Toronto. What a warm, welcoming city! Never have I seen a place that is so diverse, relatively big and cosmopolitan that is also full of so many friendly, warm people.
In the space of one weekend I had conversations and friendly exchanges with more complete strangers than I have EVER had in my years of living in Chicago, London and San Francisco. Don’t get me wrong, I love those cities fiercely. But there is something special about Toronto. A positive vibe I haven’t seen in many other places. Yes, the traffic sucks. Yes, I’m sure there are problems, just like everywhere else. But I felt strangely at home. Maybe it’s the combination of North American and British influence in the landscape and the culture, peppered with a healthy dose of multiculturalism. That does feel very familiar to me, indeed. Maybe it’s the friends I have there. Maybe it’s the architecture. Much like Chicago, the old often lives in harmony with the new. Towering skyscrapers juxtaposed against ancient cathedrals. I love that stuff!
Speaking of multicultural, I was wowed by the number of dining options on just one (Yonge) street alone.
Way to hit my sweet spot, Toronto! In just three days, I enjoyed the following cuisines: ·Vietnamese ·Chinese ·Italian ·Japanese fusion ·Canadian favorites (FYI, poutine is food of the gods, and hello, maple latte, where have you been all of my life?!)
Here are some highlights (as of 11/30/2013): Fickle is a pan-Asian delight, right in the hustle and bustle of Yonge Street, one of the busiest streets in Toronto. The emphasis is on Chinese and Vietnamese cuisines, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. The pho has a delicious ‘tang,’ accented by star anise. You can choose two other kinds of meat besides the traditional beef tendon. The shrimp spring rolls were tasty as well. The love theme kind of hits you in the face, but hey. If you’re already in a good mood when you walk in, the crazy hearts from floor to ceiling just make you smile that much more. If you’re not in the mood for love when you walk in, you’ll sure feel that way by the time you walk out, warm and toasty from the delightful pho!
Enzo’s is a pizza bar off of Queen Street West, one of the hippest, most bohemian places in town. The pizza is really old-school, traditional Italian, not too far off the map from the paper-thin variety I had during my travels through the Italian peninsula. Simple, yet delicious; the margarita is simply passata-based sauce, fresh basil on a handmade base, with a healthy dose of olive oil. I scoffed it, not only because I was in a rush to get to the David Bowie exhibition at the AGO, but because it was really good.
Dragon market is a cool shopping mall smack dab in the middle of Chinatown. I was delighted to find proper ‘tea eggs’ at the humorously-named Tasty Refill (literally, hard-boiled eggs soaked in Chinese tea, star anise and other ‘magical’ spices for eons), something I hadn’t enjoyed since I traveled through mainland China. The mall itself is fairly nondescript, but fun to browse through, nevertheless.
Ki: what a beautiful restaurant! The menu is a modern twist on traditional Japanese cuisine. You will find such unexpected delights as miso-based chowder, sashimi salad, dressed with sesame chili sauce, and sweet potato fries with wasabi mayo. We were also treated to some delicious ‘amuse-bouches’, with cucumbers and other assorted goodies which escape my memory, and a tasty vial of sake, grapefruit and mint. I’m not usually a fan of grapefruit, but it paired perfectly with the sake. Thanks to Jason Butler for making our evening so special! Thanks also to the restaurant staff for ‘rescuing’ my coat from the dryer. LONG story short, my coat tangled with a water feature, placed strategically to my left. Water feature – 1 coat- 0.
I will write more about the 'Bowie is' exhibition later at the AGO.
No Bull Burgers: despite the name, they do serve bull, or rather, beef; 100% organic, grass-fed beef. It really does taste better. This is a perfect example of the ‘fast, slow food movement,’ that seems to be all the rage in the food industry. Locally-sourced products, produced fast-food style. The service was great, too, very friendly and helpful. I tried a combination of a delicious, classic ‘no bull’ cheeseburger, with a side of poutine. For those such as me, who didn’t know what poutine was until recently, it’s crunchy (usually double-fried) French fries slathered in gravy, with cheese curds thrown into the mix. As a former U.K. resident, ‘chips n’ gravy’ is a familiar, well-loved comfort food. It's definitely not Bisto instant gravy (sorry Bisto, you are my guilty pleasure, I won’t lie). This is Montreal sauce brune, the real deal. Add some fresh cheese curds from a local dairy and suddenly you're going a bit gourmand with the crazy fries. I have yet to try some of the variations I've heard about, such as poutine with duck confit and even lobster! I'll save that for my next trip!
I left Toronto with some degree of sadness, already planning my next trip to Canada. Saskatchewan? I’ve always loved saying the name, and want to go there. Or Nova Scotia? Montreal?