T.O.’s Most Romantic Restaurants

Suck on oysters or feed a friend with your hands and you're sure to get stoned on love

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some say the sexiest restaurant in town is whatever is the hottest boite of the moment. Others couldn’t care less about the hip factor and flock to romantic spots where soft lighting, atmospheric music, suave service and fabulous food excite and satiate all five senses. Call it flash versus finesse: YYZ or JOV? Gwen Stefani’s low-riding jeans or Audrey Hepburn’s Givenchy gowns?

You can’t have breakfast at Tiffany’s on Bloor — or goulash at Gucci, for that matter — but you can chow down at Chanel. Upstairs, anyway, at Patriot (131 Bloor West, 416-922-0025), the now three-year-old spot that’s proven there’s more to Canadian cuisine than butter tarts. Chef David Chrystian’s locally inspired menu continues to impress, but it’s Patriot’s mezzanine space in the Colonnade that initially wows.

This art deco room was made for romance. As Diana Krall and Patricia O’Callaghan coolly croon on the sound system at a volume that’s conducive to seductive conversation, couples canoodle at window-side linen-clad tables overlooking Toronto’s most glamorous strip. Figure in a three-course $25 prix fixe and find true Patriot love.

A recent rendezvous at Red Tea Box (696 Queen West, 416-203-8882) nearly turned into a clandestine tryst when, dining à deux, a friend and I had the country-French coach house all to ourselves. In summer, Red Tea offers a bucolic setting for a tête-à-tête over tea, but this winter afternoon we dined alone after an accommodating server dropped off our bento boxes of luxe finger food and left the building. As we supped and sipped, it occurred to us that we could just lock the door and get it on right there on the silk chaise. We settled for dessert instead.

Formerly the Senator, Torch (249 Victoria, 416-364-7517) may cater to tourists grabbing a quick bite before heading across the street to catch Kathleen Turner in The Graduate, but come showtime the place empties out. This is when Torch really shines. And while the nouveau bistro menu’s no great shakes, the room’s row of high-backed booths is the main attraction. Once their privacy curtains are closed, let the footsie begin. All that’s missing is a Do Not Disturb sign.

Before it was smack dab in the centre of condo loft land, Mildred Pierce (99 Sudbury, 416-588-5695) was the perfect meeting spot for illicit lovers.

Since it was in the middle of nowhere, your better half — or, more likely, his or her friends — would never catch you there. That’s changed with the area’s gentrification, but the restaurant named for a Joan Crawford melodrama still looks like a movie set, complete with vaulted ceilings and shimmering gauze drapery. Very Arabian Nights.

For 20 years, Scaramouche (1 Benvenuto Place, 416-961-8011) has been synonymous with luxury. With its breathtaking skyline view best taken in from one of several tables that line its floor-to-ceiling windows, a dinner date at Scaramouche guarantees you’ll get lucky.

Toronto lucked out when tiny La Palette (256 Augusta, 416-929-4900) opened its French doors last winter. Maybe too much so just try getting a table without a reservation.

But it’s worth the wait for this cheap-chic bistro’s authentic low-end Gallic gastronomy served with panache in an intimate space decked out in art nouveau posters. Maurice Chevalier even sings!

Newcomer Starfish (100 Adelaide East, 416-366-8827) is devoted to the aphrodisiacal powers of the oyster. But unlike other shuck ‘n’ jive joints, this lovely New York-supperclub-like raw bar dumps the cornball theatrics and concentrates on the headliner: molluscs d’amour.

The only thing more sensuous than eating with your fingers is feeding someone else with them. That’s why Ethiopian food tops the erotic roster. Add in the communal grub’s thermonuclear heat and no wonder everyone’s instantly hot and bothered.

Of all the west-side Ethio-eateries, Chef Wondiy (1671 Bloor West, 416-530-1609) delivers the freshest and most incendiary spread, with lots of veggie alternatives, too. And if you’re in a kinky mood, Wondiy’s kooky Swiss Alp chalet vibe makes the perfect excuse to work the Shirley-Temple-in-lederhosen Heidi look.

Those with a more artsy aesthetic find Agora (317 Dundas West, 416-979-6612), the restaurant located in the Art Gallery of Ontario’s sculpture atrium, the perfect backdrop for a morning-after-the-night-before weekend brunch.

Surrounded by major pieces by Rodin, Moore and Rothko, Agora reflects its arty digs with dishes by chef Anne Yarymowich like Composition In Blue And Green — warm blue potato salad, green leaf lettuce and mustard cress in a Stilton dressing.

Take a post-prandial arm-in-arm stroll around the gallery until inspiration hits: let’s go back to your place!


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