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Plan the perfect summer soirée

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Make this summer one to remember by throwing the ultimate get-together. Hear how celebrity event designer Casper Haydar, Bar Raval’s Robin Goodfellow and Bent’s Kai Bent-Lee combine the perfect drinks, décor and music to get their party started, and how they choose to Fly Beyond.
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Try these great cocktails at your next summer soirée
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GREY GOOSE & Perrier

1 ½ oz. GREY GOOSE Vodka
3 oz. Perrier
2 lime wedges
Sprig of mint
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GREY GOOSE le Citron & Perrier

1 ½ oz. GREY GOOSE le Citron
3 oz. Perrier
2 lemon wedges
Sprig of thyme
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GREY GOOSE l’Orange & Perrier

1 ½ oz. GREY GOOSE l’Orange
3 oz. Perrier
2 lemon wedges
Leaves of basil
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This is a sponsored post, which means it was paid for by our advertising partners. Learn more about Grey Goose at greygoose.com/summer.

The Dish

Openings

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Introducing: Stelvio, a northern Italian trattoria on Queen West

(Image: Gabby Frank)

Name: Stelvio
Neighbourhood: Queen West
Contact: 354 Queen St. W., 416-205-1001, stelviotoronto.ca
Previously: BQM Burger
Owner: Andrea Copreni (Hotel Sottovento, Italy)
Chef: Massimo Provenzano

The Food: Northern Italian cuisine from Valtellina, an Alps-adjacent valley in the country’s Lombardy region. The menu includes snacks like sciatt, a type of cheese-filled fritter; meat (especially bresaola) and cheese boards; largely gluten-free buckwheat pasta dishes (with very long, Italian names); and polenta. For lunch, there’s a selection of panini.

The Drinks: A few bottled beers (Früli, Erdinger, Stiegl), grappa by the ounce, and, of course, Italian wine. Right now, Copreni is waiting to get approval from the LCBO to import and serve wine from Valtellina vintner Rivetti & Lauro. “There are many rules,” he says. “We want only to drink our wine.”

The Space: Monochromatic and decorated with animal prints designed by Copreni’s tattoo artist friend, Giacomo Frigerio. “It’s Queen Street style,” says Copreni. “We came to Toronto last November for the first time, and we fell in love with Queen Street.” The restaurant’s goat logo (also designed by Frigerio) is representative of Northern Italy. “Like the lion in the savannah, the goat is in the Alps.” The street-facing patio will open later this summer.

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Openings

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Introducing: Barque Butcher Bar, a butcher shop by day and bar by night on Roncesvalles

(Image: Gabby Frank)

(Image: Gabby Frank)

Name: Barque Butcher Bar
Neighbourhood: Roncesvalles
Contact: 287 Roncesvalles Ave.416-532-7700, barque.ca/butcherbar
Owner: David Neinstein, Jonathan Persofsky
Chefs: David Neinstein, Jo Castrinos
Bar Manager: Gerardo Diaz

The Food: Both prepared and cooked meats (chicken, ribs, brisket, sausages, bacon, burgers—all treated the way they are at Barque), salads and side dishes to-go, and various raw veggies from 100km Foods Inc. are sold both day and night. After 6 p.m. however, the focus is on snacks and small plates: chorizo ribs, smoked venison tartare, jerk-fried cornish hen and a poutine waffle, to name a few. “It’s a little more playful and aggressive in flavour than we can do at the restaurant. It’s less kid-friendly and more internationally-influenced,” says Neinstein.

The Drinks: VQA wine, beer, cider and sake, all on tap; and 10 cocktails, the most popular right now being the Smoke ‘n’ Choke. Playing cards do double-duty as coasters, but full decks are also available upon request if it’s a rousing game of Crazy Eights you’re after.

The Space: Previously kid-centric crafting café Smock, the space is now a butcher shop by day and a snack bar by night. (The butcher counter actually flips open to create a wider bar.) Instead of a glitter and paint corner, the spot has its own DIY centre where customers can buy pre-portioned spice baggies (all $1 each), and with some guidance, make their own rubs right there. “We want to teach people to smoke—that’s our little tagline,” says Neinstein.

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Culture

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Meat and Co.: how restaurants like Yorkville’s opulent NAO are reinventing the steak house

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Chef Stuart Cameron cradles a side of beef inside the aging locker at NAO (top left); The stunning multi-tiered chandelier hanging over the bar at Yorkville’s NAO is made of clear acrylic tubes (top right); The menu at NAO lists the provenance of each steak, like this 18-ounce, bone-in prime strip loin from Nebraska. The steaks are aged in-house for a minimum of 40 days and cooked over a wood-fired grill stoked with sugar maple logs. On the side are brûléed mac and cheese and brussels sprouts with miso-cured bacon (bottom).

NAO ★★★
90 Avenue Rd., 416-367-4141
How our star system works »

Last fall, I met with five friends for a bachelor party at Barberian’s, that most old-school of steak houses. Little has changed since Harry Barberian fired up his grill in 1959. At the entrance there’s a wooden statuette of Sir John A., as if to remind the politicians who frequent the place that they’re partners in a grand project. Our waiter addressed us as “sirs” and delivered baskets of bread sticks. The “Bill of Fare,” illustrated with bucks and rifles, includes the ultimate throwback: an after-theatre selection of crêpes Suzette and fondue.

Our little party knocked back bottle after bottle of terrific wine (the cellar is legendary) and did our best to imitate our dads by ordering slabs of garlic bread, baked potatoes smeared with full-fat sour cream, and New York strip (grilled a couple of minutes longer than advisable), a sprig of thyme the only green on the table. Even though we’re all pushing 40, our bachelordom antics largely behind us, we were just getting started—ready to carry on all night like a bunch of Bradley Coopers in search of a tiger. Who knows what trouble we’d have gotten up to if a guy at another table, not much older than us, hadn’t suffered a medical emergency. The dining room fell silent while ambulance attendants wheeled him past on a stretcher.

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New Reviews

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Review: Bar Raval, Grant van Gameren’s College Street tapas bar, is another standout

(Image: Jonathan Friedman)

(Image: Jonathan Friedman)

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Bar Raval 3 star
505 College St.
Bar Raval 3 star
505 College St.

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.

Have an opinion on Bar Raval? Add your review here »

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Openings

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Introducing: The Craft Brasserie, Liberty Village’s new 120-tap beer bar

(Image: Gabby Frank)

(Image: Gabby Frank)

Name: The Craft Brasserie and Grille
Neighbourhood: Liberty Village
Contact: 107 Atlantic Ave., 416-535-2337, thecraftbrasserie.com, @thecraftliberty
Owners: Chris Pagonis and Dean Tzembelicos
Chef: Adrian Andaya

The Food: Salty, spicy and cheesy pub grub: sliders, sandwiches, decked-out fries and various handheld apps. There are some heartier mains as well (mushroom steak frites, cider-glazed pork chops), but for those who are just here for the beer, there’s a small snack menu (plantain chips, house-made pork rinds, guac with wonton crisps) to help soak up the suds.

The Drinks: Draught beer. Lots of it. The 120-beer-long list is divided into categories (refreshing and crushable; smooth; fruit and cider; roasted and rich; the big bold and bitter; complex and thirst-provoking) to help the uninformed and the indecisive. Matt Sieradzki, the bar’s own Prud’homme beer sommelier, put together the massive menu. Over 80 of the taps pour Ontario brews.

The Place: A cavernous space that can seat 296 pint-drinking people. The bar occupies the lower level of a 110-year-old building in Liberty Village, and any modifications made along the way were carefully monitored and approved by the city’s Heritage Preservation Services. Later this summer, the bar’s capacity will increase by 50 when a street-side patio is added.

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People

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Q&A: Jen Agg, Toronto’s most loved and loathed restaurateur

(Image: Jenna Marie Wakani)

(Image: Jenna Marie Wakani)

Since opening The Black Hoof in 2008, Jen Agg has established herself as one of the most influential—and divisive—restaurant owners in the city. She’s contributed plenty to Toronto’s food obsession (the city’s love for charcuterie, the cocktail movement, and even just making Dundas West a thing), but she’s also known for her opinionated swagger, which sometimes overshadows her culinary prescience (she often takes her beefs to Twitter, and in one memorable episode, used the social platform to complain about some of her “douchier” patrons). Earlier this month, news broke that she’s starting her biggest project yet: Agrikol, a Haitian restaurant she’s opening in Montreal with her husband, artist Roland Jean, plus Win Butler and Régine Chassagne from Arcade Fire. She’s also writing a memoir called I Hear She’s A Real Bitch that’s set to be published by Random House next year. We caught up with her to talk about her new restaurant, her book and why she thinks she’s got so many enemies.

So your upcoming new restaurant is getting attention everywhere. It’s even been mentioned in Rolling Stone and Pitchfork. It seems like that’s not really your style, to hype something up like that.
Well, it was a conscious choice. I knew the cat would get out of the bag, so I wanted to control the dissemination. I wanted to make sure that the story that got out was the story I wanted to tell. A lot of the time when you’re dealing with people who are extraordinarily famous—which, certainly, the Arcade Fire are—people will put words in your mouth.

Does that sort of intense media coverage make it feel like too many expectations are building up for you?
No, I don’t feel like that any more. I just feel like it’s going to be fun, and I’m really excited to do it—I’ve already proven that I can do this.

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Food Shops

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Toronto gets its first Thai bakery

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

Patchmon’s Thai Desserts & More, Toronto’s first traditional Thai dessert shop, turns out trays of vibrant sweets and savoury snacks. Most of the sugary treats are steamed, rather than baked, and made from a combo of eggs (a mix of chicken and duck), coconut cream, coconut flesh, rice and tapioca flour, palm sugar and mung beans. Chef and owner Patchmon Su-Anchalee’s specialty is her selection of auspicious desserts—goodies that have traditional meanings associated with them. One of these is foi thong, a golden spool of syrup-boiled egg yolk strands that’s supposed to bring lasting love. The bite-sized morsels themselves are a labour of love; it takes about an hour to make a single ten-piece box. Before moving to Toronto in 2003, Su-Anchalee’s family ran a bakery in Bangkok, but she was more involved with marketing. “I started perfecting my desserts because of my husband’s sweet tooth,” she says. After years of working the line at local Thai restaurants, Su-Anchalee decided she wanted to open her own business and found a cheery blue-and-gold striped room in Bloor West Village. Not only did the space need zero renovations, but, for Thais, the colour gold is associated with success. Obviously, it was meant to be.

2463 Bloor Street West, 647-882-5250, thaidesserts.ca

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New Reviews

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Concession Road brings Gallic goodness to St. Clair West

(Image: Gabby Frank)
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Concession Road 2 star½
760 St. Clair Ave. W., 416-658-0460
Concession Road 2 star½
760 St. Clair Ave. W., 416-658-0460

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.

Have an opinion on Concession Road? Add your review here »

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Openings

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Introducing: Via Vai, downtown’s newest pizzeria (that could double as an art gallery)

(Image: Jackie Pal)

Name: Via Vai
Neighbourhood: Downtown Core
Contact: 832 Bay St., 416-362-0123, viavai.ca, @viavaiTO
Owner: Joe Friday
Chef: Joe Friday (Luma, Alimento)

The Food: Via vai, Italian for “come and go,” is the philosophy behind this new Italian eatery, where wood-fired Neapolitan pizza shares space on the menu with handmade pasta, sake-massaged octopus and a 42-ounce, Flintstone-style T-bone steak. For larger parties, whole-roasted beasts (think pig, lamb) are available. Some of what appears on and in dishes (including fiddleheads and morels) has been foraged from alongside the Don River by chef Friday himself.

The Drinks: Classic Italian cocktails are part of a growing list of seasonal drinks. The Bicicletta, for example, is a house concoction made with Campari, pinot grigio and a splash of citrus. An extensive (but accessible) wine list focuses on bottles from Italy’s most bountiful regions.

The Place: Previously an art gallery, Via Vai is now an eat-in solarium where diners are on display: 45-foot floor-to-ceiling windows allow light to flood the space at all times (plus, every seat is a window seat). The gallery lives on through colourful, mural-covered walls and paint-splattered panes of glass suspended from the ceiling.

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Restaurants

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A closer look at Soi Thai’s straight-outta-Bangkok mini–convenience store

Click to see a larger version. (Image: Gabby Frank)

Click to see a larger version. (Image: Gabby Frank)

When customers enter Soi Thai, co-owner Nopphawan Papa (who also goes by Sherry) wants them to feel like they’re stepping into the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, where she was born and raised. “The word soi means small alley, and we want to be like an alley off College Street. It’s like a mom and pop shop: I’m cooking in the kitchen, my husband is out front making drinks and my mom is taking care of our baby,” says Papa. “So once you walk in, you’re walking into our convenience store.” The restaurant’s centrepiece is a shelf stocked with Thai goods, many unavailable in Canada, that Papa and her family brought over from Thailand in suitcases. The items are for display only, but they make for interesting conversation pieces. We had Papa tell us about them.

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Food News

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UberEATS is now in Toronto and delivering lunch downtown (in 10 minutes or less)

(Image: UberEats)

(Image: UberEats)

Starting May 14 (that’s today), Torontonians have another meal delivery service at their fingertips: UberEATS, a lunch service from the makers of the popular taxi-alternative app of the same name. Instead of moving people like its parent company, UberEATS will be delivering midday meals (in typical UberX fashion, so in private cars) to those in the downtown core, Monday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The company has already brought its meals on wheels program to Barcelona, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, but Toronto is the first Canadian city to take advantage of its on-demand (and real-time tracking) delivery service.

If you live or work within the service area (which we’re told will be getting bigger in coming months), you can trade in your soggy sandwich for something from one of the city’s top spots. The roster of restaurants will rotate daily, but could include Bar Buca, P&L Burger, Caplansky’s, Kupfert & Kim, Fresh, Hawker Bar, Valdez and Khao San Road. A flat $3 delivery fee will be tacked on, no matter how many meals are ordered, and all food will be delivered curbside in (get this) 10 minutes or less. How is this possible, you ask? Are there delivery drones? Wormholes? “We’re able to use our historical data and our technology to actually predict demand patterns,” explains Elyse Knopf, UberEATS’s regional lead. “So we’ll be able to predict where and when requests will come in from and work with restaurants to adjust their production schedules based on demand signal. And delivery partners will be able to do multiple food drop-offs at one time without having to go back to the restaurant.” So, no wormholes—just a little bit of fortune telling.

For the first two weeks, UberEATS is waiving the $3 service fee. After that, the app will have a “fare split” feature that will give customers the option to split the bill (and service fee) with a hungry friend (or two).

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Food Events

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Celebrate #FoodTruckFreedom Day at Nathan Phillips

Want to have lunch with the mayor? Then head to Nathan Phillips Square on May 13 between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. for a John Tory–promoted food truck fest. The mayor is hosting the event  to celebrate the recent relaxing of the stringent rules that govern the city’s mobile kitchens (trucks are now permitted to park just 30 metres away from open restaurants and operate for five hours at a time within a 24-hour period). As of Tuesday afternoon, six trucks were planning to be on-site (Randy’s Roti, Fidel Gastro’s, ME.N.U, Curbalicious, Rome’n Chariot and of course, Caplansky’s) along with, according to Zane Caplansky, “a whole bunch of politicians.” His Worship himself will be serving up some smoked meat from Caplansky’s truck, Thunderin’ Thelma. If this sounds like your idea of a good time (Pad thai fries! Meatball sliders! City councillors!), you’d better get to city hall early: the lines are sure to be long.

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Drinks

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Spring Fling: six bargain bottles of lesser-known whites

Now’s the time to experiment with fragrant, refreshing, lesser-known whites

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As the weather starts to warm I turn to crisp, high-acid white wines to rouse my ­palate out of winter hibernation. There are plenty of unsung white grape varieties that offer the same brace and quench as the more familiar rieslings, sauvignon blancs and pinot grigios—and most are great bargains precisely because they are unfamiliar.

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Openings

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Introducing: Cocina Economica, Corktown’s piece of the Playa Cabana empire

(Image: Gabby Frank)

Name: Cocina Economica
Neighbourhood: Corktown
Contact: 141 Berkeley St., 647-748-4777, playacabana.ca
Previously: Berkeley Café
Owner: Dave Sidhu
Chef: David Sidhu and Samantha Valdivia (Cancun City)

The Food: Homestyle cooking inspired by Mexico’s cocina economicas, family-run kitchens that serve inexpensive dishes to neighbourhood residents. Bocaditos (small bites) like guacamole and chips, ceviché and quesadillas start things off. Slow-cooked meats (lamb, pork, chicken and beef) are sold by the pound (or half-pound) and served with tortillas, beans, rice and various fixings. Vegetarians can even get in on the pay-by-the-pound fun with soy chorizo, which in this case is not just Spanish for “I am chorizo,” but a meatless version of the spicy sausage.

The Drinks: Tequila- and mezcal-laced cocktails, bottled Mexican beers (also available four to a bucket), wine by the glass or bottle and a selection of non-alcoholic beverages including horchata, tamarind juice, Jarritos and Mexican Coke. Also: mezcal, straight-up.

The Place: Berkeley Café regulars won’t recognize the space, now decked out in patterned tiles, sheet metal and repurposed doors. Shelves are lined with clay pots and antiques imported from Mexico, and colourful woven textiles cover tables. Right now the restaurant seats 34 people inside and 20 on the front patio, but a second floor and upstairs patio are scheduled to open later this summer.

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