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Mind-blowing dinner in Toronto?

t
torontoview May 23, 2010 11:29 AM

I have not had a meal in Toronto that has blown me away since Susur left town. Have been recently to North 44, Auberge du Pommier, Canoe. While all good they were just not other-worldly, nothing like, say, Le Bernardin or Jean-Georges in Manhattan, Chez Panisse in Berkeley, or The French Laundry in Yountville. I am not a complete snob, but could someone tell me, please, where in this city I am going to find a meal that really wows me, with gracious, professional, non-attitudinal service to match? Somewhere on the same plane as Susur, with a chef who REALLY takes your breath away. Is there such a place? What do you think?

  1. Notorious P.I.G. May 23, 2010 01:00 PM

    There's nothing that's really going to wow you here. Not on the levels of any of the restaurants you mentioned. In fact, not even close to the level of the restaurant's you mentioned. That said, I don't know if any of the restaurants you've mentioned have wowed me in the past so perhaps we have different tastes. Susur certainly didn't wow me to the point of taking my breath away.

    I dunno, I would just eat at mom and pop spots in the city and save my money for other cities and countries.

    1. ingloriouseater May 23, 2010 02:39 PM

      I'm not really that jaded but Chez Panisse never 'wowed' me, it was very local and concerned about interesting food, but never wowed me. LB and JG in both excellent but I would consider top notch in both quality of food and service but still not 'wowed' and I am sorry to say I have yet to do French Laundry. In any case I still don't think Susur on his best day matched any of these. I still have great meals both food and service in Toronto and other places....I can feel pleased to spend my $20 or $200 per person without needing to be 'wowed'. It is all very subjective.

      -----
      Susur
      601 King St W, Toronto, ON M5V1M5, CA

      1. t
        Toronto Fastfoodie May 23, 2010 03:54 PM

        Now its not right in Toronto, but the most mind-blowing meals I have had are in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The first is at the Pellar Estates winery and the other at the Prince of Wales hotel. Both had menus with local ingredients done in a unique way, incredible sommeliers who recommended the perfect wines (Ontario, of course), perfect service, and warm ambiance.

        In Toronto, some of my most mind-blowing meals have been at the classics: Truffles at Four Seasons (RIP), Canoe, and Scaramouche (I actually prefer the pasta bar). I know that they do not compare to New York and the such. But do they have to? What are you basing mind-blowing on? The most mind-blowing pizza I have ever had was from a hole-in-the-wall in Rome. Certainly not comparable to The French Laundry in terms of variety, service, and decor, but the freshness of the ingredients and the perfection of the food at hand was mind-blowing.

        With that in mind, there are many mind-blowing restaurants in Toronto, if not just for a single dish. And keep in mind that sometimes, the "service experience" may be just the opposite of what is traditionally thought of as mind-blowing but still leave an impression that makes you want to come back again and again.

        Sorry if I got carried away.

        1. jlunar May 23, 2010 04:44 PM

          Old Splendido is as close to TFL as I've ever had in here. But like others have said, right now in Toronto, there's nothing that comes even close. Susur was great and occasion-worthy, but I wouldn't have equated it with TFL at any time.

          In general, I think The Black Hoof and the Hoof Cafe are the most interesting places to eat right now. Though you couldn't eat there all the time (menus are short), and it's not what I'd call fine dining. Really good food though.

          Splendido is still a great place to eat, though it is more casual, the service level remains high (and is what most reminded me of TFL).

          -----
          Splendido
          88 Harbord Street, Toronto, ON M5S 1G5, CA

          Susur
          601 King St W, Toronto, ON M5V1M5, CA

          The Black Hoof
          928 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON M6J, CA

          1. Rabbit May 24, 2010 03:50 AM

            I find these "how come Toronto isn't Manhattan or Napa" posts kind of exhausting... but if you're a wallet-blowing type you might look at Hashimoto. I cannot recommend first hand since we're just not inclined to make the financial commitment right now, but it's supposed to be quite special and perhaps mind-blowing. Sushi Kaji might give you another alternative if you're willing to move away from continental cuisine. And there are some people around here (not me!) that could probably tell you where to go for some excellent Chinese north of the city.

            Otherwise, I think jlunar's counsel to support and enjoy some of our smaller and more interesting enterprises makes good sense.

            -----
            Sushi Kaji
            860 The Queensway, Toronto, ON M8Z1N7, CA

            1. scarberian May 24, 2010 05:01 AM

              As someone mentioned it's all about a matter of personal taste. As well if you've eaten at many of the high end restos around the world and you're used to that quality then a Susur's will seem ordinary. I personally was "wowed" when I first ate at Susur's. From the service to the food it was something I've never experienced before, hence the "wow". IMHO it certainly was worth the $100/person.

              Not a resto, but more of an annual event was the "Feast Of Fields". They really "wowed" me too. Imagine an AYCE for any gourmand that supports organic farmers. Even the "plates" had to be organic as well. Some of the best chefs from the city serving some extremely tasty organic fair in an idyllic setting. I remember the first one I went to had an Argentinian contingent roasting an entire side of beef over an open flame and slicing delicate strips of organic beef that just melted in your mouth. Or tasting organic cherry tomatoes from a local farmer that had a stall at the Festival and these were just picked that day. They were as sweet as candy; the best I've ever had.

              2 Replies
              1. re: scarberian
                t
                torontoview May 24, 2010 07:57 AM

                Yes, I, too, was wowed at Susur. And at Chez Panisse, where not only was the food the day we went amazing (the menu changes everyday), the service was informative, insightful, warm, cordial, friendly without being overly familiar.

                I was also wowed once at Scaramouche, many years ago. Maybe I should give it another try.

                But lately, and I am being very honest here, not jaded or snooty, I am finding stuff in Toronto just ok....good but not great.

                And here are a couple of examples of stuff that makes me crazy. Recently, I was at a "fine dining" restaurant in the city. I asked for a wine recommendation in the $150 range. The waitress "consulted" the sommelier, but did not send him over to the table to discuss options or to talk wine. He did choose a nice one, but just had her bring it...with no discussion of it's virtues whatsoever. Then, throughout the meal, the waitress kept filling our glasses beyond the three-quarters mark. I had to ask her politely to stop. Brother.

                At a popular trattoria, the waiter brought my whole grilled fish. "Your potatoes and vegetable will be right out." I nibbled at my fish and when it was two- thirds finished inquired of my sides. He had forgotten. Nuff said.

                Don't get me wrong...many of the meals I have had have been good, just not great.

                You'd think there would be greatness in a city this size.

                It is not about, "Why is Toronto not Manhattan." it is about, "Why do Torontonians always settle for second best and think it is somehow ok."

                When I pay over $300 for a meal, I think it should be perfect, not just good. Maybe it is just me.

                I have the luxury of travelling quite a bit, so I am exposed to nice places. I don't always eat in fine restaurants, nor would I want to. I would, however, for once after quite a long time be able to leave a place in Toronto and say, "Wow, that was amazing."

                So thanks for your suggestions. They are certainly useful. We can debate the relative strengths and weaknesses of the Toronto culinary scene endlessly. I just want to know where to go to be surprised.

                I am going to check out some of the suggestions for sure. Much appreciated.

                1. re: torontoview
                  t
                  torontoview May 24, 2010 08:51 AM

                  Oh and thanks also for the Feast of Fields tip. That does sound like a wow. I love the concept. Will definitely check that out, too.

                  (ps) Sorry about the it's in my previous post. My phone self-corrected. Grrr. And of course it should read that for once after quite a long time I would like to leave a place wowed.

                  Cheers everyone.

              2. skylineR33 May 24, 2010 03:06 PM

                The food you mentioned in these michelin restaurants such as Le Bernardin, Jean George and French Laundry are definitely good with matched service, at least with my experience. But I am not sure if everyone who eat there have "mind-blowing" dinner at the end as what it is suppose to be.

                There is not any restaurants in Toronto that match the caliber of those 3-star Michelin restaurants you mentioned in the combination of food+service in my experience. There are many reasons for not many those "celebrity chefs" coming over to open restaurant, like who want to open a restaurant in a place with such a long bizarre winter ?

                I think there are places in Toronto which can provide "wow" level dishes, it is just that if you know where to find it and if it is the kind of restaurant you want to have dinner at. I have some excellent meal that "wowed" me in the north part (Richmond Hill) of Toronto. I will give two example. Both are cantonese restaurants, one of them is the "Budda jumps over wall" dinner set I had at Regal 16 which features "top hooked" shark fin, 'dried' Yoshihama abalone, 'dried' spike sea cucmber, 'dried' fish maw, double-boiled consomme, swallow's nest, sea eel and vegetarian dumpling with ultra-thin skin..etc. The other one is the Lobster 6 ways dishes I had at Omei with two 11 pounds lobster. While they are not restaurants with typical michelin level service, the food there is excellent (provided if you know what to order because it's menu has over 100 items on it, unlike the typical set menu you kind at Susur).

                2 Replies
                1. re: skylineR33
                  shekamoo May 24, 2010 05:52 PM

                  how do you get a lobster '6' ways at Omei? do you need to order a minimum amount of lobster?

                  1. re: shekamoo
                    skylineR33 May 24, 2010 06:19 PM

                    Not a requirement but it is better to have 2 jumbo lobsters to make a 6 ways.

                2. elvisahmed May 24, 2010 07:13 PM

                  To reiterate what others have said Toronto is not in the same league as NYC, SF or other cities with 3 Star Michelin establishments. Heck I don't think its even the best city to dine in Canada (Personal opinion is that Montreal is better) I doubt any establishment will get 3 star if Michelin ever came North. I dined at Hasimoto a while back when it only had Mississauga location and it was surely a memorable meal. Matter of personal taste I prefer Japanese cuisine so it was a big factor. The meal was memorable for sure but was it up there with some of the places you mentioned that are ranked up there with some of the world's best I don't think Toronto has an answer. I think we now have good causal dining options like Black Hoof (which is no Au Pied De Cochon mind you!) as it is somewhat unique. I think we have some of the best Dim Sum in North America for sure (See our Resident Expert Charles Yu Posts to get the details on where to get the best Dim Sum) but we are not up to par for other stuff.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: elvisahmed
                    skylineR33 May 24, 2010 07:48 PM

                    It is really sad with dim sum scene in North America if Toronto has the best dim sum in North America. Toronto used to have better dim sum before, the overall quality has been going downhill ...

                    1. re: skylineR33
                      pinstripeprincess May 25, 2010 06:57 AM

                      my fall trip to vancouver was much more successful with regards to dim sum, but apparently i had also tried lai wah heen during a low point. i found their northern chinese to be exceptional, especially in comparison to toronto.

                      as much as i enjoy black hoof i don't find their dishes always work and it can be easy to rack up a bill there. one of the few places that have me interested in going back is buca, which i think has about the same food success rate as black hoof though perhaps a somewhat higher price point. but buca gets the edge on a much more polished and detailed interior that few toronto restaurants have and most of the time great service (it has been better for me in the wine bar area than the main dining area). it's still no michelin star wowza but i wasn't wowed with the restaurants i managed to get into in california (very happy, just not wowed) so your mileage may vary.

                    2. re: elvisahmed
                      d
                      dubchild May 25, 2010 04:48 AM

                      Its a good thing the Black Hoof is no Au Pied de Cochon, because that place is awful. I found the food at APdC to be really heavy, over salted, my poached pear was so hard that I couldn't eat it with the cutlery I was given, and service was non-existent. Whenever I meet someone from PQ and I tell them to try the Black Hoof for our version of APdC, they tell me no one from PQ cares about APdC, its for tourists.

                      -----
                      The Black Hoof
                      928 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON M6J, CA

                      1. re: dubchild
                        elvisahmed May 25, 2010 12:14 PM

                        Jeez I don't want to get into an argument as it boils down to personal taste. I think Au Pied De Cochon is pretty amazing for the kind of food they do . I can't think of any place in Americas or rather anywhere being close to the Foie Gras feasts they provide.
                        I think Toronto is pretty good for mid level food at reasonable prices (especially the ethnic cuisine) but if you go money no object and expect to be pampered and wowed you it has a lot of catching up to do.

                    3. l
                      lamaranthe May 25, 2010 07:12 AM

                      It all depends on what kind of gastronomy you are looking for. Please let us know.

                      1. p
                        peppermint pate May 25, 2010 09:35 AM

                        It's interesting to read your post because I actually find the Toronto restaurant scene to be really exciting at the moment - I'm 4 out of 5 on the last restaurants I've tried (Origin, Buca, Guu and Weezie's - Gilead Cafe was okay) and I've got an ever growing list of new spots to try, topped by Malena and maybe Ruby Watchco. But I suspect we're attracted to different spots.

                        Most of the places you've mentioned for reference are European or New American and, for the most part, on the more "classical" side. Along this vain, you might try a place like Opus (exceptional wine cellar, very professional service) or maybe Starfish (see Redhead's recent review of her anniversary dinner there). If you're open to some place with a bit more energy/vibe with great flavours and younger but still polished/professional service, I'd suggest Origin (Bangkok beef salad is scrumptious amongst many other dishes) and Buca (funghi pizza is a "must"). I think that Black Hoof and Guu are quite unique and "wow" experiences in some respects but they're very different from the places you mention.

                        And if all else fails, hang in there for the rumoured openings of New York's famous chefs - Scott Conant, Daniel Boulud and Jean-Georges himself.

                        -----
                        Weezie's
                        354 King St E, Toronto, ON M5A1K9, CA

                        Guu
                        398 Church Street, Toronto, ON M5B 2A2, CA

                        Buca
                        604 King St. West, Toronto, ON M5V 1M6, CA

                        The Black Hoof
                        928 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON M6J, CA

                        Ruby Watchco
                        730 Queen St E, Toronto, ON , CA

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: peppermint pate
                          t
                          torontoview May 25, 2010 10:34 AM

                          Thanks. These are great suggestions. Will add to my list.

                        2. Underdog Rally May 25, 2010 10:52 AM

                          I get the impression from your post that you're looking for high end, generally western styled formal dining where the service accounts for >50% of your bill. It might help to define what it is that blows you away. Is it a good host? Perfect sauce making? New ingredients or techniques? For me, a mind-blowing meal is one where I walk away thinking "Wow, is this what [insert ingredient] is capable of?" For my wife, it's "Wow, I've never felt so special in a restaurant!" Most of my epiphanies have cost me less than $10 per person, only a few have cost me $100+.

                          I think that Toronto is one the best cities in the world for mind blowing food. With a little bit of research, you can sample authentic everyday fare from around the globe that in my opinion is more eye opening than anything I've ever had from Susur, North 44, or any high end place here. If you're looking for highly refined and well executed variations on roasted chicken and/or seared scallops with mini potatoes and a french sauce... this really isn't the right city for that.

                          Perhaps we can all offer better suggestions if you describe what it is you're looking for in a restaurant experience.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: Underdog Rally
                            skylineR33 May 25, 2010 11:41 AM

                            "I think that Toronto is one the best cities in the world for mind blowing food"

                            What are some of the mind blowing food you have in Toronto ?

                            1. re: skylineR33
                              Underdog Rally May 25, 2010 01:15 PM

                              I should specify that by mind blowing, I mean that it changed the way I thought of food. It doesn't just meant fancy preparations. There are a lot of things in Toronto that are easy to take for granted if you've lived here a long time, or even if you've lived in large metropolitan areas for a long time.

                              I had my first taste of sushi here, my first shawarma, dim sum, grilled sardines around Ossington, izakaya staples (not Guu's premade stuff), char siu on rice, platters from Ethiopian House, bibimbap and stews in korean town, brazilian meats, roasted quail and lamb from Louis Meats in Greektown, dosas from Madras Palace and hot pots in Scarborough, the Naan-Kebab from Chandni Chowk, artisan beer flights from any of our local brewers or Volo, brunch at Fire on the East Side, wine tours in Niagara with a meal at Peller, tamales from the back room of a little grocery shop in Kensington, smoked meat from Goldin's mailbox, incredible seafood from Diana's, etc... the list goes on and on. Each time I tried something new, it opened my eyes to what food could and should be... and that's what I consider mind blowing. If I hadn't had the sushi here, I wouldn't have known to go look for it elsewhere. The same can be said for almost every food culture I've sampled in Toronto, from $1 doubles at a mom and pop shop to $100 omakases. I now go out to eat with the idea of replicating food at home and/or figuring out where I get find a better prepared version. I've actually had very few positive experiences at Toronto's higher end restaurants, because I almost always walk away feeling I could have done it better for cheaper at home (and I usually do end up making it better for cheaper).

                              When you love food, it's easy to become jaded about what chefs provide you, almost to the point where everything you eat is "sub par." People complain about the sushi here, but that's because they compare it to NY, LA, Japanese cities (and then find it lacking, unsurprisingly). It's kind of ironic (and bad math) when 90% of the food we sample is deemed below average. My point to the OP is that mind blowing can mean many things, though from my understanding they were looking for service as the primary criteria. Until you've sampled everything that every grandmother in Toronto makes in her little mom and pop shop, there are plenty of opportunities for mind blowing experiences. Try to find even a fraction of the cultural staples and homecooked food we have here in major cities around the world, and you'll be sorely disappointed. I think it's wonderful that we get outraged at the lack of Mexican and southern BBQ places here, because it tells you a bit about how we're so used to quality global cuisine that we notice when something is missing.

                              1. re: Underdog Rally
                                skylineR33 May 25, 2010 01:22 PM

                                I think I get your point, thanks.

                                1. re: skylineR33
                                  ingloriouseater May 25, 2010 02:08 PM

                                  i get it too...i think i HAVE become jaded...and that is sad for me

                                2. re: Underdog Rally
                                  j
                                  jamesm May 26, 2010 06:12 AM

                                  Well said.

                                  It's hard to blow a mind that's closed.

                            2. d
                              DiGrigorrio May 25, 2010 11:44 AM

                              I eat at restaurants about 6 days a week whether its for brunch or dinner. My experience at North 44 was a disappointment mostly because of the costs. Mind you the braised lamb was super but I felt I could have gone to a family bakery and enjoyed the food as much or more for a fraction of the costs. I am not impressed by atmosphere that much. And for atmosphere I would choose Rosewater Supper Club ..great food too. But I actually prefer more modest restaurants like Chiado in Little Italy. I love Portuguese cuisine at this level. I suggest the rack of lamb. If you haven't been to Rodney's Oyster bar you should try the oyster chowder. I have a new favorite in the Junction, Aquila. My only experience so far was excellent and would suggest you try the smoked ribs or if you like pasta try the seafood pasta. I like Canoe for its location but again you pay through the nose. I think maybe you are looking for some new hot expensive restaurants but I would suggest seeking out the talented unknown chefs in more modest establishments. Have you tried the Torito Tapas Bar in Kensington. I think places like that are very satisfying and the atmosphere is not so stuffy and overpriced. As far as 'take your breath away' I experience that at all of the above restaurants. The best food is simple and authentic not showy and hyped by food channel types and snooty critics. So if you are not a complete snob you should just change your perspective and liberate yourself . There is no so called perfect restaurant and you have to adjust your expectations to more honest and basic requirements. Like was the food great (how much greater can you get than great?) were the people nice? Do you feel like you got what you paid for etc?

                              -----
                              North 44
                              2537 Yonge St., Toronto, ON M4P 2H9, CA

                              Chiado
                              864 College Street West, Toronto, ON M6H 1A3, CA

                              Torito
                              276 Augusta Ave, Toronto, ON M5T2L9, CA

                              1. n
                                neely May 25, 2010 12:07 PM

                                You're never going to find a place like Le Bernardin or Jean-Georges in Toronto. At least, not any time soon. The cost of running a restaurant like that is astronomical and Toronto would not be able to fill seats in a place like that. As someone who has worked in a few places mentioned in this thread, I can tell you first hand how hard it is to make enough money at a high end restaurant in Toronto. I personally like that chefs are focusing on more low-key restaurants. I think there have been some really fantastic places opening that have both creative and interesting menu options as well as great spaces and energy. Maybe it's just me, but I have more fun at places like origin, black hoof, or buca than somewhere like north 44 or canoe.

                                1. t
                                  torontoview May 25, 2010 03:51 PM

                                  Great food might stand on its own. Great service or atmosphere without great food is nothing. But in order to be great, I think a restaurant needs both good food and good service. Atmosphere can add to the experience, but is not as important.

                                  In my original post, I guess I was referring primarily to fine dining. But I haven't had a great meal in Toronto in a very long time, just good ones.

                                  I conitnue to be open to all suggestions and will definitely check some of the recommendations (of any sort) out.

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