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Score free tequila (and portable caesar salads) at Fonda Lola’s piñata party

(Image: Renée Suen)

(Image: Renée Suen)

Mexican restaurant Fonda Lola is turning one this week, and it’s celebrating the occasion with a rowdy, tequila-fueled piñata smash-a-thon. Starting at noon on Friday, November 28, and happening every hour on the hour until midnight, the restaurant will be hanging up papier-mâché containers full of treats and letting people pummel them with sticks. They’re also giving away some free stuff, like tequila samples at 4 p.m. and “hand-held caesar salads” at noon and, provided you’ve bought a margarita, 5 p.m. (Picture a creamy bacon lettuce wrap—they’re highly recommended.) Oh, and there’s a chili pepper–eating contest, too, scheduled for 2 p.m.—because there’s no better time to excoriate the lining of your mouth than right in the middle of a regular workday.

Fri. Nov. 28, 12 a.m.-12 p.m., 942 Queen St. W., 647-706-9105 (text for reservations), fondalola.ca

The Dish

Drinks

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Winter Beers: the top 10 craft beers hitting LCBO shelves this season

Winter Beers: the top 10 bottles hitting LCBO shelves this season

Winter beers are generally bigger, bolder and sweeter than their warm-weather counterparts. The LCBO’s seasonal release, which will be trickling out in stores over the next few months, is one of the most impressive we’ve seen in years. (There are tons of amazing Belgian bottles, several of which are listed below.) Here, the top 10 brews of the season.

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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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Restaurants

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Dooney’s café is making (another) comeback

(Image: Kim B./Yelp)

(Image: Kim B./Yelp)

Dooney’s was an Annex institution back in the days when non-mega-millionaires could still afford to own property in the Annex. Now, according to the CBC, it’s making a comeback—only not in the Annex.

The café, which opened in 1982, was owned and operated for over two decades by Graziano Marchese (brother to former MPP Rosario Marchese) before being sold to new owners in 2008 and soon after rebranded. A few years later, Marchese tried to revive the café’s legacy at his new neighbourhood hangout, Annex Live; however, the identity shift didn’t really stick.

This time, he’s going for a new neighbourhood. The CBC reports that Dooney’s 3.0 will be opening in the next month or so at 866 Bloor West, just east of Ossington—an area that probably looks and feels something like the Annex, circa 1984ish. And from the sounds of it, former Dooney’s regulars will find themselves right at home in the new space, which, according to Marchese, will be a spitting image of the original, right down to the cool neon sign.

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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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Chris McDonald on leaving Cava: “I feel like my job is done with Spanish”

(Image: Dave Gillespie)

McDonald’s squid with romesco sauce. (Image: Dave Gillespie)

Before there was Patria, Carmen or Bar Isabel, there was Cava, the Yonge Street restaurant responsible for acquainting Torontonians with boquerones, papas fritas and the simple joys of grilled seafood with citrus. Now, longtime owner and chef Chris McDonald is moving on. “When I opened Cava, I knew the city didn’t need another Italian restaurant,” he says. “So I thought Spanish. I never expected it would turn into this big trend.” Eight and a half years later, with tapas joints edging out taco shops in some Toronto neighbourhoods, McDonald realized it was time to switch things up. “I feel like my job is done with Spanish,” he says.

McDonald is leaving Cava in the hands of his former partner, Doug Penfold, who helped launch the restaurant back in 2006. (Before he signs off for good, he’ll be hosting a huge—and 100 per cent sold-out—send-off dinner to celebrate his nearly decade-long run.) After that, he’ll enjoy some well-deserved downtime, and maybe travel a bit. But after that, it’s entirely likely that Toronto will find itself with a new Chris McDonald joint on the map.

The details are still a little hazy, but McDonald will say this: “I like restaurants that change the landscape. And I like transporting people…that’s the theatre of running a restaurant.” In terms of cuisine, he’s pretty sure his next place won’t be Spanish or Italian. “I’m hoping to do something based on a European cuisine, but somewhere with a climate that’s similar to ours.” (When pressed, he offers up Eastern Europe as a possibility.) Despite the lack of concrete whens and wheres, we’re fairly confident Toronto won’t have too long to wait. “I can’t imagine spending all my time doing anything else,” says McDonald. “Restaurants are my blood.”

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Restaurants

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Pop-Up Pick: chef Aleem Syed previews the menu for his new halal food truck

aleem

(Images: @chefaleem/Facebook, @chefaleem/Instagram)

Aleem Syed’s story is an inspiring one. The Toronto chef, whose resume includes stints at Canoe and Origin North, sustained a spinal cord injury back in 2008 that left him paralyzed from the waist down. The setback might have brought his career to a halt were it not for Pascal Ribreau, the paraplegic chef then running midtown bistro Celestin, who encouraged Syed to keep pursuing his passion for food. Now, after several years catering events, Syed is bringing his particular brand of halal cooking to West Queen West. (For those who don’t know, “halal” is a word used to describe foods that are permissible for Muslims to eat and drink under Islamic Shari’ah law.) From November 22 to January 5, he’ll be hosting a pop-up at Queen West bar The Midpoint. There, he’ll be previewing dishes from his new halal food truck, The Holy Grill, which is set to hit the road in February 2015. The debut menu will include casual fusion snacks (Indian-spiced shrimp tacos, butter-chicken poutine) and a few more refined plates, with everything priced under $10. For reservations, email chefaleemreservations@gmail.com or call 416-704-4633.

Nov. 22–Jan.5, The Midpoint, 1180 Queen St. W., facebook.com

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Openings

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Introducing: Baju, Zane Caplansky’s laid-back barbecue joint at The Monarch Tavern

baju-intro

(Image: Gabby Frank)

Name: Baju BBQ
Contact Info: 12 Clinton St., 416-531-5833
Neighbourhood: Little Italy
Owners: Zane Caplansky (best known for his eponymous deli and food truck) and The Monarch Tavern’s Michael Dorbyk
Chefs: Dan Green and Kyle Wyatt, the duo behind pop-up culinary collective Mise En Place

The Food: Baju ascribes to the “Meat and Three” philosophy, which holds that barbecue is best enjoyed along with a trio of equally filling side dishes. At Baju, pulled pork, sliced brisket, spicy Texas sausages and dry-rubbed ribs can be combined with heaping servings of beans, collard greens, cornbread or deep-fried mac ‘n’ cheese nuggets. It’s a simple, soul-infused menu that doesn’t try to rewrite the classics. Explains Caplansky, “This is driving down a country road in Kentucky and finding a great shack that makes ribs, where that’s all they do. We’re keeping it simple.”

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Introducing: Ovest, a polished Italian restaurant on King West from ex-Terroni chef Luca Stracquadanio

(Image: Jackie Pal)

(Image: Jackie Pal)

Name: Ovest
Contact Info: 788 King St. W., 416-214-6161, ovest-to.com, @Ovest_TO
Neightbourhood: King West
Owner: Marco Celio, the former general manager at both Buca and Buonanotte
Chef: Sicilian-born chef Luca Stracquadanio, previously the executive chef at Terroni LA and La Bettola di Terroni in Toronto

The Food: In addition to thin-crust pizzas and truffle-strewn pastas, the debut menu at Ovest includes some interesting departures from typical trattoria fare. A nontraditional caprese salad, for example, combines tuna tartare with whipped Buffalo mozzarella and salsa verde. The swordfish carpaccio—chef Stracquadanio’s signature dish—brings thin slices of smoked fish sprinkled with slivered fennel, orange segments and white anchovies. (“I want to surprise my customers with juxtaposing elements,” says the chef.) Desserts, like the chocolate nest pictured above, are almost too pretty to eat.

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Masterchef Canada judge Alvin Leung and winner Eric Chong are opening a restaurant on Spadina

(Image: Bell Media)

(Image: Bell Media)

Back in April, when Masterchef Canada contestant Eric Chong hoisted that shimmering Lucite trophy above his head, we wonder if he sensed that his culinary future would be tied to the blue-haired eccentric standing next to him. According to the Star, Chong has partnered up with Masterchef Canada judge and Hong Kong–based chef Alvin Leung to open a modern Chinese restaurant somewhere on Spadina Avenue, “close to Toronto’s Chinatown.” (We wonder whether it might be the huge space at 241 Spadina, just south of Grange Avenue, that was left empty when Strada 241 closed its doors back in July.) The Leung-Chong collaboration will be called R&D, which, Leung told the Star, is short for “Rebel and Demon.” (For those who don’t know, Leung goes by the nickname “Demon Chef” and characterizes his particular brand of Asian cooking as “X-Treme Chinese.” When you run a three-Michelin-starred restaurant, which Leung does, you’re allowed to self-mythologize a little.) R&D is scheduled to open in early 2015.

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Restaurants

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The group behind El Furniture Warehouse is opening another “premium dive bar” at Queen and John

The Annex location of El Furniture Warehouse. (Image: El Furniture Warehouse Toronto/Facebook)

The Annex location of El Furniture Warehouse. (Image: El Furniture Warehouse Toronto/Facebook)

When El Furniture Warehouse landed in the Annex last June, we had no idea that the restaurant would be such a hit. (Anyone who’s tried to navigate the sidewalk outside the Bloor Street entrance on weekends can attest to its popularity.) Apparently, there’s a niche for laid-back bars with cheap food in this city, and the Warehouse restaurant group seems determined to fill it. In fact, the company’s next Toronto project is already well underway. Partner Sean Young tells us that Queen Street Warehouse, another “premium dive bar,” will be opening next month at 232 Queen West, in the former Everest space between John and Duncan. And while Young is quick to point out that the new restaurant won’t just be a replica of the Annex location, it will share the universal Warehouse pricing policy, which guarantees that everything on the menu—whether it’s a cheeseburger or a plate of spaghetti—will cost exactly $4.95. (Note: booze not included.)

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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

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Openings

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Introducing: Dandylion, a modern bistro on Queen West from former Centro chef Jay Carter

(Image: Renée Suen)

(Image: Renée Suen)

Name: Dandylion
Contact Info: 1198 Queen St. W., 647-464-9100, restaurantdandylion.com
Neighbourhood: West Queen West
Chef/Owner: Jay Carter, who worked for 10 years under Susur Lee (first at Susur, then Lee) before becoming executive chef at Centro

The Menu: “I want people to feel nourished and revived,” says chef Carter of his debut menu. His dishes are sophisticated but not too fussy. Take, for example, an elegant confit chicken dish paired with celery root and toasted brioche crumbs, or a silky poached egg sprinkled with crunchy puffed grains (referred to on the menu as “savoury granola”). There’s no one unifying cuisine at play—Asian and European flavours show up together in a persimmon salad with sprouted black lentils and Marcona almonds, while the stark white dishes and veggie-focused plates suggest Nordic influences.

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Food Events

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Pop-Up Pick(s): a whole month’s worth of special 12-course dinners at the Templar Hotel

pop-up-pick

(Images, from top left: Canoe/Facebook, Atelier/Facebook, Model Milk/Instagram, Anju Restaurant/Facebook)

There are great restaurants all over Canada, but most of us can’t go jaunting off to Calgary on a lark to try the latest meat terrine. There is a solution to this problem. Throughout December, Toronto restaurant group The Food Dudes and restaurateur Dan Gunam will be staging six multi-course dinner events at the Templar Hotel on Adelaide West, home to the excellent but mysterious Monk Kitchen (which seems to be undergoing some kind of internal reorganization—Gunam tells us that chef Roberto Fracchioni is no longer with the restaurant). Five of the events (each spanning two days) will showcase talented Canadian cooks from some of the country’s best restaurants, including Calgary’s Model Milk and Anju (both recently profiled in the Globe) and Ottawa tasting restaurant Atelier. For $89 per person, guests will receive eight courses and four “surprise snacks”—which sounds steep but actually works out to about seven bucks a course. The grand finale for the series, on December 21, is a big charity dinner featuring Toronto culinary talents like ex-Momofuku chef Matt Blondin, The Harbord Room’s Cory Vitiello and Farmer’s Daughter chef Leonie Lilla. Tickets for all six events are on sale now—email templarchefseries@gmail.com to reserve a spot. You can see the full event schedule here.

Dec. 2-21. $89 (+$49 for wine pairing). The Templar Hotel, 348 Adelaide St. W., 647-933-5546

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Restaurants

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Former Spoke Club chef Ren Mercer brings vegetarian takeout to Dundas West

(Image: Caroline Youdan)

(Image: Caroline Youdan)

If you’re looking for a pulled pork sandwich, or a basket of fried chicken, or a $14 bourbon cocktail, you can’t beat Dundas West—which is nice for people who hang out there on weekends, and less nice for full-time residents, who sometimes find themselves combing the non-perishables section at 7-Eleven for vaguely healthy dinner options. (Just us?) Thankfully, the junk food tide may be turning, or at least recalibrating a little. Veghed, the latest addition to the strip, is a vegetarian “fresh bar” with some real culinary cred: the owner and chef, Ren Mercer, has over 20 years’ experience cooking at high-end restaurants and hotels, including the King Edward, the Windsor Arms and the members-only Spoke Club, where he was the executive chef for five years. Mercer’s new food business isn’t flashy, but the recipes are pretty complex for a place with Day-Glo walls—recent specials have included penne carbonara with lobster mushrooms and pad thai with hemp, chia seeds and organic herb salad.

1199 Dundas St. W., @MercerRen