Things To Do In Toronto
October is a great time to enjoy the many shows, sites, shops, and services Toronto has to offer. Members of the 2011 Local Arrangements Committee share some perennial favorites, and attractions and destinations not to miss while visiting Toronto.
Neighborhoods to visit:
Distillery Historic District: During the 1800's the Gooderham and Worts Distillery was a huge manufacturing district in the city of Toronto and the largest distillery in the British Empire. Today the Distillery district is not only Toronto's only heritage district; it is also Canada's largest centre for arts and culture.
The Distillery is the largest and best preserved collection of Victorian Industrial architecture in North America. Aside from tours of the distillery and segway the area boasts about 15 art galleries, and several performing arts theatres. Along with arts it also offers a sophisticated shopping district with interesting boutiques for every kind of shopper as well as a variety of restaurants and cafes.
Stroll through a piece of Toronto history with The Distillery Walking Tour. The tour includes trips to Mill Street Brewery and chocolate maker, Soma.
Gerrard India Bazaar: Gerrard India Bazaar is the largest marketing place of South Asian goods and services in North America. With over 100 shops and restaurants which represent regional diversities of South Asian culture, food, music, and products, this slice of the Indian subcontinent offers a wide selection of services and products exhibited in an exotic display of sights, sounds, tastes and aromas. The array of merchandise available here helps South Asians maintain ancient cultural and religious traditions, and keep in touch with the contemporary lifestyle of the Subcontinent.
Chinatown: Toronto's Chinatown is one of the largest in North America. With the population changes of recent decades, it has come to reflect a diverse set of East Asian cultures through its shops and restaurants, including Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai. The major Chinese malls in the area are Dragon City and Chinatown Centre.
Church/Wellsley Village: Toronto is home to Canada's largest gay community and welcomes visitors from all walks of life. The Gay Village, or "The Village" as the locals call it, is a predominantly gay neighborhood nestled within Toronto's downtown core. Located at the intersection of Church and Wellesley Streets, the area is packed with cafes, restaurants, gay-oriented shops, and a vast array of bars and nightspots.
Greektown: Also known as the Danforth, Greektown is an integral part of Toronto's identity. The Greek community started with only 20 Greek names in 1907, and has grown to become the second-largest outside of Greece itself - a testament to the area's strong character and welcoming atmosphere. As one of Toronto's most vibrant and cosmopolitan neighborhoods, it is a premier destination for shopping, dining, strolling, patios, and people-watching. It's a place that's always buzzing with excitement.
Little Italy: Here the streets are lined with fashionable, high-end Italian shops, Italian-style lampposts, trendy gelaterias and cappuccino houses. Torontonians know to come here to find the hottest styles from Europe and delicious cuisine from all over Italy.
Attractions to check out:
CN Tower: The CN Tower is Toronto's tallest and most defining landmark. Photos of Toronto are often defined by the building stretching more than 550 meters into the sky. The first of its kind in the world, the glass floor gives you that "walk on air experience" with only 2 ½ inches of glass holding you 342 meters in the air. Or travel higher up the tower to the Sky Pod another 33 stories above ground. Plus, new in 2011, the CN Tower introduced EdgeWalk, the world's highest full circle hands-free walk on a 1.5 meter wide ledge encircling the top of the CN Tower's main pod, 356m, (116 stories) above the ground. This adrenalin-fueled experience will allow thrill seekers to walk the edge of one of the world's greatest man-made wonders.
Toronto Zoo: The Toronto Zoo is home to more than 5,000 animals, plus exhibits, daily keeper talks and year-round special events and promotions. Explore areas such as the award-winning African Savanna, the largest indoor Gorilla rainforest exhibit, the Zellers Discovery Zone, featuring the Kids Zoo, a dynamic, interactive children's wildlife experience, Splash Island, an exciting two acre water play area and the Waterside Theatre, home to the Animal Shows.
Ontario Science Centre: With hundreds of exhibits in a variety of exhibition halls plus visiting exhibitions, one visit doesn't scratch the surface. The hair-raising electrical ball, wall of bubbles, simulated rain forest, communication, sport, human body, and The Living Earth are a few of the in-depth exhibits worth exploring.
Royal Ontario Museum: The Michael Lee-Chin Crystal's six permanent collection galleries feature dinosaurs and mammals, the cultures of South and Central Asia, Africa, the American continents, the Asia-Pacific region (including Oceania), along with textiles and costumes from around the world.
Art Gallery of Ontario: The new AGO has more than 5,000 works in 110 galleries, including a physical expansion of the Gallery by 97,000 square feet, the addition of more than 10,000 new works of art to the already vast collection and a 47 percent increase in art viewing space.
Hockey Hall of Fame: The Hockey Hall of Fame is a vibrant, interactive, and innovative destination for guests of all ages and levels of interest. Themed exhibits are artistically designed to colorfully present hockey's passions and storied history. An interactive rink area challenges guests to stop the shots from a virtual Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier, try to score on Ed Belfour, record their own play-by-play on some of hockey's most legendary goals, plus much more.
Harbourfront Centre: Harbourfront Centre is a year-round facility, featuring concerts, dance performances, readings, films and kids' shows every weekend and many week nights throughout the year. The centre puts a large emphasis on culturally diverse acts, and the corporate community's involvement enables an incredible draw of international talent.
Casa Loma: Casa Loma was built by Canadian financier Sir Henry Pellatt to fulfill his childhood wish for a castle. His dream took three years and $3.5 million to complete. Its secret passageways, breathtaking towers, sweeping staircase, 800-foot tunnel, stables, and 5-acre gardens continue to excite all ages.
Historic Fort York: Founded in 1793 by Lt. Governor John Graves Simcoe, Fort York has played a major role in the development of Toronto. First constructed to guard the burgeoning city, Fort York has actually only seen one battle. Today it serves as a museum of the largest collection of War of 1812 buildings in Canada. It is open year-round to the public and seasonal guided tours are available to the public, as well as summer animation that explores the fort's role in the city's past.
Where to shop:
Queen West: The shopping area referred to as Queen Street is centered primarily west of University Avenue and east of Ossington. Between University and Spadina the fashion is focused on streetwear and high street brands.
Yorkville: The place to be if you are looking to drop major cash. It starts on Bloor Street between Yonge and Bay where the grand dame of them all, Holt Renfrew, sits. As you walk west along Bloor towards University you'll run into the old standards of Tiffany, Hermès, Prada, Chanel, and Gucci situated between more "modestly" priced stores such as Roots, Club Monaco, Williams-Sonoma, and Winners. If you leave Bloor and walk one block north you will find the area that houses the smaller stores of Yorkville.
Queen Street East: This transitional stretch of Queen Street runs through the south end of Toronto's trendy Riverdale neighborhood, famous for its eponymous short-lived soap opera, film, and television employed inhabitants, and growing number of professionals and their families. It then moves on through Leslieville, home to a vast majority of Toronto's gay and lesbian families. There's still a gritty feel to parts of the street, dating back to when the east side was populated mainly by recent Asian immigrants, biker gangs, and the city's blue collar workers. Now gentrifying daily, it is home to numerous restaurants, high-end coffee bars and one-off clothes stores and decorating emporiums.
The Danforth: The Danforth stretches out beyond the Bloor Viaduct (now cloaked in suicide-prevention bars which are surprisingly elegant). The main shopping drag runs between Broadview and Carlaw. This is the old Greektown and the street retains its European feel, particularly in summer when the restaurants and bars keep their patios open until the wee hours and the street is packed with revelers, families, and small children.
Toronto Restaurant Guide
Created by John Teshima, M.D., FRCPC, member of the 2011 Local Arrangements Committee
Did you come to the conference with more than learning on your mind? If eating well is on the agenda, then Toronto is an excellent destination. From gourmet locavore delights to a dizzying array of ethnic eateries, there are many places to explore. The following are but a few recommendations, mainly in the downtown area. For more options, visit the website http://www.torontolife.com/restaurants/. For heated debate around the options, visit the website http://chowhound.chow.com/boards/23. Prices listed are for a three-course dinner for two in Canadian dollars, including wine/beer, all taxes, and 15% tip. Please check with the restaurants for hours and availability.
The Cream of the Crop
Your credit card limit has just been increased and you want to make sure you have at least one great dinner. Several of these are close to the conference hotels, but others are further afield (and worth the trip):
The Black Hoof $125-175 (no credit cards), 928 Dundas St. W., 416-792-7511, http://theblackhoof.com/. Casual to the point of bohemian, but the reason to come here are the nose-to-tail meats and Jen Agg's creative cocktails. The tongue on brioche is one of the finest sandwiches around.
Canoe $300-400, Toronto-Dominion Tower, 66 Wellington St. W., 416-364-0054, http://oliverbonacini.com/Canoe.aspx. The view from the 54th floor is one reason to go, but the inventive menu that showcases Canadian ingredients is equally attractive. A recent tasting menu included roasted lobster with corn, daikon, and pickled cattails and finished with white chocolate s'mores. Canadian wines can be matched with each course.
Cava $200-250,1560 Yonge St., 416-979-9918, www.cavarestaurant.ca. Luxe tapas for the discerning palate. Clams with chorizo and bay leaves is a winner. Cauliflower and kabocha squash tagine with dates is a close second. And definitely save room for the carved to order jamon iberico.
Chiado $200-250, 864 College St., 416-538-1910, http://www.chiadorestaurant.com/. The finest Portuguese cuisine in elegant surroundings. You can't go wrong with the sardines marinated with lemon and parsley or any of the fresh seafood mains.
Colborne Lane $300-350, 45 Colborne St., 416-368-9009, http://colbornelane.com. Moelcular gastronomy is not quite as au courant as it once was. But if you hanker for parsnip soup with truffle powder or miso black cod with sesame panna cotta and puffed tapioca, then come on down. And the desserts are always a hoot.
George $250-300, 111 Queen St. E., 416-863-6006, www.georgeonqueen.com. Whether you go with a selection of small dishes or one of the tasting menus, the food is all clever, seasonally based, and marvelously executed (and now all the seafood is Ocean Wise, yay!). Try the softshell crab with fennel panna cotta or the halibut with lobster Brazil nut curry.
Kaiseki Yu-Zen Hashimoto $900-1000 (I'm not kidding), 6 Garamond Court, 905-670-5559, www.kaiseki.ca/english. Just a little less expensive than an actual trip to Kyoto, this is your chance to experience the edible art that is kaiseki cuisine. This is a meal for serene reflection, not the satiation of a ravenous appetite (though you can get seconds of the last course if you are still peckish).
North 44 $300-350, 2537 Yonge St., 416-487-4897, www.north44restaurant.com. Still the strongest member of chef Mark McEwan's mini empire. Inventive seasonal cuisine is the mainstay, from yellow perch with sweet pea risotto to savoury crusted bison ribeye with parmesan-potato croquette to coconut crème brulee with chocolate-banana ice.
Origin $150-200, 107-109 King St. E., 416-603-8009, http://origintoronto.com. Claudio Aprile's latest venture moves away from the fancy-dancy stuff and sticks to simpler fare that lets the quality of the ingredients shine. Be sure to have a selection from the mozzarella bar. The fried calamari with caramelized peanut sauce and pineapple is the standout on the hot menu.
Scaramouche $250-300, 1 Benvenuto Place, 416-961-8011, www.scaramoucherestaurant.com. A hilltop view of the city and Keith Froggett's assured cooking are a great combination. On a recent visit, poached lobster was accompanied by bacon gnocchi, fava beans, and honey mushrooms for a delightful first course. The coconut cream pie is the must-have among many fabulous desserts.
Sushi Kaji $350-450, 860 The Queensway, 416-252-2166, www.sushikaji.com. Still the best sushi in the Toronto area and an equally dazzling array of cooked dishes. Omakase (chef's choice) is the only way to go, but there is a choice of three price levels.
Near the Sheraton and Hilton
The following represent some options within a 10-minute walk:
Burrito Banditos ($20-40, 120 Peter St., 416-593-9191, www.burritobandidos.com) is home to the original chef. Burrito Boyz ($20-40, 218 Adelaide St. W., 647-439-4065, www.burritoboyz.ca) is home to the ex-partner. The halibut burrito should be your starting point for comparisons. Note: these are primarily take-out operations.
Bymark $300-400, 66 Wellington St. W., 416-777-1144, http://www.bymark.ca/. Yes, the expensive hamburger remains, though it now comes with brie de meaux, king mushrooms, and onion rings. The frites with lobster and béarnaise adds even more excess to the excess of poutine.
Kenzo $30-40, 138 Dundas St. W., 416-205-1155, http://www.kenzoramen.ca/. It's not the best ramen in Toronto, but it is pretty darn good and it is also close by.
Manpuku $30-40, 105 McCaul St., 416-979-6763, www.manpuku.ca. In a cafeteria-like setting, tasty bowls of udon noodles and other Japanese comfort foods are doled out with friendly enthusiasm. When available, the rice bowl with salami is odd but satisfying.
Nota Bene $250-300, 180 Queen St. W., 416-977-6400, http://notabenerestaurant.com. The Yucatan hot and sour soup with smoked chicken, goji berries, and coriander is one of the best in my books. The rabbit soffrito with pappardelle pasta, porcini mushrooms, and pancetta is a classic and the beef brisket burger with Stilton is a guilty pleasure.
The Queen and Beaver $100-150, 35 Elm St., 647-347-2712, http://queenandbeaverpub.ca/. A pub, yes. But a pub that serves guinea fowl and wild mushroom pot pie or a thick pork chop with pea dumplings. Save room for the pudding menu.
Smoke's Poutinerie $20-30, 218 Adelaide St. W., 416-599-2873, http://www.smokespoutinerie.com/. Fries, gravy and cheese curds are not exactly a meal. But for munchies at 2 AM, this place somehow hits the spot. Besides, it's too far to drive to Quebec from the conference. If you must check out the competition, Poutini's ($20-30, 1112 Queen St. W., 647-342-3732, www.poutini.com) is a hefty jog westwards.
Terroni $100-150, 57 Adelaide St. E., 416-504-1992, http://terroni.com/. The wood-oven pizzas at Pizzeria Libretto and Queen Margherita are better, but the thin-crust creations here are the finest close to the conference. And the funghi assoluti (baked oyster mushrooms with parmesan and balsamic, on a bed of arugula) is one of the best antipasti around.
Trimurti $30 for lunch, $75-100 for dinner, 265 Queen St. W., 416-645-0286, http://www.trimurti.ca/home.html. The lunch buffet is a quick and economical option close to the conference. Dinner brings some tasty dishes from the tandoor (mmm... whole cauliflower).
Take a trip to one of Toronto's many neighbourhoods and explore the many options, from cheap dives to swanky restos:
Dundas and Spadina Chinatown
The best Chinese food is now to be found out in the suburbs, but there are still some worthwhile places in the downtown Chinatown.
Swatow ($25-50, 309 Spadina Ave., 416-977-0601) is a great Chinese greasy spoon, with incredible shrimp dumpling noodle soup. Lee Garden ($75-100, 331 Spadina Ave., 416-593-9524, www.leegardenrestaurant.ca) has long line-ups and a slightly posher setting. It has the best deep fried squid in town, plus many other Cantonese treats including the tofu pie (don't laugh), beef tenderloin with avocado and cashews, and the steamed pickerel.
For a taste of northeastern China, you can go for the dingy basement confines of Chinese Traditional Buns ($30-50, 536 Dundas St. W., 416-299-9011) for fabulous flavours, Mother's Dumplings ($30-50, 421 Spadina Ave., 416-217-2008, www.mothersdumplings.com) for the aforementioned dumplings, or the slightly more genteel confines of Asian Legend ($40-60, 418 Dundas St. W. plus other locations, 416-977-3909, www.asianlegend.ca).
For Vietnamese, Anh Dao ($30-50, 383 Spadina Ave., 416-598-4514) offers great noodle soups, vermicelli bowls and fruit shakes. Pho Hung ($30-50, 350 Spadina Ave., 416-593-4274) is an equally respectable options.
Bloor St. West
In the Annex you begin with university student hangouts, then head into an odd mixture of Korean and Latin American eateries that eventually transform into a strip of Ethiopian restaurants.
Starting at Spadina, you must go into Greg's Ice Cream (750 Spadina Ave., 416-962-4734, http://gregsicecream.com), because no one does roasted marshmallow or coffee toffee better. A few blocks along, Country Style (450 Bloor St. W., 416-536-5966) is the anti-vegetarian restaurant, serving up Hungarian traditions like goulash and schnitzel.
Heading into the Korean section, Ka Chi ($30-50, 612 Bloor St. W., 416-533-9306) is one of many places dishing out decent chap chae and bulgogi. For delicious tamales, tacos, and pupusas, the near take-out counter conditions of Tacos El Asador ($30-40, 690 Bloor St. W., 416-538-9747) should suffice. And the best of many Ethiopian options is Lalibela ($40, 869 Bloor St. W. plus another location, 416-535-6615, www.lalibelaethiopianrestaurant.com), with great variety and Ethiopian beers to boot.
If you deviate one major street south, you will hit a string of delightful bistros on Harbord St.., including the Middle Eastern 93 Harbord ($100-150, 93 Harbord St., 416-922-5914, http://www.93harbord.com/), the reinvented Splendido ($200-300, 88 Harbord St., 416-929-7788, http://splendido.ca/), and the two French winners Tati Bistro ($150-200, 124 Harbord St., 416-962-8284, http://www.tatibistro.com/) and Ici Bistro ($150-200, 538 Manning Ave., 416-536-0079, http://www.jpco.ca/).
With more souvlaki-slinging places than you can shake a skewer at, this strip also houses some other cuisines worth trying.
Astoria ($60-80, 390 Danforth Ave., 416-463-2838, www.astoriashishkebobhouse.com) has probably the best grilled meats overall, but Kalyvia ($60-80, 420 Danforth Ave., 416-463-3333, www.kalyvia.com) is more well-rounded across its menu and Ouzeri ($80-100, 500A Danforth Ave., 416-778-0500, www.ouzeri.com) offers the best mezes. The best galactobouriko is at Athens Pastries ($20, 509 Danforth Ave., 416-463-5144).
A bit further east, Magic Oven ($30-50, 798 Danforth Ave. plus other locations, 416-868-6836, www.magicoven.com) slings out gourmet pizzas, including vegan and gluten-free choices. The tandoori chicken pizza is a must. And Dukem ($40-50, 950 Danforth Ave., 416-406-6342, www.dukem.ca) is another fine Ethiopian eatery.
What was once a dingy strip of karaoke bars has been transformed into a neighbourhood of hipster bars and groovy restaurants.
Debates about the best pizza in Toronto usually include Pizzeria Libretto ($100-150, 221 Ossington Ave., 416-532-8000, http://pizzerialibretto.com/). Delux ($125-150, 92 Ossington Ave., 416-537-0134, http://deluxrestaurant.ca/) is a must for the fried tiny white fish and the pressed cubano sandwich. Foxley ($100-150, 207 Ossington Ave., 416-534-8520) features a blending of Asian and South American flavours in small plates such as grilled beef heart with chili and lime.
If you want to check out the Ossington scene or head to the nearby Drake but want dinner on a budget, there's always the venerable Golden Turtle ($20-40, 125 Ossington Ave., 416-531-1601) for some of the best Vietnamese soup bowls around. This is the place top Toronto chefs patronize.
Many of the Indian and Italian restaurants downtown offer veggie-friendly options, as do many of the cafés and bistros along Queen St., west of University Ave. George (see above) will also whip up seasonal vegetarian dishes on request if you want something more gourmet. Poutini's (see above) also does a vegan poutine. The choices below offer completely non-meat menus (though most have some dairy or egg dishes). For more info on vegetarian dining, check out www.veg.ca/directory/vegrest.html.
Café 668 Vegetarian $50-75, 668 Dundas St. W., 416-703-0668, www.cafe668.com. Vegan pan-Asian treats. The noodle soups have surprisingly rich broths. Tofu and gluten come in many delicious guises, with including stir fried with spicy mango sauce or a tangy lemongrass sauce.
Cruda Café $30-40, 93 Front St. E., 905-447-6501, www.crudacafe.com. Whether you are a raw food enthusiast or simply want a change of pace, this casual place in the St. Lawrence Market serves up some nice salads and flourless wraps. And you can keep your conscience clean with biodegradable takeout containers.
Fresh $60-80, 147 Spadina Ave. (plus other locations), 416-599-4442, www.freshrestaurants.ca. Salads offer a rainbow of ingredients. Noodle or rice bowls are capped with tofu and other goodies, plus some surprisingly tasty sauces. Wash it all down with a smoothie or your detoxifying elixir of choice.
Fressen $150, 478 Queen St. W., 416-504-5127, www.fressenrestaurant.com. Tasty vegan tapas plus bigger entrées that even a carnivore will appreciate. Shredded jicama and mango is kicked up a notch with lime juice and chilies. Moroccan stew is redolent of cumin.
Keeping kosher in downtown Toronto can be a bit of a challenge. The Sheraton itself can arrange for kosher meals. If you're going to an event at the Air Canada Centre or Skydome (now called the Roger's Centre), Olde Spadina Ave serves up kosher hot dogs. But most kosher places are either midtown or much farther north. For more info on kosher dining, check out http://www.cor.ca/establishments.html.
Oasis Café, $20-40, 130 King St. W. (First Canadian Place Exchange Tower, food court), 416-368-8805, http://www.dairytreats.com/oasiscafe/info.html. Open for breakfast and lunch, this is your only kosher option within walking distance from the conference hotels. Soups, sandwiches, and a few hot dishes are all fresh and well-prepared. And there's grilled cheese sandwiches for the kids.
The following choices are some of the next closest kosher restaurants to the downtown:
Bistro Grande $100-150, 1000 Eglinton Avenue W., 416-782-3302, www.bistrogrande.com. Nothing will dazzle you here and the fish can get overcooked, but the pizza and pastas are respectable.
Marron $100-150, 948 Eglinton Ave. W., 416-784-0128, www.marronbistro.com. French bistro fare that is pretty good, especially if you pick beef bacon with white asparagus or stick with a traditional steak and frites.
Many of the less expensive restaurants and ethnic eateries above are happy to serve families, so no need to endure another trip to the golden arches. Here are a couple of other options to consider, especially if you want to avoid another meal of chicken fingers:
Caplansky's $75-100, 356 College St., 416-500-3852, http://www.caplanskys.com/. $4 gets your tyke an egg, beef bacon, a latke, apple sauce, and toast. Grown-ups can enjoy some of the best smoked meat west of Montreal.
Le Select Bistro $150-200, 432 Wellington St. W., 416-596-6405, http://www.leselect.com/. The children's menu features seared perch on a quinoa salad and a 5 oz steak with caramelized shallots and frites! Parents will be pleased with the beef cheek bourguignon and the braised lamb neck (there are veggie options too).
Marché $75-100, 181 Bay St., 647.350.6999. This faux-market restaurant has changed owners several times and has recently reverted back to the Marché brand. The kids will like the market set-up and will love the dessert stations in particular. Food for grown-ups is adequate if you stick to the simple (pastas, rotisserie).
The St. Lawrence Market $20-30, 93 Front St. E. (at Jarvis), 416-392-7219, www.stlawrencemarket.com. Toronto's premier market since 1803, this brick building houses many delicious shops and eateries during the daytime. There's lots to gawk at, plenty of seagulls to be fed, and everything is take-out so no long waits. The kids may be happy just nibbling on a Montreal-style bagel from St. Urbain. The back bacon sandwiches at Carousel Bakery and the Portuguese chicken sandwiches at Churrasco's Chicken please all ages. Note: the market is closed Sundays and Mondays.