Summerlicious lunch at Azure (Toronto)


For a really good deal during Summerlicious, visit a restaurant for lunch. Most establishments offer similar options between lunch and dinner and there’s a $20 difference to merely eat at a different time. Of course, it’s not always feasible to indulge in a 3-course menu on weekdays and some places, if they offer a brunch menu, won’t honour Summerlicious on weekends. Hence, finding a weekend lunch spot can be difficult. Azure, situated in the Intercontinental Hotel downtown, is one option; their central location makes it ideal for visiting before a matinee or an afternoon Blue Jays game.

Their corn soup arrives looking like the typical smooth puréed broth. Then you have a taste and the hit of chili lime mixed with the sweet vegetable creates an interesting summery starter. In the centre, the smoked cheddar biscuit adds a soft doughy chewiness; it’s good, but something crispy or a dollop of corn, onion, and black bean salsa would be even better.


As the pan roasted rainbow trout was presented, I couldn’t take my eyes off the beautiful glistening skin; this is going to be a good piece of fish! I wasn’t disappointed, the skin was impeccably crispy and the meat flaky and moist. With a smear of the refreshing lemon basil pea purée or slightly spicy sundried tomato relish, the main was flavourful and delicious. Even the accompanying well-seared fingerling potatoes, lightly pickled radicchio, and crispy shaved fennel were spot on.


Although the grilled chicken didn’t look impressive, it’s still tender and tasty thanks to the creamy citrusy butter sauce on top. Despite the menu describing the dish as grilled, the chicken seemed poached, it's really juicy and tender. When mixed with the sauce, the bulgur salad is quite delicious, but on its own a tad bland.


Truthfully, I wasn’t a fan of the strawberry tart. For a dessert that sounds light and summery, the strawberry jam gummies and crunchy rosewater candy pieces in the centre were too fussy and sugary. Meanwhile, the lime basil curd filled shortbread tart was nice. If it were simply topped with strawberries and chantilly cream, it’d be more than enough.


My friend's white chocolate cheesecake was a better choice; the rich luscious cake paired with rose wine poached apricots and toasted walnuts. Yet, it’s the cardamom gelato that’s the most surprising, looking like vanilla bean, but adding such a lovely earthy essence against the fruit and cake.


While saving money on the meal, you can splurge on one of Azure’s hand-crafted cocktails. The raspberry cooler ($16), combining raspberry vodka, lemon juice, simple syrup, and muddled fresh raspberries, created a drink that tastes exactly like a raspberry Freezie, complete with the tangy fizz that tickles the back of your throat.

Having visited Azure previously for dinner, it felt like a completely different restaurant during the afternoon. With the dining room’s wall and ceiling glass panels, the sun shone through brightly; it was like sitting outside without the pesky bugs and traffic noise. Then, after a satisfying lunch, Toronto’s downtown attractions is but steps away, perfect for walking off those extra Summerlicious calories.  

Overall mark - 7.5 out of 10
Disclaimer: The above meal was complimentary. Rest assured, as noted in my mission statement, I will always provide an honest opinion.
Is Summerlicious worth it (based on my meal selection)?
Summerlicious - $28
Regular menu - $55 - soup ($12), rainbow trout* ($29) and strawberry tart ($14)
Savings - $27 or 49%
* Based on pickerel

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 225 Front Street West (in the Intercontinental Hotel)

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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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Langdon Hall (Cambridge)


Many friends have suggested a visit to Langdon Hall for a great meal. It’s the place they go to celebrate an anniversary, propose, or even attend a wedding. Langdon Hall is that special location combining beautiful lush grounds, a historic stately mansion, and excellent dependable cuisine that isn’t easy to come by. The most comparable experience I’ve had is dinner at the French Laundry, which occupies a converted laundry house in Napa Valley.

As I spoke to Executive Chef Jason Bangerter, passion simply exuded from him; his love for the property and desire to push Canadian cuisine to another level was apparent. As common with top restaurants, the menu features local ingredients when possible and relies on the inn’s own gardens for produce and garnishes. Even a drink like the Langdon Collins ($15) is finished off with real lavender flowers, adding a light floral essence and isn’t overpowering like syrup.

There are many ways to dine at Langdon Hall, but if you have the time and resources, their tasting menu ($165) is a top choice. The experience combines so many ingredients and meticulously plated creations, really creating an encounter that exemplifies what makes the restaurant impressive.

Take the first bite, a cube of west coast albacore tuna sitting on top of the fish’s bone (the actual specimen is actually an east coast tuna). The bite is sublime as the tuna melts onto the tongue leaving a light citrusy herb finish, it’s over before you even know it.


Even if you’re not staying the night, arrive earlier to stroll through their gardens; they’re opened to the public (it leads to their spacious outdoor pool) and a visit before dinner service may allow you to pick the chefs' brains as they gather ingredients.

We were lucky to have Chef Bangerter himself show us around the property and sample a delicious crispy radish plucked from the ground and dipped in butter for a fabulous taste of the produce. It was followed by nibbles of various fauna bringing zips of flavours you wouldn’t think could come from a simple leaf – my favourite: the typical small clovers you see in the yard that exudes a citrusy kick.
You’ll find a lot of these herbs scattered on the actual dishes. While dining at Langdon Hall be sure to eat everything, herbs aren’t simply placed onto dishes to make things look good, it adds an extra element to the dish as well.


The second dish of their tasting menu was inspired by their greenhouses. As Chef Bangerter walked through them he was captured by the beauty of the potted plants and decided to add it to his menu. A young vegetable (we were served asparagus and fennel) is potted in “earth”, which isn’t soil but rather quinoa mixed with green goddess sauce that has a sour cream and onion essence. It’s a simple but tasty dish that I could see made into a fulfilling lunch if it came in a larger pot.


More fish is served on the summer menu, a cheeky cod on cod – in this case, a deep fried nugget on salted cod for presentation. The cod was nicely battered but my piece was a bit chewy (while my husband’s spot on), likely due to mine being thicker so hadn’t been cooked as thoroughly. On the side, a beautiful oxeye daisy caper remoulade with a hint of fennel that combines perfectly - it shows that any dish with the right herbs can really be elevated.


The duck foot, on the menu, refers to the vessel rather than the actual appendage. The whimsical dish was filled with hen liver mixed with chocolate to really augment the liver’s sweetness. Pieces of crispy skin added a nice contrast and were great for digging into the silky mixture. To make it really rich, shavings of white truffle lay on top, its earthiness pairing nicely with the creamy liver texture. While this was a luxurious dish, it was still balanced and the four-bite portion just enough to satisfy without becoming overwhelming.


Who would think a dish simply named buttermilk would be so delicious? More aptly described as caviar and cream, I’d suggest eating the dish in the order it’s presented rather than picking and choosing ingredients. As you have each spoonful, a different flavour emits itself: sometimes lemongrass, other times the sweetness of snow crab, a briny touch from caviar, or a subtle fennel punch. Follow the journey for rich and refreshing contrasts; as the ingredients combine with herbs the flavours change again.


A refreshing strawberry gazpacho follows, the fruit’s sweetness combining with the tomato and basil base nicely. A bit of mascarpone is added to the broth for a hint of silkiness. A refreshing interlude.


I was surprised to see lamb tartare arrive for the “marinated lamb”, thinking the whole time it’d be a seared version. My first time having the ingredient raw, it actually works rather nicely as it’s less chewy than beef. Dollops of aioli add a creaminess to the tartare, but it’s the pool of lamb fat vinaigrette that provides a completely different rich tart kick to everything. If only there were a couple more slices of black radish, its crispiness went so nicely with the smooth tartare.


As the next course is presented, we’re advised the goat cheese is made by a local purveyor Langdon Hall has featured for many years. Turns out, this supplier is Monforte, a small artisanal cheese company often only found in farmer’s markets (I’ve purchased things at Mel Lastman’s Square and Evergreen Brickworks) or restaurants. Their subtle goat cheese adds a creamy touch to the rhubarb. The green sliced ingredients are actually immature almonds, which have that deep almond flavour but with a chewiness in lieu of crunch.


For those who have read Gastro World for a while, you know I rarely order roasted chicken at a restaurant. But, wow does Langdon Hall’s poussin impress. The breast is first cooked on the bone and is then removed when serving with a lovely honey and lavender glaze on the skin. The de-boned dark meat is wrapped in a thin prosciutto, making that one medallion so tender and flavourful. A generous slice of seared foie gras accompanies and is thinly sliced allowing the crispy coating to be tasted throughout. Finishing off the plate are just cooked through sweet turnips and peas with their shoots and flowers… great for cutting the fatness of the foie gras.  


The first slightly sweet dish featured a “taste of the garden” with a blackberry strawberry sorbet adorned with various foraged leaves and edible flowers. A salty crumble sits at the bottom mixing with the sweet sorbet, the garnishes are both citrusy and bitter. All together, the dish has a Thai flare with its combination of flavours.

The plating is stunning with a pair of hands screened onto the front and back of the dish, reminding diners of the caring hands require to create the lovely dishes. Indeed, Langdon Hall employs a fleet of gardeners who work with Chef Bangerter to cultivate the ingredients – including tropical specimens you wouldn’t think could survive in the Ontario climate. The Chef’s next challenge for them: possibly having his own cocoa trees on site.

As the Ontario bee population rebounds, their sweet nectar is making its way back to desserts. Langdon Hall’s honey box (that’s what she said), features a salty cube of honey comb with a light and fluffy honey foam on top. A sprinkling of honey pollen completes the dessert adding a slight floral essence.  


To end, a gorgeous milk chocolate hazelnut bomb. As it’s first presented, the half sphere looks like it could be a fruity dessert; get through all the flowers and into the dome and you’ll find a chocolate mousse surprise, which goes great with the crunchy hazelnuts.


All the chocolate used in the tasting menu is harvested from a Dominican Republic plantation that Langdon Hall works with. In fact, Chef Bangerter informed us he just returned from a trip there to participate in harvesting and roasting the cocoa. While he was there, he even whipped up a dinner for everyone with local ingredients he could find on site: the main a delicious sounding fish wrapped in banana leaves that one can only hope will make its way onto the Ontario menu.

Aside from the citrusy kalamansi jelly, the last bite of the tasting menu featured the cocoa in all its glory: a chocolate truffle with powder and nibs on top. As the rich flavours flood the mouth, you’re not greeted by the typical sweet melting pool of ganache, rather the truffle is chewy and soft so it can be held longingly on the tongue and you taste chocolate without sweetness…  a rich but not heavy ending.


During such a long meal (it lasts about three hours), a trip to their toilet is inevitable. Although it’s a bit of a journey, make sure to go downstairs to see all the old photos of the property and the Wilks family (the original owners of Langdon Hall). Of course, their home wasn’t quite as stately as the current format (a new separated event area and spa has just been constructed); nonetheless, you see pictures of the beautiful gardens that are still a prominent feature of the current location.

For being in such a quaint countryside and the inn having a relaxed cottage feel, it would be nice if they got rid of the antiquated no denim and sports jacket dress code. Of course, I understand they don’t want diners visiting in cut-off shorts, but there’s a friendlier way to create a nice dining environment that’s also welcoming. For example, at Eleven Madison Park, they stress that there’s no dress code but warn diners that people tend to dress up for the occasion. Gentlemen dine in denim, but it’s still smartly paired with a collared shirt and/or jacket. I was hardly offended to see jeans.

Aside from the dress code, I can see why Langdon Hall garners all the praise including its long standing position in Canada’s Best Restaurants list (they’re #15 in 2017).  The combination of meticulously prepared dishes and haunting beautiful surroundings is hard to replicate. The inn is only an hour away from Toronto; in a short drive you’ll be able to indulge and just get away from it all.

Overall mark - 9 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Cambridge, Canada
 Address: 1 Langdon Drive

Follow me on twitter to chat, be notified about new posts and more - https://twitter.com/GastroWorldBlog
____________________________
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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Other Gastro World posts similar to this:


Langdon Hall Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Celebrating #Canada150 at Shoushin (Toronto)


Aside from the beautiful land, what I love most about Canada is our diversity and that we’re generally a country that celebrates multiculturalism. Being a child of immigrants, my parents left their families and travelled here for university. Of course, it wasn’t easy – getting comfortable with the language and having to work harder to prove their worth – yet, they love their decision and would never return to Hong Kong … Canada is home.

Hence, when it came time to celebrate Canada’s 150 anniversary, forgoing the typical BBQ and celebrating with Shoushin’s special Canada omakase ($150), served until the end of July 2017, seemed like the patriotic thing to do.

The first bite from the dinner is the mozuku, a refreshing start with finely cut seaweed slivers mixed with a sweet vinegar. Its consistency is a bit slippery, but since the seaweed has little flavour, it’s not off putting. Garnished with tomato pulp, grated ginger, and daikon slivers, these add a nice crunch and additional flavours to the starter to keep it interesting.

As a first experience goes, the lobster sashimi wasn’t horrible. Although it’s not something I’d want to eat again, the east coast crustacean actually had a crunchy consistency and wasn’t soft and gummy as expected. Chef Lin notes that lobster sashimi is really about the texture as it has little taste. He was right; while it was simply adorned with seaweed salt and wasabi, I still couldn’t taste much sweetness (something that seems to develop when it’s cooked).


The aroma emitted from the grilled unagi is heavenly, the perfume of sweet caramelized soy that makes you want to dig in right away. Since the eel is from Quebec, it’s much larger and hence meatier than the typical unagi found on rice or topping sushi. Glazed with mirin, soy sauce, and chocolate (if I heard correctly), it’s sweet and peppery thanks to the chilli berries on top. It would have been even better if it were cooked a touch less as I found one piece a tad chewy and dry.


Before the sushi procession begun, a bowl of nyumen arrives, the kelp and bonito infused broth swimming with silky somen noodles, crunchy snow peas, and earthy re-hydrated shiitake mushrooms. The dish is simple but wonderful, the soup ideal for readying the palette for the raw seafood that follows.


Starting light, the first piece of sushi was a Japanese flounder. While it’s a meaty fish, there’s an interesting almost fluffiness to its consistency.


Though the west coast big reef squid’s slightly sticky chewy texture isn’t the greatest, it’s not repulsive either and likely due to the thicker slice given. After getting past the consistency, it’s a nice light squid with the main flavours stemming from the swipe of soy on top.


The golden eye snapper is always a treat, even as a milder fish, there’s still a prevalent flavour to it and pairs rather nicely with the vinegar mixed into the rice. As commended in a previous post, Shoushin makes excellent rice: it’s heavier on the vinegar so that grains actually have flavour and the temperature is spot on (warm enough to enhance the fish without changing the temperature).


Shoushin also makes amazing horse mackerel sushi! Since the fish is cleaned so well any gamey fishiness is removed. On this occasion, they added a healthy sprinkle of green onion on top creating an extra zip to the sushi. It’s by far the best horse mackerel I’ve had.


Midway through the 11-piece sushi meal the tuna parade starts, following the leanest to fattiest sequence. The lean blue fin tuna has that vibrant red colour that’s so mesmerising. Meanwhile, the warmer rice with the medium chu toro was fantastic, causing the tuna taste to cover the tongue and linger even after the piece was finished.


Typically, the fattiest piece of the tuna comes from the otoro or tuna belly. In this case, Shoushin introduced me to the fattiest part of the tuna’s back, which still melts in the mouth and has a much stronger flavour.


After such lovely pieces of tuna, the gizzard shad was out of place. Having had it before, this piece was overly salty and the skin too thick – it felt like I was chewing forever when I just wanted to swallow the salty fish down.


The east coast surf clam wasn’t any better. At first it had a crunchy texture emitting a sweetness, but as chewing continued, the clam finished off with a fishy aftertaste. Take my advice: chew and swallow quickly, this isn’t one for savouring.


Thankfully, the following east coast scallop was better: with a hint of seaweed salt and lemon on top, the ingredients helped augment the scallop’s sweetness. Not having been blow torched, you could still taste the seafood in a delicate manner.


In lieu of the traditional hand roll, a piece of sushi topped with pop-in-your-mouth Canadian fish eggs arrived. With a light dusting of yuzu zest on top, it was a cold and refreshing ending.


Of course, we were also served a piece of tamago, which Shoushin does so well. The beautiful layers and rich delicately sweetened egg is the perfect bridge between sushi and dessert.


Whenever they serve some sort of rendition of a green tea pudding, that’s what I have for dessert. The matcha flavoured jelly is generally accompanied with a sweet red bean paste (a staple in Asian sweets) and a chewy unfilled glutinous rice ball. In this case, the Canadian theme continued with the pool of maple syrup on the bottom, helping to add a sweetness to the dessert.


While not as impressive as their general Yuri tasting menu, this one was still decent. However, for something classified as a special “Canada celebration” menu, it’s disappointing that less than half of the dishes were made from Canadian ingredients.

Understandably, sourcing an entire Canadian menu for sushi may be difficult, but at least the individual courses such as the seaweed (from Okinawa) and somen noodles (presumably from Japan) should be Canadian related. Either they could be sourced from Canadian ingredients (wouldn’t we produce seaweed?) or replaced with something signifying our country (an Angus beef tataki would have been delicious).

Without a doubt, I love Canada for its diversity. Nonetheless, perhaps refined sashimi and sushi should be left for other days of the year.

Overall mark - 8 out of 10


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

Follow me on twitter to chat, be notified about new posts and more - https://twitter.com/GastroWorldBlog
____________________________
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


Grey Gardens (Toronto)

With all the buzz about Grey Gardens, Jen Agg's new co-owned restaurant, I knew I'd have to go. Having never been to Black Hoof, due to their no reservations policy (Grey Gardens, thankfully, accepts them), it’d be my chance to experience the creations of a restauranteur I’ve only heard about for so long. I admire her do-things-my-way attitude and outspokenness of the gender inequality issues within Toronto’s hospitality industry. Finally, I’d taste what people wait in line for.

Browsing through their whimsical website, where the staff descriptions are so candid and funny, I thought for sure this would be the place for me. I like restaurants with good food, but skip the frou frou I’m-too-fancy-for-you attitude; Grey Garden’s laid back jokiness seems like they would welcome all walks of life. But then, after one dinner, I'm not so sure that they really care about their diners' comfort ... sure they’re not snobby, but it's definitely not a place that makes you want to sit and stay (I’ll expand at the end of the post).

Thankfully, the kitchen makes good food. The chefs really know how to combine flavours and textures to create an interesting dish that’s not fussy. Indeed, I was glad to see co-owner Chef Mitchell Bates at the pass of the open kitchen, commanding in a quiet and serious manner. These dishes are coming out right.

Although the chips in the smoked fish chips ‘n’ dip ($13) looked overdone, when combined with the rich fish, the stronger earthy potato flavor of the chip went so nicely with the creamy fish, it certainly didn’t get lost. To balance out the stronger flavours were bits of red onion and chives - each bite ends with a lovely zippiness.


Dig into the sea of crunchy vegetable bits and you’ll find cubes of delicate raw scallop ($16) sitting in a silky crema on the bottom. The dish is crunchy and smooth, slightly spicy but mellows out with the creama, and overall refreshing. A similar contrast exists with the snow pea ($16) salad where slices of squid lay throughout combining the soft oceany meat with crisp raw peas. Eat it by itself and then add a bit of the citrusy aioli on the side, the creamy sauce completely changes the taste of the slightly peppery salad. 


Grey Garden’s seafood focused menu continues to impress with the shrimp and spinach ($24), which is surprisingly strong compared to the simple menu description. The large sweet shrimp are tossed into a lovely buttery sauce that has a hint of garlic but not as overwhelming as scampi. Whereas the previous seafood starters were light and refreshing, this dish is rich and comforting.


Even the sunchokes ($22) incorporate large flakes of salted cod giving the well roasted root vegetables interest. Given the sunchokes have a more full-bodied flavor, it’s also paired with a creamy sauce and pieces of black olive, which can hold up against the starch.


The noodles in the alkaline ($24) were fresh and chewy, covered in a wonderful salty yuzu kosho sauce. An abundance of clams and diced octopus helped to add a meatiness to the dish. For a pasta, it’s a rather small portion so you can easily have a bowl of the alkaline and smaller plates to make a full meal. It was delicious and I could have easily devoured a bowl to myself.


Compared to the other dishes, the pickerel ($28) was the most “normal”. The filet was simply seared and arrives with a lovely golden crust, while the sides are well balanced - English peas a bright spring addition compared to the earthiness of the morels and fingerling potatoes.


If you couldn’t tell already, the food is wonderful, there wasn’t anything I didn’t enjoy that evening. Therefore, it pains me to say I can’t recommend Grey Gardens as its environment was just so uncomfortable.

Despite making reservations two months in advance, our table of five was squished into a table of four – if we weren’t petite there’s no way we’d fit. To make matters worse, the tables are already so close together that it was even difficult to have our purses on the bench with us. 

Moreover, if everyone’s going to be packed like sardines, at least invest in adequate air conditioning - it was sweltering with the open kitchen. Who knows, maybe it’s Grey Garden’s way of giving diners a taste of the conditions their chefs endure. Believe me, I know your jobs aren't easy and respect and admire everything it takes to create such tasty dishes. I don’t need to sweat through my dress to appreciate your craft!

The search description on their website notes, “You can never be all things to all people, but you can make a restaurant that meets all your needs, and maybe other people's too.” I’m not demanding person, but focusing on a restaurant’s need to generate revenue (by packing seats into small real estate) and lower operating costs (by skimping on air conditioning), doesn’t create something that will meet other people’s needs too.

Who knows, maybe if  I went under different conditions - in the winter, with only a table for two, and reserving a seating as soon as the restaurant opens (so the heat and crowds haven’t built up) - I may have glowing reviews about Grey Gardens. However, without ideal conditions, the food isn't good enough to warrant eating in such an uncomfortable environment. In this day and age, there are tons of great Toronto restaurants where I can get fantastic fare and not subject myself to being cramped and sweaty.

Overall mark - 7 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 199 Augusta Avenue

Follow me on twitter to chat, be notified about new posts and more - https://twitter.com/GastroWorldBlog
____________________________
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:


Grey Gardens Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato