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Toronto Life's Best Restaurants 2009 list - Thoughts?

Toronto Life just published its "Best Restaurants" list, the first time in three years - the last time was in 2006:

(Not to be confused with the Best NEW Restaurants list, which it publishes every year


The honorable mentions are here:

11. Colborne Lane
12. Bite Me! (previously Thuet
)13. Cava
14. Hashimoto
15. Chiado

Thoughts on the top 15?

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  1. Which one is one top ten ?

    1. Kind of hard to comment on a top 15 list when the top 10 are hidden... guess I'm supposed to buy the magazine, huh?

      6 Replies
      1. re: Gary

        I am glad to see Didier on the list -- we had an excellent meal there and the place was nearly empty on a Saturday night which made me worried about whether it would still be there the next time we wanted to go. The foie gras was unbeatable.

        1. re: Arcadiaseeker

          eigensinn farm
          via allegro
          sushi kaji
          north 44
          langdon hall
          auberge du pommier

          1. re: insideman

            is this the top 10 list? so where's Didier?

            1. re: insideman

              Is the list in order ? Does it mean Canoe is No.1 and Eigensinn Farm is No.2 in Toronto ? Thanks.

              1. re: skylineR33

                Without knowing the numbers, it seems like a pretty typical list of what I'd imagine many people would consider to be top restaurants, though a couple are a bit mystifying.

              2. re: insideman

                Is this list in order, does anyone know?

          2. Given the current downdrafts, I'm wondering about their editorial/marketing judgement in pitching this list now, apart from pitching life preservers to sinking restos.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Kagemusha

              Because it's an annual list that comes out the same time every year?

              Besides, I don't think Canoe is going to turn into a Depression-era soup kitchen any time soon.

              1. re: childofthestorm

                No but it, like others, will likely show giant reptile inability to adapt and so just vanish. TO Life's take on anything is far from canonical in 2009.But I'm grateful my kid's dentist subscribes, since that's when I read it.

                1. re: childofthestorm

                  It doesn't publish the "Best Restaurants" list every year. As JohnnyBooy points out, the last "Best Restaurants" list was in 2006. It does, however, publish a "Best NEW Restaurants" list every year.

                  But ranking, new or old, the best restaurants in Toronto is something Toronto Life hasn't done in three years.

              2. Come back James Chatto - all is forgiven!

                2 Replies
                  1. re: Dimbulb

                    You're right - my bad! - I had the article open at the 'Cheap Eats' page and saw the list of names there. Assumed that they were the compilers.
                    What a boring list (although to be fair a few are still performing at a high level).

                  1. re: LemonLauren

                    that's last year's list if I'm not mistaken.

                    It's Toronto Life afterall, the readership is quite waspy. It's no surprise the big guns all made the list. Only surprise is Langdon Hall, since it's so far away.

                    I would throw Old Mill (Ancaster) into the hat if places like Langdon Hall are considered.

                    The bankroller of Toronto Life is best chums w/ the owner of Via Allegro. They're also always guaranteed a spot on their best of lists. You draw your own conclusions.

                  2. Upon reflection - this is 'almost' the 10 best expense account list (plus Eigensinn which is too far out to qualify).
                    However, rather than just criticize, why don't people suggest 'worthy' places for consideration as part of the Top 10 ( to keep it clean, let's not say who should be dropped - yet!). Let's just add the worthy contenders.
                    For example, on my dime I'd easily prefer the following to 'several' of those included.
                    Blacktree (Burlington)
                    Truffles (4 Seasons)
                    Lai Wah Heen
                    (OK a couple of these were in the 'next best' online - but these aren't mentioned in the magazine itself)
                    and I'm sure there's a host of places in Markham/Richmond Hill.
                    All of the above take reservations and would be suitable for a business dinner/special occasion - although some don't have great winelists - but neither does Eigensinn (at #2).

                    1. Does anyone know if the list insideman posted is the actual list?
                      And is that the exact order? I find it surprising that Canoe is first and Eigensinn Farm only second.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: zen123

                        Over-rated, I was never impressed with Eigensinn's food. Sure, Michael Stadlander may use the freshest / organic (?) ingredients available anywhere just off his farm/back yard but other than that, for the price he is charging, the food did not blow me away at all. In fact quite a few of his dishes were bland and flavourless. IMO, a Chez Panisse clone with a farm setting and less delicious food. It won't even make my top 5 list!

                        1. re: Charles Yu

                          I found Eigensinn Farm AND Chez Panisse both unimpressive.

                          In fact, add Blue Hill (and Blue Hill at Stone Barns) to the list!
                          I love the fresh / organic ingredients idea, but never been impressed with the difference in taste.

                          1. re: JohnnyBooy

                            Blue HIll at Stone Barns food wise was average to me. Although I enjoyed the experience mainly because I got to walk around and see everything up close. The pigs, the poultry, the tomatoes, everything! Barber sure is lucky to have the Rockerfeller foundation bankroll the operations, it's a chef's dream.


                          2. re: Charles Yu

                            This was my experience as well.

                          3. re: zen123

                            Yes, Insiderman's list is in order of how TO Life lists them - here it is again:

                            eigensinn farm
                            via allegro
                            sushi kaji
                            north 44
                            langdon hall
                            auberge du pommier

                            The top 10 new restaurants were (also in order):

                            Nota Bene
                            Black Hoof
                            Harbord Room
                            Atelier Thuet
                            Mildred's Temple Kitchen
                            Gilead Cafe

                            1. re: Cat123

                              In the past year, I have (or plan to eat very soon) eaten joyfully at all of the "new" restaurants and *none* of the best (so stuffy, or remote - either geographically or atmospherically. what a joke TO Life is)

                          4. question: does a top 10 list of toronto places that includes via allegro and north 44 merit serious consideration?

                            16 Replies
                            1. re: shekamoo

                              What's your beef with Via Allegro, shekamoo ? It almost merits inclusion just for its wine list coupled with the outstanding, informed, patient and not-one-whit snobbish service of Wendy and her team of sommeliers. But on top of that the place just oozes quality and professionalism, and is accessible at different price points. For you are made as welcome whether you want a pizza and a glass of wine or a five-course extravaganza with vintages to accompany same. That quality of hospitality and the guest as king is one many far lesser establishments (Terroni, eg) could well emulate.

                              1. re: Bigtigger

                                blah food and service, not so blah prices...

                                1. re: Bigtigger

                                  I've never been to Via Allegro but have often considered it as I'm a bit of a scotch nut.

                                  If I was to go dine there, without alcohol, what would be the approximate price range I'd be looking at (I have a pretty large appetite) ?

                                  1. re: radiopolitic

                                    There are pasta dishes for under $20, and they had a new "rustic" Italian menu that is much cheaper than the regular menu. Then prices go up.

                                    Portions are not tiny, even for the more expensive things. I can't even eat half the risotto (but I have a small appetite), and would probably split something like that 4 ways with an appetizer and still be stuffed.

                                    I've never felt it wasn't worth however much was spent, though.

                                    1. re: tjr

                                      Probably has more to do with the Foie Gras and Duck Confit than it does with your appetite. That's a pretty rich risotto.

                                      1. re: Notorious P.I.G.

                                        True. It's very large serving as well.

                                  2. re: Bigtigger

                                    I would take shit service at a festive joint like Terroni over informed patient service at a restaurant in a suburban strip mall anyday.

                                    1. re: Sui_Mai

                                      Might as well take Hashimoto and Kaji off your go-to lists then.

                                      1. re: tjr

                                        Zen, too?

                                        There must be others...

                                        1. re: Full tummy

                                          Who cares if it's in a strip mall, as long as it doesn't look like a strip mall location inside. Simply ridiculous.

                                          1. re: tjr

                                            Now, now to each their own. Atmosphere ranks high for many. I have a friend that won't eat anywhere that isn't dimly lit. Doesn't mean she doesn't have taste. It's just her thing.

                                            1. re: Googs

                                              Atmosphere inside; if you can't see the exterior of the building from inside the restaurant, is there a big deal? But hey, Yorkville has a ton of bad restaurants that could use some customers.

                                              This is Chowhound, snobbery about location shouldn't really factor into the conversation.

                                              1. re: tjr

                                                Hey, I didn't say I agree. Can you imagine never going to Zen? As you say, though, this is Chowhound. All opinions count.

                                  3. re: shekamoo

                                    Nothing to say about the wine list which I'll take your word for, Bigtigger but my experience (1 only) at Via Allegro was probably the most underwhelming I've had in Toronto because of my expectations for the place. The gold spoon risotto was 'meh', and I can't even remember my pasta dish. The bill however, I do remember, as being astronomical for the quality of food....

                                    1. re: Yum2MyTum

                                      I've had their risotto several times, and it has been better than the beet risotto at Mistura (which is pretty high praise, considering that used to be my favourite risotto in the GTA).

                                      The tasting menu, when I had it, at Via Allegro was always great too. Their other dishes hit various price ranges and I have had some dishes that weren't too great, but mostly the food has been worth it. Not to mention their incredible wine, grappa and whiskey lists, and great service.

                                      1. re: tjr

                                        oh well, maybe it's just a matter of my bad luck with the place. but I still insist, based on my personal experience, on the 'overpricing' criticism....I just don't see any justification for the price range in which allegro finds itself...

                                  4. My thought(s): <yawn>. For the most part, all the usual suspects.

                                    9 Replies
                                    1. re: Olivia

                                      Agreed. Very bored by the list indeed. A very old guard compilation and for the most part what seem like "safe" choices.

                                      For once I'd like to be surprised by this type of list in Toronto. Even best new restaurants is kind of predictable - not that they aren't "worthy" of the distinction but the list hasn't really opened my eyes to anywhere I hadn't heard of before.

                                      ... not to be a Debbie Downer or anything...


                                      1. re: wontonfm

                                        But if you are talking the best of Toronto why would it open the eyes of a foodie? it should be ones that have lasted and produced consitently good food for a while. Not some fly by night one hit wonder... There are so few fine dining restaurants in the city (end I think we all agree that this list is the top 10 fine dining restaurants not top ten cheap eats) that it almost does not even have to be published.. And these are pretty much what people here on chow recomend when anyone asks.. so yes I agree pretty much with the list, I maybe switch some around but I also have not eaten at them all and for some it has been a long time...

                                        What restaurant would you add to the list as a "surprise" entry that is great and consistient enough to make a list?

                                        1. re: OnDaGo

                                          i was pleased to see Harbord Room make the best new restos list.

                                          what about places like amaya, which i think have been commercially successful, and raved about by other critics (gina mallet's number 1 in 2008 i think)?

                                          1. re: LemonLauren

                                            I agree with The Harbord Room being a great spot and glad to see them in the Top 10. Anything by Thuet & Co. only deserves to be on a top 10 worst list! Via Allegro is just so special in so many ways that it will often warrant a listing in the best of lists across the city. I do however understand how some just don't like it.

                                            I also think Delux should have come way ahead of Grace and Frank. As for The Black Hoof...its a new favourite for sure.

                                            1. re: The Macallan 18

                                              TM 18, what about Via Allegro makes you understand why others may not like it? I'm interested in getting your angle on it.

                                          2. re: OnDaGo

                                            Very good points. I've been back in Toronto for about a year and half after a 6 year absence (while in NYC) and a lot of those names seem like names that would have come up around 6 years ago...before I was that into food. Just no surprises.

                                            You bring up a good point about how few fine dining restaurants there are. As someone who isn't that big on fine dining I guess I always assume that there are more options out there besides the old guard that I'm not hearing about!


                                            1. re: OnDaGo

                                              Exactly. Usually a "best kept secret" just isn't the best.

                                            2. re: wontonfm

                                              I don't understand why the fact that some restaurants have been successful for a while (Splendido, e.g.) has to be counted against them.

                                              New York has had the same "top" restaurants for a while too: Per Se, Jean Georges, Le Bernardin... in fact, in every city the list of "best" restaurants tend not to vary a lot from year to year - isn't consistent why we think the restaurants are good to begin with?

                                              Shouldn't the fact that the "best" restaurants in Toronto is all the "usual suspects" validate these restaurants' consistency? I have been to most of the new restaurants in the city for the past year, and while a lot of them were quite good none was good enough to really make me think that it is one of the "best" in Toronto (rather than just best "new" restaurant).

                                              The fact that there are no surprises in the "best restaurants" list just shows how hard it is to create a great restaurant from scratch.

                                              1. re: JohnnyBooy

                                                I agree with you.

                                                That's why you have the two lists. One for the best restaurants, and one for the best new restaurants. Are restaurants like North 44 (is this restaurant not that great anymore?-in response to shekamoo's comment) or Truffles "ground-breaking"? No. But they seem to be terrific, established restaurants that patrons enjoy.

                                                A little off-topic, but what exactly are the differences between McEwan's three restaurants in North 44, Bymark, and One? Is North 44 a little more "technicial" in it's cuisine? Is Bymark a little bit more of a "comfort food" focus, re-inventing comfort foods in an upscale manner with dishes like the Bymark Burger and the lobster poutine?

                                                Looking at this list, do you feel that Toronto has started to reach the next level in it's dining and the quality and style of dishes that are put out on the table (not everyone wants the lastest trends in food and such)? With the new five-star hotel projects coming on-line (BTW, what's going to happen with Truffles?) and Gordon Ramsay looking to open a restaurant soon, it'll be interesting to see how it evolves.

                                          3. What about a new list: the top 10 best restaurants you've never eaten at? Myself, I LOVE the Scaramouch pasta bar, Canoe, Grace, and North 44 but would love to discover some amazing restaurants that are not on the tip of everyone's tongue. For example, Trio pizza on Yonge at Lawrence. Tiny little place with amazing pizza that I would have never heard of if it had not been for Chowhoud.

                                            Like Lee Garden Chinese Food on Spadina. Incredibly fresh and delicious food. The huge lineups starting at about 5 on a Sunday can't be all wrong... Their eggplant dish? The hot and sour soup? Just because the bill does not crack $100pp does not mean it is not one of Toronto's best. That should be the real purpose for this website. After all, the Toronto Life list is already out there...what's the use of reprinting it here?

                                            7 Replies
                                            1. re: Toronto Fastfoodie

                                              I'm sorry Toronto Fastfoodie! However, I must disagree with you whole heartedly regarding 'Lee Garden' on Spadina being one of Toronto's best!! Compare to whats available north of the 401, Lee Garden's food won't even make my top 20 best Chinese restaurant list, I'm afraid!

                                              1. re: Charles Yu

                                                I'm surprised there hasn't been much talk about Simple Bistro for the top ten best new restaurants for Toronto Life. The Chef Masayuki Tamaru is one of the better French trained Chefs in Toronto ,and his food is perfect for what it is.

                                                1. re: chef223

                                                  Many thanks for the info chef223. I always wonder where Tamaru san disappeared to after he closed down JOV Bistro. Glad to see him resurfaced. Simple but interesting menu. Going to try out their 'monk fish'! Any other dishes you recommend? Dessert also, please! Thx in advance!

                                                  1. re: Charles Yu

                                                    Hi Charles, I had the roasted lamb saddle at Simple Bistro, and it was pretty good! Friend had the monk fish, also good. Escargot is a pass, though.

                                                    1. re: tjr

                                                      Thanks tjr!
                                                      After living in Paris for a few years, I think I'm going to give 'North American Escargot' a pass! Nothing beats the 'mega-size' real thing from Burgundy!
                                                      Also, I happen to notice you are a Japanese food expert. Do you by chance know Tamaru san in person?

                                                      1. re: Charles Yu

                                                        Hi Charles, we are not friends, but acquaintances (one of my friends does know him though).

                                                        Having you call me an "expert" in a cuisine in which a lifetime of gastronomic study would barely scratch the surface is a great compliment, that, in a typically Japanese fashion, I am forced to deny!

                                                    2. re: Charles Yu

                                                      Hi Charles,
                                                      Simple Bistro is solid but a bit overpriced for what you get. The service is excellent, but the food is more competent than spectacular. A solid neighbourhood place.