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Worldeats: Toronto

by Rich Rubin

Whether it’s in a swanky restaurant or down-home eatery, variety is the key to Toronto’s culinary success.

With Canada’s agricultural bounty at its doorstep, a diverse population, and a growing urban sophistication, Toronto has the kind of amazing dining scene you might hope for in the country’s largest city. Whether it’s in a swanky restaurant or down-home eatery, variety is the key to Toronto’s culinary success. There’s so much to choose from that you might to decide to do one of the many food tours on offer from companies such as Culinary Adventure Tours (culinaryadventureco.com). Whether you let them guide you or venture out on your own, you have a treat (well, many treats) in store when exploring the myriad culinary wonders of Toronto.

360 RESTAURANT

At 1,000 feet up at the top of the CN Tower, 360 Restaurant revolves to give you a complete panorama of Toronto and Lake Ontario, leaving no doubt as how it got its name. At 360, though, you get not only the vista, but simple yet inventive food sourced from Canadian ingredients. Chowder of wild mushrooms foraged on Canada’s west coast is deep and velvety, with a slight sweetness from fresh tarragon honey and depth of texture from barley, roasted quinoa, and Prince Edward Island potatoes. Beef tartare is a simple little mound accompanied by homemade pickles, a tiny onion, mustard, and charred habanero aioli. For mains, you can’t go wrong with the prime rib, which is perfectly cooked to order, or you might try a local fish like the Ontario pickerel, with a little cylinder of rutabaga/turnip pave that elevates those workman-like root vegetables into a culinary sensation. Dessert? A warm apple crisp has its sweetness set off by tangy sour cream ice cream, its appearance enhanced by a topping of green apple “floss,” while a dark chocolate delice benefits from the addition of coffee mousse and rum crème fraîche. In short, it’s the view that will lure you in, but the food (fresh, local, and creative) will make your evening at 360 a special one. 301 Front St. W. Tel: 416-868-3937. www.cntower.ca

LUMA

Located inside the TIFF Lightbox (the multistory headquarters of the Toronto International Film Festival) is stylish and casual Luma. Here, you’ll discover such treats as a roasted cauliflower salad that combines flavors and textures in a startlingly delicious way: crispy cauliflower florets, smooth and slightly chewy beluga lentils, a bit of a kick from harissa dressing, and crunchy hazelnuts. With mains ranging from veal meatballs to Cornish hen with leek bread pudding, it’s a difficult choice for the next course, but go with the trout salad bowl, with fresh pink trout atop a bed of black rice, toasted nori shreds, and sesame seeds giving it a bit of Asian flair, and a poached egg sitting insouciantly next to a row of avocado slices. To finish, try the Sweet Treats, a collection of little delights: Luma chocolate bar, carrot cake, lemon square, chocolate chip cookie, and other wonders, with a zigzag of dark chocolate ganache running across the plate. The Film Festival is one of Toronto’s’ major events, but even when there’s no festival, there’s still Luma, for a taste (literally) of the sophisticated good life in Toronto. 350 King St. W., 2nd floor. Tel: 647-288-4715. www.lumarestaurant.com

Trout Salad Bowl at Luma

Trout Salad Bowl at Luma

MAPLE LEAF TAVERN

My favorite new place in Toronto, Maple Leaf Tavern, reopened after a major remodel in 2016. It’s located in East Toronto, in an area that’s quickly changing from downtrodden to artsy and hip, and not far from the epicenter of LGBT life. A former dive bar (and hotel before that), the Maple Leaf is a true undiscovered pleasure for visitors, from your first sip of the Maple Leaf’s house punch made with Appleton, Forty Creek, amontillado, ginger, and fresh lime and orange. Move on to the pleasure of the Maple Leaf’s food, which is exactly as owner Todd Morgan describes, “approachable but elevated.” Fresh little radishes are dipped in a zucchini hummus that melds familiar and unexpected. A thick slice of smoked salmon crudo rests on top of a beautiful beet/horseradish terrine, the plate drizzled with stripes of mustard, and pickled red onion curlicues sitting next to the ubiquitous poached egg. Fresh trout sits on a bed of spinach, with deep, chewy shiitakes, smooth little beluga lentils, and (wonder of wonders) a circle of smoked crème fraiche. If you’re in a meatier mood, you might try the veal shank lasagna, or a strip loin from their wood-fired grill. Whatever you do, though, leave room for dessert, whether it’s a peanut butter and chocolate mousse or the amazing cheddar cheesecake, with white cheddar cheese emulsion topping a graham cracker crust, accompanied by apple preserves and a date purée. It’s a haven of hospitality, creative cuisine, and great drinks. 955 Gerrard St. E. Tel: 416-4650955. www.mapleleaftavern.ca

SWATOW

This little hole-in-the-wall restaurant in the heart of Chinatown relies not on fancy décor (it looks like a not-too-fancy luncheonette) or modern technology (no website, no reservations, no Wi-Fi, no credit cards). Instead, what’s kept them going for decades is the great food. Tofu stuffed with lightly fried shrimp sets the scene before you move on to their crispy chicken wings that redefine this standard into a little taste of heaven. For a main, you might go with shrimp in lobster sauce, the shrimp slightly spicy, the velvety coating adding a perfect contrast to the chewy crustacean. The food here is from the Fujian region of China, similar to Cantonese and heavily reliant on seafood (a puzzling sign on the wall reads “live double lobster”). Soups are also big here, with the shrimp dumpling soup being a popular choice. You’ll see a lot of signs written in Chinese, and service is polite and welcoming. You might think you’ve stumbled into the wrong place when you head to the address we’ve given you, but wait till you taste that food! 309 Spadina Ave. Tel: 416-977-0601.

UDUPI PALACE

Named after a town in southwest India, this vegetarian restaurant in Toronto’s Little India exploits the region’s culinary riches for all they’re worth. While it looks more like a school assembly hall with Indian touches than the “palace” of its name, it’s remained since its 2001 opening one of the city’s most popular spots for its tapas-style menu of meat-free delights. Start with crispy little onion bhaji, served with sweet tamarind and spicy mint sauces. Continue with a dosa, (a large coneshaped “crepe” made from lentils and rice, crisped on a griddle, and filled with a mixture of potatoes, black mustard seeds, cumin, white lentils, ginger, and green and red chilis). These “paper dosas” with a thin, crispy crêpe, shows you where they get their name, and they are easily big enough for several to share and are served with coconut chutney and sambhar. Channa bhatura, meanwhile, comes filled with curried chick peas, served on a puffy bread (bhatura) made from the same dough as the more familiar naan but put into hot oil until it puffs up like a pillow. Top it off with a mango lassi or a fresh lime soda, and you have a meal fit to be eaten in a palace. 1460 Gerrard St., E. Tel: 416-4058189. www.udupipalace.ca

Chicken Salad with Saffron-marinated Chicken at Diwan

Chicken Salad with Saffron-marinated Chicken at Diwan

DIWAN

Set within the stunning new Aga Khan Museum on the outskirts of the city, is a combination of tradition and ingenuity. Like the must-see museum itself, Diwan explores the riches of the Middle East, North Africa, and the Indian subcontinent. Local star chef Mark McEwan dazzles with the gastronomic diversity of the Muslim world, inspired but not limited by its creations. The room has a Middle Eastern look, with 19th-century wood panels carved in Damascus—a hint of the Mideast without beating you over the head with it. The food’s the same: as you dig into masala-spiced fries or grilled octopus with chick pea salad and Moroccan olives, you’ll be tempted to stop there. Move on, though, to salmon with eggplant purée and couscous or a chicken salad made with saffron-marinated grilled chicken. Have you left room for dessert? Orange semolina cake awaits, as does a rosewater/buttermilk panna cotta with pistachios and currants. A perfect lunch stop in a thrilling new museum. 77 Wynford Dr., Tel: 416-646-4670. www.agakhanmuseum.org/dine

COLETTE GRAND CAFÉ

The moment you enter the Colette Grand Café at the Thompson Hotel, you’ve stepped into a world of French refinement, with tall plants, a series of archways, marble-topped tables, a rich wood sideboard, and low lights casting a flattering glow over the happy diners. The beet salad is a perfect starter, the beets are arranged over arugula with dots of bleu cheese, slivers of radicchio, and sweet toasted walnuts. Duck confit is crispy outside and tender and flavorful underneath, the perfect preparation of this difficult dish. There are great dessert choices here as well: a chocolate/raspberry vegan cake that’s enough to convert the most dedicated carnivore and comes with a taste bud-tingling coconut and lychee sorbet, carrot cake with nutmeg ice cream, and the chocolate/hazelnut praline cake. With Colette Grand Café just a short trip upstairs from the lobby, you may want to book a room at this stylish boutique hotel so you can experience the comfort, the service, and (needless to say) the great food every day. 550 Wellington St., W. Tel: 647-348-7000. www.colettetoronto.com

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