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Suggestions for a Food Oriented Trip To Toronto

p
pvgirl Feb 27, 2010 03:55 PM

Haven't been around since I wrote up our last trip (to Los Angeles) in August. Because I haven't been anywhere (except Atlanta for a weekend wedding - only restaurant meal was at Restaurant Eugene - excellent - and I should write it up)! Anyway - I am planning our next trip for end of May (my husband's 65th birthday). Long weekend trip (perhaps 5 nights or so). Now we haven't been to Toronto in ages. And I think the only thing that is the same since the last time we were there is the old Four Seasons (I've been waiting for the new one to open - but don't want to wait until 2011 or 2012). But at stay 2 nights - get 1 free - it;s a hard deal to resist - even if it is perhaps more than a little dated. But since my husband loves Chinese food - and it isn't a long trip for us - I thought it would be worth a look (and I expect end of May we will find very nice weather there).

Anyway - I am looking for some general ideas about the best types of food and best places to eat them in Toronto. Chinese food is of course at the top of the list for us (the best Chinese food we have where we live is at Wok N' Roll). But recommendations relatively close to the Four Seasons (not a 30 minute cab ride) would be appreciated. Perhaps I can plan a small "Chinese banquet" (if there is such a thing) for my husband's birthday dinner. We also love dim sum - but I can read the existing threads about those places.

Our taste in food is pretty eclectic. But I would like to know what the specialties are in Toronto in terms of local type food (use of local ingredients is a big positive - end of May will probably still be spring veggie/baby lamb season up north - I would probably avoid restaurants that specialize in things like our local Florida fish and shrimp). And ethnic specialties other than Chinese. We tend to prefer higher end restaurants - but not if they're "tired". And although we enjoy newer forms of food - it's only if the chef is accomplished - and what he puts out isn't something that looks like amateur night with a sous vide machine. We really aren't into the best pizzas - burritos - etc. - etc. IOW - we're looking for a "middle to higher end" *Toronto* dining experience.

I have also read about some food markets (there's a big one whose name I can't remember off the top of the head). And the week I am planning to visit is - last week in May - is - for lack a better word - "Architecture Week" - where a lot of interesting buildings are open to the public. Sounds like "Architecture Week" in Chicago - which we have enjoyed before. And if any of you have visited the attractions that week - I'd appreciate a list of favorites.

And last - I remember when we were last in Toronto - maybe 20 years ago - the restaurant at the Four Seasons was an old fashioned really English kind of place. It seems to have been replaced by something new. Is the new restaurant worth a try? Thanks for any help you can give me. Robyn

P.S. I know Toronto has great public transportation. We won't have a car - and will probably use it a fair amount. But my husband has some mobility issues - and - by evening - he will probably be too tired to use public transportation. Therefore dinner recommendations relatively close to the Four Seasons (15-20 minutes cab ride distance) would be appreciated. Robyn

  1. c
    currycue Feb 27, 2010 04:02 PM

    Whoa, lots of questions, but here is a start:

    www.sukhothaifood.com - Outstanding CH favourite!

    www.theprague.com - My personal other favourite in town (value for money, and just plain good

    )

    And I think you're thinking of the St. Lawrence Market (www.stlawrencemarket.com)

    1. JamieK Feb 27, 2010 04:11 PM

      You're probably thinking of Doors Open Toronto -
      http://www.toronto.ca/doorsopen/

      For Chinese, consider Lai Wah Heen, high-end and well-regarded on the board -
      http://www.metropolitan.com/lwh/

      and yes, the St Lawrence Market is well worth a visit -
      http://www.stlawrencemarket.com/

      Hope you have a wonderful return visit to Toronto!

      1. TorontoJo Feb 27, 2010 04:33 PM

        Whew, that's quite the post! The good news is that all of downtown Toronto is within a 15 - 20 minute cab ride of the Four Seasons.

        A quick note: while I love Sukhothai and have heard good things about the Prague, neither fall into your category of "middle to higher end". Both are cheap and cheerful spots, so unless you change your mind about your criteria, I'd give them a skip.

        For Chinese food downtown, your best bet is the very upscale Lai Wah Heen -- some of the best (and priciest) dim sum in the city. But even expensive dim sum is not a terribly expensive meal. Lai Wah Heen would also be your best for a Chinese banquet downtown. All of the best restaurants for banquets are out in the northern suburbs -- a good 30 minutes or so from your hotel.

        If you'd like to have seafood that is NOT from Florida, I can't recommend Chiado enough. It's a high-end Portuguese restaurant about a 5 - 7 minute ride from your hotel. The owner has fished shipped in daily from fishermen in the Atlantic (the Azores to Europe). Excellent service and fascinating Portuguese wine list.

        Nota Bene is a a newer "hot" restaurant that you would likely enjoy. It's mid to high end, with an emphasis on using locally source products when possible.

        For really high end, you're two best bets for local ingredients are Canoe and Splendido. Both pricey, but with accomplished chefs and top notch service and wine lists. Note that Nota Bene mentioned above is owned by the previous owner/chef of Splendido, so that gives you a sense of its provenance.

        If you like charcuterie, Black Hoof is incredibly popular. They make all their charcuterie from locally sourced meats. They also just opened Black Hoof Cafe, which has become a popular brunch spot for slightly more adventurous eaters.

        The St. Lawrence Market is probably the market you're thinking of. Wonderful spot to visit. Just be aware that they are closed on Sundays and Mondays. And the farmer's market in the North building is only open on Saturdays. The South building is open Tuesday - Saturday.

        There are lots and lots more options in the mid-range that are near you. Harbord St. (a 3 minute cab ride from the hotel) is just oozing with all sorts of wonderful spots with great food that won't break the bank: Harbord Room, Messis, 93 Harbord, Loire, Boulevard Cafe, etc.

        Lots of other options, but I'll stop there and let others make them!

        Have a great trip, and please do report back on where you go!

        1 Reply
        1. re: TorontoJo
          e
          erly Feb 27, 2010 05:29 PM

          Frank at the A.G.O.
          has become a favorite of ours.
          Perfect service, and excellent food.
          The Beet Blue Cheese Salad is a winner as are the Risotto Fritters as app's.
          They also have an Egyptian meal to celebrate the Tut exhibit.
          If you go on a Wednesday, the Gallery is open until 8:p.m., so you could take in the Gallery and have dinner after..

        2. b
          bytepusher Feb 27, 2010 10:03 PM

          The main restaurant in the Four Seasons (Truffles) closed a while ago and they apparently don't plan to open a replacement until the new hotel is in place.

          You mentioned a desire to focus on local ingredients that nobody has specifically addressed, so I'll suggest a few ideas. The first place that leaps to mind is Globe bistro, strong focus on local sourcing (including local seafood, about the only things they break their local policy for are oysters and scallops) and it sounds like the kind of place you would like. In a similar vein, Gilead Bistro is a nerw place run by a chef (Jamie Kennedy) who was one of the first chefs in the city to source locally (30 years ago).

          Someone mentioned St. Lawrence Market, which is good but it should be understand that it's been decades since an actual farmer darkened it's doors. On Saturday's there is a secondary market in the building across the street (called the North Market) that really does have more direct from the farm stuff. By the time you are here in May the outdoor weekend markets will have started up although they don't have a lot to sell. There's one at the Brickworks and another at the Wychwood Art Barns.

          4 Replies
          1. re: bytepusher
            TorontoJo Feb 28, 2010 04:04 AM

            Actually, I recommended Canoe, Splendido and Nota Bene, which all have a local focus. But Globe is another great rec!

            1. re: bytepusher
              e
              erly Feb 28, 2010 06:55 AM

              Frank does attempt to focus on local ingredients.
              Should have elaborated when I made the suggestion.

              1. re: bytepusher
                p
                pvgirl Mar 1, 2010 02:58 PM

                First off - thanks for all the great replies. I should have done more homework before I posted my message. Did some work on the hotel/air aspect of the trip today - and confirmed with my travel agent that the old Four Seasons is indeed kind of a dump these days (hasn't changed since the last time I stayed there maybe 20 years ago - you're talking 24 inch CRT TVs) and all efforts now are being put into the new property. I guess the closing of the main restaurant is simply one sign of this. And although new hotels are coming on line (both the FS and the RC to name a couple) - they're not here yet. The air situation is also ridiculous - at least as of a couple of weeks ago. Two-three hours arrival in advance at airport for flight back to US! Sounds like a bit much for a long weekend trip. So I will probably pass on this one until next year. The restaurants will probably be as good (or better) and the hotel/air situation will probably be a lot better! Robyn

                1. re: pvgirl
                  estufarian Mar 7, 2010 05:29 PM

                  Thanks for letting us know the situation.
                  However, several comments:
                  1. I’ve seen a relatively large number of ‘deals’ from Toronto to Florida (multiple destinations), so would be surprised if none crop up in the next few weeks (of course, travelling in reverse may differ!).
                  2. The deal of 3 nights for the price of two is being offered by ‘many’ hotels in Toronto – so unless you’re ‘wedded’ to the Four Seasons, there are alternatives.
                  3. Service at the Four Seasons is legendary – indeed this may be their oldest surviving property, but Four Seasons hospitality shouldn’t suffer. Yes, the main restaurant closed down – but that was a victim of the recession – no ‘really upscale’ places have survived in Toronto – the smart ones downscaled, and the efforts at Four Seasons went into their more casual restaurant.
                  4. You are required to check in for US flights 60 mins in advance (which you can do on-line 24 hours before the flight). But, to be fair, I recommend more! (I get to the airport around 2 hours ahead). The ‘total’ time includes clearing U.S. Customs which has a satellite operation at Pearson airport. If you arrive in the U.S. from ANYWHERE outside U.S. (whether you’re a U.S. citizen or not) be prepared for a lengthy process. Security processes (unfortunately) have changed and, having visited both Europe and Chicago in the past month, the process for Europe took about half the time it took for Chicago. So that ‘extra hour’ will either be spent at the airport in Toronto, or at your arrival airport if coming from anywhere else outside the US. (Of course, one solution is never to travel outside the U.S.).

                  But whenever you decide to visit us – we’ll be happy to see you. Unfortunately Chowhound doesn’t encourage discussions on the above points (fair enough – it’s a food site) – just wanted to point out that things are unlikely to change much in the next few years (my guess is that very few new hotel rooms will be opening soon).

              2. estufarian Feb 28, 2010 10:20 AM

                After glancing at where you tend to eat elsewhere, I think there are two MUST visit places – both already mentioned.
                Lai Wah Heen (superb dim sum) – and I think this is better at lunch than dinner, is definitely the go-to place.
                Also Chiado for VERY upscale Portuguese (think French and you’ll be closer to the style). I avoid the ‘traditional’ dishes (more stew-like) and choose the more creative stuff.

                I assume you’ll also choose a ‘Canadian’ place and the obvious choice is Canoe (also mentioned above, closed Sat, Sun). But skip the cheese plate – ridiculously expensive!
                However, there’s a plethora of ‘local sourced eating’ places, which are also Canadian in content, but usually a bit heavier on the charcuterie end. Two tend to stand out, Splendido (5 minute cab ride) and Nota Bene (10 minute cab – also an easy subway access). Both have excellent food and superb service, although Splendido is a bit more relaxing. Again, others have (rightly) also mentioned these.
                One not mentioned (so far) is C5 in the Royal Ontario Museum (only Thur-Sat), about 2 minutes from your hotel. The food here is pretty good, but in a weird space. Try and get a ‘window’ table, facing south. Service is ‘erratic’! Food is a bit more modern, rather than traditional, but hardly cutting edge.
                Also, nobody has yet mentioned Scaramouche (5-10 minutes cab) – possibly the closest to the ‘Truffles’ restaurant that used to be in the Four Seasons – but a bit lighter in style.

                For lighter fare near your hotel, The Holt’s Café (upstairs in the Holt Renfrew store on Bloor St) is a favourite of mine – but only open during store hours (not early).

                And Open House is VERY popular – the better places tend to have long line-ups (but they can move quickly). So it can be tiring – best to only attempt two or three in a day (and check the website). Close to your hotel is the ‘Bay Street Station’ (there’s a real one as well) which is now mostly used as a film set – it seems to be the one used in every film featuring a New York subway stop, which is accessed from the ‘real station’ entrance (long line-ups, but definitely moves quickly).

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