So Anthony Bourdain came to Toronto last year and throughout the entire episode, he didn’t sound very impressed. Such lack of enthusiasm! Naturally, I was a little offended. Now I get it, Toronto’s not a very good looking city. Our neighbours to the south burnt us down in 1813, and we burnt ourselves down in 1849 (oops). So a lack of historical architecture combined with a post-industrial aesthetic and the lot of ugly condominium high rises that have penetrated the city make for a not so pleasant facade.
Thank goodness for its neighbourhoods. Tiny enclaves built on the backs of early 20th century immigrants from Scotland, Portugual, Italy, Korea, China, India and beyond that have now become the gentrified centers of delicious for the current generations. My trips back to Toronto have always involved discovering whatever neighbourhood has become the next big thing. On this one, I had to get the advice from cadre of local authorities who made sure that I was going to spend my short time here well. As a result, I’ve been equal parts stuffed and hungry all week by just being surrounded by all this gastronomic glory. Let’s begin shall we?
The wedding post-mortem is a tradition among our friends that didn’t exactly work out this time considering the hangover. So while my pals slumbered, I needed to soothe a grumbling stomach and lumbered my way over to the Junction neighbourhood of Toronto where my pal Mojan had ordered me to brunch at the Farmhouse Tavern (1588 Dupont Street near Dundas Street West). Sadly they were out of their signature Mother and Child reunion which consists of breaded and two deep fried duck eggs paired with fine slices of duck prosciutto. I had to bear with their Eggs Benny, probably more appropriate prescription for a hangover, with smoked trout gravlax served on cheddar and chive biscuits that made me melt into a messy but satisfied puddle.
In the Dundas West neighbourhood there is a huge selection of possible brunches. From the classic Federal (1438 Dundas Street West near Ossington), to the white walled and light filled Saving Grace (907 Dundas Street West at Bellwoods Avenue). If you’re more akin to a weekend brunch later in the morning and have a craving for the brightest waffles topped with the freshest of berries, you’ll find Saving Grace packed to the brim. Thankfully, you can put your name down for a table and mosey across the street for a coffee at Ella’s Uncle.
It’s only natural that Little Italy offers a very saturated market for quality java, right? I like heading to Manic Coffee & Gelato (426 College Street West, near Bathurst). Not only do they offer some cold creative treats (there’s miso caramel if you’re adventurous, however black sesame is a personal fave), but their baristas are great conversation. One of my faves is Mikhail who hails from Costa Rica and has the coffee trade in his blood.
And I couldn’t write this post without mentioning one of the inspirations for the Kettlebell Café in Phnom Penh. Academy of Lions not only has a beautiful post-industrial space and the friendliest of staff in an old kitchen supply store for its work outs, but they also serve some great post-workout coffee. If you’re a Crossfitter looking for a friendly gym, go west and do a hundred burpees here!
To call Bar Raval only a location for libations would be a misnomer. I wound up spending three hours here catching up with one of my oldest friends, and we just kept ordering tapas upon pintxos upon planchas upon queso and beyond. And highly curated absinthe-based (apparently now legal in Canada) beverages of course. If you find standing space inside, you’ll be surrounded in Gaudi-esque structures from top to bottom which match its Barcelona-inspired menu so well.
One should also not miss a new institution just welcomed to the world last year. The Bloody Lobster Caesar is just perfect for a warm day on the patio at Rock Lobster (3 locations across downtown Toronto). And if you’re feeling indulgent, and we know you won’t be able to help yourself: go for the lobster poutine.
In the weeks leading up to my trip back home, I posted about a profound desire to feast at the Black Hoof. Very shortly after, my new friend Julia (also a Toronto-to-Phnom Penh transplant) intervened and implored that I go to Bar Isabel, Grant van Gameren’s new outpost instead. And I am so happy that Julia stepped in. Reunited with a dear old friend, we spent the three hours at Bar Isabel feasting on roasted bone marrow, smoked sweetbreads atop raw albacore tuna, a whole seabream ceviche, patatas bravas that were truly imperial with house-made blood sausage and boquerones layered on top and finished off with a sour cream ice cream with rosemary and candied orange. Oh right, and cocktails. And yes I was stuffed and tipsy.
So that’s it for my Toronto. I hope you enjoy my hometown if you ever make it above the 44th parallel!
All photos by Tiffany Tsang. Please request permission for use.