Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Spumoni City

Who has the best spumoni in Toronto? This is the type of question that fascinates food writers and is of profound interest to owners of such places, not to mention customers and potential customers, so while we will not pronounce on it unless we have tasted it in person, we are happy to start out with a list of potential candidates.

Toronto is world famous for its Italian ice cream. We only highlight a few places in this article, and we apologize in advance if you own a traditional ice cream shop in the city and we have accidentally left you out. This can be rectified easily by giving us a shout at vivacommunityvoice@gmail.com - if you want to be featured here, let us know about your venture and we would be happy to write about you.

The Martini district happens to intersect with one of the two areas known as Little Italy: College Street has several very trendy places for both these things.

We start out with an established family business, The Sicilian Ice Cream Company at 710 College St. They make their own ice cream, and the Sicilian Sidewalk Cafe at 712 College has received favourable reviews from established papers who have asked themselves the same question about ice cream in the city.

Dolce Gelato has more than one location and a likewise eye-catching menu. To Gigi, fancy ice cream is not just about taste but also about the "look and feel" - if it looks good, it tastes even better.

An interesting twist on the Sicilian theme is offered at Xococava where you can get your favourite flavour in a brioche sandwich.

Ed's Real Scoop is one of the best ice cream shops in Toronto with two locations, one in the Beach and one in the film district (Leslieville). Gigi has tasted their ice cream and it is truly magnificent. They do gelato as well, and it is all handmade from natural ingredients.

The Mad Italian gets favourable reviews from connoisseurs, and it has an interesting-looking franchise opportunity for entrepreneurs who want to try entering this market without attempting to reinvent the wheel themselves. The owners are from Rome and they have three decades' worth of expertise, so you cannot go wrong if you are an enterprising shop wanting to serve the real deal without making it from scratch yourself.

For a lovely Italian meal with spumoni as one of the options for dessert, visit one of Toronto's most established restaurants, The Old Spaghetti Factory on the Esplanade. Gigi attended a birthday party there some years ago, and it was lovely. By all accounts it is as good as ever, so it is a reliable place to go for a fun meal.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Local Tourist Attractions

Gigi's getaway suggestions for visitors to beautiful Canada are here!

For theatre lovers, there is an enticing combination package of theatre and hotel stays that take you out of the city to places of cultural interest in Ontario.

Within Toronto itself, there are always excellent theatre productions. We will feature some of the best shows in individual postings.

Gustav likes to keep late hours too when he hangs with us, so we were delighted to see in Toronto Life magazine that the Mahler 5 is playing, among other things.

In addition to the fact that the Toronto International Film Festival has year-round events planned at the new Bell Lightbox and other venues, there is an astonishing number of exciting film events in the city. For a list, see the helpful City of Toronto guide.

Toronto is restaurant city. It is impossible to publish any definitive exhaustive list of all the beautiful choices in this city for interesting, healthy and exotic things to eat, so we are just putting an appetizer list here, for starters. Some of the better known star attractions are listed on the Top Restaurants site.

The City of Toronto web site has a well organized list of attractions and genereal information of interest about the city.

Peter Ustinov once called Toronto "New York Run by the Swiss." This is a very accurate description of a well managed, clean, well organized, safe and healthy city.

For places to stay, there are wonderful options other than hotels - Toronto has some very nice bed and breakfast locations within the city itself, as well as furnished apartments at competitive rates. We will list more of these in separate postings.

These are the basic facts about Toronto, but to get more out of the city one should know that there are many hidden attractions known to residents that are not regularly featured as tourist attractions, such as extraordinary parks and recreation facilities, culture-specific neighbourhoods with very diverse dining choices, North America's best loved and most frequently used library network, a vast array of community centres in all neighbourhoods, and events of socio-political and cultural interest. The city welcomes entrepreneurs and especially the entertainment industry, with open arms. Toronto is actively seeking new partnerships in the film and television industry and there are excellent tax incentives for filmmakers, both local and international.

Fun facts about the city include the fact that it is the most multicultural city on the planet: more than 50% of its residents are from other countries and more than 100 languages are spoken in the city on a regular basis. That is why it is so nice to be from elsewhere when you are here, because the fact is, most of us are.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Grande Bold Test

We are pleased to report that we have found two Starbucks locations in Toronto so far, where they actually leave room for cream. The Grande Bold Test was administered at the Starbucks across from City Hall, which is located right inside the TD Bank with a pavement patio on Bay St. Not only did the barista not ask whether we wanted room for cream, she voluntarily left at least 2 centimetres' worth of room. We were able to add cream with no difficulties, and the grande bold was quite pleasant, not excessively strong for our wake-up requirements.

At 250 Queen St West, across from City TV - an excellent location for a Starbucks - we likewise were given room for cream no questions asked, but there were a couple of other issues which were of interest to us. There is a nice patio outside, and we went to do the Grande Bold Test on a Sunday evening. We took care to ensure that the store hours were as advertised on the web (closing 11 p.m.) by actually calling to confirm this as we know full well that not everything you see on the web is always as you find it IRL. The barista confirmed an 11 p.m. closing time and DJ Gigi, who is notorious for keeping musician time and who likes to stay up late, was delighted with this ostensibly unTorontonian hour. To her amazement, the barista started closing the shop at 10 p.m., and when reminded that we had actually taken the trouble to call and verify the web hours, she insisted that she had told us it was 10 p.m. She said, "it is on our door" and we did not bother to explain to her that one's virtual door should, if at all possible, show the same information as one's actual door if one wants one's coffee-wired customers from the Internet world to be happy at all times. We do not like to tell you this, but she was quite rude to Gigi who always, in these situations, looks like a deer caught in the headlights of a streetcar.

To make matters more interesting, Gigi had to go to the Second Cup across the road earlier - a great coffee shop by the way, try it any time when you are in Toronto! - to visit the powder room, because Starbucks, to our astonishment, had an "out of service" note on theirs, and upon enquiry the barista told us that it would be fixed only two days later. A grande bold has a way of liquidating itself rather quickly, so Gigi had no choice but to leave her coffee on the table and to step across the road. The Second Cup compassionately gave Gigi the key and asked no questions even though their washroom door clearly states that it is for Second Cup customers only. (Well of course, Gigi is a Second Cup customer too, and they can consider themselves favourably reviewed for these purposes.) That is what is called "goodwill" in business. Be nice to Gigi, and she will write something nice about you.

Gigi then went back to Starbucks to finish the grande bold, which stood under guard from those sexy American satellites. We have to note also, for the sake of loyalty to the truth even though we want to be nice to all coffee shops if at all possible, that the Starbucks in question, while leaving room for cream, only had half-and-half available on the display stand at the time. With that amount of room for cream, full cream is probably a better idea and one should give the customers options at all times, but it still tasted fine.

Toronto is a great city to visit and Gigi wishes to ensure that all our coffee shops are polite to all their customers at all times. We sometimes get very, very important visitors from other cities, and even other countries. You just never know who you might be serving, or worse: whose *wife* you may be serving, and women talk a lot more than men, so ladies, be nice, especially to other ladies. They could be musicians who double up as writers in their spare time. You just never know. Could be married to a ruler from a foreign country for all you know. You just must not assume that just because they look like a deer caught in the headlights who could not say "boo" to a goose, that you might not wake up in the middle of the night dreaming that you are a goose and that someone just said, "boo." The moral of the story: do not be loosie-goosie with your cloakroom facilities and never, ever speak in a bossy, disrespectful tone to a customer, or be argumentative, whether you believe you are right, or not. Remember the old adage: "the customer is always right." I said 11, she says she said 10 on the phone - now what if I had said to an extremely important man to meet me there *between* 10 and 11? What then?

We shall agree to disagree, but she could still have said it in an agreeable way instead of the typical high-handed and unfriendly manner I have seen so often in this great world-class city. If we claim to be friendly, polite people here in Canada, we should live up to the claim. The rest of Canada gets really annoyed with Toronto because of this, and they tell me that this is the reason why Toronto is called "hogtown" by some. I say aww, but isn't it also Toronto the Good? I have spoken to people from New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Halifax for example, and also out west, who say no, this is the very reason why it is still called hogtown, because a lot of folks here have the manners of hogs.

Hey Toronto: be the best Toronto you can be. Yes it is true that we specialized in the bacon trade in our past history, but we can put this behind us and choose instead to be Toronto the Good. You are what you eat: go easy on the bacon and to paraphrase Wil Wheaton, "do not be a hog." He says something else instead of hog, but Gigi is a lady and she tries to speak in a manner that befits the beardless sex. (Well, most of the time.)

Furthermore, if you are a franchise in a demand location with only one washroom and your washroom breaks down, do not put a note on the door saying "out of service" and then tell the customers that it will be fixed two days later. This is Toronto, and we are a world class city, remember?

Starbucks, it was not our intention to diss-cover these inconvenient truths when we came to administer the simple Grande Bold Test. We just want to help you give the same great service at all your locations. So just to show you that we are nice, helpful people, Gigi took the trouble to look up a service for you that you could use, next time your bathroom facilities go "out of service" for reasons unknown to the unsuspecting customer. We take it for granted for these purposes that it was a real plumbing breakdown requiring the expertise of a professional, and not just a matter of your own staff not getting around to it in a timely fashion.

Roto Rooter - please see http://bit.ly/jFiylZ - is a 24 hour plumbing service in Toronto. According to my research, they are extremely efficient and there is no extra charge for them to show up after hours or weekends. They can reinstate the service quickly in commercial as well as residential "out of service" washrooms, so you will never have to tell your customer again, "it will be fixed in two days." The correct answer is, "it will be fixed in two hours." (Say that anyway, just so your customer can believe in you, whether you have actually booked the plumber or not.) DJ Gigi did this research for you, as a matter of goodwill.

We shall keep you posted on the results of the ongoing Grande Bold Test from time to time.

- by DJ Gigi