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March 15, 2011

Three Birthday Meals

It had been a while since I had gone out for a “nice” dinner, so, to celebrate my Birthday, I thought I’d take advantage and fill my week with memorable meals.

Thursday, March 3: Scarpetta at the Thompson Hotel, Toronto
550 Wellington Street West

In a word, wow. It’s rare that I get amazed by a dinner. Having eaten at hundreds of restaurants, and been in just as many kitchens, it takes quite a bit to impress me. Scarpetta impressed on pretty much every accord.

The décor: Dark and warm with a floor-to-ceiling wine bar on one side of the restaurant and glass windows on the other. I wish we were seated in one of the large, leather booths, but even from a generic table, the restaurant seemed vast, yet comfortable. It was dark enough to add ambiance, but not too dark I couldn’t see my husband or my food. I couldn’t believe how busy this restaurant was for a Thursday night – I felt like I was in New York City, definitely not Toronto.

The food: Where do I begin? Creamy polenta with mushroom truffle jus. Heavenly. Duck and fois gras ravioli with a marsala reduction. Decadent. Three cheese dessert. Comforting. Package it all up with a bottle of fantastic red and it made for a completely satisfying meal. I also loved the selection of breads that were brought to the table before we ordered, and alongside, three dips. The butter mascarpone was out of this world.

Duck and Fois Gras ravioli drizzled with marsala reduction. Bliss.

What surprised me: While I found the cost of dinner quite reasonable, the charge for parking (in the hotel parking lot) was a bit of a let-down.

Will I go again? Absolutely. I’ve already raved to many friends.

Friday, March 4: ki modern Japanese, Toronto
181 Bay Street

I kind of knew I was going to love ki just by its name: modern Japanese. I’ve often said that I love sushi more than Italian, and sometimes, that’s true. But with Scarpetta making such an impression the night before, ki had big shoes to fill. Again, I wasn’t disappointed.

The ambiance: Firstly, the restaurant is large, and we were even able to get a great seat, despite not having reservations on a Friday evening in the city. You have the option of dining in the bar, or in the quieter restaurant. I chose the restaurant, which came with smirks from my sister and best friend – my dates for the evening. In any case, comfortable booths, lots of action and warm crowd. The large sushi bar is a focal point, and I felt like I was trapped in an episode of Sex and the City while dining. Tres cool.

The food: It was really tough to make selections off this menu, and luckily our server was a huge help. We opted to share our meal, that way we could order about 7 dishes. We started with rock shrimp tempura, perfectly fried, followed by a sushi platter we customized. Tuna Kiwi Roll, Spicy Salmon Roll and my favourite, the Tempura Butterfish Roll: Alaskan King Crab, salmon, butterfish, avocado, cucumber and flying fish roe deep fried in tempura. It was like eating a warm ball of sweet butter. Well, better than that.

Our sushi platter. From the top: Spicy Salmon, Tuna Kiwi and Tempura Butterfish

What surprised me: On a patron’s birthday, the restaurant presents you with a red box with beautiful chocolate inside. A small touch, greatly appreciated.
My Red Birthday Box. Thank you ki.

Will I go again?: In a heartbeat. This is my kind of restaurant. Not too fancy or pretentious with fantastic and unique options.

Friday, March 11: A1 Autostrada, Vaughan
3255 Rutherford Road

For my family birthday dinner, I decided to forego my traditional sushi selection and opted for a relatively new spot that opened in front of Vaughan Mills Mall a few months prior. I’ve been to A1 Autostrada in the past and have always had a great experience.

The mood: Trendy, bold and definitely something you don’t find in Vaughan. The black, white and red décor is set off nicely by a large curtain that hangs in the middle of the sunken dining area. On one wall of the restaurant, prosciutto, salumi and other cured meats hang, both purposely and decoratively.

The food: Solid Italian. It’s difficult to say that, even in a community that possibly has the most Italian restaurants outside of Rome. I started with a burrata – a soft, creamy cheese drizzled with olive oil. In Italian, “burro” means butter, and that’s the perfect way to describe this ripe beauty. Then, my favourite things on a pizza: arugala, gorgonzola, walnuts, truffle honey, poached pears, speck. To die for. And for dessert: a sampling of the restaurant’s best: panna cotta, zabaglione and my fave, the nutella panettone bread.

My pizza at A1 Autostrada
What surprised me: How busy this restaurant was. It’s not every day a suburban restaurant has a line up. Well done.

Will I go again?: For sure, and a hundred times over. It saves a ride to the city, and I’m guaranteed a meal just as good.

Happy Birthday to me. I started 29 off well, and with a full stomach.

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