Anyone who knows me knows my life orbits around meal time, so it’s no wonder why I’m so drawn to this city – Toronto’s a cuisine star. The city has carved out its identity on the international foodie stage (a performance I’m always front and centre for) with a variety of acts. Globally inspired plates infused with local flair, modern dining to taco shack, this city will satisfy any palette in every way.
Some world-renowned chefs have set up their scene here, elevating our status to the world stage. One of our first big names was David Chang, who debut Momofuku in the Shangri-La hotel (conveniently across the street from our apartment). Chang’s spotlight was a spotlight for Toronto – his success served to set the stage for following celebrity chefs, like Susur Lee and Jamie Oliver, staking their claim on the city.
So, consider this post the first of a series highlighting the many glorious eats and treats that this city has to offer.
King Street West
Baro is what a restaurant should be, bringing everything a restaurant should bring to its guests. And I don’t mean white tablecloths, sommeliers taking you on a tour down the wine list of exquisite grapes from around the world, and waiters catering to you hand over foot (although this would surely constitute a lovely evening) – I mean, a warmly lit space enclosed around huddled patrons, buzzing with a collective energy, forcing you to lean in closely to each other.
Headed by chef Steven Gonzalez, the slouching three story restaurant lures you in to each of its floors, varying their focus and feel. Draped in greenery, the Latin American dishes entice on the first floor, a raw bar dedicated to small plates and extravagant cocktails takes over the second, followed by a bare-boned loft space on the third, set with concrete flooring and exposed brick and beam.
The menu features a variety of small plates meant for sharing, which is another restaurant feature I appreciate. When I go to a restaurant, I want to make my way through as much of the menu as possible and small plates are made for just this. I don’t care to tackle one plate of food all to myself – how boring…having everyone’s order land down on the table in unison, the conversation coming to an immediate halt as everyone dips their head down, bowed towards their plates.
Wherever we go, Mike and I each choose a dish or two, eat halfway through it and then, in a practiced manner, rotate our plates across the table to each other (Mike often having to fend off my “this is way less than half!” protest). This is what a restaurant is for me – sharing your plates, making your way through the menu together, discussing the food and the flavours, talking to one another. Being with one another .
No matter where you are – small plates, tapas, bocas, botanas – they bring you together. In our extremely connected society, we find ourselves more and more disconnected. But when you go to a restaurant, when you share a stream of plates rotating, fluidly, towards and away from your table, you connect with the person in front of you. You share in the whole experience of it all.
We ordered the chips and guacamole (always), mejillones (the east coast mussles), and the smoked chicken tostadas. All the dishes were packed with fresh, bright, crisp flavours.
Otto’s Berlin Döner
Mike and I are regulars at this one and nothing will stop us when the craving hits – we pulled on thick sweaters and toques last weekend, tromping through the wet, heavy snowfall, snowflakes clinging to our eyelashes, to get out fix. But it was worth it. It’s always worth it.
I was transfixed by Berlin – its nightlife was a whole other experience. And before we would head out into the night, we’d hit up one of the many street vendors for these variations of a Turkish delicacy – sandwiched between fladenbrot, you can inhale your choice of chicken, veal, lamb, fried halloumi, or gemüse (a mix of zucchini, eggplant, garlic, peppers, onions and spices). And Otto’s brings this experience right back. The döners are dressed with the trifecta of sauces, yogurt, hot, and garlic, and packed with red cabbage, tomatoes, onions and lettuce. Adding fries and feta really step up the order.
And it wouldn’t be the full Berlin experience without slugging back a Club-Mate along with it – an energy drink based on Yerba mate tea extract with some added caffeine.
Our go-to: Veal and lamb with feta.
Queen Street West
I love coffee. Sorry, let me rephrase that. I need coffee. But not just any coffee: good, real coffee. It is the sustenance of my being, it makes my world go round, and this new spot is my new spot. Brought to us by Momiji Kishi (formerly of Dark Horse Espresso Bar and Detour Coffee Roasters) and Jimson Bienenstock (former general manager of Soho House and Montecito), the space is sleek and open-concept, minimalist décor with punches of red. Succulents dot the walls in their floating pots and copper pendant lightings hang overhead.
But most importantly, HotBlack brings to us good, real coffee – direct trade, single and multi-origin blends. The espresso is perfect – hot, black and smooth. And they offer some unique alternatives on the board too – like ginger-infused coffee (which Mike practically spit back out but I loved), mulled wine (mmm mulled wine), and the option to roast a marsh mellow (yes, roast a marsh mellow).
I recommend the classic Americano with a splash of almond milk.