2011’s Dining Hot Spot: Toronto

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Yeah, it can get overwhelming living and eating in Toronto, and especially eating for a living, as I’m lucky enough to do. You get used to it, though. And then every day you find yourself falling a little bit more in love.

I go to the historic St. Lawrence Market (open Tuesday through Saturday) several times a year for an oozy cheese, egg, and peameal bacon sandwich (peameal, a local specialty, is pork loin that’s cured then rolled in corn meal; it was once coated with pea meal—old names die hard) at the Carousel Bakery (416-363-4247).

Torontonians have argued for years about which dish is the city’s most iconic. Peameal’s definitely old Toronto (they’ve been selling peameal bacon at the market for more than a century), but it’s also delicious. I love Soma Chocolatemaker (416-815-7662), which isn’t far from there, in the city’s historic Distillery District (it’s the old booze factory complex where Chicago was filmed; the area’s full of smartly curated shops and galleries). Soma is one of the few artisanal chocolate factories on the continent that actually starts with the cacao bean—Toronto is lucky to have it. They use vintage equipment to roast and refine whole cacao beans into bergamot truffles and chocolates that are flavored with Douglas fir tips and arbequine olive oil. Soma sells hot chocolate that’s so dense and dark and unimaginably rich that it takes a few seconds to get over the shock before you realize it’s the best hot chocolate of your life. I love going to Kensington Market, the city’s most bohemian neighborhood, for Chilean pastries at Jumbo Empanadas (416-977-0056), and then for the inspired modern Mexican cooking at Agave y Aguacate (647-208-3091); note that it’s slow, and takeout only, but worth it. I also spend more time and money than I probably should at the Black Hoof (416-551-8854), a casual, exceptional, meat-, offal-, and foraged-food-focused hot spot where Gordon Ramsay, Daniel Boulud, and René Redzepi eat when they’re in town. The “tongue on brioche” is one of my favorite meat dishes anywhere, though the seared, sliced beef heart with scallops is a close runner-up.

And once a year or so, I can’t resist splashing out for a dinner at Canoe (416-364-0054), which is 54 stories up in a bank tower over downtown’s financial district. Canoe looks out over Lake Ontario and Toronto’s West End. It’s the greatest view anywhere, and quite possibly the greatest, most graceful restaurant in town: Canoe’s ingredients list stretches from the Pacific coast, for wild white sturgeon and sockeye salmon, to the far north, for the high-Arctic game they often use in their tourtière pies, to the Atlantic, where they buy lobster and oysters and screech, the head-busting Newfoundland rum. The sturgeon is insane-tasting: the fish dense and meaty, set over melting braised short ribs and savoy cabbage and whipped potatoes flecked with black truffle shavings. You should probably discover the place yourself, though, and then linger a bit, satisfied, staring out on the city, but not for too long. If you hurry you can probably make it up to Koreatown in time for last call.

Chris Nuttall-Smith is a Toronto-based restaurant critic and food writer whose work has appeared in Toronto Life, The Wall Street Journal, and enRoute magazine. He recently joined The Globe and Mail.

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