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Feast of Favourites: MMM Award Winners

It’s no stretch to say that Toronto offers some of the best restaurant options anywhere. So selecting the top few places from all that entice is no easy feat. It’s a deliciously daunting task, but our readers were up to it.

For WHERE Toronto‘s 2005-2006 Most Memorable Meal Awards, we distributed ballots in our “Dining Guide” last November through January so our readers could vote on their favourites in 18 categories. This year, the contest celebrates its first decade and, since diamonds are the theme for 10th anniversaries, it’s appropriate that our readers selected this string of gems.

AMBIENCE: 360 The Restaurant at the CN Tower
Executive chef: Peter George.
Vibe: Watching the city pass by, 1150 feet above it all.
Signature dishes: Curried lamb, coconut buttermilk tart.
Details: There’s unequaled romance in the gentle spin of 360’s windowed dining room. The food is as gracious and exciting as the view, and the “cellar in the sky” holds an astonishing breadth of bottles.
Where: CN Tower, 301 Front St. W., 416-362-5411

BAR/LOUNGE: Panorama
Executive chef: Jeff Dueck.
Vibe: Beautiful view, beautiful people, beautiful staff, beautiful drinks.
Signature drinks: Lots, including the Sparkling Bouquet—a fizzy elixir of champagne, melon liqueur and fresh flowers.
Details: A stunning view of the whole city: full-pane windows show off both the glittering downtown to the south and the ever-broadening expanse to the north. The patio gets customers that much closer to the view. A hip after-work crowd enjoys this sleek club-style lounge’s low sofas, candlelight and menu of small plates. Friday evening parties start early here.
Where: Manulife Centre, 55 Bloor St. W., 51st floor, 416-967-0000

BREAKFAST/BRUNCH: Cora’s Breakfast & Lunch
Vibe: The city slowly coming to life on long weekend mornings.
Signature dishes: Apple-cheddar crêpe.
Details: One of downtown’s best brunches, so no surprise that there’s often a line-up to get in, but the line moves quickly and friendly staff make the transition pleasant. This Montreal-based favourite has made fast friends with Toronto by way of cheese-stuffed crêpes, hangover-curing bacon-and-egg platters, and any number of fruit-granola-yogurt combos. There’s something for everyone—even those pur laine Quebeckers who want old-fashioned cretons (pork spread) with their eggs.
Where: 277 Wellington St. W., 416-598-2672
4120 Dixie Rd., Mississauga, 905-624-1297

BUSINESS LUNCH: Bâton Rouge
Vibe: Business deals going down in quiet, spacious booths beneath soft lighting.
Signature dishes: Barbecued baby back ribs with chicken, shrimp or both.
Details: The downtown location is a bit of an oasis off the central court of the Toronto Eaton Centre, so movers and shakers can tuck into big plates of beef and ribs while they discuss the workings of the world. And what else makes such an impression as a great steak or a rack of tender sweet ribs? Professional service makes the meal smooth.
Where: Toronto Eaton Centre, 216 Yonge St., 416-593-9667
5000 Yonge St., 416-218-0094
CAFÉ: 7 West Cafe
Vibe: Study groups, after-hours clubbers and everyone in between appreciates three storeys of cozy nooks, a tucked-away patio, and food available at all hours of the day—and night.
Signature dishes: Most entrees come with an excellent crunchy house salad of greens, red cabbage, chick peas, onions and peppers.
Details: Breakfast can be pancakes and sausages or comforting oatmeal; lunches of thin-crust pita pizzas; bowls of pasta for supper, and the best desserts from Dufflet’s, one of the city’s top bakeries, at any time of day. The Yonge-and-Bloor location, Toronto’s ultimate intersection where all walks of life need a bite to eat, means that vegetarian options are on hand, and nothing is too expensive.
Where: 7 Charles St. W., 416-928-9041

CHINESE: Lai Wah Heen
Executive chef: Ken Tam.
Dim sum chef: Terence Chan.
Vibe: Upscale Chinese cuisine served in the elegance of curvy walls, muted shades and high-backed chairs.
Signature dishes: Pork sui mai dim sum, two-course Peking duck meal.
Details: In a city that boasts multiple Chinatowns and countless restaurants, Lai Wah Heen easily comes out on top year after year. It’s not only world-renowned for its dim sum, but equally respected for classic Chinese dishes. The Cantonese cuisine gets delicious updates with exotic ingredients and tropical fruits. Generous staff help with choices from the seemingly endless menu.
Where: Metropolitan Hotel, 108 Chestnut St., 2nd floor, 416-977-9899

FAMILY DINING: Jack Astor’s Bar and Grill
Vibe: Pop music, good food and plenty of folks ready for a good time.
Signature dishes: Smokey Jack’s cheeseburger, butter-brushed New York steak and parmesan chicken bowties.
Details: The diverse menu and lively atmosphere bring in groups of friends and families, as well as a hopping after-work crowd and legions of pre-game or pre-theatre diners. Super-friendly staff and lethal daiquiris add to the welcome, too.
Where: 144 Front St. W., 416-585-2121

FINE DINING: Canoe Restaurant & Bar
Executive chef: Anthony Walsh.
Vibe: Suave, modern Canadian decor set off by the stunning south- and west-facing view (summer sunsets are particularly spectacular).
Signature dishes: Lobster clubhouse for lunch; sablefish marinated in miso, maple and screech (a potent rum from Newfoundland) on braised oxtail at dinner.
Details: An anchor of Toronto’s fine dining scene, Canoe is at once innovative and dependable. Innovative in its ever-evolving Canadian cuisine; dependable because diners know that anything they order will be sensational. Gorgeous desserts, Canadian cheeses, superb wines and impeccable service round out the experience.
Where: Toronto Dominion Bank Tower, 66 Wellington St. W., 54th floor, 416-364-0054

FRENCH: Le Papillon
Vibe: Streaming sunlight, rattan chairs and huge indoor plants turn this room into an indoor patio.
Signature dishes: Gratineed French onion soup, crêpes bourguignonnes, French-Canadian tourtière.
Details: Between the Québécois favourites and the multiple varieties of stuffed crêpes bretonnes (made with buckwheat flour), pre-theatre diners have much to choose from in this charming restaurant. Save room for desserts such as tarte au sucre (Quebec’s famous sugar pie) and crêpes stuffed with fruit and cream.
Where: 16 Church St., 416-363-3773

GREEK: Ouzeri
Vibe: A sophisticated, bright and welcoming Greek taverna.
Signature dishes: Grilled rack of lamb, souvlaki plate.
Details: It’s no surprise that this winner comes from “the Danforth,” home to the city’s Greektown, but Ouzeri has a sleekness that a few of its neighbours lack, and so it’s often singled out for all the Greek favourites—mezes, skewers, grilled fish, flaming cheese. Plenty of the namesake national drink, licoricey ouzo, to wash it down.
Where: 500A Danforth Ave., 416-778-0500

HOTEL DINING: Truffles
Executive chef: Lynn Crawford.
Vibe: Elegant fine dining and the occasional celebrity sighting.
Signature dishes: Spaghettini with Perigord Black Gold served with a light truffle sauce.
Details: Not just for hotel guests, Truffles is a destination for all of Toronto, its refined French-based cuisine beautifully presented and served in luxurious surroundings. Each table seems an island unto itself, and staff appear out of nowhere to carry out the little details (such as helping a lady with her chair) that make diners feel indulged. A dazzling five-course tasting menu is the ultimate gastronomic experience.
Where: Four Seasons Hotel, 21 Avenue Rd., 416-928-7331

INDIAN: The Host
Executive chef: Sanjeev Sethi.
Vibe: Classic Indian dishes in a classy uptown dining room.
Signature dishes: Tandoori lobster, shrimp in tamarind curry, butter chicken.
Details: Just reading the menu makes the mouth water: there are so many delights within that choosing just a few can be difficult. Dishes from the blisteringly hot tandoor oven are especially remarkable, but so is the selection of gourmet vegetarian options. Kindly staff are proud of what they serve.
Where: 14 Prince Arthur Ave., 416-962-4678
33 City Centre Dr., Mississauga, 905-566-4678

ITALIAN: Terroni
Vibe: After-work suits mingle with the jeans-and-heels crowd, while families with children of all ages are as comfortable as hand-holding couples.
Signature dishes: Thin-crust pizzas such as the smendozzata (tomato, mozzarella, sausage, gorgonzola and onions).
Details: Its locations are like beacons for lovers of casual Italian food, and with three downtown, no one ever needs to be too far from these harbours of pizzas (wondrously restrained toppings), handmade pasta (simple, authentic sauces) and other Italian favourites (beef carpaccio, buffalo mozzarella caprese salad). There’s an energy and buzz to each locale, where wines are served by the tumbler and the city’s best lattes are the crowning touch.
Where: 720 Queen St. W., 416-504-0320
1 Balmoral Ave., 416-925-4020
106 Victoria St., 416-955-0258

JAPANESE: Nami
Executive chef: Tadashi Takinami.
Vibe: An element of secrecy adds buzz to the large main room and side chambers.
Signature dishes: Butterfish sashimi, grilled steaks from the robata bar.
Details: Variety is fun, especially at Nami, where the robata bar (dishes are grilled to order) and sushi bar cohabit in the main room. For more than 20 years, diners have appreciated the Japanese specialties of all kinds—tempura, teriyaki, sushi, hot pots, noodle dishes—as well as chilled sake.
Where: 55 Adelaide St. E., 416-362-7373

ROMANTIC: Trattoria Sotto Sotto
Executive chef: Marisa Rocca.
Vibe: Snug, softly lit corners and low ceilings attract anyone looking for privacy—dreamy-eyed couples and visiting celebrities.
Signature dishes: Grilled sea bass with lemon and garlic.
Details: Cozy, tucked away and understatedly welcoming, it’s easy to understand why Sotto Sotto is a destination for film stars. Quality regional Italian dishes—antipasti, appetizer-size and entree pastas, made-to-order risottos for two, veal dishes and excellent tiramisù—appeal to all diners.
Where: 116 Avenue Rd., 416-962-0011

SERVICE: North 44º
Executive chef: Mark McEwan.
Chef de cuisine: Sash Simpson.
Vibe: The calm beauty of a European airport sets the stage for spectacular food.
Signature dishes: Duckling three ways: crispy confit, tender breast with truffle potato rösti and foie gras.
Details: Exceptional cuisine and beautiful food presentation are guaranteed, but so is the kind of service that makes diners feel like pampered royals. Every little detail, from gentle hellos to thoughtful wine recommendations, all come together to make an evening unforgettable.
Where: 2537 Yonge St., 416-487-4897

STEAKHOUSE: Ruth’s Chris Steak House
Vibe: Hideaway for carnivore elite.
Signature dishes: Man-sized Cowboy Ribeye with a loaded, one-pound baked potato.
Details: Accessed by elevator, this is a haven for steak lovers. The draw is USDA Prime corn-fed beef, broiled at impossibly high temperatures and served with rich sides such as au gratin potatoes and garlic mashed potatoes. Popular with travellers and businesspeople; it’s also not unusual to catch a glimpse of a pro-basketball or hockey player here.
Where: 145 Richmond St. W., 416-955-1455
77 City Centre Dr., Mississauga, 905-897-8555

WINE LIST: Reds Bistro & Bar
Sommelier: Mark Moffat.
Executive chef: Michael Steh.
Vibe: A muted, even romantic dining room above a popular, boisterous bar.
Signature dishes: Seasonal three-course Niagara-inspired table d’hôte menu.
Details: Candlelight gives Reds’ two storeys a pleasant aura, but when Bay Street’s suits land after a long day, the bar can get lively. The food is upscale, made to match the award-winning wine list, which is expansive and affordable by the glass and bottle. Food and wine matches are thoughtful and appropriate.
Where: 77 Adelaide St. W., 416-862-7337

THE WILLIAM ASHLEY SILVER SERVICE AWARD: Monsoon
Select members of the elite professional-concierge association Les Clefs d’Or voted on their top pick for the restaurant with the best service.
Executive chef: Winlai Wong.
Vibe: Sensuous colours, lights and house music match pan-Asian fare.
Signature dishes: Organic pork tenderloin with a bibb moo shoo bean thread crêpe in hoi sin orange.
Details: If we eat first with our eyes, then walking into Monsoon is a meal in itself. This beautiful restaurant attracts club-goers and gastronomes alike with a unique atmosphere, superb pan- Asian cuisine—from Indian kachamber salad to Japanese wasabi vinaigrette—and desserts like chocolate heaven.
Where: 100 Simcoe St., 416-979-7172

For a list of the finalists, please see MMM Finalists.—Claire Tansey

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