Decade-defining dining

Dining out during the decade-with-no-name, we.


Dining out during the decade-with-no-name, we found chefs going back to basics, menus rife with comfort food and the well-deserved death of conspicuous consumption. Here are the top 10 trends and food personalities.

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1. Manic organic

Jamie Kennedy

David Hawe

Chefs Jamie Kennedy and Michael Stadtländer introduced Toronto to organics at Palmerston on College back in the 80s, but eco eating didn’t go mainstream until the 2002 launch of Austin-based organic mega-grocer Whole Foods in chi-chi Hazelton Lanes. That same year, the decidedly more down-to-earth Dufferin Grove organic farmers’ market convened for the first time. This back-to-the-land movement inspired a 2007 bible – Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon’s 100-Mile Diet (Random House) – and a word to describe its adherents: locavores.

2. Food fads

Fed up with fusion confusion, local diners turned to comfort food – gravy-clogged poutine, burgers (both gourmet and miniature), designer ice cream and over-the-top cupcakes – all the better when served tapas-style. Half the plate, twice the price.

3. Chef of the decade: Susur Lee

After shuttering his Lotus in 1997, Susur Lee returned in 2000 to open his eponymous King West supper club, wowing us by serving his five-star tasting menu backwards (mains first, apps last). A coffee table cookbook (A Culinary Life, Ten Speed) ) followed in 2005 before he shuttered Susur in 08 and took New York by storm with Shang.

4. Extreme cuisine, part 1

Herbivores counter by embracing raw food at Live Organic Food Bar in the Annex and Rawlicious in the Junction.

5. Extreme cuisine, part 2

Carnivores ignore mad cow disease and go whole hog for snout-to-tail charcuterie at Cowbell on Queen and the Black Hoof on Dundas.

6. Bistro redux

Bored by the business of big rooms, Toronto’s most innovative chefs went back to their roots with smaller boîtes in transitioning nabes. Find them on Ossington at Tom Thai’s Foxley, Teo Paul’s Union and Corrina Mozo’s Delux, in south Riverdale at Jean-Jacques Texier’s Batifole and in Corktown at Constance Guitard’s Weezie’s on King East.

7. The new food media

Gordon Ramsay

TV’s Food Network turned chefs into celebrities (Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver, Mario Batalli), while locally produced series Restaurant Makeover closed more beaneries than it helped. Condé Nast pulled the plug on a sagging Gourmet magazine (though the brand thrives online and in cookbook publishing), while websites like Chowhound.com made anyone with a hotmail account an instant critic.

8. All-you-can-eat

Frugal foodies flocked to budget-priced buffets like Mandarin and Woo, where quantity always beats quality. Every rule has its exceptions: Dhaba on King West, with its superb north Indian spread, and vegan Ethiopian brunch Sundays at M&B Yummy in Parkdale.

9. The end of high-end

Toronto’s smartest dining rooms moved down-market long before the 2008 crunch. Thuet begat Bite Me and Conviction, David Lee’s Splendido morphed into Nota Bene, and even Susur’s mid-range Madeline’s and Lee signed up for Summerlicious.

10. RIP

Boba, The Stem, Café du Marché, Tavola Calda, Vienna Home Bakery, Soul Food, Lemon Meringue, Elixir, El Bodegon, Co Yen, Planet Kensington, Le Café Vert, Le Bar à Soupe, Gamelle, Pony, Ghali Kitchen, Tempo, Coca, Citizen, Solferino, Lambros, Alice’s Restaurant, Coleman’s.

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