Dinner Saturday night, brunch Sunday morning.
974 College, at Rusholme, 416-532-7424, blackskirtrestaurant.com After making a splash at Wish a few years ago, Rosa Gallé and Aggie Decina strike out on their own to bring old-school rustic Italiana back to the former Little Italy. A charming room, engaging service and a no-nonsense card of Sicilian home-cooking classics add up to a trip back to a simpler time. Best: to start, meaty white anchovies and garlicky chopped tomato on grilled Riviera baguette barely grilled skewers of lamb speducci splashed with olive oil pressed muffuletta panini spread with black olive tapenade and piled with capicola, mortadella, sweet and hot soppressata and giardiniera pickles beefy breaded veal sandwiches in Decina-family tomato ragu dressed with provolone and grilled hot banana peppers secondi like veal ‘n’ ricotta ravioli finished with butter, freshly shaved parmigiano and fried sage leaves grilled New Zealand lamb chops in a balsamic reduction sided with mashed ‘n’ baked potatoes with mozzarell’ and sautéed rapini to finish, textbook tiramisu and pistachio-studded cannoli. Complete dinners for $50 per person (lunches $25), including tax, tip and a glass of Chianti. Average main $25/$13. Open for dinner Saturday 5 to 10 pm. Reservations accepted. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNNN
778 St Clair W, at Arlington, 416-342-1906, pukka.ca, @pukkatoronto Harsh Chawla and Derek Valleau’s stylish uptown bistro goes where few local Indian restos ever venture – upscale. A creative kitchen, smooth service and noise levels that allow for conversation make full houses the norm rather than the exception. Reservations essential most nights. Best: tapas-style starters like papri chat with puffed rice, ripe mango and Granny Smith apple dressed with pomegranate seeds in sweet yogurt dressing spicy south Indian fried Chicken 65 garnished with nasturtiums shareable mains like nutty butter chicken with wilted fenugreek leaves smoky lamb chop “lollipops” à la Vancouver’s Vikram Vij in minty cream sauce sides of French green beans with caramelized onion and shredded coconut baskets of buttery garlic naan and crisp whole wheat rotis to finish, sundae-like Eton Mess in pomegranate syrup and sweet lassi cream topped with rosewater-soaked meringue. Complete dinners for $60 per person, including tax, tip and a glass of wine. Average main $22. Open for dinner Saturday 5 to 10 pm. Reservations accepted. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNNN
293 Palmerston, at College, 647-342-6307, woodlottoronto.com, @WoodlotTO Located in a gorgeous two-storey garage and dominated by a wood-burning oven the size of a small igloo, ex-Czehoski chef David Haman’s extraordinary 40-seat bistro-slash-bakery is the most exciting thing to hit Hogtown since the Hoof. Two parallel menus – one vegetarian, the other unapologetically snout-to-tail – and massive portions guarantee there will be leftovers aplenty. And, no, he doesn’t do pizza. Reservations essential. NOW’s Resto of the Year 2010. Best: to start, house-baked Red Fife baguettes with salty whipped butter substantial starters like baked French onion soup with Gruyère and caraway crouton secondi like Red Fife papardelle with either tomato-braised wild boar or wild mushrooms and boozy shallots humongous mains like chicken and smoked ham hock pot pie with seasonal root veggies and cipollini onion superfluous sides like mashed russet potatoes with bone marrow to finish, lemon ‘n’ blueberry tarts topped with roasted marshmallow merengue. Complete meals for $55 per person, including tax, tip and a pint of Duggan’s #9 IPA. Average main $23. Open for dinner Saturday 5 to 11 pm. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNNN
75 Portland, at King W, 416-599-2822, barbuca.com, @barbucatoronto Despite its anonymous condo facade, former McEwan sous Rob Gentile and company’s casual all-day Italian caffe is the hottest thing to hit King West since the introduction of half-price wing night at the Wheat Sheaf. Attitude-free service and a value-packed carte make the inevitable lineup that much easier to stomach. Best: to start, an assortment of house-baked pastries including chocolate croissants and canoli with candied citrus savoury mains like pizza-sized focaccia sandwiches stuffed with tender pink porchetta, apple mostardo and runny eggs ammazzafegato stew with skinny house-made liver sausage, barley-like faro, dehydrated porcini mushrooms, frazzled cavolo nero cabbage and a perfectly slow-poached free-range hen’s egg open-faced duck’s-egg-yolk omelettes tossed with butterflied rock shrimp and toasted pine nuts for the sweet tooth, cinnamon-scented pork-blood crepes with boozy poached figs in chocolate sauce and buffalo-milk crème anglaise crespelle, mini-stacks of semolina pancakes with lemony mascarpone, crumbled pistachios and grappa-fortified maple syrup. Complete brunches for $30 per person, including tax, tip and a glass of wine. Average main $14. Open for brunch Sunday 10 am to 4 pm. No reservations. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNNN
1471 Gerrard E, at Rhodes, 416-463-9777 Sister to Gautama down the block, this Subcontinental all-you-can-eat buffet is one of the tastiest in Little India. And the only one that doesn’t feature butter chicken. Likeable servers steer first-timers to the good stuff. Best: from the buffet, deep-fried veggie pakoras and samosas veggie szubji like saag paneer swirled with yogurt stir-fried cabbage with mustard seeds spicy eggplant with potatoes and green chilies paneer in sweet red tomato sauce à la butter chicken sweet ‘n’ sour Manchurian-style meatless kofta meatballs from the à la carte menu, fried lentil idly with fiery Sri Lankan-style sambar the tandoori platter with smoky paneer, cauliflower and tofu on a bed of raw cabbage and red onion. Complete dinners for $25 per person (lunches $20), including tax, tip and a lime soda. Average la carte $10. Open for $10.99 lunch buffet Sunday 11:30 am to 3:30 pm. Unlicensed. Access: two steps at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
980 Queen E, at Carlaw, 416-524-5209, skinandbonesto.com, @skinandbonesto Lady Marmalade this ain’t. Though ex-Enoteca Sociale partner Daniel Clarke’s stylish Leslieville wine bar might look more at home on the King West bottle-service strip, its moderately priced à la carte Sunday brunch menu and supplementary all-you-can-eat buffet (buy any entree and get access to chef Tara Lee’s exceptional spread of house-cured charcuterie and house-baked pastries for an additional 3 bucks) fit this brunchiest of nabes like a glove. Bonus: kids five and under eat from the buffet for free! Warning: kids five and under eat from the buffet for free! Best: from the mains, gluten-free porchetta Bennys with sous-vide poached eggs in textbook hollandaise over cheesy polenta laced with kale fried chicken in buttermilk batter with Asian apple slaw sides of triple-cooked potato wedges with house-made ranch dressing from the kids’ menu, peanut butter ‘n’ jelly French toast from the buffet, house-baked cinnamon buns, cheese puffs and palmiers house-cured bresaola and fennel-flecked salami granola with high-fat yogurt and pears poached in syrup. Complete brunches for $30 per person, including tax, tip and a mimosa. Average main $15. Open for brunch Sunday 10 am to 2 pm. Reservations accepted. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNNN