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Review: Yunaghi, the Japanese bistro at Harbord and Manning, is unusual but rewarding

(Image: Renée Suen)

(Image: Renée Suen)

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Yunaghi 2 star ½
538 Manning Ave., 416-588-7862
Yunaghi 2 star ½
538 Manning Ave., 416-588-7862

Before opening this peculiar but ultimately rewarding Japanese bistro, the chef Tetsuya Shimizu spent 12 years studying kaiseki in Tokyo and two years in the kitchen at Yours Truly, the recently shuttered molecular gastronomy restaurant on Ossington. Both inform his set-course dinners of seven or nine dishes, which are by turns traditional (a pot of dashi tea poured tableside over a slice of yellowtail sashimi, the heat of the liquid slowly poaching the luscious fish) and experimental (a Gehry-esque scattering of fall veg—roasted beets, blanched beans, pickled squash—comes dressed with a bacon-infused snow and a tofu–Grana Padano smear). Awkward, inarticulate servers have a tough time explaining each complicated plate’s constituent elements. One night’s highlight: a fantastically tender roast duck breast with rounds of confit leek, their crispy, chip-like exterior hiding a dense and deeply oniony core. Desserts, like a silky panna cotta layered with wafers of crunchy feuilletine, are comparatively simple. The room, formerly J.P. Challet’s Ici Bistro, has been stripped of its francophilia, the only décor an orchid in the window, while the plink-plonk-plink of Herbie Hancock makes an apt accompaniment to the meandering meal.

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Review: Nuit Social is a slice of civilized heaven on West Queen West

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

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Nuit Social 1 star
1168 Queen St. W., 647-350-6848
Nuit Social 1 star
1168 Queen St. W., 647-350-6848

The strip of Queen West between Ossington and Dufferin has always needed a grown-up alternative to the late-night pubs, poutine and pizza that feed The Drake’s and The Gladstone’s club crowd. It finally has one. At 11 p.m. on a Friday, you can walk in without a wait, order a glass of off-LCBO wine and build your own charcuterie board. The meats, from Ontario and Europe, include beechwood-smoked speck from Austria edged with gauzy fat, and there’s an excellent selection of small-batch cheeses, like a Wisconsin merlot satori that packs good wine pong, plus five kinds of olives (the lemon-zesty picholines are a must). The fritti are consistently hot, crisp and greaseless, like the killer golf ball–sized saffron arancini, and crackling cornmeal-crusted calamari. Lighter dishes are also well made: tiny brown-butter-fried scallops slicked with butternut squash purée and dotted with delicate Brussels sprout leaves and micro greens, for example. Crumbly New York–style cheesecake, both made and topped with Parmesan, is as dry and weird as an episode of Twin Peaks. Instead, linger over a nightcap around the colourful stained-glass bar, and soak in the blessedly mellow mood amid the neighbourhood’s all-night party.

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Review: Mr. Flamingo has tons of cool cred (and pretty great food)

(Image: Gabby Frank)

(Image: Gabby Frank)

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Mr. Flamingo 2 star
1265 Dundas St. W., 647-351-1100
Mr. Flamingo 2 star
1265 Dundas St. W., 647-351-1100

The staff at the new 34-seat restaurant on the corner of Dundas West is a dream team of food-world hipsters. The place is owned by Mikey Apples, who also owns the dive club Bambi’s downstairs, and Fan Zhang, the former chef at 416 Snack Bar. Cool cred combined, they run an archetypal west-end hang filled with obscure dance beats and the sound of cocktails shaking, 20-somethings in a uniform of top-knots, slouchy Ts and Converse high tops, and salvage shop furnishings. The food is mostly very good—not quite special-occasion fare, but definitely date-night-level.

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Review: Nodo, the Junction’s new red-sauce restaurant, serves crowd-pleasing (if unrefined) classics

(Image: Jackie Pal)

(Image: Jackie Pal)

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Nodo 1 star
2885 Dundas St. W., 416-901-1559
Nodo 1 star
2885 Dundas St. W., 416-901-1559

Across from the Indie Ale House microbrewery and beside Cantina’s taco party, comes a solid new red-sauce restaurant—the third point in a triangle of dining trends. The owners are three Italian guys who’ve been friends since high school, and they’ve seemingly instilled that happy, known-you-forever warmth in their servers. The large, checker-board-floored space is entirely comfortable: bare wood tables are topped with bread baskets and banquettes are filled with post-work marrieds. The Sicilian-focused menu is equally as casual, with the extensive boot-based wine list divided by price (bottles under $35, under $55) and the pastas and pizzas outnumbering the tiny mains section by the dozen.

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Review: The fusion cooking at Patois is bold, ambitious and strangely satisfying

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

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Patois 1 star ½
794 Dundas St. W., 647-350-8999
Patois 1 star ½
794 Dundas St. W., 647-350-8999

The latest fusion to hit the Toronto dining scene is Asian-Caribbean, courtesy of chef Craig Wong, whose Chinese family lived in Jamaica for three generations. The room feels just like an island patio—it’s loud, kitschy, crowded and sweltering. Wong swirls together jerk, hoisin and five-spice into strangely satisfying combinations.

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Review: Thoroughbred on Richmond Street West is an excellent post-work party spot

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

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Thoroughbred 2 star
304 Richmond St. W., 416-551-9221
Thoroughbred 2 star
304 Richmond St. W., 416-551-9221

The DJ’s electro-indie-pop thrums and the well-crafted cocktails go down far too easy at this quintessential after-work party spot. The owners debuted their high-low concept at the Underground Market, where they sold foie gras pop tarts. Thoroughbred’s sharing menus (one vegetarian, one omnivorous) have that same winning mash-up.

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Review: Leslieville’s Eastside Social may be the perfect neighbourhood local

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

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Eastside Social 2 star ½
1008 Queen St. E., 416-461-5663
Eastside Social 1 star ½
1008 Queen St. E., 416-461-5663

The ideal neighbourhood local—not too crowded, not too noisy, just-right prices—can be found in Leslieville. Eastside Social’s nautical theme (brass porthole outside, lobster trap–shaped lights within) is campy without being kitsch, and the food, cooked by former Ceili Cottage chef Chris Mentier, is refined comfort at its best.

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Review: Colette Grand Café is expensive, conservative and mostly good

(Image: Erin Leydon)

(Image: Erin Leydon)

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Colette Grand Café 1 star ½
550 Wellington St. W., 647-348-7000
Colette Grand Café 1 star ½
550 Wellington St. W., 647-348-7000

The new restaurant in the Thompson Hotel is ultra-polished and styled after an airy Riviera brasserie. It’s run by the Chase Hospitality Group and radiates—for better or worse, depending on your dining tastes—a corporate vibe.

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Review: Mata serves good Brazilian bar snacks (and some of the best sliders in town)

(Image: Jackie Pal)

(Image: Jackie Pal)

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Mata 1 star
1690 Queen St. W., 647-691-0234
Mata 1 star
1690 Queen St. W., 647-691-0234

Felipe Faccioli, Tulio Lessa and Patrick Fraser, sharing chef duties, cannily opened their South American restaurant during World Cup, projecting matches on one wall and serving bracingly strong cocktails of Brazilian liquor. Even if you’ve never loved the beautiful game, their menu, composed of elevated sports bar snacks, will win you over.

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Review: Barsa Taberna’s multicultural tapas menu delivers some inspired dishes

(Image: Megan Leahy)

Barsa Taberna’s sangria cake with compressed melon (Image: Megan Leahy)

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Barsa Taberna 2 star½
26 Market St., 647-341-3642
Barsa Taberna 2 star½
26 Market St., 647-341-3642

Squint in this cavernous underground space late at night and you could be in a new-generation Barcelona tapas bar. At Barsa Taberna, the 19th-century stone arches and rough beams contrast with a backlit wall panel that’s a sexy Rorschach-like study in cobalt, black and white. After-workers and Corktown’s pretty young things suck back pitchers of white and red sangria, the sparkling version bright with cava and fresh berries.

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Review: Cellar Door brings the urban trattoria experience to Toronto’s outskirts

(Image: Renée Suen)

(Image: Renée Suen)

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Cellar Door 1 star½
3003 Lakeshore Blvd. W., 416-253-0303
Cellar Door 1 star½
3003 Lakeshore Blvd. W., 416-253-0303

Chef Robert Rubino brings the urban trattoria experience—original cocktails, handmade pastas, wood-burning-oven pizza, seasonal ingredients—to Toronto’s ever-expanding outskirts. A colourful caprese salad with orange and red cherry tomatoes and creamy burrata is a lovely starter.

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Review: Los Colibris brings sophisticated Mexican cuisine to a touristy strip of King West

(Image: Renée Suen)

(Image: Renée Suen)

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Los Colibris 3 star
220 King St. W., 416-979-7717
Los Colibris 3 star
220 King St. W., 416-979-7717

If your relationship to Mexican food extends no further than taco joints run by gringo hipsters, then it’s time to experience the joys of Mexican cuisine as interpreted by chef Elia Herrera. She presents the dishes of her native Veracruz with technique and polish in a dining room that’s just as sophisticated (the highlight is the bar with its elaborate tile mosaic depicting hummingbirds drinking nectar from flowers).

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Review: strong cocktails and excellent fusion food at Rasa in Harbord Village

Introducing: Rasa

(Image: Megan Leahy)

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Rasa 2 star
196 Robert St., 647-350-8221
Rasa 2 star
196 Robert St., 647-350-8221

The owners of Toronto’s Food Dudes catering, known for trendy comfort-fusion food, have overhauled the Harbord Street space formerly occupied by U of T haunt Momo’s. The subterranean room now resembles a civil war–era cabin, with its exposed pipes, stonework and bulbs, plus ruddy wood cladding. The 50-seat wraparound patio is reason enough to visit, looking out onto the restaurant strip’s sidewalk filled with posh couples stepping out of cabs, cyclists locking up and professorial types walking their doodle mixes. The menu is all over the culinary map: the 20 sharing plates range from delicate and fresh, like Asian-inspired yuzu albacore cubes on squid-ink brioche, to stick-to-your-ribs hearty, like a Korean-Ukranian kalbi steak cabbage roll. That diversity, along with touches of exuberance, make ordering fun, even if it’s difficult to put together a harmonious meal.

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Review: Portland Variety is a low-key surprise on clubby King West

(Image: Jackie Pal)

(Image: Jackie Pal)

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Portland Variety 2 star½
587 King St. W., 416-368-5151

This serene new tapas bar is a delightfully low-key surprise in the middle of the King West fracas. (Imagine the also-good Patria just up the street but without the ostentation and slavish devotion to Iberian purity.) Though you wouldn’t know it on first glance. The pristine white-on-gray room is decked out in neighbourhood-appropriate tufted leather banquettes and marble, and the servers sport hokey gingham shirts bound in old-timey suspenders, but beneath the trendy veneer is a refreshingly simple and down-to-earth Spanish(ish) menu.

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Review: The Forth brings King West style to the souvlaki strip

(Image: Jackie Pal)

(Image: Jackie Pal)

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The Forth 2 star
629 Danforth Ave., 416-465-2629
The Forth 2 star
629 Danforth Ave., 416-465-2629

Former Brassaii chef Chris Kalisperas has opened a sexy supper club on the souvlaki strip, in a cavernous warehouse space with a smiling hostess gatekeeping the ground floor. The tight, ambitious Canadian menu has that King West feel, too: there’s cured steelhead trout cubes, citrus and roe strung like jewels on the plate; crispy dry-aged duck zinged with Quebec haksap berries and sweet heirloom carrots; and roasted octopus on a grits-like bed of smooth popcorn purée. Even meat and potatoes get a smart spin: a 60 day–aged Ontario strip loin is nearly overshadowed by a quirky croquette of soft shin meat wrapped in potato shreds.