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Where to Dine in 2009

Our 13th annual Readers’ Choice rundown of your favourite restaurants in 20 categories.

Best Hotel Dining: Victoria's

Best Hotel Dining: Victoria's

Every year we ask you, and every year, you tell us. By filling out a ballot in a previous issue of Where Toronto or voting online at Where.ca, you let us know where to go for the finest of everything: ambience, service, romance and family dining. You whispered in our ear about the hottest spot to raise a glass at the most excellent bar in town, and shared your secret on best bets for breakfast or brunch. You even voiced your opinions on superlative ethnic eateries for foods from France, Greece, India, Japan, Italy and more—all accessible without leaving the city! The 2009 Where to Dine winners are your favourite places to eat, drink and be merry.

AMBIENCE
The Sultan’s Tent & Café Moroc
Get as close as you can to Marrakesh without boarding a plane by lounging among colourful pillows and lanterns here. Belly dancers entertain while you nosh on four courses of French-African gastronomy like harira, edible hand-rolled Moroccan cigars, keskesu Casablanca and the brûlée royale.
Finalists: 360 The Restaurant at the CN Tower, Bâton Rouge Restaurant & Bar (Toronto Eaton Centre location), Bellini’s Ristorante, Southern Accent

BAR/LOUNGE
Dakota Tavern
Live music nightly and during Sunday brunch at the hippest bar on the Ossington strip draws the best bluegrass, alt-country and hybrid-rock musicians in Canada to perform in a basement barn. . . or is it a stage? Catch resident band Steamboat Sunday nights. Tip: get there early to get in.
Finalists: College Street Bar, Elephant & Castle, Lobby Bar at the Four Seasons hotel (21 Avenue Rd., 416-928-7332, Riva Supper Lounge

Best Breakfast/Brunch: Le Sélect Bistro

Best Breakfast/Brunch: Le Sélect Bistro

BREAKFAST/BRUNCH
Le Sélect Bistro
From Viennoiseries to croque monsieurs to a cellar that stocks 15,000 bottles—including Bordeaux dating back to the 1940s—this resto’s summer terrasse is the place to evoke languid mornings in Paris or on the Riviera.
Finalists: Cora Breakfast & Lunch, Fran’s, Hot House Café, Sunset Grill

BUSINESS LUNCH
Reds Bistro & Wine Bar
This Financial District gem sparkles like a bright icewine—just one of the bistro’s 450 vintages, with 90 available by the glass. Sommelier Taylor Thompson pairs them perfectly with chef Michael Steh’s inspired wine-country cuisine.
Finalists: Bymark, Canoe, Far Niente, Jump

CAFÉ
Art Square Café
This split-personality coffee shop—it’s part art gallery and part café—is all the rage. Works from six Turkish painters are on view from August 3 to 31, and if the art bug bites, it’s conveniently located across from the Art Gallery of Ontario.
Finalists: 7 West Café, Aroma, B Espresso Bar, Queen Mother Café

Best Café: Art Square Café

Best Café: Art Square Café

CHINESE
Lai Wah Heen
This restaurant’s name means “luxurious meeting place,” where patrons come together in the Metropolitan Hotel to sample exceptional dim sum. Chef Ken Tam translates recent trends from Cantonese cuisine and spices things up with exotic Pacific Rim herbs.
Finalists: Asian Legend, Lee Garden, Spadina Garden, Swatow

FAMILY DINING
Pickle Barrel
The Atrium on Bay location of this popular family-oriented chain is a hit with young and old—especially picky eaters, who are spoilt for choice here with a menu of more than 300 items.
Finalists: Fran’s, Jack Astor’s, The Old Spaghetti Factory, Vesuvio’s Pizzeria & Spaghetti House (3010 Dundas St. W., 416-763-4191)

FINE DINING
Canoe
Come for the flawless service or chef Anthony Walsh’s creative Canadian cuisine and stay for the view high atop the TD Bank Tower, which yawns over the urban activity below from the 54th floor. The Yabu Pushelberg–designed interior is simply stylish, too.
Finalists: Bellini’s Ristorante, North 44°, Rosewater Supper Club, Victor Restaurant & Bar

FRENCH
Le Papillon on Front
Walk into this restaurant’s new digs with exposed brick and a welcoming patio, and feel like you’ve teleported to your favourite Gallic brasserie. Since 1974, the city’s first French crêperie has offered its specialty—traditional sweet or salty Breton-style crepes—and much more.
Finalists: Auberge du Pommier, Bistro 990, Didier, La Maquette

Best French: Le Papillon on Front

Best French: Le Papillon on Front

GREEK
Penelope
Flambéed, ouzo-soaked kefalotiri cheese—which you’ve probably enjoyed as saganaki. . . Opa!—and other classic tastes of the old country—think chicken souvlaki and moussaka—await you at this traditionally decorated Grecian eatery across from Roy Thomson Hall.
Finalists: Astoria, Christina’s on the Danforth, Pan on the Danforth, Pappas Grill

HOTEL DINING
Victoria’s at the King Edward Hotel
The “King Eddie,” as the Le Méridien King Edward Hotel is affectionately known, transports you back in time to an English aristocrat’s club. Victoria’s Sunday brunch and afternoon tea (served Wednesday to Sunday) are feasts for the senses. 37 King St. E., 416-863-9700.
Finalists: Epic at the Fairmont Royal York, Tundra at the Hilton Hotel, Truffles at the Four Seasons, Victor Restaurant & Bar at Hôtel Le Germain

INDIAN
Babur Indian Cuisine
The architecture firm behind Colborne Lane completed a makeover of this mainstay—on the scene since 1983—makes for a sophisticated eating experience. Don’t skip the butter chicken, lamb quorma or tandoori gobhi.
Finalists: 309 Dhaba Indian Excellence, Bombay Palace, The Host, Little India

ITALIAN
Mistura
Massimo Capra, Restaurant Makeover’s celeb chef and best-selling author of One Pot Italian Cooking: More Than 100 Easy Authentic Recipes, is the toque behind the dinner-only kitchen here. Mains like wild boar agnolotti and desserts like orange and pistachio semolina cake don’t disappoint.
Finalists: Bellini’s Ristorante, Il Fornello, Trattoria Sotto Sotto, Terroni

Best Business Lunch: Reds

Best Business Lunch: Reds

JAPANESE
Nami
Kimono-clad wait staff serve authentic, sophisticated Japanese fare in private booths or a Tatami room with rice-paper screened doors. Sit at the sushi bar to watch the chefs’ handiwork or the robata bar for custom-grilled meat, seafood or veggie dishes.
Finalists: Benihana, Blowfish, Ki Modern Japanese + Bar, Yamato

ROMANTIC
360 The Restaurant at the CN Tower
Dining atop the country’s highest tower—in an elegant revolving restaurant with a 550-plus label wine cellar—is the best way to view the cityscape 351 metres below. Bonus: your reservation also provides gratis entry to two observation decks.
Finalists: Auberge du Pommier, Canoe, Scaramouche, Trattoria Sotto Sotto

SEAFOOD
Fisherman’s Wharf of San Francisco
This well-appointed 35-year-old seafood-lover’s paradise proffers items like grilled black cod with miso-ginger glaze, grilled lobster tails in a champagne vinaigrette and house specialties like an award-winning seafood platter, which includes lobster, crab legs, oysters, scallops, shrimp, mussels and fresh fish.
Finalists: Big Daddy’s Crab Shack & Oyster Bar, Mediterra, Rodney’s Oyster House, Starfish Oyster Bed & Grill

SERVICE
Bâton Rouge Restaurant & Bar

This inviting, oft-applauded Toronto Eaton Centre staple—perfect for business or romance—consistently offers great service and ample portions of finger-licking-good Cajun-inspired cuisine, such as its trademark slow-cooked barbecued pork back ribs and New Orleans tuna bagnat sandwich.
Finalists: Canoe, Bellini’s Ristorante, Splendido, Truffles

Best Seafood: Fisherman's Wharf

Best Seafood: Fisherman's Wharf

SOUTH ASIAN
Bangkok Garden
This longstanding, upscale resto with rich wood decor offers essential ingredients delivered fresh from Thailand plus a “hot” factor ranging from “mildly spicy with little or no sting” to “Can you take it? For addicts, masochists and Thai nationals.”
Finalists: East! (240 Queen St. W., 416-351-3278), Golden Thai, Matahari Grill, Monsoon

STEAKHOUSE
Hy’s Steakhouse & Cocktail Bar
This two-storey steakhouse in Toronto’s financial sector serves up succulence (like the signature roasted prime rib with Yorkshire pudding, gorgonzola filet mignon or oysters rockefeller) and fine vintages amid decor of soaring ceilings, massive original artwork and a grand piano.
Finalists: Canyon Creek Chophouse, The Keg Steakhouse & Bar, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Wildfire Steakhouse & Wine Bar

WINE LIST
Victor Restaurant & Bar
This four-time finalist (for Best Fine Dining, Hotel, Service and Wine List) boasts a multitude of reasons to go, apart from its sommlier-envied offerings: chef David Chrystian’s delectable contemporary French-accented Canadian cuisine and its cool designer digs in white-hot Hôtel Le Germain.
Finalists: Barberian’s Steakhouse, Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar, Reds Bistro & Wine Bar, Via Allegro

WILLIAM ASHLEY SILVER SERVICE AWARD
Jacobs & Co. Steakhouse
Members of the elite concierge association Les Clefs d’Or selected Jacobs as 2009’s restaurant with the best service. This stylish haunt known for its hospitality features a piano bar, leather lounging chairs and urbane cream-coloured banquettes. The secret behind its delicious steaks? All beef is dry-aged in-house for up to 58 days. A mouthwatering menu starring Wagyu beef carpaccio, duck-fat French-fried potatoes and lobster thermidor seals its appeal.

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