So in case you hadn’t noticed by now, I’m something of a foodie. Whenever I go on vacation, I usually have several restaurants I look forward to eating at; it’s what has kept me from doing an all-inclusive, since I’ve never forgotten what Anthony Bourdain said about buffet lunches in Kitchen Confidential. I don’t need fancy, either, although I wouldn’t turn my nose up at it. Montreal specializes in affordable bistro fare that spotlights local ingredients, stellar technique, and just enough innovation to make things interesting, and Toronto has a similar reputation. My lovely hostess, Mal Peters, was game to play culinary tour guide. Here are some of the places we checked out.
MOMOFUKU NOODLE BAR
As soon as I heard David Chang was expanding his empire to include a Toronto location, I knew it was perhaps my one and only chance to sample some of his storied Asian cuisine. My friend C. has sung the praises of his pork buns on many an occasion, and since I am always going on about the savory pillowcases made by local heroes the Satay Brothers, I had to give Chang’s a try.
They did not disappoint. The buns were fluffy but firm. The sauce was tangy without compromising spice. The pork belly was cooked to perfection. Add a few slices of cucumber and some cilantro… sublime! But even better was the ramen bowl.
Beautiful, no? I have not eaten a better plate/bowl of food all year. It was hot that day, but if this was available to me in the middle of winter, I would haunt the place seven days a week. Pork belly, pork shoulder, cabbage, seaweed, a poached egg, and homemade noodles in a broth so yummy even your mother would think it’s better than hers. It is that good. That red daub in the middle is some sort of spice bomb that took the dish to infinity and beyond. I was crazy full after eating it, and I wanted more. (It normally comes with a fish cake, but I am allergic, and they very kindly omitted it for me. Class.)
Before our trip, the lovely Mal sent me a list of 14 restaurants to choose from for our big fancy meal. We ended up having a few of those, but the place that most intrigued me was a new resto called Los Colibris (The Hummingbirds). Since we hadn’t made a reservation, we were told we only had an hour and a half to eat, which was fine by us. Our waiter was very gracious, didn’t make us feel rushed at all. The problems started when the manager started interfering, doing his job for him and speeding our plates to the table. To see her openly undermine him left a bad taste in our mouths that the food certainly didn’t warrant, and her attempt to apologize to us felt kind of insincere, so if you do sample their wares, be aware that there is a wee bit of a service issue.
The food almost entirely made up for it, though! We first sampled their guacamole with yucca chips – fresh, creamy, and crunchy, with just the right hit of acid and no grease. I then had their Cerdo en Mancha Mantel, a confit pork belly in adobo sauce with black bean tamal, pineapple salsa, and broccoli, and we ordered a side of Papas Bravas, a type of spicy potato.
It tasted as good as it looks. One of my main criticisms of most fine dining restaurants is that they skimp on the vegetables, so I cheered the addition of the broccoli. The pineapple contrasted so nicely with the sauce and the pork that it was almost a refined version of tacos al pastor. The potatoes were a miss for me: too much char, not enough spice. This might be the more authentic version, but I’ve had the dish better elsewhere. Overall, there were a few hiccups, but I would definitely go back for more.
AROMA ESPRESSO BAR
I was alone for lunch on one of my festival days, on the hunt for something filling but healthy. Coming from the land of butter, cheese, bacon, and lard, I was impressed by how widely available truly nutritious and delicious lunches were in Toronto. I had three dinner salads that not only tantalized the taste buds, they didn’t challenge the waistline. But the best of these was at a nondescript café on King Street. I was in a rush, having dallied too long looking for a place to eat, and walked in out of desperation. Instead, I had one of my most memorable lunches in a long time.
An arugula salad with lentils, sweet potatoes, and goat’s cheese. There was something crunchy in there, as well. So simple, but so perfect. Loved it so much that I’m going to replicate it at home. The best of surprises.
Although I don’t have pictures, I loved the chipotle roast chicken avocado BLT at Easy, the baked goat’s cheese in phyllo on spinach salad and the lime tarts from Littlefish, and the amazing mascarpone cheesecake with berry compote from Hunter’s Landing. These are only some of the amazing restaurants you’ll find in Toronto. While not exactly the culinary mecca of Canada (that would be my own fair city), there are definitely adventures to be had for the urban foodie in us all.