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yep, another visitor with queries...

i'll be in your fair city (from nyc) for a conference at the westin harbour castle. from my fuzzy memory of that area, it's a touristy chow waste-land, no? i won't have access to a car, and i'll have only little pockets of free time during the day. i'm happy to walk, cab or public transport around. evenings are my own, and may or may not involve dinner with colleagues.

i'd love your input on a bunch of things:
1. is there somewhere in the area to get a damn good cup of coffee? ideally, a place with oatmeal or yogurt with fat/flavor would be awesome, but great pastries would work too. i'd love to venture away from hotel dreck.
2. in case i'm having dinner with colleagues, i'd love restaurant recommendations in walking distance. in the past with this group, we've taken atrocious hotel concierge recommendations and ended up with overpriced crap
3. i'd love to get doubles or other great west indian fare. anything great in the vicinity?
4. i see lai wah heen recommended consistently, but for lunch, not dinner. any lower end, downtown chinese recommendations?
5. if i venture out on my own, which of the toronto board favorites--guu, canoe, splendido, noto bene, chiado, lai wah heen--would you recommend for a solo diner? i'm not really feeling the no reservations black hoof hour-long wait, but could be convinced. also totally up for other recs.
6. is there still a espresso-like hot chocolate at soma that makes the whole world rosy and bright?
7. is the bakery in the distillery district where i had an awesome lamb meatball sandwich three or four years ago the mill bakery? and is that still great?

thanks so much in advance!

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  1. #6 - yes, most definitely! The question is whether you are thinking of the Mayan hot chocolate shot, which is pure chocolate (thick, spicy, wonderful) or the bicerin, which is an espresso with some of the Mayan hot chocolate, topped with whipped cream. Both are really rather splendid and guaranteed to give you a caffeine buzz for hours.

    #7 - I'm guessing the bakery you're thinking of is the Brick St. Bakery. And yes, it's still there and fabulous.

    4 Replies
    1. re: TorontoJo

      #6 - minor correction...I believe the bicerin is made with their dark drinking chocolate, not the spiced Mayan stuff. It is, however, liquid love.

      1. re: Wahooty

        Oops, thanks, Wahooty! You would know, since you're the one who introduced me to it. :)

        1. re: Wahooty

          part of my job is to teach people about addiction, and your description of liquid love perfectly encapsulates the pleasure response and euphoria that helps create/maintain addiction. i sat in that space, breathing in the chocolate dust, thinking the person i was with (who is awesome, but who i don't really know) was. just. the. most. amazing. person. ever.

          1. re: rose water

            You know, funny you should put it that way, because no subsequent bicerin has ever been quite as good as my first hit, as it were. Euphoria, indeed. :)

      2. Oh man, just typed a whole response and then accidentally switched websites and lost it - argh!!!

        Anyway, welcome back to Toronto rose water. Lots of good, detailed questions!!

        As a general comment, yes, your general recollection is correct. There is not much that is chow-worthy within a short walk of your hotel, especially if there's a cold wind blowing off the lake - presume this is a winter visit?

        Let's see how I can help:

        1. Best nearby coffee is probably Thor Espresso Bar, though food items are limited (pastries and maybe a breakfast sandwich, if I recall?). Within a longer walk/short cab ride radius, I'd suggest Gilead Cafe (they have oatmeal, nice room!), Morning Glory, maybe Le Petit Dejeuner. Oh, and TorontoJo was raving about the Canary Cafe or whatever - I'm blanking on the name right now but she'll chime in. Oh, and I haven't been but the new Gabardine Room would probably be a good option for breakfast or dinner.

        2. Assume a 20 minute walk would be okay, here are a few ideas...Gilead Cafe, Weezie's, Khao San Road, Origin, Rodney's By Bay, Starfish.

        5. I haven't been to the new Splendido but everyone raves about it and I would think it would be a great spot for solo dining. Black Hoof is a treat but I see your point that a long wait on your own may not be ideal. That said, you'd probably get into Guu without too much trouble as a solo diner - super cool izakaya spot and I don't think there's an equivalent in New York (which is saying something). Copper Chimney for Indian, Khao San Road for Thai. Beast is probably my new favourite restaurant in the city.

        6. Yes!!! It's called "bicerin" and it is fantastically wonderful. Get. It.

        7. I think this would have been the lamb kofta sandwich at the Brick Street Bakery - still there and still a great spot.

        I'm sure you'll get loads of input. Have fun!!

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

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

        Le Petit Dejeuner
        191 King St E, Toronto, ON M5A1J5, CA

        Brick Street Bakery
        55 Mill St, Toronto, ON M5A, CA

        Rodney's By Bay
        56 Temperance Street, Toronto, ON M5H 3V5, CA

        Morning Glory Cafe
        457 King St E, Toronto, ON M5A1L6, CA

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

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

        Khao San Road
        326 Adelaide St W, Toronto, ON M5V 1P7, CA

        1. Things are getting a little better in that area since there have been substantial residential and office developments around there, but it's still not the best.

          Bit of a coffee wasteland, a couple blocks east of your hotel is the new Corus Entertainment building and there is a place called Cafe Supreme in the atrium that is OK and has yoghurt parfaits, not sure if they are open on the weekend though. The usual suspect chain coffee places (Starbucks, Second Cup) are a block west at Queens Quay and York. Thor is a LONG way away on the other side of Bathurst, Balzacs in the distillery would be closer.

          3 Replies
          1. re: bytepusher

            I work in the Corus building and really, really strongly advise against going to Cafe Supreme. I don't know if it's just this franchise or a general issue but it is terrible. I work with people who will walk to the Toronto Star cafeteria or Loblaws in bitter, biting lake winds for a coffee and lunch before they will venture in there again. Myself included. It's truly awful and a running joke in the building.

            1. re: jamesm

              Interesting, there is a cafe supreme in one of the buildings I regularly visit a customer in and it's acceptable. I wrongly assumed some chain consistency.

              1. re: bytepusher

                I've only ever been into the one in my building but when it was being built and I found out Cafe Supreme had won the contract my girlfriend said that was good news. She had liked the one she'd eaten at a few times. It's so bad no one even uses them for catering for client or lunch meetings. It's still packed -- with an audience of nearly 2 thousand captive customers there are bound to be those who don't care or don't have time to go anywhere else. There's a new restaurant opening inside the building. Originally the rumour was it was going to be a pub style restaurant like the one in Liberty Vilage, the name of which escapes me right now. There's a sign up though and it appears to be some chain I've never heard of. It will be interesting to see if a) it's an improvement and b) what competition does to cafe supreme.

          2. 1. Can't vouch for their coffee, but pastries and the like can be had at Petite Thuet. Two locations, both on King.

            2. There's not too much in the immediate area around around Westin, but the closest is Harbour Sixty Steakhouse. I find I like eating in the bar side, so I don't know what it's like in the dining area. I thought their brussel sprout side was particularly good, and I really loved their s'mores dessert. More for the novelty than anything else. 200m from the hotel. Everything else requires a longer walk under the highway. Other safe places to choose: Biff's, O&B Grill. Solid food for a general crowd. (800m) Everything else is pretty much a 15min walk or more, and that's for more of the same mid-level food. Fancy-pants and close will bring you to Canoe (850m) but I don't love it for the price. Great service and a view of the city. Of the latter three (all owned by the same group), I think Biff's is the best bang for your buck.

            4. Pearl Harbourfront is decent and really close. I also like Crown Princess, but it's got some bad reviews on service lately. Cheaper than Lai Wah Heen, but also, not as nice. Out of the three, Crown Princess was best for Dim Sum. Others will say Lai Wah Heen, but my last two visits weren't good enough for the price.

            5. I know there's no res at Black Hoof, but it's my top rec. Go early, or go late and you should be able to get a spot fairly easily (especially on a weekday - it's closed Tues/Weds) for one, if you don't mind the bar.

            -----
            Lai Wah Heen
            108 Chestnut St, Toronto, ON M5G 1R3, CA

            Canoe
            54th Floor TD Bank Tower, 66 Wellington, Toronto, ON M5K 1H6, CA

            Harbour Sixty
            60 Harbour Street, Toronto, ON M5J 1B7, CA

            Biff's Bistro
            4 Front St. E, Toronto, ON M5E 1B2, CA

            Petite Thuet
            1 King St W, Toronto, ON M5J, CA

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

            Petite Thuet
            244 King St E, Toronto, ON M5A, CA

            Oliver & Bonacini Cafe Grill
            33 Yonge Street, Toronto, ON M5E 1G4, CA

            Crown Princess
            1033 Bay Street, Toronto, ON M5S 3A5, CA

            1. #3 im seeing there haven't been any replies to this one so far, and that's probably because its pretty hard to find good west indian food in the downtown core but if ure really craving doubles, stop by Patty King in kensington market. Try the patty with the shrimp and coconut-ey curry sauce too, its pretty good.

              For other recs, check out this thread as well: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/444173

              Enjoy your trip!

              1. 1. Right across the street from your hotel is the entrance to the Queen's Quay streetcar station. From there you can board the streetcar and take it to Union station, transfer to the subway and take it one stop north on the Yonge line to get to Petite Thuet for coffee and pastries. Or you can take the 510 Spadina streetcar at the Queen's Quay station heading westbound to Spadina & Queen street (it's about a 10 min streetcar ride). There you will find Le Gourmand on the southwest corner. They have good coffee and pastries. There's also Dark Horse Espresso Bar, a few blocks north of Queen on the east side of Spadina.

                2. For dinner recommendations within walking distance I would second jlunar's rec for O&B and Biff's and add Swish by Han and Origin.

                3. The only place I can think of for doubles is in the west end. Island Foods is about a 15 min car ride from your hotel and not worth the drive IMO. It's fine if you're in the hood but not worth a special trip.

                4. For lower end chinese, you can hop on the same 510 Spadina streetcar and ride it past the coffee shops I recommended in #1 to Dundas street (next major street north of Queen). There you can find Chinese Traditional Buns on Dundas, west of Spadina on the north side for northern chinese. Your bill will probably end up being $15 all in. On the east side of Spadina, north of Dundas there is E-Pan and another block up is Mother's Dumplings.

                5. Guu would be great on your own, you can sit at the bar and interact with the staff and join in the cheering. Everyone feels like home there whether you're on your own or with a group.

                6. Soma is just fantastic.

                7. You should try the bakewell tarts at Brick St Bakery, they're very good. So are the eccles cake, olive fougasse and sausage rolls.

                -----
                Chinese Traditional Buns
                536 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON M5T, CA

                E-Pan
                369 Spadina Ave, Toronto, ON M5T 2G3, CA

                Mother's Dumplings
                421 Spadina Avenue, Toronto, ON , CA

                Swish by Han
                38 Wellington St E, Toronto, ON , CA

                Dark Horse Espresso Bar
                215 Spadina Ave, Toronto, ON M5T, CA

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

                Petite Thuet
                244 King St E, Toronto, ON M5A, CA

                1. http://www.waterfrontbia.com/director...

                  1. Well losing your passport does a good job killing plans. I now just get to dream of all the great food you all tempted me with-- Gaa for one was really appealing. Thanks much for all your help; can't wait to put it to use!

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: rose water

                      Ha - it's Guu.

                      And seriously? No time to get a replacement passport. What a drag! Oh well, by the time you get here "Gaa's" second location might be open so hopefully less line-ups.

                      At least you can console yourself with Manhattan food - I'm sure you'll be able to find *something* to eat there...:)

                      1. re: rose water

                        Remember the days when you could show up to the border w/ a library card and they'd let you in? I think NYS offers driver's licenses that double as IDs valid for cross-border travel (Canada only) so you can leave your passport at home next time. In the meantime, you can drown your sorrows at Mile End in Bklyn w/ some Montreal smoked meat and poutine, or at any Manhattan Tim Hortons although I wouldn't recommend it.

                      2. 1. The Gabardine is a new place with a lot of positive buzz - 372 Bay Street - http://www.thegabardine.com/ - really great breakfast options, homemade granola as requested, good coffee. The guy who helped open it is a popular Toronto chef (Rodney Bowers).

                        2. I second Gilead Cafe, Weezie's, Khao San Road, Origin. Gilead Cafe for a quiet mellow local-focused dinner, Khao San Road for some solid Thai, Origin for loud fun atmosphere and slightly adventurous and tasty food. I'd also look into Lucien for a higher end meal.

                        3. Don't know of any good ones downtown, the best I've found are in the burbs in Rexdale (Drupati's).

                        5. You could sit at the bar at Guu, that would be very entertaining as a solo. You could also sit at the bar at Splendido or Nota Bene.

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

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

                        Nota Bene
                        180 Queen Street West, Toronto, ON M5V 2A1, CA

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

                        Khao San Road
                        326 Adelaide St W, Toronto, ON M5V 1P7, CA