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.
Alder Ace Hotel
51 Camden Street
Tuesday to Saturday, 5pm – 10pm
fully accessible via ramp/elevator in hotel lobby
“Just book it now, or we’ll never get a table!”
The hungry husband and I are looking at the Tock reservation system for Alder, the new restaurant in the newly-opened Ace Hotel Toronto, helmed by Chef Patrick Kriss of Alo. Knowing how hard it is to get a table at Kriss’ other restaurants, we figure we have to move fast. Alder launched a few days prior and still has plenty of tables for its first weekend open to the public, but we don’t expect it to stay that way. As it is, we take a 5:15pm reservation and are pleased as punch. We don’t normally eat on “Vegas time”, but we also don’t normally go to King West willingly on a Saturday night, so needs must. Continue reading “Restaurant Review – Alder”
Grant slowed the car to a crawl and they both gawked at what turned out to be a deflated beach ball on the gravel shoulder of the road.
They had been driving around for an hour, the GPS system all but useless as they looked for a turn-off marked by a balloon and a sign.
“Okay, let me check the invite again?” Katie said, pulling a card out of her brown leather shoulder bag. “Ten miles west of the wrecking yard on highway 31, look for the balloon and the sign, park in the clearing?”
Grant was sure they were on the correct road, but there had been no balloon anywhere. They were in the middle of nowhere, they hadn’t even seen another car in over half an hour.
The trees rose up green and lush on both sides of the highway, deep gutters were full of young bulrushes not yet at the fluffy catkin stage, and the sun beat down bright and hot on the black asphalt ribbon in front of them. They had passed road kill in various states of decay, a murder of crows prancing down the centre yellow lines, and a rusty, abandoned shopping cart, but there was absolutely no sign of the entrance to the restaurant where they had a coveted reservation for dinner.
“We’ve gone more than ten miles, maybe we should double back,” Grant said, squinting through the windshield, the waves of heat dancing up from the road distorting his vision and making him doubt his own mind.
There she is in all her glory, the winning Jubilee pudding, offered up in a single serving portion as part of the Jubilee-themed afternoon tea service at The Omni King Edward Hotel in Toronto to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
We’re not royalists, but we do like a good afternoon tea, and as food history nerds, we were itching to get a taste of the winning dessert, without having to make it ourselves, because, well… trifle. Ultimately, it’s soggy cake, right? But also, as Canada barely offered a nod to this milestone, who the heck else could we convince to eat soggy cake with us? So we certainly weren’t making a whole massive trifle for the two of us.
Val glanced up at the clock above the bar as she finished filling carafes of water. Twenty five past nine. Through the large front windows she could already see a line forming; a grizzled older couple, Lonny and Margie, who had been regulars here since the days when it had been a dive bar; a group of four millennials and three, no, four sets of parents with strollers. Fuck Sunday brunch, she though to herself vehemently as one of the parents knocked loudly on the window and then gestured to his wrist.
“It’s freezing out there, you know,” he said with a snarky tone as Val unlocked the door and everyone filed in.
“We open at 9:30,” Val replied, making a note to herself to replace his coffee with decaf.
Alison gave the exclusive restaurant’s private dining room a final once over. Everything had to be perfect this evening. She adjusted the forks at two place settings on her family’s side of the table, stopping to refold a napkin at the spot where her father would be seated.
The room was as elegant as she could want. A long cherry-stained table with cream-coloured velvet seats filled the centre of the space. Three walls of the room were exposed brick, with the fourth being glass that allowed the diners to view the restaurant’s extensive wine cellar. The menu was mostly local ingredients prepared with classic French and Italian techniques, but without the piety of those nose-to-table places that told diners the name of the chicken they’d be eating. It had taken weeks to narrow down their choice to something that would suit everyone, and even now Alison feared that someone in her party this evening would have something to complain about.
She smoothed the skirt of her silk dress, admiring the sapphire colour, knowing that it made her eyes look even more blue. “I hope everyone can find the place,” she said, turning to Percy, her fiance, who was sorting the selection of wines arranged on a sideboard for their meal.
He sniffed as he replaced a bottle and turned to her. “It will be fine, Ali. Don’t get so stressed. There’s enough wine here to make your parents and my parents the best of friends.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” she replied, admiring his stoicism. “Or that there’s enough wine to make everyone come to blows.”
I’ve been writing (and hoarding) short fiction over the pandemic so I thought I’d actually let some of it see the light of day. This piece is based on an encounter I watched some years ago at a local restaurant.
The restaurant was not what she had expected. Described by her co-workers, and the online rating website, as one of the city’s best seafood dining experiences, Malia expected The Oyster House to be a white tablecloth affair. Instead, the long narrow room was decorated in something akin to “upscale sea shanty”. The walls were bead board on the lower half, the raw wood treated to look weathered from exposure to the elements. The upper walls were painted light blue and were adorned with old signs with corny jokes as well as advertisements for crab shacks and oyster po’boys. Shelves above each table included huge dried starfish, glass balls attached to bits of fish netting, and knickknacks made out of lobster shells which Malia found oddly disturbing.
She had tried to get out of coming, but her workmates had insisted. A month into this new job and she still felt out of her element, but Darlene, her deskmate, would not take no for an answer.
“The whole department all go out together for lunch on the last Friday of each month,” the older woman explained. “Since there’s so few of us, we treat it as a team-building exercise. And management pays for half of our food bill.”
As Canadian Thanksgiving approaches, we ponder the annual question associated with this holiday with trepidation. Not what to be thankful for, but rather… will it be too hot in Toronto to actually cook a roast bird and five side dishes on Thanksgiving Day? It’s about a 50/50 draw; some years early October is cool and rainy, other years temperatures can hit the high 20s.
Since it’s just Greg and I, we usually just cook a chicken, but I don’t relish standing in a hot kitchen with the oven and all the burners going if it’s going to be a warm day with a humidex. Besides, I can roast a chicken any time, I don’t need a holiday to do it, so while we want to do something to celebrate the day, I’m never inclined to actually break a sweat.
For the past couple of years in pandemic times, upscale local restaurants have filled the void with gorgeous multi-course menus delivered to our door. One of the options we considered this year included seared foie gras, so there’s lots to be thankful for.
In the past, though, the delivery options got no more fancy than Swiss Chalet.
We may have gotten a little bit greedy. Three big, multi-course meals over a long weekend… a decade ago, when we ate out for a living, that might have been achievable with stretchy pants and strategic naps, but now, when our constitutions were less enthusiastic? Sure, we’ve put on the Covid 19 (pounds) like everybody else, from a year of eating as a form of self-care, but as we perused the menus, we were unsure… that was a whole lot of food. But heck, we’re troopers, let’s take one for the team and support our local dining establishments.
Of course, we failed. 5-course dinners got split into two or three meals, leftover duck got reworked with blueberry preserves and waffles for breakfast. Desserts got cut in half and shared rather than eating a full portion each. We did manage to eat it all, just not all at once. But when a great meal is the only high-light of an otherwise dull existence, then why not splurge occasionally, especially for a holiday that you don’t technically celebrate?