{Review} Summerlicious lunch at Origin North

Website: http://originnorth.com/
Twitter Handle: https://mobile.twitter.com/originnorth
Address: 2901 Bayview Avenue, Toronto, ON
When I visited:
 July 2015, Summerlicious lunch, 3 people
Rating: $$, 3.5

I had a poor brunch experience with the Origin location on King St. years ago with a hair in my food and terrible service, and was hesitant to return. Since I haven’t been to the Bayview location, I wanted to give the restaurant a second chance. I recall seeing Chef/Owner Claudio Aprile’s beautiful Origin North restaurant on episodes of MasterChef Canada and really wanted to see the large space in person. The restaurant is in the parking lot outside the upscale Bayview Village. The interior was huge; a perfect spot for a corporate venue and large parties. I could imagine the space being transformed into a lounge in the evening.  To make use of the gorgeous summer weather, my friends and I sat outside on the patio with large red umbrellas and wooden tables.

For my pre-fix lunch at $23, I ordered the smoked heirloom tomato gazpacho, the saffron aranchini with sweet pea and zucchini crudo, and the salted caramel cone.

gazpacho

gazpacho

Arancini

Aranchini

soft serve

soft serve

I enjoyed the strong tomato flavour of the gazpacho and liked that the texture was different than the thick pureed gazpacho I had been accustomed to. The aranchini was dense and well seasoned, but was more of an appetizer portion. My favourite was the cone and soft serve ice cream served in a bowl with peanut brittle. The berry sauce was refreshing and this ended the meal well…and the plating was beautiful!

Overall:

Aside from the portion size, I enjoyed my summerlicious meal. I need to come back to check out their regular menu to feel for the consistently of the food, given my highs and lows with the restaurant. I would recommend the restaurant for large parties or a place with laid back atmosphere.

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{Restaurant Opening} HOPO, a Fusion Style Hotpot Restaurant in Markham

Website: https://www.facebook.com/HOPOCanada/
Address: 20 Gibson Dr. , Markham, ON
When I visited:
 July 2015, Media dinner

*Pictures and blog post written by Bao Dao of http://www.lucidphotoevents.com

My first time to a “Blogger’s Food Tasting Event” on behalf of Mary’s Happy Belly was so awesome!   I really didn’t know what to expect at a Food Tasting event, so I just packed up my DSLR and headed to Warden/Steeles.  With an empty stomach, I wondered what HOPO was – the more I thought about HOPO, the more it sounded like hot pot, the more hungry I got.  So as I was driving there, I imagined a huge layout of fresh ingredients aisle to select from just like any other hot pot in the area. I was running some Archery Tag at Archers Arena beforehand, so some hot pot would be super-duper nice!  

Here’s my recap of the event:

When I arrived, I found that HOPO was tucked in to the right side of Chatime.   Walking through the doors, I was warmly greeted by the staff and was given a name tag!  It’s a really nice decent size place, modern design, and to my surprise – no fresh ingredients aisle of endless food. I’m really curious about HOPO now, maybe it’s just a regular restaurant after all. Looked around, and recognized some prominent names in the Food Blogging Community like Hubert L (@goodfoodtoronto).  Took my seat across from Christine (@tastebytes) and waited for others to arrive.  I met Alex (@hypebelly) and we chatted for a bit until Jon & Christina (@CJNoms) arrived as well a several others.

Appetizers started to come out after a brief intro/welcome, and of course, my first basic instinct was to look for better lighting to take photos.  We opened up the window shades to allow bright natural light in and the frenzie photoshoot was on!

RED – Korean Style Popcorn Chicken

RED – Korean Style Popcorn Chicken

An array of four different appetizers came out and the first seen here is the RED – Korean Style Popcorn Chicken tossed in HOPO’s sweet & spicy house sauce.

Japanese Style Popcorn Chicken

Japanese Style Popcorn Chicken

This is a Japanese Style Popcorn Chicken dressed with Okonomiyaki sauce and bonito flakes – quite yummy!

Popcorn Chicken Trio-o-dishes is Taiwanese Inspired

Popcorn Chicken Trio-o-dishes is Taiwanese Inspired

The third of the Popcorn Chicken Trio-o-dishes is Taiwanese Inspired – simple bite size pieces with house special sweet sour dip.

 Taiwanese Stinky Tofu stuffed with Kim Chi!

Taiwanese Stinky Tofu stuffed with Kim Chi!

The fourth appetizer comes with a very distinctive smell – yup it’s Taiwanese Stinky Tofu stuffed with Kim Chi! If you love the smell, this appetizer is highly recommended by HOPO’s owner Owen.

Taiwanese Stinky Tofu

Taiwanese Stinky Tofu

Must have everything it one bowl! Popcorn chicken was done quite well, juicy and tender.  A great start.

After our appetizers were done, I got myself a Honey Pomelo Soda. Refreshing with bits of orange shavings at the bottom.

Honey Pomelo Soda

Honey Pomelo Soda

I was enjoying my drink when I felt a tap on my shoulder, I turned around to see this!

Malaysian Laksa

Malaysian Laksa

Malaysian Laksa

Malaysian Laksa

The flavour of this HOPO #ONEPOT is Malaysian Laksa, and it comes packed with all the ingredients already.  Ingredients included: Shrimps, Pork Balls, Chicken Stick, Puff Tofu, Yuba, Enoki Mushroom, Mini Sausages, several hot pot staples and two elusive Quail Eggs!  That explains why there wasn’t an ingredients aisle.  Props to the owners for prepping the Quail Eggs before putting them into the soup though, they were amazing!  I tried to get the quail egg recipe from the owner Owen, but his lips were sealed.

The pot is self-contained with flammable pellets used to heat up the pot as I eat.  Once the pellets all burned out, a server refuels with a new batch to keep the heat going.  If too hot or over-boiling, you can request for the flame to be extinguished. A neat idea that the owners of HOPO brought to Toronto while traveling Asia – they wanted to bring other Asian inspired flavours to HOPO.  Having the #ONEPOT removes the chaos of the ingredients aisle as well as needless wastes and perishables.  Convenient #ONEPOT allow no cross contamination of other soups AND I get it all to myself!

Since I’m a little bit of a control freak – the one thing I did not like was that I was not able to control the flames as the food cooks.  While all the ingredients were being overcooked to death, I had to be careful not to touch the pot itself else I was warned I might get burnt.   Other than that, the soup was great, flavours were amazing and spiciness level was on point!  I had the choice of pairing my soup with egg noodles or rice.  For the Laksa flavour, rice was the better choice for me.  But if you are a noodle person, then noodles is your best friend.

I was curious as to what the next table got and took a quick snap of their #ONEPOT: Spicy Beef Soup

Spicy beef soup

Spicy beef soup

I was getting full, but desserts were next and boy, they do not disappoint! All of which are made in-house by Chef/Owner Jun.  I got to sample the Tofu Cheesecake & the Matcha Green Tea Milk Pudding.  Delicious.  Tofu Cheesecake hands down.

Tofu Cheesecake & the Matcha Green Tea Milk Pudding

Tofu Cheesecake & the Matcha Green Tea Milk Pudding

And with that, all the food disappeared in to my happy belly.  I had to say a huge thank you to HOPO for having me as well as the staff for an amazing job.  On behalf of Mary’s Happy Belly (@themary_tang) I would like to thank the owners Owen & Jun for the invite.  Another thank you to Dolly (@dollyshao) for organizing the event!  Until next time, stay hungry friends.

DSC_6509

– Bao

@wowbaobao (Instagram)
@BaoTDao (Twitter)
http://www.lucidphotoevents.com

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{Review} Antica Pizzeria in Niagara Falls serves wood-oven pizzas

Website: http://www.anticapizzeria.ca/
Address: 5785 Victoria Ave., Niagara Falls, ON
When I visited:
 June 2015, lunch, 3 people
Rating: $, 3.5

Many restaurants including fast-food chains charge inflated prices being close to Clifton Hills, Niagara Falls. Antica Pizzeria was about a 5 minute walk to the top of Clifton Hills and there was free parking at the back of the restaurant for its customers, so I felt the price was reasonable given the quality of the food and the location.

The price for a pizza ranged from $11.99 to $16.99 and one pizza was enough to satisfy a big eater like me.

The interior was huge with 3 separate rooms, including a bar area and a large patio.

Antica Pizzeria and Restorante

Antica Pizzeria and Restorante

Antica

Antica

We ordered 2 pizzas for my husband and I, and spaghetti and meatballs ($6.99) from the childrens menu for my daughter.

The first pizza we ordered was the Molisana Pizza with mozzarella, rapini, Siciliean sausage, sweet onions, garlic, oregano and asiago cheese. I would definitely re-order this pizza.

Molisana with mozzarella, rapini, Siciliean sausage, sweet onions, garlic, oregano and asiago cheese $16.99

Molisana with mozzarella, rapini, Siciliean sausage, sweet onions, garlic, oregano and asiago cheese $16.99

Capricciosa with mozzarella, mushrooms, cooked prosciutto, artichoke hearts, oregano and asiago cheese $16.99

Capricciosa with mozzarella, mushrooms, cooked prosciutto, artichoke hearts, oregano and asiago cheese $16.99

The second was the Capricciosa Pizza with mozzarella, mushrooms, cooked prosciutto, artichoke hearts, oregano and asiago. The crust was crispy and the pizza was great overall, but the artichokes were bland. The artichokes tasted like it came right out of a can.

There was a large selection on their menu with 20 wood fire pizza options, salads, meat/fish dishes and pasta. As for my daughter’s dish, the meatball was tender and the sauce was light and appetizing. I loved this!

Pasta kids menu Antica

Pasta kids menu Antica

As for the service, it was ok.  It did feel like our server was rushing us to order but took a long time to get our bill. The food did come out quickly piping hot.

Overall:

For a touristy area, Antica Pizzeria was a great spot by Clifton Hills in Niagara Falls. I don’t know if there is often a line-up during summer months, but we were able to find plenty of seats walking in on a weekday in June.

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{Review} Ethiopian House, one of the best lunch deals at Yonge St. and Bloor St.

Website: http://www.ethiopianhouse.com/
Address: 4 Irwin Ave., Toronto, ON
When I went: Several times 2014 & 2015 for lunch
Rating: $, 5 (based on the lunch deal)

There is a reason why the Ethiopian House has been opened for 20 years; the owner is friendly, the food is authentic and the prices are reasonable.

Working close by, I am constantly searching for inexpensive lunch deals without doing the fast-food route. Ethiopian House hits the mark!

My friend and I normally order the vegetarian lunch special ($7.45) which includes 7 servings of vegetarian dishes, and the meat lunch special (Bayaaynatu  for $7.95) which includes small servings of tibs (pan fried beef), kitfo (beef tartar) or cooked collard greens and cottage cheese served with injera.

The injera (a slightly spongy flatbread) is the perfect medium to pick up the food with my hands and to soak up all the beautiful flavours. Can you believe it was not love at first sight when I first had injera? Now, I crave the injera and Ethiopian food often! I think eating with my hands heightens the flavours.

Ethiopian House

Ethiopian House

Veggie and meat lunch special

Veggie and meat lunch special

 

Overall:

For less than $20 before tax for 2 people, the lunch special is filling and oh-so-delicious!! For the quality of food, taste and portions, this tops my list as one of the best deals in the Yonge and Bloor area.

I have been here for dinner and also enjoyed the dishes. This restaurants gets a big thumbs up from me.

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{Event} Kitchenaid Cook for the Cure Culinary Showdown Launch Party with Chef Corbin Tomaszeski

Websitehttp://www.cirillosacademy.com/ and http://culinaryshowdown.ca/
Address: Cirillo’s Academy, 4894 Dundas St W., Tor., ON
When I attended: June 24th, 2015 6:00pm to 9:00pm, Charity event

I was invited to the first launch party for the Culinary Showdown at Cirillo’s Academy hosted by Chef Corbin Tomaszeski, where 4/5 chefs participating in this year’s Culinary Showdown was revealed. This year, the line up includes Chef Corbin Tomaszeski, Chef Ricardo, Chef Elizabeth Faulkner, and returning champion, Chef Lynn Crawford.

Last year I attended a similar launch party at Chef Susur Lee’s restaurant Bent, where I ended up signing up for the Kitchenaid Cook for the Cure Culinary Showdown event to support the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. The event with Susur Lee was fabulous with his presence with tons of delicious food throughout the evening. I will write about my experience at the Culinary Showdown soon where I got to cook alongside Chef Vij Vikram and a fun team on stage to battle for the Culinary Showdown title. 

 

Chef Corbin

Chef Corbin

Culinary Showdown 2015

Culinary Showdown 2015

Chef John Cirillo was at the event at his cooking school to welcome the attendees including many who have participated in the showdown in the past.

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Launch Party

Launch Party

It was a touching evening as alarming statistics were revealed. Did you know that 1 in 9 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer? During the evening, we had an inspirational story from a fundraiser named Tina who talked about her hardships including losing her mother who battled various types of cancers, including breast cancer. Tina had already raised $9000 to-date which is incredible! Her take-away message to all attendees was,”every penny counts!” I totally agree.

Also, as part of the evening festivities, we had 5 teams participate in a cooking battle, where each team had only 12 minutes to prepare a dish. Our team made a pan-fried rosemary hoisin marinated pork loin with a butter wine sauce, over a bed of polenta, smashed peas and a side of green beans. Although we did not win the competition that evening, our team was happy with the presentation and the overall outcome.

Our team

Our team

Our group's creation

Our group’s creation

With the Culinary Showdown happening on November 14th, 2015 at the Weston Harbour Castle, I encourage you sign up! Before I registered to fundraise last year, I told myself that I would not be able to raise over $200. With supportive friends and family, I ended up fundraising over $2800 in a month. Imagine how much you can raise if you started now?

Having participated in the Kitchenaid Cook for the Cure Culinary Showdown, I can cross this off my bucket list. Knowing that the proceeds made a difference is the best feeling in the world! 

For more information, please visit the Culinary Showdown Website. 

Thank you to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation for the invitation to the launch party!

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{Review} Sea Witch Fish and Chips on St. Clair Ave. West

Website: http://www.seawitchfc.com/
Twitter Handle: @seawitchfc
Address: 636 St. Clair Ave. W, Tor., ON
When I visited: June 22, 2015 for a Media dinner, returned July 2015
Rating: 5

I was invited to a media dinner with owners Jacki Strahl and her husband Kevin Kowalcyzk present to share their experience and explain the menu offerings. Both Jacki and Kevin was in the restaurant business prior to opening SeaWitch in late 2014. Kevin worked at Penrose Fish and Chips for over 10 years, so he definitely knows a thing or two about perfecting a fish and chip recipe.

Sea Witch

Sea Witch

The Sea Witch menu focuses on what they do best, fish and chips, with a choice of halibut, pickerel, haddock, cod, and artic char. Once a week they bring a new fish for their “fish of the week” feature. What makes their fish and chips stand out from other restaurants is the crispy and golden crust that comes from deep frying in beef tallow. The onion rings are also fried in the beef tallow to get the crispy thick crust. Also, the restaurant are Ocean Wise partners, so customers can trust that the fish are sustainable and from a reputable source.

Everything at the restaurant is made in-house from their coleslaw, dressing, tartar sauce, as well as the desserts. The chips are cut fresh every day from local potatoes.

Freshly cut potatoes

Freshly cut potatoes

At the media night, I sampled the following:

The Witch’s Brew (house chowder)-This chowder is outstanding!! The broth was flavourful and the fish pieces were generous.

The Witch's Brew

The Witch’s Brew

The halibut cakes served with pickled onions-I’ve had a lot of overly salty cod cakes in my life, and the halibut fish cake was packed of the tender fish with a well seasoned crust. I highly recommend this!

Halibut Cakes

Halibut Cakes

Coleslaw and onion rings- The homemade coleslaw with the light dressing was good but not a huge stand out for me. The onion rings fried in the beef tallow however had an incredibly crispy crust and stunning to look at. These rings were gobbled quickly at the table.

Onion Rings

Onion Rings

Halibut and Chips- I was surprised at the hefty portion for one fish. The fish was perfectly cooked under the crispy batter.

Fish and Chips at Sea Witch

On my second return, I had the Lake Huron white fish (special of the week) with fresh cut fries and the chowder, and I was really satisfied with the portions and taste.

Overall:

This is my favourite fish and chip restaurant in Toronto! Having return to the restaurant more than one occasion, the food was consistent, the atmosphere was laid back, and the service was attentive.  Also, I loved that my daughter got a cup of crayons and a big colouring book to keep her occupied.

The fish fried in the beef tallow makes the flavour and crust stand out from other fish and chip restaurants. The house chowder is the best I have had in Toronto, and even better than the chowders I had travelling to my trip to Canada’s east coast with chunks of fish.

The owners will likely never create fish tacos or over complicate their menu, but the owners can focus on what they do best. Come on by to taste the real deal!
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