Joanne Kates on T.O.’s best new restau­rants

North York Post - - Contents -

1 Jack­pot Chicken Rice

When our beloved Pa­tois closed (not for much longer, we hope) for re­pairs af­ter a fire last year, owner and chef Craig Wong de­cided to drown his sor­rows in Hainanese chicken rice. Being Craig Wong, an icon­o­clast and a chef, he tweaked the clas­sic to uptick the plea­sure and opened a res­tau­rant.

Jack­pot is adding dishes here and there, but I stick to the orig­i­nal and the sub­lime. Like the great Miche­lin three-star chefs of France used to tell me: “Show me a man (sic) who can roast a chicken per­fectly and that’s a great chef.” Sim­ple talks.

So eat Jack­pot’s from orig­i­nal items: poached chicken is cooked in chicken stock scented with ginger and scal­lions and it’s as ten­der a bird as one could ever in­hale. The add-on of crispy skin is a must. It’s baked three times with sriracha salt: sin you can’t say no to. Dip it all in ginger-scal­lion sauce or fresh chili. The South­east Asian–style roast chicken is equally juicy and ten­der.

Both come with the re-imag­ined Hainanese rice. This rice is no af­ter­thought. It’s cooked in schmaltz-laden chicken broth with pan­dan leaves, which pro­duces the most as­ton­ish­ingly flavour­ful rice. Rich, tasty, ad­dic­tive. Add a bowl of win­ter melon soup and you’re in Chi­nese heaven.

Chef Wong is not ex­actly a health-food dude, but his flavours are so in­tense, his tex­tures so com­pelling, that I can­not deny my­self his French toast for dessert. Kaya toast is a South­east Asian snack food. The magic in­gre­di­ent is kaya co­conut jam, a rich amal­gam of co­conut, egg and su­gar. Wong’s ver­sion is sev­eral lay­ers of thin-sliced bread, filled with kaya co­conut jam and deep-fried fast and hot for ultimate crunch. 318 Spad­ina Ave., 416-792-8628

2 Pi­ano Pi­ano

2016 was the year that made it of­fi­cial: Toronto is done with white table­cloths. We’re fin­ished with for­mal. The food­ies of Toronto have voted with their feet, and the mes­sage is loud and clear: ex­pen­sive, fancy and for­mal is over, gone the way of quiche and choco­late mousse.

Chef Vic­tor Barry was prob­a­bly hem­or­rhag­ing money with Splen­dido. Sure it was splen­did. But not so many din­ers wanted to sit for three hours and pay $300 for a cou­ple to dine in quiet splen­dour. So Mr. Barry closed Splen­dido and re­opened as Pi­ano Pi­ano, a ri­otously colour­ful space that speaks of ca­sual and cool. Toronto food­ies have fallen for his $22 piz­zas and $24 pasta mains,’cause the place is packed.

The new pizza oven sends forth crispy crust pies with won­der­ful trad top­pings. My fave is Fun Guy with roasted mush­rooms, moz­zarella and fior di latte, arugula and parm.

They also do some ter­rific pas­tas. Pump­kin ag­nolotti is su­perb, topped with sage and parm and swim­ming in brown but­ter. They do a big ravi­olo stuffed with spinachri­cotta purée and a slightly cooked egg yolk, so when you cut it a golden river oozes out, which goes great with the brown but­ter and parm on top.

For carb-haters there’s brick chicken — roasted breast with deep-fried leg. Both fea­ture great crisped skin and good spic­ing, on a big round plat­ter of kale salad with pick­led onion, olive and le­mon. And a ter­rific raw sea bream app with av­o­cado, chili, lime, pineap­ple and just a hint of co­conut. 88 Har­bord St., 416-929-7788

3 Chabrol

We all know French food is dead. Who needs all that bland but­ter and cream? Plus, the pi­quant flavours of Asian and Mex­i­can have taken the town by storm, and they own our taste buds these days. So no­body was go­ing to get ex­cited about a tiny French bistro in (yawn) Yorkville.

But guess again, be­cause Chabrol is a great res­tau­rant. Breed­ing tells. Chef is Doug Pen­fold who’s do­ing great things at Cava. In chef Pen­fold’s hands, clas­sic French mains get light and bright. Del­i­cate salad of French lentils with beets comes to­gether on a base of lightly smoked parsnip purée. Divine tar­tine of cured raw trout on house­made bread topped with shal­lot and chervil schmecks like Paris in the spring.

His pa­pil­lote of cod with sea as­para­gus, leeks and Swiss chard gets a pour of su­perb ver­mouth beurre blanc from the ever-gra­cious waiter.

The resto’s sig­na­ture dish is ttoro, bouil­l­abaisse with big fat mus­sels and shrimp and per­fectly cooked mack­erel and snap­per. The bowl comes full of fish, and the waiter, in the French style, pours on deep rich saf­fron-scented broth. Maybe the best fish soup in town to­day.

And for dessert, chef ’s bow to my all-time favourite dessert, tarte tatin. The room is so tiny you can see — and smell — the but­tery French ap­ple tart bak­ing in the glass-fronted oven in the open kitchen. It’s a sub­lime ap­ple tart built on puff pas­try and drenched in Cal­va­dos sabayon at the ta­ble. Chabrol is as French as it gets, the ultimate bistro. 90 Yorkville Ave., 416-428-6641

4 Flock

Three Flocks took wing in 2016. And owner Cory Vi­tiello closed the much-beloved Har­bord Room. Why? Be­cause the fu­ture is in the Flocks, not the in­cred­i­bly la­bo­ri­ous, pain-to-man­age fine din­ing that was Har­bord Room. Flock is a bril­liant for­mula. Ex­pect more of them. Mr. Vi­tiello de­serves to pros­per.

Be­cause I, the ultimate snob girl, I who would go hun­gry be­fore eat­ing a Big Mac, love Flock food. It’s quick, it’s in­ex­pen­sive, it’s takeout-friendly, healthy and it tastes great.

They roast the chicken in a snazzy French ro­tis­serie (same one as Boulud at the Four Sea­sons) and the bird is breath­tak­ingly moist, with great spiced skin. It comes with two house-made sauces: spiky green chimichurri and ha­banero Caribbean hot sauce with mango, car­rot, ginger and curry. And btw, the chicken is raised with­out an­tibi­otics or hor­mones.

Yes it’s clean food too. The sal­ads!! Meals in them­selves and so healthy! Take the Frenchy: arugula topped up with green beans, roasted cau­li­flower and French lentils. Cu­cum­ber cres­cents mi­nus the bit­ter seeds, sweet pep­pers, cherry toma­toes, onions and hard boiled egg, with roasted tomato, olive and caper vinai­grette. Or the Fancy Flock: Cab­bage with grated co­conut, mar­i­nated car­rots, radish, pea greens, wheat berries, mango and mint with cashew lime co­conut jalapeno dress­ing. Jumped up flavours!

My per­sonal favourite Flock is one of the new 2016 ones: Har­bord Street, a gra­cious sit-down space that proves quick food can be charm­ing. We love the leather ban­quettes and mar­ble ta­bles, the smi­ley servers and the gen­til­ity of the place. 97 Har­bord St., 647-748-7199

5 Planta

Last year was the year that ve­gan food went up­scale, and Planta was the out­fit that made it hap­pen. Who better than chef David Lee from Nota Bene and Steven Salm from the Chase Hos­pi­tal­ity Group to go ve­gan and show it to the world?

And who knew that a 100 per cent plant­based menu could taste so ter­rific?

Some of the menu reads pre­dictable: zuc­chini and quinoa tartare. Not ex­actly a moniker to set the taste buds a-quiver. But the combo of many jazzy flavours turns bland-sound­ing ve­gan into flavour star­burst.

Cau­li­flower tots re-imag­ine tater tots, the guilty plea­sure, as adult sin. Truf­fle parme­san isn’t, but how they make nu­tri­tional yeast, ground al­monds and gar­lic re­place parme­san is splen­did alchemy. Same way they top piz­zas with cashew “cheese” and draw raves.

Let­tuce wraps do the same job of mak­ing me not miss meat. It turns out that “chicken fried” (a.k.a. deep-fried with a lit­tle crust) oys­ter mush­rooms re­place meat just fine in let­tuce wraps with great fixin’s: rice noo­dles, pomelo, mango, ji­cama, chili and Thai basil, for all the notes we love: hot, sweet, sour and mel­low. But my newly con­verted heart be­longs to the iconic 18 car­rot. Chef cooks the car­rot long and slow, smokes and grills it, pre­sent­ing it hot­dog-style on a house-made bun with mus­tard, sauer­kraut and pickle. And fries. This all hap­pens in a grace­ful tall room with comfy seat­ing and a feel­ing of great grace — as if to re­mind us that do­ing good for the planet can equal do­ing good for our selves and our senses. 1221 Bay St., 647-348-7000

Chef Vic­tor Barry of­ten brings his lit­tle daugh­ters Char­lotte and Sofie to the resto. They love the margherita pizza and the mini meat­balls from the kids’ menu.

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