Night Out: Wine and…Tacos?

Tonight I had the privilege of attending the summer opening of Mavrik Wine Bar. It’s a well-known fact that I love wine and anything wine bar related. Sadly, I had never been to Mavrik before but, after this introduction, you can bet I will be going back.

Grapefruit + wine + berries is delicious!

Grapefruit + wine + berries is delicious!

This little Queen West haunt is owned by two ladies who did the unthinkable – left their law and investment banking jobs to pursue a passion and open their own restaurant. They differentiate themselves from all other wine bars in a really great way, offering up local wines that are produced in small quantities (read: too small to be found at the LCBO) and a really good selection of fresh, healthy cooking.

A small sampling of Mavrik's menu - awesome tacos and great wine pairings

A small sampling of Mavrik’s menu – awesome tacos and great wine pairings

I got to sample two of their tacos with wine pairings. The first was a Portobello Taco with guacamole, tomatoes, red peppers, black beans, jalapeños, and basil aioli. While I’m not the biggest mushroom fan, this taco had great texture and flavour to it – not too spicy, just tangy enough, with the basil aioli adding a unique taste to otherwise “typical” taco fillings. The second – and my favourite – was the Sweet Potato Taco, filled with sweet potato, black beans, quinoa, parmesan and lemon aioli. This taco was so refreshing, tasty and was fabulously complemented by a Niagara Region Muscat. This was a perfect summer meal.

Portobello Taco (left) and Sweet Potato Taco (right)

Portobello Taco (left) and Sweet Potato Taco (right)

The vibe of the place is great – small and cozy – and, aside from the wonderful and unique food, there is also a healthy selection of cheese (after all, wine + cheese are the best of friends). My only gripe? With the wines being so local and limited in supply, you may fall in love with something that you can’t get your hands on too easily at the LCBO or Wine Rack. I guess that just means you have to return to Mavrik again.

mavrik vibe

Loving…

Listening:

I stumbled on this song through the amazing We Are Hunted app in Spotify (the app was recently bought by Twitter and was launched yesterday as “Twitter #Music“, which is so far a super cool offering). The track reminds me a lot of Vampire Weekend and the almost island feel of the chorus makes me smile every morning on my way to work.

Reading:

Behind the Ktchen Door

I saw Saru Jayaraman on an episode of Bill Maher about a week ago and loved how passionate and knowledgeable she came off. Behind the Kitchen Door is a look at what goes on in the restaurant industry (focused on the US, naturally) behind what we all normally see – the powerful lobby groups, the “sustainability” trend that isn’t very sustainable, and the difficulties restaurant workers have living within the economic system. Really interesting read, especially for someone who frequents restaurants quite a bit.

Cooking:

Dinner tonight or lunch tomorrow will be one of my favourite salads: pear + arugula + blue cheese (with mustard-vinegar dressing). It’s such a refreshing salad with so many different flavours (I like to also add candied pecans for a bit of sugary sweetness to further cut the blue cheese). I’ve been craving it all week, ever since I had a meh salad at work on Monday, and I can’t wait to have it again. Bonus: it’s quick and easy to make and requires very few ingredients. Every time I have a salad, I can’t help but think of this.

My fave! via the Food Network.

My fave! via the Food Network.

Anticipating:

We recently purchased tickets to see The Lumineers on May 2nd, and I seriously can’t wait. Their album is pure perfection for me right now!

Lumineers

Happy Friday and have a lovely weekend!

Dangerously Cheesy

Via CBC.ca.

Via CBC.ca.

If there’s any food I love as much as bacon, it’s cheese. I absolutely love and adore it – stinky, soft, aged, fondu-ed – any kind will do. One of my favourite warm-weather Friday nights out is sitting on a patio somewhere (at home or at a restaurant), enjoying a glass of wine (white, pinot grigio ideally) and nibbling on a platter of cheese.

In preparation for spring and nights out on the balcony in our new place, I’ve tried to find a formula for the perfect cheese plate. A good cheese plate has a few key components: cheese variety (different flavours, textures and ripeness), fruits (I like apples, pears, and figs but it is all dependent on your cheeses), jam/marmalade/honey (I like honey with any cheese, and a light fruit jam with softer cheeses), and some kind of cracker/bread (the crispier and thinner, the better).

via blogto.com.

via blogto.com.

Toronto has some amazing cheese shops: Alex on Yonge, Global Cheese in Kensington, and Leslieville Cheese Market are among my personal favourites. When it comes to choosing the right cheeses for a plate, I often tend to select about one or two known favourites (a blue cheese, asiago or a sharp cheddar for example) then get a few more new flavours. I also try to have a nice mixture of hard, semi-hard, soft and blue cheeses as well as cheese from different milks (my personal favourite? goats milk, any time). The fruits and marmalade/honey/jam on the side for pairing, is key. I find these touches often bring out the flavour of cheeses in totally new ways. Finally, I like to cut up (thinly!) and toast some fresh baguette, as well as provide one or two store-bought cheese cracker options.

Cheese – like wine – has its experts, flavour profiles, and unique notes that you can learn about over time. If you’re ever looking to learn more (and make your friends happy with delicious cheese servings on balmy nights), here are a few places to go:

A Beautiful Mess’ simply elegant tips for creating a cheese plate

Real Simple Food has a more in-depth view of creating cheese pairings

Huffington Post’s guide to cheese (with video!)

The Kitchn has a great article on pairing wine with cheese

…or, just pair some cheese, wine and bacon bits and call it a wonderful evening!

A Night Out: Bacon! (and wine)

There’s nothing that makes a girls’ night out better than greasy food and/or beer. So last night, my friends and I decided to blend the two in a new part of town. There’s a lot to be said for the simplicity of restaurants that feature one ingredient and we went to a place that happens to focus on my preferred ingredient: bacon! Rashers in Leslieville is a new spot that takes bacon to a whole other level.

Rashers! Bacon!

Rashers! Bacon!

Their whole premise is centered around bacon sandwiches. They have delicious (and pretty local) bacon products, everything from Canadian back bacon to plain ol’ strip bacon. We tried two grilled ones while we were there: one was a delicious grilled cheese with bacon and a slightly tangy mustard, while the other was a grilled maple-apple-bacon combo that tasted almost like dessert rather than dinner (in that it was sweetly delicious).

Simple grilled cheese? Not these sandwiches!

Simple grilled cheese? Not these sandwiches!

They have a small menu with feature sandwiches, including a signature Hogtown Sandwich with peameal bacon and an optional egg on top, which makes this a great place to go for a quick bite after a night out (i.e. greasy breakfast the morning after).

Since Leslieville is an area we have been looking at, I wanted to see what a night out would look like if we were to ever live here. So, after bacon, we headed to Skin and Bones, a new(ish) wine bar on the Queen East strip.

skin and bones

While this didn’t knock my favourite wine bar in the city off its podium (Caren’s Wine Bar – the back patio alone is worth it, especially in the summer), we had a really fun time. The selection of wine and mixed drinks was good and the cheese plate we shared definitely hit the spot. While the wine and cheese was great, it was really the company that made the night. More specifically, the people watching.

There is certainly a unique vibe to the Leslieville area, something you don’t find anywhere else in the city. I’m looking forward to exploring the east end more as the weather gets better – we passed a ton of great restaurants and bars on the way to our final destinations tonight. In the meantime, though, I will just dream of bacon sandwiches…mmm…