eau canada! a seductive first trip to toronto.

it’s infatuation, i just know.

but i’m head over heels for toronto.

i admit, the canadian city isn’t usually on people’s list of the usual amazing top-whatever of global metropolitan destinations, but between the famed international film festival and the uncontrollably phenomenal music scene (mothership to NXNE) — not to mention its reputation as a dim-sum town — toronto was at the top of my to-do travel list.

in short: jpat and i impetuously escaped to there over the holiday weekend (catching the coattails of both canada day and US day), and it was absolute passport-stamping perfection. the key to everything was an dogged (and slightly irrational) compulsion to walk along every last outskirt of the city.

the best way i could think of blogging about this experience was re-appropriating an email that i breathlessly rushed off soon after the trip to a boston chowhoundy friend who grew up in toronto. it’s best to read it with a stream-of-consciousness, spoken-word type of kilter, and it’s probably the closest thing you’ll have to seeing exactly how i think. (frightening, just a bit.)

curious to hear your take (if any) on toronto. words of wisdom?

Tue, Jul 5, 2011 at 10:54 PM
toronto trip - compressed

here’s a short-form version of what went down. i can’t wait to go back! oh, and porter airlines rules.

flew in via porter, took ferry to downtown, got kinda lost but walked around and saw some stuff — passed by bymark, the central mall thing (w/ the hockey hall of fame), air canada centre.

checked into cambridge suites — so awesome. also i think we got the handicapped suite by a fluke, so it was huuuge.

it was around dinner time and we were starving. went down the king streetcar and wanted to head to lee restaurant. it was a little doucheier than expected (although i bet the food is good — just kind of scenester and more expensive than we wanted) so we walked west and north. btw WVRST looked really fun but it was closed for the holiday.

we passed by 416 snack bar and went in on a whim. totally cute and great. tried hoptical illusion, not bad. first of many ways we realized that IPAs are not really the popular drink (understandably). got scotch eggs benny, sushi pizza, and grilled ribs.

then trekked to the black hoof — phenomenal. although the staff was kind of ‘tude -y… not as genuinely warm and cool as the kids at 416. black hoof was a little too cool for school — or maybe they were mopey b/c it was so slow on friday night (b/c of holiday). anyway, it was wonderful but kind of expensive and after a charcuterie plate, pickles, smoked sweetbreads, and cocktails we cabbed it back.

got drinks at second cup. btw, what is with the lack of drip coffee (and preponderance of espresso) in toronto? not a bad thing — it’s lovely, actually — but i think this might explain why some of our “coffees” ordered in the beginning of the trip tasted so strange (probably subbed-in americanos).

went to st lawrence market — i was totally in awe of the diversity of everything!

got the peameal bacon sandwich at carousel bakery and i swear i need to find this stuff in boston.

jumped on the TTC to gerrard st eastlittle india. i was determined to sniff out a good place just by my food-dar (you know, there are lots of happy people inside, doesn’t look touristy, etc.) and i think i stumbled upon a good place! MOTIMAHAL. are you a fan? anyway, we got shrimp curry, chicken stuffed naan, masala dosa and jalebi (man that stuff is sweet, but totally amazing). love witnessing the grilled corn on a stick and the gazillion-seeming dvd stores and sari boutiques.

we walked back to coxwell, rode the subway to castle frank (funny name!) and walked allll the way down parliament through cabbagetown. that neighborhood is so interesting — really reminded me of central sq, the way it was gorgeous and run-down at the same place (jpat noted the telltale druggy signs of payphones and a blockbuster). popped into jetfuel — we ordered iced coffees and strangely got espresso shots poured over ice in styrofoam cups. still refreshing.

we then got to the distillery district and walked around — popped into SOMA chocolate, the housewares place next door. it’s like as if faneuil hall and fort point had a lovechild — super cool design but definitely “structured” as a “planned community.” you know what i mean. but the space was gorgeous all the same (loved the sculptures).

popped into pure spirits for drinks and oysters (delish!). then went to mill st brewery for a round. then walked (lightning storm!) to c’est what. i was totally pooped by now but we got bison burger and something i’ve never had — tourtière!

we went back to our hotel bar (portico), watched a really bad pauly shore movie on the bar TV, and passed out in the hotel watching some seriously amusingly bad canadian television :)

walked up to yonge-dundas (the “times sq” i assume?), and then went down a weird street in which we discovered a red lobster! hahaha. instead of hitting the pride parade directly (we went by later) we went through chinatown.

since blood sugar was seriously low we went to some random lamb kebab vendor. we passed lai wah heen (without realizing it) and although it was on our list it will wait til next time.

we went down to spadina and i was second guessing myself in terms of trying to find food — trying to hone my chowhound spidey senses. we did a depressing-awesome stroll through that asian mall on the corner of spadina/dundas (with the dairy queen), and then went up spadina, in which i was struck with “holy crap! this is the canal street of toronto!”

i was sort of wary of everything, but with the fear of fainting looming close, we ducked into si chuan restaurant, which ended up being a cute, student-y, non-touristy kind of place. jpat bossed the ordering, getting pork stomach in sichuan sauce (pretty good), stewed pork intestine (this was both of our first times and… i will politely say that i don’t care for it much), and stir fried seafood with crispy rice cake (alright). the fortune cookies were extra-good… coconutty!

after that, we walked down through kensington market — all the food and stores looked incredible. got caffeine fuel-up at krepesz, super-cute. i have a feeling this is a really hippie-dippie part of town… the super butchers and cheese mingling with the ultra vegans.

we walked through the university and passed out for a moment on the grass on king’s circle. walked through queen’s park (the big statue of the dude on a horse) and went up through philosopher’s walk.

the ROM loomed into view, and we went in. the architecture is breathtaking — i couldn’t take it. we ended up meandering in there by accident (seriously) and ended up seeing some of the exhibits (dinosaurs, lots of animals) for free. there was also a wedding being set up for the evening’s festivities.

after the museum closed its doors we walked toward church and wellesley, where pride was winding down. parade over but TON of stuff in the street — tents, music stages, bodies in every form and dress imaginable.

after meandering through (and realizing that dinner at kaiseki sakura would NOT be something to try that evening — have you ever been?) we jumped on the subway to ossington.

walked down, stopped by outside communist’s daughter (there was live music going on — but a little cramped) and we perched at BQM for a drink and lively bartender banter.

went for a drink to tequila bar reposado — gorgeous patio but a little “affected” for the area.

went to union — gorgeous! for oysters and champagne. totally small kitchen; and suspicion that the weekend was just slow business for everyone.

we heard that woodlot was awesome, and we walked down w queen w but when we turned on palmerston it was just dark and residential and we weren’t sure if they were even open (it was a little after 10pm) so we went to shanghai cowgirl‘s patio and ordered poutine, philly cheesesteak, and a freaking PEABACON and BLUECHEESE grilled cheese sandwich. so good and sloppy.

we were hustling to make sure we would make the flight. jpat wanted a montreal bagel, but we weren’t sure where to get one between our hotel and union station.

we ended up ducking into marche (the silly swiss market restaurant) for a half-hearted, stupid-awesome, tourist-downtown kind of thing.

in the porter lounge at the airport we ended up getting starbucks coffee for free….

next time i am packing pants so we can bike all over tarnation. sigh.

honestly, toronto is so seductive and intriguing, i think foremost because of the incredible diversity, and also because it’s so neighborhood-centric. and it also felt so safe and clean. we asked about “where not to go,” and the answers were finch, scarborough, and “crack corner” in cabbagetown. is it really that non-crime-y, or was that just an illusion?

hope we did you proud!

7 Responses to “eau canada! a seductive first trip to toronto.”
  1. Elizabeth says:

    That email is so long!!!! It is why I adore you. And I need to go to St. Lawrence market, immediately.

    • cmliu says:

      the market is super fun. and we didn’t even get to fully explore all the other vendors, who were set up *outside* all around the building. by the by, that email is legit — but what really took some effort post-production (so to speak) was all of the hyperlinking :) let me know if you end up trekking to the city! you’d absolutely love it.

  2. cmliu says:

    update! apparently toronto is on some sort of glamour-fancy list of cities that i just discovered today. http://societeperrier.com (via http://www.coolhunting.com/culture/societe-perrier.php) – somehow they manage to put toronto above new york? perhaps it’s just the insistence on the french. (full list: toronto, new york, london, los angeles, montreal, moscow, mexico city, miami)

  3. cmliu says:

    another nose-to-the-ground phenomenon we discovered that i failed to mention in the post: canada manages to make new england’s candlepin bowling look downright regal with their strange transmuted sport of 5-pin bowling. (reread that.) we managed to pass shamrock bowl (“the oldest and largest 5-pin bowling alley that still remains in toronto, the city in which this popular team building activity was invented!”) and danforth bowl (click the link and say hi to sandy).

  4. KimHo says:

    Next time, visit Vancouver? ;)

    • cmliu says:

      i’ve been once… verrrrrry briefly. but j’adore canada, so yes — vancouver (dim-sum overload) at some point soon, too! maybe coupled with a big northwestern to-do including portland, seattle, and a dip into the pacific.

  5. Hogger says:

    Amazing post Christine!! You make me miss TO! So good to meet you and I’m excited to try the list of Boston recos. I need to give you a list of Toronto restos to check out next time! So glad you went to Motimahal, it’s the McDonald’s of Indian restaurants.

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