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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?

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

LUNCH
Celestin
Canoe
Pearl Court at Harbourfront
School

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.