Eating abroad

Hamilton Pride: Born & Raised

September 30, 2016

Earlier this month I found myself in Toronto for a wedding, so I took the opportunity to explore the Greater Toronto Area. No matter where I'm vacationing my trips are always (I'm dead serious) planned around food, so this was no exception.

Born & Raised - 224 James St. N - Hamilton ON

A large part of my boyfriend's family lives just outside of Hamilton so we were excited to explore the area (yes, I'm a converted Ti-Cats fan!). As Hamilton is known for steel production I was not sure of what I would expect, but after some research I found that the food scene is growing and there are a number of restaurants worth visiting. James Street has great character with it's collection of boutiques and galleries, and seems to be the main street where new and trendy restaurants are opening. Nestled within the Art Crawl district is where we found Born & Raised.

Born & Raised is the second restaurant opened by Chef Vittorio Colacitti, who you may recognize from Top Chef Canada. If the name is any indication this restaurant is a reflection of Chef Vittorio's pride for Hamilton, the city which he calls home. Many quality ingredients are sourced directly from producers in the area, which connects the restaurant with the surrounding community.

Bartlett Mule

On our visit the restaurant was just over 2 months old and very busy on a Friday evening. The 60 seat restaurant features a raw bar showcasing beautiful seafood from both the East and West Coast, and is home to a beautiful wood-fired oven imported from Italy. The decor is a mix of modern and rustic, with touches of reclaimed wood and antique collectibles throughout. The menu at Born & Raised puts a globally-inspired twist on classic dishes. The offerings are a reflection of what Chef Vittorio has learned through his upbringing in Ontario and culinary training abroad in Europe and Asia. The menu is split into four sections (raw bar, small plates, pizza, and classics) and sharing is highly encouraged.

We started our dinner with the Steak Tartare "Le Roy" ($19), which is a Parisian style hand-cut beef tenderloin tartare served with fries. The beef comes from a farm just 20 minutes away in Haldimand County, and this dish was inspired by Chef Vittorio's time as a sous chef for Chef Didier Leroy in France. The beef was well seasoned and tender, while the fries were crisp and golden, just the way they should be. Fries don't do the greatest job of scooping up the beef, making it more difficult to eat than anticipated, but tartare and frites is still a classic.

Next came the Crispy Shrimps (3/$15 or 4/$19), served on a bed of green mango salad and topped with crushed roasted peanuts. This dish was a mix of salty, sweet, and crispy goodness with the meticulously wrapped shrimp on a bed of Thai-style mango salad.

I'm not the type of person to order soup at a restaurant, but the Ontario Corn Soup ($14) was calling my name. With chunks of Nova Scotia Lobster in a curried roasted corn soup base, this hearty bowl was absolutely incredible, no word of a lie. Perhaps mind-blowing is a better descriptor. The heat was finely balanced with the coconut milk, while the cream was cut with a hint of acidity. It was a complex combination of flavours and umami that I could not stop eating. We regretted not having enough room for a second bowl!

Burrata is popular on menus out in Toronto. We honestly had it once a day throughout our trip, but I'm not complaining as it is a rare find here in Edmonton. The Burrata with Summer Pears ($14) at Born & Raised brings ultra creamy burrata together with radicchio, aged balsamic vinegar, walnuts, and basil. All the components are plated beautifully and finished with a drizzle of 'Olio Vittorio,' a cold pressed extra virgin olive oil produced for the restaurant by the Colacitti family in Central Italy. Come this Fall, Chef Vittorio will be bringing housemade burrata to the menu, so don't miss out!

Aside from bringing some Latin and Spanish influence to the menu, Chef de Cuisine Sebastien Sanchez is typically found making artisan breads and pizzas with the wood-fired oven. The five signature pizzas on the menu range from classic to adventurous, and we chose to try the Monte Pollino ($16) as part of our meal. With roasted and smoked confit pork cheek, compressed pineapple, pickled habaneros and basil, this pizza is a unique twist on your classic ham and pineapple. The toppings are generous and the habanero has a serious kick (read: some parts were borderline too spicy for this Asian)!

I've mentioned it before and I'll say it again: floppy, soggy pizza crust is a serious pet peeve of mine, and I'm sure I'm not alone. The housemade pizza dough at Born & Raised cooked evenly and rose beautifully in the oven. It retained it's structure when lifted, had a crispy, blistered cornicone, and met my criteria for an excellent crust. When paired with the right ingredients you get a perfect pie.

Just as our meal was coming to an end the kitchen sent a gorgeous off-menu dish to the table for us to taste. The dish consisted of charred wood-fire roasted cauliflower paired with cashew butter, maple soy dressing, scallions, and lobster. The cauliflower had amazing depth of flavour and the lobster was so fresh. All the components were throwing flavour bombs left, right, and center, making this another phenomenal dish. (Psst, the dish without the lobster is on the menu!)

After the savoury dishes we chose to try Susan's Torte ($7) for a sweet finish to the evening. Who is Susan? She's Chef Vittorio's mother and the one who gave up her secret recipe for this beautiful dark chocolate meringue with Grand Marnier chantilly cream. The meringue is light, melt-in-your-mouth, and balanced with a bit of candied orange zest.

The Lancaster

With the opening of Born & Raised on James St. North, Chef Vittorio and his team are bringing local, seasonal ingredients and their passion for global flavours to the community. They're in a great location for the post-work crowd, and the warm, vibrant setting is great for get-togethers with friends or casual date nights. Service is friendly although a bit spotty during our visit, given the atmosphere of the busy restaurant on a Friday evening. We had a fantastic meal and will definitely return on our next visit to the area.

Like the rooster, which is a symbol of strength and determination, Chef Vittorio leads his team with pride and focus, inspired by the city in which he was born and raised.

Born & Raised Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

*Disclosure: I was invited to try Born & Raised and expected to feature a review on my blog. Views expressed in this post are solely mine. This post is 100% my opinion, and as always, my priority is to you, the reader, to present an unbiased, thorough review.


Ice District Eats: JOEY Bell Tower

September 23, 2016

Now that Rogers Place is officially open, where will you be eating before you head to your next concert or Oilers game? There's been a lot of buzz about the restaurants slated to open in the Ice District - the most recent one is JOEY Bell Tower.

JOEY Bell Tower - 10310 101 Street NW - Edmonton AB

photo courtesy of JOEY Restaurants

The JOEY Restaurant group has a few locations in the Edmonton area and recently closed the popular Jasper Avenue location to open Bell Tower, their new flagship location in the city. In the new space rustic meets modern, and it is absolutely gorgeous. The space is huge, but given the location and the short distance to Rogers Place this JOEY location is sure to be packed with the post-work and pre-game crowd!

Seven Seas Cocktail

As this JOEY is a flagship location there are going to be a few dishes on the menu that are unavailable elsewhere. I had the opportunity to attend a preview dinner last month hosted by Chef Chris Mills (JOEY Restaurants Executive Chef) and Chef Colin Fryer (Head Chef JOEY Bell Tower) and was pleasantly surprised by many dishes on their globally-inspired menu. In my high school years JOEY was the restaurant of choice amongst me and my friends, so I admit that this dinner was a bit nostalgic!

The evening started with a preview of some of the sushi appetizers exclusive to Bell Tower, both of which were inspired by Chef Mills' time training in Japan. The Hawaiian Tuna Tacos ($12.25) feature citrus soy marinated ahi tuna, fresh avocado, and a chili miso sauce on sushi rice all wrapped into a crisp tortilla shell and topped with a spoonful of flying fish roe. The ingredients were fresh and flavourful, but what I really liked was the contrasting textures between the crisp shell and the soft sushi rice.

Next came the Osaka Style Pressed Salmon Sushi ($14) which I was quite surprised to see on the menu. This style of sushi hasn't quite made it's way to Edmonton yet so it was a nice change from the usual maki. Shaped using a special box, this sushi features torch seared salmon, 'umami sauce,' and shaved serrano peppers. The texture was spot on and I would definitely recommend ordering this on your visit.

The Night Market Curry dip ($12) is a spicy chickpea curry that comes with housemade naan bread and is perfect for sharing. But if it were up to me I would keep the dish to myself! The curry is aromatic and has a great depth of flavour that I could not get enough of.

JOEY Bell Tower is bringing back rotisserie chicken with their old style gas-fired French rotisserie. The chicken is first brined for 24 hours, marinated, then spit-roasted to perfection. As part of the Chef's Daily Rotisserie Chicken ($23.75) a different sauce is paired with the chicken each day. Since JOEY is globally-inspired, there might be an unexpected unique flavour on your visit. For the evening tried the Peri Peri, Vindaloo, and Angry Bird flavours. Peri peri and Vindaloo are self explanatory, whereas the Angry Bird flavour comes from Korean gochujang. Each piece of chicken was moist and flavourful, but I found myself partial to the Peri Peri with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

JOEY's take on Spanish Paella ($22) combines lobster saffron broth with shrimp, smoked chorizo, chicken, peas, and tomatoes. The result is a fragrant, flavourful paella loaded with protein. It sounds silly, but the crisped rice at the bottom of the pan makes the dish with the contrast in textures.

All JOEY locations now offer Spun Daily Ice Cream ($6) which is made fresh daily with liquid nitrogen. If you have never tried liquid nitrogen ice cream, this is a must! The use of liquid nitrogen allows the custard base of ice cream to be flash frozen, meaning no ice particles freeze within the ice cream mixture. The result is the most decadent, creamy ice cream you've ever had. We tried sour cherry chocolate, double chocolate, salted caramel, espresso, and strawberry jam. All were tasty, but just take my word for it - you need to try the salted caramel if it is on the menu for the day. You can thank me later.

JOEY Bell Tower is in a prime location downtown and is sure to be busy with the post-work and pre-game crowd. There's sure to be something to please every palate on the globally-inspired menu and JOEY is very accommodating when it comes to allergies and dietary restrictions. Although it isn't drastically different from other locations, keep in mind that it is a flagship location with more culinary creativity and unique dishes on the menu.

A big thanks to the kitchen crew & team for the great eats and hospitality - I'll be back for that curry dip and most definitely won't be sharing!

JOEY Bell Tower  Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

*Disclosure: I was invited to the JOEY Bell Tower menu launch.. Views expressed in this post are solely mine. I was not expected to feature this event on my blog, nor obligated to do so. This post is 100% my opinion, and as always, my priority is to you, the reader, to present an unbiased, thorough review.


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