Showing posts with label tour. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tour. Show all posts

Have you heard about TOCA's Tastemaker's Series?

With the rise of social media and almost every element of travel experiences being shared, travelers are expecting more from their vacations. At times, Air BnB offers the ability to travel like a local, gleaming intelligence from hosts. So, it’s no surprise hotels are also stepping up their game, and now offer unique events for guests (or locals alike).

TOCA, located in the Toronto’s Ritz Carlton, has begun to curate a Tastemaker’s event series where culinary delights await guests. Their May Pio Cesare and Chef Oliver Glowig dinner ($195) has already sold out with just word-of-mouth promotion as diners are treated to a 5-course meal concocted by the Michelin starred chef with rare wine pairings from Pio Cesare’s family cellar.

Having had a glass of the Pio Cesare Barbera D’Alba DOC, I can see how the rich but smooth red can hold up against the acidity of tomatoes. It went wonderfully with TOCA’s signature ravioli capresi, which holds a golf ball sized sphere of soft chewy cacciota cheese in each pasta.

If you’re disappointed about the May dinner, Chef Glowig will be returning for five days at the start of November for TOCA’s alba white truffle week. Diners will have an option between a black and white truffle dinner ($150) or if you want to splurge and sit at the chef’s table in the kitchen, there’s a limited white truffle only menu ($300).

If the menu’s anything like the media preview, expect a bit of whimsy. An hour glass beaker-like apparatus is brought table side for the soup course. As the roasted chicken consommé is heated, it flows through to the top of the glassware to get infused by lemon, ginger, celery, and mushrooms becoming even more aromatic.

Afterwards, the consommé is finished off with plump agnolotti stuffed with ricotta and truffles (wow these were good) and black truffle shavings over top! Oh yes, it’s a fragrant soup that lingers on your tongue.

What really sounds interesting to me is the offsite picnics that TOCA partnered with Culinary Adventure Tours to run.

Every Thursday during the summer, guests will paddle to the Toronto Islands on a huge 18-person canoe ($150 regularly with a special Canada Day edition for $195). The trip from the downtown core to the islands should take 20-minutes and then there will be another 20-minute tour around the islands, including viewing the bird sanctuary.

After working up an appetite, diners head ashore for a locally sourced outside picnic. Think cheese and charcuterie boards, terrines, chicken roll-ups, bread, salad, and more.  Make sure to get a piece of the smoked cooked salmon – it’s such a great combination of a slight candied crust and smokiness.

On October 14th, you can join the restaurant as they bring guests around the Don Valley to forage their own wild mushrooms and edible plants ($85). Upon returning to TOCA, you’ll learn pick through them and ensure they’re suitable for consumption before the ingredients are transformed into a meal.

Who knows what you’ll find. But, if you happen to get a medley of mushrooms, hopefully the chef will sautée them with butter and combine them with a crisp crostini topped with shaved parmesan. It’s simple but delicious.  

Even though I live in Toronto, these events still sound like a unique experience. I imagine myself paddling around Lake Ontario (like the early settlers) and feasting on local eats (I’m sure more luxurious than the early settlers). Or I could harness my inner doomsday prepper and learn how to live off the Don Valley. And if anyone needs a guest to join them at the Chef’s table in November, you know how to contact me.

Disclaimer: I attended a media event to sample the above food. Rest assured, as noted in my mission statement, I will always provide an honest opinion.

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 181 Wellington Street West

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Tasting Thai food with Thai Select Canada

I love all the influences that Thai cuisine integrates: Chinese due to the origins of the early migrants who moved from southwestern China to Thailand bringing chilies and the stir-frying techniques; Portuguese when the Europeans first discovered the country adding seafood and coconuts; and India as traders brought many of the lovely spices and curries we enjoy today.

While Thailand’s population is over 65-million strong, according to Toronto’s Thai Trade Centre, there’s only about 11,000 people in Canada. Despite the small Canadian population, restaurants are well represented – especially in the metropolitan areas. Thailand’s government aims to protect the reputation of their food by instituting the Thai Select program, which endorses the authenticity of a restaurant (in terms of food and hospitality) and encourages those who don’t meet the qualifications to change their techniques.

If you see a restaurant bearing the Thai Select logo, it essentially certifies
  • a minimum of 60% of the menu is authentic Thai dishes; and
  • the cooking methods used are similar to what’s done in Thailand.
Restaurants awarded the premium status create dishes of a “premium” quality and also takes into account the overall décor and experience. Food isn’t just prepared authentically, it’s presented authentically with intricate decorations (as seen by the beautiful sculpted vegetable carvings).

I’ll admit, until being invited to the Thai Trade Centre, I’ve never recognized the Thai Select logo. I’m likely not alone, although 88 restaurants in Canada have already earned the certification, the general public knows little about the prestigious program. To change this, the Thai Trade Centre enlisted EatNMingle’s help to organize a Taste Thailand Tour.

Having been to a number of blogger events, there’s always latecomers who arrive halfway through. Not on this day! The eight of us (so thankful to be selected for such a small group) were so excited that everyone was early, eager to begin our travel from Toronto to Kingston and then Ottawa. Along with members from the Thai Trade Centre, Chef Nuit (Thai Select’s Canadian Ambassador), and Chef Jeff Regular (of Pai restaurant in Toronto), we set off… on time!

On board the bus, a breakfast from Patchmon’s Thai Dessert staved off our hunger. Inside, two flaky pastries (one filled with curried potato and the second encapsulating taro and mushroom) and delicious pineapple cookies.

Indeed, it’s a heavy breakfast. Similar to other East Asian cultures, breakfast in Thailand generally tends to be a substantial meal. Items like congee, fried dough and noodles are frequently consumed to give everyone the necessary energy throughout the day. Patchmon’s puffs consisted of delicate crispy layers – the curried potato akin to a lighter samosa, while the taro and mushroom an interesting earthy combination.

Given my day was all about eating, I didn’t need that much sustenance, so saved the pineapple cookies for the following day. If you’re familiar with the Tawainese pineapple cakes, Patchmon’s cookies has a similar thin soft crust and centre, except less sweet and not as heavy. I loved the pineapple slivers you could still see and taste inside the pastry and its chewy sticky consistency, similar to a fig newton.

Another treat for the day was visiting the Thailand Ambassador for Canada, His Excellency Mr. Vijavat Isarabhakdi, at his family’s home in Ottawa. A beautiful property, located on a quiet residential street, the pale blue and white decor throughout the house was utterly tranquil.

Yet, there were so many interesting photos, beautiful sculptures and intricate flower arrangements that I didn’t know where to look first! All while sipping on the most delicious sweetened coconut water with young coconut pieces.

Settling into the dining room, an elegant afternoon tea was laid out. As much as I love scones with Devonshire cream, savoury foods steal my heart, so I’ll opt for the Thai afternoon tea any day. The thoong thong are rice paper sachets filled with a chicken, shrimp and crab mixture and tied together with a spring onion. Resembling a filled coin purse, the crisp golden bites were the perfect bite sized hors d’oeuvres.

While the tod man gai is traditionally made with fish, His Excellency’s chef switched the protein for chicken instead. Made into a paste with red curry, kaffir lime leaves, and micro fine pieces of green beans, the skewers were almost like meat balls, except pan fried. Despite being dunked into a sweet sauce, the glaze was very light and with the crisp vegetables was rather nice.

A modern take on Thai cuisine was served - the same spicy salmon salad that won a competition hosted amongst the other Embassy chefs. Salmon is rare in Thailand, but the sashimi style fish dressed with lemongrass, chili, lime juice, mint and avocado was delicious.

The sole sweet was a coconut sticky rice topped with Thai custard. Normally, the warm sweet and salty rice dessert is served with fruits. This rendition took the dessert to the next level by adding a luscious smooth palm sugar and egg custard. You could eat each layer separately and be satisfied, but together the contrasting textures were fantastic.   

During the tea, we learnt all about the Thai Select program and His Excellency’s love for food. Moreover, he shared that since 2017 will be Canada’s 150th birthday, all Embassies have been invited to host an event at the pavilion in Ottawa. Of course, Thailand will be showcasing their warm culture and delicious food as well.

It wouldn’t be a tasting tour without restaurant visits, we sampled so much that our lunch at Thai House Cuisine and dinner at Sukhothai became posts of their own (click the names for the corresponding review).

Looking back at the meals and reading Thai Select’s website, they describe the tradition best: “A popular way to savor the delight of the Thai meal is dining together with a group of friends and share the many dishes together. It's always a hearty feast filled with fun and fiery flavors of Thai culinary creations.”

What started out as a group of individuals, many who didn’t know each other, ended as a night of mischievous laughter (thank you to His Excellency for gifting us bottles of pad Thai sauce that made for an interesting KFC popcorn chicken rest stop cooking experience). As we proceeded through each meal, we certainly savoured the feasts, but also connected and bonded over the dishes.

Seize the day! Grab a group of loved ones and do a Taste Thailand Tour across Canada of your own. You even have a navigator: just visit Thai Select and let the help guide your journey.  

How To Find Them

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