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Restaurants

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Meet the Crackie, a cross between a chocolate-chip cookie and a sack of pork rinds

(Image: Porchetta & Co./Instagram)

(Image: Porchetta & Co./Instagram)

Just when Toronto’s preoccupation with gimmicky hybrid foods seemed to be waning a little, this happens. Porchetta and Co., the pork-obsessed sandwich hut on Dundas West, has debuted a meaty confection called the Crackie: a chocolate-chip cookie infused with flakes of rendered pig skin (i.e. crackling). So far, the cookie has caused a bit of a stir on Twitter, proving that Torontonians, like New Yorkers, aren’t the type to let minor food-safety debacles (mass-poisonings, say, or rodent infestations) interfere with their love for slash-y snacks. Those who’d like to get a sense of the Crackie’s interests and temperament before committing to a three-buck purchase can follow the cookie’s personal Twitter account, which exists.

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Restaurants

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Farmhouse Tavern is the latest Toronto restaurant to open a spin-off

(Image: Farmhouse Tavern/Facebook)

(Image: Farmhouse Tavern/Facebook)

Why have one great restaurant when you can have two? That seems to be the logic behind Toronto’s new run of culinary spin-offs. In just the last few months, Buca begot Bar Buca, The County General launched County Cocktail, and now Farmhouse Tavern, the Junction Triangle spot known for serving côte de boeuf on giant wooden slabs, is opening Farmer’s Daughter, a new eatery located just down the street at 1588 Dupont Street. Similar names aside, the new spot won’t have much in common with its progenitor. “There aren’t going to be any antiques, no chalk board, no knickknacks,” says owner Darcy MacDonell. The sleeker, more feminine decor will complement a very on-trend menu of light, seafood-focused dishes crafted by ex-Daishō and Libertine chef Leonie Lilla. The new spot opens in May—just in time to make good use of its roomy, 40-seat patio.

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Food TV

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Masterchef Canada Recap, episode 12: “Holy Toledo, this is going to be insane”

Masterchef Canada Episode 12

In this week’s commercial for Origin North episode, the final six contestants took on the ultimate test of chefhood: working in an actual restaurant kitchen. Here are three takeaways from episode twelve.

Lesson #1: Pride comes before an elimination
Neither team nailed the restaurant takeover, which started strong but then sort of devolved into a lot of uncoordinated sweating and cursing. But it was poor Pino who sealed his fate (and bolstered our elimination-prediction theory) by letting five little words fall out of his mouth: “This is the winning team.”

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The Dish

Drinks

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VIDEO: The Beer Store’s new PSA-style commercial warns about the dangers of corner-store booze sales

With pro-privatization sentiment at an all-time high in Ontario, The Beer Store may be feeling a bit threatened. That could explain this new PSA-style commercial, embedded above, in which the booze conglomerate employs the tried-and-tested “won’t somebody think of the children” approach to justifying its near-monopoly on Ontario beer sales. In the 30-second video, four-time world curling champ Glenn Howard (who apparently now runs a Beer Store outlet—and appears at first glance to be wearing a cop uniform) talks about the conglomerate’s great track record when it comes to checking IDs and not selling booze to really drunk people—the clear implication being that wresting booze control from the hands of the foreign-owned cartel would lead to lots of drunk minors and other unpleasant havoc. The ad is part of the Beer Store’s multi-pronged approach to rebutting claims made by the Ontario Convenience Stores Association, which has been lobbying hard for beer and liquor sales in corner stores

The Dish

Openings

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Introducing: Speakeasy 21, a new Bay Street cocktail bar with a soon-to-come 3,500-square-foot patio

Introducing: Speakeasy 21

Name: Speakeasy 21
Contact Info: 21 Adelaide St. W. (main floor of Scotia Plaza, North entrance), 416-601-0210, speakeasy21.com, @speakeasy21
Neighbourhood: Financial District
Chef: Andrew Wilson, former chef de cuisine at Colborne Lane and Origin North
Bartender: Dave Moore, who’s worked the bar at Brant House, Easy and The Fifth

The Food: Sandwiches, tacos and small plates, including beef tartare with prawn chips and a Niçoise-inspired tuna crudo with black olives and anchovies. Lighter snacks, like buttermilk potato chips and cauliflower hummus, are designed for nibbling with a drink.

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Food News

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Hey, Toronto, you’re not a great tipper (relative to Ottawa and Montreal)

(Image: Carissa Rogers)

(Image: Carissa Rogers)

Torontonians are a pretty parsimonious bunch when it comes to tipping, according to a recent study by Square, a San Francisco-based mobile-payment outfit. In a study of five Canadian cities, the company found that only 65.5 per cent of Toronto customers are in the habit of tipping at all, with the average tip hovering at 14.4 per cent. Compare that to Ottawa, apparently the number-one Canadian city for tipping, where gratuities average 15.6 per cent, and occur 76.7 per cent of the time. (Toronto is number three. Montreal came in second, while Vancouver and Calgary were more or less tied for last place.) Square didn’t release its methodology, so it’s not clear whether the results reflect straightforward restaurant tipping or a larger variety of tipping scenarios.

Unsurprisingly, all Canadian cities looked pretty cheap compared to cities in the U.S. An earlier tipping survey found that the lowest average tip across ten major U.S. cities was 15.5 per cent. (That said, the average percentage of customers who tipped at all the States was surprisingly low, at just 63 per cent—suggesting that Americans’ tipping mentality is an all-or-nothing kind of thing.)

Toronto’s lowish tipping average is sort of understandable—everyone has a crotchety relative or two who still thinks 10 per cent is plenty. But what about all these total tip-shunning desperados, who apparently comprise over a third of city’s population? Rumbles of tip-abolitionist sentiment have been felt in Toronto before, although they’ve never amounted to much. (In an online poll we published last December, 68 per cent of readers voted in favour of outlawing restaurant tipping altogether.) Maybe 2014 is the year.

Read on to see the tipping stats for all five Canadian cities.

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Restaurants

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Grand Electric takes cottage country with a new Muskoka spin-off

(Image: Stephen Wong/Twitter)

(Image: Stephen Wong/Twitter)

Here’s yet another reason for Muskoka cottagers to feel blessed and superior: Grand Electric, the hip-but-grungy taco shop in Parkdale, is branching out with a seasonal lakeside spin-off up north. Details are still being worked out, but co-owner Ian McGrenaghan was able to share some basic info, like the general setting—a lakeside property in Port Carling—and the menu, which won’t stray far from the original (i.e. tacos). The summertime-only restaurant is expected to open on May Two-Four weekend and will run through Thanksgiving. “We’re still piecing it together,” says McGrenaghan. “But yeah, it’ll be Grand Electric for cottage country, with all that entails.” It’s a pretty savvy move, really—a way to avoid the competitive chaos of the city’s restaurant market while still targeting idle Torontonians with cash to spend. Plus, Muskoka doesn’t really have much of a food scene. (Except Webers. Webers is always magic.)

 

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Openings

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Introducing: Cleo, a new spot for Middle Eastern cuisine near Yonge and Lawrence

Introducing: Cleo

Name: Cleo
Contact Info: 3471 Yonge St., 416-440-0700, cleorestaurant.ca
Neighbourhood: Hoggs Hollow
Owner and chef: Sam Girgis, the former executive chef of Oro on Elm Street

The Food: Cleo is uptown’s answer to the Middle Eastern trend that’s been inundating Toronto diners with za’atar-dusted flatbreads and oil-drizzled dips. Girgis’s background is Egyptian, and his mission is to showcase the kind of food he grew up eating. His menu lists contemporary takes on traditional Mediterranean dishes—things like stuffed grape leaves, warm barrel-aged feta and grilled chicken and beef kebabs flavoured with sumac and harissa.

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The Dish

Features

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Where to Eat Now: everything you need to know about dining in Toronto in 2014

Where to Eat Now 2014

I’d gladly spend every night in a bar seat facing the open kitchen at Chantecler. Two scruffy young chefs squeeze past one another in a tiny space, cooking with a tabletop deep fryer and an electric stove. Despite the constraints, they produce an exquisitely intricate, ethnically hyphenated tasting menu that seems particularly Torontonian and of the moment. On my last visit, I gorged on tartare with house-made shrimp chips, a Chinese-style double-smoked duck with crisp baked kale, Colville Bay oysters with fresh tagliatelle, a sweet custard topped with sea urchin, and a dessert of buckwheat-flavoured ice cream and Niagara black walnuts. I left thoroughly winded.

That a special place like Chantecler can thrive on one of the grimier blocks in Parkdale only shows how the dining scene is keeping pace with our insatiable hunger to be wowed. Restaurants are experimenting with menus themed around unsung ingredients, flying in like-minded star chefs for one-night collaborations, and building empires down alleys and in former gastronomical deserts like Dupont and Dundas West. The two big name ­out-of-towners—David Chang and Daniel Boulud—overcame the provincial skepticism of foodie bloggers by demonstrating a deep commitment to the homegrown (their menus read like a directory of southern Ontario heritage farmers). Every block seems to have a new spot specializing in a signature ramen. And for each walk-in-closet restaurant like Chantecler, there’s a new showstopper palace like The Chase to cater to Bay Street’s big spenders.

I’ve eaten my way across this city many times over, sipping more than my share of barrel-aged bourbon, waiting in lines at no-reservation hot spots and discreetly taking notes on my smartphone. The following pages contain my take on the city’s biggest dining trends (including a few I could live without), the 10 most memorable dishes I tried in the past year and a ranking of the top 10 new restaurants.

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The Dish

Restaurants

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Best New Restaurants in Toronto 2014

Best New Restaurants in Toronto 2014

These are the spots that encapsulate Toronto dining at its current peak, and ones I happily recommend to a friend or visitor.

See the Best New Restaurants in Toronto »

The Dish

Restaurants

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10 Best Dishes at Toronto Restaurants in 2014

10 Best Dishes at Toronto Restaurants in 2014

How to narrow down thousands of gratifying forkfuls into one definitive list? Easy. These are the dishes I’d order again and again, in descending order of deliciousness.

See all 10 best dishes of the year »

The Dish

Trend Watch

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The Top Food Trends and Who Does Them Best: Tasting Menus

They take twice as long and cost twice as much as the average dinner—and we’re smitten

The Top Food Trends and Who Does Them Best: Tasting Menus

Meticulously constructed, wildly diverse plates from the tasting menu at Actinolite

In the months after David Chang opened Shōtō, every semi-ambitious chef in the city became a tasting menu convert, serving a dozen small courses, plus intermediary amuses or “tastes”—a pervasive foodie noun. It’s the dining equivalent of a marathon: you rarely make the finish line in under three hours. The best of them are usually at pocket-size places where a chef-proprietor riffs on seasonal ingredients, flexing his culinary muscles—tasting menus are almost exclusively a peacocking male chef thing.

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Trend Watch

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The Top Food Trends and Who Does Them Best: Shared Meals

Foie gras–stuffed chicken, porterhouse steak and whole suckling pig are the new extravagant norm

The Top Food Trends and Who Does Them Best: Shared Meals

Perfectly seared côte de boeuf at ­Bestellen

There were six of us up against one pork butt—and the pig won. It was a beauty, grown massively plump at a small farm just outside St. Jacobs. Rubbed with brown sugar, it spent a slow afternoon in the oven until the meat pulled apart effortlessly, clouds of steam breaking from the sweet crust. We dug in, mixing the shreds with fresh oysters and kimchee, then wrapping it all in lettuce leaves and savoury crêpes. After a couple of blissful hours, we’d barely made a dent.

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Trend Watch

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The Top Food Trends and Who Does Them Best: French Cuisine

It’s time to rediscover buttery, sublime Gallic cooking

The Top Food Trends and Who Does Them Best: French Cuisine

Ici chef J. P. Challet sneaks booze into every other dish, including this billowing dessert soufflé with Grand Marnier custard

Traditional French restaurants never went away, but they certainly lost their appeal in the last decade, eclipsed by fusion cooking, molecular gastronomy, the tyranny of artisanal versions of Kraft Dinner and a thousand other fads. Now it seems every other cook is back to simmering sauces for eons, perfecting the timing of a soufflé and paying homage to Escoffier. I suppose there were only so many communal tables and foraged salads we could stomach before we craved rich terrines and formal service again. Even white-linen establishment standbys like Scaramouche, where I spotted Maple Leaf magnate Michael McCain and family silently dining one recent weeknight, and Auberge du Pommier, where the chef, Marc St. Jacques, has reinvigorated the menu with complex preparations of game and foie gras, are packed once more.

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Trend Watch

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The Top Food Trends and Who Does Them Best: Late-Night Dining

We’re dining around the clock and the options for a midnight feast are suddenly excellent

The Top Food Trends and Who Does Them Best: Late-Night Dining

Drake One Fifty serves lofty comfort food and smart cocktails well past midnight

At some point over the past year, around the time Rob Ford was smoking crack in a drunken stupor, we became a city that eats at all hours. It now takes weeks of planning to get a table at 10 p.m. at the hotter spots. And if you want a meal after midnight, there are finally options other than greasy all-night diners and those Chinatown backrooms where the only thing anyone orders is “cold tea.” After a three-hour Scorsese opus at the Revue, I’ll go to La Cubana, Corrina Mozo’s new restaurant on Roncesvalles, where the cooks make a mean medianoche, the traditional Havana sandwich stacked with roasted pork, ham and gruyère—they also have versions with chorizo, or guava-glazed short rib, or avocado and queso fresco. The kitchen at the County General, the Queen West gastropub, officially closes at 11, but the place is usually full until last call, patrons scarfing down pork buns and devilled eggs while sipping bourbon cocktails. (They’ve expanded to Riverdale and Bloorcourt.) Even the owners of the prim Nota Bene wanted in on the fun, opening Carbon Bar on Queen East. They serve perfectly smoked southern-style barbecue, fried chicken skin, and intricate cocktails with citrus oils and rare tinctures until late-late-late.

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