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Looking for Toronto Classics

dear toronto chowhounders ... visiting from NYC for a long weekend. based on my preliminary research i've got a good feel for the new shining stars in town - Black Hoof, Harbord Room, Nota Bene, Grace - and will probably try one or two of these in addition to the Lai Wah Heen dim sum.

wondering what classic standard / reliable "go-to" restaurants on the higher end i should consider as well. budget is not really an issue. must be "parent friendly" as i'm traveling with my mother-in-law who requires a bit of pampering (read: loud, cramped spaces do not work; must accept reservations).

any suggestions would be much appreciated, including thoughts on the newish restaurants i listed above. leaning towards a meal at Grace. the menu looks right up my alley, and the room looks gorgeous. what about Union? or Gilead Cafe?

thanks for any feedback!

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  1. Grace definitely is not a classics in Toronto, I had a bad meal there recently and is detailed in one of the earlier post. Forget about it especially you are coming from NYC.

    Some of the high end classic and reliable restaurants in Toronto are Splendido, Lai Wah Heen and Canoe is also a good choice which provides a magnificant view with great food. But just don't expect Per Se or Le Bernardin level.

    1. You'll have to strike Black Hoof off your list as there are no reservations, maybe Harbord Room too as res are booked up rather quickly, the dining room is quite small. Both have patios but it might be too cool at night for your mother in-law.

      Gilead is more of a lunch time spot, while Union looks to replace Jamie Kennedy as the "locavore" restaurant of the city. I haven't been so I can't comment.

      Skyline is right, Splendido and Canoe are the most reliable for traditional fine dining. George can be added to the list too. You will not find bang for buck at the fine dining spectrum like you could get back home w/ $88 prix fixe at Eleven Madison Park or $25 lunch at Jean-Georges.

      I would suggest trying more Chinese food as it's one thing Toronto does much better than NYC.

      1. Splendido! Best service in TO, imo and the food is really good overall. Very comfortable.

        1. For higher end restaurant I would definitely try C5. It is a fantastic restaurant, incredible service, great view, and takes reservations. The soups and broths are the best I have ever tasted. http://www.c5restaurant.ca/

          1. Canoe, Lai Wah Heen, Splendido, and Scaramouche.

            If you are eating with your mom-in-law, you could reserve a table for two next to the window at Scaramouche, and enjoy one of the best views of the city.


            2 Replies
            1. re: Full tummy

              For classic, Full Tummy is right, you definitely need to visit Scaramouche. It's a real gem. Service and food are always spot on, deliciousl

              1. re: millygirl

                You absolutely should go to SCARAMOUCHE as it is slated to close possibly at the end of the year (rumoured, once again). It truly is a special place and considered one of the true classics on the Toronto scene and it has earned it's stellar reputation for more years than I can count.

            2. Maybe a strange question, but what are your 3 favorite restaurants in NYC?

              If you're looking for high end and pampering, here's where I'd choose from:

              Nota Bene
              Via Allegro (you'll feel like you're in The Sopranos)
              Bymark/North 44

              What I've listed above are neither new, nor hip or trendy (even if they believe they are), but what they are: high end, consistent, expensive, above average customer service, fine dining ambiance.

              But again, interested in hearing a few of your fave NYC places so I can place your tastes a bit better.

              10 Replies
              1. re: Restaurant Dish

                First off, thanks to all the thoughtful feedback. This is extremely helpful. Splendido, it seems, is just what I'm looking for ...

                Restaurant Dish, fair question with two part answer. My husband and I (early 30's) tend to stay downtown, often try new places and enjoy a lively atmosphere, but also have high expectations when it comes to food. Recent favorites have been Scarpetta, Corton, Momofuku franchise, Little Owl, Allen & Delancy, Sorella, A Voce, (before Carmellini left), Aldea.

                That said, I would not compare my meal at Momofuku to one at say, Eleven Madison Park, which happens to be my favorite meal in this city for the past few years. Other favorites in the same vein as EMP are Cru, Blue Hill (Stone Barns and NYC), Convivio, Sushi Yasuda. Obviously a higher price point, but these places are in a different league than the new, flash-in-the-pan, chef-will-be-gone-in-6mos, type places that we get a lot of in NYC.

                I have done Le Bernadin, Jean George, Daniel, and had exceptional meals at each, but frankly that type of atmosphere is a bit too stuffy for my taste. I much prefer the feel and the food at EMP or Blue Hill ... perhaps more accessible/ comfortable?

                Hope that gives you some idea as to my inclinations. Overall, I’d like to try one of the newer, trendier places – Grace was going to be my pick, but sounds like that is a mistake – once of the “standard classics” – leaning towards Splendido – and dim sum – Lai Wah Heen.

                Again, I appreciate everyone’s responses and will let you know how the trip turns out.
                Many thanks!

                1. re: bdurrett

                  Having been to both EMP and Blue Hill, my suggestion is for you is to check Splendido or Canoe. It comes closest in terms of food quality and feel.

                  Union could be a good fit for the locavore level, but it is not on Dan Barber's level of cooking I'm sure.

                  1. re: aser

                    Union is very loud and somewhat crowded, so my not suit your mom-in-law.

                  2. re: bdurrett

                    In terms of high end restaurants you have great suggestions here.

                    In terms of some small lively spots churning out great food from small kitchens (think Little Owl - which was my favourite meal from my last trip to NYC, got to sit on the perch) I would try places like Amuse Bouche, Niagara Street Cafe, the Rosebud/the Citizen and Batifole.

                    1. re: JPJ

                      JPJ thanks for these recommendations! the restaurants you mention were not on my radar and menus for each look great.

                      1. re: JPJ

                        I think of the Rosebud, Citizen, and Batifole as more neighbourhood restos rather than destinations or contenders against many of the other restaurants mentioned. Amuse Bouche tries hard, but didn't reach the mark the times I was there. Niagara Street Café has charm and aspirations. I haven't been there in a long time; perhaps others can address how it compares with the rest of the recommendations.

                        1. re: Full tummy

                          Yeah I would concur that these restaurants are not Scaramouche (who did BADLY overcook my calamari dish last time I was there, a rare slip by them) or Canoe, but nor do you pay Scaramouche/Canoe prices. Further, the atmosphere which can help the dining experience is different, these are all smaller intimate spots.

                          Some of the best meals I have ever had have been at small neighbourhood spots. Although opinions will vary about all restaurants, these spots are tried, tested and true IMHO (been around for a while now and continue to attract good dinner crowds), they are churning out good dishes out of nothing kitchens.

                          I know when I travel to other cities I make sure I go to the "big boys" but I also want to go eat good food where locals go for dinner.

                          1. re: JPJ

                            all the input is great, but to clarify the thread is now aimed at both a "classic" and also a neighborhood-ish, small kitchen.

                            for the high-end mainstay Splendido, Canoe, Opus etc is what we are going for.

                            but for the latter, amuse bouche sounds great. i think black hoof, harbord room, etc as new as they are, will be crowded and tough to get in to.

                            did i mention we're coming for TIFF? we have a PR agency working on our rezzies so i think we'll be fine, but just want to be clear about the mix we're after.

                            JPJ i think you get it ... thx

                      2. re: bdurrett

                        You have been given some very good suggestions but avoid at all costs Via Allegro - I would be embarassed to send a New Yorker there, especially one with high expectations for food. As mentioned in previous postings, Chinese is something Toronto does better, and we have some gems you should try. Sadly, we have nothing to compare to Daniel, Eleven, Jean Georges, etc.....

                        1. re: tuttebene

                          I agree with you about Via Allegro. Not just sending a New Yorker there but anyone..it is so OTT ! Besedes, why would a tourist want to go out there anyway? It's an ugly strip mall. Nothing to do out there except maybe shop at Sherway Gardens!

                          I should have mentioned some smaller fine places Amuse Bouche or maybe The Fifth. Though I haven't been ther ein a long long time.
                          The Corner House? yes still there, but zzzzzzzzz isn't it a tad , romantic or sort of quietish? I think it is rather intimate.

                    2. Nothing wrong with any of the suggestions so far. This is maybe a bit of a tangent based on the idea of long standing "standards" I have this book from 1978 that lists what are supposedly the 30 best restaurants in the city at the time. Of these 30 establishments only one is still in business, the Corner House on Davenport. I think it's still reasonably well regarded.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: bytepusher

                        I'm not sure how it would fare on such a list now. Though you are correct in saying it is still reasonably well regarded, it doesn't stand in the same category as the restaurants mentioned so far, in my experience. Very romantic atmosphere, with it being in an old house, so that seating is cosy in small, candle-lit rooms. Even so, it doesn't hold a candle, ahem, to the others suggested...

                        1. re: bytepusher

                          Looked at the book again, it was actually 1976 rather than 78 and there is one other of the restaurants still in business, Le Trou Normand.

                          1. re: bytepusher

                            So, which positions did they occupy?

                              1. re: bytepusher

                                Oh, too bad!!! Thanks for the info anyway. Interesting.

                        2. Actually, I have one more: Opus.


                          Very classic; very reliable; very parent-friendly

                          1. Black Hoof is closed till Sept 11
                            Nota Bene is closed Monday, as will many high-end spots I imagine (holiday).

                            1. Just had dinner at Opus tonight. I have to say it was a really fine meal. No reservations, 7ish Saturday night. No problem. Certainly worth a try, on a beautiful street, in a beautiful setting, with a legendary wine list (although sommelier recommended a $65 bottle among 3 and 4 figure bottles), and fabulous, well prepared food. Not cheap, but worth the cost. Wife just said "It was SO good".

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: toukolou

                                Btw, EMP is one of our favourite places in NY. Cost and quality @ Opus comparable. We don't think you'll be disappointed.

                              2. For a Toronto classic that would also fit the bill for your mother-in-law, try Messis on Harbord. It has been around for more than 15 years and, according to the manager, just had its best summer ever. The food is fresh and current without being trendy and the service is impeccable. The crowd ranges from families to date night to girls' night but it is not too young or too loud. It is not talked about often on chowhound, maybe because it is older, but is certainly has stood the test of time.

                                1. if you were alone, I would say Harbord room given your interest in somewhere newer, hipper, trendier and noting that you said you don't like stuffy places. i've never been to Scaramouche, Splendido and the like, but I love Harbord room and the food is really artfully prepared.