Food & Drink

Summerlicious 2012: our food editor picks the top 10 offerings from this year’s Licious list

Summerlicious 2012: our food editor picks the top 10 offerings from this year’s Licious list
(Image: Renée Suen)

Ten years in, Toronto’s loved (and loathed) bacchanalia of affordable dining is larger than ever, with 181 restaurants offering three-course prix fixe menus for $25, $35 or $45 from July 6-22. Despite common complaints—packed rooms, harried dining and more salmon and chicken than a buffet wedding—an ineluctable truth remains: Summerlicious is a good opportunity to sample new restaurants on the cheap. To that end, we’ve sifted through the overwhelming list of participants to find the most interesting dishes and the very best value. Start making your reservations now.

Aria Read our review | See the menu This summer’s sweaty weather calls for collective minimal-clothing outdoor dining—so skip Aria’s formal interior and snag a seat on the brand-new patio, which faces the Air Canada Centre’s massive outdoor video screen. As on the regular menu, prix fixe dishes are simple, elegant renditions of Italian classics made with quality, peak-season ingredients: mozzarella di bufala with spring pea purée, rib steak with Ontario tomato panzanella salad, and strawberry pavlova. Perfect patio fare. See all our picks for downtown south »

Read our review | See the menu Sitting 54 storeys above the Financial District with a lake view that transcends the summer smog, Canoe offers one of the city’s most serene dining experiences. The room, renovated a little over a year ago, is done in a minimalist Canadiana scheme that never crosses the line into kitsch (even the antler chandelier looks elegantly stoic). Likewise, the servers are too polished to get snippy and the kitchen too dignified to compromise the quality of its Canadian cooking. Both the $25 lunch and $45 dinner menus are littered with the names of Ontario farms, and both offer great value. For lunch, the braised short rib with mashed potatoes and green beans is the best bet. For dinner, the albacore tuna is tempting, but the pork chop with apricot and lavender sounds irresistibly homey. See all our picks for downtown south »

Read our review | See the menu Owner-chef Albino Silva’s 21-year-old Portuguese fine dining restaurant hasn’t garnered a lot of buzz lately (the chef isn’t on Twitter, the drinks list doesn’t include bourbon and a reservation system prevents lineups), but it consistently scores high with Toronto Life reviewers, especially when it comes to fish. And there’s plenty of it on both the lunch ($25) and dinner ($45) menus. We suggest starting with grilled sardines dressed in lemon and olive oil (they’re one of the few sustainable options available), followed by the grouper risotto—because Chiado does a mean risotto. See all our west end picks »

Colborne Lane
Read our review | See the menu For the first time, perfectionist chef Claudio Aprile has thrown one of his three restaurants in with the Licious lot. Unfortunately, aside from the “soy sauce snow” garnish, the $45 dinner prix fixe contains few of the molecular flourishes that made the restaurant famous in 2007 (we suspect Aprile is busy pouring his energy into the just-opened Liberty Village location of Origin). Of course, you’ll likely never be able to eat at Colborne Lane for under $50 again, and the Asian-tinged dishes are more inspired than most Summerlicious offerings: imagine cured salmon with ponzu vinaigrette, pickled ginger and puffed tapioca or striploin with smoked parsnip, puffed wheat berries, black garlic and watercress. See all our picks for downtown south »

Read our review | See the menu The best option east of the DVP, and the Danforth’s most upmarket restaurant, Globe does refined, slightly fussy, generally excellent local-focused food. Considering a fancy sandwich and a drink can cost upward of $20 downtown, the lunch menu is great value, with options like house-made elk chorizo to start, baked perch with green beans to follow and Eton Mess with Ontario berries to finish. Unfortunately, the Summerlicious menu isn’t available on the rooftop patio—you’ll have to settle for the austere white-on-white-on-beige dining room. See all our east end picks »

Parts and Labour
Read our review | See the menu Parts and Labour’s hardcore hipness can be off-putting. The room’s deafeningly loud, there’s often a brawny bouncer corralling gorgeously dishevelled patrons behind velvet ropes and the industrial-quirk design feels vaguely sinister (maybe it’s the busted windshield that doubles as decor). Still, dinner there is always fun, and chef Matty Matheson experiments with big flavours—and plenty of pig parts. Instead of devising a corner-cutting lineup for Summerlicious, he’s offering a few dishes off his regular meat-heavy menu, like ox tongue with watercress and steak frites with salsa verde. $35 (dinner only). See all our west end picks »

Read our review | See the menu The dining room at the Soho Metropolitan has a neutral-toned, conference-ready hush, but luckily the luxe, Asian-inflected cooking is livelier than the atmosphere. On the $45 dinner menu: seared quail with Asian pear and truffle vinaigrette, ribeye steak with green beans and cumin potato fritters, and a chocolate ganache tart with salted caramel sauce and espresso ice cream. See all our picks for downtown south »

Read our review | See the menu A half-dozen seafood restaurants have opened this year, and Starfish still stands out as the best place for impeccably fresh oysters. The $35 dinner menu is remarkably good value, especially if you opt for the seafood tower: oysters, clams, prawns, sashimi and crab (it changes daily). Follow the tower with the mussels in herbed white wine and finish with Starfish’s famed sticky toffee pudding. See all our picks for downtown south »

Read our review | See the menu Davisville residents greedily embrace this charming mid-range Lebanese spot. The elevated Middle Eastern standards are always prepared with super-fresh ingredients, care and that magical combination of citrus, garlic and fresh herbs. Vegetarians make out well with the starting fare, which features seven meatless options, including a greatest hits sampler of hummus, baba ghanouj, tabülè and falafel, while dinner brings out the kabobs (five variations) for the meat-loving folk. Splurge on a refreshing rosewater cocktail to offset all that garlic. See all our picks for uptown »

Tutti Matti
Read our review | See the menu Even with a gaggle of new rustic Italian restaurants cranking out carb-loaded creations like Atkins never happened, chef Alida Solomon packs her 10-year-old restaurant with traditional Tuscan cooking. The house pastas are some of the best in the city: the hand-cut tagliatelle with ragu, simple as it sounds, is worth ordering for the main dish. Rhubarb season is almost over, so take advantage of the ricotta-rhubarb cake with amaretto-caramel sauce for dessert. See all our picks for downtown south »


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