Cafe California

 538 Church
Toronto, ON M4Y2E1
Phone: (416) 960-6161

Located right at Church and Wellesley, this small cafe sits about 15-20 tables tightly and has an ambiance of cosy, homey, and casual. With a Mediterranean decor (blues, greens, and deep reds as the backdrop), Cafe California stands out as a being a casual dining spot in the village. With a gorgeous mural of buildings and a skyline in colours of blues, light green, and greys, with gorgeous wood tables, wrought iron accents, nice flower arrangements, and large pieces of fabric draped along the ceilings, Cafe California is pleasing to the eye. With subdued Mediterranean colours, the cafe is not campy (like its next door neighbour Zelda’s) but very homey and cosy.

I went last Sunday morning for brunch with Paulo and I was happy to see that there was a separate brunch, dinner, and lunch menu. For our brunch we saw many items worth mentioning. Cafe California offers some vegetarian selections, a variety of healthy salads, and other light dishes. As well, their brunch menu offers a variety of sandwiches, beef or chicken fajitas, grilled chicken sandwiches, stir fries, and pastas. For brunch, I ordered a French crepe ($8.95) with poached pears, with a side of cream cheese, sprinkled with powder sugar with a side of apple butter and manjar sauce (i.e. caramel sauce). The crepe was light and not greasy and I was very happy with the portion size. Paulo ordered the Italian Frittata, an open-faced omelette with prosciutto ham, white asparagus, diced tomatoes, spring onions and potatoes topped with Monterrey Jack cheese that came with a side order of garden salad. Portion size was very generous. Service was fast and friendly. Waiter made an extra effort to go the extra distance, to be helpful, friendly, and informative.

Other brunch items worth mentioning include the Eggs Benedict/Eggs Pacifica – 2 poached eggs and spinach on a toasted English muffin w/ peameal bacon or smoked salmon, topped with Hollandaise sauce and served with a potato latke, Huevos Completos – 2 eggs any style w/ sausage, peameal or strip bacon, pancakes, toast and potato pancakes, the Italian Frittata, Omelette – Choice of Western or Spanish, soups, bruschetta, Spinach Salad w/ roasted pecans, mushrooms, orange segments and goat cheese in a honey mustard vinaigrette. Cafe California also serves an assortment of salads, including Caesar Salad, Greek Salad, and their signature dish “Chicken Santa Barbara”- a large garden salad with roasted pine nuts, rasins, with grilled marinated chicken breast and a sundried tomato and pesto vinaigrette, spinach fettuccini with cajun chicken, mushrooms, sweet peppers and onions in a creole sauce, grilled Atlantic Salmon in a raspberry white sauce w/ rice and vegetables. They also serve one “healthy” pizza- a thin crust pizza w/ chorizo sausage, mushrooms, sweet peppers and Bermuda onions. In addition, some sandwiches include the Mediterranean Club Sandwich w/ grilled chicken breast, bacon, avocado, lettuce and tomato on Italian panini w/ salad or fries, the Vegetarian Plate w/ grilled vegetables, goat cheese, and focaccia bread, a Hamburger Served with mixed greens or home-cut fries, and finally a Veggie burger w/ mixed greens or home fries.

Beverages include a variety of coffees, espresso beverages (lattes, capuccino, etc), liquor based coffees, brunch cocktails, Sangria, Mimosa, and a variety of wines and spirits.

Cafe California also offers an extensive and creative variety of martinis. Offers a great selection of desserts, including unique cheesecakes. Great front and side summer terrace. Many vegetarian and healthy options. Accepts all cards.

Eggspectation

Toronto Eaton Centre
220 Yonge Street (corner Shuter)
Tel.:(416) 977-3380

Vaughan Mills Shopping Centre
1 Bass Pro Mills Drive Unit # 401
Tel.: (905) 761-3391

 

I was a brunch virgin when I arrived in Montreal for University at the tender age of eighteen. With long nights of binge drinking and late wakeups in Molson residence, I was soon deflowered and exposed to the fabulous world of brunching. Eggspectation on the corner of De Maisoneuve and De La Montagne, was my first real brunch experience, and at the time sent shockwaves through my slowly maturing palette. Who knew eggs could be made in so many different ways? As the years grew on and more brunch options became available, the originality of Eggspectation diminished and so do I suspect the quality. One thing that didn’t wane at Eggspectation was the quality of the waiters….. yum!

It appears some people have stuck by Eggspectation as is apparent in its expansion to Toronto. Out of University for several years now, with tickets to see the musical “Wicked” (thumbs up!); plans were arranged to revisit this old haunt at its most recent incarnation on Yonge St. just beside the Eaton Centre. The tourists were out in full force as the place was packed when we arrived. The line moved quickly enough and soon we were seated in a comfortable booth in this vast and commercially apt space. After a brief time, our waiter arrived and took our orders. True to the original, he was friendly, helpful, and quite buff.

My order consisted of the one dish that stood out in my mind since the days of yore. The “Yoke Around the Clock” is a concoction which combines a fresh Montreal Style Bagel with two sunny side eggs cooked in the holes of the bagel covered with bacon and cheese. The cheese can be a choice of cheddar or swiss depending on one’s taste. I went with cheddar. The one component that I noticed missing from when I used to frequent it in Montreal was the basket of deliciously buttered toast that would be served prior to the meal. I am still not sure whether it was the waiter’s fault or that’s the way it is here but it only arrived after I had asked for it and alongside the meal.

I must say that after years of brunching in Toronto, Eggspectation’s allure and quality can no longer compare. The meal was not terrible by any stretch, but considering the tiny amount of potatoes that accompanied the meal and just the overall quality of the food, I was not overly impressed. It really just reminded me of my last year in Montreal, passable but missing the freshness and effort found at other brunch establishments.

Eggspectations will remain etched in my memory as a starting point to the world of brunch, but in this new era of brunch delicacies, it just does not hold up.

Bloor Jinmirak Korean / Japanese Restaurant

 708 Bloor
416-536-0545

Faline, Daniel, and I met up for dinner on Sunday night and we opted for something different than our usual Indian or Thai cuisine. We chose to go to Bloor Jinmirak, a favourite hangout of Faline’s in the Korean Business Neighbourhood at Bloor and Christie. I remember going with Wendy for dinner there to meet Faline and her friend Gail in 2001 prior to Daniel’s arrival to Toronto and I remember enjoying the food and service very much. With those cool Japanese closed-off booths and that big heavy wood door, all I remember was the marvellous combinations of little side dishes that really satisfied my apetite. I do not remember eating a large meal, rather snacking on small dishes.

On this occasion, 4 years later, the place still looks the same. With all meat dishes, I was pleasantly relieved to find that the staff were flexible. They mentioned in their broken English that any meat (beef, chicken, pork, fish, seafood) could be removed. I spoke slowly as I ordered the Den Jang Chige ($6.99) ( a tofu stew with squash, onion, mushroom, and carrot) in a delicious tomato broth. The dish came with pork but I asked to spare the poor pig. The dish was aromatic, and was accompanied with a free side order of white rice and was served piping hot in a sizzling stone bowl. I made sure to speak slowly and repeated, no animal products please. This means no fish, no chicken, no beef, no pork, no animals in this dish please. She assured me that this dish was vegetarian. Faline ordered Jam Bong, a HUGE bowl of soup with noodles and seafood. The dish contained a thick tomato broth and had squid, shrimp, many vegetables, in a spicy tomato broth. She loved it and it was only $7.99. Daniel ordered the Dol Sot Bibm Bap, which was comprised of shredded beef, vegetables, rice, a fried egg on top, and the Korean bbq sauce in a sizzling stone bowl. One of the best dishes Daniel claims he has ordered.

Half of Bloor Jinmirak’s menu includes a large variety of sushi dishes. The sushi bar serves a variety of sushi types ($9.95-$14.95) and patrons can order sushi as complete meals or a la carte ($3.00-$5.95). In addition to sushi, tempera dishes ($7.95-$35.00) and dumplings (steamed or fried) are also available ($3.99-$7.00), but unfortunately, veggie dumplings are not available.

The fun part of this place are the side dishes. The waitress brought little dishes of an assortment of spicy appetizers. My all time favourite appetizer is Kimchi – pickled cabbage in a spicy red pepper sauce (I think), YUMMA!. Other appetizers include water chestnut jelly in a hot pepper sauce, pickled radish, thick and crunchy, in that roasted red pepper sauce, bamboo shoots, seaweed in a hot pepper sauce, spinach (or parsley) in a hot red pepper sauce, thin, fine rice noodles, and black sweet beans, which are super crunchy and sweet.

The bill for 3 people was only $23.00 and we were stuffed. Food is very fresh, piping hot, very spicy, very affordable, and thankfully all of the dishes can be made vegetarian. Portions are huge, service is stellar, and they accept all cards, including Interac–a no bullshit kind of place!

Kubo Radio [brunch]

894 Queen St E
416-406-KUBO (5826)

web site: www.kubo.com

Set in Leslieville at Queen and Logan, this hip and trendy Pan Asian eatery certainly did not
appear to be serving brunch. It looked too much like a bar. However, when Aaron asked me to brunch last week, he told me “let’s go to Kubo Radio”. I checked out the web site and i remembered from my last visit that they also serve brunch.

It also helps that there is graffiti on the glass windows advertising their brunch. Luckily, the messy writing on the glass windows are done with washable marker. I think the advertise their dinner and brunch and the writings change daily.

As indicated above, Kubo Radio serves Thai dishes as well as other Pan Asian meals for the urban and funky modern hipster in Leslieville. I did not know what to expect to be served so it was an adventure. I did notice that Kubo Radio does serve traditional favourites like eggs, wraps, sandwiches, cereal, dim sum, and a variety of exotic juices and herbal teas.

Upon our arrival, we were greeted by a super friendly and laid back waitress. We were served shot glasses of mango juice (YUMM) and free appetizers of little “smurf size” blueberry muffins with a raspberry confit. I found those dishes to be quite cute and creative. I enjoyed my dining experience last time, but I was already enjoying my brunch experience as well.

I also noticed a yummy dish which comprised thick French cut toast with chocolate spread and bananas. They also serve a variety of veggie and non-veggie wraps and, like any brunch place, they serve organic granola with smashed fruit, mint, and yogourt. Trying to be on the somewhat creative side, i opted for the huge portion of steel cut oatmeal ($6.95) with raisins, grated ginger, brown sugar, and slivered blanched almonds. What a hearty plate. After running 32 km that morning, i was starving and that dish was perfect. Aaron ordered the Eggs Foreign-Tee- poached eggs on an English muffin w/spinach/ham/kubodaise ($9.95). He thought that it was OK but missing some spice. They offered some spicy sauce but he regretfully did not take it.

Decor and design is ultra modern and slick. Restaurant has clean lines and is minimal in design. Only accepts cash and VISA but no Interac. Dim Sum is not veggie friendly and there are only 3 veggie dishes but the oatmeal rocked. I understand that Kubo Radio also identifies itself as a pub but i must admit the whole ambiance is really stained with the 2 cheesy TV screens above the tables.

Cafe Next Door [brunch]

 790 Broadview
416 469 1971

Located right on Broadview right across from Broadway subway station, just a few steps north of Danforth, this funky cafe shares a patio with its sister company “The Magic Oven”. They serve quick, healthy, and light meals and weekend brunch and operates as a full service cafe. They offer a light healthy meals, salads, as well as energy bars, cakes, squares, muffins, and delicious fruit smoothies. They have a full brunch menu with traditional items like eggs, pancakes, cereal, fruit and granola, omeletes, and sandwiches and salads.

Wendy ordered the mushroom melt with asiago cheese and portobello mushrooms served with California fruit salad caught ($8.95). I ordered the bowl of oatmeal with fruit salad for $8.95. The portion size was not enough as this place emphasizes light meals (meaning tiny portions) so i also ordered the energy bar for $1.69. Most energy and protein bars are in the range of $1.50-$2.59. I was fortunate to taste Wendy’s dish and it was spicy and zesty and although sligghtly oily, i did detect the delicious Olive oil taste. YUMM!

Customers order at the counter and they serve the food to you. Staff are accomodating and friendly. However, on this particular occasion, we had a “newbie”–clearly this was her first day. She forgot to bring out Wendy’s fruit salad and she served me first but completely forgot about Wendy. I know Wendy was not happy. I think we both enjoyed the food but we felt neglected in terms of service. The “newbie” did not know anything regarding pricing and food products. The dessert menu is large. They make vegan soy shakes and bake cheesecakes, mousse cakes, creme brulee, ice creams, and snacks like spelt samosa rolls, kettle chips, healthy wheat free bars and desserts, flax bars, spelt and molasses muffins, energy bars, low carb meal replacement bars, sesame bars, and granola bars. They have a small summer terrace that sits about 3 tables. Inside the place is quite small with about 5-7 tables in one open dining room. Coffee creamers and sugar are all “help yourself” so it feels like Williams Coffee Pub since you order your food, but they do bring it out to you. Prices are between $7-$10. Accepts VISA and Interac.

Eggspectation

Toronto Eaton Centre
220 Yonge Street (corner Shuter)
Tel.:(416) 977-3380

Vaughan Mills Shopping Centre
1 Bass Pro Mills Drive Unit # 401
Tel.: (905) 761-3391

 

Last Sunday Aaron, Wendy, Daniel, my cousin Beth, and I bought tickets to see Wicked at the Canon Theatre (formerly the Pantages) in downtown Toronto. We needed a place for brunch that we had not been to yet, and somewhere relatively close to the theatre. I chose Eggspectation because i remember enjoying it when living in Montreal. My friend Vivian used to go there weekly on her brunch excursions and I remember it has the ambiance and the food variety that we all could enjoy. Aaron used to dine there in his McGill days and he always enjoyed the Yoke Around the Clock (see description below). Daniel and Aaron are not very picky, but Beth, Wendy, and I have specific needs that we need attended to. Wendy does not eat any egg dishes and Beth and I tend to eat healthy dishes. I was certain that there would be many alternative dishes for us all. I looked at the menu and there were many dishes that she would be pleased with.

There are 2 Eggspecations in the GTA; one at Yonge/Dundas in downtown Toronto and the other in the Vaughan Mills malls (second largest mall in Canada) in Vaughan, a city north of Toronto. We opted to go to the Yonge/Dundas located because of its proximity to the theatre and because we trusted the name Eggspectation. Eggspectation was popular in Quebec and known as a reliable, popular chain that specialized in creative and tasty egg dishes serving huge portions and affordable prices. Times have changed.

With Toronto’s larger-than-life obsession with brunch, I suspect Eggspectation will be very popular with Toronto folk. It’s even more popular situated in the Yonge/Dundas tourist trap. As we suspected, upon our arrival on Sunday morning, there was a lineup. I did call ahead to reserve a table for 5 but was promptly refused. The person told me, with confidance that we would only have to wait 10-15 mins. We were alittle stressed with the lineup but we only had to wait about 20 minutes before we were seated. I was relieved.

This particular Eggspectation looks identical to every other one- remember, it’s a chain afterall. Lacking originality, this place tries too hard to resemble a unique brunch spot. It does have that rustic look with wrought iron decor, wood tables and seats, exposed brick walls, with exposed industrial ceilings, and an overall homey feel. However, despite their attempt to look charming, it cannot escape being a chain.

Eggspectation specializes in creative egg dishes with a huge assortment of choice, ranging from every type of omelete you can think of, to a medley of sweet and savoury crepes. Eggspecation also serves an assortment of healthy and hearty salads, club sandwiches, 10 types of eggs benedict dishes, build your own omeletes, fruit and granola with yogourt, as well as potato latkes, pasta dishes, a variety of burgers (the mango burger sounds interesting!) home fries, and various salads.

The problem I have with Eggspectation is that I find it lacks charm. It tries to hard to be unique, cosy, grass-roots but it fails. Firstly, it’s too large and all restaurants in this chain look the same- there is no originality and character. It’s very “cookie-cutter”. Underneath the rustic, cosy, homey decor, it’s a bustling bundle of energy, noise, and anxiety. It’s like stepping into a casino where there is an excess of everything: noise, people, food, sweat, and more noise. I could not relax. The energy was so thick, you can almost taste it. Staff are young, energectic, and friendly, but overworked and underpaid, so expect them to be forgetful. Our waiter was very friendly, patient, and accomodating, but he forgot to bring us a basket of bread (a standard thing to do!) and it took forever for him to bring water for our table (a standard thing to do!)

Eggspectation also has a variety of kitschy names for their dishes. Some Signature Egg dishes include the Eggstreme, Eggwhat?, Eggspectation, Yoke Around the Clock, Eggsiliration, Uneggspected, Oy Vegg, Egg-Chilada, Eggcitement, Eggstravaganza, and Eggsuberant. Signature Benedicts include Smoked Salmon Benedict, Classic Benedict, Smoked Salmon Benedict, Florentine Benedict, Boca Raton Benedict, Waffle Benedict, Breton Benedict, Bagel Benedict, California Benedict, and Chicken Benedict. Sandwiches are three-layers and are variations of the traditional Club sandwich. Crepes include an assortment of sweet and savoury varieties (Grilled Chicken, Spinach, Mushrooms with Three Cheese, Ham, Asparagus, Mushrooms with Three Cheese, Tex Mex, Vegetable Dream, and Apple and Spice).

For my order, I ordered an egg white omelete with a medley of vegetables, including onion, green and red pepper, broccoli, cauliflower, mushroom, and tomato. Omeletes come with toast and home fries and was $8.99 but it was an extra $1.49 to make the omelete an egg white. I asked to substitute my salad instead of the gross home fries and toast, so it cost an additional $2.49. Salad was composed of spring greens in a nice light balsalmic viniagrette. I was not happy, with the extra charges but unlike “By The Way Cafe” the charges were upfront and not hidden in the menu.

Aaron ordered the Yoke Around the Clock (toasted bagel cut in half, grilled with two sunny eggs in the holes of the bagel and covered with bacon and melted cheese, served with grilled potatoes and fruit garnish.). Daniel ordered Eggstreme (smoked salmon, grilled tomatoes and two eggs (any style), with capers, onions and toasted bagel). He also ordered a side of a potato latke.

Beth ordered the Smoked Salmon Benedict (Two eggs poached with smoked salmon, gruyere cheese with classic hollandaise sauce.), Wendy ordered the three-decker Grilled Chicken Club Sandwich (sliced grilled chicken, tomatoes, bacon, lettuce and mayonnaise with fries), which was large and very filling.

Overall, we were happy but there was a sense of neutrality amongst the group. It was good food, good service, but this was not a place where I can say “Wow, what an amazing experience, I’ll have to come back!”

Food is mediocre. Can be noisy with anxious, pushy tourists who dine before going to the theatre. Has liquor license. Menu is so large and extensive, you will be able to find something for anyone. Does not accept reservations during weekend. Not very condusive to deep conversations. Expect lineups for weekend brunch. Accepts all cards. Open seven days per week 6:30am-9:00pm.

Sassafraz-fire Dec 2006, closed

416-964-2222
100 Cumberland Street

We always talked about going, so I bought Mark a gift certificate to Sassafraz. We checked out the online menu & noticed that it was largely meat based, but when we called with our concerns, they offered to create a custom design a vegan meal for him, problem solved. So, we booked the reservation & went.

We dressed up fancy to go there, it is in Yorkville after all. It was a Sunday night, so the restaurant was mostly empty, but it was fine. We were surprised to be seated at a couch side by side, practically facing the window. I guess in the summer it could be nice for people watching.

As I am not a vegetarian, I had lots of possibilities to choose from. As the prices are fairly high, I opted to forgo an appetizer. They brought by a small basket of interesting breads & an amuse bouche, mine being duck with a berry coulis on a cracker that looked very similar to a triscuit. I also had a glass of white wine ($15) to accompany my main dish, which was extremely delicious, though not cheap ($38).

I had a dish composed of shrimp (2 of them, maybe), seared ahi tuna – ok portion & lobster – practically more lobster than shrimp, how odd, on a bed of Israeli couscous. This dish scored really high on the flavour factor, very low on the portion side of things.

Sassafraz is a good place to go if you want the ability to be able to eat an appetizer, an amuse bouche, bread, main course, dessert & wine, as the portions are such that even smaller people like me will have no problem packing them in, but someone else better be paying. My portion for these two items, and half a bottle of water (yes the fizzy italian stuff, I like my San Pellegrino) ran me about $75. Mark’s vegan surprise (a scoop of herbed potato wrapped in thinly sliced carrot in a vegetable broth with white asparagus), equally small, with no protein (quite the shaft) was $24 & he was starving afterwards. With my tuna & lobster, I was fine.

Our waiter was nice enough in the beginning, but when he discovered that we weren’t high rollers, our service level definetely experienced a noticeable drop, compared to the table next to us. Not good. What ticked me off in a significant way was that we ordered a bottle of San Pellegrino ($7) to share. I’m a slower drinker than Mark, so the bottle was going down quick, but instead of asking us if we would like more water, or pouring part into Mark’s glass, part into mine, as I think would have been the right thing to do, the host-like guy grabbed the bottle & poured the entire contents into Mark’s glass leaving me parched! Hello – whatever happened to ladies first? Why not attempt to accommodate us both? Not a way to impress me for sure. I knw the tactic was to get us to purchase another bottle, but they didn’t even ask, so that left a sour taste in my mouth.

It is most unlikely that I would become a regular there, I don’t have money to burn at this point in my life. Though my food was delicious, I wouldn’t say it was good value for the money, but then again, that’s not why people go to Sassafraz. I guess I’m just not a hip, rich Yorkvillian. Oh well. I think I’ll live.