Some rights reserved - Ronise Daluz
That'll Be a 40 Minute Wait: Chubby's, Bar Koukla, Amano
By: Eklectish Toronto
The Toronto food scene is incredibly diverse, and arguably the best in North America. However, it is also susceptible to fads propagated by lazy blogs. This means the biggest compliment you can get from a Torontian is for them to be a repeat customer. We’ll be exploring the city with a rating system that uncovers which restaurants are one-offs and those which should become an institution.
|The speechless lean-back
|We’ll be back
|Good, but unlikely to return
“You WON’T believe what Toronto JUST got”
(AKA: beware at all costs)
104 Portland St, Toronto, ON M5V 2N2
Rating - ★★
Chubby’s is a very well-known entertainment district restaurant, and for good reason. In a city full of hole in the wall takeout Caribbean spots, Chubby’s distinguishes itself by being one of the only (maybe the only) spots that resembles its upscale peers on King West. Most of us had all eaten here in the early days of our culinary adventurism and loved it. It was such a novel experience - you feel like you’re in a resort while thinking you’re eating elevated jerk chicken and oxtail. Oh, how wrong we were. After spending the last several years eating at more of the aforementioned, and usually incredible, hole in the wall spots, our return to Chubby’s pulled the curtain back.
Trying a wide range of dishes, from the jerk chicken, oxtail, goat, and shrimp, we quickly came to realize that the food is vastly more expensive than other Caribbean food in the city, while being far less enjoyable and plentiful. Don’t get us wrong, the food will be decent or even good when eating it. But it is not anything to write home about and certainly not worth thinking about for more than five minutes after you’ve finished. But it is once the bill comes and you realize you’re spending $30-40 on a main and sides (which are usually extra and upsold) on something that would normally cost $10-15 and taste better with more generous portions elsewhere, it's hard to stomach. If you want to take someone to a unique spot in the heart of the city, enjoy the vibe and a Red Stripe beer, and don’t mind overpriced average food, then Chubby’s could fit the bill. But no one here is likely to return or recommend it.
88 Ossington Ave, Toronto, ON M6J 2Z4
Rating - ★★★
As the summer was winding down and turning into fall we felt like a nice light meal before a big Friday night. Bar Koukla, which is the offspring of the very good Ossington Greek restaurant Mamakas, seemed like the perfect fit as a wine bar with modern Athenian snacks. The interior is very cool and resembles a sea port or even the hull of a ship. It sets a clean light atmosphere that puts you in a great mood for excellent Greek wine from their extensive menu, and shareable snacks. We ordered several dishes including the zucchini salad, fish sandwich, calamari, scallops, and tuna. They were all very good, though I will say the calamari can be skipped. I’ve come to realize over the years that calamari is rarely ever incredible regardless of where you get it, yet still retains so much promise when ordering. It is likely because I am still holding out hope that one time it will come close to matching an incredible calamari dish I ate in Kalamata Greece when I was a kid.
While the food is very tasty, I will caution that you are unlikely to be full after eating at Bar Koukla. It truly is a snack bar and you’d have to order a lot to be satisfied. The obvious disclaimer here is that our group consisted of three guys who could normally put down two massive gyros each, but still, we had to give some warning. Overall, Bar Koukla was a great experience but given the size of the plates it is unlikely that we would rush to come back. But for anyone who wants to snack on great Greek dishes over a glass of wine, this is the place in Toronto for it.
9 Church St, Toronto, ON M5E 1M2
Rating - ★★★★
After hearing some buzz around the St. Lawrence neighbourhood over the fresh new upscale Italian restaurant, I felt compelled to give Amano a try. Growing up with an Italian mother and Nonna, enjoying high quality home cooked meals on a day-to-day basis and learning how to make some of them myself, I tend to be a tough customer in this genre. I largely avoid eating at typical Italian restaurants, and especially avoid ordering dishes that I suspect I can cook equally well or better. You certainly won’t catch me tucking into the free garlic bread at East Side Mario’s. However, the latest offering from executive chef Michael Angeloni, who is behind two successful restaurants heralding the newly-renovated Union Station, Union Chicken and the eponymous Amano Italian Kitchen, had enough hype and pedigree to capture my curiosity.
Coming into Amano, the sheer size of the establishment immediately gets your attention. The restaurant has a dark, sleek, lounge-like feel, with two large dining sections on either side of the entrance, flanking an impressive bar that anchors the room. This bar features a solid wine selection (I enjoyed a crisp glass of Pecorino from central Italy), but most importantly, terrific and shockingly affordable cocktails. My partner ordered a cocktail at an upscale restaurant in the city of Toronto, for the eminently reasonable price of eight dollars. I was even more pleasantly surprised when the drinks came out, and the cocktail was actually served in a generous glass.
For food, we enjoyed some complimentary bread and oil to start, followed by some tasty fried smelts with lemon and fennel, and delicious marinated pecorino cheese with pepperoncini and a maple syrup glaze. My partner ordered the agnolotti, regarded as their specialty pasta, with a seasonally appropriate roasted squash and sage sauce. There was a delightful sprinkling of crumbled amaretti cookies on top of the pasta, which worked surprisingly well with the other flavours. With my partner ordering the more adventurous pasta, I felt freed up to put the restaurant to the test by breaking my own rule, and ordering a simple comfort-food dish that I frequently make for myself - rigatoni with tomato sauce, basil, and olive oil. This was right in my wheelhouse, and the odds of me being dissatisfied were pretty high. But I was truly happy with their rigatoni and came away feeling like I had just had a plate of pasta from home, a compliment I do not easily bestow.
We ended our meal with the very rare step of each ordering dessert. My hazelnut and dark chocolate torte was decent, though nothing to write home about, but the pavlova my partner ordered with lemon curd and blueberry compote was a fantastic palette cleanser to end the evening. All in, with appetizers, drinks, mains, and a dessert apiece, the bill came in around $100 before tip - again, a very reasonable price for a date at an upscale restaurant in this city. I would absolutely recommend Amano Trattoria for a meal, or even just cocktails and snacks, and will be going back in the near-future.