It was a tough job—involving sampling hundreds of appetizers, entrées, wines, cocktails and desserts—but somebody had to do it. And when we asked, you brought your opinions to the table. This year marks the 11th annual Most Memorable Meal Awards, our readers’ choice award program that honours dining excellence in Toronto. To nominate favourite restaurants in 20 different categories, Where Toronto readers filled out our in-magazine Dine & Vote ballots or voiced their preferred picks on our Web site. This year saw more votes and nominees than ever before.
Well-established as a city for fabulous fare and with tastes from every ethnicity, Toronto has something for every foodie. So if you need more food for thought next time you’re hankering to try a new restaurant, consult our list of finalists to discover some truly winning meals.
mood: Zydeco and Louisianan music set against a colourful, campy Mardi-Gras decor is the closest thing to being in old New Orleans this side of, well, N’Awlins. A cheerful patio and five intimate rooms—some with private curtained booths and a 1940s bar—have al fresco-style string lights hanging from the ceiling, while walls are adorned with feather boas and festive, street-party masks. food: Creole, Cajun and soul food spice it up with items like gumbo, Canal Street jambalaya, farm-raised catfish and French Quarter lamb. After-dinner coffees include the voodoo kiss with black sambuca and Irish cream; cocktails range from Shooter’s Angel Heart (Irish cream, Cruzan rum and Bols crème de cacao) to Gator Bait (coconut rum, melon liqueur, blue Curaçao, Irish cream and pineapple-orange juice). that’s the spirit: Every evening, two resident psychics take 15-minute appointments for clairvoyant readings ($30). 595 Markham St., 416-536-3211.
mood: There’s a reason this lounge has won this award for the second year in a row: its unparalleled romantic vibe. At the aptly named Panorama, floor-to-ceiling windows, leather Barcelona-style seating and a contemporary chandelier set a hip backdrop for passion. food: Executive chef Jeff Dueck’s tasty modern menu offers perfect-for-sharing plates and desserts to accompany the bar’s specialty of frozen, martini- and champagne-based seasonal cocktails, like the Saketini or Top of the World (Wyborowa vodka, amaretto, orange juice and cream). highest patios: Spellbinding vistas from the city’s two highest patios showcase both uptown and downtown, making this lounge the top place to see and be seen. Manulife Centre, 55 Bloor St. W., 51st Floor, 416-967-0000.
Cora’s Breakfast & Lunch
mood: The sunny atmosphere at this casual downtown eatery has been around for 20 years, when Cora Mussely Tsouflidou opened her first restaurant in Montreal. food: A generous six-page menu of egg and fruit plates, plus an appetizing children’s menu, offers treats inspired by Quebec country cooking, including stuffed crepes and waffles. Monday to Friday, Cora’s options satisfy diners seeking either a traditional midday meal or breakfast, while on weekends only the breakfast menu is served. breakfast best: Don’t miss the old-fashioned pancakes with a choice of more than 20 different fillings, or French toast topped with all kinds of delights. 277 Wellington St. W. (entrance on Blue Jays Way), 416-598-2672.
BUSINESS LUNCH AND SERVICE
Bâton Rouge Restaurant & Bar
mood: Bâton Rouge won in two categories this year with good reason. Professional, efficient service—you can easily enjoy a meal in less than an hour—caters to time-sensitive business lunches. The dark-red wood, spacious booths and candlelit decor are equally conducive to a romantic ambience. food: The meaning behind Bâton Rouge’s “red stick” refers to the wood-fire grill, which gives much of the food its smoky aroma. The crispy shoestring fries have won awards, and the salad dressings are made fresh in-house. Plus, there’s a great wine and martini list. legendary ribs: The restaurant’s baby back ribs really are prime—meat falls from the bone at the slightest provocation, but the flavourful secret is in the closely guarded house-made barbecue sauce. 216 Yonge St., 416-593-9667; 5000 Yonge St., 416-218-0094.
B Espresso Bar
mood: This designer Italian coffee bar on Queen Street East features sleek communal tabletops made of river stones, a flat-screen that plays old movies and magazines aplenty. food: Steaming cups of unbeatable, aesthetically pleasing java—Illy is the bean of choice—are served with genuine regard for the art of coffee-making. Lattes come adorned with espresso drizzled into heart-shaped designs on the foam. Imported specialty pops, juices, wines and fresh panini-style sandwiches, pizzas, salads and baked goods are as good to eat as they are to look at. sing a song: Stick around long enough and at least one of the baristas will break into song—often in Italian! 111 Queen St. E., 416-866-2111.
Lai Wah Heen
mood: Lai Wah Heen, which means “luxurious eating place,” lives up to its name. Original Chinese calligraphy adorns a serene, split-level beige-and-black dining room with a 12-foot ceiling. food: Executive chef Ken Tam and dim sum chef Terence Chan create exotic Pacific Rim dishes like two-course Peking duck. Innovative gastronomic hybrids abound, like foie gras and minced chicken in a soft tart shell. Prix fixe banquet menus (for a minimum of four people) allow you to travel the world without leaving your seat. globe-trotting goodness: Try the Dine-Around-China lunch option for regional tastes of Hong Kong, Chiu Chow or Szechuan cuisine. Metropolitan Hotel, 108 Chestnut St., 2nd floor, 416-977-9899.
mood: After 30 years in business, the Pickle Barrel is as fun, value-oriented, family-friendly and comfortable as it ever was. food: More than 300 items on the menu—from deli sandwiches to burgers to sizzling fajitas and stir-fries to all-day breakfasts—means there really is something for even the pickiest of eaters. Free fountain pop refills and a kids’ menu with such items as dinosaur chicken nuggets make The Pickle Barrel a popular destination for all generations. parent pleaser: Moms and dads welcome low-carb options and, for a treat, low-fat frozen-yogourt smoothies. Atrium on Bay, 312 Yonge St., 416-977-6677; Yonge Eglinton Centre, 2300 Yonge St., 416-485-1244; Yorkdale Shopping Centre, 1 Yorkdale Rd., 416-785-8881.
mood: Named after the city’s latitude, North 44° is one of midtown’s most tony restaurants. The sophisticated space designed by Yabu Pushelberg boasts clean, contemporary lines perfect for business or romance, and the service is flawless. food: Internationally renowned chef and owner Mark McEwan offers gourmet new-continental cuisine that is as elegant as it is unpretentious. An extensive single malt, fine whiskey, high-end tequila and by-the-glass champagne selection is available. must-try items: It’s a toss-up between the lamb (roasted rack with champs, caramelized parsnips, sunchokes and natural reduction) and the lipstick martini (raspberry-infused vodka with muddled fresh raspberries and champagne). 2537 Yonge St., 416-487-4897.
mood: Mediterranean-style stucco and a lush indoor garden make this oasis feel like a sunny patio with country farmhouse charm. food: Revered equally for its crêpes Bretonnes—served salty or sweet—as for its French onion soup, the French Canadian-inspired menu and wines here will leave your taste buds aflutter. Selections include cretons à l’ancienne (a pork pâté with croutons) or tourtière. Save room for desserts like tarte au sucre or profiteroles. breakfast of champions: Weekend options include a smorgasbord of crepes from the brunch menu or à la carte. 16 Church St., 416-363-0838.
mood: Dignified dining is at its best on the posh Four Seasons Hotel’s second floor. Two sculptures of Uffizi boars that poke fun at the idea of pigging out flank the entrance to an airy room. Soaring ceilings, impeccably decorated with murals of the gardens of Versailles, lend a formal air. food: Executive chef Robert Bartley has crafted modern, French-inspired haute cuisine. This ritzy dining room has an undisputed reputation as being the best place in the city to satisfy your truffles fix. Sommelier Sara d’Amato can advise on more than 450 labels. luxe fungi: Be sure to try the signature dish, truffle-foam spaghettini with Perigord Black Gold served with a light truffle sauce. Four Seasons Hotel, 21 Avenue Rd., 416-928-7331.
Bombay Palace Restaurant
mood: Newly renovated Bombay Palace showcases its warm decor with Indian artifacts such as village-made statues and comfortable, cushioned booths. food: Serving authentic Indian cuisine specific to Northern India, dishes lean towards curries, and chili- and coconut-based flavours. A special menu of low-cholesterol items that retain every nuance of smoky, spicy flavour is available, and for the iron-stomach set, there’s seafood vindaloo, a fiery-red assorted curry specialty from the former Portuguese colony of Goa. back for more: The all-you-can-eat buffet lunch, with a wide selection of vegetarian options, is a veritable feast for the senses. 71 Jarvis St., 416-368-8048.
Trattoria Sotto Sotto
mood: This subterranean ristorante off Yorkville’s beaten path has the atmosphere of a sexy grotto, with Roman murals and columns, plus romantic semi-private dining areas. food: Executive chef Marisa Rocca creates Southern Italian fare, like the restaurant’s signature Antipasto Gordonia (grilled shrimp, calamari, vegetables and Asiago cheese). Sommelier Terrence Flynn suggests picks from an intelligently composed wine list. star sightings: The tucked-away location makes it a favourite hideaway for celebs like Johnny Depp, Keanu Reeves, Sean Penn, Pierce Brosnan and Hilary Duff. 116A Avenue Rd., 416-962-0011; Sotto In The Village, 425 Spadina Rd., 416-322-8818.
Christina’s On the Danforth
mood: Indoors, the pastel walls at this restaurant on The Danforth will make you feel like you’re on an isle in the Aegean; outdoors, you’ll find Greektown’s only year-round heated patio. food: Christina’s proudly offers authentic Mediterranean favourites like moussaka, lobster-tail dinner and five kinds of souvlaki. Don’t forget the ouzo! Weekend brunch features omelettes like Zorba the Greek, the Athenian and the Spanakomelet. a bellyfull: On Friday and Saturday nights, clap or dance along to live Greek bands and a belly-dancing performance. 492 Danforth Ave., 416-463-4418.
mood: The contemporary open dining room showcases a marble sushi bar with separate wine and sake bars. food: Find some of the freshest sushi and sashimi in town, plus an extensive award-winning wine and sake list that complements traditional Japanese maki, nigiri, tempura and sashimi. Vegetarian options abound. With advance notice for a minimum of four people, they can create an omakase or “Chef’s Choice” menu. catch of the day: Edo, open since 1986, doesn’t just serve super sushi. Hands-on sushi-making courses—complete with enlightenment about its history, etiquette and culture—are taught here. 484 Eglinton Ave. W., 416-322-3033; 431 Spadina Rd., 416-482-8973.
360 The Restaurant at the CN Tower
mood: What could be more romantic than slowly revolving for a bird’s-eye view of the city skyline through the windows at the highest restaurant in the city? food: Executive chef Peter George’s inventive offerings, like blood-orange granita with french beans and lemon- glazed shallots, are paired with more than 550 international and Canadian wines. for a good time: Elevation to the CN Tower’s observation deck is complimentary with the purchase of a main course. Make your reservation for a few minutes before dusk: first check out the city’s landscape from the deck in daylight; then retreat to the restaurant to enjoy the sunset vistas during your meal; finally, hit the deck again post-meal for luminous urban views after nightfall. 301 Front St. W., 416-362-5411.
Fisherman’s Wharf of San Francisco
mood: This 35-year-old seafood eatery in the heart of downtown’s entertainment, sports and shopping district features high-backed chairs, tasteful white tablecloths and romantic candle sconces amid a minimalist yet cozy wood-and-frosted-glass decor. food: House specialties include coquilles St. Jacques, cherrywood-planked Tasmanian sea trout, grilled lobster tails, Fisherman’s-style bouillabaisse, and novel appetizers like tequila oyster shooters. For a change from seafood, there are pasta, salad and meat options, too. v.i.p. taste-test: World-famous for its seafood platter, Fisherman’s Wharf has attracted recent guests like Beyoncé, Denzel Washington, Alicia Keys and Alice Cooper. 69 Richmond St. W., 416-364-1344.
mood: A trendy spot in the Entertainment District, Monsoon features a sleek look, with thoughtful attention to lighting. At its hip lounge with au courant cement floors, artsy videos play on a screen in the background. food: Executive chef Winlai Wong’s New Asian cuisine includes such menu highlights as organic beef tenderloin, soft-shell crab and the Monsoon tasting platter. The bar offers wines—sparkling or otherwise—by the glass or half-bottle; the mango-purée-based Monsoon Martini is a signature drink. sensory experience: The mod designer decor at Monsoon has won an award for outstanding restaurant design in North America, and the kitchen’s inspiring twist on eastern cuisines is sensationally palate-pleasing. 100 Simcoe St., 416-979-7172.
The Keg Steakhouse & Bar
mood: A casual dining atmosphere—with music that runs the gamut from hip up-tempo sounds to jazzy vocals, depending on location—welcomes couples, groups and families. food: Generous portions of grilled-to-perfection steaks, from blue rare to well done to Chicago style, are this restaurant’s signature. Only centre cuts, aged longer for extra tenderness and flavoured with The Keg’s signature seasonings, are served. Lighter fare, like salad entrées, is available, as are feature drinks (which change seasonally). A separate kids’ menu has six pleasing options, including mini-burgers, that come with veggies, beverages, ice cream and crayons to occupy restless little ones. hassle-free dining: House policy is to allow “Keggers” (the personality-screened “no-attitude” servers) to be themselves, so there’s little wonder that steak lovers get exceptional service here. 165 York St., 416-703-1773; 12 Church St., 416-367-0685; 515 Jarvis St., 416-964-6609; 4841 Yonge St. (at Sheppard Ave.), 416-225-2841.
mood: Downstairs, Reds Café & Bar boasts a bustling environment that attracts many from the nearby financial district for drinks and dining amid a modern backdrop of wood, glass, marble and brick. Upstairs, at relaxed Reds Wine Country Bistro, find culinary specialties from international wine regions and Niagara. food: Executive chef Michael Steh’s Lunch Table d’Hôte offers such mouth-watering mains as chipotle-glazed grilled Ontario pork chop with baked sour cream potato hash and Granny Smith applesauce. Sommelier Andrea Smithson matches each menu item with a wine recommendation from the award-winning list. say cheese: The extensive cheese menu lets you pick one, three or five global cheeses—perfect to pair with an affordable taste of the vine, from the city’s largest by-the-glass selection. 77 Adelaide St. W., 416-862-7337.
THE WILLIAM ASHLEY SILVER SERVICE AWARD
Top concierges reveal their pick for the best service.
Members of the international elite concierge association Les Clefs d’Or have the inside track on the city’s best. This year, they voted a long-standing Toronto tradition, Barberian’s Steak House, the hands-down winner for service. Owned by Aaron Barberian, it’s been around since 1959, and is undeniably romantic. In 1964, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor got engaged there—for the first time. Sommelier Christina Sharpe can help you choose from 2,600 outstanding wine selections and 30,000 bottles dating back to 1964. Chef Steve Rigakos perfects items like filet mignon wrapped in bacon and an after-theatre menu including beef fondue bourguignon for two. Book ahead to dine privately on the mezzanine level of the new 19-foot floor-to-ceiling cellar. 7 Elm St., 416-597-0335.
To see the a complete list of Most Memorable Meal Award nominees, visit Top 5 Nominees.—Viviane Kertész