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Plateau of Dining in Toronto?

Is it me or is Toronto a little stagnant right now?

Is anywhere doing anything really interesting right now or is it just the same-old?

I can't seem to find an experience anymore in this city.

Recently I've eaten at L'Unita, Nota Bene & JKWB. All of which were ok...but seemed like nothing special.

Concerned!

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  1. rich_ie,
    I'm not agreeing or disagreeing with you on the state of cuisine in Toronto but I feel like in this economy, we should just be crossing our fingers that the places we can rely on can stay afloat. Just my two cents.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Yum2MyTum

      I must agree that stagnant or not we certainly should be crossing our fingers as stated by 'yum2my tum'.......this economy looks to get worse before getting better..it doesn't bode well for the Restauranteurs and I'm certain that there are more than enough places who must be praying to the 'food gods' for survival...I don't think any of them (high end included) can rest on their laurels and menu's will have to be adjusted accordingly.

      1. re: ChalkBoy

        I did visit the hoof and thought it was good. I will return.

        I agree with the other replies, most certainly it's a tough time.

        I just have not been "wowed" for a while.

        Fingers crossed.

      2. i would also give a shout-out to Harbord Room.

        -----
        Harbord Room
        89 Harbord St, Toronto, ON M5S1G4, CA

        1. Toronto's restaurant scene is in major pain right now. This recession hit during our typical slow season, so it's been a double blow for a lot of restaurants. There was a conversation I read somewhere and they interviewed about 8 restauranteurs throughout the city and the only restaurant not seeming to feel it was terroni's. It would take a brave soul to open in these times. The two most exciting openings however would be Union and there has been buzz of Gordon Ramsay opening a spot within the next year. I think that will force the Toronto restaurant scene to raise it's bar a few levels.

          1. I also wasn't impressed by meals at L'Unita or Nota Bene. The fried perch I ordered at JKWB in July was great- the other dishes were good, but not too memorable a couple months later.

            I have to say I'm getting tired of this charcuterie trend.

            One of the more interesting meals that I enjoyed this past summer was served at Zee Grill. Good quality seafood prepared in somewhat inventive/unusual ways and surprisingly good desserts. Maybe not wow-worthy, but I liked my last meal at Zee better than other recent meals at various upscale restos around town. Zee isn't a place you should go if you're looking for hipsters or charcuterie.

            11 Replies
            1. re: phoenikia

              mmm I had the fried perch at JKWB in July as well.. I dream about it still to this day.

              Ame looks like it could be an interesting new place to hit up in Toronto - at least for something a little different.

              1. re: phoenikia

                I couldn't agree more about Toronto diners recent obsession with charcuterie-I've been eating charcuterie since I was born. I do however understand the whole concept of nose to tail, so I applaud chefs that take that approach. But honestly, while well made charcuterie is delicious, its really not particularly exciting nor innovative. I am still waiting for that chef here willing to break the mold rather than follow the herd. I'm tired of eating copies of Bobby Flay dishes, or any other celebrity chef for that matter. I agree with OnDaGo-I think its more a matter of the local demographic that is holding back the evolution of a truly creative and forward thinking dining scene here. And to clarify, I do believe there are many people posting on this board that "get it" but the mass dining public in Toronto still has a long way to go...

                SWS

                1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

                  Who and how many people exactly are copying these Bobby Flay dishes that you've grown so tired of?

                2. re: phoenikia

                  phoenika,
                  I totally agree with you.
                  L'Unita would never return, nor Nota Bene, but when you see the accolades on this board (especially for Nota Bene, etc) it is understandable that we settle for less.
                  I also am a fan of Zee Grill, as it is consistent and good, as is Zucca.
                  Not adventurous, not $$$$ .and they never disappoint..
                  Most of our high end restaurants are "safe", and dull.
                  This is why I prefer Chinese, Japanese, and various ethnic foods in T.O., and save my fine dining for elsewhere.

                  1. re: erly

                    Me too erly-that's why I travel abroad when I want fine dining. Its just really not worth it here. Its pretty depressing when I have to spend my dollars on a plane ticket just to eat something that will blow me away.

                    SWS

                    1. re: erly

                      I am not wowed by food at Nota Bene too, but found it pretty good, price is ok. Not in a worry to return, but consider it a good choice if I am in the area.

                      There are fine dining style chinese and Japanese food, but it is hard to find in Toronto. I think it also depends on personal experience and exposure to certain cuisine. There are people who fly to HK from Toronto for better cantonese food or fly to Japan for better Japanese food because those in there is not good enough or lacking !

                      1. re: skylineR33

                        And there are people who fly in from New York just to eat at Kaji yet most Torontonians will not drive to Etobicoke to eat there..

                        1. re: OnDaGo

                          Well, I have to say this is a bit weird for people who fly in from New York 'just' to eat at Kaji ...

                          1. re: skylineR33

                            I knew a guy who used to work there and there was a guy who would fly in once a month to eat there... But the point is people here complain about exciting menus yet there are people around the world who would love to have some of the restaurants we have. But in typical Canadian fashion we put them down and say others do it better so why bother going... which only adds to the issue.

                            1. re: OnDaGo

                              But you are using Kaji as an example, I have not seen anyone on this board put Kaji down, people say there are comparable, better variety, much more choice, better quality and selection of Japanese food one can find in NYC when compared to Toronto, so why bother flying all the way from NYC to here for Japanese food, unless your friend knows Kaji in person and get special treatment, otherwise I don't see the point. Kaji is good, I suggest people in Toronto to go to Kaji, but not to someone who is from NYC.

                              1. re: skylineR33

                                Kaji is a place I've been desperate to try for a LONG time now but I've never been able to find someone willing to go with me. I think its high time for me to go, and perhaps alone.

                  2. Agree! Haven't had a 'wow' western dish for months! Dish closest to attain 'wow' status was a Chinese creation - ' Fried lobster with shallots and Garlic chips' at 'The Emperor'. in Richmond Hill.

                    1. I absolutely agree with this:
                      "I can't seem to find an experience anymore in this city."
                      I've had lots of great meals in the GTA over the past few months, but they all had a certain similarity to them. Definitely getting boring.
                      I think it shows on this board as well. I still see good reviews all the time, but when was the last time we saw real exuberance in the vein of BokChoi's Splendido review?

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: graydyn

                        Where have you eaten graydyn? what did you order?

                        Maybe it is not the the restaurants are boring but that you maybe tended to order safe things... if you go in thinking you will be disapointed you order safe, which means boring which means you will be dissapointed vicious circle...

                        When was the last time you said to the waiter tell the chef to bring me what he thinks is the best dish on the menu...

                        1. re: OnDaGo

                          I actually do this all the time. I make a habit of asking my server to bring me the signature dish-and very often they stare at me like a deer in the headlights, and proceed to ask "well what do YOU like". Gawd help me! You can't win for losing!

                          When I do this outside Toronto, I have gotten dishes that made me kneel and pray to God that I have tastebuds.

                          SWS

                          1. re: OnDaGo

                            The last three (in Toronto) would be George, Yang's, and Didier.
                            Which totally contradicts what I said above doesn't it? Because Yang's is not only way different than the other two, but it was a wickedly exciting meal.
                            I've been doing a lot of tasting menus during the past year or so, which is somewhat similar to just trusting the chef's decision isn't it?
                            Off hand can you think of any place in TO that's serving up something you wouldn't consider 'safe'?

                        2. What meals / techniques would you consider exciting? Fusion is old / Molecular is too gimmicy / Local is done to death... What would a top chef have to do to make you say WOW and come back every month (in this economy)...

                          17 Replies
                          1. re: OnDaGo

                            Isn't it the chef's job to figure that out? I'm not a chef by profession so that is why I am in constant pursuit of the ones that will blow my friggin socks off.

                            But to give you an idea;

                            Unique flavour combinations but not just a bunch of spices thrown together, or worse, overpowering the palate with one dominant flavour. "Wow, I can taste cumin!"

                            Highlighting a particular ingredient in a novel/unique way.

                            Creating tasting menus that are cohesive and have a "theme" rather than a chef throwing together a bunch of dishes they do well with no particular rhyme or reason, or worse, not thinking through the progression of dishes properly.

                            Or even perfect execution of a dish/ingredient normally butchered my many. Like eggs for example. Or even risotto.

                            I don't think any of the above are necessarily excluded due to the economy. Contrary to what many will say, even when the economy was good, the above was still difficult to find. The only chef that's wowed me in Toronto has been David Lee at the old Splendido and Pascal Ribreau at his peak at Celestin. Even Marc Thobor's command of fine pastries. Specifically, David's squab made me swoon. Why people think lobster poutine (blech! why would you RUIN a beautiful piece of sweet shellfish) or foie gras hamburgers are special is beyond me.

                            SWS

                            1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

                              you seem to be channeling one of my recent threads quite strongly, whether intentionally or not.

                              i asked for decadence... not unique nor special nor... etc. of course a well prepared dish is at the top of the list along side the decadence request but it was an opinion poll of sorts on where one can get the most decadent dish. and of course everyone has their own opinions. on the other hand.... i've never had a squab dish i would call decadent, perhaps David does it quite differently. i would have loved to have tried it.

                              if you weren't referencing my post at all... well i don't really think that anyone has been touting lobster poutine nor foie gras hamburgers as being mind blowing.... just tasty dishes they like and enjoy. you obviously don't, but again... no one is saying they're great examples of the creativity of any chefs.

                              i'm not going to dispute much of what you've said. the economy may have made it worse but the fine dining scene still had a long way to go in matching other cities. on all fronts. like another poster said, i would put the blame squarely in the hands of the general dining public. they simply don't know what to demand of quality and creativity and don't seem to want to acknowledge they have a lot to learn. if they did then perhaps their palates would expand and demand would change accordingly. restaurants are businesses first and foremost these days and if they can get away with the lowest common denominator then they likely will because they're often still getting accolades for it. it's a beast that continually feeds itself.

                              that being said, i wouldn't ignore ondago's suggestion. some of the best meals i've had in this city was because i gave a chef a call in advance and gave them carte blanche.... the prices were also pretty darn low. if i had given them a higher budget then i'm sure something amazing would really have come out of that kitchen.

                              1. re: pinstripeprincess

                                PSP,

                                I just read your decadent dishes thread-I did not intend to insult you with my lobster poutine/foie hamburger comment at all-simply a coincidence. The reason I used those examples are that it is a common suggestion for people to try on this board. My point is that people seem to believe they are special somehow.

                                David's squab made me swoon, not for its decadence, but because of the preparation and execution.

                                And I agree with calling a chef in advance and making arrangements-that is what I've decided to do for an upcoming special dinner out in Toronto (I had considered flying out to NYC to hit up EMP or Le Bernardin) but its just absurd and not very environmentally ethical. But the bottom line for me is that in a city the size of Toronto, you shouldn't have to call a chef to get a special dinner. I didn't need to call chefs in Montreal, Paris, Boston, Vienna, San Francisco, NYC etc... to eat something special and unique.

                                SWS

                                1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

                                  not offended.. just a very odd coincidence and i wasn't sure how to respond based on that so i tried to take all routes just in case.

                                  i think it's just that i feel we're very limited in toronto period and so in a sense these dishes have become special for lack of other options. they are easy suggestions for people who want something that has the air of uniqueness by virtue of expensive ingredients but aren't necessarily open to a very innovative experience. if anything that lobster poutine is mostly suggested to show the range of "poutines" that can be had in toronto for tourists hunting "the best" and i can't dispute that it is the most unique poutine in toronto however unexciting and a bad match it might be (i've actually never had it... it never really appealed to me).

                                  i guess i'm mostly repeating myself so i won't bother making this lengthier... but drawing from a conversation with a friend recently... toronto is more into branding than what is actually behind the brand. the most successful chefs we've had in toronto either have great PR firms or know how to do it themselves. most of the people with money buy into these brands and often have their own.... toronto is severely self-conscious. until that changes, then we'll have our dining renaissance.

                                  and no.. you shouldn't have to call.... but we do what we can when there are gaps to bridge. it's been a long time since i've been wowed (part of the near total withdrawal from the finer dining scene the past while) and the last time was definitely not in toronto.

                                  1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

                                    this concept of calling a chef in advance for a special dinner is something i admit i hadn't really considered before, but reading this thread is solidyfing the idea more. i'd be interested to know where/who you end up going with SWS!

                                    1. re: auberginegal

                                      I'm pretty sure I'm going with the crew at Amuse Bouche. I've heard great things about them from industry people I trust. The dinner won't be until the end of October, but I'll keep you posted!

                                    2. re: aser

                                      *not listening!!!* i don't think i can ever get that squab now can i :(?

                                      i'm already sad i missed out on susur's lotus (though there's really no realistic way it would have ever happened) and now i have more to lament.

                                2. re: OnDaGo

                                  Local should be a starting point for any top restaurant. The reason that its being 'done to death' is because the dining public is demanding it.

                                  1. re: haggisdragon

                                    This!
                                    OnDaGo, how could you say that local is done to death? I don't see how local could EVER be done to death.

                                      1. re: graydyn

                                        If you see a restaurant that says it is serving a "Local" menu in Toronto.... do you go "WOW That is exciting I HAVE to go there, that is something inventive and NEW!!" no.. because most menus in the city now have become fairly "Local" so that it is more of a buzzword like "Tapas" then something that stirs excitement...

                                        1. re: OnDaGo

                                          It may be that "local" is a trend right now but how can you argue that this is bad? Do people love to eat in Tuscany because of the amazing ingredients they ship in? Isn't there at least the possibility that by having more Ontario chefs working with Ontario ingredients we'll end up with new, creative and delicious dishes? Because of this I actually AM more excited about places doing 'local'.

                                          1. re: Manybears

                                            I am NOT arguing that it is "bad" I am arguing the original question posted: "Is anywhere doing anything really interesting right now or is it just the same-old?" Right now (to me) "local" = "same old" unless you can give me an example of someone in Toronto doing something REALLY exciting with "Local"

                                            1. re: OnDaGo

                                              Fair enough. I just hope for good things to come of it in the future.

                                    1. re: OnDaGo

                                      OnDaGo,I want a layering of flavors that "work", that make me want to return.
                                      Lets take the lowly Salad.
                                      Just recently at moderately priced restaurants we ate:
                                      1. Hot Duck Salad - Baby Greens and Scallions slices of steamed Potato, slightly browned, crunchy whole roasted Chestnuts, Cherry Tomatoes, and topped with shredded crisped Duck, in a most delicate but flavorful Herb Dressing.
                                      2. Hot Octopus Salad layered.
                                      Very thinly sliced Fennel, topped with Avocado,topped with very thin slices of Jalapeno Peppers , and black olives, topped by perfectly charred Octopus.
                                      If I had eaten either of these dishes in any T.O. Restaurant, I would always return for them, and I won't even start with other courses!

                                      1. re: erly

                                        Where did you have these? In Toronto?

                                        1. re: OnDaGo

                                          No, I can only wish
                                          New York - Octopus Salad
                                          Paris - Duck Salad.
                                          My point is that the combination worked to give me a Gastronomical Thrill.
                                          It wasn't same old, same old.
                                          It is all about the subtle differences, and the talent of the Chef, and these were inexpensive to moderate Restaurants.
                                          Not that I wouldn't like to have Keller open a per se in Toronto.
                                          At the highest end I have never tasted anything in Toronto as good as his Oysters and Pearls....
                                          or almost anything else on his menu.

                                    2. Perhaps it is the consumer that has stagnated. I find it hard to believe that Canoe, Splendido, Nota Bene, JKWB, Lai Wah Heen, etc, etc, are the only places that are putting good food on plates, yet these are usually the only restaurants mentioned on this site.

                                      On top of it all, it seems that all people are interested in right now, if it isn't the aforementioned restaurants and their ilk, is BBQ, Smoked Meat, Poutine, and other quasi-comfort foods.

                                      Just a thought...

                                      1. For me, the beautiful aspects of the Toronto dining experience is the vast diversity of high quality ethnic cuisine.

                                        With that being said...

                                        For the best the city has to offer - I stay with a few trusted and true's - LWH for the Dim Sum/Asian cravings - I'll Mulino for the rare Italian outings - Kaji for Sushi - although with Splendido not its former self and recent questionable meals at Scaramouche, the top spot at the front of the plateau is really up for grabs...

                                        1. This was just posted on another thread:

                                          "Personally, if I had visitors in from out of town, unless they were serious sushi fans, I wouldn't take them to Kaji for the simple fact it's in Etobicoke. I'd rather take them to a place in a more interesting area. "

                                          That is what I mean... Everything has to be 125% perfect for someone to say it is good in this city... they would rather comprimise on food then to take someone to Etobicoke... sad...

                                          5 Replies
                                          1. re: OnDaGo

                                            Thanks for leaving out the rest of what I posted where I qualified the statement. And for some people the environment and area is a factor particularly when entertaining out of town guests. It's not like there aren't other restaurants where you can have a great meal so it's not a question of having to be 125 good or sacrificing quality.

                                            My point was that considering they are out of town guests -- and I stated it depends on their friends preferences that they will know more than I -- they may enjoy a different area more since they are visiting the city from out of town. As in something to consider when making your decision.

                                            Jesus.

                                            1. re: jamesm

                                              You qualified the statement by saying:

                                              "That may just be appropriate for myself and my out of town pals though. Etobicoke could very well be perfect for your friends."

                                              Which just says that that is your opinion (which every post on this site is the opinion of the person writting it) so I did not feel it changed or added to the context of the message.. sorry..

                                              1. re: OnDaGo

                                                My point was that considering they are out of town guests -- and I stated it depends on their friends preferences that they will know more than I -- they may enjoy a different area more since they are visiting the city from out of town. As in something to consider when making your decision. So yes, it very much does change the context of my statement.

                                                The irony is I was in total agreement with all your previous posts, I agree some people will never be happy. Sometimes I think people confuse critical with informed. "It's not nearly as good as the omikase I had in Japan." Really? How's the Mexican and Portuguese restaurants there? "It's No El Bulli, that's for sure." well, 99 percent of restaurants aren't. Etc....

                                                Sometimes I get the impression some people are more interested in regaling the board with their tales of adventure than actually being objective about what Toronto has to offer. Which is a lot.

                                                  1. re: OnDaGo

                                                    Thanks.

                                                    I think there was some mutual misunderstanding that has been cleared up.

                                                    Cheers.

                                          2. The problem with Toronto is everyone operates in a very narrow band. There is no diversity. There are two clusters - high end and low end. No quality or variation in the middle. Cities the size of Toronto usually have a high quality mid range with a lot of experimentation in technique, focus and regionalism.

                                            If I put a blindfold on someone and took them on an eating tour of the top restaurants in the city I would bet they could not differentiate from one restaurant to another. Same ingredients, same themes, same dishes.

                                            1. An off topic segment of this topic was split to the General Chowhounding board, here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6539...