Recommendations for special occasion dinner -- foodie but veg friendly
We will be in Toronto for a conference during my 40th birthday and want to go out for a special dinner on a Saturday night (in March). We've lived in Chicago and San Francisco and overseas, but now live in a college town and this is our chance to recapture the big city, foodie, but also hopefully intimate, restaurant feeling. We like most Asian food and contemporary American as well as Mediterranean. I am mostly vegetarian, but do eat fish and dairy, so it would be nice to find a place that has some choices. We are staying at the Hilton on Richmond Street but are happy to take a taxi to other parts of the city. Thoughts?
As a foodie and fish-eating vegetarian, some of my favourites are:
Marben - menu is definitely meat focused, but recently ate there and stuffed myself silly. Great, lively environment and foodie-focused. Everything is meant to be shared so it gives you a lot of variety. We shared a crispy egg salad, the pecorino fresco, cod cakes, the trout, and several of the little sides (just be wary of the pommes kennedy, which are fried in beef fat). Our server was helpful and we definitely had enough to eat.
Pizzeria Libretto - Both locations are great (Ossington feels a bit more intimate), but you can now make reservations on Danforth and they recently added a large number of vegetarian items to their menu. Also are very accommodating if you ask them to leave meat off anything. Hard to beat the quality for the price and excellent service, but although the space is beautiful it's still casual dining.
Enoteca Sociale - Same owners as Libretto, great house-made pasta and Italian food, equally vibrant and also intimate. Takes reservations but should book fairly in advance.
Lee - If you are willing to spend more, I've had some pretty exquisite food experiences here. Lots of vegetarian & fish items.
Woodlot - Haven't been in a while, but loved it when I tried it a year ago. They have both a vegetarian & meat menu that changes seasonally, and I remember my boyfriend ate fish.
Other places I haven't tried yet but have been highly recommended to me: Cava, Yours Truly (fairly new and offers a $35 vegetarian tasting menu), George, Buca.
re: Dr. John
I don't see any of the above as 'intimate' - unless you mean 'crowded and noisy' (OK some only crowded, but most are noisy). Especially on a Saturday night!
For a memorable experience then I think Splendido is your best bet - and high end by Toronto standards - 'very reasonable' by Chicago or San Francisco standards.
If the 'intimate/vegetarian' aspects are more desirable, along with creative cuisine, then I'd choose L.A.B. It doesn't sell itself as vegetarian, but the chef/owner is actually Vegan. The veggie dishes are so well integrated that it's possible to have an entire meal and not even realize that it might have been meatless (meat dishes are certainly offered). More of a bistro atmosphere.
You didn't ask, but you might find yourself in need of a weekday lunch near your hotel. There's a vegetarian and pescetarian friendly restaurant that doesn't compromise on flavour or ethics to produce healthy meals. Great Cooks on Eight can be intimate if you request seating at the northwest table. That puts you as far from the rest as possible and deposits you in the middle of a spectacular view of the city.
As for the question you're asking, for dinner nearby you could try either Nota Bene or Rodney's By Bay. Both aren't what one would call cozy. At Rodney's, secure seating by the front window for the most intimate setting they can offer there.
The only place I can think of that hits all the marks is Weezie's. It's a little further afield so a taxi would be necessary. Small, intimate, always a wonderful seafood dish on offer and typically a vegetarian pasta or two. Woefully, no website. I think that's because if you read the menu, you'd wonder why you should eat there. Blunt is an understatement. You have to taste her work to understand. Don't skip dessert. If you see one you like, put your name on it. Desserts can sell out early.
354 King St E, Toronto, ON M5A1K9, CA
180 Queen Street West, Toronto, ON M5V 2A1, CA
Rodney's By Bay
56 Temperance Street, Toronto, ON M5H 3V5, CA
Great Cooks on Eight
401 Bay St, Toronto, ON M5H 2Y4, CA