Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Toronto: The Best Chips EVER

i am obsessed with potatoes, any way you cut it
I know what you’re thinking, a posting on chips, is she for real? Why, yes, yes I am. One of my worst vices, apart from doughnuts, is potato chips. I can eat bags of them. But I’m really picky about my chips. For instance, I only like Old Dutch Salt & Vinegar and Lays Ketchup. But then, I met President’s Choice. Oh that Galen Weston is a good man.

The story goes like this: several months ago Rosa invited my sister and I over for dinner. I (obviously) got hungry while she was cooking and she offered me a bag of chips. Buffalo Wings and Blue Cheese chips, ewww. I declined. Then my stomach growled so I reluctantly opened them. Seven minutes later the bag was empty.

The best chips I’ve ever eaten. Ahhhhh-mazing.

Toronto: Blo Dry Bar

blo me
Sue me, I had to go with the most obvious and most cliched tagline.

Meet Blo.  The concept is cute + bubblegum pink + chic.  According to Canadian fashion mags, it's Toronto's first blowout bar - a walk-in one-stop place that meets all your (glorified) blowdrying needs.  Personally, I got swayed by the fact they explicitly state that you're not cheating on your hairstylist - something I would never do.  I adore my hairguy, he is a hairgod.  It took a little more than a year but I finally decided to give it a go.  Here's what happened.

They say you get a fabulous blow out for about $30 in about 30 minutes.
But really you get a good blow out for about $45 in about 40 minutes.
  • I'm okay with the fact it took longer, but $37.29 is the bottom line. Now add tip.
  • A simple shampoo and rinse minus a scalp massage. 
  • I didn't get final product or finishing touch.
  • They have several different styles to choose from, including updos.  
  • It was fun. 
  • My hair looked good. 

The final word, however, is that I think it's too expensive and not as refined as it could be.  No frills may be the way to go than blo.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Lashes: Easy Falsies

stick 'em up

:Standard at $6:

There is only one place in Canada that sells these self-adhesive lashes. Shifeon on Robson Street in Vancouver. I get several on my trips out there, and otherwise get people to pick some up for me.  The ones I'm wearing below were picked up by one very sweet westcoast belle.

After practice, and having found the best glue ever (Duo), I prefer my Shus , but sometimes time and patience are forces you cannot reckon with.  That's when you go pre-glued.  Take these bad boys out. Unwrap, peel, trim, stick.

This weekend I took a little nap.  The little turned into one hour too long leaving me 20 minutes to get ready.  I made a cup of coffee and put on these puppies:

Left: All me baby | Right: Falsies in an instant
Left: Just me again  |  Right: Love it

Next time you’re on Robson, don’t ignore this store. And don’t blame me if you end up buying more than you bargained for. Buy in bulk.

Love it.

Toronto: Big Smoke (formerly known as Craft) Burger v. South St Burger Co

phresh meat
Craft and South St. both promise the same thing: fresh, never frozen quality meat - served the way you want, when you want it.

If I had to pick, I'd go with South St. because they have New York Fries - the junk I lived off in high school.  Never underestimate nostalgia.

These burger joints will probably stick around even though the haute burger craze has subsided.  They're smart little franchises because they don't cater to the late night crowd, even though I'm sure they'd make a killing.  Then again, I wouldn't want the drunken putzes stumbling out of Brant or the sloppy filth spilling out of Philthy's getting their paws all up in my grill either. 

Big Smoke Burger formerly known as Craft: Craft Burger on Urbanspoon 

South St: South St. Burger Co. on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Toronto: Balzac's Coffee Roastery

a Parisian style cafe in a historical Canadian site

:Distillery District:

I need coffee. It fuels my brain, heart, and body.

Without coffee the world would be a bad place.  I think if more people had a cup in the morning, there would be more peace, love and joy in the world.

I love Starbucks and illy.
I like Second Cup and Blenz.
I dislike crappy coffee.

Then there is spectacular coffee. I know of two. If you know more, please do tell.

{Jamaica Blue Mountain}

As my most recent discovery it gets first mention. I met up with an old friend who told me about it and circumstance would have it that I saw it while I was in Kensington a few days later. It was delicious.


Some herald it as the best coffee in Canada, which is high praise considering you can only get it at two locations (in Toronto). I prefer the Distillery District site because I am madly in love with the area. It seems fitting that this supercoffee resides in one of Toronto’s most culturally vibrant areas.  P.S. Their other location is in Liberty Village. 

I kind of love how the barista makes pretty pictures in my latte. I know it’s nothing new, but details like this make me smile. It’s always about the details.

Balzac's Coffee Roastery on Urbanspoon

Toronto: Jules Bistro Cafe

like visiting an old friend
:Entertainment District:

I’m a realist with an overactive imagination that channels the one romantic bone I have in my body. It went into overdrive when I first stepped into Jules. It’s the cutest little French restaurant on Spadina just south of Richmond. I've been told that Jules is EITHER the name of the owner's son OR the name of the owner, depends on whose comment you choose to believe.  Either way, my little dreamland vision was wrong.  But I still like it, after all, imagination is just one's imagery. So I still think the man I see sitting outside drinking and smoking a cigarette really did have an epic love story in the mountains of Europe.  The mystery wo(man) who commented below actually told me I may have insulted him for thinking he might have been from Paris? I figured French food and made the MOST OBVIOUS leap :)  Grenoble sounds far more romantic, which the truth rarely is. 
My first experience at Jules still involved munching on their daily quiche.  And as I watched the soft-spoken hostess/waitress walk around, I created a romantic love story between her and the mister outside.  Pure fiction of course.

The facts remain, however, that Jules is comfortable, like visiting an old friend. The restaurant is charming and has a country feel to it.  They serve simple home-style French fare at a reasonable price. The food is arguably too simple, but it’s seasoned well and fresh. Works for me.

Jules on Urbanspoon

Toronto: MoRoCo Chocolat

coocoo for cocoa

This cute haven is hidden in the courtyard between Cumberland and Yorkville. I like to escape on their patio in the warmer months. There’s something fabulous about being surrounded by pristine white and royal purple while snacking on The S’mores. Oui, the s’mores,; these babies are indulgent and ingenious.

The lounge is dark, rich and masculine, while the boutique is reminiscent of the feminine airy patio. I suppose it’s the best of both worlds.

MoRoCo was one of the first to jump on the macaroon bandwagon that infiltrated Toronto about 6 months ago. They’re no Ladurée, but they’re still yummy. Their focus is otherwise obviously on chocolate and they have a boutique offering different handmade truffles, etc. I personally don’t enjoy the food, but I do like the sweets, especially their trio of crème brulées.

It’s an ideal place for you and your girls to get a sugar fix before heading off to Anthropologie or Augustina. That is indeed a random shout-out to two of my favourite stores.

MoRoCo on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 23, 2010

Lashes: Lash Injection by Too Faced

:Pricey at $28:
heads or tails
On one hand I don’t like design of the product or the name, but on the other, it's what's inside that counts. This mascara is great although a little wet which makes it prone to smudging.  The brush is full and wider than the standard brush giving you lift, density, and length.  For a premium mascara I like it, but my bargain brands still win out.

Skip it.

Toronto: Nora Shawarma

gimme back my shawarma
:Entertainment District:

Eating here reinvented my taste buds. I never liked shawarama, falafels, or Middle Eastern food in general. But then I met Nora (figuratively, there is no Nora – none that I’ve seen anyway).

True story: after eating here on a Sunday. I proceeded to eat the chicken shawarma plate everyday for dinner for an entire week. I would have kept going but the guys behind the counter started to recognize me...

So much flavor for something so common. Who knew?

Nora Shawarma on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 20, 2010

Toronto: Bymark

all business and some play
:Business District:

This is the home of one of Toronto’s most expensive burgers – $35 for U.S.D.A. Prime beef. I doubt I would ever order it again.  It was good, but not for $50 - which is about how much you will dish out after taxes and tip.

Bymark is a Mark McEwan restaurant and that easily makes it a favourite of mine.  But it's unfortunate he can't control what's going on outside of the kitchen because Bymark's one too many clichés in one room makes it an eat-and-run kind of place.

Bymark on Urbanspoon

Vancouver: Pourhouse

 all are welcome


One of the most incredible things about Vancouver restaurants is the number of restaurants committed to the integrity and longevity of our oceans.

Pourhouse is just one of many and it's considered a  North American "pub"; proof positive that responsibility isn't limited to fancy shmancee restaurants.

Most locals are now familiar with this Gastown venue.  It's an easy choice for a weekend meal and drinks with friends. 

They serve satisfying and hearty food. 

I’ve had the Pourhouse salad a few times now, and have never found anything else quite like it: brisket, boudin (sausage), chicken, white cheddar, eggs, and tomatoes. It gets mixed reviews, but anything with brisket and cheese sounds about yummy to me.

Their vegetarian options are just as good.  Try the Spaghettini – perfect flavor combinations of tomato, basil, and ricotta.

Where my belly goes, my heart will follow. 

So you can find me in this vibrant Water Street restaurant...on the better side of Gastown, and by better I mean brighter.  It gets dark at night down there.

  Pourhouse on Urbanspoon

Lashes: Waterworks

fear the tear
Unless you know you’re due for an ugly cry, for whatever reason, there is no reason to wear waterproof mascara.

In my experience, it is never as good as the original. That is all.  Tgif. 

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Vancouver: White Spot


This chain was a beloved part of my upbringing.  I can still remember how I loved to get my Pirate Pak: a children’s meal served in a paper pirate ship. It even came with a gold coin for dessert, although nowadays they've upgraded to ice cream.  It’s still the bee’s knees. 

White Spot is the definition of suburban living. It’s a family friendly place that’s filled with spacious booths and drapings that would make a modern city woman like me cringe, but it’s all part of its charm.  There are locations in and around the downtown area, but as soon as you step inside, it looks like booneyville (which is okay, because I hail from the boonies).
They’re best known for their burgers and secret sauce – Triple-O.  It is indeed o-licious.

I also love their breakfast. It’s the only chain restaurant to serve up my ideal 'big breakfast', and at a super price.  About ten dollars gets you bottomless coffee and Nat’s Hearty Breakfast of bacon, sausage, eggs, pancakes, hashbrowns, and fruit. Why pick-and-choose when this plate has EVERYTHING.

White Spot on Urbanspoon

Toronto: Gandhi's Cuisine

as long as you derive inner help and comfort from anything, keep it.
:Queen West:

Update and photos: September 2011

I find comfort in roti, and Ghandi’s is the best in Toronto. It’s a bold statement, but I stick to it.

I should say, however, that I almost never eat in the restaurant – one because it only fits a handful of people, and two, because I don't think curry will be bringing anybody to my yard anytime soon.  Ha.  Seriously, there are some foods that can really stink up your clothes – Korean barbecue and Indian food are the worst –and this East Indian roti shop is no exception. Take-out is your friend.

The menu has a wide range of varieties from saag paneer (spinach) to butter chicken, all of which taste amazing. How do I know that? I’ve tried every single one. Cross my heart.

A word to the wise: while my spice tolerance is off the charts, Ghandi’s will bring me to my knees. For some reason I can’t take it. So I settle for a mild-medium roti ride to bliss.

There is bad news: It’s not open on weekends.

Gandhi's Indian Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Vancouver: Cactus Club Cafe


A few of my foodie friends think they’re so much “better” than chain dining. I smile and think to myself, you’re an idiot. Good food is everywhere and while some big box restaurants deserve the bad rep, others don’t.

Cactus Club Cafe is the Kobe Bryant of casual fine dining chains - skill, charisma, and consistent follow-through. 
CCC participates in the Vancouver Aquarium’s OceanWise program using local seafood.  They also serve Alberta Certified Angus beef and support their local suppliers and merchants. How many restaurant groups do you know that demonstrate that level of commitment.

They beat out other chains due to the simple fact that whoever is running the show has impeccable taste. From the cocktails on the menu to the staff in its kitchen, these people know what they’re doing. They even brought on board Canada’s only Iron Chef, Rob Feenie, to lead their culinary vision. The Ash Street location houses their state-of-the-art testing facility where Feenie and other Food Concept Architects get together and get buck in the kitchen. 

There is a CCC in just about every neighborhood in Vancouver. Walk, skip, jump, drive, skytrain, whatever, just get to one.

Faves: Ravioli + Prawn Trio, Dry Ribs, BBQ Duck Clubhouse, Hunter Chicken and Pistachio-Crusted Halibut.

Cactus Club Cafe (Broadway & Granville) on Urbanspoon

Toronto: Swatow

delicious sanity in Chinatown

I will only eat here with the people who love me the most. This is not a joke. Many have asked to which I politely reply "ummmm...didn't that place shut down?" or "hmmm…I just found out I'm allergic to Chinese food...".  My excuses are endless and always changing so no one catches onto my game.

Why the façade? Well, don’t think me vain, but this place has the MOST unforgiving lighting imaginable. But I do love their food.

The waiters are hilarious and their flirting can border on inappropriate, but they’re fun. The food is generous and really good – probably some of the cleanest and best tasting food in the mess of restaurants we know as Chinatown.

Swatow on Urbanspoon

Tipsy Cheek Stain by tarte

get a little tipsy
:Pricey at $39:

I've already established that I like tarte.  Their stuff meets the criteria for my natural fresh face movement. 

Their water-based blush gel sticks are alcohol and oil free.  I always have a Flush in my make-up drawer.  It's so good that even my mother is hooked.  She was fascinated by the product and now I am consistently restocking her supply.  I'm guessing they didn't make blush like this back in her day.  It's definitely on the more expensive end, but lasts longer.  On a sidenote, let's not tell my mom how much it is.  I told her it's only available in a store by my house so that she won't go searching for it on her own.  If she knew...her eyes would pop out of their sockets.

At the start of summer I picked up a stick of Tipsy.  It's a sheer coral-pink with a light apricot scent.  Just like it's name, you get the soft glow that appears after downing a glass or two of wine.  Instead of pinching my cheeks, I can pat this on - different methods, same result.

Tip: If you want to sample a bunch of the colours, wait for a cheek stain set.  Sephora usually gets one around the winter holidays.  It's usually a trio of deluxe sample sizes in their most popular colours.

Attention: For a limited time, in celebration of tarte's 10th anniversary, Sephora is selling TEN, a shimmery bright pink.

Love it.

Lashes: Eye Makeup Remover

let's get naked

Am I the hundredth person to tell you that Lancôme’s Bifacial is the best eye makeup remover? Well it is.  Do I win a prize?

But we could all use a cheaper alternative. Here it is: L’Oreal Paris – Gentle Eye Make-Up Remover.  I just saved you some money there.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

New York: Tao

this way to exotic

:Midtown East:

It took a little push to get me to eat here. Anytime too many cultures culminate in one restaurant, I worry.  I also needed some time for the 'scene' to die down.  It's hard to get a seat and get fed when it's full of A-listers and movers-and-shakers otherwise.  

All that aside, I was delightfully surprised.  Tao has a bold and indulgent presence – both in décor and food. The restaurant is glitz and glam and the food keeps up.  

Tao digs a little deeper into your pockets but I don’t mind, she serves a fantastic meal and looks good while doing it.

Tao on Urbanspoon

New York: Sugar Sweet Sunshine

this candy got you sprung
:Lower East Side:

I absolutely love personal stories. Understanding how something came about and the inspiration and love that went into it is truly the purest forms of happiness people can find. It is a business like this that reminds me to take the time to appreciate anything put in front of me. Then I’ll scarf it down in 30 seconds. Don’t judge.

So when I read the story of how Sugar Sweet Sunshine came to be, I had to check it out. I have the anti-sweet tooth and that makes me very particular about the desserts I like; I can appreciate ones I don’t all the same. I had a Sassy Red Velvet cupcake. It was sweet, but not toothache sweet.

I would go back for their lemon pound cake because while I dislike cake, I like pound cake. I dislike chocolate, but I like Max Brenner. I dislike…well the contradictions go on for a lifetime and then some. I’ll quit while I’m ahead.

Sugar Sweet Sunshine on Urbanspoon

New York: Bonchon Chicken

bokitybokin’ guuuud
:Midtown West:

This is fried chicken on Korean crack so real words don’t express how delicious it is, truly.

It even has a Konglish (a term that references the messed up English Koreans create) website fit with phrases that make no sense , such as “…wings & drumsticks that contain collagen ingredients…”, yes that is correct, collagen; “promotes taste and yet favorite choice for health conscious consumers”, can I get a verb and maybe a pronoun please; and my personal favourite: “your hand remains almost free form our ingredient sauce”, even without that typo, it still takes a minute to figure out what the heck they are saying.

I suppose I’m not surprised this toe tinglingly good fried chicken is from Korea. They LOVE fried chicken over there, and beer. Bonchon has both.

The bottom line:
Eating BonChon makes me smile from ear-to-ear.
Reading about BonChon makes me laugh. Konglish rules.

Bonchon Chicken on Urbanspoon

Lashes: Lights, Camera, Lashes by tarte

the B list
:Standard at $25:

I really like tarte. Their mascara...not so much. The lash collection grew, likely because of the success they’ve been having with MultiplEYE, but I haven’t bothered trying the other steps, it's good marketing not a winning product.

This mascara was average, for $25, it blows.

Skip it.

Laura Mercier Secret Brightening Powder

pixie dust
:Standard at $26:

Laura Mercier created all these Secret products to go together – what an ingenious ploy.  I'm not sure about the entire collection, but this and the Camouflage are worth every penny.  Dust this ultrafine powder onto your face to minimize imperfections and create a lightweight finish. It’s can be an alternative to powder and used as a highlighter.  I wouldn't invest in this for everyday use. 

Skip it.

Toronto: California Sandwiches

made with momma's secret recipe
:Little Italy:

Another best of Toronto: veal sandwiches that is. It really is. The décor adds nothing and the venue itself looks like some school cafeteria, but these sandwiches are the bomb diggity bomb. A can of Brio is the only other thing I need.

Although the business has grown in size (there are now eight locations to date), every sandwich tastes as good as my last. Now that’s just like Momma’s cooking.

 California Sandwiches on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Toronto: Gio Rana’s Really Really Nice Restaurant

like really, really good


The nose knows, you know.  That’s the only marker indicating you have arrived at my favourite Italian restaurant.  I confess I was reluctant to share this one. There are only a handful of restaurants, including Gio’s, that I hold close to my heart. I want to shield them from being overrun by the uncivilized hordes that populate this city and have no appreciation for quality. But that’s not you, is it?

This traditional restaurant is one of the funkiest places to eat. Its decor is bargain chic - a haphazard mess of mismatched chairs and beautiful vintage chandeliers. The interesting and well-published fact is that the building used to be a bank, and Gio kept the vault intact to use as a private dining area.  It's details like these that build character, and we know it's all about the details - in life, in fashion, and in food.

The best part of Gio's is the food. Where do I begin?  It's all so good so I’ll just tell you what my last meal was: pan-seared scallops with pork belly and Scotty’s meatball to start. My primi was the crespelle and I ended with the involtini. If I could, I would order absolutely everything. The sexy duck and ossobuco are two of my other favourites, as is the asparagus with gorgonzola, but that’s because I love cheese – and the funnier the name, the more inclined I am to order it. I'm drooling all over my keyboard...

Gio's is simply the best, amazing food in a whimsical setting. All the right elements for a perfect night. 

Gio Rana's Really Really Nice Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Eyebrows: Anastasia

beverly hill my brows

Brow Duo in Brunette
:Pricey at $29:

Here’s a mini history lesson. Anastasia Soare is considered the authority on eyebrows. Many consider her largely, if not solely, responsible for bringing eyebrows back into the spotlight. She created an army of trained specialists to shape and pluck them properly, and for less than you would expect. It's too bad the services are not available in Canada.

I have never penciled my eyebrows. I’m quite attached to their thinning sparseness. On the other end, several of my mother’s friends have had their brows tattooed. I had a near freak out thinking my mother would jump on that bandwagon. Thank goodness she believes natural is always best. She's my beauty hero – her face is flawless, amazing, 100% natural, and has never been touched or altered in any way.

I like the powder duo. For anyone who wants natural fuller brows, this two-tone compact is exactly what you need. It provides sheer coverage to fill in the gaps and delivers a smudge-proof brow.

I’m really too lazy to do this daily, but I will suck it up for special events or people.
Like it.

Brow Gel
:Pricey at $27:

Unruly brows be gone. You can’t go wrong with clear.

All that said. Couldn’t I just use a clear mascara from some drugstore that costs about one-quarter the price? I could and I do.

Skip it.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Toronto: Terroni

it's about (multiple) second chances
:Queen West:
:Yonge + St. Clair:
:Financial District:
:Los Angeles: Seriously?

Terroni is...” on shaky ground if you ask me. Critics and friends haven’t stopped chirping about how wonderful this place is. I’ve been a handful of times, and it’s always been “okay”.  Dinner last night was no different.  It was okay. 

No, this is not the start of a bad review, but I’m still waiting to taste what all the fuss is about.

The food is good, but add to that the waiting and the prices and its appeal drops. Restaurants like this should hit a homerun each and every time. Unfortunately, my January meal fell flat on its pretty face. The papperdele I ordered was cold and over-seasoned. Let’s chalk it up to a bad day; everyone is allowed one. I should mention that the service more than made up for it.  Last night's meal was Terroni's second chance.  It was okay.  But I'm not done with Terroni yet.  My friends love it so it's likely to come up as an option sometime in the future.  I'll settle for the fact that it's a good place for a group of loved ones to get together, share a bottle and eat some pasta. Nothing more, nothing less.

Terroni - Queen West on Urbanspoon

Lashes: The Falsies Volum’ Express by Maybelline

genie in a tube
:Cheap at $9:

I’ve been seeing commercials for this and it piqued my curiosity. It promises a “false lash effect”. Oh really?

Huh, it kind of does. It’s a bit flaky, but otherwise my lashes were discernibly longer.

It might be the 'scoop' brush; I’ve never seen one quite like it. In my fascination, I took several photos of it:

It's good, but flakes more than its drugstore competition.  CoverGirl won this one.

Skip it.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Toronto: Burgershoppe Quality Meats aka BQM



This roughly refined restaurant sits on the cusp of Little Italy/Portugal Village. BQM settled into this flagship location in the fall of 2008 and has been satisfying its customers since. Its take-out brother is located in Riverdale, and the newest sibling is a diner on Queen that caters to all the hungry little shoppers.

I find it funny that many delicious ideas come to fruition after a Torontonian visits New York. BQM's founder is no different. After heading down south, Saeed Mohamed was inspired to serve fresh, locally sourced burgers. And to me, it tastes like Toronto’s best.

This afternoon my favourite duo and I met up for some quality time, and some quality meat. It`s always hard to pick a burger because their choices all sound so yummy. I’m still working my way through the menu. Today I decided on the Ossington - portobello, mozzarella, balsamic glaze and garlic aioli – while my buddies had the Sirloin Burger. With so many choices (including non-meat ones) and a selection of other tempting dishes – mac n cheese, pulled pork sandwich, etc. – be prepared to take a decisive stand. Whatever you pick, add some fries and gravy. BQM is YUM!

BQM Diner on Urbanspoon

Lashes: Duo

stuck on you

:Cheap at $10:

The best eyelash glue has arrived at Sephora. If you like your falsies, you need this glue. It’s the easiest adhesive I’ve ever used. Gone are the days of sticky fingers and stringy threads. This goes on easily and dries quickly providing a secure hold.

My lashes last all day and all night and safely peel off.

It's available in two tones: clear and dark. I like the latter; it comes out grey but dries to a dark brown.

I had a few minutes to spare so I whipped out a pair of crappy falsies I had lying around:

Fasten your seatbelts, this beauty routine just got a whole lot faster.

Love it.