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A Winterlicious 2011 Round-Up.

I love Winterlicious and Summerlicious.  I have tried to go out at least once for each, and find its a great way to have a night out with friends without breaking the bank.  I faithfully try new restaurants each and have been pleasantly enticed enough to make some a regular night out.

This year we were able to book 4 venues: Wildfire Steakhouse, Café Moroc, Café Pleiade and La Maquette.  For the first time, I didn’t look at the menus and let our friends choose where they wanted to go, trusting completely that I would like their choices.

Dinner #1 – Wildfire Steakhouse: 3438 Yonge Street

Menu: $45 Dinner plus taxes and gratuity
Appetizers:
Soup of the day,  Shrimp Martini, Escargots Provençal, Grilled Calamari, Wildfire’s Caesar Salad or Cranberry and Goat Cheese Salad
Mains:
Live Lobster: From South West Nova Scotia with rice pilaf, grilled vegetables and garlic drawned butter or
Sterling Silver New York Striploin: With garlic mashed Yukon gold potatoes and grilled seasonal vegetables or
Walnut Crusted Salmon Filet: Served with rice pilaf and seasonal grilled vegetables or
Wildfire Baby Back Ribs: Basted with our delectable homemade barbecue sauce and served with  fresh-cut fries and seasonal vegetables or
Penne Pasta: Chicken, spinach, sundried tomatoes and fresh basil in a creamy tomato sauce, sprinkled with Parmigiano Reggiano or
Wild Mushroom Risotto: Wild forest mushrooms with truffle oil and Parmigiano Reggiano or
Half Chicken Churrasco: Served in a Piri Piri sauce with roasted garlic mashed potatoes and seasonal grilled vegetables Desserts:
Chocolate Mousse Dome, New York Cheesecake or Pecan and Chocolate Tart

We chose the shrimp, caesar and cranberry salads, and calamari for appetizers; the lobster and the steaks for mains; and the chocolate mousse and cheesecake for dessert.

Overall it was good, nothing spectacular.   The wait staff and front staff were nicely attentive without being obtrusive.  The bread with humus was a nice change from olive oil or butter.  I liked the fact that there was more than one vegetarian option as this previously is a drawback when trying to coordinate dinners with vegetarian friends. The best part was the wine, a lovely Spanish red, Cepas Antiguas Tempranillo 2009.

Dinner #2 -Café Moroc: 49 Front Street East

$25 Dinner
plus taxes and gratuity
Appetizers
HARIRA (vegetarian) A hearty tomato based broth, with chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils and a blend of Moroccan spices
or
SLICED SMOKED DUCK BREAST SALAD Baby lettuces, dressed with a Champagne, pomegranate vinaigrette, tossed with fresh fine cut vegetables, cherry tomatoes and sliced mango. Finished with parmesan, asiago and Romano cheese
or
MAFTOUL  Hand rolled “Moroccan Cigars”, hot crispy pastry stuffed with a mixture of mildly spiced beef, cashews and raisins. Topped with our own chipotle aioli

Mains
MOROCCAN BEEF SHORT RIB Tender fall off the bone beef, braised with Moroccan spices. Finished with a rich red wine demi-glace. Served with Yukon gold-parsnip mash, accompanied by mini Casablanca vegetables or
KESKESU CASABLANCA (vegetarian) Moroccan seasoned couscous and tagine sauce, topped with oven roast fresh carrot, parsnip, zucchini, summer squash, tomato, red onion and sweet peppers or
MANGO SALMON A Pan Seared 8-ounce fillet of salmon, topped with mango salsa. Served with saffron basmati rice and traditional Moroccan root vegetables or
CHICKEN MARRAKESH Supreme of chicken marinated in Moroccan spices, smothered in honey butter onions and Moroccan olives, served with seasoned couscous and tagine sauce. Accompanied by traditional Moroccan root vegetables or
BRAISED LAMB FEAST Slow braised lamb shank, served on our tagine seasoned couscous,
with a rich prune demi glace, topped with preserved lemon and toasted almonds
Desserts
MOROCCAN TREATS (vegetarian)
Traditionally made Moroccan cookie and pastry accompanied with Latshin, a light and refreshing traditional desert of fresh orange slices sprinkled with powdered sugar and cinnamon or
BRULÉE ROYALE (vegetarian) A rich and flavourful crème brulée or
BERRY & CARAMEL APPLE CRISP (vegetarian) Served warm and smothered in fresh whipped cream

This dinner I was excited for as I had never had Moroccan food before.  The couple we ate with always like to try not just new places but different types of food.  Two of us had the soup, one the cigars and the last the duck salad as appetizers.  They were all great.  For our mains, we had the salmon, the lamb stew and the short rib.  The first was a little dry and the mango salsa didn’t do anything for the salmon.  The rib was quite large and literally fell off the bone with the bone was picked up.  For dessert we tried all three.  Nothing spectacular but delicious.  We again had a Spanish red, Puerta de Alcalà Crianza 2006.

Dinner #3 – Café Pleiade: 557 Mount Pleasant Road

$25 Dinner
plus taxes and gratuity
Appetizers
Fresh Mussels Mareniere tomato, green onion garlic, herbs & ouzo or
Soup of the Day or
House Pate with cranberry relish or
Organic Greens with Asparagus & Brie apple cider vinaigrette or
Bruschetta on Pita with marinated olives & aged white cheddar
Mains
Grilled Lamb Chops feta sauce verde & tapenade or
Fresh Baked Tilapia Filets roast tomato sauce or
Pork Loin Steak Marinated In Apple Cider mango & papaya relish or
Classic Beef Bourguignon
Desserts
Bread Pudding or
Fruit Pie or
Chocolate Explosion or
Zabaglione Ice Cream

I was the most disappointed  with this dinner.  Not by the food, but by the service.  There was only one wait staff and a full house (seats around 25). We were instructed to hang our jackets, while others who entered after us were helped with theirs.  We weren’t given water or a drinks menu for almost 15 minutes.  But once our friends arrived, she wanted orders immediately, but still got one of the mains wrong.  We also had to ask for coffee and the bill.  This was the first restaurant that I can remember that there was not one Canadian wine on the wine list.  So we followed the Winterlicious trend and ordered another Spanish red: Gran Coronas Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2005.  The food was good but basic; again nothing spectacular.  I don’t think we would go back.

Dinner #4 – La Maquette 111 King Street East

$35 Dinner
plus taxes and gratuity
Appetizers
Soup of the day or
Arugula Salad (vegetarian) tossed in a lemon-orange Dijon vinaigrette and topped with almond slivers and orange slices or
Wild Boar and Sweet Bread Apricot Terrine with red currant jelly sauce                                                                                                Mains
Slow Baked Lobster Tail and Grilled Shrimps on a bed of black bean rice and a medley of fresh vegetables  in a cognac and lemongrass cream sauce or
Roasted Prime Rib in a water chestnut cream sauce with roasted garlic goat cheese mashed potatoes and a medley of vegetables or
Grilled Veal Medallions in a roasted pecan and bourbon reduction served with fingerling potatoes and Baby Bok Choy or
La Maquette’s Specialty Vegetarian Risotto (vegetarian)
Desserts
Caramel Cake (vegetarian) layers of chocolate sponge cake and caramel mousse  topped with toasted almond meringue and caramel and drizzled with butterscotch sauce or
Chocolate Truffle Cake (vegetarian) layers of devil’s food chocolate cake and whipped ganache finished with extra dark chocolate glaze, garnished with berry compote and crème Anglaise or
Winter Fruit Bowl (vegetarian) grapes, apples and pears

This is the only restaurant I have been to for 2 Winterlicious’.  The last time was around 2005.  I did not enjoy my first experience and was looking forward to better one.  Two of started with the soup, a butternut squash, one with the salad and one the terrine.   All were quite good.  For the mains we had two shrimp, the prime rib and the veal.   Everyone was again pleased with their choices.  Throughout all, we went 4 for 4 and had a Spanish red: Hoya de Cadensas Reserva Tempranillo 2006.  We all had the chocolate cake for dessert and it was rich!  I found this time to be better than my previous experience.

Overall, I had a great Winterlicious.  I always find that the food is nothing but a complement to spending some good friend time.  Looking forward to Summerlicious because it starts on my birthday!!!

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Winterlicious is coming!

Today I can start to make my Winterlicious reservations.  I have been an avid supporter of this endeavour since it began almost 5 years ago.  For those of you who are unfamiliar, the City of Toronto throws a Winter Celebration with lots of events, the main attraction being prix fixe lunches and dinners ($15-$45) at some of the top restaurants in the city.  They repeat the idea in the summer, so Summerlicious!  I find it’s a great opportunity to meet up with friends and try out new restaurants.

I send out a mass email one month before to see who is interested and as of today (the Amex front of the line rsvp date) we have three outings: French, Moroccan and another French (cafe).

I can’t wait to share my thoughts after we eat.

Check out the Winterlicious site here.

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