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Van Hound reporting on December trip to TO

grayelf Jan 3, 2013 11:07 AM

Thanks to all the TO Hounds who helped me out here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/880179 to make our last-minute jaunt to Toronto a success. Sorry it's taken me so long to post but I hope this report will be of interest.

After an uneventful flight we checked in to our hotel and headed out to beerbistro for a King Brewery Dark Lager, a tasting flight (Ephemere Pomme, Morte Subite kriek and Blackoak Nutbrown Ale) and a snack. Beers were great, food was meh (salad and poutine) and had the problem of each dish being a toonie more than it should have. We sat in the restaurant area as the lounge was packed.

Took TTC over to AGO and Kensington Market (decent though sadly not fried to order cajeta-filled churro from Pancho's, excellent coffee poster for Xmas pressie to give the SO). Friday lunch was with a Hound at St Lawrence Market. We sampled a few things from Churrasco and the peameal bacon sando from Paddington's. The market was very festive and as lushly appointed foodwise as I remembered. Then it was off to the Bata Shoe Museum and an aborted trip to Greg's ice cream (they didn't open till 3:30 that Friday per the door sign -- damn their unposted and rather random hours!).

Friday dinner in Streetsville was surprisingly good if a bit amateurish. V. tasty tenderloin especially.

Saturday saw us checking out the coffee and muffins at Sense Appeal on Dundas. Nice little place with a questionable barista who had to remake my beverage. It's not that obvious from the street, and it took us a while to figure out that there is extra seating besides the small amount in the food prep area. Good pastry -- the one we had contained apple and was not too sweet. Next we headed to early lunch with an old university friend and co at Khao San Road. With seven of us we were able to try the most recommended dishes (green chicken curry, both types of pad thai, phad gra pao, tom yum goong and khao soi). All were tasty if oversugared but the standouts for me were the garlic shrimp and the squash fritters, which were not sweetened and perfectly fried, and the phad gra pao though I've had a better version in Vancouver. It seemed a bit pricey to me for lunch ($20 a head) but we did have some leftovers. And BTW they do give you attitude if your party isn't complete, so be warned.

Met up with more university friends at their place after coffee at Crema on Dundas West (just okay re pastries and espresso, my Mexican La Playa pourover was tasty, the room is lovely and bright) and a quick revisit of our old hood and rental unit/house, then headed over to Roncesvalles to wander the very much gentrified street (and eat a meh Eccles cake from newly opened Hot Oven Bakery) before an early dinner at Cafe Polonez (the staff there kindly and miraculously were able to move the reservation up an hour when we arrived to a slammed room with hungry young 'uns in tow). This was my favourite meal of the trip. All the food here is made with care and (dare I say it?) love and it comes through on the plate. The perogies were stellar (we cleverly ordered them as sides since we had A LOT of food coming), the chicken and pork schnitzel two of the tastiest I've ever had, the duck was succulent, the sides were fresh and delicious (I wish I had more of the cabbage right now) and it was all generously portioned and reasonably priced. The room is also very warm and welcoming. I can see why local Hounds love Polonez -- wish we had something like it in Vancouver. We repaired to a cup of hot chocolate by the fireplace at our friends' place, then since it was still early tried our luck at Bellwoods and snagged the last two-top on the balcony. Fine beer (Muggleweise and Petal Head), nifty space, stale-tasting pork rinds.

Sunday was brunch with the same gang at Lola's Kitchen, after a quick caffeine fuelup at another Crema where we once again sampled 49th Parallel, LOL. Lola's was not amazing but tasty enough and we had the best seats in the house. The fries were very popular especially among the younger set, bennies were competent, the stuffed French toast went down a treat and the tomatillo salsa was excellent.

Then it was off to the ROM to check out the dinosaurs and the amazing lapidary exhibit courtesy of our pals. They had an appointment after so we tried Greg's again for ice cream and were successful this time. Sweet cream and roasted marshallow in minus weather, oh yeah, I definitely looked like a dork with that in my hand on Bloor. We walked down to Honest Ed's looking for tea and had an okay one at Greenbeans after trying our luck at several packed coffee houses.

We decided it was time for some beer and headed over to Barvolo where the manager and several patrons were very forthcoming with recommendations for other places we should check out. Excellent beers here listed on a huge chalk board, plus some tasty salsa and chips (nuts were a bit overroasted, alas). I tried a wit bier with hibiscus, and a Spirit Tree hard cider among several others, all in the convenient $2 taster size, while the SO focused on the dark and gnarly stuff (my photos of the full chalkboard failed utterly so no more names). This is the first place I've been that allows you to order tasters outside a flight.

TTCed back to the hotel to change (saw a few flakes of snow) and then took the College car over to Woodlot for our Sunday dinner reservation. Cute place which I think would be very hot in the summer but was nice and cozy after a truly horrible patch of weather on the way over. My umbrella nearly blew inside out, which is the ultimate shame for a Vancouverite :-). Too dark for pix but everything was beautifully plated and quite delicious. I had a pricey but tasty and unusual gin-based cocktail to start and the SO had a decent beer (no notes, going from bad memory). The multigrain bread was outstanding but the others I thought were just okay, including the much vaunted red fife. The SO started with the onion soup as it was so horrendous outside which he enjoyed very much but regretted a bit because it was predictably and rightly quite filling -- very traditional, he said. I had to go for the charred haloumi crostini as a starter since I am a sucker for that type of cheese and it was very well executed. I followed up with the beef tartare instead of a main which I wolfed down. The SO had the pickerel which was perfectly cooked with a beautiful crust. We both enjoyed the side of roasted cauliflower very much -- nice to get really outstanding veggies when dining out. Had to try the pavlova for dessert -- not bad, if a little chewy on the meringue side.

Finished up the evening at C'est What after rather a longer walk than anticipated in the cold. This is the kind of bar we used to frequent at grad school in Waterloo, though with a much better list. Good service but a bit yahoo-ey with roving gangs of Christmas partiers in evidence. I had a very tasty cider and the SO enjoyed a Cheshire ESB. Nice fries.

On Monday, I did a run for the SO to the Sam James Coffee Bar in the Path for takeaway capp and pastry which I didn't taste but was reported to be of good quality. With him at the TO office for the day, I met up with another old friend for a delightful breakfast at Gabardine (keep your eyes peeled for the pigeon sign). She had a special and I had the bacon and eggs and I'd say this was my second favourite meal of the trip. Perfect place to catch up in that area.

Another friend picked me up (on Temperance Street, no less) and we hied ourselves to the Distillery District. First stop was Balzac's for the biggest coffee ever (bit disappointing tastewise though, too stony and had a grainy texture) in a lovely café, peeped into the very cool looking resto the Boiler House, and nabbed a coffee porter to take home from Mill Street Brewery ($2.20, woot!), super delish Mex hot choc shot plus a bicerin specialty coffee from SOMA. Lovely carols from quaintly attired choir, poking around in the theatre and various other shops housed in the old warehouse buildings. The Xmas Market itself was just okay, with a number of stands not open on a Monday, very similar if more spread out to the one in Vancouver. Scored by going with a local who knew about the cheap metro parking lot! The whole experience really put us both in the Christmas spirit and it was wonderful to spend a whole afternoon with my dear friend. Also picked up a cool collage of Instagrams of all the TTC stations, even Keele, our old stop and hugely enjoyed Bergo the interior design store.

Monday early Dinner at Banh Mi Boys with a local Hound after deaking into Little Nicky's for some mini-doughnuts after a quick stroll on Queen and a visit to the other Soma to stock up some more on presents (I liked the atmosphere better at the Distillery outpost but I had a bit more time to browse at the King Street one). The SO demolished the rest of the mini-doughnuts as we were waiting for our DC to arrive. Then we picked out a bunch of snacks to share, including the deservedly-trumpeted kimchi fries. My favourite was the fried chicken bao. I would come back again and wish there was something like this in Vancouver. Great menu with enough of the flavours I'd expect mixed in with some modern takes, and lovely staff. Good to go early if you want a seat though as this is primarily takeout. We ended up taking half the pork belly (!) banh mi to eat on the plane as we overordered (there's a shock). We were the envy of Air Canada.

I'll have a bash at posting some pix using Safari -- these three should be from beerbistro.

 
 
 
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  1. grayelf RE: grayelf Jan 3, 2013 11:12 AM

    More pix: Khao San Road's shrimp and squash, coffee and pastries at Crema on Dundas West, schnitzel and duck at Polonez

     
     
     
     
     
    2 Replies
    1. re: grayelf
      grayelf RE: grayelf Jan 3, 2013 11:21 AM

      And some more: French toast and bennies at Lola's Kitchen, BarVolo, C'est What

       
       
       
       
       
       
       
       
      1. re: grayelf
        grayelf RE: grayelf Jan 3, 2013 11:41 AM

        And finally: Sam James CB in the PATH, sign at Gabardine, monster coffee at Balzac's (that's a largish 8-oz cappucino in the foreground for perspective), choc gear and drinks at Soma Distillery, and Banh Mi Boys

         
         
         
         
         
         
         
         
    2. p
      peppermint pate RE: grayelf Jan 3, 2013 11:38 AM

      Whew!! Awesome report from a busy and (mostly) yummy trip. Glad you managed to make it to so many spots, including a few of my faves. I also love when out of towners remind us of great places in our own city - I've had Cafe Polonez on my radar for years (mostly thanks to Prima's recs) but your post, and the growing piles of snow outside, make me want to go there right now!

      1. prima RE: grayelf Jan 3, 2013 11:47 AM

        What a great report! Thanks for including the photos.

        1. TorontoJo RE: grayelf Jan 3, 2013 11:48 AM

          Nice report and nice eating! You definitely hit some of my fave places. I'm so glad you liked Banh Mi Boys as much as I do. Mmm...fried chicken bao... :o)

          1. p
            Pincus RE: grayelf Jan 3, 2013 01:37 PM

            Amazing report. Thank you.

            1. g
              Gary RE: grayelf Jan 3, 2013 05:31 PM

              Wow, what a tour, I think you hit more spots than I have in the last 2 years. It's always great when visitors post feedback on their trips to Toronto, thanks for that.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Gary
                grayelf RE: Gary Jan 4, 2013 10:51 PM

                Glad my report was useful/enjoyable. It's always a bit of a gamble to post such a ramble on a new-to-me board, so thanks again to all of you for both your initial feedback and these positive responses. I hope very much to get back out your way before such a long stretch elapses again and I will be back for more wise counsel, you can be sure.

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