It is said that if someone calls to make a dinner reservation and asks to sit in open view of the kitchen that said person is most likely a food critic, or at least that’s what I’ve read. No surprise there as why wouldn’t you want to be in the thick of the spectacle that is where all the magic happens in a restaurant? It’s like having front row seats to Jay-Z and Beyoncé, right?! So here are my picks for the best open kitchens in Toronto…
A chef friend told me about this place, otherwise I would’ve never known about it. It’s inside the Templar Hotel on Adelaide Street West, and is a sort of space that’s kept hidden for a reason. It’s a place where you might find an ambassador or the likes of James Franco, Channing Tatum, or Al Pacino. But if you are one of the lucky ones to be able to dine in chef Roberto Fracchioni’s kitchen, you’re in for a treat. Enter through the hotel’s elevators to the basement and you may think that you’ve hit the wrong floor and ended up in someone’s apartment. That’s just how open and casual the place is. We should also mention that there is no menu… Fracchioni casually saunters over to your table while bopping to whatever hit list he has playing (from the 70s to the 90s), asks if you have any food allergies, and starts cooking. While most chefs protect their temple (a.k.a. the kitchen), Fracchioni would much prefer if you hung out with him near the kitchen, glass in hand. He may even teach you how to plate one of your own courses, though regrettably ours never looks as nice!
Situated on the 54th floor of the TD Tower, there really isn’t a “bad seat” in the house at Canoe. But if you are a true appreciator of food, there’s an even better view to be found than the restaurant’s sprawling windows. When you call, request a seat at the “Chef’s Rail” – if for no other reason than to aid in your decision-making as you see dishes being whisked off by servers. Who says you can’t eat with your eyes first? The various themed tasting menus are also noteworthy and usually run for a month before they change. For $100 a head or $150 with pairings, how could you not indulge?
Porzia is located in Parkdale, where Basilio Pesce (affectionately known as Bas) churns out exceptional Italian dishes, and not the kind that your nonna made, either. The housemade pastas are definitely a must-try (I personally love the chicken liver agnolotti). For the adventurous, the carpaccio à la horse won’t disappoint, either. It’s hard to spot the open kitchen at the back of the restaurant, that is, if you don’t smell the wonderful aromas first. Your best bets are Mondays, where they offer 3 courses for $33 and half-priced bottles of wine, or make Wednesday your #cheapdatewednesday at Porzia with $10 plates until 10pm.
A friend of mine always said, “There’s no such thing as fine dining,” when it comes to Chinese cuisine, unless you just wanted the same kind of take-out-style food served up on nicer dinnerware and the occasional plate swap between courses. Chantecler is clear proof that his theory is so very wrong. Sit at the bar, which is just next to the kitchen, and you can catch double the action as you watch Jonathan Poon whip up his delicious fare such as his torched scallop with ginger, scallion, sweet soy and kumquat, and you need only tilt your head to see Jacob Wharton-Shukster fixing you a night cap at the bar. We love the back-splash at the cooktop – kitchen tiles that have the restaurant’s name splashed across.
Legend has it that Marco Polo introduced pasta to Italy following his adventures in the Far East in the late 13th century. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but the chef at Magic Noodle could have me easily convinced. Located in a plaza at Midland and McNicoll in Scarborough, you can catch the master hand-stretching noodles (known as shoulamian) or you can try the other variety, the knife-cut noodles, or sliced noodle. If you love fresh pasta and are tired of the ramen trend, the noodles here won’t disappoint. I highly recommend the sliced noodle with traditional braised pork. And if you’re still feeling hungry, you’ll have plenty of moola left to order other offerings such as their steamed buns or pancake rolls seeing as a small bowl rings in at only $6.99. If you’re feeling real generous, drop your change at the noodle station’s tip jar for the master – he really works up a sweat!
Bar Buca has easily become my favourite spot on King West to get quality food without getting ripped off. It’s got the quality of Buca sans breaking the piggy bank. I love that it’s casual and approachable all the while being delicious. From the signature nodini (garlic bread knots) to the little neck clams alla carbonara, every tiny bite is like one out of heaven. Definitely come with a group, and order the entire menu. But make sure you leave some room for dessert because how could you say no to a cannoli or zeppole? Pro tip: Splurge and go for the goat’s milk substitute for your latté or cappuccino – so much more flavour!
The Japanese are not known to be the most “social” bunch, or at least that’s what my International Relations 101 class taught me in business school. But that’s probably because my professor never had an omakase experience in his life. The word omakase means “I’ll leave it to you” – it’s where the dish selection is left to the chef. It’s hard to say just how many courses will appear before you, but the natural progression will begin with the lightest fare and end on a heavier note. And if I haven’t convinced you just how “social” an experience the omakase at Hiro is, I once witnessed the chef himself knocking on the sushi bar to grab a solo diner’s attention after she was no doubt posting a photo of her yummy experience on Instagram. Yeah, the chef demands your attention – all 100 percent of it! Reservations are naturally required.
What are some of your favourite open kitchens in the city? Let us know in the comments below or tweet us @ViewTheVibe.