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Culture

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The high price of cheap shrimp: where restaurants get their prawns from and why you should care

(Image: Brett Lamb)

(Image: Brett Lamb)

Out for dinner recently at a Spanish restaurant downtown, trying to decide whether to order the paella, I asked the chef where he buys his shrimp. He was proud to tell me how much he cares about sustainability, and that all his other seafood is Oceanwise-approved. But the shrimp was from Indonesia and “pretty much grown in poison,” he spat out. Customers want big shrimp, he said, shaking his head, but they don’t want to pay for them.

We’ve gradually come to care about how our beef is raised, who stitches together our clothes and the carbon footprint of our strawberries. We want to know the number of bluefin tuna in the ocean and whether our chicken sandwiches are sold by homophobes. But shrimp? Not yet. People, for the most part, don’t care. But they should. Of the many problems with the global shrimp trade, the worst involve actual slavery and human trafficking. As the Guardian has reported, Burmese and Cambodian immigrants are forced to work 20-hour days on Thai and Indonesian boats, kept awake with amphetamines, chained, beaten and murdered. These aren’t mere allegations: CP Foods, the world’s biggest shrimp farmer (for clients that include Walmart and Costco), have conceded that slavery is part of the supply chain. The company promised to change their practices, no longer buying the “trash fish” from slave boats that’s ground into food for farmed shrimp. But a year after that story out of Thailand comes further news from Indonesia reported by the Associated Press, of slaves fishing for shrimp that’s then dumped onto trucks bound for international seafood suppliers.

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The Dish

Openings

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Introducing: R&D, Chinatown’s new Alvin Leung and Eric Chong co-production

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

Name: R&D
Neighbourhood: Chinatown
Contact: 241 Spadina Ave., 416-586-1241, rdspadina.com, @RDSpadina
Previously: Strada 241
Owner: Alvin Leung (Bo Innovation, Hong Kong) and Eric Chong (winner of season one of MasterChef Canada)
Chefs: Alvin Leung, Eric Chong and Nelson Tsai (Trump Toronto, Auberge du Pommier)

The Food: More new wave pan-Asian cuisine to add to Toronto’s growing fusion obsession (Chantecler, DaiLo, People’s Eatery, Patois). “I took Eric traveling throughout Asia to create our concepts. His father is from Malaysia and my family came from Hong Kong, so the flavours of the menu represent our roots,” says Leung. Although the MasterChef bad guy earned three Michelin stars with his sometimes-shocking “x-treme” Chinese cuisine, R&D’s menu is devoid of shock-and-awe plates; instead, it’s made up of whimsical riffs on classic dishes. Poutine comes topped with silken tofu and General Sanders’ Chicken pairs fried bird with Sichuan maple syrup and Hong Kong egg waffles. A number of Chong’s MasterChef Canada dishes, including his lobster chow mein, also made the cut.

The Drinks: Playful cocktails with Asian twists, like the Piña Colada Bubble Tea dotted with tapioca pearls and the Red Star Punch made with oolong-infused gin. The punch can be ordered as “cold tea” for four that arrives in a teapot obscured in a cloud of dry ice smoke. A selection of wine, sake and beer is also available (the latter of which can also be ordered “cold tea”–style).

The Place: Faux crumbling walls and oversized U-shaped lights that are meant to allude to China’s vertical growth. The open-concept space is divided into three dining areas and can seat 85; a row of seven stools looks onto the open kitchen. Back dining room walls are splashed with graffiti, one mural featuring Chairman Mao complete with a Paul Stanley–style red star over one eye.

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Restaurants

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Pop-Up Pick: Smoke Signals BBQ emerges from hibernation to take over Mr. Flamingo

SmokeSignals
Don’t let this weekend’s snowfall fool you: spring is here, and so is outdoor cookery. The roving pitmasters of Smoke Signals BBQ, who have previously fed the Junction Flea and Derby crowds, will be holding their first pop-up dinner of the year on April 7 at Mr. Flamingo. They’ll be cooking up some ‘cue in the restaurant’s parking lot, rain or shine. And, if it does happen to rain (or snow), don’t get your wet naps in a knot, because while the smoking will be done al fresco, all of the eating will take place indoors. Mr. Flamingo’s menu won’t be available, but Smoke Signals’ co-owner Nick Chen-Yin (who has just returned from doing some tasty research in Texas) told us that there will be plenty of ribs, sausage and brisket to go around. All of the meat will be priced by the pound and customers can order as much or as little as they like. And there will be sides, of course: chili, potato salad and deep-fried mac and cheese balls will all play supporting roles.

 Tues. Apr. 7, 7 p.m. Mr. Flamingo, 1265 Dundas St. W., smokesignalsbarbecue.ca

The Dish

Openings

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Introducing: The One Eighty, serving chicken and waffles with cocktails 51 storeys above Bay and Bloor

(Image: Gabby Frank)

(Image: Gabby Frank)

Name: The One Eighty
Neighbourhood: Yorkville
Contact: 55 Bloor St. W., 51st floor, 416-967-0000, the51stfloor.com, @the51stfloor
Previously: Panorama Lounge
Owner: Sebastien Centner, President and CEO of Eatertainment
Chefs: Christopher Matthews and Zach Jacobs

The Food: Approachable and fun (“but not whimsical,” says owner Sebasten Centner) plates, made using food from local suppliers: halibut tacos, flatbread pizza, buttermilk chicken and waffles and a ramen noodle slaw all find a place on the menu. “We wanted dishes that people could look at and recognize, but that may have a twist,” explains Centner. As a play on dim sum, servers come around with food carts in between courses so diners can make impulse two-bite purchases (quail eggs on homemade chips, for example). “The point is not to overstuff diners,” says Centner, but to create some continuity to the meal and provide “bursts of flavour during the lulls.”

The Drinks: A short list of easy-drinking beer, on tap and in bottles; a wine menu featuring both VQA and international selections, some available by the glass; and the bar’s “Shaken and Stirred” collection, six signature cocktails that are made-to-order in twee glass bottles and then poured table-side.

The Place: Taking up the top floor of the Manulife Centre, the sleek, 2,500-square-foot space with 21-foot barrel-vaulted ceilings can seat 90 (or let 250 cocktail-drinking folks mingle comfortably). Oh, and there’s the view: 51 storeys above Bay and Bloor, The One Eighty gives guests a chance to see the city from really (really, really) high up, and not just from behind windows—both north and south patios will open at the end of April.

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Restaurants

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Northern Belle, Northwood’s new sister spot, is now slinging drinks in Trinity Bellwoods

(Image: Jackie Pal)

(Image: Jackie Pal)

The Christie Pits café and cocktail bar Northwood has opened a second location on Dundas West. With its pour-over coffees and much stronger drinks, Northern Belle isn’t all too different from its sister location, save for a sophisticated aperitif menu with a selection of vermouths and amaros (soon to be offered as flights). Guests can expect classic drinks with twists and clever names like the No Suspenders, a recipe from the 1900s that uses Guerra vermouth ($12), or the Guns & Roses (pictured above), made with rose-infused Dillon’s gin ($14). Without a kitchen—the space was previously the café-turned-hummuseria, S. Lefkowitz—the menu is teeny, but sandwiches, cheese plates, salads and baked goods are available all day, and a weekend brunch buffet of light eats is in the works.

913 Dundas St. W., 416-823-8969, northernbelle.ca@NorthernBelleTO

The Dish

Food Shops

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Wisey’s brings its pies to the west side

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

After a slew of winter shutterings—Timothy’s, Smock and Victoria’s Bakery are all papered up—Roncesvalles is starting to show some signs of life. Wisey’s, a Kiwi meat pie shop with a store in East York, opened its west end location on March 26. On the menu: personal-sized butter chicken pies, New Zealand lamb numbers and one topped with mashed potato (pictured above) just to name a few. If it’s something sweet you’re after, an Afghan cookie (chock-full of cornflakes and topped with chocolate ganache) paired with a flat white is just the ticket. New Zealand natives Gary Wise and Anthony Spinley opened their first Canadian outpost last summer in Leaside, where they still do all their baking. Even the shop’s coffee has a New Zealand connection: all beans are provided by Pilot Coffee Roasters, another Toronto-based company owned by a couple of Kiwis.

43 Roncesvalles Ave., 647-346-4455, wiseyspies.com, @WiseysPiesTO

The Dish

Restaurants

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Buster’s Sea Cove swims into South Core

(Image: Rebecca Fleming)

(Image: Rebecca Fleming)

Buster’s Sea Cove, the popular St. Lawrence Market seafood snack shack with its own food truck, is bringing its shrimp po’ boys and grilled halibut sandwiches to South Core. The new location will be located in the Southcore Financial Centre at Bremner and York, in the building’s second-floor food court (with I.Q. Food Co., Le Prep and Z-Teca keeping it company). Owner Tom Antonarakis tells us that the plan is to open the week of April 6, with a menu of the best-selling items from the Market and the food truck. Connected to the PATH and only a block away from Union Station, the new spot should make it convenient for commuters to grab dinner to go before heading home. GO trains are about to get a whole lot fishier.

120 Bremner Blvd., busters-seacove. com, @Busterstruck

The Dish

Openings

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Introducing: Fat City Blues, Little Italy’s New Orleans–inspired watering hole

(Image: Jackie Pal)

(Image: Jackie Pal)

Name: Fat City Blues
Neighbourhood: Little Italy
Contact Info: 890 College St., 647-345-8282, fatcityblues.com, @fatcityblues
Previously: The Huntsman Tavern
Owners: Cameron Hutton and Steve McKeon (Small Town Food Co.), Simon Ho (The Drake)
Chef: Charles Duncan (Splendido)

The Food: Updated Cajun classics: peanuts boiled in their shells; battered alligator po’ boys on soft baguette with a house-made remoulade; creole-spiked hush puppies—spicy bites dredged in cornmeal, fried until golden and served with a honey-cider cream; and crab legs (bib included). And it wouldn’t be a taste of the bayou without bivalves. At Fat City, the oysters are prepared three ways: raw, baked and fried. A by-the-weight crawfish boil is in the works and will likely be on the menu for when summer arrives.

The Drinks: Southern-inspired potent potables, including the Hurricane (the passion fruit– and rum-spiked cocktail synonymous with party beads) and the Sazerac, along with a list of Ho’s signature cocktails that are twists on the N’awlins classics: Land of Dixie and Fiyo on the Bayou are both boozy numbers. An absinthe menu is in the works with three varieties currently on offer, including one from Dillon’s.

The Place: Inspired by the jazz bars of Frenchman Street, a piano sits in the middle of the restaurant for diners who aren’t afraid to tickle the ivories and belt out a tune. Every Thursday through Sunday (but soon, nightly), guests can sip their Sazeracs in front of live blues and jazz performances. Restored wood, haphazardly nailed onto one wall, paired with polished blue banquettes and tables covered in newspaper clippings give the space a clean, but slightly rough-around-the-edges look.

The Dish

How-To

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How chocolatier David Chow makes his incredible, edible, over-the-top Easter eggs

(Image: Giordano Ciampini)

(Image: Giordano Ciampini)

For engineer-turned-pastry-chef David Chow, chocolate-making is the best of both worlds. “Chocolate is a very technical ingredient—if it’s one or two degrees off, you can ruin the batch,” says Chow. “I appreciate that kind of precision.” At first, his family thought he was crazy to give up a potentially lucrative career just to work in a kitchen. “But you gotta do what you love, I think. At the end of the day, I’m making a tangible thing, and I’m making someone happy.” His insanely attractive Easter eggs, which he makes out of his workshop at The Eatery on University Avenue, are equal parts art and dessert: who needs Fabergé when you can have these? Here’s how he makes them.

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Restaurants

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Léonie Lilla leaves Farmer’s Daughter

Leonie_small

(Image: Tanja Tiziana)

The more seafood-centric sister restaurant to Darcy MacDonell’s Farmhouse Tavern has lost its chef. Léonie Lilla, who had been with the Junction Triangle’s Farmer’s Daughter Eatery since it opened last April, traded in her chef whites earlier this month to help run a retail store in Cabbagetown. “The opportunity presented itself for me to start a shop with my wife at a time when Darcy decided to rebrand and change the direction of Farmer’s Daughter,” says Lilla. “It seemed like the universe was telling me something.” Lilla, who previously worked at the Libertine and Daishō, said this move doesn’t mean that she’s leaving the industry. “I’ll be staying in touch with my restaurant peeps and hopefully doing a few events here and there.” MacDonell tells us that Farmhouse’s Tom Wade has taken over the Daughter’s kitchen.

The Dish

Food Events

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Way-out wagyu: Michelin-starred Massimo Bottura’s psychedelic steak from Buca’s one-of-a-kind dinner

Click to see a larger version. (Image: Renée Suen)

Click to see a larger version. (Image: Renée Suen)

Aimed at showcasing Italy’s culinary kicks, “Sotto una buona stella” (or, “under a lucky star”) dinners will see six Michelin-starred Italian chefs flown to Toronto over the next two years for the benefit of George Brown College’s Centre for Hospitality and Culinary Arts Scholarship Fund. At the first dinner, held March 6 at Buca Yorkville, Italy’s reigning top chef Massimo Bottura was in the kitchen with chef Rob Gentile and his team while they prepared a six-course meal of whimsical plates (including one that featured live baby trout). Bottura’s contribution to the invite-only event was the stunning main course: “beautiful, psychedelic, spin-painted veal, not flame-grilled.” Here’s a breakdown of the dizzying dish.

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The Dish

Openings

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Introducing: Peter Pan, a new take on the decades-old Queen West icon

(Image: Gabby Frank)

(Image: Gabby Frank)

Name: Peter Pan
Neighbourhood: Queen West
Contact Info: 373 Queen St. W., 416-792-3838, peterpanbistro.ca, @peterpanbistro
Owners: Marty and Noah Goldberg, Jessica Ingwersen
Chef: Noah Goldberg, formerly of The Feasting Room

The Food: Noah Goldberg calls what he’s putting out of his kitchen “refined neighbourhood food”: salmon roulade, bone marrow pizza, duck with beets and warm pig’s head terrine are some of the current dishes on offer. “The food is obviously different than it used to be,” says Goldberg—maybe in reference to the old Pan’s daily pasta special—“but we still want to be a neighbourhood restaurant; we still want locals and tourists and whoever is in this neighbourhood to be able to come in and afford to eat here and have an experience, but we’ve refined that experience a bit.” The menu will change often to reflect what’s in season, but will always adhere to the nose-to-tail and root-to-tip philosophies that Goldberg practiced at The Feasting Room. “I feel really strongly about eating and preparing food in a very conscientious way—not wasting anything and offering people the full picture as opposed to just the standard stuff,” says Goldberg.

The Drinks: Local and international wines (by the glass or bottle), a selection of draught and bottled beer and a concise list of cocktails including the “What’s Up Doc?”—a veggie- and fruit-laced concoction with a glug of vodka.

The Place: For 11 months, Goldberg and his team renovated the space, changing as little as possible: the tin roof, marble bar top, bar back and lights are all original fixtures of the restaurant, dating back to the 1930s.  New to the space, however, are artist Debbie Lawson’s wild but animal-friendly alternatives to wall-mounted taxidermy. Also new: the second floor. Previously a rooming house (and a “real mess,” according to Goldberg), it will be used as a private dining space. As for the backyard patio, it will be back as soon as summer is.

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Closings

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St. Clair West seafood spot Catch has gone fishin’

(Image: Rebecca Fleming)

(Image: Rebecca Fleming)

The restaurant that introduced Toronto to The Gout—a whole, oyster-stuffed trout roasted inside a baby goat—has closed. Sustainable-seafood restaurant Catch opened on St. Clair West just over three years ago, with Honest Weight’s John Bil running the front of house and Nigel Finley (who invented the aforementioned twist on the turducken) as the first in a succession of chefs: Charlotte Langley took over the kitchen in May 2013 and Matthew Cowan replaced her just last winter, introducing a menu that wasn’t solely seafood-based. In a note announcing the closure, the result of a “changing ownership,” former owner Frank Pronesti explained that he’ll be focusing on The Rushton, his restaurant across the street from Catch, and its upcoming tenth anniversary—and promised that Catch had “gone fishing…but not for good!”

The Dish

Openings

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Introducing: Tich, a modern Indian restaurant in Mimico

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

Name: Tich
Neighbourhood: Mimico
Contact Info: 2314 Lake Shore Blvd., 647-349-8424, tich.ca, @tichcuisine
Owner: Karan Kalia
Chefs: Sujoy Saha, previously of the Indian Rice Factory, is in charge of the curry dishes. Tandoor master Mandy Jawle honed his skills at New York’s Michelin-starred restaurant Junoon before moving to Toronto.

The Food: The menu features dishes from many different regions of India, and even a few colonial-era plates: the dak bungalow chicken curry, for example, is a dish that was traditionally served to British officers when they stayed in rest houses of the same name. Curries at Tich—it’s a Hindi/Punjabi word that, loosely translated, means “cool”—range from rib-sticking (the Hyderabad-style braised lamb shank) to fabulously delicate (the Malabar lobster-and-prawn curry). The tandoor oven fires out lamb chops, whole sea bream and chicken tikka.

The Drinks: When patio season hits, Kalia plans to launch an Indian cocktail program. Expect spiced mojitos, among other refreshing, boozy libations. India-imported Amrut whisky and Kingfisher beer are on offer right now, along with a short wine list.

The Place: “We wanted to stay away from how people expect a typical Indian restaurant to look—that means no saris,” explains Kalia. The tranquil blue room is a Pinterester’s paradise: barn board, dangling Edison bulbs, marquée lights and fab baroque wallpaper.

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The Dish

Restaurants

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Watch Toronto Life’s Rebecca Philps talk about the city’s best new restaurants on Global

Toronto Life’s April issue hit newsstands yesterday, and with it, so did our ranking of the city’s best new restaurants. That morning, senior editor Rebecca Philps went on Global’s Morning Show to dish on our critic Mark Pupo‘s picks—20 this year, up from the usual 10. “It says a lot about what a great food year we’ve had,” she told the show’s co-hosts. “We’re looking at the restaurants that have great food and great service, but what we’re really looking for is a restaurant that stays with you—when you leave, you can’t wait to go back and you can’t wait to tell your friends about it.” Chefs from three of the top spots (Borealia, Los Colibris and Branca) were also on hand to explain the signature dishes that helped make each of them one of Toronto’s best new places to eat. Click the play button above to watch.