We report on 10 of the hottest restaurants in town, including Nodo, a posh new Italian bistro
A SIDEWAYS SHUFFLE
Judging by the giant crustacean that denotes the entrance, it’s not hard to conclude what exactly is served at Crab Harbour. This relatively new Japanese restaurant in Richmond Hill keeps the focus trained squarely on the lively sea critter.
The expansive eatery boasts a view of Highway 7 and is outfitted with glass-topped tables showcasing sandy sea scenes beneath the place settings. Colourful Japanese murals starring kimono-wearing characters liven up accent walls, and quirky lights hang from above.
Patrons can choose to indulge in the prix fixe menu or opt for items à la carte. The former is a nine course ode to all things crab ($58.89 per person). Following an appetizer — such as the Japanese-style pickles — the dinner moves onto a whole snow crab. Lightly battered crab tempura is followed by the steamed crab egg custard soup. Up next is the grilled crab paste, crab leg sashimi and finally the crab shabu shabu, which involves the crustacean, along with a medley of vegetables, tofu and noodles, to be cooked at the table courtesy of the diner’s hand.
The crabs all come pre-cracked, so diners need not exhaust themselves attempting to do all the dirty work. Although the substantial meal definitely gives you bang for your buck, a trio could easily share what is meant to be for two.
Crab Harbour, 280 W. Beaver Creek Rd., Unit 38, Richmond Hill, 905-731-5570
OLD SCHOOL COOL
“I have that old school reverence,” says Kevin Kowalczyk, to describe the choices he’s made for his new fish and chips restaurant, Sea Witch.
Kowalczyk finished an 11-year run as the manager at Penrose Fish and Chips last January. Given his experience, it’s no surprise how traditional Sea Witch feels.
The menu is based around five species of fish: Pacific halibut (Ocean Wise approved), pickerel, Atlantic haddock, Pacific cod and Arctic char. Each can be configured with chips ($10–$14), double fish ($6 extra), as a sandwich ($9–$13) or without chips ($2 off). There is also a kids’ halibut and chips ($6).
He uses a minimum amount of filler and binder for the halibut fish cakes ($12 with chips).
“We make everything here,” Kowalczyk notes, “our tartar, coleslaw, chowder.”
The onion rings are double fried at two different temperatures, but Kowalczyk won’t give up the secret to the coleslaw recipe his wife, Jacki Strahl, developed. She’s also responsible for the tartar sauce.
Kowalczyk is obviously proud of his wall-mounted chip cutter in Sea Witch’s open prep kitchen. “Once in a while,” he says, “a mother will go over with a toddler and point it out. That’s exactly what I wanted.”
So far, Sea Witch is averaging just under 2,000 pounds of potatoes per week turned into half-inch, traditional British chips. Of the equally classic choice to use beef dripping in the deep fryer, he says, “It’s tasty, but I regard it as a pretty clean product.”
Sea Witch Fish and Chips, 636 St. Clair Ave. W., 647-349-4824
JUST LIKE NONNA
In the heart of the Junction, a formidable new Italian eatery has arrived. The resto love-child of high school chums Vito Tomasicchio, Gianmarco DeZorzi and Charlie Giordano, Nodo is a manifestation
of their combined years in the restaurant industry, a shared passion for the immersive Italian dining experience and the stars aligning just long enough to snag their sweet storefront on the meaty Dundas West strip.
Chef Roberto Marotta was born and bred in Sicily, making him wellversed in Italian cuisine. DeZorzi and Tomasicchio explain that Italian cooking comes down to that ineffable touch their nonnas have. Upon sampling only Marotta’s marinara sauce and arancini, the coowners were sure they had found that same kitchen magic in the chef.
Pastas include the Genovese pesto number with potato, green beans and a sprinkling of toasted pine nuts and affienato cheese. The gnocchi come with a wild boar ragu and truffle oil and are flagged with Brussels sprouts leaves. Other dishes include the spiducci d’agnello — lamb skewers — and stone-baked pizzas in various classic permutations.
DeZorzi highlights Nodo’s emphasis on quality and simplicity, with an unyielding honest approach to the customer. For that reason, nothing on the menu is priced higher than $19.
As for dessert, the handmade Sicilian cannoli are quite possibly the best cannoli you will ever eat, inside or outside of Sicily.
Nodo, 2885 Dundas St. W., 416901-1559
FOLLOW THE THAI ROAD
Sukhothai is the epitome of a momand-pop shop turned enterprise. Vincente Regular, with his sons Joel and Jeff and the culinary expertise of daughter-in-law Nuit, have been offering authentic northern Thai cuisine since 2008 to east enders.
With the family’s acquisition of a sizable Dundas West storefront, the west has now been won. According to co-owner Joel, many Thai eateries produce food that resembles “Bangkok Thai” food, catering to tourist palates, rather than natives.
The Regulars have a completely different mission statement. Executive chef Nuit was discovered in Thailand by Jeff. The pair fell in love and eventually married. Nuit’s unique passion and natural talent for cooking would turn out to be the star ingredient putting the Regular family on the dining map.
Chef believes that the key to good Thai food is in a boldness of flavour with a certain je ne c’est quoi that can only be coaxed into a curry with time, patience and the absolute highest quality of ingredients. You certainly won’t find ketchup in the recipe for their pad Thai ($13). Their house specialty, khao soi, is a juxtaposition of crispy and soft noodles smothered in a curried gravy with tender chunks of chicken or beef ($13).
For those who wish not to dine outside the comfort of home, a delivery service is promised for the near future.
Sukhothai, 1442 Dundas St. W., 416-792-2432
Mario Batali, owner of Italian foodie fave Eataly, has somewhat cryptically announced, via Twitter, that T.O. will “maybe, most certainly, most likely” play host to the Italian food market chain in the near future. Stay tuned for updates. Buca spinoff, Buca Osteria & Bar, just opened at 53 Scollard St. in Yorkville. The space will function as a café and lunch joint by day before kicking into dinner mode come sundown. Pizza and pasta are still present, but expect more seafood on the menu at this new location.
The second location of popular Leslieville pastry shop Bobbette & Belle is now open at 3347 Yonge St. Pick up pastel-hued macarons, the ever-popular cupcakes and full cakes in flavours like pumpkin spice and chocolate hazelnut ganache.
States-side burger joint Carl’s Jr. will be setting up camp at 272 Queen St. W. for its premier Canuck location.
Scheduled to open on Dec. 1 on St. Clair Avenue just west of Yonge is 180 Secondi. The concept is to be a self-serve artisanal pizzeria.
North Toronto’s Butter Avenue has traipsed downtown, opening its second shop at 477 Queen St. W. Macarons are the name of the game at this patisserie, though patrons can also munch on cookies, cakes and bonbons.
From top: stone-baked pizza at Nodo; Sukhothai’s fresh rolls with peanut sauce; the ubiquitous crustacean at Crab Harbour