Thursday, July 12, 2012

Review: Culinary Adventure Company

Super-boozy display at TTS
When I was a kid I was the world's pickiest eater. I wouldn't even eat spaghetti with tomato sauce -- my Italian grandmother loved me enough to overlook this flaw.  As I got older, I consciously decided that being picky was boring, and I gradually got more and more adventurous. Now, I love food and I'll try almost anything if it seems to be prepared with care. Good thing, too. I wouldn't call myself a foodie, but I have really learned to love trying new things.

My husband and I just got back from a trip to Toronto. He was going to cover a track meet for an online web service, and I came along because I love the city.  Since he had plans last night, I made some of my own with the Culinary Adventure Company. I heard about it on Trip Advisor and decided to give it a try so I wouldn't have to eat alone.  I did the Chef's Tour of Little Italy.  Because Chef Scott had an Escape the City event that night, I ended up with a private tour with Chef Shahir. It was fun and relaxing not to have a whole group to deal with. It was Chef Shahir's first time as a guide and he was a perfect host.

TTS drink menu
TTS appetizers
The evening started out in a little unmarked club called the Toronto Temperance Society. Apparently their approach to temperance is to buy all the booze and keep it in this little hideaway.  I couldn't decide among all the interesting offerings on the cocktail menu, so I gave the bartender a few clues about what I liked and ended up with a really refreshing burbon drink called the Darjeeling Limited. It was a hot day, and this really hit the spot. We also had some nice appetizers to get us started. We had some halibut cheeks, which sounded odd but were just little nuggets of perfectly fried fish, and a nice board of cured meat and cheese. I paced myself knowing that there was a lot more food and drink to come.

Acadia salmon creati

Acadia drinks (and my host)
The next stop on our tour was Acadia, which as the name suggests, had a French Canadian/New Orleans vibe. A new chef was just hired away from a very fancy restaurant, and so our two choices were the traditional (and delcious) shrimp and grits, and a very fancy (maybe too fancy for me) cured salmon dish that had pea shoots, grated foie gras, pea shoots, some kind of powdered butter thing... it was tasty, but I'd stick to the shrimp and grits if I went back.  I also had another sweet/tart bourbon cocktail, this time with strawberries and balsamic vinegar.


One of the most fun stops on the tour was Hogtown, because I tried two things I had wanted to try for a while but never had: Oysters and poutine. Poutine is a French Canadian specialty made with fries, cheese curds, and gravy. To be honest, it always sounded a little disgusting to me. It was so good that I had to consciously limit myself because I knew another stop was coming. I had about six or seven fries with the cheese and gravy. It was a shame to leave the rest but we knew they wouldn't taste good cold.  The oysters were very refreshing and it was nice to have something a little lighter after all the heavy fare. I liked them plain, with lemon, and with a little grated fresh horseradish.  Both the poutine and the oysters were perfect paired with a local lager.
Pizza Margherita at Taverniti
Finally, of course, I couldn't have a tour of Little Italy without some Italian food, could I? We went to Taverniti's for a traditional red-sauced pizza and a Chianti. This was where I had to call it quits on the food. No clean-plate rule on this tour -- it would have been impossible. I couldn't leave the pizza so we had it boxed up.

After all this food, we met Chef Scott at Chef Shahir's home base, Teatro, where he and his fellow chef Dave decided to try to kill me with gimlets.  I really learned not to try to keep up with chefs when it comes to drinking. I'm not a high-tolerance drinker and I had some trouble realizing how strong the drinks were because they tasted so good.  Luckily, my husband met up with us. He helpfully polished off the pizza and escorted me home. I don't remember much about the walk home except saying that I thought my liver might be broken.  I got up early, slammed several glasses of water, and then went out and found a coffee shop near the B&B. Luckily I had time to sleep on the train home.

Two kinds of oysters
How did Chef Scott make money on this tour when I was only charged $150 (and was too drunk to think of buying a round or at least paying for my husband's drinks)? He didn't. I'm sure he lost money.  I lucked into a real steal.  Normally with a larger tour, he can work out deals with the restaurants, but since I was solo, he said he thought he would just make sure I had a good time.  I did, and more.  I thought that was a very generous and classy move.

My husband and I plan to go back and try that Escape the City trip next time we are in Toronto. It's a paddle out to the Toronto Island Park with a gourmet picnic.  It looks amazing.

Obviously, this adventure was a splurge for me in terms of money, calories, and my poor aforementioned liver.  I don't do things like this often.  I worked up an appetite with the hours and hours of walking I did in the city just to get around (even with public transit, there is plenty of walking involved) and was more moderate for the rest of the trip.

I wouldn't recommend this trip for the super-calorie-conscious, anyone with dietary restrictions, or a super-picky eater. It's not called Culinary Safety Company, it's called Culinary Adventure Company.  If you are willing to throw caution to the wind for one night, you can have a lot of fun.


  1. This sounds absolutely fabulous fun and something that I would love to do. I wonder if this is done anywhere in the UK or at least a bit nearer than Toronto?

    1. I found out about the tour on TripAdvisor -- maybe try looking at the entries for foodie towns near you?


"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07