During my travels I have stumbled upon some truly fantastic spots, I’m not talking about the ones in all the guide books; like Halong Bay or Siem Reap or Pays Dogon or the Arc de Triomphe. No, all those are famous in their own right; cultural, historical, geographical, architectural landmarks.
I’m talking about those tucked away shops and restaurants and unnamed glades that I seem to find due to the joy I take in, to steal from the Australian, “Goin’ Walkabout.” I love finding the hidden gems, be it the “Deep Fried Tofu Shack” in Hanoi or the “Pineapple Lady” in Saigon or drinking with chiefs in Cote D’Ivoire because what’s in a name after all?
In Toronto my greatest small discoveries happened to both be on Bloor Street; Doug Miller Books a great shop stocked to the ceiling with all sorts of sci-fi and fantasy books with knowledgeable and passionate employees where I expanded my literary leanings and indulged in some old favourites and Sky Blue Sky, an affordable sandwich shop that adds new twists on old classics, updating the favours and textures into a gastronomic symphony. I wish I’d found the place sooner during my duration in Toronto. I personally can recommend the Casino Queen. Delicious!
Toronto solidified my friendship with Brad and Jack.
The rest of this post is about Jack.
Whereas I find treasures I also try to forget banal burgers and mediocre meals, Jack uses her Google-fu to search out places she wants to visit and then suggesting we go on an excursion. She wields yelp like a weapon and subscribes to the philosophy that when commenting on a shop the ratings should be 1 or 5 (generally) because what is the point of rating the bland? A three of averageness does little for future readers. Celebrate the sensational and denigrate the disgusting. Her words have power as she has received numerous compliments and apologies for her astute, insightful (and something scathing) commentaries.
Thanks to Jack, I enjoyed restaurants I never might have found on my own. When I craved some dolsot bibimbap (Korean stone bowl mixed rice) she recommended Buk Chang Dong Soon To Fu in Koreatown. (Yes, Toronto has a Koreatown) I know enough not to question her, so off I went to indulge in some of the best bibimbap outside of South Korea. As I ate my way down to the bottom of the stone bowl and discovered the crunchy rice kernels, Jack confirmed her reputation for knowing where to go for the best food.
When she said, “Do you wanna go to Guu?” I agreed without bothering to ask what Guu even was. Turns out it is a Japanese Izakaya (or tavern) where more than once Brad, Jack and I indulged in delicious Japanese drinking food and cocktails. If anyone does visit Guu (and they should) make sure to sit inside, as the atmosphere nears a joyous riot of culinary pleasure. From the enthusiastic greeting upon opening the wooden door to the perpetual, happy cacophony that fills the place it’s a must visit in Toronto.
Brad and I also did some work on Soft Horizon here, with Jack supplying an insight that really helped push the game forward. It’s just what she does.
Jack wanted to get out of Cabbagetown, so a few strokes on the keyboard and clicks of the mouse and the journey to the Udupi Palace had been determined! This Vegetarian Indian restaurant looks unassuming from the outside, nearly an unfinished basement in Chinatown East (Yes, Toronto requires two Chinatowns.) With barely a quirk of trepidation I descended with Jack and Brad and we all ordered the buffet special. At least I think that’s what it was. A plate with a mound of rice arrived and then the servers brought around some silver containers and dolloped out various sauces and vegetables. One of my fears with buffets is that it will all be the same texture or flavour. Not this time.
I tried white pumpkin for the first time, some peppered carrots, fresh seasoned beans and enough Indian style sauces to switch up every bite of rice. Plus, naturally, naan bread!
In short it proved delicious and we savoured each and every mouthful.
We washed it down with tea and then Brad and Jack capped the meal with some form of Indian ice cream.
Then we took the street car back to Cabbagetown.
The final place that Jack introduced me to was Daybreak. An all-day breakfast diner with tasty, massive portions and flamboyantly delightful staff. Any place that gives pancakes as a side dish is great in my books.
My last meal with Brad and Jack happened to be at Daybreak. Jack entered using her cane and with her footbrace on, the sweet, savage buff gay server took one look at it and good naturedly, but rather protectively, determined Brad was not at fault for this. With that mini-crisis averted, he took our orders. Brad had an omelette only slightly smaller than manhole cover, my frittata overflowed my plate and Jack had to force a pancake upon Brad due to the mountain of victuals upon her plate.
There you have it, four amazing restaurants in Toronto I never would have found without a fantastic friend, google-fu guru and yelp amazon – Jack.