I recently went on a business trip to Toronto for about a week. Despite being the third time, I hadn’t really had a chance to appreciate the culinary scene in Toronto. This time, my friend and I went and explored bits and pieces of the city. Here, I am reporting back.
The city features numerous celebrity chefs – Lynn Crawford, Mark McEwan, Brad Long, David Lee, and Susur Lee, just to name a few. My expectation was naturally a little high. But, my experience, which ranged from the (somewhat) high-end to the low-end, was rather mixed. Food photography doesn’t seem as welcomed it is the case here. At least I didn’t see any diners taking photos of food (shocking, I know, by Vancouver standard). Below are my thoughts on the restaurants that I went to. Unfortunately, no photos included.
Nota Bene is the first stop of my “tour”. Upon checking myself into the hotel downtown, I went through the tourist magazines. Nota Bene seemed promising, and it was recommended to me by a co-worker. My friend and I made an 8pm reservation (the earliest available at 6pm – busy for a Thursday night). Both from the ambiance and the staff, the restaurant gives out a sense of class. The space itself is grant and gorgeous. The service was however just the opposite… bad, I would say. The waiter was missing for a while before taking our drink orders, and no one checked on us during the dinner. Our neighbouring tables suffered the same as well. The staff were professional in their attitude but flat in the delivery of it. The cocktails were very good. Food wise, the appetizer (“Rare” Albacore Tuna) was mediocre – “the tuna seemed dead for a long time” were the words of my friend’s. The mains were definitely better but not exceptional. My friend’s Papardelle Pasta, Rabbit Soffrito was rather flavourful and satisfying. My Roast Pork with Apple Sauerkraut probably consisted of a quarter of a cabbage – the pork was moist and delicious. The saving grace was that the dinner did end in a high note with the desserts. Sticky Toffee Pudding and Pistachio Olive Oil Cake were both just delicious – they hit all the right notes for us. All in all, it’s not a cheap place, and I expected more for the dollars that I spent there. Next time, maybe I will just come back for drinks and desserts. Notes: must be able to tolerate loud business people; reservation is highly recommended.
My friend bought me to Le Gourmand for a quick lunch. It felt like Vancouver in there – great coffee, awesome pastry, and laid-back patrons. Upon entering, I like the cafe for its retro decor. Their danish, paninis, and chocolate souffle were all very good and reasonably priced. The souffle in particular was just delicious – moist and decadent. Another blog has a short description of this place. Please feel free to take a Torontoinan’s words over mine. After all, I was only a visitor. I can see this cafe doing really well in Vancouver, but apparently it’s not a Toronto thing as two other locations had failed. If you appreciate the cafe culture as I do, you will enjoy it.
Fred Is Not Here
Fred Is Not Here is a pretty casual place. My friend and I passed up our original selections on King Street and stumbled into this joint. The service was decent – our waitress was warm and friendly. The food was alright – nothing really to write home about. The wine, I thought, was on the expensive side. Food wise, it’s decently priced for value.
Beast is a very interesting place. Tugged away in a somewhat concerning neighbourhood and converted from a house, the restaurant is homey and serves up some really nice comfort food. My friends took me out to a weekend brunch at this place. I loved the poutine that we ordered, at least the concept of it. It was gnocchi, beef cheek ragu, creme fraiche, and cheese curd. I thought it was a smart dish, but the execution was a little lacking. We also had the cassoulet, Beast benny with braised rabbit, southern croque madame (cornbread, tasso ham, and collard greens), and meatballs. I thought food was very warm and comforting – though it may be just in contrast of the neighbouthood.
La Bettola di Terroni
With the Terroni chain of restaurants, my experience is a little mixed. The last time when I was in Toronto, I vised their Queen Street location. It impressed me. This time… not so much. The interior itself is very nice – chic blended with homey. The noise level is subdued. Service for us was good – possibly because my friend knows one of the waiters there. The mushroom salad (Funghi Assoluti – Baked Oyster Mushrooms, Parmigiano, Bread Crumbs,
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar on Arugola) was absolutely delicious. But the other appetizer, zappole di mare was doughy and lacks the promised seafood – I felt a little betrayed. The Bufalina pizza was full of the flavour of buffalo mozzarella but could do with more basil. We also picked a couple of pasta dishes off their daily specials. The chitara was average – despite being covered by shaved truffle, it lacks the truffle flavours. That was quite a disappointment. The pappardelle with duck ragu was probably worse – the noodles were stuck together and overcooked. Oh the desserts… “forgettable” and “regrettable”.
Toronto did save it best. For the last dinner in town, my friend and I went to this place for a late dinner. It so happened to the last Monday of the month and Marben‘s Patio Pig Roast day. This place is located in a quiet residential/warehouse area. The interior is very rustic yet with a sense of refined style – lots of wood. Th roast pork with bbq sauce was divine – the portion was generous, the pork had the right amount of fat, the pork rind was succulent, and the sauce just made it even better. On the side, we shared kale (flavourful and tender), spicy baked beans (with bits of pork hock., good spices, and tender beans), fries, cole slaw. By the way, the pork went quite well with a glass of Beaujolais. The roast pork with its sides would have been enough for the two of us, but I wanted indulgence. Therefore, the Marianne’s Duck Breast – with soft polenta, carrots, honey gastrique – was then happily consumed. The duck was perfectly cooked to median with crispy skin, and jus was just tasty. Just to cap over a great dinner, we order the Ervinna’s Ice Cream Sandwich – chocolate cookie, chocolate ice cream, crème anglaise. They also gave a little chocolate ganache sauce – that made it triple chocolate. Service wise, it was quite good. The waitresses were attentive and friendly. This is definitely a place that I will go back to.
There, that’s my adventure in the food world of Toronto. All in all, I avoided seafood since we have the best in BC already. Otherwise, the food scene in T.O. is vibrant, just like Vancouver, with probably more glamour to it because of all the celebrity chefs.