Five days, four nights
We're coming into Toronto from Cambridge, MA for a long weekend, as we try to do annually. We always hit Bulldog for espresso and Oyster Boy for Oyster Boy, but looking to try some new things. Gave up on Le Select ages ago, but used to love it, so thining of La Coquine and Citizen as possible replacements for the bistro thing. Also want to try Starfish as a counterpoint to Oyster Boy. We hear that Manic for espresso is a necessary check. Whaddya think, 'Hounds? Comments and suggestions?
To round out the picture, we're staying at the Drake on W Queen, but are very mobile. We like somewhat casual, fine cuisine, never the chains but love the funky off-beat. Good wine list a definite plus. Patio dining and we're in bliss. If you have a great Japanese place to try that's not too formal, we're there. Thanks ahead of time.
If you're staying at the Drake, there's a new crop of restaurants on Ossington (easy walking distance), many of which are getting good feedback. Delux is owned/operated by a young woman who trained with Lydia Shire (Locke-Ober). Foxley's also gets good press (but doesn't take resos). This area is gentrifying fast, but it should still feel funky and off-beat enough to be interesting. It hasn't turned into the South End (Boston) yet quite. This recent Toronto Life article will tell you more about what's happening food-wise on that strip:
I like Starfish and would definitely recommend. A little more upscale/formal than Oyster Boy, but still a casual bistro-y vibe.
I still like Le Select (and new digs are quite pretty), but if you're looking for alternatives ... can't speak about Coquine, but I don't think Citizen is classically French. But the chef also has a second resto, Rosebud, which is west end (easily walkable from the Drake), and a charming spot with great food. I wouldn't trek to the east while Rosebud was so proximate (unless you want to see that part of the city). If you do want specifically French, you might also consider La Palette in Kensington (although I've personally found the service horrific enough to ruin my meal) or Batifole.
A few other suggestions that might be up your alley... Torito (a great nabe (Kensington market) and fantastic tapas, interesting and reasonable wine list, patios front and back), Sidecar Restaurant on College (huge back patio, good bartending), Universal Grill (a good stop after a wander through the Annex, kitchen isn't afraid of spice so you get some interesting flavours), JKWB for classic "Canadian" small plates (not so off-beat, but always a solid rec, and near the St. Lawrence Market so fun for looking about. And, I haven't been yet, but The Harbord Room is next on my list (and precisely because it sounds like all the things you also said you like in a resto).
www.toritotapasbar.com / www.sidecarrestaurant.ca / www.universalgrill.ca / www.jkkitchens.com / www.theharbordroom.com
My Japanese rec is Ematei (lots of Japanese expats hang out here). It's a Queen West and St. Patrick.
Finally, depending on when you're traveling you might want to double check to see if your visit intersects with "Summerlicious" (stupid name), the Toronto equivalent of Boston's Restaurant Week. If so, approach with caution. I'm not saying you can't get a good meal, but all the caveats that apply to RW also apply here:
Have a great trip... and please report back!
I wouldn't make the trek all the way to Y&E for Coquine. It's a good pick if you live in the neighbourhood (as I do) but not worth a special trip IMHO. If you're staying at the Drake, I wholeheartedly agree with Rabbit that you might want to check out the Rosebud or Delux and, though I haven't tried it, Foxley is definitely getting good buzz. I also agree with Rabbit's suggestions of JKWB and Starfish if you want to venture further east. I also agree with Julie McCoy (below) that, while it's not fine dining, Julie's Cuban is quite yummy and the patio's a great place to hang out on a warm summer night.
As always, Rabbit has excellent suggestions above. I would also add for that a stroll along Harbord, west of Spadina has several great restaurants in a fun neighbourhood. Rabbit mentioned The Harbord Room, though I haven't been. I love the Boulevard Cafe -it's Peruvian with a varied menu, exquisite ingredients and a delicious drink list. There's also a nice patio if outdoor dining appeals. It's been there for a long time and I think one of the least talked about gems we have. www.boulevardcafe.sites.toronto.com/index.html
93 Harbord has a North African/Middle Eastern menu and is a busy spot. Some truly unique flavours. www.93harbord.com
I would agree that there's no need to trek east (my neighbourhood - so no bias!) for Citizen when Rosebud is near, but I would suggest that Batifole is worth the trip. Also interesting for the fact that it is a delicious french restaurant nestled in our 'second' chinese/vietnamese area.
And on a beautiful summer's night, I always recommend Julie's Cuban. The mojitos and fairy lit patio in a residential area can make for a magical, relaxing evening. Not 'fine' cuisine, but 'fun'...also walking distance from the Drake. www.juliescuban.com
744 Gerrard St E, Toronto, ON M4M1Y3, CA
93 Harbord St, Toronto, ON M5S1G4, CA
161 Harbord St, Toronto, ON M5S1H1, CA
202 Dovercourt Rd, Toronto, ON M6J3C8, CA
Ditto the recommendations for Rosebud, JKWB and Starfish and pretty much anything along Harbord (Boulevard Cafe, Harbord 93, Messis, Dessert Trends Bistro). Also, the food at the Drake is good, so don't pass it up just because you're staying there.
For a great Toronto experience, I would also recommend Senhor Antonio's, the tapas/wine bar attached to Chiado -- IMO the best Portuguese restaurant in North America. The tapas/bar menu is small but full of wonderful little plates and the Portuguese wine list is amazing.
I'll throw out some breakfast/brunch options, too. Auntie's and Uncles is a short drive from you and is a totally funky, off-beat spot with fantastic breakfast. Go early, or be prepared to wait after 9:30. Dessert Trends Bistro is a more upscale, but totally laid back brunch spot. Both places have great coffee and fresh-squeezed juices. Not sure about their espressos, though
This is almost a 'me too' agreement with Rabbit, Julie McCoy & TorontoJo. Solid recommendations all around.
The only 'issue' I'd take is with Rosebud, which I don't think is a substitute for Le Select - far better (IMO) is Tati (also on Harbord in the same stretch as the others mentioned above - but on the north side). A 'classic' bistro whereas Rosebud is more pretentious. Agreed a wider menu at Rosebud but the flavours at Tati will take you to France - although the service there sometimes reminds me of France too - brusque, but efficient (unlike Rosebud where the servers try hard to be your friend). And Tati has a rooftop patio too.