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Ontario

Hot Drink Hot Spots

By Joseph Mathieu

These aren’t your grandma’s coffee shops. Although she’ll probably like them too. Here’s a quick roundup of some of the more unique and fun spots to warm up as the spring slowly comes around.

 Photo by Laura Jasmine

The Vanitea Room

The gilded mirrors, regal chandeliers and plush chairs make every visit to The Vanitea Room an opulent affair. The atmosphere is Victorian flair with a modern twist, epitomized by a large flowery mural. The salon serves afternoon tea five days a week, with a dazzling array of over 150 teas from around the world. Teatime isn’t complete without their elegant three-tier serving tray teeming with edible delights, from macarons to panna cotta. They also offer breakfast, lunch, and tea parties for kids, as well as an all-day brunch (bubbly, anyone?) with savoury meals like eggs benedict or French toast and sweet goods like scones and cakes baked in-house. 551 Somerset St. W., thevanitearoom.com

Sutherland

Open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, this hybrid cafe is quite versatile: appealing to those looking for a casual space, one area has a cozy nook, a wall bench, and a pastry case full of freshly baked goods, while the remaining space is dedicated to the dining room where Ottawa-renowned chef, Warren Sutherland, serves up his eclectic take on South American, Asian, and Caribbean dishes. For lunch, try the eggs of North Africa, served with a chickpea stew, and the smoked salmon toast makes for a hearty breakfast. They serve many hot drinks, but their Jamaicano is the surest way kick start a drowsy day: made with steamed milk and two espresso shots sweetened by an ounce of condensed milk. 224 Beechwood Ave., sutherlandrestaurant.com

Feline Café

A great way to enjoy a coconut oil-infused bulletproof coffee or a matcha latte is with the companionship of rescued cats. The Feline Café has three separate sections: the entrance with a barn-board wood counter from which to order, another filled with cubbyholes and scratching posts for cats to play with the public, and a third just for cats to sleep or hide. There are on average six cats at the café, and every single one is available for adoption. A bulletin board displays all adopted cats that went on to their forever home from here. The café supports the foster operation, so feel good about ordering an organic tea, a vegan-friendly dishes like the jackfruit taco rice bowl, or any baked goods from several of local bakeries. You can bring food into the public cat lounge, but keep the kitties from taking nibbles! 1076 Wellington St. W., felinecafeottawa.com

Dreamland Café

This Italian food counter feels like a little oasis with its cloud-like lamps and wispy hints of pink, purple, and yellow. Though it specializes in homemade pizza and pasta, Dreamland is always creating new syrup-based coffees and teas to go or enjoy at their window bar. They have familiar flavours like mint cocoa latte and a classic matcha, and those looking for a health boost should try their hot lattes made with beetroot or turmeric — both root-based drinks are high in antioxidants. Run by two local sisters, their amazing sauces, like pancetta pesto and shrimp lemon garlic, are based on their grandmother’s recipes. 200 Laurier Ave. W., dreamlandcafe.ca

The Ministry of Coffee

This duo of coffeehouses are both built to be cozy and chic, with wood-wrapped espresso bars and several two-seat tables. Elgin’s spot is intimate and low-key while Hintonburg’s is more spacious and communal. The latter is known as The Ministry of Coffee and Social Affairs because of its liquor license, later hours, and events, concerts, and fundraisers. Both aim to serve the best coffees from around the world, and to showcase some of the finest Canadian roasters. They regularly feature coffees from the likes of Burlington’s Detour Coffee Roasters, Calgary’s Phil & Sebastian, and Anchored Coffee from Nova Scotia. 297 Elgin St. & 1013 Wellington St. W., theministryofcoffee.com

A post shared by blumenstudio (@blumenstudio) on

blumenstudio

This friendly café and flower shop feels like a private greenhouse, with a myriad of shelves and tables covered in plants. It’s owned by a second-generation flower aficionado from Dresden, Germany, and managed by Klaus, her mini schnauzer mix (seen napping, above). The owner changes her floral wares each season, but her yummy coffees remain consistent. Every espresso is made with a certified organic and fair-trade coffee bean blend that’s roasted with green technology. The studio serves a great Americano with only one or two ounces of water, and claims to be the first in Ottawa to pour cortados: half espresso, half steamed milk. On top of selling planters and cut flowers, the shop also hosts floral arrangement workshops such as making succulent gardens and seasonal bouquets. 465 Parkdale Ave., blumenstudio.ca

 

Between a Rock and a Cold Place — Ottawa’s Rock & Ice Climbing

By Sam Chilton

Who says this time of year is just about hibernation or hitting the slopes? Rock climbing is a great way to stay active and have a blast in the colder months. The region is home to three comprehensive indoor rock-climbing gyms and a wealth of frozen cliffs for every level of climber. Whether you wish to harness the wild in wilderness, or tackle standing puzzles safe from sub-zero temperatures, Ottawa-Gatineau can rock your world.

Photo and featured photo: Kristina Corre

Coyote Rock Gym

Coyote is Ottawa’s oldest climbing gym and a go-to for beginners and advanced climbers alike. Housing an impressive array of climbing walls and programs for adults and youth, it also has five areas dedicated to bouldering — short, artificial rock walls where one can focus on technique without the aid of ropes or harnesses. 1737-B St. Laurent Blvd., coyoterockgym.ca

Vertical Reality

Vertical Reality’s walls tower 54 feet high, and features climbable edges, ceilings, and a number of overhangs. This gym focuses on intermediate to advanced top rope and lead climbing, but there are plenty of options for beginners. Hone your chops on the “Moonboard,” a universal training wall set at a 40-degree angle, with an accompanying app and website that allows users from all over the world to climb and train on the same problems. 161 Middle St., Victoria Island, verticalreal.com

Photo: Marc Fowler – Metropolis Studio

Altitude Gym

This gym operates two locations, each with themed climbing routes, a day camp for kids, and an emphasis on family fun. The Gatineau location has something for everyone: 100 different climbing routes up to 45 feet high and 2,000 square feet of bouldering. It sports Willy Wonka-inspired walls, ladders, ropes, and aerial installments for soaring across and above the gym, Tarzan-style.

Altitude’s Kanata location is a brand new bouldering oasis with a stretch of walls specifically designed with kids and beginners in mind, and one for advanced climbers running parallel. “Ninja Warrior,” a parkour-style obstacle course, features foam fixtures, nets, monkey bars, and swinging platforms. 35 Saint-Raymond Blvd., Gatineau &  501 Palladium Dr., Kanata, altitudegym.ca

Photo: iStock-Slmonker

Ice Climbing

For true thrill-seekers, the Ottawa region also offers a number of breathtaking destinations for ice climbing. Just north of Ottawa are 64 spots across the Eardley Escarpment, forming the south-western boundary line of Gatineau Park. This includes the 100-metre stretch of Luskville Falls, which is transformed into a dense, climbable expanse come winter. South-west of Ottawa, Calabogie possesses a handful of favourites — cliffs boasting ice consistently two to three meters thick, and a swathe dubbed “The Green Fang,” the steepest and most dependable ice in the area.

Access to many of these areas is limited due to the dangerous nature of the sport. It goes without saying (or it should) that this is incredibly weather dependent. Knowledgeable guides curate training opportunities and weekend excursions from the Ottawa chapter of the Alpine Club of Canada. alpineclubottawa.ca

10 Fun Things to do in Toronto this February

Some patriotic frozen art at Icefest.

Winterlicious
To Feb. 8
This citywide celebration of Toronto’s food scene is an excellent opportunity to experience a restaurant you’ve always wanted to try. Prix fixe lunch and dinner menus (ranging from $23 to $53) are available from restaurants like The Shore Club, Canoe, The Carbon Bar and Bannock, as well more than 200 other participants.
Various locations 

Prohibition: The Concert
Feb. 9, 10 and 14
Prohibition, a U.S. law banning the production, transport and sale of alcohol during the Roaring ’20s, was problematic, to say the least. It’s also romanticized for its iconic gangsters, flappers and jazz music. Albert Schultz and Mike Ross look back on this era in an evening of stories and songs.
Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House Ln.

Roundhouse Winter Craft Beer Festival
Feb. 10
Bundle up and head outside to enjoy craft beer from some of the best Ontario Craft Brewers. Live DJs and roaring campfires set the mood as you sample the stouts, lagers, IPAs, and more.
Roundhouse Park, 255 Bremner Blvd.

Come From Away
Feb.13 to Sept. 2
Audiences around the world have been captivated by the true-life story of a small Newfoundland town that comes to the aid of airline passengers stranded after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. This heart-warming musical sold out on Broadway, was nominated for seven Tony Awards, and has become a source of national pride.
Royal Alexandra Theatre, 260 King St. W.

Rhubarb Festival
Feb. 14-25
This showcase of new experimental works is now in it’s 39th year, and features a variety of dance, theatre, music, and performance art. Book seats for three or four shows each night—performances are structured in such a way to enable audiences to see as much as possible.
Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander St.

Winterfolk Blues & Roots Festival
Feb. 16-18
Get your fill of urban, blues, rock, jazz, country, folk and roots music performed by more than 150 artists at this three-day festival.
Various venues

Canadian International AutoShow
Feb. 16 to 25
More than $100 million worth of exotic cars were on display at last year’s show, and 2018 is set to top that record. Luxury automakers such as Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren, Bugatti and Aston Martin are joined by the likes of BMW, Jeep, Audi and Buick among others, showcasing their latest vehicles and innovations. Drop by the Evolution Zone to check out (and test drive) the electric cars of the future.
Metro Toronto Convention Centre, 255 Front St. W.

Celebrating David Bowie
Feb.18
David Bowie’s 2015 death stunned and saddened music fans worldwide. Celebrating
David Bowie takes a page out of the artist’s own book, with futuristic reworkings of the artist’s classics that, like the musician himself, look forward, never back. Special guests and long-time collaborators such as Carmine Rojas, Andrew Belew, Mike Garson, Garry Leonard, Angelo More and Joe Sumner are featured.
Danforth Music Hall, 147 Danforth Ave.

The Artist Project
Feb. 22-25
Explore the works of more than 250 artists and designers from Canada as well as abroad at this annual event for art lovers, collectors, buyers, and curators.
Better Living Centre, Exhibition Place, 195 Princes’ Blvd.

Icefest
Feb. 25 and 26
What better way to celebrate a country known for its cold weather than with 20,000 pounds of ice? The Canada 150 celebrations spill over into a new year as the 12th annual Icefest transforms Bloor-Yorkville into an outdoor art gallery featuring frozen depictions of the Parliament Buildings, the Centennial Flame, Mounties and maple leaves—many of which will be created live. Vendors are also on hand offering a variety of food and drink, including “kiddie cubes” (ice pops with a toy inside) and maple taffy.
Village of Yorkville Park

Toronto’s Best 25 Cheap Eats Under $10

By ALEX BALDINGER AND REBECCA FLEMING
Photography by DAVE GILLESPIE

Mutton kothu roti from Martin’s Bakery

After spending a year scouring the Greater Toronto Area, from Bay Street to the burbs, the editors at Toronto Life magazine assembled a list that proves the city’s food scene is a source of amazing bargains. Here are their top 25 must-try dishes under $10. Visit torontolife.com for 75 more budget-conscious culinary wonders

The Spicy Classic ($7)
P.G Clucks
This is the year fried chicken sandwiches surpassed burgers for bun-filling brilliance on a budget. This perfectly crunchy, ­cayenne-infused slab of Nashville hot chicken, doused with buttermilk ranch dressing, fermented chili sauce and tangy coleslaw, is as messy as it is habit-forming.
610 College St.

Smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel ($6.99)
The Bagel House
It figures that the place that makes the best Montreal-style bagel in Toronto would know how to handle a proper lox and cream cheese sandwich. The schmear is spread thick, flecked with red onions and capers, and layered with smoked salmon, and here’s the best part: it’s available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for all your middle-of-the-night noshing needs.
1548 Bayview Ave.; four other GTA locations

Deep dish slice from Double D’s

Deep Dish Slice ($7)
Double D’s
This is no floppy, unfulfilling slice. This is Chicago-style deepdish, a dense wodge of buttery crust, cheese, fillings such as pepperoni and Italian sausage, more cheese, and a sploosh of crushed tomato sauce, baked in a metal pan thicker than a crime novel. One parm-dusted slice is more than enough for a midday munch, and it comes with a drink.
1020 Gerrard St. E.; 1256 Dundas St. W.
Meat roti ($2.50)
Quality Bread Bakery
The “short eats” (that’s the Sri Lankan term for “snacks”) at this Scarborough bakery are kind of like Hot Pockets—if Hot Pockets were delicious. Spicy dried mutton is tucked into a plain roti that’s then folded up into a palm-sized treat that can’t be beat for a bit more than a toonie.
1221 Markham Rd.

Mapo tofu ($5.99)
Sichuan Garden
For this classic spicy dish, the Chinatown restaurant tosses tender cubes of tofu, ground pork and bean paste in a fiery pool of chili oil dotted with crushed Sichuan pepper­corns. The rice provides some respite from the numbing heat.
359  ­Spadina Ave.

Half chicken with rice ($8.75)
Churrasco of St. Clair
In the city’s west end, you can’t throw a rock without hitting a churrasqueira—and that’s not a bad thing. But this no-frills Portuguese chicken shop on has been turning out golden-brown, budget-friendly birds since 1986. Their combo No. 3—half of a charcoal-grilled chicken served with seasoned rice—is a no-brainer.
679  St. Clair Ave.

Dirty duck fries ($7.25)
Wvrst
King West’s popular beer hall is a seven-day-a-week sausage party, but it makes some pretty great Belgian-style taters that are dirty in the best possible way: fried in duck fat and buried in roasted peppers, jalapeños, sautéed onions and Wvrst’s addictive special sauce.
609 King St. W.

Korean fried chicken from Kaboom

Korean Fried Chicken ($10)
Kaboom Chicken
Legit Korean fried chicken, or KFC, is fried twice and should almost shatter on first bite. This Riverside chicken joint passes the crunch test and then some: the two-piece thigh and drumstick combo—shellacked with a gochujang chili sauce and sprinkled with green onions on a heap of crispy fries—offers more satisfying bites than an entire bucket of that other KFC.
722 Queen St. E.

Eggplant tramezzino ($8.50)
Forno Cultura
It doesn’t much matter what goes on the sandwiches at this King West bakery: the bread—oh, that bread—is the main attraction. But the toppings on this particular herbed focaccia concoction are excellent, too: delicate sheets of roasted eggplant and zucchini with fior di latte, arugula, baby kale and a creamy aïoli.
609 King St. W.

Cheese pupusa
Tacos El Asador ($3.75)
These corny, doughy discs at Koreatown’s long-standing Salvadorean spot are stuffed with queso, and sided with tangy pickled onions, cabbage, carrots and beets, and a teeny paper cup of kicky tomato salsa.
689 Bloor St. W.

Curried vegetable samosa ($1.10)
Sultan of Samosas
The samosas at this North York takeout shop come in almost a dozen different flavours, but we like the curried vegetable one. Each teeny triangle is packed with potato, carrots, green beans and corn, all tossed in a secret blend of north Indian spices.
1677  O’Connor Dr.

Tofu stew ($8.85)
Buk Chang Dong Soon Tofu
No matter the season, the windows at this Koreatown favourite are always steamed up. The reason: mini-cauldrons of soon tofu, a spicy Korean stew of kimchee, tofu, pork and a freshly cracked egg that cooks in the boiling, roiling mess. On the side: a stone bowl of sticky purple rice.
691 Bloor St. W.

Barbecue pork skewers ($2.50)
Lasa
The grilled pork skewers at Lamesa’s midtown sister spot are marinated—in true Filipino style—with soy and 7-Up, but they’re a more subtle, less saccharine rendition of the traditional dish. Each one makes for a perfect three bites.
634 St. Clair Ave. W.

Rotisserie chicken sandwich ($9)
Flock
Cory Vitiello’s signature rotisserie chicken is pulled, then heaped on a soft milk bun and decked out with crunchy apple, beet and horseradish slaw; creamy avocado; crisp onions; and romaine lettuce.
330  Adelaide St. W.; three other GTA location

Doubles with curried chickpeas ($1.99)
Drupatis Roti and Doubles
These piping hot pillows of dough stuffed with spiced chana are ubiquitous in Toronto’s Caribbean and West Indian enclaves, and while everyone swears by their doubles joint, Drupatis is one of the standard-bearers. Order them with slight pepper and some tamarind chutney to really savour the spicy sweetness.
1085 Bellamy Rd. N.; three other GTA locations

Nona’s veal eggplant ($9.75)
Uno Mustachio
There’s something almost parental about cradling a hefty sandwich from this St. ­Lawrence Market stalwart. Each one is a couple of pounds of saucy veal, eggplant and parmesan. Topping it with roasted peppers and jalapeños, plus sautéed onions and mushrooms, is an offer you can’t refuse.
95  Front St. E.

Shanghai won tons ($7.99)
Ding Tai Fung dim sum
Tossed in a mixture of chili
oil and soy sauce, these pork-packed dumplings are equally sweet, spicy and tangy, and they deserve some of the
attention usually received by the restaurant’s ever-popular soup dumplings.
3235  Hwy. 7 E., Markham

Gobernador taco from Seven Lives

The Gobernador Taco ($6)
Seven Lives
If you have time for only one taco in Kensington (and there are many), make it this one. Double-shelled to hold the heft of its contents, the gobernador is a delicious mess of shrimp and smoked marlin, all glued together with gooey mozzarella cheese.
69 Kensington Ave.

Hainanese chicken rice ($6.99)
Malay Thai Famous Cuisine
The food court in First Markham Place is full of gems, including this hearty serving of tender, boneless Hainanese chicken and rice cooked in broth, with even more belly-warming broth on the side. Winter and summer colds, you’ve been warned.
3255 Hwy. 7 E., Markham

Three-piece chicken dinner ($8.05)
Chick-N-Joy
Not to be confused with the even-more-east-end chain of the same name, this family-run Leslieville chicken shop has been frying up fowl since 1977. A three-piece dinner here includes a trio of fresh-never-frozen ­country-fried thighs, legs or breasts, a choice of sides, and a roll. Don’t forget to order the famous yellow gravy for $1 more.
1483  Queen St. E.

Whitefish dumplings ($3)
Yan Can Cook
This long-time vendor in the food court of First Markham Place has a borderline-overwhelming menu of Chinese dishes. A sure bet is the fish siu mai: five massive dumplings loaded with whitefish and drenched in a homemade chili-garlic soy sauce.
First Markham Place, 3255 Hwy. 7 E., Markham

Savoury Chinese crêpe ($5)
Lamb Kebab
Look for the routine lineup at Dundas and Spadina to find the street vendor selling lamb kebabs, stinky tofu and jianbing, ­delicious savoury Chinese pancakes. Made to order on a flat-top grill, the paper-thin crêpes are covered with egg, painted with two sauces (sweet and heat), sprinkled with cilantro, green onions and lettuce, and topped with a couple of crispy crackers before being folded up into a tasty multi-layered mess.
492  Dundas St. W.

Chicken mole burrito ($6.99–$9.99)
Carnicero’s
The people who hand out those free samples of pork belly right inside the main entrance of St. Lawrence Market have a hidden talent: they make a damn fine burrito. The rich, smoky chicken mole has a distinct dark-chocolate note, and a few pickled jalapeños offer an extra stab of heat to the bundle, which is stuffed with cheese, salsa, lettuce and sour cream. It’s lightly crisped on the grill before serving.
93 Front St. E.

Crab-and-pork soup dumplings from Shanghai Dim Sum

Crab-and-pork soup dumplings ($7.99)
Shanghai Dim Sum
Don’t pop these perfectly pinched parcels whole: each of the Richmond Hill dim sum restaurant’s xiao long bao with tender crab and pork is filled with piping hot soup that needs to be carefully slurped.
330 York Regional Rd. 7, Richmond Hill

Mutton kothu roti ($6)
Martin’s Bakery
Kothu roti, a Sri Lankan staple, is an ingenious (and delicious) use of day-old bread. For this particular version, crispy roti that’s 24 hours past its prime is grilled on a flat-top along with spicy mutton, chilies and onions. Then, two blunt metal blades chop it all to pieces, ensuring you get a bit of everything with each bite.
2761 Markham Rd., Unit 15

10 Toronto Steak Houses That Sizzle

The Shore Club

Everything from traditional favourites to new takes on the classic steak dinner

The Shore Club
The Shore Club is located in the heart of the Entertainment District, close to venues like Roy Thomson Hall and the TIFF Bell Lightbox. Along with classic cuts like New York strip loin, bone-in rib steak and filet mignon, you’ll find a steak and lobster dish, braised short ribs and double-cut lamb chops.
155 Wellington St. W.

Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse
Ruth Fertel, founder of this international chain, credited the success of her steaks as much to their sound and smell as to their taste. That’s why steaks here are cooked at nearly 1,000 degrees Celsius, served on an incredibly hot plate and doused with a tablespoon of sizzle-inducing butter before they leave the kitchen.
145 Richmond St. W.

Morton’s
This Texas-based steakhouse chain has a modern ambiance but still delivers a proper old-school steak—not to mention an impressive number of side dishes, including sautéed broccoli florets, creamed corn, bacon and onion macaroni and cheese, and parmesan and truffle matchstick fries.
4 Avenue Rd.

STK

STK
Mix the vibe of a modern restaurant with that of an exclusive nightclub—there’s even a live DJ—and you’ve got the STK experience. Along with dry-aged steaks, this restaurant offers some unique drink concoctions, with names like Cucumber Stiletto, Carroted Away and Strawberry Cobbler.
153 Yorkville Ave.

Harbour 60
Don’t be surprised to see a Toronto Maple Leaf or two dining here, considering the restaurant is only seconds from the Air Canada Centre, located in the century-old Habour Commission building. The restuarant offers classic fare and has a seafood menu to rival its steaks, with beluga caviar, a daily selection of fresh oysters and a seafood tower, including steamed lobster, king crab legs, jumbo black tiger shrimp and oysters.
60 Harbour St.

Barberian’s Steak House
Founded in 1959, this is one of the oldest steakhouses in Toronto. Sitting in the dinning room, you get the impression little has changed since it first opened its doors. One thing that definitely hasn’t changed is the attention to detail Barberian’s gives to preparing its steaks, which are all butchered and aged in-house. Be sure to ask for a tour of the must-be-seen-to-be-believed wine cellar.
7 Elm St.

Hy’s Steakhouse

Hy’s Steakhouse
Dark mahogany furniture, rich carpets and intimate lighting complement the high-quality, 28-day-aged Canadian beef on the menu here. The Steak Neptune—New York strip loin or filet mignon topped with asparagus, Dungeness crabmeat and hollandaise sauce—is just one of the house specialties.
120 Adelaide St. W.

BlueBloods Steakhouse
One of the city’s most noted tourist attractions is now home to this upscale eatery. Antique furniture mixes with modern art in the billiard room of Casa Loma—a circa 1900 gothic-revival-style mansion—where the Liberty Entertainment Group recently invested $3 million to create a steakhouse featuring cuts of beef sourced from around the world, plus a drink list of international wines and spirits.
1 Austin Ter.

La Castile
Eat like royalty in a three-tiered, castle-inspired dining room, complete with stained-glass windows and chandeliers suspended from cathedral ceilings. Start your meal with flash-fried calamari, escargots or a plate of Caspian Sea caviar before cutting into a char-broiled USDA prime steak, served with mushrooms or steamed spinach.
2179 Dundas St. E., Mississauga

Quinn’s Steakhouse & Irish Bar
Located in the Financial District’s Sheraton Centre Hotel, Quinn’s is a family-owned-and-operated steakhouse with an Irish flare. Not in the mood for their aged Alberta beef steak or slow-roasted prime rib? Try the Irish stew or Clare Island salmon. Whatever you settle on, make sure to relax afterward with a glass of one of the 240 whiskeys on offer.
96 Richmond St. W.

Neat Spots for Gin, Vodka & Rum

By Katie Shapiro

Gin, vodka, and rum may not commonly be enjoyed on their own, but with the consumption of premium spirits on the rise in Canada, that seems to be changing. But what makes a spirit achieve “top-shelf” status anyway? There are no strict standards or benchmarks, but premium spirits should be sippable, made from quality ingredients, and full of flavour. These spirits aren’t meant to be thrown down your throat; they’re silky and bold and they stand alone. (Oh, and premium doesn’t have to mean unaffordable.)

Gin

Stephen Flood Riviera

Stephen Flood had a vision — and 20 years of bartending experience — when he set up the bar at Riviera. “I wanted us to be a gin bar, because this,” he waves to the high ceilings, long gold bar, and sleek light fixtures, “is such a period thing, and gin is the most elegant of all the spirits.”

Flood also posits that gin is the most interesting of all spirits. With few requirements, other than that juniper must be the predominant flavour, the ingredients list can vary widely.

While the long drinks list at Riviera includes many options, it really is a gin bar: there are 25 European gins and 11 North American varieties on offer.

A favourite of Flood’s is Sacred Gin by Sacred Microdistillery, which features 11 botanicals including juniper, cardamom, and citrus. This unique mixture results in a very balanced, creamy gin.

In contrast, Flood suggests the Californian St. George Terroir, made with Douglas fir, California bay laurel, and coastal sage, invoking a real sense of place. Flood likes to engage folks at the bar to pick the perfect gin for one of the “holy trinity” of gin cocktails — a martini, a negroni, or a gin and tonic.

Vodka

Alex Yugin Avant Garde Bar

It should come as no surprise that this Soviet-themed bar — complete with propaganda art posters on the walls and borscht on the menu — boasts a fine vodka list with many Russian vodkas.

Since vodka can be made from just about any organic base material (potatoes, fruits, or grains), Yugin says that the best ones will use a quality base ingredient and the purest water available. Most sophisticated vodkas will be distilled more than once and filtered, often through charcoal, to remove any impurities.

When it comes to choosing a sipping vodka, Yugin, who is from St. Petersburg, singles out Zubrowka Bison Vodka from Poland.

Distilled from rye, Zubrowka is flavoured with a tincture of bison grass, which gives it a distinct herbaceous character along with a faint yellow hue. Each bottle contains one long blade of the grass, which is traditionally harvested in northeastern Poland. With notes of coconut, dill, and vanilla, this spirit totally dismantles the myth that vodka is flavourless and boring. Yugin serves Zubrowka in an icy glass and recommends enjoying sips of premium vodka in between, and — why not? — nibbles of crunchy pickles.

Rum

Julia Hussien and Zach Smith Salt

Though admittedly more of a bourbon bar, Salt’s rum selection is nothing to sneeze at. The Preston Street restaurant offers an assortment of white and brown rums (the latter are darkened by extra aging).

Salt’s bartenders advise that a good rum should be semi-sweet (it is a sugarcane spirit, after all) and will usually feature warming spices — think cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg. To enjoy simply, Hussien likes to serve it over ice with a little brown sugar; Smith suggests ice and a hint of lime juice to brighten the spirit.

Though rum cocktails might transport you to the Caribbean, Smith calls autumn and winter “rum-sipping season.”

For newcomers to rum-sipping, the bartenders suggest Flor de Caña Centenario 12, from Nicaragua, or Brugal 1888, from the Dominican Republic; the former is aged 12 years in American oak barrels (which previously held whisky and bourbon), while the latter is aged in American oak before being finished in Spanish oak sherry casks. Both are smooth, buttery, and slightly toasty with notes of caramel and baked apple; the Flor de Caña offers notes of vanilla and spice, while the Brugal has a hint of smokiness.

Things to do in Toronto This January

The Lorax

Next Stage Theatre Festival
Jan. 3–14
Next Stage is the winter cousin of the Toronto Fringe Festival. But where the Fringe is made up of both established and up-and-coming theatre artists chosen by lottery, Next Stage is a juried affair and consists of both new and remounted plays from past festivals. This year’s highlights include a new work by comedy troupe–puppeteers Sex T-Rex and Fringe vets Martin Dockery and Vanessa Quesnelle.
Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst St.

The Canadian Odyssey of Lord Milton
To Jan. 7
In 1862, English nobleman Viscount Milton and physician Walter Cheadle travelled across Canada, looking for a direct route to the Cariboo goldfield in British Columbia. The story of their trip was detailed in a book, illustrated by Cheadle, called The North-West Passage By Land. Visitors to the Gardiner Museum can view 13 pieces from both public and private collections of a commemorative tea set featuring hand-painted art inspired by the book’s drawings.
Gardiner Museum, 111 Queen’s Park

Monster Jam
Jan. 13 and 14
In terms of pure spectacle, a monster truck rally is already the automotive equivalent of professional wrestling. Monster Jam likes to take that combination of raw energy and technical expertise and turn it up a notch. The custom-designed trucks that compete for the Toronto Monster Jam championship at the Rogers Centre are an impressive 12 feet tall and 12 feet wide. They sit on 66-inch tires, weigh 10,000 pounds at minimum, and can drive off a ramp and land up to 130 feet away or bounce 35 feet into the air.
Rogers Centre, 1 Blue Jays Way

Toronto Light Fest

Toronto Light Fest
Starts Jan. 19
The Toronto Light Fest aims to combat winter’s dark days by illuminating at least one small pocket of the city. Spanning three months, the festival transforms the historic Distillery District into one of the largest open-air art galleries in the world, thanks to an estimated 750,000 artistically placed lights. The Distillery’s dozens of Victorian-era buildings are surrounded by—and incorporated into—a wide range of sculptures, light canopies and installations created by both local and international light artists.
Distillery District, 55 Mill St.

Arts of the East: Highlights of Islamic Art from the Bruschettini Collection
To Jan. 21
Lavish textiles, patterned carpets, paintings and inlaid metalwork from the 13th to 17th centuries are on display at the Aga Khan Museum in this debut exhibition of one of the most important private collections of Islamic art in the world.
Aga Khan Museum, 77 Wynford Dr.

The Lorax
To Jan. 21
Few people realize beloved children’s author Dr. Seuss was an early supporter of the environmental movement. His 1971 book The Lorax directly addressed threats to nature poised by economic greed. This stage adaptation educates as much as it entertains—courtesy of a set design that will make you feel like you’re living in a Dr. Seuss book.
Royal Alexandra Theatre, 260 King St. W.

Winterlicious
Starts Jan. 26
This citywide celebration of culinary excellence encompasses more than 200 restaurants, each with their own prix-fixe menus for lunch and dinner. This year’s participants include Bar Buca, Canoe, Colette Grand Café, and The Carbon Bar among others. Spots fill up fast at so make sure to make reservations ahead of time.
Various locations

Christian Dior at the ROM

Christian Dior
To March 18
Christian Dior was one of the most influential fashion designers of the 20th century, known for his use of luxury textiles and gorgeous embroideries. To celebrate the 70th anniversary of the House of Dior, the Royal Ontario Museum displays items from its rarely seen collection of haute couture pieces designed by Dior from 1947 to 1957.
Royal Ontario Museum, 100 Queen’s Park

Three New & Notable Ottawa Restaurants

By Joseph Mathieu

It seems like every time you turn around a new restaurant pops up in Ottawa. We aren’t talking about franchises, but unique eateries with their own personality. The newest additions to the city’s food scene are beautiful, interesting, and far from a flash in the pan. Here is a roundup of new and notable restaurants that opened in 2017.

The Albion Rooms’ Heritage Room

33 Nicholas St., 613-760-4771, thealbionrooms.com

Open every day 11 a.m. to late

An often-overlooked gem is hidden in plain sight at the base of the Novotel on Nicholas Street. The lounge chairs and low tables visible from the hotel lobby are only the tip of the iceberg of The Albion Rooms, which includes a polished bar with standing tables, a glass-walled charcuterie station, and a dining room. The restaurant’s newest addition is hidden in the back, called the Heritage Room and themed like a British gastro-pub. Its rounded booths, cozy corners, and satellite kitchen serve up a breakfast buffet every morning, and dinners on Wednesday to Saturday. The harvest table can be the buffet display or sit a 10-person party. The restaurant’s three pillars remain craft cocktails, local beers, and a farm-to-table menu, all of which are well worth exploring.

Tried & True (and something new): Mushrooms on toast ($14) and elk tartare ($15) are nice additions by head chef Jesse Bell, but you really should try the charcuterie board (from $10)

Photo by André Rozon

Sur-Lie

110 Murray St., 613-562-7244, surlierestaurant.ca

Open 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., 5 p.m to 11 p.m.

If you have an interest in locally-inspired modern French cuisine, this is the place for you. Opened last February, sommelier Neil Gowe’s Sur-Lie offers elegant fine dining without the pretension. If you want to eat like the pros, try their $80 five-course tasting menu — and don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations. The menu is seasonal, made with fresh produce and game from the ByWard Market and the surrounding region, and always aims to bring in the best quality ingredients. Each plate is a piece of art that you are welcome to remix with your fork.

Pretty much omg: Local rabbit and fowl tartine ($18) for lunch goes a long way, and dinner is a win with the squash bisque ($10) and Québec fois gras torchon ($20)

Photo by Rémi Thériault

Citizen

207 Gilmour St., 613-422-6505, townlovesyou.com/citizen

Open Thursday to Monday, from 6 p.m. to late

First-timers will feel right at home in this casual wine and small plates nook. With dedicated staff, Citizen builds on the success of its big sister Town (296 Elgin St.) but is really a restaurant apart. Its wine list features bottles from around the world that pair well with menu items from all over the map — influences range from African to Spanish, and Italian to French. Something new (and meatless) by guest chef Mike Frank shows up on every Monday menu. Co-owner and chef Marc Doiron is comfortable creating new dishes for new wines, and the suggested dessert is a wonderful case in point. There are no beers on tap, but it’s hard to notice with such a generous selection of bottled beer from near and far. 

Love at first taste: Falafel and eggplant ($14) or the pork belly with mojito salad ($18), and definitely go for the concord grape tart ($12)

15 Things To Do in Toronto This December

This festive month is filled with a mixture of holiday merriment and family-friendly activities.

New Year’s Eve at Nathan Phillips Square. Photo courtesy of the City of Toronto.

12 Trees: Let There Be Light at The Gardiner Museum
To Jan. 7
A tradition since 1990, this year’s edition is co-curated by author and visual artist Douglas Coupland and focuses on light as a symbol of hope. Evan Biddell, Vivian Wong, Julia White, Alex McLeod, Connor Crawford, Christine Dewancker and Katherine Strang are among the contributing artists who have designed themed trees. This year’s creations include an animated winter dreamscape and a disco-ball tree.
Gardiner Museum, 111 Queen’s Park

Home Alone in Concert
Dec. 1-2
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra, joined by the Etobicoke School of the Arts Junior Chorus, performs John Williams score from the 1990 smash hit during a live screening of the movie. The hit comedic film sees Macaulay Culkin as Kevin McCallister take on two bumbling burglars by himself (played by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) when his family accidentally leaves for a trip without him.
Roy Thomson Hall, 60 Simcoe St.

St. Michael’s Choir School Annual Christmas Concert
Dec. 2-3
The angelic voices of the St. Michael’s Choir School, which celebrates its 80th anniversary this year, perform both secular and sacred carols to herald the Christmas season, including “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Hallelujah,” and Handel’s “Messiah Part I.”
Massey Hall, 178 Victoria St.

150 Years of Canadian Christmas at Casa Loma
Dec. 2-Jan. 7
The city’s palatial castle celebrates the season with a 40-foot tree designed by Canadian icon Jeanne Beker, along with eight other trees throughout the estate. Live entertainment features illusionist Professor Wick and ice skating performers Glisse on Ice. Kids can seek out Santa Claus at his castle workshop, decorate edible treats, and partake in arts and crafts.
1 Austin Terr.

A Christmas Carol. Photo by Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

A Christmas Carol
Dec. 7-24
Bah-humbug! Miserly Ebenezer Scrooge discovers his heart and the holiday spirit after visits from the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future in this adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic presented by Soulpepper Theatre Company.
Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House Lane

Peter Pan
Dec. 8-31
Escape to Neverland with J.M. Barrie’s iconic character, Peter Pan. The boy who never grows up encounters an assortment of colourful characters including pirates, fairies, crocodiles, and even ordinary children like the Darling siblings. This musical rendition by Soulpepper Theatre Company is sure to capture the imagination of the entire family.
Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House Lane

The Nutcracker
Dec. 9-30
A true holiday classic featuring the Sugar Plum Fairy, dancing bears, and cannon dolls, is masterfully choreographed by James Kudelka and set to music by Tchaikovsky. The National Ballet of Canada transforms E.T.A. Hoffman’s traditional tale with enchanting dance numbers, elaborate costumes, and lavish sets.
Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen St. W.

The Lorax. Photo by Manuel Harlan.

Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax
Dec. 9-Jan. 21
The North American premiere of this Dr. Seuss fable about protecting the environment gets the stage treatment. Direct from London and adapted by David Greig, Dr. Seuss’s colourful world is reflected with bold sets and costumes, puppets, and an original score by Charlie Fink.
Royal Alexandra Theatre, 260 King St. W.

The Illusionists
Dec. 12-Jan. 7
Marvel as seven world-class magicians perform dazzling displays of wizardy and more right before your eyes. Back by popular demand—last year’s shows sold out—new performers are part of this year’s line up, including Darcy Oake, a.k.a. The Grand Illusionist, who performs death-defying acts, while Raymond Crowe, a.k.a. The Unusualist, is a mime and ventriloquist, and An Ha Lim, a.k.a. The Manipulator, mesmerizes audiences with card tricks.
Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King St. W.

Dance Me/Music of Leonard Cohen
Dec. 15
This Toronto premiere by Ballets Jazz Montréal (BJM) pays tribute to beloved Canadian singer, songwriter, and poet Leonard Cohen. This contemporary dance company, known for its expressive style and accessibility, selects music from the span of Cohen’s lengthy career.
Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, 1 Front St. E.

DJ Skate Nights on the Natrel Rink
Dec. 16-Feb. 17
Head down to the waterfront for a scenic twirl on the rink at Harbourfront Centre. DJs spin tunes every Saturday night, with hot beverage and bites available from the rinkside restaurant, Boxcar Social.
Harbourfront Centre, 235 Queens Quay W.

Sing-Along Messiah
Dec. 17
Become part of the choir at this interactive show led by conductor “Herr Handel” as thousands of voices sing Handel’s beloved Hallelujah chorus. The Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir, along with featured soloists Joanne Lunn, James Laing, Rufus Müller, and Brett Polegato, take part in this family-friendly concert.
Massey Hall, 178 Victoria St.

Disney on Ice

Disney on Ice Presents Reach for the Stars
Dec. 22-Jan. 1
Beloved friends from the Disney Kingdom, including Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy, join a royal cast that includes Anna and Elsa (and their snowy sidekick, Olaf), Ariel, Rapunzel, and Belle for a musical skating spectacle. Sing along to such songs as “Be Our Guest,” “Let It Go,” and “Tale as Old as Time.”
Rogers Centre, 1 Blue Jays Way

Toronto Christmas Market
To Dec. 23
Inspired by traditional European Christmas markets—and named one of the world’s best by Fodor’s Travel—the magic of the season is on dazzling display at the pedestrian-friendly Distillery District. Good boys and girls can have a photo op with Santa, visit a life-sized gingerbread house, and take a spin on a carousel or a ferris wheel. Grown ups can head to one of several heated lounges and beer gardens throughout the venue and partake in craft beers, mulled wines, European cocktails, and hot toddies.
Distillery District, 55 Mill St.

New Year’s Eve at Nathan Phillips Square
Dec. 31
Bid farewell to 2017 and ring in the new year at the city’s central gathering spot, Nathan Phillips Square. Festivities begin at 8 p.m. (get there earlier to secure a good spot), featuring live performances, a DJ skating party, and an impressive fireworks display to cap off TO Canada with Love, a year-long celebration of Canada’s sesquicentennial.
Nathan Phillips Square, 100 Queen St. W.

Toronto’s Top 6 Sneakers

Elevate Your Street Style with some of the Coolest Sneakers in the City

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heel Boy

Find your next pair of stylish kicks at this hip boutique. Browse its diverse selection of footwear—from the funky to the sensible—and mixture of mid-range to high-end brands. 773 Queen St. W.; 53 Gristmill Ln., Adidas Gazelle trainer, $100

 

 

 

 

 

 

Browns

Outfit yourself at this Montreal-based purveyor of shoes for both adults and children. Here you’ll find everything from thigh-high boots by Strategia to alligator-clad sneakers from Lacoste. 110 Bloor St. W.; other locations,  Lacoste Eyyla 317 1, $200

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ecco

Outfit yourself like a Scandinavian with a selection of comfortable boots, shoes, sandals and accessories in classic styles from this Danish company. CF Toronto Eaton Centre, 220 Yonge St.; other locations,  Soft 1 high-top, $160

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Davids

Canada’s largest independent luxury shoe store features such labels as Manolo Blahnik, Swims and Hugo  Boss. 66 Bloor St. W.; other locations, Swims motion mid-cut, $220

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ron White

Along with Ron’s All Day Heels and signature collections, this shop stocks names like Frye, Cole Haan and Mephisto. Manulife Centre,
55 Bloor St. W.; other locations, Stella floral dark jeans multi, $445

 

 

 

 

 

 

Want Apothecary

Browse the selection of carefully curated footwear from Want Les Essentiels, as well as other well-known and emerging designers. Want Apothecary also carries clothing, beauty products and accessories. 1070 Yonge St.; 2579 Yonge St., Lalibela sneaker, $275

2017 Holiday Gift Guide for Kids

Explore Toronto’s fantastic shopping scene to find gifts for friends, family and anyone else on your list.

Raccoon hand puppet ($61.95)
ShopAGO, Art Gallery
of Ontario, 317 Dundas St. W., shop2.ago.net

View a slideshow of great toys and adorable gift ideas:

Toronto’s Best Christmas Market

Eat, drink and be merry at the Distillery District’s holiday bazaar

Bundle up and walk the cobblestone streets of the historic Distillery District during the most magical time of year. From Nov. 16 to Dec. 23, the Toronto Christmas Market offers shoppers a chance to browse local handicrafts and sample hearty fare like poutine and schnitzel. You can also sip mulled wine under one of the city’s largest real Christmas trees, as carollers, brass bands and choirs fill the air with holiday cheer. If the weather gets chilly, you can always warm up in one of the cosy nearby boutiques, restaurants or bars.