Category Archives: Restaurant

High School Eating Parties

It feels weird to be writing normal things right now. I’m devastated and terrified about what’s going on in the world and it doesn’t feel right to just be writing as usual. I don’t really know how to handle it and my blog seems so trivial right now, but I don’t currently have anything genuine to add to the conversation that will help bring about change. Or at least nothing that I feel comfortable writing an entire post about. But normal is comforting. So, I’m going to do some weekend recapping.

On Friday evening my high school friends and I had a dinner party with two of our former teachers turned friends, Marni and Mr. B (I still can’t call him anything but that!). We planned this back in November and it’s been a while since I’ve seen either of them so I’ve been looking forward to it. I was also really looking forward to talking to Mr. B about everything that’s been happening since Trump’s inauguration. He was our history teacher all through high school and many times lately I’ve wished I was back in his class discussing how NOT NORMAL (but unfortunately not unprecedented) this is. Mr. B was always a voice of reason and I had so many thought-provoking discussions in his class so I wanted to hear what he thought of this insanity.

We got those discussions out of the way early on and then had a really great night telling stories and reminiscing about our high school times.

My side of the table missed the memo about having a meatball prop.

Pretty similar picture to a dinner party we had at Mr. B’s a few years ago.

It was summer then, though, so we’re definitely all looking a bit brighter.

We went through all our old yearbooks, which is always a good time. Dawn and I in Grade 9!

I’ve really only ever had two hair styles, middle part and side part.

That picture isn’t in black and white because it was just soo long ago, but because our school was so small we didn’t have a big yearbook budget. Everything was black and white.

Also Grade 9, semi-formal.

You may recognize myself, Joel (back when he had luscious locks), my friend Beth, my bestie Lisa, Emily and Dawn. Just babies!

We had such a good night. I had a big love burst for this group.

Saturday morning I got up early and headed to an OrangeTheory class. I’m still loving it. I upped my membership to unlimited, so I’ve been going four times a week the last few weeks. I’m definitely seeing some results, too, which is nice. Mostly in my limbs and chest right now, which is the story of my life. Nungas are always the first to lose and first to gain (this is more annoying than it sounds). It takes a while for my midsection to catch up.

Saturday night Evan and I  had a dinner date with my pal CathRON (she’s appeared in my blog a few times, Kitten the Cat‘s owner for context) and her boyfriend Trevor.

That picture is from 2013, we need a new one. The flash on my phone at the time sure liked to make me look fluorescent. Anyway, Catherine and I met when we worked together at Diary Queen when we were in high school. It was a high school themed weekend. I also worked with Trevor at Dairy Queen, they recently reunited which makes me so happy!!!

We went to Loka on Queen West, which opened in 2016 and is known for having inventive, locally-sourced dishes. Our original plan was to do the Winterlicious prix fixe menu (Winterlicious is an event that runs for two weeks every year and gives Torontonians the chance to try a value menu at many of the city’s restaurants) but then we noticed we could taste the entire restaurant for only $12 more per person. That seemed to be the better value to me. Super small portions though. For example our first dish was a whitefish chowder, and while delicious it was literally one spoonful.

Afterwards Evan was all “I bet they had an entire giant vat of that chowder back in the kitchen, they couldn’t put a full ladle in our dishes?!” Yeah. I feel that. I should mention that Evan did not like this restaurant at all, it was just not his thing. On Sunday he said he had a nightmare Saturday night that we were back at the restaurant eating more food. We had a really good time because Catherine and Trevor are a good time and we LOVED our server (well I did) but I agree the food wasn’t anything to write home about. A few things were pretty good though. I liked these little sourdough toasts topped with preserved plums and goat milk jam.

And we all loved the pan roasted mushrooms with truffled potatoes and deer lichen. I think it was the stand out dish of the night.

Deer lichen is a moss that grows on trees, so we asked our server where the moss came from and he said they have a guy who is a local forager that they source it from. I thought that was interesting. I asked our server if I could become a forager and just bring them things that I find out in the wild but he didn’t make it seem like Loka would go for that…

We also tried the bone marrow. Both mine and Evan’s first time trying, but Catherine and Trevor had been telling us earlier how much they both loved it (not from here). As soon as it arrived at our table I saw Catherine side eye that bread. She said bone marrow was best served with soft bread as opposed to crusty bread, so she was not impressed.

It definitely wasn’t Evan’s thing but I enjoyed it. I liked that it was all smooth and buttery. I do agree that it would be best served with a soft bread to sop up all that marrow goodness. The crusty bread was pretty useless. And we needed more of it!

We had eight courses in total, which sounds like a lot but they were so tiny that I left there barely full at all. We had a lot of beer though, so that helped. It was a good night and I’m excited to hang out with those two again!

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Varadero Restaurants

Just one more vacation post after this one and I’m all done! And the next postis Havana, so hopefully it will actually be interesting. First, some food stuff in Varadero, Cuba.

The reason we were most excited about staying at a resort in town was we could actually do more off-resort eating! We had such a good time at Lenny’s Playa Prohibida last year with Coco Indio that we wanted more Cuban restaurant times. Again, Varadero is a tourist town, and the restaurants were obviously touristy, but still different as you won’t find any chains there (unlike in the Bahamas when there was a Dominos Pizza across the street from our resort). And it wasn’t only tourists eating. I love that Cuba is full of unique locally-owned restaurants and shops, and I hope that doesn’t change.

First we have Paladar Nonna Tina, an Italian restaurant that was recommended to us by our friend Corey (and recommended to him by a guy he works with). I had checked reviews also and had a list of Varadero restaurants to try, and this was one of them. Varadero has a double-decker bus that you can take downtown and then along the entire peninsula, so we did that one day and then went to Nonna Tina’s for lunch afterwards. It’s on a little side street right by Hotel Los Delfines.

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It was so cute, and I can’t believe we found real wood-fired oven Italian pizza in Cuba! We both ordered beer and started with an appetizer, rosemary with olive oil on focaccia. We did not realize at the time that it was going to be as large as a big pizza but we weren’t complaining.

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It was goooood. J’adore.

Evan and I each ordered a personal pizza, thinking they would be on the smaller side and we could share both. Once again, they were huuuuuge.

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I got the Hawaiian, and Evan ordered a random assortment of goodness.

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Both of them were seriously delicious and I was really surprised. The food was just excellent, and very reasonably priced as for all three of those pizzas and our beer we paid $20 CUC (tip was included on our bill but we still left a bit extra). We couldn’t finish everything but we packed it up in a box and brought it back to our room. We had enough leftover to make another entire pizza! It was the perfect late night snack over the next couple of days.

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I can’t recommend that place enough. I saw people ordering pasta that looked amazing as well. We will definitely be going back next time we’re in Varadero.

Another day we went to the outdoor restaurant El Rancho for lunch, which was just up the street from our resort.

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It has a great atmosphere in there, with live music as we ate, which is always a plus!

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(video here)

This is one thing that I really love about Cuba that I haven’t seen in other Caribbean countries I’ve traveled to, live music everywhere!

They seem to specialize in seafood but I wasn’t feeling it that day. I ordered the pork steak, which came with potatoes and rice. Nothing too exciting but it was pretty good, and great value at $7 CUC.

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That onion sauce in the little dish on the side though…I don’t know what was in that (aside from onions) but it was incredible and I could not get enough of it. I wanted to pour it over my entire plate. My mouth is watering thinking about it now.

Definitely a great place for lunch.

Our last restaurant experience was on the rooftop patio La Vaca Rosada, on the opposite side of the strip from us, closer to the hotel Roc Barlovento. We took a cab back and it was $5 CUC.

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I had a list of Varadero restaurants on my phone that I made before I left, which I compiled after reading a bunch of reviews. Beside this one I had written “rooftop patio!!! MUST GO” so, that was a must go. It has amazing reviews and people say it’s the best restaurant in Varadero. We eventually made it there on our last night, and I can’t say if it’s the best in Varadero, but it was the best of the restaurants we went to.

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I love the all the servers were wearing pink shirts.

We started with a side order of fries.

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And drinks. I got the Hemingway Daiquiri, with rum and grapefruit juice.

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It is called Hemingway’s Daiquiri because he drank so many of them at El Floridita in Havana (which we visited and I’ll get to in my Havana post) where he spent many days drinking in the ’30s and ’40s. It was delicious.

La Vaca Rosada’s specialties are pizza and seafood, and since we had already done the pizza thing we decided to seafood it up. I ordered the grilled fish.

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I asked our server what kind of fish I was eating, and I’m pretty sure he said “bargo” which I had never heard of and I still can’t really find anything about…but it was so, so good. It was cooked perfectly and super flavourful. I loved it and just demolished it. Also really good was the mash on the side, and I am not entirely sure what root vegetable that was made of either (squash or pumpkin I think), but it was garlicky and also very good.

Evan ordered the shrimp.

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Which were also garlicky and delicious. I definitely helped him out with those. We both really enjoyed our meals here. I wish we had tried more things!

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So that was a great final dinner in the Varadero.

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Next up, Havana. Have a great weekend!!

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Happy or Hungry Eats the World: La Creole (Haiti)

I am on a mission to eat an authentic dish from every country in the world, right here in Toronto. You can find all past recaps here.

Next up in my culinary adventuring is Haiti, which shares a border with the Dominican Republic.

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Here’s a better visual.

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A couple weeks ago I had another dinner date with my coworkers Frances and Rachel, also for Winterlicious before it ended. This time we went to La Creole, a Haitian and French Caribbean restaurant on St. Clair West.

Haitian cuisine is similar to much of the caribbean, but does have its own unique flavours also. It has a lot of French, African, Spanish and Taíno Amerindian influence. According to this website, “the Tainos left their staples, the Spanish carried their cooked green peppers, onions, tomatoes, garlic, the French brought their stews and soups, the Africans introduced okra, pigeon peas.” So I guess they just have the best of everything!

The Haitian food culture is pretty underrepresented in Toronto — I think La Creole is the only Haitian restaurant we have, and I’m glad it exists! It’s really nice in there.

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Especially with the French pop music playing in the background. J’adore.

We started with Caribbean cocktails, as you do. I asked our server which was the most traditional Haitian cocktail and she recommended Le zouk, with rhum, passionfruit and mint, so Frances and I went with that.

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Ours were very good, though a bit pricy for their size (I think they were $9). I can’t remember what Rachel ordered (it looks like a mojito but I don’t think it was) but she said she enjoyed hers well.

To start I ordered the Akkra Ak Bannan.

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Codfish fritters with sweet plantain puree and criollo sauce. I was a big fan of this, especially with the sauce.

We ordered from the prix fixe Winterlicious menu but also supplemented our dinner with an appetizer from their main menu. We got le plat fritay, an assorted platter of amuse-bouche with dips and a side of spicy pickled slaw (pikliz) and watercress dip.

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Really I ordered it because I have always wanted to say “amuse-bouche.” There were crispy creole seasoned black eye pea fritters (my favourite), tostones (crispy plantain slices, also popular in Cuba!), potato fritters, and malanga root fritters. All very good but I do sort of wish I had ordered something different for my initial appetizer because I was pretty frittered-out by the end of that platter. We all shared it, but it was a lot. That watercress dip though, oh man. I loved that.

Frances and I both ordered the Poul Boukannen Ak Gwayave Ak Makawoni-O-Gratin for our mains.

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Or grilled creole chicken with guava BBQ sauce served with creamy creole macaroni and cheese. Macaroni and cheese! It was all so good. I was really impressed. Rachel ordered the plantain lasagne and that was also delicious and something I would definitely go for next time. Plantain lasagne, like plantains instead of the noodles. Who knew that would be so good.

Our prix fixe menu included dessert and the exotic fruit was catching my eye but when we asked about the fruit our server listed a bunch of fruits that are available in Canada, like pineapple and papaya. I was hoping for something a bit more actually exotic. Oh well. I ordered La Tropicana and have no regrets.

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Golden butter cake soaked in whiskey, raisin and coconut served with sauce anglaise. Amazing. Dense and buttery and wonderful.

La Creole was a delicious experience and I would definitely go back! And that is Haiti crossed off my map. Onto the next!

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Happy or Hungry Eats the World: Paracas Peruvian Restaurant (Peru)

I am on a mission to eat an authentic dish from every country in the world, right here in Toronto. You can find all past recaps here.

My 21st country is Peru!

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I have never eaten Peruvian food before, so I was looking forward to it. Evan and I went to Paracas Peruvian Restaurant (Paracas is the capital of the Paracas District in the Ica Region in Peru) on St Clair W with Dawn, Mark, Emily and Corey before we did Escape Casa Loma.

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I asked Evan to take a picture of us girls and this is what I got.

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Not quite.

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Better.

St Clair W seems to be the Peruvian hot spot of the city — there were three Peru restaurants to choose from and Paracas was actually our last choice. I first tried to make reservations at El Fogon (which has amazing reviews) and Dona Luz, but unfortunately both were closed early that Sunday due to the holidays. So Paracas it was, and I was worried it was going to be a let down because of some iffy reviews, but let me tell you, we had an AMAZING experience. It could not have been any better.

We ordered a ton between the six of us and everything we tried was delicious. Most of us (not preggers) started with the pisco sour, Peru’s national drink made with pisco (it’s an alcohol), lemon, and egg white (for the frothiness).

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I am actually familiar with pisco sours as our friend Ian has a Peruvian aunt and has made pisco sours for us at the cottage before. They are goooood. I really like.

Appetizer-wise I felt sure that I would get the ceviche, a seafood dish popular along the coast of Latin America. It is apparently part of Peru’s national heritage and they even have a holiday dedicated to it. It’s basically chunks of raw fish in citrus. Another well known Peruvian appetizer caught my eye though, anticuchos, or grilled skewers of beef heart. I’m not sure I’ll have the chance to eat that again, so…you only live once.

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I had no idea how I was going to like it, but it was quite good. The texture was slightly different from most beef cuts, but I enjoyed it. Evan did too. We were the only two who would try it, haha. The potatoes it came with were also good.

I tried some of Dawn and Mark’s Papas Rellenas, potato stuffed with meat. The most popular croquettes in Peru!

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Delicious! I loved the addition of cilantro to the dishes. If you you plan to go here and you don’t like cilantro, make sure you request your dish cilantro-free. I loved it though. So fresh.

I also had some of Emily and Corey’s grilled calamari.

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Really good.

I was absolutely in love with my main dish. I got the Lomo Beef Saltado, a traditional Peruvian dish. It’s stir fry beef with onions, green onions, tomatoes, and fries, served with rice. You know I only wanted it because of the fries AND rice (and note the cilantro, though not listed).

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I loved it so, so much. Every bite was heaven. I wanted that dish to go on forever.

Evan ordered the Tacu Tacu, another traditional Peruvian recipe — Biftek served with olive oil creole sauce, with rice and beans.

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Evan is a rice and bean connoisseur and he approved. I do think he had some meal envy about my dish though.

All the salads that came with our meals had oil and vinegar dressing and tasted just like my Nana’s! I loved!

Peru is big on seafood, so Dawn and Mark got a giant seafood platter for two, and Corey got the same, but for one.

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I tried some of this and everything was fresh and tasty (I feel like I say the word ‘delicious’ too much, I need to switch it up).

Emily went with the Parillda de Criolla, grilled short ribs, spanish chorizos, and lamb with salad.

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Hers was really good also. We were all absolutely raving about our experience afterwards. We’re still talking about how good it was. One of the best meals I’ve had since I started eating the world, and that says a lot ’cause there’s been some really great ones!

Shout out to our awesome server, who I think might be the owner as well.

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We love Peru!

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Happy or Hungry Eats the World: Sofra Istanbul (Turkey)

If you missed it, I am on a mission to eat authentic food from every country in the world, right here in Toronto! You can find all past recaps here.

Today, we eat Turkey. The country, not the bird.turkey

Man, I really need to eat some big countries, like Russia, China, and the US and Canada, so I can purple that map up.

Anyway, for Turkey Evan and I went to a cute family-run authentic Turkish restaurant at Steeles and Highway 400 called Sofra Istanbul. Evan actually took me there last year and I remember absolutely LOVING it. The inside is understated and reminds me a bit of a diner or a coffee shop, but the food is delicious and the portions are HUGE.

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(my beef saute from last time)

Sofra Istanbul is a kebab/kabob house but they do also have a list of traditional Turkish dishes on the menu. I was after those because as I have noticed as I’ve been eating the world, kabobs are everywhere. Many of the countries in that area I’ve already eaten are big on kabobs: Iran, Afghanistan, Greece. I love a good meat stick, but I want new things. Luckily Sofra Istanbul had an entire non-kabob section (their kabob’s did look delicious though).

I think what I was most surprised about is Turkey actually borders Georgia, which I have already eaten, but the food was very different, as far as I could tell. You can read all about Turkish cuisine here if you’re interested.

We started with a green salad, which I am pretty sure is not specific to Turkey and probably just a restaurant thing, but either way it was a good green salad.

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Mostly because of the dressing, which they do make in-house. I am not sure how to describe it, garlicky and herby and a little yogurty maybe? It was wonderful.

For an appetizer we went for the Turkish cigar rolls, a popular Turkish treat! Feta cheese with parsley, herbs and spices deep fried in phyllo dough.

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I already know I am going to be a fan of any sort of cheese wrapped in any sort of carb, so it was no surprise that I loved these. I had a bit of salad dressing left over and they were really good dipped in that as well!

Evan and I both really badly wanted to try the manti, which are basically little dumplings filled with lamb or ground beef (or a mix), and sometimes known as Turkish ravioli. Unfortunately Sofra Istanbul was out of them when we were there, so no manti for us. It was disappointing and we may have to go back for them sometime, but instead we ordered the Iskender kebap. Shaved beef/lamb mix with a warm tomato sauce and melted sheep butter, served over a bed of Turkish bread and with yogurt (very popular in Middle Eastern countries).

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It was very good. Very, very good. I don’t love lamb on its own but I find it much more appetizing when it’s mixed with beef. Iskender is apparently one of the most famous meat foods in northwest Turkey. I loved the bread underneath the meat also.

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Eat all the meat!

We also ordered a Turkish pizza (or pide), lahmacun (or lahmajun).

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The crust is very thin and crispy, and unlike traditional pizza there is no sauce or cheese (and usually sauce and cheese is my favourite part of pizza so I was a bit skeptical at first). The thin dough is topped with minced beef (or lamb, but beef in this case) and minced vegetables and herbs like onion, tomato and parsley, and then it is baked. It was SO GOOD.

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We couldn’t finish it all so we packed half of it up to bring home. I am excited for lunch today. Lahmacun is also popular in Armenia and Syria. If you ever have the chance to try it, go for it!

We finished our meal with Turkish black tea.

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It is called çay (pronounced Chai). Basically just black tea, but very popular throughout Turkey.

And stick a fork in Turkey, it is done! Another delicious eating experience for sure.

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Happy or Hungry Eats the World: Cafe Polonez (Poland)

If you missed it, I am on a mission to eat authentic food from every country in the world, right here in Toronto! You can find all past recaps here.

Today I am all about Poland.Print

Mmm, Polish food. I have been looking forward to an Eastern European country since I started this mission. Polish cuisine is very similar to Ukrainian cuisine, which I grew up eating thanks to my Ukrainian Nana. My Nana’s Ukrainian pierogies (recipe there!) are probably my favourite food of all time, and I also love Borscht and cabbage rolls, two other very common dishes in Poland (and Ukraine). Polish food is also heavily influenced by Russia, Germany, Belarus, etc. so I am excited I have all those countries left to eat!

For my Polish eating experience I went to Cafe Polonez, in the heart of Toronto’s Polish community on Roncesvalles, with my blog friends Michelle, Casey and Shanondoah (aka the bloggers and lagers). Toronto has quite a few authentic Polish restaurants, but all my research told me Cafe Polonez was the best.

I started with a Zywiec, a popular Polish beer.

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I quite liked it, and it’s available at our local LCBO, so I may have to buy that in the future…

Cafe Polonez has an extensive menu. Almost too extensive! I wanted to eat everything but I went in there knowing that there were several things I needed to try. Borscht was one of those things. It actually originated in the Ukraine (I will be eating it again when I do Ukraine, for sure) and both my Nana and my aunt make a delicious borscht. I was looking forward to the Polish version, and it was definitely not a let down.

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Borscht is basically beet soup with other vegetables such as cabbage, carrots, parsley root,onions, and sometimes potatoes and tomatoes. That picture is not doing it justice at all but it was seriously good. I felt like I could have gone on eating it forever.

Since Cafe Polonez has such a big menu, we decided to get the platter for four, as it included all the things we wanted to try. Like kopytka…

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Little Polish potato dumplings similar to gnocchi, covered with gravy. Deeeelicious.

Hunter’s stew…

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A traditional Polish dish of cooked sauerkraut with slices of sausage (kielbasa) and pork. It was pretty good, and I especially loved the little bits of meat in there.

And a giant platter with all the Polish things.

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Cabbage rolls (golabki), Polish sausage (kielbasa), schnitzel (under the mushrooms), pierogies, fresh beets, coleslaw, carrots, and fried cabbage. Everything was delicious, especially the pierogies.

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My only complaint is that there weren’t more pierogies. They were so good that I bought 12 additional pierogies (you can buy their fresh pierogies frozen for takeout) to bring home and we ate them the next night. My favourite kind were the ones filled with pork and the cheddar and potato. So good! The other highlights for me were the kopytka, schnitzel (though I would have been okay if it was slightly smaller) and the cabbage roll. Those were very similar to my Nana’s.

It was quite an amazing evening of eating and I think I am going to start having dreams about that Cafe Polonez, specifically the borscht and the pierogies.

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