The number of restaurants adhering loosely to the model of simple, affordable fare served in an attractive yet informal setting has grown exponentially in this city. Joining the fray is Loire, a self-described “casual gourmet” spot along increasingly foodie-friendly Harbord Street. With fresh, seasonal dishes that could include seared Ontario rainbow trout ($24), grilled flank steak ($25) and the beef or lamb Loire burger on challah bread ($17), the intimate resto effortlessly straddles the line between relaxed neighbourhood fave and boldface fine-dining destination. No surprise, considering the pedigree of its owners: chef Jean-Charles Dupoire last toiled for the Fairmont Royal York’s Epic, while sommelier Sylvain Brissonnet spent more than a decade at revered Langdon Hall.
Toronto’s George Brown College has long been recognized for molding some of this city’s top toques—Jamie Kennedy, Mark McEwan and Roger Mooking are all alumni of the school’s culinary program. Now, diners can glimpse the next generation of gastronomic gurus in action at The Chef’s House, George Brown’s teaching restaurant. Experienced chef Oliver Li oversees an open kitchen staffed by students, who apply their class-room training to craft an affordable and oft-changing prix fixe menu for lunch ($18 to $25, depending on the number of courses) and dinner ($39 to $45). Mounted cameras film the chefs at work and beam their efforts onto screens throughout the sleek exposed-brick- and-leather-banquette space, providing a voyeuristic thrill before your meal arrives.
A welcome wave of heat has made its way from Mexico to Toronto, in the form of Frida Restaurant and Bar. Named for Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, this midtown outpost features an azure-tinted interior that nods to her famed home, la casa azul (blue house), and aims to replicate Kahlo’s mercurial spirit and uncompromising creativity through the culinary arts. No mere burrito joint, Frida’s fare comprises such sophisticated—yet still authentic—offerings as quail with mole-poblano sauce ($28), slow-cooked chicken in banana leaves ($26) and braised lamb barbacoa with salsa roja, morita sauce and seasonal vegetables ($28).