CENTRO GRILL AND WINE BAR
2472 Yonge St., 416-483-2211
Who’s Who: Owner Tony Longo, chef Bruce Woods. Vibe: Old money meets nouvelle cuisine. Patron Profile: Local and visiting celebrities. Details: The service at Centro is skilled and seamless. A recent kitchen change has given Centro-at age 15 the grande dame in Toronto’s luxe dining scene-a new lease on life. Chef Bruce Woods’ menu adds a West coast flavour to modern European cuisine. A contemporary version of a Venetian Palace with large tables, leather armchairs and soaring ceilings. Centro also holds the distinction of being chosen by Les Clefs d’Or, an international organization of elite concierge, for its William Ashley Silver Service Award as best overall restaurant.
Finalists: Alice Fazooli’s! Italian Crabshack; Auberge du Pommier; Canoe Restaurant & Bar; The Keg Steakhouse & Bar; North 44º; Old Spaghetti Factory; Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse; 360 The Restaurant at the CN Tower; Truffles.
BEST FINE DINING
CANOE RESTAURANT & BAR
66 Wellington St. W.,TD centre, 54th floor, 416-364-0054
Who’s Who: Restaurant impresarios Michael Bonacini and Peter Oliver, executive chef Anthony Walsh, chef de cuisine Gordon Mackie. Vibe: Poshly patriotic. Patron Profile: Bay Street big leaguers and special occasion revellers. Details: The view from the 54th floor of the TD Centre leaves you breathless and that feeling, from first course to dessert, never diminishes. Canoe’s haute Canadian cuisine has defined the genre. The service is deft and unobtrusive. Oliver and Bonacini (the minds behind successful restaurants Auberge du Pommier, Jump and Steakfrites) utilize indigenous pine and maple, and pink granite from the Canadian Shield in Canoe’s elegant Asian-inspired decor.
Finalists: Auberge du Pommier; Centro; David Duncan House; The Fifth; North 44º; Scaramouche; Susur; 360 The Restaurant at the CN Tower; Truffles.
BEST WINE LIST
REDS BISTRO & BAR
77 Adelaide St. W., First Canadian Place, 416-862-7337
Who’s Who: Chef Guy Monjo, wine director Steve Christian. Vibe: One part Napa Valley, one part Alsace, one part financial district. Patron Profile: Oenophiles and novices. Details: Two-level restaurant offers a casual option downstairs and a more refined dining experience upstairs. This two-time winner of a Wine Spectator award features more than 500 bottles in its cellar and offers 75 wines by the glass. The menu samples the cuisines of wine regions around the world and offers two suggested wines with each selection.
Finalists: Auberge du Pommier; Canoe; Centro; Far Niente; Il Fornello (214 King St. W., 416-599-0312; 35 Elm St., 416-598-1766); North 44º; Opus; 360 The Restaurant at the CN Tower; Truffles.
OLD SPAGHETTI FACTORY
54 The Esplanade, 416-864-9761
Years Open: 32. Vibe: Lively and fun. Patron Profile: Families. Details: The decor boasts a carousel and San Francisco trolley car making it popular with the kiddies but it’s the price that makes it a hit with people picking up the check. All pasta dishes come with sourdough bread, minestrone soup or salad, coffee and ice cream for between $8.95 and $14.95. Famous patrons include ‘NSync, Cujo and members of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Finalists: Alice Fazooli’s! Italian Crabshack; Fisherman’s Wharf; Green Mango (730 Yonge St., 416-928-0021; 3006 Bloor St. W., 416-233-5004); The Keg; Marché Mövenpick; The Pickle Barrel; Red Lobster (20 Dundas St. W., 416-348-8938); Southern Accent; Spring Rolls (691 Yonge St., 416-972-7655).
Marché, 42 Yonge St., BCE Place, 416-366-8986
Mövenpick, 133 Yorkville Ave., 416-926-9545
Mövenpick Palavrion, 270 Front St. W., 416-979-0060
Years Open: 11. Vibe: Open air European market. Patron Profile: Busy business types, friends, families and singles Details: The Marché is modelled after a European market with different themed stations for choosing from a selection of global dishes. Try the customer fave Swiss specialty Rösti-crispy shredded potatoes served with sour cream and smoked salmon-sushi, omelettes, pastas and desserts, including its signature massive Belgian waffles. A fave of pro-athletes, both local and visiting, playing at the nearby Air Canada Centre. The more traditional Mövenpick is a sit-down resto with themed areas known for its Swiss dishes.
Finalists: Astoria; Benihana; Bombay Palace; Centro; Courthouse Market Grille; Green Mango; Hemispheres; La Castile (2179 Dundas St. E., 905-625-1197); Young Thailand.
THE PICKLE BARREL
312 Yonge St., 416-977-6677; 2300 Yonge St., 416-485-1244; The Pickle Barrel Grand, Yorkdale Shopping Centre, 416-785-8881
Years Open: 30. Vibe: Bustling. Patron Profile: Families, on-the-go eaters. Details: Speedy service, cheerful and comfortable decor make it a family favourite. Menus, both regular and kids, are expansive. Children can choose from 11 items, including corned beef sandwiches, chicken nuggets and French toast with bacon, served with a drink for $3.99. Adult choices include stir-fries, shrimp kebabs, barbecue chicken, applewood smoked porkchops, meatloaf and its signature deli fare.
Finalists: Bloomsbury’s Cafe (4777 Leslie St., 416-497-1600); East Side Mario’s (151 Front St. W., 416-360-1917); Jack Astor’s; The Keg; Kelsey’s (1011 The Queensway, 416-646-1586; 861 York Mills Rd., 416-441-2781); Leoni’s Italian Kitchen (page 83); Marché Mövenpick; Old Spaghetti Factory; Rainforest Café (Yorkdale Shopping Centre, 416-780-4080).
360 THE RESTAURANT
AT THE CN TOWER
301 Front St W., 416-362-5411
Who’s Who: Chef Peter George. Vibe: “I’m on top of the world.” Patron Profile: Special occasion revellers. Details: The twinkle of city lights and the glimmer of the lake at night creates an unparalleled ambience at 360. So romantic is this venue, perched high atop the CN Tower, it’s been the scene of countless wedding proposals. Combined with 360’s exceptional wine cellar and the impressive culinary skills of chef George and his team, it’s not surprising it’s a DiRoNa-award winner too.
Finalists: Auberge du Pommier; Canoe; Centro; David Duncan House; North 44º; The Old Mill (21 Old Mill Rd., Etobicoke, 416-236-2641); Scaramouche; Sotto Sotto; Truffles.
AUBERGE DU POMMIER
4150 Yonge St., 416-222-2220
Who’s Who: Restaurateurs Peter Oliver and Michael Bonacini, chef Todd Clarmo. Vibe: Elaborate French country chateau. Patron Profile: A mix of special occasion and social business diners. Details: This 1860 French country house is a perfectly appointed setting for chef Clarmo’s modern French cooking that dazzles from beginning to end. Start with roasted breast of pheasant seared with foie gras, follow with a main of bacon-wrapped veal tenderloin with sweetbread vol au vent. Finish the tour with a full-flavoured charouse from the incredible cheese selection or a heavenly warm chocolate brioche served with poached pear, café au lait anglaise and caramel glace.
Finalists: Avalon; Centro; Canoe; The Keg; Le Bifthèque; North 44º; Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse; Scaramouche; Susur.
216 Yonge St., Toronto Eaton Centre, 416-593-9667; 7520 Weston Rd., Vaughan, 905-265-8471
Vibe: A comfy gentleman’s den. Patron Profile: Shoppers and business diners. Details: The Montreal export, which opened in 1999 at the very central Yonge and Dundas location, serves more than 350 people for lunch each day. Known for its slow cooked meats, the restaurant’s baby back ribs keep the customers raving. The menu also offers Sterling Silver steaks, stir-fries, salads and pastas. Impatient people have no time to complain-the smiling servers are rocket fast.
Finalists: Bymark; Canoe; East Side Mario’s; Fisherman’s Wharf; Jump; Le Bifthèque; Marché Mövenpick; The Pickle Barrel; Wayne Gretzky’s.
SENSES RESTAURANT AND RETAIL
318 Wellington St., 416-597-6327
Who’s Who: Executive chef Claudio Aprile, consulting pastry chef Thomas Haas, pastry chef Iris Roteliuk. Vibe: New York, New York. Patron Profile: Gastronomes and wannabes. Details: It gave up its posh Bloor Street digs in January for a tony new address at the swank Soho Metropolitan Hotel. Senses combines an acclaimed fine dining restaurant with a lounge and a gourmet food shop-each offering the raved-about creations of Haas and Roteliuk. The desserts, while classically inspired, use innovative combinations and inventive presentations.
Finalists: Centro; Caffé Demetre (400 Danforth Ave., 416-778-6654, plus nine others); Dufflet Pastries (787 Queen St. W., 416-504-2870); Just Desserts (555 Yonge St., 416-963-8089); Marcel’s Bistro; Marché Mövenpick; Scaramouche; 360; Truffles.
HOT HOUSE CAFÉ
35 Church St., Market Square, 416-366-7800
Vibe: Easy-going. Patron Profile: Young and old, big and small. Details: A huge menu and an affordable price-point make this a destination for lunch and dinner all week long, but it’s the brunch that keeps this house hot on a Sunday. This weekly repast is so lauded by locals that it has won local Now Magazine readers’ polls for Best Brunch three years running. The buffet offers waffle and omelette stations, a salad table with a whole cold poached salmon, fresh fruit, a large selection of desserts, plus a variety of egg dishes-all with live jazz music. A value at $15.95 for adults and $8 for kids.
Finalists: Agora; Bloomsbury Café; Cora’s (4120 Dixie Rd., Mississauga, 905-624-1297); Gallery Grill (7 Hart House Circle, U of T, 416-978-2445); Marché Mövenpick; The Old Mill; Over Easy; The Pickle Barrel; The Senator Restaurant.
2537 Yonge St., 416-487-4897
Years Open: 13. Who’s Who: Executive chef/owner Mark McEwan, chef Sash Simpson. Vibe: Uptown chic. Patron Profile: Movers and shakers. Details: A renovation two years ago by famed design firm Yabu Pushelberg gives this revered restaurant an understated glamour appropriate to both big business deals and intimate tête-à-têtes. The award-winning culinary skills of McEwan and Simpson are consistently stellar.
Finalists: Bistro 990; Canoe; Centro; Hard Rock Café; Hy’s Steakhouse; Panorama (55 Bloor St. W., 416-967-0000); Planet Hollywood; Rain (19 Mercer St., 416-599-7246); 360 The Restaurant at the CN Tower.
BEST OVER ALL
The flagship restaurant of chef/entrepreneur Mark McEwan, North 44º is what most luxe restaurants aspire to be. Serene and glamorous, the Yabu Pushelberg-designed interior sets the stage for McEwan’s culinary genius. Roasted Dover sole in brown butter with capers, citrus, chive-spun potatoes and organic sweet beets, and roasted Australian lamb rack with toasted pecan crust, garlic-spun mashed potatoes, seasonal vegetables and pinot noir sauce are potential mains. North 44º’s front of house is a smooth-running machine and a perfect complement to the kitchen’s spectacular efforts. Oh, one more thing, the wine list tops 30 pages.—Meredith Birchall-Spencer