Travel

Not Vanilla Pop-Up Presented By Ottawa Tourism

Canada Day is less than a month away now and our nation's capital just has one thing on its mind. Ottawa is sick and tired of being called vanilla! How are they going to change this view point that so many people seem to have? Well of course the only way possible. To offer some of the most crave worthy and delicious ice cream flavours possible.... for FREE!

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This past weekend Ottawa Tourism partnered with an Ottawa artisan ice cream shop to launch "Not Vanilla" - an ice cream brand that shows just how exciting Ottawa can be. With literally no strings attached, anyone in Toronto from June 2nd to June 3rd was able to stop by Queen and Peter to grab a bunch of free ice cream with flavours that were inspired by all of Ottawa's cultural gems.

A simple white cube was all that was needed to capture the city's attention, but the stand out for me were those colourful boxes that the ice cream were served in. Whoever designed them deserves a promotion. Those boxes were certainly #NotVanilla.

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The five flavours that were offered was:

  • Rideauculous (Peppercorn + Plum)
  • Roam Sweet Roam (Vegan Coffee + Date)
  • ByWard ByNight (Smoked Caramel + Bitters)
  • Urban Splash (Hops + Honey)
  • Ottawild (Apple + Elderflower Frozen Yogurt)
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These unique flavours were seriously impressive and even gives Toronto a run for its money. If ice cream is this good in Ottawa, you bet I'm packing my bags for a road trip there to see what other hidden foodie gems I can find.

Favourite Summer Menus to Explore in York Region with a Bonus Giveaway!

With summer quickly approaching the time to get out of hibernation mode and into exploration mode is upon us. This is my favourite time of the year to check out new restaurants I’ve never been to or go back to some old favourites, because lets face it, navigating through the cold and snow while wearing the heaviest of winter jackets when you’re hungry is not fun.

There’s just something about those sunny rays that reenergizes you to get out of the house and do something, and personally as a big foodie that something for me of course is to find the best restaurants and dishes that will excite my taste buds.

It can be overwhelming at first because York Region has such a large array of restaurants that you just don’t know where to start. Its diversity is evident through all the different type of cuisines you can find here, with restaurants ranging from low-key casual bars and pubs, family operated and owned, and fine dining if you choose to splurge a little bit more.

If you need a good place to start this season here are three of my favourite and highly-recommended restaurants in York Region you should definitely check out this summer. And yes all three of these restaurants have their own outdoor patio if you prefer to dine outside with Mother Nature. My personal preference!

Hungry Brew Hops

In the heart of downtown Newmarket on its revitalized Main Street, Hungry Brew Hops is York Region’s first gastropub with a mantra of “serving really good, honest food with some really good, craft beer.” Opened in 2014 this is a great place to hang out with friends and grab a beer with some of the best tasting pub food I’ve ever had. They have a draught selection of 37 taps featuring only the finest microbrews and wines (yes, even wines on tap!) from both local and abroad. Their food menu rotates seasonally offering a wide-range of items prepared in-house. This is the perfect place to cheer on your favourite sports team while downing some beers and chowing down on some great food at reasonable prices.

Top food recommendation here: Cauliflower Fritters!

  Cauliflower Fritters  – beer battered cauliflower, green onions, sweet chili, house dill sauce

Cauliflower Fritters – beer battered cauliflower, green onions, sweet chili, house dill sauce

  Signature HBH Burger  – beef patty, philly meat, beer-braised onions, sweet chili aioli, American white cheese, brioche bun

Signature HBH Burger – beef patty, philly meat, beer-braised onions, sweet chili aioli, American white cheese, brioche bun

  Skor Square  – Skor, milk, chocolate, buttered crackers

Skor Square – Skor, milk, chocolate, buttered crackers

Smash Kitchen & Bar

A staple in the Unionville community, Smash Kitchen & Bar provides an upscale casual restaurant atmosphere with southern-inspired comfort cuisine. There is something for everyone here as their menu offers a large variety of dishes from tacos, salads, ribs, pastas, pizzas, and steak. On most days of the week here they also have different dine-in promotions going on such as $28 AYCE ribs on Tuesdays, so you might want to check ahead of time before coming here to see if there is dine-in special fit for you. Weekend brunch is also most certainly a thing here! Think Chicken & Waffles, Crab Cakes Benedict, and Fully Loaded Omelets.

Top Food Recommendation: Lobster Mac & Cheese

  Baja Fish Tacos  – beer battered white fish, 2 homemade flour tortillas, citrus slaw, chipotle aioli, guacamole

Baja Fish Tacos – beer battered white fish, 2 homemade flour tortillas, citrus slaw, chipotle aioli, guacamole

  Seafood Cakes  – blue crab, tiger shrimp, arugula salad, caviar, tartar sauce

Seafood Cakes – blue crab, tiger shrimp, arugula salad, caviar, tartar sauce

  Smash Burger  – two beef patties, cheddar cheese, smash sauce, lettuce, pickles, onion chips, brioche bun with added caramelized onion, bacon, mac & cheese cake

Smash Burger – two beef patties, cheddar cheese, smash sauce, lettuce, pickles, onion chips, brioche bun with added caramelized onion, bacon, mac & cheese cake

  Lobster Mac & Cheese  – tomato cheese sauce, Atlantic lobster, pico de gallo, herb crusted

Lobster Mac & Cheese – tomato cheese sauce, Atlantic lobster, pico de gallo, herb crusted

  Chef’s Seasonal Cheesecake  – Pandan Cheesecake

Chef’s Seasonal Cheesecake – Pandan Cheesecake

Next Door Restaurant

Sister restaurant to Smash Kitchen & Bar, Next Door Restaurant is just a few minutes’ drive away nestled in the prime location of historic Main Street Unionville. Inside you’ll find a spacious dining area encased by natural light seeping through the large windows that surround it. This is a restaurant where the presentation of the dishes will blow you away as their precision and creativity in plating is what keeps me and other guests coming back for more. They also boast one of the largest outdoor patios for a restaurant in York Region, and personally one of my favourites as it sits right beside a small body of water that adds just that extra charm and elegance to the experience. Much like their sister restaurant, NextDoor also offers a killer brunch service where each dish is just as Instagrammable as the next.

Top Food Recommendation: Suckling Pig

  Street Corn  – crispy polenta, corn salad, goat cheese, chipotle aioli

Street Corn – crispy polenta, corn salad, goat cheese, chipotle aioli

  Duck Wings  – Korean ketchup, green onions, sesame seeds

Duck Wings – Korean ketchup, green onions, sesame seeds

  Suckling Pig  – braised lentils, sauerkraut puree, chicharron pickled mustard seeds

Suckling Pig – braised lentils, sauerkraut puree, chicharron pickled mustard seeds

  Torched Salmon  – roasted sun chokes, charred leeks, leek puree, puffed wild rice, roasted carrots, ikura

Torched Salmon – roasted sun chokes, charred leeks, leek puree, puffed wild rice, roasted carrots, ikura

  Berries & Cream  – pavlova, vanilla custard, lavender blueberry granite, strawberry mousse, seasonal berries

Berries & Cream – pavlova, vanilla custard, lavender blueberry granite, strawberry mousse, seasonal berries

BONUS - To have a chance to try some of these dishes featured here, visit my guest blog post directly on the Experience York Region website HERE to enter in their giveaway!

Chefs for Change Dinner with Aeroplan

Many of us may only associate Aeroplan with the reward miles we save up to redeem for travel, but as they grow in terms of their food and beverage sponsorships we will begin to see them as big players within the largest food festivals across this city and country. With some exciting new  partnerships already, Aeroplan is the Official Premier Sponsor of Toronto's Winterlicious and Summerlicious this year, which is one of the most prestigious and popular culinary events in Toronto with similar culinary sponsorships in Montreal and Vancouver.

Last week I was fortunate enough to be part of the Aeroplan team as we embarked on a night full of delicious food that was all for a worthy cause at the Chefs for Change dinner. For the first three months of the year, Chefs for Change is an event that hosts some of Canada's best chefs during five nights of food. Each night features a special culinary collaboration from the top chefs in Toronto and across Canada. These dinners also bring profound meaning, substance, and community involvement as the net profits from the ticket sales will go help Community Food Centres Canada, an organization that builds health, belonging, and social justice in low-income communities across Canada through the power of food. This has been an organization and cause that Aeroplan has been supporting for a number of years and a cause dear to their hearts.

Each of the five nights will incorporate a theme into the dinner that will all take place at Propeller Coffee Roastery, which gets transformed from the neighbourhood coffee shop in the day into a stunning culinary venue at night. I was fortunate enough to be part of the CONNECTION dinner that featured top chefs from the city's best restaurants like Richmond Station, Bar Isabel, Momofuku, Beast, Drake Hotel, and The Tempered Room.

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Before the four-course seated dinner began, reception started off the night with wine, cocktails, and canapes as guests mingled with each other. Of course as one foodie does, my guest and I headed over to the bar to grab some drinks as we walked inside the venue. To say we were spoiled is an understatement. By the time we left the bar we had a refreshing gin cocktail from Top Shelf Craft Distillers on one hand, and a bottle of wine in the other. In all my past events when you ask for some wine you get a glass, but not here! You get to walk away with an entire bottle! Shout-out to Flat Rock Cellars and Cave Spring Niagara Peninsula for the Pinot Noir and Riesling to keep us hydrated throughout the night!

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As 7:15PM approached the main event was about to start and we gathered to our assigned seats at our communal tables (table 3 represent!). Host Michelle Jobin guided us along throughout the entire evening introducing us to each chef as they came out to talk about their dishes they created for the dinner. With introductions complete the plates were ready to be rolled out to each of our hungry bellies and the exciting four-course dinner was to begin.

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Here's a breakdown of what we ate!

First Course

  Pork Jowls & Fluke   - carrot, chickpea gochujang, white soy by Paula Navarrete of Momofuku and Ted Corrado of The Drake Hotel

Pork Jowls & Fluke - carrot, chickpea gochujang, white soy by Paula Navarrete of Momofuku and Ted Corrado of The Drake Hotel

Second Course

  Empanadas   - short rib and bone marrow with achiote aioli and braised chicken with oji costeno by Connie DeSousa & John Jackson of CHARCUT Roast House and Scott Vivian of Beast

Empanadas - short rib and bone marrow with achiote aioli and braised chicken with oji costeno by Connie DeSousa & John Jackson of CHARCUT Roast House and Scott Vivian of Beast

Third Course

  Pacific Cod and Chorizo Verde   - confit potatoes, broccolini, cod sauce by Chris Brown of Victor Dries Events and Grant van Gameren of Bar Isabel

Pacific Cod and Chorizo Verde - confit potatoes, broccolini, cod sauce by Chris Brown of Victor Dries Events and Grant van Gameren of Bar Isabel

Fourth Course

  Birch Nest    - maple, black rice wine vinegar, lapsang, rosemary and mignardise by Bertrand Alepee of The Tempered Room, Carl Heinrich & Louis Lim of Richmond Station

Birch Nest - maple, black rice wine vinegar, lapsang, rosemary and mignardise by Bertrand Alepee of The Tempered Room, Carl Heinrich & Louis Lim of Richmond Station

Surprise Dessert!

  Various Mignardises   by Bertrand Alepee of The Tempered Room

Various Mignardises by Bertrand Alepee of The Tempered Room

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To end the night off after such a fulfilling and exquisite dinner we all just had, Nick Saul (President & CEO of Community Food Centres Canada) gave us all an inspiring speech and reminded us all of why we were all there. There are many people out there who just don't have the means to eat lavish meals everyday, who fight every night to put a simple meal on the table for their family, yet it is food that is often the catalyst that brings people of all different ethnicities, ages, professions, religions, sexual orientations, political views, rich and poor to that same dinner table where friendships and community can be formed. Food can be used as a powerful tool for greater health, equity, and social change, treated as a basic right where everyone has the means, knowledge, and voice necessary to access good food with dignity.

I am so glad to see we have big businesses outside of the food industry like Aeroplan to support such worthy causes and give back to the community. Through some of these sponsorships and other food and drink initiatives, Aeroplan members will also have exclusive dining opportunities including:

  • unique dining experiences such as chef collaborations from around the world
  • priority access to culinary events and reservations

There will be even more opportunities coming up for members to earn and redeem miles for travel just by tasting the world right here at home with friends and family. If you are already an Aeroplan member and would also like to donate your miles to Community Food Centres Canada, please visit this link here.

I would like to thank Aeroplan on bringing me along to such an inspiring, uplifting, and delicious night. Great food is an integral part of the travel experience and Aeroplan is on the forefront of helping people share in meaningful moments by bringing everyone together through food and drink, a journey taken not in the sky but through our taste buds.

Intercontinental Toronto Centre - Luxury Hotel In The Heart of Downtown

Whether you live in Toronto already or planning to visit the city on your next vacation, the 4-diamond Intercontinental Toronto Centre Hotel offer guests the perfect combination of upscale elegance, luxurious comfort, and complete convenience situated in the heart of downtown Toronto. Just a 5 minute walk away from Toronto's largest transportation hub, Union Station, you are only a short distance away from the city's largest attractions such as the CN Tower, Air Canada Centre, Hockey Hall of Fame, Ripley's Aquarium, Roy Thompson Hall, and the Roger's Centre.

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Being in the heart of downtown Toronto you undoubtedly will have access to stunning city views in their luxurious and modern guest rooms and suites. Furnished inside with contemporary decor, plush beds with luxury duvet and crisp linens, Keurig coffee makers, big screen TVs, mini bars, and ergonomic work desks, you'll be surrounded by natural day light with large windows overlooking Lake Ontario and the CN Tower. If you're looking to have some TLC or to simply recharge your body in this urban hideaway, guests can escape the outside world and seek some serenity at Spa Intercontinental from deep-tissue massages to body wraps and cleansing facials. If staying healthy and active is your forte, go for a swim in the hotel's indoor saltwater pool or lift some weights in their state of the art fitness centre.

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Toronto is also home to one of the best foodie cities in the world. Trendy restaurants are on every corner and in every direction of the Intercontinental Toronto Centre Hotel, yet guests won't even have to look very far at all if they are looking to find some delicious eats for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Tucked away inside the hotel is Azure Restaurant and Bar, an upscale fine-dining restaurant offering guests of the hotel and anyone else in the city a seat to their premium dining menu and wine list. With a 4-diamond dining experience, you'll be wining and dining within floor-to-ceiling glass windows creating a serene canopy of stars and city lights inside.

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Below you will find just a sampling of the dishes you can come to expect at Azure Restaurant & Bar. These dishes were part of a dinner menu for Winterlicious 2018, a sophisticated curated 3-course menu between January 26th and February 8th, 2018.

  Crab & Avocado Parfait  - frisee, celery root, pickled ginger remoulade, lime, salsify crisps

Crab & Avocado Parfait - frisee, celery root, pickled ginger remoulade, lime, salsify crisps

  Maple Roasted Parsnip & Cauliflower Soup  - horseradish cheddar, double smoked bacon

Maple Roasted Parsnip & Cauliflower Soup - horseradish cheddar, double smoked bacon

  Cocoa Nib Braised Beef Short Rib  - rutabaga mash, king oyster mushrooms, pickled shallots, devil's rock blue cheese

Cocoa Nib Braised Beef Short Rib - rutabaga mash, king oyster mushrooms, pickled shallots, devil's rock blue cheese

  Garganelli Con Funghi  - porcini sauce, cremini mushrooms, fried sage, medjool date ricotta

Garganelli Con Funghi - porcini sauce, cremini mushrooms, fried sage, medjool date ricotta

  Chestnut & Hazelnut Tart  - milk chocolate praline, concord grape sorbet, goat cheese foam

Chestnut & Hazelnut Tart - milk chocolate praline, concord grape sorbet, goat cheese foam

  Apple Pie Cheesecake  - salted caramel apples, bourbon caramel sauce, honeycomb, pie crumb

Apple Pie Cheesecake - salted caramel apples, bourbon caramel sauce, honeycomb, pie crumb

If you're anything like me when I'm staying at a hotel, what I very much look forward to every morning is their hotel breakfast. Whether it may be a breakfast buffet, room service, or a la carte, I actually make an effort to wake up early in the morning to make it out for breakfast, which is completely abnormal for me normally as I usually skip breakfast in the mornings so I can afford those extra minutes sleeping in. Let me just tell you that waking up for breakfast at Azure is completely worth it! The hotel breakfast here is phenomenal which ends at 10:30AM and you have a choice of a $29 breakfast buffet or order from their a-la-carte breakfast menu. Checkout here is at 12PM so you won't feel rushed at all to leave and you'll still have a good amount of time to digest your breakfast in your hotel room after you're done.

Check out what a typical hotel breakfast is like!

  Oat & Blueberry Pancakes  - blueberries, berry compote, maple yogurt

Oat & Blueberry Pancakes - blueberries, berry compote, maple yogurt

  Eggs Benedict  - english muffin, peameal bacon, breakfast potatoes

Eggs Benedict - english muffin, peameal bacon, breakfast potatoes

  Smoked Salmon & Avocado Toast  - dark rye, lemon ricotta, arugula, cucumber, tomato, red onions

Smoked Salmon & Avocado Toast - dark rye, lemon ricotta, arugula, cucumber, tomato, red onions

If modern luxury, convenience, state of the art amenities, and quick access to incredible food is what you're looking for in a hotel, make sure you book a room at Intercontinental Toronto Centre Hotel the next time you visit this world-class city. Just for the food alone staying here is worth it!

 

How To Plan Your Perfect Day at Niagara Falls. The Non-Traditional Way at Wayne Gretzky Estates & Trius Winery

If you're trying to find ideas and inspiration for a quick getaway to escape the city life just for a little bit at least, this is one article you are going to want to read! Now bare with me here as you are all probably rolling your eyes at the title of Niagara Falls, because quite frankly even I can admit that Niagara Falls as a getaway destination can feel unoriginal and overused. Everyone and their mother has probably gone to Niagara Falls at least once in the past few years, and when you have a distant friend or relative visiting the city the first place you think of taking them is to visit the Falls. Don't get me wrong, if you have never been to Niagara Falls going here is a must as it is most definitely one of Canada's biggest tourist destinations. However if you want to experience Niagara Falls in a non-traditional way for those of you who have been here many times already, this is one travel itinerary that is going to be perfect especially if you appreciate good food and wine.

Accommodations at White Oaks Resort & Spa

Now where to stay? Researching hotels, motels, AirBnBs, hostels can be a time-consuming and stressful experience in finding your nightly accommodations. I'm going to keep it simple for you here and just tell you straight up to stay at the White Oaks Resort & Spa. Nestled on 13 acres in the heart of Niagara area attractions, this modern and stylish facility delivers luxury hotel services and offers a host of outstanding amenities. This Four Diamond accommodation has award winning dining options, amazing fitness facilities, and is literally just a few minutes walking distance from the Niagara Outlet Mall. Yes, walking distance. It's literally across the street! The hotel is sitting in prime real estate close to all the Niagara attractions.

Breakfast at LIV Restaurant

So how does one experience the award winning dining options here? You most definitely need to check out LIV Restaurant inside, and personally having a good breakfast to start the day is a must! My recommendation on what to get here are their Avocado Eggs Benedict and the Maple Walnut Cappuccino Pancakes. They were both phenomenal and easily one of the best breakfasts I've had all year. The Avocado Eggs Benedict comes with two poached eggs, smoked virginia ham with hollandaise sauce, on a toasted english muffin with a breakfast potato. Probably my favourite of the two though was the Maple Walnut Cappuccino Pancakes swirled with espresso, maple, and crushed candied walnuts. The ambiance is also incredible surrounded by big windows that lets in tons of natural light, clean white linen table cloths, comfy chairs, and real flowers at every table to brigten your mood.

The Great Winery Tour at Wayne Gretzky Estates 

After a delicious breakfast to start the day, drive ten minutes away to the newly opened Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery. It is indeed THE Wayne Gretzky, the greatest hockey player of all time and what many may not know is his grandfather used to run a wine-making operation when he was a child. Now open in Niagara On The Lake, explore the estate by booking The Great Canadian Winery Tour which is a 45 minute guided tour of wine Wayne's way! Learn how Wayne Gretzky's dream of opening a world-class winery was realized and discover the process behind crafting his favourite wines. You will visit the vineyard and barrel cellar while of course enjoying his many wines throughout the tour. The tour is offered daily starting at 11AM for $25 per person.

Whisky Bartender Experience at Wayne Gretzky Estates

Once you have your fill of wine (for the time-being), register for their Whisky Bartender Experience with a 45-minute interactive cocktail lesson hosted by their best bartenders. You'll get insider tips on how to create the ultimate whisky cocktail, while sharpening your own bartender skills when learning the basics of preparing garnishes, simple syrups, shaking, and muddling. Best of all? You get to drink your very own Whisky cocktail creations right after! This work shop is offered daily at 1PM and 3PM for $35 per person. They are also known here for their Whisky Cream and I ended up buying a bottle to bring back home after tasting it during this experience. It's life changing and will spike your coffees and teas to new heights. A must buy in the gift shop after for a nice souvenir to bring home!

Lunch at Whisky Patio Bar

It's midday by now after an afternoon filled with food, wine, and cocktails, so I think it's time for... you guessed it, more food! While you are still at the Wayne Gretzky Estates, hop on over to their outdoor Whisky Patio Bar to enjoy some of their signature pub style dishes and drinks for lunch. As their menu for food is relatively small you easily can order everything off of it which includes the "Gretzky Beef Ribeye Burger," "White Bean, Smoked Bacon, Root Vegetable Cassoulet," "Butternut Squash Soup," and for dessert the "Gretzky Beaver Tail." One massive recommendation from me here is to order their "Farmer's Tea." The flavours may change depending on the season but ask them here to infuse the tea with their signature Cream Liqueur (the bottle where I mentioned earlier to buy for yourself at the gift shop). The fruity flavours of the tea, mixed in with the cream liqueur is unlike anything you'll ever have and on a cold Winter's day it warms your body from the inside out. It's perfect. The Whisky Patio Bar is also right beside a private skating rink. When the weather is right you will be able to bring your own skates or rent them to have a fun-filled day skating on the rink!

Tasting Stars - Sparkling Experience at Trius Winery

The great thing about spending the day at Wayne Gretzky Estates is it neighbours another winery right beside it. Literally a few minutes walk away is Trius Winery, a winery that has mingled with the A-list celebrities in 2016 as it was invited to be part of the 2016 Oscar festivities. When you arrive make sure you sign up for their new "Tasting Stars - Sparking Experience." It's an interactive tour where their wine experts will guide you from vine to cellar to explore everything sparkling, which is exactly what Trius Wines are known for. You'll begin the tour at Ontario's 2015 Winery of the Year with a stroll through the vineyard before descending into Canada's largest underground sparkling cellar surrounded by 350,000 bottles! This tour is offered at various times everyday for $25 per person.

Dinner at Trius Winery Restaurant 

You can't end a day of adventure without satisfying your stomach with a good meal. For dinner head on over to the Trius Winery Restaurant where they will provide you with all the luxuries associated with fine dining in an approachable and joyful way. Wine pairings are also a must when dining here and I think the reason why is quite self-explanatory. To really get the full experience of tasting the food here from Chef Frank Dodd who uses local ingredients from neighbouring farmers, growers, and producers, I highly recommend getting the 5 course Trius Tasting Menu for $89. This dining experience will give you a complete picture of the landscape of the Niagara food scene from start to finish which will include an Amuse Bouche, Mushroom Truffle Broth, Duk Egg, Atlantic Scallop, Wine and Fruit Inspired Popsicles, Birch Syrup Basted Beef Cap Steak, Apple Pie and Petit Fours for dessert.