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NYC Hound's First Visit to Toronto -- Fine dining recommendations

ellenost Jan 31, 2014 01:08 PM

I'm a NYC Hound and am visiting Toronto for the first time at the end of May. The purpose of my visit is to dine at the Momofuku restaurants (Shoto/Daisho/Noodle Bar). I'll be staying at the Shangri-La for convenience to the Momofuku restaurants.

I would love to add one (or 2) fine dining dinners, and have narrowed my selections down to:

Auberge du Pommier

All opinions about the above 3 restaurants are greatly appreciated (including how far away these restaurants are from my hotel since I will need to take a taxi).

Thanks very much!

  1. estufarian Jan 31, 2014 02:32 PM

    First thank you for your many recommendations for NY - currently planning a trip there (again) in March and waiting for the earliest dates at a couple of places you recommend (but don't want to go off on a tangent here).
    Totally agree with Shoto - IMO the best place in Toronto right now.
    For fine dining all 3 of your choices are excellent - but different.
    Splendido at its best rivals and sometimes exceeds Shoto. It has stumbled a bit recently with significant staff turnover and a 'friendly' splitting of the two house partners, with FOH leaving to take the sister restaurant (more approachable downscale) and BOH staying on. This change occurred this month so I'm giving them time to settle in before re-trying, but my last meal, in December was great texturally - it was the service that had slipped. I'd follow the chef anywhere (but don't need to as he's stayed on) Closest of the 3 to your hotel..
    Auberge du Pommier has grown by leaps and bounds in the past couple of years. It's now easily the best restaurant in a small chain, but is 'safe' rather than exciting (based on my last meal there last month). But still very high quality. It's the furthest from your hotel but easily accessible by transit.
    Scaramouche 'goes on forever'. Service is excellent. Food is always good, but one doesn't look for cutting edge - totally reliable.
    I'd suggest choosing any 1 of the three, but they are too similar to hit more than one.

    As a further choice, I'd recommend trying a more trendy or younger place who will show you a bit more of what is 'trending' (although I don't particularly like that word).
    Bar Isabel is the hot place and deserves the kudos - sort of Spanish by-way-of whole beast dining. More of a bar scene than a wine scene but can't argue with the product. Also fairly close.
    On the locavore front, my favourite is Actinolite - but that's a bit further out. Tasting menus only - (a short and a long) based on what is fresh on that day. I always put myself in the chef's hands anyway (before he switched to tasting menus) and with the wonderful selection of ingredients in May, that should be spectacular at that time.

    1 Reply
    1. re: estufarian
      ellenost Jan 31, 2014 03:06 PM

      Thanks very much for your very helpful response.

    2. m
      magic Jan 31, 2014 03:25 PM

      Scaramouche Pasta Bar (don't let the name fool you, pasta is not the focus in this section of the restaurant).

      Fabulous food. Impeccable service. Lovely view. Reasonable prices when compared to most other fine dining spots in Toronto, and less expensive than the "main restaurant" section. Both sections are great, but I simply prefer the style of food served in the Pasta Bar. And it's less expensive so that's a bonus!

      7 Replies
      1. re: magic
        Sadistick Feb 2, 2014 01:01 PM

        Agreed, but fine dining being requested and all and based on the provided criteria...for consistently well executed plates, Scaramouche (dining room) is your best bet.

        I have seen too many flaws at Splendidio since Lee left, and Auberge is going to be quite a hike for you.

        @ Scaramouche - Gnocci app is fantastic, as is their Foie terrine, he does great fish, but I also love his duck main, and my wife's 'go-to' is their Truffle hand made pasta.

        1. re: Sadistick
          ellenost Feb 2, 2014 02:52 PM

          Thank you very much. Auberge du Pommier is now out of the running. I'll be watching the on-line menus of both Scaramouche and Splendido (realizing, as in NYC, some restaurants don't always have their current menus listed) to see which one appeals to me more (love foie gras, duck, soufflé, anything with maple). Since I'll be dining solo, do you think one restaurant would be better for a solo diner (definitely want to be seated at a table since I'll be dining at counters at the Momofuku restaurants).

          1. re: ellenost
            bytepusher Feb 2, 2014 03:14 PM

            Just so you are aware, the counter seating at Shoto is substantially more comfortable than the current setup at Ko (you get a bit more space, the stools are not as austere and actually have a short back on them)

            1. re: bytepusher
              ellenost Feb 2, 2014 04:58 PM

              Ko is scheduled to relocate this year to larger space so I'm hoping for stools with backs. Last night I had the wonderful Kappō dinner at Momofuku Ma Peche that is also a 10 course tasting menu at the Chef's counter and the stools have backs. I had heard that due to the very narrow space at the present Ko, they couldn't get stools with backs since there wouldn't be enough room to pass behind the seats.

            2. re: ellenost
              Charles Yu Feb 2, 2014 03:21 PM

              When the time comes, if time permits and you would like company, I don't mind driving down to join you for a mini-chowmeet. ( may be other hounds like Estufarian would like to join too? ).
              I might need to pick your brain for luncheon and dinner places idea for my upcoming Summer NYC trip with a big group!?!!

              1. re: Charles Yu
                ellenost Feb 2, 2014 04:51 PM

                Always happy to meet other Hounds! I saw your post on the Manhattan Board; let me know if I can be of help for your NYC trip.

                1. re: ellenost
                  estufarian Feb 3, 2014 08:36 AM

                  I'll be talking to Charles too about New York.
                  But his biggest area of expertise is the Asian area, particularly north of the city (he has many other areas) and if you meet up with him, you owe it to yourself to travel for that one (or find a friendly downtowner who can give you a lift). Perhaps better handled off-line. Charles last Chowmeet attracted close to 50 participants (over 2 nights) who braved the flooding to head out to the far 'burbs.

        2. m
          magic Jan 31, 2014 03:28 PM

          I've only been to Noodle Bar here, but can tell you it's fantasic.

          I've been to Ssam Bar in NYC and Noodle Bar here is probably on, or close to, that level.

          Have fun on your trip!

          1. CocoaChanel Jan 31, 2014 04:44 PM

            Scaramouche is by far my personal favourite ( most others prefer Splendido). It is perhaps 15 minutes by cab. (Non rush hour). I have never had a disappointing meal there. Get the coconut cream pie for dessert. Delicious and not sweet. It is as large as your head, so sharing is a good idea. :)

            Splendido would be 10 minutes by cab.

            Auberge is quite far north. I have not been in some time, so can't comment.

            1 Reply
            1. re: CocoaChanel
              magic Jan 31, 2014 05:30 PM

              Auberge is the furthest of the 3, but fear not ellenost, it's not too bad.

              And you can also get there easily by subway.

            2. ellenost Jan 31, 2014 06:06 PM

              Thanks for the additional responses. Looks like I'll have a delicious trip to Toronto!

              1. v
                Vinnie Vidimangi Jan 31, 2014 07:05 PM

                ellenost, please do let us know how you made out.

                8 Replies
                1. re: Vinnie Vidimangi
                  ellenost Jan 31, 2014 07:28 PM

                  My trip is scheduled for the end of May, and I plan to report back. Thanks again!

                  1. re: ellenost
                    franpelyk Feb 2, 2014 09:52 AM

                    Scaramouche and Splendido.......hands down. You can get ADP style food anywhere in NYC, but these two spots will impress!

                    1. re: franpelyk
                      ellenost Feb 2, 2014 10:18 AM

                      Do you have a preference between the two restaurants?

                      1. re: ellenost
                        prima Feb 2, 2014 06:05 PM

                        I find the menu and plating at Splendido to be more innovative than the menu and plating at Scaramouche, but I've found the food I've ordered at Scaramouche to be more delicious than the small number of dishes I've ordered at Splendido (I've only dined at Splendido once, almost 2 years ago). I would think Splendido is probably the board favourite for fine dining and tasting menus, but I prefer the food and service at Scaramouche, despite its somewhat dated atmosphere.

                        1. re: prima
                          ellenost Feb 2, 2014 06:58 PM

                          To me delicious trumps innovative, but when I find the rare restaurant that can blend the two, I become a major fan.

                          1. re: ellenost
                            prima Feb 2, 2014 07:16 PM

                            I agree.

                            1. re: prima
                              LexiFirefly Feb 2, 2014 07:48 PM

                              I agree with prima. I've only been to splendido once, I said at the reservation that it was birthday (they're 3 days apart) and our anniversary. The service was proper, but wrong (gave us the wrong water, seated us where they were aerating wine, at my shoulder etc.) My main was good at first, but inedible half way through. We played $350 for that meal and I still kick myself for it. We would have been better off cooking at home. It was really disappointing.

                              1. re: LexiFirefly
                                Sadistick Feb 3, 2014 06:02 AM

                                Having been a half dozen times or so, the majority of which while Lee was still at the helm and while those encounters were always top notch, on the same level as a Scaramouche or an Auberge of the world, the same cannot be said for the few visits since Lee's departure; during which numerous execution flaws were clearly evident.

                                Besides one small miss step in the past dozen+ visits to Scaramouche (which was promptly resolved) while they do not offer extreme innovation (innovation itself is relative and one could argue they are in fact, innovative), they do offer consistently well executed techniques and ultimately, an excellent end product.

                  2. w
                    WillinTO Feb 2, 2014 10:23 AM

                    I'd probably drop Auberge from your list and follow Estufarian's advice and try something that is more uniquely Toronto. Auberge is "correct" but ulimately uninspiring. Bar Isabel and Actinoite are great choices for something more uniquely "Toronto". Edulis is worth considering too.

                    1. Charles Yu Feb 2, 2014 11:46 AM

                      Hello ellemost,
                      If you can find the time, addition company and transportation, I would suggest you bring along a nice bottle of off dry J.J.Prum or Scharzhofberger Riesling and head north to Richmond Hill and/or Markham for a great Cantonese meal!! Nothing like that in NYC!!
                      A Kabinett or Spatlese would go fantastic with the 'O Mei lobster dishes - especially the sauteed tail with House Special Secret Maggi Sauce!

                      The Scaramouche, Splendido, Auberge...etc all have their similar NYC equivalents. Think The Modern, Rouge Tomate, Bouley...etc.
                      However, If you have to pick one from the group, I would go with Splendido. Apart from good food by Chef Barry, they also have some 'interesting Canadian Riesling' in their wine list!!

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Charles Yu
                        ellenost Feb 2, 2014 12:08 PM

                        Thanks Charles.

                      2. b
                        BigBabyYeezuS Feb 3, 2014 07:51 AM

                        I heartily agree with what estufarian has to say.

                        To be honest, my feeling about fine dining in Toronto is that our "best fine dining restaurant in town" class hasn't recovered from David Lee leaving Splendido and Susur closing up shop. Scaramouche kind of slid into that spot by default, as a lovely, workmanlike fine dining restaurant and Splendido seems to be pushing all the time but keeps having the economy and other factors fight against it. Shoto left me very flat a December; one of my two big disappointing meals of 2013 - both from very famous high end restaurant groups. I thought that Daisho was the best restaurant in the terrordome, but haven't made it over since Blondin's departure. Unfortunately (major opinion alert), I simply don't see much value in Western fine dining here if you can spend those dollars elsewhere, like in NYC, Chicago, Montreal or SF. I'm sure that's a minority opinion here.

                        As with what estufarian has mentioned, our real strength now is in a growing mid-to-upper-mid-range. Bar Isabel is my favourite - two meals there in the past two weeks have reconfirmed that (there's a honey and sobrasada crostini with honey where they do the Ko-shaved foie overtop that's just insane). They keep improving the menu and, yes, the winelist has been upgraded (though I always enjoyed the winelist).

                        More in the fine-dining style, Edulis is my other pick. It's in a lovely, very Toronto style location down a quasi-residential street on the first floor of a house and cooks a kind of Franco-Spanish-cum-Southern-Ontario kind of food that I find very resonant. Very little, if any, modernist touches or presentations, but good saucing, excellent charcoal cooking and some of the city's best ingredients handled with a delicate touch. It's also a restaurant that's unafraid of using traditional luxury ingredients like truffles and foie, but in a more elemental, rustic way than at the more fine dining restaurants. They also have a duck press, which is sweet.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: BigBabyYeezuS
                          estufarian Feb 3, 2014 08:31 AM

                          I almost feel guilty (it passed quickly) in adding something after your kind compliment, but my last 2 meals at Shoto have been amazingly good. I think it's now grown out of its 'Ko' shadow and the food is now distinctive from the parent (although clearly the same style). It's been a couple of years since I last visited Ko but it's a short-list candidate for April this year.
                          And I find Edulis more home-style than fine dining - but I know I'm in a minority on that front.

                          1. re: estufarian
                            bytepusher Feb 3, 2014 09:03 AM

                            I'm in agreement with you that Shoto is fully out from under Ko's shadow and to my taste is superior at this time, my last two meals at Ko (in 2013) while good were missing something, it's too strong to say they were going through the motions but it was headed in that direction, hopefully the reboot into the new space (which may have happened by April, but is by no means a sure thing) will reinvigorate things there.

                            I'm also with you on Edulis and I think Michael Caballo no less would agree with you, it's supposed to be country cooking inspired by Spain and France and a little bit of Italy. Doesn't make it less delicious though, some of the best meals I've ever had are the backwater country/small town places one manages to squeeze in between the fancy ones.

                            1. re: estufarian
                              BigBabyYeezuS Feb 3, 2014 09:12 AM

                              I've only been to Shoto once in December, so I'm hesitant to state anything unequivocally, but I found that there were a number of conception and execution problems within the meal. I think the elements of a great restaurant were there, but it wasn't cooking as a great restaurant on my visit. The pairings, though, were very smart and very good. It's much more comfortable than Ko.

                              Edulis is a bit odd. It's got a lot of elements we associate with fine dining - pressed ducks! truffles! fancy meats! multi-course menus! - but it's really serving a rustic, European style cuisine (if I wanted to be really flattering, it's a more proper and Protestant tribute to the kind of Europhillic cooking you find in Montreal). The family style courses drive this home, but it's more "fine dining" than, say, Black Hoof or Hopgoods. I find it more traditional in terms of service than, say, The Grove, but more fine dining? What does that even mean, anyway? Regardless, it and Isabel are the two restaurants I hold out to tourists as really getting Toronto right now.

                              Not going to get to Ko on my next NYC trip in a couple weeks, unfortunately. It'll be a quirkier slate (and I can give you the rundown for your trip planning, should you want it).

                              1. re: BigBabyYeezuS
                                estufarian Feb 3, 2014 12:41 PM

                                Obviously this isn't the place to discuss this. If you go to my profile you'll find a contact address. I have a medium-short list and would appreciate any comments (and probably relevant, several were recommended by ellenost on the Manhattan board).

                          2. justxpete Feb 3, 2014 09:29 AM

                            Splendido is the most consistent, innovative restaurant in Toronto. If you want the best that TO has to offer, the answer is easily, and comprehensively, Splendido. You might also consider Shoto, but since your NYC Ko is only arguably better, you may want to deviate.

                            They are currently ramping up their food and service after a recent decline - and by the time you visit in May, they should be at the peak of their performance once again.

                            Scaramouche is great, but essentially boring.

                            Bar Isabel and Edulis are also each definitely worth visits, as others have mentioned.

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: justxpete
                              ellenost Feb 3, 2014 09:40 AM

                              Thanks for your feedback. Shoto and Daisho are my #1 and #2 reasons for visiting Toronto since I regularly dine at Momofuku Ko and Momofuku Ma Peche in NYC, and am a long time fan of both Chefs Sam Gelman and Mitch Bates from their tenure at Ko (and Chef Sam also from Ma Peche).

                              I may end of trying to get reservations at both Splendido and Scaramouche to do my own evaluation since they both sound wonderful.

                              1. re: ellenost
                                justxpete Feb 3, 2014 10:06 AM

                                Ah - my apologies. I got caught up in the discussion and missed that in your initial post. 'Ko' was just 'here' a couple of weeks ago for a guest visit (one night only), and they did indeed produce some amazing dishes.

                                1. re: ellenost
                                  bytepusher Feb 3, 2014 10:08 AM

                                  And Peter from Ko too...

                                  1. re: ellenost
                                    estufarian Feb 3, 2014 12:37 PM

                                    Just wanted to steer you to other possibilities
                                    Here's David Chang's opinions on several things Toronto.


                                    The restaurant that DC visited most frequently is owned by a regular poster here, who doesn't typically promote his place. It's walking distance from your hotel and regularly hits the Chowhound Toronto Top 10 list.
                                    More in the Ssam category, but it's also in my top 10 Toronto restos. So strongly recommended also.

                                    1. re: estufarian
                                      ellenost Feb 3, 2014 01:02 PM

                                      Thanks for the article, and now I understand a "tweet" that I received.

                                2. ellenost Feb 6, 2014 10:22 AM

                                  Thanks to everyone who replied. I just called Splendido to find out when they start accepting dinner reservations for May, and the very nice gentleman said he could do it right now, so I'm booked for dinner at Splendido. I promise to report back.

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