Just Opened: Imperial Chinese, southern barbecue and a little west-end game changer

Just Opened: Imperial Chinese, southern barbecue and a little west-end game changer

Crown Princess Fine Dining
1033 Bay St., 416-923-8784

(Image: Vanessa Heins) 

The colonial Shanghai decor is impressive, to say the least: there’s more expensive marble here than in Hadrian’s baths. Chandeliers blaze, piano concertos play, one server wears a French maid’s uniform, and the tableside service is proper and accomplished. The menu offers just about every luxury ingredient imaginable: goose liver, caviar, lobster, swallow’s nest and (ecologically disastrous) shark’s fin dishes. While the Cantonese cooking is good, it doesn’t live up to the sticker shock. That said, the $48 Peking duck wheeled out on a mahogany trolley is nicely crackly and rich-skinned; it’s best post-carving, turned into a stir-fry with crisp fried rice noodles and iceberg lettuce for wrapping. Whole grouper (don’t tell the SeaChoice folks) comes straight out of the aquarium, is steamed and clean tasting and set over a subtle house-made soy and wine broth ($24). Dim sum standouts include the flaky, golden abalone pastry and broiling-hot sesame balls enveloping marzipan and pumpkin. Mains $16–$98.


Zócalo
1426 Bloor St. W., 647-342-1567

The launch of this simple little bistro this summer—the first good place to eat on an otherwise desolate west-end strip—instantly changed the neighbourhood’s feel. The place is bright and welcoming, with urban farmhouse decor, well-chosen beer (Beau’s Lug-Tread Lagered Ale is fantastic) and chef Joel Macmillan’s down-home dishes. Juicy house pork sausage with apricot and sage is poached in cider, with sweet onion and balsamic marmalade. Potted trout, with green peppercorns, gets nice balance from steamed cabbage and crunch from house caraway and spelt crackers. Entrées, $12 and under, come with basic but good mustard-vinaigrette green salad. Short wine list.


Drake BBQ
1142 Queen St. W., 416-531-5042

(Image: Vanessa Heins) 

The menu at this brilliantly unambitious pop-up shop from Anthony Rose, chef at the Drake Hotel, is built on lowbrow Texas-style brisket and North Carolina pulled pork, smoked on the premises and piled on flimsy (as they should be) white buns. The pork is lightly sauced with apple cider vinegar, sugar and slow-building chili; the beef is earthier and sweeter, with molasses, maple syrup and ancho chilies. Occasional adds include Canadian whiskey bacon and chili made with that glorious beef, and you can get a kosher pickle, Ontario peanuts and excellent, not-too-vinegary-or-mayonnaisey coleslaw on the side. Open Thursday through Saturday, 6 p.m. “until the meat runs out.”

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These restaurants are recommended by our anonymous reviewers. Restaurant bills are paid by Toronto Life; reviews have no connection to advertising. Stars are awarded for food and wine quality, as well as presentation, service, atmosphere, ambition and originality. All of our restaurant reviews can be found at torontolife.com/restaurants/.

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Reviews marked with this symbol allow one person to dine well for $30 or less, including tax and tip; they are not star rated.