It’s All Relative in the 50s

It’s the 1950s- Yahtzee was just introduced, colour television was the most technological forward gimic anyone could get and air conditioning? What’s that?

No, ok fine it’s 2011- it’s hot and muggy and sitting outside you risk being fried alive and air conditioning definitely exists now but not in this joint- Aunties and Uncles that is.

It’s the type of place that could keep you occupied, if you’re a serious starer like me, for hours on end. From the old wallpaper to the knick-knacks that bring you back to a time when even you did not exist but have only heard about- it’s certainly an era thing.

While the location is set right downtown in between the Dees, liquid bars and Chinatown, you could hardly notice the hustle and bustle of it unless you walked to the corner end and peered out. It’s a supreme location- central yet quiet.

The inside was set up as if you were at your aunt and uncles. However, I doubt that this design was more on purpose but due to lack of space and funds. They, however, do a great job of disguising this fact though (again with the memorabilias and artifacts of that decade).

The staff and food were better than you would expect a small kitchen of this size to create. The menu itself was short, limited but the items were unusual and generally made-up for its lack of choice (such as: challah bread, aioli, chutney, curry, dried mango ingredients). Aunties and Uncles, definitely not a place where salt & pepper shakers are refilled but my chicken BLT was juicy, tender and not dry and stiff at all- a rarity!

The 50s were an era of flavorful music, new discoveries and on the cusp of new conveniences and Aunties and Uncles is a great place to grab a bite, heck I may even try the patio next time but deep down, I’m a 90s chick!

Rate: ***1/2 out of 5

Aunties and Uncles: 74 Lippincott St. Toronto, ON M5S 2P1

Old Senator

You know that adage “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”? Well The Senator is definitely a lab that could use a few new tricks up its sleeve. Other than its convenient location, its name and super-friendly service, there’s really not much else going for it. I can certainly see it being an old favourite and perhaps that’s just why it’s still up, running and alive but the restaurant and food itself is not much to write home about. It certainly isn’t what I’d want a tourist to experience and think that it’s all that this great city of ours has to offer in the culture of restaurant dining.

First of all, the food was nothing I couldn’t make in my own kitchen. Other than considering the convenience factor, if I can easily make what’s being served then really the essence of dining is quite frankly lost. Warm milk and the usual mass-market greens pretty much sum up the balance of my meal. Where I can’t voice a negative thought is the location and convenience (across from Eatons; downtown hub) and the service (friendly- like you could totally go out for platonic drinks with the wait staff). However, if you are as visual and phobic of all forms of unknown, random-shaped things/dirt as I am then this place is not for you. The dust bunny in the corner and where it came from and what it’s doing there will distract you all hour long (you may even feel the need to cover it up using the menu). Yes, I did this.

And God blessed/cursed me with the gift/disability (depending on who you talk to) of “senseless” living (I’m talking about smell, not purpose) but I can imagine this must’ve been the place where every customer was a smoker and after years of smoke abuse it’s taken its toll on the walls, floors and furniture. Unfortunately for The Senator and thank goodness for all mankind, the age of smoking while dining is over but this place has failed to eradicate the remnants of its former self.

The old wood accents and mirrored walls maybe fifteen years ago would have sung trendy-traditional and masculine tunes but in this current decade this aged joint speaks drab, worn and retired. All the wrong lighting is in all the wrong places and it is just begging to be made over. It’s a place I can imagine Gordon Ramsey taking (after reprimanding the arse out of the owners of course) and turning it NOT into something it’s not but everything it was meant to be in every era, decade and time- a place for everyone to call home. But for me- home, this is not.

** out of 5

The Senator: 249 Victoria Street

O.M.G. for DT B.

DT is a quaint and intimate bistro yet there’s an aura of grandness with its light and bright features that opens up the small space. Once inside DT Bistro, you can easily forget that you’re not in the midst of a Parisian journey. The best space and food so far on our venture- DT Bistro never tries to be something it’s not.

The unique decor is simple yet effortlessly stunning with natural exterior elements brought in or accentuated with its reflective varnish finishes. The large open windows and doors make the room airy and bigger than it really is. The impressive and yet unobstructed chandelier adds a touch of elegance to the place while fresh flowers are the perfect feminine touch to contrast the small intricate art sculptures displayed. It is very obvious that attention-to-detail is not lacking here.

The food– only divine. I am a picky eater (I do know worse but picky I am nonetheless) and the food and atmosphere is what will keep me coming back again because I just want to try each and every item on the menu. The menu itself is not extensive by any means but the selection is great for every muncher: those who like/hate nuts/seeds, those who enjoy meat and those who can live without much or any at all. The prices listed, in my opinion, are quite fair- you are paying for quality, quantity and presentation minus the uptight feel of a stuffy French restaurant, however, plastic forks and untamed foods are still prohibited.

Lastly, don’t leave without trying their desserts. Their delectable and palatable sweets corner (fresh out-of-the-oven cakes, decadent chocolate delights, gelatos and baked yummy goodness) is strategically placed at the front of the shop and anyone who bypasses it without succumbing to the temptation is either blind, hates all good/worthwhile things in life or has iron-man willpower. Surprisingly and proudly, Ash and I were the latter but all the more reason to revisit DT again (and very soon).

**** out of 5

DT Bistro: 154 Harbord St.

Sunday Church

I think it’s safe to say that Church St. Diner, located in the super hip area of Church and Bloor, is a lovely secret hideaway (if you blink, you may miss it) that very few have yet to discover. I say this because Ashley and I went for Sunday brunch and the small yet cozy diner was adequately packed (meaning there was a reasonable five minute wait but it was not horrendous). With food as good as theirs and the location, it was a bit surprising to not see a line outside but that may also be a sign of fast service.

I think with any diner, one has expectations of what a “quintessential diner” should look and feel like. It should make you feel nostalgic and bring up good old memories. This place, flagged with thought-provoking and sassy art work, an open-concept kitchen at the back and an intimate diner-esque set-up, was far from traditional but more like uber urban. It certainly met all aesthetic expectations of a modern and noticeably clean (as in linear, simple and non-dirty) diner. I do enjoy the odd dive from time to time but I would much prefer great food AND at a CLEAN place any day.

The menu, as much as I can recall, is limited but I’ve always believed that success is not about doing a bunch of things on a mediocre level but doing a few things supremely well. Although I have my bias, where egg Florentines are concerned, this one came close. The best part was the delicious, sweet balsamic dressing because for some reason, just like my signature amaretto sours, no two are ever the same or done properly in my opinion and Church did it right and it was finger-licking, hail Mary superb!

Church St. Diner gives Sunday church a whole new meaning!

***1/2 out of 5

Church St. Diner: 555 Church St.

A Long Way to Utopia

The second stop on our food journey brought Ash and I to Utopia– a mid-trendy restaurant tucked on the outer cusp of Little Italy. Ash is a regular and it seemed fitting that the first time in my life that I relinquish control and give someone else the freedom to choose that Ash chooses one of her favourite places to dine.

My first impression consisted of shock (at how small it was- maybe 6 four-seater tables at the front and a tiny bar) then relief and pleasant surprise as our waiter led us to a table in the back room.

The dining experience can be divided into two categories here (service delivery and food) and unfortunately, the two categories exist on almost opposite ends of the spectrum. In this case, in order to fairly speak of one, I must also speak of the other.

The wait time was none that I’ve likely experienced before. I’ve had shorter wait times in line to ride The Bat at Wonderland in the height of summer than I had here. If it were a weekday and had I not grabbed a morning snack before our brunch outing I may have killed someone in there- I may have killed them good. We waited a record-breaking (in my books anyway) one hour! I paid parking for one hour and lo and behold, I was back out there filling up for yet another hour and still, our food had not yet arrived. Had it been a complicated order full of diva-like demands and unlikely substitutions then maybe I could have overlooked this blip but I ordered a salmon panini sandwich and Ash had their signature mushroom chicken burrito- easy peasy.

Furthermore, had the waitress (who, in all other senses, was a pleasant one) at least explained to us why our order was taking an eternity and then some or came by every 10-15 minutes apologetically recognizing the long wait instead of innocently smiling every time she looked over, this review may have been a little more forgiving. However, none of the above happened- not even a little bit.

The only saving grace and interesting part of the wait was the rustic decor in the bright back room (as it invokes a feel of the outdoor; as if you’re in a wood-paneled cabin with an expansive skylight). Music over the speakers, small chat and general appreciation of the unique space occupied most of our time and it was a great distraction from my unlawful thoughts of committing a felony due to extreme hunger.

Aside from the ‘no-end-in-sight’ wait, there are some positives here. My panini sandwich was fresh and delectable. And for many gourmet burger lovers (although I did not try any), Utopia specializes in burgers and burritos. Their menu also offers a variety of choices and prep toppings and overall, the prices are right (nothing over $13). I would come again- yes I would, even just for what I ordered. I, however, would be smarter the next time around:

  • Park near by
  • Fill up the meter for at least an hour and a half
  • Come early (not on a complete empty stomach)
  • Don’t be in a rush
  • Give up all hope of short wait/serve times

Unless you can do all the above, which I realize is much to ask of any regular restaurant-goer, then pass on this one. However, if you love salmon and/on buns (the carb, that is) like I do then it may be worth a venture.

For me, Utopia was worth it only because fate had it that it was a Sunday and I was in no rush, my rage was at a manageable level and I love salmon/bread/lettuce-anything. In the end though, it was a long way to Utopia; it was far from euphoric and you just can’t always bank on fate.

**1/2 out of 5

Utopia: 586 College Street, Toronto, ON.