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Birthday Dinner - drawing a total blank

So, it's my birthday tomorrow, and I'm trying to decide where I'd like to go for dinner...and nothing is obviously leaping out at me, even after searching through a couple of years of 'birthday dinner' threads.

Here are the parameters:
- not terribly expensive (i.e., no Canoe/Splendido/North 44), as we're currently a one-income family...mains around the $25 mark would be good
- not Italian, as all of our go-to places (7 Numbers, Terroni, Marcello's, Big Ragu, Pizerria Libretto) are Italian, as am I, and it's just not striking me as very interesting right now
- simple food, executed with excellent technique - I don't need esoteric ingredients or 14 kinds of foam, just good ingredients prepared well...no particular preference in terms of ethnic influence (aside from the 'no italian' rule)

I thought the Harbord Room might fit the bill, but found a number of fair-to-middling reviews here. Any other thoughts?

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  1. Harbord Room will probably be hard to snag a table at such short notice, unless you want to dine really late. Maybe try 93 Harbord?

    Do you want to stay w/i a certain area or are you willing to travel? If so, I can recommend a number of Chinese restaurants for dinner, but they're all in Markham/Richmond Hill (Yang's, Emperor, Regal Cuisine, O'Mei, John's bbq, Tanchikee, Big Mouth Kee, Graceful Vegetarian, etc....)

    1. Note Bene on Queen across from the Opera House.....Miranda

      1 Reply
      1. re: miranda

        I second Nota Bene. Have also heard good things about Weezie's.
        Happy birthday!

        354 King St E, Toronto, ON M5A1K9, CA

        Nota Bene
        180 Queen Street West, Toronto, ON M5V 2A1, CA

      2. I concur with harbord Room, give it a chance! 93 Harbord is also lovely, though quieter. what kind of "vibe" are you looking for?

        Some of the most wonderful and simple food I have had is at Quince on Yonge south of Eg. Grilled meats, fish, great steak frites...and the best apple tarte in the city. Lovely staff and if you make a note to the hostess that it is a special occassion, you'll get something special I'm sure. Try it!

        2110 Yonge Street, Toronto, ON M4S 2A5, CA

        1 Reply
        1. re: LemonLauren

          I second Quince, too;) Great food, nice atmosphere and professional service.

        2. If you like seafood, I'd recommend Stafish or Zee Grill. Interesting menus, and well prepared. Most of their mains (except the steak and lobster) are around $25-$28.

          I also would recommend the Drake- I was at a birthday dinner @ the Drake a few weeks ago, and I was pleasantly surprised. I think I remember reading the Drake's chef is relatively new. They have daily specials, and often have a prix fixe in addition to their regular menu. Mains tend to be in the mid $20s or less.

          Harbord is good for an ordinary night, but I wouldn't pick it for a birthday or a special occasion. The main dish that gets raves on this board is their hamburger.

          1. Thanks to one and all for the suggestions - Qunice it is (I've been meaning to try this place forever b/c I used to love Stork on the Roof, but i'd completely forgotten abou it). I'll report back!

            1. I'd suggest Grace on College & Bathurst. Sounds like exactly what you're looking for.

              1. What about Sidecar on College? Very simple food that is well executed and priced right. Great drinks and atmosphere on the patio. We had a great time there last week. Service was really friendly and there was a really nice vibe.

                1. So, we did go to Quince, and had a great experience.

                  We shared two appetizers, the spiced beef 'poutine' (I'm using the quotes here b/c it was non-traditional, to say the least) and the arugula salad with seared beef tenderloin. First, the poutine: the standout element here was the slow braised spiced beef, it was fantastic, and appropriately braised to falling-apart-tender. The spicing was interesting too - I'm pretty sure there was some allspice there, and maybe some cumin (my spouse is convinced that he tasted something vaguely anise-y, but I doubt it, b/c that's one of the few flavours I really dislike, and I didn't taste it). It topped some not-terribly-crispy frites (but frankly, I didn't care - smother potatoes in anything half as good as that spiced beef and i'm smitten), and had a sprinkling of cheese (not curds, and not particularly memorable) and a bit of peanutty sauce on top. As I say, very much non-traditional, but really damn tasty. The arugula salad was beautifully balanced - nice fresh arugula with gorgeous beef tenderloin slices (it was a pretty generous portion of tenderloin for an app), seared on the outside but jewel-red in the middle...not cut as thin as carpaccio, which was good - it was nice and substantive. The salad also included crispy fried shallots as a textural counterpoint, as well as capers (didn't really think they added much to the dish), slivers of parmesan cheese, and a very subtle aioli dressing. It was really wonderful.

                  For mains, I had the pork chop with a quince reduction, and sauteed zucchini, onions and green beans. the chop was amazing - more than an inch and a half thick, nice grill marks, incredibly juicy and flavourful. My spouse had the gnocchi with sausage and rapini - also excellent, the gnocchi had a lovely light pillowy texture (which was great, b/c sometimes they end up incredibly heavy). if he had one complaint, it was that the portion was substantially smaller than my main.

                  We finished off by sharing the tarte tatin and the chocolate bread pudding for dessert. the bread pudding was really more like a molten chocolate cake, as far as i could tell, but both desserts were very satisfying.

                  I should also mention that we got incredibly good value for money, in my opinion: two apps, two mains, a half litre of cab sauv, a couple of pops, and two desserts came to a grand total of $135, incl tax and tip. I would absolutely go back.

                  Thanks to all for the additional suggestions - will add Grace, Sidecar and Nota Bene to the list of must-trys.