Ice Cream Dreams Program, NYC

I've got a quick stop over in Toronto en route to Cancun, so I thought I'd pop into the Maple Leaf lounge to share this story:

The Muse Hotel has an Ice Cream Dreams program to set them apart from the others in New York City.

The hotel's executive chef, Patricia Williams, will whip up any ice cream flavor you can dream of, and have it ready upon your arrival. All you have to do is give 48 hours notice, and be willing to pay the hefty price for it. The custom ice cream is made by the pint. The base pint (base flavor) goes for about $14, and additional ingredients are $6.

I'd get a trio:

Banana + mint + chocolate chunk ($26)
Banana + sour cream + sour cherries ($26)
Banana + tamarind + dash of cayenne ($26)

What's your ultimate flavor?

The Muse Hotel
130 West 46th Street
New York City, New York, USA
Telephone: (212) 485-2400

Mexican Food Adventure in Cabo Mexico

I'm heading to Cancun tomorrow, and although I am not a huge fan of resorts, I will grab any opportunity to escape Ottawa's cold, snowy winters.

My upcoming travels to Mexico reminded me of my trip to Cabo San Lucas last year. After a great afternoon of jeep rallying along the Mexican valleys and beaches one afternoon, my friends and I ventured into town to get some grub. By that point, we were so sick of the resort food, we were willing to eat anything. I'm usually pretty cautious about eating street food in Mexico, but I decided to ditch all my fears that day.

Our first stop was at a restaurant/bar that looked like a little tropical hut called Misiones de Kino. While driving around, my friend J noticed this place tucked in between some souvenir shops. They make a mean margarita, and we spent a good part of the afternoon hanging out here.

After that, we wandered the streets of Cabo where we bought tacos and churros from the street vendors.

While at Misiones de Kino earlier, our bartender kept raving about a pescada dish at his favourite restaurant, Mariscos el Torito. We wanted to check it out, so he gave us some very vague directions, and off we went. We finally managed to find it after many attempts at asking for directions, and when we got there, we were nervous to go in because it looked a little sketchy (we thought that hole in the wall was the door...actually, it kinda was).

But as soon as we walked in, all was good. It was a nice, colorful restaurant with friendly staff.

We ended up having a feast. The grilled pescada was highly recommended to us, and it turned out to be our favorite dish of the evening. The menu was entirely in Spanish, but most dishes had pictures beside the name so we were able to get an idea of what each dish looked like.

After our satisfying meal, we wandered the streets a bit more. By that time, people were bringing out fresh tamales to sell.

At the end of the night, we landed at Cabo Wabo, the famous restaurant/nightclub founded by Sammy Hagar.

Dim Sum at Chu Sing, Ottawa

I met up with my mom and some family friends this morning for dim sum at Chu Sing, and although I didn't feel like it, I couldn't turn down the opportunity. If you're Chinese, you NEVER turn down dim sum. I always tell CK that it's like a Persian turning down just doesn't make any sense.

Dim sum is the name for a Chinese cuisine of small plates that consists of meat, seafood, vegetable, and/or dessert. It is somewhat comparable to Spanish tapas. Besides the actual food, one of the differences is that dim sum is eaten in the morning or for brunch. As my family always said, dim sum should always be served with Chinese tea to help counterbalance the oil in the food. That's how you remove the guilt from eating so much greasy food for breakfast...the tea will break down all of the oils.

Literally meaning 'touch the heart', dim sum was always a treat for me as a kid...actually, it still is! The fun part is how the food is served.

Generally, the food is wheeled around on carts by servers. As they are wheeling along, they yell out what they have in their carts. The yelling part is important because each server is carrying different foods. The moment you hear or see what you want, you flag down the server before they get away. Each dish you take is recorded on a sheet, so that the total can be calculated accurately when you are ready to pay.

Here's what we had. It was a lot, so I'm going to refrain from commenting on every dish.

Deep fried tofu.

Eggplant with shrimp stuffing in a black bean sauce.

Beef tendon with lobak (aka daikon). This dish is definitely an acquired taste. You need to get past the texture of the tendon to enjoy this dish.

Spare ribs.

Yellow siu mai. Siu mai dumplings are not wrapped completely. The wrapper is like a little cup with the stuffing sticking out on the top. This was a pork siu mai.

White sui mai. Another pork dumpling.

Har gow or shrimp dumplings.

Phoenix talons. They are actually chicken feet. Because chicken in Chinese also means prostitute, they use the word phoenix instead. The phoenix is very symbolic in the Chinese culture. People only eat this chicken feet dish for the skin. There is no meat to 'em! They are first deep fried, then boiled, then marinated in a sauce, and then steamed. That's how they get the fluffy, fall off the bone texture.

Sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaves. To eat this, you peal the lotus leaf (only used for steaming), and eat the rice part. The rice is usually stuffed with a combination of meats and vegetables. This one had mushroom and pork in the middle.

Deep fried shrimp dumpling.

At this point, you're probably thinking 'oh god...not another dumpling!' This dumpling is special because it is a 'soup dumpling'. While you may think that this is a dumpling to be put into soup, it is in fact the opposite. It is a dumpling with soup in the middle. When you bite into them, you not only get the meat, but a wonderful soup as well. Unfortunately, there wasn't much soup in these ones.

Deep fried shrimp rolls.

Ham sui gok. This is a deep fried rice flour dumpling with a pork and vegetable stuffing. The stuffing is salty, and the rice flour dumpling wrapper is sticky and a little sweet.

Pan fried radish cake. One of my favorites! The ones here are made really well. Nice and fluffy, which means they put a good amount of daikon radish in them.

Ha cheong fun. Steamed rice noodle rolls with whole shrimp inside.

Dan tat. Chinese egg tart.

If you're ever in Ottawa's Chinatown, the two main places for dim sum are Chu Sing or Yangtze across the street. Although neither is exceptional, the food is no doubt good. They are most popular due to their location, size, and selection of dim sum dishes.

Chu Sing
691 Somerset Street West
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Telephone: 613-233-8818

Chu Shing Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Pesto's Deli, Ottawa

My friend, Wals, and I headed to Pesto's Deli for a quick lunch today. He had never been here before, and was impressed that there was a decent Italian deli sandwich place in the West End.
Pesto's Deli is a family owned Italian joint located in a strip mall in Ottawa West (Kanata to be exact). It is actually more than just a deli. Besides the endless selection of Italian meats, they serve fresh pasta and sandwiches for lunch, and also have a wall of imported specialty foods such as Illy coffee. They have a lot of regulars visiting them for lunch during the week, and it's a great place to grab a quick bite to eat, or to sit the whole afternoon and chat with the friendly staff.

My lunch was a limonata and a large calabrese sandwich. The calabrese sandwich had hot capicollo, sopressata, and marinated eggplant. It was a decent size sandwich. It didn't need any sauce because the eggplant was marinated in an olive oil that coated the bread well.

Wals had the pesto chicken fettucine with an Orangina. The pasta was fresh but he found the dish a bit too oily for his likings.
The last time I was here, I had a great time. I came in to grab a quick coffee to wake myself up before a dinner party, and ended up hanging out chatting with the staff. I learned that the owners also own Il Negozio Nicastro on Bank Street. The young man working that Sunday afternoon wasn't sure how to make a latte (he had just started), so he let me go behind the counter to help make it. He made the espresso, and I steamed the milk. This was after I told him that I had attended espresso school in Australia :).

Pesto's Deli
471 Hazeldean Road
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Telephone: 613-836-5432

Mini Japanese Crab Snacks

I returned to Pacific Mall again last weekend in search for some Chinese dragon beard candy. Unfortunately the guy that normally makes it was not selling any that weekend (he wasn't there). I didn't want to leave empty handed because we had drove 25 minutes out of our way to get there, and ended up circling around the BUSY mall for an hour looking for parking.

In absence of dragon beard candy, I headed to Ding Dong for some Asian snacks. I grabbed the usual: grape candy for my sis, some dried preserved lemon peels that always grosses CK out, and then, I came across some mini crab snacks...

What the!? They were real, whole, little edible crabs!

The sales person explained to me that they were mini soft shell crabs from Japan that were coated with a sweet sauce.

I bought a little bag for myself for $6.99/100g, and brought them home to try. The moment we got into the car, CK was complaining about how he could smell the fishiness from the crab snacks. I just ignored him.

Let me tell you, they are not the tastiest little buggers. They don't taste awful, but there's nothing special about them. They are crunchy like chips, but as soon as you start chewing on the crab shells, they become gritty in texture. The gritty bits end up sticking to your teeth because of the sugar coating. The little balls that cover the crabs seemed to be tiny little crunchy rice balls.

To get an idea of how mini they were, I took a photo of three different sized crabs beside a Canadian Toonie ($2 coin), an American quarter, and a Canadian dime.

There must have been something added to them to make them addictive because although the crabs didn't taste all that great, I found myself reaching in the bag for another, and another...

Christian Lacroix 2008 Limited Edition Evian Water Bottle

My aunt Mims just bought me 2 beautiful Christian Lacroix "Prêt-à-Porter" 2008 Limited Edition Evian water bottles.

Every year, Evian creates special edition water bottles to celebrate the holiday season. For 2008, two holiday bottles were designed with fashion designer Christian Lacroix. There is an ordinary pret-a-porter bottle with a snowflake/lace design, and there is an haute couture bottle that is in the the shape of a doll. While the pret-a-porter bottles are easier to find, the haute couture ones are not. Only 99 bottles were made worldwide.

Did my aunt buy the Evian bottles for me because I love Christian Lacroix, and the Evian company? Not the case. It was because I love anything edible (or drinkable), and it was on sale at Loblaws Superstore! Ah, it makes me laugh.

If you are interested in getting one for yourself, there is a blowout sale this week in Ottawa. The Evian website advertises them at $13.95 USD a bottle, and Mims bought them for just under $2 CDN a bottle. This is something you could buy to impress the guests.

Obama Tails

***[Updated Jan 14 '09] Just wanted to say thanks to BeaverTails Inc. who provided me with the photo above. It is a photo of founder Grant Hooker and his wife Pam showing off the latest Obama Tail at the event yesterday afternoon. The O's here look like they are chocolate and whipped cream instead of the Nutella that Grant showed on the CTV article. If anyone else have photos of an Obama Tail from yesterday's event, I'd love to check them out or post them***

In preparation for Obama's inauguration party next week, Ottawa's BeaverTails practiced making their much anticipated Obama Tails at the Rideau Canal today. Obama Tails will be served as part of the menu at the inauguration in Washington D.C., and the founders of BeaverTails will be there to serve them.

Between 1:30pm and 2:30pm this afternoon, the BeaverTails stand at Queen Elizabeth driveway and 5th Avenue test ran their Obama Tails and offered them free of charge. I desperately tried to make it out in time, but unfortunately got held up in a meeting. Boo work!

Obama Tails are a traditional Canadian sugar and cinnamon BeaverTail topped with a chocolate 'O'. Actually, the O's are made of Nutella, so they are technically hazelnut flavoured.

A BeaverTail is a fried piece of dough sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, and is very similar to elephant ears, or tiger ears. The BeaverTails stands here in Ottawa offers different flavors such as maple walnut, apple cinnamon, or banana chocolate.

They are an Ottawa delicacy, and from reviews from my American friends, they taste better than elephant ears! If ever visiting Ottawa in the January/February time frame, you MUST go skating on the Rideau Canal and buy a BeaverTail to try.

This link will provide you with an article and photo of what the Obama Tail looks like. There's also a video interviewing Grant Hooker, one of the founders of BeaverTails.

BeaverTails on Urbanspoon

Nicest Convenience Store in Toronto...Maybe Even North America?

While CK and I were driving along Jarvis Street in Toronto, we were shocked to see a Mac's convenience store housed in an old Victorian style house. It looked like it was too nice to even go in. Naturally, I asked CK to pull over so that I could take a picture.

I wonder how much their rent is?
471 Jarvis Street
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Telephone: 416-921-2715

The Tart Off - Pastel de Nata Challenge

After enjoying my very first pastel de nata (portugese custard tart) last week, I decided to search for the best pastel de nata in Toronto. This all started with Mark's comment on my Golden Wheat Bakery post.

Two places that came up most frequently were Nova Era bakery and Caldense bakery. About half of the people were die hard Nova Era fans, and the other half were Caldense fans. I decided to try them both out for myself, and find out which was better with a tart off!

I went to Dundas Street West, and bought a pastel de nata from each store. CK set up the blind taste test, and I judged the tarts on 3 criteria:

1. Taste of pastry alone
2. Taste of custard alone
3. Taste of pastry and custard together

Here were my results:

As you can see, tart #1 won hands down. And the winner was, drum roll please...

This was a fun little test, and CK and I had a great time doing it! This post is by no means saying that Nova Era bakery is better than Caldense bakery. We had read very good things about both places.

This made me think...there must be a mom-and-pop shop in Little Portugal that can make a mean pastel de nata.

If you know of any places that make them well, not necessarily in Toronto, I'd love to hear about it.

Thanks to Mark who made this challenge happen!

Pain Perdu, Toronto

If you want to taste real french pastries, visit Pain Perdu. When we walked into this bakery, we forgot where we were for a second. There was charming French music playing in the background, we were greeted by soft spoken Parisian staff, and the majority of their menu was written in French such as tarte a l'oignon and croque monsieur.

I came here for one thing, and that was for their croissants. Their croissants were named Best Croissant 3 times by the Toronto Star, so I had to check it out for myself.

Croissants made purely from butter are much harder to work with than croissants made from a combination of butter and shortening. Croissants made from pure butter are not only tastier, but they are much flakier and crispier. As a result, it is very hard to curl them like what you see at the grocery store. As a rule of thumb, good croissants should never be curled.

There's so much more to a good croissant, and if I had the time, I could write a dissertation on the topic. The difficulty of making a good one should not be ignored. A good croissant should be delicate, but not too delicate. Although made from butter, it should never feel too greasy. Lastly, it should never be chewy, but flakey on the inside.

I was explaining this to my mom and she said that it is ironic because in Chinese, croissants are literally translated as 'cow horns'. And because a cow horn is curved, Chinese always look for croissants that are curled.

Enough talking, here is my croissant paired with a cappuccino.

I'm probably the most ungraceful eater there is. CK was shaking his head at me the whole time because every time I took a bite, the croissant would shatter all over my plate and lap, and bits of the flakey pastry would stick to and cover my lips. Needless to say, I really enjoyed it, and gobbled it down within seconds. Unlike CK, I had no self control. When I was done eating my croissant, he had taken only two bites. Oh! Mon dieu!

CK ordered the almond croissant and a café au lait.

Pain perdu is more than just a boulangerie. They offer other sweet pastries, and lunch plates such as duck confit, and quiches. They, of course, also offer pain perdu or "lost bread", which is similar to but not to be mistaken as North American french toast.

736 St. Clair Avenue West
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Telephone: 416-656-7246

Pain Perdu on Urbanspoon