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All Downhill From Here: nine top-notch ski getaways

Winter Travel: All Downhill From Here

Ski-loving Torontonians have it rough. The city’s in a topographic dead zone. How else to explain hour-long lineups at Blue Mountain? The only real option for good skiing: get out of town, the farther the better. Here, a few world-class destinations (that aren’t Whistler).

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Restaurants

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Edulis tops En Route’s Toronto-laden list of Canada’s best new restaurants

In her introduction to En Route’s latest ranking of the country’s 10 best new restaurants, Sarah Musgrave declares 2012 “the year of Toronto”—and given the frenetic pace of openings in this city, we’re inclined to agree. Musgrave backs up her bold claim by naming six Toronto restaurants to the list, up from just two last year, reserving the top spot for Michael Caballo and Tobey Nemeth’Edulis, which moved into the former Niagara Street Café space this year. Musgrave fell in love with the restaurant’s quaint, comfortable atmosphere and, like our reviewer, felt that Caballo’s rustic yet adventurous cuisine skirted some of the pieties of the farm-to-table trend.

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Features

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The Way We Eat Now: how foraging infiltrated fine dining and became a foodie phenomenon

The Way We Eat Now: Where the Wild Things Are

(Image: Left: Caballo’s sautéed wild Saskatchewan chanterelles; right: Forager-chef Michael Caballo at Edulis)

On a late-summer evening, I descended into the Don Valley with 50 well-to-do Torontonians—mostly middle-aged couples in chinos, linen suits and sandals. We paid $50 each to identify edible plants. Like churning your own butter or whittling your own driftwood spoons, foraging—finding and harvesting food from wild resources—is one of those rugged pioneer traditions that has reached the peculiar status of urban artisanal fetish. Days before the tour, I imagined the calamities I might encounter: stinging nettles, disturbed wasps’ nests, rodents of unknown rabidity status.

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Licious

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Summerlicious 2012: our food editor picks the top 10 offerings from this year’s Licious list

Summerlicious-2012

One of Colborne Lane’s innovative concoctions (Image: Renée Suen)

Ten years in, Toronto’s loved (and loathed) bacchanalia of affordable dining is larger than ever, with 181 restaurants offering three-course prix fixe menus for $25, $35 or $45 from July 6-22. Despite common complaints—packed rooms, harried dining and more salmon and chicken than a buffet wedding—an ineluctable truth remains: Summerlicious is a good opportunity to sample new restaurants on the cheap. To that end, we’ve sifted through the overwhelming list of participants to find the most interesting dishes and the very best value. Start making your reservations now.

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Restaurants

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Reasons to Love Toronto: No. 12, because fancy food is back

Reasons to Love Toronto: No. 12, Because fancy food is back

Reasons to Love Toronto: No. 12, Because fancy food is backIn the recession-stricken aughties, eating out in Toronto was a humble affair—chefs catered to thrifty diners by opening neighbourhood bistros that served sensible comfort food on mismatched dishes. But last year, Aria, a lavish new Italian restaurant, opened adjacent to Maple Leaf Square and reminded us how divine fine dining can be. The swanky room, decked out with shimmering chandeliers, an imposing two-storey wine cellar and 30-foot windows, is the kind of place where paying $37 for a delicately seared veal strip loin and $190 for a hand-blown glass snifter of Rémy Martin Louis XIII cognac seems perfectly natural. Aria’s arrival heralded a comeback for bank-breaking prices. Then, last September, the chef Bruce Woods, ex of Centro, opened Modus, an elegant new restaurant that quickly became a power broker destination. It was followed by Stock, the slick, soaring flagship restaurant on the 31st floor of the new Trump Tower—its menu is just as extravagant as the Donald himself, although much classier. Later this year, David Chang, the prodigious, famously fanatical New York chef, will bring a fine dining incarnation of his Momofuku mini-chain to the Shangri-La Hotel, while chi-chi chef Daniel Boulud is scheduled to open a luxe eponymous restaurant in Yorkville’s new Four Seasons. After such a long absence, the return of expense account restaurants is proof that Toronto, despite the global odds, is flush. Get ready for a feast.

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Restaurants

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Where to Eat Now 2012

Where to Eat Now 2012

The sprawling dining scene in Toronto is more diverse and promising than ever. This year, a handful of 20-something chefs who trained at the city’s old-guard establishments broke out on their own with original, low-rent restaurants in Roncesvalles, Bloorcourt Village and Cabbagetown. New Italian places—some quaint and friendly, others opulent and expensive—outpaced bistros by an angel hair. Canada’s heritage was thoroughly and pervasively plumbed for culinary inspiration. (Is there anything that can’t be glazed in maple syrup?) The barbecue craze progressed into a New Age southern food fetish that involves a lot of top-shelf bourbon, house-made pickles and artisanal sauces. Chefs evoked the Mediterranean on seafood-loaded menus downtown, where, after years of casual comforts, fine dining returned, albeit revamped for diners who couldn’t care less about gourmet bravado and epicurean elitism, so long as their trout is perfectly seared (and comes from Lake Huron). Toronto Life’s critics indulged in it all. We ate, drank, debated and finally ranked the 10 spots that surprised us, delighted us and made us grateful to live in this restaurant-obsessed city.

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Restaurants

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Where to Eat Now 2012: Vote on the 10 trends in dining that we love and hate

Where to Eat Now 2012: Vote on the 10 trends we love/hate

We picked out ten trends that helped define dining in Toronto in 2012, and pronounced whether we loved them, hated them or had a love-hate relationship with them. Now you can have your say.

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Restaurants

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Where to Eat Now 2012: 10 trends in dining that we love and hate (or have a love-hate relationship with)

Where to Eat Now 2012: 10 Trends We Love/Hate

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Restaurants

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Zagat’s 2012 survey picks Toronto’s best restos and settles that pesky average tipping question

Scaramouche’s Keith Froggett (Image: Renée Suen)

Online restaurant review sites like Yelp and Urbanspoon may have cut into the crowd-sourced territory that Zagat once owned, but the yearly survey still has some clout—and the power to get diners in the door. The 2,266 food-loving Torontonians who voted in this year’s survey were crazy for Keith Froggett, giving fine dining restaurant Scaramouche top honours for food and also placing Scaramouche’s pasta bar in the top 10. But the winners weren’t all about linen tablecloths and tasting menus: The Burger’s Priest, with its epically greasy Vatican City burger, broke the top three for best food, while pan-Asian chain Spring Rolls was voted most popular restaurant (proving that democracy isn’t foolproof).

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Restaurants

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Culinary team behind the Trump Tower’s new Stock restaurant is suitably well-stocked

When Stock, the flagship restaurant in the Trump International Tower, opens its doors next year, it will be one of the highest in the city: both in metres above the ground (it’ll be on the 31st floor) and almost certainly in price—after all, the logo is a fork struck through a dollar sign. The Trump brand is known for sparing no expense and charging appropriately, and it’s hired a suitably pedigreed staff, featuring alums of some of Toronto’s top restaurants, to run the place.

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Restaurants

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New Reviews: Café Belong, Elle M’a Dit and Estiatorio Volos

Farmers’ market fine dining at the Brick Works, stylish Greek food downtown and a proper bistro on Baldwin

Café BelongCAFÉ BELONG star
550 Bayview Ave., 416-901-8234

Chef Brad Long’s soaring new room, looking out on the Evergreen Brick Works, will doubtless appear in international travel magazines. The interior design, by John Tong of 3rd Uncle, is reminiscent of an enormous reclaimed farmhouse. The menu, executed by former JK Wine Bar chef de cuisine Dan DeMatteis, is built somewhat earnestly (“Food Is Fuel, Food Is Medicine, Food Is Love,” it announces in flowing script) around the ingredients that appear at the Brick Works’ weekly farmers’ market. There are some fantastic dishes, including a plate of cured meats with lovely smoked duck breast, trout with a slightly sweet cure, and smoked whitefish and fennel that’s been sweetened on the grill and topped with pickled ox-eye daisy buds. A hot pot of steamed mussels, good clams and a few oysters is properly done, if a bit humdrum. By contrast, the sweet and sticky pork with apples—cubes of melting, crisped-up pork belly—is deadly good. But the sum of a meal here is a little underwhelming—the food is well prepared, and the ingredients are as virtuous as a Slow Foodist’s newborn babe; it’s just not that different from the food at Ed Ho’s Globe chain, or Mildred’s Temple Kitchen, or Ruby Watchco. It’s fresh, it’s local, it’s familiar. A liquor licence should be coming any day now. In the meantime there’s house-made lemonade and sodas. Mains $15–$24.

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People

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Foodie film alert: A Matter of Taste follows 10 years in the life of Paul Liebrandt

In 2001, Paul Liebrandt—whose story is told in A Matter of Taste: Serving Paul Liebrandt, on now at the TIFF Bell Lightbox—was one of New York’s most promising chefs. At 24, after working in some of Europe’s most accomplished kitchens, the British expat moved to New York to make a name for himself. He practised a high-concept, experimental style of cooking—chocolate-covered scallops, crystallized violets—that was lauded by critics but commercially unviable during the ascendancy of comfort food. Soon enough, Liebrandt found himself flipping burgers and making seven different kinds of french fries, just to keep his restless mind occupied.

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Food TV

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We chat with the winner of Top Chef Canada season one

We caught up with the winner of season one of Top Chef Canada last night shortly after the show aired to get their impressions on the season and find out what they’re doing with the loot (the grand prize was $100,000, along with a GE Monogram kitchen). And yes, we’re keeping things intentionally vague to stave off spoilers. Read our Q&A and find out who won, after the jump.

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Features

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Bringing Sexy Back: Chris Nuttall-Smith takes on Aria and Toca

After three years of restaurant restraint, Aria and Toca, two unabashedly flashy new spots, are giving diners a reason to get dressed up again

Opulence, I missed you. I missed high thread-count table linens and hand-blown water glasses and even edible gold leaf a little. I missed the dining rooms whose owners gave carte blanche to talented designers, insisting only on “something grand.” But mostly, I missed gasping when I walked into restaurants—having to stop to take a space in, to admire. Though restraint wasn’t all bad for dining culture these past few years, it wasn’t always easy on the eyes.

Two ambitious, expensive, flashy new dining rooms have opened downtown in recent months, one of them from a hotel chain that’s synonymous with conspicuous luxury, the other from a pair of neighbourhood restaurateurs who’ve come out shooting for the moon. Both are fine dining (more or less), and both are likely to make you gasp when you enter.

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Drinks

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The sipper club: meet the city’s competitive cabal of top sommeliers

Will Predhomme belongs to a competitive cabal of top sommeliers who sniff, sip and spit their way through hundreds of bottles a week. They do this to help you decide what to drink with your dinner, while making you think it was your idea all along

One hundred and fifty-one people have reservations at Canoe tonight. Among these are many Bay Streeters, a couple celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary, dozens of people on dates, including the bar manager from Crush, and a young woman who plans to propose to her boyfriend over dinner. The two private dining rooms are fully booked.

Canoe, part of the ever-expanding Oliver and Bonacini empire, is routinely considered one of the finest restaurants in the city. Last summer, in a rigorous competition held by the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers, known as CAPS, Canoe’s head sommelier, Will Predhomme, was proclaimed Ontario’s best. Predhomme has devoted a third of his life—he’s 29—to wine scholarship. He now knows more about wine than almost anyone in Toronto.

Just after 5 p.m., the bar area begins to fill up with commuters sipping cocktails as they wait for the traffic on the clogged Gardiner, 54 floors below, to dissipate. One of the restaurant’s first guests, a retired trial lawyer, arrives. As a young female host escorts him to his large corner table, he puts an arm around her shoulder. “I don’t like to pay bills,” he says. “I want a fucking account. Last time I was here, I offered those ladies”—referring to the hosts who greeted him at his last visit—“$300 and told them to set up an account for me. And I still don’t have one.” He and his three dining companions, Canoe regulars, have brought in several bottles of their own wine, including a cabernet franc from the ex-lawyer’s private vineyard in Tuscany. When Predhomme arrives at the table to discuss the wine, the ex-lawyer, captivatingly bratty in a way that only the rich and sort-of-powerful can be, repeats his complaint. “Look, I spend about $50,000 a year at Bymark, and I’d do the same here if I had a fucking account.” Predhomme is unmoved, but gracious. “If you give me your contact information,” he says, “I’ll make sure that it gets to the right people.”

“You’ll get me an account?”

“I’ll look into it.”

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