August 23, 2013

Air Canada's enroute magazine has announced its picks for Canada's Top Restaurants this year. For the last 12 years, the magazine has been picking the best of the best of Canada's restaurant and food industry and highlighting them in the magazine. This year, they have introduced a new way to share your favourites.


The People's Choice Award encourages Canadians to vote from their favourites out of the 35 restaurants picked by the magazine that have opened this year and advanced Canada's culinary identity. The Top 10 list will be announced in November and published in enroute.

Market Restaurant Calgary
Photo: Market Restaurant, Calgary, enroute magazine

Here are the top picks for the 2013 best restaurants in Canada:

The Acorn, Vancouver
BarBounya, Montreal
Bar Isabel, Toronto
Le Bouchon du Pied Bleu, Quebec City
Burdock & Co., Vancouver
Café Boulud, Toronto
Candela Lounge, Calgary
Canteen, Edmonton
Carino Bistro, Calgary
Carmen, Toronto
Ça Va Bistro Moderne, Victoria
Daishō, Toronto
Electric Mud BBQ, Toronto
España, Vancouver
Fogo Island Inn, Fogo Island, NL
Gezellig, Ottawa
Heirloom, Vancouver
Hôtel Herman, Montreal
Hudson’s on First, Duncan, BC
Kinton Ramen, Toronto
Maison Publique, Montreal
Market, Calgary
Mezcla, Montreal
Momofuku Noodle Bar, Toronto
Oddseoul, Toronto
Patria, Toronto
Pidgin, Vancouver
La Planque, Quebec City
Porzia, Toronto
Richmond Station, Toronto
Shōtō, Toronto
Supply & Demand, Ottawa
Union Local 613, Ottawa
Vij’s Railway Express, Vancouver
Wildebeest, Vancouver

Market Restaurant Calgary

The only restaurant from this list that I have eaten at is Momofuku Noodle Bar in Toronto, so I have a lot of eating to do. Do you think you have eaten at Canada's Best Restaurant? To vote for your pick that could be in the top 10, go to www.eatandvote.com
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August 19, 2013

My family, mostly my Mom and I, have this strange talent where we can remember the exact meals that we've eaten at various events or important moments in our lives. Wine is a similar experience for many. Some people remember the wine they were drinking when something momentous, wonderful or romantic happened. Wine is an important aspect of any meal and this month, it seemed to coincide with many events for me.

 

On the Friday before the August long weekend I came home to a box on my doorstep full of wine. It was a great way to start the long weekend, let me tell you. Diamond Estates Wine sent me six of their newest releases to try. Diamond Estates is home to Ontario's top selling VQA wines, including 20 Bees, East Dell, Fresh, Dan Akroyd and Lakeview Cellars. All of these wines are available at the LCBO, except for the Lakeview Cellars GMR Sparkling, which can be purchased at the winery. 

For my birthday this year, we had a wonderful time in Niagara for Food Truck Eats and visited numerous wineries. One day I would love to do the bike tour around the wineries although I suspect biking may become slightly difficult after so much wine "tasting." I am always looking for new wine recommendations to steer me away from my cheap rose days. I have only made it through three of the wines and one of them unfortunately, didn't make it into the picture. I was a little too eager to try them. 

Diamond Estates Wines

Wine 1: 20 Bees 2012 Pinot Grigio, $11.95

20 Bees is a well-known Ontario winery started by a group of established local grape growers. They are now represented by Diamond Estates and continue to sell the well-priced wines across Canada. If I'm having a few sips of wine on a patio or at home after work, I'm not going to dig that deep into my wallet. I have always liked 20 Bees for their unpretentious and homegrown appeal. 

This Pinot Grigio has a rich scent of melon, citrus and floral and pairs best with chicken, mixed greens with vinaigrette or fish and chips. The grapes in Ontario Pinot's tend to have notes of melon, flowers and apples and this one had a slight acidity. I have heard Pinot Grigio referred to as the "blue jeans" of wine or a summer patio variety and that is definitely my style. 

On the long weekend, we went to a friend's housewarming party. Even though houses are a lot of work and a stressful process, that feeling of knowing a house is your own is one I hope to cherish in the next few years. You really have to get down and dirty when you're working on a home, but then there are the moments when you can sit back and enjoy the results of your hard work. 


We sat in the backyard and toasted to the house, then walked down to the beach to see the stars and the glimmer of the city skyline lit up at nighttime. Similar to 20 Bees wine, it's a collective effort of many people working toward the same goal to create something enjoyable and comforting. This wine pairs well with new beginnings. 


Wine 2: Dan Aykroyd Discovery Series 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, $12.95

This wine was my favourite of these whites with a refreshing fruity, and a little bit of a grassy taste. Dan Aykroyd is a famous Canadian actor who also has a successful winery resulting from his passion for travel. Many of the wines he makes are inspired by wines he has sampled all over the world. 

Sauvignon Blancs tend to have a grassy, herby and sometimes gooseberry taste. This one had a distinct gold colour and was very light and refreshing. This Sauvignon Blanc pairs well with Thai food with its lime, tropical fruits and slight almost lemongrass-like taste. He also has an affinity for well-priced wines that have the taste of high-class French wines. 

Dan Aykroyd Sauvingnon Blanc

It would be a shame to smash a bottle of this wine at a boat christening, but I assume alright to drink on a quiet evening at dock. We paired it with grilled chicken, summer vegetables and crispy bread last Sunday night as a nice ending to a weekend away. 


Last weekend, we went to Mike's parent's boat for the weekend in Midland, Ontario. Even the dog was prepared for the water with his own life jacket and adapted to the rocking and rolling of the boat quite seamlessly. 


We traveled out to one of the nearby islands and anchored there for one night then returned back to the marina on Sunday. When you're boating, you're using the best of nature, like the wind, water and islands, to guide you. There are times on boats where I have felt the most relaxed I have ever been. It could be the slight rocking or sunshine or it could be that I am traveling right through nature. Like Dan Aykroyd wines, it is always a trip of discovery and exploration. This wine pairs well with travel. 



Wine 3: 2012 Fresh Moscato, $11.95

This Moscato by Fresh is a slightly sweet, summer sipper. They make their wines similar to their name with strength, liveliness and a bright and a youthful appearance. This one was zesty, sweet and didn't have a lot of acid. This is how I like my white wines and this would make a great wine for girl's night. It pairs well with fish, fruit salad and maple glazed ham.  


On Friday night I paired this with dinner and a slice of Peach Gingerbread Cake. The nose of this wine actually has scents of peaches, lemons, lime and citrus, so it went well with the cake. After a long week, I had a glass of this wine and tried to savour the last little bit of summer we have left. One of those wonderful moments was a friend's wedding in Windsor, Ontario. 


She told me she tried to add a personal touch to the reception and everything was beautifully made, from the homemade rosary bead favours, cupcakes and cake to the seating chart wrapped with coloured lights. There was also a touch of elegant glamour with crystals, feathers and blue uplighting decorating the grand hall. When you're celebrating a wedding, you're celebrating the beginning of a new chapter in someone's life. And with family, friends and loved ones around you as you celebrate, you can move onto this step with liveliness, sparkle (especially the glowing bride) and a "fresh" start. This wine pairs well with celebrations. 

Disclosure: I received samples from Diamond Estates Wines for review purposes. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.  
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August 15, 2013

Big news. I may be thinking about wedding planning soon. Actually, I am always thinking about wedding planning. Since working for a wedding magazine and writing for a wedding blog, I am always on the look out for neat and stylish finds.


Just goes to show you that it's never too early to start thinking about celebrations, like Christmas. I love this idea of using wedding photos on Christmas cards, like these cards from Minted. What a neat way to show off the photos of your special day. I know it's a little early to start thinking about Christmas; however, it's never to early to start thinking about shopping.

Minted is an online store that supports a community of independent designers--similar to Etsy. Graphic designers and independent crafters can sell their invitations, graphics, prints and stationary and even enter design contests and challenges featured on the site. I love the idea of supporting independent designers from all over the world and they sure make some beautiful things.


These Christmas Photo Cards definitely caught my eye. We took some goofy pictures in front of the Christmas tree that we want to use as Christmas cards, but our winter engagement photos would also make cute cards.


Then there are the wedding invitations. I have searched long and hard for the right design to represent us as a couple. Minted has offered me WAY too many choices when it comes to designs. Even when I was wedding blogging, I always found the right invitation to go with a certain theme or wedding idea.


There are the simple and understated invitations with just the right focal design to make them stand out. As you can tell, I love anything with mason jars and they are so popular now with any wedding theme, such as garden party, country wedding, French-elegance, rustic/vintage, etc. Then there are the bold, funny and even sometimes cheeky invitations that guests never forget.

Minted lets you search by many styles of invitations, including destination, elegant, formal, modern, simple and more. These storybook-themed invitations would be great for a couple who loves literature.


You can even customize your invitations and you will know your invitations will be truly original. And it helps when you can see how the whole invitation package will come together with a preview of the RSVP, direction cards, liner labels and even thank you cards. I am having an extremely hard time picking my favourites because there are so many options. I guess it would help if I actually decided on a wedding theme...


Besides invitations, the designers also create a multitude of other graphic options. There are handmade journals, prints, art pieces and even party supplies.

How cute is this journal for jotting down recipes or food blog ideas? It is a truth universally acknowledged that any writer in possession of a stunning, handmade journal must be in want of ideas.


Also, anyone in possession of a Pinterest board must be in want of striped straws and trendy party supplies to show off their party throwing skills. Shop the Minted Party Store and find inspiration for different party themes and ideas.



While I have summer vacation on the brain, these prints caught my eye. My new dream in life is to buy and restore a vintage camper van. This art prints is definitely inspiring me to hit the road:


And perfect for a new kitchen or housewarming present, this picture would be delightful for any modern foodie. Ok, I'll stop now before I buy everything in this store. At least you know when you buy all the pretty things, you are also supporting independent and small businesses.


You know how in a previous post I was arguing that "curator" is a great term and shouldn't be scoffed at? The people at Minted know how to curate, uncover and highlight the best of their beautiful community and they have a good thing going. Visit Minted.com.

Sponsored Post
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August 08, 2013

Like standing in front of Cloudgate, also known as the "Giant Bean" in Chicago, Illinois, traveling lets you gaze into your own reflection. Every time I hop on a delayed flight, navigate a new metro system and try to hail a cab after I'm exhausted from walking all day I think, why do I do this?


Then I think, I can't NOT do this. I live for this. I love the freshness of a new place, lying in a hostel or hotel bed after a long day of exploring and soaking in exciting culture and sights. After almost a year since traveling I was craving another trip. I needed to go away somewhere.


Chicago has been on the list of those places to check out on a quick getaway and it was definitely quick. After work on Friday we rushed to the airport and flew the few hours from Toronto to Chicago. We landed in Chicago late Friday night at stayed at the boutique W Hotel City Center in the middle of the financial district. I am not sure if I like or loathe hotels that remind me of obnoxious nightclubs. It had some nice features though and the location near Michigan Avenue, Navy Pier and the theatre district couldn't be beat. 


Chicago is not too far from Canada, in fact, the customs agent was wondering why we didn't just drive there. We were wondering the same thing although for a weekend getaway we took the faster route. The city is everything Toronto is not and should be: beautiful architecture, bustling entertainment life and a hip--without being pretentious and stuffy--atmosphere. I also love the accent. Two girls walking on the street in front of us were talking about how they were excited to go to "Tap Shap," also known as Top Shop. 


Grant Park is in the Loop area of Chicago. The "loop" covers much of the historical centre of the city and includes the Chicago Cultural Centre and Art Institute of Chicago. Public art, such as the giant bean, is a big feature of the windy city and there are pieces by Picasso, Miro and Chagall. 

Shopping is always an important part of travel and there is lots of it on Magnificent Mile. Besides the obvious souvenirs, there are the much more expensive souvenirs you can find at Tiffany's, Burberry, Coach and Nordstrom. There are a few places for the budget-friendly shoppers though. For the best deals on bulk chocolate, skip the Hershey's chocolate store and go to Ghirardelli's instead. We got 80 chocolate squares for $30. God bless America. 


After a morning of walking, we stopped for a quick sushi lunch in the financial district. Then it was off to see Book of Mormon at the Bank of America theatre. Seeing the show was pretty much the sole reason for going to Chicago. The show came to Toronto earlier this year, but the tickets sold out at an alarming rate. 


Was it worth it to travel all the way to Chicago to see the show? Absolutely. I suppose we did see another wonderful city while we were there. As a musical lover, the show was the highlight though. It was hilarious, offensive, musically catchy and compelling.


After the show we headed for dinner at the Lonely Planet-recommended Avec Restaurant. We knew we wanted to have dinner somewhere nice, hip and cozy. The restaurant has been nominated for a few James Beard Foundation awards for Best Chef Koren Grievson and Outstanding Restaurant Design and Graphics.  


The atmosphere was definitely cozy. There were people crammed into large, communal wood tables with barely an inch of space in between "tables" and a stainless steel bar to see right into the kitchen. The menu consisted of a selection of small and large plates ideal for sharing. 


The small plates included many selections of cheeses, cured meats and olives. We started with the chicken liver crostini with roasted apricots, pickled fennel and mint. The bacon-wrapped, chorizo-stuffed dates looked out of this world and are apparently one of the restaurant's well-known starters. We were happy with our choice of creamy pate with a touch of sweetness from the roasted apricots.


For a large plate, we shared the wood-oven roasted pork shoulder with bomba rice, clams, peas and smoke paprika. This looks and sounds like a strange dish and when it first arrived on the table we didn't really think it consisted of a "large plate;" however, this pot was like Mary Poppin's carpet bag. The more pork I pulled out of the pot, the more flavours and food appeared. Beneath the meat was also a cheesy mixture of rice, peas and clams. This dish gave me that warm, comforting feeling of taking a hot one-pot meal out of the stove on a cold day.  


After dinner we took a Wendella Architecture Boat Tour of the city. Architecture is an obvious focus of the city. Many of the famous industrial buildings, such as the home of Wrigley's Gum, have now been turned into condominiums or office buildings. One of the classic buildings, built in the prairie style, was so long, the tour guide said the factory workers used to roller skate from one side to the other. 


Late evening was the perfect time to start the boat tour as it was light out when we started going up the river and we watched the sun go down and the city lights flicker on by the end. 


Similar to Paris, France, they are focusing on making the riverside a desirable space to hang out and walk. Navy Pier is one of the main attractions on Lake Michigan with a giant ferris wheel, museums and shopping. Daniel Burnham the architect and planner 1893 World's Columbian Exposition wanted to link islands and spaces to highlight the waterfront. He envisioned Chicago as being the "Paris on the Prairie." 


The river cruise was the perfect ending to a busy day of running around the city. Plus, they were filming a Blockbuster movie on the river, so we got a peek at an upcoming feature film.


We started Sunday morning with a breakfast of champions: cupcakes and coffee at Magnolia Bakery. They had a special Chicago cupcake with a blue, sparkly icing and white chocolate decorative wafer.

Magnolia Bakery Chicago Cupcake

I want to live in this place. Everything is perfect, from the colours, counters to vintage accessories and especially the cupcakes. While you're sipping and eating, you can watch the staff decorate and style the beautiful desserts with skill, precision and talent. 


I didn't realize there was a Magnolia Bakery in Chicago. On Sunday morning, Mike said he heard there was one and we ventured off to find it for breakfast. I have only been to one in New York City, so their cupcakes are a rare occasion to taste what cupcakes really should taste like, as well as cheesecakes, pies, puddings and muffins. We also split a red velvet cheesecake...


For the afternoon we walked downtown for a bit and explored the weekend Randolph Street Market. The antique, vintage, art and fashion market only happens about once a month. I wish I had brought more bags because I wanted to buy all of the coloured glass, mason jars, distressed wood and vintage jewellery I could see. My modest find was a Blue Jar vintage mason jar. 


Our last stop in Chicago was for deep-dish pizza. There is only one place to eat deep-dish pizza in Chicago: Pizzeria Uno. Then there is the other place down the street where you can also eat deep-dish pizza: Pizzeria Duo. Chicago is known for its high crust of up to three inches stuffed with toppings similar to a pie rather than a flatbread. It's actually a cheese and tomato pie. Last time Mike was in Chicago, he ordered the large with his friend and even the servers thought they couldn't finish it. A large pizza is about enough pizza to feed a family of four. 


A small pizza was still a lot of food. After walking and market browsing, a slice of real pizza hit the spot. Afterwards, we headed to the airport and fly back home. I was exhausted after trying to fit all of these things into one weekend. It was all I needed to get my travel fix back until my next big adventure. 

Learn more about what to do and where to go in Chicago with Lonely Planet Chicago 6th Ed.
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