Toronto’s Top Restaurants and Bars, a Mini-Guide
From the September 2015 edition of Reserve, a Bloomberg Brief publication.
It's been a long time since I was as excited by a food scene as I am by the culinary environment I found during a recent visit to Toronto.
The past 10 years have seen the city's inclusion of multiple immigrant cultures evolve into a delicious, avant-garde food scene, led in part by a loose collective of chefs who call themselves the Toronto Seven. The seven espouse Canadian sustainable ingredients and a lot of charm, and they have deep ties to other chefs around the world.
Then there are such chefs as Grant van Gameren, who for an event at the Power Plant art gallery in June cooked octopus that American artist Jennifer Rubell fashioned into a chandelier. Guests donned black rubber gloves to slice the tentacles. When you go to Van Gameren's restaurants, you see this is hardly out of the ordinary. One night, I ate goose-neck barnacles that looked primordial but tasted of clean ocean. Other restaurants artfully blended Nordic and Asian influences. At Momofuku, Asian-style morphed with indigenous fare like lobster. At Boralia I tried Ontario lamb, as opposed to New Zealand, English, or American lamb. A welcome flavor that was distinctly gamier.
The city also has an intense beer, micro-brewing, and wine culture that makes many bars into quasi-restaurants and vice-versa. Ontario produces local wines that are as credible as Europe's, even if it took several days to persuade me.
Top Restaurants and Bars
Canoe: A relaxed version of the Four Seasons in New York, 54 stories atop a similar Mies van der Rohe building. Stunning views, credible food, multiple seating options. It defines Toronto.
Momofuku: American star David Chang has put all his ideas into one glass box. Noodles on the main floor, bar and desserts in the mid-level, and two restaurants at the top.
Buca: There are three Bucas. They are all Italian, with varied moods and clientele. Foodies go to Yorkville.
Dandylion: Susur Lee is the father of Toronto-Asian fare. Disciple Jay Carter does his master proud at this gastro-pub.
Boralia: Serving dishes with a slice of Canadian history, from the native Indians to the early French settlers and on to the latest wave.
Getting there: Billy Bishop Airport is on an island in front of the city. It's hard to minimize the drama of landing here. Porter Airlines runs the concession. It's like the little airline that could. A ferry goes across the small channel, but the newly opened tunnel drops you in the city center in minutes. Taxis are widely available and grudgingly take credit cards.
Check openings: Restaurants, galleries, and markets are closed on odd nights, such as Tuesdays. Double-check before you go. You don't want to pick the latest micro-brewery or gastropub, only to find that it's closed.
Trams/Subways/Malls: A network of above-ground trams and the subways are easy to use once you get the hang. Toronto's changeable (and in winter, bone-chilling) weather makes the Path network a life-saver. Some options are quite attractive, too.
The Art Scene: The Daniel Libeskind-designed addition to the Royal Ontario Museum is splendid, but the private gallery scene is where you'll want to check out the most interesting art.
If You Have Time: The CN Tower, the tallest spire in the Western Hemisphere, merits visits from thrill-seekers and architecture fans. The revolving restaurant won't blow your culinary mind, but it's worth the trip. Brave souls can hang off the edge. Ditto for brewery tours, boat trips on Lake Ontario, sporting events, and (my favorite) shopping for food at St. Lawrence Market.
Peter Elliot is editor of Bloomberg Brief: Reserve and manages the lifestyle functions on the Bloomberg Professional service. He is Bloomberg's founding food critic and a James Beard Award winner. Follow him on Twitter or Instagram @mrpeterelliot.