During my first four days of eating in Toronto I was beginning to get an unrealistic impression - that Toronto restaurants were inerrant. I had done lots of research and ate at some great place. Today, on my fifth and final day of eating in Toronto over two different trips, things were more of a mixed bag. Given the weather, I decided to roam around the city, and take a less food-obsessed approach. I'll start with the highlights and move on to the less impressive stuff. Thanks for everyone's help!
1) Porchetta Sandwich at Porchetta & Co. So good. Even without the crackling this would be a good sandwich. With the crackling, it is epic. Admittedly, as a child of Brtis, the aroma and taste brought me back to the roast pork and crackling of my youth. But, even without the seasoning of nostalgia, I suspect I would have found this to be magnificent.
2) "Pork and Fennel" dumplings at Dumpling House. I was surprised to see pork and fennel as on the menu, so had to order it. How rare. I am quite sure, though, that these are in fact pork and dill dumplings, which are less rare in urban Chinatown restaurants. Nonetheless, they were outstanding. I could eat these for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I had mine steamed, at the suggestion of the server. Fried looked great, too.
3) Lamb Shumai at Mother's Dumplings. Also outstanding. Nearly as good as the pork dumplings above.
4) Salem Cocktail. Holy smokes. This one will knock your socks off. It's like a meal in a glass. They cold smoke 12 year El Dorado Rum, and mix it with some unsmoked rum as well. Then they add Strega, Luxardo, and fresh lime. It is an extremely intense concoction that really does feel like it's own dish.
5) Coverdale cocktail at The Harbord Room. Toronto seems to have embraced the artisan cocktail scene, given all the stellar cocktails I've had there. This one is on the short list. Compass Box Spice Tree Scotch Whisky, Carpano Antica Formula, Cynar, Luxardo, and Vanilla Bitters. Heady and delightful.
6) Hog Town IPA at Smokeless Joe. I wasn't wild about the atmosphere here, but the beer was very good. Unfiltered and unrefined. Hoppy, but not over the top. Seemed like a blend in styles between English and American IPAs. Possibly a good session beer.
Not as Big Standouts:
1) Goat Curry patty at Patty King. Like an over-sized curry puff. Pleasant, but not worth a detour.
2) Everything Bagel at Nu Bugel. Sweet, chewy dough. Carraway seeds are a nice tough. Enjoyable enough, but not swoon-worthy.
3) "Poutine" at Beast. I don't entirely get this place. The menu was appealing, but the space was downright depressing. A bare, dark room. It didn't help that I was literally the only customer. Meanwhile, when I asked the server for his favorites, he pointed me towards a few new menu items he said he was eager to try. When I asked again what his favorites were of dishes he had actually tried, he directed me to the dishes that were most "popular." I settled on the "poutine", which was fine, even good, although it seemed like it would fit better at an Italian gastropub, if such a place exists. Fried gnocchi with boar bolognese and cheese curds.
4) Pizza slice at North of Brooklyn Pizza. 99% of what matters to me when I eat out is the food. My food-obsession gives me an extremely high tolerance for bad service or surroundings. So, the fact that one of the workers at this place was a total douche really doesn't color my opinion. In fact, if the pizza had been stellar, his behavior might even have added to the mystique of the restaurant. When I walked in and asked a question about where to order, he literally ignored me - all three times I asked it. He just kept looking at the checks he was sorting.through. Eventually a customer pointed me in the right direction. The pizza itself? Meh. I am a pizza addict, and I love even mediocre pizza, like this one. But, this is not worth a detour. And, at $4?
5) Food at Splendido. What an impression Splendido makes from the start. The servers are extremely well trained, and seem like genuinely nice people. They never stopped showing concern about my well-being. The space, too, is warm and welcoming. It was the perfect end to a long day of working, walking, and eating. And, the amuse bouche was excellent too -- a shot of mushroom soup with a gougere. Then, things went south. I know this won a recent chowhound poll of best Toronto restaurant, but I find it unlikely that I would agree. Given all of the attention to detail the restaurant shows, I have no doubt that some of the menu items are outstanding. I suspect that the mediocre food I had is not representative. Nonetheless, to be the "best" restaurant in a city the size of Toronto, which strikes me as a very good food city, you can't serve the mediocre items I was served. It's a nice touch to have bread service offering several types of bread. BUT, the rye I chose was dry and short on flavor. I barely touched it. No bakery would proudly sell it. The steak tartare special the bartender recommended was okay. But, the fact that I didn't finish it speaks volumes. Usually, I find steak tartare to be an irresistible dish - impossible to stop eating. This was short on seasoning, and so easy to stop. There was supposedly Canadian "burrata" cheese with it, but it seemed to me to be just fresh mozzarella -- not the luscious, creamy cheese I think of with real burrata. And, then the petit fours were more of the same. At the elite restaurants in big cities, petit fours make diners swoon. The little taste they get at the end of the meal leaves them wishing desperately they had more. None of the three petit fours at Splendido caused that reaction. I took a bite out of each to sample them, and that was plenty. -- Again, Splendido has some serious strengths, and I have no doubt that some of their food is stellar, too. Just not what I ate.