These five recently opened restos are totally worth your food dollar
There’s plenty to keep Torontonians busy as we slide into summer – Pride, NXNE, advance planning for your Pan Am Games commutes. (My suggestions: learn to fly a hot air balloon or maybe invent a jetpack.) But if you’ve got an hour to spare, drag yourself away from your sofa, favourite fast food joint or local pub and give one of these new eateries a spin. They’ll be on the lips of every food lover in Toronto this summer.
When it comes to American-style seafood, the Chase Hospitality Group has spent the past couple of years perched at the top of the food chain – first, with its double-decker Chase restaurants in the financial district, then with the upscale Little Fin chippy next door. Even though it migrated into boulangerie and bistro fare at King West’s Colette Grand Café, oysters and battered crab claws still hold a place of pride on the menu.
But its latest is a departure both in focus (ultra-contemporary Japanese cuisine) and locale (Yorkville, in the former home of Remy’s – a swim upstream to the habitat of old money).
The sprawling, two-floor interior, done up in wood tones and cool blues, is contemporary without being chilly.
The same goes for the menu of small plates, robata and sushi dishes created by Tsuyoshi Yoshinaga (formerly of Kingyo) and Daisuke Izutsu (Don Don Izakaya) under the leadership of Michael Parubocki. Artful dishes bursting with colour present a global cross-section of seafood, but the kitchen isn’t so by-the-letter that they’re above elevating California rolls with snow crab or presenting a “ceviche salad” of salmon, hamachi, tuna and Technicolour root veg alongside hamachi-drenched ponzu.
Hours Sunday to Thursday 11:30 am to 11 pm, Friday and Saturday 11 am to 11 pm.
Access Limited seating on main floor. Washrooms in basement.
115 Yorkville, at Hazelton, 647-348-7000, kasamoto.ca, @kasa_moto
The twin food trends of Thai street food and snacky small plates have finally collided in Little Italy (of all places). Like Pai and Nana before it, Soi Thai has a street-market atmosphere, with cheap-and-cheerful plastic furniture and fluttering banners – though here, they took the theme a step further by installing a convenience-store counter that sells imported pantry and pharmacy items.
A meal here is as fun and relaxed as you’d expect, starting with magenta-hued “pink milk” spiked with salak fruit-flavoured syrup – it tastes uncannily like a pink Starburst – and moving into plates of fluffy fried egg with sweet and spicy pork, salmon “ceviches” and garlicky stir-fried morning glory.
Sauces and spices occasionally threaten to overwhelm ingredients, like the glaze on the moo ping and gai ping skewers (aka “the pings”), so fruity-floral-sweet the only word that popped into my mind after my first bite was “DavidsTea” – but then again, the best street food is always a little over the top.
Hours Monday, Wednesday and Thursday lunch 11:30 am to 2 pm, dinner 5 to 10 pm Friday lunch 11:30 am to 2 pm, dinner 5 to 11 pm Saturday noon to 11 pm Sunday noon to 10 pm.
Access Two steps at door, washrooms in basement.
651 College, at Grace, 647-345-8838, @soithaito
A real, live snack bar in Cabbagetown! Until this boisterous Taiwanese spot showed up on the corner of Carlton and Parliament, boozing and eating in this ‘hood basically meant classy pub grub and pints of Guinness.
Done up with a dark, industrial-cool interior, it’s already become a favoured destination for east-enders looking to round up their buddies, down a bunch of $3 Jameson shots (all day, every day) and crane around one another’s chopsticks for nibbles from inexpensive small plates.
It’s only a $5 gamble to try out dishes like marinated, razor-sliced chili pig ears, reminiscent of cooled strips of bacon with a slight pop to the tooth. But there are a few crowd-pleasers you can bank on, including pretty much anything that meets the deep-fryer: killer fried chicken dripping with hand-scalding juice, shockingly fresh and flavourful calamari rings and the fluffy, golden-fried Wow Bao dessert, which comes with a Pop Rocks-infused condensed milk dip.
Hours Sunday to Wednesday 11:30 am to midnight, Friday and Saturday 11:30 am to 2 am.
Access One step at door.
Now that Derek Valleau and Harsh Chawla have made a name for themselves with edgy Indian at Pukka, they’ve turned their modern lens to French cuisine at their latest spot. (The name, neither modern nor French, was the original moniker of St. Clair Avenue.)
The setting mixes traditional and contemporary (industrial tables and Edison bulbs inside, woven bistro-style chairs outside), as does chef Masayuki Tamaru‘s eclectic menu.
Next to ocean fluke sashimi and “JFC” Mennonite-farmed fried chicken, there’s calf’s liver (doused in Korean BBQ sauce, naturally) and subtly Pernod-spiked fish stew studded with chunks of seasonal fish (on my visit, red snapper) and scallops.
The presentations are gorgeous, almost painterly, but the portions deliver, too: 5 ounces of beef tartare, stacked on firm cubes of pear and crowned with an egg yolk, kept our party of two munching for a good 10 minutes.
There are tweaked classic cocktails and a lengthy wine list, but I’d rather hang out with the green fairy, from an absinthe fountain at the bar or carafe service tableside.
Hours Tuesday to Thursday 5:30 to 10:30 pm, Friday and Saturday 5:30 to 11:30 pm, Sunday 5:30 to 9:30pm.
Access Washrooms in basement.
Upscale Italian is nothing new in Toronto, but Stelvio sets itself apart by zeroing in on Valtellina, a valley in the Lombardy region a stone’s throw away from Switzerland.
The diner atmosphere held over from the Stem by BQM Burgers has been cleared out in favour of gleaming subway tile, but one thing hasn’t changed: the place is still a shrine to carbs, meats and cheese, the last largely mild Valtellina-made Casera, which owner Andrea Copreni imports by the wheel from the motherland.
Naturally, gorgeous pastas abound. Alpine specialties like pizzoccheri di teglio (a house specialty, the attentive staff will tell you) are made with buckwheat pasta, which will keep both traditionalists and the gluten-averse happy.
But some of the heartier imports will undeniably cause a stir of excitement in decadence-obsessed Toronto. The menu of secondi is crowned by zigeuner, a wooden skewer wrapped with strips of rosemary-seasoned beef and pancetta. That DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta, another way of saying certifiably authentic) cheese oozes out from buckwheat crepes and sciatt fritters. And in case you miss downing burgers on BQM’s front patio, Stelvio offers an earthily spiced pork sausage patty served with even more Casera on two grilled rounds of polenta. Che meraviglia.
Hours Monday to Thursday 11 am to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday 11 am to 11 pm, Sunday 5 to 10 pm.
Access Washrooms in basement.
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