Informed foodies know that the best Chinese food in Toronto is found in Scarborough and Markham, far from downtown's Chinatowns. Yet few of these savvy savourers have figured out that the same is true of Indian fare.
Compared to Gerrard Street's pedestrian curry houses, Etobicoke's and Mississauga's eateries are an epiphany.
The reason's obvious. Young, affluent, sophisticated Chinese diners frequent the northeast's eateries. Likewise, the GTA's northwesterly restaurants serve a more upscale, savvier Indian demographic than those downtown.
Hurtling along More exploratory when it comes to what they eat than the inner-core community, they also demand authenticity. To the uninitiated, these restaurants -- whether South Asian or East Asian -- look the same as those downtown, not unlike the average donut shop. But Tim Horton never high-sticked meals as marvellous as those found in suburbia.
The Literary Device and I are hurtling along St. Clair west of Jane, past the bulldozed blocks that once were stockyards. Every second business seems to be a body shop -- and even the ones that aren't display broken-down jalopies on blocks out front. By the looks of things, gentrification is a long way off.
We swing north on Scarlett Road, and everything goes green. On our left, a verdant golf course unfolds. To the right, rows of stone-clad cottages with neatly manicured lawns line up symmetrically. We aren't in Toronto any more, Toto -- hello, Etobicoke.
And welcome to Panorama. Opened six months ago by the husband-and-wife team of Shrai Krishna Dagar and Madhu Dagar, this intimate eatery retains traces of its past as a French restaurant. A collection of unusual musical instruments gives the rather generic space some added visual interest.
Although tables are formally decked out in white linen, they're then covered with an annoyingly sticky layer of clear vinyl. You'll soon become attached to this modest neighbourhood spot, literally.
Madhu introduces herself -- if we can't remember her name she suggests we call her Honey -- and rattles off a well-rehearsed spiel. Although she's charming, the woman's a chatterbox. She wants to know all about us. Are we local?
The Device invents some cockamamie story (obviously, we can't divulge who we really are) and soon we're having a gossipy chat about people we don't even know. How did we find out about Panorama? A friend told us. Which friend? Martha. But there are two Marthas. The one with the red hair. Oh, yes, she lives across the street with her husband. Or at least she says it's her husband. Martha's very nice, but very talkative.
Still fibbing You must know Roy, her brother? Yes, we fib, is he still drinking? And on and on we go. If there's an ad exec out there looking to hype a new product, just tell Madhu and the west end will know all about it by the weekend.
When we're asked how hot we'd like our dinner, we say, "Three times as hot as the caraway pappadams." (Next time, we'll specify five times as hot.) This surprises Madhu, but then, we're friends of Martha's. We start with Chicken Shorba ($2.99), a coconut bisque thick with breast meat. The mixed salad ($3.99) of Spanish onion rings, slivers of green pepper and winter-pale tomatoes is doused with a subcontinental vinaigrette.
Acharri Chicken Tikka ($9.99) arrives hot-pot-style on a sizzling skillet. A half-dozen pieces of tasty yogurt-marinated chicken breast recline on a chaise of shredded cabbage. It's not bad; there's just not very much of it.
On the other hand, we get too much Lamb Palak ($9.99) and Palak Pannier ($8.99). They're the same spinach-sauced dish, the latter substituting cheese for meat. But all that gravy is soon quickly sopped up with lovely naan ($2.25) studded with caramelized onion.
On the drive home, I ask the Device if she'd like to join me later that week back at Panorama for their $7.99 weekday buffet. She replies without hesitation.
"Of course I would!" she answers. "Maybe we'll meet Martha and Roy!"
(267 Scarlett, 762-0367)
A modest Indian eatery on the Toronto-Etobicoke border, it offers subtly spiced fare in a cozy, neighbourly space. Weekday $7.99 all-you-can-eat lunch buffet. Complete dinners for $30 per person ($15 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and an Indian ale. Open for lunch Monday to Friday 11:30 am to 2 pm, and for dinner Monday to Saturday 5:30 to 10:30 pm. Closed Sunday. Fully licensed. Access: short step at curb, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN