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Dear Urban Diplomat: can I disobey the demands of sidewalk-hogging TV crews?

Dear Urban Diplomat: what can I do about dictatorial TV crews?

(Image: Alan Daly/Flickr)

Dear Urban Diplomat,

I work near Victoria and Adelaide, which is almost always occupied by TV crews. I can’t go anywhere without some dictatorial, floppy tuque–wearing third assistant in a headset ordering me to stop—walking, talking, laughing—lest his shoot be interrupted. What would or could he do if I just ignored him and walked right on through?

—Scene Disturber, Downtown

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Features

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The Break-In Artist: the hunt for the cat burglar who terrorized Toronto’s wealthiest neighbourhoods

the-break-in-artist-01

The Fort Knox of Thornhill is a stucco mansion with a mansard roof, front-yard fountain and U-shaped driveway on the area’s most coveted street. It’s owned by a middle-aged couple named Tony and Sherry, who asked that we not publish their last name, and is equipped with every security measure on the market: eight interior and exterior video cameras, reinforced locks, motion detectors in all rooms, a siren, contacts on every window hard-wired to a central response station, glass-break sensors, a 1.8-metre-high wrought iron fence with a buzzer system at the front and a brick retaining wall at the back. In home security–speak, the place is a “hard target,” meaning most thieves will take one look and move along.

So it came as a shock when, at 6:06 on the evening of Wednesday, November 6, 2013, Sherry received a call from her alarm company, Vigilarm, informing her that the second-storey master bedroom window had been opened. At the time, Sherry was at the Richmond Hill Public Library with her 11-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter for the kids’ weekly tutoring sessions. If she were being robbed, the timing made perfect sense: every Wednesday between 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., just as it was getting dark outside, the house was empty. Tony, a manufacturing executive, stayed at work on Wednesdays until 7 p.m., and the nanny always left at 5. Sherry instructed Vigilarm to dispatch the police, called Tony and then, leaving her kids with the tutor, sped the seven kilometres home, weaving through rush-hour traffic and running amber lights down Yonge Street. She didn’t know what she’d do if she encountered a burglar, but in the moment, she didn’t care.

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Restaurants

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Where to Eat 2015: our ranking of Toronto’s 10 best—actually, make that 20 best—new restaurants

It’s official: Toronto has too many great restaurants. Trying to keep track of every new omakase sushi savant, unmarked bar run by a star chef and game-changing nouveau Asian fusion debut by a pop-up prodigy is tougher than an overdone T-bone. And it’s easier to get courtside for the Raptors than score a table at the city’s newest hot spots. In the past year, more than 100 notable restaurants opened. The relentless Charles Khabouth is responsible for no fewer than four: the exquisite Middle Eastern lounge Byblos, the Trump Hotel’s sky-high (in price and location) America, the swish Japanese steak house NAO and the CityPlace trattoria Città. This year, the sheer number of excellent new restaurants persuaded me to expand my usual top 10 to a top 20—and it’s by no means exhaustive. These are the 20 places I want to visit again and again. Just give me a minute to catch my breath.

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Culture

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Disabled Theater stars actors with intellectual disabilities—and it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen

The Argument: Centre Stage

(Image: courtesy of Harbourfront Centre)

Live performance can feel starkly, claustrophobically intimate. In Disabled Theater, a strange and stimulating new Harbourfront production, that closeness is cunning, because it forces the audience to look at people we might typically turn away from. The production is composed entirely of professional actors with Down Syndrome and other intellectual disabilities. If you are like me, you have deliberately trained yourself to ignore their difference. But Disabled Theater gives you no choice: the performers speak, dance and engage the audience directly without the filter of characters, telling you who they are and how they see the world.

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Restaurants

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Best New Restaurants 2015: #1, Buca Yorkville

Best New Restaurants 2015: Buca Yorkville Buca Yorkville | 53 Scollard St., 416-962-2822

I’ve been daydreaming about Rob Gentile. I’m in love with his ricotta gnocchi, which he rolls out by hand at Buca Yorkville, his grand new restaurant on the ground floor of the Four Seasons condo tower. He dresses the airy pillows with a foam of creamy robiola cheese, fried sage leaves, crumbled roasted chestnuts and shavings of Molisan white truffle. That’s his signature: a rustic Italian recipe made luxe, like Nonna dolled up in Gucci. The dish rings in at $80, by far the priciest pasta per bite in town.

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Best New Restaurants 2015: #2, Dandylion

Best New Restaurants 2015: Dandylion Dandylion | 1198 Queen St. W., 647-464-9100

Jay Carter studied at the best cooking school in town: Susur Lee’s kitchen. He worked as the master’s sous-chef for four years, then as chef de cuisine for another six, then left to become exec chef at the storied Centro. Last summer he finally struck out on his own, taking over the lease of a narrow bar on Queen West, in the row of studiously cool hangouts that sprouted up between the Gladstone and Drake hotels. He cooks from a modest open kitchen at the back, assisted by a sous-chef and a kitchen porter. His starting menu was an inspired distillation of Nordic trends, a little Canuck and plenty of Susur. (Side note: I’d nearly forgotten what a pleasure it is to encounter a menu of appetizers and entrées, not a list of tastes or sharing plates or dishes organized by temperature or food group or some other pretentious whim.)

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Best New Restaurants 2015: #3, Yasu

Best New Restaurants 2015: Yasu Yasu | 81 Harbord St., 416-477-2361

There are only 13 seats in this narrow, gleaming white room: 11 at the counter, plus a table for two by the window. Couples on dates tend to choose the latter, but when it comes to omakase sushi, in which every passing second robs a piece of nigiri of its fragile harmonies of taste and texture, you want to be at the counter to consume it the precise moment it’s been sliced.

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Best New Restaurants 2015: #4, DaiLo

Best New Restaurants 2015: DaiLo DaiLo | 503 College St., 647-341-8882

Gotta feel for Nick Liu. The young chef left the Niagara Street Café in 2012 and, for two long years, held a series of pop-up dinners, swearing he was about to unveil his own place. When it finally happened last fall, he was nearly crushed under an avalanche of hype. But he prevailed: DaiLo was an instant hit. It’s a beauty of a restaurant, a sly take on a vintage tea house with cozy teal booths behind filigreed screens. Liu went beyond his formerly gimmicky gourmet riffs on fast food and tapped into his Hakka roots. My favourite dish on his menu sounds like a crime against fruit but is one of the most exciting innovations of the year: hot watermelon. He dredges cubes in cornstarch, deep-fries them to a crisp, and serves them with diced pickled watermelon rind and a salty tuft of pork floss. The watermelon dissolves on the tongue, its sweetness and acidity blooming with the heat. I could also rave about his crispy whole trout or his tart green papaya and spicy ground pork salad or his grilled curried quail, but it’s that plate of hot melon I’m craving.

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Best New Restaurants 2015: #5, Borealia

Best New Restaurants 2015: Borealia Borealia | 59 Ossington Ave., 647-351-5100

I wasn’t sure what to make of Borealia—yet another trendy restaurant on Ossington. The place, named after a moniker floated for our country during Confederation, appeared targeted at a breed of earnest CBC listeners who own cars only to transport canoes—so I wasn’t entirely surprised to enter one night and spot MP Adam Vaughan presiding over a table. Then Borealia won me over. It’s run by a young couple who recently moved from B.C.: Evelyn Wu Morris, who manages the front of house with plucky charm, and Wayne Morris, her chef husband. Instead of the naked Edison bulbs and subway tile of so many new restaurants, there’s a moody forest mural and a cedar trellis that runs across the ceiling, evoking a Vancouver Island boathouse. The room has personality, as does Morris’s cooking. He’s inspired by historical Canadian recipes, like pigeon pie, with a crust more buttery than any pioneer ever imagined, three precisely balanced micro-sorrel leaves for decoration and a side of fashionable roasted parsnip. He toys with Anglo-Indian kedgeree, adding fresh-popped rice cracker and curry mayo to candy-pink smoked whitefish. The highlight one night was a casserole of dense salt cod quenelles, their marine flavour ratcheted up by a bisque-like velouté and tender lobes of lobster. A history lesson has never left me so happy.

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Best New Restaurants 2015: #6, Byblos

Best New Restaurants 2015: Byblos Byblos | 11 Duncan St., 647-660-0909

The wonder of Charles Khabouth isn’t that he runs so many nightclubs and restaurants, and opens a new spot nearly every month; it’s that he does so with such exacting standards. With Byblos, he anticipated the city’s Middleterranean obsession, converting two floors of an unremarkable historic warehouse into a lounge of low-slung booths for sharing rosewater-scented punch and a contemporary dining room that hums with excitement. The principal reason? An endless parade of hand-painted platters of deliciousness. Plump, paprika-dusted Marcona almonds, ­dumplings stuffed with smoked eggplant, molasses-sticky lamb ribs, neat bundles of vine leaf–wrapped branzino, basmati rice bejewelled with barberries, and on and on. Byblos has surpassed trendiness and become a city fixture. I’ve returned several times, often just for a snack and a cocktail before a show at the TIFF Lightbox. And I always order the brik cigar—a brittle pastry filled with a fig purée and caramel. It’s light but rich, savoury but sweet, and, like Khabouth, it never gets tired.

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Restaurants

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Best New Restaurants 2015: #7, Flor de Sal

Best New Restaurants 2015: Flor de Sal Flor de Sal | 501 Davenport rd., 416-923-2604

Anyone nostalgic for the Corner House’s creaky, sunflower-yellow rooms and old-fashioned gastronomy is in for a shock. Cristina Da Costa, the new owner, gutted the midtown cottage, converting it into something like an over-decorated condo showroom of frou-frou mirrors, marble slab fireplaces and vases of nodding orchids everywhere you look. It’s rare to encounter such ostentation in Toronto restaurants these days, but it’s an apt setting for chef Roberto Fracchioni’s high-roller surf and turf menu. Fracchioni last oversaw a magnificent, modern tasting menu at Monk Kitchen, the idiosyncratic basement restaurant in the club district’s Templar Hotel. Cooking is his second career—he used to be a civil engineer—and he brings to it the love of a true calling. At Flor de Sal, I was wowed by the herbal crab and celery root soup, by the sophisticated cognac and brown butter glaze coating a plate of lobster and gnocchi, and by the sharp red wine mignonette that came with first-rate East Coast oysters. The star of the night was a hefty Azores fish called cantaro, which Fracchioni grilled whole with fragrant lemon and chili, stuffing the cavity with couscous, fennel and garlicky braised rapini. Whole fish are back on menus all over town, but this one was the most moist, delicate and memorable to date.

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Best New Restaurants 2015: #8, Bar Fancy

Best New Restaurants 2015: Bar Fancy Bar Fancy | 1070 Queen St. W., 416-546-1416

The name is wink-wink. There are no frilly drinks on offer—only bar rail, draft and decent wines for $11 a glass. Grandma-style potted plants block the front window (the entrance is down the side alley), the servers wear old tees and Jays caps, and if you want to sit, grab a folding chair. What’s fancy is the pedigree: the bar is a spinoff of Chantecler, the cultishly popular Parkdale restaurant with a tasting menu of rice-smoked duck breast, seaweed powder–dusted sidestripe shrimp and other innovative delights. Head chef Jonathan Poon conceived Bar Fancy as a casual hangout with an evolving menu of snacks available until last call. The options are relatively cheap and served on melamine, but they’re always excellent, especially the fried chicken, its fantastically crispy coating laced with coriander and chilies. Mid-week, I’ll drop by and make a meal of a half-dozen oysters with Vietnamese fish sauce for dressing, oozing devils-on-horseback, and a plate of house-smoked ham shoulder, crusty bread, old cheddar and a pile of sliced apples to dip in a Lilliputian pot of flowery honey. It’s the ideal not-quite-a-restaurant for when you’re not quite in the mood to commit to a full dinner out.

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Best New Restaurants 2015: #9, Nana

Best New Restaurants 2015: Nana Nana | 785 Queen St. W., 647-352-5773

Thai empires are at war. Two years ago, Monte Wan, who owns the line-up-for-hours Adelaide West phenomenon Khao San Road, parted ways with Nuit Regular, the chef behind the three Sukhothai restaurants. Early last summer, Regular opened Pai, a restaurant specializing in northern Thai street food, on Duncan. Wan in turn opened Nana, near Trinity Bellwoods. The city’s Thai food nuts tend to pick sides. I prefer Nana—partly because it’s more intimate than Regular’s chaotic warehouses, but mostly because it’s more fun. Wan, his long hair twisted into a topknot, meets you at the door and becomes friends with everyone in the room. You sit on red plastic stools at a communal table under a canopy of Thai flags, shout your order over the old-school hip hop and kick back with a lemongrass rum cocktail. I’m a big fan of his chicken laab which swaps out the usual fine-ground meat for deep-fried breaded chunks, like gourmet morsels of KFC. His khao soi, a curry with egg noodles, rates above Regular’s for the rich depth of the broth and the crispiness of its deep-fried chicken cutlet. The dish that sums the place up is an irreverent variation on pad Thai that he calls pad mama, a tangled heap of thin noodles and scored sections of hotdog that, in the heat of the pan, open into garish pink blossoms. It’s deliciously greasy, a little ridiculous and the winner of this round.

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Best New Restaurants 2015: #10, Rasa

Rasa | 196 Robert St., 647-350-8221

Mondays used to be dull before Adrian Niman came along. He and his business partner, Brent McClenahan, run a trendy catering company called the Food Dudes. Rasa is where he does his serious cooking—ambitious variations on gastropub fare, like sticky spareribs studded with crushed corn nuts, gnudi in a walnut pesto, and cheddar-stuffed jalapeño poppers wrapped in serrano ham. He’s a whiz with foams, emulsions and assorted kitchen stunts. His solution for the first night of the week, the slowest at any restaurant, is to invite indie bands to play stripped-down sets, and to offer $5 drinks and a $35 tasting menu. It’s a warm, low-key scene, with cooks from neighbouring restaurants passing through, Annex families crowded around their favourite tables and the band performing the occasional request, which earns a whoop from the room.

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Best New Restaurants 2015: #11, Los Colibris

Best New Restaurants 2015: Los Colibris Los Colibris | 220 King St. W., 416-979-7717

Elia Herrera is an anomaly: a real-deal chef running a Mexican restaurant that’s button-down sophisticated, nary a hipster graffiti wall in sight. She previously oversaw desserts at Canoe and Mistura, and at her new place directs a pastry chef’s hyperfocus upon tortillas (handmade through the day), queso fundido (gooey cheese studded with a smoky chorizo), and chilies en nogada (a charred poblano stuffed with cumin- and cinnamon-scented pork and smothered in a ground walnut and cream sauce). Even guacamole, that potluck groaner, gets bedazzled with pomegranate seeds and surrounded by a pinwheel of stacked nachos—the prettiest dip in town.