Save Water, Drink Wine at Toronto's Favored Wine Bars
By Courtney Sunday
New York and Toronto Local Expert
A meal without wine is called breakfast (or so the joke goes). But wine is a drink that many don't joke about. With the care and attention it takes to cultivate the grapes and create a memorable experience, these Toronto wine bars pay tribute to the nectar of the gods. Whether you are an oenophile or someone looking to shake off a bad day, these are the places to park. With mood lighting and careful pours, the air seems perfumed by cork and everyone seems a little happier. Or maybe that's just us.
Although wine is meant to be the star of the show, Toronto is a city for food lovers and the food pairings available at our wine bar choices are sublime. SIP Wine Bar is run by a Napoleon born owner, and will sop up your grapy gulps with exceptional wood-fired pizza. Flash baked for only 60 minutes, the blistered crust pairs perfectly with a Chianti or another zesty red. Or go to Tappo Wine Bar to slurp some egg ribbon pasta tossed in a white wine garlic butter sauce. The extensive wine list is a great read on a cold winter's day. Complement the heavier dishes with a bright white, like a Pinot Grigio.
If wine isn't the answer, we don't know what the question is. Let's drink our antioxidants in their preferred form: one sip at at time.
Sip Wine Bar
Toronto is pretty obsessed with its Neapolitan pizza and Sip Wine Bar caters to the innate need for a doughy crust that is garnished with fresh mozzarella (don't we all have that need?). With gorgeously rustic decor, you definitely feel warm and cozy the minute you walk in the door. Over a dozen choices of pizza allow you to snack to your heart's content. Larger than most wine bars, Sip still serves the crowd that would like to wile away an hour over a glass. The selection of wine is limited but delicious with some amazing reds like La Croce (and plans to expand its selection).
CIBO Wine Bar
CIBO Wine Bar is as much a restaurant as a wine bar, but we will let it slide. It also works hard to bring the entertainment factor, living on the vibrant King Street West and being run by the Liberty Entertainment Group. It seems to be working, as during the Toronto International Film Festival, CIBO becomes a hot spot for celebrities. The impressive glass walled wine cellar will certainly rev your thirst and wine is treated with the utmost respect. Don't expect to get any bonus ounces by generous bartenders: pours are perfectly to the ounce. There is a long list of wines by the glass and bottle, and even if you just order a glass it will be served at the optimal temperature. Appetizers, pizzas and pasta are made fresh in house and are incredibly tasty. (416-504-3939)
Crush Wine Bar
Even before her appearance on Top Chef Canada, chef Trista Sheen was drawing crowds to Crush for her food. The restaurant on Toronto's trendy King Street West features a menu that draws on French bistro classics and simple farmhouse-style fare. Start with roasted bone marrow paired with a fennel parsley salad and gremolata, or a tartare selection that changes daily. Then, choose from mains that include Ontario lamb saddle with ratatouille and a fresh eggplant tomato "lasagna" with buffalo ricotta. Befitting a place with "wine bar" in its name, Crush offers more than 600 labels, with more than 60 selections available by the glass. Diners can also order wine flights, with selections chosen by the sommelier to showcase different examples of the same style, including sparkling, old world whites and Niagara rieslings. (416- 977-1234)
Reds Wine Tavern
Given its location inside First Canadian Place (Canada's tallest skyscraper) in Toronto's financial district, one would expect Reds to be an exclusive dining spot for those with expense accounts. But while the bistro and wine bar's clientele skew toward high-powered business people in designer suits, the food is approachable in both style and price. Appetizers include a butcher board with charcuterie, pickled vegetables and fresh bread. For mains, none of which top the $40 mark, choose from a classic steak with truffled frites, crispy roasted chicken or a simple Mediterranean lamb shank. It's clear that all menu items, as well as the selection of 15 cheeses from Canada and around the world, are meant to pair well with wines from the 350-bottle cellar, or the more than 24 wines offered by the glass. Stop by Monday through Friday starting at 4 p.m. for select bottles at special prices. ((416) 862-7337)
Once run by Jamie Kennedy, the Toronto-based celebrity chef sold Wine Bar in 2009. But while he's no longer manning the stoves, the St. Lawrence Market area restaurant is still a popular choice among diners looking for great food and an inspired wine selection. Jars of preserves and bottles of wine line the walls, giving patrons visual cues about Wine Bar's ethos. Chef Bryan Burke put an Ontario spin on the small plates concept. The food is naturally and locally raised by Ontario farmers and artisans. Bryan has trained in different locations around the world and his global experience speaks through his tapas dishes even with their local influence. Try grilled Ontario asparagus with herbed hollandaise, confit pork tacos or a simple heirloom tomato salad. Nothing on the menu tops the $20 mark, and suggested wine pairings are listed alongside each dish, available in 3 oz. and 5 oz. pours.
With lightly stained wood decor and affordable pours, Archive is the kind of bar that doesn't need to be special occasion only. It is devoid of snobbery yet dedicated to delightful pours and has a giant wine list to tickle any grape lover's fancy. There is a focus on local Ontario offerings but there are a nice amount of international offerings. Glasses can run for under $10 but the good stuff can climb to over $20 per glass. Small plates help to quash any rumblings of hunger and keep you drinking longer. Indulge in meats and cheeses, or get bread coated in delicious toppings like gorgonzla and speck. We gobbled up the proscuitto wrapped dates with manchego like they were going out of style. (647-748-0909)
Tappo Wine Bar
Tappo Wine bar is situated in the historic Distillery District and has kept the bones of the Stone Distillery building. With a wooden interior and stone walls, it feels like you have stepped into another time that is romantic and distinct (luckily they served wine during that time). Tappo is the creation of restauranteur Armando Russo and NHL player Shayne Carson. Tappo means "corked" in Italian and with bottles rising up to the ceiling, you can see where the inspiration originates. Italian fare is hearty and well crafted, with antipasti hitting the spot if you want small bites. We particularly found the baked goat cheese in phyllo served with saffron poached pears to be, well, as good as it sounds. Imbibe in their phenomenal wine list with over 130 worlds from around the world. (647-430-0992)
Local Kitchen & Wine Bar
2009 was a memorable year for restaurant openings in Toronto, and Local Kitchen and Wine Bar was among the notable debuts. Childhood friends Fabio Bondi and Michael Sangregorio teamed up to open the space. It's tiny and decorated in an unpretentious style, resembling a hole-in-the-wall you might find while wandering around Florence. But don't judge a book by its cover, because chef Bondi's food packs this place on a nightly basis. The small menu of locally sourced ingredients features a selection of cheeses and meats, including the fresh house-made mozzarella, served warm with tomatoes and basil. Three or four pastas and two protein-based mains are served each day. The former might be smoked potato gnocchi with rapini and taleggio cheese, while locally sourced fish and beef are paired with vegetables in season. Wine is lovely and corkage is free on Monday nights. ((416) 534-6700)
Midfield Wine Bar & Tavern
Midfield Wine Bar fits the first (and most important) characteristic of a wine bar: it is a great place to drink wine. With a rustic coziness and wines that slant on shelves behind the bar, you want to stay awhile. Emprisoned wine sits behind bars asking to be freed and offering a nostalgic edge when paired with curly corded telephones. There is bistro fare which arrives on wooden boards and can be as light as charcuterie or as heavy as braised short ribs. Tuscan reds and small European producers make the wine list as interesting as it is drinkable. Glasses range from $9 to $14 and bottles from $35 to $55. Absolutely everything is available by the glass. (647-345-7005)
Glas Wine Bar
Chef Danny Pantano worked in Italy and Michelin starred restaurants before settling into Glas Wine Bar. The spelling is not incorrect, but rather German, as Danny worked in Tyrol, where Austria meets Italy. His cooking is confident and inventive, with creative, seasonal and locally sourced dishes. The menu changes weekly, with a 4 course tasting menu available for vegetarians and omnivores for $40-45. Wine pairings can be added for only $25. Chef Pantano always jazzes up dishes in unexpected ways, such as a kale salad that brightens with the addition of a quail egg. The Tuscan red wine cake for dessert with Merlot sauce is a lovely way to cap off a meal paired with excellent wines. Expect local wines at the peak of their game for affordable pricetags. (647-351-4527)
About Courtney Sunday
Courtney Sunday lived in Canterbury, England and Luzern, Switzerland before returning to Toronto in 2010. Yoga teaching and freelance writing became her full-time professions, as she learned the true meaning of the statement: "If you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life." Courtney now divides her time between Philadelphia and Toronto. She loves the cafe culture of both cities and the ever-expanding group of foodies. When not leading small yoga teacher trainings around the globe she explores her cities by foot: www.courtneysunday.com, @Omathomeyoga.
Read more about Courtney Sunday here.