TIFF 2012 Insider’s Guide: top 10 places to eat
Amid the cocktail swilling and celebrity gawking, eating can be an afterthought during TIFF. Good news: there are plenty of excellent restaurants that let you do all three. Here, the glitziest places to dine, drink, and catch starlets cheating on their diets.
PLACE TO SEAL THE DEAL
131 Bloor St. W., 416-551-9929
Nightclub developer and schmooze missile Charles Khabouth dropped $4 million on his lavish (and slavish) Yorkville homage to the Parisian bistro. The so-so French food is beside the point; diners gather at La Société to see and be seen. During TIFF, the massive, moody space feels like an exclusive men’s club, as movie industry power players, like Paul Haggis, pile into private nooks and leather booths to broker deals over big-ticket Bordeaux. Last year, producer Robert Lantos was a regular fixture, and the Grammy Award–winning Montreal band Arcade Fire shared oysters into the wee hours.
What to order: The grand plateau—a three-tiered edifice loaded with oysters, prawns, marinated octopus, spicy tuna tartare, lobster salad and king crab legs—will ensure all eyes are on you. $155.
GAWKING WITH GOURMET CRED
604 King St. W., 416-865-1600
When TIFF rolls around, the cavernous former boiler room, done up in polished concrete, brick and dangling pork hocks, reverberates with the chatter and clattering heels of A-listers. In past years, Bill Murray, Megan Fox, John Legend and Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter have enjoyed the city’s most delectable Italian food courtesy of chef Rob Gentile. If you don’t believe us, ask celeb chef Jamie Oliver, who tweeted last November that his dinner at Buca, which included salumi and orecchiette with basil-fed snails, was the best meal he’d had all year.
What to order: The Roman pizza freighted with taleggio, duck egg yolk (instead of red sauce) and a small fortune’s worth of white truffles. $75.
116 Yorkville Ave., 416-961-9600
The Hazelton Hotel’s buzzy dining room epitomizes the magic of the film festival better than any other restaurant in the city. The swishy Yabu Pushelberg–designed room and spacious wraparound patio are packed with stars: Jon Hamm looking for a light and knocking back scotch, director Brett Ratner hitting on hostesses, and Harvey Weinstein tipping generously. Olivia Wilde, Hugh Jackman and Bono have also been spotted at the bar. The food—truffled pierogies and $190 Petrossian caviar—is made for diners who treat $40 entrées like cheap eats. And the decadence doesn’t stop at dinner: weekend brunch attracts hard-partying TIFF-goers nursing hangovers with eggs Benny and mimosas.
What to order: The carbonara—al dente linguine with lobster, double-smoked bacon, a poached egg and fresh Parmesan—is hedonism incarnate. $38.
BEERS AND BRATS BETWEEN MOVIES
609 King St. W., 416-703-7775
The cafeteria-style sausage and beer hall down the street from the Lightbox is the most leisurely place to grab a quick bite between films. With a crowd of 20- somethings lingering over outsized beer mugs and nodding to indie rock, it feels like a Dundas West transplant—and it’s possibly the only place in the Entertainment District where no one gives a crap about celeb spotting. There are 21 sausage options—everything from traditional kielbasa to kangaroo—which are best enjoyed at one of the communal tables. If you happen to find yourself seated next to Ryan Gosling or Emma Stone, it’s best to sigh wearily and pretend you don’t care.
What to order: The currywurst, a messy pile of sliced veal-pork sausage slathered in curry-spiked tomato sauce, is deliciously lowbrow. $6.
Luma and O&B Canteen
330 King St. W., 647-288-4715; 647-288-4710
The Lightbox explodes with press, industry wonks, stars and audiences. Its two restaurants—Luma, the elegant dining room on the second floor, and Canteen, the café on the ground level—are seriously attuned to the pace of the festival: last year, Luma offered a lunch box (sandwich, salad, fruit and dessert) to guests in the lounge between films, while Canteen opened up a temporary pulled pork sandwich stand on the corner. The sprawling second-floor patio provides a prime view of King Street, where, in past years, the likes of Rachel McAdams, Adrian Grenier and Kevin Spacey have pulled up for press conferences. Luma has also hosted luxe private parties for Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon, Tim Burton, Francis Ford Coppola and Prince Albert of Monaco.
What to order: The steak frites from Luma—a juicy nine-ounce strip loin with sautéed northern woods mushrooms and truffle fries—provides much-needed fuel after a 16-hour movie marathon. $28.
ASIAN FUSION FOR THE FAMOUS
328 Wellington St. W., 416-935-0400
Every September, the usually hushed Asian-French dining room at the Metropolitan Hotel comes alive. Last year, Jessica Chastain, Michael Fassbender and James Franco gave interviews in the lounge, and fans mobbed Clive Owen outside the hotel, so the Senses staff snuck him out the back door. Back in 2010, Milla Jovovich ordered Vincent Leung’s truffled lobster bolognese nearly every day during her stay.
What to order: Sadly, the lobster bolognese is off the menu, but the smoked duck breast on a Chinese steamed bun with house-made hoisin sauce exemplifies Leung’s Beijing-meets-Bordeaux brand of fusion. $29.
DRINKING, DE NIRO STYLE
30 Mercer St., 416-883-3431
The restaurant in the lobby of the Hôtel Le Germain, with its soaring ceilings, full-length windows and low-slung couches, is a posh stop-off for celebrities seeking cocktails and snacks before a premiere at Roy Thomson Hall around the corner. Robert De Niro recently ordered a Hendrick’s martini, causing a star-struck bartender to break into a sweat. Javier Bardem ate steak before attending the Bíutiful premiere in 2010, and the annual uniFrance party welcomes étoiles like Juliette Binoche, Salma Hayek and Vincent Cassel. Oscar-winning actor Geoffrey Rush stays at the hotel when he’s in town for the festival and can often be found perched at the bar nursing a glass of chardonnay.
What to order: The lobster dumplings with dashi, mushrooms and seaweed are perfectly portable bites optimal for mingling.
333 King St. W., 416-599-6585
This trattoria is the most laid-back dinner destination on the strip, and it’s just a few steps from the Lightbox. The pizzas and pastas aren’t revolutionary, but they’re fresh, filling and well-made, and the wine cellar contains 600 labels, including decades-old super-Tuscans, like a 1995 bottle of Masseto for $720. The restaurant’s candlelit recesses are popular with celebrities like Bruce Willis and Atom Egoyan. Woody Harrelson stopped in for pizza a few times last year, once even requesting the music be turned up so he could dance until the place closed.
What to order: The Grande Fumo pizza, topped with house-smoked trout, capers, pickled red onion and mascarpone, is a refined take on a bagel with lox. $16.
KOREN FOOD TO QUEUE FOR
188 University Ave., 647-788-8888
Torontonians have been salivating in anticipation of the city’s first Momofuku, the Korean fusion flagship that made David Chang one of the world’s most famous chefs. The massive space next to the Shangri-La Hotel will contain four Chang spots: a noodle bar offering his signature ramen and pork buns, rumoured to be opening in time for TIFF; Daishō , which will serve sharing platters like bossam (roasted pork shoulder with lettuce for wraps); Shōtō, which will focus on tasting menus; and a second-floor bar called Nikai. With fans like Martha Stewart and Gwyneth Paltrow in New York, the Momofuku machine will offer some of the hottest seats in town.
What to order: Chang’s legendary fried chicken—which recently destroyed Roots drummer Questlove’s recipe in a cook-off on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon—with mu shu pancakes for wrapping and four sauces (ginger-scallion, hoisin, bi bim and jalapeño-garlic).
OFF THE TIFF TRACK
The Harbord Room
89 Harbord St., 416-962-8989
This sliver of a restaurant is TIFF’s most discreet hangout. Weary of red carpets and the schmoozy lounges of Yorkville and King West, festival-goers mosey up to Harbord Street for the shaded patio, the potent cocktails and some of the best bistro food in the city. Recently, Rufus Wainwright and his fiancé, Jorn Weisbrodt, had dinner on the terrace with Jake Gyllenhaal, and Canadian auteurs David Cronenberg and Sarah Polley are regulars throughout the year.
What to order: Chef Corey Vitiello’s juicy hand-ground burger, loaded with four-year-old aged cheddar, house-smoked bacon, Guinness mustard and aïoli, is the city’s most impressive stack. $16.