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Please help me prioritise: Business trip to Toronto

  • k
  • Kelly Jun 6, 2014 04:49 AM

Hi Toronto 'hounds --

I'm eagerly looking forward to my first trip to your city tomorrow (coming from Brussels). Would be even more excited if I had real free time, but I'll be trying to cram a couple of eating opportunities around a busy conference schedule.

I've got a short list of restaurants I'd like to try:

Actinolite
Bar Isabel
Momofuku Daisho or Noodle Bar
Grand Electric
Richmond Station
Carbon Bar
Buca
Hopgood's

Are there any, from recent experience, that you'd toss off the list? Conversely, are there one or two that you would tell a Toronto visitor that her life lacked meaning unless she tried them?

And a more specific question: A Toronto-based colleague has booked us for dinner at Canoe. Can't quite put my finger on why, but I'm not thrilled by their website/menu. In terms of sheer deliciousness, would Hopgood's or Actinolite get the nod over Canoe? (I care nothing for fanciness and views!)

FWIW, I'll be staying at the Holiday Inn Downtown Centre on Carlton St.; my conference is at the Sheraton Centre on Queen St. No car.

Thanks so much for your thoughts!

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  1. Welcome!
    You will be visiting a city with some of the best 'Chinese' food in the continent! I would definitely try scheduling a Chinese meal into your 'chow-table'. Crown Princess, Dynasty or Lai Wah Heen are all worthy candidates. Should beat anything Brussels has to offer in this culinary area, hands down!

    3 Replies
    1. re: Charles Yu

      Agree.

      1. re: Charles Yu

        Is LWH really still that good, Charles? Have you been recently?

        1. re: Charles Yu

          I knew there was a point I'd failed to make in my original post. :o). I'm not too concerned about hitting Chinese, because I'll be in Singapore for 10 days in July and am planning my traditional food extravaganza there. Otherwise, I would most definitely target Toronto's Chinese scene, as Brussels is just...sad in this area!

        2. Thoughts:

          Canoe: Canadiana fancy food with a view. Very corporate and not necessary.

          Actinolite: Haven't been to the new incarnation (I have no idea why) but it appears to be a more modern/interesting version of the local Canadian food Canoe is serving. Recent reviews have been excellent.

          Bar Isabel: Probably the hardest reservation in town with good reason. I think it's one of the best restaurants that's ever opened in Toronto. Absolute must go.

          Noodle: Doing a great job right now. Good for a quick lunch.

          Daisho: Mixed recent reports. I think is one of our stronger restaurants based on slightly older visits (6 months). Great room, great views. Interesting cooking.

          Grand Electric: On a downslide. I prefer Electric Mud right now. Very fun, but better for lunch than dinner unless you can get on the patio. Waits will be long.

          Richmond Station: Best restaurant in the immediate financial district. Great for lunch.

          Carbon Bar: I think it's the best bbq in town, but I don't think it's a must visit. Big open room, after work scene.

          Buca: Very good high end Italian. Criminal wine markups.

          Hopgood's: Far west in a nice neighbourhood. Modern east coast cooking that ranges from average to excellent. A bit of a trek, but good.

          My other choices would be as follows:

          Edulis: refined, rustic, local Canadian. Our version of a European country restaurant. My other favourite next to Isabel.

          Campagnolo: Neck-and-neck with Buca for our best Italian. A bit cheaper.

          Bar Buca: More casual offshoot of Buca serving excellent Italian street food.

          Black Hoof: recent meals have been good. The patio is open and it's very nice.

          Hope that helps.

          1 Reply
          1. re: BigBabyYeezuS

            Thank you so much for your input--it's incredibly helpful! I feel compelled to hit one of the Momofuku places after sending my husband to Momofuku Ssam two weeks ago (call it vicarious eating...) and having to endure a flood of texts a la "OMIGOD OMIGOD OMIGOD this is amazing!"

            Will look into Black Hoof and Campagnolo. Edulis sounds interesting--but I'm spoiled for European country restaurants here at home. :o)

          2. Hi Kelly,
            Your problem will be getting reservations this late - most of the places you mention will already be full for all (or at least most) of the next week.

            All of Actinolite, Bar Isabel, Richmond Station will be virtually impossible, unless you luck into a cancellation.

            Buca you may have to go either very early, or very late. Grand Electric doesn’t take reservations, and line-ups are ‘usual’.

            The Momofukus will be OK early week (or Sunday).

            Carbon Bar is a bit of a scene after work, but clears out later. Hopgood’s should be fine (but is a bit further away). More of a neighbourhood feel, although I find the portions quite small there, so usually end up spending more than I would in a more typical neighbourhood restaurant.

            But for any/all try to get a reservation.

            As to specifics:
            Canoe is iconic – but IMO has seen better days. My last visit showed real problems in the kitchen (courses sent out-of-order; one course missing the main ingredient)! Can’t recommend right now (although it used to be on my 10-best list).

            Carbon Bar has same ownership as Nota Bene – I prefer the ‘menu’ at Carbon Bar – but the food at Nota Bene. Both are good but the portions at Carbon Bar seem small for the cost (quality is very high though). Both close to Sheraton Centre.

            Big Baby Yeezu$’ comments are fair – although I’d still take Buca over Campagnolo (but Bar Buca doesn’t take reservations either and has line-ups). Also Edulis will certainly be booked solid.

            Black Hoof ‘used to be’ the hot ticket in town – but departures of some chefs e.g. to Bar Isabel, means that the initial buzz has quietened down. I find it is currently as good as ever, and queues have dropped, so good chance of entry without waiting (but watch those opening hours).

            And if you want a light meal near your hotel, Banh Mi Boys (Yonge & Gerrard) is a good choice (slight issue – I’ve only been to their other outlet on Queen, which is fantastic). Again, no reservations, but worth the risk because of the short walk.

            4 Replies
            1. re: estufarian

              I should add Nota Bene. Their regular menu is very consistently executed, the service is professional and it's my pick for the best steak in town - the Cumbrae's 60 day dry aged steak is one of our best products in Ontario and I think any tourist to the area should try one.

              1. re: estufarian

                Hmmm. Have I been wrong on pinning my hopes to so many of the restaurant websites that say they accept walk-ins? I'll be dining solo, love eating at the bar and don't mind waiting.

                Banh mi...drooling now. I've been making my own for the past few months because there's no Vietnamese place in Brussels that does them, but I can't get the right rice-flour baguettes. I can always squeeze in a banh mi for dessert even if I dine somewhere else!

                1. re: Kelly

                  It's really close to your hotel. Maybe a lunch or dinner if you just want to zonk out in your hotel room. I usually have one night at conferences or trade shows that I get a headache! :)

                  1. re: Kelly

                    You'll be fine as a walk in so long as you're willing to eat at the bar. Isabel, Hopgood's, Campagnolo, Richmond Station, Noodle, Black Hoof, Nota Bene (front room), are all fairly easy to eat at as a solo at the bar. Actually, I prefer eating at the bar at a few of those options.

                    Definitely go to Banh-Mi Boys.

                2. iirc, bar isabel always leaves tables for walk-ins--if you line up prior to opening at 5:30pm, you may be able to get a table without a reservation. . .i did exactly this on a saturday night, and only waited 15 mins.

                  as for richmond station, go to their website and reserve--they still have several spots available from monday on, if you are still here then--your op is not very clear. . .

                  not sure how this fits with your 'hectic' schedule and trying to "cram" in eating. . .good luck

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: afong56

                    Typically that's how I get a table at BI as well - I just go early and snag some bar seats. I prefer them, to be honest!

                    1. re: afong56

                      I'll need the luck--I hate having to fit food in around other things, instead of vice versa. But I'll do my best, and your comment about walk-ins is heartening.

                    2. Go to Daisho for their terrace, has a great lunch menu and right in the sun.

                      1. I haven't been to most of the places you've listed, so I can't comment on much there. (I have been to Carbon Bar, though, and it was good. Comment about slightly small portions relative to price is fair, I think, but it was very tasty, and quite satisfying, on the whole.)

                        I would second the suggestion of Bahn Mi Boys, and add a few quick suggestions of my own:

                        - Bar Volo is an unusually good beer destination, if you're a beer enthusiast. The food's okay, but the beer selection is fantastic. (Yonge and Wellesley)

                        - Bellwoods Brewery is also excellent, if quite different. If you're interested on some North American takes on Belgian and other European styles, as well as some more typically North American craft brews, this is the place. Two beer suggestions in a row - you can tell where my mind is when Belgium is mentioned. ;) (Ossington, between Queen and Dundas)

                        - Moti Mahal is worth a thought if you really mean that, "I care only for deliciousness, and not for fanciness" part. ;) It's got about as much ambience as a diner, but it's my pick (and that of many others) for the tastiest and most flavourful Indian I've had in the city. My wife and I used to live in the neighbourhood, and went many times. We never left anything less than stuffed, but wishing that we could have eaten more of the cheap and cheerful, but delicious and super-flavourful food. (Gerrard, slightly west of Coxwell)

                        DON'T (in my opinion):

                        Go for the Carousel Bakery peameal bacon sandwich that everyone says to get. It's okay - nothing wildly special. As far as peameal bacon goes, it's probably slightly above average, but not as good as good homemade, and there's nothing about that sandwich that can't easily be made yourself. (Possibly excepting the excellent Kozlik's mustard.)