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Friday night romance/good eats (on a budget)

Alright CHers, I need your help finding a (few) new great resto to replace some of our well-worn faves (Tabule, Quince, 5 Doors North, Lime, Utopia, Kalendar, Insomnia, etc). What I'm looking for, in order of priority:

1. great, flavourful, exciting food - we're open to Indian, Middle Eastern, thai, tapas, etc - the SO loves anything with goat/blue cheese, and I'm looking for great veggie sides and great fish dishes (both of which we've had at 5 Doors North)
2. a great atmosphere, romantic but not too quiet, 20-30 something crowd, the sort of place that feels exciting and you wouldn't mind lingering (ala Terroni)
3. good service, i know it's almost too much to ask for in this city, but please, refill my water glass. (ala Quince)
4. an exciting wine list, particularly with lots of new world choices.
5. subway accessible
6. entrees under $20 - would love to keep the bil under $100, with entrees, apps, and a bottle of wine for two.

Some of my shortlisted choices:
Pomegranate (well loved by many here)
Mini-Market (can't find anything on the board about this one)
Tabla (also well loved by many here)

....I know there are lots I'm missing. So, point me in the right direction! Thanks!

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  1. number 6 maybe difficult with a bottle of wine taking anywhere from 30% up to the desired amount....it might be do-able with 2x$20 entrees, 2x$10 apps, leaves $40 for wine then tax and tip....and you're still near the $150 mark....

    1. oh, one more place I'm interested in feedback on is Momo's on Harbord.

      as for pricing, we usually get one app, and usually entrees are less than $15 at most of the places i mentioned :)

      1 Reply
      1. re: LemonLauren

        Service at Momo's is friendly... perhaps a little TOO friendly. On a particularly quiet night, the waitress sat down to take our orders and proceeded to kvetch about the fact that she was stuck working when it was dead.

        I can deal with it when the waiters at Shwartz do it since that's part of their shtick, but this was a bit off-putting. Food's okay, but nothing special.

      2. Pomegranate has great food, but the vibe is quiet. I will suggest L'il Baci on Queen E at Logan. Three of us ate there last night for $150, incl tip. We each had a salad appetizer, each an entree (pasta, pizza, pork chop - big portions), and split a litre of house wine. It's Italian through and through, but is energetic and pretty. Service (I hope) will get better but it's not atrocious, just a little disorganized.

        2 Replies
        1. re: thenurse

          Re: My response about Pomegranate... I thought you meant the one on Queen E, in the Beach... shows how 'hood centric I am!!!

          1. re: thenurse

            Pomegranate on Queen East is one of my faves, quiet or not. Especially for brunch.

        2. I gotta throw Gio Ranna's in there, probaly cut it budgetwise, the service is excellent -- like the best I can recall in a fun, casual 7 friendly done properly way, and I love the food...to me it's atomosphere is loud and energetic but keeps a vibe of your own personal space around you...I love it!

          PS: and just to mention it, take out there is stellar, grabbed 6 smaller choices (2 primi pastas, an app and a few sides) off the menu tonite, for about $35 bucks, the GF and I are full and everythiong was great!...Scotty's meatball, gnocci w/ gorganzola, rappini w/ lemon, sweet potato mash, penne red sauce + basil, brussel sprouts w/ panccetta + pecorino (I think)...plus they threw in some bread, and it was packed, hot + ready in less time than I could grill the bartender about how she gets a resonable creama on my illy espresso (see... http://www.chowhound.com/topics/445084) ...*sweet*

          7 Replies
          1. re: Recyclor

            do they have a menu online? can't seem to find it...

            1. re: LemonLauren

              No they don't, I called to ask that, she was very nice and said we could come in and sit at eh bar and order, we did, like I said the food was very fast, (note it was Sunday night and they were only 1/3 full) took like 10 min though...the menu is kinda small, but it's all so good...

            2. re: Recyclor

              At party of four of us dined at Gio's the other night and I was very disappointed. It used to be one of my top 5 'go to' places but in the last year or so I feel it has really declined in many ways. Atmosphere isn't what it used to be. The food is just okay. Portion sizes are half of what they used to be - esp. the beef carpaccio. I had the tilapia which was good but the side of penne was just plain boring. They seem to have lost their passion. The menu selection has not changed since opening how many years ago?? Even the daily specials are taken from the menu. I was really disappointed and will probably not return any time soon. Oh, and I used to like the chabby cool vibe, now it just seems plain scuzzy to me. And the wine list, very uninspired. Come on guys, shake it up, get some life back in to the place. And it was empty too....it used to be packed every night!

              1. re: millygirl

                ..the penne was very plain, but like I said, take-out was great...about a year ago I ate in there and liked it alot, I hope it's not going the way you say but it does seem to be a trend a few years in...

                1. re: Recyclor

                  Sorry to rag on Gio's but here's another thing - someone earlier mentioned the East end Eats Out event that is happening later this month....well anyways a number of restos in the hood are putting together prix fixed menus which are posted on their website. Some sound quite good actually. But what does Gio's have to offer - nothing special, all they've managed to do is post the regular menu. I mean come on, either you're in, or you're out It's like they couldn't even be bothered or aren't interested.

                  1. re: millygirl

                    I saw that and was very disappointed. Why bother if you are not going to try and get into the event.

                    1. re: camp1980

                      ...I totally agree and would be quite disapointed if I went and that is what I found, but until they do me wrong I like them....

            3. Il Gatto Nero (College/Shaw) - Love the atmosphere, esp when the patio is open in the summer - though it can get loud. For under $100, we usually split a pizza and an order of mussels with a glass of wine each, then finish up with a coffee (their espressos and capps are among the best in TO).

              The wine list is mostly Italian (obviously), but otherwise it pretty much fits the bill.

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              Il Gatto Nero
              720 College St, Toronto, ON M6G, CA