I’d gladly spend every night in a bar seat facing the open kitchen at Chantecler. Two scruffy young chefs squeeze past one another in a tiny space, cooking with a tabletop deep fryer and an electric stove. Despite the constraints, they produce an exquisitely intricate, ethnically hyphenated tasting menu that seems particularly Torontonian and of the moment. On my last visit, I gorged on tartare with house-made shrimp chips, a Chinese-style double-smoked duck with crisp baked kale, Colville Bay oysters with fresh tagliatelle, a sweet custard topped with sea urchin, and a dessert of buckwheat-flavoured ice cream and Niagara black walnuts. I left thoroughly winded.
That a special place like Chantecler can thrive on one of the grimier blocks in Parkdale only shows how the dining scene is keeping pace with our insatiable hunger to be wowed. Restaurants are experimenting with menus themed around unsung ingredients, flying in like-minded star chefs for one-night collaborations, and building empires down alleys and in former gastronomical deserts like Dupont and Dundas West. The two big name out-of-towners—David Chang and Daniel Boulud—overcame the provincial skepticism of foodie bloggers by demonstrating a deep commitment to the homegrown (their menus read like a directory of southern Ontario heritage farmers). Every block seems to have a new spot specializing in a signature ramen. And for each walk-in-closet restaurant like Chantecler, there’s a new showstopper palace like The Chase to cater to Bay Street’s big spenders.
I’ve eaten my way across this city many times over, sipping more than my share of barrel-aged bourbon, waiting in lines at no-reservation hot spots and discreetly taking notes on my smartphone. The following pages contain my take on the city’s biggest dining trends (including a few I could live without), the 10 most memorable dishes I tried in the past year and a ranking of the top 10 new restaurants.