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Introducing: NAO, a new Asian steakhouse on Avenue Road from Charles Khabouth and Hanif Harji

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

Name: NAO (an acronym for “New and Old”)
Neighbourhood: Yorkville
Contact Info: 90 Avenue Rd., 416-367-4141, naosteakhouse.com
Owners: Charles Khabouth, Hanif Harji, Stuart Cameron and Tim Foley
Chefs: Stuart Cameron (also the exec chef at Patria, Weslodge and Byblos) and chef de cuisine Andrew Bradford.

The Food: The Asian-American fusion trend finds full expression in this plush new steakhouse from restaurant impresarios Charles Khabouth and Hanif Harji. NAO offers some caveman-sized cuts of beef—including a 64-ounce rib steak that’s carved tableside—but it’s not just a boys’ club. “We wanted NAO to be female-friendly,” says Kabbouth. Lighter options (salads, tartare) are punched up with predominantly Japanese flavourings, like miso, yuzu, ponzu and “Bull-Dog” sauce, a sweet and savoury Japanese condiment. (NAO makes its own version in-house.) Cameron spent months researching and sourcing the very best of everything, including fresh wasabi from B.C., Wagyu beef from Japan and bamboo barrel–aged finishing salt from South Korea.

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Introducing: Buna’s Kitchen, a homey new lunch counter in the Entertainment District

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

Name: Buna’s Kitchen
Neighbourhood: Entertainment District
Contact Info: 388 Richmond St. W., Unit 5B, 647-342-5506, facebook.com
Previously: Sido Shwarma
Chefs/Owners: George Brown alums Grace An and Taylor Heon met in culinary school and opened a catering company together, Food Parade, before going the brick-and-mortar route with Buna’s.

The Food: Owners An and Heon are determined to bring old-fashioned home cooking to the downtown core. (Buna is Hungarian for “grandma”). The short menu includes sandwiches (pulled pork, duck confit), poutines and salads, plus a daily changing pasta special. On one visit, it’s bolognese; on the next, it’s fettuccine in a simple marinara sauce.

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Introducing: Baju, Zane Caplansky’s laid-back barbecue joint at The Monarch Tavern

baju-intro

(Image: Gabby Frank)

Name: Baju BBQ
Contact Info: 12 Clinton St., 416-531-5833
Neighbourhood: Little Italy
Owners: Zane Caplansky (best known for his eponymous deli and food truck) and The Monarch Tavern’s Michael Dorbyk
Chefs: Dan Green and Kyle Wyatt, the duo behind pop-up culinary collective Mise En Place

The Food: Baju ascribes to the “Meat and Three” philosophy, which holds that barbecue is best enjoyed along with a trio of equally filling side dishes. At Baju, pulled pork, sliced brisket, spicy Texas sausages and dry-rubbed ribs can be combined with heaping servings of beans, collard greens, cornbread or deep-fried mac ‘n’ cheese nuggets. It’s a simple, soul-infused menu that doesn’t try to rewrite the classics. Explains Caplansky, “This is driving down a country road in Kentucky and finding a great shack that makes ribs, where that’s all they do. We’re keeping it simple.”

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Introducing: Ovest, a polished Italian restaurant on King West from ex-Terroni chef Luca Stracquadanio

(Image: Jackie Pal)

(Image: Jackie Pal)

Name: Ovest
Contact Info: 788 King St. W., 416-214-6161, ovest-to.com, @Ovest_TO
Neightbourhood: King West
Owner: Marco Celio, the former general manager at both Buca and Buonanotte
Chef: Sicilian-born chef Luca Stracquadanio, previously the executive chef at Terroni LA and La Bettola di Terroni in Toronto

The Food: In addition to thin-crust pizzas and truffle-strewn pastas, the debut menu at Ovest includes some interesting departures from typical trattoria fare. A nontraditional caprese salad, for example, combines tuna tartare with whipped Buffalo mozzarella and salsa verde. The swordfish carpaccio—chef Stracquadanio’s signature dish—brings thin slices of smoked fish sprinkled with slivered fennel, orange segments and white anchovies. (“I want to surprise my customers with juxtaposing elements,” says the chef.) Desserts, like the chocolate nest pictured above, are almost too pretty to eat.

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Introducing: Dandylion, a modern bistro on Queen West from former Centro chef Jay Carter

(Image: Renée Suen)

(Image: Renée Suen)

Name: Dandylion
Contact Info: 1198 Queen St. W., 647-464-9100, restaurantdandylion.com
Neighbourhood: West Queen West
Chef/Owner: Jay Carter, who worked for 10 years under Susur Lee (first at Susur, then Lee) before becoming executive chef at Centro

The Menu: “I want people to feel nourished and revived,” says chef Carter of his debut menu. His dishes are sophisticated but not too fussy. Take, for example, an elegant confit chicken dish paired with celery root and toasted brioche crumbs, or a silky poached egg sprinkled with crunchy puffed grains (referred to on the menu as “savoury granola”). There’s no one unifying cuisine at play—Asian and European flavours show up together in a persimmon salad with sprouted black lentils and Marcona almonds, while the stark white dishes and veggie-focused plates suggest Nordic influences.

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Introducing: Wahlburgers, the new Toronto outpost of Mark, Donnie and Paul Wahlberg’s Boston burger shop

(Image: Renée Suen)

(Image: Renée Suen)

Name: Wahlburgers
Contact Info: 46 Blue Jays Way, 416-489-8922, wahlburgers.ca, @WahlburgersCA
Neighbourhood: Entertainment District
Owners: The Wahlberg brothers (Mark, Donnie and Paul), Starwood Group president Bruce Greenbeerg, Metropolitan Hotels president Henry Wu and Difference Capital executive chairman Michael Wekerle.
Chefs: Executive chef Paul Wahlberg and head chef Vincent Leung, who’s also the chef de cuisine at Luckee next door

The Food: Beef and turkey patties are grilled-to-order and piled high with veggies, bacon strips and condiments (including chef Paul’s secret-recipe “Wahl sauce,” which is pretty similar to Thousand Island.) Non-burger options include hot dogs, salads, grilled cheeses and a seared-chicken sandwich named after Donnie’s wife Jenny McCarthy.

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Introducing: Pizzeria Libretto’s much-anticipated (and PATH-accessible) downtown location

Introducing: Pizzeria Libretto

(Image: Renée Suen)

Name: Pizzeria Libretto
Contact Info: 155 University Ave., 416-551-0433, pizzerialibretto.com, @PizzaLibretto
Owner: Libretto Restaurant Group
Executive Chef and Partner: Rocco Agostino
Chefs di “Cucina”: Tiffany Wong and sous chef Carmen Mach

The Food: The new Libretto serves the same simple, seasonal food as the chain’s Ossington and Danforth locations. The menu is divided between rustic Italian starters (including chef Agostino’s namesake arugula salad with squash and beets) and generously topped Neapolitan pizzas, which are flash-baked for 90 seconds each. At $15 for three courses, the weekday prix-fixe lunch menu is one of the better deals downtown.

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Introducing: Wilbur Mexicana, the slick new Mexican restaurant on King West

(Image: Gizelle Lau)

(Image: Gizelle Lau)

Name: Wilbur Mexicana
Contact Info: 552 King St. W., wilburmexicana.com, @WilburMexicana
Neighbourhood: King West
Owners: Will Cumberland, Baird Cumberland and Stephen Chan
Chefs: Daniel Janetos, previously the chef de cuisine at Farmhouse Tavern, and Mario Escobar

The Food: The short menu sticks to simple Mexican street food dishes, mostly of the tortilla-wrapped variety (tacos, burritos, quesadillas, etc.). To start, there’s queso-topped corn and traditional guacamole with chips. The salsa bar stocks eight condiments of varying intensity, including a dare-worthy blend laced with ghost peppers. 

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Introducing: Bar Fancy, Chantecler chef Jonathan Poon’s new Queen West snack bar

(Image: Gizelle Lau)

(Image: Gizelle Lau)

Name: Bar Fancy
Contact Info: 1070 Queen St. W., 416-546-1416, @BarFancyTO
Neighbourhood: West Queen West
Owners/chefs: Chantecler’s Jonathan Poon and former Fabbrica chef (and Chopped Canada contestant) Jesse Fader

The Food: “Cheap and cheerful” is how Poon describes the dishes on his short snack menu. “We take a serious approach to food, but it isn’t—ironically—fancy.” Everything’s plated on colourful Melamine tableware, including two different chicken dishes: jumbo wings seasoned with mouth-tingling Sichuan peppercorns and fried chicken pieces paired with pickles, butter and springy white Wonder Bread. The menu will soon be expanded to include some larger options, like a 32-ounce rib-eye steak.

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Introducing: Louis Cifer Brew Works, a huge new brewpub on the Danforth

(Image: Gabby Frank)

(Image: Gabby Frank)

Name: Louis Cifer Brew Works
Contact Info: 417 Danforth Ave., 647-350-5087, louisciferbrewworks.com, @LouisCiferBW
Neighbourhood: Riverdale
Previously: Longstanding Greek restaurant Myth, which closed in 2010, followed by two short-lived tenants (Legion sports bar and 417 Restaurant)
Owners: Erin Gamelin and Craig Abbott, who also co-own the nearby Stout Irish Pub.
Chefs: Angel Sevilla and head brewer Christine Nagy

The Food: The menu includes pub staples (burgers, nachos) and a handful of more upscale options, like a rack of lamb with sour-cherry gastrique. Dishes are infused with beer wherever possible—the house ale adds flavour to an onion soup, a cheese fondue and a plate of PEI mussels. This being the Danforth, there’s also a kids’ menu.

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Introducing: Fresh Off The Boat, a new seafood sandwich shop on Queen West

(Image: Renée Suen)

(Image: Renée Suen)

Name: Fresh Off The Boat
Contact Info: 404 Queen St. W., 416-603-3333, @FOTB416
Previously: IWing Pizza & Wings
Neighbourhood: Queen West
Owner/Chef: Quinten Tran, one of the founders of the Buster’s Sea Cove food truck

The Food: The chalkboard menu lists about a dozen seafood sandwiches, salads and other dishes, most of which have a slight Can-Asian flair. The signature “FOB” sandwich (described as an “Asian po’boy banh mi”) is a battered-catfish sub topped with kimchi and smoky aioli. Other options include a lobster roll, a grilled halibut salad and an entire soft-shell crab served on a brioche bun. Chunky fries and broccoli slaw are available on the side.

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Introducing: Queen Margherita, the new Neapolitan pizza parlour on Dundas West

Introducing: Queen Margherita Pizza

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

Name: Queen Margherita Pizza
Contact Info: 772 Dundas St. W., qmpizza.com
Neighbourhood: Trinity Bellwoods
Previously: A paint store occupied the upper floor, while Hard Luck Bar called the basement home
Owners: John Chetti, Rocco Mazzaferro, Tom Mediati and Roberto Scala
Chef: Head chef John Galante creates and executes the menu with guidance from exec chef Jonathan Gushue (previously of Langdon Hall)

The Food: The menu is divided between snacks, starters and pizzas. For $38 you can sample the entire snack section, which includes prosciutto di Parma, cacciatore, olives and hunks of Parm. Familiar QMP starters (like the much-loved potenta with sausage) are joined by octopus carpaccio, ricotta-stuffed eggplant and other new additions. The wood-fired pizzas range from conventional (the namesake Margherita) to straight-up quirky (the “Roberto Scallopini AKA Birdman,” which is topped with kale, garlic aioli and toasted sunflower seeds).

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Introducing: Nana, the Khao San Road spin-off restaurant that (finally!) opened on Queen West

Introducing: Nana

(Image: Jackie Pal)

Name: Nana
Contact Info: 785 Queen St. W., 647-352-5773
Neighbourhood: Trinity Bellwoods
Previously: Friendly Thai
Chef/Owner: Monte Wan, who also owns Khao San Road on Adelaide Street

The Food: Owner Monte Wan amused himself during the prolonged construction of his new Queen West restaurant by staging an elaborate media hoax that saw the storefront cycle through a bunch of silly restaurant concepts. (You may recall signage for places called “Cakehole” and “Wheels Keep on Truckin.”) The Thai eatery that finally opened at 785 Queen West isn’t based on any of those jokey ideas, though it is a bit edgier than sister spot Khao San Road. Inspired by all four regions of Thailand, the menu focuses on dishes you don’t always see in North America. The list includes laab (ground meat seasoned with herbs and toasted rice), pork satay seasoned with palm sugar, and a traditional noodle soup that’s commonly served off riverboats in Northern Thailand. (It’s made with three cuts of beef and a flavour-boosting shot of blood.) Keep an eye out for bar snacks by former Momofuku Daishō chef Matt Blondin and gelatos from Kensington sweet shop Millie Creperie.

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Introducing: Schmaltz Appetizing, the Jewish fish shop behind Fat Pasha

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

Name: Schmaltz Appetizing
Contact Info: 414 Dupont St. (the carriage house behind Fat Pasha), 647-350-4261, schmaltzappetizing.com
Neighbourhood: The Annex
Previously: A kids’ store called Draw Me a Sheep (before that, it was Indian Rice Factory Chai Bar)
Owner: Anthony Rose, who also owns Fat Pasha, Rose and Sons, and Big Crow
Chef: Rose designed the menu, which is being executed by Drake alum Chris Kirn

The Food: An “appetizing” store is a Jewish food shop that sells fish, cream cheese and other foods commonly eaten with bagels. Schmaltz carries all the standard fishy toppings (smoked salmon, gravlax, gefilte fish), as well as some more exotic options, like salmon caviar, carp and smoked Acadian sturgeon. Most items can be ordered on a Kiva’s bagel, including $45 worth of American sturgeon caviar with sliced eggs and sour cream. (Less extravagant sandwiches run from $8 to $14). Fat Pasha’s Mediterranean salads round out the menu, along with a handful of traditional Jewish pastries.

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Introducing: Gaslight, a new neighbourhood local on Bloor West

Introducing: Gaslight

(Image: Renée Suen)

Name: Gaslight
Contact Info: 1426 Bloor St. W., 647-402-9728
Previously: Zocalo
Neighbourhood: Junction Triangle
Owners: Megan Jones (Reposado) and Tim Pritchard (Communist’s Daughter), who have a combined 26 years of experience in the hospitality industry
Chefs: Head chef Michael Greer and consulting chef Garth Legree, the former chef de cuisine at The County General and current executive chef at Little Anthony’s

The Food: Gaslight is more bar than restaurant, so the menu focuses on stuff that’s easy to nibble with a drink in hand—mainly sandwiches and snacks. Still, the short list includes some interesting options. “Poi boi” pierogies are stuffed with shrimp and chorizo, and broccoli poutine is served under a blanket of gruyere cheese sauce and pickled jalapeños.

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