I'd already visited many of the city's foodie highlights, including St. Lawrence Market. On this trip, I was keen to check out a few new places - a sake brewery, TOCA bar and restaurant the new Ritz-Carlton, a cupcake studio -- as well as to try some places I'd missed on previous visits. Here's what happened:
I'd been planning to walk around a bit and menu browse, but a gigantically long line at passport control cut my exploration time short. The Gladstone's menu looked interesting, plus I was enticed by an extensive menu of wines by the glass.
This is a place that fits right into the neighborhood, with exposed brick walls, interesting light fixtures, and a menu of hipster comfort food, including gaspe tourtiere, a traditional pork and chicken pie, honey lavender roast chicken. I went simple, and ordered a grilled calmari salad -- the calamari was cooked just right, and went perfectly with the beet, grapefruit and arugula on my plate.
The Canadian cheese plate included three generous portions of cheese, but I was disappointed by the accompaniments -- only crackers and bread. Bottom line: Gladstone Cafe is just a few ticks shy of being a dinner destination in its own right, but it's a great place to snack before a hotel event.
The hotel's restaurant is called TOCA, a restaurant that focuses on contemporary preparations of Canadian specialties, using Canadian ingredients. (Example: "Fancy Fish n' Chips, delicately fried Yarmouth lobster, served with avocado frites.) In a brilliant design move, the restaurant has a glassed-in "cheese cave" -- where cheese is indeed aging, but also where, in between courses, diners are invited in for a tour and an impromptu tasting. (Just try not to order a cheese course after this, I dare you.)
By the way, pre-dinner, it would also be a folly to miss a cocktail in the TOCA Bar, where the mixologists are on the cutting edge of cocktail trends, creating their own syrups (try La Pomme Quebecoise, made with Calvados, pineapple purée, tobacco syrup & Cava), cask aging their spirits, and serving up a delicious array of bar snacks which includes fried capers and -- yes -- candied bacon.
Dining at Starfish is an education in all things oyster, and it's best practice to simply put yourself into Patrick's hands and let him assemble an oyster plate for you. Oyster flavor varies tremendously by species and by the waters in which they are grown
On this visit, I tried Galway Flat oysters from Irish waters for the first time, and was entirely shocked by their meaty, metallic and challenging flavor. Minus the shell, I wouldn't have been sure it was an oyster at all. The suggested pairing with Guinness beer was a must do.
Also, it was impossible to stop eating Starfish's wild Irish mussels, steamed in white wine, garlic and creaam, served with (properly twice-fried) house frites.
Le Dolci puts on two-hour cupcake decorating classes that are basically pure fun. There's no heavy lifting in this -- the cupcakes are made, the butter cream frosting is prepared in advance. But you do learn how to manipulate fondant into fun shapes, including three dimensional animals, and you learn how to properly squeeze a pastry bag so that you can achieve various effects, from a carnation to a rose to a field of grass. And you leave with a box of a dozen cupcakes.
The area got even more fun in 2011 when Ontario Spring Water Sake Company opened its doors, This is sake made with traditional methods, by a Japanese brew master, but with water from a spring in Northern Ontario. (Hence, the name.) There are about 2,000 liters produced here a month, and several available for tasting at the small bar. Sake breweries aren't that common in North America, and so this is also a unique opportunity to sample a by-product of sake production, sake kasu -- a soft, almost tofu-like edible product, that also can be used to make soap and lotion. Spring Water Sake uses it to make a concentrated miso soup base, and also to produce an ice creamesque frozen dessert in Japanese inspired flavors, including black sesame, lemon rind and soy flower.