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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.

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

              1. Try the Boulevard Cafe on Harbord for Peruvian. Very lively, mixed crowd. You'll see everyone from U of T students to professors and artists that live nearby in the Annex.

                Have you ever been to Serra? It's on Bloor, a couple of blocks west of Spadina. Very reliable, slightly upscale Italian. Small place, nice atmosphere, good service and always a crowd. Reasonably priced, too.

                1. I think you should definitely try Batifole. All apps are $8, mains are $18, plus there are a few specials at $24. If you each got an appetizer and a main, it would put you at lowest $52, and highest $64. Oh, and you'd likely want to share an order of the great frites with taragon mayo for $5.

                  So, this would leave you say, $30 for a bottle of wine, which is doable (there are a bunch of choices between $30-40, and the cheapest half litre red was $23).

                  I think you'd sit very close to $100, minus the tip. The service is fantastic - friendly and professional.

                  My husband and I were there last night for our one-year anniversay, and the bill for 2 cocktails, 2 apps, 2 mains, side of frites, and a half-litre of red was $124. Insanity! :)

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: Tara9000

                    it's funny everyone recommended italian and/or french! we tend to steer clear of places that go heavy on the red meat/cheese/cream sauce/duck deals. while the SO loves his steak, my finnicky eating habits lean more toward lean poultry/fish and amazing veggie preparations.

                    but thanks for all the recs so far, keep em coming!

                    1. re: LemonLauren

                      Then the Boulevard Cafe should be perfect -- lots of beef for your SO and plenty of fish and seafood options for you!

                    2. re: Tara9000

                      Does anyone know if you generally need a reservation for Batifole on weekdays, or can you just stop by?

                      1. re: vorpal

                        I would call and ask to be certain. I have been lucky on a Tuesday or Wednesday early evening but come Thursday you'd best have a reservation.

                      2. re: Tara9000

                        After your comment put the idea in my head and made me ravenously hungry, my partner and I went tonight and very much enjoyed our meal. I won't go into great detail on the individual dishes that we ordered as I'm rather naive to the ways of French food and I can't remember the details of each dish, but we were highly impressed with the bread, the apps, and the desserts (so refreshing after such rich fare). The mains were good - not great - but not disappointing. The service was impeccable; our water glasses were never empty and the waiter was friendly without being overbearing. We made reservations, but they were not needed: the restaurant was never more than half full during our two hours there. Being poor students, we used to make the Keg our special night out, but I think now we may shift that to Batifole instead, especially considering it's right in our hood.

                        For two apps, two mains, two desserts, and frites, the total was around $87. Great value for what we got.

                        1. re: vorpal

                          Glad to hear you enjoyed it vorpal! I enjoy the apps more as well. In the past, I've liked the way the prepare the fish mains, as well as the horse tartar. When we were there last Sunday, I had the angus steak special, and thought it was good, but huge, and the peppercorn sauce needed more salt, and less pepper - and I'm a huge pepper fan. :)

                          I've also never had dessert there (always so full), but they seem to sell crepes like crazy, and want to try them sometime.

                      3. Hi LemonLauren,

                        There is a place I've been meaning to try out called "Mezzetta" on St. Clair West. It's a Middle Eastern "tapas" restaurant and is very reasonably priced. It also has live jazz on Wednesdays.

                        I visited Fressen last week and it was a great, reasonably priced vegan restaurant. Ingredients were fresh, and the menu was pretty inventive. (http://www.chowhound.com/topics/446231


                        I know there is a bit of disagreement on this board with respect to Le Paradis, but I think it's a nice, reliable bistro for a cheap night out. It is cheaper than Batifole and there are a few lighter options available. I always go for the bouillabaisse, minus the rouille.

                        478 Queen St W, Toronto, ON M5V2B2, CA

                        681 St Clair Ave W, Toronto, ON M6C1A7, CA

                        Le Paradis
                        166 Bedford Road, Toronto, ON M5R 2K9, CA

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: Yum2MyTum

                          i am like in love with mezzetta. been there, love it, but want something new.

                          1. re: LemonLauren

                            Is there something in particular you would recommend? I think I'm going there on Friday. Thanks!

                            1. re: Yum2MyTum

                              it's mezzes (greek tapas) so the more people you go with, the more dishes you can split.
                              the dips are great, hummus, baba, etc. anything involving eggplant is fabulous, either the dip or the fried, so good.
                              the fallafel balls are stunning.
                              their taboule is excellent and fresh, not too much bulgur.
                              i love the mediterrean salad, but i'm a salad person. my SO loves the salad with goat cheese.
                              the favourite is always the "sultan's stew" - a tomato/eggplant/spice mixture that is so yummy and warm and flavourful.
                              and the sweet potatoes fries are so great they make me cry. last time, my table also really liked the green beans.
                              BUT the baklava puts it all to shame. it is soooo sweet yet spicy and gooey.
                              oh man, i love mezzetta.

                              1. re: LemonLauren

                                Thanks! I'm looking forward to it even more now...

                        2. Some quick thoughts:
                          Julie's Cuban (www.juliescuban.com) is very neighbourhood-y with a beautiful patio.
                          Definitely another vote for Pomegranate on College and The Boulevard on Harbord (though I find it might be a little pricier - it's worth it).
                          I enjoy Southern Accent (www.southernaccent.com). There's a prix-fixe on Sundays for $19.95 apparently.
                          Relish at Danforth and Woodbine is very popular amongst friends, though I haven't been myself. (www.relishbarandgrill.com) It's a tapas type spot.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: Julie McCoy

                            Julie's Cuban = great date restaurant
                            Love the tapas, I'd skip the main course and go for lots of tapas for sharing.
                            Really enjoyed tostones, shrimp ceviche and fritters.

                            1. re: Mila

                              speaking of tapas, has anyone been recently to Cambalache on Mount Pleasant? would love to hear the more recent word on the place.

                              1. re: LemonLauren

                                I was there about a month ago with 3 friends (non-foodies). One person ordered the bacaloa and another, the chicken (I think - bit foggy on this) and they both came with homemade potato chips which were quite good.

                                I ended up sharing tapas with the fourth person but since he was fairly conservative and didn't like vegetables, our choices were limited (sigh). We had scallops in garlic butter, baby octupus, shrimps, lamb meatballs, and some chicken dish.

                                Having tried places like Toritos, Cava, JKWB, Foxley Bistro, and Pintxo in Mtl (my favorite), I would say that the tapas were more traditional, homey and competent (though the octupus had no real taste at all), but the flavours didn't wow me enough to want to go back immediately.

                                The service was friendly but slow - it took forever for the dishes to come out and they all didn't come out at the same time -- that's fine for the tapas, but one entree came out 15 minutes after the other one. There was only one other table (about 6 people but they were halfway through their meal when we ordered).

                                It would have been nice to try some of the more interesting items such as cod empanadilla, manchego cheese and quince paste, and sardines and peppers with black olives caviar, but I'm not that much in a hurry to go back.

                                They are trying to have nights when they also feature free Flamenco and Tango dance shows with a minimum food order of $30/person. They also had a table d'hote which allowed for about three tapas items (from a set list) and dessert / coffee-tea for about $30 or so.

                                So all in all, I think it's a nice casual, neigbourhood place that might be fun to gather with a few friends for some drinks and tapas to snack on (especially if they have some dance shows) but I personally wouldn't go out of my way to eat there, though it is in the neighborhood. And certainly, it wouldn't fit the criteria of having an electric or exciting atmosphere -- I guess it could be romantic in an old fashioned sort of way.


                          2. I'm bumping this because the (now) fiance and I are looking for another location for a nice Friday with just the two of us. Conditions, as above, remain:

                            1. good food - simple preps (no foam/bellies/rich cream sauces), fish/veg for me, beef/pork/smelly cheese for partner

                            2. atmosphere - romantic but fun, hip, happening, good for lingering

                            3. service - bonus points for knowledge of wine/list

                            4. wine list - affordable, bonus points for local and/or new world selections

                            5. subway access

                            6. the big caveat - total bill around $100 before tax/tip, with 2 entrees, 1 each app and dessert, with 1/2 litre or a bottle or at least a few glasses of wine

                            I'd prefer to avoid the French bistros (Batifole, Simple) as I'm not a fan of tonnes of butter/cream used in prep, and I'd love to find somewhere new and exciting.

                            A new short-list:
                            The Rushton on St. Clair
                            Pomegranate on College
                            new Terroni on Adelaide
                            Wish on Charles
                            Relish on Danforth
                            Indian Rice Factory

                            Plus anything else you geniuses can come up with! Thanks!

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: LemonLauren

                              I'd recomend L'Unita @ Avenue Rd. and Davenport. It fits your criteria pretty well.

                              134 Avenue Rd, Toronto, ON M5R2H6, CA

                              1. re: LemonLauren

                                I think Relish meets all your criteria, although it's not the most romantic atmosphere. The food is good, nice variety, nothing precious, and both veg-friendly and carnivore options. They have a great wine and beer list and the staff have always been superb, plus it's a quick walk to Woodbine subway.

                                1. re: LemonLauren

                                  Like LemonLauren I would like some suggestion for a great little Rest. I'm traveling in to TO for the west side of the country. Next week. I can find my way around TO so thats not an issue. Cost is only a slight concern. I will look at all that has been listed, but was wondering if there is anything new.

                                  I have the same conditions.

                                2. I'd recommend Harlem at Richmond and Church. It's great authentic Southern food, very cozy yet modern interior, and friendly service. Jambalaya is always a good choice, I especially like their blackened catfish. I had my birthday there, and they customized the menu for us, and took care of everything from appetizers, main courses, and desserts for everyone. Delicious!

                                  67 Richmond St E, Toronto, ON M5C1N9, CA

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: almond

                                    Tried Harlem on Friday. The place was great. The live music was excellent. Service was somewhat lacking (but friendly).
                                    The food we ordered arrived cold -- both the appetizers and the main meal. Had to send it back to the kitchen.

                                    Needless to say we were disappointed.