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Where to Eat Now: everything you need to know about dining in Toronto in 2014

Where to Eat Now 2014

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.

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Restaurants

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10 Best Dishes at Toronto Restaurants in 2014

10 Best Dishes at Toronto Restaurants in 2014

How to narrow down thousands of gratifying forkfuls into one definitive list? Easy. These are the dishes I’d order again and again, in descending order of deliciousness.

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Trend Watch

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The Top Food Trends and Who Does Them Best: Tasting Menus

They take twice as long and cost twice as much as the average dinner—and we’re smitten

The Top Food Trends and Who Does Them Best: Tasting Menus

Meticulously constructed, wildly diverse plates from the tasting menu at Actinolite

In the months after David Chang opened Shōtō, every semi-ambitious chef in the city became a tasting menu convert, serving a dozen small courses, plus intermediary amuses or “tastes”—a pervasive foodie noun. It’s the dining equivalent of a marathon: you rarely make the finish line in under three hours. The best of them are usually at pocket-size places where a chef-proprietor riffs on seasonal ingredients, flexing his culinary muscles—tasting menus are almost exclusively a peacocking male chef thing.

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Restaurants

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Chef’s Choice: Grant van Gameren of Bar Isabel picks his favourite restaurants

Chef's Choice: Grant van Gameran of Bar Isabel picks his favourite restaurants

Who better to guide a fantasy food tour than a chef? We asked some of the city’s top culinary talents to walk us through their ideal day in Toronto restaurant meals.

grant van gameren
Bar Isabel

BREAKFAST
The Federal on Dundas West is my breakfast local. I always get the Cubano sandwich and freshsqueezed orange juice.”
1438 Dundas St. W., 647-352-9120.

LUNCH
Grand Electric’s squid hoagie is insanely rich. You may want to split it.”
1330 Queen St. W., 416-627-3459.

DINNER
“I love a blind tasting at ­Hopgood’s Foodliner for interesting combinations like Triscuits and crab dip.”
325 Roncesvalles Ave., ­416-533-2723.

DRINKS
Chantecler’s Toronto cocktail is rye, bitters, Fernet Branca and orange. It goes down a little too easily.”
1320 Queen St. W., 416-628-3586.

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Restaurants

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Flavour of the Month: seven of Toronto’s best chicken wings

Bar snacks are big right now, which means the finger-licking chicken wing is, too. Here, seven of the best chicken wings in Toronto

Seven of the Best Chicken Wings in Toronto

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Recipes

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Recipe: the ultimate autumnal side dish from Chantecler’s Jonathan Poon

Toronto Life Cookbook 2013 Recipe: Stuffed Onions
Toronto Life Recipes | Appetizers
STUFFED ONIONS
By Jonathan Poon
Chantecler

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Restaurants

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The Dish Power Rankings: the Jack Bauer edition

The-Dish-Power-Rankings

Toronto Life’s roundup of the restaurants with the biggest buzz, the longest lineups and the toughest tables to snag.

Bar Isabel holds strong at the top and Jack Bauer’s presence pulls a normally buzz-free tavern into the number ten spot.

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Food Porn

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Slideshow: Claudio Aprile hosts a farewell dinner for Colborne Lane with six of his top alumni

Colborne Lane Reunion dinner

Claudio Aprile closed Colborne Lane in February with little notice in order to focus on his growing stable of Origin restaurants. Last night, at Origin Liberty Village, Aprile enlisted six of the top chefs who’ve passed through Colborne’s kitchen—Matt Blondin (Momofuku Daishō), Steve Gonzalez (Top Chef Canada), David Haman (Woodlot), Ben Heaton (The Grove), Jonathan Poon (Chantecler) and Andrew Wilson (Colborne Lane’s final chef de Cuisine)to join him for a tribute to the pioneering modernist restaurant. Each chef created one hors d’oeuvre and one course, revealing the ways they’ve diverged since their time at Colborne but also betraying debts to Aprile’s style—right down to his idiosyncratic way of describing dishes on the menu.

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Friday Night Bites: tables for two at Canoe, Chantecler and Acadia

FRIDAY NIGHT BITESIt’s 4 p.m. on Friday, and you don’t have a dinner reservation. Still, there’s no need to fret (or waste your night waiting for a table). We just called some of the city’s hottest restaurants and found three that can squeeze in two for dinner tonight. Now it’s up to you to get dialing and snag a table before they’re all gone. Today: Canoe, Chantecler and Acadia.

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Flavour of the Year: Five twisted takes on steak tartare

The steak house app has gotten freaky lately, with everything from raw beef heart to pine bark and elderberry mustard. Here, the top five.

Flavour Craze: Twisted Tartares

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Restaurants

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The Dish Power Rankings: Top Chefs and Bieber power

Toronto Life’s weekly assessment of the restaurants with the biggest buzz, the longest lineups and the toughest tables to snag.

On Monday, the contestants for season three of Top Chef Canada were announced, catapulting their respective restaurants onto this week’s power rankings. Meanwhile, the mighty power of the Biebs bumps up the hype for an Annex diner, and the depth of Toronto’s appetite for brunch tacos is revealed.

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Restaurants

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The Dish Power Rankings: The Valentine’s madness edition

Toronto Life’s weekly assessment of the restaurants with the biggest buzz, the longest lineups and the toughest tables to snag.

Edulis’s charming (and tiny) dining room propels the restaurant to the top this week on the strength of its Valentine’s bookings. Lower down, a couple new sold-out tasting menus debut, as does College Street’s next hot brunch destination.

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Food Porn

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GALLERY: Chantecler launches its new tasting menu

Chantecler Tasting Menu

(Images: Renée Suen)

Chantecler announced in December that it was dropping its à-la-carte menu and expanding its popular lettuce wrap Sundays to rest of the week. Although the move helped attract diners, it also meant that chef and co-owner Jonathan Poon was no longer able to cook the sort of inventive Asian-Canadian fusion dishes that had started to attract attention—which is why, like Yours Truly and Actinolite, he followed through on plans for a new tasting menu last Friday. “I love cooking things like crispy, soggy calamari,” Poon told us, “but I also have a desire to cook food that’s more refined.” The $40, four-course menu alternates between small bites and larger composed plates (which means that about 10 dishes come out in total), and is limited to two seatings a night on Fridays and Saturdays, which must be booked at least four days in advance. For an extra $45, co-owner Jacob Wharton-Shukster will pour a series of natural wines paired with each course. Here’s what Poon served for the menu’s first run.

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Friday Night Bites: tables for two at Chantecler, Marben and Bestellen

FRIDAY NIGHT BITESIt’s 4 p.m. on Friday, and you don’t have a dinner reservation. Still, there’s no need to fret (or waste your night waiting for a table). We just called some of the city’s hottest restaurants and found three that can squeeze in two for dinner tonight. Now it’s up to you to get dialing and snag a table before they’re all gone. Today: Chantecler, Marben and Bestellen.

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Restaurants

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Glas is launching a vegetarian tasting menu

Local beets with black olives, pea shoots and horseradish foam (Image: Courtesy Glas)

Leslieville’s Glas Wine Bar is getting in on the tasting menu trend that’s been sweeping Toronto restaurants. Yours Truly led the charge with their Carte Blanche menu last year, followed by Keriwa (which later reversed course), Actinolite, Buca, Farmhouse Tavern and Chantecler, whose menu launches this weekend (stay tuned for more on that).

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