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11 best bets for Summerlicious 2011: our chief critic Chris Nuttall-Smith makes his picks

The imported Neapolitan pizza oven at Fabbrica (Image: Karon Liu)

Now in its ninth season, the city-run ’Licious phenomenon (there are both summer and winter incarnations, in case you’ve been living under a pizza stone all this time) shows no signs of tiring, even if every year it seems to enrage more and more curmudgeonly downtown diners who don’t much like sharing their favorite restaurants with the plebes. Summerlicious succeeds precisely because it makes inaccessible restaurants accessible, even if it’s only for two weeks each July. The big list (there are 150 participating restaurants this year) will never include the hottest, newest, most interesting restaurants in the city—those places don’t typically need the help. It typically does include more than its share of dogs. But there are plenty of places in between: proven, well-run, inviting rooms with committed kitchens. We’ve picked a few of the best.

The Drake
read our review | see the menu
Chef Anthony Rose’s smart, homespun cooking puts the lie to the oft-heard Torontonians-don’t-like-to-eat-in-hotels complaint. The Drake is a glaring exception, at very least. Rose’s Summerlicious lunch menu is a steal at $20: choices include sweet tomato alphabet soup, for instance, followed by fried chicken that’s goosed with cumin and dry mustard, then salted butterscotch for dessert. The $35 dinner is also great value, if slightly less of a deal: the menu choices are the same, save the addition of (the freakishly amazing sounding) roast pig with chipotle-stewed beans and pico de gallo.

read our review | see the menu
Mark McEwan’s newish uptown Italian place mostly plies the “rustic Italian” canon that threatened, like a 40-storey, hideously anthropomorphized bucatino, to overtake the city last year. It’s well-prepared stuff, though: blistery crusted pizzas from the Neopolitan oven, wickedly creamy pastas and outstanding desserts, all in one of the most inspired spaces in town (witness the unisex handwashing area outside the washrooms: it’s neck-wrenchingly beautiful, but also totally confusing if you want to, oh, wash your hands or find a toilet). Though there’s a good-looking $20 lunch menu, dinner’s when you want to be here. The $35 prix fixe choices include polenta with pork ragoût, risotto with peas and guanciale and a chocolate terrine.

Globe Bistro
read our review | see the menu
Ed Ho’s growing empire of high-priced, local-focused kitchens started at this two-storey Danforth location. I’ve eaten well here, and the Summerlicious menus look good. Best bets on the $20 lunch menu: the yellow tomato and gin gazpacho with basil jelly, followed by the farmer’s bi bim bap, made with honey mushrooms, Chioggia beets and garlic scape kimchee, and the panna cotta with sea buckthorn coulis. For dinner ($35), I’d try the Wellington County flatiron steak with duck fat frites.

  • ry

    Since in this part of the world pickerel and walleye are the same thing, are they different at canoe? Shall I assume pan-roasted and pan-fried are also different? It almost sounds like they’re selling the same dish at both lunch and dinner

  • OutofIt

    I love Pangaea but let’s not age them too much. Pangaea will be 15 years old October 2011.

  • Mike

    many people especially in ontario think and refer to walleye as pickeral but they are very different fish.

  • Davedigger

    I believe in Ontario we refer to Pickerel as Walleye so as not to confuse the Americans that come to fish and spend their money here (or perhaps make them think they’re actually catching Walleye). Case in point, this link clearly shows Pickerel, but they’re being called Walleye. I doubt the people running this site are unaware of the difference.

  • LiciousFan

    At first I wanted to disagree with the statement that the hottest, newest and interesting restaurants are never on the list, but then I took a good look at the list.
    Chris is right.

  • Krystina Roman

    Nice diverse list. Love it.

  • Tanya

    I think Pangaea is using the same menu as last summer.

  • APB

    I’m new to the city so thanks for this guide. Anyone out there have any other favorite restos aside from Pangaea?

  • Dave from London

    Another you may want to add to the list: Jump. We had a great meal there before the U2 concert. Daniel was a fantastic waiter and really made the night!

  • Eddie

    I had tried EDO couple nights ago. I was impressed with the dishes, great menu with value. Dishes are well presented and taste excellent. Service was warm and great. They deserved to be mentioned.