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Toronto Life's Top 10


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Toronto Life's James Chatto just picked the 2003 top 10 restaurants in T.O. Do you agree? Any comments? Which ones shouldn't be there? Which ones should have been there?

1. Avalon

2. The Fifth

3. Susur

4. Eigensinn Farm

5. Splendido

6. Rundles

7. Rain

8. Via Allegro

9. Chiado

10. Sushi Kaji

(I will make my comments later)

"I hate people who are not serious about their meals." Oscar Wilde

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I think Chatto's been anticipating the legalization of smoking materials - except, of course, you won't be allowed to smoke them in Toronto restaurants! :cool:

Only a couple of months ago he was raving about Perigee - which took almost its entire staff from Avalon. If Perigee is so good (questionable - but he thinks so), then how can Avalon lose so many people - and at the same time jump from #4 last year to #1 this year? This is a major inconsistency - unless the previous top 3 have seriously declined, which they haven't.

I'm not sure what game Chatto is playing here - but it's not a true ranking of Toronto restaurants.

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I think if you read his introduction carefully, he notes that he's not rating the restaurants per se, but merely ranking his 10 best dining 'experiences' of the year. He makes some analogy having to do with figure skating, in that the judges don't take into account past reputation or skill, by which I think he means that he's not giving an overall restaurant rating, but just a ranking of 10 specific instances.

Also of note, he does give Perigee mention in the sidebar, for being so inventive and novel. (Which is something I don't quite get - so they offer a tasting menu! No one else in Toronto does that!). Not having tried Perigee (though I'd like to) I can't say any more on this.

I always find it interesting that Chatto's lineup never corresponds to the TOLife star ratings - for instance, Susur and Eigensinn farm are the only 4 1/2 stars, and yet they haven't taken top spot, at least in recent memory. Similarly, he puts Splendido on there (which I love, don't get me wrong) but which only garners 3 1/2 stars in the red book, leaving out some 4 stars like Canoe, Hemispheres and Lai Wah Heen. I suppose that other reviewers are involved in the star ratings, but the ranking is just Chatto's game.

Oh well. I'd be quite happy to visit any of the restaurants on his list, flawed or not, any day of the week.

Simon

Edited by sgfrank (log)
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It is a personal list of Chatto's best dining experiences over the year. In the past five years the #1 spot have been The Fifth (twice), Eigensinn Farm, Susur, Avalon. All of these places are near or at the top of his list consistantly. Toronto Life pays the man for his personal opinion, not objective critique. See Ms. Kates for that.

cook slow, eat slower

J.Chovancek

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I don't get it: Splendido over Scaramouche? Susur: sure...but Chiado? Good, but not the best in the city.

We went ot the Fifth on Saturday in no small part because it consistently gets on Chatto's list. Although it was pleasant enough, my wife and I were underwhelmed and wouldn't choose to return.

Perigee, on the other hand, is excellent and on par with serious meals we've had in New York, San Francisco, London, etc. (I you want to know what I had see my post in the Perigee thread.)

sgfrank: I think Perigee's "inventive and novel" concept is the "Beni Hanna" open kitchen, not the tasting menu.

Malcolm Jolley

Gremolata.com

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My personal top 5? Please consider my list is very much food driven.

1. Susur - Always full of surprises

1. Eigensinn (Need a refresher trip)

2. Avalon - Best in hogtown on a given day

3. Perigee - new kid that's shooting up fast - imho

4. The Fifth - may be the best all-around restaurant experience.

5. Scaramouche - As consistent as a swiss watch - never dissapoints

These five restaurants are all in the same league foodwise.

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I'll play too:

1. Susur

2. Scaramouche

3. Perigee

4. Xacutti

5. Pangaea

Certainly not exhaustive, but I haven't been to a lot of the city's better restaurants.

One of the better meals I've had was at Avalon, but it's more than 5 years ago, so I'm not sure.

I still don't get the Fifth, but maybe we just ordered wrong.

Malcolm Jolley

Gremolata.com

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James Chatto LOVES rain. He writes about their "inventive combonations" regularly and I believe gave them a four star review. The thing with Chatto is that he is well known, makes reservations under his own name or personaly pops by to talk to the chef before dinner. It is not anonymous reviews, but a personal favorites list.

Perhaps Michael Rubino was confined to his coffin in the basement when Chatto ate there.

Edited by jcsaucey (log)

cook slow, eat slower

J.Chovancek

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Even so, the food there is not designed(I use that word on purpose) for a refined palate . I think of it as food for the cosmo drinking, cigar and cigarette smoking sullied palates of the club scene. How the likes of Avalon, with such subtle and harmonious flavours, can be in the same league as Rain diminishes the ranking. Rubino even admits it in his show when saying someone can't taste the difference b/w organic or not after he's added all the seasonings that he does.

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Oh my God veggrl, that show was hilarious. Chef Michael "What does organic mean?" Rubino.

My wife and I watch the show for purly masochistic purposes, but that episode exposed him for the truly GIANT HACK that he is. Horrific.

cook slow, eat slower

J.Chovancek

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My list would be:

Tied 1st: Susur and Eigensinn Farm.. (hmmm should go there again soon)

3rd: Avalon

Rain: It's one of my better meal last year. We had 4 ppl and shared all the dishes and we all feel it was better than the 3 stars (or 3.5 stars) that they got the year before. And soon after that they got 4 stars I think.

Rundles: Went there after a play last summer. Only so-so experience. May be I was expecting something close to Eigensinn (since it's far from the city).

Sushi Kaji: Expensive.. no surprise. Lots of duplicates between dishes.. I had much better Omakase at Hiro's but the stuff from the kitchen last time at Hiro wasn't good at all (may be the chef left). As far as sushi go.. Hiro's or Tomo (in Richmond Hill) or Hama (in Markham) does better..

Others.. did't go last year or this year so don't want to comment..

M

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Having worked in the dining rooms of several of the city's top restaurants, I can say that Chatto does not pop by the kitchen before he has a dinner that he will be reviewing. He will, however, visit a kitchen before he sits down to a meal whose components may be discussed in an upcoming article. Also, in my experience--having waited on the man five or six times while he was reviewing--he always uses a pseudonym when reserving.

James never purports to list the top ten restaurants in Toronto. He always reports on his most memorable dining experiences of the year. Toronto Life magazine markets his list as the best restaurants in the city.

The novelty of Perigee's concept is not only that its kitchen is in the centre of the dining room, but that in lieu of an a la carte menu or even a printed tasting menu they serve only blind tasting menus.

Also, the current staff of Perigee did not march, en masse, from Avalon and make their way directly to the distillery. In fact, these people left Avalon at different times over the past four years or so, going on to other projects before reuniting.

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James never purports to list the top ten restaurants in Toronto. He always reports on his most memorable dining experiences of the year. Toronto Life magazine markets his list as the best restaurants in the city.

Thanks for the clarification (and the Perigee clarification too).

James Chatto does, indeed, describe these in his introduction as 'the 10 most enjoyable evenings' NOT the best restaurants - which one only discovers after buying "THE BEST RESTAURANTS James Chatto picks the top 10". Amazing how he never objects to this blatant mis-marketing year-after-year. And amazing how he manages to have pictures of each dish too for these 'most enjoyable evenings' (he must be discreet as I've never seen him taking pictures). Perhaps he arranges for Evan Dion to come back the next day after his anonymous visits.

Of course, taste is individual, and Chatto's tastes have earned him deserved respect in and around Toronto. And he's probably not too far off the mark - anybody can quibble but it's a pretty good list.

He's brought in Eigensinn and Rundles (last year's list seems to have restricted itself to Toronto) and Rain. He's dropped Canoe, North 44 and Starfish. The rest are juggled but stay the same. The top 3 are the same (but juggled) and the biggest jump is for Splendido (excluding the new listings) - which is probably deserved.

But when will he come up with a top 10 that's different from the 10 most enjoyable evenings?

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Amazing how he never objects to this blatant mis-marketing year-after-year. And amazing how he manages to have pictures of each dish too for these 'most enjoyable evenings' (he must be discreet as I've never seen him taking pictures).

How can you assume to know James' objections may or may not be?

As for the photos, I'll let you in on how it works:

1. critic visits restaurant

2. critic writes piece

3. critic submits piece to publication

4. publication calls restaurant indicating what photo it will take (not telling restaurant what text will accompany said photo)

5. publication sends photographer to restaurant

6. photo appears in magazine several months later

7. restaurant staff run to newstand to see how they fared in critic's piece.

But when will he come up with a top 10 that's different from the 10 most enjoyable evenings?

Perhaps you should ask Toronto Life magazine that question.

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I may not agree with everything Chatto states but I do find our palates pretty much the same and I find his assessments accurate. This is just personal taste.

The entire experience is a combination of great food, great service, great scenery, and great company. My list for Best Experience would be slighlty different from Best Food.

edit sp

Edited by GordonCooks (log)
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How can you assume to know James' objections may or may not be?

As for the photos, I'll let you in on how it works:

1. critic visits restaurant

2. critic writes piece

3. critic submits piece to publication

4. publication calls restaurant indicating what photo it will take (not telling restaurant what text will accompany said photo)

5. publication sends photographer to restaurant

6. photo appears in magazine several months later

7. restaurant staff run to newstand to see how they fared in critic's piece.

Ok - let's make my point clear.

Even though Chatto specifically defines his best experiences (according to the small print) he KNOWS that it will be marketed as 'The Best Restaurants' (not his personal best experiences). How does he know this - because it has happened every year for as long as I've been reading the magazine (just check last years edition).

And. of course, that's why the photographer happens to be able to take the pictures - it's standard process.

I was really responding to those 'excusing' the list because it's his personal choice. Of 100 'casual' readers of Toronto Life - how many are likely to note the distinction between 'the best' and 'Chattos best experience'?

And try and determine when these experiences occurred. An amazing number seem to have been for 'Fall' menus. But then, I guess the experiences aren't as memorable in February or July.

As I mentioned above - it's a pretty good list. But how many readers are truly interested in Chatto's personal experiences - as opposed to a well-written summary of the 'best' restaurants?

Edited to add this postscript.

Just saw Chatto on TV do a feature on the Top 5 restaurants (which are the same top 5 in Toronto Life). He described them as the Top Five restaurants - no mention of 'experiences' - purely and simply the 'TOP 5'.

Edited by estufarian (log)
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Gordon:

I completely agree on Kelly Kwan. I had the pleasure of being served by him the second to last time I was at Susur, and it was incredible. There is no doubt that he was reading our minds. I was already planning on asking for him next time I went, but I hope this coverage in TOLife doesn't make him a limited commodity!

kymbrlee (or anyone else):

Your account of the manner in which magazines get photos for their stories piqued my interested in how TOLife (or any other publication that has more than one reviewer) reviews restaurants. Is each rating just made up of a few visits by 1 reviewer? Do a few go and aggregate their opinions? Does Mr. Chatto even take part in the mini-reviews found in the red book? Just one of those things I would be curious to know more about.

Simon

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kymbrlee (or anyone else):

Your account of the manner in which magazines get photos for their stories piqued my interested in how TOLife (or any other publication that has more than one reviewer) reviews restaurants. Is each rating just made up of a few visits by 1 reviewer? Do a few go and aggregate their opinions? Does Mr. Chatto even take part in the mini-reviews found in the red book? Just one of those things I would be curious to know more about.

Sorry, I can't really answer these questions for you; I'm just basing my info on what I've seen in the restaurants I've worked in.

Kim

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