In Review: Toronto Arts and Eats

Part of what we call the Notable 360 lifestyle includes maintaining an effort to explore our city’s social and cultural scene. After all, what’s the point in living in a vibrant and culturally rich city if we don’t take advantage of it? Here are some highlights from the past few weeks of culinary, visual and performance art. For more, check out our Joey Yorkdale tasting and opening party recap, as well as our review of the latest spot to occupy what used to be Lucid 

Cantina: The Junction’s New Mexican Joint and Tequila Bar
Playa Cabana has become a quick hotspot for in-the-know Toronto YPs and visiting celebrities alike (case in point: Jake Gyllenhaal). Owner Dave Sidhu has now opened a new sister Mexican joint, Cantina, in the Junction at 2883 Dundas Street West (in what used to be Leno’s Steakhouse). It will feature a similar menu to the beloved Playa Cabana, but with more of a focus on cocktails and, of course, tequila. 

On Monday, November 12th, Tromba Tequila hosted a party at the yet-to-open space, allowing an invite-only guest list to savour selection of delicious eats, like lobster and crab croquettes, incredibly fresh ceviche, corn on the cob, perfectly blackened grilled shrimp skewers and chips and guacamole. Tromba cocktails were free flowing and included the Tromba Tommy Margarita, the Playa Paloma and the Tromba Diablo Punch. Of course you could also opt for shots of the magically non-throat-burning tequila. 

The space is larger than the always-packed Playa Cabana and is rich with retro reclaimed elements from Smash, across the street. Tromba Tequila founder and fellow YP Eric Brass spoke about how the Toronto bar and restaurant industry has fuelled the success of his brand. Despite a minimal marketing budget, Tromba Tequila has managed to take on the big guys with bigger experience, and that the brand will “always carry a Toronto identity.” Sidhu spoke of how the Junction neighbourhood fought to get the licensing prohibition lifted and lead the increasingly rowdy audience in a toast. The evening ended with a handmade taco station, where guests could opt for delicious authentic beef, fish or veggie tacos. 

The spot is set to open in the coming weeks, offering yet another reason to venture to the Junction.  

The Arsonists: A Canadian Stage Production
We were at the opening night production of The Arsonists on Thursday, November 15th at the Bluma Appel Theatre. The satire is an adaptation of the 1953 Swiss comedy and is perhaps a little too simple to follow, yet sharp and peppered with intelligent humour. It stars some of Canada’s top comedic talent, including Michael Ball, Christine Bougie, Dan Chameroy, Sly Juhas, Sheila McCarthy, Fiona Reid and Shawn Wright, featuring original music by Justin Rutledge performed on stage with a full band (one of the best parts in our opinion).  

Although we admit we found CanStage’s last production, the multi-media infused Tear the Curtain, a little more intriguing, The Arsonists’ resonating themes are certainly appreciated. It  leaves the audience questioning whether to trust in people from the beginning (with trust something that may be eroded), or, alternatively, to be inherently skeptical, with trust something that must be earned. Short and sweet (for YPs with limited attention spans), the one-act play runs 90 minutes with no intermission. As per any CanStage show, if you’re under 30, you can purchase $15, C-Stage tickets. 

The Arsonists plays until December 9th.  

Reds: Revamped and Renewed
Gone are the white tablecloths and old boys club-esque stuffiness to finance district landmark Reds Bistro, now renamed Reds Wine Tavern. A few Wednesdays back we checked out the long-time banker boy spot, which has undergone some major changes, as reflected in the fresh new design of both the space and the menu. Chef Ryan Gallagher (Top Chef Canada), the restaurant’s new chef since October, believes in a “simple, flavourful and sharable” menu. New menu items are more relaxed and comfortable than ever before, as is the general vibe. Mains are divided into shareable portions, and we’re not talking meagre portions that will leave you hungry like some of Toronto’s tapas places, with tavern plates of hearty portions. 

Favourite menu items include the Angus Beef and Quail Egg Tartar, Atlantic Lobster Rolls, Tavern Cheese and Butcher Board, the Butternut Stuffed Fresh Pasta and the BLT Mussels. The menu includes a daily soup, fish and curry, with the fish program extremely important. Over half of the main seafood or fish is flown in 24 to 48 hours from catch. Reds has also revamped the wine list to a cellar of more than 350 wines, 77 of which are available by the glass. 

Redesigned by McMillan Design, the space is rich with leather and wood as well as vintage and reclaimed elements. This includes everything from two large wood communal tables from McMaster University’s library and pages from an old wine encyclopedia that papers a wall, to old champagne riddling racks and hanging chandeliers surrounded by recycled wine bottles. Adding a nostalgic feel are incased vintage Barbie dolls, toy cars and designer shoes. 

We recommend checking out Reds on a Wednesday or Thursday after work for a few cocktails or dinner; either with clients, friends or even on a date. 

Chivas at Angell Gallery
On Monday, November 20th, Chivas Regal hosted a scotch tasting party at Ossington’s Angell Gallery. Although most guests were suspected gallery party frequenters, we used the occasion to check out the space, as we had (surprisingly) not been since it relocated in 2010 from the former Queen West location to its current location at 12 Ossington Avenue.  

The gallery, owned by Jamie Angell, was originally a 750 sq. ft space southwest of Trinity Bellwoods and one of the West Queen West’s first galleries in 1996. A 4,000 sq ft space that allows for wandering and ample exploration, the gallery typically features the works of younger, mostly Canadian artists who are known for taking risks in their work, with three exhibition spaces and a room dedicated exclusively to video art.  

Currently, “Simulators” in the west gallery features an exhibition showcasing new work by eight artists (including one-to-watch Alex McLoed), who are at the forefront of contemporary digital art practices. Also showing is “Mapping Buren,” a special exhibition by Montreal-based artist Oli Sorenson. The exhibits run until December 1, 2012. Check out what’s next (December 8th – January 12th) here.

Photo courtesy Reds Wine Tavern