NEAR: The 2012 Restaurant Resolutions List

19 Dec

Pancakes with smoked duck leg, blueberry compote, chevre from Barque. Photo: barque.ca

2011 marked a great year for restaurants in Toronto. There were many new openings this year and a lagging economy doesn’t seem to stop patrons from going out and enjoying the multitude of excellent restaurants in our fair metropolis.

A brief overview of new openings this year that I’m LOVING:

1. Acadia 2. Grand Electric 3. Estiatorio Volos 4. Campagnolo  (late last year, but still) 5. Porchetta & Co. (ok, late last year)

So what will I try this year?! I think that depends on new openings but I also realized there’s a few classic restaurants that I haven’t yet tried. Challenge Accepted!

I don't know what smoked miami beef rib is but I sure want it. Photo: barque.ca

1. Barque. It’s a great name but it reminds me of the awful tasting root beer that had everyone saying “Bark has bite.” I popped into this new addition to Roncesvalles village (way-west end) on a Sunday afternoon and it was packed with the brunch crowd (and a very interesting waiter whose outfit and makeup were clearly inspired by Adam Lambert).  Anyways, it’s all about the BBQ so let’s get those fingers smeared in some sauce!  PS Gorgeous site and branding.  PPS who is their food photographer? DAMN.

Update Dec. 27: Check. Had the half rack ribs, cuban corn and arugula salad. Delish! Review is on Yelp

2. The Ace. Down the street from Barque on Roncy is The Ace and it’s hipster haven. It feels like a transplant from Swan Restaurant with its diner-like setting.  It suits the neighbourhood perfectly and looks like a fun place to imbibe late night. I was told their chicken thigh sandwich is popular and curious to see how it compares to the one at County General.

Update Feb. 7: The fried chicken was the PERFECT comfort dish on a grey and misty night. This is the new diner to be at. Their fries are fantastic as well. Plus, nutella perogies! Yes, you read that right. A nice nod to this Polish nabe. 

3. The Fuel House TO - Mackenzie Chu is tres active on the Twitters and he personally popped by to say hello when I was at Acadia with friends so his new sandwich shop is on my list.  And apparently, he makes a good sandwich. He also owes us and our crew a tweet up there. :)

Update Jan 11, 2012: Lovely ambiance. Mac is amazing. He gave me Cold FX for my hacking cough and it helped. We had the banh mi (needs more flavour; he knows this and took the criticism with gracefulness); the burger was a solid burger and the fatty, thick bacon strip was a nice accompaniment on it. Plus, green tea for the cold! Great first date place. 

Tati Bistro. Photo: Toronto Life Dot Com

4. Scaramouche. It’s been around as long as I’ve been old but I still haven’t had the opportunity to experience what’s considered one of the best views in the city. I’m told the pasta bar is incredible and I will be going here in January with a few of my social media friends to devour their coconut cream pie.

Update: on January 11, 2012 blog post. The coconut cream pie was worth the visit alone and a great way to try an expensive, fancy pants restaurant without breaking the bank.  Also, I just found out that the pie is 1,000 calories for the slice. Why, why did this have to come to my attention?! But who cares? It’s good. 

5. Nota Bene. Ah, David Lee (ex Splendido – another raved about restaurant I haven’t been to). He’s one of our country’s greatest chefs and everyone I’ve talked to says that NB  serves up one of their most memorable meals. I’ve been invited to come here and I hope to do a review. Already I want to try: Yucatan Hot and Sour Soup; their whole cheese menu (OMG); the Chitarre (Chi…what?) pasta, pine mushrooms and shaved truffles; Butternut squash ravioli with shaved truffle; Salmon sashimi; Nova Scotia lobster salad and brussels sprouts (with tempura bits!). So yeah, basically the whole menu.

Update Dec 28: Check. Had the Hot and Sour soup (flavour!); sashimi (fresh); and Nova Scotia Lobster Salad (mouth-gasm). Also, the creme caramel was the highlight of our amazing meal. One more on the list: the sea bass. Delish!  My reviews are on Yelp.

6. L’unita.

Niagara Street Cafe. This out of the way restaurant has the locals flocking despite the fact. It’s not your typical fare: Cornish hen, ox tongue et al. but I’m willing to try. This looks delish: Japanese Bolognese, Rare Beef Tataki, Basil Soba Noodles, Chili Tomato Consommé, Parmesan Oil, Truffle Pearls 

After deliberation, Niagara Street Cafe is off the list. Their executive chef recently departed, so I know it won’t be the same experience. As delicious as the food looks, the menu isn’t something I’m totally familiar with. I’m usually into trying new things (hello, this list!) but I think I want a more tried and true menu.

So #6 will be back to my 2011 resolution of L’unita. I’m a sucker for a good carbonara so that’s what I’ll be having. And I have not had carbonara for a very long time! L’unita has got a great reputation and their pizza was super tasty the first time I came. It’s been years and it’s time for a return.

Update April 15: The carbonara did NOT disappoint. L’unita also hired a new chef (an ex Black Hoofer at that) and some new spring menu items. The desserts were also another highlight. Get the dessert! Yelp review here

7. Tati Bistro. Harbord Avenue is not an area I hang around enough and I’m hoping to change that because as I walk by, many restaurants including and especially Tati Bistro seem to be bustling.   What I want to try: cassoulet, steak frites, salad frisee aux lardons et Roquefort,  and onion soup (to start). Joanne Kates (food critic for the Globe and Mail) lists Tati as one of her top 100 restaurants (number 56 to be exact) and describes it as quintessentially French, so I’m sold. As a part b to the Harbord diairies, I’ve never brought anything from Harbord Bakery. So that also needs to change. And also, Harbord Room needs an updated visit. The last time I was there was two years ago. Eeps!

Update: visited Jan 13. I had the steak frites and onion soup. Yum and Yum. I’ll need to come back for the brunch, salad frisee aux lardons et Roquefort and cassoulet. My review is on Yelp


Local Kitchen and Winebar. Photo: Local Kitchen's website

8. Local Kitchen and Winebar. When I was walking by on the other side of the city (aka Parkdale) the other day, I noticed this cute little restaurant. It seems like (excuse the awful pun) such a local place. The Salumi tasting and the smoked pancetta look delectable. A door or two down is their other operation, Bar Salumi. It’s a small menu consisting of appetizers and pizza and I like that there’s not too much choice but enough. This is probably one of the restaurants I’m most excited to try on this list.

Update February 3, 2012: Local was fantastic. If you love Italian, please make a reservation here! Bar Salumi has some fantastic pizza as well. Both are wonderful date places. Also, if you get the chance, go to the chef’s table at Local Kitchen. An amazing night with my friend @WildandGame. 

9. Buca. Friends have told me that this is their favourite Italian food in the city and now I’m curious.  I’ve heard mixed reviews about the service and clientele but I’m interested in having my own experience. Maybe this will be on the birthday list for 2012 (unless I’m in another country!).  There’s no menu on their site though (annoying). That said, they probably change up their menu a lot.

10. Gale’s Snack Bar. Nothing on the menu here is over $3 and I know it’s not going to be good food. But I’m more intrigued by the atmosphere and the people watching here because it’s been around for a very, very long time.  The location isn’t ideal (Lakeshore) so I need to round up a posse that’s brave enough to come here with me. I also need to determine when it’s open. Does anyone know if its open on the weekend?

Update: January 2, 2012. Came here at around 4 p.m. and FINALLY found out their hours. M-F: 10-6; S: 12-5. You can read my Yelp review.  

Honorable Mentions (if I muster up the excitement/commute/a date): Ici Bistro; Ortolan; Fabbrica;  School for brunch; more of Swirl Wine Bar’s menu; Mistura; L’unita/Malena; Swan for dinner (and brunch again!).

And here’s another list I made for 2011 in my tumblr. I’ve tried a few on this list and I did not regret it but as seasons change, there’s some restaurants on that list I’m no longer excited about or interested in trying.

12 Responses to “NEAR: The 2012 Restaurant Resolutions List”

  1. Sameer Vasta December 20, 2011 at 2:31 am #

    If you’re ever looking for company to join you at any of those places, give me a shout. :)

  2. nearafar December 20, 2011 at 3:10 am #

    Oh, you replied! (and read). Cool. Ortolan and the new Maialino Enoteca TO are on my list too. I feel like I’ll be spending a lot of time in Roncesvalles Village this year!

  3. Emily in Chile December 20, 2011 at 11:44 pm #

    Restaurant visiting resolutions are definitely my kind of resolutions. I hope they all turn out to be great!

  4. Andrea December 24, 2011 at 7:56 pm #

    Oh wow, I wouldn’t say no to any of those places.

  5. Toronto Photo Studio January 9, 2012 at 1:19 pm #

    Wow…The food looks amazing. I will definitely have to check out some of these restaurants. You will have to post review as you try them. Cheers.

    • nearafar January 11, 2012 at 6:25 am #

      Thanks! I update my reviews on Yelp but I just went to a restaurant tonight so I’ll post my review on the blog for you.

  6. Graham Rowlands (@beachrockinc) January 10, 2012 at 10:34 pm #

    Nice list Natalie… been wanting to try Barque myself for some time now. Gonna have to get there sooner than later!

    • nearafar January 11, 2012 at 7:19 am #

      It’s really great! I was there for lunch but I’d like to try their brunch too. They definitely know their meat!

  7. Jen Laceda January 12, 2012 at 3:54 pm #

    Solid list you have here and it looks like you are crossing out many as you get to try them! In my humble opinion, I was kind of disappointed with Acadia and Buca. Maybe more so Acadia because I had such high expectations of it. Acadia just didn’t compel me to go back, unless it’s for the Shrimp and Grits – and only for that alone! Buca was okay for me. School…well, I was there…but didn’t get a chance to eat. Why? The wait staff totally ignored me for one whole eff-ing hour. No service came my way (it wasn’t even full – only 4 or 5 tables going). Then I got vindictive and tried to see if any of the servers would approach me, without me having to flag someone down…no one did! Needless to say, I walked out the restaurant. And that experience left me with a really bad taste in my mouth (pun intended!) that I swear not to set foot in School again!!! Worst service I’ve gotten. Talk about making one feel invisible!

    • nearafar January 13, 2012 at 1:13 am #

      Thanks for the comments! I love Acadia. Their shrimp and grits are good but it’s not my favourite item on the menu. That would have to be their vidalla onion tart. It’s just such a comforting dish. The service we get there is always impeccable and when I dined there for my birthday I got to try many more dishes. I just really like the food. It’s really easy to have high expectations when others are raving about it. I try to take reviews with a grain of salt and make my own decisions, though it’s hard not to be influenced by the fanfare. I’ve heard mixed reviews about Buca. I heard the food is pretty solid but the service can be off and that the staff there can be pretentious and discerning. Friends have said it’s the best Italian in the city. That’s why it’s on my list! Having the list is making it much easier to check off and it’s a lot easier than going to yoga for 30 days straight (that’s not working out so well!). I’m sorry to hear you had the experience you did at School. I know the social media guy there (Reggie) and he’s great. I’ve been there for their BBQs and the service has been fine. That said, I haven’t been there during a weekend brunch. I don’t blame you for going back or maybe I can convince you to come back with me?!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. NEAR: Local Kitchen & Winebar « Near. Afar. - February 6, 2012

    […] do I begin?! This was on my restaurant Resolutions list and I said I was most excited to try this […]

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