Winterlicious – Toronto’s dining gem

By Mike Kerr

Today marks the beginning of one of our home city’s most popular events; for the next 2 weeks experienced foodies, and the general population alike will flock to Toronto’s finest restaurants for Winterlicious to enjoy food that might otherwise be out of their price range, in restaurants they would have only dreamed of eating at if such an event didn’t exist.

Over the past 10 years Winterlicious has seen 32 million meals served from prix fixe menus designed to appeal to the masses, and has brought in $140 million dollars to participating restaurants. This year the event will see 175 participating restaurants join the event, and with so much selection I thought I would share a few of my personal favourites, and with any luck help you to decide which of these venues will delight your taste buds.

Bangkok Garden
On the outside Bangkok Garden doesn’t look very big, once you get through the door, that perspective most definitely changes. The dark wood and soft textured walls make for a very calm and quieting surrounding. The large round tables promote conversation and sharing as your whole party will be in view. The lighting, wooden planks, and different levels within lend to an oriental feel.

This was my first ever Thai experience, and since eating there, I have been hard pressed to find another Thai restaurant with as high standards for quality, with as affordable pricing. I have many favourite dishes, but there is always something right at the top of the list: the Toasted Cashews with Chicken are my Thai go-to, I have never been disappointed anywhere I go, but there is something in the way Bangkok Garden makes it that leaves it spicy enough to know you’re getting some chili pepper, but not so hot you are left with a ring of fire around your mouth, and the cashews are crispy even if you have leftovers the next day.

Nothing has ever been better matched than the pairing of chicken and beef in Two Friends, the menu describes it as “three taste sensations: hot, salty, and sour” and it is really surprising how each piece does have its own unique flavour. The Lemon Shrimp Soup is Thailand’s national soup, if you don’t like a sour soup, don’t worry! This one is much lighter on the lemon than I expected. It does have chilies but rather than being over powering it is more warming like an internal furnace for a cold winter day.

Auberge du Pommier
Auberge du Pommier is nestled on a hill at Yonge and York Mills. The entrance to the restaurant is made up of two 1860s cottages which are from the original four cottages which were owned by John and William Hoggs of Hoggs’ Hollow. The interior has large exposed beams and bricks, with old rustic fireplaces that make you feel like you are enjoying a meal in the French countryside.

Butter. It is why French food is SO good. I have been to Auberge du Pommier twice on a preselected group menu, and once with access to the full thing. I repeat, Butter. The wide variety of soups, salads, entrees, and desserts all made in the spirit of French cuisine are to die for. If you have ever sautéed mushrooms Julia Child style, or made a French chocolate cake, you will know what I mean about the food here (hint: butter) while the portions aren’t very big, the richness will no doubt leave you satisfied. In between courses you will be presented with a variety of petit fours, and canapes to fill the gap. The bread that is served with, you guessed it, butter is marvelously warm, and the butter has had a different flavour every time I’ve been, usually to match with the seasonal ingredients at the time. Just in case you missed it the first few times, butter.

Cafe California
Cafe California is located in Toronto’s Gay Village, making it a little off the map for some. Steven and I seem to always be drawn here whenever we are meeting with a group, for business affairs, and even when we just can’t think of where else to go. It is a favourite among all we have brought there, and manages to have a wide enough variety of choices to ensure you don’t always eat the same thing. The hamburger and the cannelloni are my best choices. The hamburger is served with the condiments on the side giving you the chance to remove any vegetables you might not want to eat before dressing it. The shoestring french fries are mouth wateringly good, if you order something that doesn’t come with them: “borrow” from a friend! They’re too good not to assume your dinner date wants to share. The cannelloni is stuffed with mascarpone cheese, crab meat, and lobster bisque with always perfect pasta, and consistently mixed filling from end to end it is a list topper. Probably the best thing about Cafe California is how very accommodating the servers and kitchen are, don’t want a particular salad or side? Ask for a different one, the servers will take the order with a smile every time, and the kitchen will make sure it happens. The staff is all entertaining and will be sure to keep your table happy in any time between ordering and being served.

Mildred’s Temple Kitchen
Mildred’s Temple Kitchen is located in the Liberty Village neighbourhood, tucked away behind a building, and next to the interior design shop West Elm. The location features an industrial feeling with large open windows to provide excellent natural light for brunch, and modern fixtures, tables and chairs throughout the space. If you get the opportunity, you can sit at the feature table (a round table and bench, which can feature local celebrities) and will be sure to shine the spotlight on you and your party.

While I have never been here for lunch or dinner, if the brunch is any clue to quality, I would recommend Mildred for any meal. Drawing inspiration from their worship of food and the community that gathers with it, visitors will need to arrive early to ensure getting a table whether for a large group, or a table for two. Using local ingredients in a way that highlights their best qualities is what has brought me back here, their quiche is delicious and flaky, not soggy like some places try to pass off, and the buttermilk pancakes are as light as a cloud, and covered in yummy blueberries, just add some butter and syrup and you’re good to go. The espresso is probably the fastest served item on the menu, but despite some of the reviews I have seen complaining about the wait times, if you go and take a moment to look around and see how full the restaurant is, and consider how freshly made the food is, the wait really makes sense. The fabric that makes up Mildred’s values involves the bringing together of people around a table. If you aren’t in good enough company to enjoy the wait (which, the old saying “time flies when you’re having fun” is really true) maybe you should try going with different people.

Toronto Posts:
10+ Things to do on Toronto’s Waterfront
10+ Things to do on the east end of Toronto
10+ Things to do on the West End of Toronto

Food Posts:
Quick Eats in Amsterdam
Gnoshing in Brussels
Pasta in Paris, Brunch in Blue – My guide to finding good eats
The Best Tomato Soup I Have EVER Experienced (and other good eats in Poland)

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