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tapas

Hot Dining: Simply Stunning

Chef-Adam-Donnelly---Segovia

For Chef Adam Donnelly, owner of Segovia Tapas Bar and Restaurant a popular Spanish-style spot, less is more. Diners and critics share an insatiable appetite for his sophisticated plates and appreciation of the restaurant’s trendy-yet-comfy industrial-chic interior. The wonder of Donnelly’s food lies in its artful composition. Many dishes are made with as few as four ingredients. Try Mascarpone- and pistachio-stuffed Medjool dates drizzled with maple syrup that tease with textures and a salty-sweet hook. Be advised this spot has a strict no reservations policy, so pop in early to get your name on the list. In the meantime prep for your experience with a frosty beverage at a nearby watering hole.

Hot Dining: Fantastic Food Fills an Ever-Changing Menu at Allium

Diners can always find something inventive (and delicious) at Allium.

The low-key dining room at Allium has all the makings for a great night: attentive service, delicious food, and a fun atmosphere. The menu changes on the first Thursday of every month, meaning you can make many return visits and try something different each time (they also offer a popular tapas menu on Monday nights). One of the items you don’t have to worry about changing though is the banoffee pie. This to-die-for treat (and local favourite) features a graham cracker crumb crust, banana slices, toffee, whipped cream, and chocolate shavings. A perfectly decadent way to end the meal. 87 Holland Ave., 613-792-1313.

 

Hot Dining: Summer Bites

Embrujo Flamenco's shrimp in chocolate sauce

Few things say summer like a pitcher of sangria and wistful thoughts of Spain, evoked by the authentic small-plates menus at these tapas restaurants.

1 Nose-to-tail charcuterie—from house-made chorizo to artisan cheeses—is the specialty at Cava, but respected chef Chris McDonald’s menu also features an eclectic assortment of nibbles including smoked kingfish ceviche ($13.50) and chipotle-caramel popcorn ($3.50).

2 Authentic tapas and native wines are just two of the attractions at Embrujo Flamenco. The Danforth hot spot is also favoured for its huge paellas ($39 to $59) and live flamenco performances from Wednesday to Sunday.

3 The little bull of Kensington Market, Torito Tapas Bar bustles with patrons enjoying Latin treats at indoor picnic tables or on one of two patios. The restaurant’s subterranean sibling, Pepe’s at Torito, offers a cozier, more romantic space for wining and dining.

Hot Dining: Engaging Import

Guu's deep-fried tofu (photo by Andrew John Virtue Dobson)

Who knew Torontonians were so starved for udon noodles and fried octopus balls? Apparently the owners of Guu! Since opening, the no-reservations Japanese-style izakaya’s communal tables have been crowded with boisterous diners. The energy emanates from the kitchen as cooks shout their greetings upon your arrival, and is sure to continue through the meal, too—you’ll be hard-pressed to restrain enthusiasm for tasty, eminently affordable fare like grilled pork cheek with yuzu pepper ($6.30), deep-fried tofu ($5) and salmon natto yukke ($8.30), which combines salmon sashimi with a variety of complementary nibbles. Wash it down with a glass of warm sake or authentic plum wine.

Hot Dining: Women’s Kitchen

The area around Church and Bloor streets is a little more welcoming thanks to three recently arrived women—restaurateurs Therese DeGrace and Karen Balcom, and their cheerful boîte, Lola’s Commissary. Within a Victorian-era townhouse featuring huge windows, exposed brick and reclaimed wood fixtures, chef DeGrace combines international influences in both tapas dishes and homestyle entrees like baked orrechiete ($13) and braised short ribs ($21). The restaurant’s weekend brunch also earns praise for sumptuous cheesecake-stuffed French toast ($12) and numerous poached-egg options served with a side of Lola’s “sexy potatoes.”

Wherelist: Best New Restaurants 2009

Where editors from across the country have cast their ballots for the Best New Restaurants to open in Canada in 2009. From creative twists on traditional cuisines to stylish décors and high quality food for reasonable prices, these are the eateries you won’t want to miss from coast to coast.

Veneto Tapa Lounge, Victoria

Victoria’s best new restaurant takes traditional tapas to a whole new level. Led by chef Tod Bosence, the sophisticated, urban Veneto Tapa Lounge offers both a hip bar area and quieter dining room, ideal for enjoying Bosence’s creative dinner menu. Each entree is presented tapas style – those in the mood for beef, for example, will enjoy it three ways: veal ravioli with portabella mushroom ragout and roasted garlic cream sauce; marinated short rib with parmesan polenta cake; and New York strip roulade with spicy lobster stuffing and bordelaise sauce.

Cibo Trattoria, Vancouver

With London’s River Café alumnus Neil Taylor heading up the kitchen and ex-Lumiere general manager/sommelier Sebastien Le Goff in charge, it didn’t take long for Cibo to gain a solid reputation for its vibrant rustic Italian cuisine, thoroughly grounded in West Coast ingredients. Taylor’s dishes, which change by the week (if not the day), are constructed with uncomplicated—but wickedly exacting—flair.

Parker House Grill & Wine Bar, Calgary

Parker House is the kind of place where diners can experience high quality service, ambience and food, for a reasonable price tag. Chef Andrew Keen, known for his excellence in “forgotten fare,” has created a menu inspired by traditional New England comfort dishes with creative twists. For dinner, most entrees (with the exception of their steaks) sit in the mid-twenties range, while diners on a budget can try one of their thin-crust pizzas for as low as $12.88.

Creations Dining Room & Lounge, Sawridge Inn Edmonton South, Edmonton

Artful, delicious dining at Creations—the paint’s barely dry and the buzz is on for the eclectic Canadian fusion cuisine of Creations, the stunning new dining room and lounge in the atrium of the Sawridge Inn Edmonton South. Walls of fire, water, badlands hoodoos and a huge dreamcatcher treat the senses as menu items entice patrons to explore palate pleasers such as Sherried Beef Caprese.

Rustica Steakhouse, Canadian Rockies

Rustic has earned its place as one of the Canadian Rockies’ top restaurants for its elegant ‘mountain lodge’ atmosphere and uncompromising dedication to Canada Prime Beef. But it’s the cuisine of Caribbean-born Chef Stefan Mahon that keeps them coming back for more. Only the top 0.3% of beef in Canada earns Prime designation (a superior grade to AAA)—Stefan’s New York cuts, grand filet mignon and prime rib chops are prepared with a signature dry rub, seared under a 1500°F (815°C) broiler and presented on 500°F (260°C) plates with garlic butter.

Hermanos, Winnipeg

Winnipeggers are feeling the Latin heat thanks to the fiery flavours of South American cuisine at this year’s arrival of Hermanos Restaurant and Wine Bar. Set in a 5,500-square-foot warehouse in the Exchange District, fast lunches, tapas and mains are found on the mainly Argentinean- and Brazilian-influenced menu. The crispy fried empanadas are a must-try.

Raw Aura, Mississauga

Raw Aura, true to its name, offers a menu of entirely raw cuisine—the better to emphasize the natural and nourishing properties of fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and sprouts. In an intimate yet airy space, friendly staff dish out delectably fresh fare including a “peace wrap” bursting with avocado, tomatoes, carrots, kale, sprouts and hummus, and zesty lo-mein featuring noodles made of zucchini and golden beets.

Loire, Toronto

Loire, a self-described “casual gourmet” spot, well-situated along increasingly foodie-friendly Harbord Street offers fresh, seasonal dishes that could include chili- and cornmeal-crusted Lake Erie whitefish, grilled New York striploin and a succulent beef or lamb burger on challah bread. This intimate restaurant effortlessly straddles the line between relaxed neighbourhood fave and boldface fine-dining destination.

Teca, Muskoka

Overlooking Lake Rosseau is Teca, a fine Italian restaurant located within the luxurious Rosseau Resort & Spa. Surrounded by the natural beauty of the Muskoka Lakes, find this decidedly urban dining room and a centrally located open kitchen that dishes up authentic rustic Italian fare. Tuck into freshly made pasta—from papperdelle and gnocchi to spaghetti and meatballs—or thin crust pizza made in a wood-stone oven, as well as veal chops, fish, striploin and rack of lamb.

The Grand Pizzeria & Bar, Ottawa

Nestled on one of the most auspicious corners in Ottawa’s bustling ByWard Market, The Grand Pizzeria is a popular addition to the downtown dining scene. Built in the late 17th century, this enviable location once housed The Grand Hotel. Today, it’s home to the perfect pizza pie. Traditional Italian appetizers (antipasti, salads) make way for the main attraction: authentic Napoletana pizza. The dough is created and hand-pressed by Master Pizzaiolo Pasqualino Oliveri, who placed first in the 2004 European Pizza Championship, among other honours.

Pipa Restaurant & Bar, Halifax

Chef Luis Gaspar and partner Victoria Dunham Gaspar are longtime veterans of Halifax’s dining scene. And when they decided to embark on a project all their own, they saw a glaring omission in the city’s dining scene. Specializing in Portuguese cuisine, with rich, filling and full-flavoured dishes. Pipa is the only restaurant of its type in Halifax, specializing in Old World and Brazilian dishes such as Moqueca (fish stew) and Feijoada (a stew of meats and black beans). Seafood dishes abound, including fresh grilled sardines.