The Christmas gift guide for Francophiles

Few days ago I went to the Distillery Christmas market and realized that Christmas will be upon us in 38 days… yes, they put a huge countdown at the entrance and you cannot miss it!!! As you read these words, you have even less time left so it’s time for you to think about gifts. If you have Francophiles around, this gift guide is going to help you.

Ma P’tite Culotte, women’s lingerie

Offering a new set of lingeries to a woman you love is always a good idea. Ma P’tite Culotte is a French brand that offers an optimistic and enthusiastic line of lingeries. For her last collection, Charline Goutal decided to create pieces that correspond to women’s moods.

Available on Ma Ptite Culotte website

Le Slip Français, French underpants

The founders of this underwear brand believe that companies can no longer just be economic forces with a narrow sense of purpose; they must, instead, define and pursue certain values. Their definition of success includes the well-being of those around them and the sustainability of their business: “You want to change the world? Start by changing your briefs.”

Available on Le Slip Français website

MAGNETHIK ethical handbags

MAGNETHIK is a brand founded by Fabienne Pomi, a French, vegan fashion lover who offers made in France and vegan handbags. All the pieces are made without any animal products and according to an ecological and ethical process. MAGNETHIK has been voted “Best Fashion Novelty” by the PETA association in 2016.

Available at Importation Lou

Chapon chocolates

Patrice Chapon is one of seven French bean-to-bar chocolate makers. His know-how is internationally recognized — he just got two awards from Salon du Chocolat in Paris.

Available on Chapon website and in Toronto at McEwan Don Mills and TD Centre Location.

Red wine

A Francophile will always appreciate a glass of good red wine. This gift is probably the safest — you cannot go wrong with it. If you feel like offering a bottle of red wine to one of your relatives, I recommend this bottle of Château Vignot Saint Emilion, 2009. It goes perfectly with cheese.

Available at LCBO

Bars Around Town: Archive

On one side of Archive, an exposed brick wall partly covered with a vase of baguettes and jars of pickles and dried herbs and spices lead to the bar and kitchen. On the other, a pristine white wall is background for a row of wooden tables and a bench, and decorative photographs of ferris wheels and a carousel. The space is longer than it is wide and is decidedly cozy. On a recent visit, a traveler sat planning out her itinerary next to a group of coworkers on a night out; a young couple perched by the bar and chatted with the staff; two old women sat in the corner by the window and quietly worked on their bottle of orange wine. With its two windows facing a calmer bit of Dundas West and Bellwoods and low hung yellow lights, Archive is a picture of a place one imagines one would someday stumble into, make chance acquaintance with and fall in love.

The wine list is not exhaustive but long enough for a good perusal and the small menu of tapas and cheese & meats encourage adventures and learning by trial and error. The staff take a “What do you like to drink?” approach, which is, more often than not, for formality than function, but the 3oz glass option ease the pressure. But a recommendation from a well informed staff — a glass of Trebbiano d’Abruzzo from A. A. Tiberio — was refreshingly dry and delicious with notes of flowers and, in the parlance of wine descriptions, ‘minerals.’ The point, it dawned on me half way through my second glass, was to be okay with not putting the exacting words of description to a wine. A glass of pinot noir from Alsace sealed my trust in her recommendations.

The foods offers, however, were less satisfying. Small savory snacks are offered as ‘Nibbles,’ $5 per plate or three plates for $13. Though the warmed olives are decent, neither the lupini beans (served in olive oil and salt) nor the shishito peppers offer much flavor. That the bread and oil are not complementary is perhaps becoming the norm in the restaurant world today, but the utterly soft and flavorless slices of baguette were an affront to good hospitality. Neither the Prosciutto nor the Chorizo offered much solace, but the Comté was, as it often is, satisfying. The steak tartare is served with the yolk of a quail egg and the shaved vegetable salad includes watermelon radishes.

Archive is located at 909 Dundas St W and is open everyday from 5pm to 2am. Continue following our arts & culture coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Holiday Food and Drink Gift Guide 2016

It can be so easy for one to feel bombarded with unexpected obligations at the beginning of December. Sure, work schedules are dying down as people begin going on holiday breaks. But then you also remember that your aunts and uncles are going be calling you any day now, wondering when you can find time to visit. A surprisingly cumbersome task, considering you’re also in the throes of the busiest shopping time of the year. But even though it may be more difficult to find time to head back to your favourite restaurant or bar, there are still plenty of ways to find inspiration regarding new foods and drinks to try in the comfort of your own home. Plus, as this time of year can get unexpectedly stressful, it is important to remember that a night out with those closest to you is still needed. So here is a list of holiday gifts for the foodies you know and love, which they will no-doubt appreciate.

Image Credit: Amazon

The 24-Hour Wine Expert  by Jancis Robinson

We have all had those early dating experiences where you go with a special someone to a bar that you have carefully picked out, only to feel completely lost and out of your element when the time comes to choose a wine that will hopefully impress that person. With every confused look you make towards the wine list, your true ignorance begins to shine through that crumbling false confidence. Fortunately, British wine expert and journalist Jancis Robinson has done those helpless singletons a huge service by writing about all the essential knowledge one needs to have for an in-depth understanding on wine in this easy to read, compact book. From common tasting terms, to good food pairings, and even outlining the main differences between wines from different regions, this is a fantastic beginner’s guide for that person who wants to broaden their horizons from the cheap stuff they bought in college for $15 dollars, and develop a more masterful palette.

Image Credit: Amazon

Shake. Stir. Sip.: More than 50 Effortless Cocktails Made in Equal Parts  by Kara Newman

This is the perfect gift for that friend who’s an expert when it comes to hosting memorable soirées. And it also shows that just because you make something yourself, it doesn’t mean it can’t rival something you had at your favourite bar. Kara Newman is no slouch when it comes to her expertise on the subject either, as she contributes food and drink articles to publications like Wine Enthusiast and The Wall Street Journal. The cocktails inside are mixed with alcohols of equal parts, which means they are a breeze to measure out, especially for those larger get-togethers. If you plan on inviting your closest confidantes over for New Year’s, ditch that rum, coke, and plastic cup nonsense, and surprise them with something more adventurous.

Anything and Everything from Nadege Patisserie

Chocolates and sweets can be a pretty safe bet when it comes to wooing those extended family members you don’t see very often or the in-laws you’re desperately trying to impress even though you don’t know them very well. And when it comes to impressing people with sweets, you really can’t go wrong with the collection at the Nadege Patisserie. It offers the widest selection of macarons in Toronto, which can be purchased in different assorted boxes. And their selection of cakes are works of art. Their French Vanilla panna cotta, the Marie Antoinette, is particularly eye catching, so much so that you kind of won’t even want to eat it. For a more varied assortment of things to try, you can also go with one of their gift boxes, comprised of the different bon bons and chocolate tablets. Get something here for your significant other’s parents, and you will be ingratiated into the family in no time!

Image Credit: IMDB

The Trip

Lets be honest with ourselves: when you go to a nice restaurant with one of your closest friends, you can only wish the conversations you have are as effortlessly witty as the ones in The Trip, starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. The film is mostly improvised and centers around the two actors playing themselves as they visit different restaurants in the English countryside on behalf of a magazine. The more time they spend together, their petty rivalries and the begrudging affection they share begin to show through conversations that can only be had in the closest of friendships. Don’t have much time to see your friends over the holidays? Cuddle up at home and watch what is, I think, the funniest food porn you will ever see. This film, along with its’ equally funny sequel, The Trip to Italy, are available for purchase on iTunes either separately or as a bundle.

Image Credit: Kris Finnigan

Dinner at Brothers

Hypothetical situation: I meet a friend from out of town who wants me to show them some places around the city that I think are examples of the kinds of restaurants and bars that are representative of the city’s culinary scene. To be honest, I would probably end up taking them to Brothers, located at 1240 Bay Street. It encapsulates the laid-back unpretentious vibe that is characteristically common amongst the most popular and highly regarded establishments in Toronto — such as those owned by local food celebrity Jenn Agg (The Black Hoof, The Cocktail Bar, and Rhum Corner) or Grant van Gameron (owner of the widely popular Bar Raval, Bar Isabel, and the El Rey Mezcal Bar) — offers a rotating menu selection that feels entirely its own, with a uniqueness that can only be the result of tireless passion. The dishes are largely made from ingridients produced in Ontario and cooked with slight Italian and Greek touches. Want to show you know a thing or two about good places to eat in Toronto? Bring your loved one to this lesser-known establishment that is certainly deserving of attention.

Image Credit: Karolyn Ellacott

Surprise Date Night at Archive

As the beginning of December sets off that internal clock that makes you try to get your holiday shopping done as quickly as you possibly can, it can be easy to forget to make quality time for just you and your significant other. If you and your boo are big wine enthusiasts, surprise them with an intimate night out at Archive at 909 Dundas Street West. With more than 200 bottles of wine currently on their list, theirs is surely one of the longest and the most impressive you will be likely to find in the city. The minimalist, cozy atmosphere also makes for quite the low-key romantic setting. The chance to warm up with someone while escaping the stresses of the holidays is something that should not be taken for granted.

Image Credit: cheeseboutique.com

Gift Baskets from Cheese Boutique

If you’re coupled, it’s a very likely scenario that you will really want to make time for a date night at some point during the coming months, yet you will struggle to muster up the courage to brave the unrelenting cold weather. As such, make it a special night in by giving bae a gift basket from the Cheese Boutique, located at 45 Ripley Avenue. These baskets are specially made to the customer’s liking and budget, with the available cheeses from a wide variety of different countries — you can view their extensive selection here. A nice bottle of wine, exotic cheeses, watching Love Actually for the twentieth time in the comfiest sweatpants you own — the perfect night in to escape the winter blues.

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Review: Brothers at Bay Station

Brothers, located at 1240 Bay Street (right beside the entrance to Bay Station), has only been open for three weeks. Their website is not yet fully functional, and reviews have not been posted on any other trusted foodie websites. Despite this however, business seems to be picking up quite rapidly, which should come as no surprise when you enter. The space only seats approximately thirty people, but combined with a soft colour scheme and slight décor touches that feel reminiscent of a café in the French countryside, the result is a rather intimate environment, for people looking to escape the hustle and bustle of downtown Toronto life.  It will likely become a hot spot for those who either want to grab a glass of wine after work, or are looking for a quiet setting with their special someone. Not to mention that the menu, which is comprised of artfully crafted dishes made from Canadian products but served with a slight Mediterranean-inspired twist, offers tastes that are quite adventurous and memorable. The menu changes on a regular basis, so there is no doubt many people will feel enticed to return.

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Image Credit: Kris Finnigan

Our visit to Brothers started off with a pretty amazing bang, the lasting affect of which my friend and I did not fully recover from for the remainder of our stay. Our first dish was the Charred Mackerel, with pickled baby eggplant and mint sauce. Lets not bury the lead here: this dish is a very enjoyable assault on the taste buds. It may be small in portion size, but with its many textures and balanced layers, it is just begging to be savoured. The first thing you will notice is the strong vinegary taste of the eggplant. But don’t mistake “strong” for “overpowering,” because it is then quickly followed by the sensation of the meaty mackerel coating the back of your tongue, offsetting any pickled aftertaste that may seem undesirable. These two tastes go together rather nicely. When you order it (not “if,” “when”!), consider pairing this dish with the Contadi Castaldi Franciacorta Brut, an Italian sparkling white wine, and a citrusy-but-light palette cleanser. This was a great example of different recognizable tastes working together to create something feeling wholly new.

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Image Credit: Kris Finnigan

Next was the Steelhead trout, which is placed on a bed of chicory barese, along with a good helping of egg and lemon cream. Where the mackerel dish was different tastes working in unison with one another, the trout is an example of fainter tastes supporting the primary crowd-pleaser. The chicory barese offers a bitter aftertaste and the cream is quite thin. But when coupled with the trout, with it’s top layer being delightfully crispy and underneath staying soft and tender, there is enough variation with every bite that certainly makes it worth giving it a try.

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Image Credit: Kris Finnigan

 Our final dish was the Heritage pork sausage, which is infused with Hungarian hot peppers and served with cream and frisée. This dish is a great example of creatively heightening certain tastes, while simultaneously diminishing potentially overpowering spices, as a way to make it more accessible.  The sausages are made in-house and are gluten free, making them quite rich in flavour.   Also, those with a lower tolerance to spicy food should not be alarmed. The taste of the hot peppers is quite strong but when combined with the cream, the spicy aftertaste is largely diminished.   If you’re a fan of a fatty English brunch, you can’t really go wrong with this one.

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Image Credit: Kris Finnigan

If you’re ever around Bay and Bloor, be sure to stop in at Brothers. The offerings will put no doubt in your mind that the chefs are not only passionate, but are also willing to experiment and have fun, when creating consistently delicious meals.

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Image Credit: Kris Finnigan

Phone

(416) 804-6066

Website

www.brotherstoronto.com

Email

info@brotherstoronto.com

Undiscovered California Wine Adventures

TEXT: Angela Aiello 

A wise person once said to me that if you don’t dream, you don’t live. As a self-professed dreamer, I like to think that life is what you make it and seek out. California is a place to witness this in action. It is a place to find inspiration, revel in passion, and be reminded that you do only live once.

I’ve heard many people agree with me that once you go to California, it is with you forever, but it is here in this state where you realize creativity really should reign. Creativity should be at the heart of everything you do. California inspired me, even more, to keep going and to keep dreaming, and to keep passion as my driving source. For me, this is an important reason to travel – not just to escape regular life, but to be filled up with energy that renews your soul.

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On my most recent trip to California, I veered off the path most-traveled and adventured to some lesser-known regions in California – Oakland, Monterey and Sonoma County – where wine and food were always the focus! I always try to keep creativity at the heart of everything I do – for work, for love, and life. As a writer, I wanted an itinerary that would inspire me to put pen to paper, explore my inner photographer, and speak to my inner artist.

Nestled on the bay a short ferry ride from San Francisco, Oakland offers an attitude of unpretentious artistry filled with talented and personable people. With the rising cost of living in San Francisco, Oakland is the next hot place to live and also to work. Arriving at the downtown waterfront, I was immediately drawn to write about this location. I would be following in the footsteps of Jack London, an American novelist and author of Call of the Wild and White Fang, to whom the city is dedicated.

Oakland has taken the title of “Wine City”, and the downtown is filled with urban wineries that you can bike to and taste wine. These are actual city wineries, with oak barrels, stainless steel tanks, and an open concept design. It was like wine country got transferred to the city, and the smile on my face couldn’t have been bigger. Wineries are blocks apart from each other and reside in old warehouses converted to urban tasting rooms. Being conveniently located, people have easier access and connection to the wineries. They can visit and shop on a regular basis without having to travel for the wine they love – brilliant right? I highly recommend taking a bicycle tour of Wine City with East Bay Winery Bike Tours. Get ready to bring wine home from this magical experience.

Streets of Cannery Row

My next stop was Monterey, which was recently named as one of the world’s “Top Ten Wine Travel Destinations” by Wine Enthusiast Magazine. Clint Eastwood, American actor, director, and producer calls Monterey home. Entering the quaint seaside town of Monterey, it was like I had slipped back in time. This romantic little town on the central coast of California is one of the most peaceful places I’ve been in a very long time. It is dedicated to John Steinbeck, who grew up in Monterey, and was the author of 27 books including Grapes of Wrath and Cannery Row. You can stroll the fabled streets of Cannery Row and probably run out of room on your phone with all the fantastic photo opportunities. Being close to the water offers a sense of peace, and the beach showcases the picturesque California coast. I’ve even been told that sometimes, you can even see migrating whales.

Make dinner reservations at The Sardine Factory, Monterey’s top restaurant, for an unforgettable dining experience. This place has been open since 1968, and for good reason – it is filled with playful food theater, delicious wines, and a plethora of rooms to explore. It captures the essence of the area. The lounge features live music and an incredible wine cellar. Be sure to order the sorbet, which is displayed on a giant swan made of ice.

Wine country in Monterey is up and coming, and it is definitely a place to keep on your radar. I had the chance to visit Hahn Vineyards and take an ATV ride to the top of the vineyards – this can be done by anyone and is a must-do wine adventure. This vineyard touched my heart, with beautiful Chardonnay and Pinot Noir among other quality wines they are producing. There are ten distinct wine appellations in Monterey County. The rich diversity of growing conditions is reflected by the astounding grape varieties grown here.

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Sonoma County is filled beauty and talent from their premium and well-crafted chardonnay and pinot noir to Michelin star restaurants to fun personalities driving the culinary and wine side. Sonoma County offers all who enter it pure elegance. Its enchanting wineries, parks, hotels and restaurants will have you savouring every moment in this heaven like place on earth.

Head to Buena Vista Winery and blend your own wine, design your own label and enjoy one of California’s pioneering wineries. This place is simply gorgeous, so allow enough time to see the sights and taste at the bar. In the mood for pizza and beer? Stop in at the Russian River Brewing Company and try their beers in a tasting flight. This was great to share with my fellow travelers. We tried 22 different brews, from sour beers to stouts. Head to Sebastopol and see the cool things going on at Spirit Works Distillery. From Sloe Gin to music-inspired whiskey, this place is really amazing. I ended up buying a sweat shirt, I loved the experience so much!

Sonoma is really a place you could call heaven. It has everything you could ever want and everything you didn’t even know you wanted and more. From culinary and wine adventures to the ultimate in relaxation – It’s a place where everyone who appreciates the finer things will never want to leave.

Looking for a new California wine adventure? Seriously consider Oakland, Monterey and Sonoma California – you definitely won’t be disappointed!