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Monday, February 29, 2016

Clafouti closes its doors on Queen Street

clafoutiYou'll have hard time satiating your Crookie (that's a croissant and cookie hybrid, FYI) cravings in Toronto because beloved West Queen West bakery Clafouti has shut down.

While Clafouti may have been most famous for its Oreo-stuffed croissants, this French-style bakery also churned out a slew of sweet treats and savoury sandwiches.

Owner Olivier Jansen-Reynaud is currently running two restaurants in Niagara Falls - including the Cabo Cantina where he's executive chef - and felt he wasn't dedicating enough time to Clafouti over the past few months.

Despite this, he says he'll miss West Queen West, but notes that the street has changed over the past few years.

Share your Clafouti memories in the comments.

by Amy Grief via blogTO

Houses in Toronto becoming even more unaffordable

toronto housesToday, RBC released its latest Housing Affordability Report and unsurprisingly, single family homes in Toronto are wildly unattainable for many people.

BNN reports that the housing markets in both Toronto and Vancouver are becoming increasingly unaffordable, at least for those looking to purchase a detached home. Condos, on the other hand, are a more viable option for many would-be buyers.

According to an RBC news release, this affordability measure "captures the proportion of pre-tax household income required to service the cost of owning a specific category of home at current market value."

As CBC writes, for instance, "It takes 71.4 per cent of the average household income to afford the cost of a single family home in Toronto."

Last May, the average price for a detached home in Toronto surpassed the $1 million mark.

Photo by Lunatic Desire in the blogTO Flickr pool.

by Amy Grief via blogTO

Cable TV just got cheaper in Toronto

cable tv torontoOn March 1, Canadian cable and satellite service providers will have to start offering "skinny basic" packages, as mandated by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) last year.

The CRTC says that these packages must cost $25 or less (not including equipment, like a digital box) and have to include CBC, Global and CTV as well as regional, French language, educational and legislative channels. While not mandatory, they can also contain popular American networks such as ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX and PBS.

If you're looking to catch Game of Thrones or Shark Week, you can pay more to add channels like HBO or Discovery to the mix. Right now, you can buy these specialty channels in bundles, but by the end of the year you'll be able to buy them individually.

So, how do these "skinny basic" options stack up for us in Toronto?

The Rogers Starter Package is $24.95 and offers local, Canadian and American channels. For Discovery, it'll cost you an extra $10 for the Science & History theme package.Rogers starter package

Bell's costs the same and looks quite similar, though it doesn't include the U.S. networks. And, last week, the company got in some hot water after an employee leaked internal documents, which directed staff not to advertise its "skinny basic" offerings.

According to the CBC, Bell's $24.95 package also isn't as cheap as it seems. As the Toronto Star writes, to get it, customers need to have high-speed internet ($64.95 per month) as well as a PVR box ($15 per month to rent).

Alternatively, you can join the cord-cutters and subscribe to Netflix, Shomi and CraveTV for just under $30 per month.

What do you think of the new skinny cable? Let us know in the comments.

Photo by Gary Baker in the blogTO Flickr pool.

by Staff via blogTO

The top 10 events in Toronto for March 2016

toronto events marchThe top events in Toronto for March include everything from comedy festivals to contemporary music shows. With the weather becoming a bit more hospitable (crossing my fingers that there's not too many more storms in store), leaving the house is becoming less of a drag, and this month there's more than a few reasons to.

Here are my picks for the top events in Toronto this March.

Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival (March 3-13)
Kick off the month with some laughs by attending the Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival. The event offers 12 days of live, scripted comedy shows by some of the funniest comedians in the country. Performing troupes include Hello! Thunder Bay, Laugh Sabbath, and This is That.

International Women's Day Events (March 5-9)
March 8th marks International Women's Day, but events aren't confined to just one day. From the 5th to the 9th celebrate girl power with group rallies, parties, speeches and more.

New Creations Festival (March 5-12)
In the market for something more high brow than an indie show at the Horseshoe? The New Creations Festival will help you get in touch with your more sophisticated side with its roster of avant-garde contemporary music shows. With everything from trumpet concertos to DJ performances on tap, you've got plenty of options.

New Ideas Festival (March 9-27)
Alumnae Theatre's juried festival of new writing, works-in-progress and experimental theatre returns on March 9th. Catch one of the matinees for $15 or wait until Saturday to attend a PWYC staged reading.

Hi-Fi Musical Adventure (March 10-12)
Over the course of three days more than 60 artists will hit venues in and around Kensington Market for the Hi-Fi Musical Adventure. You'll get to catch shows by locals like Girls Give Me Pills, Bathurst Station and The Rose County Ramblers. Wristbands are a mere $10 and there's 4 a.m. last call.

Sugar Beach Sugar Shack (March 12-13)
Sugar Beach is being transformed into a Québec-style sugar shack for the first weekend of March Break. It will feature family-friendly events like maple syrup tasting, performances by Stef Paquette, Mélanie Brulée and Amélies et les Singes Blues and a Choir!Choir!Choir! sing-a-long. If you need a break from sugary treats, you can grab some savoury fare at one of the local food trucks on site.

Toronto Fashion Week (March 14-18)
If you feel like channelling your inner Chiara Ferragni in March, you'll want to snag tickets to some Fashion Week shows. While Toronto's fest probably won't have runway hotshots like Gigi and Bella Hadid, there will be more than enough fashionable finds to oggle at and Instagram.

House of Vans (March 16-April 2)
Regardless of if your a skateboarding fanatic, live music lover or are just really into the Damn, Daniel phenomenon, the House of Vans looks pretty cool. It will take over the soon-to-be Bellwoods Brewery location at 950 Dupont Street, turning it into a skatepark, art gallery and music venue for a few weeks mid-month.

Comicon (March 18-20)
Comicon returns to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on March 18. Over the course of three days, you'll get to attend meet and greets with stars like Jason Isaacs and John O'Hurley , hit up workshops and seminars, mingle with your favourite cosplayers and more.

One of a Kind Show (March 23-27)
If you're on the prowl for unique gifts, The One Of A Kind Show at the Enercare Centre will be right up your alley. At the end of the month, shoppers will flock to the event venue, looking for one-off bits and bobs. Two bonuses: the event supports independent businesses, and you can probably snag a sample or two at the food booths.

What did I miss? Add other March events in the comments.

Photo by Anthony B in the blogTO Flickr pool.

by Alice Prendergast via blogTO

Note Bene gives itself a restaurant makeover

nota bene torontoThis seven year old restaurant from acclaimed Chef David Lee has given itself a restaurant makeover including a totally revamped menu now featuring $4 bar snacks.

Read my profile of Nota Bene in the restaurants section.

by Liora Ipsum via blogTO

10 signs you shopped at Yorkdale mall in the 1990s

yorkdale mallYorkdale mall was a very different place in the 1990s. Sure, it was already widely considered Toronto's nicest shopping centre, but it lacked the upscale identity it boasts today. Not only was the place smaller, but it just seemed more down to earth. Back then you could buy groceries instead of $2000 sweaters, and a burger at Diana Sweets cost $5.95. Oh, the memories.

Here are 10 signs you shopped at Yorkdale mall in the 1990s.

1. You remember the Dominion grocery store where the Holt Renfrew is now. Every mall had to have a supermarket back then.

2. It was actually possible to get a parking spot near to an entrance on weekends.

3. You remember having lunch buffet at the palatial upstairs restaurant at Eaton's.

4. The basement-level PJs Pets was a pseudo zoo where you inadvertently terrorized the animals.

5. When arriving by TTC, you were greeted by Michael Hayden's multi-coloured Arc en ciel light installation.

6. You ate at Obies restaurant, where they made a decent club sandwich even if the decor was stale.

7. You could smoke in the mall. Well, at least until the mid '90s.

8. Diana Sweets was a thing. You loved the cube-like home fries.

9. You remember being nearly blown over by wind while walking from your car to the entrance of Simpson's department store on the west side of the mall.

10. You could leisurely walk the entire mall in about 10 minutes.

What else do you remember about Yorkdale in the 1990s? Share your memories in the comments.

by Derek Flack via blogTO

Finally, there's a great indie coffee shop in Scarborough

the birchcliffThe community of Birch Cliff in Scarborough in on the upswing after the arrival of a beautiful new coffee shop on Kingston Road. The only third-wave coffee shop for miles, this newcomer is making history with delicious coffee the neighbourhood can't get enough of.

Read my review of The Birchcliff in the cafes section.

by Sarah Brown via blogTO

Bestival returns to Toronto with a new venue this year

Bestival Toronto 2016Bestival made its North American debut on the Toronto Islands last year, and this U.K.-based music fest is returning to the city for round two on June 11 and 12, 2016.

While Bestival garnered mostly favourable reviews, many complained about schlepping out to the Islands, especially since some attendees had to wait in line for hours just to get on a ferry back to the mainland.

That won't be a problem this year because Bestival's moving to Woodbine Park on the city's east side.

Woodbine Park already hosts the annual Beaches Jazz Festival, but it does seem like a rather unusual choice for a major pop and rock music extravaganza.

And while you won't have to struggle for a spot on a ferry this year, you will have to contend with the spotty 501 streetcar line.

Stay tuned for lineup details, which are due to be released soon.

Photo by Alejandro Santiago.

by Amy Grief via blogTO

The Best Cooking Classes in Toronto

cooking classes torontoThe best cooking classes in Toronto range from fun recreational workshops for home cooks to serious instruction geared towards budding chefs. Whether you want to reconnect with food sources by learning how to break down a whole beast or simply want to impress your guests at your next dinner party, there's a class for pretty much everything.

Here are the best cooking classes in Toronto.

George Brown College
The GBC Centre for Hospitality and Culinary Arts offers a wide array of semestered evening courses and certificate programs for basic, intermediate and advanced level cooks. Highly specialized classes focus on subjects like pasta, charcuterie, and sauces and marinades while others zero in on the regional culinary traditions of France, Italy, and Mexico.

Dish Cafe
This recreational cooking school on College helps cooks brush up on basic techniques like knife skills and how to produce specific dishes like gnocchi, paella and pho.

The Healthy Butcher
From basic knife skills to the art of cooking a roast, this butcher shop with locations on Queen West and Eglinton West is the place for carnivores to brush up on their culinary prowess.

The Edible Story
Interactive classes hosted by this cooking studio at Richmond and Sherbourne lead students through the steps of creating a complete meal, from appetizers to the dessert course. Intimate classes capped at 10 feel like a kitchen party as students are greeted on arrival with an amuse bouche and set up at a fully equipped work station.

The Cookery
This high end kitchen supply store and cooking studio on Roncy sells everything aspiring cooks need in the kitchen and dispenses the know-how to get started. The course calendar offers beginner level Cookery 101 classes, which cover subjects like pasta making, whole fish butchery and bread baking.

My Place for Dinner
Held at the Market Kitchen in Historic St. Lawrence Market, this cooking school led by Debbie Diament hosts three-hour hands-on cooking classes that include a full meal, a glass of wine, and a take-home recipe booklet. Scheduled classes delve into subjects like sushi, Tuscan cuisine and the flavours of Thailand, while private and team building classes can be booked as well.

The Big Carrot
Vegetarian cooking classes are held every Monday night at this Danforth grocer. The introductory classes are geared toward novice cooks and cover topics like Cajun & Creole cuisine, Spring Detox recipes, and how to make fermented drinks.

Nella Cucina
This kitchen supply store at Bathurst and Bloor offers a variety of hands-on classes and interactive demos designed to inform and educate home cooks. Learn tips and tricks from top Toronto chefs while sprucing up knife skills or delving into subjects like holiday baking or classic chowders and quick breads.

Pitchfork Company
Multi-week courses and one-off workshops for kids, teens, and adults are on the itinerary at this cooking studio in Little India. Youth can enrol for classes covering kitchen fundamentals and pastry making, while adults can partake in hands-on workshops led by experts on subjects like pasta-making, naan baking, and dumplings.

Aphrodite Cooks
Whether looking for one-on-one instruction, couples classes, or recreational group classes, this cooking school on Weston Road can accommodate any skill level or set of tastes. Classes range from interactive group demonstrations to hands-on sessions and cover subjects like Chinese dumplings, empanada making, and sushi 101.

Marni Wasserman
Certified natural chef and holistic culinary nutritionist Marni Wasserman offers classes rooted in healthy eating. Hands on classes focus on topics like clean eating and Mediterranean cuisine, plus Wasserman offers one-on-one instruction, workshops and retreats.

The Depanneur
The informal open kitchen on College Street hosts hands-on workshops on Monday evenings. The topics of interest are always changing, but recent workshops have covered whole hog butchering, marmalade-making, cheese making and more.

Cirillo's Culinary Academy
Chef John Cirillo's cooking school in Etobicoke offers a comfortable class geared towards budding cooks from all backgrounds. Brush up on basic knife skills or tour the world with two-hour classes focused on Thai, Italian or Latin cuisines.

Seafood-centric learning is the specialty of this fish monger on Queen East. Practical hands-on classes cover special interests like oyster shucking, fishmongering 101, grilling, sushi-making and more.

Sushi Making for the Soul
Currently hosted at the same location as Aphrodite Cooks, these recurring cooking classes from Sang Kim teach beginner students how to make makimonos while intermediate classes delve into the art of cut fish for both nigiri and sashimi.

Photo of Dish Cafe by Jesse Milns.

by Liora Ipsum via blogTO