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Postcard From Tom: Toronto

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema's monthly report from the road.

For a taste of what's local and best in Toronto, be sure to squeeze in a trip to St. Lawrence Market, which is where I encountered tiny wild blueberries, elk sausage -- and a deal of a meal at a stall called Carousel Bakery, known for sandwiching thick slices of sweet back bacon in a soft-but-sturdy country bun. Other highlights around the city:

LAI WAH HEEN (108 Chestnut St., 416-977-9899)

Discerning snackers head to this elegant dining room in the Metropolitan Hotel for some of the best small plates in the city. As good as the standard dim sum is, the kitchen also makes more elaborate dishes, using truffles and foie gras and fashioning some bites into animal shapes. Black lacquer chairs and framed Chinese calligraphy make a pretty backdrop for turnovers filled with diced conch and a beggar's purse of seafood and bok choy. Dim sum $3.50-$8.

SPLENDIDO (88 Harbord St., 416-929-7788)

The name is apt. Splendido -- candlelit, rose-sprayed and dressed up with mirrors and modern art -- is one of the city's most seductive places to dine. Visible behind a curtain-framed window in the back, chef David Lee pampers the palate with dishes that use some of the best local ingredients (look for meat from the revered Cumbrae Farms), preparing them so "the flavors speak for themselves," as he puts it. Lamb loin served with sweet-pea-stuffed ravioli and a silken scallop paired with smoked pork belly underscore Lee's unfussy elegance -- and restrained ego. Three-course dinner $90.

SUSUR (601 King St. W., 416-603-2205)

Toronto's most forward-thinking chef, Hong Kong native Susur Lee, lets diners know right away that they're in for a thrill of a meal when an amuse-bouche resembling an edible art gallery lands on their table. "I want people to eat with their eyes," he explains. And so patrons do in this minimalist, all-white retreat. Marinated pork belly with winy red cabbage, and hot and sour consomme served with a chorizo-tomatillo tartlet, also reveal the master's knack for fusing East with West. Five-course tasting menu $100.

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