Tuesday, January 25, 2011


This is an adorable new cafe on Parliament street, serving food in the style of the French countryside. I am now a massive fan. This entry is a bit of a quickie, by the way- it's been a busy week!

Merryberry interior
Merryberry seems to be overwhelmed by their immense popularity!

-they were rushing around, the one server with sweat dripping on his brow, but so full of genuine smiles for everyone
-the disorganization at first might just have been because of some badly behaved baby brunchers taking up a lot of space and energy

I saw some people with salads that were HUGE! They looked delicious.

Something is fishy here...
stew of the day (fish in white sauce) with warm quinoa salad
-the quinoa was nutty, buttery, and soft as. It was a generous helping without being ridiculous, and the pine nuts added a much needed crunch. Tasted very homey and simple. A country dish!
-the stew was really more of a chowder. It was a thin creamy broth with lovely chunks of potato, salmon and cod. Very generous on the fish! Strange combo, but great flavour. I think it had leeks, and it was actually a cream soup that I didn't feel would give me a coronary. very simple, again.

Menu and Dessert
This was my first time ever having panacotta. I didn't know what to expect! Is it cheese? Is it hot, is it cold? I was thinking out loud. This is the only cafe in Toronto where I've really struck up conversations with strangers! Yes, it is cheese, and cold. It tastes like vanilla ice cream, but has the texture of a firm pudding. I didn't really taste cheese much, but I did enjoy it! The berries might have been from frozen, but they were in a lovely, sugary sauce that made it all OK by me.

I will be coming back here over and over again, for the wonderfully friendly service, kind customers, amazing food, reasonable prices, and just plain convenience.
New favourite unlocked! Merry Berry on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Just to tide you over in between regular broadcasts...

A little recipe by me that will be featured on the amazing They Draw and Cook website within the next few weeks (it's so popular over there they have a whole backlog!)

Click for full view!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Xococava / Cava

Cava restaurant, Toronto
1560 Yonge Street

What a meal of many courses this was! Arriving early, I thought I would start out the dual experience of Cava restaurant and Xococava chocolatière (joint owned and operated, as you can tell by shared items on the dessert menu, and matching trends throughout) with some coffee. I had an hour to spend before our reservation. The two venues are side by side, located in a pedestrian cul-de-sac just off the sidewalk at 1560 Yonge. Xococava itself is built around the bar, with bright woods and bright lights. I got the feeling that the space used to be a sushi shop. There was that same sense of modernity and simplicity. One wall was painted with the menu, a grid with information on the variety of truffles, treats, coffees and ice-creams. There were so many things to choose from to take home! This is definitely a great spot to get a gift for that friend with a sweet tooth.

I went right for the most decadent espresso based drink available, called a Con Café there, but more commonly recognized as a Mocha (5.75).

Now I know a thing or two about espresso, having served my time at the bar of a cafe much nicer and more critical than Starbucks. Xoco served the thick home-made chocolate sauce that had my mouth watering when I saw it in a large bowl, with masses of steamed milk. Despite the price of their espresso drinks, this is a single shot place. Unfortunately the drink was very, very milky, with neither the espresso or the rich chocolate making a statement. I feel like a place that specializes in chocolate should make their cocoa drinks taste more....chocolatey! I was disappointed.

To get a better idea of the flavour of the espresso, I took a single shot. I thought it was overpriced at over 2$ for a single. It had a very strong, citrus flavour. Being more familiar with the intelligentsia and stumptown roasts common around the downtown core, tasting something so clear and acidic was a big leap for me. It’s good espresso.

Me and my Truffle
Then, there were the truffles. At two dollars a pop they aren’t cheap. They are certainly worth it! I tried three kinds:

Chorizo (milk chocolate): This one was easy to like. Though I was hoping for little bits of chorizo in the ganache, it was all blended to the same creamy texture throughout. Meat and chocolate seems to be a theme at Xococava, as they also sport an award-winning maple bacon ice cream. The truffle was not overpoweringly salty, and the meat added an interesting smokiness.

Black Olive (white chocolate): After ordering I was told people either love of hate this truffle. I fall into the latter category. When ordering I had expected this to be a dark-chocolate truffle, a combination which makes more sense to me. It was white chocolate, which I’m not fond of. The olive inside was not a tapenade, but a jelly. It was as excessively salty as the white chocolate was excessively sweet, and for me it was just too overpowering.

Szechwan Peppercorn (milk chocolate): The winner of the three! Spicy, but not hot, and a huge punch of black pepper flavour calmed down with the creaminess of ganache. This truffle did have little bits of peppercorn for texture, I was ecstatic to taste. I would order this over and over, it was so good.

Other things I sampled:

-Creme Brulé ice cream: Bang-on flavour, but not as dense as I like ice cream to be. Very airy.

-Earl Grey chocolate: Amazing. Again, there was a hint of salt. The tea was left as crunchy leaves in the dark chocolate, so there was a delightful crispness inside.

-Almond and Hazelnut Dragées: Crunchy nuts with a crunchy, chocolate dusted coating. I think these would be dangerous to have as a coffee table snack.

-Florentine: An Italian dessert appears on this Catalan-inspired menu! The Florentine was small and thin, and was like eating a flake pastry pie crust with butterscotch and almond slivers on top. It was very buttery and satisfying.

Next door at Cava, the decor is completely different, and the fine dining begins. The staff is very friendly, and I’m sure it’s not just because one of my guests is a previous member of Xoco. They seat us, hang our jackets, and are very friendly. The lighting is moody and low. From the ceiling hang white rectangles, diffusing the light that glows from inlaid lights. On the walls are fine art prints of contemporary photography by Robert Sprachman, and design by 3rd Uncle. Chefs Christopher McDonald and Doug Penfold put their extensive experience to work together to create an ever-changing and unique menu of small dishes perfect for sharing. There’s even an option to have them cook something just for you! This time though, we stick to the menu. Unintentionally, we wound up with a nearly completely vegetarian selection at a restaurant known for home-crafted meat. Should have had the cava charcuteria (16.50) too, I suspect!

Papas Fritas
Papas Fritas – 6.95
The papas fritas came wrapped in a paper cone, which was attached to a stand inserted directly into the tabletop. It was impressive, but later in the meal we found that the stand got in the way, and couldn’t be moved. The fritas themselves were thick-cut, and very light and fluffy. They didn’t have too strong a flavour. Fries, by any other name. The hint of rosemary on them was the only thing to really set them apart, enjoyable as they were. The sauce that went with the fries was really great, adding a more complex smokiness of chipotle to the salty fritas.

A new take on an old favourite
Bruschetta of Edamame, grilled green onions, Moroccan olives and Sicilian tomatoes – 9.00
The bread used for this bruschetta was amazing. It had a chewy crust, was dense without being difficult to eat. The way it was cooked left lightly blackened tidbits along the crust, and they added a taste of char that went surprisingly well with the edamame paste. The edamame had the consistency of a thick hummus, and added a soft, mellow flavour. If anything, it added body to the dish, while the thick-sliced grilled tomato and parmesan shone for their bold flavours. The olives were just a light and pleasant accent, not leaving too strong an impression. Mixed into the generous topping on the hearty bread were full roasted chive leafs, which added colour and a punch of onion flavour. We were all very impressed with the dish, and it split nicely, making a great, salty appetizer.

Sweet and Savory!
Cauliflower and kabocha squash tagine with medjool dates and Spanish saffron – 9.50
A tagine, for those not in the know, is an African dish that is essentially a kind of casserole. The word refers to both the food and the dish it’s cooked in. Our tagine arrived piping hot, covered in a flaky topping which we never did identify. The crumbly texture probably saved the cauliflower from being too soft. It was delicate and had just enough flavourful oil to moisten it. The dates must have been macerated into the mix, because we didn’t taste any large pieces, but their flavour was throughout. The dish was pleasantly sweet, the chunks of squash also adding its own unique flavour. To refresh all that vegetable creaminess and sweetness were crisp leaves of parsley, dispersed generously in and atop the heaps of vegetable.

Look, it's corn! No...it's a tamal!
Fresh corn tamal with wild mushrooms and pasilla chile-wild plum sauce – 8.50
Beautifully presented, the corn tamal arrived looking just like a husk of fresh corn on the plate. It was served wrapped in cooked corn husk, bound with thread at one end. Beautiful. A thick layer of white corn meal was heavy and dense with moisture, the texture crumbly and pleasant. Breaking that outer layer revealed heaps of mushroom and corn kernels. The whole combination had a earthy flavour,. It was so soft and palatable that chewing was almost unnecessary. Unfortunately the sauce that came with it did not meet our expectations. Having never had a pasilla chile before, I wasn’t expecting a bitter flavour. In my experience things made with chile are usually hot with a taste of vinegar. This was very different. Even mixed with wild plum, the sauce tasted dry and strange, it’s bitterness standing out far too much.
Adelle and Lexie, back for round two!
Xococava on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Drawn and Devoured is run by one food loving lady from Toronto....verWHO? you may ask.

Katherine Verhoeven
Katherine Verhoeven, aka VERWHO illustration.
The battle between 'who' and 'hoe' has been fought from my earliest memories of drawing while growing up in Kingston, Ontario (and now I've learned how to teach you to pronounce that big last name in the cleverest of ways). My quirky illustrations have won awards over the last years for their unique conceptual style and distinct vision, and I have been printed in both Creative Quarterly and 3x3 magazine. I love the hard reality of black ink, and the flexibility of digital colours. Since moving to Toronto in 2005 to pursue my illustration practice, I've continued to plague people with proper pronunciation, and have started to notice the beautifully unfolding food (and espresso!) scene in my dear city. What better way to really experience all those flavours than to draw the?

Challenge accepted, Toronto. Challenge accepted!

Interviews and write-ups:
Off The Map Summer 2011 An interview about the blog and my process, featuring a comic drawn by me specially for the issue.
Not French Cooking (Part1, Part 2) interviewed me for their VICE issue, and asked a LOT of very interesting questions.
TasteTO writeup.
SAVEUR interview.

It's worth noting that my little profile image here is from the review of Cava where I ate an obscene amount of truffles, but is also blatantly inspired by a scene in Xavier Dolans 'Amours Imaginaires', probably my favourite film of 2010.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


You guys should be happy to know I'm going to try to spend less of each entry on writing and critiquing in the future, and focus more on my strengths- drawing! Turns out I love food too much to be a critic, go figure.

Utopia Restaurant Toronto, 586 College Street
586 College Street

I believe in honesty. This is not my first visit to Utopia! Though I’m not a frequent patron of the Little Italy resto, I’ve been a fair share of times. I tend to be pleased with the food, sometimes by a lot, sometimes not so much. I’ve never been disappointed.
To mix things up, my sister and I tried out the famous back patio. I know, I know. How is winter my first patio visit? I was a fool in the summer, that’s how. We head back, and I’m already not sure we made the right choice. Inside the main body of the building is happy lighting, comfortable wood chairs, and beautiful exposed brick. It has a clean bistro feel, and I usually feel very happy inside. This patio is so different! Some of the feel of the interior was reflected in the wall decorations, a long shelf of wood running along one wall, with herbs potted in long tin pans along it. I like that touch. It was the seating that I regretted- like most patios, it had those horrible plastic stacking chairs, and ugly plastic marble-top tables. I have seen beautiful and functional patios. This is not one of them. We sat, and the heating was right on us- very cozy. Throughout our dinner, the heat went on and off, and while we never froze, it did get distracting. I recommend sitting indoors whenever possible!
The servers here are really, really friendly. I sat at the bar a while and chatted with the bartender while waiting for my sister, and felt right at home. After we had ordered, there was a mix up with the special that I had ordered- the chef made something else, thinking the Sunday special was another kind of burrito. We were assured that the mistake was quickly being remedied. Moments later, she came back with a half-pint for each of us on the house- totally unexpected! It was an unnecessarily nice touch. Even more surprising was that it only took five more minutes for out orders to come out. So while there was a mistake to begin with, they made up for it entirely.
The menu at Utopia is extensive, made up of multiple variations on favourites like burgers (lamb, beef and veggie), burritos, quesadillas, sandwiches and salads. There are also appetizers, and a couple entrées. They have a nice beer and wine list as well, including KLB’s raspberry wheat beer, of which I’m very fond, and had with my meal.
We ordered an app, two mains, and a delicious dessert.

Creamy Crummy Croquettes
Tofu Cream Croquettes – 5.75
Panko crusted tofu & cream cheese, chipotle sauce
Adding a panko crust to something usually makes it a winner for me- I love that crunch! Though perfectly fried, these dumplings were a disappointment, unfortunately. While there was nothing offensive about them, there was nothing good about them, either- Utopia fell into the classic tofu handling pitfall of not having enough flavour. They were incredibly bland. They also had no texture. Here is a food for those with recently ousted wisdom teeth. You don’t have to chew at all! The sauce that came with them added the only flavour they had at all. Now, that sauce was really good! I found it to be like sweet and sour sauce, but much smokier.

Turf Wars!
Surn’n Turf Burrito (Sunday Special) – 9.99
Cheddar, salsa, lettuce, grilled onions, jalapeño mayonnaise. Coleslaw.
Utopia knows how to fill a plate- I think my eyes may have been bigger than my stomach. The burrito itself is a monster, stuffed and stacked one half on top to the other. It comes with a heaping side of black bean rice, and no shy portion of coleslaw. The coleslaw is the kind I like- vinaigrette instead of cream. What made this coleslaw stand out was the use of sesame oil, making it taste bolder than any ‘slaw I have ever had. I was impressed that the chef’s put so much thought into what is usually an unpopular side. The rice was cooked perfectly, very soft and fluffy, with the beans adding texture, colour, and flavour. I think it could have been bolder, having little flavour outside of the natural bean taste. I added salt.
Years ago, I worked at a burrito joint, and have frequented a few since then. As such, I like to consider myself a casual expert in the art of the inauthentic burrito- Toronto style. This one had it happening in all the right places. The tortilla was crisped perfectly, the light taste of char going wonderfully with steak strips. I didn’t taste the shrimp too strongly, but it was present and added a distinct texture. The steak won this one for me. It was crisp on the outside, tender and juicy inside, not chewy at all. It dominated the combination of flavours, with other things like the jalapeño mayo and onions working to accent it. Altogether the whole thing was more than I could finish.

My sisters delish dish
Baked Chicken Pesto Sandwich – 9.50
Chicken, pesto, asiago cheese, sourdough roll, salsa. Fries.
Since Mary had this one, I can't really write a huge commentary on it. I tried some and it was very flavourful and full of pesto...which is great! Definitely generous.

For those who skipped French class- 'Brulé' means burned!
Crème Brulé - seasonal price
I like a variety of desserts, and crème brulé tops that list. I love the caramelized sugar crunch, to cold dense interior. The crème brulé served at Utopia was a departure from what I have had before. The texture of the cream itself was much lighter than I expected, so much so that I would call it a mousse. It was not smooth loosening itself onto the spoon with a chunky fluffiness that surprised me. The flavour was also very light, delicate. I was expecting a bold and decadent cream, but received a more. The crust was thin, and though it tasted good, I wish there had been more, and that it had been thicker. Topping everything off was a sprinkling of blueberries. They didn’t taste too fresh. That may be expected given the season, but I had hoped that there would be more pop in the fruit. Although this was a good crème brulé, it was not the best that I’ve had.

Torontos best kept secret
My amazing friend and sister, Mary <3 Utopia Cafe on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Pomegranate

The Pomegranate
Many an evening spent biking the college stretch has found me looking into the mysterious glow of The Pomegranate restaurant. It’s not that the blue walls and fine tapestries have scared me from visiting until now. Like more than a couple people I know, I have had the unfortunate problem of trying to call them a visit for lunch- this is a dinner only establishment.
Knowing that, we arrived at 8, well after open, but also well before close.
I knew this place was going to be a five star for atmosphere. The walls are draped with ornate rugs, tassels dangling. Photos and paintings show women and men in traditional Iranian clothes. The place did not lack for colour or lighting. Patterned lamps hung down casting patterns on the cerulean wall, making us feel under water. There were hand-painted tiles inlaid on all the walls. We felt comfortable.
To start we ordered a bottle of Argentinian wine, Trapiche, a malbec reserve. Pomegranate only serves two kinds of meat from what I can tell. Mostly it’s lamb, and one or two dishes have chicken, or are vegetarian. Thus the red choice- and it was a delicious wine which I will be certain to purchase again. Between myself and my two guests, we ordered four dishes.

The Appetizer
Maast-o Khiar - $4.25
A blend of English cucumber, walnuts, raisins and rose petals in a rich creamy herbed yogurt.
This appetizer was served with warm Barbary bread- and by warm, I mean HOT! Wrapped in a warm cloth, it tasted incredibly fresh, while crusty on the outside. I firmly believe this was fresh baked. The mast-o khiar was spooned out onto our separate plates. I was a bit disappointed that I couldn’t taste much of the rose petals, which were actually more like a fine powder on top of the dish. Eaten on top of bread or by itself, the dish was mild, the raisins and walnuts adding the most texture and flavour. It was refreshing, and thus served well as an app, but wasn’t terribly memorable.

All the main dishes were served with a salad of mixed greens and a happy helping of basmati rice. There was also a small bowl of something that reminded me of pico, with mint. My companions dishes were served in metal bowls with the gravy filled right to the edge, but mine came with a proud and large shank of lamb front and center.

So Good!

Daily Special - Seared Eggplant with Lamb - $14.95
I tried a spoonful of this saucy, savoury dish with some of my basmati rice. Pomegranate knows a thing of two about making a winning sauce. As the Pomegranate was my second blog to review, I made a rookie mistake- I forgot to take my notebook. Finding standard menu items on the Pomegranates website was easy, but I don’t have the details on what was in this stew. It was rich, with thick and mushroomy gravy. The eggplant was not too noticeable, but the charred flavour hung around underneath the bold lamb aromas. For a cold and wet day, it was a great choice.

Aloo Gheysi - $13.95
A stew of bokhara plums and dried apricots in a saffron sauce with boneless chicken pieces
The plums have pits in them. We were warned about this twice by two different servers. I’m a firm believer that every bit of an animal, plant or fruit contains essential flavours, even if it’s just a bit of an addition. Of the three dishes, we all agreed that this was the most flavourful. I love sweet dinners because they’re different from what one usually gets, but my friends both said they aren’t historically fans. All of us loved it. Even though there was a variety of fruit, the chicken and saffron did a lot to keep the dish from being too sweet. Again, Pomegranate showed a skill for sauces. Unlike other saucy middle eastern dishes I’ve tries, this was not too buttery, but full of natural taste.

Morasa Polo
Morasa Polo - $14.95
Jewelled rice – slivers of Seville orange peel, almond and pistachio with diced carrots and barberries blended in saffron basmati rice served with a braised lamb shank
I am not much of a lamb eater. I’m not opposed to it, but I tend to lean towards vegetarian dishes. So the times I’ve eaten lamb can be counted on one hand. This was...superlative. Can I use that word for a hunk of meat on a big bone? It was great. It tasted strictly of meat. There was no sauce, and the spices were very simple, almost not there. But please, let me describe its tenderness. I had a piece on my fork, and I bit that piece. Half stayed on the fork, just falling away. I don’t know if I’ve ever had something so tender! Beautiful lamb.
The rice that came with my dish was also different from what my friends had with their dishes. This ‘jewelled rice’ was full of chips of candied orange peel, crisp nuts, and carrots. It was as colourful as confetti, and I couldn’t get enough of it. The basmati was so light and fluffy that it didn’t sit heavily like rice usually does.

The desserts were very tempting, and I saw the tables all around us ordering the same thing, but we all agreed that we were too full to venture into desserts - this time.
Let's eat, friends!
My guests this evening were my roomate Molly and her man, Pietro. Pomegranate on Urbanspoon