Signs Restaurant + the look;

I haven’t been to very many restaurants that offer a “unique dining experience” – O.Noir is off the table because quite frankly, I am afraid of the dark, and I have yet to try Rodeo Brazillian Steakhouse (. One restaurant that I had the privilege of going to recently that offers an experience unlike any other in Toronto is Signs Restaurant and Bar at Yonge Street and Wellesley Street West. Unlike 360 Restaurant or Guu Izakaya, there is no breathtaking view of the city nor lively sounds of the traditional Japanese pub. With not very many windows, Signs has a very laid-back and casual atmosphere with some simply elegant décor. The unique dining experience all comes down to the communication – all ordering and communication with your server is in American Sign Language.

 The Spread — Black bean soup with an order or fries to start, beef ribs with vegetables and rice, the soba mango salad with salmon, and to finish off, the Nutella tiramisu.

There wasn’t anything I didn’t enjoy about this meal – everything was cooked beautifully and tasted great. I generally like the food at most places that I eat, but I have not had a meal quite this delicious in some time. The soup and the beef ribs were part of the special menu for the day, so unfortunately you may not be able to order them when you go. The soup had a lot of different flavours and with a bit of a growing spicy element to it, so if your tolerance in this department is low the bean soup is not for you. The beef ribs, which to be honest, I was expecting a giant  rack of ribs instead of the Kalbi (Korean barbecued beef short ribs) that I received on my plate. Once I started to eat though, there was no amount of disappointment here. I definitely plan on going back until I have tried everything on their menu.

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The Nutella tiramisu at Signs is by far the best piece of triamisu that you will ever eat. Everything is as it should be, moist and creamy in the middle and rich coffee flavour throughout; except there is a thick layer of Nutella right in the middle of the layers. After eating this slice of pure deliciousness, I could not even remember what a normal piece of tiramisu tastes like, nor did I want to ever it without Nutella ever again. If you order nothing else when you go to Signs Restaurant and Bar, make sure that you order dessert.

All food aside, I found communicating in a way that was unfamiliar to me to be quite interesting. It’s funny how we take the aspects of communication that are easy for us for granted. Signs makes it easy for its patrons to order their food and hold a basic conversation with their servers, providing illustrations and cheat sheets in the menu and on the table.

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The look – An easy cotton button down from H&M, and a relaxed pair of black dress pants paired with my Kate Spade tote.

Rock Lobster Food Co. + the look;

I have been wanting to go to Rock Lobster Food Co. for quite sometime now, and I finally got to eat there for my birthday – it took almost year, but better late than never!

The Spread – Appetizers: Cape Ann & Malaspina oysters, crab cake on a bed of salad, lobster chowder, and lobster poutine. Entrées: Grilled shrimp mac and cheese, and lobster roll with Yukon chips. Dessert: a slice of Dulce de Leche cake and a trio plate of a Nanaimo bar, a Rice Crispy square, and a mini-butter tart.

Appetizers — let’s start with the oysters. I am a huge lover of shucked oysters, provided that they’re a bit smaller because the bigger ones are a little more difficult for me to eat. I enjoyed both types that were served to us, but there wasn’t a lot of meat on them. Although the Cape Anns were smaller the way that I like them, there just wasn’t much oyster there. The chowder and crab cake were very good, I would definitely order them again – both had nice flavour profiles and you could still taste the delicateness of the lobster and crab. Now to the lobster poutine… I have to say that I was a little bit disappointed. It’s not that it wasn’t good, I just think that I had built it up too much in my own mind because I had wanted to try it for so long and I would see photos of it all over Instagram. Despite being slightly underwhelmed, I would still order the poutine again, but itès not a must-have.

Shrimp mac and cheese

My entrée — the shrimp mac and cheese. Baked, as is traditional, but without the bread crumbs. Although I don’t know what kinds of cheese they used, the flavour was incredible – it tasted like more than two types of cheese were used (how funny would it be if there was only one?). Even without the breadcrumbs, there was a nice crisp to the top layer that you would expect of a baked mac and cheese. There could have been more shrimp though… those three pieces of shrimp in the above photo was it. I know, how sad.

Dessert was quite an upset – Rock Lobster is not exactly known for their desserts, and now I know why. I’m not much of a dessert person; I would rather order lots of appetizers before my entrée and not have room for dessert. So on the rare occasion that I do decide to end my meal with something sweet, it should be worth it.

Overall, I did enjoy the food at Rock Lobster and I would definitely go back. I just won’t order dessert next time.

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The look — my favourite printed floral jeans and a simple black drape top with a button at the collar. Both are from H&M – the jeans unfortunately are from last year, but the top I purchased at the beginning of February.

A Different Kind Of Valentine’s Day in 10 Ways;

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Valentine’s Day. It’s everywhere and you either love it or hate it – for some people it depends on their current situation. Regardless of how you feel about Valentine’s Day, it’s still going to be on the calendar. To be honest, I have always loved that mushy love-riddled day, but hate the consumerism that goes along with it. With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, here are ten alternatives to celebrate the day with your loved ones without burning a hole in your pocket.

#1 Make your gift a DIY project

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Looking for a cost-effective gift that doesn’t scream how thrifty you are? Go for a more thoughtful approach and make your gift a DIY project. Don’t feel discouraged if you aren’t particularly crafty – a home made gift can be simple, so don’t stress. The key to the perfect DIY gift is the thought that goes into it. Fill a jar with his favourite candies or trail mix to keep at his desk, give her a box with some of her favourite beauty items, make a couple of date night coupons or chore vouchers. In this day of Google and Pinterest, there is no project that you cannot undergo if you are unsure of how to do it.

#2 Go for beer and wings

Truthfully, going out for beer and wings really depends on your partner. If that isn’t their scene, then beer and wings is definitely out of the question. This is also true if they really have their heart set on a fancy dinner for Valentine’s Day – but don’t despair! It doesn’t have to beer and wings, but there are less expensive restaurant options out there where you can still have a delicious meal. Go to one of these places instead. If you’re part of the fancy dinner crowd, just wait… I have more alternatives for you.

#3 Go out for brunch

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So your boyfriend or girlfriend, fiancée, husband or wife are looking for that fancy Valentine’s Day meal. Take them out for a fancy brunch instead! Let’s face it, brunch was made for couples and they can get pretty fancy if you take them to the right place, but it’s much more cost effective. Going out on a brunch date also means that you can start off your Valentine’s Day early and spend the whole day celebrating, rather than waiting until the end of the day.

Some of my favourite places to eat brunch that are on the cost-effective side are Panagio’s, The Beast Restaurant (see previous post), Milestone’s, and of course Cora’s.

A few other great brunch places in Toronto that I have been meaning to try are Auntie’s & Uncles, Starving Artist, and Lisa Marie.

#4 Have date night at home

A laid-back, low key dinner is not in the cards and neither is going out for brunch instead of dinner. How about a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner at home? Cook them a fancy dinner or their absolute favourite meal in your culinary arsenal. Buying groceries and cooking yourself is a sure way to save some money. You also don’t need to eat amongst the other hundred couples that have decided to venture out and you can really take your time enjoying your meal – no rush to give the table to the next set of diners.

Since you already ate dinner at home, you might as well stay there. Watch a favourite movie on Netflix while sitting on your comfortable couch with a blanket, light some candles and take a relaxing bubble bath together, play some video or board games if that’s something you enjoy – there are so many possibilities.

#5 Buy candy in bulk

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I know all that fancy packaging makes those sweets look appealing, but that’s exactly what you’re paying for with those heart shaped containers. Depending on the type of candy and the size of the box, you’re getting far less than quantity. Head to Bulk Barn and really get your money’s worth. This is key if you or your significant other has a sweet tooth. If you still want it to look nice, package it up yourself in some cellophane bags with ribbon or your own heart shaped container (another DIY idea). Buy getting your candy and chocolates in bulk, you have more variety to give them and to choose from. You also have the option of just buying candy and chocolate in their original packaging.

#6 Take a class together

Looking for something new to do this Valentine’s Day instead of the usual dinner and a movie date night? Why not take a class together? There are many facilities that offer a date night special for the sake of Cupid. This is your change to try something that the two of you have always wanted to try, with out the weeks of commitment. Go to a yoga class, sign up for a paint lounge, try a salsa lesson or cooking class. If the two of you end up enjoying it, then you have found another hobby you can do as a couple.

#7 Use a Groupon

While on the topic of taking a class together, using a Groupon is a great way to try a new hobby with minimal long-term commitment and is always at a discounted rate. Since they have virtually everything on Groupon, you can plan all your Valentine’s Day actvities around it – your brunch or dinner location, date night activities, even a hotel room.

#8 Choose a different bouquet

VDAY IMAG0498Roses are beautiful and they are a symbol of love, but does she even like them? In this case, you should definitely pick something else if you are planning on getting some flowers. Even if she does like roses, there are other flowers you can get that are just as pretty and fragrant but will save you some money. Get a bouquet with different kinds of flowers in it, like wild flowers for example, or her favourite flower perhaps. I have always found a bouquet of daisies in brown craft paper tied with raffia to be quite pretty and romantic, even though they aren’t a blossom that symbolize love or passion in the traditional sense.

#9 Wear something you already have in your closet

Don’t go out and buy a whole new outfit just for Valentine’s Day – pick out something from your own closet. By the time you find a complete outfit, you need to get shoes and a new bag, and since you’re already shopping you might as well buy some jewellery to go with everything else. For my gentlemen buying a new suit is never just buying a new suit. You’ll also need a shirt and tie, maybe some shoes too, or a pair of cuff links. Put a new look together with what you already own. Change up how you wear certain pieces or what accessories you normally pair it with.

#10 Have a post-Valentine’s Day celebration

Everything I have listed so far are all great ways to save a little money when it comes to your Valentine’s Day planning, but celebrating after-the-fact is a great way to cut your costs in a couple of areas at once. The sweets – we all know candy and chocolate are cheapest the day after Hallowe’en and the day after Valentine’s Day. Get your hands on some of that special packaging but at a more reasonable price. Going out to dinner on a regular night means it won’t be as busy and you can order from the regular menu as opposed to some special one is more expensive. The other good news is that you can still use a Groupon or buy an alternative bouquet for your post-Valentine’s Day, which means more money that stays in your pocket.

Whether you decide to go all out for the fanciest dinner with a brand new outfit for both of you, or decide to take a few ideas from this list and go the more conservative spending route, the most important thing is that you have a great Valentine’s Day with the person you want to be with. Don’t forget to let them know how much you mean to them.

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Wild Burger;

At Mount Pleasant Road and Eglinton Avenue East, there is a new burger joint that is offering a new burger experience…

the menu;

The menu at Wild Burger

The menu at Wild Burger

Everything from beef to fish to kangaroo – Wild Burger has the most protein selection out of any restaurant, let alone burger joint, in Toronto that I have been to thus far. Although the menu can be a bit overwhelming at first-glance, the staff are more than happy to help you make a selection. An easy tip – the further right you move on the menu, the more adventurous your choice becomes. Even if you decide to play it safe your first time out, their beef burger is not an ordinary beef burger. Topped with blackberry sauce, sautéed onions, and aged white cheddar, the beef burger is still a good choice.

The spread — Korean Chicken burger with a side of poutine

Like I said, the menu can be at bit overwhelming at first glance and it did take us a while to decide what we wanted. I had walked into Wild Burger with every intention of ordering from the right side of the menu. I was ready to try the Middle Eastern Camel burger but something about the Asian flare of the chicken burger kept appealing to my taste buds.

To my surprise, the chicken burger was not a grilled chicken breast on a bun, but a burger patty made of ground chicken seasoned with bulgolgi spices. On top of the patty is a slice of Chevre, a fried egg, and some Kimchi. The Chevre, or goat cheese, was so creamy and it paired quite well with the sandwich as a whole. The flavouring of the Kimchi was much more subtle than when traditionally made, so it was not overpowering. The fried egg does make the burger a bit messy and difficult to eat once you bite into the egg yolk, but don’t let that stop you. If you are looking for a simple burger, this one is not it – there are a lot of layers in the Korean Chicken.

The poutine is made with fresh cut fries deep fried in duck fat – adding that extra something, and the brown gravy, made from scratch, was very flavourful. The one thing I always look for in my poutine is that the cheese curds are at least partially melted by the gravy – so key. As good as the fries and gravy were, the cheese wasn’t melted.

If you’re looking for a new burger experience, Wild Burger is the place to go.

Be sure to visit their website – www.wildburger.ca

Lumberjack Chic;

With the cold weather alert issued in Toronto this week, I decided to shoot this look indoors. The background is not the greatest, but there’s no use in freezing my butt off outside when I have space inside my living room.

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The toque has been an obsession of mine; I wear it everywhere and I always get complimented on it. This black veil-toque with a rabbit fur pom pom is from BCBG MAXAZRIA – part of their winter collection last year, it was so popular that they brought it back this winter as well.

This navy and red lumberjack shirt from JCrew is my new favourite shirt. I own so many plaid and gingham shirts, but there is something about this one that always makes me want to wear it. The charcoal grey sweatshirt dress is from Oak+Fort and it is so comfortable to wear. The best part about it is that it has pockets as well – I love dresses with pockets.

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The dress has a relaxed, loose fit – it only comes in one size. Because the silhouette of the dress is straight, it will look nice on any body type if worn the right way. For curvier ladies with an X-shape you will have to accent the dress with a belt or a shirt tied around the hip or waist (like I did) to bring out your curves. Otherwise, a straight-cut dress will only make you look frumpy.

These knee-high leather boots are a great accent to this look – they cover up the legs and add a little bit of edge. These boots are flat so you don’t have to think twice about the snow and ice outside and you can wear them for hours.

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The Special;

“At a time in America when finances are shaky, yet even modest big-city restaurant spaces involve multimillion-dollar build-outs, when consumers have wearied of giant chains but still demand food that is novel, inexpensive and fast, food trucks are the new incubators of culinary innovation. ”

— Jonathan Gould, Smithsonian Magazine

Food trucks have undoubtedly become synonymous with novelty food, and rightly so. They produce some of the best novelty fare that anyone has ever tried, and even if you haven’t, James Cunningham and Eat Street have proven it to be true. Due to municipal by-laws, the food truck boom hasn’t exactly come to Toronto the way it has in Vancouver or the US. However, if a food truck presents itself, I am definitely in line to try whatever the most popular item on the menu is – my trip to O’ahu this past summer was no different.

While in Waiana’e, O’ahu, I had the honour and pleasure of meeting with a world renowned tattoo artist. Outside of the community centre, there is a truck without a logo or labels of any kind, and to be honest I did not notice it until it was brought to my attention. I was told that I had to go to the truck and order “The Special”; that it would be unlike anything I ever ate – delicious as anything and could stop my heart it was so unhealthy. That was all I needed to hear. How could I not try this so-called “special”?

In the simplest terms, The Special is this – a bed of chow mein noodles under a bed of french fries, topped with a secret mayonnaise. I know it sounds strange, but trust me, it’s delicious. When you eat everything together, there is a sweet component from the noodles, salty from the fries, and the sweet acidity of the mayonnaise.

If you’re ever on O’ahu, be sure to visit the beach at Waiana’e and look for the grey, unmarked food truck – The Special gets sold out pretty quickly though, so if you get there after 2:00 pm there might not be any more.

the BEAST restaurant;

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On Tecumseth Street just south of Adelaide Street West, there is a house converted restaurant taking brunch to a whole new level. Although they are open all day, The Beast Restaurant is known for their brunch. Always with a line-up outside the door, it is the only time of day that they do not accept reservations.

The spread — the “poutine”, peameal bacon bennedict, and challah french toast, complete with a mornig mimosa and caesar.

Let’s start with the “poutine”. Not made with fries, but with fried gnocci – hence the quotation marks. Crisp on the outside, but still so soft on the inside it almost melts in your mouth. The home made gravy changes from day to day so the taste will change depending on what protein they used to make it – the day I visited was a savoury duck gravy. Even without the fries, this “poutine” was everything that it should be. A perfectly cooked potato swimming in gravy, topped with cheese curds.

When I cannot decide what to order for a brunch outing, my go-to is always the eggs bennedict. So how could I not order the eggs bennedict and taste the from-scratch hollandaise my first time at Beast? Everything was pretty standard. English muffin, poached egg, a thick slice of peameal bacon, and hollandise sauce. I was was not disappointed. The bacon was a good size, and there was just the right amount of hollandaise. Not to mention, my eggs were cooked perfectly. I opted for the seasoned potatoes as my side and they were just as tasty as the everything else on my plate.

The second meal of choice was the challah french toast – “topped with duck confit, cranberry mostarda and whipped creme fraiche served with a side of maple syrup.” If you have never tried challah bread, it is a sweet, rich, and decadent braided bread which was traditionally eaten on the Sabbath as well as Jewish holidays. Before my visit to Beast I had never tried chllah bread made as french toast, but I was presently surprised. It paired very well with the duck confit and cranberry mostarda (a condiment made with fruit and a mustard syrup).

Probably the most popular item on the menu are Rachelle’s donuts (not pictured – they ran out before we had a chance to order them). When we first sat down our server asked if we wanted to order them first and we decided to order them at the end of our meal – huge mistake. Word to the wise – always order your doughnuts first.

The Beast Restaurant | http://thebeastrestaurant.com/