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Restaurants

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Branca, the Argentine grill house, is the best new restaurant on Dundas West

The best new restaurant on Dundas West is an Argentine grill house called Branca—a hedonist’s dream of woozy cocktails, swish service and perfectly charred slabs of meat

The Critic: Branca

From left: Branca chef Kanida Chey slow-roasts whole suckling pigs over a smouldering pit in a fire-brick hut behind the restaurant; Argentine shrimp

Branca 2 star
1727 Dundas St. W., 416-519-8165
How our star system works »

For a couple of years in the early 2000s, I shared an apartment on the Brazilian strip of Dundas near Dufferin, which felt like the middle of nowhere, nary a Starbucks for miles. Every so often, I’d awake to the sound of drag-racing Civic hatchbacks. Dundas West always seemed ­gentrification-proof. Only soccer bars, auto garages and funeral homes thrived. Today the street is so trendy it’s surpassing Queen in DJEBs (deejays, espressos and beards) per block. Somehow the neighbourhood’s roughness has become a virtue—the decaying storefronts impart authenticity to a speakeasy-style bar or a Japanese streetwear boutique.

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Restaurants

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Furlough, a new bistro from the owners of BarChef, is opening on West Queen West

(Image: Caroline Youdan)

(Image: Caroline Youdan)

The words “classic” and “traditional” aren’t usually associated with BarChef concoctionist Frankie Solarik, whose hyper-modern drinks tend to look more like abstract artworks than happy hour tipples. (His overall mixing philosophy is equally intense. This, from his website: “The general goal for me artistically is to challenge the conventional thought as to what’s possible within the medium of a glass.”) So the details of Solarik’s next project—a bistro and bar called Furlough, opening mid-January in the former Ursa space at 924 Queen West—come as a bit of a surprise. “The drinks and food will be classic in style,” says co-owner Brent VanderVeen. “It’ll be a warm neighbourhood spot—tin ceilings, tufted brown leathers. The kind of place you want to keep coming back.” Instead of flavoured airs and foams, customers will find European wines, classic cocktails and a custom-built absinthe fountain, plus traditional bistro dishes like duck confit and steak frites. According to VanderVeen, the price points will also be a bit more traditional. “No $45 smoked manhattans,” he says.

The Dish

Restaurants

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Miku, the Vancouver sushi hotspot, is coming to the “south core” in 2015

(Image: Miku/Facebook)

(Image: Miku/Facebook)

Toronto’s flourishing southern financial district will soon be able to add upscale sushi to its long list of attractions. (Others: green roofs, bike paths, lake views.) According to a recent press release, Miku, the popular west coast eatery, will make its debut sometime next summer in the new RBC building at the foot of Bay Street, just a couple blocks from the waterfront. Miku is well known in British Columbia for its sophisticated salads and “aburi-style” sushi rolls. (The technique, which involves searing pieces of fish with a blowtorch, isn’t totally new to Toronto—it’s the signature move of JaBistro chef Koji Tashiro, who worked at Miku in Vancouver before opening shop in Toronto.) This is one of the first big restaurant announcements for the city’s south core, but it certainly won’t be the last.

The Dish

Restaurants

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The new Delica Kitchen is open—and serving delicious breakfast sandwiches—on West Queen West

(Image: Caroline Youdan)

(Image: Caroline Youdan)

The third outpost of Delica Kitchen, one of the city’s most civilized cafés and lunch counters, has finally opened at 920 Queen West, next door to Spanish restaurant Carmen. The new spot is a little cozier than the chain’s main location near Yonge and St. Clair, but it’s got most of the same edible allurements, like gourmet sandwiches stuffed with roast beef, turkey and smoked ham, and pretty iced doughnuts from co-owner Devin Connell’s pastry business, Paulette’s. Unlike the Rosedale and Leslieville locations, this Delica also serves coffee and food in the early morning, starting at 7:30 a.m. We highly recommend the frittata breakfast sandwich, which comes on a chewy ciabatta roll with crisp prosciutto and melty brie cheese.

920 Queen St. W., delicakitchen.ca

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Restaurants

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Touhenboku brings a whole new look (and menu) to the Distillery District

(Image: Caroline Youdan)

(Image: Caroline Youdan)

When Touhenboku Ramen announced that it was setting up shop along the cobblestones in the Distillery District, we assumed that the neighbourhood could look forward to a new destination for, well, ramen. As it turns out, there are very few noodles on the menu at the Japanese chain’s third location, which recently opened for business at 42 Gristmill Lane, in the former Café Uno space. The new restaurant has a more sedate, upscale vibe than Touhenboku’s first two outlets, and it’s got an entirely different focus when it comes to food: sushi. Instead of steaming broths, the menu lists a variety of traditional nigiri and sashimi options, plus some fairly elaborate maki, like a unagi roll with shiso, ube and Japanese mountain potatoes. (There’s also an omakase tasting menu for $45.) It’s an intriguing twist, for sure, and a welcome addition to the neighbourhood—though Touhenboku may want to consider redesigning its mascot, which appears to be wearing a bowl of soup as a hat.

The Dish

Openings

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Introducing: Parlor Foods & Co., a rustic Canadian restaurant and cocktail lounge on King West

Introducing: Parlor Foods

Name: Parlor Foods & Co
Contact Info: 333 King St. W., 416-596-0004, parlorfoods.com, @parlorfoods
Neighbourhood: King West
Co-owners and chefs: Jason D’Anna and Brett Howson

The Food: Parlor’s comfort dishes are punched up with distinctly Canadian additions, like a swipe of pure maple syrup on a simple charcuterie platter, or ribbons of cold-smoked sockeye salmon in an elegant Nicoise with creme fraiche and pickled beans. Adventurous carnivores may appreciate the unconventional proteins on offer, including sweetbreads (disguised as chicken wings) and horse, which is served raw and paired with a roasted bone-marrow luge.

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Food Shops

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Festive Feast: the top 20 artisanal treats of the season

A hedonistic reverie of hand-crafted, artisanal, drop-dead-delicious holiday treats

Holiday Special: Festive Feast

Cinnamon candy apples from Apiecalypse Now

’Tis the season for reckless over-indulgence, so why waste it on frozen turkeys and mass-market confections? We rounded up the city’s most gorge-worthy holiday foods that’ll satisfy every nostalgic craving. Here, the top 20 holiday treats in the city.

The Dish

Openings

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Introducing: Borealia, a new all-Canadian restaurant on the Ossington strip

Borealia

Borealia’s braised whelk. (Image: Caroline Aksich)

Name: Borealia (which was one of the alternative names proposed for Canada during confederation)
Contact Info: 59 Ossington Ave., 647-351-5100, borealiato.com
Neighbourhood: Trinity Bellwoods
Previously: Ardor Bistro
Owners: Evelyn Wu and Wayne Morris. The pair met while working at Waterfront Wines in British Columbia. They married last year.
Chefs: Morris, with sous chef Fabrizio DeCicco (previously of Bellwoods Brewery)

The Food: Borealia serves Canadian cuisine befitting its pre-confederation name. There’s no poutine, no tourtière, and no Nanaimo bars. “We were inspired by the immigrants that built Canada and how they tweaked their recipes to work with the indigenous plants,” says Wu. The restaurant’s whelk, a giant sea snail braised in a kombu beurre blanc and served on a soya-spiked bed of seaweed and burdock, blends French and Chinese cuisine. Other dishes on the menu draw from antique French, British and Chinese recipes, some of which date all the way back to Queen Elizabeth I’s reign. The oldest dish on the menu is the pemmican, once a high-calorie staple for First Nations people and, later, Arctic explorers. Instead of a fatty wad of powdered meat mixed with dried fruit, Morris reimagines the dish as a pretty plate of bison bresaola topped with shaved lardo and juniper-pickled blueberries.

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New Reviews

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Review: Yunaghi, the Japanese bistro at Harbord and Manning, is unusual but rewarding

(Image: Renée Suen)

(Image: Renée Suen)

SEE ALL NEW REVIEWS
Yunaghi 2 star ½
538 Manning Ave., 416-588-7862
Yunaghi 2 star ½
538 Manning Ave., 416-588-7862

Before opening this peculiar but ultimately rewarding Japanese bistro, the chef Tetsuya Shimizu spent 12 years studying kaiseki in Tokyo and two years in the kitchen at Yours Truly, the recently shuttered molecular gastronomy restaurant on Ossington. Both inform his set-course dinners of seven or nine dishes, which are by turns traditional (a pot of dashi tea poured tableside over a slice of yellowtail sashimi, the heat of the liquid slowly poaching the luscious fish) and experimental (a Gehry-esque scattering of fall veg—roasted beets, blanched beans, pickled squash—comes dressed with a bacon-infused snow and a tofu–Grana Padano smear). Awkward, inarticulate servers have a tough time explaining each complicated plate’s constituent elements. One night’s highlight: a fantastically tender roast duck breast with rounds of confit leek, their crispy, chip-like exterior hiding a dense and deeply oniony core. Desserts, like a silky panna cotta layered with wafers of crunchy feuilletine, are comparatively simple. The room, formerly J.P. Challet’s Ici Bistro, has been stripped of its francophilia, the only décor an orchid in the window, while the plink-plonk-plink of Herbie Hancock makes an apt accompaniment to the meandering meal.

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The Dish

Drinks

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A Bottle for All Reasons: because every holiday event goes better with wine

A Bottle for All Reasons: Because every holiday event goes better with wine

(Photograph of Buena Vista by Carlo Mendoza)

Numbers: 1 (Green)The Holiday Meal
Buena Vista 2011 Pinot Noir | $24.95 | 91 points 

The riot of scents and flavours in a traditional holiday meal can drown out complicated and refined wines. A tart, full-flavoured pinot noir is the answer. Buena Vista has enough edge to slake, plus the flavour wattage and textural weight to drink with turkey, duck, pork tenderloin, rare roasts and even baked salmon.

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Città, CityPlace’s new Italian restaurant, lands a first-class chef

(Image: Daniel Neuhaus)

(Image: Daniel Neuhaus)

Now that The Grove has served its last meal, we wondered where the talented chef Ben Heaton would go next. Turns out he’ll be the executive chef at Città, Hanif Harji’s new casual southern Italian restaurant in CityPlace. The room will seat just under 100 people and the menu will focus on charcuterie, pasta and delicious things coming out of two wood-fired pizza ovens (they’ll eventually be offering delivery service). At The Grove, Heaton’s food was billed as British pub grub, but it was the city’s most refined, colourful and imaginative take on old-school English cooking. We can’t wait to see what he’ll do with some San Marzano tomatoes and doppio zero flour. Doors open on December 16 at 92 Fort York Boulevard.

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Restaurants

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Eat your way through Islamic history at the Aga Khan Museum’s restaurant, Diwan

An open-faced prawn kati roll, with paratha-and-egg omelette, tamarind prawns, tomato and chopped onion ($16). (Image: Caroline Aksich)

An open-faced prawn kati roll, with paratha-and-egg omelette, tamarind prawns, tomato and chopped onion ($16). (Image: Caroline Aksich)

The new Aga Khan Museum, housed in an unapologetically modern building designed by Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki, isn’t without a few historical nods. There are the traditional Islamic motifs on the museum’s patterned glass and, of course, its host of medieval Islamic artifacts—but the theme even extends to the in-house restaurant, Diwan (Persian for “meeting place”), which is decorated with centuries-old doors and panels from Damascus. Chef Patrick Riley (previously of Far Niente and Perigee) executes a pan-Islamic menu meant to complement the museum’s collection. Among the dishes are specialities from across the Islamic world, including items from Iran, Turkey, North Africa and India. “We’re currently working on version 2.0 of the menu,” says sous-chef Walid El-Tawel. “We want to showcase traditional flavours, while modernizing the dishes.” For one thing, the lamb tagine, usually cooked in clay, will be getting sous-vide treatment instead. Diwan will start serving dinners today, December 2.

77 Wynford Drive, agakhanmuseum.org/dine, 416-646-4670

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Review: Nuit Social is a slice of civilized heaven on West Queen West

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

SEE ALL NEW REVIEWS
Nuit Social 1 star
1168 Queen St. W., 647-350-6848
Nuit Social 1 star
1168 Queen St. W., 647-350-6848

The strip of Queen West between Ossington and Dufferin has always needed a grown-up alternative to the late-night pubs, poutine and pizza that feed The Drake’s and The Gladstone’s club crowd. It finally has one. At 11 p.m. on a Friday, you can walk in without a wait, order a glass of off-LCBO wine and build your own charcuterie board. The meats, from Ontario and Europe, include beechwood-smoked speck from Austria edged with gauzy fat, and there’s an excellent selection of small-batch cheeses, like a Wisconsin merlot satori that packs good wine pong, plus five kinds of olives (the lemon-zesty picholines are a must). The fritti are consistently hot, crisp and greaseless, like the killer golf ball–sized saffron arancini, and crackling cornmeal-crusted calamari. Lighter dishes are also well made: tiny brown-butter-fried scallops slicked with butternut squash purée and dotted with delicate Brussels sprout leaves and micro greens, for example. Crumbly New York–style cheesecake, both made and topped with Parmesan, is as dry and weird as an episode of Twin Peaks. Instead, linger over a nightcap around the colourful stained-glass bar, and soak in the blessedly mellow mood amid the neighbourhood’s all-night party.

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Food Shops

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Love popcorn? Try 100 flavours at Kensington’s new kernel shop

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

Everyone’s favourite movie snack is the main attraction at Toronto Popcorn Company, a new shop that recently opened on the edge of Kensington Market. Husband-and-wife team Joseph and Caramhel Villegas produce an astounding 100 flavours of popcorn, 35 of which are available for sampling on any given day. Traditionalists will veer toward familiar options like salt-and-vinegar, cheddar, caramel and ketchup, while sweet tooths may appreciate the cornucopia of fruit flavours (banana, black cherry, strawberry and watermelon, to name a few). Some of the flavour profiles are surprisingly realistic—like the pizza popcorn, which is convincingly cheesy and has a great oregano bite. Mixing and matching is strongly encouraged. (We recommend blending Buffalo corn with caramel—it’s basically Chicago Mix on steroids.)

147 Baldwin St., torontopopcorncompany.com