New players in Kates top 100
Five new restaurants added to list of the city’s best
’Tis not a kind season for fine dining — in this slightly scary economy, diners are playing their cards close to the vest, only spending where they’re sure of value.
Hence the demise of Ame, the too shiny, too pretentious Mercer Street Japanese resto-bar from the Rubino brothers.... Hence too the demise of Kaiseki Sakura on Church Street, which served fabulous Japanese set dinners. It appears Church Street was not ready for a serious Japanese resto.
We dropped Lucien from the list because they lost their chef, Scot Woods. Guy Rawlings (ex– Brockton General) and Grant van Gameren (the charcuterie wunderkind of the Black Hoof ) were manning the stoves at Lucien, but current reports indicate van Gameren is helming the kitchen at Enoteca Sociale.
We’re waiting to see how it all shakes out before we drop a couple of hundred bucks for dinner.
(The now-shuttered Drake BBQ was also dropped from the top 100.)
Chinatown is back!
I thought Spadina was mostly finished for Chinese food and have been overjoyed to fall in love with Taste of China, whose fresh seafood (much of it live) is the biggest Sino-thrill south of Highway 7.
In summertime they bring in live B.C. spot prawns whose sweetness is divine. They braise small fresh clams with Chinese radish, clam broth and toasted golden garlic over rice vermicelli. Their giant Vancouver crab is deep-fried and jazzed with chili and pork. Fresh razor clams come in perfectly balanced black bean sauce. Salt and pepper egg tofu is both feather- light and crisp. Don’t even look at the menu: Sit near the front in my favourite server’s station and let her call the shots.
Taste of China is located at 338 Spadina Ave., 416-348-8828, www.tasteofchinarestaurant.ca.
Keriwa’s Groundbreaking aboriginal cuisine
Toronto’s first upscale Native resto is where Canada’s true roots food meets haute cuisine.
Chef/owner Aaron Joseph Bear Robe cut his teeth under Michael Stadtländer and at Splendido, and you can taste it in every bite.
Local and sustainable is this place’s middle name. The apps come in miniature dugout canoes and are the likes of lightly house- smoked Lake Huron whitefish with buckwheat blinis and horseradish crème fraîche. Mains show the same artistic command: Nobody else in town roasts bison to juicy tenderness and serves it with satiny polenta and lovage pesto. Or moist roast chicken with shredded young artichokes and fennel slaw. Food this beautiful is rare: in
such a gracious room and with silken service, it’s worth saluting.
Keriwa Café is located at 1690 Queen St. W., 416-533-2552, www.keriwacafe.ca.
Ex-Centro chef back with shrine to upscale Italian
When Bruce Woods was chef at Centro he ran out of steam, but at Modus he has been reborn as king of full-flavoured Italiana.
His pastas are perfect, his meats tender and juicy. He anoints fabulous agnolotti with truffles and truffle oil, his risotto is of perfect texture and sauced with cream and lobster. He rolls gnocchi like clouds. There is barely seared tuna and deeply rich lamb osso bucco.
And the room is the bonus — tall, grand, spacious and quiet.
Modus Ristorante is located at 145 King St. W., 416-861-9977, www.modusristorante.com.
Down market never tasted so good
The County General is what happened when the owners of Splendido decided to experiment with downscale.
If you can’t hack no reservations, seven small tables, a draft and loud ’60s music, don’t go.
The General makes love to meat in the sexiest way. I go for the three cute little steamed buns à la chinois; they hold barely smoked pork belly with kim chee, avocado chutney and green apple slaw.
And the crazy Reuben sandwich, a symphony of juicy brisket with fancy shmancy gruyère, light house- made sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing on great dark rye. And fabulous fried chicken either in a sandwich or on the wooden board with a parade of fun garnishes.
The County General is located at 936 Queen St. W., 416-531-4447, www.thecountygeneral.ca.
Neapolitan? Big deal, the next big thing is Turkish pizza
It’s kind of too bad that the pizza wars have drawn such attention to what is not the most interesting food on the planet.
If you ask me, Turkish pizza wins that war hands down. It’s crunchier than Italian pizza, the crust has way more flavour, and the garnishes dance a jig on the taste buds.
Pizza Pide’s downside (as compared, say, to both Librettos) is that it’s a schleppy little shop with a few tables. Biz is mostly takeout. But their lahmacun is a superb, crisp thin crust loaded with flavour, topped with finely ground beef scented with sweet red peppers, onions and garlic, served to be folded round parsley, onion and tomato with garlic sauce. Their veg with feta pizza is a jumping jazz quartet on the tongue.
Pizza Pide is located at 949 Gerrard St. E., 416-462-9666.
Black Hoof keeps ranking despite year of change
The craze for charcuterie is all over town, but the long charcuterie board at the Hoof still sets the standard, despite the Hoof ’s having lost its visionary, Grant van Gameren. Everything on it is either house-made or local: Elk salami that goes down like butter, boar salami zinged with fennel, fat sweet pork terrine, strong but tender pancetta, bresaola sliced thin and almost smoky, rabbit rillettes sweetened with hints of tarragon, cinnamon and nutmeg.
There is tongue that your grandma never made: veal tongue in brioche is so delicate it recalls foie gras. The tarragon mayo and purple mustard made from grape doesn’t exactly hurt.
Their backyard smoker does enchanting things to crisp fat pork belly pastrami. And what other resto would spike olive oil with chorizo, and mayo with olive purée to garnish fragile octopus cooked in white wine?
No reservations, no credit cards, and still the people flock to the Hoof. My taste buds tell me why.
The Black Hoof is located at 928 Dundas St. W., 416-551-8854, www.theblackhoof.com.