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Restaurants

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Block Party: Corktown has sprouted street life, and a bona fide dining scene, thanks to the Pan Am Games

The stretch of King east of Power Street is chockablock with cute new shops and indie coffee houses. On the corner is the neighbourhood bistro Corktown Kitchen. At Roselle, a few doors down, Stephanie Duong makes finicky sweets like Turtle tarts with shortbread and salted caramel; banana éclairs with vanilla custard, caramelized rum bananas and whipped white chocolate; and her showstopping mille crêpe cake

You can tell a lot about a neighbourhood from its pastry. My obsession of the moment is the mille crêpe cake at Roselle Desserts, on King just east of Parliament. Stephanie Duong, Roselle’s pastry chef, achieves near perfection in her rendition of the French classic. She layers 20 crêpes with vanilla custard, then brûlées sugar over top. It’s not too sweet and surprisingly light, a harmonious state somewhere between pastry and cake. It’s so labour-intensive and fragile that Duong currently only sells it on weekends, and then only in limited quantities.

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Openings

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Introducing: Rose and Sons Swan, the Queen West diner with a new lease on life courtesy of Anthony Rose

toronto-restaurants-rose-and-sons-swan-albacore-tuna-beets-lead

(Image: Gabby Frank)

Name: Rose and Sons Swan
Neighbourhood: Trinity Bellwoods
Contact: 892 Queen St. W., 647-348-7926, roseandsonswan.com, @roseandsonsswan
Owner: Anthony Rose (Rose and Sons, Big Crow, Fat Pasha, Schmaltz Appetizing)
Chef: Sonia Marwick (Fat Pasha)

The Food: A menu inspired by Rose’s chef-school years in San Francisco and the five years he spent cooking in Cali. “California cuisine is a very loose title,” says Rose. “What it really means is that it’s just good simple food—not doing a lot to it and using a lot of interesting, good, local purveyors.” So while you might find Frito Pie at Big Crow, the dishes at Swan are on the lighter, fresher side and veggies play a bigger role. (To chef Sonia’s chagrin, Rose has given her a new nickname: Swan-ia.)

The Drinks: Four signature cocktails, a selection of bottled and canned beer and a fairly long wine list featuring more than just California grapes.

The Space: “It looks like it did before, but different,” says Rose, who was in Mexico on a yoga retreat when the Queen West diner went out of business. “I wasn’t supposed to be checking my email, but I did and saw that Swan had closed. By the time I got here I was like 30th in line—everyone in the city had looked at this place.” Refurbished booths, a record player, some flash art by local graffiti artists and a lone surfboard distinguish this version of Swan from the previous one. And there’s a park-facing patio in the back now, which Rose says is perfect for white squirrel sightings.

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Drake Hotel bartender Gord Hannah on Toronto’s cocktail revolution

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Gord Hannah’s Art of the Shot

Bartender Gord Hannah has been leading the Drake Hotel’s hospitality team for more than a decade. He sat down to talk about Toronto’s cocktail revolution, the Drake’s endless reinvention, and that time he got snowed in at a ski lodge with a beautiful bartender and some Jäger.

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The Dish

Drinks

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Bespoke Bottles: intriguing and less expensive Niagara wines that can only be found in Toronto restaurants

Here’s a secret: many of Niagara’s top producers have a range of what they call licensee wines, which are made specifically to sell to restaurants and not through the LCBO. They’re priced below their retail offerings, so the restaurants can add a markup and still pass savings on to diners. And while they may lack the structure and complexity of the top bottles from the same producers, they more than make up for it with food-friendliness and the zesty, lifted fruit flavour that’s typical of great Ontario wine. Here are some of my favourite licensee brands and where to find them in the city.

(Image: Dave Gillespie)

(Image: Dave Gillespie)

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Openings

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Introducing: WindUp Restaurant, a Caribbean spot on College from Barque alumni

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

Name: WindUp Restaurant
Neighbourhood: University
Contact: 382 College St., 647-349-6373, winduprestaurant.ca, @eatdrinkwindup
Previously: Wind Up Bird
Owner: Whitney Knowles and Bryan Birch (both Barque alumni)
Chefs: Bryan Birch (Barque, North 44) and Ryan Graham (Tutti Matti)

The Food: “This is a Toronto version of a Caribbean restaurant,” explains Birch, who has taken Jamaican and Trinidadian favourites and infused them with global flavours. Salt cod fritters, for example, are married with Canadian (bacon foam) and Moroccan (preserved lemon) elements. In an homage to the city’s never-ending taco obsession, the curried goat roti is served open-faced and topped with cilantro and pickled mango. The rest of the menu is rounded out with more traditional Caribbean eats (jerk chicken, ackee and saltfish) plus a smattering of international plates (falafel lettuce wrap, sesame-crusted salmon with lotus root, pulled pork tostadas). The brunch menu includes an oxtail benny served on a coconut bake, which might make for a good post-parade hangover cure come Caribana.

The Drinks: A short wine list made up of new world bottles, but all available by the glass; classic cocktails (dark ‘n’ stormy, rum punch, negroni) and daily specials (like a grilled pineapple mojito); and a selection of craft beer, the majority of which are local brews—with the exception of Red Stripe, of course.

The Place: Birch and Knowles kept the previous restaurant’s name so they wouldn’t need to apply for any new licenses. The 30-seat room is minimalist in design, but warmed up with wood features like a cedar wall, saloon doors and a black walnut bar (with stools designed by Marco Pecota of the Junction’s Pekota). A patio accommodates up to 40 street-side diners and drinkers.

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Openings

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Introducing: Alo, Patrick Kriss’s refined addition to the corner of Queen and Spadina

(Image: Renée Suen)

(Image: Renée Suen)

Name: Alo
Neighbourhood: Queen West
Contact: 163 Spadina Ave., 3rd floor., 416-260-2222, alorestaurant.com, @AloRestaurant
Owner: Patrick Kriss (Acadia, Splendido) and Amanda Bradley (George, La Grenouillere)
Chefs: Patrick Kriss, Matthew Betsch (Eleven Madison Park, Splendido) and Nick Bentley (Acadia, Splendido, Canoe)
Pastry chef: Cori Murphy (Patrice Pâtissiere, Canoe)

The Food: The tasting menu–only restaurant offers an evolving five-course menu (with options) composed of seasonal dishes made with Canadian ingredients, but prepared using French techniques. The bar offers casual snacks including homemade soft pretzels, crudités (fancy raw veggies) on ice and bite-sized pâte à choux pastries piped full of caramel and vanilla Chantilly. Later this summer, a long-format tasting menu will be available for those who snag seats at the kitchen counter.

The Drinks: Sommelier Anjana Viswanatha (Canoe, Luma) has designed a menu featuring wines from small producers, with special attention paid to biodynamic and natural selections (including many by-the-glass options). Bartender John Bunner (Byblos, Yours Truly) serves his takes on traditional cocktails and even has a couple bottled concoctions for sharing.

The Place: Commute Design (Byblos, Little Sister, Patria and The Ritz) was responsible for transforming the 2,800-square-foot space that takes up the top floor of the Victorian building, previously home to a modelling agency. Windows of the polished (but tablecloth-free) restaurant look out to Spadina and Queen West. The building itself is looking much better than it did in the ’80s.

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New Reviews

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Review: Little Italy’s Soi Thai serves stand-out snacks straight from the streets of Bangkok

(Image: Jackie Pal)

(Image: Jackie Pal)

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Soi Thai 1 star½
651 College St., 647-345-8838
Soi Thai 1 star½
651 College St., 647-345-8838

The allure of street food is authenticity and adventure on a plate, with heaping portions, for the price of TTC fare back home. At Little Italy’s Soi Thai, servers recommend two dishes per diner, and that’s conservative, as are the portions. But one could roam the streets of Bangkok for days without finding flavours as rewarding as those racing through the phak bung fai dang, a standout stir-fry of morning glory, garlic and Thai chilies in an umami-rich soy and oyster sauce broth, made in-house by Nopphawan Papa. There’s no pad Thai or curry here: heartier fare includes a tin dish of earthy ground pork threaded with basil and thickened with two runny eggs, best paired with sticky rice from a wicker steam basket. A mound of salmon ceviche dusted with chili flakes and whole mint leaves cools some of the burn from a fiery papaya salad, which is all heat but little of the sweetness that typically balances the Thai staple. The playful decor matches Soi Thai’s ambition to resemble a refuge one discovers unexpectedly, with an assortment of Thai sundries lining the front of the bar and colourful plastic stools beneath tables that are at their most welcoming when topped with frosted mugs of Singha for a backpacker-friendly $5.50. World traveller or not, this soi (Thai for small alley) is a happy one to stumble upon.

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Openings

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Introducing: Miss Thing’s, Parkdale’s new pan-Asian restaurant and cocktail bar

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(Image: Gabby Frank)

Name: Miss Thing’s
Neighbourhood: Parkdale
Contact: 1279 Queen St. W., 416-516-8677, missthings.com, @missthingsbar
Previously: Wrongbar
Owner: Nav Sangha
Chefs: Jasper Wu (Bent) and Paul Hadian (Momofuku)

The Food: Polynesian and Hawaiian cuisine, but with tweaks: the Loco Moco, for instance, takes the traditional Hawaiian plate lunch and switches out the beef patty and brown gravy for flank steak and house-made A1 sauce. Spam comes in the form of pintxos, and fried rice is hit with pineapple and pork belly. “We haven’t even touched on Bora Bora or French Polynesia,” says Sangha. “That’ll be in the fall when things get a little more rich and creamy.”

The Drinks:  Wine and beer are available, but it’s the cocktail program that steals the show. Bar manager Reed Pettit (Miller Tavern) mixes up drinks with tropical twists, influenced, says Sangha, by the cocktails borne from pan-Asian tourist culture—but not as syrupy sweet or electric blue. And while one drink is served in a hollowed-out coconut (the bar’s take on a piña colada, of course), none are meant to be sipped from novelty tiki mugs.

The Space: It’s unsurprisingly brighter, airier and more grown up than its former Wrongbar self. Pink and gold floral murals are painted on turquoise walls, and hanging from the ceiling, unique gramophone horn light fixtures designed by Toronto-based Milke Bau look like brassy flowers in bloom. Miss Thing’s Coconut Room, which is available for events and private parties (disco ball included) and will also host the occasional live show, is in a separate area behind the restaurant.

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Restaurants

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Dac Biet brings Asian-American burgers to the downtown core

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

Toronto’s love affair with Asian-American fusion isn’t fading: joining the ranks of DaiLo, Patois and R&D is Dac Biet, a pan-Asian burger joint with a Vietnamese name. Dac Biet means “special,” or in this case, “combo with everything.” The burgers at the small spot (previously home to Sam’s Philly Cheesesteak) are loaded with Asian toppings like kimchi, char siu (barbecue pork), house-pickled daikon and more. All of the six stacks on offer start with the same base—a griddled five-ounce patty of freshly ground sirloin, brisket and chuck on a chewy Ace bun—before getting a Vietnamese, Chinese or Korean makeover. The Banh Mi Burger, for example, tops a beef patty with lemongrass pork, pickled daikon and carrot, cilantro, cucumber and mayo. The Korean contender, called the Kalbi Burger (pictured above), comes crowned with kimchi and slathered in a Korean barbecue–flavoured sauce. Fries come topped with kimchi, pulled pork and wasabi mayo, and even the joint’s poutine gets a twist: the Quebecois staple might look familiar, but the gravy’s spiked with pho jus.

213 Church St., 416-703-8878, dacbietburger.com, @dacbiet_burger

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Food Shops

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Mark McEwan’s gourmet grocery store is open in the PATH

Marc McEwan in front of his new grocery store in the PATH, McEwan.

(Image: Renée Suen)

Bay Street office-dwellers have a new 6,500-square-foot supermarket to forage in: gourmet grocer McEwan, owned by you-know-who, has opened an outpost in the PATH, beneath the TD Centre. As at McEwan’s Shops at Don Mills flagship, shoppers can pick up fresh produce and premium pantry items, and there’s also a coffee bar with pastries and doughnuts, a soup and panini station, a salad bar and a 32-foot-long hot table that includes an extensive selection of curries, many of them meatless. A food truck–inspired menu features twists on popular treats like poutine, tacos and banh mi. Short-on-time commuters might appreciate the selection of oven-ready meals (like Thai shrimp curry and lobster ravioli) and there’s also a takeaway cake counter, display cases filled with Laura Slack chocolates and even an on-site florist for any last-minute hostess gifts (or heartfelt apologies).

66 Wellington St., Toronto Dominion Centre.

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New Reviews

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Review: Drake Devonshire pairs Queen West cool with Prince Edward County flavours

(Image: Jackie Pal)

(Image: Jackie Pal)

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Drake Devonshire 3 star ½
24 Wharf St., 613-399-1851
Drake Devonshire 3 star ½
24 Wharf St., 613-399-1851

The bucolic Prince Edward County hotel and restaurant imports cool touches from Queen West, and chef Matt DeMille’s menu makes the most of the local larder. To start, succulent confit duck wings have a craggy caramelized shell, and shrimp crudo is bright with Quebec canola oil and the briny pop of elderberry capers. Seared local pickerel is buttery and juicy, lifted by a minty salsa verde and fresh fava beans. It pairs brilliantly with an unoaked chardonnay from area producer Rosehill Run (it’s one of many county wines on offer). A sweet cream ice cream, stewed rhubarb and crisp streusel sundae makes for a gorgeous, summery finish—but so do s’mores by the firepit on the deck that stretches nearly to the shoreline of the gently lapping lake.

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Restaurants

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This End Up (sort of) returns to Dundas West

(Image: Rebecca Fleming)

(Image: Rebecca Fleming)

Little Portugal’s popular sandwich and cocktail spot didn’t stay closed for long: This End Up will reopen on July 17…sort of. Shortly after the Dundas West favourite left the scene last March, it was announced that chef Deron Engbers and the Monarch Tavern’s Michael Dorbyk would take over the space to open something called This and That. According to This End Up’s co-owner Karen Young, that deal “did not end up seeing the light of day.” The restaurant’s new incarnation will no longer offer the much-loved Big Mac pretender, the Better Mac, but will host a rotating cast of chefs (some established and some up and coming) to showcase their culinary creations. On nights when pop-ups aren’t planned, bar snacks from Charlotte Langley’s Scout Canning and local fermenting folks Mighty Fine Brine will be served. Options on the current menu range from light snacking fare (chips with a medley of dips) to more substantial nosh (a beef bulgogi ssam spiked with strawberry-chili paste). For now, This End Up 2.0 is open from Friday to Tuesday and will be a strictly nocturnal affair (sorry, brunch fans).

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New Reviews

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Review: Little Portugal’s Hanmoto maintains a healthy disregard for dieters, as the best izakayas do

(Image: Dave Gillespie)

(Image: Dave Gillespie)

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Leemo Han’s secretive Dundas West izakaya bears the trademark junk-shop look he and brother Leeto established at downtown’s (now shuttered) Swish by Han and Ossington snack-food spot Oddseoul. The food is meant for snacking and sharing, with nothing costing more than $18 (for six oysters dressed with ponzu and pickled chilies). As at the best izakayas, the chef maintains a healthy disregard for dieters. Prime example: a sandwich of roasted, super-fatty pork belly, coated in soy remoulade, barely contained by a coco bun. Everyone raves about the Dyno Wings, which are stuffed with spicy pork and rice, deep-fried and served in a takeout box. Even more impressive are a tartare of fantastically fresh hamachi and the nasu dengaku—Japanese eggplant charred until the flesh is creamy, the length of it covered in a crunchy, burgundy fuzz of finely shredded deep-fried beets. (The only letdown is the salmon face—Leemo’s stunt-plate equivalent of the pig face that appeared not long ago on hipster charcuterie menus.) The drinks list is short but thoughtful: Asahi on tap, quality sake, and cocktails made with shiso leaf, kaffir lime–infused vodka and Asian pear.

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Closings

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Crush Wine Bar gets squeezed out

(Image: Dave Gillespie)

(Image: Dave Gillespie)

Since it opened in 2002, Crush Wine Bar has been a King West fixture, but its new owners clearly weren’t such big fans: it’s now closed, with the last day of service announced in one short tweet late last month. Niagara-on-the-Lake hoteliers Vintage Hotels, who purchased the oenophile’s paradise from the Queen and Beaver’s Jamieson Kerr back in 2010, sold the restaurant in order to focus on their holdings on the other side of Lake Ontario, according to Crush’s executive chef Trista Sheen. Shortly after the sale, the new owners gave all of the staff two weeks’ notice. “We all kept saying it’s the end of an era,” says Sheen. “It’s the place where I became a chef for the first time, and I just wanted to enjoy the last two weeks—to be with the people I worked with.” Sheen tells us she’ll be taking the rest of the summer off. “I’m going to take it easy: eat out, travel to the East Coast, and enjoy things on the other side of the food scene.” The new owners, meanwhile, haven’t revealed their plans yet.

The Dish

Restaurants

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The Pie Commission celebrates the opening of its new Trinity Bellwoods location with free pies

(Image: Daniel Neuhaus)

(Image: Daniel Neuhaus)

Fans of The Pie Commission’s stuffed pastry pockets no longer need to trek to Etobicoke to curb their cravings for butter-chicken pot pie: the ex-Happy Hooker digs on Dundas West have been revamped into a 15-seat pie shack. Over at the west-end factory outlet—where up to 500 pies fly out the door daily—the braised beef rib number reigns supreme, but who knows which flaky creation will be a home run with the city’s hipsters? Odds are, collaborations that involve local flavour (like the Caplansky Pie) are likely to be a hit. On top of the regular savoury offerings, the menu at the new outpost also offers fruit crumble served with Ed’s Real Scoop vanilla ice cream. Something else new to this location: a liquor license. Right now, Great Lake Brewery’s Pompous Ass English Ale is the only beer on tap, but the plan is to add other brews to the draught list. And because the small space can only fit so many people, there are benches out front with built-in “pie platforms” (designed to fit a pie and a side) to provide extra seating for al fresco eating. Oh right, and to celebrate their grand opening on July 16, The Pie Commission will give the first 100 customers at its new store one free braised rib or veggie pie each.

887 Dundas St. W., 647-351-7437, piecommission.com, @PieCommish