A raw seafood bar, a serious locavore bistro and Filipino fusion downtown
Hoof Raw Bar
926 Dundas St. W., 647-346-9356
Jen Agg, the owner of the legendary hearts-and-tongues hot spot The Black Hoof, has opened up a seafood restaurant next door on Dundas West. She brings to her new place the same meticulousness that made her original restaurant such a success. The small room is gracefully ramshackle, like a polished-up Cape Breton seafood joint, which perfectly matches chef Jonathan Pong’s short all-seafood menu. The substantial cured fish board, arranged from delicate to powerhouse, includes standouts like buttery, fragrant albacore gravlax and chorizo spice scallops. Skip the overpriced raw oysters ($34 per dozen) in favour of the baked versions, which maintain their delectable brininess despite the toasty crunch of panko flakes and layer of rich, smooth foie gras. A wildly exuberant dessert closes the meal: deconstructed sponge cake set off by stewed rhubarb, freeze-dried caramel, salt flakes and rosewater jelly. The drinks are aimed squarely at fish lovers: spicy tomato cocktails and a dozen or so wines by the glass that come with more origin stories than Batman. Sharing plates $8–$22.
Lamesa Filipino Kitchen ½
669 Queen St. W., 647-346-2377
Co-owners Lester Sabilano and chef Rudy Boquila have transformed the wainscotted old Rosebud space into a bright and open room filled with smooth R&B makeout music, Queen Westers and large groups of Filipinos joking in Tagalog. Servers ease unfamiliar diners into a menu that weaves Chinese, Malaysian, Spanish and American influences into Filipino cuisine. Mains top out at $25, which makes the $35 five-course prix fixe great value. Shatter-crisp spring rolls are plump with shreds of rich duck and served with umami-packed raisin purée. The meaty mains are all well-executed and elevated by complex sauces: rare steak kare kare with a powerful peanut-garlic sauce; braised short ribs with salty olive tapenade and a carrot-pineapple purée and moist duck confit in a delectable ginger bath. The cocktails are too sweet and the wine list is tiny (just two whites and two reds), but San Miguel beer is best with the spicy food anyway. Mains $20–$25.
169 Niagara St., 416-703-4222
Locavorism can easily spiral into a sanctimonious know-your-farmer competition. But it’s easy to suspend your cynicism when reverence for ingredients is matched by excellent bistro cooking, as is the case at forager-chef Michael Caballo’s revamp of the old Niagara Street Café. The restaurant is a family affair: Tobey Nemeth, Caballo’s wife, runs the two modest dining rooms with chummy enthusiasm. Crusty bread—delivered in a hemp cloth sack made by Nemeth’s mom—soaks up the anchovy-charged tonnato sauce that surrounds luscious cold-smoked albacore and white asparagus. Braised morsels of cockscomb (the rooster fascinator, not the flower) are more intriguing than they are delicious, with their al dente pasta texture and swampy taste. Tender grilled veal belly and dense sweetbreads come with the freshest emerald fiddleheads, while rice pudding studded with rhubarb and black walnuts would be comforting if it weren’t for the malodorous drizzle of skunk berry. The drinks list includes novel non-alcoholic options like Burdock cola and saskatoon berry soda. They’re best enjoyed on the serene, flower-clad patio. Mains $17–$30.