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Drinks

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Sparkling Personality: the best bubblies under 50 bucks a bottle

There’s nothing like French bubbly for swank luxury, but for everyday enjoyment, these international labels deliver great fizz

Sparkling Personality

A midnight coupe on New Year’s Eve is champagne’s shining moment. But bubbles can bring levity and refreshment to more mundane occasions, like toasting the end of a bad day at the office. There’s no need to spend wildly. The quality of sparkling wine from regions around the world—Italy’s fast-rising prosecco, Spain’s staunch cava and ­Canada’s new generation of cool-climate sparklers—is dramatically improving. Here are my favourites, and they’re all under 50 bucks.

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Restaurants

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The 10 biggest Toronto restaurant trends of 2014

Best Toronto Restaurants

In 2014, it happened: after three out-of-control years, Toronto’s tacoverse started to contract. (In 2013, we profiled 10 new taquerias. This year, there were only four.) Then, just as the tequila hangover was beginning to subside, a new wave of food obsessions rushed in to fill the void. Menus exploded with za’atar-dusted hummus plates and gourmet falafel wraps; with gargantuan seafood sandwiches and artfully skewered Spanish hors d’oeuvres. Suddenly, “bar snacks” were the new code word for “dinner,” and not just in Parkdale—hangouts around the city were plying diners with smart riffs on the junky dishes that go best with booze. Next year will bring a new batch of food fixations. (“Souping,” apparently, is going to be huge.) In the meantime, here are the 10 restaurant trends that defined dining in Toronto in 2014.

The Dish

Restaurants

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Top Five: the best celebration spots in Toronto

The finest venues for popping a cork or popping the question

Top Five: Celebration Spots

The Chase (Image: Dave Gillespie)

1 Two restaurants in a handsome 19th-century building are reviving surf and turf. The Chase’s fifth floor dining room, pictured above, is conspicuously glam, with chandeliers, floor-to-ceiling windows and lovely, view-heavy terrace. 10 Temperance St., 647-348-7000.

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Restaurants

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Top Five: the best butchers in Toronto

Boutique meat shops that sell impeccably sourced cuts

Top Five: Butchers

Sanagan’s Meat Locker (Image: Dave Gillespie)

1 Sanagan’s Meat Locker, Kensington Market’s cult-followed butcher shop, pictured above, sells the usual staples (Berkshire and Tamworth pork, dry-aged Angus beef), as well as some more daring proteins, like rabbit, quail and wild boar. 176 Baldwin St., 416-593-9747.

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Food Events

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Get tipsy with Santa at Tallboys’s Christmas Craft Beer Carnival

(Image: Kevin Kennedy)

(Image: Kevin Kennedy)

The Christmas Craft Beer Carnival is a boozy oasis in a beer geek’s wintry wonderland. The second annual festival, from the Bloorcourt bar Tallboys, drags more than a dozen craft breweries out of hibernation to offer a wide range of cold ones, including local staples (Steam Whistle, Mill Street) festive flavours (Wellington Brewery’s Cuckoo for Cacao) and rare brews (Junction Craft Brewing’s Pumuckl Red Ale and Night Train Dark Ale). Pair the suds with cold-weather comfort food—a selection of several Tallboys mac-and-cheese dishes—and seasonal entertainment: clown, jugglers, magicians and a roaming Santa. The $15 admission includes a sampling glass and one sample token; extra tokens are a buck apiece. And remember to save a few dollars for the Christmas market, where you can pick up a stocking stuffer for the beer lover in your life.

Sat. Dec. 20. Noon–8 p.m. $15 admission. Centre for Social Innovation Annex, 720 Bathurst St., 416-979-3939, craftbeerculture.ca.

The Dish

Nightlife

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There’s a cute new bar (and McDonald’s breakfast rival) at Bathurst and Dundas

(Image: Caroline Youdan)

(Image: Caroline Youdan)

Bathurst Local is a new bar and café on Bathurst Street, just south of the big drive-through McDonald’s on Dundas. It opened earlier this winter, back when the intersection was closed for streetcar track repairs. Now that traffic’s flowing again, owner Glenn Wesley is happy to see locals appreciating the bar’s dialed-down charm. “It’s really cozy,” he says. “A few people have said it looks like the set of a Wes Anderson movie.” At night, Wesley serves bottles and tallboys from local breweries like Kensington and Hogtown, as well as three-ounce cocktails priced at a very reasonable $8. (The most popular one, called the Bathurst Blackout, blends vermouth, spiced rum and Amaro.) He’s also started serving coffee and breakfast out of the space, including a gourmet breakfast bun stuffed with Sanagan’s bacon, eggs, cheese, onions and mayo. (It’s just called “The Sandwich.”) It’s a bold move for a business whose next-door neighbour corners the fast-food breakfast market, but Wesley took that into consideration when setting his food prices—they top out at an astoundingly low $3.50. “Is that a good business model?” he muses. “Well, I guess we’ll see.”

322 Bathurst St., bathurstlocal322.com

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Food Events

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It’s almost Winterlicious time again

(Image: Renée Suen)

Luckee, Susur Lee’s restaurant at the Soho Metropolitan Hotel (Image: Renée Suen)

It’s always fun to daydream about lavish restaurant meals, which is why some may be interested in taking a look at the newly released menus for Winterlicious 2015. The festival, which runs from January 30 to February 12, will see over 200 restaurants serving up prix-fixe lunches and dinners to deal-hungry Torontonians. The pool of participating spots includes all the old, reliable standbys, like Canoe, Splendido, Auberge du Pommier and Momofuku’s Noodle Bar and Daishō. There are also some interesting additions to the list, like Los Colibris, the excellent Mexican restaurant from chef Elia Herrera, and Parisian-style brasserie Cluny, which opened in the Distillery District earlier this year. One of the best options may be Susur Lee’s Luckee, which is offering a surprisingly reasonable $35 dinner made up of dishes from the restaurant’s regular menu, like soy-marinated black cod and Peking-style “Luckee duck.” Over at the Trump Hotel, glitzy America will also be taking part, though its lunch and dinner menus (for $28 and $45, respectively) seem to have been specially designed for the festival. (That isn’t necessarily a bad sign, though it can sometimes signal a two-tiered dining system.) Restaurants will start taking reservations on January 15. In the meantime, people who’d rather not wait to start cramming their 2015 dining calendars can peruse a long list of special Winterlicious events, tickets for which went on sale earlier this week.

The Dish

Drinks

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Molson enters the busy Toronto brewpub scene with a new Creemore brewery and restaurant

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

Toronto’s brewpub scene will soon have another big, corporate player. According to BlogTO, the Beer Academy brewery at 75 Victoria Street, which is run by Molson-owned Six Pints, is being taken over by a new brewery and restaurant from Ontario-based Creemore Springs, which was acquired by Molson in 2005. Six Pints took over the corner space (previously occupied by the since-resuscitated Duggan’s Brewpub) in 2007, turning it into a combined retail store, tasting room and event space. Seven years later, Molson has apparently decided to go with something a little more mainstream. The Creemore brewpub is set to open in mid-2015, by which point it could have as many as four new competitors: Big Rock and 3 Brewers in Liberty Village, Lansdowne Brewery near Dundas West and the new Bellwoods Brewery in Dovercourt Village.

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Restaurants

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The Corner House is now Flor de Sal, a new restaurant with Monk Kitchen chef Roberto Fracchioni

Screen-shot-2014-12-17-at-1.33

(Image: Roberto Fracchioni/Twitter)

For over a decade, Corner House served as a go-to spot for romantic dinners and special-occasion meals. Now, almost a year after the restaurant’s closure, the quaint cottage at the foot of Casa Loma is home to a new fine-dining destination. Flor de Sal has the same candlelit ambiance as its predecessor, and a similar menu of luxe pastas and meat-and-potato mains—which seems like a shrewd strategy for wooing people back to the remote stretch of Davenport Road. The choice of chef was another smart move: during his four-year stint at Monk Kitchen on Adelaide, Roberto Fracchioni cooked one of the city’s best under-the-radar tasting menus. It seems his food may be slightly less experimental at Flor de Sal, which makes the following vow on its website: “You will not find the tricks of molecular gastronomy here.”

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Openings

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Introducing: Touhenboku, the ramen shop’s new sushi restaurant in the Distillery District

(Image: Jackie Pal)

(Image: Jackie Pal)

Name: Touhenboku
Neighbourhood: Distillery District
Contact Info: 42 Gristmill Ln., 416-368-8686
Previously: Café Uno
Owner: Zuimei Okuyama
Chef: Veteran sushi chef Aki Kitao, who previously worked in upscale sushi restaurants like Toshi Sushi and Ki

The Food: Unlike Touhenboku’s casual ramen shops on Queen West and Yonge Street, the chain’s Distillery location focuses primarily on sushi. Chef Kitao’s menu includes over 21 types of fish, which are sliced, rolled and torched in both traditional and novel ways. A tuna-scallop roll is blasted with a blow torch and topped with house-made sour plum paste and a sweet miso-sesame glaze. For $45, the chef will prepare a 14-piece omakase (i.e. tasting menu) with interesting options like uni (sea urchin),  tarabakani (king crab), and aji (Spanish mackerel) wrapped in Japanese mint.

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Restaurants

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All Dressed Up: chopped salads with a twist

Flavour of the Month: clever chefs are gussying up traditional chopped salads with luscious, irresistible ingredients
Clever chefs are gussying up traditional chopped salads with luscious, irresistible ingredients, like fried garlic, frog legs and creamy feta. Here, five of the best plates in the city.

The Dish

Nightlife

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Blowfish on King unveils BarFish, a next-door cocktail bar and lounge

barfish-intro

(Image: Renée Suen)

BarFish is a new cocktail lounge that’s joined at the hip with Blowfish, the schmoozy Japanese restaurant on King West. Housed in a modern new addition to the historic Bank of Montreal building at King and Bathurst, the narrow room has an onyx-topped bar, velvet banquettes and a DJ booth for nightly spinning sessions. Bartender Nishan Nepulongoda serves up complex drinks, like a cognac-based concoction flavoured with yuzu and figs, and a tiki-inspired cocktail served in a mug shaped like an Easter Island moai. (It’s spiked with jallab, a Middle Eastern fruit syrup made with dates and rose water.) Japanese snacks, like deep-fried rock shrimp and miso-marinated black cod, can be ordered from the Blowfish kitchen. But there’s more in store for the new extension: come spring, two new floors above the bar will house a pair of private dining rooms and a rooftop terrace.

668 King St. W., 416-860-0606, blowfishrestaurant.com, @BlowfishResto

 

The Dish

Coffee and Tea

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There’s a Dark Horse Espresso Bar in store for Dovercourt Village

(Image: Kayla Rocca)

(Image: Kayla Rocca)

Dark Horse Espresso, the indie coffee chain with locations in Trinity Bellwoods, Riverdale, Chinatown and the Entertainment District, will soon be opening a fifth coffee shop in Dovercourt Village. The new spot will take up residence at 120 Geary Avenue, in the 80,000-square-foot Artisan Factory building just west of Dovercourt. “We’re waiting on some licensing stuff,” says co-owner Deanna Zunde. “It’ll open sometime in the new year. Maybe spring.” With just nine bar seats and a take-out counter, the place won’t be as freelancer-friendly as the Horse’s Queen West or Spadina locations, but it will have something the others don’t: plentiful food options. “It’s a bakery concept,” says Zunde. “We’ll be making breads and baked goods, and also savoury things like quiche.” In fact, most of the large space will be used as a production facility. That’s part of the reason Zunde chose to settle on the sleepy stretch of Geary, which currently houses more auto garages than restaurants. Still, lower rents weren’t the only attraction. “There’s just so much potential here,” says Zunde. “It’s an untapped area.” Between the new Dark Horse café and the Bellwoods brewpub soon to land at Dupont and Dovercourt, it certainly won’t stay that way for long.

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Restaurants

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Nota Bene chef David Lee cuts ties with The Carbon Bar

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

For the past year, executive chef David Lee has been dividing his time between Nota Bene, the six-year-old power-lunch spot on Queen West, and The Carbon Bar, his younger, clubbier, barbecue-focused restaurant a few blocks east at Queen and Church. At present, Lee co-owns both places with partners Yannick Bigourdan and Franco Prevedello, but that arrangement apparently won’t hold up for much longer. According to a recent press release, Lee will soon be parting ways with his longtime partners, cutting all ties with Carbon Bar and turning Nota Bene into a one man show. The move marks the dissolution of a 15-year partnership between Lee and Bigourdan. The pair co-owned Splendido for seven years before opening Nota Bene to great acclaim in 2008. The restaurant’s been looking a little tired lately, so Lee’s plans for the business, which include a mid-year renovation and menu overhaul, couldn’t have come at a better time.

The Dish

Restaurants

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Here’s where the new Libretto and Porchetta restaurants will be opening on King West

(Image: Caroline Youdan)

(Image: Caroline Youdan)

Some things just go well together, like huge pork sandwiches and Neapolitan pizzas. At least, that’s the theory behind the upcoming side-by-side locations of Pizzeria Libretto and Porchetta and Co., which are getting ready to open at 545 King West, just east of Portland Street. (That location puts the adjoining restaurants in good culinary company—Buca, Bar Buca, Portland Variety and Patria are all within a block or two.) Last fall, Libretto’s Max Rimaldi and Porchetta’s Nick auf der Mauer said their goal was to open both restaurants by the end of 2014. That deadline is now looming, but it seems like the neighbourhood may have to wait a little longer. “As of now we have not set an opening date,” said auf der Mauer in a recent email exchange. In the meantime, area residents who aren’t already familiar with Porchetta and Co. may want to check out the restaurant’s Instagram feed, which captures some truly breathtaking sandwich artistry.