TORONTO & CHICAGO RESTAURANT REVIEW:
So as many of you know, I had back-to-back trips to Toronto and Chicago these last 2 weeks and while they are 7 hours apart, they share some similarities when it comes to their restaurants.
Let's start off with Toronto
and some of my observations. A few years ago, the city had a nice amount of casual to fine dining establishments, with Gladstone's, King Solomon's Table, Miami Grill and Marky's. Sadly, all of them closed. It may have had to do with the economy and recession or that there aren't enough kosher diners to support that many waiter service restaurants (probably a combination of both), but it seemed the dairy places were the ones that were dominating. Fast forward, a couple of years and while many of the dairy restaurants are around, there has been an influx of new sit-down meat restaurants that have made Toronto a town that should not be embarrassed by their restaurants.
First, I have to mention the two fine dining restaurants that have have weathered the storm and continue to produce fantastic fare in a white table cloth environment. Yes, there are only 2 fancy restaurants in Toronto and they happen to be a few buildings away from each other on Eglinton Avenue. I had the opportunity to dine at Bistro Grande
(dairy) and Marron Bistro
(meat) and they were both terrific, especially Marron - the food
was inventive, full of flavor and it was truly a wonderful experience. You can see photos of the dishes and commentary by clicking on their links. Meanwhile, in terms of restaurants that have come on the scene in the last couple of years, Thornhill (a Jewish suburb of Toronto) has seen a steady flow of new restaurants from Ba-Li Laffa
to Dr. Laffa (who knew Toronto was the capital of laffa?) to Ashkenaz Cowboy
(the coolest and tastiest Southern comfort food north of the border - they even got me to wear a cowboy hat
. You have new places like Burgy's Goldburger and Hummus Hummus which has expanded and is opening up soon.
Again, this is all just in Thornhill. Further south on Bathurst, you have the new Pantry Restaurant, a creative, eclectic dairy restaurant and also the new Ben & Izzy's, the only deli restaurant in the area. Rounding out the scene, you have all the others that have been around for awhile that are putting out really good quality fare, like Umami Sushi, Dairy Treats, Milk n Honey and Chicken Nest, where I had the best Half Rack BBQ Beef Ribs I've ever had. But one thing I was still shocked to see is that Toronto still does not have a full fledged Chinese restaurant. You have a take out place here and there but not your classic green wall/brown carpet/Chinese waiter kind of restaurant. But all in all, it was a great trip to our Canadian neighbors.
After a weekend pit stop at home, including my daughter's birthday party and a friend's wedding, I jumped back on the plane to Chicago. Now, let me get to the major similarity Toronto and Chicago have in common. EVERYONE IS IN BED BY 9PM! While I'm kind of joking, it really is interesting to see that the streets of Chicago and the kosher restaurants are almost empty at around 9:30pm. They simply don't have the amount of kosher diners and the young dining crowd that stay out late. However, there are some exceptions and I saw that when visiting the new, hot eatery, Milt's BBQ for the Perplexed (featured last week in the Travel section of
The NY Times). After I managed to get to a Chicago Cubs game, I walked to Milt's (they're a 10 minute walk from Wrigley field) and when I got there at 9:30, the place was still buzzing with people. Oh, and dinner was really good and I have the photos to prove it. But while Chicago doesn't have a fraction of the number of restaurants in New York, I've had people tell me that they think Shallots in Chicago can stand up to any NY restaurant. I might have to agree. And I would have to also agree that your best bang for your buck is still Hy Life Bistro, where the food and service is always good and the prices are reasonable. And believe it or not, Slice of Life, their sister restaurant in the same building is the only dairy waiter service restaurant in all of Chicago. Speaking of the only-kind-of-something, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Chicago finally has a full service, sushi restaurant.
Hamachi Sushi Bar might not look big, but it can seat many diners comfortably and they turn out some amazing and creative rolls, that again, can rival any kosher sushi restaurant in NY. And then of course, Ken's Diner is still there (and they just added mini TVs to all their booths), you have the ever consistent Israeli restaurant in Taboun Grill, and the quick, classic, counter service pizzeria in EJ's.
Bottom line on both places: Appreciate what you have and support your local restaurants, since there are other towns that can barely keep 1 or 2 nice restaurants around - talking to you Cleveland and Detroit :)