14 new restaurants to check out in June
Where to find ceviche, cheese fries, yakitori and jerk chicken, right now
AF1 Caribbean Canteen
596 College St., 647-340-3924, caribbeancanteen.ca
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From the chef and owner of Kensington Market’s Dirty Bird comes this Caribbean kitchen on College. Adrian Forte cooks up a menu of Jamaica’s greatest hits like jerk chicken, oxtail stew and beef patties, as well as less ubiquitous specialties like curry duck and peppered shrimp. To drink, there are island favourites like Ting, Dragon Stout and Red Stripe. The most potent potable is the rum punch, which comes in two flavours: red and yellow.
18 Dupont St., 416-546-9050, atlasrestaurant.ca
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The sister to French restaurant Chabrol, Atlas was inspired by chef Doug Penfold’s travels to Morocco. On the menu: shareable snacks including Marrakesh-style olives, beef kofta, harcha (pan-fried semolina flatbread) and amlou (a dip made from almond, honey and argan oil); a few salads (roasted beets, bulgur, quinoa); and heartier mains like a roasted goat tagine. A handful of house cocktails come with Moroccan twists, but most of the drinks menu is devoted to consignment wine finds from Austria, Germany, France and Spain.
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With 50-plus items on the menu, choosing what to order is almost as difficult as securing a table at this bustling trattoria. Even though this is Massimo Capra’s sixth restaurant, the Chopped Canada judge can still be spotted in the kitchen and on the floor, taking selfies with fans and signing copies of his cookbook. The space anchors a blah strip mall and could have ended up cold and dated, but cleverly idiosyncratic decor touches—copper jelly moulds retrofitted into pendant lamps, a collage of well-worn baking tins left behind by the previous tenants—save it. Capra borrows flavours from the Middle East here and there, but mostly stays true to his roots. Pizza parmigiana, with folds of salty-sweet prosciutto and a thin, blistered crust, is everything a pizza should be; and a twisted pile of al dente spaghettini is loaded with shredded crabmeat and pearls of salmon roe. Affogato al caffè—vanilla ice cream with a shot of strong espresso—is a light and energizing ending.
128 Sterling Rd., 416-432-2922, drakecommissary.ca
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The newest addition to the Drake empire has, appropriately enough, taken over part of the old T.A. Lytle condiment factory on Sterling Road, using the 5,000-square-foot kitchen to prepare all of the sauces, oils and preserves for each Drake outlet. The morning-to-night spot has a to-go counter for daily made breads, pastries and pizza, but there’s traditional sit-down service, too, for larger plates including brisket, rotisserie jerk chicken and house-made pasta.
700 Queen St. E., 416-901-1299, eastboundbeer.com
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Riverside’s new brewery serves up a bunch of snacks including some bar-food favourites (pickled eggs, wings) and some a step or two above typical pub fare (duck liver paté, octopus tostada); a few sandwiches and salads; and a couple heartier mains, like baked ricotta gnudi. Chef Tara Lee says a lot of the current menu comes from what she learned working with Mark Cutrara (Cowbell, Bar Hop Brewco). Until Eastbound’s own beer recipes are ready (in the next couple months, give or take), the bar is serving a rotating selection of beers from guest breweries (Sawdust City, GLB, Indie Ale House, Collective Arts and Rainhard, currently).
90 Avenue Rd., 416-367-4141, estiatoronto.com
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Charles Khabouth’s newest restaurant, a sleek Mediterranean number, replaces his (also sleek) Yorkville steakhouse, NAO. Chef Ben Heaton’s menu tours around Italy, Spain and Greece, with the majority of the dishes (house-made halloumi, broccolini with romesco, wine-and-citrus-brined octopus, whole red snapper) are cooked in the kitchen’s wood-fired oven or charcoal grill. Sommelier Lauren Hall has curated an international wine list thicker than a novella. There are still a few bold reds in the cellar left over from NAO’s days, but Estia’s whites are the new top-sellers. They range from easy-sipping to complex, like a wild-fermented Santorini varietal for $110 a bottle.
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The new fictional-character-themed lounge at Av and Dav is the culinary equivalent of Kendall Jenner declaring, “I’m such a nerd!” Velvet ropes lead into a vestibule, wallpapered in comic book pages, where action figures are for sale. There, a hostess presses a button that opens a hidden door leading into a dark dining room thrumming with music. It looks like the love child of a Maserati and a Planet Hollywood. A bartender will stencil a Stormtrooper into the egg white froth of your cocktail, but the menu is a grown-up power dinner. Dishes of beet and chèvre salad, Kobe beef and elaborate, gold-dappled chocolate desserts—all at Yorkville prices—suggest the target demo is Bruce Wayne. Much of the food is ably prepared, like beautifully seared slices of Berkshire pork with a strangely appealing sauce duo: cinnamon-apple and spicy tomato. But tiny missteps mar classics, like an otherwise killer Guinness-braised lamb shank that arrives cold. And the force is definitely not with the desserts, which include a bland Darth Vader–shaped panna cotta beside a red wine–poached pear beneath a (tasteless) sugar dome.
This is Japanese comfort food—and lots of it—in a simple, plywood-filled space, half a flight up in the heart of Koreatown. There’s sushi and sashimi, of course, but also udon, ramen chicken won ton “nachos” and the heart of the restaurant: yakitori. Chicken heart, to be specific, skewered and grilled just like so many of the bird’s often-overlooked other parts. Pork and beef also get the charcoal treatment, along with vegetables, shrimp and (why not?) cheese sausage. Adorable pressed sushi squares, some of them blowtorched, are topped with creative ingredients like yam with olive oil, or mozzarella and garlic butter. Even the more traditional rolls tend to favour excess, combining torched salmon with spicy crabmeat, cream cheese with fried jalapeños, and tempura shrimp with avocado and fried potato shreds. Beer is inexpensive and plentiful, while the sake list provides opportunities to splurge.
326 Adelaide St. W., 647-490-5040, kiintoronto.com
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The newest restaurant from Toronto’s Thai powerhouse, Nuit Regular (Pai, Sukhothai, Sabai Sabai), specializes in the techniques behind Royal Thai cooking: delicate, beautifully presented dishes painstakingly prepared (seeds removed from fruits and veggies, bones removed from fish) using the freshest of ingredients. Mieng pla, a traditional northern plate of a whole, sea salt-crusted sea bream stuffed with aromatics is grilled for exactly 17 minutes, then deboned at the table and served with Thai kale leaves. The kale gets the Royal Thai treatment with a heap of garnishes: Thai garlic, Thai basil, finger mint, peanut, ginger, shallot and lime. Colourful Thai iced teas, classic cocktails with Thai twists and international wine round out the drink list.
849 Dundas St. W., 416-368-4567, lapalma.ca
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This new sister spot to Craig Harding’s Campagnolo focuses on vegetable-heavy Italian cooking enlivened with international ingredients (sesame, feta, miso), and a few classics like oxtail ragu gnocchi. There’s also a grab-and-go counter perfect for Trinity Bellwoods picnickers.
Distressed walls original to the building, climbing plants and soft lighting give this Lebanese restaurant near Christie Pits a certain Beirutian charm. It’s an homage to chef-owner Michelle Bouzide’s Lebanese grandmother, who handed down many of the recipes. This gives the smooth hummus and creamy baba ghanoush an honest, homemade quality. Cauliflower florets, fried to an auburn finish, take a dip in tahini; and house-made pickles, cabbage and turnips dyed bright pink from their contact with beet juice are snappy. The marinated chicken thighs in the shish tawook are flavourful but dry, while the hushwi (ground beef sautéed with onions and pine nuts) and kibbeh saneeyeh (lamb-and-bulgur cake) lack seasoning and colour. Flaky baklava from Crown Pastries goes perfectly with one of the good, strong Turkish coffees.
Madame Boeuf and Flea
252 Dupont St., no phone, madameboeuf.com
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Bar Begonia’s new bohemian backyard patio serves a summery menu of things like burgers, cheese fries and shrimp cocktail, alongside boozy slushies from a couple of shipping containers. Bonus: bocce ball and bean bag toss.
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The neon-lit interior looks like an illicit Hanoi jazz club, but it’s really another snack bar from the boys behind Hanmoto. Leemo Han and Joe Kim riff on traditional Vietnamese dishes with no regard for authenticity beyond deliciousness. Yellowfin tuna, scallops and clams in a sharp coconut milk marinade make for a bright, exotic ceviche; and tres leches, a sweetly spicy take on a McCain’s Deep ’n Delicious cake, is served—appropriately—in an aluminum pan with a plastic lid.
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This Sherway Gardens newcomer is all about chicken: southern-fried, rotisserie or piled high on a bun. Buttermilk-tenderized birds, ferried from the open kitchen, are finished with a drizzle of maple-honey syrup that adds a beguiling sweetness, and white gravy that packs an umami punch. Thick-cut, triple-cooked fries are even better dunked in the spicy house-made piri piri mayo. Coleslaw is bland and smothered in too much mayo, but the charred broccoli salad with paper-thin red onion, garlic-parsley oil, crunchy, buttery breadcrumbs and a pile of grated pecorino is as satisfying as the main event. A duo of doughy white cheddar biscuits are served with too-salty chili-lime butter—it’s better to have another piece of bird instead. There’s a short list of well-crafted cocktails and about 20 beers and wines to choose from. Bonus: food arrives fast, even when the place is in a flap.
The original version of this article misstated Little Sito's address.