Among the menu items at Lake Inez: Miso-cured carrots with edamame hummus and puffed quinoa.
The stretch of Gerrard between Carlaw and Greenwood is looking increasingly like the city’s next big culinary frontier – the quiet strip is spilling over with gems like Saturday Dinette, Eulalie’s Corner Store, Maple Leaf Tavern and Maha’s. To that list, we can now add Lake Inez, a collab between The Wren (the Danforth’s best-kept secret since 2013) and former Harbord Room chef Robbie Hojilla. In a dimly-lit room featuring glittering mosaic murals of Kate Bush and Virginia Woolf (#girlpower to the max), Hojilla’s serving up an Asian-tinged menu of teriyaki-glazed grilled sunchokes, braised mussels in smoked ham hock and tamarind broth, and Filipino-style beef lumpia. On top of that, there's a craft beer menu worthy of the original Wren to wash it all down.
1471 Gerrard East, 416-792-1590, instagram.com/lakeinez
The sweets at Chocolates x Brandon Olsen look like pop art and taste like heaven, but one’s muse – just like one’s digestive system – cannot subsist on chocolate alone. So the former Bar Isabel and Black Hoof chef has applied his considerable culinary prowess to his new bistro, La Banane, a reinvention of Ossington’s The Saint tavern.
The name comes from the French saying “Avoir la banane,” which means smiling a big, banana-shaped smile (get your head out of the gutter), as well as referring to Olsen’s penchant for banana-patterned clothing. His partners: Buca owners King Street Food Company, as well as Basilio Pesce (formerly of Porzia), who recently signed on as chef de cuisine.
They held a soft opening over the holidays, with New Year’s Eve marking their first public service. Those lucky enough to snag an early seat in one of the Art Deco-inspired spot’s plush banquettes were able to sample standout dishes like bass served in a buttery pastry crust, plus a signature banana cake for dessert. (Oh, and Olsen's Wonka-like wizardry with candy shows up in the masterpiece above, entitled the "disco egg".) In short: it’s sure to be one of the hottest tables in town this winter.
227 Ossington, 416-551-6263, labanane.ca
The hotly anticipated booze-can sister to Otto's Berlin Doner offers all the party atmosphere of a German beer garden, with nary a pair of lederhosen or oom-pah soundtrack in sight. Instead, arresting neon lights hang from the ceiling along with boughs of greenery, and the usual golden German suds is supplemented by 24 taps and over 100 bottles of local and international brews. The food, however, is pure Oktoberfest: spaetzle, weisswurst, ham hocks and schnitzel, available in feast-worthy portions.
1087 Queen West, 416-901-5472, ottosbierhalle.com
After months of prep, construction, and more prep, Steve Gonzalez' sprawling four-storey successor to Valdez is up and running on King West, just steps from where his last spot once stood. Gonzalez kept a few things that worked – the secret bar with a password-protected entrance, the vibrant Latin American eats and cocktail menu – and tacked on a raw bar that dishes out ceviche and a 1,850-square-foot-event space. In short, look for this to be party central this year.
485 King West, 416-363-8388, barotoronto.com
A huge (unnamed) food hall at King and Spadina
As we previously reported, Carver’s Rob Bragagnolo is part of a team working on an as-yet-untitled food hall/market project with several other food vendors, set for the corner of King and Spadina in an as-yet-undisclosed location. Up front: Salad and juice bars, an Italian food counter, and a deli area stocked with salumi, cheeses and condiments. In back, diners can head to a market-inspired Spanish restaurant and belly up to a barrel bar, where they'll be selling seafood and shellfish out of an open kitchen, along with wine, cocktails, beer and cider on tap. Look for the whole shebang to open in June.
Here's what we know about Jen Agg's upcoming Grey Gardens: It's a cider and wine bar coming to 199 Augusta in Kensington Market. Mitchell Bates, formerly of Momofuku Shoto, is her partner in the space. The spot is still under construction; look above for super-satisfying video of the concrete bar being smoothed out. Perhaps understandably, after cranking out GG and Montreal's Agrikol in the last couple of years, Agg says it will be her last big restaurant project. Go pre-order her book, the excellently titled I Hear She's A Real Bitch, while you wait for it to open!
199 Augusta, instagram.com/greygardens199
Pinky’s Ca Phe
Later this month, Leemo Han's Oddseoul and Hanmoto will be joined by a third sibling: Pinky's Ca Phe, a Vietnamese-inspired reworking of what used to be the Fuel House (and Olivia's at 53 before that). Scroll through their Instagram feed for peeks at the interior – like its predecessors, it promises to go heavy on the cool vintage finds and neon-lit atmosphere. No word yet on the menu, but we've only got a couple weeks to wait before we can taste it for ourselves.
53 Clinton, instagram.com/pinkys_caphe
Put down that Japanese cheesecake, you philistine! This year is all about the cheese tart. Japanese chain Pablo is putting down roots on Dundas, ready to feed our ever-growing mania for treats from Tokyo. The Osaka-based bakery specializes in cheesecake tarts with creamier, more custard-like middles than the ones we’re used to from the likes of Uncle Tetsu, in a variety of flavours.
114 Dundas West, instagram.com/pablo_cheese_tart