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Where to Eat Toronto

Seal the Deal at These Big-for-Business Restaurants

YOU AND YOUR COLLEAGUES (AND CLIENTS) WILL BE TREATED RIGHT AT THESE SOPHISTICATED TORONTO RESTAURANTS

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Hy’s Steakhouse is a classic clubhouse for Financial District dealmakers (photo: courtesy of Hy’s Steakhouse)

We know that not every meeting takes place in a boardroom; some negotiations are better handled over a leisurely meal or a few drinks. Fortunately there are client-friendly restaurants in some of the city’s classiest neighbourhoods.

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Mark McEwan Takes Over Diwan at the Aga Khan Museum

THE AGA KHAN MUSEUM’S DIWAN RESTAURANT NOW FEATURES A NEW MENU DESIGNED BY CELEBRITY CHEF MARK MCEWAN

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The serene Diwan dining room at the Aga Khan Museum (photo: Janet Kimber)

At museums, change is inevitable. It’s most evident in the opening and closing of temporary exhibitions and special events, but evolution also occurs elsewhere—in the way programs are delivered, in the layout of galleries, and, in the case of the Aga Khan Museum, the operation of its food and beverage services. Late last year, the celebrated institution for Islamic art and culture partnered with chef Mark McEwan to revamp the offerings at its Diwan restaurant. Though McEwan’s background isn’t exactly steeped in the cuisine of the Islamic diaspora, he’s nothing if not adaptable: his restaurants’ culinary profiles range from contemporary Continental (North 44) to brassy North American (Bymark) to rustic Italian (Fabbrica), and his two upscale supermarkets demonstrate his long history of sourcing the absolute best ingredients. At Diwan, the chef and his team have retained the restaurant’s artful approach to Middle Eastern, North African and South Asian cooking, while also making its lunchtime dishes a little more accessible. A traditional wedge salad, for example, gets a Moroccan twist with cilantro mint dressing, tamarind chutney and crispy daal, while salmon is glazed with harissa and served with quinoa, falafel and pomegranate yogurt. What hasn’t changed, however, is the beautiful, serene dining room, which is accented by hand-carved and painted wood panels dating back to 19th-century Damascus.  —Craig Moy

• Diwan, Aga Khan Museum, 77 Wynford Dr., 416-646-4670; agakhanmuseum.org/dine
• Map and reviews

Sample Superior Southern Fare at Omaw

OSSINGTON AVENUE RESTAURANT OMAW MARKS CHEF MATT BLONDIN’S RETURN TO THE CUISINE OF THE AMERICAN SOUTH

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Mussels on toast (left) and wagyu beef are among the elevated options you may find at Omaw (photos: courtesy of Omaw)

You might think it’d be easy for a top-tier catering company to open up an equally prosperous restaurant. But the two operations don’t necessarily go hand in hand. Recipes don’t always translate. Staffing requirements are different. A restaurant’s customer base can be unpredictable at best. Toronto’s Food Dudes caterers, however, seem to have found some success. In business since 2007, chef Adrian Niman’s outfit rolled out a still-popular food truck in 2012, and in 2014 its Rasa bar and restaurant became an instant Harbord Village hit—thanks to its trendy yet accessible ambience and cosmopolitan cooking. Late in 2015, the company launched its second bricks-and-mortar space, in collaboration with noted chef Matt Blondin.

Omaw, on hip Ossington Avenue, moves away from the Food Dudes’ more pluralistic culinary outlook and instead focuses on Carolina Lowcountry cuisine—the kind of U.S. South cooking Blondin became known for at a previous post, but now arguably even more refined, and definitely a little more experimental. Take a recent offering of wagyu beef: more than a mere slice of steak, it was instead served as a paper-thin square coloured by a Pollock-like mélange of pea relish and onion slivers. Or order the keylime pie, whose meringue looks like it was made by Frank Gehry. The drinks selection, too, is worthy of both the menu’s provenance and the restaurant’s chic address, with bourbons, craft beers and short list of original cocktails.  —Craig Moy

• Omaw, 88 Ossington Ave., 416-477-5450; omaw.ca
Map and reviews

Jamie’s Italian Boasts Rustic Fare for the Whole Family

CELEBRITY CHEF JAMIE OLIVER’S ITALIAN-FOR-ALL CONCEPT RESTAURANT HAS OPENED IN NORTH TORONTO

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It was about four years ago when one of Britain’s most famous chefs tweeted his admiration for Toronto’s Buca restaurant. “My favourite meal of the year,” wrote Jamie Oliver, he of the myriad television shows, cookbooks and chain of 60-plus restaurants. So it came as little surprise when in the summer of 2014 Oliver announced that his brand would be coming to Canada, courtesy of the King Street Food Company, Buca’s owners. Eighteen months later, Jamie’s Italian is now open at the ever-busy Yorkdale Shopping Centre. Combining the erstwhile naked chef’s well-documented love of regional Italian cuisine with his advocacy for healthy, honestly sourced ingredients, the restaurant boasts an approachable—and relatively affordable—menu designed for the whole family. House-made pastas and pizzas are naturally a big draw, but don’t sleep on the rustic mains either: they range from simple pork and fennel sausage to prosciutto- and cheese-stuffed turkey to pan-fried whole fish. Budding foodies, too, are assured more than standard fare, with meals that balance meats, vegetables and grains to please pint-sized appetites and provide their parents peace of mind.  —Craig Moy

• Jamie’s Italian, Yorkdale Shopping Centre, 416-238-7450; jamieoliver.com
Map and reviews

Wine and Dine on Valentine’s Day in Toronto

A Valentine's Day table at George is highly desirable

A Valentine’s Day table at George is highly desirable

Dinner is a staple of date night, and Toronto is full of impressive restaurants. But it can be daunting, making sure you choose a cozy, candlelit spot and not a place that, while excellent, may be an overly boisterous environ. Our picks for a meeting of the hearts combine palate-pleasing plates with a congenial ambience and discreet service.

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Loka Garners Grassroots Success

CHEF DAVE MOTTERSHALL’S CROWD-FUNDED RESTAURANT IS AN ECLECTIC ADDITION TO QUEEN WEST’S DINING SCENE

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photos: courtesy of Loka

One could argue that Loka represents the something close to the Platonic ideal of a modern restaurant. Chef and owner Dave Mottershall, who made his name at Charlottetown, P.E.I’s hyper-local bistro Terre Rouge, prides himself on running a zero-waste kitchen, buying whole animals and cooking nose-to-tail cuts with seasonally appropriate accompaniments. He’s also savvy about the Internet’s role in the contemporary dining industry: as @chef_rouge he’s garnered more than 40,000 Instagram followers; he also famously leveraged $40,000 in Kickstarter crowdfunding to help open his new Queen West space. Understated and casual, the smallish dining room now fills with a cross-section of Toronto foodies seeking easy-eating yet highly inventive dishes from Mottershall’s daily menu. Maple pork belly with creamed leeks was a recent highlight, while other features have included smoked bone marrow, lamb liver, pig’s head, duck breast and chicken hearts. There’s also a curing chamber with an oft-changing salumi selection, plus a few snacks for those of us seeking a quick after-work or late-night bite.  —Craig Moy

• Loka, 620 Queen St. W., 416-995-9639; Facebook page
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13 of the Most Unique Cafés in Toronto

VISIT ANY ONE OF THESE UNIQUE TORONTO CAFÉS FOR HIGH-QUALITY COFFEE AND DECADENT BAKED GOODS—PLUS BONUSES LIKE AMAZING AMBIENCE, SUPERIOR SERVICE, GREAT VIEWS AND EVEN BOARD GAMES!

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Boxcar Social makes its coffees and espresso-based beverages with a often-changing selection of beans from world-renowned roasters (photo: Boxcar Social)

Is a proliferation of cafés any indication of a city’s success? It’s not hard to argue in favour of the idea. Those who pass time at coffee shops necessarily have the leisure to do so. Leisure implies financial comfort, freedom—at least temporary—from work. Others, of course, use cafés as de facto workspaces, with caffeine helping fuel their creative contributions to the economy. And then there are the café owners themselves, who must be sufficiently confident in a city’s commercial vitality to have opened their businesses in the first place.

Ever dynamic, downtown Toronto hosts innumerable independent coffee-sipping spots. Many of the most popular, like Dark Horse, Sam James, Crema and Jimmy’s, are successful enough to support multiple locations across the city. There are far more excellent cafés than can reasonably be counted here, so let’s just say we hold the 13 places below in high regard—not only for their beverages, but for their delicious snacks, congenial ambience and other intangibles, too.

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Salute The Commodore in Parkdale

THE COMMODORE BRINGS SEAFOOD AND NAUTICAL STYLE TO THE WEST END

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The Commodore’s subtly nautical dining room (photo: Joel Gale)

The eastern portion of Parkdale (or, if you prefer, farther-west Queen West) continues to be a focal point for interesting, low-key eating experiences: hipster taco hub Grand Electric still draws crowds, while Chantecler and recently christened Miss Thing’s have cachet, too. The Commodore is one of the newest additions to this worthy group and boasts many of its hallmarks, including a designer—but not too designer—dining room, highly curated cocktail and craft beer program, and an overall intimate vibe. A menu highlighting smaller, shareable portions is also de rigeur for the region; in this case it champions unique seafood-forward dishes like swordfish crudo with sea asparagus and crispy chicken skin, brown butter–sauced shrimp, and squid ink and calamari ragu risotto. Without going overboard, the restaurant accentuates its naval nomenclature and ocean-going offerings with an interior reminiscent of a ship’s hull, and an above-the-bar assemblage of lights that could pass for the suckers on a squid’s tentacles.  –Craig Moy

• The Commodore, 1265 Queen St. W., 416-537-1265; commodorebar.ca
Map and reviews

The Hottest Heated Patios for Winter in Toronto

THESE DISTINCTIVE HEATED PATIOS MAKE OUTDOOR DINING HIGHLY DESIRABLE DURING WINTER IN TORONTO

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The Drake Hotel’s heated Sky Yard patio has been transformed into a cozy, contemporary legion hall for winter (photo: the Drake Hotel)

Whether or not you accept the science behind climate change, there’s no denying that Toronto experienced an unseasonably warm end to 2015, with temperatures reaching the low teens all the way up to Christmas. But now it seems winter’s chill (a modest version of it, at least) has indeed taken hold, ensuring that on most days it’s preferable to be indoors rather than out. Of course, even on the coldest of days there are those of us who yearn for a bit of fresh air and a view of the (slate grey) sky. A handful of Toronto restaurants are set up to oblige our “outdoors, indoors” desires with their popular heated patios.

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Bugigattolo Kitchen Offers a Warm Welcome

SAVOUR THE CASUAL ITALIAN FARE—AND CLOSE QUARTERS—AT INTIMATE NEW BUGIGATTOLO KITCHEN

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photos: Tonya Papanikolov

Liberty Village continues to grow, adding new businesses and condo units as quickly as anywhere else in the city. With Bugigattolo Kitchen, the neighbourhood has also gained a few more seats for its hungry denizens—18 seats, to be precise (plus 25 more on a soon-to-be-winterized patio). Of course that’s hardly a replacement-level figure, but the refurbished industrial boîte’s cozy confines tend to foster a conviviality that’s hard to find at some of the area’s larger dining rooms. Here, you’re never more than a few feet from chef Quin Josey, who prepares Southern Italian bites behind the counter of a small open kitchen. Drop in with a few friends for a light lunch of butternut squash soup and prosciutto pizza (or heartier options like house-made lasagna), or pop by on your own and strike up a mid-afternoon conversation with someone new—over an expertly pulled espresso, naturally.  —Craig Moy

• Bugigattolo Kitchen, 54 Fraser Ave., 416-583-3895; bugigattolokitchen.com
Map and reviews

Quick Pick: 3 Toronto Restaurants for Rotisserie Chicken

SAVOUR GOURMET RENDITIONS OF RECENTLY IN VOGUE ROTISSERIE CHICKEN AT THIS TRIO OF TORONTO RESTAURANTS

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Rotisserie chicken at Café Boulud

For a long time in Toronto, preferred preparations of poultry have tended toward the liberally spiced and lovingly fried. Lately, however, the classic rotisserie chicken has begun to make a comeback.

1 Chef David Adjey was arguably first among his peers to crow anew about birds—his The Chickery opened in 2012 and will soon spawn a number of franchises. 130 Spadina Ave., 647-347-2222; thechickery.com

2 Smaller in scale but similarly fast-casual is Flock, which offers chicken in whole, half or leg-or-breast portions, or pulled on a loaded sandwich. (To accompany your chicken, Chef Cory Vitiello’s spot also serves a quartet of fresh, inventive salads.) 330 Adelaide St. W., 647-483-5625; eatflock.ca

3 Le poulet is also elevated at Café Boulud, where imported rotisseries cook free-range Chantecler hens. Four Seasons Hotel, 60 Yorkville Ave., 416-964-0411; cafeboulud.com

—Craig Moy

Make a Trip to Queen West’s Rickshaw Bar

MODERN PAN-ASIAN FLAVOURS ABOUND AT GLOBETROTTING RICKSHAW BAR 

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Rickshaw Bar (photo: Craig Moy)

Frankly, we’re surprised Toronto hasn’t been home to a Rickshaw Bar until now. The name is evocative of both travel and the bustle of urban streets—a perfect combination for this cosmopolitan city, whose residents are forever seeking authentic fare from abroad. Chef-owner Noureen Feerasta’s slim Queen West space delivers this in spades. Casual, and a little rough around the edges, the restaurant traffics in refined, small-plate versions of dishes from across South and Southeast Asia. Paratha flatbread tacos, for example, enfold vegetable fritters and cabbage slaw for an Indian-influenced snack, and braised beef khao shay adds Thai fare to the mix. The chef’s Ismaili beef curry—made from scratch with more than two-dozen ingredients—is another contemporary offering that brings more than a little tradition to the table: it’s based on a recipe by chef Feerasta’s great grandmother.  —Craig Moy

• Rickshaw Bar, 685 Queen St. W., 647-352-1227; rickshawbar.com
Map and reviews