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Visiting Toronto in late April 2008 - recommendations wanted, please

My husband and I are re-visiting Toronto for four days at the end of this month from New York for our first time in decades. After reading through many ' hound posts, Toronto NOW, Toronto Life and more, I'm overwhelmed with choices and options. We're looking for any really excellent food, and especially anything that doesn't feel as if we might as well be eating in New York. It could be a cheap dive, it could be expensive (but not fancy or stuffy), it doesn't really matter. To complicate things a bit, I don't eat mammal -- he's an omnivore. We're staying at the Hotel Shelby (Sherbourne near Bloor). Perhaps to start things off, I'll list below (in no particular order) some places that have all sounded of interest. Thanks in advance for your help.

Perigree
Cava
Susur Lee
Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar
Jean’s Vegetarian Kitchen
Colborne Lane
Swatow
Rain
Rice Bar
Bistro Bakery Thuet
Coca
Canoe
Zucca
Chiado
Starfish
Noce
Banaboia

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  1. Hard to say what doesn't feel like New York. What does New York feel like to you?

    Cava is probably going to be fairly unique, in that it is high-end Spanish cooked by a Scotsman. A truly great chef though. Not sure about the vegetarian selection.

    Susur is closing, so don't bother. He's moving to New York.

    Chiado is good, but pretty stuffy. Lots of seafood.

    You might try Scaramouche for excellent food and an amazing view of the city.
    http://www.scaramoucherestaurant.com/

    And Amuse Bouche...
    http://www.amuseboucherestaurant.com/...

    This is a good book, with an excellent dining section. It's brand new this month, so fairly up-to-date:
    http://www.amazon.com/TORONTO-NIAGARA...

    2 Replies
    1. re: grilledcheese

      It's not "feeling like New York" -- perhaps poor phrasing on my part -- so much as looking for someplace that feels as if it's just where and how it should be. Such as a comfortable Portuguese spot with a great acorda; or a restaurant where the chef's inspiration drives the menu and the overall experience, not just flash or trendiness; or maybe someplace using local ingredients and influences when possible. Ideally, when we think back on the deliciousness a year from now, I'd love to be able to place the restaurant instantly in Toronto, not wonder, "now where again did we have that spaghettoni with bottarga?"

      1. re: gbevan

        Cava is pretty darn unique like that.

    2. From your list, I would highly recommend:

      - JK Wine Bar for a great "local" chef. Sit at the chef's bar if you can.
      - Colborne Lane for excellent food with a smattering of molecular gastronomy. CL does fish and other seafood beautifully. Be warned that the wine list is very weak.
      - Starfish for some of the best seafood in the city, and a superb lemon tart and flourless chocolate cake for dessert!
      - Chiado for the best Portuguese around -- definitely an experience you won't find in NYC. The restaurant has a newer "wine bar" section that is much more modern and less stuffy than the original "old world" style restaurant. Order some apps from the wine bar menu (they are fantastic) and order your mains from the restaurant menu.
      - For fun, if you have time, throw Banaboia into the mix to compare against Chiado. Chiado is Portuguese fine dining, Banaboia is Portuguese "homestyle" dining.
      - Perigee is VERY expensive if you go with the tasting menu (they do have an a la carte menu these days, though). It's a lovely space, but I'm not sure it's worth the price any more, especially now that they've glassed in the kitchen. The interaction with the kitchen was my favourite part of the experience there. If you are exploring the distillery district, I would keep it casual -- some sandwiches or savoury pastries from Brick St. Bakery and some wicked chocolates from Soma, washed down with some coffee from Balzacs.

      1. Great list to start with! I can definitely vouch for Susur. Susur Lee, the chef, owns two restaurants in Toronto - Lee and Susur. The latter is high end, and offers only a tasting menu. I like both restaurants but Susur is quite a unique experience: he is creative, uses fresh ingredients and is wonderfully imaginative with his presentation and flavour combinations. I would definitely recommend Susur for a high end night out.

        I also definitely give thumbs up to Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar... I love the atmosphere, and it's one of the few places in the city where the small plates concept is executed well and doesn't feel like a gimmick.

        SKIP Swatow... if you want Chinese (and I really recommend that you do go for Chinese as arguably we have some of the best Cantonese fare outside of Hong Kong and maybe Vancouver here in Toronto), please try out Lai Wah Heen or Grand Chinese Cuisine for dim sum. I've only tried out Grand and I think it offers a fantastic selection of dim sum ... but several experienced TO chowhounds think that LWH is tops.

        I thought Thuet was overrated. Solid bistro food, but not worthy of the high prices, in my opinion.

        Zucca is a great low-key neighbourhood spot for fresh handmade pasta.

        And Starfish is wonderful for seafood....

        Have a great stay here in the city!

        1 Reply
        1. re: Yum2MyTum

          I like Starfish a lot, and it's offers some of the best seafood in Toronto, but it can't compete with a great seafood restaurant in NYC.

          I ate out a lot when I lived in NYC, but I don't remember dining at any particularly good Portuguese restaurants, so I'd second Chiado if you're craving Portuguese and/or seafood while you're in Toronto. I don't find it stuffy, although it is upscale.

          Even though I don't exactly love the food at JKWB, it would offer some things that you wouldn't find in NY, and the ingredients tend to be sourced in Canada.

          I'd add C5 in the Royal Ontario Museum, and Globe, as restaurants that wouldn't have you feeling like you were eating in NY. Globe sources local ingredients, and it's located on the Danforth, just a couple subway stops east of your hotel. If you wanted to visit Greektown, it would be a short walk east of Globe. It is similar to Astoria in some ways, but I think it still has a distinct Toronto vibe. If you like Greek sweets, I'd suggest Athens Pastries for some loukamades or galatobouriko.

          I think Zucca would be disappointing compared to the amazing Italian food that's available in NYC. Noce is very good, but again, it wouldn't be difficult to find something equally good, if not better, in NY.

          Swatow is about the same level as an average Chinese restaurant in Manhattan's Chinatown. I wouldn't bother with it while you're here- if you really want Chinese, I'd second the idea of going to Lai Wah Heen. The prices at LWH are not outrageous, they are just higher than what most Torontonians are used to paying for Chinese food. I would think LWH's prices are the roughly the same as Shun Lee Palace or Jimmy Sung's on E 44th. You could have dim sum at LWH for somewhere between $25- $35 per person.

          I'd also second the recommendation of George. The food is truly delicious.

        2. I don't always agree with the NOW critic's opinions but you might consider Foxley and Caju as interesting little neighbourhood spots with good food. Also on his list, La Palette and Harlem get positive comments on the board.

          Toronto's Top 20 Dishes + The City's Quintessential Kitchens
          http://www.nowtoronto.com/food/story....

          -----
          La Palette
          256 Augusta Ave, Toronto, ON M5T2L9, CA

          Foxley
          207 Ossington Ave, Toronto, ON M6J2Z8, CA

          Harlem
          67 Richmond St E, Toronto, ON M5C1N9, CA

          Caju
          922 Queen St W, Toronto, ON M6J1G6, CA

          1. Don't waste your time with swatow. nothing special about the food. Mostly known as a place where people go after the club to eat something to soak up the alcohol.

            Something you might think of is one of the west indian places for some good roti. I'm not sure what that scene is like in Toronto, but we've got a lot of good ones (check different threads on roti). Meets your "cheap dive" criteria and non-mammal options.