6 Top Toronto Dining Deals

March 29, 2010 at 9:49 am | Posted in Canada, culinary/food & drink, Ontario | 1 Comment
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by Ed Wetschler

After telling a friend about a good dining deal in Toronto — her own home town — she said, “I’ll have to go there; I don’t know that place!” Understandable. Canada‘s largest city is as rich in restaurants as it is in museums, galleries, theaters, boutiques, clubs, and more clubs.

You can always find affordable restaurants in Kensington, the St. Lawrence Market, and Chinatown, but you already knew that. So here are a half-dozen spots, some of which even locals may not know. (BTW, note to Yanks in particular about the exchange rate: Right now, US98¢ buys one Canadian dollar — close enough so that you can just think in terms of generic dollars and keep the change.)

Downtown

Four, with its dark, sleek furnishings, looks like a conventional business district restaurant, but it isn’t. No item on chef Gordon Mackie’s menu exceeds 650 calories—yet the cuisine is exquisite. The shrimp fusilli (CA$18*, left), for example, combines tender shrimp, bran fusilli (!), Grana Padano cheese, and walnut pesto into a flavorful, deceptively rich entrée that tastes like 2,000 calories.

Dhaba, at the west end of downtown, is well-regarded for its updated Indian cuisine, which features bright, vibrant—not necessarily hot—spicing. The slow-cooked mountain goat (CA$17.95), for example, makes me wonder why I seldom eat goat meat (answer: because I can’t cook it as well as Chef P.K.). But here’s a secret: Dhaba’s lunchtime buffet (CA$11.95) may be the best dining value in downtown Toronto, because this is that rare, all-you-can-eat deal that features fresh, thoughtfully prepared cuisine.

Mill Street Brew Pub is the obvious mid-price pick in the historic Distillery District, but I like Pure Spirits Oyster House. The main dishes in this cavernous brick-walled bar and restaurant are not cheap, but you can get around that: Pure Spirits calls its hearty poutine (CA$10, or $14 with bacon, $16 with crispy fried oysters) and fresh Prince Edward Island mussels with a garlic-and-cheddar-smeared baguette ($15) appetizers, but they’re really stealth entrées. And this is the most flavorful, perfectly timed poutine or mussels you’ll ever eat.

Uptown

Caplansky’s Deli, on College Street north of Kensington, is known for its sandwich of “smoked meat” (CA$8). Whazzat? The owner calls it “the bastard child of pastrami and corned beef” — a hand-rubbed brisket that’s cured two weeks, then smoked ten hours. Caplansky’s also uses this tender, peppery invention in a hash-and-eggs breakfast ($10) that’s served all day, including dinnertime. “Do you like it?” Caplansky asked. Like it? I’ll never eat conventional corned beef again.

The Gardiner Ceramics Museum Café has somehow convinced star chef Jamie Kennedy to produce elegant soups for CA$6, sandwiches for $9-11, and cookies for $2. FYI, you could visit the nearby Royal Ontario and Bata Shoe museums, eat here, and skip the Gardiner itself, but don’t: This museum and its programs will open your eyes to art forms many of us don’t think about very often.

West Queen West Art & Design District

This hot neighborhood has umpteen resto-bars, and its anchor, the Drake Hotel (above left), boasts almost as many lounges and restaurants as guestrooms. Chef Anthony Rose’s Blue Plate Specials (about CA$18), such as fish ‘n’ chips, are born-again classics, but here’s an even better idea: Order the sushi pizza with avocado, roe, and salmon (CA$14, right),
a delicious patchwork of flavors, from subtle to wasabi sharp, and textures, from silky to crispy crisp.  By the way, the Drake serves a Canadian cab-merlot blend and a Bordeaux-style chardonnay with a private label that’s perfect for this crowd — or part of it, anyway: It’s called Starving Artist.

*at press time, about £11.75 / €13 / AU$12.60 / ZAR85; for updated rates, see Tripatini’s Currency Desk

photos: Ed Wetschler
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Santa, Baby! The World’s Koolest Kris Kringle Korners

December 21, 2009 at 5:08 pm | Posted in Europe, Finland, Massachusetts, New York State, Ontario, Vermont | Leave a comment
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by José Balido

In the spirit of the season, for all you moms and dads out there here’s a quick international round-up of several key theme parks built specifically around that jolly old elf and his crew. There are of course countless towns and cities (not to mention shopping malls) in various countries that toss up a little “Santa’s Village” for the kids during the Yuletide holidays, but these four in North America and one in Europe are dedicated theme parks that do their thing sometimes in winter, sometimes summer, occasionally both. Need I say that they tend to appeal more to families with smaller tykes?

Santa Claus’ Village in Rovaniemi, Finland
In operation since 1985 above the Arctic Circle in Finnish Lappland — which is, after all, about as close to the real deal as you can reasonably get, complete with real reindeer —  this is the only one of the bunch open year-round (you fly up from Helsinki,). So what’s up here? Exhibits of Finnish and international Christmas traditions (plus stuff like crystal, coins and gemstones);  a snowmobile park;  an elf-infested post office for mailing letters to you-know-who;  sundry shops; a couple of eateries; sleigh rides; an ice bar (for mom and dad, of course) — and of course visits with Joulupukki (Santa) himself in his office and toy factory.

Santa’s Land in Vermont, USA
In the south Vermont town of Putney (just north of Brattleboro),  the ho-ho-ho’s get rolling on Memorial Day weekend in late May at this cute little spread — more than a half-century old but reasonably well-refreshed — offering  arcade games, shops (including, of course, plenty of candy), ” rides n slides,” and a petting zoo (whoa, check out Bill the camel!). In fall and winter hours switch to weekends only till December 20.

Santa’s Village in New Hampshire, USA
Yup, we’re in New England again — this time in the White Mountain town of Jefferson, in the southwestern corner of the Granite State. This one has a schedule similar to Vermont’s version but is a little more elaborate (and costs a bit more, too), with real reindeer, antique cars, a movie theater, some fairly elaborate rides (flume, ferris wheel); and several places to eat and shop.

Santa’s Village in Ontario, Canada
Located in the Muskoka River town of Bracebridge, about 2 1/2 hours north of Toronto, this amusement park bills itself as “Santa’s summer retreat,” with a shorter season than the ones above, open late June through mid-September  (though in December — this year it was the 19th — they have an “open house” complete with story time with dear old Mrs. Claus). Anyway,  attractions/amenities include a petting zoo (no reindeer, but “fallow deer” that can look a little like ’em if you squint); rides; a mini-water park; go-carts; mini-golf; laser tag; and a campground.

Santa’s Workshop in New York State, USA
The Hudson Valley’s fetching Adirondack Mountains — and specifically the slopes of Whiteface Mountain — is home to what calls itself the “forerunner of present-day theme parks in the United States” — marking its big 6-0 this year.  Top features besides a modest roster of rides include a live Nativity re-enactment, other shows put on by a costumed cast of characters called the Mother Goose Guild. storytelling, and “Tannenbaum the Talking Christmas Tree.” And shops — but of course!

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