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Visiting Toronto from Houston

My co-worker and I are attending a conference in Toronto, August 15-19 (Sat. - Wed.). We live in Houston, Texas, and neither of us have been to Toronto before. Looking forward to Toronto Chowhounds' suggestions!

What recommendations do you have for meals? We're both foodies and love to experience local culture. We're planning two nice dinners and the remaining meals should be more reasonably priced. Here's my long list. Any recs to narrow this down?

Nota Bene
Harbord Room
Black Hoof
Sushi Kaji
Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar at Church and Front

Pearl Court at Harbourfront

The conference will be held at the Convention Center, and we are staying at the Hilton on Richmond Street. We won't have a car, so we'll be walking and taking cabs. Thanks!

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  1. Sushi Kaji and the Black Hoof would be at the top of my list.

    1 Reply
    1. Go to Lai Wah Heen instead of Pearl for dim sum, otherwise you have a pretty good list.

      Of your list, my favs are Splendido, Black Hoof, and Kaji.

      1. JK Wine Bar and Nota Bene for dinner -- Canoe for lunch for sure (it is wonderful and the view is just spectacular). I would also recommend Canoe for a drink in the evening -- great views of the city over a glass of wine - yum! Again, in terms of lunch, Celestin is a bit far afield -- might be tough to get to and from depending on what your schedule is.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Arcadiaseeker

          Reporting after one day in Toronto. We went to JK Wine Bar last night, and it was unbelievably good. We choose five menu items to split and had the wine pairings with each dish. Sat at the bar—excellent service and guidance from the server. Jamie Kennedy came over and introduced himself, chatted for a bit. Side note, he is the most handsome chef I've ever met! He even sang Deep in the Heart of Texas to us. Charming!

          We ordered the zucchini flowers; tomato and torpedo onion salad with chevre; seared scallops on a cauliflower puree; beef poutine on a bed of crispy fries; and some sort of beef and mushroom dish. Favorites were the zucchini and the beef poutine. We enjoyed our meal so much we're trying to find a way to have one more meal here!

          1. re: ChristenCooks

            They are open for lunch, so maybe you could sneak out for an hour lunch during the conference...

        2. Near to your hotel there’s Nota Bene – look no further for one of the fine dining meals! (Reservations essential). For the other dinner, ask NICELY at the restaurant (Tundra) in your hotel and see if you can pre-order their Bison short-ribs (these are only on the banquet menu, not the restaurant menu – but this is one of the great dishes in Toronto, and I’ve never seen it elsewhere) – as you’re staying there, you may be able to persuade them (needs 48 hours notice). Tundra specializes in Canadian cuisine but, (as with most hotel restaurants) floats under the radar. If you can get the Bison – DEFINITELY go to Tundra – if not, the rest of the menu is not bad, but hits a price-point rather than fine dining.
          Neither Black Hoof nor JKWB take reservations, so are risky. I NEVER recommend sushi in Toronto (Kaji is one of the best, but best in Toronto is not world-class). Both Harbord Room and Splendido are a $15 cab ride. Harbord Room is more casual (most people recommend the burger) and is very small. Splendido is more formal – but note that it recently reopened as a more downscale operation (only trust reviews in July/August 2009) – however, the chef and kitchen staff are identical – check their website for the new menus.

          For lunch, I agree with Aser – substitute Lai Wah Heen (10-15 minute walk North) for Pearl Court. One of the top Dim Sum restaurants in North America – more expensive than most, but worth it.
          Celestin is too far and has gone downhill recently. Scratch it.
          Canoe is excellent – but allow extra time – you can’t get in & out in an hour and really appreciate it. Canoe is closed both Sat & Sun, so may not be feasible between ‘sessions’.
          Haven’t been to School. It’s a bit outside the downtown area – but easily accessibly by streetcar – if you can figure out the system!

          Around the convention centre is ‘tourist dining’. But for lunch near your hotel, Forte has a few good dishes – particularly the French Onion Soup Dumplings. But I find dinner there expensive for what you get.

          3 Replies
          1. re: estufarian

            since the addition of their back patio, the hoof has become much less of a 'risky' proposition in terms of wait time. perhaps i've been lucky, but i've not waited more than 10 minutes the last 3 times i was there. at any rate, unless it's pouring outside, imo it's worth waiting for. when there, you can explore the ossington/queen west area - many bars in the vicinity, for either pre or post-dinner drinks.

            1. re: Kasia

              Kasia, how has the service held up since BH expanded their capacity woth the patio?

              1. re: haggisdragon

                the service is still quite good. the servers are friendly and attentive, we get noticed as soon as we walk in. tables are cleared soon after dishes are finished, our cocktails were brought over by the bartender/owner. on our last visit (about a week ago) there was a noticable time gap between our second and last dishes (long enough for us to notice that we were stuffed already and clearly over-ordered again:)), but that's not new (the kitchen does seem to have some issues about timing on certain items). in all, i haven't noticed any differences in service.

              1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

                Really?! Wow, when did this take place? Any idea what his future plans are?
                I agree with estufarian in that it went downhill, except for me, this change took place over a year ago. Sadly, it was, at one time, one of our favourite spots.

              2. These are great suggestions. Thanks and keep them coming!

                So far I've made reservations for Monday lunch at Canoe and Monday dinner at Nota Bene.

                3 Replies
                1. re: ChristenCooks

                  Please please please don't miss Sushi Kaji. It's our once a year special occasion place. Best Japanese in TO by far.

                  1. re: acd123

                    Union on ossington gettin lots a press

                    1. re: bruceter

                      i enjoyed my meal there, and would recommend it. but it is still getting packed so a dinner reservation is essential.

                      on the other hand, lunch time seems much calmer (noon-3), so might be a good lunch option and i doubt you'd need to reserve. lunch menu is different from dinner menu and gets set daily (yesterday for example i noticed a trout sandwich as one lunch option).

                2. I feel like I'm repeating what I wrote in the "six nights in Toronto" thread, but..

                  You don't have to take cabs - your hotel is just steps from the Toronto subway, which is inexpensive, clean and convenient. (8 tokens - 2 roundtrips for both of you are $18 from a token machine - put in your $20, get the tokens and $2 change). Ask your concierge for directions.

                  First, head up to the Danforth. Here you can stroll, and choose from dozens of Greek spots, from quite reasonable souvlaki joints (where you can get lamb chops, roast lamb, moussaka, etc. - for when you just feel like meat and potatoes), to more upscale places like Parthenon, Mezes, and Ouzeri. (I'm particularly fond of the chicken and rosemary in filo at Ouzeri).

                  Second, if you're up for some walking, take the Queen St. streetcar west to Spadina and the Spadina car north to College. From there, walk south along the east side. You'll see many different Chinese spots (New Sky and Swatow both have extensive followings) to choose from. When you get to Dundas, turn back east, and wander past the grocers on your way to Kim Moon Bakery (Huron at Dundas) where you can try their wonderful buns or cakes for dessert. When your feet give out, you can hop the streetcar and take the University subway one stop south to your front door.

                  Not that I have any objections to what others have suggested, but these walks will give you a feel for some of Toronto's atmosphere as well as its tastes. Enjoy!

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: FrankDrakman

                    The better option is to get a TTC day pass; $9 I believe, for unlimited use.

                    1. re: ziggystardust

                      You can only get the daypass on weekends. It is a better deal, you're right, but only on Saturday and Sunday.

                      1. re: FrankDrakman

                        nah it's 7 days a week, but it becomes a family pass on the weekend (2 adults, up to 4 children).

                        1. re: aser

                          Yes, but Mon-Fri, that's $9.99 per person - you can't use it for both of you. For two people, TTC there and back, the tokens are cheaper. Now we've thoroughly confused our visiting friends!

                  2. I'd rather do Canoe for dinner than lunch. If you're looking for Canadian cuisine and fine dining, Canoe is pretty much tops in Toronto. It's also a much better dinner option, imo than many of the other places. Black Hoof strikes me more as an after-dinner spot (and is really great).

                    Dim sum at LWH (as others have recommended).

                    Personally, I prefer Bymark to Nota Bene. Nota Bene isn't really a destination restaurant anyways. I also didn't find Harbord Room to be a destination (though the burger is pretty good, again, Bymark has a better burger). Harbord Room seems more of an after-dinner hangout as well. Splendido is definitely worth a visit (still). I imagine sushi in Houston isn't that incredible, so Kaji might be a good experience (but it's a pretty long cab ride).

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: tjr

                      i didn't see the poster asking for 'destination' places, but rather two nice dinners and the rest to be reasonable.

                      if you want to splurge only once, i'd go to kaji. there you'll get an excellent meal and entertaining hosting if you sit at the counter (which i would book).

                      when i visit other cities, i look for both good food and fun atmosphere. not sure that canoe and similarly high end places really have the latter (at least not to me, although i appreciate that some people enjoy the formality of the service in itself). i'd choose places that are firmly enchored in real neighbourhoods, where the locals actually eat. for that reason, i'd go to tplaces near the danforth, or queen west, or kensington market etc.

                      lastly, black hoof is most definitely a dinner place. yes, you can go there for a cocktail and a cheese or charcuterie plate after dinner (that's the beauty of no pre-set sitting times), but most people go there for a full dinner (charcuterie plate is but one item on an ever changing and expanding menu). for two people, i'd suggest the charcuterie plate and two other dishes (although you can always add more). BH is closed tuesdays and wednesdays. i'd highly recommend the tongue on brioche!

                    2. Just a note about Black Hoof, they are closing for vacation starting Monday for a month.

                      1. 1. Splendido is overrated, overpriced and just not very good.

                        2. Canoe is near the very top (literally and figuratively) and should be a dinner.

                        3. Pearl Court is OK, but that's it..

                        4. The best sushi in Toronto isn't anything special. I wouldn't bother coming all the way here for it.

                        5. I agree with the advice to go to some place on the Danforth.Food is medicocre but it's someplace.

                        6. Scaramouche, Tutti Matti and Cava are all better bets than most of your list.

                        7. Toronto has no local culture. Sure it has ethnic areas, but so does every other big city in the western world these days. It's just a big amorphous mismash with no sense of local color, history or place. That's why it's such a popular place for shooting movies - there's nothing distinctive about it so it could be anywhere. As someone once accurately observed, "there's no there, there." The closest you can get to local culture is to go to St. Lawrence Market, get a pea meal bacon sandwich and eat it outside.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: evansl

                          I thinkit fair to point out that evansl has NOT been to Splendido in its current form or current ownership. She had a bad experience with the PREVIOUS incarnation that has been extensively documented in this forum.

                          I hope this comment doesn't lead to a non-productive mudslinging match - just hoping that this is seen as a 'correction'.

                          1. re: evansl

                            Actually, Kaji is a lot better than many high-end sushi places in the US, especially if they aren't somewhere along the West coast or in NYC.