—Controversial words from Jonathan Poon, the chef and co-owner of Parkdale restaurant Chantecler, as quoted in a recent profile by Post City. Poon, whose Queen West restaurant employs a two-tiered menu system (affordable snacks during the week; refined tasting menu on the weekends), is soon to open his second neighbourhood business, a low-key snack bar called (sarcastically, it seems) Bar Fancy. Poon isn’t the only big-name chef to speak out lately about Toronto’s disintegrating fancy-food scene.
Last week, we broke the news that Chantecler chef and co-owner Jonathan Poon was the restaurateur behind the mysterious golden storefront pictured above, near the corner of Queen and Shaw. Now we’ve got some more details about Bar Fancy—which, it turns out, is something of a misnomer.
“Despite the name Fancy, we are not going to be fancy at all,” says Poon, whose meticulous tasting meals at Chantecler are some of the best and most coveted in the city. Fancy is going to be different, at least initially—more neighbourhood watering hole than trendy restaurant, with pints and simple mixed drinks instead of $15 cocktails. The food will consist mainly of bar snacks (both traditional and nontraditional) and, in keeping with the dive bar theme, the kitchen will stay open until 2 a.m.
That’s just the beginning though. Once a planned extension to the building is complete, the space will also function as a full-on restaurant. When asked if the vibe will be casual or fine-dining, Poon is noncommittal. “The answer is probably both,” he says. He and business partner Jesse Fader have lots of plans for the space, including events and collaborations with restaurants and breweries from Ontario, Quebec, New York and even Europe. The low-key bar portion of the business should be up and running by the end of 2014.
Bar Fancy, 1070 Queen St. W., @BarFancyTO
For a couple months now, we’ve been keeping an eye on the Twitter account for Bar Fancy, a new restaurant scheduled to open on Queen West this fall. The psychedelic pizza avatar may not scream “serious culinary endeavor,” but we’d bet good money that it’s a new restaurant from Chantecler co-owner and chef Jonathan Poon, which would make it one of fall’s most exciting openings. The biggest clue? Poon has been aggressively re-tweeting all of Bar Fancy’s tweets, and most of Bar Fancy’s photos, including ones from a recent eating tour of New York, have been reappearing on Poon’s personal Instagram feed—the most recent being this pic of the under-construction restaurant’s interior, which was posted by Poon with the caption “Day 1.” The apparently gold-plated space seems to be located at 1070 Queen West, just east of Dovercourt. Updates to come.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“Grand Electric’s squid hoagie is insanely rich. You may want to split it.”
1330 Queen St. W., 416-627-3459.
“I love a blind tasting at Hopgood’s Foodliner for interesting combinations like Triscuits and crab dip.”
325 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-533-2723.
“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.
Bar snacks are big right now, which means the finger-licking chicken wing is, too. Here, seven of the best chicken wings in Toronto
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.
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. Read the rest of this entry »
Read the rest of this entry »
It’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. Read the rest of this entry »
Read the rest of this entry »
The steak house app has gotten freaky lately, with everything from raw beef heart to pine bark and elderberry mustard. Here, the top five.
Toronto Life’s weekly assessment of the restaurants with the biggest buzz, the longest lineups and the toughest tables to snag.