Restaurants, gifts and activities for a more memorable Valentine’s Day in Toronto
This Valentine’s Day, see Once, dine at The Steady, get gifts at the Drake General Store, skate at the Natrel Rink and more (photos: Joan Marcus; The Steady; Drake General Store; Doug Brown)
Planning a perfect Valentine’s Day in Toronto can be a challenging task—particularly if your idea of a great date includes dinner, gifts and perhaps even some complementary activities. It’s also not good enough to reserve a table at any old restaurant, or to offer up any old bouquet of roses. Thus, we’ve rounded up a selection of dining rooms, boutiques, venues and entertainment options to help make your romantic evening a little more unique. Be sure to book what you can in advance to help ward off disappointment on the special day!
Drake One Fifty pop up dinners continue to draw foodies to the Financial District
Drake One Fifty executive chef Ted Corrado plans to welcome guest chefs to the restaurant throughout 2015 (photos: Connie Tsang; James McDonald)
In its first year, the Drake Hotel’s downtown spin-off restaurant, Drake One Fifty, made a name for itself not only by dishing out high-quality food in an always-energetic dining room, but by showcasing the offerings of guest chefs in a series of popular pop up dinners. Over the course of 2014, acclaimed names including Donnie Masterson (of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico’s The Restaurant), Emma Cardarelli (Nora Gray in Montreal) and Jamie Malone (Minneapolis’s Brut) joined Drake executive chef Ted Corrado and his team in the kitchen to introduce Toronto diners to their eclectic cooking.
Corrado has even bigger plans for 2015, with Drake One Fifty pop up prix-fixe dinners scheduled monthly—many boasting some serious visiting talent.
THE ELM TREE OFFERS AN ECLECTIC SPREAD OF MEDITERRANEAN CLASSICS IN THE HEART OF DOWNTOWN TORONTO
(photo: Craig Moy)
The fresh flavours of the Mediterranean are a time-tested antidote for the chill of Toronto’s winter. Being able to enjoy those flavours in a warm and welcoming restaurant like The Elm Tree makes the remedy even more effective. Tucked just north of the Toronto Eaton Centre and Yonge-Dundas Square, the low-key, family-owned spot also offers respite from the city’s stresses: whether at midday or after work, you’ll find business professionals, families and travellers all relaxing over a glass of wine plus recognizable yet contemporary dishes, including a three cheese–stuffed Portobello mushroom, saffron orzotto with shrimp and scallops, and oven-baked sea bass. —Craig Moy
• The Elm Tree, 43 Elm St., 647-846-0274; theelmtree.ca
• Map and reviews
INDIAN RESTAURANT PUKKA HAS EARNED STRONG NOTICES FOR ITS CONTEMPORARY CUISINE AND WELL-CURATED WINE LIST
photo: Craig Moy
Toronto is known for its vast diversity of restaurants. Whatever your craving, there’s likely to be a very good establishment able to cater to your tastes. That said, the dining scene hasn’t quite been saturated; a handful of gastronomic niches remain underserved. Indian food, arguably, is one of them. Sure, the city boasts numerous local haunts known for their inexpensive lunch buffets and heaping mounds of butter chicken, but “destination” dining rooms—restaurants that highlight the more innovative elements of modern Indian cooking—are fewer and farther between.
Hy’s Steakhouse in Toronto (photos: Craig Moy)
Though contemporary-casual is firmly entrenched as most Toronto restaurants’ default style of service, atmosphere and cooking, a select group of establishments continue to aim higher. One such fine-dining restaurant is Hy’s Steakhouse; for decades, Financial District elites have found sanctuary in its luxurious confines and its classic menu of Prime-grade cuts of beef and sumptuous seafood. But even the most posh among us need an occasional facelift. To mark the brand’s 60th anniversary (the first Hy’s opened in Calgary in 1955), Hy’s has introduced a bevy of new options for lunch and dinner, including seared jumbo scallops, Muscovy duck confit and a decadent tableside chateaubriand for two. The restaurant itself has also been refreshed to reflect a more modern aesthetic, but fret not: it’s still one of classiest dining rooms in the city. —Craig Moy
• Hy’s Steakhouse, 120 Adelaide St. W., 416-364-6600; hyssteakehouse.com
• Map and reviews
Louro chef David Santos brings his internationally inflected Portuguese-influenced cooking next week to the Drake One Fifty kitchen (photo: Evan Sung)
It takes a lot to truly stand out among Toronto’s wealth of excellent restaurants. Drake One Fifty, however, seems to have hit on a reliable way to remain new and noteworthy as it begins its second full year of service. The Financial District hot spot has made a habit of bringing in out-of-town guest chefs to cook limited-time pop-up dinners.
The first of what promises to be a year-long slate of ringer-made meals sees New York chef David Santos stepping into the Drake One Fifty kitchen with the restaurant’s executive chef Ted Corrado and chef de cuisine Jon Pong. Known for bringing together a cosmopolitan range of flavours in Portuguese-influenced dishes, Santos serves up the likes of octopus bolognese and suckling pig shoulder with polenta at his Greenwich Village restaurant, Louro. His pop-up offerings at Drake One Fifty, available for dinner on January 20 (sold out) and 21, are expected to include black salt cod confit with potato foam, horse tartare, piri piri quail, and an interpretation of the Portuguese fish stew known as caldeirada. The menu is available à la carte ($9 to $26) or as part of a three-course prix fixe ($65). —Craig Moy
• Drake One Fifty, 150 York St., 416-363-6150; drakeonefifty.com
• Map and reviews
America Restaurant serves up bold fare like a beef shin barbecue for four, and a jumbo shrimp and blue crab cocktail salad (photos: America Restaurant)
You create certain expectations when you name your restaurant America—especially when that restaurant is on the 31st floor of the Trump Hotel. It’s got to be big and bold, probably even a little over the top. Thus, no expense was spared when top Toronto hospitality brands Oliver and Bonacini and INK Entertainment combined to create a supper club reflecting the ambitions of what is still, despite appearances, the world’s wealthiest country. It’s the menu, however, that makes the biggest statement, with luxurious interpretations of regional U.S. dishes: roasted scallop jambalaya, Washington state rack of lamb, lobster Rockefeller and more, while deluxe cocktails encourage diners (and loungers) to embrace the famed sociability of our neighbours to the south. —Craig Moy
• America, 325 Bay St., 31st floor, 416-637-5550; americarestaurant.ca
• Map and reviews
BY LINDA LUONG & CRAIG MOY
Sure, you can bundle up and try to be a cold-conquering hero, or you can be a city insider with these 25 unique-to-the-city things to do and places to explore—all to ensure your ample enjoyment during winter in Toronto.
Nota Bene’s California-inspired prix fixe includes a hamachi crudo with fennel and citrus, white corn soup with salt cod fritters, and black cod with wild mushroom broth and potato foam (photos: Craig Moy)
During winter’s coldest months we often turn to hardier fare—your stews, your mac ‘n’ cheeses, your red meats—for gastronomic comfort. Yet there are times when those dishes are too much. Nota Bene obliges us with a more sophisticated evocation of warm weather. Through January 31, chef David Lee’s downtown restaurant (still a culinary hot spot) offers a special prix fixe menu inspired by the cuisine, wines and lifestyle of California, which looms large in the minds of so many wind- and snow-buffeted Canadians at this time of year.
(photos courtesy of Portland Variety)
It’s definitely not trying to be all things to all people, but there’s enough diversity in the offerings at Portland Variety that you could conceivably stake out space within its stylish confines for the whole day. Bright and early, the front-of-house café begins by slinging coffee, lattes and excellent baked goods. As lunchtime rolls around, the King West crowd clamours for salads, sandwiches and comfort dishes given a bit of a kick with Spanish and North African ingredients like manchego cheese, Iberico chorizo, piri piri and harissa. The menu goes even further for dinner: the sundry tapas and shareable mains range from grilled artichokes to beef carpaccio to a 22-ounce porcini-rubbed rib-eye. A selection of bite-size pintxos—plus a nice wine list—is also available to evening and late-night nibblers. —Craig Moy
• Portland Variety, 587 King St. W., 416-368-5151; portlandvariety.com
• Map and reviews
BY CRAIG MOY
Perhaps you’ve heard: Toronto is one the most dynamic cities in the world. An endlessly fascinating place to live; an equally amazing destination to visit. Whether you’re an international jetsetter or on a cross-Canada excursion, travelling within Ontario or just looking to be a tourist in your own hometown, there are literally thousands of compelling reasons to visit Toronto. And for 2015, here are 15 more.
Barbecued chicken with crispy noodles at Signs
We love a feel-good story, and there’s not much better than a good dining experience where you also get a bit of an education and break down barriers. At Signs restaurant and bar, the servers and several other staff are deaf, and diners are encouraged to learn and use American Sign Language to communicate. The menu illustrates how to order each item, and a sign on the table shows people how to relay common phrases, like a request to split the bill. Not to be outdone by the concept, chef Mark Breton (formerly executive chef at the Gladstone Hotel) serves up a variety of Canadian and international dishes, including venison shepherd’s pie and green curry mussels, plus daily specials like barbecue chicken with crispy noodles. —Cara Smusiak
• Signs, 558 Yonge St., 647-349-7446; signsrestaurant.ca
• Map and reviews