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Distillery District Recommendations

Hello fellow Ch'ers. My wife and I will be attending a play at the Young Centre for Performing Arts at the Distillery District. We really know very little about restaurants east of Yonge Street. We're hoping to find a new mid-price restaurant for dinner before the show. Though we love Perigee, we won't have sufficient time to savour a fine meal there. We've also been to Weezie's (thanks Bok Choi for the recommendation) and Batifole recently. So... here's the challenge... anywhere reasonably close that you would recommend? Most of the restaurants at the DD are not highly regarded, as research on this Board reveals. Thanks all!

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  1. If you like Italian there is a little hidden resto called Mangia & Bevi Resto-Bar‎ @ 260 King St. E. (entrance on Ontario St). It is run by a brother sister team. Authentic tasty Northern Italian food. I have always had great meals there. Down to earth food, pastas, pizza and salads made from scratch.

    1 Reply
    1. re: mussetto

      I completely agree with Mangia & Bevi. I actually prefer the pizza at M&B over Libretto. The pastas are also very good and the salads are HUGE but (as mussetto mentioned) they do not have "secondi" if that is what you are looking for. Also, they are not open on Saturday nights or Sundays.

    2. Pure Spirits. While service slips in the summer, or when it's crowded, the food is fairly competent. The oysters are fresh, they handle seafood well, and the wines are fairly reasonable. And it's a beautiful room. Make sure you get a booth.

      1. Pure Spirits and Boiler House are both "ok". They are honestly not horrible, but you certainly won't be blown away. The space at Boiler House is quite beautiful and if you don't have high expectations, you won't be disappointed. I think Pure Spirits is a slightly higher price point, though I don't think the food is worth the difference. For the convenience factor, it's probably worth trying one of them. And the good news is that you can skip dessert altogether and get a bunch of truffles at Soma to take into the theatre with you. :)

        11 Replies
        1. re: TorontoJo

          Thanks to all for the recommendations. My meeting in T.O. ran late so we were in a bit of a rush and did not want the hassle of moving the car so we opted for dinner at the Boiler House. No doubt about it, we love the ambience of the Distillery District and the Boiler House was no exception. Interesting interior design - a mix of reclaimed brick, steel girders, natural wood... all in all quite comfortable. We were fortunate to get a banquette as the restaurant was reasonably busy.

          Toronto Jo - you told us not to have high expectations so I am pleased to say... they were exceeded. My wife and I actually had a very nice dinner. It was a good omen when I found they had one of my favourite local wines on the menu... a 2004 Peller Signature Chardonnay.

          Started off with a share plate of frites. Very nicely spiced, crispy on the outside, tender inside, served with aioli. One of the nicer frite dishes we've tried. My main was pan-roasted duck breast, duck sausage, pont neuf potatoes (french fries) and green beans, served with a black currant sauce, Duck breast was perfectly prepared.. crispy on the outside, medium rare and juicy inside. The sauce was OK, slightly bland but not disturbingly so. My wife had the pan roasted pickerel served with herb and mascarpone dumpling. She enjoyed the pickerel but raved about the dumplings.

          Desserts were pumpkin pie and apple/butternut squash tartin. Pumpkin pie was more like pumpkin squares - quite spicy and tasty. My wife enjoyed the tarte tatin. I dunno, butternut squash in a dessert not my thing.

          The highlight of the night for us was the service... not exagerrating when I say our server - Michael - was the best server we've had in a very long time. Congenial, informed, properly attentive - all made for a great evening. Even the bill was presented in timely manner as he knew we were going to theatre. Dinner was $200 including tip. Not too bad for a decent bottle of wine, 1 app, 2 mains, 2 desserts. I would go again.

          Thains for the recommendation Jo..

          1. re: cynalan

            Thanks for the detailed post. I've always thought that the Distillery restos were given short shrift that wasn't always justified. The Boiler House is a very nice room when all cylinders are firing.

            1. re: Snarf

              I agree that a lot of people have a hate on for the DD restos. I can sort of understand it, though, as for the price (or less), you can have a better dinner elsewhere in the city (at a place like Rosebud, for example). But, as I said, for the convenience factor before a play, I think they are perfectly acceptable. And I love the beauty of the spaces. Glad you and your wife had a good dinner, cynalan! And on a totally un-food related side note, I'm guessing you caught Glengarry Glen Ross -- love David Mamet, I hope it was a good production.

            2. re: cynalan

              Thanks for the review cynalan. I have not tried Boiler House yet. I usually only find myself in the area during the afternoon when the sun is out (great for photos). During that time, I usually hit Soma, or even the little bakery there for some gelato/cocoa. I went to Pure Spirits during the first year they participated in the licious event and was not blown away. It was good, but what can one expect for licious, am I right? Great review. The frites sound tasty.

              And I'm glad you enjoyed Weezie's.

              1. re: BokChoi

                BokChoi, I hear you on the licious events. We tried a few a couple of years ago but found the experience underwhelming. Of all the restos we visited, only one had a memorable meal... Reds on Adelaide.

                I'd like to thank you for the two recommendations you've given me. Nota Bene has become a personal favourite. I've spread the word to friends and hosted a few corporate events in their private room. Weezie's was also fun, complete antithesis to Nota Bene. So... heres the challenge. You've given me two excellent choices, how about one more to complete the trefecta? Which restaurant(s) are your personal favourites that you would recommend to a fellow foodie and aspiring gourmande :)

                1. re: cynalan

                  I'm sure BokChoi will have more than one worthy suggestion for you, but if I may offer my two cents, my most memorable meal in the recent past was at Hashimoto. Two of us had a gift certificate for $500 which was to cover everything that evening, including taxes and tip, so we were free to enjoy an extraordinary evening of perfectly prepared food and exemplary service. We were lucky enough to book our reservation for a Sunday evening when no other reservations had been requested. Thus, the restaurant prepared the menu for two solely based on the answers I gave regarding likes/dislikes/allergies when placing the reservation. We got to sample 3 different and delightful sakes, while savouring an 8-course meal that my play-by-play description wouldn't do justice to. I'm sure our experience was made extra decadent by the fact that we were the only two diners in the place. Our evening was both intimate and yet a treasure trove of information about the food, sake, Japanese culture and really any topic we raised with our server, who seemed to take great pleasure in our interest in his family's culture and passion for their cuisine. The food speaks for itself. Even with the more cursory explanations which we could probably expect were we to return on a busier evening, I have no doubt that the chef's original seasonally-inspired creations would be just as wonderful.

                  Granted, it's not an everyday restaurant choice nor a mid-range or neighbourhood place, it's a special occasion experience that should not be missed.

                  1. re: 1sweetpea

                    Thanks for the suggestion of Hashimoto. There have been many omakase meals I have been meaning to try in Toronto. Every time the SO comes to town, they veto it because Chinese food is so hard to come by where they live. I must get around to experiencing one.

                  2. re: cynalan

                    I second the challenge BokChoi, as I too have been led to NB and Weezies and would appreciate a perfect trio...

                    1. re: cynalan

                      Thanks very much for the compliment cynalan and shekamoo. I would have to know more about your food preferences before I can make an accurate recommendation. However, here is a list of some of my favourite 'go to places' for a satisfying meal:

                      Higher-end night on the town: Nota bene
                      Budget-friendly romantic night out: Weezie's
                      Thai: Linda Restaurant http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5915...
                      Dim Sum: Grand Chinese Cuisine http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/557688
                      Basic Chinese Meal (close to home): Ruby Chinese Restaurant (only for dinner, or their lunch noodle soup. NOT dim sum


                      Cheap Chinese lunch: Fantasy Eatery for their $5 combos, Ruby for their $5 noodle soups, or Omega 3 for their vermicelli noodle soups http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5985...
                      Money is no object (service before food): Splendido http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5781...
                      Italian: Zucca http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5781...
                      Japanese/Sushi: Zen
                      Smoked meat: Caplansky's http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5551...

                      I hope this list helps. Please let me know if you were looking for something else. Thank you once again for your kind words. I hope that I will have more time soon to get a few more reviews up. Please note, my reviews are 'budget conscious' and therefore I put a lot of emphasis on 'good value'. They may not be the 'best of the best', but sometimes, I just want something satisfying and great that is good on the wallet.

                      Cheers and happy eating!

                      1. re: BokChoi

                        Thanks Bok Choi. We are definitely on same page when it comes to dining. Although I enjoy the occasional splurge for exceptional cuisine, generally I prefer a restaurant that offers good food, well prepared and presented that demonstrate exceptional value. I am pleased to say that you have not steered me wrong. :)

                        By sheer coincidence, I will be trying Linda Thai on Saturday. Another theatre outing linked to dinner in downtown TO. Looking for someplace close to the Canon Theatre, my wife suggested Thai and I dread Bangkok Garden. Perusing the CH site I saw several good comments about Linda Thai from you and others. Did not actually realize there was a restaurant above Salad King until a few months ago. Hoping it works out as well as your other recommendations.

                        Now.... let me return the favour. If you are ever in the West GTA area - Burlington - you must try Blacktree. Matteo Paonessa is wizard in the kitchen. This restaurant is amongst the best I've tried and could compete with any downtown eatery. Not particulary fancy in ambience, the food is sensational. Give it a shot, you will not regret it. Here is a review from the Hamilton Spectator.


                        One small error in the article. The restaurant is open Wed - Sat 6:00 - 10:00.

                        1. re: cynalan

                          Thanks very much for the suggestion, cynalan. I look forward to trying it out sometime soon (if my schedule will work with me). If you head to Linda, do have their fish hot pot. It is very tasty and is their standout dish IMO. Their Mieng Kum (if they have it) is also such a treat. Do ask for it because it is not on the menu. Linda may offer it if it is available as well. She is such a sweet lady. Have a good time. Make sure you make a reservation.

              2. Folks, BokChoi has excellent chowhounding skills. But the point of this site is the unbeatable network effect. One person only knows so much; the cumulative wisdom of the users of this site is an awesome thing no individual can match.

                So while BokChoi may choose to chime in, we hope you'll all consider that the strength of this forum is its really discerning community, rather than any one member of it. We hope that everyone feels free to reply to these inquiries.

                1. Mengrai Thai is easy walking distance from the DD... lovely setting, chicken with lycee is really special.

                  1. Am going to Soulpepper on Friday night and planning to eat dinner at the Distillery District beforehand.

                    Has anyone tried the new Mexican restaurant El Catrin (in the former Boiler House location)? Just read about it in Toronto Life:


                    11 Replies
                    1. re: canmark

                      A friend of mine went to the media preview and was pleasantly surprised. The chef has impressive creds. I'm looking forward to trying it.


                      1. re: canmark

                        We tried El Catrin last Friday. Aside from being rather patronizingly asked "This is a tapas menu, do you know what tapas is?" at the beginning, the service started out quite good but then fell off later as they got busier. The menu is fairly adventurous with fusion-y Mexican dishes and only a few nods to Tex-Mex. They have lots of tequila-based cocktails on offer but we stuck with draft beers, oddly served in either 15 oz or 23 oz glasses. The beer list covered many of the familiar mainstream Mexican beers along with few others that seemed to be chosen via dartboard (Blanche de Chambly, Sleeman Cream Ale, why not.)

                        The Baja fish tacos and the tuna & watermelon civiche were both phenomenal, we both agreed we would order either again in a flash. Pulled chicken sandwiches had nice flavour but were ruined by stale buns. We ordered hastily with a dish called "gringas" without reading the details, it turned out to be pork quesadillas featuring a very nippy cheese that overwhelmed all other flavours. Perhaps cheesehounds would love them but not me. Finally, the churros were nicely fried with good accompanying sauces (a goat caramel, strawberry and chocolate) but I wish they weren't so heavily coated with tooth-crunching sugar because it made everything just too sweet.

                        In all the food was pretty decent (I'd order 3 of the 5 dishes again) and the patio decor was really cool (we didn't go inside) but prices are definitely on the upper end for what you get. We'll give them a few more tries before passing permanent judgement.

                        1. re: Gary

                          Beer aside -- no dartboard required when you realize that Sleeman and Unibroue are Sapporo-owned.

                          1. re: caviartothegeneral

                            Yeah I figured it was a parent company thing. No big deal, I can enjoy some of those beers, but these days where everybody seems to have a decent microbrew selection it just stood out to me.

                          1. re: ylsf

                            I checked out El Catrin last night, sat on the patio. The space is just frigging beautiful, both inside and out, and on that alone I'd say it's worth a visit if you're planning to be in the area. Having passed through La Societe, Patria, and now El Catrin recently, I have to say that I like the current trend of throwing a bunch of money at the design of restaurants. The food was pretty good, nothing mind-blowing, but I liked everything I ate. Sometimes a little light on the seasoning, but that's what the 3 salsas on the table were for.

                            Highlights for me included: the braised short rib in mole, which was a different kind of mole, very light as opposed to the usual gooey unctuous version; tacos al pastor were delicious little bites, and the baja fish tacos were quite good but not a match for Grand Electric's version; also liked the ceviche El Catrin, although the portion was QUITE small. In general, portions are not on the large side, it's tapas-y food for sure, but I didn't mind paying the premium for the atmosphere. I'll definitely come back with my kids as it seems pretty kid-friendly to boot.

                          2. re: canmark

                            We were at the DD on Saturday and noted the new restaurant El Catrin was really bustling. They have a really nice patio that had a vibe and was very busy. We dined at Mill Street around 6:00 and there were about 20 people in line. After attending a soulpepper production, we noted there was still a lineup at 10:30 at night. Too bad my wife is gluten free otherwise we would give this one a shot. Mexican and GF diet certainly do not mix.

                            1. re: cynalan

                              Really? I thought Mexican would have more options for GF with corn tortilla's etc? Is there a lot of hidden glutten in items?

                              1. re: ylsf

                                Exactly. Rice, corn tortillas, guacamole, salsa.

                              2. re: cynalan

                                Cynalan - they claim to have a gluten free menu - maybe your wife can have a look.


                              3. re: canmark

                                Went to El Catrin yestereday...its a beautiful space and has a great variety of food. However, I found the sizes tiny (even for tapas). We ordered:
                                - 2 different types of ceviches which were pretty small (same price point as foxley but about a third of the helping)
                                -The lobster shrimp taco was a stand out!!!! we order another plate of these as they were seriously delicious
                                - the pulled chicken torta was pretty tasty - but again it was a small helping
                                - the tuna tostada was avergae but I've had some amuse bouche that have been bigger than that
                                - the corn salad was delicious
                                -guacamole- the waiter recommended this and I thought it was quite average compared to many better guacs I've had i toronto

                                I would go back here only for brunch/ evening snacks to grab drinks and have tacos but I probably wouldn't go back for dinner as I did not find it good value for money!