My week in food

Between Winterlicious, goodbye dinners, and the new Izaykaya on the corner, this has been a big week in food and I’m scared to say, there’s only more to come.  While I’ve got 24 whole hours off eating out, I thought I’d take an opportunity to recap this week’s culinary delights.

First stop: Harbord Room on Monday to say thank you and goodbye to two lovely friends who are leaving us for the Big Apple.  Despite living in the neighbourhood and frequenting the Harbord House, I had somehow never made it across the street.  Our dinner dates had long proclaimed Harbord Room to be the best restaurant in the city and without hesitating, requested that we make it the destination for our last supper.  And am I ever glad we did.  The Harbord Room is the perfect balance of classy and casual, the kind of place that simultaneously makes you feel at home and out for a special meal.  We started with a round of Manhattans garnished with the most incredible house soaked cherries that tipped the balance and made this my new favourite Manhattan in the city.  Our team of four then shared a variety of largely seafood based starters, from the squid ink linguine to the octopus salad, each of which was beautifully presented, and more importantly, delicious.  At one of my date’s suggestions, I had the burger and there is no doubt in my mind that my friend was right: this is hands down the best burger in the city.  Or anywhere, ever.  Topped only with aged cheddar and carmelized onions, you know a burger is good when something this simple blows your mind.  I’m not generally a big meat eater, but this naturally raised and insanely tender beef was so good I can’t imagine not ordering it every visit.  Despite our extremely full bellies, we contemplated dessert because it too sounded amazing, but ultimately settled on one more Manhattan to top off the night.  Don’t make the mistake I did – go now and go often, you’ll be glad you did.

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Next stop: Ryoji, the new ramen and izaykaya joint ON MY STREET CORNER.  It’s opening was pretty much the best news ever and I’m surprised it took me two whole weeks to make it there.  Although Ryoji has about a dozen locations, the Little Italy outpost is the first outside of Japan, and didn’t disappoint in maintaining a traditional izakaya atmosphere (or at least my understanding of such).  Having been inside the old school pizza joint that previously tenanted 690 College, I was immediately struck by the impressive renovations and design efforts that went into the dramatic transformation.  The restaurant is large, with ample seating and a variety of unique dining nooks.  In the mood for a beer and a quick post-work bite, we pulled up two seats at the bar, where we could watch the food prep in action.  Service was somewhat scattered, but friendly, and our waitresses’ broken english and extreme enthusiasm fit perfectly with the frenetic vibe.  Despite the cold, neither my date nor I were feeling ramen, but rumour has it Ryoji is a strong contender for best in the city.  Instead, we sampled the ryoji rainbow roll (a unique, lighter take on the traditional rainbow roll), the zucchini tempura (omg kind of goodness), the poki salad (hawaiian style sashimi salad), and the carpacio.  Everything was fresh, beautifully presented, and, with the exception of the daily special (some kind of fried shrimp which looked stunning but tasted like nothing), delicious.  I can’t wait to go back for the ramen and look forward to eating my way through the rest of the menu. Continue reading

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Winterlicious

It’s that time of year again… from January 25th to February 7th, 191 of Toronto’s top (and not so top) restaurants will be featuring fixed price three-course lunch and dinner menus at accessible prices.  I have mixed feelings about Toronto’s ‘Licious events.  On the one hand, it’s a fantastic opportunity to check out new restaurants (some of which would ordinarily be out of my price range) and a great excuse to sample multiple courses; on the other, I have found that both quality and service are sometimes compromised, particularly among the higher-end establishments.  All that said, my love of food (and excuses to go out to eat it) nearly always beats that pesky little voice in the back of my head that reminds me that Winterlicious isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be.  This year is no exception.  I’ve perused the long list of menus, flagged my top choices, and used my American Express cardholder status to make a couple of select advanced reservations.
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If you’re new to the Winterlicious scene, or just plain overwhelmed by the number of choices out there, I’m here to help.  I’ve compiled a list of restaurants that either (a) have menus that sound amazing* or (b) have had great ‘licious reviews in the past and/or are being hyped for 2013.  Reservations start today, so get your dialing finger ready!

*Amazing = unique and interesting sounding menu items that go beyond the boring fish/beef/vegetarian options for mains.  Bonus points for anything that includes the words “caramelized”, “tartare”, “braised”, “burrata”, “fig”, or “truffle”.

Lunch

C5 – located at the top of the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal at the Royal Ontario Museum, C5 is a unique dining destination with stunning rooftop views and a casual yet elegant ambiance.  C5’s lunch menu sounds amazing and the value can’t be beat.  Start with lobster arancini, followed by the braised beef shepherds pie, and finish with the ginger crème brulee, all for only $25.

If you work in the financial district and can’t travel far for lunch, Canoe ($25 lunch, features items both braised and caramelized with slow cooked brisket as an entrée option) is always a treat and Jump ($20 lunch with a diverse menu including gnocchi, pulled pork, and korma masala) has never disappointed.  Robyn has had fantastic ‘licious lunches at Far Niente and if you can wander a little farther, Rosewater Supper Club is serving up a grilled cheese with pulled short rib and pickled red onion on sour dough, which if you ask me, is reason enough to make the trek.

Drake – a Queen west institution, there’s nothing new or particularly exciting about the Drake, but that’s what makes it a safe bet – the food is consistently great.  For a mere $20, the lunch menu is almost identical to the dinner menu – great for a late lunch after a day of shopping.

The ‘Licious events are also a great time to make an excuse to pay a visit to Yorkville’s Sassafraz.  We had lunch here with the ladies during Summerlicious and it made for a lovely and special afternoon.  Plus, who doesn’t like cheese for dessert?

Dinner

As one of the top restaurants in the city, Splendido has been getting a lot of hype as a recent addition to the Winterlicious list.  If you’ve been wanting to try it out, now is the time, but start calling now – no doubt they’ll be a popular choice.  The dinner menu, is, unsurprisingly, one of the $45 meals, but if the standard quality of their food and service is any indication of what their Winterlicious menu will be like, it will be well worth it.

Grace is making my list simply because I live close by and have often gazed longingly through the windows wanting to join the classy looking crowd inside.  That and because I can’t say no to beef cheeks .  $35 dinner.

Mildred’s Temple Kitchen is another place I’ve been wanting to try, which sold me on their Winterlicious menu by starting with cheddar thyme biscuits and offering a selection of sustainable seafood options.  As an added bonus, their profiteroles are apparently ‘known throughout the land’.  $35 dinner.

L’unita‘s rustic farmhouse décor is well matched to its menu – authentic Italian with a Canadian twist.  The $35 Winterlicious dinner menu features burrata, duck ragout, and mascarpone cannoli.  Definitely worth checking out.

Bloke & 4th was our first Winterlicious reservation, due in no small part to the drool-worthy menu.  I’m already salivating in anticipation for  the spicy tartare with BC albacore tuna and wild salmon with yuzu, the ultra gourmet mac n’ cheese with spicy marzano sauce and lemon panko, and the PB&J bombs – deep fried peanut butter and Cherryvale berry jam covered in a cornflakes batter.

The menu at Nyood speaks for itself:  truffled pierogies, hoisin ginger short ribs, and Valrohna chocolate cake with chantilly cream.  Done and done.

I’m a sucker for a gastropub and the Prohibition Gastrohouse in Leslieville speaks to my inner glutton – mac n’ cheese with black truffles and cave aged gruyere?  I’ll be there.

Bon Appetit Toronto!!!food-forkandknife