From the beginning of this adventure in blogging I have had three areas of focus for my posts: restaurant eating, gardening, and cooking. My culinary interests are pretty evenly balanced between the three–with the obvious seasonal variation–and I’d be hard-pressed to choose whether I am most at ease sitting at my favourite restaurant, mucking around on a cool September day in the garden, or cooking for friends and family. To record the highlights of each I’m going to do three end-of-year posts.
Today I have a rundown of my favourite restaurants as of the end of December 2009. Not necessarily ones that opened in 2009–because I don’t really care when a restaurant opened–or ones that became my favourite in 2009 but just where my opinion stands as of today. I would definitely take a subway to visit any of these, would recommend that others take a train or long-ish car ride for the food at a few others (like Starfish, Mistura, Hillebrand, and Buster Rhino’s) and would even go so far as to recommend one (I’m sure everyone can figure out which that is) as the one restaurant worth flying to Toronto for.
- Up-Market Italian: Mistura. I’ve seen Chef Capra put on a product demo, have cooked from his cookbook, but the red beet rissotto is still better at Mistura.
- Casual Italian: Capocaccia. I maintain that the best way to find a casual Italian joint in Toronto is to go across the street from your local Terroni. The side patio at Capocaccia is the perfect place to enjoy that first warm-weather meal outside.
- Best Burger: The Harbord Room (Drake Hotel is a close second). They’ll cook it the beefy patty the way I like and understand that a burger needs to be served on a soft, rich bun.
- Weekend Brunch: Drake Hotel. I’m not much of one for the traditional breakfast fare that dominates some brunch menus so I appreciate the cobb salad and burger that the Drake offers on theirs. Also, I swear the fries are spicier at brunch and welcome this hangover-killing touch.
- Delivery Sushi: Kokyo. Had me some Kokyo recently for New Year’s Eve with friends and they were overwhelmed (perhaps not entirely in a good way) by the portion size. Give me a Johnny Special Roll, a cold beer, and some Tivo’d Jamie At Home and I’m a happy camper.
- Dine-In Sushi: Asuka Japanese Restaurant. This is an area where I know I need to try more places. Sato is great and he slices some excellent and fresh sashimi but Asuka is starting to fray around the edges.
- Out-of-Town, East: Buster Rhino’s BBQ. Apparently the solution to Toronto’s problem of not having really great barbecue in the City is to build a plant, retail operation, and restaurant in Whitby. The food sings and the guys behind the counter are true class acts–what more could you ask for?
- Out-of-Town, West: Hillebrand Winery. The menu is excellent, the wine is some of Niagara’s best, and the big table in the bright room has been the venue for several memorable family lunches.
- Seafood: Starfish. Sometimes I wish that oysters were more common on this city’s menus but then I compare the hash most places make of them (Malpeques with broken shell in the liquor and served with over-bearing sauces) to the excellence they reach under experienced hands like Patrick McMurrays.
- Overall Favourite: The Black Hoof. I’ve written too much about the Hoof, I think. The stuffed pig’s snout was easily the most memorable thing I ate in 2009. I’ll be back soon to try the Cafe.
Obviously, there are some big holes in this list. There are spots, like the Stockyards, that I haven’t written a full post about that deserve a spot on the list and categories (like Chinese, Indian, bistro, or Mexican) for which I could probably make a recommendation if pressed but don’t really have a standout favourite. In the end this list is more about my favourite meals than about a comprehensive guide for others but isn’t that what blogging is about sometimes?