Cluny Bistro for brunch (Toronto)

Despite this being a return visit, I still get entranced with Cluny Bistro’s dining room. It’s charming, elegant, intricate and beautiful … so French that Carrie Bradshaw would certainly approve. If only the restaurant were opened earlier, what a perfect place it would have been to host my bridal shower. Brides of today, take note.   

At first, I was a little worried if Cluny was a serious brunch establishment - our waitress was unsure whether they carried English Breakfast. Yet, one sip of the flavourful Tea Squared brew ($4) eased away any fears and I was ready for food.

Their weekend brunch menu includes French favourites (onion soup), traditional breakfast offerings (omelets), and then there’s classics with a twist. The pork banh mi benedict ($19.75) seemed out of place at a bistro, yet the promise of roasted porchetta and ultra-thin frites were too hard to resist.

Something about the combination of roasted pork, crispy crackling, pickled vegetables and well toasted sourdough bread … the aroma is hard to describe and incredible. The runny poached eggs went nicely with the ample chunks of porchetta, although I found the pickled vegetables were best eaten on their own. The thick slice of grilled sourdough soaked in all the delicious juices, but required a utensil sharper than a bread knife to cut through.

Cluny’s adjoining boulangerie is fantastic and after having a taste of the freshly baked breads during brunch, we had to stop into the bakery for things to go. Get the roasted garlic focaccia ($3.50), it’s not overly oily but still has a lovely sponginess; the liberal sprinkling of salt and sweet cloves of garlic topping the focaccia meant I didn’t even need butter. Brunch and groceries all procured in one spot, what an efficient start the day.

Overall mark - 7 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 35 Tank House Lane

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!

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Cluny Bistro & Boulangerie Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Shoushin (Toronto)

Take it from a person who hated sushi as a teenager: quality ingredients and eating from the hands of a well-trained chef makes a HUGE difference. Having been introduced to “Japanese” cuisine in places like Memories of Japan or AYCE restaurants, I couldn’t understand why people enjoyed the spongy fleshy fish. But, it’s similar to expecting someone to like Mexican food after feeding them Taco Bell (no offense, the fries supreme is great, but the tacos? Not so much.)

Hence, when a Chef names a restaurant after the pursuit of craft, Shoushin translates to a Chinese phase signifying ‘a craftsman’s heart’, you know to expect a high caliber. Undeniably, my new found appreciation for the raw dishes have been cultivated after eating the real thing. Dining from the hands of a craftsman isn’t cheap, but just like having a fantastic steak, a good sushi meal should be reserved for special occasions.

Like other high-end sushi restaurants, Shoushin’s offers only omakase menus that changes based on ingredient availability and the chef’s whim. As a diner, you simply pick a price point ($80, $130, $160 or $250) and inform them about food allergies.

Wanting to try their sashimi, we opted for the Yuri ($130) menu. Consisting of two appetizers, sashimi, soup, sushi and dessert, it allowed us to sample a bit of everything.

The first appetizer, a tomato pod, showcased the artful plating that synonymous with Japanese cuisine. After the tomato’s juicy pulp is hollowed out, it’s used to make chilled agar-gar jelly noodles (a gelatin derived from algae). Topping the slick noodles were succulent pieces of East Coast Canadian crab; a dollop of tomalley added an extra richness. Completing the dish were cold asparagus and ponzu jelly, which made it a refreshing summer starter.

As the grating board was revealed and the wasabi root prepared, the anticipation started to build. We’re warned that the prized condiment shouldn’t be mixed into the soy sauce, instead you add a bit to the fish and then dip into the soy separately.

The sashimi was equally beautifully plated and with two slices of everything (except for the octopus), could be shared (Shoushin allows diners to choose different menus). Luckily, everything tasted as great as it looked (from left to right):

  • With bits of a chopped herb (could be shiso) topping the fluke (hirame) it was light and refreshing, slowly easing my taste buds into the meal.
  • The amberjack (kanpachi), while still delicate, had an almost creamy finish that’s really different from past experiences.
  • Although I couldn’t catch the Japanese name of the smaller fish, I could have sworn it was described as “chicken fish” in English. If it were, I could see how the name was derived as the fish’s skin had the chewy springy texture of a cold boiled chicken.
  • What a shame that there was such a small cube of the octopus. The tentacle was so flavourful and tender that I immediately wanted another taste.

Following the sashimi was a hot appetizer: a lovely sesame encrusted miso marinated black cod – just as flavorful and moist as the typical grilled version, but with a nutty crunch from the sesame coating. On the side, a pyramid of crown daisy vegetables, shredded carrots, and shiitake slivers mixed with tofu paste. I could have done without the side of vegetables as there’s a unique taste to the chrysanthemum greens that I’ve never acquired (also known as tung ho, it’s also frequently found in hot pot restaurants).

Before the sushi, a rich bowl of hot miso soup was presented. Earthier than the typical salty broth, it went nicely with Shoushin’s take on agedashi, which was was mixed with a glutinous flour so that the tofu had a chewy nutty bite.

Lastly, ten pieces of individually prepared sushi to finish off the meal – you will not leave hungry. Before getting into the heavenly ending, I must commend Shoushin on their overall client experience: their service attentive and friendly, but also incorporating small touches to ensure everyone is comfortable. For example, diners are presented with a thick wet napkin to wipe their fingers on after picking up the sushi, if they feel uneasy using their chopsticks to get the sushi from the counter (even I had to resort to picking up the red snapper).

The first bite of the intertwined slices of Japanese seabass (Suzuki) showcases Shoushin’s rice at its finest – warm, vinegary and a creamy consistency.

Although still good, the golden eye snapper (kinmedai) marinated in kelp would be even better if the skin was removed as I found it made the sushi chewy.

Chef Lin was quick to clarify that the next piece, butterfish (ibodai), was the real deal and not the manufactured escolar found in budget restaurants. Intrigued to try the real thing, I forgot to take a picture, but found that it was not buttery, rather having a light mellow finish. If anything, the striped jack (shima aji) should be renamed butterfish as it simply melted and was absolutely delicious for such an unassuming looking fish.

Shoushin’s tunas are out of this world in terms of creaminess: the lean cut (akami maguro) was velvety and flavourful; the medium (chutoro maguro) was equally luscious.

By the time the fatty tuna (otoro maguro) arrived, I was expecting butter heaven. Interestingly, the otoro was scraped into a paste and topped with sesame seeds, but was served a tad too cold so the fish’s oiliness and rich taste was rather muted.

The most surprising piece had to be the mackerel (aji). Despite not having a single green onion adorning the normally fishy sushi, Shoushin’s aji was clean and mild tasting, while still incorporating the meaty texture. It’s easy to make tuna taste good, but to heighten the mackerel to that level was astounding. Like his mentor, Chef Seiichi Kashiwabara from Zen, Chef Jackie Lin keeps his sushi simple and instead relies on the quality of the ingredients to shine through.

After having the Argentina shrimp (ebi), it seemed the sushi’s natural sweetness would have been a nice transition into dessert. So, it was a bit unexpected that the following hand roll would incorporate such a strong smoked tuna. Yet, it all worked and Lin’s perfectionist side was highlighted again as he encouraged us to eat it right away before the ultra-crispy nori became tough.

The customary sweet omelette (tamago) signaled the end of the sushi. Dense and incorporating a strong eggy aroma, I loved that you could see the layers of egg white and yolk to give it interest.

Normally, the desserts at upscale sushi restaurants are forgettable … assuming anything is even served. At Shoushin they have the customary ice cream – a house made roasted green tea version that’s okay but too icy. The matcha pudding, on the other hand, is fantastic with the smooth crème caramel like base, topped with sweet red bean paste, a chewy glutinous rice ball, apricot and an extremely strong matcha sauce. The dessert was delicious and different, a very satisfying end to the meal.

Although each menu can be accompanied with sake pairings, we found it’d be too much. Instead, the sake flight ($18) was the perfect amount – just enough to sip and try with the different foods.  

Overall, the dinner at Shoushin was impressive. Having already accomplished so much for a young chef, Chef Lin continues to strive to for perfection. When my husband commented on how delicious the rice was, our waitress passed along the compliment to Lin. His immediate reaction, without a smile, “It could be better” and went on to explain how the rice in Japan is aged for a year.

Make sure to get a seat at the sushi bar, it’s a wonderful opportunity to see the chefs at work and speak to Lin who divides his attention amongst everyone. Despite his serious nature, he even cracks jokes - after I commended the clean tasting aji, he kidded that he cleans it more than himself … immediately the entire bar erupts with laughter. What a surprising delight: having started as a stern fancy meal, it leaves me with a homey feeling and a full belly.

Overall mark - 9 out of 10 

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 3328 Yonge Street

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!

Is That It? I Want More!

Other Gastro World posts similar to this:

Shoushin Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Boiling Harbour (Vaughan)

Wow how things have changed in Vaughan! Normally I only visit the city, a short drive from Toronto, when going to Wonderland so it’s shocking to see how developed and thriving the area’s become. Even the culinary scene is growing – aside from the chain restaurants and authentic Italian joints, a wealth of diversity is springing up. This summer, a new entrant joins them: Boiling Harbour brings the Louisiana boil to Vaughan!

In the Southern states, a seafood boil is not merely a dish, but rather a social event bringing together communities, friends and families. You should definitely keep with the tradition and arrive in a group so you can try numerous items.

During the opening event, we sampled skillfully prepared snow crab legs ($18.95/lb), large meaty mussels ($10.95/lb) and head-on shrimp ($12.95/lb) so you can really enjoy the seafood essence. The Harbour sauce (a mix of garlic butter, lime, pepper and Cajun spices) was just spicy enough at the medium level and thankfully not overly salty or oily to detract from the seafood.

Some of the add-ins are a tad pricy (corn for $1 or sausages for $6.50 apiece), but the sweetness of the corn goes so nicely with the hot spicy broth and I like that Boiling Harbour used fresh ears (at least during our summer visit) compared to the chewy frozen variety.  

Having had gumbo ($9) in New Orleans, the hearty flavourful stew at the restaurant is impressive. In particular, it was a smart idea to cook the shrimp separately so they didn’t turn rubbery and there was enough okra to thicken the broth but not turn it slimy. The gumbo is fantastic and is better than the ones I sampled in Louisiana.

The lobster mac & cheese balls ($15.95 for three) are huge and great for sharing. Although the mixture doesn’t contains tons of lobster, the pasta was cooked well and there’s enough sauce so that the insides are gooey when the crispy crust is broken.

Once you see an order of the loaded lobster fries ($28.95) go by, you’ll want it. It’s a serious dish with an entire boiled lobster that’s flash fried and drizzled with garlic butter and aioli. There’s definitely enough lobster to share, but it’s so good that it’ll be hard not to devour the other half. As if it weren’t enough, the crustacean sits on a bed of hot Cajun fries – perfect for dipping into the boil sauce.

Dinner at the Boiling Harbour was delicious and I truly love the experience. It’s a shame, as the one thing that keeps me from frequenting these restaurants is the amount of waste generated – the boil is served in food safe poly bags, other items in Styrofoam or paper plates, and all the utensils are plastic. Every person even received a small plastic container of salt and pepper … the barrel of them on display really doesn’t go with the seafood friendly theme.

I understand, disposables are easy: there’s nothing to wash and little up-front investment. To be fair, Boiling Harbour isn’t the only restaurant that relies the ease; competitors do this as well. Although I’m not an environmentalist, I still care about what we do to the Earth – after having a delicious meal, the worst feeling is the guilt felt while staring at all the waste you’ve created.

So, I’d encourage restaurants to gradually improve their impact: like those individual salt and pepper containers? That can easily be replaced with shakers that’s given when requested – seriously, the food is already well-seasoned, I don’t see why it would be needed anyways. Then as cash flows allow, start purchasing utensils, re-usable plastic serving platters, cups, and transparent pails to serve the boil in (the photographs would turn out much better than bags).

If only the entire experience wasn’t so wasteful, I’d certainly go back more frequently. I already have a hankering for another helping of boiled crab legs, loaded lobster fries and gumbo. Maybe next time I visit there will be real utensils, then I can leave feeling full and guilt free.

Overall mark - 8.5 out of 10
Disclaimer: The above meal was complimentary. Rest assured, as noted in my mission statement, I will always provide an honest opinion.

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 3175 Rutherford Road

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!

Is That It? I Want More!
Other Gastro World posts similar to this:

The Boiling Harbour Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Simply Snacking: Espuña Tapas Essentials

The culture of sharing little bites is everywhere in the world: the French pass around hors d’oeuvres, Italians have antipasto, and Chinese families love dim sum. In Spain, they’re known as tapas, a selection of cold or hot dishes often eaten as a snack but could be combined into a meal. While travelling in Barcelona, they were a wonderful pick-me-up after hours of sightseeing to refill on nutrients and cool down with beer or sangria.

Sometimes tapas are purchased, but the simpler versions are offered on a complimentary basis with drinks. In fact, the practice began when bread or meat slices were given out to patrons at taverns to cover their glasses and keep out the blowing sand from dirt roads. The meats also tend to be saltier to encourage drinking and higher alcohol sales.  

This year, Espuña Tapas Essentials is crossing the ocean and entering the Canadian market. Currently found in Longo’s Market stores, they offer a variety of 18 sliced meats and heat-and-serve products. As an introduction I received a selection of products to try and invited friends over to sample them over wine – luckily my home wasn’t overly dusty as there’s no way these meats would cover the large wine glasses we use nowadays.

Directly translated as “mountain” ham, the Serrano ham used to be cured in sheds in high altitudes. Delicious on its own, I also enjoyed the ham on toasted bread brushed with olive oil with lightly aged white cheddar. The heat of the bread starts to warm through the cheese and softens the thin layers of fat on the Serrano ham to give the tapa a creamy feel.

If you like your charcuterie fattier (especially when pairing with beer), Espuña has a whole line of salamis. The Barcelona style (on the left in the picture below) is less blubbery and seasoned longer to really allow the salt and pepper to permeate the meat. The longer curing period also makes the pork dryer and a tad gamier than your typical salami.

Meanwhile, the original Olat salami (in the middle in the picture above) originates from the founder’s region, in the North Eastern part of Spain. Larger chunks of fatty pork is stuffed into a thin casing and seasoned again. A little greasy for my tastes, but was the salami my husband happily inhaled.

If you’re in the mood for a real salty snack, the chorizo cañitas takes pepperettes to the next level. Like its name, the cañita is thin and long like a “drinking straw”; Espuña even suggests you serve them standing up in a glass with breadsticks.

For me, since the soft pork was so well-seasoned with salt and paprika, I found the cañitas were best consumed in small pieces tucked into a soft piece of bread. Use them for a quick omelette: dice one cañita into small pieces, mix into two beaten eggs, and cook! You don’t even need to add any salt and pepper, making it one of the quickest breakfasts I’ve ever made.

The heat and serve line is ingenious for making tapas that could transform into a hearty meal. After removing from the packaging and a quick minute in the microwave, I was presented with juicy aromatic meat skewers with chopped fine herbs and a sweet and salty bacon wrapped dates. These are great for dinner parties, especially since they can be prepared in small batches to provide guests with a hot treat. 

When Esteve Espuña first started making sausages in a farmhouse near Olot, little did he know that his creations would eventually be eaten worldwide. Thanks to his family member’s working to expand the brand, I’ve received a taste of Spain in Canada. Mix with fresh bread, a selection of cheeses and grilled vegetables, their creations really allowed for a satisfying spread with friends. 

Disclaimer: The above snacks were provided on a complimentary basis. Rest assured, as noted in the mission statement, I would never promote something I didn't actually enjoy.

MORE: Back to Simply Snacking

How To Find Them 
 Website: or Longo's
 Approx. Price:  $2.99 - $6.99

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Visit Destination Thailand at Yonge Dundas Square

Destination Thailand’s third anniversary means another huge festival at Yonge Dundas Square. One of the largest in Canada, the Royal Thai Embassy transforms downtown Toronto into the friendly warm country with traditional dances, exotic fruits, crafts, massages, Muay Thai, entertainment, and of course authentic cuisine!

The Royal Thai Embassy also operates a worldwide certification program, Thai Select, which grades restaurants on their authenticity. Aside from using traditional ingredients, chefs are also judged by their cooking method and how closely that matches actual approaches used in Thailand. In Canada, the 88 restaurants that meet their requirements are given a premium or red status. At the festival, eight local establishments will be featured:

  • Bangkok Garden
  • Golden Thai
  • Linda Modern Thai
  • Pai Toronto
  • Patchmon’s Thai Dessert
  • Soi Thai
  • Stratford Thai Cuisine
  • Thai Noodle
Having sampled eats from six of the eight vendors at a media event, I can say attendees are in for a treat. Although these will likely be the dishes served at the festival (ranging from $5-$10), the selection may change depending on ingredient availability.

Pai’s gai ping is the most flavourful and tender grilled chicken skewers I’ve ever had. Chef Nuit Regular freely shared that the meat is so succulent due to being marinated in coconut milk. Meanwhile, the rich flavours are derived from a paste of tamarind, fish sauce, lime juice and chilies.

For something different try their moo nam tok, slices of grilled pork jowl mixed with a spicy sweet and sour tamarind sauce that goes perfectly with steamed sticky rice. The dish smells a good as it looks, just be sure you can handle the heat as the chili and herb sauce on top is surprisingly spicy.

With the success of the Regulars’ restaurants (Khao SanRoad, Pai, Sabai Sabai), it’s not surprising that Chef Nuit is Thai Select’s ambassador of Canada where she’ll promote the program and encourage fellow restaurateurs to uphold authentic standards. Having dined at their restaurants, there’s no doubt that they serve the best Thai food I’ve ever had – as I write this I’m wistful for another skewer of gai ping.

If you enjoy sauce drenched rice like myself, try the massaman lamb curry from Golden Thai. The lamb is melt-in-your-mouth tender without any gaminess and the flavourful curry goes so well with rice. Vegetarians, Golden Thai will also be serving tempeh or grilled tofu and vegetable satay skewers (served with peanut, sweet Thai, or hot sauces).

The second non-meat offering at Destination Thailand comes from Bangkok Garden who will be featuring a golden vegetable curry. If you’re a carnivore, try their spicy cashew chicken, which although looks innocent has a flavourful punch.

Linda Modern Thai has been experimenting with their menu to ensure it can be reproduced with their high standards. At the media event, they were showcasing the likely contenders:

  • An interesting Thai beef salad consisting of flank steak marinated with Thai basil coconut syrup, which has a sweet tartness to it not unlike balsamic vinegar.
  • Traditional grilled lemongrass chicken is elevated with a seafood sangwa sauce that the chef explains is like a salsa verde with fish sauce and lemongrass. It’s salty and sour against the smoky grilled chicken and the dots of homemade sriracha are spicy without being overpowering.  

Soi Thai, based on College Street, generally sells dishes reminiscent of the street foods in Thailand. At the festival, they will be offering a hearty complete meal: khao kha moo or succulent braised pork hocks stewed in a flavourful soy sauce broth studded with star anise, cinnamon, cilantro root, garlic and white peppercorns to give it an earthy and slightly sweet seasoning.

If you find it overly rich, dip it into the spicy chili-vinegar on the side that helps cut the grease. The pork hock arrives shredded over steamed jasmine rice and is served with blanched gai lan (Chinese broccoli), pickled mustard greens, and half a hard-boiled egg … you’ll leave full after this dish, so share it!

My first taste of Thai desserts was an introduction with Patchmon’s, a family run eatery that concocts a wide variety of sweets. I love the kha-nhom chun, a chewy glutinous coconut layer cake – you can actually peel each layer apart. Put together with coconut cream, pandan juice and tapioca flour the dessert is light and delicious. It’s normally served at special occasions and wishes a person good luck as they travel up the layers.

For those who like savoury and sweet combinations, the kha-nhom sai-sai is a dumpling stuffed with a savoury shredded coconut filling, lightly sweetened with palm sugar and coconut cream, and then steamed in lotus leaf. Their ta-goe is another surprising dessert, starting off as a luscious coconut cream on top but below a slightly salty tapioca layer with young coconut and corn studded throughout.  

With tons of desserts, Patchmon will be offering a mix-and-match plate. Arrive early and try their gleeb lum duan cookies shaped like a flower. The shortbread like cookies are finished with a food safe candle that adds a light charcoal taste and fragrance, but it can dissipate as the day advances so won’t be as pronounced for later customers.   

Judging by the hot sunny weather Toronto has been graced with this year, it’ll likely be a beautiful warm day. So, you’ll likely want a cold drink to wash down all the spicy eats. Luckily, Singha beers will be on hand selling their brews for $6; head to their special seating area for a refreshing cold drink.

Don’t forget to pick up a free passport and have it stamped at each vendor. Visit at least five of the restaurants and you’ll receive a free t-shirt and be entered into a contest to win meals for two for one year (limited to two visits per month)!

Visitors can even get a relaxing massage at two places: Shivaga Thai Massage and Traditional Thai Massage Association of Ontario. They’ll offer services with varying timing, but a massage is about $65. After an afternoon of eating and drinking how relaxing would a massage be? Just try not to fall asleep. 

How To Find Them
 Date and Time: Sep 10, 2016 from 11am - 8pm
 Address: Yonge and Dundas Square
 Pricing: Free entrance; extra for food, crafts and services

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