Best of the City 2011: The city’s most interesting dishes, places to eat them and, yes, hot sauce
Baguette Pasta Fad Hot Sauce Lobster reinvented Carnivore cure Roast chicken Devilled eggs Patio for dessert
293 Palmerston Ave., 647-342-6307
Jeff Connell, the bread maker at Woodlot, makes his superlative, crunchy-crusted, smoke-licked baguettes with good, organic Red Fife and white wheats from a farmer who mills it fresh for him in her Hastings County barn. At a time when supermarket bakery loaves bear claims of being “handmade,” Connell’s are the real deal, made in tiny batches with great ingredients, cooked with real wood and handled with what some people still unironically refer to as “love.” You can taste it in every bite. Available at the restaurant Tuesday through Sunday, from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. or with dinner. $3.50.
Osteria Ciceri e Tria
106 Victoria St., 416-955-0258
Toronto’s all-out love affair with rustic Italian restaurants is far from showing any signs of abating. Osteria Ciceri e Tria’s idiosyncratic Pugliese food is everything that’s right with the trend. The best of their three orecchiette dishes comes with little pieces of rich guanciale, smoky scamorza cheese and earthy fava beans ($15). Bold flavours, simple ingredients and comfort-food textures, all slicked in excellent olive oil? Rustic Italian will probably be here a while longer.
Old York Bar and Grill
167 Niagara St., 416-703-9675
Twelve years ago, Erin Dowse, owner of the Old York Bar and Grill, bought a bottle of hot sauce in Kensington Market. Intensely savoury and slightly sweet, it had a Scotch bonnet kick so enticing she tracked down its maker. The palate behind the sauce was an elderly Dominican woman named Elizabeth, who lived in Ajax. Dowse bought the recipe and now sells $9 bottles to customers, plus 15-litre pails to other restaurants. Because the sauce is now a legit business, ingredients must be listed on the label. Papaya is crucial to the mix, but Dowse is tight-lipped about which mysterious spices make this stuff so eye-wateringly good.
181 Wellington St. W., 416-585-2500
Lobster’s great and all when it’s done in the usual high-end ways, but it’s rarely better than when it turns up in humbler dishes, like the Fancy Fish and Chips at Toca, in the new Ritz-Carlton hotel. The “fish” in the dish is sweet, meaty, perfectly cooked lobster chunks wrapped in hot, light, golden, mouthgasmically crunchy tempura beer batter. Sure, it’s fancy lobster. But the best thing about it is that it’s also not. $21 for a small, $32 for large.
20 Cumberland St., 416-646-0705; 3092 Dundas St. W., 416-519-7150
If the only way to avoid the guilt, stress and detrimental health effects of consuming the average 21st-century diet—with hormone-injected meats, pesticide-covered produce and fattening processed snacks—is to become a vegan who eats only natural and organic and nothing cooked at over 118º F, then at least Rawlicious has figured out a way to make raw nuts and vegetables taste extraordinary. The pasta bolognese is a heaping bowl of spiral-cut zucchini topped with bright, tangy marinara sauce, basil-rich pesto and a crumbled ball of pressed nuts, garlic and bell peppers—it’s the kind of dish that makes traditional noodles seem like a pleasant alternative, as opposed to the only option.
927 Queen St. W., 416-645-6707
Igor Kenk’s infamous bike clinic has been transformed into a bright, modern restaurant, where the rusting carcasses of stolen bicycles have been replaced by a neat row of bamboo-topped tables, the smell of rubber tires by the enticing aroma of slowly roasting chickens. Inigo’s chef and co-owner Carlos Hernandez takes extra care with his free-range, grain-fed birds (sourced from a farm in Quebec) to make sure their paprika- and cayenne-spiced skins turn out crispy (before roasting them, he rubs them in sea salt and lets them cure for 12 hours to get rid of any excess moisture) and the flesh tender. The small but creative selection of salads helps make for a delicious picnic in neighbouring Trinity Bellwoods. $12 for a whole bird.
107 King St. E., 416-603-8009
The staple of ’70s potlucks and southern picnic baskets has gained newfound status on the city’s hippest menus. At Origin, chef Claudio Aprile reinvents the lowly boiled egg with his characteristic culinary bravado: the mayo-infused yolks, whipped to an airy mousse and stuffed back into their white cradles, are sprinkled with gremolata and crunchy soufflétine nuggets (glorified Rice Krispies) and garnished with perfect baby basil leaves. Crisp discs of salty pancetta stick out of the little boats like sails for an offbeat, one-bite take on bacon and eggs. $5.
Patio for Dessert
1288 Dundas St. W., 416-534-1200
Two lush maple trees provide a leafy canopy over Enoteca Sociale’s 50-seat patio. Aside from its hunky, bearded servers, the restaurant is known for its “cucina della nonna.” Grandma’s influence extends all the way to the dessert menu, making this the perfect patio for a late evening dolce fix. A ridiculously rich chocolate budino is a sophisticated (and salty) take on classic mousse. An airy ricotta tiramisu is spiked with orange zest and prosecco. This is the closest Dundas West comes to the Italian countryside.