At Scarpetta, where black cod crowns a layer of olives and concentrated tomatoes, the meal is always memorable.
550 Wellington W, at Portland, 416-601-3590, scottconant.com/restaurants/scarpetta/toronto.
When money's no object - or better yet, someone else is paying - New York City celubu-chef Scott Conant's upscale franchise in the super-chic Thompson Hotel is the only way to go. From the room's muted sophistication to the brigade of servers' unfailing attention, everything about Scarpetta says perfection.
See it in baskets of complimentary stromboli, a mutant cross between strudel and pizza dough stuffed with roasted red pepper, or absurdly rich starters like wine-braised beef short ribs over faro risotto thick with season-fresh asparagus ($16). A starter of ridiculously rich polenta intensified with heavy cream gets topped with multi-mushroom fricassee splashed with white truffle oil.
Most will likely balk at dropping 24 bucks on a small plate of meatball-free spaghetti in tomato sauce, but the pricey labour-intense pasta's worth every penny.
Dusted with powdered paprika and cayenne, thick slices of Sicilian-spiced duck breast in pickled mustard seeds ($34) pack an unexpected punch, their smooth purée of f-f-fava beans a silky contrast. A closing salvo of Conant's retro chocolate torte with burnt-orange gelato ($11) suggests pudding cake, albeit one served in the penthouse of the Trump Tower.
Dinner Sunday to Thursday 6 to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday 6 to 11 pm. Licensed. Access: barrier-free.
Tuna tartare makes a luxury lunch - with a decent price point - at George.
111 Queen E, at Mutual, 416-863-6006, georgeonqueen.com.
Lorenzo Loseto's ambitious dining room may have lost some of its culinary cachet since it first launched back in 2005 - and already dated decor wins few points - but his opulent carte's attention to detail has never been more focused.
If pricy expense-account tasting menus aren't you style, show up at lunch and do George on the cheap. That's when you'll find his sustainable tuna tartare finished with wasabi mayo and a topknot of tart apple julienne, or accessible mains like locally raised and hormone-free Cornish hen playfully paired with pierogi on a bed of artichokes.
His exemplary veal burger (both $19) riddled with foie gras placed fourth in the Over $10 category in last summer's survey of 50 local burger joints. And the carnivore crowd will undoubtedly be wowed by seared beef tenderloin ($24) plated on a puddle of goat cheese gratin ringed with a moat of broccoli purée.
Us? We'll be back, if only for a basket of Callebaut chocolate beignets ($10) on the patio come summer.
Lunch Monday to Friday noon to 2:30 pm, dinner Tuesday to Saturday 5:30 to 10:30 pm. Closed Sunday, holidays. Licensed. Access: four steps at door, washrooms on same floor.
1 Benvenuto, at Avenue Rd, 416-961-8011, scaramoucherestaurant.com.
She may be showing signs of age - she is, after all, approaching her 33rd birthday, an eternity in the flash-in-the-pan resto biz - but this local landmark remains a dining destination.
Blame chef Keith Froggett's elegant eco-minded Cal Ital card, starters like Dungeness crab raviolo over fava beans and spring onions swimming in lobster bouillon ($24) or principal plates like roasted Ontario partridge breast and pan-seared foie gras from a duck in Coboconk on crisp potato pancakes ($44). Dessert always calls for La 'mouche's sky-high coconut cream pie ($13), a last course as legendary as the resto's spectacular skyline view.
Those with somewhat slimmer wallets will be indebted to the adjacent Grill and Pasta bar that now offers an Atkins-lite lineup - correctly composed Ceasar salads ($14), sustainable ocean trout over arugula in Green Goddess dressing ($28) - noticeably low on carbs.
They'll even valet park your Hummer for free!
Dinner Monday to Saturday 5:30 to 9:30 pm. Closed Sunday, holidays. Licensed. Access: barrier-free.
4. Nota Bene
180 Queen W, at Simcoe, 416-977-6400, notabenerestaurant.com.
How to tell if you're in a really expensive restaurant: crumb scrapers.
Restos like owner/chef David Lee's Splendido spinoff actually employ staff to remove the bread crumbs produced by the contents of the linen-wrapped bread basket. They also put your napkin on your lap, acceptable behaviour in these rarefied climes, evidently.
Service is Note's forte - there seem to be three bowers-and-scrapers for every table - and the Bay Street suits who flock here in droves wouldn't have it any other way. But, then, they can afford $89 steaks.
Lee's unusually exuberant Yucatan hot 'n' sour soup ($11) finds a bowl of smoky chicken littered with goji berries and pansy petals. At dinner, a salad of crispy threads of duck breast ($15 dinner only) comes stacked with citusry daikon noodles, deep-fried taro threads and more pansies à la Susur Lee's similar Singapore slaw.
If a stuffy space that feels like some generic Las Vegas dining room isn't your scene, check out NB's curbside bar, where Lee's terrific burger topped with stinky Stilton cheese goes for $19 at lunch, $22 dinner.
Lunch Monday to Friday 11:30 am to 2:30 pm, dinner Monday to Saturday 5 to 11 pm. Closed Sunday, holidays. Licensed. Access: barrier-free.
864 College, at Concord, 416-538-1910, chiadorestaurant.com.
The row of late-model Maseratis and S-class Mercs parked in front of this 28-year-old temple to Portuguese seafood proves there's a seriously monied set inside.
Owner Albino Silva works the room in a bespoke suit, air-kissing regulars and welcoming newcomers. Formally dressed servers proffer linen napkins folded into the shape of dinner jackets. There's a Picasso print on the wall. Sneaky Dee's this ain't.
Chef Manuel Vilela sends out an amuse of fresh house-made ricotta, then follows with first courses of classically grilled sardines ($8.50 lunch/$12 dinner) and vegan lobster bisque ($10). Mains also take a healthful turn with grilled tail-on tiger shrimp in low-sodium piri-piri ($48) and roasted boneless pheasant in Madeira sauce on garlic mash ($38).
No meal's complete without Molotov ($12), a monumental meringue and spun sugar combo that's big enough for three. Don't say we didn't warn you.
Lunch Monday to Friday noon to 2:30 pm, dinner nightly 5 to 10 pm. Closed holidays. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement.