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A decent russian restaurant in Toronto (central-north)

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  • vladh Jul 26, 2007 02:15 PM
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Hi everyone,

I'm looking for a decent Russian restaurant in the GTA (central-north preferable) to celebrate a work milestone with some of my co-workers. I need them to show up at work the next day so the food should be decent ;) The ideal place should accommodate a party of 10-15ppl after hours; a show during dinner would be a plus. Please post your experiences and reviews - thanks a lot in advance!
Vlad

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  1. I'm sorry that I forget the name of it, but there is/was a Russian language publication that carried advertisements for a number of restaurants and night clubs which were, for all practical purposes, exclusively Russian. All of them were located in North York, as I recall. I have never visited them, but judging from the adverts, some were quite upscale, including floor shows. There once was a book store which carried it, on College near Ossington, called Troika, which has moved, but I know not where. Sorry that I couldn't be more helpful.

    1 Reply
    1. re: hungry_pangolin

      Thank you for the suggestion, however I'd like to get real dining experiences rather than just phone book information. I know where many of these places are but I don't have the time to check them out myself before next week.
      I'd be very grateful for anyone suggesting a restaurant based on a good personal experience dining there.
      Thanks
      Vlad

    2. by central north, i'm guessing you might be around the same area as I am....
      this is a thread that I started earlier this year... it might be useful :)

      http://www.chowhound.com/topics/373565

      1. Yonge & Steeles == russian and/or jewish.
        So many of the restaurants will be jewish, not russian. But I can not claim to fully understand the difference, as most/all of the Russion restuarants i have been to were really jewish?
        That said, try:
        Me Va Me http://www.restaurantica.com/restaura..., but get there early to avoid a wait in line. Large servings of tasty food, little / no atmosphere or service. What did you expect?
        There is also the Meron Brothers on Bathurst north of steeles http://torontorestaurantguide.net/Mer... again great simple food, service / atmosphere is lacking (this one may be a cafeteria style? I do not remember fully
        )We were a long time frequenter of Samovar Bramolay before George packed it in, and none of the Steeles Bathurst restaurants I have found are even close. So maybe they are more jewish & less Russian?

        4 Replies
        1. re: dancingTimmy

          There are a lot of Russina businesses at Yonge and Steeles, including restaurants. Many have signs if Cuyrillic lettering, so it would help to brush up on this.

          Russian and Russian/Jewish food are not exactly the same (there are plenty of Jewish dishes from Jews who did not come from Russia, many quite different - try Boujadi, a North African Jewish restauarnt on Eglinton). For example, Russian food often combines sour cream and meat, or uses pork, neither of which are kosher. But since many Russsians who emigrated and came here are Jewish, I imagine the Jewish style would predominate.

          P. S. I understand that the two guys who originally started Barmolay were Russsian Jews.

          1. re: ekammin

            Much of the Russian-speaking population around Bathurst and Steeles is Jewish. Certainly, before the mid-90s, there were very few non-Jewish Russian speakers in Toronto. (Hence, it's not surprising that the Barmalay guys were Jewish.) But you have to remember that during Soviet times, religious practice was suppressed, most Jews assimilated, and keeping kosher went out the window. Jews and non-Jews ate the same food.

            So does the "Jewish style" predominate in Toronto restaurants that have Russian roots? Only in the old Russian- and Polish-Jewish places such as United Bakeries. The ones with the cyrillic lettering are more than likely run by Russian Jews, and just as likely to serve meat pelmeny with sour cream (yum!) as those that are run by non-Jewish Russians.

            1. re: estragon

              I ate at Barmalay a few times. They proprietors may have been Jewish, but the restaurant certainly wasn't kosher.

          2. re: dancingTimmy

            Me Va Me and Meron Brothers are not Russian. They serve primarily middle easterm food, such as falafel, hummus, baba ghanoush, etc.

            To say the above places are not as good as Samovar Barmalay is like complaining that McDonald's is not as good as Trimurti.

          3. Want good Russian? Go to Montréal. Bakeries, delis, restos. Not meant to be inflammatory, though it may be taken as such. Curious, though, why so many Russians would settle and set up shop there rather than here. I remember Barmalay on St Clair - good old-school cooking. Jewish cuisine is adaptive, and generally tasty, but certainly not necessarily representive of the host nation's cuisine.

            BTW, My Market Bakery in Kensington Market carries an excellent Russian full-rye bread (the kind I grew up eating - not the light mass-produced pap one finds around town). A slice, toasted, with cultured butter, is almost a meal in itself.

            5 Replies
            1. re: mrbozo

              Russian in Montreal? Where? I'd love to check them out. I've never heard Russian spoken in Montreal.
              I hope you're not referring to the places associated with the wave of Russian-Jewish immigration of the early 20th century. That's a whole different thing.

              1. re: estragon

                I'll do a little research for you. Many Poles (my brother-in-law being one - but that's a another novella) frequent them. I know for sure there's a Russian bakery/deli on Decarie near Queen Mary (can't remember the name or exact location but they have herring in barrels, caviar, authentic baked goods, etc.). There's a Russian resto in Cotes-des-neiges (a cellar really). And there is (or was) Troika downtown on either McKay or Bishop, though I think it's the former.

                *

                A few quick search results:

                http://travel.yahoo.com/p-travelguide...

                http://www.montrealmirror.com/ARCHIVE...

                http://www.montrealmirror.com/2006/11...

                1. re: mrbozo

                  Wow - thanks! Troika sounds like a typical Russian Tea Room style White Russian kitsch palace, but the other two are definitely worth checking out, especially the Georgian place.

                  1. re: estragon

                    You're welcome. This is the place on Cote-des-neiges I was thinking of but couldn't remember the name: http://www.montrealmirror.com/ARCHIVE...

                    A little more on Troika: http://english.montrealplus.ca/bars_r...

                    L'Ermitage is another one: http://www.hour.ca/food/food.aspx?iID...

                    Kalinka on St-Marc and Astoriya on Queen Mary may be well worth trying out, though I cannot personally vouch for either.

                    *

                    I'll keep it at that because this is OT for this board.

                    1. re: mrbozo

                      I know an excellent Russian place in Chicago, but that's irrelevant, as is Montreal. The OP asked about the GTA.

            2. Most of the joints around Bathurst and Steeles mentioned on this thread can be best described as Russian/Israeli. And that's good, because Russian cuisine at the price level being bruited about here can be quite dreary. The Israeli element adds a little zing to the menu. That said, I find all the places mentioned in that neighborhood to be pretty much the same. The same menu items, essentially the same prices, the same somewhat utilitarian atmosphere, with cursory but not unfriendly service. Some may do some menu items like lamb chops slightly better than the others, but not much different. Me-Vah-Me is certainly the most popular, possibly because it has more tummel (raucous noise) and is bigger (with a bigger parking lot in its plaza). So it may be better able to accommodate the larger group you propose. But it doesn't take reservations. When I went with a group of 12 a while back, we had to wait a half hour before they could put together a table for us. You may have better luck by insisting on a reservation. Anton, diagonally across the street, did take our reservation for the same group a few months later, but stashed us in a private room (thereby depriving us of the tummel, which is part of the fun of being in one of those joints).
              None of the joints mentioned does entertainment, which you said would be a plus. Though I had heard of a place farther west on Steeles, near Dufferin, that did some kind of Russian floor show, but my informant cautioned me that the food was expensive and lousy, which is why I never remembered the name. Besides, at these places, the entertainment is the clientele, who can be pretty exotic.
              If you like a glass of wine at these places, don't expect much. These joints don't care about wine. They don't know how to select it, or store it, or price it. If you insist, though, stick with a glass of the house white, which is pretty much the same at all these places (they're all coptcats), usually an Italian white that's at least gulpable. The house red is usually off, because regulars know enough not to order it and, after a few days (or weeks) of being opened and not poured, it poops out.

              1 Reply
              1. re: juno

                I do remember a food critic who said that Russian food often sounds better than it tastes.

              2. Have you heard of the restaurant called Golden Lion, check out their website. Went there a few years ago with a group. Nice place, pretty spacious as they have a banquet hall there as well. Quiet a few Russians there, food was good. Better still was the floor show and live music. I believe this was a Russian restaurant.

                1. Haven't eaten there myself, but heard good things about Diamond Star up at Dufferin and Finch. Other side of the courts building.