“Anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours,” says our cheerful blond server with the bow tie. With waits that long, we gloat over scoring a Spadina Avenue-adjacent booth just before dinner hour. Still, it’s worth investing the time to see what Patrick Kriss, Toronto’s most lauded chef, can do in a diner. Especially when it’s just downstairs from his fine-dining haven Alo, which nabbed second place on this list two years ago.
Sipping low-alcohol Dalmatian spritzes – Tanqueray and Aperol capped with cream and pineapple, the more exotic cousin of the G&T – we feel like we’re cruising the Adriatic coast in a luxury mid-century-modern railway car. There’s a leather-clad, barrel-shaped ceiling, penny-tile floor and retro swivel counter stools pulled together by Commute, the design team behind Alo. A maître d’ obsessively cleans the glass front door every time someone lays a hand on it.
Behind the bar, one of the fastest, sharpest shakers in the city is giving a clinic, while Tommy Stewart comes on the stereo, laying down a funky beat with “Get Off Your Seats.” We’d rather not – we’re deep into the wedge salad that glamourizes iceberg lettuce with thin slices of avocado and a shower of crunchy wild rice, pumpkin seeds and soybeans.
There’s lamb roast, crispy and fatty, dotted with seared shishito pepper and a bright parsley-and-shallot chimichurri. There are torched scallops and fluffy puréed peas with wasabi, which blankets our tongue with creamy comfort, then gooses it with heat. For dessert, it’s the pineapple sundae all the way, with brown butter cake, rum and a feuilletine crunch. Every great city needs a place where a star chef takes a working holiday and cooks the food he or she really wants to eat. For Toronto, Aloette is it.