La Carnita: Hanging with Abercrombie Smurfs While Seeking Solice From Seniors and Evil Wizards

I’ve had La Carnita on my list for a while but the dinner only hours and location has made it a bit difficult so I was happy to hear that a location opened at the more convenient intersection of King and John and that it was actually open for lunch. I made my way over shortly after not realizing it had just opened the Saturday before.

The layout is quite impressive.  The two-floor trendy and nicely decorated interior offers a bar area on both levels and abundant seating.  Unlike other snack bars, there is a good amount of breathing room so those with varied degrees of claustrophobia or agoraphobia can rest a little easier.  I was quickly seated at the bar and handed a menu.  Normally there is a good draft selection but since the place had just opened the taps were not working properly so I ordered the “Who shot ya?” cocktail instead. At this point I had no idea that this was the La Carnita signature cocktail which was developed by a bartender at the original location and has survived the test of time.  A twist on a bourbon sour, it was a simple offering with great contrasting flavours including a stinging ginger and a sweet/sour pomegranate syrup.

Who Shot ya? Signature cocktail
Who Shot ya? Signature cocktail

I should back up a little and let you know that this story was told to me by what I assumed was either the manager or owner of La Carnita. What I found fascinating was the fact he had a hipster look despite the fact he had to be older than 30 and lacked complete self-absorption.  Although I have equated hipsters to zombies in the past, this got me thinking that maybe they are more like smurfs, especially if we consider the fact that the majority would be either Vanity, Greedy or the tattooed Hefty. If so, I had just found Papa. He directed the staff (many of which I swear I’ve seen on the side of an Abercrombie bag) with kind authority much the same way Papa Smurf would with his clueless blue minions whenever their rather sterile environment was threatened with things like cats, birds or other natural predators.

The menu is taqueria style with a few apps thrown in.  The also feature a special of the day which was a chorizo/kale empanada.  I was all over it and I added a carnita and crispy cotija taco to the mix as well.  From a visual, taste and texture perspective they were all brilliant.  Punches of heat, sweet, crunchy and chewy were present in every bite and I was tempted to scoop up every morsel that fell into the tin tray. For example, the crispy cheese with the cauliflower and pinto beans garnished with a bit of pickled carrot was tastebud blowing and the pork confit in the carnita was melt in your mouth.  Not quite satisfied, I had to try the special taco of the day;chicken fried steak. The thought of stuffing this ridiculous southern delicacy into a taco shell was very appealing to me and it paid off.  The outside was crispy, and the inside was tender and still a bit pink. Once again, the accompaniments were a perfect balance of all things good…kind of like a good shot of Smurfberry juice while building a catapault. Other than forgetting the empananda the first time around,  the rest of the food was served within what seemed seconds after I ordered.

My Take

Despite the one service hiccup and the volatile beer taps, La Carnita was a slam dunk. The days of the stagnancy of King street eateries may be coming to an end.  No longer are the only choices those which require an invitation from a disgruntled maitre d’ standing on the sidewalk waving a 15 year old pre-theatre menu in your face.  Instead, La Carnita offers a welcoming environment with great booze, a cool modern vibe and terrific food served fast and fresh. Plus, you’ll never have to worry about hanging with seniors ordering off the modified menu before “Kinky Boots” and you’ll be good as gold if Gargamel ever shows up.

La Carnita Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Review:Toronto:King West:Wvrst

I have sausage envy.

Maybe it’s because I live in a city where my choices are limited to mild or hot italian. Maybe it’s because I still reminisce about the mustard laden monstrosity I had during Oktoberfest in Munich last year (even though it’s width that matters, not length right?)

Sausage at octoberfest
Sausage at Oktoberfest and origin of  my sausage envy

Wvrst opened a couple of years ago in an attempt to mesh the Oktoberfest experience with the downtown Toronto dining scene. Nicely polished wooden communal tables fill the second-story open space as music (don’t expect any Walter Ostanek) fills the air.  Against one wall are shelves full of beer beside 16 or so draught taps ranging from local to international, with a focus on German favorites. In the back is where you order, pay and have a seat.

The menu is like the United Nations of sausage.  With around two dozen choices, one can stick with a traditional German brat, an italian pork sausage or experience the tastes  of South Africa, Tunisia, Slovania or Mexico.  If you’re more of a Duck Dynasty fan, you can opt for Guniea fowl, pheasant or duck.  Big game like wild boar, elk, venison and bison compete for you palate with cute bunnies and kangaroos.  There are even vegetarian options for those who choose to eat what food eats. You can top your choice with peppers, sauerkraut or jalapenos or even a tomato curry sauce.

The fries are available straight up or dirty and with or without duck fat. Dirty means topping them with the same toppings available for the sausage.  If you don’t want it dirty, you can get one of about a dozen dipping sauces on the sauce.

Masked with onion and jalapenos, I suppose I could say this was any of the majestic meats, but I did opt for wild boar stuffed with mushroom and tea.  The bun was like the old lady down the street; crusty on the outside but soft in the middle. I went dirty and ducky with the fries.  They were magically filthy, like playing in the dirt and making mud pies.

Wvrst Dirty Duck Fries $6.50
Wvrst Dirty Duck Fries $6.50
Wild Boar Sausage $9
Wild Boar Sausage $9

Wvrst employees know their beer yet keep the pretension to a minimum.  I mean, they use cool words like “tap takeover” and are keen to discuss the evolution of North American hops but don’t look at you like you’re an inferior moron (unless of course you insist on a bud light or try to argue that the Keith’s Cascade Hop Ale is a real beer). Featuring a slew of Quebec taps, I had a Shawinigan Handshake, a fruity and complex IPA with tremendous balance.   Apparently it’s hitting the LCBO in the coming weeks (thanks to the informative barkeep for the tip).

My Take

I suppose I should insert the cliche comments about this phonetically challenged restaurant.  Wvsrt lacks a vowel but doesn’t lack character. There’s no u in wvest  and no i in beer (unless you’re in France or Quebec). This place is well wvrst in touting the sausage. Despite only a handful of menu items, the vast array of encased critters makes for a tough decision.  The duck fries, alone or adorned with the dirt, are highly addictive. The beer selection rivals anywhere in the Toronto.  The staff are knowledgeable, engaged and friendly.  It can get quite loud either due to the bellowing, glass clinking drunkards lining the communal tables and/or the blaring music filling the open, square dining area. Even without lederhosen and dirndls, Wvrst has all the elements to ease my aching sausage envy without having to resort to one of the numerous hot dog carts clogging the downtown core.

Wvrst on Urbanspoon

Review:Toronto:King West:Sadie’s Diner and Juice Bar

My morality needed a boost as I found myself surrounded by friends and colleagues hunting high and low for vitamin releasing blenders and adhering to diets making them as alkaline as a Duracell battery.  So I made a decision that for one meal I would skip the meat and “eat what food eats”.  This philosophy drew me to Sadie’s Diner and Juice Bar, a well-established vegetarian diner in the King West area.

I entered with a brave face in hopes that the astute staff wouldn’t turn on their radar and call my bluff by detecting the trace amounts of pork by-products circulating in my blood from a bacon binge a few nights before. The waitress was a hip version of Anne of Green Gables, sporting some very flowery pants and a personality that matched.  A discussion about the merits of brewed coffee versus lattes followed and I felt a little more confident that my cloak and dagger attempt at portraying a clean eater was actually working.

I sat and stared at a menu offering some decent and classic breakfast dishes but with tree-hugging substitutes such as “fakin” and “fauxsage”. In the end, I settled for the Huevos Rancheros: Two eggs over easy on corn tortillas with salsa, refried beans, guacamole & cheddar cheese for  $12. It was calling my name as it had no reference to either the above mentioned imposters of something called “vegan cheese”.

As I sipped my coffee (I don’t use there), I looked around and made a few interesting observations:

1.  There are pez dispensers (with numbers trumped only by the Paper Moon cafe in Baltimore) encased in the walls.

2.  Pieces of irony are scattered across the restaurant and included pig salt and pepper shakers, a replica of the Simpson’s Lard Lad and a really mean looking chicken as the April picture on a calender hanging on the wall.  Perhaps the latter was not ironic, because a word bubble inserted over the chicken could easily say “Take my eggs, but don’t touch my breasts!”

3.  Stunning artwork by struggling artists, jaded lovers and cautious optimists adorn the walls.

My breakfast arrived. The tortillas were crispy, the eggs were a bit over done (I need that ray of sunshine when I cut through the yolk…hmmmm…sounds like a cool theme for a painting) and the salsa,  beans and  guacamole were just ok, maybe because it couldn’t hide behind breakfast meat.

Huevos Rancheros: $12
Huevos Rancheros: $12

A plethora of juice combinations, in raw or smoothie form and starting at about $4 are available to complement any meal. They are juiced fresh without the help of David Wolfe, the Adam Duritz meets Jim Rome looking “longevity” expert, and his nutribullet…. but that’s another story.  Additions include vegan supplements such as:

Maca Powder: for increased energy & strength – $1.50

Sprouted Golden Flaxseed: fights cholesterol, natural source of antioxidants – $1.50

Spirulina Powder: mega-source of vitamin B12 – $1.50

Veggie Greens: a day‘s worth of fresh veggies in one scoop – $1.50

or…Vegan Protein Powderadd to any smoothie for extra oomph!

Raw Hemp Protein – $2

Brown Rice Protein – $2

Pumpkin Seed Protein – $2

VEGA Complete – $4

My Take

Joking about my meatless meal aside, Sadie’s is a neat place with a decent menu. There is passion in the food, the walls, the art and the staff. It’s neat, hip and cool with a fresh decor and an ok vegetarian menu. In the end, a fun switch from the everyday temptation of farmland friends but not so good whereas I’ll consider giving  up the sinful flesh. Or maybe I’m just afraid of that damn chicken.

Sadie's Diner on Urbanspoon

Review:Toronto:King West: Edulis

En route’s designation of best new Canadian restaurant and an impressive debut as number 11 on Joanne Kates’ top 100 of 2012 certainly raised my curiosity about Edulis, the small bistro which opened in 2012 along Niagara Street.  The philosophy of Edulis can be summarized as a juxtaposition of the elements of fine dining and the  hipster joints plastered up the road along Queen street . Upon entry, you are greeted with a hello, a coat check and waitstaff donning traditional black uniforms. You are seated at a table within the small dining space within an atmosphere which possesses a subtle yet enjoyable aura of chaos.  The decor is highlighted by  a variety of paintings and pictures, marble tables and dim candlelight while at the same time possessing  a flare both rustic and  rundown.  A daily menu is printed featuring core offerings with additional fare  based on ingredient availability with truffles as the specialty. A carte blanche menu is also available with 5 courses for $50 or 7 for $70.  Although I didn’t order myself, some of  the choices included veal three ways- tongue, belly and sweetbread and a pork belly and shoulder offering.   There is a decent wine offering  (8 glasses plus 50 or so bottles) as well as homemade non-alcoholic sodas with odd flavours which include burdock, hibiscus and ginger with szechwan pepper. The latter was divine.


The cele”rissoto”  was a spin on traditional risotto, opting for the winter favorite celery root instead of the traditional arborio rice. The centrepiece was a square of toast topped with fois gras. It managed to create a mouth feel similar to the traditional dish while maintaining  the subtle earthiness of the celeriac. I’m not sure if the draw for me was the unique nature of the dish itself or the surreal nature of taking bite after bite and trying to figure out how they did it. Either way, it was addictive.  In fact, the fois gras became second nature.


In a world filled with different shaped pasta served in different sized bowls  soaking in truffle oil, the thought of homemade potato ribbons swimming in a rich sauce and topped with fresh white truffles was a refreshing thought, even with a price tag of $36. Once again, the execution was flawless; the potatoes were perfectly cooked and a refreshing change from the ubiquity of standard gnocchi.  From the first bite, I was filled with a comfort reminiscent of grandma’s perfect scalloped potatoes yet mixed with the exquisite nature of the precious white fungus…sort of like moving from the comfort of a cozy terrycloth robe to one made of  fine silk.

Potato Pasta with White Truffle
Potato Pasta with White Truffle

I’m quite nostalgic when it comes to the preservation of elements of fine dining.   The disappearance of the amuse bouche and fresh bread has plagued the dining scene so it is quite refreshing when a restaurant adheres to old school philosophies.  An anchovy-stuffed manzanilla olive  was proudly offered along side some of the best homemade bread I’ve had in a while.  It was a rustic, dense loaf  served in a nifty cotton bag; a refreshing change from the normal offering of semi-stale crusty loaf inside a frayed wicker basket.  Normally, the bread is meant  to hold one over until the real food arrives, but I found myself devouring slices well after the first course arrived.


Shrimp ceviche and ajo blanco (a cold, white garlic based soup) are quite different in everything except temperature so I was interested to experience  the marriage of the two.  The ajo blanco was fresh and although  a little on the acidic side, it was generally  well-balanced and contained a decent amount of roasted almonds.  However, the ceviche concept was a bit lost in the dish.  There was no distinct citrus flavor or heat and although the shaved onion worked, the cilantro clashed with the ajo blanco base.  The saving grace of the dish was both the flawless execution of the shrimp and the brilliant balance of the soup.  I’m just not sure they go well together.

Ceviche in Ajo Blanco
Ceviche in Ajo Blanco

Another childhood favorite of mine is tapioca pudding so I was pleased to see it offered as a dessert, especially when coupled with the vibrant flavour of meyer lemons.  It was served with the texture of a thick soup more than pudding and the lemon flavour was quite predominant.  The preserved apricot did little to enhance the dessert other than adding a bit of chewiness and not enough sweet.  I will admit I ordered a lot of creamy dishes throughout the night so perhaps a dessert with the same colour and texture profiles was a bit  much.

Tapioca Pudding with Meyer Lemon
Tapioca Pudding with Meyer Lemon

My Take

Edulis is a unique addition to Toronto’s fine dining scene.   Perfect execution highlights the menu which merges old school fine dining with hip and trendy cuisine. Candlelight meets chaos. Suit wearing lawyers sit among thick-rimmed twenty somethings. Marble tables erected beside porcelain bathroom tiles.  The choice of a $100 bottle of wine or a $3 glass of grape soda.  You can gamble on a carte blanche menu or indulge on rich truffles. Even co-owner Tobey Nemeth  personifies the juxtaposition, wearing a trendy tiger print dress while the remaining staff don the traditional black uniforms. You can even pick your price to a degree but temptation could lead to a  bill well over a hundred bucks. Regardless of which side of the spectrum you fall on, in the end you’ll be treated to both great food and great service.  There’s no dichotomy there.


Edulis on Urbanspoon

Review:Toronto:King West:Patria

Nestled behind Weslodge is the newest experiment by the same owners,  Hanif Harji and Charles Khabouth.  Many eateries in Toronto have adapted the small plate concept but few have tackled traditional Spanish tapas.  In addition to the food, Patria (meaning homeland) has a decor showcasing beautiful art highlighted by a full tapestry along one wall, ceiling high windows along the other and modern fixtures and trinkets in between. The restaurant was bustling with a diverse and busy crowd but the noise level was not excessive.  The service philosophy is reminiscent of my experience in Barcelona; quick and efficient.  My water glass (even though she wasn’t too happy we opted for tap water) was rarely close to empty and the finished dishes were removed quickly.


I’ve had some bad sangria in Toronto establishments which define it is as  nothing more than watered down table wine with ice and a few orange slices.  Patria returns this iconic drink to its rightful position, although at a price ($30/jug).  The flavour was crisp and vibrant, accented by pieces of fresh fruit peppered throughout an abundance of ice in the  glass (take this as a warning…ask for minimal ice in advance if you don’t like that sort of thing).  As mentioned above, the service was amazing.  I didn’t pour any of my own during the entire meal.


The ensalada de aguacate conqueso de cabra y membrillo was a delicious salad combining simple but quality ingredients (goat cheese, avocado, almonds)  tossed in a fragrant quince dressing.  Like a good tapas dish, it’s special in its simplicity, offering a freshness and crispness which is a perfect complement to the remainder of the menu.

Ensalada de aguacate conqueso de cabra y membrillo ($12)

The Pimientos Rellenos de Buey (oxtail stuffed peppers) topped the list of  tapas choices. The sweet pepper was brimming with a deceivingly large amount of moist, well seasoned meat and accented nicely with salty, shaved manchego cheese, justifying the $12 price tag.

Pimientos Rellenos de Buey (peppers with oxtail)($12)

I’m a huge fan of serrano ham and the offering here lived up to my standards. It was fresh, fatty and not overly salted.  I was possibly biased by the prep station on the way in, which showcased the preparation of the  ham, which is shaved on demand.  It was particularly good with the DO Murcia al Vino cheese and sourdough bread served with a chunk of quince jam.

Serrano Ham ($10) and Olives ($4)

On occasion, I get a craving for chocolate pudding.  Perhaps this was the night, because I thoroughly enjoyed Patria’s offering. It was garnished with coarse salt and a sugar orb which you crack to release a small amount of olive oil over the pudding, adding a unique but  appealing third dimension of taste and flavour.

Chocolate Pudding with Olive Oil Orb ($6)


Fragrant saffron highlights the Garbanzo Con Espinaces (Chickpea Spinach Stew), a rather odd and less traditional tapas choice.  The highlight of this dish is the migras (bread crumbs) which add a brilliant crunch to the otherwise textureless stew.  Simply put, if you like saffron, order this dish.

Garbanzo Con Espinaces (Chickpea Spinach Stew)($7)

The patatas bravas con heuvos fritos (potatoes with spicy tomato and an egg) are a spin on the classic tapas dish normally served with an aioli but in this case also was served with an egg .  In the first attempt, the egg was overdone but they quickly replaced it with a second which was much better. The potatoes were hot, the tomato was spicy.  All in all, it was a decent dish. 

Patatas Bravas ($8)

The pan con tomate with manchego seemed like a modified version of bruschetta as opposed to the traditional spanish dish which uses tomato as a seasoning (the tomato is rubbed onto the bread) more than a main component of the dish.  I’ll be honest, I’m not a tomato fan but I’m also a bit bothered by the deviation from the traditional dish as well. 

Pan con Tomate ($6)and Manchego Cheese ($8) with Quince Jam

I ordered octopus off the “specials” menu at a pricy $15.  Seven bite size pieces were served on tender potatoes on a bed of olive oil and paprika.   The potatoes were cooked perfectly, but the main event not so much. It was overcooked and therefore  a bit “tough” to justify the price.

Octopus ($15) on special menu

The churros served with a dulce de leche were crunchy and soft at the same time and were decent but not mind-blowing.

Churros ($6) with Dulce de Leche


The croquetas de manchego ( leek and cheese croquettes) are a spin on this popular tapas dish which are usually served stuffed with ham or chicken.  The inside was a gooey mess of soft manchego goat cheese with only a hint of leek.  A bit of spicy tomato may have helped salvage the dish but the rich and creamy aioli did nothing to accent the already rich and creamy croquette. 

Croquetas de Manchego ($7)

In general, the service was fantastic but I was a bit bothered by the blatant upselling, whether it was a push for more dishes or more expensive ones. I was told that we didn’t order enough food and when I suggested that we could order again if we wanted to, the response was that they preferred to submit orders only once.  Despite this fact, the dishes did not arrive in a fluid and consistent fashion and it would have been quite simple to order more as needed.  In the end, there was too much food.   

My Take

Patria reminds me of a spanish exchange student who has come over with the intent on sticking to their traditional roots but getting caught up in the ways of the locals.  The pan con tomate became a dish similar to the bruschetta served by all the cool Italians down the road.  The croqueta mimics the cheese sticks you can get at any  roadhouse dwellers along Front St.  Patria even wants to fit in with the carnivores, offering a $65 ribeye steak to match the likes of Ruth’s Chris.  It’s a bit of an identity crisis.  Even the service is a  bit confusing, characterized by friendly staff, continuous water service and quick dish clearance while being upsold  like you’re in a used car lot. Unlike its patria , Toronto’s Patria has certainly adapted to the Toronto restaurant scene, pricing most menu items on the high end of acceptable. Whether you stick will small dishes, pastas ($16-18) or the paellas (around $30),  don’t expect a cheap evening.

In the end, despite the minor mistakes and issues,  Patria worked hard to remedy any of the problems and overall  I left very satisfied, reminding me that in the end a  happy customer is a fundamental priority in this business regardless of what side of the ocean you’re on.

Patria on Urbanspoon