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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.

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Review: The Good Son has some impressive plates (and cheaper pizza than Terroni)

(Image: Gizelle Lau)

(Image: Gizelle Lau)

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The Good Son 1 star½
1096 Queen St. W., 416-551-0589
The Good Son 1 star½
1096 Queen St. W., 416-551-0589

The old Nyood space on Queen has been stripped naked and given the twee trappings of west-side dining: Edison bulbs, tea-towel napkins, even a precious general-store façade selling the house olive oil. The menu, from Top Chef Canada alum Vittorio Colacitti, has a few bumps, like a cumin-heavy eggplant dip that’s as lumpy as Pablum. But he shines at the kinds of refined dishes he made at Didier and Lucien.

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Review: Pain Perdu nails the bistro basics

Introducing: Pain Perdu, a traditional French bistro in Lawrence Park
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Pain Perdu 2 star
3185 Yonge St., 416-488-0081
Pain Perdu 2 star
3185 Yonge St., 416-488-0081

At his new north-end restaurant, a ­spin­off of the beloved Pain Perdu bakery, chef Evaristo De Andrade sticks to tradition and nails the bistro basics: moderately priced, simple French food in a warm setting. Buttery squid ink risotto is served with smoky grilled rings of tender calamari. Savoury French onion soup has deep layers of flavour, even if the onions could use a touch more caramelization.

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Review: Peoples Eatery (mostly) lives up to the buzz

Review: People's Eatery

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

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Peoples Eatery 1 star½
307 Spadina Ave., 416-792-1784
Peoples Eatery 1 star½
307 Spadina Ave., 416-792-1784

The owners of 416 Snack Bar have replicated the bourbon-jacked buzz that made their first place so fun. Peoples fills up in the after-work hours with Bay Street freshmen and chic young women flaunting bandeau bras, sleeve tattoos and status handbags. The dishes, made by the wandering former Top Chef contestant Dustin Gallagher, are divided between Chinese-American snacks and Jewish deli staples to represent the neighborhood’s dual heritage.

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Review: Yakitori Kintori, the latest ouptost of the Guu restaurant empire

Introducing: Yakitori Kintori

(Image: Gizelle Lau)

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Yakitori Kintori 1 star
668 Bloor St. W., 416-551-7588
Yakitori Kintori 1 star
668 Bloor St. W., 416-551-7588

The latest outpost of James Kim’s ever-expanding Guu restaurant empire has many familiar elements, from the decor (pitch-black walls, light birch tables and stools) to the clientele (groups of stylish 20-somethings guzzling pitcher-size mugs of Sapporo). Same goes for the food, much of which is very good, including thin slices of salmon sashimi topped with green onion, a ­citrusy soy sauce, wasabi-laced mayo and fried garlic, and a whole Japanese squid grilled to perfection, tender at the centre and burnt just right at the edges.

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Review: East Thirty-Six is a moody downtown hideout with a serious kitchen

Review: East Thirty-Six

(Image: Gizelle Lau)

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East Thirty-Six 1 star½
36 Wellington St. E., 647-350-3636
East Thirty-Six 1 star½
36 Wellington St. E., 647-350-3636

Nearly a hundred years later, we’re still obsessed with everything Great Gatsby—especially the Prohibition era’s stiff-as-hell cocktails. The former ­Lucien space, redone with black ­damask and photos of silent-screen stars, has become a moody hideout for an after-work boulevardier (complete with smoke tincture and barrel-aged ­Maker’s Mark), and a respite in a pocket of the downtown core otherwise overrun with sports pubs. Unlike most cocktail bars, this one has a serious kitchen, run by former Luma chef de cuisine Brent Maxwell.

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Review: Ramen Isshin’s decor isn’t great, but the house broth delivers supremely porky flavour

(Image: Renée Suen)

(Image: Renée Suen)

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Ramen Isshin 1 star
421 College St., 416-367-4013

The owners of Kingyo, the rollicking ­Cabbagetown izakaya, have opened a spin­off dedicated to ramen. The new spot, in a former shawarma takeout joint at College and Bathurst, is a decorator’s nightmare of glaring pot lights and taupe tile, but the mainly undergrad clientele is only concerned that the house broth has simmered for a day or more to reach extreme depths of porky flavour. Of the eight available variations, the one to get is the tan-tan—a bracing combination of chili oil, minced pork, slow-braised pork belly and a healthy garnish of nutty black sesame. Battered, deep-fried chicken karaage and slightly mushy takoyaki make for greasily satisfying if unimaginative sides.

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Review: Small Town Food Co., a cozy Parkdale pub with carefully constructed comfort dishes

(Image: Renée Suen)

(Image: Renée Suen)

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Small Town Food Co. 1 star
1263 Queen St. W., 416-538-7695

Queen West young’uns nibble on gourmet bar snacks and comfort food at this cozy ­Parkdale restaurant. A carefully constructed plate of miso- and chili-spiced pork belly with cubes of watermelon is a winner, balancing sweet, salt, fat and heat. Similarly, thumb-size packets of matchsticked cucumber and daikon wrapped in strips of barely seared, truffle-marinated beef pack a pickly-sweet punch. A sumptuous pool of polenta with spicy smoked plums is topped with a disappointingly dry duck confit—the kitchen’s only misstep. ­Co-owner Cameron Hutton’s bartending days at the Drake are evident in the short but creative list of herb-infused cocktails. The Rare Albequerque Rhino—white rye, hazelnut extract, angelica root and hellfire bitters—is a nutty, spicy and deceptively strong standout. Closed Tuesday.

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Review: Mad Mexican brings excellent tacos and tortas to Baby Point

(Image: Jackie Pal)

(Image: Jackie Pal)

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Mad Mexican 1 star½
383 Jane St., 416-907-5787

Chef José Hadad’s Mad Mexican salsas, bean dips, guacamole and tortilla chips appear on menus and grocers’ shelves across the city, but Baby Point residents can now enjoy plated meals at a handful of tables (or from the takeout counter) fronting the industrial kitchen. Excellent tacos compress intense flavour into a few quick bites, especially the ­michoacán version, packed with tender shreds of slow-cooked pork. They’re accompanied by a trio of exquisite salsas; the morita, with smoky charred tomato and sweet onion to balance the chili heat, is our favourite. The best deals on the menu are the tortas—hefty sandwiches with fillings like cotija cheese and house-cured ham jammed into Portuguese buns. Go for the house special—crisp chorizo, grilled sirloin, avocado, oaxaca cheese and black beans make for a sloppy, rich delight if you’re hungry, but lighter versions, like the ­Guadalajara-style carnitas served with a tingly árbol dipping sauce, are also good. Unfortunately the service, while perky, is tediously slow.

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Review: Boots ‘n’ Bourbon brings the Wild West to Toronto’s east end

(Image: Gizelle Lau)

(Image: Gizelle Lau)

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Boots ‘n’ Bourbon 1 star½
725 Queen St. E., 647-348-0880

Matt Pettit, the entrepreneurial chef behind the Rock Lobster mini-chain, has brought the Wild West to the east end. His new saloon, formerly the ­Riverside Public House, is a honky-tonk fantasy of saddle-covered stools, ­Stetson-hatted bartenders and, yes, a thrashing mechanical bull. The kitchen stays on theme, churning out fried bar staples and spiced-up American South favourites.

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Review: Agave y Aguacate serves excellent Mexican food in a refined new space

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

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Agave y Aguacate 1 star½
35 Baldwin St., 647-748-6448

Two years after closing his cultish Kensington Market food stall, chef Francisco Alejandri has found a permanent home for his excellent Mexican food. The room is as loud and bright as a Day of the Dead festival, but the overall effect is refined—a perfect complement to Alejandri’s inventive dishes.

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Review: The Carbon Bar serves some of the city’s best pork ribs in an awfully fancy room

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

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The Carbon Bar 1 star
99 Queen St. E., 416-947-7000

The latest venture from the venerable restaurateur Franco Prevedello is an awfully fancy setting for a platter of ribs. Instead of the usual barnboard and bone buckets, the cavernous room at Queen and Church is outfitted with leather banquettes, buff mahogany tables and arty signage. The clientele of ad execs and TV talking heads sip bourbon cocktails in an ’80s reverie. Dinner is a mostly successful southern diversion for David Lee, also the chef at the prim Nota Bene a few blocks west.

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Review: Fonda Lola stands out from the Mexican pack with Aztec recipes and kombucha-spiked sangria

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

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Fonda Lola 1 star
942 Queen St. W., 647-706-9105

Chef Howard Dubrovsky cooks ancient Aztec recipes inherited from his aunt, a Mexican anthropologist. He’s hoping the gimmick will help his place stand out among the city’s numerous other taco spots and, for the most part, he’s successful. He brightens a pozole verde soup with tomatillos and plenty of cilantro, and packs tiny quecas with molten oaxaca cheese and huitlacoche, a fungus that grows on corn. The fried panela poppers, made with smooth cow’s cheese and cornmeal, are at once crunchy, gooey, salty and sweet. Also unique are the sangrias, made with house-brewed ­kombucha and smoky horchata.

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Review: Reds Midtown hits flavour highs and lows at Yonge and Gerrard

(Image: Jackie Pal)

(Image: Jackie Pal)

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Reds Midtown 1 star
382 Yonge St., Unit 6, 416-‎598-3535

The popular Financial District power restaurant has expanded northward. Its new location, a 6,800-square-foot behemoth in the Aura condo tower at Yonge and Gerrard, is a dizzying but successful mishmash of gentlemen’s club leather, industrial accents and artsy vintage kitsch—and, like its downtown counterpart, it’s always packed.

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Review: It’s All GRK serves upscale gyros and souvlaki on trendy Queen West

(Image: Megan Leahy)

(Image: Megan Leahy)

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It’s All GRK 1 star½
756 Queen St. W., 416-703-7888

Queen West’s new souvlaki shop takes an upscale approach to casual Greek staples: the room is adorned with gleaming olive oil tins and Edison bulbs strung on blue and orange ropes. The simple menu—four meats, four ways, with a choice of salads or starchy sides—allows the ingredients’ impeccable freshness to shine through.

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