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New Yorker in Toronto-a review

d
David W Jun 27, 2007 04:45 PM

First, a big thank you to all the Toronto chowhounds-I read your posts with great interest for a number of months before my trip (part of my year long celebration of my 50 years, in which I go to a city and eat and spend too much.) Following is a brief review of each-details are missing, as drinking too much is also part of the plan.

Jamie Kennedy wine bar: our first stop upon arriving, we sat in the room which opens up onto the street (filled with dogs for Woofstock.) We had fries (yes, you must have those fries), asparagus, arugala salad, croquette monsieur, potato rosti with smoked trout. The Sunday brunch is a deal, at 2 dishes for $20.00. A special mention to our waitress, who warned me of the somewhat high price I was paying for the suggested wine pairing (Christian Moreau Vaudesir-it was worth it.)

Cava: A warning-this address is a mall, and about the middle of the block there’s an alleyway, where you find this place. We had olive/fennel salad, foie gras pinchos, pea soup with mint, anticuchos, mushroom tamale, Swiss chard, quail, molten chocolate cake. All very nice and relaxing-good pacing and a pleasant atmosphere…and it’s open Sunday night.

Canoe: The view is great, although I had my back to it (gallant, eh?) We went for lunch-very professional service. We had beet salad, gnocchi, sable, pork medallions, butter tart. The sable was especially good, but I thought the overall food quality was quite high, considering they have that view. If the cost seems too dear, at least have a drink at the bar-same view.

Crush: The space is ok, nothing special. We had endive salad, asparagus, gnocchi, paella, branzino. Everything was good, but not great…I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat here. And I had the 20-something waitress question my wine selection (I have bottles older than you! I thought but didn’t say.) I don’t mind a suggestion, but to argue? Yikes.

Globe Bistro: Very nice space-we sat upstairs, where you can watch the action below in your comfy booth. It seemed the whole place was going to the concert at Danforth Music Hall. They did a fine job of getting us all out in good time. We had gnocchi, foie gras (really good, but a bit small), black cod with soba noodles, pickerel, strawberry/rhubarb pie. I was quite impressed with the quality of food and service here. I especially loved the cod (and the waiter was spot-on with his wine suggestion with that dish-a Waterstone Pinot.)

Jaimie Kennedy Gardiner-a very nice space on the third floor of the Gardiner, looking towards the ROM (mostly the old building, if the new bit scares you off.) Since the space is not really separate from the museum, you get tempting cooking smells while looking at the ceramics (Don’t skip that!) Fries( again), smoked salmon, chive soup, Gardiner burger, prime rib sandwich, madeleines. The service was a little confused, with waiters wandering about not knowing who (or which table) gets what. The food was good, but I’d pick the wine bar over this space if you want to try JK.

Susur: I liked the serenity of the room (and that crazy changing color wall) and the service was perfect. I’m not that good at remembering tasting menus, so forgive me. They brought out 5 amuse, sirloin with mustard, foie gras, cod, many desserts. I have to say, I think they fell short, especially considering the price tag. There was nothing that rang out to me, and many of the dishes (especially the desserts) just fell flat.

George: Lunch in the outdoor space is very special. Asparagus salad, gnocchi, black cod, wild salmon, beignets (I could have eaten another serving of them.) This is very solid food, and the garden space makes it perfect. I felt very relaxed and well treated here. In New York terms, this would be Union Square Café-a place to return to again and again-it won't knock you out, but you’ll always be happy here.

La Maquette: I hadn't planned on eating here. We had reservations at Colborne Lane at 8:30 on Friday night. We had a long day and were quite hungry. We came into Colborne and were told that our table "Wasn't quite ready." We are not really bar types, so we sat on the bench in the front. And waited. When two people came in and were promptly taken in to be seated, I inquired again-oh, they are at a larger table…we waited 20 minutes, and the loud music in the bar area was getting to us. We got up to leave, and the host told us he was "trying to turn the table" but I said no thanks and left. If you’re getting older and grumpy, you might want to have an early, midweek reservation here. I had remembered La Maquette from when I looked at the sculpture garden. The calm waterfall, lovely evening and quiet atmosphere were a welcome change. We had organic green salad, foie gras, lobster linguine, seafood risotto, poached pear. No, this isn’t cutting edge, and the quality is fine, but not anywhere near the top…but I loved lingering over wine and coffee and watching people wander into the garden and look at the , er, plastic cobweb currently sited there.

Banfi: We had lunch here between Casa Loma and Spadina House (thanks, downtown, for the suggestion.) There are a number of spots to eat in the immediate area, but this appealed most. We arrive around 1:00 as others were leaving and had no problem getting a table. I liked the rustic atmosphere (and the cool tables on a hot day.) We had arugala salad, spinach salad, gnocchi with garlic, penne with tomato sauce. Note that the wines on offer are a bit limited (house red, house white, etc.) Not a fussy or complex place, but good, solid food and nice for lunch. A note-it isn’t like the climb up the stairs from Dupont, but it is about 3 times longer and is uphill.

Splendido: This is a perfect restaurant. The space, service, food, are flawless. We had the grand tasting menu (copy provided, so I can report)- yellowfin tartare, pea soup with poached lobster, white asparagus with copper river salmon cuit sous-vide and Hollandaise, sea scallops with pork belly, porcini dusted halibut with morels or squab breast with porcini mushrooms, Chocolate soufflé with butter pecan ice cream, pistachio cake. Everything was excellent or amazing…the asparagus was one of the best dishes I’ve had. I had the wine pairing, and when my wife mentioned she’d just taste mine and have one full glass on her own, the sommelier offered a half-portion tasting to her. And they substituted the set dessert for the pistachio with pleasure. This is what one looks for in a fine-dining restaurant (of course you pay dearly for it, but you don’t feel too badly about it!)

Lai Wah Heen: Another serene room, with tablecloths and individual seating (no dim sum shared tables here!) We had crepe sandwiches with salmon, crystal shrimp dumplings, sticky rice, barbequed pork bun, steamed dumplings with pork and bok choy, steamed chicken and fish maw, baked pastry turnover with ham and shrimp (I've never had anything like it, and am now seeking it in NY) , scallion and pork pastry, mushroom and chicken pot-sticker, cream custard tart. I’ve eaten a lot of dim-sum in my life, but this was among the best (of course it was also the most expensive.) But well worth it, and not that much more than lunch at any regular restaurant in the mid-range. By the way, this is perfect for lunch before an event at the Four Seasons Centre. We arrived at 11:30 and were safely in our seats for the 2:00 matinee.

Perigee: First, it’s not so hard to find-and the handy streetcar stops not that far away. I really like the whole district. Perigee is on the second floor, and has a rustic quality. The regular tables set around the sunken kitchen provide a great view of the cooking, and it’s a delight to have the dishes explained by chef Riley. His enthusiasm is truly charming (he reminds me of another wonderful chef, Joseph Centeno at Opus in LA.) The entire staff is professional, yet relaxed. If you are looking for food perfection without the stuffy high-end restaurant experience, this is it. This would be perfect for someone who wants to try fine food, but is a bit afraid to do so. We had the blow-out tasting menu, with wine pairings. What I especially loved is that we each received a different dish with each course-so we had many, many different dishes. Alas, with the generous wine pairings and the fact that we left early the next morning to return to NY, I don’t have much of a clear item by item list. But I do remember that everything was excellent (the butter…the breadsticks…the buffalo..the venison.) If I was nearby, I would return here again and again. This was my favorite.

So thanks again Toronto hounds, for all your advice, and continued good eating.

  1. estufarian Jun 27, 2007 05:01 PM

    Thanks David. Glad to have the feedback.

    1. skylineR33 Jun 27, 2007 05:06 PM

      LWH - "baked pastry turnover with ham and shrimp". This is one of my fav there too !

      Interesting post and I agree on almost everything on the description of the restaurants you have visited. It is a pity that you found the food at Susur not up to par because I like it but you have great service there which is in line with my experience there.

      But what I found out missing in my opinion is a dinner at a nice chinese restaurant uptown because Toronto has some of the best chinese cuisine besides Mainland China and HK. You may want to do that if you have a chance to visit TO again ! Thanks for your review.

      1. TorontoJo Jun 27, 2007 05:08 PM

        David, can't thank you enough for your detailed report back. Wonderful to get your impressions. It's great to see that you enjoyed your culinary trip to Toronto -- you hit some of the best we have to offer (my favourites: Perigee, George, Splendido, JKWB). I must say I'm jealous -- you ate darn well in a short period!

        1. Charles Yu Jun 27, 2007 05:08 PM

          Wow! Wow!! and Wow!!! Glad you had a wonderful time.

          1. h
            hungry_pangolin Jun 27, 2007 05:18 PM

            David, thank you for your reviews. Too frequently we don't here a visitor's post mortem on the visit. You have reaffirmed my feelings (mostly quite positive) about the food scene in my city, but I agree with you about Susur. Next time here, whenever that might be, add Chiado to your list. I love it.

            2 Replies
            1. re: hungry_pangolin
              e
              erly Jun 27, 2007 06:56 PM

              thank you for the feedback.
              Splendido is value for the price, although by Canadian standards it is expensive.
              I have stated my negative feeling re; susur too many times on this board.
              I too love Lai wah Heen.
              Chaido is my husbands favourite restaurant in the city.
              George is a restaurant I should have posted on the never disappoints topic last week.
              Was planning to go to Colborne lane next week, but after reading your review we are canceling.
              Not only because your reservation wasn't honored,, but because of the the loud music.
              I avoid restaurants that blast music so loud, that you can't have a relaxed conversation with your companions.

              1. re: erly
                skylineR33 Jun 27, 2007 07:32 PM

                ummm ... I think the music level in the dining room is not that bad at Colborne Lane, I have no problem hearing or talking at all. But the music type may be a concern for some people as it is some kind of rock music ...

            2. s0memale Jun 27, 2007 08:03 PM

              amazing...thanks for the review.

              I think a trip to Kaji or even Hashimoto would have been a great experience as well. There's always next time!

              Now that is all said and done, which are your favourite 3?

              2 Replies
              1. re: s0memale
                aser Jun 27, 2007 10:48 PM

                I think 95% of the people on this board won't eat that good in the entire year, yet you managed to do it all in one trip. Kudos to you, and hopefully you had some help w/ an expense account.

                1. re: aser
                  j
                  julesrules Jun 28, 2007 06:18 AM

                  Entire year? Try entire lifetime :) No hard feelings though. Although I hate Toronto's constant insecurity, sometimes it's nice to hear that we measure up.

              2. Mr Rabbit Jun 28, 2007 12:52 AM

                Another thanks for such a well considered and thoughtful review...

                Rab-bit!

                1. Davwud Jun 28, 2007 04:41 AM

                  Yow!! You sure got around.

                  Glad to see you enjoyed our city.

                  DT

                  1. pixelchef Jun 28, 2007 06:31 AM

                    One of the Toronto's boards best posts in recent memory. Thank you, David, for a great write-up of some of the city's biggest draws. Great feedback. Keep posting over here! :)

                    1. d
                      David W Jun 28, 2007 07:07 AM

                      Thanks for your kind words-I always hate it when people ask for advice and never post their impressions (just like I hate when people ask-"Coming to NY-where should I eat?" ).

                      Ah, Chiado...it was on my list until the final cut. I had to coordinate our eating with other considerations, as my long-suffering spouse actual thinks there are other things to do but eat. Same with travelling out of the central area for food.

                      Re Colborne Lane--I understand that a restaurant can fall behind on a reservation that's later in the evening-my problem is that they weren't upfront about the possible wait time. As to the music level-I don't know what it is in the dining room, since I never made it there-but the volume in the bar area is too high for my (aging) ears.

                      My favorite three are probably Perigee, George, and Globe Bistro-meaning-that's where I would eat again if in town. I loved Splendido, but it's not a place I would go to again and again (at least on my own dime.)
                      Alas, I was not on an expense account, and with the dropping US Dollar, my bills will be painful. I am indeed fortunate to be able to (barely) afford this trip, but I had been planning a blowout 50th year for awhile. After seeing how depressed a friend of mine was on reaching that milestone, I decided I could avoid it by indulging my one vice. And I eat PB&J for lunch everyday at work (I don't work in a food-advantaged neighborhood in NY.)

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: David W
                        diesta Jun 29, 2007 05:20 AM

                        Brilliant review; I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on how the restos were in comparison to ones in NYC, and if you could compare the specific ones in Toronto to a similarly comparable one in NYC--in terms of food quality, ambience, pricing etc.

                        Cheers

                        1. re: diesta
                          d
                          David W Jul 2, 2007 11:26 AM

                          First, I clearly don't have the knowledge of the complete range of Toronto restaurants that I do of NY. On the whole, I think these places were certainly equal to the quality of most NY places at the level we're talking about. Now that the exchange rate is nearly equal, the cost is about the same.
                          I'd stack Perigee and Spendido against any NY restaurant. There's really no equal to Canoe in terms of view and food level (unless you count the 4th floor view from per se.) Most views in NY have a compromised food quality. I'd say that Annisa here in NY does what Susur is trying to do, but much better. Cava-the "small plate" mania here is everywhere-it seems every new spot that opens offers this. My favorite in NY is the Bar Room at the Modern (MOMA.)
                          One of the things I look for when traveling are restaurants that offer something different-usually a strong chef who uses local ingredients or a point of view-those that succeed are different from any other place. So I find it hard to really compare.
                          In the end, Perigee is the winner in my book--the use of space in the distillery district, the casual vibe yet serious food and the sheer variety of dishes makes this a very special destination.

                          1. re: David W
                            k
                            KevinB Jul 2, 2007 02:49 PM

                            We spent last Christmas in NYC for a week; frankly, I was amazed at the relatively poor quality of Chinese food there. The hot & sour soup in particular (which we tried at three different locations) seemed to be nothing more than massive amounts of black pepper in an indifferent broth. If you ever do get back to Toronto, I urge you to visit just north of the city in Markham or Richmond Hill where I think you'll find some of the best Chinese you've ever had - and at prices substantially lower than Lai Wah Heen.

                            That said, the meatball sub with extra cheese at Famous Ray's was one of the best, if gooiest, lunches I've had in a long time, and I finally got to show my kids what an "egg cream" is. Our problem was that the truly great restaurants in NYC were priced out of our pocketbooks; I hope you found Toronto a little more affordable, relatively.

                      2. oohlala Jun 28, 2007 08:25 AM

                        Awesome reviews! I'll be visiting NYC soon~ planning to go on a dessert (macaron) hunt!

                        Well, you are always welcomed to celebrate your 51st b-day in TO again!

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: oohlala
                          Cam Bloom Jun 28, 2007 12:52 PM

                          you've made up my mind. I am definitely going to the Exotica Canadiana Event at Splendido!

                        2. d
                          downtown Jun 29, 2007 08:22 AM

                          Glad you enjoyed the city. By the way, I want to travel with you on your next trip.... your treat.

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