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The Week in Yum Feb 1-7 Winterlicious Double Tap

Coffee by the fire in the lobby of the Shangri La

It's February which means Winterlicious has begun and it's time to get out there and try something new. If you aren't already acquainted with the Liciouses, it's time to find out what it's all about. Twice a year an array of Toronto restaurants put together a prix fixe menu that showcases the best of what they have to offer. Some places just do dinner but others do both a lunch and a dinner menu. It's a great way to discover new restaurants or to try places that you have been meaning to check but just haven't gotten around to. I always go with a friend who will share so that we can both order different stuff and instead of tasting one app, one main and one dessert, I get to taste six new things. I don't really trust people who won't share their food because I get so excited when something is delicious that I want to share it with the whole world. I want you to experience just how amazing this soup is too. Nothing makes me crazier than ordering just to hear my companion order all of the same things. What is the point in that? You don't have to let me eat off of your fork (although I will if you offer) but sharing is what side plates were invented for for the love of pearl.

I have a food blogger friend who claims to hate the 'Licious thing. No Summerlicious or Winterlicious for her because she feels like the special menus are just a throw off and that the restaurants don't care about you if you order off of it but I think she is nuts. I love Summer/Winterlicious and try to hit as many restaurants as I can. I usually aim for places that are on the pricey side so that I can try their food for a fixed price before I lay open my wallet for an a la carte meal on a normal night. It's also the perfect time to try those expensive spots at lunch when you are getting the same food that you would get at dinner for half the price.

Winterlicious runs from January 31 until February 13 this year and there are three tiers of offerings ranging from $15 to $25 dollars for lunch and $25 to $45 for dinner. If you go to the website, the participating restaurants are listed alphabetically so you can look for places you would like to try, preview their Winterlicious offerings and make your choices but if you are planning to eat dinner instead of lunch, you would be wise to also make reservations ahead of time, especially for the more popular places.

So, my  week started off with dinner at Azure, the restaurant in the Intercontinental Hotel on Front St West. I eat lunch here quite a bit because I spend the entire week of The Toronto Film Festival make up artisting out of this hotel so I already knew that the food was good. Unfortunately, I never get to eat my food hot from the kitchen because each time I sit down to lunch, it's almost an unwritten rule that my phone will buzz with an urgent text to get to the ninth floor STAT to powder the nose of a greasy skinned actor and by the time I get back down to the restaurant, my soup is cold. The fact that my cold soup is also still delicious is a testament to how good it was in the first place though, no?

When I was contacted and offered a chance to try the Winterlicious menu at Azure on the house,  I immediately accepted. A chance to eat an entire meal here while never jumping up from the table, served at the temperature it's meant to be consumed at? Who would say no to that?

As soon as we arrived we were greeted warmly, our coats whisked away and seated at a small table for two. Just as I was lamenting the small table and wondering where I was going to put all the crap I would have to push aside in order to be all obnoxious and take pictures of our food, our lovely waiter came and said "let's just push these two tables together so you won't feel cramped. A big table is always better"
Why yes, lovely waiter, it is.

Our waiter was attentive without being all up in our grill and I do appreciate a good server. After perusing the wine list, we were very happy to see some interesting Ontario wines on there and chose a bottle of Organized Crime “THE PIPE DOWN” , a blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, petit verdot from  niagara. I didn't notice until after we ordered that they also had some wine from 2027,  another Ontario winery. Their 2012 Riesling is one that I really love and not always that easy to find and if I had noticed that I would have probably just had a glass of both the Pipe Down and the 2012.  That's what I get for being so anxious to get some wine in me.

Since I had already perused the Winterlicious menu, I already knew exactly what we were going to order and wasted no time in letting the waiter know. Having enjoyed their parsnip and leek soup a number of times, I knew that Shack would like the Parsnip Bisque and he did. I had the maple cured salmon with lovely little bits of beet and candied pecans and it was also very good, if small. It was okay for me but Shack would have finished the plate in two bites and be left wanting a bit more although the warm buns with compost butter filled the gap nicely.

From what I could see, he enjoyed his veal osso bucco because he was so busy eating it that he forgot to share and I was was lucky that I managed to sneak one tiny bite of meat while he wasn't looking. My Arctic Char was nicely done and although I didn't get much pomegranate from it, I thought it was great. The portion size was perfect with two chunks of nicely seared fish sitting on top of a smattering of navy bean puree. Out of the three desserts, my favourite was the apple caramel cheesecake and I may or may not have licked the plate clean. The Banana walnut ice cream tasted exactly like banana bread, if banana bread was not bread but ice cream and since I love banana bread, that is a very good thing.  Our waiter said their pastry chef makes all of the ice cream herself, in house and it shows in the perfectly creamy, smooth texture.

maple cured salmon

Fun fact about everyone in my little family:

We LOVE hotels. We love crisp linens, fluffy duvets, endless hot showers and room service. I would be so happy if I could live like Eloise and call The Plaza my home although I no longer look fetching in knee socks. Who needs a mom when you have a concierge?  We would have to make a few changes but I think it could still work. We also love a good hotel restaurant and I like the idea that I could meander down there in my pjs for a bit of fine dining if I chose to do so. They often have high ceilings and opulent decor, a kind of hushed atmosphere and offer fabulous people watching. Okay, so let's get the negative out of the way right now:

This is not really that place.

During the day, the soaring windows that flank the entire restaurant fill it with light and make it a really pleasant place to have lunch. At night, the tinny throb of euro disco music coming from what sounds like another room doesn't really create any sort of atmosphere, romantic or otherwise.  There is a happy place between over loud music making conversation difficult, which I really dislike, and muffled club music coming from the back room. The fact that there is no actual wall to separate it from the actual hotel makes it feel like an extension of the lobby, depending on where you are seated so try to get a table around the back where you can't really see all that. The staff is attentive and considerate and I think I spied some private dining areas around the back but the actual restaurant lacks intimacy if you are going on a date or something like that. Luckily, the food and the service made up for that and I would definitely go back.

Okay, whew, that had to be said and in saying that, it is a great place to eat during the day and at $25 per person, the Winterlicious lunch menu looks fantastic as well.

banana bread disguised as creamy ice cream

We started Sunday with breakfast sandwiches because we could and we did.

Later on during the afternoon, we popped down to Le Papillion on the Park for The Leslieville Market's Souper-Bowl. In exchange for the chance to bring containers that they fill up with delicious french onion soup (you can bring a bowl and enjoy it right there if you like), you are donating money to help support the market. All the money goes towards the cost of actually running the wonderful market that we all love and frequent and it brings the community together during the winter season.

I run into my friend, Alice and her brat every year at the Souper-Bowl. They must really like soup

She doesn't look excited at all , does she?
The first half of the week was spent working with Disney to make Aaron Paul (aka Jesse Pinkman) look fresh and well rested for the Toronto leg of their Need For Speed publicity tour. I know, I know, I have the worst job in the world, having to touch the faces of beautiful men for days on end. Not only do I have to tend to these beautiful men, but I am force fed this non stop spread of fancy hotel food. I forgot to photograph the pastries and the selection of breads to toast with an array of jams, jellies and honeys. We were at the Shangri La hotel, which is one of my favourite hotels, not that I will ever actually stay there. I don't think I can afford to do that but I do love to work there. The staff are so good looking, so on the ball, so helpful and elegant - dare I say swellagant.

Since Alice and I (of the Souper-Bowl loving Alice, who is also a fellow makeup artist extraordinaire )
we spending the day at the Shangri La, we chose to not eat the beautiful lunch spread that Disney provided in our suite. How could we not pop in to Momofuku to enjoy their Winterlicious lunch menu? I am ashamed to admit that this was the first visit for me. When they first opened, it was impossible to get a seat without waiting forever and I really hate waiting so I thought I would wait for the hype to calm down. I keep meaning to go but it's a pain to go right down town to eat unless I am actually working there so I just never do it.

The Winterlicious $15 lunch menu is a really good deal. My smoked chicken ramen is already $15 a bowl, so why would I not get a kimchi and a compost cookie to go along with it for the same price? We got the spicy kimchi and it was sooooo good. It was just spicy enough to be able to say it's hot without making me choke, although Alice did need an extra glass of water after eating some of hers. I added it to the soup for an extra hit of deliciousness, if that is even possible. The miso broth was smoothly addictive and it came with just the right amount of noodles. I ate almost the entire bowl of soup and didn't feel bloated and over full like I often do after eating ramen. I admit that I have no self control when it comes to delicious noodles and if it's in the bowl, I will keep eating even when my brain is screaming "STOP IT YOU PIG, WE'RE GONNA BLOW!"

We sat at the bar which meant that we got to watch the army of food prep dudes make all the food. I learned a very cool little trick that day - instead of poaching the soft egg for my smoked chicken soup, they boil them in the shell until they are still very soft and crack them into small bowls. It takes up so much less room to boil them in the shell and it results in a perfectly cooked egg that isn't waterlogged and that retains it's shape beautifully. I can't wait to try this at home. The lightly braised water chestnuts in my soup were also a step above what you will usually encounter. All in all, it was one of my favourite ramens to date but be forewarned, there are only two types of soup on the menu so you aren't going to get to choose from a long list of variations so don't come here looking for a big variety.

I am happy to report that The Kid said that although the compost cookie was very good, it was not as good as MY compost cookies. He said mine are bit saltier and he prefers that.

all of the mise en place needed to make the lunch dishes

I will dream of this soup

Alice loved her dan dan noodles with spicy pork

This is the magic people

The rest of the week was pretty uneventful although on Thursday I did make my own version of chinese BBQ pork, which will be up on the blog at some point over the weekend. I don't usually make it because I live in Toronto and I can get good BBQ pork pretty easily but it was snowy and I didn't have a car and it was cold and I did have a pork tenderloin and I needed just 1/2 lb of the stuff. Today, I am going to park my ass in front of the TV and watch the Olympic opening ceremonies and hunker down for the next two weeks to watch because I adore the Winter Olympics and although I toyed with the whole idea of boycotting them, how can we punish the athletes who are spent their lives training to get there? I could skip the summer olympics but the winter sports are my jam and I look forward to seeing all the clever ways that the various countries will give Putin the gay middle finger, like this:

Pin of the week:  I will take this for lunch today, thanks

Instagram of the week: pure food porn

Facebook share of the week: The Gouda LIfe really makes food look crazypants

Tweet of the week:

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