The 100 Best Toronto Restaurants
To say that chef Justin Cournoyer obsesses over local, seasonal food is to understate his passion. The unassuming dining room has the feel of a local restaurant, but aspires to, and achieves, so much more: this is the pinnacle of contemporary Canadian cuisine right now.
A couple of regulars sit at the four-seat bar while a steady crowd fills a dining room with sombre blue walls, dark wood and exposed brick. Then the chef himself presents the first dish—a modest ensemble of kelp-cured plums accented with everything from briny seaweed to florid rose petals—and offers a brief digression on the philosophy behind the tasting-only menu. Interesting. With the second course, a bowl of warm cherry tomatoes and frozen wild blueberries in a velvety smoked-tomato broth, everything clicks: this kitchen sincerely wants to express this time and this place through its food. That’s why two buttery mussels pair with delicate threads of sugary bell pepper swimming in vinegar and fish sauce, both house-made, and it’s why you know of Adam, the guy who picked the black trumpet mushrooms that now drape your caramelized cauliflower in an absurdly rich pine butter sauce.
Wild blueberries are paired with dill and a delectable corn sorbet topped with “corn whip.” Yes, even desserts are rooted in the here and now. The wine list is short but diverse, with many bottles under $70 and a diligent bar crew to guide diners toward the perfect pairing for any course.
971 Ossington Ave., 416-962-8943,
To a certain diner, the steakhouse—no matter how clubby or conservative in its decor or bow-tied service—will never go out of style. But this two-storey compound just north of King Street has evolved to dazzle the modern steak connoisseur: it’s a high-end showroom for exquisite cuts of dry-aged beef, each organized not only by geographic origin, but also by breed. The razor-sharp servers eagerly detail the feeding regimes of each supplier, should you be fixated on your entrée’s eating habits—it’s very hard not to be, especially when considering a 16-ounce A5 Black Tajima strip loin from Japan’s Miyazaki Prefecture. (At $432, it’s far from the priciest cut.)
The tableside caesar is an act few steakhouses, no matter how progressive, can resist, but the iceberg wedge salad is superior, slathered in an unctuous cheese dressing with lobster chunks the size of a cork from one of the cellar’s 1,200 bottles. Steaks arrive precisely paced and perfectly cooked, and can be pre-sliced to facilitate sharing. Everything is über-polished, from the manner in which staff deferentially stand aside as you pass, to the jumbo-sized gratis cheddar popovers.
The main dining room—perfumed with hints of rendering fat and herbs—can be noisy with its mix of power-dining men (and women) in suits, out-of-towners in streetwear and special-occasion celebrants—on a recent visit, couples celebrating their first and 58th anniversaries were seated at neighbouring tables, toasting each other’s happiness.
12 Brant St., 416-366-0200,
The centrepiece of chef Rob Gentile’s downtown Italian triptych is his temple of seafood at the base of Yorkville’s Four Seasons. Four years in, it’s still one of the city’s most dependable splurges and a regular draw for suit-wearing power diners and celebrating couples.
Whole branzino is fleetingly presented to the table, then carved tableside; it returns as a twinkling translucent blanket of melt-away fish streaked with olive oil, lemon and prosecco, every bite an exceptional double-dose of richness and bracing salinity. Equally oceanic are fresh sea urchins the size of tennis balls; spread on toasted focaccia, each of their buttery, deep-orange tongues tastes like a dive into the north Atlantic.
Fresh pasta is always a Gentile hallmark, and few dishes better capture his kitchen’s strengths than a tangle of angel-hair and Nova Scotia lobster tossed in a seafood broth and thickened with nutty whey butter. One exception to the seafood bonanza: what might be the city’s priciest pizza, a $55 slab of lightly charred crust and funky taleggio, with black truffles scattered across its surface like confetti. Finished with streaks of egg yolk, it’s worth every dollar.
53 Scollard St., 416-962-2822,
Chef Brandon Olsen’s foray into French cuisine reliably delivers both expertly rendered Gallic classics and unexpected twists bound to inspire more than a few toothy grins. Forget the muted image of the stuffy bistro: this one springs to life in green, gold and copper, with the ambiance of a nightly New Year’s Eve dinner party, complete with disco tunes and coupes of boozy cocktails like the bourbon-based Banane Banane, spiked with banana liqueur.
Here, you’ll find the city’s finest example of a pâté en croûte, with golden pastry encasing peppery duck-pork stuffing and a cap of wine gelée on top. Julia Child would approve of how Olsen finishes his creamy crab and paella rice gratin in the crustacean’s shell, and how he achieves that extremely rare thing: a correct omelette—nearly custardy within, timed to the microsecond. An omelette for dinner is one of the more peculiarly French traditions, and (for an extra $80) it’s an excuse to order caviar. Otherworldly pommes aligot blur the line between mashed potato and molten cheese, bending physics to exist as both liquid and solid at the same time.
And then there’s the Ziggy Stardust Disco Egg: it’s the city’s original paint-splattered chocolate ovoid, made by part-time confectioner Olsen (Toronto’s own Willy Wonka), and a party trick that never gets old. Smash it open with a spoon to reveal delicate chocolate truffles—like the restaurant itself, it’s just as much fun as it sounds.
227 Ossington Ave., 416 -551- 6263,
The wine list is a treat, featuring gorgeous old-world finds, and nothing currently falls over $160 (which is unheard of in this neighbourhood). Chef Jonathan Nicolaou’s menu, alert to the season and designed for easy pairings, is full of surprises, like a rockfish crudo enlivened by slippery cubes of cucumber-flavoured jelly and a hash of preserved green tomato, or the pleasing crunch of oven-crackled edges of rotolo—wheels of pasta stuffed with spinach and the freshest-imaginable ricotta.
Everything about quetzal, Grant van Gameren’s biggest, most elaborate space yet, is extraordinary—it has shifted the restaurant world’s centre of gravity.
A year’s worth of construction has produced a dramatic room, with a plaster ceiling that torques and curves. Flames from the eight-metre firepit, dancing up the walls, are visible from almost every seat in the house. Chef-couple Kate Chomyshyn and Julio Guajardo cook brightly modern Mexican, and the spotlight is on hero cuts of rib-eye, lamb barbacoa and, our favourite, pescado Zarandeado, line-caught fish (red snapper on one occasion) that’s butterflied and rubbed with red chorizo seasoning on one half, green chorizo seasoning on the other, and grilled. It’s smoky, perfectly timed and deeply satisfying, wrapped in handmade tortillas and dressed with a sweet cherry tomato salsa.
Smaller dishes are equally impressive: a tartly refreshing scallop and halibut ceviche, arranged as a circle of petals with sections of Ontario-grown gherkins (which resemble Lilliputian watermelons); a bowl of grilled mixed mushrooms and a leek broth, with a meaty depth of flavour; all the masa, especially the version embellished with zucchini blossoms and precisely plated with a circle of crema and black-bean sauce; and an incredible plate of coal-roasted, honey-coated beets. If you emailed for a reservation in the restaurant’s early days last summer, you received an auto-reply politely suggesting you should try again later— much, much later. You must try, though.
419 College St., 647-347-3663,