THE JUDGES: Roger Mooking, Nuit Regular, Massimo Capra, Suzanne Barr, Daniel Boulud, Donna Dooher, Nick Liu, Craig Wong, Zane Caplansky, Missy Hui, Brandon Olsen, (not pictured) Claudio Aprile, Nadège Nourian, Jennifer Gittins, Keith Froggett and Charlotte Langley
2018 was a great year for Toronto foodies. The year ushered in new restaurants from some of our favouritie chefs and restaurateurs. From rare Mexican cuisine to painstakingly crafted Italian to fancy French fare, the options were myriad. This task required reinforcements: we rounded up some of the biggest names in the Toronto food scene and asked them what they thought were the best additions to the city’s dining scene in the past year.
From top: Bloordale’s new kitschy-chic haunt, roast kimchi chopped cheese
CHEF NUIT REGULAR, KIIN & PAI:
“I love the ’70s-inspired space and the hip-hop music in the background — it’s a great place to hang out.”
POST CITY’S TAKE: Found on a still-kinda-forlorn stretch of Bloor West, Seoul Shakers has all the trappings of a Leemo Han joint. Along with bartender Inh Huh, the restaurateurs behind the vivacious Pinky’s Ca Phe have opened up a space that is a feast for both the eyes and stomach. A retro vibe permeates the long room, accented with beaded fringe and hanging faux ferns, and neon signage lends everything a reddish hue. The cuisine is Korean by way of South America. Corn tortillas are vessels for pineapple and gochujang al pastor marinated pork neck. The iceberg wedge salad comes gussied up with fermented Korean pear, shreds of radish, roasted brown rice and Stilton cheese and is finished off with a gingery dressing. And a riff on a chopped cheese sandwich piles roast kimchi atop a chopped ground beef patty with pickles, cheese and plenty o’ sauce. Bar stool seating may alienate an older clientele, but this is a haven for cool kids anyways. Don’t even think about trying to make resos.
MUST-HAVE: Eggplant kangpungi
IF YOU CAN’T GET A RESO TRY: Leemo Han’s other nearby ventures Hanmoto, Juanmoto or Pinky’s Ca Phe.
Seoul Shakers, 1241 Bloor St. W., no phone
From top: Dufferin Grove’s best new spot for fried cauliflower, chef Anna Chen
CHEF CRAIG WONG, PATOIS:
“Chef Anna Chen eloquently cooks with the best ingredients of the season. Everything is delicious.”
POST CITY’S TAKE: For chef Anna Chen’s first stand-alone restaurant, she opted to open a 32 seater in the west end. Blonde wood accents the minimalist room, and soulful tunes play overhead, foreshadowing Chen’s highly elegant take on comfort food. Buoyed by her knowledge from stints at Figo and Scaramouche — plus an upbringing in India — chef has composed a seasonal menu that is distinctly her own. Everything is made in-house, from the charcuterie (salami! Chinese sausage!) to the soy sauce. Salt Spring mussels and pearls of fregola pasta bathe in tomatoey broth, spiked with fennel and Szechuan peppercorn for the occasional kick to the mouth. Addictive sweet potato gets fried in tempura batter and dusted with nori, arriving with spicy togarashi aïoli. The aforementioned soy sauce is found in one of the menu mainstays; a lotus leaf is home to chicken, shiitake ’shrooms and rice that’s cooked in shiitake broth for added earthiness. Crisp nuggets of fermented rapini finish it off. Service is insightful and warm.
MUST-HAVE: Parisienne gnocchi
IF YOU CAN’T GET A RESO TRY: Bloordale favourite The Emerson
Alma, 1194 Bloor St. W., 647-346-1881
From top: Il Covo’s Little Italy dining room, tramezzino fritto,
CHEF MISSY HUI, FORMERLY FABBRICA:
“I love their approach to the wine list, and their desserts are truly a hidden gem.”
POST CITY’S TAKE: Il Covo is at once both old school and of the moment; the space is romantic without feeling forced. Chef-owner Ryan Campbell hopped over from Buca Yorkville along with Giuseppe Marchesini, which explains the fastidiousness in both the room and the food. The menu is partitioned into three: the sea, the garden and the pasture. From the oceans arise tiny triangular sandwiches clutching fried shrimp and scallop, one edge painted in chives and ready to dip in smokey lemon mayo. The garden yields a twisted pouch of pasta — scrigno, which is forever fun to say — that holds gooey Gorgonzola and radicchio in a splash of aged balsamic. Finally, a perfect roasted buffalo ricotta is submerged tableside in a delicate hen brodo, each thyme-dotted petal demanding to be slowly savoured. Do not forget dessert: a miniature torta al prosecco served on a silver stand feels very Alice at the tea party and is just as much fun to eat.
MUST-HAVE: Burrata e alici
IF YOU CAN’T GET A RESO TRY: Upscale Italian resto L’Unita
Il Covo, 585 College St., 416-530-7585
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From top: Nova Scotia lobster in XO sauce, Yorkville’s new cocktail spot Alobar
CHEF DANIEL BOULUD, CAFE BOULUD:
“A new favourite of mine by Daniel alumnus chef Patrick Kriss, with creative cocktails and an intimate ambience. The menu hits every note with expertise, from delicate raw dishes to substantial chops and tasty sides.”
POST CITY’S TAKE: If anyone thought chef Patrick Kriss was about to rest on his laurels after opening two restaurants (Alo, Aloette) in succession, they were wrong. New to the gang is Alobar, which steps away from Queen West and into the highfalutin world of Yorkville. Despite its cocktail bar moniker, this intimate space scribbles far outside the lines. The interior is chopped up into different pockets, conjuring up a ’70s rec room as seen through a modern lens, with neon-edged light fixtures and jade-hued banquettes drawing the eye about. Kriss’ detail-driven menu boasts plenty of seafood, with unpretentious plates that are best when shared. Guests begin with the complimentary Parker House rolls, ready to smother in whipped butter. The light cucumber salad gets salty feta and Asian pear, and is finished with a drizzle of yogurt. The wedge salad, a heartier bring-over from Bar Alo, boasts blue cheese and bacon. Beef tartare gains heat from wasabi and texture from nori and cuke, and hamachi is torched and dolled up with gingery XO sauce. For dessert — a must — mille-feuille is a slab of puff pastry sandwiching poufs of vanilla and raspberry chantilly. They take resos, but you can also just brave a walk-in.
MUST-HAVE: Sea scallops
IF YOU CAN’T GET A RESO TRY: Patrick Kriss’ Aloette or the bar at Alo
Alobar, 57A-162 Cumberland St., 416-961-1222
From top: Yonge & Bloor’s new hot spot, lamb pizza
CHEF NICK LIU, DAILO:
“The menu is thoughtfully put together using amazing locally sourced ingredients with Craig Harding’s creative touches. Everything I had was super delicious, and I can’t wait to go back to eat everything.”
POST CITY’S TAKE: Tucked away in the back of the terribly cool Anndore House hotel, Constantine is breathing much-needed new life into downtown Yonge Street. Inside, the main space is clean and bright, with lighting emanating from a series of white vases, a clever nod to the food’s Mediterranean leanings. An open kitchen anchors the room, allowing uber-keen diners to watch plates come to life over the wood-fire oven or parilla grill. Menus reach from breakfast through dinner, with brunchy bites come the weekend (think ultra-fluffy buttermilk ricotta pancakes). For dinner, dishes are ideal for sharing, and there’s much focus on veg. Sweet potatoes are roasted and paired with fresh figs and chevre. Tabbouleh is jazzed up with charred broc and radicchio, with crunch from pistachio. Pizzas include one decorated with speck, pear and just enough honey. Crowd-pleasing agnolotti is bursting with butternut squash, salsify and tangerine for a kick of citrus. Hotel dining has never looked better.
MUST-HAVE: Fogo Island cod
IF YOU CAN’T GET A RESO TRY: Mediterranean food mecca Byblos
Constantine, 15 Charles St. E., 647-475-4436
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From top: Rotisserie chicken, Queen Street’s new French diner
CHEF SUZANNE BARR, FORMELY OF SATURDAY DINETTE:
“Le Swan invites you in, serving classic dishes with the principles of why we love diners — honest, delicious and straightforward.”
POST CITY’S TAKE: Who would have thought a second after ending the Black Hoof chapter the tireless restaurateur Jen Agg would work her magic in a storied Queen West space? Well she did, and it’s the eatery equivalent of a warm embrace. The skinny room showcases its original spirit and is darkened conspiratorially, with tableside lights allowing for easy menu reading. A smart menu is half bistro classics, half diner fare, with parallels drawn between the two. On one side sit smoked trout rillettes. Their counterpart is a dizzying tuna melt, the cornichon-studded fish married to melty American cheddar. The sandwich boasts a full skirt of cheese for that extra level of decadence. A quarter rotisserie chicken, served au jus with roasted veg, is mirrored by the open-faced hot chicken sandwich — a greasy spoon pillar. The rotisserie chicken hops over onto a bread bed along with mashed potatoes, peas and plenty of chicken gravy. Meanwhile, tipples like the Amandine Sour with rye, almond and brown butter showcase the skill behind the bar. Servers are highly knowledgeable and just the right amount of chummy, making patrons feel perfectly at home.
MUST-HAVE: Steak Frites
IF YOU CAN’T GET A RESO TRY: Jen Agg’s wine bar Grey Gardens
Le Swan, 892 Queen St. W., 416-536-4440
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From top: Wallace Emerson’s hippest lunch spot, cappellaci and torteloni
CHEF MASSIMO CAPRA, MISTURA:
“I had heard of Leandro Baldassarre from friends in Italy, and when I finally got to experience the hype, I was sorry I didn’t get to know him before.”
POST CITY’S TAKE: On most weekdays during lunchtime, a queue snakes out from a brick-clad building on an industrial strip. Inside, Famiglia Baldassarre makes what is arguably the best pasta in town, supplying a clutch of top restaurants with its fresh-made goods. Leandro Baldassarre, who got his pasta education at a Michelin-starred resto in Italy, doles out everything from chitarrine to rigatoni, classics to custom. Over the lunch hours, the space transforms into a 10-seater restaurant, which officially opened for business in 2018 after a stint serving under the table (blame the city’s red tape). Patrons slurp back everything from burrata-stuffed tortelli drenched in saffron butter to agnolotti filled with braised beef with sage and more butter. There are also spheres of fresh mozza and 24-month prosciutto di San Daniele D.O.P. to round out the indulgent midday meal.
MUST-HAVE: Literally any of the rotating fresh pastas
IF YOU CAN’T GET A RESO TRY: Fresh pasta favourite Annabelle Pasta Bar
Famiglia Baldassarre, 122 Geary Ave., 647-293-5395
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From top: Polpo e fagioli, Little Portugal’s new Italian joint
CHEF BRANDON OLSEN, LA BANANE:
“Love the room, love the food — modern, fresh and unpretentious. The polpo e fagioli was a standout.”
POST CITY’S TAKE: When chef Rob Rossi announced his beloved Bestellen was closing, sadness struck the hearts of Toronto foodies. But the Top Chef Canada finalist already had other plans in store for his west end space, partnering with David Minicucci (L’Unità) on what has swiftly become one of the hottest destinations in town. The bright and sexy room was scraped clean of its dark wood past and punctuated with Bordeaux-hued banquettes. A regionless menu allows Rossi to skip around the boot. Ital favourites include swirls of tonnarelli noodles playing linchpin in the classic cacio e pepe. Octopus-mad Torontonians now have another dish to add to lists. This fire-kissed take arrives on a bed of cannellini beans, ladled with verdant salmoriglio for a lemony accent. Pizza options include the cheeky l’Amatriciana, a blistered pie version of the timeless guanciale-studded red sauce pasta. Arrive with your flâneur hat on. The Giulietta room is buzzy, offering top tier people-watching.
MUST-HAVE: Polpo e fagioli (grilled octopus)
IF YOU CAN’T GET A RESO TRY: Italian favourites at Trattoria Giancarlo
Giulietta, 972 College St., 416-964-0606
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CHEF ROGER MOOKING, FOOD NETWORK CANADA:
“This spot boasts beautiful design and even better food. The lamb barbacoa was a highlight along with myriad different seafood and ceviche options.”
POST CITY’S TAKE: Grant van Gameren has done it again. Now able to count his restaurants on two hands, the chefpreneur is joined by Owen Walker and chef duo Kate Chomyshyn and Julio Guajardo in this ode to fire-licked Mexican fare. Reading as a visual response to the undulating Bar Raval down the street, Quetzal feels like a nautical cathedral where everyone worships flame. Much of the kitchen is devoted to the firepit, which runs down half the room and includes a traditional comal (the griddle used to cook tortillas). Diners seated in front of the nightly show are given wee water spritzers with which to cool down, should the need arise. But it’s not all flames. A raw bar centres the space, turning out ceviche like the verde mixto, with delicate scallop and whitefish dressed with green apple and sea asparagus. Much emphasis is placed on the house-made salsas, which showcase a variety of chilies in addition to walnut and ants (a traditional Mexican ingredient). Larger plates include the lamb barbacoa: a meaty neck is served with pickled veg and a duet of piquant salsas to wrap up in fresh tortillas. The ultra-tender lamb renders the accompanying Laguiole steak knife almost useless. Desserts like the orange granita with cardamom meringue refresh the palate beautifully.
MUST-HAVE: Arrachera (hanger steak)
IF YOU CAN’T GET A RESO TRY: Grant Van Gameren’s nearby Bar Raval or Bar Isabel
Quetzal, 419 College St., 647-347-3663
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From top: Roast chicken, Ossington’s best new watering hole
CHEF ZANE CAPLANSKY, CAPLANSKY’S DELI:
“I used to call chef Jon Poon ‘the boy genius’ of my neighbourhood scene. That was a few openings ago. Maybe King Midas is more fitting these days. Everything he makes is delicious. Truly. I can’t remember a misstep”
POST CITY’S TAKE: Paris Paris is a wine bar for the ages. Above, large skylights let in oodles of light, and large picture windows are opened come warm weather, allowing the DuWest streetscape to merge with the restaurant atmosphere. Successful chefpreneur Jonathan Poon, also of Bar Fancy and Superpoint, and partner Jesse Fader have delivered a menu with exactly the kind of food they want to eat. This unhurried wine bar provides the ideal backdrop for sipping wine while snacking on plates of tasty food. The wine list comes courtesy of somm Krysta Oben, who will helpfully guide thirsty patrons through her (often) natural and biodynamic picks. Think a by-the-glass red blend from their winemaker pals in Niagara or a cheap ’n’ cheerful Vinho Verde from Portugal. What to eat? Organic sourdough bread is almost unbelievably delicious and demands to be lathered in the accompanying whipped butter. Every last smidge of it. There are oysters to slurp from the East Coast, and charcuterie options like mortadella and chorizo are cured in-house. Bigger but still-shareable bites include a roast half chicken laced with heat-packed piri piri oil or black pepper linguine tossed with fennel sausage and dandelion. Sip, snack, savour.
MUST-HAVE: Black Pepper Linguine
IF YOU CAN’T GET A RESO TRY: Dundas West favourite Archive
Paris Paris, 1161 Dundas St. W., 416-535-5656
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