Upscale burgers at Oliver & Bonacini

Oliver & Bonacini has a few restaurants spread around the metro Toronto area that range from casual affordable to super fine dining where celebrities have been spotted. The restaurants are the creation of celebrity chefs, Peter Oliver and Michael Bonacini. I had lunch at Oliver & Bonacini Café Grill in Oakville but they have other locations in Bayview Village, Blue Mountain, Waterloo and downtown Toronto as well.

Fresh fruit juice cider

This Café was located at the entrance to a high end mall, and appeared very sleek yet casual. There was a definite business crowd, along with a few older shoppers who seem to enjoy fine dining during the week. The décor was contemporary with gray and white metallic furniture. We were seated promptly and my 3-year old nephew was attended to with a high chair right away.

The lunch menu consisted of simple everyday dishes with a refined twist. They offered freshly made juice cocktails – an apple beet cider served warm and an orange mango pineapple concoction. I ordered the grilled chicken burger with sweet potato fries. The ground chicken patty was moist and well cooked, served with a chipotle mayo, while the fries were crisped to perfection.

We also tried the vegetarian Portobello burger which had roasted red pepper, roasted tomato, goat cheese and basil almond pesto on a giant roasted Portobello. It was a treat whether you were a vegetarian, or not. The beer batter haddock served with fries and coleslaw seemed a big hit with both young and old. My nephew ate it all without a fuss!

For dessert, I had to have the gelato combination – I really liked the pistachio (despite the little chunks of ice) but the milk cream was ok. Overall, Chef Zuzana Harsaghy did an excellent job in keeping the food real, appetizing, yet upscale.

Their dinner menu seems more adventurous, with many fusion influences. The butter chicken caught my eye and I will have to come back next time for it.

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Discovering new possibilities in Montreal

Dining at La Salle A Manger in Montreal last night, I discovered a couple of novel culinary treats. The menu was atypically categorized as just Raw, Cold, Warm, Vegetarian, Meat and Fish. I tried the gravlax with yogurt with orange and fennel salad. It was a burst of flavors, contrasting citrus against the soft salmon. From the Warm, I ordered sweetbread in apple, walnut, and cream sauce. This was my first time eating sweetbread for me, since I am not much of a meat eater. In fact the meat was so tender and creamy, it melted in my mouth, that I could have never guessed I was eating veal throat meat. The restaurant boasted its meat selection in a glass closet which you could view from the dining area. No wonder it was so fresh and delicious! This was my first discovery.

The second one was Farroto. Being an Italian food lover and an excellent cook of risotto, my first guess was that Farroto was its long lost cousin who wasn’t adventurous enough to go out and explore the world, therefore it never got as famous as Risotto. Turns out I was right! Farro is a spelt, hearty, grain from an older generation. It has a nutty texture, similar to that of dirty rice (rice with husk) and cooked the same way as risotto. The vegetarian dish that I ate had well roasted pieces of root vegetables (turnips, potatoes, carrots) with faro in a heavy cheese sauce, topped with parsley leaves. I will have to go back and try this at home.

There were homemade desserts and cheese selection for the last course. I picked the pistachio biscuit, topped with chocolate cream, with a side of oranges, served on a plate lightly painted with Mexican dark chocolate. It looked like artwork that exploded its palette one it entered your mouth.

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Eat Round the Clock in Montreal

The city of Montreal is just across the border, yet an entire world away. Crowned as City of Festivals and Paris of North America, the French influences are found everywhere from architecture, language, culture to cuisine. While there are a number of great eateries to choose from, here are my personal top choices that you could cover in a day.

Nocochi Pâtisserie Café, Montreal

Start your day off at Olive et Gourmando, a lively bakery located in Old Montreal. There is a good chance there will be a wait to get in, but its well worth it! You can chose from dozens of freshly baked croissants, pastries, muffins or my personal favorite, the banana chocolate brioche. It goes well with a hot cappuccino after which you have enough energy to stroll through the neighboring attractions including Basilique Notre-Dame, district’s riverside edge and Pointe-à-Callière (Museum of Archaeology and History).

fresh pastries at Olive et Gourmando, Montreal

For lunch take a stroll through the neighborhood of petite Italie ( Little Italy) which will transport you to a street in Naples. While there are dozens of restaurants to choose from here, restaurant Casa Napoli offers the best value for money. A family business of over 28 years, the owner offers northern and southern Italian cuisine in an ambience of The Godfather. There is also a dainty sidewalk patio too where you can watch Italian families shopping for traditional items or catching up with friends. There is plenty to choose from the menu. The mozzarella is so fresh that it melts in your mouth. The pizzas live up to the restaurant’s name as well. It is the closest you can come to going to Naples being in Canada.

Take the metro to Sherbrook and a bus ride over to Musée des Beaux-Arts (Museum of Fine Arts). You could visit this extensive and one of the most famous museum’s firs , and then walk two streets over to Nocochi Pâtisserie Café (2156 Rue Mackay, Montreal, QC H3G 2J2, Canada, (514) 989-7514). This small delectable café is perfect for afternoon tea. Here you will find a variety of petite size melt in your mouth cookies, cakes, chocolates, nut filled dates, nut filled apricots, marzipans and Turkish delights. They are not cheap and you can get by eating a lot. They also have some nicely packed boxes to take back home as gifts.

Vieux-Montréal is home to a considerable number of restaurants catering to most tastes and wallets. However, a must try right off the bustling Place Jacques-Cartier is a French bistro called Le Jardin Nelson for dinner. It gets quite busy on weekend nights and they don’t take reservations. If the weather is nice, ask to be seated in the back patio where you would feel like you have entered a tropical garden paradise. There is live jazz music almost always. It even has raincatchers to protect you in case the weather is uncooperative. While the menu can cater to picky eaters as well, try the traditional crepes that are offered with a variety of fillings from mushrooms, rabbit, and duck to lobsters and shrimps.

Le Jardin Nelson, Montreal

Visit one of the three locations of Juliette e Chocolate for an after dinner treat. They serve traditional or old-fashioned, dark, milk or white chocolate as shots, milk shakes or smoothies, combined with fruit or if you are more adventurous with spices, and even married Liquor for cocktails, hot or shakes. And that’s not all! If you still like a dessert to go with your chocolate, you can order crepes, pastries or fondue. And please don’t forget to take one of the many varieties of brownies they make to have later. “The only thing I can’t resist is temptation!” – Oscar Wilde.

After partying at the numerous bars and clubs that Montreal is famous for, night owls usually end up having La Poutine. It is a fast food invention of Quebec consisting of French fries, cheese curds and brown gravy. You can find it in surprising combinations (even with foie gras) at pretty much any corner of Montreal. It is not the healthiest snack but a must try in this region.

~ As appeared in Do It While You’re Young in September 2010.

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