For years, Toronto bar lists have favoured ballsy amber liquors (bourbons, ryes and the like) for building powerhouse cocktails. But lately bartenders have been experimenting with tipples that pack more flavour than potency. Vermouth, the once-popular aperitif, is a favourite. It’s made from dry white wine infused with herbs, roots and barks (sweet or red vermouth gets its colour from caramelized sugar and plants), and then fortified with spirits such as brandy, vodka or gin. It lasts longer than wine, but not by much—both dry and sweet styles will develop a sour, oxidized tang after about a month—so keep it in the fridge after opening.
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When the Parkdale restaurant Geraldine opened in the summer of 2013, it immediately commanded notice. It was an elegant throwback to La Belle Époque, with its gorgeous white marble bar top, elaborate light fixtures and antique dinnerware. The complex cocktails, absinthe fountain and excellent raw bar drew raves—and our restaurant critic Mark Pupo named it one of his best new restaurants of 2014. Then, earlier this month, co-owner Alexandra Albert announced that she was closing the restaurant. Its last day in business was August 20th. “Sometimes,” Albert tells us, “immediate success and long-term financial success aren’t tied together.”
Going for drinks at The Addisons, a new bar in the Entertainment District, is meant to feel like crashing a house party. Interior designer Lisa Ho outfitted the Wellington Street space to look just like a Beverly Hills manse (it’s basically a much swankier version of this similarly themed Los Angeles bar). Inside are three rooms: a kitchen, a living room and a rec room—plus, just in time for TIFF parties, a 5,000-square-foot backyard patio complete with outdoor games and boozy slushies. Here’s a tour:
Party Like It’s 1989: Yorkville’s Kasa Moto is an unholy mix of spray tans, bottle service and spectacular sashimi
115 Yorkville Ave., 647-348-7000
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I somehow managed to avoid Remys during its 26-year run. The place seemed to me the pinnacle of tacky Yorkville. No one ever went for the food, which had a reputation for being one step above swill. (The menu included an abomination called Oriental Chicken Stir-Fry Linguine With Oriental Teriyaki Sauce.) Instead, the draw was Remys’ rooftop patio, which was perfectly positioned for basking in the late evening sun and big enough to accommodate a couple of hundred people. I remember once stopping in with friends at Hemingway’s, the neighbouring Yorkville pub, after a weekend matinée at the Varsity. We’d planned to discuss the movie but instead sat mesmerized by the scene across Old York Lane, everyone in whites and sunglasses and as emaciated as the Virginia Superslims dangling from their fingers. Remys was like a Fellini movie, only louder.
On August 20, Toronto Life partnered with the Toronto Botanical Garden to celebrate summer with the inaugural Toronto Life Garden Party. Gusto 54 catered the intimate al fresco dinner with custom pizzas from its wood-fired oven on site. Muskoka Brewery’s craft beer, wine from Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Southbrook Vineyards and Gusto 54’s non-alcoholic cocktails kept guests well hydrated, while a TBG honey tasting station sweetened the evening. Following dinner, guests were treated to reserved seating at a soulful performance by the folk singer Sarah MacDougall, as well as surprise gifts from the sponsors, including cookies from Gusto 54. The evening wrapped up with a private guided tour of several of the TBG’s 17 themed gardens by its executive director, Harry Jongerden.
Part freak show, part thrill ride, the CNE’s over-the-top food offerings test the boundaries of what can be deep fried, served on a stick or used as a sandwich bun. Seventy-five years ago, the humble ice cream waffle debuted on the midway, scandalizing more sensible tastes of the time. Now, some already-decadent dishes come wrapped in a bacon-weave, just because. How far we’ve come! Here’s what you can expect this year, ranked in order from “ok” to “omg.”
A pillowy Asian bun is the vessel for this twist on a malt-shop classic. Banana, hazelnut-chocolate sauce, whipped cream, maraschino cherries, and chocolate and strawberry syrups are layered inside the fluffy bao. Far East Taco, $7.
Review: Trinity Bellwoods’ Old School is less like a diner, more like a trip to Epcot (but that isn’t a bad thing)
Trinity Bellwoods’ 24/7 funhouse-mirror take on a 1950s American soda fountain serves fluffy flapjacks and egg creams made with Brooklyn-indigenous U-bet chocolate syrup. But the free-ranging, cross-continental menu makes Old School feel less like a retro diner and more like a trip to Epcot. (Few big-city greasy spoons of yore served caipirinhas and jugs of Orchard Hooch, or had a smoker turning out ribs, brisket and pork.) However, no nighthawk ever went to a diner for authenticity: it’s about comfort food, an area where chefs Brad Moore (School, Xacutti) and Ian Kapitan (Precinct) excel. The General Fried Chicken, topped with Tabasco honey or served on a golden buttermilk waffle, is a crisp and flaky wonder. The Hangover Lover’s Salad—a bed of romaine tossed with pulled pork, cornbread croutons and bacon, topped with a fried egg—will smother last night’s bender. Motown provides the period-appropriate soundtrack, and the general store at the rear sells muffins, biscuits, coffee and other to-go items for the morning rush.
It’s easy to miss Ivana Raca’s Parkdale kitchen along this quiet stretch of Queen West, but it would be a mistake. She serves beautifully composed bistro fare from a menu that, refreshingly, doesn’t make any reference to “snacks” or “sharing plates.” A rich soup of white asparagus and celery root, the ivory surface rocky with jerusalem artichoke chips and flecks of chive, is the best place to start. Raca isn’t shy about repeating seasonal ingredients across courses: a trio of hulking seared scallops sit on white asparagus spears, each topped with a dried tomato slice and celery root hash. Peruvian bell peppers—tender little firecrackers shaped like spinning tops—add just enough heat to spiced pork meatballs and ricotta-stuffed gnocchi. The desserts are worth delaying the rest of your evening’s plans for. A hazelnut chocolate tart is as dense as it is dark, while a spiced orange semolina cake, under a scoop of honeyed goat yogurt, is deceptively light. Some of the cocktails are too sweet, so turn to the lengthy list of wines, including a dozen available by the glass.
This month I’ll be driving two hours east of Toronto and filling my trunk with racy, elegant pinots, chardonnays and sparklers from Prince Edward County. It makes for a lovely summer weekend and puts more money per bottle directly into winemakers’ hands—especially important after an unexpected late-May frost wiped out a goodly amount of this year’s crops. Of the 35-plus wineries in the region, and hundreds of bottles produced there, these are my favourites.
Lighthall 2013 Les Quatres Diables Pinot Noir
$30 | 90 points
Glenn Symons has hit his stride since acquiring a vineyard in the county’s “deep south” region near Milford. County pinot is typically light, but this one is firm and well-balanced with cranberry-raspberry fruit. 308 Lighthall Rd., Milford, 613-767-9155.
After five years, and almost as many conceptual changes, The Atlantic has closed. When it opened on Dundas West in 2010, it offered a simplistic seafood-and-vegetable-focused menu—aside from the occasional hay-smoked cricket. But chef and owner Nathan Isberg slowly stripped away its parts: first he eliminated menus and set prices, then he ditched alcohol. Now he’s laying the restaurant to rest. “My discussion about restaurants has been against restaurants, so it doesn’t make sense to continue that discussion,” Isberg says. “It’s almost like being a troll. It’s become a spectacle instead of a meaningful engagement.”
Toronto Life wants you to tiptoe through the tulips with us for an intimate evening outdoors at the Toronto Botanical Garden on August 20. Following a dinner catered by Gusto 54 (the same folks behind King West Italian restaurant Gusto 101) and drinks from Muskoka Brewery and Southbrook Vineyards, guests will be treated to a concert by folk singer Sarah MacDougall. To walk off the meal, there’s a guided garden tour through a selection of the centre’s 17 different themed gardens by the TBG’S executive director, Harry Jongerden. Tickets are going fast, so get yours before they’re all gone.
Aug. 20, $49 per person (or $79 for two). Toronto Botanical Gardens, 777 Lawrence Ave. E.
It’s no surprise that dedicated restaurant owners care about music—Bieber blaring through the speakers could cause burger sales to slump (or soar, depending on the place). But Colin Tooke and Ian McGrenaghan, co-owners of hotspots Grand Electric and Electric Mud BBQ, care so much about it, they’re starting a podcast. “Music is a huge part of the magic of a restaurant or bar,” says McGrenaghan, “including what we play during pre-opening and what we listen to on the way home post-shift.” Each episode of Electric Radio will feature a different Toronto restaurant personality playing their favourite songs. (Scheduled guest DJs include P&L’s Matty Matheson and Bar Raval’s Mike Webster.) The duo wants the podcast to help raise awareness for The Stop Community Food Centre, with a long-term ambition of starting a music-themed food festival where the proceeds would support The Stop. “It’s a win-win-win,” says McGrenaghan. “We get to host people from really good restaurats, play really good music and raise money for a really good charity.” The first episode airs on August 15, and can be found here and on iTunes.
It’s been well over a year since the talented (and typically outspoken) chef Matt Blondin and catering company/food truck operators/Rasa owners The Food Dudes announced they’d be opening the snack bar Junk (not to be confused with Junked Food Co.). But the restaurant hasn’t materialized, and Blondin has been conspicuously quiet. What’s the deal? “I’ve fallen back in the past couple of months to focus on what makes me happy and what makes the staff and the clientele happy,” he tells us. Turns out he’s been working on a number of low-profile projects with the Food Dudes (they’ve formed a consulting group called MBA), but he’s also been trying to keep out of the spotlight.