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Chicago Hound Seeks Very Special Toronto Dinner Rec's; Offers Compensation

j
JimInLoganSquare May 2, 2004 12:44 AM

My wife and I will be visiting Toronto for a few days surrounding her birthday, which is September 1 (but we'll be targeting that weekend, 9/3-4). I'll probably be back here looking for recommendations for other more Chowey meals, but right now I want to lock down the "big deal" restaurant for the birthday dinner itself. Premises include: Just the two of us. Excellent wine list and wine service. A quiet, romantic (or at least elegant) atmosphere. No-no's would include places with video screens and pounding deep house soundtracks, "steak and cigar and power tie" joints(got enough of those here in Chicago and plan to leave my pinky ring on the nighstand anyway) or anything outside the city limits of Toronto or not within easy access to public transportation. Price is no object (really, literally, I mean that -- go ahead and suggest the most expensive restaurant in Toronto, if it is actually the best for an intimate birthday celebration for a party of two). Cuisine can be any style; seeking only quality. Thank you in advance for your rec's. As an added incentive, I'll provide the individual who provides the best suggestion my Three Indispensable Tips to Visitors Dining in Chicago (just in case you're planning a trip to my town, you see).

  1. j
    JimInLoganSquare May 4, 2004 01:55 PM

    Thanks for the outpouring of suggestions. I have to close the polls at some point, and I think we are at that point. The additional vote for Perigee puts it, along with Scaramouche, in the top tier (3 votes each). The availability of the more casual pasta option at Scaramouche is the tie-breaker, as this means we could visit it another time (and the highly-praised view I'm sure looks just as good over pasta). Accordingly, I think Perigee can be declared the winner in this contest. Not that I wouldn't just decide to foresake the results of this fair democratic process (my whimsy is among my many charms), but I do like to plan well ahead when it comes to special meals. Thanks again; I'll probably chime in with further requests as my travel date gets closer.

    1. j
      JimInLoganSquare May 3, 2004 09:46 PM

      O.K., I've received so many thoughtful and tempting rec's, I've decided the only way to handle it is through a direct democratic means. I have tallied all the rec's (note that I didn't distinguish between "first choice" and mere approval/positive rec's -- any positive statement about a restaurant has earned it a vote.) And here's the voting so far:

      Top Category: With three votes, the leader is Scaramouche.

      Near the Top: Closing in fast, with two votes per are: Susur, Allegro, North 44 and Perigee.

      In the Running: With one vote each are: Avalon, Canoe, Noce, and Luce.

      Unless anyone wants to propose a dark horse candidate, how about a runoff among the Near the Top and In the Running groups? Everybody, let's hear your vote for the best in these two groups. Then we'll pit the winners against Scaramouche!

      (Note to garp7 and Kirk: I didn't include Cornerhouse or Pangea because they were recommended as informal and/or lunch alternatives; great spots we'll try to hit, but not in the "all stops" category we are seeking here.

      5 Replies
      1. re: JimInLoganSquare
        k
        Kirk May 3, 2004 10:19 PM

        As far as I am concerned, you've got it covered.

        Of course, if you're looking for breakfasts, on a day when you're not having peameal on a bun at St. Lawrence, you must do Tim Horton's.
        : D

        1. re: JimInLoganSquare
          f
          fortheloveoffood May 4, 2004 09:12 AM

          My vote is for Perigee- it's an experience unlike any other. Scaramouche has a more casual pasta bar that I would recommend for another night - if you do go to Scaramouche, save room for the coconut cream pie!

          1. re: JimInLoganSquare
            g
            Guy Middleton May 4, 2004 01:30 PM

            Of the places I have been to the current list (Susur, Allegro, North 44, Avalon, Canoe), I would pick Avalon. Whenever I plan on a dinner which I *know* will be great in all respects, that's where I go.

            Dark Horse candidate: Bymark. Same chef/owner as N44, but better food in my opinion.

            And another suggestion for a non-big-event night: a round of oysters&beer at Rodney's Oyster House, followed by dinner at Crush Wine Bar. Crush has excellent wines, I am not sure about the current state of their kitchen, but was pretty good the last time I was there.

            1. re: JimInLoganSquare
              t
              TheColonel May 4, 2004 01:54 PM

              Jim,

              In my view, your choice should be between Susur and Scaramouche. If your chief emphasis is on food, then I would pick Susur. It is the only restaurant within the city limits with a kitchen that impresses on an international level. By comparison, for example, I had dinner at Tru in Chicago last year and I would rank the food at Susur ahead of the food Tru. I can't say that about Scaramouche.

              If your chief emphasis is on ambience and wine, I would pick Scaramouche. Susur does well on those fronts, but the decor is more minimalist than it is romantic, and the wine list doesn't have the depth of the list at Scaramouche. The food at Scaramouche is fine, but not outstanding.

              The other places on your tally are strong contenders, but wouldn't make my cut for the following reasons:

              Via Allegro - big, bustling, loud.

              North 44 - less convenient location, tables too close together.

              Avalon - nothing really wrong with it, but nothing really outstanding either.

              Canoe - the perfect choice for a business meal, but for a romantic dinner it's just too, well, businessy.

              I haven't been to Perigee, Noce or Luce.

              1. re: TheColonel
                j
                JimInLoganSquare May 4, 2004 02:04 PM

                Thanks for the thoughtful post, Colonel. Susur does sound like an obvious contender. Sorry you just missed the closing of the polls -- but this doesn't mean we won't try Susur another night while we are in Toronto; just that it won't be the "official birthday meal" for my wife :=)

            2. g
              Guy Middleton May 3, 2004 04:00 PM

              Here are some notes for five of my favourite "special-occasion" restaurants in Toronto.

              Avalon: Excellent, consistent food. Quiet, comfortable ambiance. Efficient and discreet service, probably the best I have seen in Toronto. I remember one occasion when the service was timed so well, the waitress seemed to have telepathy. Interesting wine list, usually with some obscure choices. Excellent cheese plate. I believe they have recently introduced a special tasting menu (Fridays only?), but I haven't tried it yet. About 20 minutes walk from your hotel. Closed Sunday and Monday.

              Canoe: This is the power lunch place for bankers and stockbrokers. On the 54th floor of an office tower, so the view is spectacular, except when there are low clouds and you're dining in a fog bank. The room itself is very nice, although not particularly quiet. Food is very good, as is the wine list. Service is efficient and staff usually knowledgeable. They try to showcase Canadian food, so be prepared for lots of venison, Quebec foie gras, and haute cuisine versions of typical Canadian dishes. About 15 minutes walk from your hotel. Closed Saturday and Sunday.

              Scaramouche: A long-time favourite romantic spot. Situated on a hill, with a good view of downtown. Excellent food, comfortable ambiance, polished service. Very good wine list, if I remember correctly. There are actually two places here -- the resaturant proper, and the "pasta bar", which is more informal. Reachable by transit, but easier to take a taxi.

              Susur: Amazing food. Calling it French-Asian fusion is probably accurate, but does not do it justice. They have menus, but most diners just ignore them and have the chef's tasting menu. When I last ate there, he was doing the tasting menu "backwards" -- starting with a substantial main dish, followed by small courses. This is good from a dining point of view, but does not work well with wines. The wine list is not this restaurant's main strength, either. Ambiance is a bit stark for some tastes, but I like it. Service is proficient. About 30 minutes walk from your hotel, but on the streetcar line. Closed Sundays.

              Via Allegro: Amazing wine list. At our last meal there, we planned our dinner around the wines, and spent at least 30 minutes before dinner reading the list, which is a book an inch thick. Lots of obscure wines by the class, impressive depth of Italian vintages, vertical selections in several important vineyards. We were all set to order when they told us that the Italian truffles were in season, so we had to pick yet more wines to have with our truffle pasta. The food is very good. Started as a pizza/pasta place (in a suburban strip mall!), but quickly grew more ambitious. We were there for a late dinner (8:30 seating) and left at 1:00, and weren't the last ones to leave by any means. Accessible by transit, but I wouldn't recommend it -- take a taxi instead.

              So, in summary: If you're looking for amazing food, try Susur (but the wines don't really work with this food). For wines, try Via Allegro (but it's far away). For a spectacular view and local colour, go to Canoe. For a good romantic spot, Scaramouche is reliable. For an all-around great dining experience, go to Avalon.

              1. f
                fiasco May 3, 2004 01:55 PM

                Taking into consideration atmosphere, food and wine list my top choice would be Via Allegro. Scaramouche is my favorite romantic destination. Susur is my favorite cuisine. Via Allegro has a wine book that I could spend days going through.

                1. c
                  Carolyn May 3, 2004 07:53 AM

                  I'm going to cast my vote for Noce. It's my favourite romantic spot for delicious dinner, especially if it's warm enough for patio season. Their side patio has little alcoves, water fountain etc which makes me think of a trip to Tuscany. The food is excellent (homemade gnocchi is to die for) although on the pricey side which is fine with you. Owners Elena and Guido are so attentive and friendly. It's located on the Queen St. West strip which is interesting to walk around too.
                  ps if you go, the lemon tart dessert is superb

                  1. g
                    garp7 May 2, 2004 08:32 PM

                    If my partner gave me a choice for a romantic dinner, I'd say Cornerhouse on a non-busy night. The food isn't spectacular but yummy. And the place is such a charming little place that I can't imagine any women who wouldn't like it as a birthday surprise. The service is friendly, the yellow walls refreshing and if the weather is nice, the neighbourhood is great for a little after-dinner walk.

                    Link: http://www.toronto.com/profile/145764/

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: garp7
                      j
                      JimInLoganSquare May 2, 2004 09:34 PM

                      Looks mighty inviting, but not quite the "spectacular" sort of spot I'm looking for Mrs. JimInLoganSquare's birthday. I've put it on the list of possibilities for other meals (we've got 4 days in Toronto -- that's about 27 meals, right?)

                      Email me if you'd like one of my three Chicago tips, too, garp7.

                    2. p
                      Peppermint Pate May 2, 2004 08:09 PM

                      I'm particularly incented to answer this one as I'm planning a week-end in Chicago sometime this summer...

                      At the moment, I'd cast my vote for Luce. It's a newly opened Italian restaurant in the also newly opened (last fall) St. Germain hotel. The chef, Guy Rubino, is one of the great chefs in Toronto. His food is inventive, delicious and IMO - very, very sexy. There are lots of dishes prepared 3 ways with an astounding range of ingredients - truly, it's artistry on a plate (or in this case, a floor tile, the eating surface of choice). The room is dimly lit with high ceilings, lots of candles and comfy seats. I can't recall if the wine list was strictly or at least mostly Italian but I recall a good selection. And if you want to be very romantic, book a room at the hotel so you can mosey up there afterwards (seriously, you should consider this boutique hotel for your stay). Enjoy.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Peppermint Pate
                        j
                        JimInLoganSquare May 2, 2004 09:27 PM

                        Peppermint P.: Thanks for the thoughtful rec. We're already booked in a hotel, but who knows, its the Westin and we'll probably get sick of it and want to move someplace prettier. Send me an email at the address cited above and I'll provide you one of my three invaluable Chicago tips (that goes for all who have provided rec's here).

                      2. j
                        JimInLoganSquare May 2, 2004 06:01 PM

                        Thanks for the rec's. I've looked up some details on all three and it will be a very hard choice, indeed. So, let's see, now. We'll be in Toronto four nights ... ,>)

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: JimInLoganSquare
                          k
                          Kirk May 2, 2004 06:56 PM

                          If you are looking for another place (especially for Saturday lunch), I suggest one that my wife and I tried on a whim...Pangaea. We happened upon it while wandering around Yorkville (it's near the Bay/Yorkville TTC station), and we had no expectations of it whatsoever. The chef was standing outside as we walked by (it was early), and we asked him to describe the food. His description was intriguing enough that we decided to try it We were very pleasantly surprised. Good beer and wine selection, including wine pairing suggestions. If I remember correctly, they had some interesting Canadian wines.

                          Pangaea
                          1221 Bay St.
                          Toronto, ON M5R3P5
                          Phone:  (416) 920-2323

                          Link: http://www.pangaearestaurant.com/menu...

                        2. k
                          Kirk May 2, 2004 10:29 AM

                          It's been more than a year since we've been there, but I would can my vote for North 44.

                          Link: http://www.north44restaurant.com/

                          1. j
                            JayCee May 2, 2004 01:14 AM

                            Perigee....look no further.

                            www.perigeerestaurant.com

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: JayCee
                              s
                              susan May 2, 2004 02:12 PM

                              North 44 is good, Perigee's food is spectacular however their wine program is very linited. A window table at Scaramouche is an all round winner for food, service, wine, and romance.

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