Toronto Life 2015 Best New Restaurants List Audit
As the Michelin guide does not exist in Toronto, the next best thing is Toronto Life. It is usually on point, classifying restaurants on a five star system. Every year, it releases a top new restaurants of the year list. Like the Michelin guide, this list changes the fortunes of any restaurant on it, turning hole-in-the-walls to the next hotspot. As is the tradition each year, Randwalk audits the list and provides its own opinions on each one. As the audit reveals, although there are some exceptional restaurants on the list (Rasa, Yunaghi and Fat Pasha), there were a fair share of blunders.
Buca Yorkville ★★★
That this restaurant was first on Toronto’s best new restaurant list calls into question the sanity of Toronto Life. Does Buca produce excellent pastas and pizzas, and charge a fortune for it, certainly. Has Buca Yorkville created anything new to merit another accolade, no. After hopping between the Buca franchises, it becomes difficult to order different things. The Salumi di Mare was, indeed, beautiful, intricate, colourful, and delicious. But what poor sense to put GNOCCO FRITTO, a squid ink dumpling that was effectively a bread substitute. The pastas were good, of course. The duck ragu is amazing, as it was in the previous Buca locations. My squid ink pasta was equally luscious and perfectly al dente. All that is fine. It is still a standardized Italian restaurant with very good food as extravagant prices. It fits right in, in Yorkville. But does that make it Toronto’s best new restaurant?
Brunello 2.5, 19
Gnocco fritto, 9
Salumi di mare 3, 19
Nordic cuisine has caught the world by storm. The Nordic countires have Noma, Faviken and Relae in the top 50 list, and Geranium just missing at #51. Another 3 round out the top 100. In short, the Nordic countries punch above their weight. So it is fitting that Toronto have a Nordic restaurant of its own. Dandylion is a vegetable forward restaurant, in the middle of nowhere. It has a delightful beer and wine menu. The soup is beautiful. Lamb, beets, dill, and other hallmarks of Nordic cuisine present with light and airy delicacy. The food is beautiful and thoughtful. But it isn’t memorable enough to be special.
2 x rochefort 10, 24
2 x of love & regret, 18
Fire course 2, 0
Apple sorbet, 9
This is one of the most notable and highly rated restaurants in Toronto. Comparisons to Jiro’s Dream of Sushi are often drawn. It plays in the ~$300 Omakase market, put prices “only” at $80. This discount is more than justified. The restaurant is awkward – sleek and modern like a show home, and definitively unjapanese. As the 7:15 seating was arriving, the previous seating were still eating their tamago dessert. Such disastrous timing is unacceptable at the level this restaurant professes to play in. I will concede that the sushi was probably fresh, rare, and great lengths were taken to source them. But the fish was all but ruined by the excessive wasabi, excessive rice and sloppy knife skills. Often, the rice would break apart on the plate. And it was painfully slow, out of character for Omakase, which promises continuous mouthwatering pleasure. Some of the pieces were, indeed, special – the monkfish liver and the temaki eel comes to mind. Best pieces had nothing to do with fish - the head of shrimp and a tiny Japanese squid. But often, the sushi left something to be desired. At the Tujiki fish market in Tokyo, I can probably remember each and every piece – the elongated piece of Spanish Mackerel that touched the table on either end, the piece of Salmon that made you question what the North Americans were doing. Perhaps the fundamental difference is that an $80 Omakase is in limbo – too expensive to be mediocre, but not expensive enough to be truly great. Perhaps what this experience serves to illustrate is the difficulty of perfecting sushi and that maybe a $300 experience is in order. And the dessert. They used a broken sesame cracker that probably came from Costco. Unacceptable. Until then, just go to JaBistro and eat your heart out…it will still be less than $80.
Asahi black, 20
Asahi superdry, 18
Firefly squid, 14.5
It was to be named GwaiLo, Cantonese slang for foreigners. It ends up being the start of the Chinese food revolution in Toronto, followed by a string of foreigner-targeted food like R&D and People’s Eatery. The food is big flavoured, confident and unafraid of defining new boundaries. The whole fried trout, head and eyes included, is an evolution of traditional Chinese food, elevated to foodie style. It is served on a platter in Sunday feast fashion. It makes eating here fun, particularly at night when the neon lights go on.
Duck wings, 9
Whole fried giggie trout, 33
Nahm jim, green curry aioli, soy glaze
Sweet and sour pork hock, 14
Po po’s original sauce, crispy shallot, garlic, almond crumble
The most famous dish at this Ossington outpost is the L’eclade, a soupy bowl of mussels that has a secret ingredient that isn’t an ingredient at all. It’s smoked in burning pine needles, imparting a smokeyness like a white Montrachet. Apparently, it’s a meal from the early 1600s, the earliest of all the historical delicacies on offer.
20oz brown ale, 8
Tea eggs (c.1860), 7
L'eclade (c.1605), 15
Sweetbreads (c.1876), 15
Chocolate beignets, 9
Linzer torte, 9
Decaf americano, 3.5
The new Middle Eastern food revolution in Toronto has been well documented. Big crow, the ribs eatery, has an offshoot lovingly called fat pasha. The restaurant feels subterranean, in Middle Eastern style. But it's impeccably decorated and comfortable to dine at. Surrounded by kitschy tourist traps in the entertainment district and overly-corporate places (Luma, Momofuku), this reserved restaurant stands out. The food is excellent too - a soft fried egg on a sour-y tomato sauce that is perfectly cleaned up by two pieces of toast. Apparently, it's called a shakshouka. Even better are the ribs, crusted with what seems like bits and pieces of nuts and grains, also indicative of the region. What a cool restaurant.
Spicy tomato + yogurt + duck egg + romy cheese
Lamb ribs 13
Dukkah + buttermilk sauce + carob molasses + red chili schug
Flor de Sal ★
The restaurant here was a disaster. There was this pork dish, where the meat with was cooked grey. Mediocre wine list as well.
Bar Fancy ★★★
There is nothing fancy about the bar, which has a few beers on tap, a small selection of wines and no cocktails. That’s all fine since who needs ridiculous cocktails with twenty different ingredients. Even less fancy are the ritz crackers to scoop the artichoke dip (Hopgoods Foodliner?) . The best dish is the fried chicken, which comes with some popping pickles and a light ranch dressing. The chicken is worth going back for.
Beau's seasonal la, 18
Cava cororniu raventos NV penedes spain, 22
Fried chicken, 18
Artichoke dip, 6
Thai salad, 8
Shrimp burger, 9.5
The cheapo tables and silverware transports patrons to a hole-in-the-wall in Thailand (though the music is substantially American hip-hop). The beer and Thai iced tea are delectable. The pad thai and curry rice are as good as they usually are. Probably the safest Thai food in Toronto.
Southern fried chick, 12
Yellow curry fried r, 15
Pad thai bolan, 15
Sub shrimp, 2
La chouffle, 16
Thai iced tea, 4.5
Dessert special b, 8
The food dudes used to drive around in a truck to dole out heart clogging comfort food. Now it does serious cooking at Rasa, the best place to spend Monday night. The meal starts with a Mediterranean style salad. It’s the expected tomatoes, cucumbers and feta but with crispy chickpeas to add both flavour and texture. The vegetable slate is a bucolic paradise, with various root vegetables coalescing with broccoli, Brussels sprouts, served lovingly on a charcoal slate. The best main is probably the Bangkok bowl, a standard Singaporean slaw topped with thick slices of red tuna. Dessert is worth the extra $5, especially if it’s the pancakes on rich peanut butter, almost like a solid peanut butter sundae. Pair drinks for $5 or $6. This is serious food at an easy price.
Set Monday, 35
CHOPPED SALAD, vegetables, quinoa,
Macedonian feta, crispy chickpeas
PO BOYS, crispy shrimp, remoulade,
tomatillo, pickled slaw, buttermilk
CHICKEN WINGS, chef choice
VEG SLATE, summer vegetables, smoked
sunchokes, babaganoush, beet chips
TRUFFLE GNUDI, mushrooms, portobello
soil, pickled shimenji, walnut pesto
BURGER, chopped steak, beef cheek,
cheddar, gochujang sauce, squash kimchi
BANGKOK BOWL, yellow fin tuna,
fried squid, mango jicama slaw,
Los Colibris (★★)
As a fairly mediocre dinner was served during Summerlicious, Randwalk is providing a preliminary rating of two stars.
2 gls keint-he pinot n, 23
Licious dinner, 35
Pozole de cerdo y camaron
Soup with pulled pork, shrimp, corn, oregano, macha oil
Ensalada de jicama y betabel (vegetarian)
Jicama, beets, iceberg lettuce, orange lime dressing
Empanadas de tinga
Pulled chicken, salsa verde, cotija cheese
Brisket, pico de gallo, egg, chayote, tostadas
Albondigas en adobo
Turkey meatballs, guajillo, rice, seasonal vegetables
Poblano croquettes, seasonal vegetables in tlatonile sauce
Gelatina de rompope
Rum flavoured jello
Helados y nieves
The overall view here is that the food is fine but the spirit is not the hungry, carnivorous experience expected from a restaurant like this.
Sepia cuttlefish, 15
Lamb leg, 28
Sukling pig, 34
Caramelized endives, 6
Poblano romesco, 1
Roasted garlic, 1
Glass barberesco, 24
$80 omakase [drinks pairing at $40] [See menu in photos]
Mr. Flamingo ★★★★
This restaurant has the rare ability of making a wide variety of dishes perfectly well without being boring or losing focus. This is easily one of the best restaurants in the city and should be considered as such.
Stearnwhistle tall can, 6.19
Fin du monde, 6.19
Duck breast, 19
Small bread, 2
2 x tempranillo glass, 20
Steak tartare, 14
Kentucky fried quail, 14
Grapefruit soda, 4
Desert chocolate, 6
Dining at Colette, an offshoot of The Chase, is like being transported to Yorkville (or Monaco, for that matter). The patrons are all perfectly manicured, and dressed up. The Sunday buffet is extravagant, at a decent price.
Brunch buffet (2 @54.00), 108
8oz cappuccino, 3.6
Decaff cappuccino, 3.6
Gl merlot blanc, 14
Susur Lee surprisingly puts up just a Chinese restaurant for his new project. Everything from the menus to the décor to the large insignia on the door is definitively Asian. The only thing that gives it away is the strongly Caucasian patronage. At first glance, it appears to be less than serious. Most of the tables had kids, like a glorified Mandarin. But the food is as authentic as anything in Chinatown (i.e. highway 7), and where it deviates, it is clearly better. On the traditional end, take the steamed whole sea bass. It’s in that characteristic sweet soy sauce and loaded with leeks, as you might find in Hong Kong. But it’s beautifully presented. And for the first time eating the dish, I know what fish I’m consuming. The farthest away from authentic Chinese is the Cheung Fun, usually a boring lowly glutinous roll with some ugly soy sauce on top. This time, it’s filled with crunch and shrimp. Too bad the xiaolongbao is nothing as good as Ding Tai Fung. As a whole, it is probably better than any dim sum on highway 7, which is to say it’s the best dim sum in Toronto. But it doesn’t really feel like dim sum – no old ladies pushing carts around. Yes, there’s that dim sum order menu but you’re not given a pencil to write on it.
SIU MAI (4PC), 9
chicken & shrimp dumplings with scallop
XIAO LONG BAO (4PC), 8
pork soup dumplings
SHRIMP CHEUNG FUN – RICE ROLL (8PC), 12
with soya juice
HONG KONG STYLE STEAMED WHOLE SEA BASS, 28
with leeks, ginger, & sweet soya juice
CHAR SIU BEEF BRISKET, 22
Rice balls, 5
Randwalk is not interested in attending this restaurant outside of Summerlicious/Winterlicious and so has not rated it.
Fat pasha ★★★★★
This is easily the most accessible restaurant in Toronto. It’s unbelievably cheap – it is hard to spend more than $50 / person here. It has outside and inside teaching and usually, plenty of walk-in space. It is close to Dupont station.
The food is exceptional. Take the whole roasted cauliflower stuck with pomegranate, cheese, tahini sauce, pine nuts. People eat it like a gigantic piece of steak, with as much fervor. The selection of Salatim – dips from rapini tabuleh to crushed eggplant to grilled tomatoes – all spread on fresh-pressed pitas. It’s tasty, healthful (kind of), fun and inexpensive.
Gl telmo rodriguez mencia, 13
Fatoush salad, 14
Extra pita, 3
Montecito served a brunch that is not representative of its normal menu. Randwalk is providing a preliminary rating of three stars.
The experience can be expressed as educational: learn what 4/20 and O.G. mean. The Jamaican – Chinese fusion works, surprisingly. Ordering the entire menu for $99 seems like a brilliant idea.
Kimchi Potstickers Pierogi style, 11
Jamaican coleslaw, 5
OG fried cauliflower, 15
Half fried chicken & watermelon, 12
Pork belly, 17
Junction black lager, 9
2 x fisheye, 18
Stuffed french toast, 7