All stories by Caroline Aksich

The Dish

Food Shops

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Bobbette and Belle’s new uptown shop is a dangerously pleasant place to hang out

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

The uptown outpost of Queen East bakery Bobbette and Belle looks like it was plucked straight from the pages of Architectural Digest. The decorative touches are charming: baskets filled with antique rolling pins, a wall bedecked with silver serving trays, and a teal Louis XIV sofa that begs to be reclined upon (regally, of course). Retirees and stroller-pushing parents sip Balzac’s coffee at a handful of marble bistro tables while others peruse the Victorian armoires lined with pretty packages of peanut brittle, chocolate-dipped marshmallows and English toffee. The counter is crammed with even more treats, including palm-sized fruit tarts, Instagram-ready cupcakes (pumpkin, lemon and red velvet, to name a few), and a rainbow-hued selection of delicate macarons. Your inner voice might urge you to stick with a sensible blueberry scone, but consider splurging on a slice of the intensely rich chocolate-hazelnut cake.

3347 Yonge St., 416-466-8800, bobbetteandbelle.com

The Dish

Openings

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Introducing: Borealia, a new all-Canadian restaurant on the Ossington strip

Borealia

Borealia’s braised whelk. (Image: Caroline Aksich)

Name: Borealia (which was one of the alternative names proposed for Canada during confederation)
Contact Info: 59 Ossington Ave., 647-351-5100, borealiato.com
Neighbourhood: Trinity Bellwoods
Previously: Ardor Bistro
Owners: Evelyn Wu and Wayne Morris. The pair met while working at Waterfront Wines in British Columbia. They married last year.
Chefs: Morris, with sous chef Fabrizio DeCicco (previously of Bellwoods Brewery)

The Food: Borealia serves Canadian cuisine befitting its pre-confederation name. There’s no poutine, no tourtière, and no Nanaimo bars. “We were inspired by the immigrants that built Canada and how they tweaked their recipes to work with the indigenous plants,” says Wu. The restaurant’s whelk, a giant sea snail braised in a kombu beurre blanc and served on a soya-spiked bed of seaweed and burdock, blends French and Chinese cuisine. Other dishes on the menu draw from antique French, British and Chinese recipes, some of which date all the way back to Queen Elizabeth I’s reign. The oldest dish on the menu is the pemmican, once a high-calorie staple for First Nations people and, later, Arctic explorers. Instead of a fatty wad of powdered meat mixed with dried fruit, Morris reimagines the dish as a pretty plate of bison bresaola topped with shaved lardo and juniper-pickled blueberries.

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The Dish

Restaurants

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Eat your way through Islamic history at the Aga Khan Museum’s restaurant, Diwan

An open-faced prawn kati roll, with paratha-and-egg omelette, tamarind prawns, tomato and chopped onion ($16). (Image: Caroline Aksich)

An open-faced prawn kati roll, with paratha-and-egg omelette, tamarind prawns, tomato and chopped onion ($16). (Image: Caroline Aksich)

The new Aga Khan Museum, housed in an unapologetically modern building designed by Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki, isn’t without a few historical nods. There are the traditional Islamic motifs on the museum’s patterned glass and, of course, its host of medieval Islamic artifacts—but the theme even extends to the in-house restaurant, Diwan (Persian for “meeting place”), which is decorated with centuries-old doors and panels from Damascus. Chef Patrick Riley (previously of Far Niente and Perigee) executes a pan-Islamic menu meant to complement the museum’s collection. Among the dishes are specialities from across the Islamic world, including items from Iran, Turkey, North Africa and India. “We’re currently working on version 2.0 of the menu,” says sous-chef Walid El-Tawel. “We want to showcase traditional flavours, while modernizing the dishes.” For one thing, the lamb tagine, usually cooked in clay, will be getting sous-vide treatment instead. Diwan will start serving dinners today, December 2.

77 Wynford Drive, agakhanmuseum.org/dine, 416-646-4670

The Informer

Real Estate

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The Chase: a lawyer’s search for a fixer-upper she could grow into

The Chase: a lawyer’s search for a fixer-upper she could grow intoThe buyer: Heather Spence, a 31-year-old partner at Mass Tsang, a criminal defence firm.

The story: The story: In 2008, while Spence was attending Osgoode Hall Law School, she squeezed into a 400-square-foot Annex rental. Six years later, she’d paid off some loans, made partner at her firm and felt ready to take the ownership plunge. Condos held no ­attraction—she knew too many people who had bought units and then quickly outgrown them. If she decided to have kids someday, she didn’t need the hassle, or expense, of moving again. She got approved for a $510,000 mortgage and started the search for a fixer-upper somewhere between Queen and Dupont, from St. George to Dufferin. She was willing to consider any house, as long as it wasn’t about to be condemned, and she still had to up her ante to get into the game. Even $556,000, she discovered, wasn’t enough to make her a bidding-war contender.

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The Dish

Food Shops

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Love popcorn? Try 100 flavours at Kensington’s new kernel shop

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

Everyone’s favourite movie snack is the main attraction at Toronto Popcorn Company, a new shop that recently opened on the edge of Kensington Market. Husband-and-wife team Joseph and Caramhel Villegas produce an astounding 100 flavours of popcorn, 35 of which are available for sampling on any given day. Traditionalists will veer toward familiar options like salt-and-vinegar, cheddar, caramel and ketchup, while sweet tooths may appreciate the cornucopia of fruit flavours (banana, black cherry, strawberry and watermelon, to name a few). Some of the flavour profiles are surprisingly realistic—like the pizza popcorn, which is convincingly cheesy and has a great oregano bite. Mixing and matching is strongly encouraged. (We recommend blending Buffalo corn with caramel—it’s basically Chicago Mix on steroids.)

147 Baldwin St., torontopopcorncompany.com

The Dish

Restaurants

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Snack on cones of crispy Belgian frites at Kensington’s new fry shop

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

At Moo Frites, Kensington’s new Belgian fry shop, snackers can dip perfectly crisp, thick-cut frites into a remarkable number of sauces—18, to be exact. The dipping options include traditional Dutch dressings, like the curry-based joppie, as well as some pretty out-there flavours, like pumpkin spice, peanut sauce and tandoori. Owner Ambrose Lee was on a solo trek across Europe when he fell in love with Belgian frites. When he returned to Toronto, he left his marketing job to open up this eight-seat eatery. “You wouldn’t believe the amount of research I read about frying potatoes,” says Lee, whose five-step frites are fried, frozen (to break down the water molecules) and then fried again before hitting the paper cone. For an extra dollar, you can opt to have your fries fried in beef tallow—hence the restaurant’s name. And Lee isn’t done experimenting. He’s currently developing a line of specialty dishes, like the “Japo Frites”: a cone of fries topped with wasabi mayo, seaweed and seasame seeds. $4–8

178 Baldwin St., facebook.com

The Dish

Openings

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Introducing: NAO, a new Asian steakhouse on Avenue Road from Charles Khabouth and Hanif Harji

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

Name: NAO (an acronym for “New and Old”)
Neighbourhood: Yorkville
Contact Info: 90 Avenue Rd., 416-367-4141, naosteakhouse.com
Owners: Charles Khabouth, Hanif Harji, Stuart Cameron and Tim Foley
Chefs: Stuart Cameron (also the exec chef at Patria, Weslodge and Byblos) and chef de cuisine Andrew Bradford.

The Food: The Asian-American fusion trend finds full expression in this plush new steakhouse from restaurant impresarios Charles Khabouth and Hanif Harji. NAO offers some caveman-sized cuts of beef—including a 64-ounce rib steak that’s carved tableside—but it’s not just a boys’ club. “We wanted NAO to be female-friendly,” says Kabbouth. Lighter options (salads, tartare) are punched up with predominantly Japanese flavourings, like miso, yuzu, ponzu and “Bull-Dog” sauce, a sweet and savoury Japanese condiment. (NAO makes its own version in-house.) Cameron spent months researching and sourcing the very best of everything, including fresh wasabi from B.C., Wagyu beef from Japan and bamboo barrel–aged finishing salt from South Korea.

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The Dish

Openings

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Introducing: Buna’s Kitchen, a homey new lunch counter in the Entertainment District

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

Name: Buna’s Kitchen
Neighbourhood: Entertainment District
Contact Info: 388 Richmond St. W., Unit 5B, 647-342-5506, facebook.com
Previously: Sido Shwarma
Chefs/Owners: George Brown alums Grace An and Taylor Heon met in culinary school and opened a catering company together, Food Parade, before going the brick-and-mortar route with Buna’s.

The Food: Owners An and Heon are determined to bring old-fashioned home cooking to the downtown core. (Buna is Hungarian for “grandma”). The short menu includes sandwiches (pulled pork, duck confit), poutines and salads, plus a daily changing pasta special. On one visit, it’s bolognese; on the next, it’s fettuccine in a simple marinara sauce.

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The Dish

Restaurants

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Civil Liberties brings cocktails, charcuterie and laid-back hospitality to Bloor and Ossington

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

This week marks the debut of Civil Liberties, a new speakeasy on Bloor West. Housed in a redbrick Edwardian just east of Ossington, the small bar is dotted with antiques, including a 110-year-old piano that may eventually become more than just a showpiece. (Co-owners Nick Kennedy, David Huynh and Cole Stanford are hoping to host live music acts in the space.) The trio, who worked together at Salt Wine Bar, is determined to make their new hangout as unfussy as possible. To that end, they’ve vetoed waiters, printed menus and complicated food items in favour of laid-back hospitality and simple snacks, like charcuterie boards and pâté-stuffed pastries. The drinks list is also pretty flexible—if patrons aren’t keen on the Prohibition-era cocktails scrawled on the blackboard, one of the bartenders will happily concoct something on the fly. Right now, they’re just happy to be opening their doors after a three-month-long renovation process, part of which involved sticking 14,000 pennies to the top of the bar. (Oddly, not the first time we’ve come across that particular decorative statement.)

Civil Liberties, 878 Bloor St. W., @CivLibTO

The Dish

The Ridiculist

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Seven daunting dumpling plates from Toronto’s new all-pierogi restaurant

loaded-pierogi-intro

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

At Loaded Pierogi, a soon-to-open snack shop near Church and Front streets (the grand debut is tomorrow, November 5), all plates start with a base of traditional potato pierogies, either boiled or fried. But that’s where tradition ends and innovation (or sacrilege, depending on your viewpoint) begins. The Eastern Euro dumplings are piled high with all kinds of peculiar toppings, like lobster chunks and hollandaise sauce, or an entire confit duck leg with gravy. Between the melted cheese and goopy sauces, there’s a poutine-ish ring to the whole thing—not that we’re complaining. Here are seven pierogi plates babcia never dreamed of, ranked from least to most unusual.

Loaded Pierogi, 9 1/2 Church St., 647-503-3338, loadedpierogi.com

The Dish

Openings

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Introducing: Queen Margherita, the new Neapolitan pizza parlour on Dundas West

Introducing: Queen Margherita Pizza

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

Name: Queen Margherita Pizza
Contact Info: 772 Dundas St. W., qmpizza.com
Neighbourhood: Trinity Bellwoods
Previously: A paint store occupied the upper floor, while Hard Luck Bar called the basement home
Owners: John Chetti, Rocco Mazzaferro, Tom Mediati and Roberto Scala
Chef: Head chef John Galante creates and executes the menu with guidance from exec chef Jonathan Gushue (previously of Langdon Hall)

The Food: The menu is divided between snacks, starters and pizzas. For $38 you can sample the entire snack section, which includes prosciutto di Parma, cacciatore, olives and hunks of Parm. Familiar QMP starters (like the much-loved potenta with sausage) are joined by octopus carpaccio, ricotta-stuffed eggplant and other new additions. The wood-fired pizzas range from conventional (the namesake Margherita) to straight-up quirky (the “Roberto Scallopini AKA Birdman,” which is topped with kale, garlic aioli and toasted sunflower seeds).

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The Dish

Openings

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Introducing: Schmaltz Appetizing, the Jewish fish shop behind Fat Pasha

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

Name: Schmaltz Appetizing
Contact Info: 414 Dupont St. (the carriage house behind Fat Pasha), 647-350-4261, schmaltzappetizing.com
Neighbourhood: The Annex
Previously: A kids’ store called Draw Me a Sheep (before that, it was Indian Rice Factory Chai Bar)
Owner: Anthony Rose, who also owns Fat Pasha, Rose and Sons, and Big Crow
Chef: Rose designed the menu, which is being executed by Drake alum Chris Kirn

The Food: An “appetizing” store is a Jewish food shop that sells fish, cream cheese and other foods commonly eaten with bagels. Schmaltz carries all the standard fishy toppings (smoked salmon, gravlax, gefilte fish), as well as some more exotic options, like salmon caviar, carp and smoked Acadian sturgeon. Most items can be ordered on a Kiva’s bagel, including $45 worth of American sturgeon caviar with sliced eggs and sour cream. (Less extravagant sandwiches run from $8 to $14). Fat Pasha’s Mediterranean salads round out the menu, along with a handful of traditional Jewish pastries.

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The Dish

Openings

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Introducing: Tinto Bar De Tapas, a bold new addition to Bayview Avenue

Introducing: Tinto

Name: Tinto Bar De Tapas
Contact Info: 1581 Bayview Ave., 416-485-1581, tintobardetapas.com
Neighbourhood: Leaside
Previously: The Mad Italian Gelato Bar
Owner: Nota Bene alumn Otta Zapotocky, who also owns L’Avenue bistro across the street
Chef: Robert Leonard, who previously worked at Lee and Mildred’s Temple Kitchen

The Food: “Everyone’s calling us Basque, but we’re not,” says owner Otta Zapotocky. He characterizes the food as a mix of French and Spanish, with a dash of Latin American. There are subtle Asian notes, too, like a starter of blistered shishito peppers and a soy-spiked baby octopus dish. Tapas options are divided between hot (chorizo mussels, bacon-wrapped dates, escargot) and cold (ceviche, carpaccio, charcuterie).

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The Dish

Openings

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Introducing: Nuit Social, a new charcuterie bar on West Queen West

Introducing: Nuit Social

Name: Nuit Social
Contact Info: 1168 Queen St. W., 647-350-6848, nuitsocial.com
Neighbourhood: Little Portugal
Previously: Low-key snack bar Happy Child
Owner: Tino Bianchi
Chef: John Rosal, formerly the executive chef at Modus

The Food: The menu is divided between “social boards” (pick-your-own charcuterie, cheeses and olives) and “social plates” (shareable snacks). Meats and cheeses are sourced from all over the world—there’s soppressata from Richmond Hill, salami from Milan and a rosemary-rolled sheep’s cheese from Spain, plus a varied assortment of olives, including a Peruvian option. Traditional Italian plates (arancini balls, crispy artichokes, citrus-braised octopus) round out the menu, which will continue to evolve over time (for instance, chef Rosal is planning to add some Asian dishes, like maple-soy glazed short ribs).

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The Dish

Openings

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Introducing: Essen, a new spot on Dundas West for brisket, smoked salmon and matzoh-ball ramen

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

Name: Essen
Contact Info: 1282 Dundas St. W., 416-534-0407, essentoronto.com
Neighbourhood: Little Portugal
Previously: Quinta
Chef/Owner: Leor Zimerman, who closed his Portuguese-French bistro Quinta earlier this year and reopened the restaurant as Essen.

The Food: Essen serves the kind of food you would’ve eaten at home, if you’d been raised in a Jewish household with a French-trained chef for a mom. Ashkenazi and Sephardic dishes are unfussy but prepared with care by Zimerman, who likes to tweak traditional Jewish staples (matzo ball soup gets a ramen makeover, for example). Though à-la-carte options are available, meals are designed to be eaten family style; Zimerman suggests ordering a main (beef brisket, roast Muscovy duck breast), a veg (tsimmis roast carrots, braised cabbage) and a side (duck fat fries, pearl couscous). Essen isn’t strictly kosher, but they don’t serve pork or shellfish, and meat and dairy never mix.

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