Drinks

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Serious Crush: 10 spots that deliver exciting wines and never-snooty service

Serious Crush: Ten spots that deliver exciting wines and never-snooty service

The definition of a Toronto wine bar has morphed dramatically over the past few years. Classic wine-only bars are increasingly scarce, while restaurants with excellent by-the-glass lists and accompanying small plates are proliferating madly. My favourites all offer the wine bar experience, which to me means you can walk in without a reservation, sit at the bar or a nearby table and explore interesting wine guided by smart staff, then move on to the next place in the neighbourhood—or ­hunker down if you really like what you find.

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Drinks

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The Reign in Spain: five bottles of garnacha to get you through what’s left of winter

Grenache, or garnacha, is like the white T-shirt of the wine world: low-priced, beloved, and it goes with everything

The Reign in Spain

Garnacha is one of the world’s most undervalued and prolific grapes. The low-acid, high-sugar, fruity variety can suffer from over-sweetness and brash mocha flavours in the hands of producers looking to maximize its commercial appeal. Not so with these bottles from Spain, which are sourced from 40-, 60-, 80-, even 100-year-old vines. Pair them with almost anything: ribs, wings, pulled pork, mac and cheese, meatloaf—or no food at all. At these prices, you might consider buying a case to take you through the winter.

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Drinks

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Top Five: the best speakeasies in Toronto

These nightspots nail the trendy Boardwalk Empire vibe

Top Five: Speakeasies

Geraldine (Image: Dave Gillespie)

1 At the Parkdale gin mill Geraldine, pictured above, the retro cocktails are a safe choice, but the absinthe fountain is more fun: the emerald elixir is available straight or in a slushie with fig syrup, crushed ice, bitters and fresh mint. 1564 Queen St. W., 647-352-8815.

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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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Drinks

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A Bottle for All Reasons: because every holiday event goes better with wine

A Bottle for All Reasons: Because every holiday event goes better with wine

(Photograph of Buena Vista by Carlo Mendoza)

Numbers: 1 (Green)The Holiday Meal
Buena Vista 2011 Pinot Noir | $24.95 | 91 points 

The riot of scents and flavours in a traditional holiday meal can drown out complicated and refined wines. A tart, full-flavoured pinot noir is the answer. Buena Vista has enough edge to slake, plus the flavour wattage and textural weight to drink with turkey, duck, pork tenderloin, rare roasts and even baked salmon.

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Drinks

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Small-Batch Wonders: gorgeous red wines that won’t break the bank

This party season, skip the show-offy bottles for reds with a little more nuance (and a lot less sticker shock)

Small-Batch Wonders

As the holidays loom, Vintages stocks pricier wines to give and (hopefully) receive. It’s easy to impress with a $100-plus cult label from Bordeaux, Burgundy, ­Tuscany or the Napa Valley, and the wine will likely be excellent. But I can guarantee it will also be overpriced. Instead, opt for small-production wines from lesser-known regions. These five reds top out at $60 and will still demonstrate your discerning largesse.

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Drinks

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In Absinthia: where to sip the strong stuff in Toronto

The legendary wormwood liquor of green fairies, severed ears and global bans is in the midst of a revival. Here, three excellent places to sip the strong stuff.

Where to Drink Now: In Absinthia

Geraldine
564 Queen St. W., 647-352-8815
Stepping into the 20s-themed Parkdale parlour is a like taking Owen Wilson’s Midnight in Paris taxi to the belle époque. The pomaded and mustachioed barkeeps shake the most serious absinthe cocktails in the city, like The Lew Field, which muddles Le Clandestine (a blue-hued, Swiss-distilled brand born in 2000), fig syrup and fresh mint with crushed ice in a frosty copper cup. The anise-powered slushy makes a bracing contrast to a plate of briny oysters. $18.

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Drinks

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Cocktails On Fire: the city’s best flaming beverages

There’s nothing subtle about the flaming accents on our new favourite sippers

Where to Drink Now: Cocktails On Fire
Circle Red 1
Sugar and Spice
At Jake Valianes’s ­Prohibition-themed Linwood Essentials, the drink to get is Matilda the Unholy One, which combines ­cardamom-infused mezcal and Peat ­Monster scotch with Cherry Heering, chocolate liqueur, pine­apple and lime. $16. 930 Queen St. W., 647-828-9663.

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How-To

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How do you make a hi-tech cocktail?

(Image: Giordano Ciampini)

Click to view gallery (Image: Giordano Ciampini)

At Rush Lane, the Queen West snack bar and experimental cocktail laboratory, Jordan Bushell and Simon Hooper craft complex beverages using medical lab equipment. A clinical approach, they say, makes more consistent drinks: “the fewer variables we have, the better,” says Hooper. Last week, they came up with the Playa Riviera, a strong, smoky drink that tastes a bit like a vacation. “It was actually one of the cold days last week,” says Hooper. “I thought, where would I love to be right now? Mexico. One hundred per cent. So let’s create a cocktail that embodies the emotional aspect of that—a little heat, a little salt from the ocean, some tropical flavors.” The drink takes about an hour to prepare, using a whole series of hi-tech equipment, and it’s selling now for $20. Here’s how it’s done.

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Restaurants

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A new Parkdale brewpub is on its way 

(Image: Duggan's Brewery/Twitter)

(Image: Duggan’s Brewery/Twitter)

Soon every Toronto neighbourhood will have a resto-retail-brewery complex to call its own. The next up is Duggan’s Brewery Parkdale, a reincarnation of the microbrewery that used to occupy the Beer Academy space at the corner of Richmond and Victoria streets. Canadian Beer News reports that the new west-end outpost will be a restaurant, retail store and “nanobrewery” in one, much like the upcoming Bellwoods Brewery facility on Dupont or the soon-to-open Louis Cifer Brew Works on the Danforth. The grand opening won’t happen until October, but the storefront at 1346 Queen West (previously home to Japanese restaurant Kanji) is already operating as a bar on select evenings (look for updates on Twitter).

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Drinks

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The Great White Way: five refreshing Mediterranean wines

Ultra-refreshing wines from the sun-baked eastern Mediterranean

The Great White Way

Toronto’s current love affair with cuisine from Lebanon, Greece and other eastern ­Mediterranean nations gave me reason to revisit the bottles from that region. I’ve found them underwhelming in the past, but his time around, I was swept up by their vibrant ­flavours. The high acidity of indigenous grapes (especially Greek varietals like assyrtiko and moschofilero), the stony minerality of the terroir and modern winemaking techniques have created exactly the wines I want to drink in the heat of a late summer night.

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Restaurants

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Two new brewpubs are coming to Liberty Village 

Big Rock Grill in Calgary (Image: Big Rock Grill/Facebook)

Big Rock Grill in Calgary (Image: Big Rock Grill/Facebook)

Residents of the condo community are really into beer, or at least that’s what a couple of new businesses are banking on. Earlier this month, Alberta’s Big Rock Brewery announced that it was opening a “brewpub restaurant” in the former Artscape building at 60 Atlantic Avenue. That’s just a few doors down from the planned site of Toronto’s second 3 Brewers brewpub, currently under construction at 99 Atlantic Avenue, as noted by Canadian Beer News. Both beer halls are expected to open in the next year or so. In the meantime, locals can head to Local Public Eatery, where drinks can be guzzled by the bootful.

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Nightlife

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What it’s like to spend Saturday night in a nightclub made entirely of ice

(Images: Tiffy Thompson)

(Images: Tiffy Thompson)

I’m thrilled to see an actual washroom when I arrive at Chill Ice House. This allays my very real fear of having to pee on a hand-carved ice toilet.

It’s Saturday night and I’ve just showed up for my pre-booked time slot, which will run from 11:15 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. Chill Ice House charges $19 admission per 45-minute time block—presumably because that’s the longest most people will freeze their butts off before they start to feel miffed about having to pay for the experience.

From the outside, the place looks like a fairly normal King West club. Inside, not so much.

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Restaurants

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Bellwoods Brewery set to expand by summer 2015 

(Image: Google Street View/screenshot)

(Image: Google Street View/screenshot)

The team behind the Ossington brewery has announced plans to open a new production facility and restaurant at Dupont and Dovercourt, in the slightly derelict-looking glass warehouse that’s been haunting the corner since forever. The additional space will let Bellwoods brew its most popular labels in much bigger batches, leaving more time and tank space for “creative and unique bottle-conditioned releases.” It’ll also allow more people to actually eat and drink on Bellwoods property, instead of just eyeballing the lineup once a week and shuffling away in defeat.

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Openings

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Introducing: Rush Lane, a modernist snack bar and booze laboratory on Queen West

Name: Rush Lane
Contact Info: 563 Queen St. W., 416-551-7540, rushlaneto.com , facebook.com, @rushlaneco
Neighbourhood: Queen West
Previously: Hot Wings Grill and Rib House
Owners: Jordan Bushell, Alexis Arrowsmith, Simon Hooper, Doug Twigger and Brett Klyszejko
Chef: Chris Scott, the former chef de cuisine at Bero in Leslieville

The Drinks: Rush Lane is owned and operated by a pack of experienced bartenders, so it’s no surprise that the drinks list is pretty interesting. It consists of ten complex cocktails made with far-flung ingredients like “beet grenadine,” “hopped grapefruit bitters” and a type of seasoned vodka that’s been banned in the US since 1978. In the back of the room, a glass-walled laboratory is crammed with tech gadgets, including a rotary evaporator (for flavour-extraction), a centrifuge (for separating substances), a tissue tearer (a next-level hand blender) and a Clinebell ice machine, which can freeze a 300-pound block of clear ice in a day.

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