Estrella Damm Tapas Journey

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Last summer, I had the chance to travel to Spain to get my first real tapas experience. Since then, I’ve wanted to find out more about these saucer-sized plates as well as the culture of tapas.

I was therefore thrilled to find out that the Estrella Damm Tapas Journey was returning to Toronto again this year. This culinary tour features some of the best tapas from the culinary leaders of the city. The Tapas Journey allows local foodies to enjoy three flavourful and thoughtfully curated tapas as well as an Estrella Damm, a refreshing lager that has been brewed in Barcelona since 1876, all for $20.

I had the opportunity to check out 3 of the 38 hand-picked restaurants along with three of my girlfriends last weekend. What I love most about these bite-size dishes is that even as a vegetarian, you still have a handful of delectable options to choose from.

The first stop of the evening was Scaramouche. Chef/owner Keith Froggett has been making sophisticated cuisine in the city for 35+ years. So it was a real treat to taste some of his tapas. His warm queso fresco bite was so refreshing.

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Scaramouche

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For our second stop we visited Fat Pasha located just a few blocks awayChef Anthony Rose incorporated his Middle-Eastern, Israeli and Canadian flavours to craft some savoury treats. I’m still craving his delicious falafel a few days later.  

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Fat Pasha

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We concluded our tasty evening at Bar ReynaChef Omar Ma (THR & Co., Cava, Buca Yorkville) who had prepared mediterranean-styled bites. My favorite of the 3 tapas was without a doubt the eggplant byaldi pinxtos. 

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What I loved most about the Tapas Journey tour is that you can customize it however you like. You can pick whichever combination of restaurants and do as many or as few as you want. Additionally, you get to taste some of the city’s best dishes without breaking the bank! It was such a thrill going from one restaurant to another, while tasting scrumptious food and having great conversations.

The Tapas Journey runs until August 21st. For more information, visit: tapasjourney.com.

Photography by Jeffrey Chan courtesy of Estrella Damm

This post was written in collaboration with Branding & Buzzing but all opinions are my own.

Ciao Roma!

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I had the privilege of traveling to Rome with American Airlines for the first time earlier this month. It was my first time in Italy and I was beyond stoked to learn about the culture and visit all of the different monuments. Here are a few travel tips and recommendations if ever you’re thinking of going to Rome soon!

Planning & Preparation:

Download an Italian language app for your smartphone. What’s great about these is that you can use them without data/wifi, so if ever you’re stuck somewhere and you don’t know how to communicate, it’s easy to just pick up your phone and look up a few words. Here are two app recommendations: Italian, Italian LT. To have the extended app version, you have to pay a fee, but I realized that I did just fine with the free version. Plus you end up just picking up words by being there.

Book your TGV tickets in advance. If you’re going to be taking the Trenitalia, which is a TGV (fast-speed train) that goes to just about every big city in Italy, I recommend booking your tickets in advance just because you’ll save a lot of money if you do so. The Trenitalia website is in both English and Italian, so no worries if you haven’t brushed up on your Italian before leaving. I booked my train tickets 1-2 months in advance, and I got a really good rate to get from Rome to Naples. It was 19 Euros a person per way. The train is a really good traveling option if you don’t want to pay too much and also have some bigger distances to do. I went from Rome to Naples, which is approx 230 km apart in an hour with the TGV. Plus they also have free wifi onboard and at the train station. If you already have your ticket purchased in advance, just bring it with you on the train, and a controller will scan it once you’re onboard. You don’t need to arrive more than 30 minutes in advance because sometimes you won’t even get your track number until 10 minutes before departure.

Think of using Airbnb. Airbnb is pretty much the only way we travel now. It’s most often cheaper than renting a hotel room plus you’ll end up getting either a full apartment with kitchenette, balcony, etc. or just more space for yourself and the people you’re travelling with. Also, it’ll help you get away from the tourist areas and stay more where locals live, which is to me, the best way to do it. That way, you get a much better sense of the every day life in the city you’re traveling to.

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Tips for while you’re there:

Don’t tip. Tax & tip is included in everything you pay so you don’t need to leave tip to a cab driver, at the restaurant, bar, etc. Italians love tourists because most of them don’t know that and they always end up leaving tip. You can obviously leave a bit extra if you’ve received outstanding service, but that might be few and far between.

Watch out for cab drivers. Cab drivers are renown for screwing over tourists in Rome. A trip from the airport to downtown Rome should cost you 49 Euros, not more! It’s a flat rate. Also, make sure you show them the exact address you’re going to, or they may drop you off at the wrong place and leave you stranded there (it happened to us!). Make sure they also don’t hide their meter if you’re going to take a cab while you’re going from place to place in the city. They tend to try anything they can to add more fees to the meter (luggage fees, random extra fees… anything really!). The taxicab should have its rate written on the side of their door outside or inside the cab. Also make sure they take you to your final destination… like all the way. Some of the streets in Rome are really tiny but most cars can still pass through. We had one of our drivers, just drop us off and tell us she couldn’t go further, when we first got to Rome with our suitcases. It turned out to be complete bs!

Keep an eye out for your belongings. Though I found Rome to be a lot safer than most places in France, if you’re going to be spending time in train stations or going to tourist attractions, just make sure you always keep an eye on your wallet, purse, phone, etc. Being aloof might result in you losing some of your personal belongings. That said, no need to get paranoid. Just be more vigilant than at home.

Don’t ask for bread. They’ll charge you for it! If you’re from France, Canada or the US, usually when you go to a restaurant, if they bring a bread basket to the table, without you asking they won’t charge you for it. Even if you ask for it, they usually don’t charge you for it (unless you’re at some of those new ultra hipster restaurants in Toronto – lame!). In Rome, whether you ask for bread or not, if the server brings you some to the table, you will most likely end up paying for it, and sometimes up to 4 Euros, which is insane because that’s $6 CAN. They’ll also charge you for your water, since tap water isn’t recommended, you’ll end up paying for water bottles in restaurants.

Ask for wifi. Pretty much every restaurant or bar in Rome have what they call “wifi zones”, which basically mean they have wifi in their restaurant for tourists. So just make sure you ask them for the network and password when you sit down. They may want to type it in themselves so that you don’t know the password and don’t share it with the rest of your friends or family you’re traveling with.

Things to do & where to eat/drink:

The Pantheon, Forum, Trevi Fountain, Colosseum & Piazza di Navona – are just some of the amazing landmarks located in Rome and that are all worth visiting. What’s great is that you can see most of these attractions without paying a dime. You’ll also get a lovely view of the city if you go up to the forum. What baffled me was just how many historic buildings are in Rome, each corner you turn more appear. Most of these buildings are also accompanied with description plates so that you can know what era they’re from and the history behind it.

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Espresso – The famous $1 can definitely be found in Rome and it’s strong! The best way to accompany it with is with one of their nutella or custard filled croissants. Absolutely the best way to start the day.

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Piazza Della Pacce – a great little area located close to Piazza Navona, but a lot less touristy and that has a lot of great restaurants to choose from.

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Frigidarium Gelato – hands down the best place for gelato in the city. There is always a big line up around the corner for this place. It’s located not to far from Piazza Della Pacce. You can get a HUGE cone with two different types of freshly homemade gelato and free white or milk chocolate dipping for a whopping 3 Euros. The owner will even suggest flavor combinations. Just make sure you don’t order Baccio and Limon together, it’s apparently frowned upon hah!

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Tapas – between 5 and 7 pm, a lot of bars in the city serve free tapas to their customers. They serve anything from olives to pizzas, potato dishes, etc. Most of them are really yummy. If you’re looking for a cheap way to eat dinner, this could definitely be an option.

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Cul De Sac – located close to Piazza Navona, hands down the best local restaurant in Rome. It’s been around forever and serves tapas style shareable plates, have a great selection of wine and cheese and a really cute atmosphere. The restaurant is relatively cheap but make sure you either reserve in advance or show up pretty early or it’ll be packed and you will have to wait for a while before getting a table.

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Madonna Dei Monti – the upcoming hipster area of the city. This area isn’t too big but it’s filled with lot’s of cool shops, small boutique hotels, arts markets and bars.

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Hope you enjoyed this blog! Stay tuned for my next travel post on – Capri!

Carmen – Cocina Española

While wandering home from work last night, my boyfriend and I stumbled upon a brand new Spanish restaurant on Queen West called Carmen – Cocina Española. As we sometimes do, we looked inside, took a quick glance at the menu and gave it a shot. It had been a really long time since I had eaten Spanish food. Toronto’s renown for Italian, Portuguese, Mexican, Chinese, Thai, Indian and even Tibetan food but rarely do I stumble across Spanish restaurants. I like Spanish food not only for its unique flavour but also for their varied vegetarian tapas.

We started our meal with some delicious Bodegas red wine that was decently priced. Though we were both tempted to share a traditional paella (they make a vegetarian one too!), we were told that it would take at least 45mins to make since it’s made for scratch. So instead, we opted for sharing a bunch of tapas. The first one we ordered was fried green tomatoes with feta cheese, peppers and corn. We followed that up by Jimaca shells with creamy avocados and finished off by the traditional Spanish omelet. My favorite dish out of the three vegetarian ones we ordered was without a doubt the fried tomato. I loved the combination of sweet and spicy. The avocado was also delicious but a little small for the price.

All in all, the food was super tasty but it was a little pricey. A restaurant like Grand Electric, which is pretty much the hippest joint in town right now, charges $3.75 per taco and they’re pretty filling. These tapas weren’t nearly as filling and cost upwards of $6. The ambiance was also really laid-back. I really dug the bar and more café-type front and the lounge and comfy back dinning area.

If you’re looking for a new spot to try out around Trinity Bellwoods and don’t mind paying a little more for your dinner, pay Carmen a visit!

 

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