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Downtown, St. Clair West and Woodbridge for picky Italian in-laws??

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CookatHomeinLondon Aug 11, 2008 10:06 PM

Here's the challenge - While I am an adventurous eater who could spend the rest of my days eating at restaurants and markets and food stands in Toronto, this weekend I am taking my in-laws to Toronto and they are much more cautious with foods that go beyond their delicious but relatively narrow cuisine from their hill town in Southern Italy (from where they moved to the culinary wasteland better known as London, Ontario)

Including my two kids (one who has food allergies) and my wife, there will be six of us, so this visit will not be for sampling the likes of George or Splendido.

I'm looking for places to eat in three areas: downtown or close to it (where we will be staying), St. Clair west of Dufferin, where my in-laws like to shop in mostly-Italian owned stores and Woodbridge. I do have a car and some mobility too.

Price-wise, I'm looking for inexpensive to moderately-cost meals. In terms of atmosphere, I'm looking for places that are fun and informal -- going out to eat at a restaurant is a foreign experience for anyone who grew up in a small Southern Italian town, where a home-cooked meal reigns supreme (and deservedly so -- but that's another post) And the quality of the food is paramount.

One place that I think foots the bill is Jamie Kennedy's Wine Bar - informal, fun, solid food and the pleasure of being able to share and sample a lot of tastes. But I am looking for others too. What would my fellow chowhounds suggest?

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  1. TorontoJo RE: CookatHomeinLondon Aug 12, 2008 04:44 AM

    Would Italian be too risky, since they are from Italy? If not, then Terroni on Adelaide would be great. It can get loud, but it has a great buzz and the food is very good (it is ostensibly 'authentic' Southern Italian, but I have no personal comparison to judge). They accept a limited number of reservations if you are willing to be seated early (6).

    What kind of allergies does your child have? Terroni has a rather draconian no substitutions rule, so you may want to check out the menu online beforehand to make sure that there is something he/she can safely eat.

    Torito would be a more casual alternative to JK Wine Bar. Tapas served in a bustling Kensington Market atmosphere. A bit more fun (and less "adult") than JKWB.

    1 Reply
    1. re: TorontoJo
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      CookatHomeinLondon RE: TorontoJo Aug 12, 2008 10:10 AM

      I think they would be fine with Italian so long as it was good --I've been to Terroni (with my kids) and we were considering that again. It may not be a match for my mother-in-laws' pizza or the best from NY city (where I'm from originally) but it's quite good, has a nice buzz to it and is a good walk or short cab ride away from our hotel.

      I haven't been to Torito but have heard good things -- anything that you tried there that you especially enjoyed?

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      acd123 RE: CookatHomeinLondon Aug 12, 2008 06:07 AM

      I think I have your place. Marcello's on St. Clair just east of Dufferin. Great family friendly place with amazing pizza from the wood oven.

      6 Replies
      1. re: acd123
        littlegreenpea RE: acd123 Aug 12, 2008 12:38 PM

        Marcello's was the first thing that popped into my mind too! You can then head down to La Paloma at St Clair/Lansdowne for some gelato! Note that Marcello's doesn't take reservations, and if you show up during peak hours you may have to wait for a short time at the door.

        How old are your children CookathomeinLondon? Do you plan on bringing them to JKWB? If you want to have some of JK's wonderful food with kids in tote, you can head to his new place (in Cabbagetown) for a casual lunch. (Except that I totally forget what it's called at the moment!).

        1. re: littlegreenpea
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          CookatHomeinLondon RE: littlegreenpea Aug 12, 2008 02:20 PM

          We've been to La Paloma - we like it too! My kids are eight and five - would that work at JKWB? My son loves bread, my daughter loves cheese and they both love fries, so I thought that would keep them happy; as for lunch,I've heard of the new place too but I don't know if we'll be in the neighbourhood mid-day.

          1. re: CookatHomeinLondon
            littlegreenpea RE: CookatHomeinLondon Aug 12, 2008 02:56 PM

            I'm not sure if JKWB would work with kids actually. I've never seen children there, and it strikes me that it's more of an adult environment. Since they bill themselves as a wine bar, they may have a 19+ policy. Can anyone else weigh in on this?

            JK at the Gardiner could be a better bet. It's more of a restaurant setting (rather than bar), and you've still got some great JK dishes and a wonderful wine list (by the glass too). The kids might also enjoy watching all the activity going on below (large, panoramic windows). They're only open for dinner on Fridays (prix fixe); lunch during the week.

            http://www.jkkitchens.com/v2/welcome....

            1. re: littlegreenpea
              JamieK RE: littlegreenpea Aug 12, 2008 06:36 PM

              yes, I've seen families with smallish kids at lunch at JK Gardiner -
              http://www.jkkitchens.com/v2/restaura...

              and you're right across the street from the very kid-pleasing dinosaur exhibit at the ROM -
              http://www.rom.on.ca/dinos/

              JamieK
              (not the chef

              )

              -----
              Jamie Kennedy Gardiner
              111 Queens Park, Toronto, ON M5S, CA

              1. re: JamieK
                littlegreenpea RE: JamieK Aug 12, 2008 06:38 PM

                Thanks, that's exactly what I was thinking - esp with the ROM across the street. I think the Gardiner might be a better choice than JKWB in this case. And really, it's at least just as good (imho).

                1. re: littlegreenpea
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                  CookatHomeinLondon RE: littlegreenpea Aug 13, 2008 01:13 AM

                  LGP and JamieK - thanks for the suggestion - that may work, especially if we can work in a visit to the dinosaurs,

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        miranda RE: CookatHomeinLondon Aug 12, 2008 07:15 AM

        I would go to The Big Ragu at Lansdowne and St Clair...great food and ambiance...check out their web site menu...it is small so rez suggested Miranda

        1. mikeb RE: CookatHomeinLondon Aug 12, 2008 10:00 AM

          Marcello's and Ragu are good options at St Clair and Dufferin. If I had to pick one, I'd take the kids to Marcellos. Reservations not required. It's cheap and cheerful, the pizzas are good as is the pasta, although the wine list is spartan. Desserts Plus is in Woodbridge is similar to Marcello's--which has a resto in Woodbridge that I've yet to visit. You must reserve at DP on weekends

          http://www.marcellospizzeria.com/

          7 Replies
          1. re: mikeb
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            CookatHomeinLondon RE: mikeb Aug 12, 2008 10:16 AM

            Marcellos has a few recs so we may try that. I actually took my in-laws to Desserts Plus a couple of years ago and we quite enjoyed it - pizza was decent, we had a pasta dish with rappini and sausage that was excellent, service was quick and the prices very reasonable. We would definitely consider going a second time.

            1. re: CookatHomeinLondon
              mikeb RE: CookatHomeinLondon Aug 12, 2008 10:37 AM

              If you like rapini and sausage you could always grab the rapini from one of the nearby gardens while you are in St Clair and Dufferin. I think it, tomatoes and zucchini are close to mandatory for vegetable gardiners in the area. Diana Grocery has the sausages (and the rapini if you still need it).

              1. re: mikeb
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                CookatHomeinLondon RE: mikeb Aug 12, 2008 11:38 AM

                My in-laws make sausage (my father--in-law even makes perforated metal discs for a London butcher through which to exude the sausage meat) but local rapini would be great. Where exactly is Diana Grocery and where else might we turn for rapini?

                1. re: CookatHomeinLondon
                  mikeb RE: CookatHomeinLondon Aug 12, 2008 11:52 AM

                  I make my own sausages as well, albeit on a kitchenaid and never enough. Diana is on the strip between Lansdowne and Dufferin, closer to Lansdowne. You can miss it. They put a big map of Italy above the awning when it stood in for a place NY in some 9/11 movie.

                  You can pretty well buy rapini in any grocery or fruit and veg store where there's Italian customers--St Clair & Dufferin, Woodbridge etc. Whether it's local I am not so sure. Sometimes yes, often no. Maybe someone has seen local stuff at the SLM or other markets. I haven't noticed it.

                  As I say many people just grow it in their gardens. Earlier in the season I got 40 day seeds from the the garden centre on Rogers, just west of Dufferin. I've seen 40 and 60 day seeds in Fiesta Farms grocery on Christie and many other hardware stores and garden centres in the areas I mentioned.

            2. re: mikeb
              icey RE: mikeb Aug 12, 2008 10:30 AM

              The Marcello's in Woodbridge is quite nice; their linguine pescatore are delicious. Their forte is pasta and pizza....do not try the risotto as I believe you will be disappointed like my fiancee was. The mains are rather boring. But the atmosphere is boisterous. They don't accept reservations on weekends, so if you are planning on going on a Friday or Saturday evening, arrive really early or expect to wait at least 45 minutes for a table.

              1. re: icey
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                CookatHomeinLondon RE: icey Aug 12, 2008 11:41 AM

                Thanks for the very helpful suggestions. Do you know if they are open for lunch as well? As an aside, it's so easy to make great risotto at home but it's not easy to replicate a wood-burning oven for pizza.

                1. re: CookatHomeinLondon
                  icey RE: CookatHomeinLondon Aug 12, 2008 12:21 PM

                  Yes they are open for lunch, and they have a very nice patio!

            3. thenurse RE: CookatHomeinLondon Aug 12, 2008 10:29 AM

              Try 7 numbers on Danforth at Bowden, just E of Broadview on the S side. Excellent, homemade Italian food with a good vibe and child friendly.

              5 Replies
              1. re: thenurse
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                Vinnie Vidimangi RE: thenurse Aug 12, 2008 07:23 PM

                Let's get real. You've got kids and, to put it politely, two unsophisticated older adults from the south of Italy. Calabreze maybe? JKWB, you have to be out of your mind; take them there and your inlaws will think that Canadians are out of their mind. (You know., its amazing how rubossos can be so astute. As for Marcello's, they aren't secret Toronto Jews by any chance? Big Ragu is way downhill since Marco went to Windsor. My suggestion: Get some Italian deli stuff , meats , cheeses, good luck on getting decent Italian bread, try Portuguese. Then get some fruit from a local store, go to a park to eat and finish with coffee and ice cream and a pastry from an Italian or Portuguese. This they might even enjoy.

                You probably won't take my advice out of a misguided desire to please you inlaws. Try Gianni e Maria on St Clair West. Gianni is good , but from the north. Are your in laws sufficiently open minded?
                VVM

                1. re: Vinnie Vidimangi
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                  phoenikia RE: Vinnie Vidimangi Aug 12, 2008 08:11 PM

                  Second Vinnie's recommendation of Da Gianni e Maria. Their gnocchi are unbelievably good.

                  1. re: Vinnie Vidimangi
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                    CookatHomeinLondon RE: Vinnie Vidimangi Aug 13, 2008 01:41 AM

                    Hey Vinnie, thanks for the suggestion about Gianni e Maria. While I definitely planned on eating outside in the manner you mentioned, we are going to be in Toronto for three days, so we will be looking for restaurants too. And while my in-laws are a lot less adventurous than I am when it come to food, they are more adventurous than most Canadians I know -- anyone who grows up eating tripe and wild greens from the side of the road are light years ahead of the meat and potato crowd. I haven't been to JKWB, but from their menu and the review of fellow chowhounds, the food is is hardly outlandish -- if anything, critics on this board (and in this thread) find it too basic and unadventurous. It seems to me that is great fit for someone who loves Italian cuisine, which at its heart, is simple preparations made stellar by the quality of the raw ingredients. Others have suggested JK place at the Gardiner would be an easier fit for our kids, and they may very well be right, but it doesn't seem to me the food is any more sophisticated than what I sometimes cook for my in-laws.

                    What exactly is a secret Italian Jew? I know of Italian Jews and their important contributions to the cuisine of Rome (and before that Sicily). But I'm not sure what you're talking abut it.

                    1. re: CookatHomeinLondon
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                      Vinnie Vidimangi RE: CookatHomeinLondon Aug 13, 2008 06:59 AM

                      Don't go to any of the Nova Eras in Toronto. I suggest a Caldense instead . An interesting one is at Ossington and Dundas, west side.

                      My problem with JKWB is: far too much "attitude", not nearly enough to eat and the food is only OK and of course too expensive for the package, unless the large bill is essential to the performance art. Nowhere else that I have been would JKWB succeed,or at least so I would like to believe.

                      Secret Jews. During the Inquisition some Jews converted but went underground- literally. Their secret practices have been handed down through the generations. This phenomenon exists particularly in northern Portugal to this day. So women go down to the basement and light candles for Friday night. They have no idea why other than this is what their mothers did. Families marry only with certain other families. In Toronto I have seen on Geary St. (very Portuguese on the wall in the kitchen a blue Star of David. I asked why and what it meant, I was told with an embarassed smile that they didn't know , it was put up for luck. The Star of David has been associated with Jews only relatively recently. But I was once went into the very Catholic cemetery across from LaPaloma on St.Clair and Oakwood and not to far in saw a headstone, Medeiros, decorated with a large menorah (candelabrum) , which is the traditional Jewish symbol. It was not stylized at all, and looked like the candelabrum depicted in Titus's Arch in Rome being carried off as booty, the Arch celebrating the conquest and sack of Jerusalem and the Temple in which the candelabrum had been situate.

                      Now to Marcello's. Many of the customers are Jewish and the menu suits. It has such authentic regional specialties as steak and salmon. (No,not on the same plate,this is forbidden.) Salmon is the quintessential Jewish fish in Toronto. Fillet please. I don't object to these dishes, and they are essential to please customers. But there is very little if anything more interesting on the menu.

                      My favourite Italian place is Zucca even though the chef came to things Italian only later in life. Prices are reasonably reasonable as things go here, but portions are small and you have to be a light eater.
                      But I think that it is really good; this is where I would take the Queen for Italian. So far, though, I have not had occasion., so I go only with the Ms. who thinks that it is superb. But caveat, | have better taste than she,look whom we married!

                      If you want a good, nice and quite cheap meal ,much better than the price, go to Bistro Camino, Danforth and Main, There used to be a lot of Sicilians in the area. But the cooking here is Japanese-French. Have the fish; I even recommend the salmon, which is good and interesting , even to me who has been over-salmoned in Toronto. Look , the chef owner is Japanese, he understands fish.

                      Please do report back!
                      VVM

                      1. re: Vinnie Vidimangi
                        littlegreenpea RE: Vinnie Vidimangi Aug 13, 2008 07:33 AM

                        I have to disagree with your reading of Marcello's VVM. Perhaps they do have steak and salmon on the menu (though I've never noticed it). But I don't know of anyone who goes there for steak and/or salmon; like you say, it's likely there just to placate some customers. Marcello's is pretty decent for pizza and pasta. It's a boisterous, informal restaurant that the OP might enjoy with his whole family. Of course, it's maybe not the best place in town, but it's pretty good for a casual, neighbourhood joint (imo). I think it would be a shame for the OP to write it off totally, esp if he's doing some shopping in the area.

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                  phoenikia RE: CookatHomeinLondon Aug 12, 2008 07:15 PM

                  For good traditional, homestyle southern Italian food in Woodbridge, try Mastro Roberto Trattoria on Weston Road. It's in a strip mall on the east side IIRC. As far as I could tell, I was the only non-Italian Canadian or non-Italian in the room, which was almost full the day I went.

                  When we sat down, we were brought some olives, bread and some spreads. My friend and I split a salad, and shared the the gnocchi with braised lamb , as well as a risotto with spinach, chicken and white wine. Both dishes we ordered were daily specials. The espresso after the meal came with tiny biscotti.

                  Everything was delicious, and the people who run the place are friendly. The portions are on the generous side.

                  http://www.mastroroberto.ca/main.htm

                  If you find yourself near Mt. Pleasant and Eglinton, stop by Il Gelatiere Artiginale for gelato. It's the closest I've found to the gelato in Italy. They have unique contemporary flavours (riso, spicy chocolate, non-dairy fondente), the usual suspects, as well as Italian flavours (like zuppa inglese,marscarpone, Sicilian pistachio etc.). It's made in-house, and the staff greets people in Italian (but then again, I usually pass for Italian, so maybe they just greet me in Italian). It is so much better than my last experience at La Paloma,and better than Dolce or Sicilian Ice Cream Factory on College St.

                  I second Vinnie's suggestion of Portuguese bread (and also pastries). I like Doce Minho on Dufferin between Lawrence and Eglinton. I like their corn bread and any pastries I've tried. Actually used to stop here to bring boxes full of pasteis de nata to London before the Nova Era opened on Egerton.

                  Not sure what type of allergy you have to take into consideration, but if seafood is a possibility, you might want to try Starfish. Last time I went, they had a $35 pre fixe as an early bird special ( I think you had to order before 6), and the portions were very generous. Starfish serves the best seafood in Toronto, apart from Chiado (which is Portuguese and considerably more expensive).

                  If you like the idea of sharing a bunch of plates, you might want to try a Greek restaurant on the Danforth such as Pantheon or Mezes.

                  Just a comment re: JKWB. I was underwhelmed with my meal at JKWB which I found to be ordinary, and not adventurous in any way. Nothing was bad, but there was no wow factor for me. I was amused by the fact that our order of basil and cheese stuffed smelts (this was a few years ago) consisted of exactly one stuffed smelt, which we carefully divided between the two of us. George serves much more interesting, innovative food imho.

                  But then again, I might not know much about chow, since this hound was born and raised in London;)

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: phoenikia
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                    CookatHomeinLondon RE: phoenikia Aug 13, 2008 01:54 AM

                    Thanks for all the great suggestions. I hope to get to Il Gelatiere Artiginale soon if not this weekend. In my in-laws home town you can get gelato flavored with Strega, a yellow-color liquor from Benevento which lends itself to a taste that is complex and not too sweet. I'm sure my inlaws like Greek, so those suggestions are promising, and we all love seafood -- except for the kids (the allergy is to nuts, peanuts and eggs, though my daughter may be out growing the latter two. As far as JKWB v, Geoge, I'm not sure my in-laws would enjoy that level of innovation and may feel more comfortable with the offering s JKWB. As for wow factors, some of the best meals I have had (and I have some good one in NY, LA, SF, Naples, just to name a few) were simple preparations made exceptional by the quality of the raw ingredients. Perhaps JKWB doesn't wow because its ingredients, while good, aren't up to the level you would find at George, which can afford to buy the best of everything,

                    I'll have to try Nova Era -- we should organize a London gathering for chowhounders,

                    1. re: CookatHomeinLondon
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                      phoenikia RE: CookatHomeinLondon Aug 13, 2008 06:46 AM

                      I think the quality of ingredients at JKWB and George are both exceptionally high, it's just that JKWB is making comfort food (sausage with potato salad, entrecote with mushrooms, roast beef sandwich, red fife wheat! sourdough bread , etc.) that use traditional whitebreadish flavours. The flavours are generally more English than French, although they do have confit and a frisee salad on the menu right now. As soon as you add pulled pork to poutine, it becomes a fusion food, and loses any real connection to PQ, imho. It's very safe food done extremely well, but I wouldn't take anyone brought up in an Italian kitchen there, because I think the food would come across as tasty and refined mangiacake food in an upscale setting. My Greek relatives would find the food's seasoning bland (lacking oregano, garlic, parsley, cinnamon, lemon!), although I guess some might describe the flavours as subtle and showcasing the true flavours of the ingredients. http://www.jamiekennedy.ca/PDFs/WBmen...

                      I think you're right that George would probably be a little too innovative for your inlaws (just the seasoning combinations- they'd probably like the ingredients), and if they are traditional eaters from a small town, they might feel that the portions are small for the price, but the chef's palate seems to be more Mediterranean/Latin, with some Canadian and Asian influences.

                      Starfish also serves steak frites for landlubbers. Wouldn't surprise me if they would do something for kid's who don't love seafood. Their frites are among the best in Toronto. http://www.starfishoysterbed.com/

                      You might also want to consider Globe Bistro http://www.globebistro.com/menu.php, near Danforth and Broadview, which focuses on fresh, local ingredients, but wouldn't be quite as innovative as George. Solid food, with some innovation. They also serve brunch and lunch.

                      A London gathering for chowhounders would be neat- but it seems most of the people who post about London on this board don't actually live there/here;) Seems like most posts go something like this "Back in the day, when I went to school there/lived there/had to visit there, the only place worth going to was abc", " When I to visit my relatives/attend a concert, we only go to abc" or " My sister/brother/whoever lives there and recommends abc" But I agree, a chowhound gathering for hounds who eat well in London would be fun.

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                    Snarf RE: CookatHomeinLondon Aug 13, 2008 09:53 AM

                    I'm surprised noone's mentioned Grano, on Yonge, north of Davisville. Very much a family restaurant, many children around, and very casual, with authentic rustic food. There's a large selection of appetizers in a glass case, or many fresh daily menu items. Also a fantastic heated (if necessary) patio which is perfect for a group.

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