Saturday, February 9, 2013

Dishcrawl? More like Delish-crawl!

I don't even know what to say about that blog title. They just get worse, you know? I don't even feel in control of it any longer.

It's no secret that I love food. And with Frugal February in full effect here my restaurant trips have been cut dramatically.


Luckily for me, I'd paid for a Dishcrawl in advance, so this outing didn't technically count - in fact to NOT go would have been a waste of money. So, armed with the smugness that only loophole-finding can bring, I headed out into the frigid night to eat my face off.

For those who don't know, a Dishcrawl is like a pubcrawl except without all that troublesome beer getting in the way (Full confession: I gave up pretending I liked beer shortly after university - about the same time I stopped pretending I liked black coffee). You sign up, pay your money (usually $40-$65, depending on the restaurants involved) and are given an email 48 hours in advance, revealing the first restaurant's location. You show up there at the appointed time, and join a group of like-minded strangers (in our case, about 40 total) in a meal. After about 30 minutes, give or take, you move on to the next restaurant, within walking distance, and have another small-plate meal. You do this 3 or 4 times until the Dishcrawl ends or you can no longer move under your own weight - whichever comes first.

I brought The Boy, The Sister, and my dad along for the ride because there's nothing better than showing the people you love exactly how much food you can fit down your gullet. Our first stop was La Favorita, a large and comfortable spot in Little Italy with a wood-fired oven and an industrial-looking interior. We were given a little speech by the owner on the history of the place accompanied by little appetizers of goat's cheese and cream cheese on thinly-sliced baguette with smoked salmon and shrimp on top (as well as a $10 gift certificate should we want to return). Then we were given a small salad, a piece of walnut-pesto 5-cheese pizza and a piece of garlicky bruschetta. The pizza was definitely my favourite but my dad was all over the simply-dressed salad and the sister was jonesin' for more bruschetta so there was lots of good to go around. Frankly, at this point, I was already starting to get worried about how I was going to do this 3 more times. The majority of the places we were eating at that night were Italian - a country not exactly known for its light meals - and we were starting pretty carb heavy. To say nothing of the alcohol we'd consumed (pro tip: don't do alcohol at every place - and if you do, do a mixed drink or small glass of wine. You can drink a beer every 35 minutes but it's not really something that makes you want to walk afterwards).

The next restaurant was only a 2 minute walk away and was much more cozy than the first. At Il Primo we munched on another salad, this time with warm goat's cheese, red peppers and chickpeas in a maple-dijon vinaigrette served alongside some of the best butternut squash soup I've ever tasted. My palate is an idiot so I have no idea what the underlying flavour was, but I suspect some kind of roasted curry was at play. It was so perfect on a -14 degree night.

The next place was a bit farther away but it was worth it. La Dolce Vita may have hosted my favourite dishes of the night, which is saying something when you've already eaten as much as we had. It was a cramped place to dine, however. Bench-like seating had been set up, but with as many of us as there were, it required a certain "comfort" with the person sitting next to you. And I'm talking very comfortable. I'm pretty sure there were two extra people wearing my scarf at one point. Anywho, more good food abounded here. The pizza, one of three different kinds served, was good but, for my money, not as good as the first location. The spaghetti bolognese, on the other hand, was freaking great. My grandmother used to make homemade spaghetti sauce and she'd add some sugar to it while it was all-day boiling. This had that same kind of sweetness, alongside a savoury meatiness that had me drawing up a tenant's agreement to move in. There was a stuffed mushroom cap that was pretty heavenly, too and, lucky for me, The Boy was getting over an illness that made him unable to finish his and The Sister just straight-up hates mushrooms so mama cleaned up in the fungi department.

After this we squeezed out of our family-style seating and put on our coats for the last time (pro tip: try this again in the summer) to take a fortifying 10 minute walk to our final destination in Chinatown. When we arrived at My Sweet Tea we were pleased to find a pretty darn adorable bubble tea joint that serves just that as well as coffee, smoothies and brick toast. The brick toast was a mystery to us all but ended up being pretty awesome (sweetened condensed milk, thick, sweet white bread, even sweeter toppings - seriously, how can you go wrong?). The standout, however was when the lovely co-owner leaned over and said "do you want a gusher?"



The Sister burst out with "OH MY GOD I LOVE GUSHERS!! Seriously, I have a pack pretty much every day for lunch". This is true. So, he brought us a cup of them. And then for the table next to us. And then I asked La Dolce Vita for my tenant's agreement back so I could move in here instead. Oh man, they're awesome- basically I got to live my 7-year-old-self's dream and eat a bath bead. That's seriously their texture. Inside it's a burst of slightly-sour fruit flavouring. For someone who finds more than 10 tapioca pearls a bit much to handle, these little guys are the perfect substitute. Once I found out this place was only a 12 minute walk from my house, I was sold. We took our time enjoying our drinks (the raspberry/tea smoothie my dad got was a real standout) and then spent 20 minutes trying to remember where we'd parked. Great night.

I'd never been to any of these restaurants before so this was a great way to get an idea of what they do. It's also a good social outing, if you're into that kind of thing. As a group my family is totally insular so we're not the best indicator but we met some nice people -including a chatty guy at Il Primo who was a bigger foodie than I am and totally sold me on a place that I'd been going back and forth on for a while, so I was super happy to have another food lover recommend it to me. I think it's awesome when people go on outings on their own -whether to the theatre, movies or dinner- and I was happy to chat with him while we went about our meal. Scarfing 'za is a great way to meet people.

Our first Dishcrawl was very much a success - though I'd be keen to try a different area next time. The walking was nice, even in frozen temperatures, the food was warm and good and the atmosphere was excited and open. Two thumbs up for Dishcrawl, overall. And two Tums up before bed. *burp*

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