La Cubana

LC Entrance

Sometimes we foodies just get lucky. Forget about those resto-reviews written by folks like me. Forget about reservations and research. Simply close your eyes and tap your sparkly red shoes like Dorothy. Okay, one exception: Make sure you are walking the golden culinary pathway (Roncesvalles) and throw a dart at the first appealing doorway on the street’s north end: La Cubana (392 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-538-7500, lacubana.ca) .

That’s what my friend Rocca and I did last month and the place blew our not-very-Spanish socks off.

It didn’t hurt that we got the last table before a weekday lunch line started to pile up at 1pm. LC Seating We stepped lightly as a server guided us towards the last vacant booth, sighing happily to claim a little territory in this highly manicured eatery that is both bright and airy, with wake-me-up colourful tiles covering the floors and a long, soda fountain-type bar separating hungry customers from a busy grill-line-cook outputting seafood and pork delights.LC Signs

At La Cubana back-lit signs yell out red-lettered words from the menu, creating a mystique called hunger (if you are like us) and no entiendo.

Bocaditos, medianoche, frituras, dolce and tostones say the signs and that’s all part of La Cubana’s charm. Enter here a new world of flavours all expertly prepared, at great prices and in beautiful surroundings.

Take the sandwiches and medianoches section of the menu. You think the latter means something different, but it doesn’t. A medianoche is what any serious salsa dancer turns to for a midnight snack.

“Those are sandwiches, too,” explained our friendly server who was moving at Roadrunner speed to keep up with the lunch traffic.

“Duh,” said we in tandem and along came a LC Fish Sandmost sumptuous grilled fish sandwich, its contents spilling out of a soft, sweet-dough egg bun. A big hunk of perfectly grilled pickerel resided within, wedged around avocado, pineapple salsa, red cabbage slaw and mayo making the whole thing a textural, multi-sensory delight.

We were having a girls’ lunch and sharing was part of the package. The mother-and-daughter-team beside us were in the same mode and I couldn’t help but notice they were switching between Spanish and English convo while nibbling away at a feast of small-plated bocaditos such as habanero glazed fried squid ($7), mussels with coconut and lime ($6) and tropical chips and salsa ($6).

Not us. As a Ricky Ricardo voice-alike sounded over the airwaves we happily awaited arrival of our second order: a big bowl stuffed to the brim with avocado, LC Saladhearts of palm, orange segments and Bibb lettuce. This clean, fresh offering with its crunchy white, baby palm stems (memories of white asparagus) would be a winner served at a beachside cafe in Nice or Veradero.

Speaking of all-inclusive vacations to Cuba and the wretched food sagas I’ve suffered through (second-hand) via rants from returning travellers, I assure you there will be no déjà vu at La Cubana. In fact, nothing should stop you from racing across the threshold of this newly opened (November 2013) establishment as soon as possible.

Especially, if you’re a dessert hound and want to join the fresh-out-of-the-fryer donut trend that has swept across North America’s beltline.

Rocca made me do it.

She forced me to share five, TimBit-sized donuts under the dolce portion of the menu, where it says quite plainly “donuts” and doesn’t whisper to you that these

LC donuts

seductive little creatures have been whipped up from a buttermilk Béarnaise batter that balloons into warm, sweet, heavenly dough that’s lovingly tossed and turned in a dry bath of cinnamon sugar so that when it hits your open mouth all that comes to mind is simply x-rated.

Five dollars for five! Priceless.LC Coffee

Especially if you pair it with a bistro glass full of cafe con leche ($4) that rivals any latte I’ve tasted in Riverdale, especially since the last drops in the glass are pure sugar (gracias, sweetened condensed milk).

Adios La Cubana. I hope to see you again, soon.

Brunch crunch

 

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S.I.L. defines brunch in this city – but who in their right mind wants to Stand In Line on a chilly weekend morning? Sadly, plenty. Hogtowners waiting for brunch is a Toronto phenom and I feel like the Luckiest Girl in Town when I sidle up to the entrance of Lady Marmalade (898 Queen Street East) or Bonjour Brioche (812 Queen Street East) and there’s no one standing there before me, huffing and gasping un-caffeinated breaths of frustration.

I thought things might improve if I went west. A few weekends ago, I crawled out of my lower Riverdale comfort zone and set my dream compass for Vancouver, where they’ve been bragging about tulips and cherry blossoms for months. But reality set in. I was stuck in my SUV, desperate and grumpy with hunger and reached no further than Bathurst and College, land of graffiti-splashed laneways and more cyclists than our mayor can wave a coke pipe at.

Aunties and Uncles (74 Lippincott Street, at College) is a veritable temple to the dawn-time repast. My Designated Eater and I were both blinded with culinary visions of A&U’s garlicky hash browns ensconced in bacon fat and their soft and pudgy breakfast tacos spiked with chorizo, spilling at the seams with scrambled eggs, pinto beans, cheddar cheese, cilantro and sour cream. But a large crowd of cell-phone-enabled twenty-somethings were already milling about, filling up their outdoor patio like a menacing swarm of tattooed wasps. We knew we were beat.

So we went east again, two blocks, our eyes now fixed on the newly-opened-for-brunch Windup Bird Cafe (382 College Street at Borden). Hail! The entrance contained not a soul – save for a young, pretty server, who rushed up to offer us the unbelievable: one of two free brunch tables on a Sunday in Toronto.

Loaded with windows, Windup Bird Cafe makes morning feel full of promise. IMG_6789-edit2While the spring sun streamed in, we felt caressed by the brunch gods and ordered the basics: Eggs Bennie and simple scrambled eggs. Both broke from the mould, featuring an emerald-green pile of lightly sautéed Swiss chard and kale. (Okay, greens are not everyone’s thing but you-know-who scarfed down one and a half portions long before my third-refill of rich, brewed coffee.)

Our table was wobbly, which our server recognized immediately, sending owner Sang Kim to repair. He came armed with a stack of bookmarks to slip beneath the offending leg. But first, he doled out two of them, leading us to discover that Sang is not only handy, but an award-winning Canadian-Korean fiction author who has collaborated with Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje and dozens of other Toronto literary heads in The Stories That Are Great Within Us, recently published by Exile Editions.

Sang has been described as a serial restauranteur. Windup Bird is his seventh restaurant and he’s consulted on the opening of 27 others. He presently presides over three – sort of.  Seoul Food Co and Yakitori Bar (1 Baldwin Street) is a “two-in-one” resto serving up modern Korean and Japanese food.  At “the Bird”, his chef Yumiko Kobayashi focuses on locally-sourced international cuisine and the lunch and dinner menu changes with the seasons. Like brunch, the emphasis is more on local and healthy, versus highfalutin cuisine. Plates are stacked high with my favourite thing – veggies – and every table contains different and very dainty china and silverware. These vintage settings contrast nicely with the mod, lime-green and orange upholstered booths on the second level. It’s an airy, bright spot warmed up with shiny wood floors and patches of exposed brick.

But back to the food: Sang sources his smoky bacon from Metzger Meat products in Hensall, Ontario and buys his bread from the hottest new artisanal bakery in town: Blackbird, which just opened its retail doors in a vacated Cob’s Bakery at 172 Baldwin Street in Kensington. The bread was sublime: a slice of airy, moist Toronto sourdough and a slice of flaxseed and sesame sourdough containing a mystery herb: Oregano, is that you?

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I’ll happily windup my birds and fly back to this cafe soon. And if you, my dear readers, concur, I have essentially committed brunch hari kari. Chances are this spot will be Lineup City the next time I have a hankering for eggs.

Roti rendezvous

My husband specializes in lunch. From Ossington to Greenwood, Eglinton to the Lakeshore, Don knows where to find the tastiest midday morsels this city has to offer.  It could be pizza, tiropita, falafel or sushi. Today it is a butter chicken roti and a vegetable samosa at Gandhi Indian Cuisine (554 Queen St. W; 416-504-8155).

Despite his head-shaking declaration: “Not a pretty place, Mado!” I’m eager to see Gandhi’s dark, dingy hole-in-the-wallness for myself. Continue reading “Roti rendezvous”

Three cups of coffee

It is a tough job writing this blog but someone has to do it… This week’s mission is to introduce three fabulous coffee shops all within walking distance of my home.  With true dedication and selfless determination, I ordered a latte from all three.  Here’s what happened:

I’m a regular at Broadview Espresso (817 Broadview Ave; 416-553-3833) two blocks north of the Danforth. It’s right around the corner from Energia Althletics and there’s nothing like a latte after sivasana or a long morning run with Lea. Moreover, the staff at BE are very close to my heart.

Why do I love their latte?  It doesn’t hurt that their takeout cup for a double latte is larger than all the rest.  But it’s what’s inside that counts, right?  Barista Laura happily pulls an “extra hot” latte for me and the artist in her makes the prettiest decoration on top.  Magically, their low-fat (1 %) latte doesn’t taste low-fat at all. Continue reading “Three cups of coffee”

West side dim sum story

If you live in Toronto, you have to really want dim sum to drive 40 minutes to get some. And it better be good. We’ve got Chinatowns galore in this city and it seems crazy to make the trek to Mississauga for the sake of a dumpling.

But today, my posse and I would not settle for less.  So we drove west, far west, to Hurontario Street to the Emerald Chinese Restaurant (30 Eglinton Ave. W; 905-890-9338) where they wrap up their tall boulevard trees so strangely, they look like they belong on the storybook pages of Dr. Seuss.  We were ready for anything and everything.

Emerald seats 400; serves dim sum daily; the selection is vast; and the prices are reasonable — if not astounding. Unlike most Chinese establishments, they even accept credit cards. There’s just one problem: weekends attract so many devotees to this har gau mecca that they hand out numbers and use a loudspeaker to manage the sorry (but eager) waiting sardines knocking elbows in the foyer. Continue reading “West side dim sum story”