50C Clinton Street
Dinner for two with wine, tax and tip: $275
Accessibility: one step at door, washrooms in basement, outdoor seating in summer
In this first real year of “back to normal” after the pandemic, it’s interesting to see how we’ve all adjusted. Time, having both stretched and compressed concurrently, has given us all the opportunity to reassess how we want to be in the world. For the team at Casa Paco, the answer to that is smaller, homier, and more familiar.
The space on Clinton just north of College has been many restaurants over the past decade, from Acadia and Red Sauce to a few others in the time since. As Casa Paco, the small room is covered in wood paneling, potted plants, and a collection of old photos, brass plates and knickknacks that give it a 70s vibe like you might have found in a neighbour’s or family member’s rec room or enclosed back porch, minus the musty smell and the poorly hidden box of old girly magazines. It doesn’t hurt that the Sunday afternoon we’re there the big front windows are wide open and the soundtrack is a collection of laid back 70s yacht rock songs; stuff I hated in my youth but which I now appreciate more given they sound so much better on a proper, modern sound system as opposed to a tinny AM transistor or car radio.
55 Adelaide Street East
Dinner for two (includes beverages, tax and tip): $250 – $300
Accessibility: steps at street entrance, washrooms on main floor
Growing up in Halifax in the 1980s, a close proximity to the ocean meant that my family ate lots of fresh fish, but we certainly would never have considered eating it raw. I knew about sushi, but my experience of it did not extend past the scene in The Breakfast Club where Molly Ringwald’s character brings a selection for lunch. Which, in retrospect, is a little dubious, right? Did she have an ice pack in her bag?
When I moved to Toronto in 1987, my roommate Sharon and I would often go out clubbing and walk home. We walked a lot, and often far. Our weekly walk home from Psychedelic Sundays at RPM to our flat in Kensington Market (a walk of around 45 minutes and close to 4 km) often took us through the downtown core in the wee hours. We walked past Nami, and the blue neon wave above the front entrance, dozens of times, regularly wondering what Japanese food was really like. “I bet it’s really ‘fancy,’” one of us would inevitably say. “And expensive,” the other would reply.
While the ensuing decades has made sushi and Japanese cuisine not just accessible but downright normal or basic, I’d never gotten around to visiting Nami. During my time as a food writer, it flew under the radar, never needing to do any overt promotion. So when the name showed up on this year’s list for Summerlicious, I waved off my usual suspicion of the annual promotion, and we headed to Nami for an early dinner before a concert in St. James Park.