Thursday, December 1, 2011

Rifling through the Butler's Pantry

It was a cold and stormy night...

No really, it was last Monday, wasn't it? After work we had to stop by the Annex Animal Hospital to buy some more special cat food. That's more than you needed to know, but since we were in the hood we thought we'd try out a new restaurant.

To be honest, because it was rainy, we walked into the first place that looked open and warm. And thus, we found ourselves in The Butler's Pantry.

Open since 1985, the Butler's Pantry offers "comfort food for the health conscious customer." And now that we're on a crunch to get fit before 2012, we are now under that category. The restaurant has a warm and inviting atmosphere. It's actually quite big in the inside, but it still felt cozy. The walls are covered with original water colour art (there's a story about that at the end), and there were small groups of customers scattered in different booths, enjoying their meals.

Man, were we hungry.

We started off with some hummus drizzled with olive oil.

Matt had the Beef Burgundy Casserole - a savoury beef stew slow cooked with carrot, sweet pepper, onion and a hint of red wine. Then topped with a layer of onions and mushrooms, then covered with creamed potatoes.

If that doesn't say "raining day dinner," I don't know what does!

I went with something a bit more exotic - the Chicken Bastilla Pie, which is one of the Pantry's more popular dishes. This famous Moroccan dish is a chicken pie with onions, mushrooms, eggs and cinnamon-scented almonds, wrapped in many layers of buttery filo pastry.

The service was friendly and prompt and our meals were delicious! Definitely would recommend for dates and small group outtings. Or, in our case, a safe haven from the crappy weather outside.


Ok, so about those paintings. They are beautiful, that should be stated first and foremost. But the one above our table had a slight creep factor and I happened to say it out loud when our server came by our table with the cheque. She asked what was creepy about it and I pointed out that while I liked the top portion with the animals, at the bottom of the canvas were two naked women with, what appeared to be, blood steaming from their bodies. I'm not a painter, what do I know?

Well, I defintely didn't know that I was telling the painter herself that I thought it was creepy. The moment the words came out of my mouth, Matt gave me that "look" that said "Yup, you said it" and then I looked at our server and asked "Please, don't tell me you're the artist."

Luckily, she laughed and said she appreciated honest feedback.

Also, lucky for us that I opened my big mouth AFTER our meals arrived.

The Butler's Pantry is located at 591 Markham St.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Corso Italia on The Grid

Formerly, Eye Magazine, The Grid has a great website that covers everything from the print edition and more. We especially love the neighbourhood features. Corso Italia has it's own section along with all the other major west end hoods. Don't forget to comment about any of the plceas you've been to!

You can check out Corso's page here.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Christmas Lights On Steroids

While walking south on Caledonia Road...

Baby Jesus would be proud, and possibly blinded.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Big Love for The Big Ragu

I think I've died and gone to food Cielo.

Last night, Matt's parents came down to visit and we decided to take them to the popular Corso Italia restaurant, The Big Ragu.

We arrived just in time - the owner and head chef, Carmine Accogli, had just finished a shoot for OMNI TV, and the restaurant was open for business. Carmine greeted us warmly as we entered and joked about how he was going to be a big TV star.

As we were brought to our table, we noticed two women having dinner in the corner, and one of them was our very talented wedding caterer, Jen Draper, from Eatertainment. Suddenly it felt like we were regulars at a local Trattoria, and Carmine commented that Jen seemed to know everyone. She told us that The Big Ragu was the first place she goes when she's craving Italian cuisine, and she lives on the other side of the city. And knowing that Jen has a palette for fine food, we knew we were going to have a great meal.

So, let's just get to the food already!!

For appetizers, we had grilled calamari served over a bed of greens topped with homemade salsa verde...

...Along with "magic mushrooms": Portobello & button mushrooms baked with goat cheese over arugula with a wine reduction...

...oh, and don't forget the toasted bread with prosciutto, pear, gorgonzola & toasted walnuts, drizzled with honey.

Pair that with a bottle of Italian white wine, and we were off to a good start.

For my main dish, I went with one of their specials for the evening; Tagliata di Manzo, a savoury steak fillet on a bed of arugula and paired with roasted potatoes.


Matt had a pasta dish drizzled in Truffle oil (a favourite of his since our honeymoon in Tuscany), and his parents had a white fish filet dish and a chicken filet in a lemon & white wine sauce.

The service was great (our glasses were never empty and the bread basket was always full), the atmosphere was pleasant (lucky for us, we got there before the regulars filled up the place), and well, suffice to say, the food was delicious!

If you're looking for an intimate space for great Italian food or a venue to hold your next special event, this is definitely the place to be.

Big Ragu, you've made regulars outta us. See you soon!!

The Big Ragu is located on 1338 Lansdowne Avenue, just south of St.Clair.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Sunday Morning at Nova Era

What smells like fresh baked bread and sounds like a bunch of old Italian / Portuguese men deep in conversation?

Give up?

Nova Era on a Sunday morning!

Matt, sporting his Movember 'stache, which only makes him look more like all the other patrons.

Heading over for some coffee and almond filled croissants after a night of debaucheries has become somewhat of a tradition for us since we moved to the west end. Walking in, it's as if suddenly we've been transported to a local bakery in a small Italian village, where's it's packed with fresh baked goods and tons of chatty people (how do they do it so early in the morning?!).

Another highlight for us is bumping into our friend's dad ("Home Deeps") and all of his friends, who also make it a point of meeting there every Sunday morning to talk about work, politics, and women (mind you, these are all guesses, since they're speaking Portuguese and we don't understand a word they're saying).

We've been here so often that on our last visit the cashier said our order out loud before we did. We've finally reached "Regulars" status and we're loving it.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Corso Italia's Shnazzy New BIA Site

Check it out!

Corso Italia's brand spankin' new website!

For those left in the dark, every major neighbourhood in Toronto has a BIA (Business Improvement Area). A BIA focuses on local events, businesses, and beautification projects within that neighbourhood. It's a great way to build a sense of community and attract new residents.

What we love about Corso's new site is how clean and modern it looks. It's very well organized and represents the area with a good mix of tradition and modern. The featured merchant section is a nice touch.

We're glad they kept the Corso map though (below)

To find out if your area has a BIA, check out the City of Toronto BIA website for listings.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Stockyards Development

While paying a visit to our new favourite store, Home Depot (or as our Portuguese friend's dad would say "Home Deeps"), we realized that we didn't know much, ok anything, about the Stockyards development across the street.  So we got our Google on at home later and learned about the new commercial space being put up.

Trinity Development Group is the developer of the site and focuses primarily on suburban power centres.  We'll let the video of the proposed plans do all the talkin'.  Although, we suggest turning off the volume because the cheesy classical music kinda kills it.

Admittedly, our first reaction was "Heck ya, a Target!". And then we considered the pros and cons about the development, such as:

- New life to an otherwise dead stretch of land
- Access to tons of big name stores

- The suburban feel
- More traffic

If they can put in restaurants, a movie theatre, or some kind of entertainment area that would keep people there for a length of time in one visit, this could be a great addition to the neighbourhood. An example of this is the Quartier Dix30 development that was put in Quebec. It is currently Canada's largest lifestyle commercial centre which was designed to emulate an urban or downtown shopping experience with boutiques.

Waddaya think?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

3 Months of Fixin' thanks to Friends of Dufferin Grove Park

Ok, so it's been a while since our last post, we know.  But for good reason, we swear (although judging by the zero comments on all previous posts, we're not sure it really matters).  However, for the love of our end of the city, we wanted to keep the post alive for a little while longer.

So about this delay.  Well, who woulda guessed that a 98-year old home would need some work?!  For the last three months, we've been busy updating the electrical, installing new eavestroughs, doing cement work...just to name a few tasks on our ever-growing house to-do list.  How exciting our lives have become :)

When we first set out to get it all done, it dawned on us that as former apartment renters, we didn't have a clue who to reach out to to get the work done.  And while we fancy ourselves as smart urban professionals, there was no way we were going to trust ourselves to undertake the big jobs.  It felt a little hopeless at first.

So when a West End Friend sent me a link to Friends of Dufferin Grove Park, we saw the light at the end of the tunnel (even if the light was wired with knob and tube).  On this site, residents of Dufferin Grove, which is just one neighbourhood Southeast of us, can post recommendations for house maintenace professionals.  Thanks to this site, we found our electrician (Ken = amazing) and our carpenter (Vlad = also amazing), two very honest and hard working professionals who got the work done at a very reasonable price.

Now our dear old home is safe and up to code.  And we'll be paying it off for the next year.

Yay home ownership!

Check out the site if you're looking for anything from electricians, carpenters, landscaping, and plumbers!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Dusk Dances in Earlscourt Park

On our way home from the soccer game last Friday, we heard some music playing in the park and decided to investigate*.  What we walked into was a huge crowd cheering on a group of performers dressed in traditional West African clothing and dancing to the beat of the drum.

We soon discovered that this was part of Dusk Dances, a free outdoor dance festival that showcases local talents of different dance backgrounds. This is the 17th season for the festival and we're glad that one of the venues is right in our hood!

There was a really positive energy in the crowd and the performers were lively and entertaining. Unfortunately we're still learning how to use our fancy new camera, but these shots will give you some idea...

*During the month of July there was at least one festival every weekend, so hearing music coming from the park is nothing new to us :)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Climbing Monkeys at Boulderz

Last Sunday we opted for physical exercise over sleeping in (what were we thinking?!) and checked out Boulderz- an indoor climbing gym in the Davenport neighbourhood.  We have a couple of climbing enthused family members who told us about the place and we were pleasantly surprised to learn how close it was to home.

Boulderz is primarily a bouldering gym, but there are opportunities to harness in and climb up, up, up.  We decided to try bouldering, since it looked fun and relatively easy.

Pfft.  Right.

The fun part we got right.  It only seemed easy because of the other pro climbers in the gym who scaled the walls like monkeys.  Regardless, the fun definitely outweighed the challenge.  Matt had a natural knack for it, and managed to reach the goal several times over.

I, on the other hand, couldn't quite get passed the fear of falling, and never made it high enough.  BUT - Boulderz is also equipped with a small workout area on the second floor, and it was there where I discovered my true talent...

I kept at it for almost 10 minutes until I realized we were at a climbing gym and that I should probably get back to that.

Looking forward to going again!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Manila Food

After a Friday night soccer game at the St. Michael's School field,  we decided to walk west along St.Clair on our way home.  Just up ahead we saw a guy bbq'ing in front of a storefront called Manila Food and we knew we'd have to stop for quick snack break (I'm also half-filipino, so I was happy to discover a filipino store near our hood). 

He was cooking up some talapia and BBQ chicken - Yummmm.  Ok, so Matt was the one to play soccer so he had an excuse for his appetite.  I'm just hungry all the time, so that's my excuse.

We didn't get his name, but the guy running the BBQ was really friendly.  I guess it helped that I also used the little filipino I knew to thank him.  Yup, I pull out that card every once in a while :)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Taking a walk through Corso Italia

Loving our new neighbourhood!  Just a few pics during an hour walk around the new hood...

              A busy bee working on a sunflower in the Community Garden (Earlscourt Park)

Something about catching of a glimpse of the CN Tower makes it feel more like home :)

Soccer = Corso