The light at the end of the tunnel

This was the meal I was supposed to be reviewing for Challenge 9 of Project Food Blog. Until I was eliminated on Friday.

“Based on the votes of the judges and your fellow Featured Publishers in Challenge #8, your entry did not advance you to the next round.”

I won’t lie, I am extremely disappointed to say the least. I have poured my heart and soul into my PFB posts since the middle of September and to be ousted so close to the end, well it hurts. Thankfully, my blog has continued to exist outside the contest, as the 50-some posts I have written on top of my PFB posts will attest to, and you, dear readers are still here too. If you discovered my blog because of the contest, I hope you stick around. If you were following me before it started, thanks for staying with me for the ride. I could never have made it as far as I did without you all, so from the bottom of my heart, thanks.

A few of us who were eliminated on Friday decided we would post our restaurant reviews anyway so here goes…

Brunch is an odd meal.  I remember when I was very young, there was no such thing. I am not sure about anywhere else in the world but most certainly Adelaide circa the 1980s didn’t have anything resembling brunch. Heck, many restaurants weren’t even open on Sundays back then (or at least that’s what mum and dad told us, LOL!).  My first brunch experience at a restaurant was probably at La Guillotine (now closed), opened in the mid 1980s, where I distinctly remember eating my first ever croissant outside of France in the form of a fancy breakfast croissant. It felt very chic.

Fast forward a decade to when I was living in Paris and where brunch was something I dreaded.  As a part-time waitress at Woolloomooloo Restaurant Australien, it was the shift you crossed your fingers not to have.  After a late night on Saturday, serving punters good Aussie brunches a few hours later was not exactly where you wanted to be. It felt very unfortunate.

Years later when I had given up on waitressing (I bow down to those who do this full time – such a demanding job!) and was teaching English, I relished my Sunday brunches with friends, usually at places like The Lizard Lounge, where, inexplicably, anglophones gathered to eat Anglo-American food. In Paris. What can I say, it felt fabulously exotic at the time. And I felt like such a grown up.

Ten years later, I find myself in Toronto, living in the vicinity of a half a dozen excellent brunch places.  I barely have to walk a couple of blocks to eat an amazing and decent priced brunch (bonus? You only have a couple of blocks to walk home to indulge in the inevitable post-brunch nap!).  What this means though is that it takes a very special place to extract us from the ‘hood on a Sunday morning. When I heard that Luma started serving brunch a few weeks ago, I knew that a trip outside of our “brunch comfort zone” was necessary.

Luma is the latest addition to Toronto’s new entertainment “destination”, the TIFF Bell Lightbox.  Home to the Toronto International Film Festival, the Lightbox houses five theatres, three exhibition galleries and an event space, as well at two Oliver&Bonacini restaurants, O&B Canteen and Luma.  At Luma, Executive Chef Jason Bangerter showcases global and Canadian artisanal cuisine using local and regional ingredients.

Luma’s dining room has been designed with rich colours and its floor to ceiling windows offer views of of King Street West’s “entertainment district”. The room is light, bright and spacious without losing its warmth. I liked that the tables were a reasonable distance from each other. We’re used to sitting nearly in our neighbours’ laps at our local places (not necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes you need a bit more of a peaceful ambiance on a Sunday morning!)

Neil and I invited two of our neighbourhood friends to join us at Luma – four of us away from the ‘hood at once? This called for a celebration!

Neil ordered a Henry Of Pelham Non-Vintage Cuvée Catharine Brut Rosé VQA ($17) and the girls ordered Mimosas ($12) and Bellinis ($12) .

We normally never order alcoholic drinks with brunch so our bill was much more than we are used to paying. But sometimes you just have to go with what feels right and in that beautiful space, a fancy drink seemed in order.

The menu is short but features classic brunch offerings (omelette, eggs benedict, scrambled eggs, steak and eggs), a couple of lighter offerings (salads and a grilled cheese), a spaghetti dish and some fish cakes along with two dishes for those who prefer a sweet brunch. Miss Melanie went with the Ontario cheddar and spinach omelette ($13):

The presentation of this dish was gorgeous. Clean and simple with stunning colour.  Curiously, it was a deconstructed omelette, with the layer of spinach on the bottom and the cheese on the top (and perhaps inside too? We couldn’t tell).  Mel loved the flavours of this but found that she kind of wanted the omlette reconstructed, especially towards the last few bites when there was no spinach or cheese left. She helped herself to Neil’s homemade ketchup (outstanding – smokey and flavourful and most definitely not from a bottle) which helped those last bites.  We were a little surprised that a side of toast was not included (“artisan toast” $4) – it would have been nice had the dish come with toast to start with.

Neil said he was going big or going home so, after ordering the most expensive drink of the day, proceeded to order the most expensive dish on the brunch menu – Steak and eggs with matchstick fries ($21).

Again, a visually beautiful dish. The pepper-rubbed steak was cooked perfectly as was the egg – the upscale version of the classic greasy spoon breakfast.  The matchstick fries, though tasty and attractive, were a bit fiddly to eat and Neil would have preferred something a little more substantial.  Fortunately for him, Alicia ordered the grilled cheese ($6) and a side of frites ($6).

Isn’t that the most perfect-looking grilled cheese you have ever seen?  We loved the floral garnishes and the perfect grill marks on the pain au lait.  This was a well-executed dish but it lacked the gooeynesss of that grilled cheese you are craving on a Sunday morning.  Could have done with a lot more cheese and a smidge more butter.  I did think that if I were downtown shopping and needed a quick bite, it might be the perfect lunch with a glass of wine. But for brunch, even elegant dishes sometimes need a little grease!  The frites made up for the lack of gooeyness on the sandwich side. Crunchy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, topped with a little grated cheese. Perfection.

Even before I even read the menu, I knew that if eggs Benedict were on the menu, I would order them. It’s the standard by which we tend to judge our brunches.  Fortunately for me, they were – Poached eggs with smoked ham on artisan croissant with lemon hollandaise (14):

Again, a simple but eye-catching plating (just LOVE those flowers!) and for me, the standout (savoury) dish of the morning.  The test? The yolks…

Absolutely sublime. Initially I had thought this dish was a little light on the hollandaise and was worried it would be a little dry, but once I had cut into the egg, I realised that any more hollandaise and the croissant would have quickly turned soggy before I finished eating it. The layers of melt-in-your-mouth salty ham paired well with the slight sweetness of the croissant and the tart lemon hints in the hollandaise. I know eggs Benedict is traditionally served with bacon, but I loved this variation. Fried bacon would have just weighed this down too much – the delicate ham was much more suited to this grown up version.

After brunch, even if my belly is replete, my mouth always wants for something sweet.  Luma’s brunch menu offers two desserts but we were also able to choose from the lunch dessert menu. After much deliberation (since we figured we could not eat a whole dessert each), we decided on the Chocolate délice ($10) – dark Valrhona chocolate, caramelized bananas, peanut butter ice cream and cocoa nib crisp – from the Lunch menu.

This was absolutely incredible – from the plating to the palate!  The Valrhona chocolate fondant was not too sweet, not too bitter, the peanut butter icecream (though inexplicably runny – it melted within about a minute of it being set down on the table) rich and creamy but not overpowering and the cocoa nib crisp provided some much needed texture.  The only odd item was the banana – yes it was caramelized but it was cold.  We found it rather a strange addition to the dish (the caramel was also so hard that it was hard to cut the banana without making a huge mess of the rest of the prettiness!). Not bad, just odd.

For our second dessert, we went with the Sugar Spiced Beignets ($10) from the Brunch menu.  Beignets with pastry cream filling on caramelized bananas, served with whipped cream, toasted pecans and chocolate – how could we not order this? 😉

Another deconstructed dish – this one a huge success.  The beignets were hollow and you sort of dipped them in the various creams and sauces to get a little bite of heaven on your fork.  Sweet, spice, cream and crunch all in one bite…

A perfect dish to share and a wonderful end to the meal.

With two lattes and a coffee, our bill (for four) topped out at around $160 plus tax and tip, so not the most economical of brunches.  Had we not ordered anything other than coffee to drink, however, the bill would have been comparable to that of one of our standard haunts. But such a different experience from our usual local places that it’s not fair to compare.  Luma is a gorgeous space with beautiful food, a place for a special meal. It’s early days yet for this newcomer to the Toronto brunch scene, but I have no doubt that Luma’s brunch is here to stay. I know I will be back.

TIFF Bell Lightbox, 2nd Floor
330 King St. West
Toronto, Ontario, M5V 3X2
Tel: 647.288.4715

Luma on Urbanspoon

Please check out my fellow PFB “eliminees” and give them some blog love!

Z Tasty life
The Cuisinerd
I am a Feeder
You fed a baby chili?
Brie le grand fromage
Spicy Green Mango
Good Food, Good Wine and a Bad Girl
Completely delicious
Korean American Mommy
Eat, Live, Run
The Front Burner

Did you enter my giveaway to win a copy of Harold McGee’s new book, Keys to Good Cooking?  Simply leave a comment here before Wednesday, December 8th at 6pm EST.

118 thoughts on “The light at the end of the tunnel”

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  2. BUMMER! I enjoyed your PFB posts; however, I enjoy the rest of your blog too. Congrats on picking yourself up and going on. I know it is difficult. You’ve made a fabulous start with this review. The picture of the matchstick fries made me want to reach out and eat them, and I really liked your discussion of the eggs benedict. You go girl!

  3. I know it’s disappointing but your posts were excellent. I so enjoyed them. It really showed that your poured your heart and soul into each and everyone.

  4. Toronto (along with Tokyo and Sydney) is one of the few great cities in the world which I have never visited. You review further enhances the feeling that I need to visit. Great job. GREG

  5. You know how I feel about you getting knocked out…. 🙁

    The decor/feel of this place reminds me of a restaurant I visited on the Southbank last time I was in London – perhaps due to the similar arty locations, but I think it looks similar too. I definitely don’t recall having any pretty flowers on my plate though.

    Eggs Benedict here is always with ham, so I’m interested to hear that over there it is served with bacon normally. I prefer it with ham, which I realise is quite uncool given the almost religious love of bacon by so many. I can handle being uncool.

  6. For those local and considering visitng, I would add that they’ve done a rather stellar job with the wine list, as well. A varied collection that has some value offerings, and a by-the-glass selection that offers some treats.

  7. Mardi:
    Like you, I was sad to go on pfb, and to see you go. But so glad I met you along the road. Your blog is so wonderful and a place i like coming to often.
    Your review really makes me want to try this place. The descriptions of the food are oozing, just like those yolks. The writing thorough. The colors in the photographs are so vibrant (that’s hard to do in a restaurant): very well done!!! Would have been a stand-out entry.
    BTW, an order of Poached eggs with smoked ham on artisan croissant with lemon hollandaise and a side of sugar spice beignets for me, pleeeeease!!! 🙂

  8. I was sorry to see that you didn`t advance, I`ve enjoyed your PFB votes.

    On a side note, I was also surprised to read “Based on the votes of the judges and your fellow Featured Publishers…” — so those votes from readers (like me) who are Foodbuzz foodies but not Featured Publishers don’t even count? Hmmm…nobody mentioned that before…

    Luma looks like a brunch place for me. I’ll have to pay a visit next time I’m visiting friends in TO! Theresa

    • Thanks Theresa. No, the public votes just counted towards Readers’ Choice which I was never going to win because I simply *don’t* have the readership. Many in the contest have thousands of readers a day. The vote that really counted for me was the judges’ vote and I will be attempting to get some feedback on that. Otherwise, I won’t have learned much from this experience. That last post really reflected who I am as a blogger so I would love to know how I could have done it differently (without compromising my integrity).

  9. Lovely job. You did a fabulous job in the contest. Don’t let it get you down. There are many more opportunities. Best wishes!

  10. I’m a huge eggs beni fan as well and the version they have looks amazing! Great photos! I’m sorry you were eliminated, but I’m glad you still posted this 🙂

  11. I was very disappointed to when I saw you and my other favorite going out with the last challenge. I really have no more reasons to follow the competition at this point. I feel deprived of the fun and I don’t look forward any more to see what some of you guys will do next. I’m glad you still posted the review. It’s still practice and we all are reading you independently of the competition!

  12. Ahh, it’s too bad that you didn’t make it any farther. But I’m sure that everyone enjoyed your writing as much as I did!

  13. i’m so sorry you didn’t make it to the next round. 🙁 it’s a bummer sitting out now, but you’re right that there’s still so many amazing things to blog about. your post is very well though out and i love the mirror photo. i was a reader before PFB, and i’m definitely going to continue to come back. plus it’s always the right time for booze and food! all the dishes look mouth watering – great job!

  14. Sorry you didn’t make it to the next round, but we’ve all benefited from finding your lovely blog through this contest. You are excellent at sharing food with us, and I am so glad that you’re doing it. There’s always next year, right?

    BTW, that is the best looking grilled cheese I’ve ever seen!! Perfect grill marks.

  15. what a beautiful brunch! i’m so glad you went ahead with the review post. (of course i was wondering what it might have been!) i hope that through the whole pfb process, some great new readers have discovered your blog and found out how terrific you are. looking forward to seeing what exciting things you do next!

  16. Thank you so much for writing your restaurant review Mardi! I have to say I’m so sad that you didn’t advance, you have done an AMAZING job with every challenge. I can’t say enough about how impressed I am with your restaurant review. Not to mention, the photos are just stunning!!! The food looks soooo good, I would have had a hard time deciding what to order!

  17. Mardi…. a huge congratulations for all your amazing posts and the energy you put into it all throughout the contest, you have ‘winner’ written all over you, I’m sure good things come out of this all the same. Thanks for the ride, I loved it and ‘cool review’.

  18. I discover your bog through the PFB and love it. I have voted for for you and was hopeful that you will be advance to the next round. It is okay that you did not. To me, you are already a winner because you have done your best!

  19. Who knew a grilled cheese could look so glorious! Your photographs of all the choices made at your brunch are stunning and your write-up is eloquent. Much like the writer herself.

    So very proud of your achievements throughout the competition Mardi and doubly so because you competed with such class and integrity.

    You can take great pride in knowing that for each step of the competition you did give it your best and you remained true to who you are.

  20. Wow, everythink looks and sounds absolutely incredible. Your pictures are just amazing… I think they should pay you for those images and post them on their site 😉
    Don’t be upset… there could only be one winner and you are amazingly talented (obviously!) and you can put that time and energy so many things. Top 24 is quite an accomplishment!!

  21. Yum. Great photos. I’ve been wanting to check Luma out for awhile.

    Congratulations on making it so far in the contest! There can only be one official winner so don’t stay down about it for long. You did a great job and you’re a winner for putting in the effort.

  22. Can I have one of everything ? 🙂 Mardi you should be extremely proud of yourself, not only did you make it to round 8, you also continued other challenges, memberships, working, and school not an easy feat !

    As you said your blog was around before with great success and I predict that it will continue !

  23. It doesn’t make it any less disappointing, but you entertained a bunch of us through your entire journey and you have a lot to be proud of. Bravo Mardi!

  24. Oh Mardi, so disappointed for you as well, but at least you can hold your head high to have made it so far, even if the voting did suck.

    Still gonna be around reading your blog, no point stopping now considering I’ve read every single one since Day 1!! Although it seems the web police have finally caught up with me and now don’t get to read each new blog at the start of the day. Keep up the great work.

    • Well not sure about the voting of the featured publishers – I am pretty sure it’s the judges’ vote I did not have. Why? I will never know. So infuriating. And yes, you are my most loyal reader – thank you for that 🙂

  25. I’m sorry to hear you didn’t make it to the next round, I’ve really been enjoying your posts so far. And congratulations for getting this far 🙂

    I love the review of this restaurant, all the dishes look stunning, especially the eggs benedict.

  26. I’m sorry to hear that I will not be able to vote on this post. I am certainly impressed by all of your effort throughout. Your dedication, creativity, and photos were inspiring.

    This brunch is making me hungry. I could totally go for a bowl of those frites, and the desserts – simply sublime!

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  28. What the…?! They knocked you out after the pumpkin challenge? That was the most incredible post you did. Arghh. No accounting for taste. Moving on, I know you will take this as fuel to reach even greater bloggy heights. Your readers have faith in you, Mardi, and now you’ve got even more of us, right? Still, I think you deserved to move on.

  29. I’ve said it to you before and I’ll say it again: you deserved to go all the way, love. But y’know what? Like you say, your blog does exist outside of the competition, and that’s an amazing thing. You are amazing.

    I love that you reviewed a place for brunch – very different and looks amazing! I’m not somebody who often eats breakfast, let alone brunch, but you could convince me otherwise.

    You’re a star. Don’t forget it!

    Jax x

  30. Oh, Mardi, I’m so sorry that you got knocked off the PFB, I think it’s so unfair 🙁 Well, you are awesome and so is your blog and this review is excellent! Some seriously gorgeous dishes at this place!

  31. So shocked that you didn’t make it to the next round (loved your ambitious pumpkin creations – especially for someone who doesn’t normally like pumpkin!)
    Regardless, your blog has grown by leaps and bounds since you started and I’m so happy to have found it (and one day, I’ll be able to say that I knew Mardi when….)
    So excited to dine with you in Toronto next week!!

  32. Those are FANTASTIC photos Mardi. Excellent post.

    Like I said before, I was sooooo shocked you didn’t make it to the next round. I really had you listed as one of the few “shoe-in”s from last round. Who knows what happened. If you do get feedback I would be curious to know as well. We are all perplexed!

    In any event, you write a wonderful blog and I still think it’s amazing how you were able to juggle and output so many things at once! Superwoman!

    • Thanks, I think it’s a pity that the “whole blogger” was not considered in this contest. I made a huge effort to keep on blogging as usual because my blog DOES exist outside this contest and I also have a bunch of other things (grad school, full time job) going on that I managed also. The fact that I managed to get so far and do so well on top of all those other things I thought would have counted for something. Apparently not. Perplexed is an understatement. In any case, thanks for your support and best of luck to you xox

  33. Mardi, I just wanted you to know that I admired your tenacity and hard work throughout this entire competition. You were one of the most passionate and each post was evidence of that – this is no different. You chose a wonderful restaurant, a unique meal (who doesn’t love brunch!?), and shared it beautifully! Well done, Mardi!

  34. That meal sounds DIVINE! Loved the photos and your descriptions. I think I may have even started drooling.

    I enjoyed all of your PFB entries, and I look forward to lots more great blogging. You’ve got a blogger friend for life! 🙂

  35. Hello! I wandered in here from somewhere on Twitter. This contest was way above my learning curve (and far too much work for this little ole southern cook) so I didn’t participate at all. This is such a well thought out and beautifully photographed post it’s a shame they missed out on it. Gorgeous!

  36. I am so sorry to hear that you didn’t go further in PFB, but am super pleased you still posted this review. I have not been to Luma, but as a fellow Torontonian, it is now firmly on my 2010 bucket list! Brunch is truly the best meal and your photos show a sleek and classy new brunch spot for a special occassion. Thanks for sharing!

  37. I know it stings but you did a great job. Hopefully, the exercise stretched and made you a better storyteller. I think it did for all of us who participated — and that’s something to be excited about.

    Great review and photos – very enticing.

  38. These pictures are gorgeous. That’s the most upscale plating of a grilled cheese sandwich that I’ve ever seen. I would be so excited to receive that plate. I like the look of the dessert plate too with its squiggly, artistic chocolate designs.

    I didn’t follow the PFB contest, but congratulations on your showing. Consdering how many people entered, round 8 is a huge accomplishment.

  39. Congratulations regardless Mardi! You have done an excellent job throughout the PFB contest and I’m so proud of you! You are an inspiration to us all!

  40. I was dissapointed to see the results too, but you’ve been a good sport even showing off what you have learned with this post.

    I always look forward to new posts PFB or not!


  41. Obviously, I’ve been reading your blog and following you on Twitter before PFB. (Duh, you wrote a guest post for my blog!) Although you were eliminated from the competition, I’m so happy that you posted your restaurant review anyway. You put my reviews to shame!

    Keep it up!

  42. Pingback: Saturday Six #47
  43. PFB brought us to you, so your readers are grateful for that! We’ll still keep reading and looking forward to whatever food adventures you’re up to!

  44. Hi,

    I am Joanna from the Trius PR Team.

    I have never been to Luma but the food looks amazing. I noticed that you mentioned the Henry Of Pelham Non-Vintage Cuvée Catharine Brut Rosé VQA and thought that this contest might be of interest to you.

    Trius Wines is currently offering one lucky winner and a guest the chance to Rediscover Trius During a Wine Country Weekend. The contest, running until January 5, 2011, offers a winner and guest a trip to Hillebrand Winery, and will include a private Culinary Experience with Chef Frank Dodd of Hillebrand Winery, and a private Wine Tasting Experience with Trius Winemaker Craig McDonald, and much more.

    Good Luck and hope to see you there =)

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