SUMMERLICIOUS 2014 TOP PICKS

Summerlicious is upon us again. One of my favourite food events in Toronto, it is a perfect opportunity to try a new restaurant, indulge for a great price and overall, eat some great food. This year’s event runs from July 4th to 20th. Participating restaurants will be offering set lunch ($15, $20 or $25) and dinner ($30, $35, $40) menus. Personally, I find reservations are easier to make today with many restaurants using online systems but if you’re aiming for a popular venue (ie. Canoe, Auberge de Pommier), calling on the day reservations open is still a must. Every year, I aim to eat at one “fancy” restaurant to add to my list of restaurants for special occasions, one casual “dinner” for a night out with friends and one restaurant that caters to large groups. So far this year, I have 3 dinners set and one lunch still to be planned.

Where I’ll Be:

  1. Cafe Boulud – $45 Dinner / French / The “fancy” dinner
  2. Ganzi Osteria – $25 Dinner / Italian / The “casual” dinner
  3. Jump – $35 Dinner / Italian / The “group” dinner

Recommendations:

  • Lunch – I’m looking for tantalizing menus that are similar or even more appealing relative to the dinner menu
    1. Weslodge – $20 Lunch / Canadian / I would order Scotch Egg, Seared Sea Bass and Instant Cake
    2. Bosk (Past Review) – $25 Lunch / Canadian / I would order Seared Albacore Tuna, Roasted Flat Iron Steak and Citrus Cake
    3. Quince (Past Review) – $20 Lunch / Mediterranean / I would order Gazpacho Soup, Capunti Bianco and Warm Chocolate Brownie
Summerlicious 2014 Top Picks
  • Dinner – I’m looking for great atmosphere, interesting menu items and best value
    1. Auberge du Pommier – $45 Dinner / French / I would order Watermelon Gazpacho, Salmon & Peas and Ice Cream Sandwich
    2. Bent (Past Review) – $35 Dinner / Asian / I would order Gazpacho, Asian Marinated Stirploin and the Dessert Trio
    3. Luma (Past Review) – $35 Dinner / Canadian / I would order Tossed Octopus Salad, Broiled Pickerel and Chocolate Parfait Sundae
Summerlicious 2014 Top Picks
  • Good for Groups – I’m looking for a variety of choices, easy parking/access and a spacious dining area
    1. Parts & Labour (Past Review) – $35 Dinner only / Canadian / I would order Steak Tartare, Pappardelle and Lemon Pie
    2. Destingo (Past Review) – $15 Lunch, $25 Dinner / Italian / For dinner I would order the Grilled Calamari, Rack of Lamb and Tiramisu
    3. Paese (Past Review) – $20 Lunch, $35 Dinner / Italian / For dinner I would order the Chilled Soup, Ravioli and Lobster and Cioccolato
Summerlicious 2014 Top Picks

Check out all of my past Licious event reviews for more ideas and recommendations.  

NATURAL SINS FRUIT THINS REVIEW

Website: http://elyproducts.com/
What is it: Snack Food
Twitter: https://twitter.com/elyproducts / https://twitter.com/NaturalSins

Disclaimer: Products reviewed below were provided complimentary by Ely Products. All opinions expressed below are wholly mine and not indicative of the opinions or positions held by Ely Products.

The Basics:
Imported from Latin America, Natural Sins is a baked, dried fruit snack that is 100% natural with no preservatives or dyes. The fruit is sliced very thin and each re-sealable package contains 1oz of the snack. There are 6 fruits available; mango, coconut, apple, orange, beetroot and pineapple. Each package of Natural Sins is 100 calories or less, with the exception of coconut at 168 calories.

Natural Sins Fruit Thins Review

My Experience:
When I’m bored at home or work, I look for a snack. While I love to eat fruit naturally, I will also gravitate towards fruits that are easily accessible. It’s why I have to pre-peel my oranges, and pre-slice my apples in the mornings. Otherwise they’ll sit untouched on my desk for days. With Natural Sins, it was super easy to throw a package into my purse or leave them at my desk and have a healthy snack ready with no preparation required. Natural Sins can be purchased online through Ely Product’s website or at a wide variety of stores in the GTA, including Rabba’s fine foods and Starsky.

Natural Sins Fruit Thins Review

What I liked:

  • I liked 4/6 of the flavours. Coconut, mango and beetroot were amazing.
    • I assumed I would like mango but I was surprised at how sweet beetroot was.
    • I’ve never been a fan of coconut and again was surprised at how good the Natural Sins version was. Each package of coconut also provides 8g of natural fiber, which is amazing.
  • The ease of having a healthy snack that’s ready to eat, tasty and needs no clean up.
  • The idea of the re-sealable package was great. The execution needed some work.
  • Beetroot, seriously I wouldn’t have thought of it as a fruit but it was one of my favourites.
  • The texture of each fruit slice was super crispy. The mango slices were reminiscent of chips.
Natural Sins Fruit Thins Review

What could use work:

  • The apple thins were only ok, I found the slices weren’t as crispy as the other fruit.
  • I really didn’t like the orange thins. The entire fruit was used in each slice, including the peel and albedo (the white stuff) making each crisp quite bitter. I’m sure it’s healthier but not so tasty.
  • As mentioned above, each bag has a re-sealable zip stripe. However, some of the packages were sealed very close to the zip stripe. Therefore using the tear away indent didn’t actually open the bag.
  • At over $3/bag, it is more expensive than buying fruit.

TL;DR: Conveniently packaged, Natural Sins fruit thins offers a quick, delicious, accessible, healthy snack choice at a gourmet price point.

Natural Sins Fruit Thins ReviewNatural Sins Fruit Thins ReviewNatural Sins Fruit Thins Review

VACATION PLANNING TIPS

When it comes to planning a trip, I warp into type my A mode. While planning any vacation, I spend hours researching Tripadvisor, Yelp, Urbanspoon, Travel Blogs and travel guides (ie. Lonely Planet and Frommers). I make a list of must do activities, restaurants and attractions, put it all into a Google Map, colour coded of course, and then plan my itinerary based on geography.

My Favourite Research Resources:

  1. Trip Advisor – My favourite site to start listing attractions, finding hotels reviews and figuring out the best time to visit a city. The real photographs of hotel rooms and views are super helpful. My first step is to always read the most negative reviews first and then the most recent. This is useful before booking a trip and during the planning phase.
  2. Travel Wiki – I like Travel Wiki for popular cities. It’s a good starting point to get a general idea of the culture, shopping, attractions and geography. My favourite part of the site is how it outlines day trips and transportation. How to get there from the airport and transportation within the city. I use this site to research places I’d like to visit and before I get into detailed planning.
  3. The Library for Travel Guides – Lonely Planet is my prefered travel guide series, but I do like Frommers as well. Travel Guides are updated annually and you’d have to visit one location a few times to make purchasing a guide worthwhile. Once I’ve picked a vacation spot, I head to the library’s travel section. It’s even easier today with the Toronto library offering digital copies of most Travel Books for your computer or tablet, all free.
  4. Yelp and Urbanspoon – This is starting to get serious. Eating on a trip is serious business for me. There’s only so many meals you have in a city. I start with making a list of the best reviewed restaurants and grouping them into price range and cuisine. Then I start trying to eliminate anything that seems too touristy. I start to read local food blogs and narrow down my choices.
  5. Google – More recently, I’ve started to Google for travel blogs. My search string is usually “City I’m visiting Vacation Blog”. The results are great vacation recaps from bloggers with real experiences, pictures and advice.
The Google Map from my Weekend Trip to Boston last year

The Google Map from my Weekend Trip to Boston last year

Once I have a list of colour coded locations (restuarants, things to go, and shopping) all mapped out, I start to slot them into an itinerary. This is what works for me, and why my friends love to travel with me. I try my best to be a good boy scout (always prepared) without being a schedule nazi. I like losing track of time at the farmer’s market as much as being early for dinner reservation.

Two possible trip itineraries

Two possible trip itineraries

Tips for Planning an Itinerary that doesn’t feel Restrictive:

  1. Plan the fancy meals first, don’t forget to include time to get ready and travel time.
  2. What are your must do’s? Plan those first and space them out. Don’t try to do too much.
  3. Always have a back up. That super cool new burger joint you read about, closed due to a water leak, good thing you looked up 3 other restaurants in the area.
  4. Keep some time free. Don’t plan every single hour. What if you hear about a new bar that just opened, or want to go back to re-visit a beach. It’s nice to have a plan, but it’s also nice to have a bit of (planned) spontaneity.
  5. Stay flexible. It’s Day 2, 4pm and the only thing you want to do is take a nap, not walk a museum. So take the nap, you’re supposed to be enjoying your vacation, and a good plan would have a back up slot, point #4, if the museum was a “must do” from point #2.
Hanging out with some fish at the Boston Aquarium. When we went to buy tickets, the box office line was ridiculously long. We joined a shorter line for pick up tickets and bought tickets online while waiting.

Hanging out with some fish at the Boston Aquarium. When we went to buy tickets, the box office line was ridiculously long. We joined a shorter line for pick up tickets and bought tickets online while waiting.