole and salsa fresca which was equally as delicious and flavourful. And for less than six dollars for two gourmet tacos, how could you go wrong?
Now that Shake Shack is in town, there’s really no reason to go anywhere else for burgers and fries. Located in historic Cambridge, Mass., the Harvard Square Shack’s menu features all the Shake Shack classics (I had the ShackBurger) along with the MInT Chocolate concrete (chocolate custard, mint marshmallow sauce and chocolate truffle cookie dough), the Crimson Red Velvet (vanilla frozen custard blended with a slice of crimson red velvet cake from South End Buttery Bakery) and the Lobstah Shell concrete (Vanilla custard, lobstah tail pastry shell from Boston’s North End, strawberry puree and ricotta cream). Good times in the Commonwealth!
Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe has won numerous awards over the years (most notably for its turkey hash), culminating in the reception of a James Beard Award in 2005.
I’m glad I went. Throngs of people came and went to wish the owner good luck. Asked what he was going to do when the shoppe is closed, he was overhead saying, “I’m going to sleep in.” Very well deserved, I say.
A mere four hours drive from where I reside, Toronto always holds the promise of adventure and escape from the everyday. It’s a juggernaut of money, culture, sports and beautiful people. And for a few times a year, I make it my personal playground!
Some restaurants in Toronto far exceed their peers. Amid all if its 8,000 dinning establishments, David Chang’s Momofuku is my favourite. The Noodle Bar in particular. It’s tucked neatly next to the Shangri-La Hotel on University Ave.
Let’s talk about the food. Ah, the food. The Momofuku Ramen has shredded pork shoulder, creamy pork belly, green onions, a soft poached egg and fish cakes floating on tender noodles and submerged in the most delicious broth. The clam noodles included said clams, scallions, miso, noodles, the delicous broth as well as a heaping spoonful of chilis. If you are heat-averse, this isn’t the dish for you. The Momofuku Pork Buns are what foodie-dreams are made of. Fluffy pillows of bread enveloped around soft pork belly, stuffed with pickled cucumbers, scallions and a dollop of hoisin sauce. Upstairs is Momofuku Milk Bar which is more of a glassed-in walk-in-fridge than a bar. Still, it contains Crack Pie, a lavish object of my desire. Believe me when I say that I would shatter the glass walls to get my hands on that pie. Once you start eating this rich-sweet-salty-buttery-silky pie, you won’t be able to stop. I am for sure, addicted.
|momofuku ramen – pork belly & shoulder, fish cake, egg|
|steamed pork buns – pork belly, hoisin, cucumbers, scallions|
|Chocolate Malt Cake Truffles|
Another gustatory obsession of mine is Chipotle Mexican Grill. The ingredients are laid out in front of you so you get to choose the perfect combo to assemble the perfect meal. Take for instance the burrito bowl. Served in a bowl (hence the name, clever, eh?) you get your choice of cilantro-lime rice, pinto or black beans, meat (braised carnitas or barbacoa, adobo-marinated and grilled chicken or steak) or guacamole, salsa and cheese or sour cream. Chipotle describes it as “a burrito in a bowl and filled with dreams.” Speaking of burrito, the Chipotle Burrito is also what dreams are made of. A flour tortilla stuffed with your choice of the above burrito-bowl ingredients. Not sure why Chipotle has not yet expanded to Ottawa. My friends and family could keep the company afloat with our healthy appetites alone. Chipotle, come to Ottawa, already!
Eating out is grand but eating-in can be just as satisfying. Especially when someone else is doing the cooking. Lucky for me, my pal’s family is always up for playing gracious hosts. One night we were served a savory dish of Kale with Balsamic Vinaigrette and Meatballs alongside a spectacular Mango-Coconut Quinoa Salad. I loved everything but went back for seconds for the salad. Dressed in sweet balsamic and lime juice, and loaded with tons of fruits and vegetables, this salad was a standout. There’s something about the kindness and thoughtfulness put into a meal that makes everything taste better. Not to get all lovey but I’m lucky and grateful to have these people in my life, if only for a few weekends a year.
|Kale with Balsamic Vinaigrette and Meatballs|
The real reason behind our TO escapde was to be amongst my beloved Red Sox who were in town to play the Jays. It was my first ball game of the season. I love the sights and sounds of baseball. The crack of the bat, the scent of hot dogs in the air, the cheering fans. It was cool to see Big Papi and Peddey. And the Sox won both games. Good times. Although the poor guy sitting near us who got carried out on a strecher by the medics may have had a bit too much of a good time.
Other than seeing the Red Sox win, the highlight of the trip was taking in the breathtaking Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, located adjacent to the CN Tower.
The Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada is 12,500-square-metres with 5.7-million litres of marine and freshwater habitats from across the world. The website states that the aquarium has more than 13,500 exotic sea and freshwater creatures, comprising more than 450 species.
Everywhere you looked it was a fish frenzy. The most stunning part of the aquarium was the Dangerous Reef exhibit, which has a 96-metre-long moving sidewalk (the longest in North Amercia) through an acrylic tunnel deep below the 2.84-million litre Shark Lagoon, a habitat occupied by 3 to 3.7-metre-long sand tiger sharks, largetooth sawfish and green sea turtles. It felt like we were submerged in the ocean. Sick. Yes, I’m gushing but upon visiting, you’ll understand. The aquarium is a wonder all to itself. You must go. NOW!
And that with that, a fitting end to our Toronto excursion. Lots of fantastic food, kind family, the Sox, and a very cool aquarium. Thanks T Dot. Till next time!
El Camino is the most trendy, of-the-moment, “it” hot-spot in Ottawa right now. Imagine a taco stand that’s achingly cool and a haven for O-Town’s social butterflies. Taking no reservations and making eager diners line up forever-and-a-day to gain entry only serves to perpetuate its mystique. But make no mistake about it, the food is worth the wait.
This gourmand outpost built its fast-developing reputation on the strength of the tacos. The tacos are what has lured most. And the tacos are good. Delicious, in fact. We sampled four of the five on the menu: Beef, Cripsy Fish, Pork and Ox Tongue. Surprisingly, the latter was the favourite of the bunch. Tender charred meat was well married with the sloppy collection of sauces, spices and toppings. The fact that the “winning” taco was delectable helped with the reality that I was tasting something that could once taste me back.
But if you’ve come for the tacos, please stay for the salad. What was a throw-away suggestion (…wanna try a salad?”) turned into a gastronomical event of epic proportions. I’m talking about the
Green Papaya Salad. This noteworthy gem combines strips of green papaya, bean sprouts and tomatoes tossed with fish sauce, peanuts, garlic and lime juice. This salad cleverly achieves the artful balance between sweet, spicy, tangy and amazing.
Now, am I suggesting that you run to El Camino to set your place in line with the mob of foodies, stumble-upons and downtown hipsters? Uh, yes. But once you get in, just don’t forget to order the salad.
El Camino is located at 380 Elgin St. in Ottawa.
|Starting from the left, pork, fish, tongue and beef tacos.|
Have you ever tasted something so rapturous, so luscious, so drool inducing that it almost made you weep? Where successive rounds of “OMIGOD’s” were uttered because it felt as if you were being transported from the here and now? Ladies and Gentlemen, let me introduce you to The Manx Pub‘s pulled-pork tacos (PPT)! Filled with copious amounts of sumptuous meat, dressed with a rich flavourful sauce and topped with buttery avocado, the chef at The Manx was able to elevate these tacos from mere plebeian to out-of-body experience.
The tacos sparked discussion. We debated on the merits of soft shell vs. hard shell and my friend astutely noted that by crisping the soft shell it allowed the whole to remain intact and impervious to pesky leakages. Not to say that the PPT’s weren’t messy. They were definitely a chin-dripping 5-napkin affair. The genius, however was in the full package. The tender meat, the blend of spices, and the outer taco shell were harmoniously unified to near flawlessness.
If there is an award for best taco, best meal, best restaurant of 2013 (and I know there is) and if there is a God (and I for sure know there is) this award must, IT MUST go to The Manx for its pulled-pork tacos. This is not an exaggeration or excessive hyperbole. It’s straight-out reverence for a job well done. Excellence must be rewarded.
These tacos are from the “specials” menu. Here’s hoping they make it up to the big leagues of the “mains.” But in case not, you must run right now to get your fix. Me? I’ll be telling the world about my taco moment!
P.S. You have but a few mere months to enjoy these blurry pictures. iPhone 5s is coming! iPHONE 5S IS COMING!!!
New England native Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once wrote, “I have an affection for a great city. I feel safe in the neighborhood of man, and enjoy the sweet security of the streets.” Although I can’t be absolutely certain, I suspect that he could have been rhapsodizing about Boston, a city that he and I both share a great affection for.
Boston is like a second home to me. I love its people, its buildings and I love riding the T. Boston is where I sleep the best. It’s where I’m happiest and feel safest. It’s where my beloved Red Sox play and best of all, it’s where I have the coolest dinning experiences. Check out some of the haunts I frequented during my latest visit.
After months away from the city, I crave pizza. And I always run to Upper Crust, a pizzeria offering a Neapolitan-style, thin crust pizza. There are various locations throughout the greater Boston area. The Beacon Hill restautrant has community tables, where customers share the dining space. Over the years, it has been awarded the titles of “Best Gourmet Pizza” and “Boston’s Best Pizza”from local media. And it’s my personal favourite.
My next stop was John F. Kennedy’s first home out in Brookline. It was the first day of tours after being closed for winter. JFK lived in the Beals street house from birth through his toddler years. The first floor contains the living room, dining room, and kitchen. The dining room is set up as it was for a typical meal in the Kennedy household. You’ll notice the kids’ table on the left. The tour guide noted that the dining room is where Papa Joseph would quiz the kids on current events. They were expected to be able to debate and discuss, even at a young age. This is where it all began!
The tour guide played us a recording of family matriarch Rose Kennedy narrating the goings-on in the kitchen. The kitchen is set up as it would have been around 1917.
After the tour, I headed to Kupel’s bakery to pick up some bagels and some iced tea. Kupel’s is listed by epicurious.com as one of the best bagel shops in America. I have to agree. The bagels were soft and chewy. IMHO, they were the best bagels I have ever tasted.
While walking up Harvard Ave. in Brookline, I spotted Dorado’s. I remembered it being listed as one of the best taco restaurants in Boston. This place serves high-quality, authentic mexican food. I ordered shrimp tacos (chipotle marinated and beer battered shrimp, jicama, pineapple salsa, Baja crema). Simply amazing and delicious. They crunchiness of the battered shrimp and jicama combined with the freshness of the pineapple salsa and the tang of Baja crema made this a perfect taco. When you’re in Boston next, skip the many Mexican chain restaurants and head to Dorado’s. Next time I am there, I want to try the cemitas, a popular sandwich from the south-central Mexican state of Puebla.
Listen, I don’t like to say not-so-nice things about food establishments that are clearly putting forth an effort. But TacoLot is not so fantastic. I agreed with my friend’s statement, “I really wanted to like this place.” I really did. But I ended up disappointed. TacoLot’s got much going for it. It’s in the getting trendier by the minute Hintonburgh area. It’s a hut on a lot. It’s an easy to walk to neighbourhood joint. And it serves the ever popular tacos. But the aforementioned tacos are pretty unspectacular. So bland that even a hot sauce couldn’t spice up. The tortillas were dry and almost crusty. The rice was unexpectedly sticky. Even the pico de gallo was flavourless. I’m willing to chalk this up to a bad night and give it another try maybe later on this summer. But for now at least, I’m left dreaming of a better taco. Any suggestions?
|TacoLot – 995 Wellington Street West|
|Pork tacos platter|
Is it sad that one of my favourite places to eat in Toronto is Chipotle Mexican Grill? I mean, T.O. is home to a bevy of gourmet restaurants and we choose to eat at a fast casual dinning spot. We actually plan out our outings around this place. It helps that Chipotle is on Yonge and Eglinton which is near pretty much everything. Oh, as an aside, if you need sweet cheap kitchen stuff, check out Kitchen Stuff Plus on Yonge street, just a few blocks down from Chipotle.
Here’s how Chipotle works. You choose between burritos, tacos, burrito bowls and salads. Then you customize with your choice of meats or you go veggie like I did. Then come the fillers. Guacamole, salsa, cheese, beans, corn, fajita vegetables, lettuce and cilantro-lime rice. That rice is sick and one of the things that sets this place apart from Adobo or Qdoba. My veggie burrito was the size of a small poodle. Their slogan is “It’s not just a burrito. Its a foil-wrapped, hand-crafted, local farm supporting, food culture changing cylinder of deliciousness.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. If you’re in Toronto, go now. If you’re in Ottawa like me, petition. Cause I need to feed my addiction.
|My veggie burrito|
|Zoom in on my veggie burrito. Looks gross close-up but when it’s in my mouth, it’s mmm.|
|My friend’s chicken burrito. She ate every bite!|
For all the years I’ve been going to Boston, I’ve heard about this place in Harvard Square called Felipe’s Taquaria. Frankly, Chipotle suited my needs for mexican fare just fine. But it’s not exactly authentic. So one night before a Red Sox game, I sought out Felipe’s. It’s on Mount Auburn street near JFK. I had the soft steak tacos. They were fine I guess. I liked that you get to pile on extra condiments like tomatoes and radishes. Service was fast enough. But I don’t get the hype. Maybe I’m missing something? I might be back to try the burrito’s. I hear those are good. The again, Chipotle’s burrito’s are pretty sick.
|Steak tacos with fixings|