One of my favorite things about my job is that I get to discover and review wonderful places. I was just up in Toronto for my annual Frommer’s guidebook, and I’m happy to report that I found plenty of things worth writing about (including the amazing Frank Gehry renovation of the Art Gallery of Ontario — the photo above is of his spiraling showpiece of a staircase). Given the state of the economy, I focused on finding places that are particularly good value for the money. One of the things that’s bothered me over the past few years is that the prices at some restaurants have veered off into the stratosphere; last year, it seemed like many of the new spots that opened were charging upwards of $40 for an entrée. You could argue whether that’s a good idea at any time, but in a recession it just seems wrong.
That’s one of the reasons why I was so happy to discover Madeline’s. Toronto has plenty of famous chefs, but one of the most celebrated is Susur Lee. He closed his flagship Toronto restaurant, Susur, when he moved to New York to open a new restaurant in the Thompson Hotel. However, he promised that he’d replace it with another spot, and Madeline’s is the result. Named for the chef’s mother, it’s a breathtakingly beautiful spot, with a glamorous dining room decorated in a mix of Moroccan, French and Byzantine styles. But the shocker was the menu: almost every entrée is under $20. Coming from one of the most renowned chefs in the city, that’s something unusual. Especially since there doesn’t seem to be any trade-off with the quality of the food (incredible) or the service (outstanding). Why aren’t more chefs doing this? (I should note that the fabulous Jamie Kennedy, another Toronto star chef, has been offering excellent tapas plates at very reasonable prices for some time now; I reviewed the Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar last year.)
There were a few things I couldn’t have on Madeline’s menu, but the staff was savvy about celiac disease and the gluten-free diet, and had no problem pointing out what would be safe for me. I ended up starting with a portobello mushroom salad that was dressed up with sweet onions, capers, and a poppy vinaigrette. For the main course, I had bison carpaccio with potatoes, chives, garlic, and Parmigiano-Reggiano. I passed up dessert (not many gluten-free options there), but went home satisfied — and excited about spreading the word. It’s still an indulgence, but one that felt well worth it.
Madeline’s [address] 601 King Street West (at Portland Street), Toronto [tel] 416-603-2205 [web] www.susur.com/madelines