It’s always fun to daydream about lavish restaurant meals, which is why some may be interested in taking a look at the newly released menus for Winterlicious 2015. The festival, which runs from January 30 to February 12, will see over 200 restaurants serving up prix-fixe lunches and dinners to deal-hungry Torontonians. The pool of participating spots includes all the old, reliable standbys, like Canoe, Splendido, Auberge du Pommier and Momofuku’s Noodle Bar and Daishō. There are also some interesting additions to the list, like Los Colibris, the excellent Mexican restaurant from chef Elia Herrera, and Parisian-style brasserie Cluny, which opened in the Distillery District earlier this year. One of the best options may be Susur Lee’s Luckee, which is offering a surprisingly reasonable $35 dinner made up of dishes from the restaurant’s regular menu, like soy-marinated black cod and Peking-style “Luckee duck.” Over at the Trump Hotel, glitzy America will also be taking part, though its lunch and dinner menus (for $28 and $45, respectively) seem to have been specially designed for the festival. (That isn’t necessarily a bad sign, though it can sometimes signal a two-tiered dining system.) Restaurants will start taking reservations on January 15. In the meantime, people who’d rather not wait to start cramming their 2015 dining calendars can peruse a long list of special Winterlicious events, tickets for which went on sale earlier this week.
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Toronto’s brewpub scene will soon have another big, corporate player. According to BlogTO, the Beer Academy brewery at 75 Victoria Street, which is run by Molson-owned Six Pints, is being taken over by a new brewery and restaurant from Ontario-based Creemore Springs, which was acquired by Molson in 2005. Six Pints took over the corner space (previously occupied by the since-resuscitated Duggan’s Brewpub) in 2007, turning it into a combined retail store, tasting room and event space. Seven years later, Molson has apparently decided to go with something a little more mainstream. The Creemore brewpub is set to open in mid-2015, by which point it could have as many as four new competitors: Big Rock and 3 Brewers in Liberty Village, Lansdowne Brewery near Dundas West and the new Bellwoods Brewery in Dovercourt Village.
For over a decade, Corner House served as a go-to spot for romantic dinners and special-occasion meals. Now, almost a year after the restaurant’s closure, the quaint cottage at the foot of Casa Loma is home to a new fine-dining destination. Flor de Sal has the same candlelit ambiance as its predecessor, and a similar menu of luxe pastas and meat-and-potato mains—which seems like a shrewd strategy for wooing people back to the remote stretch of Davenport Road. The choice of chef was another smart move: during his four-year stint at Monk Kitchen on Adelaide, Roberto Fracchioni cooked one of the city’s best under-the-radar tasting menus. It seems his food may be slightly less experimental at Flor de Sal, which makes the following vow on its website: “You will not find the tricks of molecular gastronomy here.”
Neighbourhood: Distillery District
Contact Info: 42 Gristmill Ln., 416-368-8686
Previously: Café Uno
Owner: Zuimei Okuyama
Chef: Veteran sushi chef Aki Kitao, who previously worked in upscale sushi restaurants like Toshi Sushi and Ki
The Food: Unlike Touhenboku’s casual ramen shops on Queen West and Yonge Street, the chain’s Distillery location focuses primarily on sushi. Chef Kitao’s menu includes over 21 types of fish, which are sliced, rolled and torched in both traditional and novel ways. A tuna-scallop roll is blasted with a blow torch and topped with house-made sour plum paste and a sweet miso-sesame glaze. For $45, the chef will prepare a 14-piece omakase (i.e. tasting menu) with interesting options like uni (sea urchin), tarabakani (king crab), and aji (Spanish mackerel) wrapped in Japanese mint. Read the rest of this entry »
Read the rest of this entry »
BarFish is a new cocktail lounge that’s joined at the hip with Blowfish, the schmoozy Japanese restaurant on King West. Housed in a modern new addition to the historic Bank of Montreal building at King and Bathurst, the narrow room has an onyx-topped bar, velvet banquettes and a DJ booth for nightly spinning sessions. Bartender Nishan Nepulongoda serves up complex drinks, like a cognac-based concoction flavoured with yuzu and figs, and a tiki-inspired cocktail served in a mug shaped like an Easter Island moai. (It’s spiked with jallab, a Middle Eastern fruit syrup made with dates and rose water.) Japanese snacks, like deep-fried rock shrimp and miso-marinated black cod, can be ordered from the Blowfish kitchen. But there’s more in store for the new extension: come spring, two new floors above the bar will house a pair of private dining rooms and a rooftop terrace.
Dark Horse Espresso, the indie coffee chain with locations in Trinity Bellwoods, Riverdale, Chinatown and the Entertainment District, will soon be opening a fifth coffee shop in Dovercourt Village. The new spot will take up residence at 120 Geary Avenue, in the 80,000-square-foot Artisan Factory building just west of Dovercourt. “We’re waiting on some licensing stuff,” says co-owner Deanna Zunde. “It’ll open sometime in the new year. Maybe spring.” With just nine bar seats and a take-out counter, the place won’t be as freelancer-friendly as the Horse’s Queen West or Spadina locations, but it will have something the others don’t: plentiful food options. “It’s a bakery concept,” says Zunde. “We’ll be making breads and baked goods, and also savoury things like quiche.” In fact, most of the large space will be used as a production facility. That’s part of the reason Zunde chose to settle on the sleepy stretch of Geary, which currently houses more auto garages than restaurants. Still, lower rents weren’t the only attraction. “There’s just so much potential here,” says Zunde. “It’s an untapped area.” Between the new Dark Horse café and the Bellwoods brewpub soon to land at Dupont and Dovercourt, it certainly won’t stay that way for long.
For the past year, executive chef David Lee has been dividing his time between Nota Bene, the six-year-old power-lunch spot on Queen West, and The Carbon Bar, his younger, clubbier, barbecue-focused restaurant a few blocks east at Queen and Church. At present, Lee co-owns both places with partners Yannick Bigourdan and Franco Prevedello, but that arrangement apparently won’t hold up for much longer. According to a recent press release, Lee will soon be parting ways with his longtime partners, cutting all ties with Carbon Bar and turning Nota Bene into a one man show. The move marks the dissolution of a 15-year partnership between Lee and Bigourdan. The pair co-owned Splendido for seven years before opening Nota Bene to great acclaim in 2008. The restaurant’s been looking a little tired lately, so Lee’s plans for the business, which include a mid-year renovation and menu overhaul, couldn’t have come at a better time.
Some things just go well together, like huge pork sandwiches and Neapolitan pizzas. At least, that’s the theory behind the upcoming side-by-side locations of Pizzeria Libretto and Porchetta and Co., which are getting ready to open at 545 King West, just east of Portland Street. (That location puts the adjoining restaurants in good culinary company—Buca, Bar Buca, Portland Variety and Patria are all within a block or two.) Last fall, Libretto’s Max Rimaldi and Porchetta’s Nick auf der Mauer said their goal was to open both restaurants by the end of 2014. That deadline is now looming, but it seems like the neighbourhood may have to wait a little longer. “As of now we have not set an opening date,” said auf der Mauer in a recent email exchange. In the meantime, area residents who aren’t already familiar with Porchetta and Co. may want to check out the restaurant’s Instagram feed, which captures some truly breathtaking sandwich artistry.
At the Black Hoof and Bar Isabel, the neurotic, self-taught Grant van Gameren made offal sexy and became an unlikely celebrity chef. Bar Raval, his new restaurant on a prime Little Italy corner, is the most hyped opening of the year. Too bad he loathes the spotlight
Bar Raval, Grant van Gameren’s latest project, is named after a seedy neighbourhood in Barcelona. You wouldn’t know it from his elaborate plans for the place. He and his two partners, Robin Goodfellow and Mike Webster, are investing somewhere around half a million dollars to renovate the building at the corner of College and Palmerston, where Teatro used to be—a preposterous sum for a 40-seat restaurant that will serve finger food and cocktails. Everything, absolutely everything at Bar Raval, will be custom made: the tamper for the espresso bar, the foot rests, the drip tray with the Wu-Tang logo. The South American mahogany for the walls is being machine-carved and hand-oiled at a millworks in North York. The panels, designed by the boutique architecture firm Partisans, will have swooping rounded contours that replicate the three partners’ bodies. The design was so novel, so complex, that the manufacturers had to develop new algorithms for the software that guides the drill bits over the wood.
The project would seem hubristic if van Gameren had ever failed at a restaurant. But he hasn’t. The man’s sense of what Toronto craves has been impeccable. His food manages to fit the moment and the city with perfect accord.
Name: Mean Bao
Neighbourhood: Queen West
Contact Info: 167 Bathurst St., 416-862-7737, meanbaotoronto.com
Previously: A short-lived burger shop called Burger Press
Chefs/Owners: Both the original location and this new outpost are co-owned by Jones and James Cheung, along with their nephew and niece Scott Ching and Erin Cheung. Everyone plays a role in the family business, including grandma.
The Food: Silky bao are piled with savoury ingredients, like peppery barbecue chicken with pickled daikon, or house-braised pork belly topped with a crunchy mixture of peanuts and black sugar. The “Sloppy Jones” is a bao-ified version of dan dan mien, a traditional Szechuan noodle dish made with minced pork, chili oil and scallions. Read the rest of this entry »
Read the rest of this entry »
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 amount of extra money the LCBO could make each year if it were to compete more aggressively with The Beer Store, according to a recent report from Ontario lobby group Restaurants Canada. The brief was cited today in a Star exposé by reporter Martin Regg Cohn, who claims to have uncovered a document proving the existence of a secret agreement that, for the past 14 years, has prevented the LCBO from horning in on The Beer Store’s lucrative bulk-beer trade.
The best new restaurant on Dundas West is an Argentine grill house called Branca—a hedonist’s dream of woozy cocktails, swish service and perfectly charred slabs of meat
1727 Dundas St. W., 416-519-8165
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For a couple of years in the early 2000s, I shared an apartment on the Brazilian strip of Dundas near Dufferin, which felt like the middle of nowhere, nary a Starbucks for miles. Every so often, I’d awake to the sound of drag-racing Civic hatchbacks. Dundas West always seemed gentrification-proof. Only soccer bars, auto garages and funeral homes thrived. Today the street is so trendy it’s surpassing Queen in DJEBs (deejays, espressos and beards) per block. Somehow the neighbourhood’s roughness has become a virtue—the decaying storefronts impart authenticity to a speakeasy-style bar or a Japanese streetwear boutique.
The words “classic” and “traditional” aren’t usually associated with BarChef concoctionist Frankie Solarik, whose hyper-modern drinks tend to look more like abstract artworks than happy hour tipples. (His overall mixing philosophy is equally intense. This, from his website: “The general goal for me artistically is to challenge the conventional thought as to what’s possible within the medium of a glass.”) So the details of Solarik’s next project—a bistro and bar called Furlough, opening mid-January in the former Ursa space at 924 Queen West—come as a bit of a surprise. “The drinks and food will be classic in style,” says co-owner Brent VanderVeen. “It’ll be a warm neighbourhood spot—tin ceilings, tufted brown leathers. The kind of place you want to keep coming back.” Instead of flavoured airs and foams, customers will find European wines, classic cocktails and a custom-built absinthe fountain, plus traditional bistro dishes like duck confit and steak frites. According to VanderVeen, the price points will also be a bit more traditional. “No $45 smoked manhattans,” he says.