All stories by Renée Suen

The Dish

Openings

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Introducing: Little Sister, a new Indonesian snack bar from the owners of Quince bistro

Introducing: Little Sister

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Name: Little Sister
Contact Info: 2031 Yonge St., 416-488-2031, littlesistertoronto.com, @littlesisterto
Neighbourhood: Davisville Village
Previously: Lucca Fine Linens, a fancy home shop
Owners: Michael van de Winkel and Jennifer Gittins, who also own Quince Bistro
Chef: Michael van de Winkel

The Food: Chef van de Winkel grew up in Amsterdam and spent time working as a chef in the Dutch Navy. There, he learned to cook a colonial-era Indonesian meal called rijsttafel (Dutch for “rice table”). Years later, he continued the tradition in Toronto, where the colourful feasts were a huge draw at his midtown bistro, Quince. Now van de Winkel and co-owner Jennifer Gittens have moved the Dutch-Indo cuisine to a venue of its own. At Little Sister, the menu sticks mainly to the kind of snacks you can eat with your hands: croquettes, skewers and Indonesian-style rendang tacos.

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The Dish

Openings

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Introducing: Pai, the new Thai clubhouse from Nuit and Jeff Regular

Name: Pai
Neighbourhood: King West
Contact Info: 18 Duncan St., 416-901-4724, paitoronto.com, @PaiToronto
Previously: A Golden Griddle
Owners: Sukhothai and Sabai Sabai owners Jeff and Nuit Regular, with Janet Zuccarini (who also owns Gusto 101)
Executive Chef: Nuit Regular

The Food: Thai food experts Nuit and Jeff Regular are slowly introducing Torontonians to Thailand’s full panoply of regional cuisines. They serve central-Thai food at Sukhothai, northeastern Isan cuisine at Sabai Sabai and now, at Pai, traditional dishes from the country’s far-northern tip, which is known for its particularly fragrant and spicy food. Options include a gingery gaeng hunglay curry with oxtail, a pork-and-offal salad, and a DIY papaya salad with salted crab. (The plates are served family-style, and eating with your hands is strongly encouraged.) A simpler menu of bite-sized snacks (e.g. pork rinds, mussels) is available at Bebop, the casual, all-day snack bar.

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The Dish

Openings

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Introducing: Cellar Door, a serious southern Italian restaurant at Lakeshore and Islington

Introducing: Cellar Door

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Name: Cellar Door
Contact Info: 3003 Lakeshore Blvd. W., 416-253-0303, cellardoorrestaurant.ca, @cellardoorTO
Neighbourhood: New Toronto
Chef/Owner: Robert Rubino, a CIA (Culinary Institute of America) graduate who trained abroad at Michelin-starred restaurants like Ristorante San Domenico in Bologna, Italy, and L’Atelier Joel Robuchon in Paris, France
Pizzaiolo: Rodrigo Palacio

The Food: Wood-fired pizzas, handmade pastas and other dishes from Rome and Calabria, a region in Southern Italy. A rustic, Calabrese-style pasta combines thick-cut buckwheat noodles with clams, scallops prawns, mussels and preserved chilis. Unlike most Italian chefs, Rubino cooks his food without butter or oil, and then adds a splash of good olive oil prior to serving.

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The Dish

Food Shops

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This new food shop on Queen West is a haven for allergy sufferers

Feast

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Sensitive-stomach owners, take note: there’s a new store on Queen West that specializes in stuff that’s unlikely to send you to the ER (or ruin your new diet). The foods for sale at FEAST—which stands, a bit awkwardly, for Fabulous Eats for the Allergic and Sensitive Types—are free from most common food allergens, including gluten, wheat, dairy, soy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish. The store isn’t just catering to a fad; it’s the brainchild of chef Neil Lomas and his wife, Wendy Zeh, both of whom have spent years struggling to accommodate their respective food allergies and intolerances. The shop’s inventory is the result of their decade-long search for allergy-friendly pantry items, including sauces, pastas and seasonings, each of which has been thoroughly tested for flavour, texture and aroma. Among the prepared foods, shoppers will find jerk-chicken pocket pies, gluten-free cake doughnuts, raw vegan truffles and frozen avocado pops by in-house chocolatier Stacey Burgess, creator of vegan chocolate brand Live On Chocolate.

FEAST, 881 Queen St. W., 647-350-1881, thisisafeast.com, @thisisafeast

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The Dish

Food Shops

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Toronto chocolatier Laura Slack opens shop in the Distillery District

Maisonette

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Toronto chocolatier Laura Slack is known for her beautiful but unconventional creations (her most famous treat is a burnished chocolate skull filled with black garlic–infused caramel). After hawking her goods at fancy shops like McEwan’s and Holt Renfrew, Slack has opened Maisonette, a very charming retail store in the Distillery District. She manages to squeeze a lot of delicious stuff into the 220-square-foot space, including handmade jams from Parkdale confiturer Kitten and the Bear and loose-leaf teas from Canadian company Sloane. The highlight, though, comes in chocolate form: gleaming truffles, artfully wrapped chocolate bars and cellophane baggies stuffed with chocolate-dipped “bacon toffee.” For summertime, there are chocolate ice-cream bars and fruity ice pops, neither of which should be missed.

Maisonette, 12 Tank House Ln., maisonettedistillery.ca, @maisonettegifts

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The Dish

Openings

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Introducing: Cluny, a massive (seriously, massive) new bistro in the Distillery from the owners of El Catrin

Name: Cluny Bistro
Contact Info: 35 Tank House Ln., 416-203-2632, clunybistro.com, @ClunyDistillery
Owners: Distillery Restaurant Corp, the group behind El Catrin, Pure Spirits, Archeo and The Boiler House
Chef(s): Executive chef Paul Benallick, whose 20 years’ experience includes stints at Jump, Stock, Auberge du Pommier and George Brown College’s The Chefs’ House. He works alongside pastry chef Chris Kwok and “boulanger” Lucas Craig

The Food: Updated bistro dishes, like chili-ginger frog legs and Buffalo sweetbreads, plus an on-trend assortment of crudos, ceviches and seafood tartares (including an unconventional “Nicoise” tartare with egg, French beans and olives). More traditional options include French onion soup, brie-slathered brioche and six different steak-frites platters. Those wishing to indulge (or impress) can take advantage of the “foie gras this or truffle that” supplement, which buys a few ounces of foie for the table—or a whole truffle at near-wholesale cost.

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The Dish

Food Events

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Taste of Toronto 2014: a sneak peek at 22 dishes coming to the Fort York food festival in July

(Image: Renée Suen)

(Image: Renée Suen)

In just over a month, Fort York will be transformed into a maze of dining tents, drink stations and temporary culinary headquarters for 17 of the city’s top restaurants. It’s all happening for Taste of Toronto, a four-day celebration of the city’s thriving dining scene. Over the course of the festival, which counts Toronto Life among its media partners, each restaurant will be serving a trio of incredible plates, all priced between $6 and $10 (or rather, 6-10 “Crowns,” the official Taste of Toronto currency). We visited some of the participants’ kitchens to see how they’re coming along with their menus.

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July 24-27. $30 (incl. 6 Crowns). Fort York, 100 Garrison Rd., tasteoftoronto.com

The Dish

Openings

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Introducing: Rock Lobster Leslieville, which has a kids’ menu and three (three!) patios

Introducing: Rock Lobster Leslieville

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Name: Rock Lobster Food Co. (Leslieville)
Contact Info: 1192 Queen St. E., 416-533-1800, @rocklobsterfood, rocklobsterfood.com
Owners: Matt Dean Pettit and Mike Homewood, who also own nearby Boots ‘n’ Bourbon, along with partners Darryl Fine and Alan Thomson
Chefs: Executive chef Matt Dean Pettit and corporate chef de cuisine Deron Engbers

The Food: Fans of the Ossington and Queen West locations will recognize the lobster boils, lobster rolls and elaborately garnished lobster-tail Caesars. Everything else is new, including lobster bruschetta, a fried-clam roll with Sriracha mayo and a few vegetarian dishes. There are also kids’ options, like mac ‘n’ cheese topped with crumbled Goldfish.

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The Dish

Openings

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Introducing: Los Colibris, an upscale Mexican restaurant on King West

Introducing: Los Colibris

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Name: Los Colibris
Contact Info: 220 King St. W. (2nd Floor), 416-979-7717, loscolibris.ca, @loscolibris220
Neighbourhood: Entertainment District
Owner: Andreas Antoniou, who also owns Estiatorio Volos, Little Anthony’s and sister-restaurant El Caballito
Chef: Elia Herrera, also the executive chef at El Caballito

The Food: Los Colibris (Spanish for “hummingbirds”) is not your standard taqueria—in fact, the menu is entirely devoid of tostadas, cinnamon-dusted churros and all the other Latin snacks we’ve come to associate with Mexican cuisine (head downstairs to El Caballito for those). Instead, it serves refined Mexican dishes, some of which were passed down to chef Herrera from her mother and grandmother. Expect made-to-order tortillas, ceviches and complicated adobo sauces, plus big shareable entrées, like a whole roasted sea bass or a 22-ounce rib eye.

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The Dish

Food News

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Celebrate this year’s Luminato festival by eating $5 snacks on a giant cardboard beach

Luminato-IntroNext weekend marks the start of Luminato, the summertime festival of music, dance, film, food and other random creative expression. This year’s Festival Hub, an interactive installation called Cardboard Beach, will be exactly what it sounds like: an idyllic beach scene made entirely out of cardboard, complete with umbrellas, deck chairs, cabanas and—essential to any beach experience—lots of stuff to eat and drink. On Saturday, June 7, 10 Toronto chefs (including Carmen’s Luiz Valenzuela, Mad Mexican’s José Hadad and the chefs behind soon-to-open South American eatery Mata) will be pairing up with festival artists to serve a beach-inspired feast of sliders, grilled seafood, arepas and other Pan-American snacks—each selling for $5 flat. Flip through the slideshow below for a mouth-watering preview.

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June 7, 12-5. Free. David Pecaut Square215 King St. W., luminatofestival.com

The Dish

Restaurants

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Opening soon: a new Leslieville location of Rock Lobster Food Co.

Rock Lobster’s famous lobster-topped poutine (Image: Renée Suen)

Rock Lobster’s famous lobster-topped poutine (Image: Renée Suen)

As if having three successful restaurants, a line of seafood products out at Sobeys and an upcoming cookbook wasn’t enough, Rock Lobster’s chef and owner Matt Pettit, who also runs country-western saloon Boots ‘n’ Bourbon in Riverdale, is once again expanding his local lobster-themed restaurant chain. We had the chance to interrogate Pettit about the newest Rock Lobster outlet, a 65-seat restaurant opening later this month at 1192 Queen East, formerly home to comfy nightspot The Curzon.

“I think it’s going to be great.” Pettit said. “It should be fun. It’ll bring, hopefully, another cool restaurant to the area.”  The new spot won’t stray too far from the chain’s Ossington and Queen West locations, which means Leslievillers can look forward to more of the brand’s signature nautical decor and casual seafood dishes, like elaborately garnished Caesars, beachy steam pots and full lobster suppers on Sundays. The best part? The new restaurant will have three (that’s right, three) sizable patios: a street-side terrace, a back garden-style nook and an additional 20-seater flanking the building’s side—which will be licensed until 2 a.m.

The Dish

Food Events

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Foodie Fortnight: the top 14 food events for April 29 – May 13

The Ritz-Carlton's signature cake.

The Ritz-Carlton’s signature cake.

In this packed edition of Foodie Fortnight: top chefs donate time for charity, all you can eat wings, Canada’s leading hospitality industry event, chocolate, and more chocolate.

Food and art of Fogo Island

This rescheduled fundraiser for Fogo Island Arts will include an Outport Newfoundland Boil up by Chef Murray MacDonald of Fogo Island Inn, one of Canada’s top new restaurants, wines from Closson Chase Vineyards and 13th Street Winery.  

Apr 29. $400. Artscape Wychwood, 601 Christie St., Eventbrite

Daniel Burns @ Momofuku Shōtō

A few slots are left for this culinary event between the man that Globe & Mail critic Chris Nuttall-Smith called the best Canadian chef you’ve never heard of (Daniel Burns of Brooklyn’s Luksus) as he reunites with the Momofuku team for a 12 course tasting menu experience.

Apr 29. $200. Momofuku Shōtō, 190 University Ave., 647-253-8000, facebook.com

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The Dish

Trend Watch

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Six ways to eat gooseneck barnacles, the weird sea creatures that are all over Toronto’s haute menus

(Image: Renée Suen)

At Marben, percebes are steamed in white wine and herbs. (Image: Rob Bragagnolo, Marben)

Gooseneck barnacles, also called percebes, are crustaceans that cling to rocks in places that have a strong crashing surf. In Spain and Portugal, they’re considered a rare and wonderful delicacy, thanks to their sweet flesh, which tastes a bit like a cross between lobster and clam. They’re also impossibly ugly (they resemble some type of prehistoric clawed beast) and extremely expensive, largely because gathering them is such risky and controversial work. In Europe, a single kilo of percebes can fetch almost $500. Their Canadian counterparts, which are hand-picked off the coast of Vancouver Island by the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation, cost over $20 per pound—if you can get your hands on them at all, which regular consumers generally can’t. Luckily, some of Toronto’s best restaurants are doing wonderful things with these odd-looking shellfish. You’ll want to hurry, though: percebes are only in season until the end of May, and once they’re gone, they’re gone.

1. Bar Isabel
At his Spanish restaurant in Little Italy, chef Grant van Gameren serves percebes over thinly sliced raw artichokes with lots of butter and garlic. $20.
797 College St., 416-532-2222

2. Canoe
On Canoe’s spring menu, percebes are paired with pasta, shellfish mousse and sea asparagus in a coastal-inspired take on cannelloni. $26
66 Wellington St. W., 416-364-0054

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The Dish

Openings

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Introducing: Luckee, Susur Lee’s new haute dim-sum restaurant at the Soho Met

Introducing: Luckee

Name: Luckee
Contact Info: 328 Wellington St. W., 416-935-0400, luckeerestaurant.com, @LuckeeTO
Neighbourhood: Entertainment District
Owners: Celeb chef Susur Lee and Henry Wu, Metropolitan Hotel president and founder of Chinese restaurants Lai Wah Heen and now-closed Lai Toh Heen
Executive Chef: Susur Lee

The Food: Refined takes on traditional dishes from the Guangzhou, Hunan and Szechuan regions of China. The around-the-clock dim sum service sticks to classic Cantonese dishes prepared with subtle modifications, like minced chicken instead of pork in steamed shumai dumplings, or Italian prosciutto draped across a traditional Shanghainese ham dish served with osmanthus honey sauce and whole wheat buns. On the main menu, the Luckee duck comes with classic Peking-style garnishes and an optional foie gras supplement. The bar has its own menu of finger foods, like curried shrimp spring rolls and Kung Pao chicken wings.

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The Dish

Openings

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Introducing: La Créole brings refined island cuisine to a romantic room on St. Clair West

Introducing: La Creole

Name: La Créole
Contact Info: 810 St. Clair Ave. W., 416-651-8228, lacreole.ca
Neighbourhood: Humewood
Owners: Ben Cherette and Paterson Louis-Jean of Manje Kreyol Catering
Chef: Manje Kreyol chef Magda

The Food: Six months after Jen Agg opened Rhum Corner, her laid-back Haitian hangout on Dundas West, the city has a second refined island kitchen. La Créole serves a mix of French Caribbean, Créole and Haitian dishes in a fabric-swathed room on St. Clair West. Appetizer platters come heaped with cod fritters, fried plantains and chunks of marinated beef served with plenty of picklese, a pickled condiment made with shredded cabbage. Main dishes include stewed snapper with black-bean sauce and a roasted quail glazed with guava.

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