Restaurant Roundup, our cross-country tour of Canada’s great dining scene, is wrapping up our tour of Ontario today. We’ve already stopped in Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton – Burlington and Ottawa. This week we’re stopping in Toronto to explore the culinary rebirth of the King West neighbourhood with Stella from Food Junkie Chronicles.
Five years ago, King West was a blank on Toronto’s culinary map. Sure, there were a couple of redeeming places such as Buca, for its exquisite Italian cuisine, and Jacobs & Co. Steakhouse, for some of the best steaks in the city but as a whole, the neighbourhood was severely lacking when it came to delicious and accessible international cuisine. Saturated with overpriced yet mediocre restaurants, King West diners were mostly made up of a hodgepodge of socialites, businessmen, clubbers, and people who go for the sake of “being seen”. Good food didn’t seem to be a priority and food lovers avoided the area like a plague.
All has changed since then. Eateries on King West are now thriving and packed with foodies. Chefs are providing a culinary experience that’s new and exciting.Diners have many options: within a 10-minute walk one can choose whether they want to eat at a Spanish restaurant or an Italian snack bar, an all-American diner or at an around-the-clock dim sum restaurant, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In a period of just three years, King West has effectively transformed itself from a culinary wasteland to a dining destination. Unpretentious service coupled with unintimidating food is the key to its success.
Opened in late 2012 by restaurateurs and nightclub kings Hanif Harji and Charles Khabouth, Patria is an ode to all things Spanish with a focus on imported products and wine. The space features large portraits, wooden tables and floors, and an eye-catching cross-stitch art installation that spans an entire wall. Executive chef Stuart Cameron serves a menu of small tapas (like house-baked bread with tomatoes and Spanish anchovies) along with Spanish charcuterie (like the 36 month acorn-fed Black-Hoof Jamón Ibérico). For sharable plates there’s leek and Manchego croquetas and slow cooked meat empanadas, while the mains include a wood fire roasted rib eye and Iberico pork with Piquillo pepper jam. There’s also a large paella for the table, cooked to order in 30 minutes.
BAR BUCA (Italian)
This 38-seat all-day, European style snack bar on Portland St. is one of the city’s most unique places to eat and drink. Serving diners seven days a week from 7am - 2am, it is the kind of place where you can grab a cup of coffee in the morning, a quick lunch in between meetings, or a glass of Prosecco after work. Bar Buca even serves weekend brunch. Executive chef Rob Gentile (who also helms the kitchen at Buca) travelled all over Italy for ideas and inspiration, and created a menu of sharable plates consisting of cicchetti (small bites), fritti (fried), piatti freddi (cold plates), schiacciata (stuffed focaccia), hot plates (spuntini) and spiedini (skewers). Pastries, made by pastry chef Cora James, are not to be missed. You can ask what they have or you can walk to the bar to take a look. Best bet is to order their two-tiered tower with a full assortment of pastries for $12.
HOME OF THE BRAVE (American)
Home of the Brave is an all-American diner brought to you by Andrew Richmond, owner of La Carnita on College St., and executive chef Jonathon Hamilton. Home of the Brave dishes out innovative twists on classic dishes alongside a creative cocktail menu that’s divided into three sections: house cocktails, vintage American cocktails and guest book cocktails (inspired by American bars / mixologists). If you’re not one for cocktails opt for their fun and boozy spiked slushies. The food menu pays tribute to American comfort food and home-style dishes such tater tots served in a skillet, and the all-American Waldorf salad. For mains, there’s the Kentucky Fried Handshake sandwich served with the foot intact, or the Bones in a Bucket, which consists of both beef and pork ribs. For dessert, there’s a red velvet funnel cake or classic ice cream sandwiches.
LUCKEE (Dim Sum)
Luckee Restaurant and Bar headed by chef Susur Lee serves upscale, modernized Chinese cuisine with dim sum s
ervice around-the-clock. Situated at SoHo Metropolitan Hotel, Luckee's "Nouvelle Chinoise" menu offers classic dishes and refined dim sum from the culinary traditions of Guangzhou, Hunan and Szechuan regions, updated and enhanced by Lee (i.e. pork replaced by minced chicken and shrimp in siu mai dumplings, the addition of chicken and tofu cheug fun rice rolls, optional five-spice foie gras torchon with the Luckee duck). The restaurant has an open kitchen dim sum bar surrounded by high-top seating that opens to the kitchen, inviting diners to watch working chefs. Its interiors subtly blend accents of imperial red and wall-to-wall panels of dynastic architecture, with a nod to 20th century Chinoiserie. Kai Bent-Lee, son of Lee and owner of Bent Restaurant, is responsible for the wine and cocktail program at Luckee.
LOS COLIBRIS (Mexican)
Los Colibris is Toronto's first upscale Mexican restaurant. Already home to sister restaurant El Caballito, the Mexican tequila cantina that opened earlier this year, 220 King St. W. is now also the home of Los Colibris, which occupies the second floor of the same building. The 150-seat Polanco-style restaurant distinguishes itself in the city by featuring white linen service alongside authentic Mexican, fine dining cuisine. Mexico-trained executive chef Herrera has successfully elevated her recipes - which have been inspired by her mother, grandmother and several generations of cooking - to Los Colibris. Using authentic Mexican techniques and flavours in company with tasteful and sophisticated plating, the menu is divided into ceviches, soups, signature dishes (like the confit pork belly in adobo sauce, or the red snapper in a spicy Veracruz sauce) and large sharable plates (like a whole roasted sea bass with seafood filling, or 22 oz dry-aged ribeye with roasted and spiced potatoes).
I’ve only touched the surface of what King West has to offer. Other notable mentions include Byblos (Middle Eastern), Valdez (Latin American), Khao San Road (Thai) and Portland Variety (Café & Tapas) which are all fantastic restaurants worth checking out.
Stella is a food addict: a "Food Junkie" with an insatiable interest and devotion to food. Stella founded Toronto food blog Food Junkie Chronicles in 2010 where she shares her restaurants and food events experiences with her readers. Stella is the co-owner of The Hungry Artisan Inc., an artisanal food importing and distribution company, and the co-founder of Toronto’s Hottest charity competitions.