Sara’s Favourite New Restaurants

beef wellington

I am not one of the MG’s (Michelin Groupies), who ran like a Greyhound after a rabbit to Toronto’s newly Starred, Bibbed and Recognized restaurants. I’m an OG.

“Here,” they boast, “You can’t get a reservation for months, unless you know someone.” “Here,” they protest, “The presentations are so artistic, but you can’t make a meal of garnish.” “And here,” they kvetch, “The food has ‘millennium panache,’ but the staff are patronizing and snooty.”

Dining, Tasting and Telling has been my beat for over forty years. I know my Beluga from my Sevruga, my Russets from my Yukon Golds, my Kobe from my Snake River. I understand the triumvirate of Server/Diner/Chef and it’s delicate balance.

Here is where you will see me dining this season:

DaNico

The old Scotiabank building at College and Bathurst has experienced a reincarnation and become a culinary shrine. The owners of DaNico are Nick Di Donato (Liberty Entertainment Group) Ernesto Iaccarino of Don Alfonso 1890, and Michelin Star Chef Daniele Corona. The interior was created by carpenters, painters, electricians working at their crafts, following the blueprints of the royalty of design herself, international award-winning designer, Nadia di Donato.

There is beauty wherever the eye falls. I perch at the front bar and order my drink du jour of late, a Manhattan. Here named the Diplomat, it is Da Nico’s own version, blended with no less than five different Amari, accompanied by a peach aperitif and a hint of bitters. Each ice cube is branded before use. Yes, with a heated branding iron. Yoo Hoo!! Are you watching Mr. Michelin?

The first dish, Italy in a Bite, sets the dulcet tone of our evening. This clever gastronomic junket across Italy includes little gastronomic treats: rigatoni carbonara is a puff of fried pasta holding a dollop of sauce; cannolo Siciliano in a nod to the sea, is a squid-ink pastry shell holding tuna and buffalo mozzarella; and my favorite, langoustine tartare with Acadian sturgeon caviar. In a fine-China oyster shell, hiding under a blanket of light lemony sauce is a uniquely large and lush oyster. And what a pretty dish is here, Granchio al Gusto Mediterraneo, a composition of oceanic BC Dungeness crab in green olive coulis, vegies and chives. Encircling the bowl is an edible crisp, lacey necklace, and edible flowers to be crumbled so they fall into the bowl and add crunchy texture.

The grand finale in this culinary drama are the desserts. A blown glass structure with interior caves, hold an array of unusually delectable sweets, enough to ungrudgingly share. A pink puffy bowl holds a trompe-l’oell strawberry panna cotta set on house-made goat’s milk ice cream.

We’re honoured to shake the hand of Chef Daniele Corona who has given us such a splendid evening. In his handsome white Designer jacket, he projects the flawless image that mirrors every aspect of DaNico. (Read Sara’s Full DaNico Review Here.)

Black+Blue

When Black+Blue opened to great fanfare in the Exchange Tower, it heralded the return of Emad Yacoub from Vancouver to Toronto in a blaze of glory. We admire the gold-gilded ceiling, crafty lighting and the mezzanine floor with its private dining rooms, the inlaid design of the marble floor, and the mural of duelling bulls composed of steak knives. We feel the unpretentious Toronto sophistication filtered through the casual Vancouver vibe. Nothing is held back.

steak
Black+Blue

We pause to stare through the glass doors of the Himalayan salt-lined meat locker—a one-of-a-kind construction—that ages Canada Beef, USDA Prime, and Japanese A5 wagyu. We’ve ordered Steak Tartare, and our server begins to lightly mix hand cut beef tenderloin with pickled shallot, egg yolk, spicy tomato ketchup, a sprinkling of foie snow, and just to add texture, cornichon, and charred jalapeno for a bit of heat. We share a dish of lovely nubbins of Japanese eye candy, a.k.a sushi: salmon, tuna, fatty tuna, snapper, yellow tail, Hokkaido scallop and a garden roll, accompanied by a unique dollop of shiso pesto. Our 20 oz. Cowboy Ribeye for two is brushed with a beauty bath of clarified butter whisked with cumin, paprika, garlic, sea salt and aromatics. Tender and juicy, each forkful is further enhanced by a trio of sauces: Bearnaise, Truffle jus and Peppercorn jus.

I recognize some of the best staff in the city, gleaned from other restaurants. The management has done its best to acquire attentive and professional servers. No glass is left unfilled, no slight raise of a hand for attention is ignored.

pasta
Contrada

Contrada

Patrick Groves, Jessie Mak and Mike Viera, have corralled their imagination, passion and love to create Contrada. “The intention is not to echo classical Italian culinary traditions, but to create a menu of authentically Toronto-elevated-casual fare,” says Vieira. “Using Italian techniques and ingredients, inspired by both classical Italian and Italian-North American sources, combined with the use of Ontario’s bounty of beautiful local ingredients, has allowed us to create a menu we’re really proud of.” They’ve settled quite naturally into an historic Little Italy address, wrapped around the corner of Euclid and College. The substantial bar is managed by a mixologist who has created gorgeous cocktails. Do try the Nitro Garibaldi. The wine list is mostly Italian. A few nibbles of crostini and olives round out my bar experience.

lobster
Contrada

I can hardly wait to pop a Chicken Liver Agnolotti with mascarpone, aged balsamic, apples and sage into my mouth. When was the last time you saw Veal Sweetbreads Marsala with seasonal foraged mushrooms on a menu? The triple threat rendition of grilled eggplant, pureed eggplant, fried eggplant with pickled peppers and salsa verde draws me like a moth to a flame. For the apprehensive diner, there is pork chop alla Milanese with the tang and zest of capers, lemon and Vertico Farms glorious arugula. I thought it was a printing error when I saw that under $50 could net us a 14 oz. Ontario sirloin, but no, it’s real and it comes with luscious bone marrow butter and lemon/parsley gremolata. We’re feeling the love from the kitchen, and that translates to the caring service. Contrada walks the walk and dances the dance straight into our culinary consciousness. (Read Sara’s Full Contrada Review Here.)

Bar Goa

From Hemant Baghwani, the impresario of Indian cuisine in Toronto and New York, comes Bar Goa. His new dining experience blends traditions from many regions of India and is a true expression of modern Indian cuisine.

Bar Goa
Photo by Ryan Emberley

The pretty, porcelain tiled open kitchen, and black and white patterned floor are a dramatic introduction to the unusual. Bar Goa’s design takes inspiration from Goa’s Portuguese influence. The floor has been custom-designed, sleek white walls are accented with gold light fixtures, while recessed lighting accentuates the curves of hallways and the bar. There are two dining areas, one for private parties and a stunning bar.

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The Tasting Menu is daunting: Ten street food dishes, mostly unfamiliar to me, with exotic Indian names. It is a story that unfolds with a spicy ride through the streets of Goa, and not a fork or knife in sight.

Handmade Samosa Cones are filled with creamy mashed potatoes, crème fraiche, chives and topped with golden Regalis Imperial Caviar. Chai & Cutlet is a small cup of wild mushroom “tea” with a perfectly matched smoky vegetarian burger; and Paneer Bhurji Bao are thick oval pancakes, folded over to reveal shredded, crisp red cabbage on a redolent, spicy, sriracha cream. I am feeling heady with spices coursing through my veins–and there is more to come. Crab Kismur Appam, a heaping portion of crab meat, fresh coconut and fried onions, are centred on a pretty spongy pancake made with gluten free rice flour.

Photo by Ryan Emberley

A classic favourite of mine, Miso Tandoori Chicken is a skewer holding tender cubes of Chicken Tikka, seasoned with coconut curry and herb chutney. My new favourite of the day is the Legendary Lamb Chop. Grilled with a crusty exterior, the flavour is further enhanced with dollops of Fenugreek and strawberry-chili chutney. And for added texture, it’s capped by a shower of crispy boondi (pearls). Exotic flavours abound, and leave my palate swooning. Bravo Hemant, Bravo! (Read Sara’s Full Bar Goa Review Here.)

Paradise Theatre

Paradise gives new meaning to Dinner and a Show. Within this historic, multi-arts venue, is a range of live performances. The complete list of upcoming programming can be found HERE.

Osteria Rialto, on the east side of Paradise, is a full-service Italian restaurant. The culinary passion of Chef de Cuisine Jesse Serratore is inspired by his Southern Italian heritage.
zucchini flower
From the Antipasti to Dolce, Serratore has chosen his ingredients fresh from the garden: dewy Zucchini Flowers stuffed with lemon and ricotta would make Mother Nature proud; Cappellitti alla Puttanesca with Fogo Island cod (the best,) Coal roasted eggplant coaxed into Caponata, delightful Spiedino de Carciofi with herbed mayonnaise. Pleasing to the eye without being prissy, plus delicious Italian flavours, all lead up to the Bistecca alla Fiorentina. I have seen the white Chianina (world’s largest beef cattle) in the Chianti region of Italy where a steak alla Fiorentina can feed a half dozen people. Chef Serratore’s version is a little smaller, and a little more delicious. Torta di Nocciola, and a really good espresso end a splendid culinary visit to Italy. In the last minutes before the show, I enter the theatre from an adjoining door.

At intermission and after the show, I’m happy to try one of the signature cocktails at the intimate speakeasy-style bar just up the stairs from Osteria Rialto at Bar Biltmore, such as the Piña Quemada, which features charred pineapple-infused mezcal, maple, ginger, cinnamon and lime, and the Fireside Folly, mixed with hazelnut-infused brandy, rye, Peychaud’s nutmeg bitters and turbinado. Brilliant mixology.

No space in the complex has been left abandoned. Café Paradise is a casual dining destination serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, seven days a week. Known for its coffee, wine and eats, the restaurant’s expansive menu includes everything from fresh bread baked daily in-house and ricotta pancakes, to decadent pastas and classics like Clubs and Cobbs.

Paradise offers a unique, welcoming experience through food, drink and the arts. Their mission is to create opportunities to feel human by connecting, delighting and inspiring patrons to share memorable experiences by creating a hospitality-first curated offer with broad appeal. (Read Sara’s Full Paradise Theatre Review Here.)

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