Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Courtyard on Locke: Hamilton, Ontario

Berries & nuts salad
I think that one of Hamilton’s lesser known gems is the Courtyard on Locke. Yes, it is a bit more expensive than some of its neighbours, but the food and overall dining experience make it a worthwhile stop for any Hamilton foodie looking for a quiet, refined and delicious meal.

The Courtyard is one of those restaurants that fits somewhere between casual and fine dining. Would I wear jeans? No. That being said, the place nor the 
Lobster sliders
service feels stuffy or pretentious. The atmosphere is calm, modern and elegant. At night the restaurant offers a cozy, dimly lit intimate setting and during the summer, the courtyard in the back makes for a perfect outdoor brunch locale. A bonus feature is that they use Riedel wine glasses. While I am both too clumsy/too cheap to buy these for myself, I have to admit that using the right glass for the right type of wine truly makes a difference!*
Steak & frites
When I visited for dinner awhile back, I went with my mom and aunt who strongly recommended this restaurant. We started with appetizers and wine, ordered 3 different mains and left feeling very satisfied and full! While the menu has changed since my last visit, I hope this post offers you a small glimpse at the quality of their food and diversity of their menu.

We started with the 3 mini lobster sliders. The buns were fresh and the lobster was light and topped with an avocado purée. Since there were 3 of us, this was an easy and tasty way for us to begin our meal. We then shared the nuts and berries salad, which had a mix of fresh berries, walnuts and goat cheese and was topped with a light balsamic vinaigrette. 
Fresh pickerel with mash and beans

Primavera pasta
For our mains, my mom ordered a creamy primavera pasta. Full of peppers, asparagus and mushrooms. This pasta was served in a creamy white sauce and topped with freshly grated parmesan cheese. My aunt ordered the special - a beautifully grilled piece of pickerel, topped with tomatoes and onions and served with mashed potatoes and green beans. I would like to note here that the beans were perfect. I mean everything else was equally delicious, but the beans were right at that perfect stage of cooked-ness without losing their bright colour or being overly mushy. 

I opted for the steak & frites and was very happy with that decision. They use thick, juicy cuts of Canadian AAA striploin and serve it in a veal reduction. The frites are actually fingerling potatoes, cut in half and served perfectly crisp. I ate every last morsel on my plate. Dee-lish. 

While I couldn’t get dessert because I was too full (which, for those of you who know me, know that that is rare indeed), I feel pretty confident that it would have been equally delicious! Next date night? Check out the Courtyard.

*The Riedel Wine Test. Take any ol’ wine and match it with a regular wine glass. Now pour that same wine into the designated Riedel glass. BOOM. Totally different.  

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Smokin' Buddha: Port Colborne, Ontario

A long time ago, I used to live on Lake Erie in Wainfleet, Ontario. I loved this house – it was breezy, surrounded by trees and water and I always had the very best naps outside on the deck. Our neighbours were the Echlin’s, Kevin and Kyla, and after years of being out of touch, I was lucky enough to reconnect with them a few months ago while visiting their restaurant The Smokin’ Buddha in Port Colborne, Ontario.

Avocotta dip
Located in the old train station, the Smokin’ Buddha has a warm, cozy vibe, with super friendly service and an impressive menu. What started out as a small stall at the Port Colborne Farmer’s Market (in which he used to sell the very best homemade mango salsa I have ever had!) in 2005, blossomed into a successful restaurant that officially opened on October 5th, 2007. The menu and set up of the restaurant are largely inspired by his time in Japan, with the addition of other colourful, bright and unique dishes from all over.

When I visited a few months back, my good friend Sarah and I decided to try a few different items. We of course, however, started with some beer... but not just any beer. Kevin partnered up with Great Lakes Brewery in Etobicoke and created the Smokin’ Buddha lager. This lager is the perfect balance to the varied and often spicy offerings available on the menu.

Bulgogi bowl
For our appetizers, we started with the Avocotta Dip – an avocado and cottage cheese guacamole hybrid. The dip was creamy and light and despite not being a particularly huge fan of cottage cheese, it worked well with both the chips and the antejitos. Antejitos are one of my favorite appetizers and this place does them better than anywhere else. For those of you who have never tried them, they typically include a mix of beans, corn, peppers, cheese and spices in a flour tortilla which gets rolled, then baked and then cut into bite size pieces. Where the Buddha’s are best however, is in the fact that they coat the outside of the tortilla in a spicy dry rub, before quickly frying it and then serving it. Perfection!

Lavender Crème Brulée
For our mains, Sarah ordered to Yam-A-Rito and I ordered the Bulgogi Bowl, two of the Buddha’s staple items. The Yam-A-Rito is a delicious sweet potato tortilla, with salsa, cheese and a bit of heat. It was sweet, savoury and very filling! My Bulgogi bowl was filled with tender sesame, ginger, garlic and soy sauce marinated beef, cucumber cut into matchsticks and shredded carrots on top of warm rice. The dish had the perfect balance of saltiness and flavor, and I have since been trying to replicate it at home!

As if all of that food wasn’t enough, we decided to order dessert. 3 words = Lavender. Crème. Brulée. It was heavenly. Light, sweet but not too sweet, with just a subtle hint of lavender. It was the absolute perfect ending to our meal and further proved why The Smokin’ Buddha is doing as well as it has been. Did I mention that they were featured on You Gotta Eat Here? Well they were, and you do!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

I'm Back!

After a very long break, I have decided to make my way back into the food blogging world and I am excited to share some of my recent food adventures with you. I am in the process of editing and proofing my stories and photos and will be posting new blogs very soon! 

Thank you for your patience and happy eating!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Good Earth Food and Wine Company: Beamsville, Ontario

Cheese pot
How do I love thee Good Earth? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth of baked bread delight
My mouth can eat with edible flowers on each bite,
For the ends of feasting in a beautiful space.

I love thee to the level of every wine glass’
Most urgent need to be filled up just right.
I love thee shortbread, fluffy and light;
I love thee creamy pâté, perfectly bruléed.

I love thee with a passion put to food
In my pot of cheese as I stuff my face.
I love thee with a love I did not choose.

With my every visit – I love thee with the best 
Wine, bread and cheese of all my life! – and if you so choose,
You shall but visit the winery before your death!

*Not many words rhyme with death, so I had to stick with it.
** I would absolutely recommend visiting the Good Earth Food and Wine Company in Beamsville soon! 

Deli board

Friday, September 6, 2013

Jake’s Grill & Oyster House: Burlington, Ontario

Freshly shucked oysters
I hate to admit it but I can be somewhat of a food snob from time to time. Don’t get me wrong, I will eat just about anything but certain things, like restaurants attached to hotels, don’t typically appeal to me... but, people can change, right? When I recently got a hankering for seafood and googled “seafood Burlington”, Jake’s Grill & Oyster House popped up. I scanned the menu and thought it looked great so I drove over, anxious to try a new place. I admit that I was initially somewhat dismayed to see that it was adjacent to a hotel; I hadn’t done my full research and was pretty much sold on going for a bite as soon as I saw fish tacos on the menu. Though skeptical, I decided to check it out and was not disappointed.

The place is pretty spacious and though kitschy in their over-the-top boathouse theme, it felt cozy and warm. My friends and I sat down and began to go through their small but impressive menu. We decided to start off with a platter of fresh shucked oysters on the half shell and were served 15 incredible malpeques. They came on a bowl of ice with freshly grated horseradish, lemon wedges and a variety of sauces. We easily polished them off and wished we had ordered more.
Tilapia fish tacos

Next on the menu was the fish taco that initially drew me in. After having enjoyed incredible fish tacos in Ottawa at Burrito Borracho about a month ago, I had been trying to find something nearby to satisfy my craving. These tacos were fully loaded with a generous portion of bronzed tilapia, nappa cabbage, pico de gallo and a delicious and creamy cilantro lime aioli. The lunch orders consisted of two large tacos and a side salad. My first taco was incredible but sadly the second one had to be sent back because the fish was raw inside. The server quickly ordered me a fresh plate and the manager came out and apologized promptly. I got a whole new order (2 tacos!) in no time and they were delicious. The fish was fresh, the cabbage was crisp and the aioli was perfect, adding just the right amount of creaminess and bite.

While I didn’t have a chance to sample much else on the menu because we all ordered the exact same thing, I wanted to share this place none-the-less. If you are looking for fresh, reasonably priced seafood in the area, I would recommend giving Jake’s a try!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Martini House: Burlington, Ontario

If you’re looking for good food, a great atmosphere (inside and out) and an incredible cocktail list, then Burlington’s Martini House is for you. Tucked away on Elizabeth street, the Martini House offers a nice small patio in front, perfect for summer nights, and a cozy, candlelit setting inside. I recently visited for dinner on a Saturday night and thought it was time to share this place with you!

It goes without saying that they know what they’re doing when it comes to drinks – they have a separate menu designated just for martinis, offering a wide variety of combinations. I have had a chance to sample several different kinds and they have all been expertly concocted and mixed. On my most recent visit I decided to opt for a glass of wine instead of a martini and they had a good variety of local and international wines to choose from.

On this particular occasion I decided to order their curry mussels with a caprese salad. Perhaps a bit of a strange combo but it worked. The mussels were served in a rich, golden curry sauce and came with naan bread. They were served on a bed of rice which was perfect for soaking up the yummy curry sauce. The mussels were quite filling and would easily have sufficed as one whole meal. The caprese salad was equally good with a light balsamic and oil dressing. The salad is listed in the menu as coming with crisp leaf greens, which I opted out of - I don’t think lettuce belongs in a caprese. The tomatoes were ripe and delicious with beautiful bocconcini and fresh basil. It’s one of my favorite salads and they do it well.

My two friends who joined me for dinner ordered the pasta of the day and the filet mignon. The pasta dish consisted of homemade ravioli that were filled with fresh ricotta, spinach and scallions and served in a creamy garlic sauce. The ravioli were perfectly al dente and the portion was a good amount for a dinner serving. While we unfortunately had to send the filet back because it was overcooked initially, they immediately remedied the situation and gave us all free dessert as a food offering (which we graciously accepted, obviously). It should be noted that the fact that the meat was improperly cooked was quite out of the ordinary for them – I have ordered the filet there before and it was cooked perfectly – so don’t worry about this happening to you. The steak came back out served on top of a mountain of lobster cheddar mashed potatoes (yes, it is a thing and yes, they are crazy delicious) with grilled green beans and asparagus.

While it became a bit too dark outside for me to take any good photos of the desserts (I really hate the look of food shots with a flash so I made the decision to just go ahead and eat without taking any photos – a rare moment!) they were good but not incredible. The assorted cheesecake platter tasted a bit stale and uninventive, whereas the chocolate peanut cheesecake was dense and delicious! While I haven’t sampled their other solid desserts, I think your best bet is to enjoy a final dessert martini, of which they have several delectable options. 

I would certainly recommend checking this place out next time you are in B-town but be sure to make a reservation! It's a popular joint.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Bite-sized: M.T. Bellies, Welland, Ontario

So I used to work at this restaurant called M.T. Bellies (get it?). I started when I was in high school and it was my first serving job. I worked at the Port Colborne, Ontario location and though it is closed now, they are still going strong at their original location in nearby Welland. M.T. Bellies is a fun, easy-going restaurant with a lot of options on the menu. One side of the restaurant is catered more towards families (including white paper on the tables with some crayons and games) and the other is more for adults, with a few booths and high tables around a bar. While the food would definitely be considered standard restaurant fare (apps, salads, burgers, pastas, etc...) M.T's adds a few unique twists that make it stand apart from places offering a similar menu. One such example is this:

Da Boss
This burger  is called Da Boss and it kind of blew me away. Picture a big homemade beef and cheddar pattie, topped with jack cheese, crispy bacon AND tempura-battered jalapeno peppers! If that wasn't enough, they serve it up on a fresh kaiser bun. I've definitely seen a lot of fried onion rings on burgers but having the spicy yet muted crispy battered jalapenos was a real treat and a perfect burger topping (which I will most certainly be trying to replicate in the near future).
Crispy fried jalapeno on top of Da Boss
(with a side of poutine, obvi)
While on this particular occasion I only ordered the burger, I have tried nearly everything on the menu at one point or another and it is pretty much all good. They aren't doing anything terribly fancy or out of this world, but they are taking classic food items and doing them well and in some cases (such as the case of Da Boss) they are seriously raising the bar! If you are driving through Welland and looking for a casual, good eat, I would definitely recommend M.T's (especially if you are driving through on a Friday in the summer when they are serving up delicious Lake Erie perch!)