When you consider all of the places you might visit in North America this fall, you have to wonder if anywhere beats Toronto.
September in Canada's largest city is always known for the excitement of the Toronto International Film Festival. This year, TIFF runs from September 8-18 and will be followed by another elite event, the World Cup of Hockey. NHL superstars will play for their home countries in a tournament that will keep the city buzzing from September 17-October 1. On top of those events are the usual attractions of a big city: theatre productions, multicultural festivals, concerts in a variety of genres, museums, and enjoyable public spaces.
On my recent stay back in the place I called home for many years, Toronto struck me for an energy and attitude I don't ever recall on the streets of the city. There is a level of confidence, which possibly originates in the recent success of its sports teams. The NBA's Raptors have built one of the most impressive marketing campaigns in sports with their "We the North" slogan that's been adopted as a rallying cry in the city. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays appear headed for a return to the Major League Baseball postseason, and tickets to their home games are hot items, with a crush of fans pouring into Rogers Centre and the surrounding streets downtown.
"Toronto vs. Everybody" T-shirts are big sellers, taking advantage of a sentiment that did not exist 20 years ago, when the city was still a bit of a wallflower, wondering how it measured up to New York, Chicago and other metropolises. "Toronto the Good" was the prevailing slogan in a city proud of its low crime rate, diverse population and good samaritans among its population. These days, "Toronto the Badass" might be a more apropos moniker as the city is exhibiting a level of shatter-proof confidence in itself and what it can deliver.
Toronto's Food Scene Dazzles
The culinary landscape of Toronto has exploded into one of the best on the continent thanks to inventive chefs such as Rob Gentile, Grant van Gameren and Anthony Rose who provide unpretentious cuisine in some of the most comfortable and fun casual-dining spaces in the city. Here were just four highlights of my visit.
Buca (604 King Street West) -- The flagship restaurant of Gentile's empire, Buca is a gem that has ranked within the top 10 of the Vacay.ca Top Restaurants in Canada. My most recent visit to the restaurant was the best. The pizza with truffles and bufala mozzarella was full of the divine flavours of those toppings, the fried olives stuffed with sausages was an eye-opening delight, and the pistachio cake was the best of its kind I've ever enjoyed. Buca deserves all of the accolades it has received and will undoubtedly earn more.
Bar Raval (505 College Street West) -- This ode to Barcelona by Van Gameren is about as good as it gets if you want great drinks and share plates in a vibrant atmosphere. While the weather is warm, the patio is a pleasant spot with wine barrels serving as tables and stools. Inside, the decor is Spanish, with textured wood panelling on the walls and moody lighting. The small tapas plates, or pintxos, include octopus, Iberico ham and a range of imported cheeses. The Morcilla and Egg ($11) is blood sausage topped with a fried egg served on toast. It's a rich dish foodies will adore. Perhaps the best part about Bar Raval is its hours. You could spend all day and night there as it serves good coffee and breakfast beginning at 8 a.m. and turns into a party scene with music and lots of wines pouring going on until 2 a.m. on most nights.
The Good Son (1096 Queen Street West) -- One of many fantastic restaurants in the Queen West neighbourhood near Ossington Street, the Good Son was started by executive chef and co-owner Vittorio Colacitti. Known for its excellent pizzas, the Good Son also serves burgers, steaks, oysters and a popular Jerk Shrimp appetizer ($17) that features the shellfish wrapped in crispy potato strings and served with jalapeño and mango.
Bar Begonia (252 Dupont Street) -- Anthony Rose has a string of quality eateries in this area near the city's thriving Annex neighbourhood. Bar Begonia includes a patio space with picnic tables and backyard games, while the main space is a bistro-style restaurant serving delicious and reasonably priced cuisine. The highlights are a tender duck confit ($23) and classic beignets ($6) dusted with powdered sugar and served with caramel sauce.
Four Seasons Decks Out for TIFF
Once a focal point for TIFF activities, the Four Seasons is now quieter during the annual film festival. The opening of the TIFF Bell Lightbox theatre six years ago ushered a transition to the city's downtown core and away from Yorkville for much of the festival's showings and activities. However, the Four Seasons remains a hot spot for celebrities and movie executives. The hotel has erected a long, narrow patio running along Bay Street to celebrate this year's festival with parties and private events. Sponsored by Perrier-Jouet, the patio is decorated with pricey champagne bottles and plants that are just high enough to keep peering eyes from seeing all of what's going on over the walls.
The hotel, which re-launched in a new location in 2012, is experiencing a torrid summer, thanks to an increased amount of visitation from the United States as Americans take advantage of a favourable exchange rate. To entice more diners to visit, the flagship restaurant, Cafe Boulud, has revamped into a more casual space, while still serving fantastic French-inspired cuisine. The rotisserie chicken ($27) is perfectly cooked and the profiteroles are an epic finish with a warm chocolate sauce poured over the pastries. A selection of madeleines accompany the dish, ideal for soaking up the chocolate sauce.
The best dining at the hotel, though, is at dBar, where the Lobster Roll ($29) is loaded with chunks of crustacean meat and served properly on a toasted, buttered hot dog roll.
Gearing Up for World Cup of Hockey
Hockey fans will descend on Toronto this month for the inaugural World Cup of Hockey, which will showcase the best talent on the planet in a prelude to the 2016-17 NHL season. Visitors will no doubt want to check out the most famous sports museum in Canada, the Hockey Hall of Fame. Interactive games are the top draw as visitors can test their skills as both a shooter and goaltender. The displays cover the game's greatest moments and players, including a comprehensive international section that tells the story of hockey around the world.
Not to be missed, of course, is the Stanley Cup, which is displayed on the museum's top floor along with the plaques of all the Hall of Fame players. You can have your photo taken with the iconic trophy and also ogle the names of your favourite players -- if they've won a championship, that is.
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