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Grant van Gameren’s claim to greatness is sweating the small details. At Bar Isabel, his first post-Hoof venture, he tiled the wall mosaic himself and obsessed over the perfect technique to grill whole baby octopus. At his new, second spot, he’s replicated the suave yet oh-so-slightly louche quality of the kind of Barcelona tapas bar where you grab an espresso on the way to work, meet friends for five o’clock cocktails, and perch with a paramour late into the night on stools in a corner, grazing from plates of lusciously fatty chorizo and “gildas” of speared olives, Italian peppers and pickled pearl onions. (Those stools are few in number—as in Spain, you’re expected to stand, lean against the bar and mingle.) The menu is weighted to seafood, much of it steamed and served, comme il faut, in the cans in which it’s been preserved. The standout option is pungently delicious razor clams and sweet peppers—they’ll make you reevaluate the quality of supplies in your doomsday bunker. Van Gameren makes a decadent rendition of a McMuffin with a slice of seared, paprika- and nutmeg-laced Spanish blood sausage, sunny-side-up quail egg and a splatter of parsley sauce. Mutton-chopped bartenders push a long, on-theme list of sherries and rare vermouths, yet the real treats are artisanal concoctions, like the sweet-tart Dopeness of Amontillado, Seville orange marmalade and, for healthy measure, a dash of bee pollen. Once the just-opened hype quiets (there’s often a queue through the night), it promises to become a neighbourhood institution.
The latest arrival on St. Clair West is a French bistro disguised as a sparse Copenhagen café: the walls are white and bare, the tables are pale salvaged birch, and the glass pendant lamps resemble Cinderella’s soap bubbles. The food, however, is ornate Gallic goodness. There’s a terrific kohlrabi salad with lentils, artichoke hearts and oven-roasted tomatoes, the acidic crunch offset by a funky walnut-truffle vinaigrette. It’s a much better starter than three gummy seared scallops, which languish in a bland apple-fennel purée and a bizarre spiced vanilla oil that smells like Bath and Body Works. A salt-crusted rack of lamb has a lovely scarlet centre, surrounded by creamy fava beans and a lip-tingling chili-mint jus. But the evening’s most surprising treat is a steamed skate wing stuffed with lobster mousse and circled by a puddle of pinot noir sauce; it sounds like an ’80s gimmick, but the skate is delicately fishy, the pulled crustacean soft and sweet, and the sauce rich and tart. For dessert, a fresh vanilla semifreddo soaks up rhubarb “soup” (better known as juice) and tangy Niagara icewine jellies, but the seasonality stops there: the stodgy, icing-sugared chocolate cake comes with flavourless hothouse blueberries and blackberries. The wine list, created by Scaramouche sommelier Peter Boyd, features an affordable international mix, but, like all new status-seeking restaurants, Concession Road also has an absinthe service for Capone-era cocktails.
Bottle service, infinity pools and big-ticket gifts: a who’s who of Toronto’s richest kids on Instagram
In most respects, the ultra-rich live by different rules—but they use the same internet as the rest of us. Just like everyone else in their age group, the teenage and twenty-something children of Toronto’s business elite have taken to social media in general, and the photo-sharing site Instagram in particular. Browsing their public accounts is like peering through a mansion keyhole into a kind of life most of us know little about and will never lead. If your friends’ perfectly curated Facebook and Instagram pages make you want to crawl into your closet with a bottle of gin, avert your eyes. These are our very own rich kids of Instagram—the progeny of wealthy Toronto families—and their feeds are a jaw-dropping, envy-inducing cross between Vogue, Condé Nast Traveller and Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.
Tessa Thomson, 21
Lineage: Daughter of David Thomson, chair of Thomson Reuters (and Canada’s richest human), and his first wife Mary Lou La Prairie
Home Base: South Beach, Miami
Occupation: Student at University of Miami
Instagram Handle: tessathomson
Truffle popcorn fiends @madison_roehrig #Hotel #LoveYou #Bff #Miami #Babe A photo posted by Tessa Thomson (@tessathomson) on
To help you be prepared, we looked at the average prices for wedding essentials in Toronto—booking a venue, hiring a catering company, buying a gown, for instance—and compared them to typical costs nationwide.The numbers below are based on traditional weddings, which usually consist of 150 guests and a 10-person bridal party. (Based on Weddingbells‘ 2015 Bridal Survey).
This post was sponsored by TD Canada Trust. Learn more here.
Don’t worry—it’s nothing drastic: we still evaluate restaurants on a scale of one to five stars, and we continue to only review places that we believe are worth a visit. But we’ve changed our scale to be a little more generous, and a little more intuitive. Before, one star meant a place was good; now it means fair. Two stars meant very good; now it means good. Three stars meant excellent; now it means very good. Four stars meant extraordinary; now it means excellent. And five stars meant absolutely perfect: an extraordinary, totally flawless, unparalleled dining experience. No restaurant ever achieved that score. Now our highest rating means exceptional, and there are a handful of restaurants that have earned it: Auberge du Pommier, Kaiseki Yu-Zen Hashimoto, Momofuku Shoto, Buca Yorkville and Sushi Kaji. You can read more about what the new stars mean here, or find out how we’ve scored your favourite restaurant by searching for them in our listings.
Yesterday in Ontario Superior Court, Michael Elder lost his motion for an emergency injunction to prevent Toronto Life’s May issue from being published. Elder is the subject of a feature article that recounts how the ambitious businessman raised $12 million for the Quillmate—a tablet computer that he obtained the U.S. patent rights to long before the iPad existed—and the angry investors and business partners that it has left in its wake. The story is written by veteran journalist Michael Posner. You can read more detail in our press release here. In the meantime, our May issue will be on newsstands on April 23, in subscribers’ mailboxes soon—and “The Charming Mr. Elder” will be published online, in full, later this week.
The new bar-bistro on Queen West, in the space formerly occupied by Ursa, is a marvel of cocktail nerdery. The co-owner, Frankie Solarik, introduced Toronto to $20, chemistry-experiment tipples in the mid-oughties at clubby BarChef and wrote the book on mixology (called, unsurprisingly, The Bar Chef). The new venture is far more laid back, like a moody beaux arts–era drinking salon that serves excellent rustic food. (The dim, dim, dim—seriously, download the flashlight app on your phone before you go—candlelight nails the pre-electricity mood.)
The intriguing drinks (there are 30 on offer) also seem to have emerged less from a futuristic lab and more from a 19th-century apothecary stocked with obscure tinctures. The Juniper Harvest, for example, stirs London dry gin with star anise syrup, apricot bitters and sweet vermouth in an orange blossom–rinsed wine glass that channels the scents upward. You could easily drop $100 sampling them, alongside snacks like snap peas tossed with sticky, sweet pomegranate sauce and crunchy almonds, or hollandaise-drenched lobster tail on buttery pain au lait. But hearty mains, like lush duck confit on sweet braised red cabbage, or deep black, salty squid ink risotto with golden seared scallops, are entirely worth it, too. Classic crème brûlée makes a killer pairing for a savoury-sweet Apricot Fields, which shakes apricot-infused brandy, lemon, rosemary syrup, amaretto and madeira over ice.
The glitzy reno of this Victorian, for most of the last 20 years home to the quaint fusion spot Boba, marks the rapid transformation of Yorkville from rich and dowdy to rich and aggressively chic. Marble walls, plush black leather banquettes and a monumental wedding cake of a chandelier reinforce the impression of a deco-era nightclub—the only thing missing is Nat King Cole crooning from a stage instead of from the overhead speakers.
Nominally a Japanese-style steak house, it’s the latest in a series of ambitious Charles Khabouth and Hanif Harji projects, with executive chef Stuart Cameron (who also oversees Byblos, Weslodge and Patria) responsible for a big-spender menu of oyster platters, panko and Dungeness crab croquettes dusted with a sesame-seaweed seasoning, and an ingeniously multi-textured ahi tuna tartare (more of a salad) tossed with chilies, avocado, puffed wild rice and a nostril-searing grating of fresh B.C. wasabi. But it’s all about the beef: the aging locker holds a king’s ransom of prime Canadian and American cattle; Wagyu raised in your pick of Idaho, Iowa or Australia; and the most outrageous of them all, Japanese Kobe, which starts at $105 for a mere five ounces and climbs precipitously to $460 for a 24-ounce rib-eye. The more modest Australian Wagyu rump steak is charred handsomely on the grill, perfectly rare within, and so heavily marbled it’s more fat than meat—it slices like butter under the blade of the restaurant’s custom-made high-carbon steak knives. The steaks are so flavourful, there’s no need for the house steak sauce, prepared with momentous ceremony tableside on a vintage industrial cart. A serious wine list includes a dozen sakes and a handful of extremely rare French vintages offered by the glass.
Toronto Life celebrates Where to Eat 2015 with a special one-night event of exceptional food and drink
On April 9, Toronto Life brought the pages of our annual Where to Eat issue to life with the inaugural Best Restaurants event, welcoming 450 guests to Artscape Wychwood Barns. Chefs from 16 of the top best new restaurants as chosen by Toronto Life restaurant critic Mark Pupo were on hand to serve their signature dishes. Attendees sampled butter-poached whelks from Michael Steh of Colette, truffle gnudi from Adrian Niman of Rasa, grilled sardine petisco from Roberto Fracchioni of Flor de Sal, jerk “spam” sandwiches from Craig Wong of Patois, and more. Each dish was paired with a craft beer from Amsterdam Brewery, the winemakers from Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Southbrook Vineyards poured organic wines, and Flow natural Ontario spring water kept guests well hydrated. Snacks and desserts were provided by Longo’s, and the evening wrapped with fresh-roasted coffee from Muldoon’s.
For 25 years, Lori Morris has designed fantasy-inducing estates all over the world—a sprawling mountain lodge in Montana, an ancient house in Jerusalem, an oceanfront beach property on the Gulf of Mexico. The hectic, travel-heavy lifestyle made her crave a waterfront retreat of her own. Walking around her Etobicoke neighbourhood in 2003, she came across a terraced neo-Georgian row house on the lakefront and had to have it. Problem was, it wasn’t for sale. She waited five years for it to come on the market and scooped it up the moment it did. In February 2008 she took possession and got to work turning the 2,500-square-foot property into her own private escape. She was inspired by French châteaus she’d visited on buying trips and indulged herself with the same luxuries as her clients: custom furnishings; antiques collected from France, Italy and England; ornate chandeliers; and enough rococo gilding to make Marie Antoinette blanch. She also updated the look to satisfy her 21st-century tastes. She stripped the house down to the studs, added grand archways to open up the space and crowned the rooms with custom millwork she designed herself. The result is an over-the-top hideaway that serves as her own Petit Trianon in Mimico. Her favourite room is her bedroom—she calls the rest of the house “the long hallway to my bedroom.”
Ten years ago, it was yoga. Now, the voguish wellness crazy is meditation—tranquil, incense-fumed, cross-legged sessions that melt frantic millenial minds into a calmer state of being. The latest prescription for strung-out suits is a five-minute breathing session in a Bay Street boardroom turned ashram, or a 10-day silent retreat in a remote rural sanctuary. Here, an essential shopping list for serious serenity seekers.