For TIFF Visitors: Resto Guide

TIFF Guide to Restaurants ( will be added to daily…)

Toronto restaurants will get their biggest boost of the year during TIFF which opens this week. Visitors should have no trouble distinguishing Toronto from Vancouver or Montreal, neither which city has anything like the variety or substance or sheer entertainment of Toronto, which is a true melting pot of food. But be warned eager eater, you need advice to know where to go and how much it’s gonna cost, and how easy it is to find….and so on….which are the show places, where the good deals, which restaurants are uniquely Toronto…..

The following list will be updated regularly….all opinions are my own, most taken from published reviews….

Prices $ – cheap. $$ entrée under 20 $$$ entrée over 20

New! Ame, 19 Mercer St. 416 599 7246. a block from the Bell Lightbox. The Rubino Brothers makeover of Rain (Ame) is a shogun’s palace with jujube cocktails, a eurotake on Japanese food, shared plates, great fish on the mellow robrata grill, $$(Reviewed Sept 12)

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National Post Restaurant Review – Boland’s Open Kitchen

Boland’s Open Kitchen sank its roots into the Leaside bourgeoisie almost before it had served its first amuse- bouche last year.  Located  on the Mount Pleasant shopping strip a couple of blocks above Davisville, Boland’s is the epitome of a successful neighbourhood joint, jolly, idiosyncratic if not rather rum, driven by the gregarious personality of owner-chef Christopher Boland. On a recent snowy Thursday night, Boland, a veteran North Toronto restaurateur, Trapper’s, The Tasting Room,  is bustling through  the restaurant, a shoebox with cut-outs for open kitchen and bar, gladhanding regulars.. When  he stops beside my table at the back of the restaurant he looks a bit stumped. What does a lone diner signify? I am in fact waiting for a guest. Have been for twenty minutes. My cellphone’s not working in the restaurant and Boland urges me to use his phone. I navigate my way to the front of the restaurant only to discover my guest is sitting at a table building a modest head of frustration. The reservation was in my companion’s name, referred to by both of us, and even so we were taken to different tables.

No big deal I quickly say. On the other hand, the gaffe has thrown us and the meal out.  In this comfort restaurant we are discomfited. The oldfashioned three-course meal, the staple of the neighbourhood restaurant,  is unlike tapas, little plates served simultaneously like baked meats at an upscale wake. The three-course meal has a  beginning, a middle and an end, each with its own properties. The hors d’oeuvres are like the overture to a musical, the first act sets up the plot, the main course develops the emotionally engaging themes,  while the dessert is a piquant wrap up.

Thing is – without the form, the meal loses its mojo. One of us didn’t get the hors d’oeuvre, so we just dive cold into the first courses.  They’re AOK. Nothing  much wrong l with bone marrow gratinee with garlic, parsley and Madeira $9, and the crab salad with citrus, avocado and cherry tomato salsa $8 is crisply refreshing.

We dither over the main course. We’ve started well. Now we need to be really impressed. We like the recession proof prices – the  most expensive dish is a New York striploin with crispy potato cake and Bearnaise sauce $25, and $21 isn’t too much to pay for  braised lamb shank, a goodly taste of meat fallen off the bone into a mess of depuy lentils, oyster mushrooms, preserved lemon and harissa lamb-spiced reduction. But the course doesn’t have heft. It doesn’t fulfil its role as the main event. Maybe it’s the tapas’ influence, but so many second courses today are eclipsed by the liveliness of the first courses.  The lamb needs much bolder Harissa for my taste.    Steamed salmon $21 is similarly flavour-challenged, chunky and bland despite cream leeks, veal and salmon reduction, orange zest and tarragon.

However we’re mellowing out now with a N.Z.  Pinot Noir $46. The wine list is drinker-friendly, bottles start at $38 – for a South African Shiraz, although there aren’t many wines by the glass. Surveying the room, we’re impressed by customer fervour. I think everyone must be a regular, they seem so happily at home and quite accepting of the friendly service, even if it is a bit erratic.

Boland’s Open Kitchen  575 Mt Pleasant  416-482 2424  Wheelchair accessible. Three-course dinner: food plus tax $62

Mystery of the Week. If you live in the West End and pine for the taste of Jacques Bistro du Parc, the longtime Cumberland eyrie and go-to eyrie for those going to and fro the Cumberland multiplex  — well, Beau Lieu Bistro is just for you.  Chef Lon and Sarah Gireau, members of Jacques’ staff for the past eight years, have opened this Jacques branch on Ossington, just north of Queen, a darkly intimate storefront.  We enjoy the Jacques’ menu, smoked trout, veal sweet breads in green and red sauces, duck a l’orange,  oeuf at la neige, and creme caramel, made however with coffee. And we think Gireau’s service is both friendly and admirable.   Question now is whether the food and service at Jacques have changed in the wake of Lon and Gireau’s departure?

Beau Lieu Bistro 59 Ossington 647 345 5525 Not wheelchair accessible. Dinner for Two, food plus tax $108.

National Post Resto Review Sept 5 2009 Eat this Flick!

The Road, based on Cormac McCarthy’s dystopian novel, will send orthorexics, those who trash processed food and those who eat it, viral. All Viggo Mortenson and Kodi Smit-McPhee can glean from the apocalyptic devastation is canned food. A coke’s never looked so good. Nor will a big fat steak from Toronto’s finest, Harbour Sixty (60 Harbour St. 416 777 2111) Harbour Sixty Bone in Rib Steak $51.95. Starter: pan seared foie gras, mango, icewine reduction $38.95.

Cooking with Stella could be a food network show: Canadian diplomat /chef  Don McKellar gets cooking lessons in the complex art of Indian cooking from embassy housekeeper Seema Biswa. Taste buds will be activated full time so moviegoers are encouraged to make tracks for the fine Ayurveda cuisine at Curry Twist ( for 3034 Dundas W. 416-769-54600 – a bit of a hitch from downtown) for Baigan Bharta ,smoked mashed eggplant 9.95  Salmon in creamy masala sauce $13. house specials like Curry Twist Chicken.

Creation is a serious go at sexing up science, Charles Darwin as a human rather than an ape. On his deathbed, he allegedly reflected that sandwiches disproved evolution. So skip the food for thought and visit an oyster bar for fine array of mollusks from Malpeques to Galway Flats, Kumamotos, Belon– Rodney’s by Bay (56 Temperance, 416-703-5111) or Starfish Oyster Bed & Grill (100 Adelaide E 416-366 7827).

Capitalism – A Love Story. What agro artist Michael Moore got up his supersized sleeve. Take him seriously and book in advance at The Fifth Grill and Terrace (25 Richmond St. W 416-979-3005), Toronto’s ode to conspicuous consumption on top of Easy nightclub. Now offering a summer prix fixe  $39 for three courses, $49 for four, including filet mignon with bearnaise, asparagus risotto.

Jennifer’s Body is about a cheerleader (Megan Fox) turned cannibal, an insatiable Carrie with real teeth. Keep fright night going at  Blowfish(  668 King St W 416 –860-0606 ) music bouncing off the walls, with quick eats,  crispy crab, shrimp and scallop with lemon and tamari kewpie dips $10, roasted duck breast with fresh papaya, mango and honey pineapple sauce $22.

The Informant! Matt Damon is the whistleblower at Archer Daniels Midland — which is charged with cornering corn, one of the cornerstones of our processed food diet. If you’re dining with an organichead, find meat that isn’t finished with corn – like the filet of horse at Osteria Ciceri e Tria (106 Victoria St. 416-955-0258) taken from a Chinese style menu where nothing is more than $15.

The Men who stare at Goats. George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges are new age warriors  with paranormal techniques. Among them, they stare at goats and kill them.  Can’t face meat, so visit Ichi Riki (120 Bloor E 416-923-2997) and be entertained by Riki, maestro and storyteller of the  raw fish narrative. Horse mackerel sashimi $9, yellow tail $13.

The Young Victoria. Early life of racy Empress of India glimpsed in demure Emily Blunt who’s getting it on with Rupert Friend. Only the place to be seen will do for afterwards. The terrace at One in the Hazelton Hotel (118 Yorkville 416 961 9600) for grilled Dover sole with orange and hazelnut brown butter – market price.

Dorian Gray, Colin Firth and Ben Barnes  now play the corrupter and corruptee in Oscar Wilde’s danse macabre, Dorian Gray. Right place is elegant French hang the $58 prix fixe at Didier (1496 Yonge 416 925-8588) eggs in ramekins, black truffle, foie gras, Madeira sauce, sea bass and Hollandaise, contre-filet and frites.

Atom Egoyan’s Chloe is a steamy triangulated tale of sexual jealousy starriing Juliannne Moore, Liam Neesom, Amanda Seyfried. Prepare for screening with breakfast at Union (72 Ossington Ave, 416-850-0093) in the city’s hot neighbourhood, the nearest thing to a Paris café, pastis, homemade baguette, or an  early lunch pork and shrimp burger topped with a fried egg $12.

The Invention of Lies posits that without lies, there is no fantasy or fiction. After writer Ricky Gervais tells his first lie, his world turns upside down.  Digest this wisdom at Splendido (88 Harbord St 929 7788) and celebrate with pappardelle, pulled rabbit, artichokes $17, and particularly the cheese plate featuring  Canadian winners like Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar, Fifth Town’s hard goat cheese, Quebec’s Grey owl and more at $7 a slice.

National Post Restaurant Review July 4 2009 MID YEAR RATINGS

Where to Eat First In Toronto…

Food’s taking a beating in the recession and mother nature ain’t helping. David Cohlmayer of Cookstown Greens, a major source for local produce,  reports that erratic spring weather is playing havoc with the availability of his hot-weather crops.

Prices are rising with significant impact on restaurants..  The city’s fresh,local, organic pioneer Jamie Kennedy is retrenching, his signature place Jamie Kennedy Wine bar is for sale and he’s downscaled to sandwiches at JK at the Gardiner.

The emphasis now has shifted to cooking, the name of the game is prix fixe. I wonder whether it’s necessary to have the Summerlicious program, which started on July 3. Instead of putting restaurants through the Summerlicious boot camp, why didn’t the city just promote the restaurants directly? At this time,  restos don’t need sales hounds but customers committed to eating well.

The good news is that when I went to give midyear rating to city restos, I found a heartening trend – quality is up.

My picks for a great night out. First the four restaurants which define for me Toronto’s gastronomic character. They’re all chef –owned (or co-owned) which makes them more personal and distinct from restaurants owned by groups.

Madeline’s. 602 King W. 416 603 2205

Domenic Amaral (inspired by Susur Lee) is maestro of the most creative cooking shop in town, a large menu of shared plates that ranges deliciously across the range of Eurofusion with Asian tweaks. The crispy Cornish  hen  is non pareil, crunchy without, moist within. $17

Didier. 1496 Yonge Street 416 925-8588 A city without a classic French place is hardly a food city. Didier Leroy, recently named a Maitre Cuisinier de France for his Escoffier-inspired menu,  flies the flag with panache. A perfect handcut steak tartar is part of the nightly $68 Prix Fixe dinner.

Mistura. 265 Davenport Road  416 515-0009  Skip the shrink and go to showman (Food Channel) Massimo Capra’s comfort zone for a menu of rich even riotous dishes- handcut spaghetti  Nova Scota Lobster, zenzero, diced tomato, leeks, garlic and scallions $22.

Colborne Lane. 45 Colborne St 416 368-9009 Claudio Aprile’s personal take on techno-emotional stream of consciousness is an inspiring jolt to conventional Toronto. Big hit: Tea smoked squab breast, squab confit, foie gras croquette, date and chocolate sauces, cocoa crumbs, brussel sprouts. $33
Stalwarts

Scaramouche. One Benvenuto Place 416-961-8011. Great view plus Keith Frogett’s skilful presentation of mod Canadian .Pasta Bar winner is grilled provimi calf’s liver $26. Lobster festival til July 30.

Nota Bene. 180 Queen St W,416 977 6400

Yannick Bigourdan and chef David Lee’s affordable Splendido (they’ve sold the original fleshpot)  a conventional, MOR menu with glossy service, a great après work scene, known for  Lee’s 9/oz wagyu beef burger & foie gras  with frites, 41,

Pangaea. 1221 Bay Street (416) 920-2323
A congenial midtown kharma is showcase for lite healthy menu designed by FLO,fresh,local,organic,Martin Kouprie.  Currently, wild salmon is available, on  shiitake mushrooms, water chestnuts,  ginger and bok choy, lime–caramel sauce 40.95

Newbies

LG3 2177 Yonge Street,416-487-9900
Young turk Daniel Perretta spent l8 months at Chicago’s Alinea, the US’ techno-emotional outpost, and has come back with the toolkit. Like Olive Oil rocks (in organic mache $13) and a ball of ginger carrot soup with candied cilantro and freeze dried coconut that literally explodes in your mouth. Also Spain’s Pate Negra, unctuously rich ham $18.

Osteria Ciceri E Tria. 106 Victoria St. (at Queen St. E.), 416-955-0258.
Puglia, the new travel destination, is celebrated by chef Giovanna Alonzi in this engaging trattoria. Menu changes daily, everything, including five-dish antipasti, costs 15 bucks. You can mix and match as well. Don’t miss the grilled horse and excellent tripe.
The Black Hoof. 938 Dundas St W 416 551 8854 ‎Snacker’s heaven, local charcuterie by Grant Van Gameran, dynamite cocktails by Jen Agg. Charcuterie plates ($16,24) change daily. Look for the bison and blueberry salami bison and the five buck giant marrow bone.

Home from Home.

The unintimidating neighbourhood restaurant is home from home for the too-tired-to cook. Few noticed Casey Bee and Bill Sweete when they opened Sidecar (577 College St416 536-7000) last year. Menu was basic, steak and Badass mojitos and a weekday prix fixe –now $24. Bee and Sweete’s cheap and cheerful message is spreading. Recently they opened Negroni, a pannini shop at 492 College St. 416 413-0005, and soon, a private members bar above Sidecar itself.

National Post Restaurant Review June 27 2009 – Holts Cafe *Arcadian Court

To Shop, To Eat in Toronto

New York has Le Train Blue in Bloomingdales, London has Harvey Nichols’ Fifth Floor, Paris has Brasserie Printemps – and  that’s just for starters. The top department stores have up to six restaurants and some are good enough to be foodie destinations.

How about Toronto?

I can find only two department stores with comparable restaurants – The Bay and Holt Renfrew. In the steps of history, I head for Arcadian Court, opened by Simpson’s (now The Bay) in 1929 for the carriage trade who dressed up just to eat lunch.
Arcadian Court was Simpson’s riposte to Eaton’s lavishly appointed Georgian Room, inspired by luxe department stores in New York and London. Simpson’s  one-upped Eaton’s with the largest most fantastic restaurant in any department store anywhere in the world. The room was of titanic proportions, forty foot high ceilings punctured with Byzantine domed skylights, a wall of windows, Florentine wrought iron balustrades, a football field of gold tables and chairs ….
Uhuh. We step off the elevator on the eighth floor of the Simpson Tower- the route to Arcadian Court, and our jaws drop.

First thing—the  space is overwhelming and ghostly. The original grandeur of Arcadian Court is now a fragment of memory. The windows are painted out, Only half the space is in use. When I called to make a reservation, I was told “Just walk in.” We join perhaps twenty patrons at tables which could seat 80. Women, the very young, a baby cries in a banquette, and the very old, predominate.

Two buffet tables are offering a deal, $17.95 for all you can eat. We order la carte. Service is Fawlty Towers. Any moment John Cleese will appear and insult us. Wait a moment , a dead ringer for Manuel the Waiter gets to us first. He is enthusiastic about the Chicken Pot Pie – an Arcadian Court tradition since 1929! Like the room the pie ($11.95) is huge, enough for atleast two. The puff pastry crust is flawless. But underneath lurks chicken chunks tasting faintly of cardboard and peas which may well be left over from 1929. We try out another couple of standards. Farmed Atlantic salmon ($14.95) grilled with Teriyaki  glaze is dry. Sesame chicken ($13.50) is almost juicy and comes with garlic-mashed potatoes.

We leave a terminal patient on life support – mirroring the decline of the city as a market for  upscale department stores.
By  contrast, Holts Café is refreshingly mod. It’s a glossy white gift box brought to brilliant light by the bank of windows overlooking Bloor. The  signature food is the tartine, an open faced sandwich made with the famous Poilane bread ($40 a loaf) flown daily from Paris.

When I call to reserve a table I’m told that the place is fully booked today. We show up anyway and are offered seats at the bar or at the “communal table” which has been set up in the foyer.  A communal table doesn’t sound Holtish to us. The seats stay empty and we know why: they’re those high chairs which require a mountaineer’s muscles to climb into.

Holts is virtually a testosterone-free zone. Women predominate – a large  party of young women must be giving a colleague a shower. Iced tea is the predominant drink, salad the favourite eats.

We find seats on an overcrowded sofa and crouch over the little table. We ask to be upgraded. Never happens. Otherwise service is friendly and fast. But what’s this, the menu differs significantly from the online menu. I’d planned to order Canadian Caviare $28 but it’s gone and so is Lobster and Bib lettuce salad $24……,

I settle for classic crab cakes $8, three small and crispy and entirely unremarkable and not very crabby frites. My companion chooses a Tuna Nicoise salad $16. Big chunk of seared tuna and a forest of green stuff. Wine is good, a $13 glass of New Zealand Sauvignon blanc, a $12 glass of Pinot Gris.

We finally gain possession of the sofa until challenged by a woman with a pram.
Posh. Not.

*Arcadian Court, 401 Bay, _Simpson Tower, 8th Floor_
416-393-7281 . Wheelchair accessible. Lunch for Two: food and tax $50

** Holts Café 50 Bloor W. On Mezzanine. 416-922-2333  Wheel chair accessible. Lunch for Two: food and tax $55
To read about Armani’s restaurant in Manhattan, go to ginamallet.com