There are so many things to eat, drink, do, and experience in Toronto that we sometimes are overwhelmed by the options. To help us (and you) plan our calendar we're launching a feature called The Monthly Spotlight. Here we'll bring you list of reastaurants to eat at, bottles to drink, events to hit, and cool things to just sit back and take in.
If you have any suggestions for future months leave a comment below or shoot us an email at themonthly [at] spotlighttoronto.com.
Where to Eat
The latest project from Guu Toronto ambassador James HyunSoo Kim has quickly become the destination for modern Japanese (and sushi) in this city since opening three months ago. The restaurant serves an exciting selection of sushi and sashimi (the lobster sashimi is a big hit) along with a bistro-style menu that mixes Japanese plates with French techniques. Recently JaBistro launched their fisherman's day dinners which treats groups of six to the house's best seafood dishes in a variety of presentations from appetizer to dessert. Reactions from early dinners have been extremely positive. Reservations can now be made online ($300 for 6 guests, $36 pp for sake and wine pairings).
(Photos by Stella Yu of www.foodjunkiechronicles.net )
Hours: Mon-Fri 11:30a-3pm (Lunch). Mon-Thu 5:30pm-11pm (Dinner). Fri-Sat 5:30pm – 12am (Dinner).
222 Richmond Street West, Toronto
Toronto's newest Thai restaurant is the brainchild of Nuit and Jeff Regular—the team behind the critically acclaimed Sukhothai and (formerly partners of) Khao San Road. Sabai Sabai is a casual eatery located minutes from Yonge and Dundas Square and focuses on Northern Thai comfort food. A tapas approach is taken with the dinner menu where guests are encouraged to order 2-4 plates per person and share. The eatery has given chef Nuit Regular a chance to create a rotating menu of her favourite traditional Thai dishes, with some past favourites sprinkled in like the popular khao soi; egg noodle in an aromatic coconut curry gravy, topped with chunks of chicken.
Dishes to try: holy basil shrimp stir fry, northern thai pork skewer, and of course the khao soi.
Hours: Mon-Sat 11:30am – 2:30pm (Lunch) 5:30pm to 11pm (Dinner)
225 Church Street
Ursa Restaurant is celebrating its first year anniversary on February 1st. The dishes are complex with detail and attention, resulting in a fantastic array of complimentary flavours. What might be (pleasantly) less obvious is the restaurant's goal to serve healthy food. There's a focus on foraging and sustainability in both the food and drink menu. Speaking of the drinks menu, it features a selection of cocktails that are expertly mixed and delicious. If you're out late on Queen West and looking for a bite to enjoy with your drinks, Ursa is now offering a late night menu with dishes under $10.
Hours: Tue-Sun. 6pm-2am.
924 Queen Street West, Toronto
What to Drink
Nickel Brook Cuvee
Price: $9.95 for a 750 ml bottle
Availability: LCBO 321679 and at the brewery
One of the beer maker's greatest strengths is his comparative freedom to experiment. Ageing product in barrels is a prime example of this and Ryan Morrow at Nickel Brook has built an increasingly large laboratory with his barrel programme. For the 2012 version of the Nickel Brook Cuvee he borrowed another technique from the vintner's playbook by blending beer from different barrels that had aged for different amounts of time. The product is packed with aromas and flavours of warm spices and dark fruit (think Christmas pudding) with some banana and barrel-derived vanilla on the palate. Between the large format and the special wax seal this is an ideal beer to break out on a special occasion. Supplies are running low so don't wait on this one.
2010 Fielding Cabernet-Syrah
Availability: LCBO Vintages Beginning Feb. 16th 258657
Fielding has been making a Cabernet-Syrah blend for a few years now and it's perennially one of its best sellers. It's easy to see why because Syrah adds a touch of interesting spice and brings another layer to Cabernet's melange of berries. This vintage has a wonderful combination of bright black cherry, strawberry, blackberry and blueberry fruit. But there's also an intriguing layer of secondary notes largely courtesy of the Syrah with perfumed black peppercorns, anise, vanilla-oak spice, smoke and a hint of meaty game. It all comes together with a nicely balanced feel in the mouth and neither the tannins nor acidity dominating. If you're a Cabernet-Merlot/Meritage drinker and looking for something a bit different, this is the wine to seek out.
2009 Stratus Malbec
Availability: LCBO Vintages Classics Catalogue (order deadline Feb. 5th or via Taste Ontario in Ottawa on Feb. 11th) 307637
These days Malbec's most associated with Argentina where high-altitude vineyards provide a relatively cool climate, while still delivering the intense sunlight this grape loves. But closer to home we're also beginning to see a few single varietal Malbecs made in the warmer VQA sub-appellations like the flat sunshine-soaked corner of Niagara-Lakeshore where Stratus is located. This wine is a collaboration between Stratus winemaker J-L Groux and Niagara, USA born and international acclaimed consulting winemaker Paul Hobbs (who played a huge role in turning wine lovers on to Argentine Malbec). Even in a fairly cool year like 2009 Groux and Hobbs were able to craft a compelling Malbec. There's plenty of new world dark fruit with black currant, black plum and wild berries. But what really captivates is the layers underneath. There's pepper, graphite, hints of savoury squid ink and even an enchanting iron-rich note reminiscent of a rare piece of dry-aged grass-fed beef. With its grippy tannins, silky body and beautifully fresh acidity that's exactly the partner I would select for this bottle.
2010 Rosewood Merlot
Availability: LCBO Vintages beginning Feb. 16th 211896
This isn't one of the soft, wimpy Merlots that was fashionable to bash over the past decade. Rather it's a modern cool-climate Merlot with some substance. Just like Ryan Gosling in Drive, it possesses that effortlessly cool and suave approach, but when it comes down to crunch time it delivers exactly what is called for and with a surprising badass streak. The medley of ripe black plum, cassis and boysenberry pull you into the glass, while a second sip reveals a seductive combination of cocoa, bramble, oak spice and vanilla. Still what's really impressive about the wine is the structure. There's just enough acidity to keep it lively and enough tannin heft and texture to hold-up for aging, but not so much that they overwhelm the bright juicy fruit. In short it's a great Merlot at a fantastic price. The critics agree too, as this is the red that picked-up Ontario's lone gold at the internationally renown Decanter World Wine Awards.
2010 Thirty Bench Red
Availability: LCBO Vintages beginning Feb. 16th 320986
Although Thirty Bench has built its solid reputation on Riesling, it also makes some very compelling reds like its Benchmark Cabernet Franc and this entry level red Meritage blend. This vintage's Red is a blockbuster with black cherry, blackberry, black currant and plum. Supporting that brooding fruit is some roasted tobacco, black tea, dark cocoa and a black raspberry note that comes on strong during the finish. Drink it alone by a warm fire or pair it-up with a hearty winter dish of braised bison stew.
What to Do
1st Annual Rhino Winter Beer Festival – February 10th - http://www.canadianbeernews.com/1st-annual-rhino-winter-beer-festival/
This is the first of what organisers hope will be annual event at the popular Rhino Restaurant and Bar in Parkdale featuring microbrews from over 20 Ontario breweries, including rare bottles from Rhino's cellar. The craft beer movement in Toronto has been on the rise in the last few years, and this festival is shaping up to be a unique opportunity to taste from some of Ontario's newest breweries. General admission is free (get there early) and VIP tickets are $40 which includes a breakfast buffet and 10 sample tickets.
Steak Festival at Allen's – February 5th to February 23rd – http://allens.to/
The wildly popular meat fest is back at Allen's on the Danforth. John Maxwell's steak festival is a celebration of the finest local beef, with hand-cut-to-order steaks from a variety of Ontario farms, and also from Maxwell's own Dexter Cattle. The icing on the meat pie? A super special wine list that showcases VQA wines exclusively from the 1995 to 2008 vintages.
Days of Wine and Chocolate – Weekends in February - http://wineriesofniagaraonthelake.com
This yearly wine festival gives guests a chance to explore Niagara wine a little differently. There are 28 wineries showcasing the versatility of their wines when it comes a pairing partner featuring chocolate. Touring passes are $35 and can be picked up at any of the participating wineries (full list here). The passes can be redeemed for a food and wine pairing, for example, Ravine Vineyards is pairing its 2011 Select late harvest vidal with banana chocolate tarts. The pairings this year are the best they've ever been, and the festival is a great way to explore the winery wonderland of Niagara-on-the-lake.
Valentine's 360 Screenings – Feb. 13th – www.360screenings.com
A fusion of live theatre and cinema, 360 Screenings offers audiences the chance to not only watch a filmm but to become part of it. Located in one of Toronto’s beautiful historic buildings the event features a live theatre portion where the audience is encouraged to engage and interact while actors play out scenes from a beloved film of the past. The location of the venue is kept secret until 24 hours prior. The evening will conclude with the reveal of the film and its screening. Guests will enjoy hors d'oeuvres and cocktails while becoming fully immersed within the film's environment. Familiar scenes, set designs and dialogue will suggest the film's identity.
Bellwoods Brewery – 124 Ossington Avenue (beside the restaurant and brewery) – Hours: Mon.-Sat. noon to 11 PM & Sun. noon to 6 PM.
As of January 23 the justifiably popular beer from Bellwoods Brewery is available for retail sale on a regular basis. When they designed their brewery that has been open for less than a year, Luke Pestl and Mike Clark purposely kept it to a relatively small scale. Between their consistently popular Ossington restaurant and their short list of draught clients, they only had enough beer to supply the occasional pop-up retail sale. Now that they have more than tripled brewing capacity they can afford to put more of their beer in bottles for us to enjoy at home.
And to start, at least, the focus is more on 650 ml bombers ($4.75 – $8, incl. tax) than the bigger growlers ($14+, including tax, but not the deposit) which are only pre-filled for now. The retail list is consistently updated on their site and includes some of the standby favourites like the Lost River Baltic Porter and the Witchshark Imperial IPA, but also rarer selections like ones from their Monogamy series of single-hopped pale ales.
Roger Vivier: Process to Perfection at the Bata Shoe Museum
Any shoe lover will fall head over heels for this exhibit which focuses on the world renowned designer that is famous for the Stiletto heel. The exhibit at the Bata Shoe Museum takes guests through Vivier's professional career spanning decades, including his work for Christian Dior in the 1950s.
The exhibit runs now until April 7th, 2013. Admission: Adults $14, Students (with ID) $8.