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I have to admit, at first, I thought Sushi on Bloor was way overrated. Long lines, too-bright atmosphere, annoying Annex-dwelling hipsters clogging up the street outside...and massively underwhelming Enoki Beef Rolls. Sigh. That said, since I found out about SoB's pick-up/take-out discount, I've converted.

The best thing about SoB is the sashimi, in my opinion. Even the "Bronze" option gets you huge pieces of salmon, melty-delicious tuna, crab, whitefish, and the like (with a miso, salad AND rice on the side). But sashimi generally doesn't come cheap. Enter the magic of the take-out discount! If you call ahead and pick up at SoB, they knock a percentage off the MENU price. That's serious. It used to be 20%, but I've heard they recently dropped the discount to only 10%. (Boo!)

Still, it's not a bad deal. And best of all, take-out allows me to head home to eat in the comfort of my own, dimly and romantically lit living room. It's a win-squared, guys. Check it out. The enoki beef rolls remain disappointing, but the menu's large. Most importantly, who doesn't love a deal?

Sushi on Bloor
515 Bloor Street W
Toronto, ON M5S 1Y4
(416) 516-3456

*Photo by Artem Zhushman from Stock Xchng.

 
 
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I did not expect to like Ethiopian food, nor Lalibela Restaurant. I was wrong. Everyone's gotta admit it sometime.

Seriously, Lalibela came out of nowhere and my enjoyment of it was a complete surprise. Previously, my entire experience with Ethiopian was restricted to a vague memory of a bad joke about how I thought they didn't HAVE food in Ethiopia. (Sorry. It's horrible, I know.)

But anyway, I hit up Lalibela awhile back and it was good. I went with some vegetarian friends who'd suggested it, which made me expect a whole lotta lentils, but no. While lentils and the like were in full effect, there was also plenty of meat to please my carnivorous heart (even RAW meat, though that's not what I ordered). I had a lamb thing. It came in a boat, along with lots of this sour pancake type bread that I guess is a kind of Ethiopian staple.

You eat with your hands, which I know some people don't like, but I found refreshingly fun. And my meat had a pleasant, slightly spicy, very flavourful, almost szechwan taste, which I enjoyed.

After dinner, we had a traditional coffee ceremony, which involved a lot of burning incense (dramatic and interesting, but sort of headache-inducing) and (inexplicably) a bowl of popcorn to munch alongside our brewed beverages.

All in all, I recommend it. It's a little off the beaten path, and fun as a result. As long as you don't order any raw meat, your more vanilla friends shouldn't be frightened off, and vegetarians have lots of options to choose from. It's not as cheap as I would have liked and expected, but I had a good time, and sometimes that's worth more than a few buck

Ethiopian Lalibela Restaurant
869 Bloor Street W
Toronto, ON M6G 1M4
(416) 535-6615

*Photo by varmamukul from Stock Xchng.

 
 
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Merkur & Sister, otherwise known as AdWEAR and PromoSTUFF is a company that I've recently come to know through my work. They're a source and branding company for promotional items and clothing. (You know, clocks with company names engraved on them, hoodies emblazoned with the names of colleges, that sort of thing.) I've used them to get gift jackets to give to staff at a party, as well as to stock my office's online store with hoodies, branded laptop cases and bags, teeshirts, pens and the like.

It's a good company to work with. My sales rep, Michele, is nothing but cool and easy. She is totally understanding, even when my bosses get mental, forcing me to ask her for unreasonable things. We ordered water bottles branded with our logo, for example, and when the bottles came with the logo slightly off (2 mm lower on one side than the other) and my boss flipped, she sent a courier to pick them up and fix them immediately (and paid, of course) no questions asked. She also turned around the aforementioned jackets (embroidered with a logo) in less than a week, and is always always pleasant to me, no matter how many times I change my mind. It's a relief and I really appreciate her for it.

The downside of Merkur is that it might not be cheap. If you only want a small number of branded items, you pay nearly retail rates to get them. If you're looking to resell and make a profit, this isn't great news. Also, they use SO many source companies and there are so many catalogs to search through, it's easy to become overwhelmed. You really need to do the legwork yourself in regards to what you want because they're not great at making suggestions. At the same time, if you need 700 branded water bottles in mere days, they can do it.

Anyway, these guys are professional, which is why I recommend them. I know branded items aren't up everyone's ally, but if you need some promo products to help market your business, or if you need to please a pushy boss who wants something NOW NOW NOW (as mine tends to) this is a good company to work with.

Merkur & Sister Wholesale/Promo Stuff
801 Eglinton Ave W
Toronto, ON M5N 1E3
(416) 785-0777

*Photo by Adrian Gtz from Stock Xchng.

 
 
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I like the Velvet. I don't care what anyone says. It's grungy and dark and often empty when you want it to be full and full when you want it to be empty, but it's great for dancing, there are pool tables (generally without a wait) to keep your non-dancing man happy, drinks (beer especially) are cheap, and as long as there's no band, there tends to be no line and no cover. Oh, and you can wear literally anything you want, judgment free. The last time I was there, I had galoshes on and I received nary a hairy eyeball (unheard of in Toronto clubs as a rule). What's not to like?

Standard songs include some hardcore Tool and the like, which isn't my fave. but crowd-pleasers by the Killers are likely, and Metric's Dead Disco has played every time I've been there. They also tend to play The Bravery's An Honest Mistake, which is enjoyable, as well as an odd mix of other stuff, both new and nineties. (A little No Doubt, a little 80s, a little indie, all danceable, but no techno or house. It's all lyric-driven stuff.)

Andy the bartender (also mentioned by other reviewers) remains on staff and in the past, has been nice enough to hide my coat behind the bar so I wouldn't have to bother with the coat-check thing. Regardless, though, I generally just leave my jacket balled up on a chair or in a corner and I've never had a problem.

Another thing I like about the Velvet is that people tend to leave you alone and let you dance. If you're looking to pick up, I'm sure you could, but if you just want to head out for some fun with friends, you're unlikely to be harassed at the Velvet, and that's a great, invaluable thing. Sure, dudes will occasionally "get all up in your dance space," as they say (and as bar-going-guys they tend to do), but gentle rebuffs will send them packing, leaving you free to dance on.

It's not a club-like club, and it's not a bar-like bar. The Velvet is your basic, dark, dance hole. It's nothing special, but it's not bad either. I approve.

The Velvet Underground
510 Queen Street W
Toronto, ON M5V 2B3
(416) 504-6688

*Photo by Tim Duffels from Stock Xchng.


 
 
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Meh? Talk about MEH. I was at the Stonegrill for a birthday party awhile back, and frankly, it sucked. I'd have given it a single star but for the fact that the ambiance is indeed nice, and the place didn't intend to suck, and to be fair, my taste isn't everyone's taste.

But still. I thought it sucked.

Problem 1: Terrible service. While the wait staff were really pleasant, they took forever (like, over an hour) to bring even our appetizers. The actual dinner wait was epic too.

Problem 2: The concept doesn't really work, in my opinion. You order meat or fish. It comes on a hot stone and sort of cooks in front of you. In their own words "your meat will never become overdone" but I beg to differ. My steak was woefully overdone in MINUTES. Had I known how quickly the stone would cook the meat, I would have removed my steak from the tablet as soon as it arrived on the table. Even the two minutes it took for the waitress to provide an explanation of the whole deal was long enough to ruin my meat. I was unimpressed.

Problem 3: WAY too salty! My cooking stone was covered (and I mean COVERED) with rock salt. It was all over my meat in a really overboard sort of way. And I LIKE salt. I have been known to eat STRAIGHT salt. (I have a problem. My arteries are hardening as I type.) But this amount of salt was too much even for me, and that's saying a lot.

Anyway, all in all my visit to Stonegrill was a serious bummer. In addition to the aforementioned complaints, portion sizes were tiny for the price. I got about three mouthfuls of soup, and four bites of veggies along with my teeny weenie (super salty, overdone) steak.

It's a well decorated, trendy space with nice atmosphere, but frankly, when I go out for dinner, I'm more invested in the food. This place let me down.

Stonegrill on Winchester
51 Winchester Street
Toronto, ON M4X 1A8
(416) 967-6565

*Photo by ilker from Stock Xchng.

 
 
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Okay, so there were really only two small (and silly) reasons for me to visit Dr. Lancelot Brown (Lance, as I like to think of him) in the first place. Neither of them was a dental problem. I just wanted a cleaning.

The first small reason was his name. Lancelot Brown. I mean, come ON. I got a kick out of it. The second reason was that I was in grad school at the time, and thanks to a little web research, I knew that Lance's dental office would process my school-insurance no problem. (If you're a grad student at UofT, there's no paper work at all. It's easy peasy.)

Neither of these are good reasons for choosing a health care (granted, DENTAL health care) professional. Nonetheless, they were my reasons and I stand by them.

Anyway, I was pleased. I just went in for a cleaning, but the experience was pleasant. Nice, posh, Yorkville office space. Very polite staff. Most of my time was spent with the hygienist, but Lance Romance himself (I had to say it) did make a visit. He was chatty, funny and informative. If you're not into the small talk, he might actually have seemed too friendly, but I liked him.

I've been lucky with my teeth. I've never once had a cavity. So I can't say what Doc Brown's style is for bigger or more complicated oral issues. For a regular cleaning, he was, as I've rated him, A-OK. I'd go back. (And in fact, will... eventually. My current job sucks and doesn't offer dental insurance. Oh for the fat cat days of student living! I was poor, but at least I was covered.)

Dr. Lancelot Brown
94 Cumberland Street
Toronto, ON M5R 1A3
(416) 921-9651

*Image by Jay Lopez from Stock Xchng.

 
 
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There are plenty of reviews of Clinton's in Toronto's ether, so I don't really see the need to re-ring that bell, but I recently found out something about this Bloor West classic that I did not previously know: they have BOARD GAMES and most recently, 90s DANCE PARTIES on select Friday nights.

Yes. Board games. (Am I a dork? Do you think I'm a dork now? Well suck it. I like board games.) And dance parties? Come ON.

I'd previously only bothered with Clinton's as a friend-chosen beer hall. Good for a couple of pints and little else. Now, I'm much happier. The Board Game thing has swayed me. The other night, I was there with a few couples, making slightly awkward couples conversation, which could easily have become tiresome, but then, we got into some Trivial Pursuit, and all was well. The cider tasted more delicious. The awkwardness evaporated. We had something to focus on and talk about so conversation flowed more easily. It was good all around.

As for the 90s dance party thing, well ... what can I say? I love that sort of thing. They still do the Shake a Tail oldies thing on Saturdays, as far as I know, but the 90s music is new and for me, way more fun. If you don't dance, you might not be into it, but if you're pushing 30, it might be just the thing.

Clinton's Pub
693 Bloor Street W
Toronto, ON M6G 1L5
(416) 535-9541

*Photo by by John Siebert from Stock Xchng.

 
 
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God, I love Filippo's. It's got everything going for it. It's small, charming, local, and friendly. The owner is nearly always on hand, and unlike so many restaurants these days, there's nothing false or pretentious about it. At around 6 pm the place is likely to be deserted, because regular patrons eat later, in the European fashion, but don't let that put you off.

Sometimes I wonder if my love for the place has a little to do with the fact that I grew up in the neighbourhood, love nostalgia, and in 1989 was engaged (in a schoolyard way) to a boy named Filippo, but I think it has more to do with the food.

Sure, if you don't like Italian food, you won't love it, but if you do, and you're willing to come to the St. Clair West area, you won't be disappointed.

Though pizzas abound, the carbonara is, in my opinion, the best thing on the menu. Portions are large, and the carbonara is both rich and light at the same time. The first time I ordered it, when the waiter (actually, owner or manager, I'm sure) brought it over, the only thing he said was "Eat! Is perfect the way it is." He was right. Usually, I feel a bit dismayed when a restaurant doesn't have salt an pepper shakers on the table -- only because so many foods need perking up -- but at Filippo's everything is flavoured perfectly. No additions necessary. Not even parmesan. If you're not sure what to order, ask for a recommendation. It's that sort of place

The antipasto plate is all about salami-like meats and cheeses and is massively superior to the one offered across the street at the more popular restaurant, Ferro, and the pizzas that I've tried have all been yummy, though in some cases, they come with each topping isolated on one portion of the pie, rather than mixed up in the traditional way.

Filippo's
744 St. Clair Ave. W. (at Rushton Rd.)
Toronto, ON M6C 1B5
416-658-0568

*Photo by Osamu Kazama from Stock Xchng.

UPDATE 2012: Dudes, Filippo's is closed. I heard it was bought by the same folks who own the Rushton, are reopened as Catch, a seafood place. It will be missed.

 
 
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People love Scaccia. I have read rave reviews for the place all over the web. And frankly ... I just don't get it.

The place was near my old office, so I went in one day in the hopes of having a especially nice lunch. You know, proper seating, a real waiter, no food court din. (No boss at the next table.)

While the service was absolutely fine (very good, I'd even say) my food was woefully disappointing. I ordered the meat lasagna. It was filling, yes. There seemed to be an infinite number of pasta layers (good). The meat was tasty (yay) but there was a very limited amount of it (not so yay) and the tomato sauce was ... sour. Big time sour. (Ruined the whole thing.)

As far as I'm concerned, a good tomato sauce makes or breaks an Italian restaurant, and there's really no reason to serve a bad one. Ever. Unless you're secretly spooning up Ragu and pretending it's homemade, which is, in itself, a problem. Sour tomato sauce is just such a rookie mistake. There's no excuse for it.

To be fair, I've only been to the place once, and I didn't try the deli (only the sit-down), and I have no idea how anything else on the menu tastes, but I think it's fair to say that an Italian restaurant that can't serve up a good meat lasagna might be limited in other areas too.

Scaccia Restaurant
55 Bloor Street W
Toronto, ON M4W 1A5
(416) 963-9864

*Photo by Falk Schaaf from Stock Xchng.