Let’s shake hands with Natalie Taylor, shall we? This talented and stylish lady is a well-known T.O blogger, not afraid to share with us her travels (local and far) and yummy eats. Her interest in meeting new people, exploring hidden places, and noshing on interesting bites has given her more than her fair share of blog topics. Near Afar is the culmination of just that; simply said, it’s what she likes to eat, visit and talk about in the city and abroad. With travel guides and destination links on her blog, Natalie has covered Toronto, and the globe, inside and out.
Let’s hear what this girl’s gotta say about all things food…
When and why did you start writing about food?
I’ve always enjoyed trying new restaurants. In 2008, I was commissioned by BlackBook Magazine to write a city guide on Toronto. I reviewed over 300 restaurants, bars and hotels in our fair T Dot in about four months. It was a great way to get to know the city better. From there, I started writing about my favourites on my blog Near Afar.
What do you love most about food?
I love that food can surprise you. I love that it can incorporate the five senses and contribute to a story. Lastly, I love sharing it with others.
What do you do when you aren’t writing about or eating food?
I’m traveling, so it’s one and the same. I don’t think I could ever stop trying new places and sharing my finds with others.
Do you cook? If so, what’s your specialty? If not, why?
I don’t cook as much as I would like but I am the master of a baked fried chicken recipe I found in Chatelaine years ago. It’s made with buttermilk, chili pepper and oregano. It is soft and chewy but not bland because of the spices. That and if you ever needed a great take on a Greek salad with spinach, I’m your gal.
What’s your favourite type of food(s) and where do you go to get it?
I am always on the hunt for the next great fish taco. Grand Electric is home to the best fish taco in Toronto. La Carnita is on its heels though with its voltron taco. That said, I’m not sure what the line-ups are like at La Carnita. Grand Electric is now a bit of a pilgrimage for me, so it’s a treat when I get to have it. Burgers are my other quest and Holy Chuck has a great version of the Big Mac. My best surprise was The Keg’s prime rib burger. It’s well done (well done!) and is served with two sides for under $15. Great value!
What’s your favourite hidden gem?
In Toronto, my favourite hidden gem is Asteria Souvlaki on the Danforth. It doesn’t look like much on the outside, but their chicken souvlaki is the best I’ve had in the neighbourhood. Plus, it’s cheap! I also like Delica Kitchen, which does a great version of the Oreo cookie.
Abroad, my most recent find was St. Norbert’s Brewery in Prague, which was a brewery housed at a monastery. The beer is all made on-site and the food excellent. It was the best beer I have ever had. When you walk outside of the monastery, you can walk downhill beside Petrin Hill for some of the best views of Prague similar to that from Prague Castle but without the crowds.
What’s your go-to restaurant?
My go-to restaurant is Khao San Road. The street-style Pad Thai is the best I’ve had in Toronto. That said, everything on the menu is excellent and consistent. Plus, the staff are so nice and hard working. It’s central, so it is where I take guests from out of town. But never on a Saturday!
What’s the most memorable meal you’ve ever had?
The most memorable meal I had was with my dorm mates from Hostel Celica in Slovenia (a hostel in a reconverted jail). We all bonded over a loud, snoring Irish woman in our room so we decided to do dinner. We went to Sokol in Ljubljana. The ten of us had a feast of goulash, wild boar, venison and deer sprinkled with cranberries. We also had lots and lots of wine. One guy at our table was named Jean Baptiste. The table next to us was an elderly choir from Germany who did a rendition of Edelweiss complete with dance moves. Random and delicious!
What’s one restaurant you have to try before you die?
Restaurants are always changing so I don’t know if there’s one, especially if it goes away (remember El Bulli? That would have been my answer). So based on the reviews, I would say Thomas Keller’s French Laundry. I like that it’s a journey to get there. I’m a sucker for classic New York and Monkey Bar is also on that list.
What’s your biggest restaurant pet peeve? (Play nice.)
I’m not exactly a fan of the line ups that happen for very casual restaurants making great food (ie. Grand Electric, Khao San Road, Burger’s Priest). To wait for two hours and be relegated to the bar across the street and pay more when all I want is a $3.50 taco? Come on! But it’s beyond anyone’s control. Good food is good food and people will wait for it.