Culinary Adventures in Toronto

Article & Photography by Jennifer Merrick

Those of us who travel to eat and not eat to travel understand how important culinary experiences are to the enjoyment of any trip. And we know that good food is an attraction in and of itself on any vacation, whether it’s a signature sandwich at a marketplace, a neighbourhood food tour, or a selection of fine cheeses perfectly paired with local wines.

Toronto, with its multicultural flavors, diverse neighbourhoods and big-city glitz, offers countless culinary adventures just waiting to be savored.

Here are a few worth traveling for:

Distillery District
This 13-acre pedestrian enclave in downtown Toronto was once the largest producer of whiskey in the British Empire. Now its preserved Victorian buildings house spirits of all sorts in its numerous eateries. 120 mescal and tequila labels can be found at El Catrin Restaurant, along with a tapas-styled menu serving up traditional and modern Mexican cuisine. Prepared table-side, their guacamole is deliciously fresh as is the ceviche. For a real treat, indulge in the chef’s seven-course tasting menu.

Or you can sample your way through the entire Distillery District on a Go Canada’s Distillery Deluxe Tasting Tour, which offers tidbits of history along with samples from Ontario Spring Water Sake, Soma Chocolate, Sweet Escapes and Mill St. Brewery.

Chinatown and Kensington Market
Culturally rich and full of character, these two neighbourhoods, located next to each other along Spadina Avenue, will entice all your senses with their sights, sounds, smells and especially tastes. Here you’ll discover some of the best ethnic flavours in the most unassuming of eateries at a price that’s often less than a meal at a fast-food chain, which by the way you won’t find any of here.

King’s Noodles is a Chinatown institution that is busy any time of the day or night. The open kitchen serves up bowls of steaming noodles, beef brisket, congee (rice porridge) and BBQ chicken and duck (you’ll see them hanging in the window as you enter).

If you don’t mind doing a bit of the cooking –but none of the prep– head to Chine Hot Pot & Noodles, where you can stir fresh meat and veggies into your own boiling pot of broth. Each cooking pot is individual so if your companion likes it spicy and you enjoy more subtle flavors, everybody’s happy.

St. Lawrence Market
Voted world’s top market by National Geographic, Toronto’s bustling St. Lawrence Market was the city’s first City Hall, complete with mayoral offices on the top floor and a prison in the basement. But for most of its 200-year-plus history it’s been the city’s favourite market, where locals and tourists alike nibble, sample and bargain their way through mazes of butchers, fishmongers, bakeries, cheese and specialty food stalls.

What to eat here, you ask? The peameal bacon sandwich, with its salt and sugar-cured ham rolled in cornmeal, is a signature dish. The most well-known version of this classic can be found at Carousel Bakery (Upper Level 42), where food lovers from all over world, including celebrities the likes of Catherine Zeta-Jones and rapper Drake, have enjoyed this classic Toronto specialty. Other market favourites include condiments and jams from a Bisket-A-Basket (Lower Level B29), Montreal-styled bagels at St. Urbain Bagels (Upper Level 11), lobster bisque and chowder at Buster’s Sea Cove (Upper Level 33) and the potato pancake at Dnister Ukranian Store.

Niagara-on-the Lake
Not in Toronto, but it’s a gorgeous side trip and well worth the hour’s drive. Niagara-on-the Lake wineries are well known for their Chardonnays, Rieslings and Pinot Noirs, but no varietal is more celebrated, especially internationally, than their icewines.

It’s a labour intensive wine to make as every frozen grape yields one pin drop of super-concentrated juice, and the same tonne of grapes that makes 1000 bottles of table wine will fill just 100 bottles of icewine. A fitting place to try this elixir is at Peller Estates Winery in their 10 Below Icewine Lounge, which is constructed from over 13,000 kg of ice. Everything, including the bar, walls, shelves, bench and décor is made of ice, all as its name suggest at -10C. Don’t worry, they’ll lend you warm outerwear if you need it. Be sure to sample the Ice Curvée, a sparkling wine made in the classic champagne method only with a top up of icewine.

Or try their Big Cheese Theory wine and cheese pairing, where you’ll infuse, smoke and even put on goggles in order to blowtorch les fromages. And then enjoy your creations with a flight of Peller’s top wines.

Putting on the Ritz
Celebrating a special occasion, or want to live like a celebrity for an evening? Then you’ll want to reserve the chef’s table at the Ritz Carlton. Deep into TOCA’s award-winning kitchen, you’ll find a nook with a table that holds a maximum of eight guests. On the walls are the signatures of diners who have sat in that very spot, including hockey superstar, Wayne Gretzky.

The dining spot offers a perfect vantage point to watch the chefs prepare exquisite dishes, smell the delicious aromas and listen to the description of the dishes by the chef himself. The experience will take dining to ultimate heights, akin to the CN Tower, located on the restaurant’s doorstep.

Anywhere in TOCA you can savour the finest of cheeses aged in the glass-walled Cheese Cave which houses over 35 of the best varieties, including the lankaaster, voted the world’s best cheese. Aged to perfection (unlike the rest of us) and served with international and local wines, it’s a culinary experience to remember.

Bon Appetit!