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Toronto, at the moment


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#1 Adrian

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Posted 14 January 2011 - 10:56 PM

Before I begin this long post, I wanted to mention that Joe Beef in Montreal is serving a foie gras double down. It is two pieces of deep fried foie, bacon, maple syrup smoked cheddar, duck skin schmaltz mayo, and brown sugar apple juice. The self parody that is Montreal bistro-trash food has reached a new level of awesomeness. I sincerely hope to get to Montreal before this thing disappears from the menu.

Coming home for the holidays, I realized what an oddly dynamic city Toronto is Ė itís a relentless trend chaser at its worst, constantly looking Southeast to New York, when it should be looking West to Chicago, but at its best itís clever and creative, a mosaic (not, heaven forefend, a melting pot!) of vibrant neighbourhoods that are constantly reinventing themselves. As such, most of my recent dining adventures have been spent exploring the neighbourhoods around Ossington street, which have, over the past decade, transformed themselves from an old-Toronto Siberia into a perfectly acceptable place for a family dinner (and also a perfectly acceptable place to meet friends out afterwords).

Foxley, on Ossington and Foxley, feels like it should be standard NBC type of place (It' NBC, I donít care what the state of the thread a couple forums up is) but isnít and not really in a good way. Where the location, the room, and even the name suggest the sort of pretentious, relentlessly local, restaurant that can be both consistently refreshing when done well and unbearably tiresome when done poorly, the menu is Asian tapas. Kind of dated, eh? I hate it when I agree with Joanna Kates, but the ceviche and raw fish dishes are uniformly excellent. Precisely balanced between sweet and acidic, they spotlight the fish not the prep. Similarly, the wild BC sockeye was inexpensive, due to the summer surplus, and delicious, if a hair overcooked, although the accompaniments were unremarkable. Funnily, this, the most NBC thing on the menu, was also the best of the cooked dishes. The rest of the menu trended towards mediocrity which would be fine if the restaurant didnít irk me with its tapas style of presentation. Why must the size and number of portions on each plate always be woefully inadequate for the number of people that are eating it? Sometimes it is easier to order a plate of hipster pixie dust seasoned artisanal buttermilk fried chicken with a side of pixie dustless and under-seasoned Brussels sprouts to share.

Further north on Ossington is Pizzeria Libretto. More Motorino than Frannyís, it sits at the vanguard of Torontoís nascent Neapolitan Pizza movement (must. copy. New York), which, despite my snarkiness, represents a vast improvement over Teroniís fancy chain pies. Before the pie, we split some Niagra Prosciutto which made up for in a salty porky flavour what it lacked in provenance, some sort of bland seasonal salad (back to Brooklyn!), and another too small for sharing portion of very good octopus something or other. As for the main event, the pies are good, if slightly inconsistent in the crust, with an excellent sauce, and a poor cheese (but you can upgrade to a better one for more than I want to spend). But again Iím too snarky; the pizza is a best excellent and at worst vastly better than what Toronto had before.

But letís go deeper into Torontoís NBC scene and walk further up Ossington and turn right on Dundas, go past Trinity Bellwoods Park and sit down for dinner at the Black Hoof, shall we? This, I think, is the way forward. One common NBC complaint is that the food is redundant Ė the obsession over hipster provenance means that less distinguished ingredients are served over better ones because inferior ingredients are local/organic/artisanal/grown on a rooftop/infusedwith authentic beard sweat. But I think that the objection runs deeper than this. The problem is that, at its most mediocre, NBC food doesnít evince anything. Itís food that, ironically, often lacks a sense of place and time. The Hoof is different. The charcuterie may not be as accomplished as Bar Bouludís (I know, I know), but it is distinctly Ontarian. You get venison and rabbit and foie and duck and berries and all these distinctly Canadian things in the very well made charcuterie. And a bright and acidic smoked mackerel salad. And a witty tongue sandwich thatís as earnest as a Montreal version of the dish would be ironic. The only misstep was smoked sweetbreads that didnít have the requisite crisp nor a particularly interesting flavour. Oh, and they actually make a good cocktail (more on that later).

All this talk of ingredients brings me to the ever frustrating Nota Bene. David Lee used to run Torontoís best kitchen at Splendido, now he runs the painfully corporate, slightly dated, Nota Bene. For a restaurant that started with such promise, the composed dishes have deteriorated over the past couple years. The crispy duck salad is neither crispy nor as bracingly acidic as it once was and a truffled pasta dish is, well, barely there. This combined with the braying Bay Street bankers and girls in sausage casing dresses would almost be too much if it wasnít for one thing: Nota Bene may be serving the best steak out there right now. But back to the dishes that are not the densely marbled, perfectly seared, 45 day on the bone dry aged masterpiece of a rib eye that I could eat nightly. The fries are soggy, the mushrooms are a little too spongy, and I canít remember what other unremarkable sides we got. But holy shit, the steak is revelatory. Maybe itís not a Lugerís porterhouse (although youíd be hard pressed to get me to say that Iíve ever had a better steak at Lugerís), but the beef that Steven Alexander is supplying and aging at Cumbrae is as good as Iíve ever had Ė the marbling on some of the steaks is often wagyu like and it has the deep, dense dry aged flavour of great aged prime beef. And at Nota Bene, David Lee is getting the best of the bunch. Maybe itís unsurprising that Nota Bene has become a high end steak house given the clientele, but what a steak house. Oh, and lest I forget, the salted caramel truffles that you can purchase of the dessert menu are very, very, very good.

A couple notes on drinking in Toronto for those who are still, miraculously, interested in what I have to say. Although I refuse to go to the M&H knock off that is the Toronto Temperance Society (it pains my fingers to type that terrible, terrible name), I think I can safely say Toronto lags in the cocktail game. For example, why must everyone shake their Manhattans? I didnít expect it at Nota Bene and I definitely didnít expect it at Goodnight!, the latest hidden, trendy, call ahead bar. The vibe was nice, the location sufficiently inconspicuous, and Iím sure it was the bell of the nightlife ball at Tiff, but they canít make a cocktail and, even worse, they donít even know their own menu. Will the hipsters be better at this game? Well Reposado on Ossington serves plenty of great Tequilas, but the margarita usesd some house made mix that stripped the enamel off my teeth. Now, the Manhattan at Black Hoof, made with Alberta Springs 10 year Rye, was the only well made drink that I had. Torontoís brewpubs, including the new Dugganís in a wasteland of a neighborhood, continue to be the best bet for good, fresh and interesting alcohol.

Phew.

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


#2 Sneakeater

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Posted 14 January 2011 - 11:01 PM

Great post.

And I'd like to say that, whatever the public may have thought, I thought Scott Pilgrim versus the Universe was a great movie.
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#3 GordonCooks

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Posted 17 January 2011 - 01:15 PM

I would say that many of the new places in Toronto are geared specifically to what's currently food relevant. But the majority of the old standards are still doing food with Toronto personality and flair. Having been to Libretto, Black Hoof, etc, these trips were mostly to eat to compare to their NYC counterparts. Most of my meals are still places like Scaramouche, Canoe, Cava, Bymark, etc and too many places on Spadina to name. Like any big city, it's all about where you choose to go.
Jazz is musical improvisation; it is the art of the moment. In the recording of jazz, the inspiration and inventiveness of this moment is made permanent by technology, giving pleasure many years after the performance.

Photography is jazz for the eye. - William Claxton

#4 Suzanne F

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Posted 17 January 2011 - 04:30 PM

I was full by the end of your first paragraph. :burp:

Thanks so much for this! I need to get back to Toronto.

Is that airport on the island still in operation (City Airport, I think it was)? That was the coolest way to fly in!

Because it's allowed doesn't mean it isn't creepy. -- Sneakeater, April 10, 2014

 

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#5 Adrian

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Posted 17 January 2011 - 08:44 PM

Sneak: Thanks for the kind words. I really should get around to seeing "Scott Pilgrim".

Suzanne: The island airport is still function. Porter Air flies in and they're fantastic. Easily my favourite airline in North America. Of course, they do ply you with a free drink.

Gordon: On some level what you're saying is undeniable. I could have tried to encourage my family and friends to take the trip up to Richmond Hill for some fantastic dim sum. I also could have written about meals at some of the lovely bistros on Mt. Pleasant from much earlier in the year (Simple Bistro in particular). Or even the fantastic fish and chips at Penrose. But there's value in taking inventory, if a small, incomplete, and imperfect inventory, of places that have gotten a lot of recent press. Not to compare them to counterparts in other cities, but to ask what the newish, exciting restaurants are trying to say with their food. I mean, what's the NY counterpart to the Black Hoof? It's got a ton of NBC trappings, but there is no NBC restaurant doing charcuterie like that. It's incomparable in the same way that a number of Montreal bistros are.

The other places that you list are mostly high-end, with the exception of Cava, and I'm not sure the high end in Toronto has been the same since Susur closed and Splendido downscaled. I've always found Bymark kind of like an annoying, Bay Street, DB Bistro Moderne. It also feels dated. I've heard too many mixed reviews of Scaramouch to justify the price tag and the menu, even if perfectly executed, looks a little of boring and generic (I know, try it and then judge, but scarce resources and all). Canoe is more interesting. It seemed to inherit the top wrung on the fancy Western food ladder by default but it seems that they've really run with it. My aunt and uncle had a mediocre meal there, but the menus do look very interesting and you've raved about it in the past so I should pony up one of these days. Any word on the new Hashimoto? Looks fantastic.

Oh, and the Rebel House near Yonge and Roxborough is the perfect Toronto pub. It has no hype, deserves none, and is the most wonderful place to grab lunch and a drink if you're in the area.

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


#6 GordonCooks

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Posted 18 January 2011 - 12:51 PM

I did enjoy my trip to Black Hoof and miss the original Susur tremendously and well as Perigee. As far as fish and chips and pub grub - I'm sure the Toronto versions are tremendous but these are dishes I can get home. Toronto is probably the most esthetically pleasing city I've ever traveled - the design and architecture is very unique and personally interesting. That said, as I get older, I tend to bend less for trends and go for the experience. Susur, always intellectual, Perigee, always warm and generous, Bymark, always eat at the bar, Hashimoto? Maybe this year.....trying to detour my group after Ice Wine Fest. For some odd reason, every Toronto dinner is mini vacation for me. I love stumbling upon places I've never heard about too - places like the little bar 2 doors down from Libretto or a little place called Lotus so many, many years ago.

Maybe someday, a condo next to the St Lawrence Market to retire in - truly a city I love as much as my own.
Jazz is musical improvisation; it is the art of the moment. In the recording of jazz, the inspiration and inventiveness of this moment is made permanent by technology, giving pleasure many years after the performance.

Photography is jazz for the eye. - William Claxton

#7 Adrian

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Posted 18 August 2011 - 03:39 PM

Has anyone here ever moved back home? It's odd - you more acutely notice a city's quirks and foibles than you did in the past. Some charm, some perplex. Why, for example, is every new development in Toronto named after something in New York? Rent to own at My NY (no thank you)! Watch as the Soho Toronto rises on Wellington (WeWi, West Wellington, would make much more sense)! Or grab a drink at Bowery Toronto (I didn't)! It's provincial silliness. And I'm being needlessly negative. Toronto's far more adept at being a city than Boston - there's some wonderful theater, and there are outdoor movie screenings at a brewery that, against all probability, beautify both the Gardiner Expressway and monstrous, un-(Jane) Jacobian City Place Condos. I'll stop and get to the food because this is a food board and we never get off topic here. Or maybe I'll illustrate the above with culinary examples! Yes, that would be a good idea!

I'm sure someone has claimed somewhere that the cocktail revolution has spread across the US and North America. That you can find multiple places to get a good drink everywhere. Stop it. You can't. The Black Hoof (and the new cocktail bar there) serves great drinks. The others that portend to? Disastrous. I should have known this about Goodnite! Bar. Too much of a scene, a fun scene, but a scene. They play Milk and Honey games - down an alley, barely a sign, reservations! - and then shake and miss measure a vieux carre. I'm sure Sneak would find more use for this place than me (nudge! hint! wink!). And Barchef? It's called Barchef: that should have been all I needed to know. It serves a $45 vanilla smoked Manhattan as if I needed more evidence. I didn't have that, I tried to order something "dark, boozy, and dry". I was directed to a "whole section" of the menu. I tried to discuss more. It was a no-hoper. I got something Scotchy and sweet with overpowering anise flavours. The balance was off on mine and every other cocktail in our group. Some didn't finish. No one dared brave the molecular section and the premium you pay for science. We went down the street to the Horseshoe and got a drink at the bar. Some shitty indie rock band was playing for a bunch of kids in the back. I had some Mill St Tankhouse Ale. It's a good beer. I like the Horseshoe.

Enough with the negativity! Let's talk about Penrose Fish and Chips. Better, let's talk about Marion. She's there behind the counter every day. She hasn't aged since I started going there over twenty five years ago. It's like she's stopped aging - thin and frail she's King Beringer in act I and I am convinced she'll never progress to Act II. If she hasn't yet, she won't any time soon. And she deftly wraps the halibut (meaty and well cooked, probably from frozen, I do not care, with the crispest, goldenest crust I've ever seen, an extra one if the filet is too small. It is never/always too small) and chips (fried in beef fat, thick cut, crispy and soft, doused in vinegar and salt) in yesterday's Globe and Mail. She smiles and asks if I want a fork. I decline. And I look around, at the pictures of Old Toronto, and the linoleum booths, and I remember to grab an (admittedly terrible, like liquid wint-o-green) birch beer, and run home, and tear into the grease and fish and vinegar, and think "I am home".

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


#8 Anthony Bonner

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Posted 18 August 2011 - 03:47 PM

Has anyone here ever moved back home? It's odd - you more acutely notice a city's quirks and foibles than you did in the past. Some charm, some perplex. Why, for example, is every new development in Toronto named after something in New York? Rent to own at My NY (no thank you)! Watch as the Soho Toronto rises on Wellington (WeWi, West Wellington, would make much more sense)! Or grab a drink at Bowery Toronto (I didn't)! It's provincial silliness. And I'm being needlessly negative. Toronto's far more adept at being a city than Boston - there's some wonderful theater, and there are outdoor movie screenings at a brewery that, against all probability, beautify both the Gardiner Expressway and monstrous, un-(Jane) Jacobian City Place Condos. I'll stop and get to the food because this is a food board and we never get off topic here. Or maybe I'll illustrate the above with culinary examples! Yes, that would be a good idea!

I'm sure someone has claimed somewhere that the cocktail revolution has spread across the US and North America. That you can find multiple places to get a good drink everywhere. Stop it. You can't. The Black Hoof (and the new cocktail bar there) serves great drinks. The others that portend to? Disastrous. I should have known this about Goodnite! Bar. Too much of a scene, a fun scene, but a scene. They play Milk and Honey games - down an alley, barely a sign, reservations! - and then shake and miss measure a vieux carre. I'm sure Sneak would find more use for this place than me (nudge! hint! wink!). And Barchef? It's called Barchef: that should have been all I needed to know. It serves a $45 vanilla smoked Manhattan as if I needed more evidence. I didn't have that, I tried to order something "dark, boozy, and dry". I was directed to a "whole section" of the menu. I tried to discuss more. It was a no-hoper. I got something Scotchy and sweet with overpowering anise flavours. The balance was off on mine and every other cocktail in our group. Some didn't finish. No one dared brave the molecular section and the premium you pay for science. We went down the street to the Horseshoe and got a drink at the bar. Some shitty indie rock band was playing for a bunch of kids in the back. I had some Mill St Tankhouse Ale. It's a good beer. I like the Horseshoe.

Enough with the negativity! Let's talk about Penrose Fish and Chips. Better, let's talk about Marion. She's there behind the counter every day. She hasn't aged since I started going there over twenty five years ago. It's like she's stopped aging - thin and frail she's King Beringer in act I and I am convinced she'll never progress to Act II. If she hasn't yet, she won't any time soon. And she deftly wraps the halibut (meaty and well cooked, probably from frozen, I do not care, with the crispest, goldenest crust I've ever seen, an extra one if the filet is too small. It is never/always too small) and chips (fried in beef fat, thick cut, crispy and soft, doused in vinegar and salt) in yesterday's Globe and Mail. She smiles and asks if I want a fork. I decline. And I look around, at the pictures of Old Toronto, and the linoleum booths, and I remember to grab an (admittedly terrible, like liquid wint-o-green) birch beer, and run home, and tear into the grease and fish and vinegar, and think "I am home".

Is toronto starting to see the impact of the resources boom in terms of both pricing and rate of new openings?

or is too far away from the fields and mines?
Why not mayo?

#9 Sneakeater

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Posted 18 August 2011 - 03:51 PM

Do you go to the place where Stacey worked in Scott Pilgrim v. The World? It looked kinda pedestrian, but not unpleasant.
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#10 Adrian

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Posted 18 August 2011 - 03:52 PM


Has anyone here ever moved back home? It's odd - you more acutely notice a city's quirks and foibles than you did in the past. Some charm, some perplex. Why, for example, is every new development in Toronto named after something in New York? Rent to own at My NY (no thank you)! Watch as the Soho Toronto rises on Wellington (WeWi, West Wellington, would make much more sense)! Or grab a drink at Bowery Toronto (I didn't)! It's provincial silliness. And I'm being needlessly negative. Toronto's far more adept at being a city than Boston - there's some wonderful theater, and there are outdoor movie screenings at a brewery that, against all probability, beautify both the Gardiner Expressway and monstrous, un-(Jane) Jacobian City Place Condos. I'll stop and get to the food because this is a food board and we never get off topic here. Or maybe I'll illustrate the above with culinary examples! Yes, that would be a good idea!

I'm sure someone has claimed somewhere that the cocktail revolution has spread across the US and North America. That you can find multiple places to get a good drink everywhere. Stop it. You can't. The Black Hoof (and the new cocktail bar there) serves great drinks. The others that portend to? Disastrous. I should have known this about Goodnite! Bar. Too much of a scene, a fun scene, but a scene. They play Milk and Honey games - down an alley, barely a sign, reservations! - and then shake and miss measure a vieux carre. I'm sure Sneak would find more use for this place than me (nudge! hint! wink!). And Barchef? It's called Barchef: that should have been all I needed to know. It serves a $45 vanilla smoked Manhattan as if I needed more evidence. I didn't have that, I tried to order something "dark, boozy, and dry". I was directed to a "whole section" of the menu. I tried to discuss more. It was a no-hoper. I got something Scotchy and sweet with overpowering anise flavours. The balance was off on mine and every other cocktail in our group. Some didn't finish. No one dared brave the molecular section and the premium you pay for science. We went down the street to the Horseshoe and got a drink at the bar. Some shitty indie rock band was playing for a bunch of kids in the back. I had some Mill St Tankhouse Ale. It's a good beer. I like the Horseshoe.

Enough with the negativity! Let's talk about Penrose Fish and Chips. Better, let's talk about Marion. She's there behind the counter every day. She hasn't aged since I started going there over twenty five years ago. It's like she's stopped aging - thin and frail she's King Beringer in act I and I am convinced she'll never progress to Act II. If she hasn't yet, she won't any time soon. And she deftly wraps the halibut (meaty and well cooked, probably from frozen, I do not care, with the crispest, goldenest crust I've ever seen, an extra one if the filet is too small. It is never/always too small) and chips (fried in beef fat, thick cut, crispy and soft, doused in vinegar and salt) in yesterday's Globe and Mail. She smiles and asks if I want a fork. I decline. And I look around, at the pictures of Old Toronto, and the linoleum booths, and I remember to grab an (admittedly terrible, like liquid wint-o-green) birch beer, and run home, and tear into the grease and fish and vinegar, and think "I am home".

Is toronto starting to see the impact of the resources boom in terms of both pricing and rate of new openings?

or is too far away from the fields and mines?


Toronto is a huge beneficiary of the resource boom because all the law and finance is here. So anything up in Sudbury or around Calgary or wherever is going to pump cash into the Toronto economy. Thus, stuff here is more expensive than it should be. As for new openings, there seem to be a ton of mid-range openings and some nightlife. Even the so-called ambitious openings (Toca) have a down scale aesthetic. The real estate market here still appears to be booming. Tons of new sky scraper and condo construction, all sold out. Chang is putting a place is one of the newer, glitzier development.

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


#11 Suzanne F

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Posted 18 August 2011 - 03:52 PM

Thank you, Adrian. That's a lovely piece of writing.

But sigh, you've reminded me that it's way too long since I last visited Toronto. Can you still fly into City Airport (the one on the island in the lake)? That was a great way to arrive.

Because it's allowed doesn't mean it isn't creepy. -- Sneakeater, April 10, 2014

 

notorious stickler -- NY Times
deeply annoying and nitpicking -- Molly O'Neill, One Big Table


#12 Adrian

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Posted 18 August 2011 - 03:53 PM

Do you go to the place where Stacey worked in Scott Pilgrim v. The World? It looked kinda pedestrian, but not unpleasant.


The Second Cup is Canada's Starbucks. The coffee's a bit "better". There's one on every other corner.

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


#13 Adrian

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Posted 18 August 2011 - 03:55 PM

Thank you, Adrian. That's a lovely piece of writing.

But sigh, you've reminded me that it's way too long since I last visited Toronto. Can you still fly into City Airport (the one on the island in the lake)? That was a great way to arrive.


Thanks. And yes to Billy Bishop Airport. Air Canada flies there now as well. Porter remains the better option because they still give you a free drink (or two!) if you want. The five minute ferry from the island airport to the city is the best.

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


#14 Sneakeater

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Posted 18 August 2011 - 03:57 PM

How about the mallish place where Scott fought Roxie?
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#15 Adrian

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Posted 18 August 2011 - 04:02 PM

How about the mallish place where Scott fought Roxie?


4? I'd hate to break it to you, but 4 is not a real place.

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