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Wine comes first!

We will be traveling thru Toronto on a Friday/Saturday in late July. We tend to pick our restaurant based on wine list first, food a close second. Any comments about downtown restaurants vs. Yorkville? We will be staying downtown near the lake. Any suggestions for Saturday lunch in either place will be much appreciated!

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  1. First restaurant that comes into mind is Opus. A wine Spectator Grand award winner, the wine list is pretty stellar. Food is French bias using Canadian ingredients like Quebec foie gras amd Atlantic lobster.
    Both Splendido and Truffles have excellent wine list with strong showing of French Bordeaux first growth, Italian super Tuscans and Californian gems. Both have excellent sommelier. Carlos of Splendido is very knowledgeable and always do a great job with food and wine pairing. D'amato of Truffles is actually a contributor to a number of wine magazines. Very knowledgeable and friendly lady. Splendido's food is one of the best in town. However, there's rumour that it might be closed for renovation around the time of your visit. If Splendido is closed then I would pick Canoe instead. Its been a while since I pay it a visit so unsure about their current wine list? However, based on my last visit a while back, it was pretty impressive by Toronto standard.
    For something less opulent but still on the fun and interesting side. Crush wine bar offers good food and an interesting and diversify wine list with some Spanish gems...etc They frequently hold wine classes and tasting events, reflecting their forte towards wine and food pairing.
    Other CHers will no doubt mention Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar. Interesting wine by the glass. However, lately, I found their food has gone down hill.
    I would suggest you Google search each restaurant separately and check on the wine list! Have fun!!

    3 Replies
    1. re: Charles Yu

      Thanks so much for all the info. We had research Opus and found it very interesting. We got engaged at Canoe in 1998 so do remember it fondly. The others we will check into.

      1. re: winesnobs

        Bear in mind that Opus is not open for lunch.

      2. Opus on Prince Arthur springs to mind for winos... www.opusrestaurant.com

        Le Select also has a nice list... www.leselect.com

        1 Reply
        1. re: Rabbit

          I second LE SELECT... and I also like JAMIE KENNEDY WINE BAR...

        2. For something different, I'll throw out Chiado and it's sister (just next door) Senhor Antonio Wine Bar. They have the most remarkable all-Portuguese wine list you could possibly imagine (though someone mentioned that they have added some Canadian wines to the cellar). The sommelier can guide you through the regions and varietals. It's a great introduction to a region that most people don't think about when they think of fine wine. The bonus is that the food is fantastic. Truly amazing fresh fish on the Chiado menu, and wonderful Portuguese small plates on the wine bar menu.

          1. Welcome to Toronto fellow oenophile! Here are some recent threads to get you started:


            Celestin, a French restaurant on Mount Pleasant also has a gorgeous list, with a focus on French wines. The food is also wonderful. My favorite hang out for vino in the city is Crush Wine Bar where Eric and Marlise will never let you down. I second Rabbit's suggestion for Le Select and I've heard great things about the list at Opus although I've never been. The wine list at Frank restaurant in the AGO is strictly Ontario. The cellar at Barberians Steakhouse is what legends are made of. Hmm? Where else? I'm sure other TO vino hounds out there have more suggestions...


            1. I believe Canoe is closed on weekends. It's possible for Friday and the view is great. Worth going for a drink, at the bar, just to see the island.
              Are you only looking for a Saturday lunch spot? Or will you have time for dinners? Le Select is open for lunch on Saturdays. I agree, they have a great wine list, and also a beer list. The room makes you feel like your in Paris.
              Are there specific wines you are looking for?

              1 Reply
              1. re: dubchild

                We'll do lunch and dinner on Saturday so will check out Le Select - Thanks! We like all wines American and French - some Australian, Italian, Spanish.

                1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

                  I would also take into consideration BYO options, even if the corkage is steep at some of them ($30+). If you're saying "wine comes first," then I will assume you've got some depth to your cellar and a well-cared for (and mature) bottle is well worth paying the corkage for.

                  Check this link out from the recent Toronto Life:

                  I assume that Splendido's corkage won't be dropping to $30 until Carlo takes over (and post-renovations that are rumoured to be occurring).

                  Canoe is closed Saturdays.

                  Are you looking for lunch only, or is there dinner in there also? L'Unita is just on the edge of Yorkville (Av and Dav) and does corkage - $30 last time I was there. There are other options as well if you're looking that route.

                  ** Edited to remove erroneous comment about Cava.

                      1. re: dragonflygrl

                        Oops, that's my mistake. Brain fart. COCA is closed, not Cava. Got the bookends. I'll edit my post above accordingly.

                      2. re: futronic

                        Since the OP will be staying near the lake, the proposed BYOB is an excellent idea! He can walk over to the Queen's Quay LCBO and get some mighty fine wines from the vintage section! No matter how much corkage restaurants are charging these days, the bottom line will still be cheaper!

                    1. Surprised no one's mentioned Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar, which is near St. Lawrence Market. Well chosen wines, good food. No verticals or first growths, but the eclectic selection is nice.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Snarf

                        First reply from Charles. :) He's right the the food has gone downhill. I'll be honest and say that I have found their wine prices to go through the roof in recent years for average quality bottles at best. I also find that the wine service can be poor at times, serving reds too warm and whites way too cold. Unfortunately that's pretty much status quo in this city.

                        1. re: futronic

                          I agree. I thought there was suppose to be more changeover with the menu? I notice slight variations on the poutine but not much more above that.

                      2. A lot of the places already mentioned but that bear a seconding (or thirding): Barberian's, Celestin, Chiado, Splendido, Canoe. Crush and JKWB also have nice lists. One that is outside of downtown, but that has an awesome wine list (and I enjoy the food, though I'm sure others will disagree) is Via Allegro in Etobicoke (and also huge whiskey and grappa lists).

                        1. First a brief economics primer. Wine retailing in Ontario is a government monopoly. This means any (legal) wine here attracts a government levy of around 100% of wholesale price. Restaurants mark up 100% (at least) meaning you will be charged upwards of 4 times wholesale price (plus taxes and gratuity).
                          Consequently fine(r) wines rarely exist in Toronto restaurants. To disguise this, many restaurants use ‘private order’ wines – but these attract the same markups, so the vast majority of ‘private order/consignment’ wines are very low cost.
                          A few places do quite well, despite these restrictions – but don’t expect much depth as (with a specific exception) these wines must all be ordered through the Government in case lot quantities (or more).
                          Having said that, most (all?) the ‘exceptions’ have been mentioned. Foremost is Chiado – perhaps the finest Portuguese restaurant in North America – but it’s relatively upscale – think fine French dining – but with Portuguese wines (an astonishing collection if money is no object). Barberian’s Steak House also has a stellar selection – if you want steak!
                          Opus is ‘theoretically’ a good choice. Except they have an annoying habit of listing wines that aren’t available – call ahead and check if you want a specific wine. That bugs me so much I’ve given up on them. Via Allegro has an extensive Italian list – pity about the food – rates behind the ambiance and that is no better than 3rd rate!
                          Both Canoe and Splendido will be closed (as mentioned by some). The food at Truffles has slipped – and their prices are extremely high on wine.
                          I haven’t found ANY depth at all other places mentioned so far – Celestin, Crush, JKWB, Le Select, L’Unita. All feature current listings – some better chosen than others, but none ‘worth a detour’! I’ve eaten at all of them and wouldn’t really recommend the food at any!
                          Unfortunately you’re staying in an area that will take you 15 minutes to anywhere. So it’s drive (or cab, or allow a long time for public transit). So Chiado would potentially be the ‘splurge’ (note: their winelist is mainly red, but they are (one of) the best fish restaurants in Toronto). So, if the weather is fine my suggestion is to walk to the ‘best available’ – maybe 15-20 minutes from waterfront area. For lunch, JKWB (despite my lack of respect for the food) has always had a good winelist – well-chosen (but no reservations). For dinner Kultura (reservations essential). The food here is good, but the winelist has slipped over the past year. Still acceptable – and you may find some hangover bottles from the past.
                          And if you’re a gambler, investigate Madeline’s (too far to walk, but still downtown). This is a ‘re-invention’ of a more upscale restaurant, and they have been ‘slipping in’ wine specials from the older list. It’s done on a whim, and unadvertised, so indeed it’s a gamble. But I recently found a twenty-year-old Spanish white on their list for less than the current wholesale price.

                          If you're comfortable using the subway, then also check out Globe Bistro (at Broadview subway stop). I find their winelist as good as any outside the top few and their markups are fair. Food is pretty good too.

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: estufarian


                            Not quite sure what you mean by "depth"-at least perhaps not the same definition as mine, but have you seen the cellar/list at Celestin? I would say there is incredible French depth to that list. Honestly, your comment makes me wonder!? And I do certainly respect your opinion so please clarify!

                            Celestin's list, for me, has depth because it is representative of the major (and minor) appellations throughout France. It doesn't have lots of American, Australian or Italian wines because its a French restaurant.

                            And yes, I wouldn't describe Crush's list as having depth per se but the wines on that list are not always your usual suspects. The sommeliers certainly have depth however.

                            I personally, appreciate lists that don't always have the same cliched first growth Bordeaux/Burgundy/Super Tuscans etc...


                            1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

                              Celestin is an enigma for me! His wine list is mostly reds, but his food nearly always goes better with white wines - he often has a Huet Loire selection - whatever is currently available and that goes well with his food. However, my current problem with Celestin is that the food has 'downgraded' badly over the past year. I'm guessing his pricepoint (almost the highest in the neighbourhood) has worked against him, so he's attempted to 'dumb-down' his menu and frankly, it's now not worth the effort of going. Both my last two visits (last one over the winter) have ben disappointing, not just the food but also the service, - it's just not anything like it used to be 12+ months ago. I did hear good things about his 'Licious' offering - but, of course, that's not typical of the regular menu.

                              I also have a 'correctable' issue with Crush (and also JKWB) who try and 'push wines I will like' - BEFORE they ask me what my tastes are! Too many 'almost identical' South of France wines; Ontario pinots (that have no identifiable pinot characteristics); seemingly identical malbecs (all fruit no structure); the cheapest, simplest, whites from Austria & Rias Baixas - and the multitudinous "viogniers" that show no varietal character at all. Where are (for example) the Clare Valley Rieslings, Cool climate Australian pinots, non-fruit bomb Portuguese - all of which are 'food' wines. That's my beef (so to speak!). I want food wines at a restaurant - not just 'wines'!

                              1. re: estufarian

                                Point taken Estu. My question was directed toward wine lists, but anyhoo...

                                There are more than enough beautiful whites on Celestin's list for me so not sure where you are coming from there?

                                As far as service at Crush and JKWB I have never had that problem, so that's a pity. Personally my biggest problem with JKWB is the awful overpowering smell of the burnt rosemary from the flat bread. I've never understood how any oenophile can even smell their wines in that place? I've literally left with migraines.

                                And the simplest cheapest whites from Austria? Most restaurants in Ontario didn't even carry Austrian wines until maybe a couple years ago (ok I might be exaggerating but you get the point). The LCBO just started clueing into Austrian wines recently so they're actually not even on the radar really. We only got F. X. Pichler recently due to the efforts by some local agents. And after visiting Austria last year, I definitely went through a period of "separation anxiety" when I returned. I can also assure you that both Eric and Marlise at Crush understand quality Austrian wines since both of them also visited the country.


                                Addendum: Your comment regarding Pascal's food and white wines is interesting. That was always my problem with Splendido's list (among others). I have always felt that many of David Lee's dishes would be be better suited to a more comprehensive white wine list as well!

                                1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

                                  Good response - particularly as you hit my exact problem with JKWB - the aromatics from the open kitchen completely destroy the wines (and the food as well - certain aromas dominate). Hence the best time to go there (for me) is a late lunch when it's almost empty.
                                  I already bought some F.X. Pichler - but in general I find most gruner veltliners we get here are indistinguishable from each other (or maybe it's just me). The good news is that I can buy the cheapest (in theory - I still prefer riesling).
                                  Crush isn't a usual haunt for me - I only recall one (maybe 2) visit as a couple - the rest were with groups, so I haven't had 'individual service'. Maybe that would make a difference.

                                  1. re: estufarian

                                    There was a comment about food wines. I guess that doesn't really concern the original posters. But for me, wine (or beer/coffee/tea) pairing with my food makes the meal. That said, my beef is with the food, not the wine. There are not many chefs, worldwide, who create dishes to really work with wine. What I mean, is not many chefs start with the wine in mind. The wrong herb or spice can really through off a pairing. Are there any restaurants who really do a good job with pairing?

                                2. re: estufarian

                                  I would just like to add my two cents worth on Celestin's wine list. If my memory serves me right, up until two months ago, I noticed all their reds are pretty young! The oldest one was, I think, a 1997 Chateauneuf du Pape by Chateau de Beaucastel. But its magnum size! As such, if our OP is indeed a 'winesnob' I guess he would appreciate a winelist with deeper verticals?!!