Mythic Grill, A Taste of Greece in London

Entrance to Mythic GrillDuring the most recent wave of warmth and sunshine to grace London, I was inspired to venture outdoors in search of some Mediterranean cuisine. For a long time now, I had heard rumours of a restaurant hidden in the downtown core renowned for not only their food but also the service. With an eye out for this Greek oasis calling to me like a siren song, I answered the lure of the Mythic Grill.

Exterior view of the Mythic GrillCorner booth at Mythic GrillDining room at Mythic GrillAlthough the restaurant boasts a small patio which is extremely popular in the summer months, we make ourselves comfortable in the small, jewel coloured interior of the restaurant. The design aesthetic is definitely not minimal or pared down but envelops with a rich, dark vibe that automatically makes it an intimate, romantic experience. And making great use of my knowledge of ancient Greek archaeology, I catch the nod to Crete’s history and it’s ancient Minoan culture in the form of inverted columns and the wall paintings.

But I’m not here for a history lesson. I’m here to satisfy my craving for great homemade Greek cuisine. With a little prompting from our very attentive waiter, we make our final selections.

Mythic Grill menu coverWe start with the salty Saganaki appetizer that comes with a shot of flaming ouzo and an obligatory “Opa” that I could do without. However, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this gorgeous hunk of melted cheese once it hits the mouth. We don’t even bother with the accompanying pita so as not to spoil the taste.

Saganaki - flaming cheeseAs for the entrees, I chose the traditional moussaka tower of beef, eggplant and bechamel sauce, while the boy satisfied his seafood craving with a plate of fried calamari and roast potatoes smothered with creamy tzatziki. The food was so plentiful that I didn’t have enough room for dessert, especially after looting some of the delicious morsels from the plate across from mine.

Moussaka dinner with riceCalamari dinner with roast potatoesMythic Grill did not disappoint. In fact, based on our brief experience, I wasn’t surprised how quickly the dining room filled up in a restaurant that doesn’t take reservations. However, from the numerous greetings exchanged between the guests and waitstaff, it was clear that this restaurant has a loyal following. And now they can add another two to their growing list of fans.

Diners at the restaurant

An Italian Christmas with Massimo Bruno

Massimo Bruno Toronto studio kitchenThis past Sunday the boy and I had an opportunity to indulge in a Christmas feast in Toronto, Italian style. With promises of abundant food and a gregarious group of strangers (soon to be friends) squeezed in at a communal table, we were ready for a real European dining event!

Our host, Italian chef Massimo Bruno, had organized another of his popular, always sold-out Supper Club dinners. This one around the holiday theme, the fifth annual “Buon Natale” Christmas in Italy. The holiday dishes featured were many of his favourites, and the evening was dedicated to his Mama who would be celebrating Christmas back in Italy. The dinner was held at his cooking studio on King Street East where many of his Supper Clubs and cooking classes are held.

Massimo Bruno - Italian Chef in TorontoMassimo Bruno checking for his Supper Club guestsChristmas in the Massimo Bruno kitchen studioLike a great host, Massimo kept an eye out for his guests, welcoming each personally, and entertaining the rest of the room with great Italian humour, as we waited for everyone to arrive. Whether you were a Supper Club virgin or a frequent diner, you were made to feel right at home. And with a “bring your own wine” policy, the atmosphere was more than merry. Although, the boy and I didn’t bring any wine since we were driving back to London after dinner, more than a few of the guests offered to share their libations with us.

But of course, we were there for the amazing food. The warmth of the studio was only intensified by all the cooking in the open kitchen. Massimo, along with some help from his brother and friends Giovanna, and Enzo, prepared the feast in front of our eyes. And cooking for such a large group is no small task.

Enzo cooking in the kitchen studio at Massimo Bruno's Supper ClubSunday sauce at the Massimo Bruno Supper ClubAntipasti in the kitchen at Massimo Bruno Italian Supper ClubAnd we came ready for a feast!

Antipasti
Homemade focaccia
Calamari fritti (fried calamari)
Bresaola, Grana e Rucola (cured beef with arugola and parmigiano cheese)
Baccala’ frito (fried cod)
Burrata e pomodori (burrata with tomatoes and basil)
Lenticchie e Salsicce (sicilian lentils with barese sausage) 
Primi
Il Ragu della Domenica (Ziti pasta with big Sunday sauce)
Mafaldine ai Frutti di Mare (curly fettucine with seafood sauce)
Secondi
Agnello al Forno (baked lamb with shallots and white wine)
Insalata (salad)
Dolce
Flourless ricotta lemon cake
Pandore
Panettone
Espresso

Massimo Bruno Italian Supper Club - Tomato focacciaMassimo Bruno Italian Supper Club - Bresaola and arugulaBurrata plates at Massimo Bruno's Supper ClubAs soon as the food hit the table, I didn’t know what to try first. The burrata’s cheesey exterior revealed a flowing cream centre that paired perfectly with the fried tomatoes. Thin slices of bresaola were coated in a thin layer olive oil and shavings of parmigiano. Homemade barese sausages swam in tiny lentils and were the perfect start on a cold evening. Small plates of these antipasti were placed along the table and everyone passed them around for second and third helpings.

Massimo Bruno Supper Club - Italian antipastiMassimo Bruno Italian Supper Club DinnerGuests at Massimo Bruno's Buon Natale Supper ClubAfter these “small” bites, I couldn’t believe there was more food to come. The variety was amazing and the chatter around the table grew in the casual family atmosphere. I felt like I was having dinner with all my extended family and cousins back home. Massimo floated around the room chatting, taking photos, and generally ensuring that no one went hungry.

Massimo Bruno Italian Supper Club - Shrimp pastaZiti with Sunday sauce at Massimo Bruno's Supper ClubWine and photos at Massimo Bruno's Italian Supper ClubFinally the dishes were cleared and the desserts and coffee passed around. I’m positive I wasn’t the only one thinking of unbuttoning my pants or looking around for couch for an after dinner nap. The best evidence for the quality of food and dining atmosphere is a doodle filled wall full of thanks and comments from past guests.

Thank you's at Massimo Bruno's kitchen studio in TorontoThe drive to Toronto was well rewarded with the best Italian food and atmosphere I’ve found outside of Italy. If you’d like to experience it yourself, head over to Massimo’s site and discover something unforgettable.

Buon Natale a Tutti!

Dinner in 1, 2, 3!

I can’t believe how early the daylight starts to fade away this time of year. It’s like the season is throwing a blanket around me and urging me to go home and snuggle into bed. I’m not new to this time change thing but it seems like the impending darkness is something I choose to forget in lieu of getting that extra hour of sleep.

The problem with feeling sleepy so early in the evening is that I don’t feel like spending time in kitchen whipping up cozy meals for two for longer than fifteen minutes. Mind you I’ve always gone the fast and fresh route as far as my meals are concerned any time of year. That is not too say that I don’t greatly admire people who devote their time to long, involved, home cooked meals. My Mom’s cabbage rolls are heaven on earth but the hours she puts in to make them is something I just can’t fathom. I’ve got things to do, people to see, places to be! And truly, there is nothing wrong with fast meals… as long as they are delicious. I’m sharing two of my go to Italian recipes for quick weeknight dinners great at any time of year!

 EASY TOMATO SAUCE RECIPE

Ingredients for easy to make Italian tomato sauce | Cobblestones and CappuccinosThe key to this sauce is that you will not be cooking but rather warming all the ingredients in order to keep the sauce tasting as fresh as possible. So start cooking your pasta and half way through you can begin the sauce.

1 pint of cherry tomatoes halved
1 clove of garlic peeled
1/4 cup of good quality extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup of parmigiano reggiano shredded
small bunch of basil torn
salt and pepper to taste
 
Prep Time: 5 minutes     Cook Time: 10 minutes
 

1. Place the oil and clove of garlic in a pan and turn the heat on medium-low. Olive oil has a low smoking point so you don’t want to overheat the pan. You are simply warming the oil and infusing it with garlic. If you want a stronger taste to the garlic then feel free to chop it, otherwise just leave the clove whole. This should take only a minute or two.

2. Take out the garlic clove and throw in the cherry tomatoes and torn basil leaves. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and stir to warm them through. Be sure that the tomatoes don’t over cook and start to fall apart and shrink.

3. Place the cooked pasta, with a small amount of reserved pasta water, in the pan with the tomatoes. Toss with the sauce making sure to coat the strands with the warm olive oil and sprinkle with the parmigiano reggiano.

I like to serve this sauce with spaghetti or linguine. That way the light sauce isn’t overwhelmed by a heavy pasta.

 

SPINACH AND WALNUT PESTO RECIPE

Italian Pesto sauce ingredients | Cobblestones and CappuccinosThis sauce is made in minutes as long as you have all your ingredients on hand. It’s a riff on the basil and pine nut pesto which are harder to locate. I often make this pesto in large quantities and freeze in ziploc bags for later use.

2 cups of baby spinach washed and packed down
1 clove of garlic peeled
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 lemon 
1/2 cup walnuts toasted
1/2 cup parmigiano reggiano cheese shredded
salt and pepper to taste
 
Prep Time: 5 minutes     Cook Time: 10 minutes
 

1. Place spinach, walnuts, garlic, cheese in a food processor. Pulse together until coarsely chopped. Scrape down the sides before proceeding.

2. Add oil and squeeze the lemon into the mixture. Process until smooth. Scrape the sides then season with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Drain pasta and coat with the pesto.

I like to use heavier pastas like penne or rotini for this sauce. The pesto sits nicely in all those tiny crevices.

Both versions of sauce with pasta reheat nicely for lunch the next day. Sometimes I’ll add cooked chicken breast or pre-cooked shrimp before reheating. I hope you give these a try and enjoy!