For the 42nd year, the Toronto International Film Festival gathered the highest quality films from around the world and screened them for nearly 500,000 filmgoers. The streets of downtown Toronto were abuzz with movie lovers and celebrities who were enthralled by the 255 films that graced TIFF.
Watching world premieres was an exciting experience. Equally as thrilling was the golden opportunity to dine at Toronto’s finest restaurants, which offer a wide variety of international cuisines. Toronto is a food capital of the world, on par with Paris, Florence, New York, New Orleans, Tokyo and San Francisco who all have thriving, renowned restaurants scenes.
The neighborhood of Yorkville is in a northern section of downtown Toronto. Its main thoroughfare is Bloor Street, which is lined with the trendiest shops: Burberry, Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Holt Renfrew. The district compares to Madison Avenue, Rodeo Drive or the Avenue Champs-Elysee with expensive condos and the Royal Ontario Museum also attracting a chic high-end crowd.
This year Toronto Fashion Week coincided with TIFF and some of the streets of Yorkville were cordoned off as the fashionistas partied and played. One of the outdoor soirees was on Yorkville Street, in front of the classy boutique Hazelton Hotel, which is home to the posh restaurant ONE. ONE has floor to ceiling windows that face the street and the swirl of activities. Celebrity chef and restaurateur Mark McEwan, a veteran of Food Network Canada and the author of several books on cuisine, is the creative genius behind the eatery. And, the Chef de Cuisine at ONE is Darby Piquette.
Expect the unexpected. Be prepared to dine on food that will astound your taste buds. Dine outside on the tree-lined patio, inside in the main dining room or in one of the two private dinning rooms: The Yorkville Room or for a more private experience, there’s the Neil Young Room.
Hints: 1.) You’ll find it hard to pick just one appetizer, so try two: The Crispy Chicken Tacos with Korean BBQ sauce are as delectable as they sound. The popular Lobster Spoons feature an array of upright porcelain spoons filled with Nova Scotia lobster swathed in vermouth butter. Savor the tastes. Don’t rush. Chase it down with a sip of the il Gresco Prosecco sparkling wine. 2.) For the main entrée, the Miso Black Cod has a delicate flavor enhanced with garlic bok choy, water chestnuts, tempura spring onion and sake butter sauce. Also, the Veal Schnitzel is topped with San Marzano tomato sauce, burrata, basil and olive oil. 3.) Dessert can be the White Chocolate Cheesecake with glazed raspberries, pistachio, lemon curd and honey graham cracker crumble that will put your sweet tooth to rest.
Fortunately for food lovers Chef McEwan has spread his love for fine, innovative cuisine across the city. His Bymark restaurant sits in the middle of the downtown Financial District, on Wellington St. and is a gathering place for CEOs, the theater crowd, sports fans and tourists. Sitting at the foot of the TD Towers building, and run by the affable Executive Chef Brooke McDougall, this eatery with various rooms fit for private meals, intimate dining or banquets also has a popular leather and wood bar.
The feel of the main room is formal without being stiff, a cross between dining in New York’s famed Russian Tea room mixed with a friendlier urban feel. The wait staff is smart and conversational as they give you a menu that has dining choices that will challenge your notions of what a financial district restaurant should be. Don’t be shy. Try something new and your sense of discovery will be vastly rewarded.
Hints: 1.) Begin with the Fennel & Pepper Crusted Ahi Tuna Sashimi with miso-ginger vinaigrette, or the Smoked Ontario Burrata & Prosciutto or Grilled Baby Octopus & Calamari with warm cherry tomatoes. 2.) Make it a carnivores’ night. Talk your fellow guests into ordering meat entrées, share plates and experience the finest tastes: try the Cashew Crusted Lamb Rack with lamb dumplings; add an order of the Braised Beef Short Rib appetizer with sweet pea puree; and of course sample the incredibly sweet Australian Farm-Raised Venison. 3.) End with the Flourless Chocolate Torte & Dulce De Leche or Bymark’s own version of Boston Cream Doughnuts, which have Cherry puree and salted walnut praline.
3. Shore Club
Just down Wellington Street from Bymark, next to the Ritz-Carlton Toronto and in the shadow of the vast Roy Thompson Hall where most of the TIFF Gala Premieres take place, is the upscale Shore Club in Toronto. It’s on the southern tip of the Theater District and close enough to the Financial District to attract white collar workers to this tony staple of downtown life which invites a fierce debate: Which is better, their meats or seafood?
It’s a friendly conversation you can join after you walk down the main hallway, past a long walled-in wine cooler and up to one of the many private booths. The interior space looks like the captain’s room on an art deco ocean liner, with its soaring ceilings and mariner motif. Wet your palate with a glass of Vermentino Blend Château Lascaux 2015, France or be daring and order The Roy Thompson Martini with Absolut + Campari + Cointreau + Orange Juice. Then Dig in.
Hints: 1.) Start with the meaty King Crab Cake or the tender Braised Pork Belly and Seared Scallop. 2.) For your entrée the Blackened Halibut with charred tomato relish appeases seafood lovers while the New York Striploin with a side of Grilled Marinated Wild Mushrooms or the Seasonal Risotto appeals to carnivores. 3.) Call it a night with desserts fish and meat lovers can enjoy: the colorful and sweet Terrine of Sorbet or the Apple Crumble.
4. Los Colibris
All kinds of Mexican foods are served in specific renditions all over the world. In Toronto, Executive Chef Elia Herrera presents her version of cuisine from Vera Cruz, Mexico at her elegant restaurant Los Colibris (the hummingbirds). It’s on King St. West just a half a block from the TIFF Bell Lightbox Cultural Centre where films play all year long.
Exposed brick and cranberry red walls, oil paintings and linen tablecloths are on view in two intimate rooms that fit 150 guests. The open kitchen makes you feel like you are in a private hacienda being served by a master chef. And Herrera, a Top Chef Mexico TV show finalist, is just that. You’ll find her standing behind a counter, in front of the kitchen, commanding her staff and eyeing every plate. The essence of her spirit is in every meal.
Hints: 1. The Sopa De Tortilla (Tortilla Soup) is poured into a bowl over a pile of tortilla strips and clumps of chicken and it comes with a delicate mixture of avocado, panela cheese and guajillo-arbol pepper. Your senses will be seduced by the aroma and your taste buds will be in heaven from the first spoonful. Enjoy It. Relax. Sip on a Verdita Margarita and prepare yourself for the best Mexican appetizer you will ever eat. Order the Queso Fundido; crumbled bits of chorizo verde lying in a pool of melted cheese in a diminutive iron skillet. Scoop it up and ladle it into the handmade corn tortillas, which have the consistency of a soft grainy thin delicate pancake. 2.) The main course Chiles En Nogada is a visually beguiling pork peccadillo stuffed into a poblano pepper with raw walnut sauce and poblano rice. 3.) Top it off with the traditional but uniquely designed Tres Leches, a moist milk and cream soaked cake with soursop sorbet, hibiscus and cocada covered by a pineapple chip.
Miku is to Japanese cuisine what Los Colibris is to Mexican food. There are items on the menu that sound conventional until you taste their unique interpretation, as designed by Chef de Cuisine, Michael Acero, and Head Sushi Chef, Kazuki Uchigoshi, in this Asian influenced eatery. The location is the Harbour Front section of town, near Lake Ontario. The interior with ultra high ceilings has very clean architectural lines.
You walk in past the open kitchen, past a counter where a chef is doing something out of the ordinary with sushi. With a mini torch in hand he adds signature sauces before flame searing, which creates Miku’s signature Aburi Sushi, the house specialty. This innovative touch adds a flavor that you won’t taste elsewhere unless you travel to the other Miku properties in Vancouver. Eat á la carte or try a tasting menu, where various sakes from Japan are paired with each course.
Hints: 1.) The opening salvo: Order the Coal Harbour Platter, a seafood sampling that is arranged on a bed of ice in a deep boat-shaped bowl and features fresh oysters, oyster shooter, mussels, prawns, kaisen poke, scallop crudo, ceviche and kale goma-ae. 2.) The next course serves as the entreé. Try the AAA Sterling Silver Prime Rib, which comes with wasabi butter sauce, wild mushrooms, iwa-nori baked Yukon potato puree and market baby vegetables. 3.) This is followed by the Aburi Oshi Sushi course and you can’t go wrong with the Salmon Oshi Sushi (pressed wild sockeye salmon, jalapeno, Miku Sauce), the Ebi Oshi Sushi (pressed prawn, lime zest, ume sauce) and Saba Oshi Sushi (pressed house-cured mackerel with miso sauce). All are prepared using Miku’s famous flame seared technique (pairing the sauces happens before the flame searing process).
Check out travel sites to see what is the #1 rated hotel in Toronto and most will point to the AAA Five Diamond Award-winning The Adelaide Hotel Toronto, which will transition into Canada’s very first St. Regis Hotel late 2018. During TIFF, this is the hotel where you will run into famous people in the lobby, restaurants, and health club or even in the top floor heated infinity salt water pool. The main attraction for the jet set is the hotel’s discretion, superb service, its 256 lush rooms and suites with marble bathrooms in white black and soothing gray tones and its remarkable downtown location at the corner of Bay Street and Adelaide.
The Restaurant at The Adelaide Hotel is on the 31st floor. Walk into the cavernous dining room and your eyes will gaze at the back wall, which is white with sculptured swirls and bejeweled. Look up at the ceiling and you’ll see a grainy photo of people standing on a beach. The bar area, with club chairs and tables, is cozy, but the main hall with its incredible height is the center attraction. Hands down this is the most elegant and beautiful dining room in any hotel in Toronto. Walk out to the glassed off outdoor terrace where bar stools line up against the window and it’s a perfect location for after work drinks as the sun sets casting an orange glow. The food is as regal as the room.
Hints: 1. Words like delicious and tasty can barely describe the Sweet Pea Soup, which similar to the Tortilla Soup presentation at Los Colibris, is poured into a bowl at the table over Sour Dough Croutons and Micro Greens with a touch of Parmesan foam. Follow that with the Scallop appetizer, which is topped with Crispy Octopus, Grapefruit Sauce Vierge, Sweet Potato Puree, Chorizo, Preserved Lemon and Kasha. Yum! 2.) The main course of Rack of Lamb is cooked to perfection and accompanied by Grapefruit Puree, Baby Turnips, Baby Carrots, Cilantro Crumbs with Madeira Jus. And, the 12 oz AAA NY Striploin’s flavor comes alive when you dip it in a tumbler of Port Wine Jus; add a side of Honey Glazed Baby Carrots for good measure. 3.) Dessert must be the Maple Whisky Butter Tart with Sea buckthorn coulis, wild blueberry and a dollop of Crown Royal ice cream.
The Sheraton is a perfectly located hotel, just across Queen Street West from Toronto’s City Hall, which sits in Nathan Phillips Square. Many of its 1372 guest rooms and suites, that ascend up 43 floors, have spectacular views of Lake Ontario and CN Tower. For people on business trips, families on vacation, or couples having a romantic weekend away, this hotel offers a variety of very special amenities. Tours to Niagara Falls and around town pick up guests at the front door. If you want to stay fit on your trip there is the largest hotel gym in Toronto on the 3rd floor and a gigantic indoor/outdoor swimming pool. You start your laps inside by the seasonal pool bar and BBQ grill and swim out to the garden area that is adorned with lounge chairs.
Hints: 1. Grab a hamburger at the homey BnB Restaurant. 2.) Sirloins, prime rib, seafood, draft beers and over 150 varieties of whiskey abound at Quinn's Steakhouse and Irish Bar. 3.) The nicest surprise is the Club Lounge Dining on the 43rd floor, with oversized windows on both sides of the room. Hot breakfast and evening hors d'oeuvres are served daily. Book a room at the Club Level, and you can access the lounge. Start your day, reading the morning paper, eating privately or socializing with other guests over eggs, bacon, a wide variety of pastries, fresh fruits, juices and coffees.
The dining in Toronto is on par with the top restaurant cities in the world. But there’s one thing that distinguishes it from other scenes. That’s the annual Toronto International Film Festival, which brings a touch more excitement and electricity to all the finest dining spots.
Visit travel writer Dwight Brown at www.DwightBrownInk.com.