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Leaside Part I:

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By Cheryl Young

Leaside is a lovely leafy neighbourhood in mid-town Toronto where well shod couples pushing oversized prams stroll leisurely among the small restaurants, antique shops and specialty boutiques. Food shopping in Leaside centers on 2 streets: Mt. Pleasant and Bayview, between Eglinton and Millwood. This article focusses on Mt. Pleasant - watch for my look at Bayview in the next weeks.

I set out one Wednesday evening in October with a specific mission in mind: to procure some interesting provisions that would suffice to serve 30 professional women at a networking event over cocktails in a gracious Rosedale mansion. With only 24 hours to plan and prepare, the focus on was on simplicity with style.

My first stop was the tiny patisserie of Le Comptoire Celestin. A favourite among those who love baguette and French pastries, Celestin is known for it’s high quality product and swift product turnover. In others words, if you really want to be sure of your families’ morning croissant, you might want to call ahead. My cocktail party “find” at Celestin was their mini-quiches, newly added to their menu. Available in quiche Lorraine, leek and gruyere, and my favourite, pancetta and mushroom varieties, these rich pastries were the perfect cocktail bite when divided into 4. Served at room temperature, they were a definite hit. A larger version of a quiche Provencal was also available, and would work as a cocktail party food if divided into thin slices. For dessert, the apricot tartelette tatins, divided into manageable quarters, were also well received, the pear less so.

When I first walked into the four month old Personal Natural Food, I felt a little sad. Retail is a difficult business, and I did not see anything at first glance that convinced me that this charming little café and gourmet food store would survive, despite the up-market neighbourhood. Well, a lengthy conversation with the young, enthusiastic and extremely knowledgeable owners the Costas, gave me hope. Vera and Mike were in the meal delivery business for four years before they decided to open up a retail outlet and offer food products that were unique in the area. Although it is definitely not a “health food” store, he does focus on very high quality products, with an emphasis on purity in ingredients and care in manufacture. A few choice offerings include fruit teas from David Rio with exotic flavours such as Tahiti mandarin and la France pear, Ellse Esse truffle products, including truffle infused risotto rice, tagliatelle, and extra virgin olive oil, salt from the Himalayan mountains, white balsamic vinegar and specialty products from Portugal.

A good way to discover Personal Natural Foods is to visit them on a Saturday morning at 11:00 am where they usually hold open samplings of whatever new and interesting products they are showcasing at the store. They offer a full range of food service, including meal delivery, custom baskets, catered platters, and take out salads and sandwiches. Personal Natural Foods is a new retailer well worth local support.

There is a new cheese store in the neighbourhood, at the corner of Eglinton and Mt. Pleasant. The Greek owners have had over a decade of experience at well known cheese purveyor in the St. Lawrence Market, and they have applied their knowledge well. The Cheese Emporium distinguishes itself by being large and airy, with a global selection of well marked cheeses arranged in an easy to access display case. (I have a personal pet peeve about being dwarfed by those 8 ft high closed glass cases, and having to gesture frantically to get attention and then play the “guess which cheese I am pointing to” game) The selection of pate’s and terrines was one of the most complete I have seen in the city. Samples are cheerfully offered. When asked about their special cheeses, the helpful staff point to their selection of aged Quebec Cheddars, and their offerings from the Montforte Dairy, an artisanal sheep’s milk cheese producer near Stratford. The Banon style wrapped in vine leaves and anointed with Italian grappa and a Camembert style called Bliss looked very appealing.

The definite hit of the party was the Brie (French in this case) topped with an equal mixture of brown sugar, chopped pecans, butter and just enough smoky tasting Bourbon to make a paste. Spread on top, broil (watching carefully) until bubbling and serve with sliced sweet-tart eating apples. Ida reds were perfect. Next time, it’s off to Bayview to explore more of the best of Leaside. 


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