15 of our highest-rated new restaurants of 2017

15 of our highest-rated new restaurants of 2017

Our favourite restaurants that opened this year, and what we thought of them

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Hexagon ★★★★½
210 Lakeshore Rd. E., Oakville, 905-844-1286, hexagonrestaurant.com

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Snug in a banquette overlooking the open kitchen, the faint glow of the hanging honeycomb fixtures reflected on its polished curve, you’ll cast aside your biases about suburban dining. Chef Sean MacDonald and his team have created an exquisite tasting menu. The amuse, a pine nut macaron with a hint of lavender, raises expectations, but every subsequent course sets a higher standard. Mascarpone-filled agnolotti reveal depth of skill with handmade pasta rarely seen this side of Turin. Seared savoy cabbage deserves to be the centrepiece of its own plate, but it’s just an accent for dry-aged duck two ways: succulent breast surrounded by crackling skin and tender confit. Servers ensure the happiness of each guest and, in the case of the “piñata” dessert, even instruct them how to crack a chocolate vessel filled with white chocolate pearls and macerated hazelnuts over a bed of banana crème brûlée and refreshing black banana ice cream.

And…the finished product. #goattagine

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Atlas ★★★★
18 Dupont St., 416-546-9050, atlasrestaurant.ca

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At chef Doug Penfold’s newest effort, the menu, much like at Cava, is split between snacks, salads and larger plates, everything intended to be shared. The best of the smaller plates are a sweet, sticky dip of ground toasted almonds, honey and argan oil to be spread on a chunk of pan-fried semolina cake; and a golden phyllo cigar stuffed with braised hen-of-the-woods or king oyster mushrooms, with a green, tongue-tingling harissa made from spinach, parsley and serrano pepper. Goat can be tough, gamey and about as appealing as chewing on a mop. But Penfold’s version corrects matters: he slow-roasts it for four hours and serves it in a cumin- and coriander-laced stew of okra, squash and chickpeas. The wine list tilts toward Spanish sherries, vermouths and big-character wines that can stand up to bright Moroccan spices and stews.

Easter Eggs, La Banane style. 🐰🍳🍌

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La Banane ★★★★
227 Ossington Ave., 416-551-6263, labanane.ca

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Brandon Olsen’s Ossington bistro is not a stuffy one. It’s a lot more fun—like a year-round New Year’s Eve dinner party with flapper-era cocktails in fluted glasses, an ice-bed-based raw bar and a disco soundtrack. Here, you’ll find the city’s finest example of a pâté en croûte, with golden pastry encasing peppery duck-pork stuffing and a cap of wine gelée on top. Julia Child would approve of how Olsen finishes his creamy crab and paella rice gratin in the crustacean’s shell, and how he achieves that extremely rare thing: a correct omelette—crisp exterior, nearly custardy within, timed to the microsecond. An omelette for dinner is one of the more peculiarly French traditions, and (for an extra $80) an excuse to order caviar.

Skippa ★★★★
379 Harbord St., no phone, skippa.ca

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Chef Ian Robinson turns out some of the most exciting Japanese food Toronto has seen in years. Creative, immaculate sushi may include ocean trout crowned with a yolk-like dollop of tomato confit, or New Zealand sea bream heightened by a slick of olive oil and a few sharp shards of preserved lemon. A subtle balance of sweet mirin and umami-rich dashi elevate the ethereal pyramids of soft egg in a masterful tamago. Meaty black maitake mushrooms achieve a deep, satisfying flavour thanks to a house-made caramelized miso sauce. Only the sea urchin, a special, falls short, with the roe overwhelmed by the accompanying rice. A daily sorbet—corn, on our visit—closes the meal. Thoughtfully composed sake and ­shochu menus encourage exploring.

Lunch is just a few hours away! #aloette #aloetteburger

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Aloette ★★★½
163 Spadina Ave., 1st floor, 416-260-3444, aloetterestaurant.com

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What does the team behind Alo—still one of the toughest tables to book in all of Toronto—do for its encore? Open a diminutive, no-reservations diner, of course. But this is no ordinary lunch counter: the 38-seat space is straight from the pages of a Restoration Hardware catalogue. The staff wear denim, bow ties and Adidas sneakers. Gucci Mane plays in the background. And the menu features comfort-food classics with frills aplenty. The burger, served on a house-baked potato roll, sports a blanket of fried Beaufort cheese and a base layer of sautéed onions; together, they create an almost polyrhythmic crunch. Matthew Betsch’s dishes jump through eras and continents—iceberg wedge salad, clams casino, charred chorizo with eggplant and halloumi—but the results are just as polished as the stainless steel spoons that stir the highball cocktails, including one that blends Burdock’s ­Vermont ale with a splash of herbal China China. Both the towering apple pie parfait and the brick of lemon meringue pie ­mandate the saving of room for dessert.

Bacchanal ★★★½
60 Sudbury St., 416-586-1188, bacchanal.ca

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While its name suggests drunken debauchery, Bacchanal’s room evokes something closer to genteel sophistication. Elegant bistro favourites—leeks vinaigrette, oeufs en meurette, shrimp cocktail—inform the bulk of the menu. A mini–cast iron cocotte holds tender spears of endive suspended in a cheesy gratin that’s ribboned with shavings of excellent ham. Veal breast, rolled and sliced, is paired with seared sweetbreads and saucy chanterelles. If revelry is required, a substantial cocktail program is there to help.

Café Cancan ★★★½
89 Harbord St., 647-341-3100, cafecancan.com

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Now that chef Victor Barry has perfected casual Italian-American at his much-lauded Piano Piano, he’s up and moved across the street, into the old Harbord Room space, for his latest venture: a classic, all-day bistro with rosé on tap. Big-ticket items, like the côte de boeuf special and the duck confit, are popular for a reason, but a virtuous hors d’oeuvre of chilled crudités and a light buttermilk dip, along with boquerones, quality ham and very good cheddar, leaves more room for exploring the foie gras menu.

Estia ★★★½
90 Avenue Rd., 647-694-2325, estiatoronto.com

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Charles Khabouth and Hanif Harji have turned NAO, their macho steak house, into a glam seafood restaurant that feels like a Mediterranean club as imagined by Jay Gatsby, washed in chandelier light and Yorkville money. Sparkling-fresh whole fish is the star: delicate sea bass is cooked tender over a wood-fuelled flame, splashed with roasted-lemon juice and grassy olive oil, then flayed tableside and sprinkled with barely bitter grape leaves. Halloumi, seared to form a thick, truffle-honeyed crust and served with warm red grapes, is like a killer grilled cheese with jam. And crudo brings finely shaved kingfish, as pink and delicate as a tutu, with caper berries, horseradish and lemon zest, all showered in more olive oil. Cocktails, like the bubbly Estia spritz made with Xinomavro rosé, lemon juice and grapefruit zest, are light and bright to suit the food, as are desserts, like a pistachio-grapefruit tart with saffron ice cream.

Kiin ★★★½
326 Adelaide St. W., no phone, kiintoronto.com

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As their restaurant empire expands, owners Nuit and Jeff Regular have turned their talents to the complex and intricate craft of Royal Thai cuisine. To do this, they eschew strong flavours, heat and funk in favour of a more demure approach. Simple rice crackers are gilded with a creamy tamarind, crab and peanut dressing, and an excellent salad of star-shaped, blanched winged beans derives complexity from the subtle application of chili shrimp paste, fried shallots, toasted coconut and boiled duck egg. Larger dishes include slices of grilled pork jowl, deliciously fatty, and flavoured with tamarind, mint, shallots and a sprinkle of crunchy toasted rice; a whole, salt-crusted sea bream, presented as an offering and then taken away to be deboned, returns alongside carefully constructed kale cups filled with herbs and rhizomes.

The Civic ★★★
106 Broadview Ave., 416-362-8439, thebroadviewhotel.ca

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The latest project from executive chef John Sinopoli was among the most anticipated east-end restaurant openings in years. It’s the cornerstone of the rejuvenated Broadview Hotel, which brought new life to the neighbourhood last summer, and the 100-seat dining room is a throwback to the 126-year-old building’s heyday, with riveted claret leather, industrial-chic metalwork and an ambiance that’s centuries removed from the space’s previous occupant: the notorious Jilly’s strip club. It’s a transportive, if slightly subdued, space, and that’s before sipping one of the Prohibition-era cocktails that are boozy and skillful, and scanning the menu of creamy wedge salads, crispy sweetbreads, venison tartare and duck confit. There might not be a better steak in the city right now than chef de cuisine Joey Agostino’s bone-in elk chop, seared to a sensational crust with a medium-rare crimson interior, dunked in the house béarnaise. Sides are extra, but the stilton beets and roasted carrots with caraway cream are worth it, even if they’re two verses of the same song. The Victorian-era concept can feel a bit limiting at times—it’s rare for a hotel restaurant in this city to not offer a burger, for example—but the hotel’s contemporary Rooftop at the Broadview Hotel restaurant has this century covered, leaving the Civic to live comfortably in the past.

Grilled broccoli, smoked tuna, fried garlic+fish, garlic+nori aioli. Reader, it’s SO GOOD

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Grey Gardens ★★★
199 Augusta Ave., 647-351-1552, greygardens.ca

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At Jen Agg’s new Kensington Market bistro, chef Mitchell Bates’s changing menu is divided into small, medium and larger courses, and the idea, now a given, is to share. Bates’s bowl of ricotta dumplings redefines matzo ball soup, the fluffy white orbs in a broth that out-turkeys every grandma’s turkey stock, laced with kombu, dried shiitake, bonito and a dash of tare. A disarmingly simple fish dip, made from applewood-smoked Spanish mackerel blended with sour cream, mayo and pickled onions, is to be spread on wafer-cut potato chips dusted with caper powder. It’s a perfect after-work snack with a glass from a wine list (this is, after all, a wine bar) that leans toward organic and Burgundy.

La Palma ★★★
849 Dundas St. W., 416-368-4567, lapalma.ca

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A hostess in Umbro shorts and ­Seinfeld shoes may break it to you gently that the Wednesday wait time isn’t too bad—maybe an hour, hour and a half? Such is the demand for a table at the breezy Trinity Bellwoods spot from the owners of nearby Campagnolo. The fuss is due, in part, to a menu that can easily satisfy a family of 20 celebrating Nonna’s birthday, a quad of hockey poolers toasting with craft brews or a couple nursing ­negronis. The price point helps, too: for under $140, two people can happily drink and sample half the menu, including crusty sourdough piled with chicken liver mousse flecked with Maldon salt and caramelized pearl onions, a ­béchamel- and bolognese-bound lasagna and a perfect dome of fluffy caffè ­corretto mousse drenched in gold-dusted dark ­chocolate sauce. None of it goes with the Venice-Beach-by-way-of-Instagram room, all millennial pink and mint green splotches—but when a frothy Montenegro-lime cocktail pairs so sweetly with passion fruit–vanilla millefoglia, who cares?

Mayrik ★★★
1580 Bayview Ave., 416-483-0922, mayrik.ca

Mayrik means mother in Armenian, and though the food at this swanky uptown spot is a celebration of chef Sebouh Yacoubian’s late mom, there’s nothing homey about the complex flavours or sophisticated presentation. Here, tabbouleh is almost all parsley (with a few bits of tomato and bulgur), coarsely chopped and doused in sharp lemon juice and buttery Greek olive oil—it works best as a condiment, to be eaten with everything else on the menu. Succulent and tangy kibbeh nayeh brings raw, finely chopped beef peppered with earthy spices and puffed bulgur. It’s sided with house-baked bread similar to—but fluffier than—pita. The menu is meant for sharing, so even mains arrive at the table already cut into pieces, including half of a roast Quebec Voltigeurs chicken, dressed with creamy garlic labneh, fresh lemon and more of that ­excellent olive oil.

Pinky’s Ca Phe ★★★
53 Clinton St., no phone, @pinkys_caphe

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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. Ban xeo, a Vietnamese crêpe, is rendered more like tempura, with the batter covering florets of broccoli ready to be dipped in a spicy nuoc cham sauce. Short ribs, chicken legs and pork jowl are all grilled over charcoal on the back patio, and served with herbs, pickles and lettuce for wrapping. Yellowfin tuna, scallops and clams in a sharp coconut milk marinade make for a bright, exotic ceviche. Listed without explanation, cocktails like the Spiceman and the Saigon Rock encourage adventurism, or at least question-asking. The tres leches, a sweetly spicy take on a McCain Deep ’n Delicious cake, is served—appropriately—in an aluminum pan with a plastic lid.

Uncle Mikey’s ★★★
1597 Dundas St. W., 416-537-8973, @unclemikeysinc

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Korean flavours and preparations dominate at this Little Portugal kitchen, but hints of Japanese, Italian and French technique are pleasant surprises. Breaded pork has a pink, juicy centre and a crispy panko crust, and buttery house-made gnocchi is the perfect canvas for a rich ragoût of doenjang-braised oxtail. Smaller plates, like mushroomy kombu deep-fried into beautiful, twisting ribbons, receive the same care and attention.