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2014 Where to Dine Awards: Toronto’s Best Restaurants, Chosen by You

Toronto’s restaurant scene is vast and plentiful, with thousands of eateries spread across the city. Not sure where to start your culinary adventure?
Take a cue from other visitors with our annual Where to Dine Awards, which highlight Toronto’s best restaurants as selected by our readers. Or get a taste for what’s new and hot right now with our editors’ picks.  BY LINDA LUONG & CARA SMUSIAK

Colette Grand Café (photos: Liam Mogan)

Colette Grand Café (photos: Liam Mogan)

Picture the charm and elegance of a beautiful Parisian bistro married with the refreshing fare of the Côte d’Azur and impeccable service, and you’ve got Colette Grand Café. The Thompson Hotel’s bistro encompasses a dining room, bar and cafe that seamlessly flow together thanks to a palette of warm blues and whites complimented by ashy woods and white marble. Executive chef Michael Steh and pastry chef Leslie Steh (a husband and wife team) have crafted beautiful menus that delight the senses. Though a splurge, the weekend buffet brunch is well worth it, with a lush spread of cheeses, meats, seafood, crepes, carving and omelette stations, salads, fruit and parfaits and more, plus an array of delicious, delicate pastries.

Don’t expect the latest food trends or fads at Scaramouche. A staple of the city’s dining scene, this midtown restaurant has long been associated with chef Keith Froggett, whose culinary team turns out beautifully plated French-inspired cuisine. Tuck into dishes like grilled octopus, roasted duck breast and pan-seared sea bass while enjoying the spectacular view. And though the dessert menu proffers the likes of vanilla panna cotta and white chocolate mousse, the signature sweet ending is the decadent coconut cream pie.

Flavours of the Far East are treated to a contemporary makeover at Ki Modern Japanese + Bar, a lively spot in the Financial District. The fare is thoroughly sophisticated, and the patrons are diverse—from business folks toasting the closing bell with sake-based cocktails (like the Kyushu Cosmo, prepared with Tanaka Moonlight shochu, Moonstone plum sake, cranberries, limes and cherry dust) to celebratory groups sharing dishes like sake-braised pork belly and seven-spice chicken drummettes, and even romantic couples tucking into kiwi tuna maki rolls and yuzu-marinated rack of lamb.

With Sunday brunch being a weekend custom, especially among the city’s young creative class, you’ll want to book well in advance at the popular Farmhouse Tavern. This Junction hotspot’s farm-driven-food ethos is reflected in both the homey country decor—salvaged barn doors, a chalkboard menu, drinks served in Mason jars—and a menu that changes daily. Expect such offerings as strawberry pancakes, eggs benedict, the barnyard burger, steak and eggs and foie gras poutine—a decadent hangover cure if there ever was one.

Perfectly broiled custom-aged USDA prime beef is king at Ruth’s Chris, where every steak arrives at the table sizzling in butter—a presentation that’s sure to impress. The traditional atmosphere of this classic steakhouse, featuring dark woods and crisp white linens, offers a rich, warm space to do business, but it’s the service sets Ruth’s Chris a cut above. The wine list is equally impressive: the Toronto location has received the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence since 1997, and servers are tutored in wine pairings for each cut of beef and all other dishes.


Chef Susur Lee and Luckee (photos: Liam Mogan)

Internationally acclaimed chef Susur Lee’s latest venture is an upscale dim sum restaurant located in the SoHo Metropolitan. A truly family affair, the dining room—awash in warm wood, bright red chairs, traditional Chinese prints and imagery, decorative concrete columns, and an oversized neon red sign that means “double happiness”—was designed by Lee’s wife, Brenda Bent and her partner Karen Gable, while son Kai Bent-Lee manages the bar. The menu is chock full of traditional Chinese offerings with a modern twist, such as the Luckee duck with Chinese pancakes, apples, cucumbers, leeks and cranberry relish, sweet and sour chicken with an oven-baked pineapple, and lobster and asparagus dumplings.

There’s no experience in Toronto quite like dining at 360 Restaurant at the CN Tower, a revolving dining room perched 351 metres above ground level, offering breathtaking views of Toronto and Lake Ontario in every direction. Not to be outdone by the spellbinding skyline, executive chef Peter George’s menu features regional and market-fresh ingredients. The winter menu boasts such offerings as butter poached Atlantic lobster tail with truffled grits and Alberta AAA beef tenderloin.

Toronto has no shortage of trendy cocktail bars, but if you’re looking for a space that’s as impressive as the menu, the Thompson Hotel Rooftop Lounge is the place to be. Perched atop the hotel in the heart of downtown with 360-degree views of the city, the lounge is as pleasing to the eyes as the drinks are to the palate. The menu boasts classic tipples, innovative cocktails, fine wines and premium spirits, including a lengthy list of Scotch offerings and bottle service. For those seeking something special, order one of the bar’s barrel-aged cocktails—time in the wood barrels imparts an unparalleled smoothness and unique flavour profile.

It’s easy to see why this eatery is the top choice of readers for family dining for the third year in a row: while it can be a challenge to find a restaurant with something for each of your pint-sized picky eaters or those with dietary restrictions, the wide range of dishes at The Pickle Barrel offers something for everyone. The extensive menu includes breakfast burritos, sandwiches, wraps, burgers, steak, pasta, seafood, as well as vegetarian and gluten-free options, with cuisine spanning Asian, Spanish, Indian, Tex-Mex and Canadian and American home-style classics like meatloaf or fried chicken and waffles.

Executive chef John Horne’s menu of refined Canadian cuisine has made Canoe the standard in fine dining in Toronto. Marrying seasonal ingredients with refined flavour profiles and beautiful presentation, dishes have an artisanal quality revered by diners and food critics alike (the tea smoked duck breast, for example, is accompanied by northern woods mushrooms, pickled wild leek and a rapini and three-grain porridge). The warm, inviting dining room features clean lines, warm woods and neutral tones that reflect the Canadian landscape—an understated setting that allows the sweeping views from the floor-to-ceiling windows to shine.

Barsa Taberna (photos: Liam Mogan)

Barsa Taberna (photos: Liam Mogan)

Tucked into a historic building on Market Street, Barsa Taberna serves up tapas-style sharable dishes in a space that blends exposed stone and wood beams with patterned tile, a feature wall made with hand-cut wine bottles and a Picasso-inspired backlit wall—think the art and dining culture of Barcelona with an international menu. Delicious sangrias feature prominently on the drinks menu, with white, red, rose and sparkling blends in regular rotation, plus a featured sangria that changes monthly. And for purists, Barsa’s wine, spirit and beer lists offer plenty of choice without being overwhelmingly long.

Though the paintings at Café Boulud are more reminiscent of street art than, say, Monet, the cuisine here is thoroughly French. Refined and extravagant as one would expect from renowned chef Daniel Boulud (and from its premium real estate within the prestigious Four Seasons Hotel), the menu is a nod to classic French cuisine infused with global flavours like the char-grilled pigeon with pearled barley, toasted almonds, lobster mushrooms and sour cherries. And what’s a meal without a glass of wine? There are more than 300 bottles in the cellar here representing regions from the homeland, such as Burgundy, Bordeaux and Alsace, alongside options from Canada, Austria and Italy.

In the heart of the Entertainment District, and a popular spot for visiting celebrities like George Clooney and Ryan Gosling during the annual Toronto International Film Festival, the Ritz-Carlton is a revered establishment for both its hospitality and service. Toca delivers on both counts with its accessible menu of Italian fare that taps into local ingredients. Don’t miss the Sunday brunch here, which is one of the most extravagant in town, complete with carving and omelette stations, a seafood bar with lobster tails, mussels and shrimp, and baked goods like whiskey butter tarts, hazelnut profiteroles and even a chocolate fountain.

Every season brings a new menu at Hudson Kitchen, where executive chef Robbie Hojilla reinterprets classic dishes in imaginative, palate-pleasing ways. The chef’s Filipino roots and experience working in French and Italian restaurants often informs the menu, and the restaurant’s leaf-to-table philosophy means you can expect fresh, local fare. But the innovation doesn’t end there. Presentation is a work of art at Hudson Kitchen, with the colours, textures and shapes on every plate creating a visually resplendent dining experience.

In a city nearly bursting with Italian eateries, Buca’s delectable menu and dazzling dining room draws crowds (and celebrities, too). Chef Rob Gentile turns the expected Italian fare on its head with unique flavour combinations and an inventive use of unexpected animal parts—duck heart, pig’s ear, pork blood and lamb’s brain, to name a few—making for a truly memorable fine Italian dining experience. At this King West restaurant, patrons can tuck into delectable starters, sumptuous meat and fish dishes, and house-made pasta and pizzas.

Opulence and luxury is at every turn at Harbour Sixty, a posh steakhouse where USDA prime beef and fresh seafood dominate the menu—and a 40-ounce Japanese wagyu striploin will set you back a cool $1,000. With 24 wines by the glass and some 1,100 bottles to choose from, sommeliers can help advise guests on a perfect pairing. And though a certain clientele is to be expected at Harbour Sixty, the restaurant prides itself on welcoming everyone from corporate brokers doing business to pals looking for an upscale pregame dinner—the true mark of a restaurant with great service.

Los Colibris (photos: Lauren Vandenbrook)

Los Colibris (photos: Lauren Vandenbrook)

While the number of taquerias across the city has bloomed in the past few years, Toronto was lacking in upscale Mexican dining until Los Colibris opened earlier this June. Sitting above sister restaurant La Caballito, Los Colibris’s grand dining room can seat 150 guests for such fare as handmade empanadas and Mexican sweet corn cakes with brisket and ceviche. Executive chef Elia Herrera, who is originally from Cordoba, Mexico, has crafted a menu based on recipes passed down through her family for generations, making for a truly authentic Mexican dining experience.

For a good steak and seafood at prices that won’t break the bank, The Keg is in a class of its own. This Canadian steakhouse chain consistently serves up quality well-marbled steaks that are aged 21 to 28 days, as well as slow-roasted prime rib, fresh shellfish and salmon, chicken and ribs, plus vegetarian and gluten-free options upon request. The wine list is comprehensive, with plenty of offerings by the glass, the cocktail menu features classics and inventive tipples, and there are multiple beers on tap and by the bottle, including a number of craft beers. You definitely won’t leave hungry (page 51).

Local, fresh and seasonal ingredients inform the menu at Crush Wine Bar, but it’s the impressive wine list that stands out at this King West establishment. The cellar boasts 600 labels with about 50 wines available by the glass. Sommelier Tiffany Jamison-Horne is always on hand to help with wine pairings, ensuring guests make a selection that will enhance executive chef Trista Sheen’s French-rooted menu. Or try a handful of seasonal flights, each with three wines for patrons to sample.

While many restaurants now offer gluten-free options, at Hibiscus Café, everything on the small but yummy vegetarian and vegan menu is also sans gluten. Sweet and savoury buckwheat crepes are the main attraction here at this family-run Kensington Market eatery, but they also serve a daily soup and quinoa salad, plus vegan squares and brownies for dessert, as well as homemade dairy-free ice cream in a gluten-free cone.

The prestigious members of Les Clefs d’Or are well versed on the ins and outs of the city. Recognized by the golden keys worn on their lapels, this esteemed group of concierges is entrusted with helping hotel guests navigate their time in Toronto by making restaurant and retail recommendations, which means that any business that earns their seal of approval is top-notch. This year’s nod goes to Jacobs & Co. Steakhouse, a modern spot with polished dark wood, beige banquettes and cozy lighting at which to tuck into all manner of angus steaks aged 30 days or more, rib-eyes, T-bones, porterhouses and striploins. Though members of the local chapter of Les Clefs d’Or cited the professional and courteous service here, they also made special mention of the Caesar salad prepared tableside, a rarity these days.

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