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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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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.

The Dish

Restaurants

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Branca is opening an all-slider restaurant called Bronco

(Image: Jackie Pal)

(Image: Jackie Pal)

The popular, six-month-old Argentine restaurant Branca (one of our best new restaurants) has announced plans to open a new spot. Owner James Bateman tells us that Bronco is scheduled to open on May 15 in the former home of Politica at Adelaide and Strachan. Despite having a name that differs by a single vowel, Bronco will share very little else with its sister restaurant beyond ownership and chef Kanida Chey. Instead of pit-smoked racks of ribs and perfectly blistered suckling pig, Bronco will offer a casual snack menu of 20 different sliders—think fried bologna—each served with a side of nacho-chili-cheese fries (so, no Argentine influence here). The 180-seat sports bar will serve craft beer alongside no-frills fare from lunch until last call, seven days a week. And once warmer weather graces us, Bateman plans on launching a picnic program that will let Trinity Bellwoods–goers get a 12-pack of sliders to go.

The Dish

Restaurants

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Where to Eat 2015: our ranking of Toronto’s 10 best—actually, make that 20 best—new restaurants

It’s official: Toronto has too many great restaurants. Trying to keep track of every new omakase sushi savant, unmarked bar run by a star chef and game-changing nouveau Asian fusion debut by a pop-up prodigy is tougher than an overdone T-bone. And it’s easier to get courtside for the Raptors than score a table at the city’s newest hot spots. In the past year, more than 100 notable restaurants opened. The relentless Charles Khabouth is responsible for no fewer than four: the exquisite Middle Eastern lounge Byblos, the Trump Hotel’s sky-high (in price and location) America, the swish Japanese steak house NAO and the CityPlace trattoria Città. This year, the sheer number of excellent new restaurants persuaded me to expand my usual top 10 to a top 20—and it’s by no means exhaustive. These are the 20 places I want to visit again and again. Just give me a minute to catch my breath.

The Dish

Restaurants

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Best New Restaurants 2015: #1, Buca Yorkville

Best New Restaurants 2015: Buca Yorkville Buca Yorkville | 53 Scollard St., 416-962-2822

I’ve been daydreaming about Rob Gentile. I’m in love with his ricotta gnocchi, which he rolls out by hand at Buca Yorkville, his grand new restaurant on the ground floor of the Four Seasons condo tower. He dresses the airy pillows with a foam of creamy robiola cheese, fried sage leaves, crumbled roasted chestnuts and shavings of Molisan white truffle. That’s his signature: a rustic Italian recipe made luxe, like Nonna dolled up in Gucci. The dish rings in at $80, by far the priciest pasta per bite in town.

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Restaurants

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Best New Restaurants 2015: #2, Dandylion

Best New Restaurants 2015: Dandylion Dandylion | 1198 Queen St. W., 647-464-9100

Jay Carter studied at the best cooking school in town: Susur Lee’s kitchen. He worked as the master’s sous-chef for four years, then as chef de cuisine for another six, then left to become exec chef at the storied Centro. Last summer he finally struck out on his own, taking over the lease of a narrow bar on Queen West, in the row of studiously cool hangouts that sprouted up between the Gladstone and Drake hotels. He cooks from a modest open kitchen at the back, assisted by a sous-chef and a kitchen porter. His starting menu was an inspired distillation of Nordic trends, a little Canuck and plenty of Susur. (Side note: I’d nearly forgotten what a pleasure it is to encounter a menu of appetizers and entrées, not a list of tastes or sharing plates or dishes organized by temperature or food group or some other pretentious whim.)

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Restaurants

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Best New Restaurants 2015: #3, Yasu

Best New Restaurants 2015: Yasu Yasu | 81 Harbord St., 416-477-2361

There are only 13 seats in this narrow, gleaming white room: 11 at the counter, plus a table for two by the window. Couples on dates tend to choose the latter, but when it comes to omakase sushi, in which every passing second robs a piece of nigiri of its fragile harmonies of taste and texture, you want to be at the counter to consume it the precise moment it’s been sliced.

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Restaurants

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Chef Francisco Alejandri says adios to Agave y Aguacate

Francisco Alejandri

(Image: Dave Gillespie)

Just a little over one year after opening his Baldwin Village restaurant, Agave y Aguacate, co-owner and chef Francisco Alejandri has quit the kitchen. He broke the news yesterday in a message posted to his Facebook page, but it’s unclear whether or not the move was voluntary. Alejandri (who previously worked at Chiado and Scaramouche) got his start selling Mexican street food snacks in Kensington’s El Gordo food court. After gaining popularity there, he left the cramped quarters in the summer of 2012 to (eventually) open his spot on Baldwin. The now chefless restaurant is temporarily closed and, according its voice messaging service, will be that way until further notice.

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Restaurants

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Best New Restaurants 2015: #4, DaiLo

Best New Restaurants 2015: DaiLo DaiLo | 503 College St., 647-341-8882

Gotta feel for Nick Liu. The young chef left the Niagara Street Café in 2012 and, for two long years, held a series of pop-up dinners, swearing he was about to unveil his own place. When it finally happened last fall, he was nearly crushed under an avalanche of hype. But he prevailed: DaiLo was an instant hit. It’s a beauty of a restaurant, a sly take on a vintage tea house with cozy teal booths behind filigreed screens. Liu went beyond his formerly gimmicky gourmet riffs on fast food and tapped into his Hakka roots. My favourite dish on his menu sounds like a crime against fruit but is one of the most exciting innovations of the year: hot watermelon. He dredges cubes in cornstarch, deep-fries them to a crisp, and serves them with diced pickled watermelon rind and a salty tuft of pork floss. The watermelon dissolves on the tongue, its sweetness and acidity blooming with the heat. I could also rave about his crispy whole trout or his tart green papaya and spicy ground pork salad or his grilled curried quail, but it’s that plate of hot melon I’m craving.

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Restaurants

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Best New Restaurants 2015: #5, Boralia

Best New Restaurants 2015: Boralia Boralia | 59 Ossington Ave., 647-351-5100

I wasn’t sure what to make of Boralia—yet another trendy restaurant on Ossington. The place, named after a moniker floated for our country during Confederation, appeared targeted at a breed of earnest CBC listeners who own cars only to transport canoes—so I wasn’t entirely surprised to enter one night and spot MP Adam Vaughan presiding over a table. Then Boralia won me over. It’s run by a young couple who recently moved from B.C.: Evelyn Wu Morris, who manages the front of house with plucky charm, and Wayne Morris, her chef husband. Instead of the naked Edison bulbs and subway tile of so many new restaurants, there’s a moody forest mural and a cedar trellis that runs across the ceiling, evoking a Vancouver Island boathouse. The room has personality, as does Morris’s cooking. He’s inspired by historical Canadian recipes, like pigeon pie, with a crust more buttery than any pioneer ever imagined, three precisely balanced micro-sorrel leaves for decoration and a side of fashionable roasted parsnip. He toys with Anglo-Indian kedgeree, adding fresh-popped rice cracker and curry mayo to candy-pink smoked whitefish. The highlight one night was a casserole of dense salt cod quenelles, their marine flavour ratcheted up by a bisque-like velouté and tender lobes of lobster. A history lesson has never left me so happy.

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Restaurants

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Best New Restaurants 2015: #6, Byblos

Best New Restaurants 2015: Byblos Byblos | 11 Duncan St., 647-660-0909

The wonder of Charles Khabouth isn’t that he runs so many nightclubs and restaurants, and opens a new spot nearly every month; it’s that he does so with such exacting standards. With Byblos, he anticipated the city’s Middleterranean obsession, converting two floors of an unremarkable historic warehouse into a lounge of low-slung booths for sharing rosewater-scented punch and a contemporary dining room that hums with excitement. The principal reason? An endless parade of hand-painted platters of deliciousness. Plump, paprika-dusted Marcona almonds, ­dumplings stuffed with smoked eggplant, molasses-sticky lamb ribs, neat bundles of vine leaf–wrapped branzino, basmati rice bejewelled with barberries, and on and on. Byblos has surpassed trendiness and become a city fixture. I’ve returned several times, often just for a snack and a cocktail before a show at the TIFF Lightbox. And I always order the brik cigar—a brittle pastry filled with a fig purée and caramel. It’s light but rich, savoury but sweet, and, like Khabouth, it never gets tired.

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Restaurants

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Best New Restaurants 2015: #7, Flor de Sal

Best New Restaurants 2015: Flor de Sal Flor de Sal | 501 Davenport rd., 416-923-2604

Anyone nostalgic for the Corner House’s creaky, sunflower-yellow rooms and old-fashioned gastronomy is in for a shock. Cristina Da Costa, the new owner, gutted the midtown cottage, converting it into something like an over-decorated condo showroom of frou-frou mirrors, marble slab fireplaces and vases of nodding orchids everywhere you look. It’s rare to encounter such ostentation in Toronto restaurants these days, but it’s an apt setting for chef Roberto Fracchioni’s high-roller surf and turf menu. Fracchioni last oversaw a magnificent, modern tasting menu at Monk Kitchen, the idiosyncratic basement restaurant in the club district’s Templar Hotel. Cooking is his second career—he used to be a civil engineer—and he brings to it the love of a true calling. At Flor de Sal, I was wowed by the herbal crab and celery root soup, by the sophisticated cognac and brown butter glaze coating a plate of lobster and gnocchi, and by the sharp red wine mignonette that came with first-rate East Coast oysters. The star of the night was a hefty Azores fish called cantaro, which Fracchioni grilled whole with fragrant lemon and chili, stuffing the cavity with couscous, fennel and garlicky braised rapini. Whole fish are back on menus all over town, but this one was the most moist, delicate and memorable to date.

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