Everyone says the Canadians are nicer than the rest. Can the same be said about their food and wine? Fathom contributor and dedicated foodie Kate Donnelly recounts a recent delicious weekend in and around The Queen City.
TORONTO – My first time in Toronto, and I'm already spoiled. I just landed at Billy Bishop Airport, the small island from which Porter Airlines, Canada's spiffy regional plane line, operates. I clear customs, hop a ferry, and dive into the back seat of a fancy car that delivers me to the newly opened Shangri-La Toronto.
I unwind in my clean, mod room with a bathroom suite larger than my New York City apartment. The sky is clear and offers popping views of the CN Tower, the local landmark that offers something called Edge Walk to ballsy tourists looking for the best sightlines in the city.
I stay on the ground and decide to eat. New Yorkers visiting Toronto will have much better luck getting into the Canadian outpost of NYC chef David Chang's boisterous and dimly lit Momofuko Daisho than the one in the East Village. Nama-Nama, Ontario's own smooth, unpasteurized sake, pours freely. It's delicious with pork buns and pleasantly chewy roasted rice cakes.
The look is bamboo and blue light fixtures made by a Canadian glass-blowing atelier at Bosk, where I love chef Damon Campbell's wagyu beef with zucchini, chanterelle mushroom, and truffles. Lobster gnocchi with forest mushrooms makes for serious gourmet eating. Plating is an art form here.
Gusto has a cool, industrial-garage vibe with elements of wood, steel, and glass. There's a retractable roof over the upstairs patio, where I make a long night of grilled octopus, artisan pizza, and pastas.
Charming Niagara-on-the-Lake, 90 minutes south of Toronto around Lake Ontario's bend, is preserved with the kind of quaint shops and flower-lined streets that remind me of the Hamptons. The great and critically hailed Shaw Festival, which runs from April through the end of November, showcases contemporary plays. It's a nice cultural hub and the starting point for my winery hop.
I make my way to Stratus Vineyards, a modern tasting bar with a welcoming back patio designed by local architect Les Andrew. The winery is sleek, LEED-certified, and ultra-high tech.
Just down the road is another LEED-certified, organic, biodynamic spot called Southbrook, a farm-to-table luncheonette run by the chefs behind The Yellow Pear. The Eggs Benny, with seared trout and roasted potatoes, are way better than they need to be.
Cool Hidden Bench Vineyards & Winery is, as the name suggests, somewhat hard to find. But the wines are impeccable and well worth the search, notably the 2012 Felseck Vineyard riesling with floral notes and minerality.
Fully piqued by the wine, I head back to the city for a steamy exfoliation at Miraj Hammam buffered by a devilish spread of finger sandwiches (egg and watercress, lobster and chive), scones, and biscuits during Shangri-La's high tea.
SHOP AND SEE
Every September, the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) entertains a town of film-savvy fans and movie stars at the beloved The Bell Lightbox Theatre in the heart of downtown. Festival or not, the space is an architectural marvel by architecture firm KPMB and a great place to see a film or art exhibition.
A trip to Queen Street Hudson's Bay Company (The Bay) is a shopping rite of passage. The Room, a specialty shop within, reminds me of a rock-n-roll Barneys (by way of Desperately Seeking Susan?) — all red lips and spiked heels.
St. Lawrence Market is another Torontonian landmark. It's fun to stroll around, taste test, and chat with vendors about their fresh seafood, sausages, produce, and baked goods. The best thing I try is the legendary Peamal, a sweet/salty sandwich made with thick wedges of Canadian cornmeal bacon from Carousel Bakery. Some local Kozlick's mustard added depth.
FIND A CRASH PAD
Shangri-La Toronto opened its doors in 2012. The hotel, which occupies the first seventeen floors of a 66-story glass structure, is located at the pivotal intersection of University Avenue and Adelaide Street downtown. The southwest corner has marvelous views of the CN Tower. Do not miss the bowls of popcorn doled out as snacks seasoned with an addictive mix of Chinese chile, orange peel, seaweed, ginger, and sesame seeds.
Hôtel Le Germain is a Québecois import in light wood and ceramic. Public spaces like the library lounge are lively and the design is cutting-edge. The tiny and super high-design Templar Hotel uses a Porsche as its airport shuttle and has a spectacular rooftop bar.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
Porter Airlines flies from Chicago, New York City, Boston, and Washington, D.C. and takes a warm and effortless approach to hospitality: free WiFi-enabled lounges, free snacks, and an in-flight magazine designed with Monocle.