Toronto

Top Toronto restaurants reflect city’s many faces

During our brief stay in Toronto, we managed to dine at three of the city's leading restaurants not run by Susur Lee. (For a look at his Luckee, see our earlier post.) The Top Chef Canada cooking competition (2011-2014) helped drive the dining culture here, placing an emphasis on restaurants that are personal expressions of the chef. So each of the three had the firm stamp of a strong personality in the kitchen. Nota Bene Chef David Lee was a partner when he opened Nota Bene to great acclaim in 2008. After becoming full owner, he overhauled and redesigned the restaurant last February. More than ever, this is a classy yet casual fine dining room expressing the latest fascinations of a very talented, classically trained...Read More

Local color lights up Toronto neighborhoods

Toronto's playful side is literally written on its walls. The city is full of murals created with a high degree of artistry and a witty sense of humor. The one above with the car-turned-planter in the foreground embodies the spirit of the Kensington Market neighborhood. Just west of Chinatown, most of its shops and eateries are found along Augusta Avenue and adjacent Nassau Street, Baldwin Street, and Kensington Avenue. The eastern boundary stretches to Spadina Avenue in Chinatown, making a continuous colorful neighborhood of eateries and shops. Once the center of hippie culture in Canada, Kensington Market was where many young American men moved to avoid the military draft during the Vietnam war. The area retains its psychedelic patchouli vibe in the street art and...Read More

Toronto Chinatown awash with flavors

“Growing up in Chinatown,” said chef and culinary educator John Lee, “was a Duddy Kravitz kind of experience.” He was making a very Canadian reference to Mordecai Richler's nostalgic novel of the Canadian Jewish immigrant experience. John was showing us around his childhood haunts in Toronto's Old Chinatown. (It's not to be confused with at least five other Chinatowns east of Toronto proper.) The Toronto neighborhood radiating from the corner of Spadina Avenue and West Dundas Street was a Jewish immigrant neighborhood for the first half of the 20th century. As the Jewish population moved north after World War II, Chinese immigrants flooded into the area. Of Korean descent, Lee waxed nostalgic about his Chinese and Jewish friends as well as the old-time Jewish shopkeepers...Read More

Little Italy simmers with many new tastes

There are certainly fancier coffee shops than Café Diplomatico (594 College St., 416-534-4637, cafediplomatico.ca), but few that so consistently screen European soccer matches on the TVs. Since 1968, it's been one of the principal landmarks of Toronto's Little Italy. Ironically, that's just about the time that the neighborhood was beginning to lose its accent. We met Kevin Dupree, owner of the Culinary Adventure Co. (647-955-8357, www.culinaryadventureco.com), in front of “The Dip” for a walk around the neighborhood along College Street between Euclid Avenue and Shaw Street. Dupree's company offers a full menu of neighborhood sampling tours and a number of other gastronomic activities—including a summertime canoe trip to the Toronto islands with a master chef who prepares a picnic. But this particular evening, we concentrated...Read More

Indulge at Rashers with all bacon, all the time

There's something to be said for doing one thing and doing it well. Rashers opened in Toronto's Leslieville neighborhood in 2012 with a laser focus on the bacon sandwich. Owners John Clark and Richard Mulley firmly believe that bacon is more than a trendy garnish or a handy meat for foodie experimentation. In the Rashers universe, bacon is a culinary building block. Not just for BLTs anymore, bacon is the foundation for a whole range of sandwiches. It is a new standard under which hand-held cuisine can march forward into a gastronomic future. The Leslieville storefront (948 Queen St. East, 416-710-8220, www.rashers.ca) is as minimal as the menu. Hardly more than 20 feet wide at the street, it consists of a few high stools lined...Read More

Peameal bacon shows the salty side of Hogtown

“The peameal bacon sandwich is Toronto's most unique food,” says Robert Biancolin, who runs Carousel Bakery at the St. Lawrence Market with his brother Maurice. “It's like what the Philly cheesesteak is to Philadelphia.” The Biancolin brothers' bakery is one of the busiest spots in the bustling market. Most customers wait patiently in line to place their orders and then walk away with peameal bacon sandwiches wrapped in shiny silver foil. Those with big appetites might also order one of Carousel's melt-in-your mouth butter tarts, another Toronto specialty. Robert and Maurice have been serving peameal bacon sandwiches in the market for 40 years. During a lull in business, Robert (at right) enthusiastically relates some of the history of Toronto's signature style of back bacon. He...Read More

Toronto fills its larder at St. Lawrence Market

Toronto is like the grandmother who always wants to feed you. In fact, banners hanging from Old Town light poles actually exhort visitors to bring their appetites. After a whirlwind visit to Canada's biggest city just before Canadian Thanksgiving, we have to conclude that Toronto is a good place to “come on an empty stomach.” Torontonians have cultivated a sophisticated contemporary gastronomic scene that draws on foodways from all over Europe and Asia. Great little ethnic restaurants dot the streets of the neighborhoods. At the same time, many of the best restaurants feature market-driven contemporary cuisine that showcases the best products from Canadian farms and orchards. Historic market continues to thrive Toronto has had a permanent central food market since 1830—four years before the town...Read More

It’s smart to get Luckee in Toronto

Susur Lee was always my favorite contestant on season two of Top Chef Masters, but it took a while until I got to eat his food instead of watching him make it on TV. This year I finally made it to his jewel box contemporary Chinese restaurant, Luckee, at the Soho Metropolitan Hotel (328 Wellington St. W; 416-935-0400, luckeerestaurant.com). This polished restaurant serves some of the best meals in an already food-obsessed city. Much more than a gastronomic shrine directed by a celebrity chef, it's flat-out good fun. I'm not the only one who thinks so. On my last visit Will Smith was in town shooting yet another movie where Toronto stands in as a generic North American city. He and his entourage took over...Read More