Film Festival Chow in TO [long]
BarmyFotheringayPhipps and I made our annual visit to Toronto for the film festival last week (from Boston), and had some great meals there, although I don't think we broke any new ground. I had picked up a couple of suggestions from reading various threads here, so we did get to a handful of new-to-us places. It can be tough, though - after so many years (I've been going to the festival for 18 years, and BFP has done about 10) we have a lot of favorite places already that we just *have* to visit at least once!
First off, there have been a number of postings here and there saying that Country Style Hungarian has declined in quality and is no longer any good. We have NO Hungarian restaurants in Boston - the closest is one bistro with an odd mixed-up menu of Hungarian, French, and Baluchistani (!) food. I've eaten at Country Style every visit I've made to TO since even *before* I started coming up to the film festival, and I have to say that the two meals I had there last week were as good as ever and in some aspects even better than some times. The first visit was for dinner; BFP had the Wiener schnitzel and I had the chicken paprikash with dumplings/spaetzle, and both were delicious. I finished with my usual, a palaczinta with apricot jam, and BFP with his favorite, the custard. Later in the week we returned for lunch - two large bowls of goulash and a shared order of the pirogies with sausage. Again - delicious. The menu has changed in the past year - I swear I don't remember pirogies from earlier visits, and the homemade noodles and daily roster of specials including various creamed vegetables have gone away (to BFP's disappointment - he had been looking forward to creamed spinach with meatballs. Oh well.) I gather that the place is under newish ownership, that a long-time waitress bought it out within the past two or thre years. I will say that the service (primarily from the woman who, I think, is the new proprietress) was the friendliest I've ever had there.
Our other discovery in the Annex stretch of Bloor was Kilgour's Bar Meets Grill. I had a brunch there way back when they first opened, which was decen, but haven't been back since. One night we'd seen a mid-evening film and were looking for a light bit of late dinner, so we stopped at their patio and had the fried calamari, a bowl of mussels, and a burger, along with a couple of pints. Not only was all of the food surprisingly good, we loved the vibe of the place. It was a quiet night early in the week and there were folks at another table playing Scrabble, kibitzing and gossiping. We liked it so much that we stopped in a few nights later for a couple of pints, and again last Saturday night for another dinner. That night the place was hopping - they were having a 40th birthday party for an ex-staffer - but our waiter remembered us (and what we'd had to drink!) from our previous visit and took good care of us in spite of the fact that we weren't a part of the main crowd. Burgers again were really good, and the beer we tried (wish I could recall what it was!) was so tasty we had seconds - unusual for both of us. However, BFP and I both learned why we don't usually drink and play Scrabble...
Late in the week we managed to fit in a dinner at Okonomi House. Especially since we pass the place constantly on our way to and from the Varsity for festival screenings, I canNOT believe that I've never tried them before! We were pressed for time and the place was just filling up with the dinner rush, so we kept the meal simple, but we both loved the okonomi-yaki, and the price could not be beat. We'll be back there in future years for sure! Again, like the Hungarian food, there is nothing like this in Boston.
We had a great feast at Mother's Dumplings - thanks to all who recommended the da lu noodles! We also had the refreshing bean sprout salad, a green-onion pancake, pork and radish dumplings in a cornmeal dough, juicy pork buns, lamb shiu mai, and I think one of the boiled varieties but I can't recall which. Oof! The one disappointment was an order of the pan-fried pork and bak choi dumplings - I tried to gently steer BFP away, because of reports here that those were not a strength at Mother's, but he loves them so! Oh, well - as you can see, we had more than enough to eat anyway.
We had a dinner in Chinatown as well, at an old standby of ours that never seems to get much mention on this board, Rol Jui (on Dundas just east of Spadina.) We had chicken and scallops with chiles, stir-fried pea tendrils, and something else I'm forgetting - as ever, an inexpensive and tasty meal.
We had a lunch at Oja Noodle House (on Yonge south of Bloor.) The menu seems to have been reconfigured to feature the Korean dishes more strongly, but they still do a tasty plate of Shanghai noodles that makes a great inexpensive lunch in that neighborhood. We wanted to get back and try the Korean noodle soup for two - the one you cook yourself on a table grill - but we couldn't seem to find ourselves in the right mood again.
One of the other new finds for us was brunch at Fire on the East Side, again from a recommendation on this board on a brunch/breakfast thread. We were staying at the Isabella Hotel at Isabella and Sherbourne, so this was a short walk for us and we appreciated their late brunch hours (they serve brunch till 4 on both Saturdays and Sundays.) The general atmosphere of the place seemed a bit too hip for us, but the friendly staff quickly made up for that impression, and again we ended up eating there twice. The first time I had the smoked chicken and sweet potato hash, and the server recommended having it with the greens rather than frites - what an excellent combo! The hash was in a big-chunks style that I usually don't care for, but it was so tasty with perfectly cooked sweet potatoes and amazing smoky-flavored chicken. The greens were enhanced by a light scattering of finely diced sweet and spicy candied pecans and some fresh-ground pepper, and I was in heaven. BFP had eggs Benedict, which he enjoyed but felt a bit of buyer's remorse in comparison with my meal.
On our second visit I had the stuffed French toast, a dish I rarely get because in my experience it usually sounds far better than it tastes. This one was too tempting, though - stuffed with strawberries, banana, pecans, and mascarpone - and it was really good. A good brioche with just enough egg really made the difference. I don't recall what BFP had, but he was pleased as well.
A couple of breakfasts at Over Easy (on Bloor a bit west of Avenue Road) were good but not swoon-inducing, and we missed our usual cheap breakfasts at the New Yorker Deli on Bay. We did buy yogurt and a box of Shreddies and just have breakfast in our hotel room a few times as well.
I think there are some meals I'm forgetting to mention, but all in all it was a pretty good week for us! I will say that the weak US dollar put quite a crimp in our style - add in 15% combined GST/PST and things were actually MORE expensive than back home. Still, we had fun and look forward already to returning - Toronto is our favorite city in North America to visit, hands down.
[BTW, yes, the films were good too! We tend to focus on things we don't expect we'll be able to see in Boston, so none of the Gala fare etc., and we do look for interesting Canadian films because they don't make it down here. We loved THE TRACY FRAGMENTS, though reviewers didn't seem to "get it" (I've been a Bruce McDonald fan since I saw ROADKILL at my first (?) festival); also enjoyed Guy Maddin's latest, MY WINNIPEG, and our annual program of Canadian shorts.]
Thank you for the fantastic report. You've definitely reminded me of several places I have to visit and re-visit in the near future. In fact, I realize in reading your post that I've completely forgotten about Rol Jui since my last visit, and I enjoyed it as well.
I hope the films stacked up favourably against the delicious food you had. :)
Oopsie - still trying to get in this habit. Here's some Places links! (Except that the one for Kilgour's is wrong, which is weird, because I know it was right when I put it in...)
Fire On The East Side
6 Gloucester St, Toronto, ON M4Y1L5, CA
450 Bloor St W, Toronto, ON M5S1X8, CA
New Yorker Deli
1140 Bay St, Toronto, ON M5S, CA
23 Charles St W, Toronto, ON M4Y2R4, CA
421 Spadina Avenue, Toronto, ON , CA
472 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON M5T1G9, CA
208 Bloor W, Toronto, ON M5S1T8, CA
689 Yonge St, Toronto, ON M4Y, CA
They seem to have a resident Scrabble set there - the first night we went the other group was playing out on the patio and I'd assumed they brought their own, but then the last night we found the board on the table where we settled down and nobody said "hey! that's my Scrabble set!" so I assume it lives there.
It was slightly awkward eating and playing at the same time - the table wasn't huge! - but we managed.
Also, be very careful about the tile bag (which is actually an old toque I assume they scavenged out of the lost and found), because we, erm, set it on fire. Just long enough to make part of the bar smell like burnt hair, but still -- I advise snuffing the candle before you play.
I can't remember the name of the beer we had the last night at Kilgour's either, but it was dark, lovely and something they had just tapped that night.
I agree, the food in Toronto is delicious, mainly because of the authenticity of ingredients used. We don't get food in Florida like this either. Even though the Canadian dollar is on par with the USA, American's can get their GST back if you pop in to a Currency Exchange office. Just put all your receipts together and send it back to Canada once you are home. You will get all the taxes back you claim.