Revenge of the Great White North (a.k.a. Toronto)

Posted by
Giovanni Battista
Fresh Croissants at Bakery Brioche

My wife and I have a special place in our hearts for Toronto. It was the first city we visited on our honeymoon in Ontario, and was always a favorite weekend trip when we lived in Buffalo. Toronto, which is Canada’s largest city, is much like Manhattan—except the people are nicer, the city is cleaner, and the air is colder. Over the Columbus Day weekend we returned there once again. We saw a play, The Drowsy Chaperone, as well as a Second City comedy show, something we always do when we’re in town. But the real high point of the trip—and this may seem surprising—was the food. We visited some of our old favorites, but also found a new one.

Though our hotel, the Sheraton City Center, has a complementary breakfast for guests on the concierge level, we didn’t want to miss out on our favorite breakfast places, so we headed to Café Crepe and Bonjour Brioche. The former, as its name implies, is all about crepes—and they are excellent. I generally order both a savory and a sweet crepe; on this occasion, I chose a ham and cheese followed by Nutella and coconut. The fillings are tasty, but the pancake, or outer part, elevates them to another level. The crepes here are the best I’ve ever had.

Bonjour Brioche may well be Toronto’s finest bakery. I almost always order the salmon and scrambled eggs along with some sort of pastry. A dollop of crème fraiche and the sprinkling of caviar, as well as the side baguette, make the eggs a special event. As for the pastry, I enjoyed a raspberry and custard tart. In my opinion, though, you can’t go wrong with anything you order.

The meals only got better at dinnertime. Our new discovery was a restaurant called Opus. I tried an appetizer of wild mushrooms sautéd with garlic, fresh herbs, and red and yellow teardrop tomatoes. Needless to say, it was as delicious as it sounds. Next up was something a little different: rare caribou chops. Caribou is not commonly found on menus; the preparation at Opus—roasted, with smoked goat milk polenta and Swiss chard, eggplant, and caraway jus—was superb. The meat was lean and tender, even though I ordered it rare. My wife ordered the lamb chops, which came on parsley-root risotto with sautéd greens and green-garlic gastrique. To top it all off, we finished with a terrific molten chocolate cake.

Out favorite restaurant in Toronto also happens to be our favorite restaurant, period. We go to Joso’s for one reason: the fish. There are other items on the menu, but I suggest looking at the “fish show”—a plate of the whole fish on the menu on any particular night—and pick one. I settled on Orata, native of the Adriatic and a mainstay of the Joso’s menu, while my wife ordered Artic char. The fish is grilled with olive oil and served whole. Simple in concept, but the execution leads to an exquisite result. In my opinion, no other restaurant prepares fish better than Joso’s. 

Two other culinary notes: The Sheraton hotel restaurant, Trader’s, serves an excellent Indian buttered chicken, which is a kind of chicken curry. Also, track down a confectioner called Soma Chocolate Maker in Toronto’s interesting Distillery District. Soma redefines chocolate in both solid and liquid forms.

So why Revenge of the Great White North? For years gourmet meals in Canada were a bargain because of the favorable exchange rate. No longer. For the first time in many years, the Canadian dollar is worth more than its U.S. counterpart.  Your visit to Toronto is going to cost a little more, so save your money. It’s well worth it.