LEE601 King St. W., 416-504-7867
What was scintillating is now just good. Why? Because superstar chef Susur Lee isn't in the home cooking, and perhaps not even supervising as intently as he used to. The vaunted Singapore slaw, with its 19 fixings, is amusing but its elaborate dazzle has been lost by the dressing. Its sweet/ hot XO sauce is maintained by lobster ravioli but the lobster is overcooked. Present finest dish is enormous fat scallops with squash, grapefruit and crispy bacon. These are still Susur’s trademark the room and also Asian fusion flavours is so pretty.
BAR ISABEL797 College St., 416 532 2222
The gift that keeps on giving. Despite expansion, Grant van Gameren guarantees superb food and service in the mothership. Getting a reso is tough, but we constantly get dinner in the tavern if arriving before 7:30 p.m. weekdays. It’s not composed the menu but they now offer their well-known octopus in ¼ portions: Hurrah! $22 purchases the very best octo in town, char-grilled sweet and soft with house-made tomato sauce that was hot and spicy chorizo. Just smoked sweetbreads dance on the tastebuds atop fat raw tuna and pickled green tomato. Raw scallops that are sweet get jazzy with lime, compressed apple, cucumber, mint and tomatillo with ginger. Basque hotpot is barely cooked in crisp garlic crouton fragments in almond picada sauce and spicy tomato broth with fennel. There continues to be its crust sugar cookie, its centre warm cream, the grand gateau Basque and its roof sherry cream. But we adore the zing of the new dessert — fresh tarragon ice cream. Dancing a jig on the taste buds.
YASU81 Harbord St., 416-477-2361
Yasu’s dedication to excellent sushi is unwavering, and that's why it’s such a reservation that is tough to get. They reserve 30 days out for his or her set dinner, $80 for 18 perfect pieces if sushi delivered in a calm and measured minuet and made before your eyes. No more. No teriyaki, no tempura, practically no tables. Just a small plain white room including all of the dazzle on the tongue. 12 blessed people sit in the sushi bar and watch chef Yasuhisa Ouchi and his helpers do the hand dance, preparing one sushi at a time. You get what was flown in that week, from around the world: Ruby red ocean trout from Scotland, although it shifts according to fish markets. Impossibly sweet scallops from Japan either Hokkaido or Gasp. Sweet fresh uni from Japan wrapped in nori so crisp it breaks like glass. Deep red rich toro tuna like butter. Monkfish liver with ponzu sauce and shiso leaf. Spanish mackerel was smoked by just seared hay with grated daikon and chili. Like an edible jewel box.
FOXLEY207 Ossington Ave., 416-534-8520
Chef/owner of Foxley, Tom Thai, is gifted and passionate, a seafood that is lifelong maven. We’re grateful that he notably gaga over his various scintillating ceviches and still slaves in the kitchen. Crisp green apple toasted sesame seeds enliven Arctic char ceviche in a shallow tub of citrus and chili and matchsticks. Organic scallop ceviche is sweet/sour/hot thanks to kumquat, grilled soy and jalapeño. Chef Thai makes sweet love to uncooked baby kale with shallot chips and shaved pecorino. Even this type of commonplace as black cod gets more flavour bang at Foxley, thanks to the aroma of truffle oil. Foxley’s only disadvantage is no reservations. Go at an unusual hour, sit in the bar or give them your cell number and go wait at a Ossington bar.
From nodini (little knots of bread served warm in hot oil with sea salt and rosemary, kissin’ cousin to heaven) to boutique grappa, Buca is an Italian joy. The tall nouvelle industrial room is gorgeous and glamorous, the waiters super affable, and the food magnificent. Huge flavours, Italian exuberance. House-treated salume are wonderful — The 21-month cured prosciutto is pig heaven, with marinated leeks; goose breast prosciutto even more alluring. Raw Spanish mackerel receives the benediction of designer EVOO with baby basil cooked yogurt and dots of Meyer lemon gels. Nobody does better pasta, nearly all of which is house-made. The perennial best seller, Bigoli, is toothsome duck egg noodles with breathless duck ragu. Afterward house-made white chocolate ice blueberry, clementine and cream sorbets. Or the fried lemon pastry cream with crème anglaise. Love is sweet.
BYBLOS11 Duncan St., 647-660-0909
Partners Charles Khabouth (king of clubs) and Hanif Harji bring us dazzling Mediterranean cuisine. Actually, eastern Mediterranean. No hummus ‘n’ pita here. Instead we find outstanding octopus with fingerling potatoes, chili vinaigrette and preserved lemon, uber-crispy bread salad with hardly marinated veg, lamb ribs that sell out most nights (and for good reason), a healthier salad of beets with yogurt that has no right to taste this great. Two desserts stand out: Flourless yogurt cake, a combination between panna cotta and cheesecake but lighter and more delicious than both. And deep fried pastry cream with strawberry fragments on top. To entice us further — for the Khabouth/Harji mandate is enchantment you can find — everyone makes an entry at Byblos, down the pale cream staircase into the pale buzzy room that speaks metaphorically but not literally of a beach on a Greek island.
ZUCCA TRATTORIA2150 Yonge St., 416 488 5774
Some wonder the un-hip trattoria still flourishes. It’s because Andrew Milne- the service is warm and suave and Allan is still a great Italian cook. There's no kitchen in town more sensitive to the foods of every season. Soft veg in summer, root veg in winter, baby greens in spring. And all with splendid pastas and seafood. It’s clear that chef is more in love with fish and pasta than with meat. His pasta command keeps growing, his ability to show noodles with strong rich flavours. He stuffs tortelloni and ravioli together with the gifts of each season, he strews fresh al dente pasta off -cuts in fabulously sophisticated daily soups. Fish is his other love, garnished and always perfectly cooked just like a fantasy that is good. His meats are less exciting these days, perhaps less appealing to the maestro.
JABISTRO222 Richmond St. W., 647-748-0222
Amusing Ja is even more popular . With that comes slightly harried service and less focus on detail. We adore their aburi and oshi, and the likes of oily tuna handrolls with tuna that melts on the tongue and nori that crackles like glass. Agedashi is a magnificence of smoky Japanese soup stock with eggplant, green onion and deep fried BC clams. And apt to infuse miso soup with lobster! The house special JaBistroll is real crab uni and salmon rolled in rice studded with crunchy flying fish roe in sauce that’s a cross between hollandaise and light mayo — delightful.