toronto – restaurant


Say what you want about Oliver & Bonacini’s brand, they have recently hit on a great little formula that seems to work in my book.  Their newer restaurants like Luma and Cantina provide good food, good service, and a relaxed-yet-classy ambiance.  This opinion extends to the Bannock, a lovely little spot just across from Old City Hall in Toronto.

We came here during a recent trip out East to visit the family and stopped into Toronto for a few days of reunions and face-stuffing.  We had moved from Toronto to Vancouver before the restaurant opened, and when we first saw Bannock we were amazed at how the place looked (especially when you compare it to the coffee place that was there before).  The natural-looking design materials add a nice warmth, and seem to absorb hard sounds, so that all that is left is the energetic murmur of customers’ conversations.

Our waitress was great, knowledgeable about the food, enthusiastic about the ingredients, and quick to take our orders.

Burger and Root Crisps

I was in the mood for a burger.  I know it’s not the most exciting selection, but I always consider burgers to be a kind of litmus test for a restaurant (like an omelet is for a chef).  Bannock’s burger and “root crisps” (i.e., fancy chips) were great.  The burger was well seasoned and beautifully moist.  the root crisps were nothing to write home about, but they added a nice crunch to the place, and were more interesting than regular chips.

Moroccan-inspired Lamb Stew

My wife had a daily special, a kind of Moroccan lamb stew.  Now that was something to write home about.  The temperature in downtown Toronto that day hovered around -15 celcius with the wind chill, so the belly-warming goodness and subtle spiciness of the stew really hit the spot.

From a value perspective, I have to admit that these dishes were a little pricey (my burger was $15) but if you have a little extra cash to throw around the entire Bannock experience is worth it.  My main criticism, however, is how they charged/gouged us for flat water without informing us, making us feel as if we’d been had, and making the restaurant look cheap.  I’m fairly easy to please, but such antics constitute a cardinal sin in my book.

Ignoring the entire “water issue”, Bannock is a solid all around experience, and though the food is a tad pricey, its worth visiting at least once if you find yourself in downtown Toronto.  I’m not sure I’d go back, but I’m glad I went.

Bannock on Urbanspoon

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My wife recently quit her thankless job, and to celebrate her new-found freedom we decided to try a local Japanese restaurant we’d heard a lot about: Japan GO. Japan GO is located at at 122 Elizabeth Street, about 3 blocks East of University, a little South of Dundas St. West. The restaurant is intimate to say the least; it seats 20 patrons at most though you never get the feeling
you’re crammed in. The decor is unpretentious and reminded me of my old favourite sushi places I used to frequent in Japan. In fact, the name “Japan Go” means “Japan Hometown”, suggesting a feeling of familiarity and comfort.The menu is also quite traditional, serving your usual sushi and sashimi deals. There is also a respectable selection of Japanese alcohols (though a little shochu would not go amiss!).What really impressed me was the sashimi donburi, a delicious sashimi selection on top of a bowl of rice. My wife ordered it, and the dish was exquisite. The quality of the rice – nicely seasoned short grains – was excellent and only to be outshone by the melt-in-your mouth assortment of fish, including BC salmon.

I opted for the sushi dinner (regular) with an assortment of sushi and maki (California rolls). Again, the the fish and rice were excellent, but the presentation was, quite frankly, astonishingly poor. The maki were rolled well, but the nigiri sushi looked like lifeless, flaccid hunks of flesh. The fish was cut unevenly, the shape was completely off, and the nigiri’s rice bed was sorely lacking.

That aside, I would certainly recommend Japan Go, and I will definitely go back for another round. In fact, I believe this Friday is free…

Japango on Urbanspoon

In my opinion, Toronto’s best food festival is the “Taste of the Danforth” in Toronto’s Greektown.  To be sure, Toronto has other great food festivals.  Summerlicious is a great way to sample menus from some of Toronto’s more upscale eateries, and other cultural festivals are always chock-a-block with delicious food stalls, but in my humble opinion the Taste of the Danforth has what all the other festivals lack: quality and variety.

 

A restaurant which opens its doors during the Taste of the Danforth is Mezes.   Meze” is the Greek word (Mezés or Μεζές) for what is popularly known as tapas or “appetizers”.  Went there recently with an open mind and an empty stomach and came out amazed.

Mezes’ decor is classy yet relaxed – one would be as comfortable having a meal there in shorts and a T-shirt as in business casual or more formal attire.  The service is similarly informal but efficient.  Our waiter was extremely knowledgeable and had a great sense of humour.  He made sure we had drinks as soon as we were seated and (following a perfunctory Ouzo shot) he must have picked up on some vibe we were putting out because he was taking our orders as soon as we’d decided what to eat.

 

The menu at Mezes is vast and includes far more than the usual token tzatziki and hummus platters.  The appetizer menu is epic, and a friend of mine suggested ordering an appetizer each and then sharing them all.  We ended up splitting the difference, and ordered the Kria Poikilia (an array of popular dips Tzatziki, Taramosalata, Homous, and Melitzanosalata served with pita) and I ended up ordering the (wait for it…) lamb souvlaki.  Yes, I know.  It’s a bit cliché, but I just had to see how they cooked this classic dish.  I was not disappointed.

 

The lamb was cooked to perfection (medium rare…any more cooked and its a waste of meat); it was succulent, juicy and tasty.  The Olympus-sized rice mound that accompanied the dish was also fabulous and fluffy.  I have to say the salad was a bit of a let down, but – hey – with everything in front of me I hardly had room to put away a few mouthfuls of greenery.

 

Mezes’ was a great experience with good food at a very reasonable price.  If you do end up going, however, get there early because it’s extremely popular.  We had to wait 45 minutes for a table.  If you do end up waiting, however, fear not.  Mezes is just up the street from a cluster of great stores.  I would HIGHLY recommend Mezes if you’re looking for a good time in a friendly, charming restaurant.

Yesterday night I went out with some friends for some post-theatre dinner and we ended up at Thai Basil, a classy Thai place at 467 Bloor Street West.  I’ve been pretty disappointed with restaurants in Toronto since arriving from Montreal, but I have to say that Thai Basil really raised the bar in terms of taste, atmosphere, and price.

 

The restaurant itself is narrow, but wouldn’t know it because of the intimate atmosphere and the layout of the tables.  We were there at 9:30pm on a Saturday night, but we managed to get a table in no time flat.  The staff was quick to greet and seat us, and we weren’t waiting for 10 minutes before our drinks were ordered from their long and unbelievably reasonable drink menu.

 

The menu consisted of your normal Thai standards, but went far (…far!) beyond what you’d get at most Thai places in Toronto.  The food choices ranged from starters (spring rolls, soups, and friends), to salads, to rice dishes, to curries, to seafood;  to pork, chicken, or beef; to deserts…etc.  If anything, the menu had too much choice and I tried to imagine the poor chefs in the kitchen contending with the dizzying variety of orders that come in each night.

 

I settled on Thai Basil Eggplant and Pork Hot Pot, and I wasn’t disappointed.  The dish was served piping hot and perfectly seasoned.  The texture of the fried eggplants was delightful, and the sauce used to bring this dish together was robust and spicy.  The quality of jasmine rice I ordered to accompany the dish was also excellent and moist – indicating that, unlike other Asian restaurants (Hosu, I’m looking to you!) in Toronto, it hadn’t been sitting in a bowl for hours before being served.

 

Being the shameless foodies that I am, I also had a chance to taste the coconut soup, which was also outstanding.

 

Overall, I’d rate Thai Basil as one of the best Asian food restaurant experiences I’ve had in Toronto.  It was all the things I look for in a restaurant:  service was quick, the food refined, and everything was consistently good.  If you’re even looking for nice meal at a reasonable price, I would highly recommend Thai Basil.