Saturday, August 31, 2013

Dîner en Blanc Toronto 2013

On Thursday, August 29, 2013, we headed to Dîner en Blanc in Toronto. From their website, this event is described as, "At the last minute, the location is given to thousands of friends and acquaintances who have been patiently waiting to learn the “Dîner en Blanc's” secret place. Thousand of people, dressed all in white, and conducting themselves with the greatest decorum, elegance, and etiquette, all meet for a mass “chic picnic” in a public space."

We attended last year, when our surprise location was Fort York.  The evening was, without hyperbole, magical and we were so excited to attend again.
The drive to Toronto was horrendous.  With the CNE in town, we missed our departure point for the bus.  Because the location is top secret, there is no way to just meet up at the point - so we resorted to yelling out the window to anyone wearing white.  We actually managed, by driving randomly, to find a group waiting to board the TTC and the group leader told us to drive to the intersection of Shuter & Mutual.  When we did, we saw the buses and discovered our secret location: a parking lot - not one of the most prestigious areas of the city, as described in the Dîner en Blanc FAQ.
Despite our disappointment in the location, we made the best of the situation and began our delicious picnic.  First, we started with some sparkling lemonade.  
While we waited for the signal to begin dining, entertainment circled the parking lot.  In this case, a fan dancer
 and a burlesque dancer covered in balloons.
At Dîner en Blanc, the beginning of dinner is symbolized by the waving of white napkins in the air.
Knowing we wouldn't have time to cook, I picked up a Picnic Basket from Cake & Loaf.  This is half of the cheese and fruit combination, with their housemade crackers. The basket features a delicious assortment of Brie, Applewood Smoked Cheddar and Cheddar Cheese with fresh berries, nuts and a delicious jam that paired wonderfully with the cheese and berries. 
We then moved onto the antipasto platter.  Again, the flavor combinations were wonderful. The boccocini cheese and cherry tomato skewers were fresh and provided a great contrast to the sundried tomatoes, roasted red peppers and artichoke hearts. Our basket also came with a mushroom pate, two demi-baguettes, juice and water.  A fantastic picnic for $27!
Dessert was baked by my mother - Carrot Cake in a Jar. A sweet way to end the evening's meal. 
At 9:30 p.m., all members light a sparkler at the same time. As this years party reached its climax for a few brief moments with sparkles filling the sky a dingy parking lot became the most beautiful spot in the city. Sometimes all you need is a a little sparkle and the Toronto skyline in the background in order to make the ordinary stunning.
We had a great table, made some wonderful new friends, drank some great wine and had an enjoyable evening. Dîner en Blanc is not an inexpensive proposition - all tables and chairs must meet certain requirements (and be purchased), the tickets came to about $90, once all fees were added, and all food and drinks, excluding wine (due to LCBO rules), must be brought in.  Perhaps our expectations were inflated last year with the remarkable location at Fort York, but for the amount of preparation and cash, I expected more than a parking lot.  We will return next year, but with hopes of a much more remarkable location.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Dishcrawl Hamilton - Dundas!

On Tuesday, August 20th, we ventured out to join Dishcrawl Hamilton on a Dundas Dishcrawl. The basic premise is that you visit 4 restaurants, enjoying a trio of tastes at each.  For the price of $60, with drinks along the way (alcoholic and non) extra, you are invited along on the adventure.
We began the evening at the Detour Cafe.  We started with a glass of twisted white wine and a lemonade, made with gin, ginger and cucumber.  Both were refreshing and a great way to begin.
For the meat eaters, the plate included a quinoa salad, described on their website as "Black turtle beans, radish, avocado, poblano pepper, roaster cherry tomato , sheep's milk feta, cumin lime vinagrette".  As well, we were offered fish - local perch - and housemade potato chips, fried Mac and Cheese and brasied beef.  Truly, every bite was delicious.  
For the vegetarians, the meat was replaced with a delicious, non-fried version of the Mac and Cheese, described as "Shallot-thyme infused cream sauce with three cheeses and spinach. topped with breadcrumbs".  Again, everything here was delicious   We will be going back to enjoy a meal, although their note on their website that they charge an additional $2.00 to split items seems a tad preposterous.
We were piped to our next stop, Nellie James.

Here, we were offered a trio of amuse-bouches.
Our group was of two minds of the appetizers.  Overall, we found them tasty, in particular the chicken appetizer.  However, we also felt like there was simply too much going on with each bite and that simpler would have been better.  There was no seating at this stop, and we stood in the gorgeous small garden behind the restaurant.
We wandered down King street to find our next restaurant.  Normally, at a DishCrawl, the entertainers stand outside of the next stop, drawing you in.  However, there was a problem with the next entertainer and she was singing inside the restaurant, meaning that some of the group overshot the stop and had to be called back.  Once everyone was there, we went into India Village.

Our meal here started with Papadum with spicy mango chutney.  Then, we moved onto Veggie Pakora served with tamarin sauce.  These were excellent.
To drink, we enjoyed both Cheetah Beer and housemade Mango Lassies.  The Lassies were superb.  We were given basmati rice (with tumeric), chana masa and chicken coconut curry, as well as naan.  The Indian food lovers in our group thought the food quite good, but perhaps a bit lacking in spice and flavour.  Our assumption was that the restaurant dialed it down a bit to make it more accessible.
Just down the street was our last stop - Crazy Cravings Ice Cream Truck.  On the truck, you choose a cone or a bowl, scoop your ice cream and then choose from a myriad of toppings - from gummy worms to hot fudge to nuts.  We found it a fun way to end, but perhaps a bit less impressive than the other restaurants.
Overall, Dishcrawl was a fun experience, and all members of our group were pleased to have experienced it.  At $60, I'm not sure we'll be repeating the adventure anytime soon.  It was a great time and we got a terrific amount of food, but by the time you add in a couple drinks, it's not an inexpensive night out.  The host was terrific and accommodating, though, and once we're done with paying tuition for various members of our household, we'll attend more.

Here we go!

Hungry in the Hammer is the blog of two residents of Hamilton, ON.  Both are teachers by day and explorers by night (except we also love sleeping).  We love food. We love adventures. We love fun.