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Toronto, at the moment


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#361 Sneakeater

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Posted 05 January 2019 - 06:31 PM

Or of anything.


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#362 Sneakeater

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Posted 05 January 2019 - 06:33 PM


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#363 joethefoodie

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Posted 05 January 2019 - 08:06 PM

Pictures? What pictures? But Sneak doesn't take photos (at least not of food).

Who said they were his pictures?



#364 Sneakeater

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Posted 06 January 2019 - 04:23 AM

Did you see the one with the pre-dead lobster?
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#365 Patrick

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Posted 06 January 2019 - 04:47 AM

Quetzal: Quite good, friendly staff, may be a tad light on wine knowledge but doubt it's the focus there. Highlights were the baja tiradito, and one of the Masa dishes whose name escapes me. The meat dishes (sweetbreads, chorizo, lamb neck) were universally solid, and the saucing/salsa quite good, if lacking a little edge. Whether it be spice, bitterness or acid.

Skippa: closest analogue in Montreal is Park, but skippa is much better. One of the sweetest staffs I've ever encountered though they really do expect you to follow instruction. Took the omakase menu with some supplements. About a month ago so no longer entirely clear on the specifics. The plated dishes better than the sushi. Rice seemed a bit off. Generally very much enjoyed. A bit of grit in the clam based dishes but i seem particularly sensitive to it in both mushrooms and shellfish.

Canis: closest analogue in Montreal is le mousso. Canis was much better and more interesting. Good wine list though filled with spelling errors for the French wines. More traditional concepts very well executed ( such as the chicken liver tart) as well as different and interesting components such as the sourdough miso and the squid/padthai dish. Good pacing for a tasting, and portions still satisfied someone with a stronger appetite such as myself.

Generally speaking, my restaurant meals were of very high quality. Better than I was expecting. Special shoutout to the LCBO for making a generic SAQ  store seem like chambers by comparison.

#366 Adrian

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Posted 06 January 2019 - 06:55 PM

You were also at the LCBO during the best time of year to be at the LCBO. There are only two in the entire province that are even okay.

 

You ate and picked well. I'm overdue for a Canis visit - my fall visit got scuttled due to basement flooding at the restaurant. Have been impressed, but your assessment is stronger than mine, so I need to get back. 

 

Skippa is excellent. The sushi is a bit odd as they don't age the fish at all - apparently this is more of a southern Japanese thing, IDK - so everything has a bit of that chew, but it's good fish. The chef, Ian, spent years working at Kaji as the number two, so he knows what he's doing.

 

I really, really like Quetzal. Maybe the dishes are a bit smoothed out, but it's all very authentic (for lack of a better word) and very delicious. Wine isn't the focus, but it is kind of a fun, quirky wine list with everything being new world. 

 

You choose really well. 


I think you need to interpret what I'm saying in a reasonable way.


#367 Sneakeater

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Posted 16 January 2019 - 10:48 PM

So the first thing you have to deal with as a visitor to Toronto is how MAJOR a city it is.  For some reason, I was expecting somewhere on the level of, say, Cleveland.  But no:  the comparable for Toronto is Chicago.

 

So once you see Toronto for what it is, you begin to expect a major food scene.  And you get it.  Toronto isn't Montreal:  there's no unique indigenous style.  But there's food there, at all levels, worthy of a first-tier North American city.

 

Even we Toronto-ignorants know that the city is known for its diversity.  That gives it a broad range of ethnic spots that I only scratched the surface of on my recent visit (although one of those places gave me what had to be my most exciting meal of 2018).  But again, what was unexpected to me was the extremely high quality of its mainstream restaurant scene.


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#368 Sneakeater

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Posted 16 January 2019 - 10:59 PM

Buca Osteria & Bar

 

Buca is a mini-empire of Italian restaurants helmed by a very talented chef named Rob Gentile (I had very much enjoyed his food at a pop-up in Brooklyn last year).  I'm most attracted by the menu at the OG Buca on King Street, with a Babbo-like focus on off-cut meat.  But everybody says that the best Buca is their slick osteria in the Four Seasons Hotel, focusing on seafood.  And I can't dispute its excellence.

 

The signature dish is a branzino crudo, showily carved table-side (they only sell it by the fish, so you couldn't have it solo) (well, I guess you could, but . . . .).  It's as good as can be, silky, slightly pungent.  There are also a bunch of seafood salume that are as good as they are interesting.

 

My pasta was excellent (and leaned toward King Street), topped as it was with chicken feet and mushrooms that had been slow-cooked into almost a paste.

 

I don't even remember what I had for my main dish -- but I liked it.

 

As always in Canada, the wine was overpriced at the bottom end but surprisingly reasonable at the top end.  Nice selection of fairly exotic bottles.

 

The thing to say to New Yorkers is that this place is much better than Marea, and better than Esca as well.  It's not exciting or anything (unlike Marea, it doesn't try to succeed at serving seafood by being overwrought).  It's just very very good (the occasional cooking flaws that pop up at Esca just don't seem to happen here).

 

COMP DISCLOSURE:  They didn't charge us for ANYTHING.  Not even beverages.  NOTHING.  But we didn't know that was going to happen until they brought us an empty bill folder at the end of the meal, so our responses to the food were honest.


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#369 Wilfrid

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Posted 17 January 2019 - 12:43 AM

Following with interest. I like many things about Toronto, but of course resented being sent there year after year to renew my H1B while my green card application dragged through the system. I did enjoy Harry Rosen, with the exchange rate.

I was lucky to be there when Susur Lee was being amazing.

#370 Adrian

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Posted 17 January 2019 - 01:40 AM

So the first thing you have to deal with as a visitor to Toronto is how MAJOR a city it is.  For some reason, I was expecting somewhere on the level of, say, Cleveland.  But no:  the comparable for Toronto is Chicago.

 

So once you see Toronto for what it is, you begin to expect a major food scene.  And you get it.  Toronto isn't Montreal:  there's no unique indigenous style.  But there's food there, at all levels, worthy of a first-tier North American city.

 

Even we Toronto-ignorants know that the city is known for its diversity.  That gives it a broad range of ethnic spots that I only scratched the surface of on my recent visit (although one of those places gave me what had to be my most exciting meal of 2018).  But again, what was unexpected to me was the extremely high quality of its mainstream restaurant scene.

 

Very glad you've been responsive to my brutal public shaming. 

 

The Chicago comparison is pretty good. The culinary scene is, I think, outside of the top end (we can't legitimately compete in any volume with Chicago's number of 2-3 stars*, and economics will probably always preclude that), vastly superior in terms of range of options and quality in both the mid and upper mid. Even the "ethnic" moniker I don't think is quite right - the connotation is the cheap dive when really, if you look at the Markham Chinese scene or, increasingly, K-Town North, you have a functioning ecosystem of Chinese food at all levels. I don't think there is a city in North America where shark fin (when it's not banned), birdsnest, whole abalone, etc. is as readily available. Let's call it "non-Western" but, yes, as you'll post about, it's very good.

 

But yeah, in terms of US/Canada food rankings, it rates to me below LA/SF/NYC on a general scale, above Chicago, below Montreal for a specific niche interest (French cooking, which counts for a lot in my world), possibly below New Orleans depending on your feelings about their indigenous brand of cooking, and above Philly, Boston, DC, and similarly situated cities. 

 

*We can draw an architectural analogy here too. I think Toronto is nicer than Chicago at the neighbourhood level, but the high end architecture isn't close. Similarly, the tourist attractions are more hidden - our museum's don't compare, but the smaller scale stuff is, I think, simply better. 


I think you need to interpret what I'm saying in a reasonable way.


#371 Adrian

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Posted 17 January 2019 - 01:45 AM

Buca Osteria & Bar

 

Buca is a mini-empire of Italian restaurants helmed by a very talented chef named Rob Gentile (I had very much enjoyed his food at a pop-up in Brooklyn last year).  I'm most attracted by the menu at the OG Buca on King Street, with a Babbo-like focus on off-cut meat.  But everybody says that the best Buca is their slick osteria in the Four Seasons Hotel, focusing on seafood.  And I can't dispute its excellence.

 

The signature dish is a branzino crudo, showily carved table-side (they only sell it by the fish, so you couldn't have it solo) (well, I guess you could, but . . . .).  It's as good as can be, silky, slightly pungent.  There are also a bunch of seafood salume that are as good as they are interesting.

 

My pasta was excellent (and leaned toward King Street), topped as it was with chicken feet and mushrooms that had been slow-cooked into almost a paste.

 

I don't even remember what I had for my main dish -- but I liked it.

 

As always in Canada, the wine was overpriced at the bottom end but surprisingly reasonable at the top end.  Nice selection of fairly exotic bottles.

 

The thing to say to New Yorkers is that this place is much better than Marea, and better than Esca as well.  It's not exciting or anything (unlike Marea, it doesn't try to succeed at serving seafood by being overwrought).  It's just very very good (the occasional cooking flaws that pop up at Esca just don't seem to happen here).

 

COMP DISCLOSURE:  They didn't charge us for ANYTHING.  Not even beverages.  NOTHING.  But we didn't know that was going to happen until they brought us an empty bill folder at the end of the meal, so our responses to the food were honest.

 

Since you're review was written after the comp, you are wholly biased, but I can confirm your assessment. What is great about Buca Yorkville is how perfectly it nails its spot - it's a buzzy, trendy room serving modern-coastal Italian food next to a large, fancy hotel, which sounds like it could be a nightmare but it's actually that party done really well with cooking that is unbelievably on-point and without compromise. The seafood salumi is great and kind of hilarious for esoteric Toronto reasons. I am less fond of King Street (though it's good) and have always really liked Bar Buca, despite the creeping prices. Anyway, the Bucas, good restaurant group. 

 

(I think you had a fish in salt-crust, which is correct).


I think you need to interpret what I'm saying in a reasonable way.


#372 Sneakeater

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Posted 17 January 2019 - 07:40 AM

I ordered separately from the rest of the table.
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#373 Adrian

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Posted 25 January 2019 - 12:19 AM

https://www.thestar....g-partners.html

 

it was a moment.


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#374 Sneakeater

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Posted 04 February 2019 - 10:26 PM

Bar Raval
 
Once you realize that Toronto is a major world-class city, it's like, so why wouldn't it have a first-rate tapas bar?
 
The first thing you notice upon entering Bar Raval is the interior.  The whole room is heavily grained wood in Art Nouveauish swirls, just gorgeous.
 
Next thing you notice is the almost complete lack of seats.  Now I get that tapas bars in Spain often lack seating as well.  But don't they tend to have passed plates, instead of dishes containing multiple portions that you order and then have to deal with?
 
When the food starts to come, you stop giving a shit about convenience.  It's that good.  The conservas are great.  The cold things are great.  The hot things are great.  The plates that approach raciones are great (it's great that there aren't really lots of those:  these actually are tapas here, in large part).  Nothing really stood out:  it was all top-notch.
 
I can't really think of a tapas bar I've ever eaten in in New York that approaches this.
 
(Of course, nice to have a meal with Adrian.) (And Jesikka. But almost all my meals on this trip were with fellow visitor Jesikka.)
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#375 Sneakeater

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Posted 04 February 2019 - 10:55 PM

Alo
 
Alo is a fancy French (but, looking over the meal card now, weeks later, I have to say not too French) tasting-menu place.  It's on the top floor of a Victorian low-rise, and the dining room feels notably spacious and airy.  (That's how you know you're not in New York:  this is really spacious -- not made to look more spacious than it is, or designed without a thought given to elbow room, other than to eliminate it).
 
Now I have to say I thought this dinner was just wonderful.  And it had to be the quality of the cooking, because looking the meal card over, nothing jumps out as seeming particularly "interesting".  This was just a case of excellent ingredients, thoughtfully combined and excellently prepared.
 
I'm not saying I didn't wish I had more of that venison saddle and whatever game bird it was I begged them to add to my card even though the wimpy rest of the table didn't want any.  But this was a very enjoyable extended tasting-menu meal.
 
So where does Alo stand in the scheme of things?  The first thing to note is that although they do (I think) have a counter, the seating is predominately at tables.  And it's a good-size dining room.  So Alo feels like a restaurant, not a cultic center.  That's an advantage.
 
The next thing to note -- if I didn't make this clear already -- is that while the cooking is modern, it's not in any way experimental.  There are Asian influences (because 2018) (yeah I've been remiss in writing this up).  But it's not as out-and-out fusiony as Brooklyn Fare (or even Blanca, for that matter).  It's more like Jean Georges when that restaurant was still fresh.  (Of course, I have no idea how JG is now, as there's no way I'm entering that building, much less spending money that will go into that rent stream.)  But that's fine.  And the cooking was very, very good.  Like, really good.   Like, superb.
 
So I really loved this place.  On the other hand, if I lived in Toronto, I doubt I'd be there very often.  (And yeah, Ian, I did go to a Balkan dance party afterward.  But I didn't see anybody else from the dining room -- not even from my table -- there.)


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