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See, Hear, Read: April’s six can’t-miss cultural releases

See, Hear, Read: April's six can't-miss cultural releases

Rufus Wainwright chronicles a decade’s worth of drama and debauchery on his new greatest hits album, Vibrate (Images: Foley by Getty Images; Remedy courtesy of Global)

1. Vibrate by Rufus Wainwright

In June 2006, Rufus Wainwright donned silk stockings, a black tuxedo jacket and four-inch heels to recreate Judy Garland’s iconic 1961 Carnegie Hall concert. Liza Minnelli met the gimmick with scathing contempt (“What is he doing?” she scoffed), prompting a deliciously passive-aggressive celebrity feud—Wainwright told the press that Minnelli wasn’t talking to him and made catty barbs at her onstage. Wainwright’s latest track is a sly dig called “Me and Liza,” in which he begs for her ­forgiveness. “Come on, Liza, give me a try,” he croons. It’s the lead single on his new best-of album, Vibrate, which maps the songwriter’s development from waifish tweaker to campy bon vivant and, finally, to domesticated family man—he married Jorn Weisbrodt, Luminato’s handsome German artistic director, and fathered a child with Leonard Cohen’s daughter, Lorca. A deluxe edition features a second disc of bonus material, including a handful of rare live covers—songs by Noël Coward, George Gershwin and Wainwright’s father, Loudon Wainwright III.

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Columns

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Memoir: having a baby was the easiest decision I ever made. Finding the right sperm donor wasn’t quite so simple

Memoir: having a baby was the easiest decision I ever made. Finding the right sperm donor wasn't quite so simple

Five years ago, my partner, Vanessa, and I decided to start a family. I’d always envisioned being a parent, but never imagined I’d carry a child. I considered myself a butch lesbian; getting pregnant—or worse, breastfeeding—didn’t fit with my self-image. When it came time to decide who would carry the baby, Vanessa and I didn’t even have to discuss it.

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The Dish

Features

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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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Best New Restaurants in Toronto 2014

Best New Restaurants in Toronto 2014

These are the spots that encapsulate Toronto dining at its current peak, and ones I happily recommend to a friend or visitor.

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The Dish

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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The Dish

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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The Top Food Trends and Who Does Them Best: Shared Meals

Foie gras–stuffed chicken, porterhouse steak and whole suckling pig are the new extravagant norm

The Top Food Trends and Who Does Them Best: Shared Meals

Perfectly seared côte de boeuf at ­Bestellen

There were six of us up against one pork butt—and the pig won. It was a beauty, grown massively plump at a small farm just outside St. Jacobs. Rubbed with brown sugar, it spent a slow afternoon in the oven until the meat pulled apart effortlessly, clouds of steam breaking from the sweet crust. We dug in, mixing the shreds with fresh oysters and kimchee, then wrapping it all in lettuce leaves and savoury crêpes. After a couple of blissful hours, we’d barely made a dent.

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The Top Food Trends and Who Does Them Best: French Cuisine

It’s time to rediscover buttery, sublime Gallic cooking

The Top Food Trends and Who Does Them Best: French Cuisine

Ici chef J. P. Challet sneaks booze into every other dish, including this billowing dessert soufflé with Grand Marnier custard

Traditional French restaurants never went away, but they certainly lost their appeal in the last decade, eclipsed by fusion cooking, molecular gastronomy, the tyranny of artisanal versions of Kraft Dinner and a thousand other fads. Now it seems every other cook is back to simmering sauces for eons, perfecting the timing of a soufflé and paying homage to Escoffier. I suppose there were only so many communal tables and foraged salads we could stomach before we craved rich terrines and formal service again. Even white-linen establishment standbys like Scaramouche, where I spotted Maple Leaf magnate Michael McCain and family silently dining one recent weeknight, and Auberge du Pommier, where the chef, Marc St. Jacques, has reinvigorated the menu with complex preparations of game and foie gras, are packed once more.

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The Top Food Trends and Who Does Them Best: Late-Night Dining

We’re dining around the clock and the options for a midnight feast are suddenly excellent

The Top Food Trends and Who Does Them Best: Late-Night Dining

Drake One Fifty serves lofty comfort food and smart cocktails well past midnight

At some point over the past year, around the time Rob Ford was smoking crack in a drunken stupor, we became a city that eats at all hours. It now takes weeks of planning to get a table at 10 p.m. at the hotter spots. And if you want a meal after midnight, there are finally options other than greasy all-night diners and those Chinatown backrooms where the only thing anyone orders is “cold tea.” After a three-hour Scorsese opus at the Revue, I’ll go to La Cubana, Corrina Mozo’s new restaurant on Roncesvalles, where the cooks make a mean medianoche, the traditional Havana sandwich stacked with roasted pork, ham and gruyère—they also have versions with chorizo, or guava-glazed short rib, or avocado and queso fresco. The kitchen at the County General, the Queen West gastropub, officially closes at 11, but the place is usually full until last call, patrons scarfing down pork buns and devilled eggs while sipping bourbon cocktails. (They’ve expanded to Riverdale and Bloorcourt.) Even the owners of the prim Nota Bene wanted in on the fun, opening Carbon Bar on Queen East. They serve perfectly smoked southern-style barbecue, fried chicken skin, and intricate cocktails with citrus oils and rare tinctures until late-late-late.

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The Top Food Trends and Who Does Them Best: Ramen

An invasion of specialized noodle spots feeds our slurpy obsession

The Top Food Trends and Who Does Them Best: Ramen

Ramen obsessives line up for tangles of chewy noodles in rich pork broth at Kinton

Ramen is now Toronto’s preferred midday fuel. A wave of noodle restaurants began to open a year ago, prompted by the arrival of Momofuku’s Noodle Bar, and never stopped. There’s a hipster factor behind ramen’s popularity (a video circulated last fall of a guy who shaped his beard into a bowl, which he filled with Sriracha-doused noodles), but a major part of the appeal is the dish’s egalitarianism, combining cheapness with a gourmet sensibility.

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The Top Food Trends and Who Does Them Best: Seafood

Last year’s lobster roll craze has escalated into a full-blown love affair with fresh platters of tentacles, claws and other watery delights

The Top Food Trends and Who Does Them Best: Seafood

The raw bar at The Chase downtown serves up an orgy of seafood to its deep-pocketed clientele

There’s only so much red meat a person can consume. I’m happy to announce that Toronto, for too many years a city resigned to High Liner fish sticks, has turned a pescetarian corner. Quality seafood stores like Hooked and De La Mer are multiplying, and we’re no longer ashamed to serve a locally caught perch at a dinner party. For a few months there, it seemed like every elegant restaurant had a rainbow trout from Kolapore Springs on the menu.

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Five food fads we love

Five food fads we love: Cloakroom
The Return of the Cloakroom

After recessionary years of hanging our puffy coats on the backs of chairs (and inevitably seeing them trampled by wait staff), new places like The Chase, Café Boulud and Drake One Fifty graciously check them at the door.

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Five food fads we loathe

Five food fads we loathe: Bread
Places that Charge for bread

Yes, we’re looking at you, Drake One Fifty ($9), Electric Mud BBQ ($3.75) and Hudson Kitchen ($4).

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The Informer

Columns

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Dear Urban Diplomat: how do I tell my boss that he’s not welcome in my carpool?

Dear Urban Diplomat,
Two of my coworkers live near me in the suburbs, so we drive in to work together. Our boss just moved into the neighbourhood and is poking around for a carpool. He hasn’t straight-up asked us yet, but it’s only a matter of time. The problem is, the commute is the only chance we get to vent about him. We can’t swap that cathartic bliss for two hours of awkward silence. What should I say if he asks?

—Shark in the Pool, Too risky to say where I live

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The Goods

Homes

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The Suite Hereafter: four of the most impressive master bedrooms in Toronto

Oversized and opulent master bedrooms are the busy Torontonian’s favourite new indulgence. Here are a few of the city’s best

The Suite Hereafter: four of the most impressive master bedrooms in Toronto

The master suite in Vivian Reiss’s Annex home

The Person: Vivian Reiss, a 61-year-old visual artist and renovator
The Place: A 5,000-square-foot house in the Annex with an 800-square-foot master suite

When Reiss moved into her Romanesque Revival mansion 26 years ago, it was a dilapidated warren of small rooms and gloomy corners. The woman who built it in the 1880s was the widow of a prominent Upper ­Canada politician and had 11 children; Reiss only has two, both of whom have now moved out. She’s an artist and she wanted her home to be as brightly hued and full of light as her exuberant oil paintings. Unafraid of taking on a top-to-bottom overhaul (she now renovates apartment buildings and offices professionally), Reiss immediately started tearing down walls. She turned three bedrooms—two on the second floor and one on the third—into a two-storey master with a sitting area, and filled it with salvaged fixtures from old Toronto buildings and curios from frequent trips abroad. Her dressing salon was formerly a porch, which she glassed in, adding curtains for privacy. Finally, Reiss repurposed the library to create an enormous tiled ensuite inspired by the Moorish tiles of the Alhambra palace. Her reasoning: she loves books, but enjoys bubble baths by the fire even more.

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