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Restaurants

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Inside Barberian’s subterranean wine vault, the best-stocked cellar in Canada

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

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

One of the city’s oldest white-tablecloth restaurants also houses one of Canada’s largest wine collections underneath what used to be its parking lot. Barberian’s wine list now sits at 4,000 selections, with nearly 40,000 bottles in inventory. (If you ordered a single bottle of every item on the list, it would cost a whopping $3-million.) Owner Arron Barberian gave us a tour of his sizeable, subterranean vault below 11 Elm Street.

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Sponsored Content

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Mother’s Day Angels: A helping hand for moms with cancer

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Cancer is traumatic for anyone. But what if you’re also a mom with young children? Suddenly the things you take for granted – that you will have the time to care for their needs, the energy to guide them, the strength to play with them – all that becomes uncertain as you face painful surgeries, debilitating treatments, and emotional exhaustion. Who takes care of mom when mom needs help?

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Restaurants

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Major Flake: a purist’s list of the city’s 10 most decadent croissants

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How-To

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How Redpath refines a shipload of raw sugar

(Image: Giordano Ciampini)

(Image: Giordano Ciampini)

Last year, dozens of ships delivered two million tonnes of cargo to the port of Toronto. Of that, more than half was raw sugar received by the Redpath Sugar plant. In operation since 1959, the plant employs 250 people and refines about 2,000 tonnes of sugar 24 hours a day, seven days a week. From the inside, the whole operation smells delicious, like toasted cotton candy. (Outside, it’s a little more unpleasant.) Redpath has seen Toronto’s waterfront undergo a lot of changes in recent years with encroaching development presenting a new array of challenges—across the street, the iconic Guvernment has already been dismantled to make way for condos. But as Redpath’s president Jonathan Bamberger says, “We were the first to get here and hopefully the last to leave.” Here’s how Redpath turns the raw stuff into white gold.

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Food Shops

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Piece of cake: a cross-section of the Kochi, Queen West pâtisserie Nadège’s newest creation

Click to see a larger version. (Image: Vicky Lam)

Click to see a larger version. (Image: Vicky Lam)

The newest mini-gâteau from Nadège’s spring collection, the Kochi, is named after the Japanese city and prefecture—a nod to the cake’s yuzu flavour. The diminutive dessert, measuring in at only one-and-a-half inches wide by two-inches high, packs a lot into two perfect bites. We had Nadège Nourian, proprietress of the eponymous Queen West pâtisserie, deconstruct it for us.

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Toronto Life is changing how we score restaurants

Don’t worry—it’s nothing drastic: we still evaluate restaurants on a scale of one to five stars, and we continue to only review places that we believe are worth a visit. But we’ve changed our scale to be a little more generous, and a little more intuitive. Before, one star meant a place was good; now it means fair. Two stars meant very good; now it means good. Three stars meant excellent; now it means very good. Four stars meant extraordinary; now it means excellent. And five stars meant absolutely perfect: an extraordinary, totally flawless, unparalleled dining experience. No restaurant ever achieved that score. Now our highest rating means exceptional, and there are a handful of restaurants that have earned it: Auberge du Pommier, Kaiseki Yu-Zen Hashimoto, Momofuku Shoto, Buca Yorkville and Sushi Kaji. You can read more about what the new stars mean here, or find out how we’ve scored your favourite restaurant by searching for them in our listings.

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Restaurants

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Union Station is getting rotisserie chicken, a Burger’s Priest, and a huge food market

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Union Station is set to become a dining destination instead of an afterthought—no offence, Cinnabon. Not only are Mill Street and Balzac’s opening locations within the new UP Express lounge, but elsewhere in the new-and-improving transit hub, even more exciting changes are afoot.

First, there’s Union Chicken, a rotisserie chicken restaurant opening on the lower level below the current GO concourse and near the new York Street promenade.  Yannick Bigourdan, who also owns the Carbon Bar, says he’s been trying to open a business in Union Station since the revitalization was announced. “If they let me, I would open 10 restaurants there,” he says. “If you talk to people who have been at Grand Central Station for 20 or 30 years, and ask them if they’d do it again, I know their response would be ‘absolutely.’ I have the chance to be part of something that’s going to last for a very long time.” Bigourdan will take possession sometime this summer and hopes to open Union Chicken as a full-service spot, with cocktails and everything (but take-out, too), as early as this December, provided construction continues as planned.

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Openings

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Introducing: Soi Thai, a bit of Bangkok in Little Italy

(Image: Jackie Pal)

(Image: Jackie Pal)

Name: Soi Thai
Neighbourhood: Little Italy
Contact: 651 College St. W., @soithaito
Previously: Darwin Bistro
Owners: Nopphawan Lertchaiprasert Papa and Pablito Papa
Chef: Nopphawan Lertchaiprasert Papa

The Food: Traditional Thai street snacks: elaborate golden-fried omelettes, pork and chicken skewers and crispy, spiced chicken wings are just a few of the sharing plates on offer. Nopphawan, a self-taught chef, tasted her way through Bangkok’s culinary scene, but when she moved to Toronto five years ago she struggled to find a Thai restaurant that offered the authentic no-frills, street-cuisine experience. (“One that allows you to eat all day, which is the Thai way,” she said.) Her menu mixes traditional flavours with Thai trends that are on the rise. All sharing plates are priced at $10, but a snack menu that will feature tapas-style dishes priced at $3–$6 is in the works.

The Drinks: A short list of wine and beer, plus three cocktails made with tropical ingredients like mango, lychee and pineapple. Non-alcoholic options include house-made cha yen—a traditional drink made with iced tea, served with or without milk.

The Place: It’s fitting that soi means alleyway in Thai, since the restaurant is tucked into a narrow space on busy College Street. The owners wanted to recreate the feeling of stumbling onto one of Bangkok’s lively laneways: plastic stools, colourful flags and slapdash driftwood benches are standard details, but a bar disguised as a makeshift convenience store is the true pièce de résistance—it’s packed with hard-to-find Thai treats that Nopphawan’s mother brought over from Thailand in her suitcase.

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Openings

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Introducing: Kanpai, a taste of Taiwan’s night market scene, in Cabbagetown

(Image: Gabby Frank)

(Image: Gabby Frank)

Name: Kanpai Snack Bar
Neighbourhood: Cabbagetown
Contact: 252 Carlton, 416-968-6888, @kanpaisnackbar
Owners: Trevor Lui, Ike Huang
Chef: Ike Huang

The Food: Salty, sweet and spicy snacks inspired by Taiwan’s xiaochi (“small eats”), found at the country’s night markets. “Just like the Spanish have pintxos and tapas, and the Mediterranean has mezze, the Taiwanese have xiaochi,” explains Lui. Food here is meant to encourage drinking, and vice-versa. The menu is made up of traditional bar snacks like fried and spiced anchovies (move over, pretzels), hot and cold small plates for sharing (bao, fried tofu) and one family-sized fried chicken dinner that comes with a six-pack of PBR.

The Drinks: The bubble tea–less drink list is made up of 12 potables on tap, including six beers, Izumi sake from the Distillery, two VQA wines, two classic cocktails and Station Cold Brew coffee. There’s also a short list of house cocktails (including one from west side bar chum, Montauk), caesars with an Asian twist (out with Worcestershire, in with shoyu), craft beer in bottles and cans, a couple of ciders and $3 shots of Jameson. Also, “punch pots,” a daily rotating cocktail made in an oversized teapot and meant to serve four to five thirsty people—the bar’s take on Chinatown’s famous “cold tea.”

The Place: Design company Green Tangerine took what was previously Ginger Restaurant and transformed it using as much reclaimed material as possible (including, for the walls, a whole lot of skids collected from shopping mall docks).

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Restaurants

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Queen West is getting a Rose and Sons

(Image: Rebecca Fleming)

(Image: Rebecca Fleming)

Anthony Rose is at it again, but this time he’s moving away from the empire he’s set up on Dupont. His new spot will be in the space left empty by Swan Restaurant. Just as he did with the 40-year-old People’s Diner, Rose is taking the iconic Queen West spot and making it his own, while leaving the old name intact (it will now be Swan by Rose and Sons). “It’s essentially got the same feeling as Rose and Sons,” says Rose. “You walk in, it’s old and it’s a little bit falling apart, but it’s just perfect.” The food will be a “lighter, more feminine” version of what’s on offer at his Dupont diner, and it will be more “California-driven,” whatever that means. “That’s where my roots are,” Rose says, “I learned to cook in San Francisco, so it’ll be a little San Franciso, California-dreaming kind of diner.” How does that translate on the menu? “Like, delicious.” The new Swan is scheduled to open this summer, which is great timing for the restaurant’s one new addition: a Trinity Bellwoods–facing patio out back. This isn’t the last project for Rose, though: he’s already in the midst of opening yet another spot. Bar Begonia will find a home on Dupont (of course) and will be within walking distance of Rose’s existing “holy trinity” of restaurants.

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Openings

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Introducing: Annette Food Market, an Italian trattoria in the Junction

(Image: Gabby Frank)

(Image: Gabby Frank)

Name: Annette Food Market
Neighbourhood: The Junction
Contact: 240 Annette St., 647-792-6963, facebook, @annettefoodmarket
Previously: Sagra
Owners: Max and Amara Mancuso (owners of the Good Neighbour café next door)
Chef: Sivi Sitsoruban (Sagra)
Bar Manager: Meaghan Murray (Northwood)

The Food: Sharing plates of rustic, Italian-influenced dishes, the majority of which are roasted in a wood-fired oven inherited from Sagra. The items on offer include house-made pasta, slow-cooked pork shoulder and short ribs, roasted veggies and a handful of Neapolitan pizzas. Also: a bowl of bubbly, melted cheese with crackers for dipping. “There’s nothing wrong with a giant pot of cheese,” says Max.

The Drinks: The focus is on wine (by the glass or bottle) with over 20 varietals categorized by style (big and bold, rich and creamy, smooth and silky) on a chalkboard that runs the length of the dining room. “I really wanted to make it a list that people could navigate quite easily and that’s why we broke it down,” explains Max. There are house cocktails as well, a few beers on tap and champagne, for those special occasions (like a Tuesday).

The Place: Smack-dab in the middle of an otherwise residential stretch of the street, next to its sister coffee shop and a convenience store, the restaurant is named for the original Annette Food Market that closed over 15 years ago. “We had customers coming in all the time next-door, telling great stories about the place,” says Max. “We wanted to bring that back and that’s why we revived the name.” Between church pews and barstools, the cozy space seats around 25 people and there’s a harvest table in the back room for larger parties.

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Restaurants

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This and That to move into This End Up

(Image: Rebecca Fleming)

(Image: Rebecca Fleming)

It’s been less than two months since Dundas West sandwich and cocktail bar This End Up closed, but already something is taking its place (and thankfully it isn’t an all-baby food spot—nice try, BlogTO). Chef Deron Engbers along with Michael Dorbyk, co-owner of the Monarch Tavern, is opening up a restaurant called This and That. (The name speaks to Engbers’ cooking style: “Whatever makes me happy that day!” he says.) Engbers, who for a short stint was a stagiaire at the venerated French Laundry, has previously worked for Rock Lobster Food Co., Oyster Boy, Sassafraz and Auberge du Pommier. Though trained in classical French cuisine, Engbers says he believes in making “accessible, fun and tasty food”: that translates into dishes like short rib croquettes, seafood cassoulet and dressed-up duck eggs. This and That is still weeks away from opening its doors, but keep an eye on Engbers’ Twitter account for practice pop-up dinners.

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Culture

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Hot Seats: online reservation systems were supposed to make scoring a table easier. So much for that

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For a guy who books a lot of restaurant reservations, I’ve had extra bad luck. I’ve been laughed at for asking for a table for two at eight at Patria. I’ve called restaurants at noon and been told to call back after 5 p.m., only to discover the hostess has left the phone off the hook. One time, at Susur, my reservation was scribbled in the wrong month. The hostess gestured at the full book and shrugged. When I didn’t budge, she rolled her eyes and led my companion and me to two seats at the bar. And not long ago I arrived at Blowfish with three out-of-towners on a Thursday, prime time at a clubby spot. The entire way there I’d hyped the sake cocktails as the closest thing to a miracle on King Street. Our reservation was nowhere in the book. The hostess said the best she could do was give us a table for two in two hours. Did we want it?

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Food Shops

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Mabel’s Bakery is expanding to St. Clair West

(Image: Rebecca Fleming)

(Image: Rebecca Fleming)

Mabel’s Bakery, maker of prepared meals and purveyor of perfect almond croissants, is opening a store on St. Clair West in mid-June. The new shop will be at Rushton Road, next to the spot recently vacated by Catch. This is a third location for the bakery, which already has shops on Queen West and Roncesvalles. Co-owner Lorraine Hawley says that she and her partners were on the hunt for a neighbourhood with a “walk-and-shop local” culture and that St. Clair West, finally recovering from years of disruptive roadwork, exemplified that. “There’s a real sense of renewal in the neighbourhood that we’re excited to be a part of,” says Hawley. The new location will carry the same sweet and savoury treats that have proven popular at the bakery’s other spots (house-made bread, pies, cakes and squares), and will undoubtedly provide some friendly competition for neighbouring pâtisserie Pain Perdu.

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Openings

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Introducing: Concession Road, a French restaurant from the owners of Pukka, on St. Clair West

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(Image: Gabby Frank)

Name: Concession Road
Neighbourhood: Humewood
Contact: 760 St. Clair Ave. W., 416-658-0460, concessionroad.ca, @concessionroad
Previously: Bywoods
Owners: Harsh Chawla and Derek Valleau (also owners of Pukka)
Chefs: Masayuki Tamaru (Crush) and Mark Cutrara (Cowbell, Hawthorne)

The Food: French cuisine with “classic French roots, but global branches,” says Valleau. Chef Tamaru’s inventive takes on classic dishes include crunchy, chickpea-flour-coated calf’s liver with a Korean barbecue twist; duck kebabs with togarashi peppers; and tempura-battered cod. Of course, there are some traditional plates as well: steak shows up more than once on the menu, both with frites and as a tartare.

The Drinks: Sommelier Peter Boyd (Scaramouche, Skin & Bones, Pukka) is in charge of the Old World–heavy wine list, and there are cocktails and an absinthe program, as well. “We’re going to create a little bar scene, we hope,” says Valleau, “and bring a little downtown excitement to uptown.”

The Place: Bywoods’s barn board and black ceilings have been removed and repainted (respectively) to make the space brighter and airier. The restaurant is divided, separating its more formal bistro dining room from the bar. And, just in time for summer, there’s a street-side patio that’s licensed to accommodate 18 people (with room to spare for a green fairy or two).

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