Note: This page is closed. No more restaurant reviews.
Readers have been asking whether I’m going to start reviewing restaurants.
On the understanding that cuisine is certainly one of the arts, I’ve decided to do so.
Given that we go out to dinner at least once a week, we’ve acquired
a considerable knowledge of restaurants, especially ones in North Toronto. But what you’re going to get here won’t
be the typical restaurant reviews. I’m no specialist in the finer points of gastronomy. But I do appreciate good food
and my usual dinner companion, (i.e. my wife) is an excellent cook who has been gifted with a very discriminating palate.
However, since nobody’s picking up the tab for us, don’t expect
a comprehensive rundown of all the menu items. Sometimes, I may offer a chatty report on one dining experience. Or maybe a
summary of several visits to the same eatery; or, perhaps, brief mention of several places.
In the interests of fairness and accuracy, I’ll indicate how often
we’ve attended any given restaurant. While the attention will be mostly on the food, I’ll mention aspects of the
experience that can make a difference to us: the ambiance, the service, the noise level, even the cutlery.
I’ll also try to give an idea of the price range that the restaurants
fit into, based on the kind of meal we usually order. Typically, this will include one or two glasses of wine, possibly a
shared appetizer, two main courses and a shared desert. For this sort of meal, the prices at the various restaurants will
fall into the categories:
Low: below $50 for two
Medium: $50 - $90 for two.
High: $90 - 150 for two
Very high: over $150
Note: As of Jan/11, I'll add the dates of the posting.
Pisco 3249 Yonge Street; 416-482-8880
(Number of visits: 2)
Something new in North Toronto -- a Peruvian restaurant. (It's in the venue that was the site of a couple of previous favourites:
Sappori and Osteria.) So far, they've had a "soft opening," which means, apparently, that they haven't settled on the menu
yet. We've been there twice and liked it very much both times. The first time, we had something like a beef wellington. It
was wrapped in a puff pastry but the contents were some spicy concoction of vegetables. It was very good but we thought the
price was a bit high. On our next visit, though, it looked like the price had been lowered. This time, we had two different
beef dishes, both excellent. We found the staff to be courteous and solicitous in a very personable way; they were willing
to discuss at length our needs and how the restaurant might meet them -- dealing, for instance, with our problem with music
that was somewhat obtrusive and a bit too peppy
We're probably the last people in this part of town to try this place. It's been getting rave reviews since its opening
roughly a year ago. We found it to be fully up to the top billing. The many dishes we tried were perfect, our favourite, perhaps,
being Lamb Pasanda (with cashew nuts and saffron sauce). Even the nan was better than usual. The staff were very obliging,
in a cozy familial way. When they found out that we were marking a birthday, our gulab-jamuns came with ice cream, even
though we hadn't ordered it.
Everybody knows this is an excellent bistro, so there's no need for me to extol its many virtues. (See my original review
below.) I just want to mention the exquisite dessert I had there lately: warm almond tart. To many people, that suggests something
in a little round crust, with slivers of almond on top. This was more like a wedge of pie, with the consistency of something
like quiche. No sign of almond slices but the warm filling was ecstasy-inducing almond-flavoured.There was some sort
of crème fraiche or crème anglaise dribbled over it.
It also came with a little compote of blueberries. I found that their slight sourness overpowered the sweetness of the tart.
No problem. I put them aside for eating later.
Price range: Medium
The above comments posted on July 15, 2013
La Palette 492 Queen Street West, Toronto; 416-929-4900
www.lapalette.ca Number of visits: 2
This looked like a promising nutrition stop before
a show around the corner at Factory Theatre. On a Friday night, you got the impression that this was a happening place, with
lots of knowing-looking people eager to get in. For me, the experience proved to be a little less impressive than it was apparently
intended to be. The service is brisk and friendly, though. The decor funky: bare brick walls, black and white tile floor,
lots of duct work showing, antique-ish wooden chairs, tables covered with cloths in colourful Provençal patterns. But the
cutlery struck me as a bit downscale.
I went for the $35 prix fixe. The bread was warm,
white soft and not very interesting. A salad of mixed greens with pear slices and walnuts turned out to be less pleasing than
it sounded: lack-luster greens, very few and very slim slices of pear, fragments of walnuts rather than unbroken halves. The
steak was a good cut – thick and juicy – but the sauce (black garlic butter, port-glazed challots) tasted slightly
burned, to me. (Maybe that was the chef’s revenge for my asking for medium well-done.) Yukon gold frites were cooked
a bit too long, with the result that they got hard and dry about five minutes after delivery to the table. A flourless chocolate-almond
cake was a dense lump, not worth finishing. When that dessert is done right, it should melt in your mouth.
Admittedly, my choices were not very adventurous.
The place seems to specialize in more unusual fare such as bison, horse tenderloin, bouillabaisse and a cassoulet with ingredients
like duck leg, pork belly and lamb neck. Next time, I should give them a chance to do their stuff with one of those more exotic
Update: For my second visit, I didn't venture
very far from familiar territory, but the duck breast was very good: thick, tender and perfectly cooked in a demi-glace, on
lentils, with green beans that were just right, not over-cooked, still a little crisp. The bread was better than first time:
still white and warm, but more chewy and substantial, with a crispy crust. There's no denying, though, that this is a busy,
noisy place. Some people enjoy that. I would have liked a somewhat more restful ambiance than the one created by four braying
middle-aged men at the next table. But they were having fun.
Price range: Medium
November and December 2012
Update on Mariachi
2084 Yonge Street; 416-481-7111 (Number of visits: several) www.mariachis.ca
We used to enjoy the friendly, funky atmosphere
but I can no longer recommend the place for its food. On a recent visit we had chicken enchiladas. The hunks of chicken were
hard and unpleasant. The tomato sauce was minimal. So were the sour cream, salad and rice. The red house wine was harsh. A
waste of money, even though the bill was not high.
Like the previous occupant of this space (a
place named Vault, closed about a year ago), this restaurant has taken a name that’s trying to make something
of the fact that the premises used to house a bank. However, we did not find our first visit to the new establishment enriching.
To start off, no bread was offered unless you wanted to pay 75 cents per slice. The justification given was that some vegetable
glop would be provided along with the bread. I know some restaurants in other parts of the world routinely charge for bread
but for a restaurant in North Toronto to start doing that strikes me as not very welcoming.
And speaking of welcome, it’s not a
very good sign when your server insists on giving you her name, even if she does turn out to be sweet and obliging. If I’m
dealing with one server for seven days on a cruise, it might be helpful to know his or her name; but it’s pretentious
and unnecessary for servers to announce their names to customers who are on hand for just one dinner.
A "special" appetizer of softshell crab
in tempura batter turned out to be tasty enough,once you got used to the idea of eating the shell, but the
plate, including greens, was very oily. We fell into the old trap of not asking, before ordering, what a "special"
would cost; this one turned out to be extremely expensive: $16. A dish of gnocchi offered a quantity that would be about adequate
for a snack, not even a luncheon. The gnocchi were somewhat hard, not at all the melt-in-your-mouth quality. The advertised
cubes of squash in the dish were so tiny that they contributed a bit of colour but no flavour. And the bowl itself was too
wide and deep: one’s utensil kept falling in. Trout almandine was very good, although, again, there was a problem with
quantity: about half the amount you’d expect. The only unquestionably good aspect of the meal was that the serving
of red house wine was generous.
One doesn't doubt that the management
and staff of a new place like this are working hard to make their enterprise successful. But they need to know about
the negative effect some of their practices are having on customers.
We used to enjoy this spot years ago but then
it was taken over by new management and transformed into an establishment that didn’t much appeal to us. Nor to anybody
else much, it seems. The original owner’s back, with the old name, and the hope is that all the former customers can
be won back. It looks like they will be. There’s an old world ambiance to the place: very quiet, lots of dark wood.
I’m glad that they’ve got rid of the hokey paintings. The only discordant note, in my opinion, is the chitnzy
cutlery. We found the staff to be very polished and obliging. What made the atmosphere notably agreeable was the owner’s
strolling around, chatting with everybody, making sure everyone’s wants were attended to.
On this first visit back, we had a caesar
salad (very good), then a linguini pescatore and a penne with chicken in a pesto sauce. Both were very good, although
the pesto sauce was, I thought, surprisingly oily. The bread provided (Free!) was excellent, but the accompanying
paté tasted a little too strongly of liver for me.
Price range: medium
The reviews above posted June, 2012
Bar Mercurio 270
Bloor Street, Toronto; 416-960-3877; www.barmercurio.com (Number of visits: 1)
At first glance, this place looked like it
was going to be too upscale and snooty for me. Squeezed into a narrow space on the north side of Bloor, just west of University
Ave, it has elegant, long linen tableclothes, hefty cutlery, lofty ceilings and a tony ambiance, accented by dark wood. But
it turned out to be a delightful place for a late-night bite after a concert at the nearby Royal Conservatory. Mind you, our
being the last customers of the night probably meant that we found the place quieter than it would be during peak hours.
The staff – young, friendly and good-looking – were obliging and courteous to a fault. A pizza was priced quite
reasonably, around $15. A special treat for me was the show of the owner's abstract paintings in dramatic reds,
blacks and whites.
Prince range: medium
Street, Toronto; 647-346-1416 (Number of visits: 1)
This is the latest occupant of a space that
has seen two or three other restaurants in recent years. Opting for a family-oriented, middle-of-the-road appeal, it’s
bright, open, busy and noisy. A burger (around $9) included two patties, both good. The fries were too. A black bean burger
was tasty but difficult to manage, in that it fell apart. A quarter chicken was distressingly bloody inside and a baffled
waiter said he didn’t know how that could be because "the chef...the freezer....etc. etc. etc." The young, energetic
staff scurried around doing their best but the food wasn’t good enough to make us want to put up with the hectic pace.
Note to self: it’s generally a good idea to avoid places that have tv screens stationed strategically overhead.
I’ve been meaning to try this one for
years (it’s been something of a legendary presence in mid-town Toronto since the 1970s) but a recent Sunday afternoon
offered my first opportunity for a visit. The decor is cluttered and funky in a way that’s supposed to be hip (I think)
but doesn’t particularly appeal to me. Steak frites seemed rather expensive to me ($28); the frites were fine but the
steak – not very thick – was far from the best I’ve had. The service could be described as diffident but
not unfriendly, in an off-hand, casual way. When I asked for some bread, the reaction was like: Oh, you want bread? Yes,
of course, we can fulfill such a bizarre request! A little table in the window did provide an entertaining outlook on
happenings in the plaza fronting the new condos across the street but I didn’t enjoy the experience enough to want to
My understanding is that this relatively new
presence in North Toronto is the second coming of a place further downtown that has made its name as the place for the ultimate
burger. Some people hereabouts object to the hokey religiosity associated with the business – the references to nutrition
"redemption" and so on. I’m willing to overlook that stuff for the sake of a visit, considering it just a lot of nonsense,
but must admit that I’m somewhat puzzled by what appear to be rather serious attempts at preaching the gospel, i.e.
the one associated with Jesus, on the restaurant’s website.
Apparently, the rave reaction to the original
establishment has carried over to the new location, given that there’s usually a line-up outside. Even when I chose
to try it out around 3 pm on a weekday, business was steady, although a few of the sparse seats were available. The burger
combo was a good buy (about $10 for burger, fries and drink) but the burger wasn’t all that great, in my opinion. True,
the meat was fresh, soft and loosely packed – not the frozen hockey puck you get nearly everywhere – but there
wasn’t very much of it: only about half the quantity of a decent burger. The fries were good but I could only eat some
of the contents of the huge bag of them. The slightly harried staff were cheerful and helpful enough but the blaring rock
music helped to confirm that this wasn’t my scene.
Price range: medium
Edward Street Market & Bistro
14785 Yonge Street, Aurora; 905-841-9500 www.edwardstreet.ca (Number of visits: restaurant - 2; deli - 1)
Personal business north of the city has led
to dinner here on a couple of Saturday evenings in the past year. On each occasion, I arrived fairly early, which meant that
the atmosphere wasn’t too frantic, but I have a feeling it could get pretty crazy later on. For someone posing as a
food critic, it’s somewhat shaming to admit that I had the same thing on the two visits – burger with fries –
but it was very good both times, if expensive ($19). For consideration of dessert, a tray of very attractive samples was brought
around; that seems to me a very good idea, since verbal descriptions of desserts so often leave you clueless. However, the
chocolate pecan tart I chose turned out be rather dry and hard. I suspect that desserts may not be the establishment’s
specialty. A cupcake from the adjoining deli at noon was awful: heavy cake and lardy icing. But the ham-and-cheese croissant
was very good.
On my most recent experience in the dining
room, it was hard to tell exactly who was my waiter, given that various members of the twenty-something staff kept dropping
by the table, including one man who appeared to be the head waiter, but they were all very solicitous and personable. A genial
older man who seemed to be the maitre d’ or the owner also came to call a couple of times to make sure everything
was ok. I found the decor very soothing – dark brown and beige. The pebbles adorning the top of each of the dividers
that separated the booths looked like a good idea until a two-year-old in a nearby booth discovered that the stones were loose.
Price range: high medium
The reviews above posted May, 2012
Kitchen: update (See
Original Review Below)
We still find this one of the best restaurants
in North Toronto. But a recent visit on a Wednesday night made us wonder if it's becoming too popular -- not for its own good
-- but for ours. It was only 7:30 but the place was packed and very noisy. If we hadn't made reservations beforehand, we'd
have cut our losses and moved on. Nearly everybody in the place seemed to know everybody else: a lot of table hopping. We
felt like we were the only members who didn't belong to the club. Clearly, the place is a hit with well-heeled retirees
from the same social circles. Next time, we'll try for our usual 6 pm arrival and see if the ambiance is more to our liking.
This was our first visit to a place that’s
been around for at least a couple of years. We’d often walked by the location on north Avenue Road, not far from the
Highway 401, but hadn’t had occasion to drop in until a Monday night in summer when some our favourites in the area
were closed. Some people were braving the hot weather and the traffic on a semi-enclosed patio at Stratto, but the cool,
welcoming interior with its subdued lighting made us feel we’d stumbled into a trattoria somewhere on a quiet side street
in Rome. It also began to seem that we may have found one of the best Italian restaurants hereabouts.
A mini-baguette came nicely warmed, with a
dish of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Strange thing, though, the vinegar sat in the bottom of the bowl and you couldn’t
get any of it on your bread. Since bread with oil alone doesn’t cut it with us, we asked for butter – which
came readily enough, on second asking. Cesar salad was served up more attractively than in some places: lots of fresh, crispy
Romaine lettuce, croutons that weren't too dry or hard, some other crispy things, and a patch of proscuitto. A serving
of Fettucine Alfredo, with strips of julienned chicken, was marvellously creamy – almost too creamy, if such a thing
is possible. Spaghetti Bolognese had a very fresh, tomato taste. Tiramisu was one of the best we’ve encountered in a
long time – very creamy. Even the coffee cup made a good impression. Arriving on a wavy saucer that spoke of a potter’s
creativity, the cup had a slightly funnel-shaped handle that your finger fit into very cozily.
We found the service brisk and efficient,
remaining friendly and obliging even when the pace got hectic as the evening wore on. Stratto appears to be a real happening
place, given that it was nearly full by 7:30 (on a Monday night, yet!). And the premises are apparently well-designed for
sound absorption: lots of brick and wood. Perhaps the open air at the front of the patio helps too. In spite of the fairly
intense chatter, you could hear yourselves well.
Price range: Medium (for pasta and pizza;
some other things reach into a somewhat higher range: eg. Steak frites for $34.)
Riz North 3321 Yonge Street;
This site used to be home to a kind of North
Toronto landmark – the very upscale "Joy Cherry" women’s clothing store. The location has been empty for about
two years since that venerable emporium closed its doors. About a year ago, it seemed a restaurant was almost ready to open
on the spot. Vigorous renovation had been going on. But suddenly that project fell through. Now, the place has opened as Riz
North, the third North Toronto restaurant owned by Terry Wei, his other two being the original Riz and
Lemongrass, both on Bayview Ave.
In keeping with our habit of "opening" new
places in this part of town, we dropped in on just the second night of the restaurant’s being in business. The vast
space has been appropriately divided into sections by means of booths and partitions. The decor is confined mostly to a classy
combination of black, white and silver. I couldn’t quite decide whether the proliferation of chandeliers spelled elegance
or kitsch. But, when you visit a room at the back that soars up two storeys, you have to admit that the double-decker chandelier
hovering there is dazzling.
We enjoyed very much our first sampling of
the fare. Our appetizer of dim sum (shrimp and spinach in little shell-like dumplings) was a tasty, chewy way to start. A
plate with chicken teryiaki, including a mound of three kinds of rice and vegetables cooked just right (not too soft), was
beautifully presented. A serving of mango chicken with hoisin sauce was somewhat sweeter than wanted, but very good. One thing
that added to the pleasure of the meal – not all restaurants pay enough attention to this – was the hefty cutlery
(including metal chopsticks).
It was a little difficult to catch the eye
of our waiter at times but, overall, the many cheerful young people on the wait staff were courteous and obliging –
especially regarding our hopping around the place trying to find a table sheltered from the blast of the air conditioning.
That took some doing, given the early evening sunshine pouring in the west-facing windows on Yonge.
Towards the end of our meal, owner Terry Wei
stopped by our table to ask what we thought of it all. He says that this version of Riz features mostly Japanese and
Thai dishes, whereas the original Riz on Bayview is Pan Asian. Most notably, that restaurant is certified gluten-free.
(I think Mr. X said it’s the only so certified Pan Asian eatery in Toronto.) Rolling his eyes at the thought of all
the hassle involved in maintaining a certified, gluten-free restaurant, he said he chose not to go down that difficult road
with this new project. My guess is that it will provide stiff competition for Cravings the very popular Asian restaurant
just a few doors north.
Price Range: Low medium.
Bistro 990 990 Bay Street, Toronto;
Mariachi 2084 Yonge Street;
416-481-7111 (Number of visits: several) www.mariachis.ca See Update above, dated August 8, 2012.
You could probably get finer Mexican dining
elsewhere in Toronto, but we like this place because it’s relatively cheap, reliable and convenient for North Torontonians.
To say that going there feels like "slumming it" would be an exaggeration, but you have to be prepared for a funky atmosphere
(plastic plants, crappy art, woodwork painted in gaudy colours). The low lighting and cheerful service help to make all that
tolerable. We usually order some sort of enchiladas (chicken or beef); they come with rice and salad. Of the various levels
of spicing available, we always plead for the mildest. The sauce that comes with the free nachos is too hot for me. By way
of dessert, we’ve tried the churros – something like a sugar-encrusted beignet, with some kind of goo for dipping
them in. They aren’t as delectable as some of fond memory from places long gone.
Price range: low medium (March 15/11)
Mela 1921 Avenue Road; Closed
3471 Yonge Street 416-440-0700 (Number of visits: three -- see Update below)
Our first visit to this place was the night
after it opened. Maybe that’s why we found the service, although warm and friendly, a bit slipshod. On the second visit,
things ran a little more smoothly. The bread arrived at the table too crisp but the olives on the side were a nice touch.
The pesto sauce in a dish of penne with chicken seemed a little pasty. A spaghetti marina included lots of seafood and sauce
made with fresh tomatoes. A dish of veal and mushrooms was very good. The question with any tiramisu is always whether it’s
going to tend more towards cake or pudding. Ideally, it should hit the perfect midway point between the two, but nobody pulls
off that feat anymore the way Signora Rota used to do at the late lamented Dante’s. At Gente,
the tiramisu tends towards the light and cakey – not sublime but agreeable.
The decor isn’t quite as classy as in
Chase, the previous occupant of the premises, but it’s attractive enough. One thing that bothered us about Gente
(more so on the first visit than the second) was the commotion emanating from the owners’ family members and friends
gathered towards the back of the room. This has been an issue for us in some other Italian eateries. Maybe such boisterous
familial joviality is part of package back home, but it isn’t exactly what some of us snooty North Torontonians are
Update: This place is apparently
thriving. On a recent Saturday night, we couldn't get in, not having a reservation. No trouble getting a reservation on a
subsequent Friday, though. A couple of repeat orders (chicken pasta in pesto cream sauce; seafood pasta) were enjoyable
again. A pizza -- very thin crust -- was delectable. Most notably, a dessert of profiteroles was scrumptious: real whipped
cream and a dense chocolate flavour. The bread, although nicely warmed and served with olives, was light and insubstantial.
We still found the service a bit iffy: for instance, a very long wait to take our dessert orders.
Price range: medium
Kitchen 1967 Avenue Road
416-551-0468 (Number of visits: One)
We’ve been looking for a chance to try
this place ever since it opened, about a year ago. The former occupant of the premises was a French patisserie, café, delicatessen and catering business – perhaps too multi-faceted an operation to succeed. The restaurant
now occupying the spot is intriguing. A small space, with room for about thirty guests – intimate and yet spacious;
you don’t feel crowded. The decor is minimalist: black, white and grey, with a few silver accents, and blonde wooden
table tops. When we arrived early on a mid-week evening, we were the only diners but by 7 pm the place was beginning to fill
it up. So it has apparently become popular with the folk on North Avenue Road. Given that the rather low ceiling is covered
with acoustic tiles, we’re guessing that the noise level wouldn’t be too bad, even at full capacity. The service
could be described as efficient, courteous and unobtrusive. Best of all, the prices tend towards the low side of medium.
Something that we take as a good omen in a
smallish place – the menu is somewhat limited: some appetizers, a couple of pastas, two fish dishes and three or four
meat offerings, with daily desserts listed on a chalkboard. The preprandial brown bread was ideal: crunchy crust and chewy
interior. Our caesar salad was fresh and crisp, although a little more tangy than we’re used to (presumably due to the
lemon juice content). A serving of grilled calf’s liver was melt-in-your-mouth tender. Grilled rainbow trout was very
good, although the honey/lemon glaze made it unnecessarily sweet. Garlic mashed potatoes were good, although not very garlicky
and (perhaps?) a trifle watery. French fries were ok but not as delectable as real frites. By way of dessert, one very generous
serving of dense, fudge-like flourless chocolate cake, with a scoop of intensely-flavoured chocolate ice cream, proved to
be more than enough for two people.
Price: Low Medium
Pickle Barrel 312 Yonge Street
416-977-6677 and 2300 Yonge Street 416-485-1244 (Number of visits: several) www.picklebarrel.ca
We’ve dined at these two locations a
number of times. You don’t expect gourmet feasting but you can usually rely on something a bit more interesting than
what you'd get at the typical greasy spoon. On a recent visit to the Pickle Barrel's downtown location, however,
we encountered a meal so bad that it needs to be mentioned. A hamburger was hard and crispy on the outside, lukewarm and tasteless
on the inside. It was as though it had been cooked long ago and over-heated for presentation. The fries were just as bad,
apparently having sat around for hours. The entire plate was virtually inedible. Our waiter offered to try again with the
fries but there was no guarantee of any improvement. The two other meals ordered on this occasion were fine. One was a warm
spinach salad with slices of chicken breast and cranberries; the other was a grilled chicken hummus wrap. Could the inadequate
burger plate be due to the fact that it was a Sunday afternoon and the regular kitchen supervisory staff weren’t on
This bistro is another of those places that
we visited a couple of times when it was first opened (a few years ago) but we hadn’t had a chance to reacquaint ourselves
with it until we were in the neighbourhood recently. Our favourable memories of it were validated by its current status.
First, the ambiance is pleasing: classy but
in an under-stated way. Despite the fact that it was almost full on a Saturday night, the background noise somehow remained
at the tolerable level of a steady buzz. Is it something about the walls – exposed brick in some places –
that enhances sound absorption? Would that many other restaurants would catch on! The only negative notes would be that
the meal was a bit slow in coming and the heat in the room was too intense for us. But nobody else seemed to be bothered.
The dominant mode of the service was friendly, brisk and professional. We noticed that wait staff were welcoming lots of people
who appeared to be long-time patrons. We can see why they would be.
The bread basket, with accompanying hummous,
offered some sheets of tasty, dark flaky stuff, but, more to the point, lots of chewy, substantial white bread with
gnarly crust. A warm pear salad with Roquefort cheese hit the right note on a cold night, although I find that type of
greens – dangly shreds – can be difficult to fork into your mouth while maintaining your composure. No problem,
I guess, as long as you remember not to order it the next time the Queen suggests you to grab a bite together.
The flat iron steak, in the order of steak
and frites, was described in the menu as "peppered". Our inquiry revealed that the kitchen was willing to forego the
pepper, so the selection proved to be perfect to our taste. The frites were especially good. So was an order of gnocchi with
Berkshire pork sausage ragu. The gnocchi were of the melt-in-your mouth kind. Even a glass of red house wine – Washington
State Merlot – was better than most house wines.
Alas, there wasn’t time for dessert,
due to a theatre date. The dessert that interested us most was carmelized apples in puff pastry with vanilla ice cream.
The fact that it was one of just four desserts available reflects the relatively limited scope of the menu. Perhaps that’s
the key to quality. When restaurant menus feature too much variety, suspicions of freezers cannot be quelled.
Price range: Medium
Moxie's Classic Grill
4950 Yonge Street 416-226-3217 (Number of visits: 3) www.moxies.com
We patronized this one a couple
of times some years ago, but, given its northerly location, it isn't one of our frequent ports of call. However, it
turned out to be handy for a drop-in on a recent solo trip to North York. The ambiance -- low lighting and "easy
rock," I think, it's called -- isn't exactly our style but that's ok if you're not trying to to talk to anybody. In any case,
it seems to suit the hip and cool twenty-something servers. Most of the clientele, in fact, seemed to be young people who
were looking for something just a bit fancier than the usual pub for a special dinner.
A classic beef burger was surprisingly good
-- juicy and home-made-seeming, rather than the usual hunk of compacted mass that comes from a freezer. I was unexpectedly
pleased by the accompanying Dijon sauce, even though it exceeded my spiciness threshold a bit. As for the fries
it was the usual story: the first seven or eight were fine but, as they cooled, you were dealing with sticks of congealed
grease. I ordered the bargain dessert -- a "bite size" brownie but it turned out to be more like a six-or-seven-bite size.
Just the right amount, actually. I hadn't realized it would be white chocolate -- which would have been fine, except that
it was stale on the edges and had no taste whatsoever as far as I could determine. However, since it came with vanilla
ice cream and a dribble of chocolate sauce, you could scoop that up and enjoy it as if that was what you wanted.
My server was earnest, what with pen and paper
and note-making. Kinda got the impression that this was his first night on the job. But he'd already mastered the
art of many a more experienced waiter -- disappearing when the customer most needs you. Maybe he was trying to make up for
any such lapse when I asked for the location of the washroom. Until I demurred, it looked like he was going
to lead me there by the hand.
Apparently, the vast space of these premises defeated
the owners of Chega, the former occupant. Although Chega was popular in the beginning, it seemed that they
couldn’t draw in enough people to keep the moderately upscale place going in the long run. So the new owners have downscaled
somewhat to produce something that looks like it’s meant to appeal to a wide range of clientele. And it sure does: everything
from swinging singles to sincere seniors, business people and family groups including all ages. Our first two attempted
visits were thwarted by our not having booked ahead. A third try, early on a weeknight before the crowds arrived, succeeded.
The place is stylishly decked out with lots
of wood and low lighting. But we found the food not especially enticing. In an offering of steak frites, the steak was ok
but the frites had that tendency to turn dry and sawdusty as they cooled. (Could that be because they start off
frozen?) A hamburger – in spite of all the hoop-la about the various kinds on offer – was strictly run of the
mill. The wait staff consists largely of enthusiastic and energetic young people. Judging by the noise and the buzz in the
air, this is the kind of place where lots of people want to go for a good time. Not us, though.
This was the location of the Olive Oil
Boutiquewhich, unfortunately, had to close after two years. Now the premises house what is the second location
of Vi Vetha, an eatery founded in the Beach area in 2005. It’s a bit more upscale than the Olive Oil
but still has a somewhat funky, neighbourhood feel. We’ve had the chicken and pasta in pesto sauce, both with and without
cream. Both were good. An order of ribs was plentiful. Some of the ingredients in a seafood pasta, however, were too chewy
and tough. (The management offered a $10 coupon by way of recompense.) The service? Cheerful and efficient, if not especially
Price Range: Medium
Archeo 55 Mill Street, 416-815-9898
(Number of visits: one) www.archeo.ca
A handy location for lunch with a friend who
lives in Toronto’s Distillery District. I’m told that Archeo isn’t as pricey as the restaurant
that previously occupied the premises. The odd name of the new enterprise comes from "archeology" -- which relates to the
location’s storied past as part of what we take for a historical setting in Toronto. The ambiance is much the same as
in the rest of the distillery – lofty brick walls, exposed duct work. However, the small group of clients on hand at
midday on New Year’s Eve were accommodated in a sort of alcove to one side of the main door where the feeling was a
bit bleaker than in the large main room. But my house salad with slices of chicken breast was excellent. My friend appeared
to thoroughly enjoy the special: two small quiches of different kinds, with salad. My order came with just a hard, dry
cracker on the side but a request for bread produced a basket of hearty buns. The service was friendly and cheerful.
Price Range: Medium
Lolo 2590 Yonge Street CLOSED
Sweet Gallery 694 Mt. Pleasant
416-484-9622 (Closed) (Other locations: 350 Bering Ave and 2312 Bloor Street West) www.sweetgallery.redto.com
It was at their Bloor West location that we
first discovered the Sweet Gallery. Now the one on Mt. Pleasant has become our more frequent port of call. One
of the Sweet Gallery stores (they’ve been in Toronto since 1974) is as close as you can come in Toronto
to an old-fashioned European tea room: chandeliers, mirrors, ornate chairs covered in velvet, marble table tops. Not to mention
the gracious service. And the sweets on display are worlds way from what you get in your typical Toronto coffee shop: yards
and yards of elaborate cakes that look fit to satisfy the courtiers of Louis XIV. (The rum balls go a long way towards satisfying
me.) It’s especially pleasant to sit at a table by the stretch of windows down the side of the Mt. Pleasant restaurant
and watch the street scene.
That location has also become a handy spot
to drop in for a light supper. Not that you should expect exquisite dining – more like something a notch or two above
Fran’s, with a touch of European. Recently, a dish of beef goulash with rice, modestly priced around $10, fit the bill
nicely. A not very imaginative but hearty salad was included. Often the proprietor is on hand to greet you in a way that manages
to be both courtly and casual. For a place that’s aiming for a certain finesse, though, more attention should be
paid to the state of the washrooms!
On a recent movie/dinner trek to Mount Pleasant
Road, between Eglinton and Davisville, we had to make a concerted effort to pry ourselves away from the excellent Simple
Bistro (See review of it below.) Since this was our first visit to Positano, what follows can be considered a preliminary
Our meal started well, with a substantial,
chewy bread, served with a warm tomato and basil dip. But the main courses weren’t impressive. The angolotti stuffed
with spinach was ok, but the tomato sauce rather bland. A salmon poached in parchment paper arrived at the table almost raw
and had to be sent back for more time in the steamer. The medley of vegetables was abundant: tomatoes, roast potatoes, asparagus
and fine strips of things like red peppers, carrots and parsnips (I think).
It struck me that Positano, with
its somewhat funky decor, makes for a welcoming neighbourhood haunt. Regular customers received effusively friendly greetings
from the management. For us, it looks ok for an occasional visit, but not someplace we’d rush back to. The service
was competent and professional in a folksy way, nothing particularly polished or sophisticated about it.
Although this restaurant has been nestled
securely in our neighbourhood for nearly twenty years, we’ve only recently started frequenting it. Was it the valet
parking that conveyed the impression that the place would be outside our price range? It isn’t, we find.
So we're enjoying excellent meals there.
The calf’s liver is unbelievably delicious – and that’s coming from somebody who ordinarily avoids liver.
Amazingly tender veal comes in a white wine and lemon sauce. Succulent cornish hen sports an enticing touch of charcoal from
the brick oven. Very good pastas include ravioili stuffed with beef cheeks and mushrooms, and spaghetti (spelt for our anti-gluten
companion) puttanesca. We’ve also heard good things about the red snapper baked in layers of sea salt (but be aware
that it will be priced according to the market of the day).
By way of appetizers, we especially liked
grilled octopus on pea greens and fava beans, and mussels with tomato sauce , parmesan and breadcrumbs. We found the caesar
salad a bit blah, though, not as fresh or crisp as that served at some other places.
The desserts, so far, haven’t excited
us much either. Various sorbets offer lots of tangy flavour and the tiramisu is ok but the lemon tart isn’t nearly as
tasty as the one served across the street at the Olive Oil Boutique.
Service at Coppi, under the expert
eye of manager Alessandro Scotto (whom, it turns out, we know a little from another life), is smooth and professional.
The story behind the restaurant is that owner Fausto di Bernardino was named after the famous cyclist Fausto Coppi who dominated
the sport in the 1940s and 50s. Signor di Bernardino’s strong feelings for his namesake carried over, not just to the
naming of the restaurant, but also its decor. You may or may not like the huge black and white photographs of sweaty cyclists
and their admirers gazing down on you while you dine. But you’ve gotta admit that a distinctive and stylish ambiance
is achieved. It’s one of those motifs that you might think would never work but it obviously does.
Price Range: High medium.
The Red Tea Box
696 Queen Street West; 416-203-8882 (First visit)
Joanne Kates of The Globe and Mail
has often recommended this as a great place for tea. A recent visit to an art gallery nearby finally gave me an opportunity
to try it myself. While the place didn’t live up to my fondest imaginings, it did turn out to be a very different downtown
tea time experience.
The front of the dim, narrow shop is crowded
with tables displaying the various pastries on offer. Towards the rear of that section, a couple of tables are available for
customers but, being practically on top of the cash register, they don’t look very inviting. So I was glad when the
server led me further back, through a breezeway leading past the kitchen. We came to a little patio – about four
tables – that wasn’t usable because it was such a damp day, then up a few stairs and into a structure at the very
rear of the premises, where the server seated me at one of five small tables.
It felt like you were playing house in somebody’s
garage or basement: a cement floor, painted red but much scuffed; walls and ceiling a light green that shrieked of end-of-line
paint sale; cast-off furniture, some of the chairs featuring thick padding with chrome trim (à
la 1930's?). Most of the wooden pieces looked like the kind of stuff that’s been mouldering behind your parents’
furnace for years. Not the sort of thing that would get an antique dealer slavering. But you could see that a decorator’s
eye had been at work, trying to impart an artsy look to it all. Cushions and paper lanterns and flowers had been distributed
throughout to provide colourful accents to the predominant green.
The menu describes elaborate "high teas"(for
about $28), which include an astounding assortment of goodies. Not having anyone to share such a spread with, I opted for
a single cup of tea and a piece of chocolate-banana cake with butter cream frosting. Unable to find anything that looked like
a normal tea in the list of exotic varieties on offer, I asked for help from the server, who recommended the Ceylon
tea, as being the closest to English Breakfast. My "one cup" turned out to be a little pot, that served about two and a half
fillings of the small china cup on its mis-matched saucer. The tiny milk jug looked like a teapot from a child’s
tea set. The tea was very pleasant. As for my sweet, the so-called buttercream frosting proved impossible to eat. You might
as well have sat down with a brick of lard and started spooning it in. Stripped of its icing, the cake was ok, nothing special.
No hint of banana as far as I could tell.
The place is so quiet that there was nothing
to do but listen to the conversations of other customers. A mother and her daughter were planning some big event, possibly
a wedding. The mother was oohing-and-aahing over her large bowl of soup; the daughter was attacking a delectable looking sandwich.
At another table, an elderly couple were enjoying an outing with their forty-ish son and his wife. The four of them discussed
some home renovation plans, then their various diets, the father’s bread-making routines and so on. Eschewing any baked
goods, they were all exclaiming appreciatively over the different teas they had ordered.
The hostess who had greeted me on entering
(presumably the proprietress?) was very gracious, and I found the service to be friendly and obliging, if a little amateurish.
Next time, I’d like to take a companion so that we could sample more of the menu. In the meantime, it struck me that
this was certainly a cozy place to crawl into on a rainy afternoon. Compared to the ambiance of the rest of Queen Street West,
the experience almost felt non-commercial – except for the bill: $17 for a piece of cake and cup of tea!
Price Range: High (as tea and pastries go)
The Olive Oil Boutique 3334Yonge
Street; 416-484-6100 (Number of visits: Three) Closed!
Steakfrites 3185 Yonge Street
(former location of Mezza Misto); 416-488-0081 (Number of visits: One)
It mystifies us that, within the past ten
years roughly, two perfectly acceptable restaurants haven’t been able to make a go of it in this location. Will
this one, by some inexplicable stroke of good fortune, fare any better?
First impressions do not bode very well. Since
we dined here on just the third night after the opening, however, this can be considered a preliminary report.
The new decor has brightened the premises
with white walls (formerly red), crammed with framed posters celebrating all things French. Attractive as that may be, the
place was packed on the night we attended and the noise was horrendous. How do owners accomplish this with a barely-known
restaurant? Certainly the clientele could not have been spontaneous drop-ins from the neighbourhood. Is there a website where
people can get deals for dining at newly-opened restaurants? Do the owners pack the place with family and friends, like papering
a house for the opening night of a theatrical production? Or maybe they call in out-of-work actors to pose as diners...?
The gustatory experience did not live up to
all the buzz. We found the steak and frites to be ok, but not exceptional. I’ve had juicier, more generous steaks. The
frites were a bit dry. Desserts that we tried were ok (lemon tart) and mediocre (warm apple tart). Bread? Not very interesting.
No question, though, that the prices are very reasonable.
Given that the place is so new, we had to
put up with lots of glitches in the service. We hope to return when things should be running more smoothly and when the crowd
and the noise have fallen back to a more tolerable level.
Price Range: Medium-medium
Yonge Street. Closed
Richlees (1959 Avenue
Road) (416-483-9818) www.richlees.com Number of visits: several [Note: this place has had an over-hauling and a revised name but we haven't yet had a
chance to check out the changes.]
Occasionally, I have found the "Mediterranean
cuisine" here a bit too elaborate, in a sort of European style -- for instance a salmon that was gucked up with too much
overlay. But we enjoyed a recent visit very much. Strangely, though, all the bread (with a liver pate) was hard
and dry in a way that didn't seem intentional. Then came a very good mixed green salad with pear and a tasty
dressing. For main dishes, a sirloin steak with veggies for one of us, and gnocchi in a cream sauce for the
other. The gelato for dessert -- mango and raspberry -- was bursting with flavour.
This place has a decidedly Old World ambiance
-- chandeliers, wood, mirrors, carpet. It's a magnet for the well-heeled geriatric set of North Toronto. You'll
have to decide for yourself whether or not you're comfortable with that. The service is classy and smooth, the only discordant
note being cutlery that I find rather chintzy.
Price range: Upper Medium
Delux (92 Ossington
Avenue) (416-537-0134) Number of visits: 2
Normally, we like to visit a restaurant more
than twice before committing our impressions to this website. Since this eatery, however, is situated in a part of Toronto
that we don't often visit, we're gonna make some comments now, in case it's a long time before we return to it.
A very stylish, hip place -- bare brick walls,
minimalistic furniture -- this one dishes up what appears, for the most part, to be very good food. On my recent
visit, I had steak frites. The latter were not the skinny French ones I was hoping for but they were good. It disconcerted
me a bit that the steak was presented sliced but the flavour was acceptable. A pannacotta for dessert -- pretty much a bland,
pudding-like thing -- was sweet but not very interesting. On my first time there, I had a more enticing pastry,
as I recall.
The service by the young wait staff is
professional in a cool, casual way: tight-fitting t-shirts and designer jeans on the guys. Only problem on my recent visit
was that, being the first customer of the night, I had to listen to their chatter and their heavy rock music while they sat
at the bar, warming up to their duties. Later in the evening that, obviously, wouldn't be a problem.
Price range: High Medium.
Chega (3391 Yonge
MoRoCo 99 Yorkville
Ave, Toronto. 416-961-2202 (Number of visits: 2, plus some takeouts)
I stumbled on this place by accident.
It’s off the street and up a few steps, in the interior mall that also houses Yorkville’s venerable The Coffee
Mill. The MoRoCo premises used to be occupied by an art gallery. Now it’s a taste of Old World elegance – all
black and silver and grey, with sparkling chandeliers. You sit at a table on one of the velvety banquettes and you feel swathed
in quiet, luxury. The service is discreet and smooth.
The specialty of the house is chocolate. As
you enter, there’s a display counter where you can buy all sorts of chocolate treats. In fact, the first time that I
dropped in, to investigate the place just out of curiosity and to check out the menu, the attendant at the counter presented
me with a just-poured glass of hot chocolate as I turned to leave. It was a very different kind of hot chocolate from what
we’re used to at our skating rinks in North America: not nearly as sweet and milky but packing a much stronger chocolate
hit. MoRoCo’s truffles are squarish with hard, shiny exteriors, not the buttery, soft kind, but they’re very good.
The chocolate croissants, the only items not made on the premises, are from Rahier, on Bayview Avenue – possibly not
the best in town but certainly much better than what you get at your neighbourhood Starbucks.
The menu for meals seems to emphasize somewhat
lighter fare but there are some more substantial dinners. On our recent visit, Jane had stuffed chicken breast. The chicken
itself didn’t have tons of flavour but the stuffing and the accompanying veggies were very tasty. My steak sandwich
on a baguette (with salad) was unbelievably good – very tender meat, dripping with flavour. The baguette was crunchy,
But it’s mainly the elaborate, imaginative
desserts that get your attention at MoRoCo. We’re always complaining that the North Toronto restaurants have completely
run out of good dessert ideas. (Any one for: Tiramisu? Crème Brulé, Tartuffo? No thanks!) And yet – irony of ironies – we didn’t order a dessert at MoRoCo.
We did take home some delicious cookies but we must return sometime just for the desserts. They look amazing. Expensive though:
about $14 each. But they look bounetous enough for satisfactory sharing.
Our first visit was on a warm summer night
when the small premises were so crowded and noisy that we de-camped to another place up the street for dessert. Which
is not to say that the fare at Simple Bistro wasn't worth putting up with a bit of commotion. It's
good French cooking, within a relatively moderate price range. The service is lively, efficient and professional, without
over-emphasis on charm. My second visit was early on a winter night when I was the sole occupant until two businessmen arrived.
The steak/frites were everything I dreamed of. Given that there was no problem with noise this time, I felt it my duty to
give the dessert menu a try. A lemon tart was exquisite.
Update: the so-called "Black
Forest Cake." Our server reacted with shocked indignation when we inquired cautiously whether the cake might come with synthetic
whipped cream: "We don't serve anything synethtic!" Turns out that there isn't any whipped cream of any kind. It's more
of a mousse confection, topped with a cowl of marzipan. Lots of kirsch-soaked cherries, though. A delectable dessert
if you don't have your heart set on traditional Black Forest.
Price range: towards the higher end of medium.
Il Fornello King Street,
Theatre District, Toronto. (One visit)
If your idea of a good experience of Italian
cuisine is a quiet little place, where the sweaty proprietors exert themselves over delectable dishes which they personally deliver
to your table, Il Fornello ain't for you. A huge place, bustling with activity, it appears to specialize in serving
the middle-class couples and family groups who want a not-too-expensive, but fancy-seeming feed, before heading for a night of
theatre. The plates are arranged with great style, the service is brisk and the atmosphere is hopping.
But the food disappoints. My penne with chicken,
spinach and mushrooms was supposed to have an oil dressing but it seemed watery. I didn't like the taste but maybe
there was some spice in it that doesn't agree with me. Jane's spaghetti carbonara with chicken was very bland. Carrot cake
was hearty, though. Bread was good too (two slices brown, two slices white).
Not having reservations, we were escorted
to what was obviously one of the less desirable tables -- right in front of one of the main serving areas. But Jane loved
being able to watch the preparation of salads, pizzas and desserts. In fact her many questions about it all elicited some
smiles and good cheer from our middle-aged waitress who, otherwise, seemed disinclined to show any sign of friendliness whatever.
Price Range: Medium
Some Background re North Toronto
Ever since Dante Rota closed his fabulous
"Dante’s" at 3353 Yonge Street, about eight years ago, we have been looking for a new favourite in
the neighbourhood. "Dante's" was perfection. We constantly marvelled at our good luck in that the distinguished Signor
Rota had, in his last years before retirement, deigned to open a little eatery near us. In his heyday, he had been the chef
at the "Three Small Rooms" at the Windsor Arms Hotel in downtown Toronto. No less an authority than the Globe and Mail’s
restaurant critic, Joanne Kates, had credited him with bringing Italian cooking to a much higher level in Toronto.
We loved popping into "Dante’s" on a
moment’s notice, weeknights or weekends. We usually went early, so reservations weren’t obligatory. Not being
the gourmand in the family, I can’t supply an elaborate explanation of what made the cuisine so good. But I do remember
hearing rapturous sighs about the fact that everything was very fresh, very original, very authentic. It was here that a culinary
stick-in-the-mud like me was encouraged to try something as daring as calamari deep-fried in batter. I actually got to
enjoy them and haven't tasted any as good since.
Mostly what I remember, though, were the desserts
made by Signora Rota. Her homemade tiramisu was nothing like the ersatz version that restaurateurs now try to pass off as
the real thing. Hers was a heavenly cross between cream and cake, oozing chocolate. Simply to look at a plate of it told you
that it was too rich to finish by yourself; we usually shared one. Another of Signora Rota’s concoctions that I loved
was her zuccotto, a dome-shaped thing, with, as I remember it, a chocolate outer shell and a creamy filling involving sponge
Regarding this dessert, one evening the Rota’s
son Carlo, who is now a very successful actor (Little Mosque on the Prairie, etc.) but who often waited on tables then,
explained to us that the word zuccotto came from the same root as zucchini, the latter being a smaller version of a somewhat
similar shape of thing. Carlo’s presence on the scene exemplified the family-aspect of the enterprise. Quite often,
there was a gathering of relatives and friends at one of the back tables. Whenever the Rota’s other son (I don’t
remember his name) arrived with his wife and baby, all business had to stop while Signora Rota paraded the baby from table
to table to be admired.
Trying to put those happy memories behind
us, we keep heading out to sample whatever pleasures the neighbourhood eateries have to offer now. Although we’ve
never hit on anything as wonderful as what we experienced at "Dante’s", we have found some places that we enjoy on a
regular basis. Here follows mention of some of them. Lots more to come soon.
Sapori 3249 Yonge Street; Closed
Ristorante 101 3265 Yonge Street
Parmigiano 3186 Yonge Street,
416-489-6688, www.parmigiano.ca (Number of visits: several)
We loved this place when it first opened,
about five years ago. It’s in the spot where Ranleigh Avenue ends at Yonge. The location is a bit notorious because,
when the previous establishment occupied the premises, a car driving along Ranleigh went straight through the intersection
and ploughed into the restaurant, ending up in the back of the room. (I don’t recall whether there were any casualties.)
You’d never guess at that history, given
the current ambiance. It’s warm and welcoming, with linen tablecloths, tables quite close to each other. The food has
always been good. But it became much too popular for us within a few months of opening. It’s nearly always too crowded
on weekends. Some people like to be in the midst of a hive of activity at a restaurant; we prefer to crawl into a quiet corner.
We have always found the service to be fine but I recently went for lunch on a weekday with a friend and the waiter was a
This is the place we drop into when we want
something simple and casual. They do a very good burger, with fries or salad for $10.95. The burger’s thick and tastes
homemade, not like the processed burgers you get most places. Sad to say, though, we haven’t much liked anything else
we’ve tried here. The pizza’s fat and soggy. To look at the website, you’d think the place was the epitome
of style and flavour but it strikes us that the menu is far too ambitious (all sorts of meat and fish dishes) for anything
other than the microwave treatment. Besides, you don’t get the impression of any vast staff in the kitchen. The
service, however, is cheerful and unpretentious. If the room gets full, the noise can be terrible, as there’s nothing
to absorb the voices bouncing off the hard walls and floor. But you can avoid that problem in the summer when the patio’s
Update: We've tried some
of the salads, with chicken or seafood, and liked them very much.
Price range: Medium (except "Low" for us,
given that we usually have just burgers)
Mezza Misto 3202 Yonge Street,
OUT OF BUSINESS
The Monkey Bar and Grill, 3353
Yonge Street, 416-486-2288, www.themonkeybar.ca (Number of visits: a couple)
This is the restaurant that took over the
premises of "Dante’s". We understand that the chef/owner is a protegee of Signor Rota’s. We visited the new place
once or twice when it first opened, about seven years ago. The food was very good but it’s too pricey for us on a regular
basis. We might go back once in a while, on special occasions, except that it’s always packed. It’s one of those
places that has really caught on with the cognoscenti of North Toronto who have lots of $$ to throw around.
Price Range: High
Piazzetta 3441 Yonge Street,
416-440-1777 www.piazzetta.ca (Number of visits: several)
The pizza’s especially good, coming
from a wood-burning brick oven roaring away at the back of the room. The pasta’s ok but we tend to shy away from
this place because it has become very popular with families and it can get terribly noisy. The service always seems a bit
frantic. Don’t be fooled by the home page pictures on the website which will make you think you’re looking at
someplace on a piazza Italy.
Price range: Medium
Trio Ristorante 3239 Yonge Street,
416-486-5786 (Number of visits: 5 or 6)
The former occupant of these premises was "Mangia".
The young owner had had trouble with his opening, about seven years ago, because, for some reason, neighbours objected to
his obtaining a liquor licence. Once he got going, though, it was a very classy place, with excellent food and an understated elegance.
The original owner left after a couple of years and the chef took over as chef/owner, offering pretty much the same fare. The
place deserved to be very popular but, in the inexplicable way of the restaurant business, it wasn't.
Now the place is re-incarnated as "Trio".
I get the impression that the former chef/owner is still involved in the kitchen. The new place (about two years old) is slightly
less pricey than the former one and has become extremely popular, especially with family groups. For that reason, we don’t
even try to get in on Friday nights. But one evening during a heavy snowstorm last winter, we were the only ones in the place
and it was delightful.
Price Range: Medium
Gamberoni 3238 Yonge Street,
416-482-3063 (Number of visits: 5 or 6)
This place is hugely popular. That may be
partly due to the "typical trattoria" decor: small tables jammed closely together, red and white checkered tablecloths, dark
walls with touristy views of Italy. Lately, the restaurant is undergoing renovations around the front window to make it look
even more quaint from the street. As far as I can recall, we’ve never had any problem with the food there, although
I do remember that spaghetti and meatballs came with very little of the latter. The main reason we don’t patronize the
place much – apart from the crowding – is that we have found the service negligent. We’re willing to
accept that there’s something about us that causes that but a friend recently visited the place on her own and had the
same negative impression.
Price range: Medium
Cravings 3393 Yonge
Street, Toronto 416-322-2200 www.cravingstoronto.ca Number of visits: 3 or 4. (Date of posting: Nov 3/08)
This Asian restaurant has a somewhat upscale
feel about it in every way except for the prices, which are – surprise – relatively modest. In the short time
since its opening, it has become very popular, so you might need reservations on a Friday night.
On our recent visit, we had an appetizer of
dim sum with shrimp and spinach. Very tasty. A "very spicy" sauce that came with it turned out to be untouchable, as far as
I was concerned. Our main courses – fried rice with chicken and shrimp, and mango stir fry with chicken – were
We found the service to be charming and discreet.
The decor is smart and sleek – mostly black, white and beige. The only problem is with the chairs in the front room,
should you be sitting on one of them rather than on a bench against the wall. The back of the chair is low and slanted backwards.
That doesn’t matter when you’re leaning over the table to eat; if you try to relax and lean back at any point,
however, you find yourself sprawled at a very uncomfortable angle.
On a recent Thursday evening, a friend and
I were strolling the main street of Orangeville, Ontario, looking for a decent place for dinner. After passing up various
fast food joints and pubs, we zeroed in on The White Truffle as possibly our best choice. But I entered somewhat warily. From
the window, there appeared to be a heavy emphasis on gleaming white linen and shining glassware. That reminded me unfavourably
of gussied up small town restaurants that try to pretend they’re dishing up haute cuisine when the only thing haute
about them is the prices.
Since there was only one other table occupied,
we got a large round table in the window. The waitress told us that the special was salmon and that it was very popular tonight.
I was much tempted by the duck breast, as that is one of my favourite treats. But it seemed risky to me to order it in a place
where I couldn’t be sure of the quality. Too often, duck breast has appeared with a soupçon
of the microwave not far behind. So I ordered the salmon; my friend ordered Arctic char.
A few moments later, the waitress unexpectedly
plunked down in front of each of us an amuse bouche. It was something in a creamy swirl on a cracker. I think she said
it was some kind of a seafood concoction. (I wasn’t taking notes, having not yet decided to do a review.) Very tasty.
Then came some home made brown bread with, I think, hummus. We had also, at the waitress’ casual suggestion, ordered
some brocscetta, which was very good.
When the salmon came, I simply could not believe
how good it was. I had never tasted salmon like it. It had some sort of creamy sauce which, the waitress told me, was a butter-lemon-herbs
mixture. My friend said his Arctic char was very good too. Even the accompanying rice struck me as exceptionally good –
every grain distinct and just the perfect texture. Some vegetables on the plate were fine but I seldom pay much attention
to vegetables; they strike me as the kind of thing you have to eat, so you get it over with as expeditiously as possible.
When dessert was suggested, I couldn’t
resist the opportunity to prolong the pleasure. Several of the offerings involved chocolate (not advisable at night because
of my caffeine intolerance), so I opted for a warm strawberry/rhubarb tart. It was a long time coming but, thankfully, the
waitress returned to the table to assure me that it was in the works. It arrived as a wide flat tart, on a big plate, with
a dollop of vanilla ice cream on the side and some sort of coulis. The first bite exploded in my mouth with an intense strawberry
flavour such as I haven’t experienced from fresh strawberries in many a summer. The crust was of the crumbly, melt-in-your-mouth
Our waitress, a pleasant, casual woman around
forty, stood by our table and chatted to answer all our astonished questions. She said the chef/owner had considerable experience
world-wide before opening this place about two years ago. (We didn’t get his name.) I certainly hope he makes a go of
it. He’s struggling a bit with a somewhat problematic venue: a long, narrow room with a huge air duct over head. The
only thing I would change immediately would be the slightly chintzy cutlery. Lots of burgundy paint helps to make the
room more elegant but a "martini lounge" at the back adds a slightly louche touch, I think, although it’s probably
meant to help draw customers. Speaking of which, I asked the waitress where everybody was. It was 8 pm and we were closing
the joint. She’d said earlier that the salmon was popular tonight. With whom? I asked. "Oh," she said, "this is Orangeville.
Our busy time for dinner is 5:30."
Price range: Medium
At lunch time next day, the café across the street was turning away people who didn’t have reservations, so we returned to the White
Truffle. My quiche lorraine and my friend’s venison burger were good. His sweet potato frites added a little something
special. On the whole, though, the lunch wasn’t as exceptional an experience as the previous night’s dinner.
The Chocolate Shop
on Broadway, Orangeville
Through the above-mentioned lunch at the White
Truffle, I’d been debating whether to go for one of the chocolate desserts. Or would I return to the chocolate shop
across the street where I’d bought a box of truffles to take home last night? I’d seen an appealing plate of brownies
on the counter there. When our lunch waitress – a more business-like, less friendly one this time – plunked
the bill down on our table without mentioning dessert, it was clear that the fates had decided for me.
We had to wait a while in the chocolate shop
while the owner/chef finished some business with ladies who were buying several gift boxes for friends and family. A very
pleasant, middle-aged lady in a white smock and hairnet, the owner had assured us the previous night that she makes all her
chocolates herself. Now, when I asked for a brownie, an odd look – somewhat sly or mischievous – came into her
- "They’re fine," she said, waving a
hand delicately over the plate of brownies, "but I’m not selling them."
- "They’re quite fine," she repeated,
"but I’m not selling them."
- "What do you mean?"
- "I mean, you should just take one."
- "They’ve been sitting out for a couple
of days, so I’m not selling them, but you’re very welcome to take one."
- Determined to force payment on her, I asked,
"What do you normally sell them for?"
- "One dollar, but I don’t want you
to pay me."
- It turned out that I only had a $20 bill
and it was finally agreed, all round, that it would be too much to ask her to make change for the $1 dollar purchase.
So I helped myself to a brownie and my friend
did too. Munching them on the way back to the car, we concurred that they were very good. One can only imagine how amazing
they might be right out of the oven.
Back home in Toronto, I found that the chocolates
in my $10 box of eight were superb -- creamy and buttery. In fact they’re the best chocolates we’ve tasted
since the demise of the Belgian Chocolate Shop on Yonge Street in North Toronto a few years go. That place turned out the
gold standard for chocolates, as far as we’re concerned. I understand the owners still have a store in the Beaches
area of Toronto but we seldom find ourselves out there. It’s nice to know now that there’s an alternative
in Orangeville, which is barely any further away. Well, it’s actually about twice as far but, when you’re in pursuit
of such good chocolates, who’s counting the kilometres?