Thanks to recommendations and posts from fellow hounds on this message board, this week I tried and found two great little restaurants in the city.
Avant Gout (Yonge and Summerhill)
Tiny with slightly quirky service, but well designed to mitigate background noise while still giving you a feeling of privacy - a difficult thing to do when there are only about 20 seats. The patio looked nice, but it would have been much noisier as it was closer to Yonge. While staring out the window at the large trees across the street, I actually felt like I had been transported out of the city to some far away place. I had the special - lamb tenderloin - it came steaming hot and perfectly cooked with a wine/rosemary reduction. My GFs both had the liver (not for everyone, but you liver-lovers know who you are) and both loved it. It also came still steaming from the close-by kitchen. Actually, every meal I saw delivered had visible steam coming off the food, which is a nice change from larger restaurants where your meal can sit in the kitchen for awhile before delivery. Our waiter recommended a wine special from Chili, not available at the LCBO that was really good-wonderful finish. We finished up by sharing two desserts - an amazing creme brule and an equally amazing cinnamon ice cream. Mmmmm! I've never had cinnamon ice cream before, didn't even know it existed and I am now a true convert. Can't wait to try it on apple pie. We couldn't decide if we felt a little ignored by the service or if we should consider it unrushed and unobtrusive. I guess it depends on how you are feeling at the time. All in all, worth a return visit very soon.
Pop Bistro (Queen St. East)
It must have been my week for quirky service. This tiny little restaurant(even tinier than Avant Gout) has only 4 staff outfront and in the kitchen. We waited a little while for our mains, apparently because they got behind in the kitchen, which was hard to believe with only 4 tables. But it was worth the wait. Two of us had oven baked Mediterranean Sea Bass served on a bed of spinach. It was lick-the-plate good. Of course after a very good pear and camembert salad, it was difficult to finish. Rarely do I find meals in this city that leave me so satisfied in both taste and size. Our server did a nice job deboning the fish, but could definitely dial back on the incessant reminders about residual bones, (ah, this is not our first fish dish). Other meals ordered included pork tenderloin and chicken and both were reported to be moist, tasty and excellent. Again we found a delightful specialty wine, also not available at the LCBO. I am sensing a trend here.
To finish, we shared a couple of creme brules. I was hoping it would be as good as Avant Gout's, but this one was too sweet for my taste. Our server delivered half of the teas/coffees/after dinner drinks ordered along with the desserts and then disappeared for a smoke and completely forgot the other half the drink order until reminded some 5-10 minutes later. Again, as one of now only 2 or 3 tables, it was difficult to explain. However, quirky service aside, 4 out of 4 of us voted it an excellent evening of food and ambiance and worthy of a return visit.
Thanks to everyone who has posted recommendations for these two restaurants.