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.

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