NEW YORK (eTN) – It takes me only one hour (from NYC) to be in a foreign country. It is really hard to believe it, since I can barely make it from the Eastside to the Westside of Manhattan in less than 60 minutes. My destination:
Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
There are so many good things to say about this major Canadian city, that I have organized the highlights into the 6 most important considerations for the international traveler.
a. Air Canada
Air Canada has amazingly roomy economy seats and I almost wished the flight was longer: I was reading a good book, the cabin air/climate was comfortable, the beverage service was efficient, the toilets were clean and the cabin crew was pleasant. Over 32 million customers have direct passenger service to over 170 destinations on five continents via Air Canada. When you have a choice, select this airline that started the Star Alliance.
b. Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ)
Airport administrators from New York (JFK/LGA) should visit the Toronto airport. I was astounded that an international portal could be this efficient: modern design makes the space light and airy; clear signage correctly directs passengers from planes to immigration to luggage pick-up to ground transportation and a curbside limo kiosk is streamlined. Only 17 miles northwest from downtown Toronto, YYZ comfortably welcomes 31 million passengers a year.
c. Toronto Public Transit (TTC)
Day passes $9.00; weekly passes $36.00. Tickets are good for unlimited travel on busses, trolleys and subways. Frequent availability makes this system an excellent and low-cost way to see attractions. While transit drivers are not particularly warm and fuzzy, fellow passengers are eager to help. Visitors can definitely feel comfortable about asking directions.
Taxis are readily available throughout the city. Hail them along the streets or call them from your cell. Response time is very swift. Be aware – prices are close to NY (meaning expensive).
<strong>2. Accommodations (Small, unique, and affable)</strong>
a. Drake Hotel (Built 1890; Renovated 2001; Reopened 2004)
When guests call this property a “hotbed” hotel (see below) – they do it with affection for the Drake is noted for its Love Package, in addition to fine dining, private space for corporate and personal celebrations, late night entertainment, a must-stop for
coffee and “right from the kitchen” scones plus an extraordinary contemporary art collection. Lap top computer scan be borrowed for in-room free Wi-Fi Internet access. The owner is admired for pushing the urban renewal envelope and supportive of contemporary (and local) art, music and culture.
•Sex in This City: Of special interest
The Drake Hotel Pleasure Menu includes a sensual toy, an intimacy kit:
lubricant, condoms, a plume of brightly colored feathers and a silver,
waterproof vibrator. Just in case you were wondering – the batteries are
included. Bargain priced: $39.00
Big spenders ($112) select the Joy Ride package which includes some of the above
plus an erotic DVD (rental), a Durex Ring (with instructions), a velvet
vibrator, and an angel hair flog (actually Lurex strands).
Guests with more money than time will opt for the $400 Lap of Luxury plan that
adds a black silk scarf to use as a blind fold or for bondage, a little 24K-gold
waterproof and silent vibrator (includes a 16 hours on one AA battery).
b. Gladstone Hotel (Built 1889; Rescued 2002; Reopened 2005)
Thirty – seven guest rooms designed by local Toronto artists/designers. Like the
Drake, this contemporary boutique property has a history that dates back to the
19th century. Part of its charm is a simultaneous look backward /forward. The
Melody Bar is a venue for karaoke addicts and a Mecca for local artists.
The Gladstone is currently owned by Christina Zeidler a film and video artist
with over twenty film and video titles to her credit. Ms. Zeidler is the
daughter of Eberhard Zeidler one of Canada's most famous architects who designed
the Eaton Centre and Ontario Place.
<strong>3. Location, Location, Location</strong>
a. West Queen West Art and Design District
•The area is noted for charming boutiques (owner designed and operated),
cute/tiny dining opportunities, art galleries (living artists), and considered
to be on the forefront of real estate development for the under 35-set looking
for terrific living space at affordable prices.
b. Delicious Dining: Distinctive Designs
•Red Tea Box. Tea shop groupies have to make at least one visit. A fine place to
meet old friends and chat the afternoon away. The tea list includes a cup of
Assam Black tea ($4.75) alongside a pot of White Jasmine ($11). Hungry
teetotalers select a Tea Bento box ($25 – $28) and greedily devour a pot of tea,
along with sandwiches, tarts, cakes and other goodies.
•Comrags. Joyce Gunhouse and Judy Cornish bring contemporary / tasteful fashion
to the fast-tracked woman executive. Affordably priced the designer quality and
unique blend of color and fabrics will add a fashion touch to the board room and
the court room.
•GreenShag. If only all the men on the planet had the suits, shirts, underwear,
and cuff links designed at the Shag the world would be a much prettier place.
The designers lovingly insert wit and confidence into their garments making even
the geekiest guys look like a million.
•Annesportun.com. When it comes to jewelry, everyone wants to be unique. From
personally designed wedding rings, to diamond pendants that record anniversaries
and graduations, this “experimental “ jeweler cares as much as you do about the
•Narwhal Art Projects. Do not think of leaving Toronto without an original work
from a local artist. The place to find works by Waito, Cochrane, Douer, Horan
and Feyld is here. Since 2004 the gallery has focused on young Canadian artists
and introduces their newest ideas into a community setting.
•PhoPa. Alexia Lewis opened this shop to highlight Canadian designers. Shoppers
looking for a one-of-a-kind bit of jewelry or an entire outfit should review the
selection before making a buying decision.
<strong>4. Gourmet dining (even at a Deli)</strong>
Chefs and Owners Scott Vivian and Rachelle Caldwell set a very high bar for
Toronto dining. On the two occasions I visited the restaurant I was privileged
to be seated at the bar, directly behind the Chefs, getting a perfect view of
Scott’s cooking style and the perfection that Rachelle places on every dish.
Every food option is expertly paired with the perfect wines – creating joyful
foodie memories. For example, a beet, hazelnut salad with Ontario Chevre is
served with a 2007 Norman Hardie Prince Edward wine while a Mini Burger is
paired with a 2000 Terralsole Sangiovese. For a sublime dessert, the Deep Fried
Apple Pie, vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce is paired with a 2007 Calamus
This city is a haven for food and wine groupies, and there are many
opportunities to sample domestic and international wines paired with local
signature dishes; however, the Wine Bar is definitely at the forefront of
If I had a 20 year-old single daughter I would Fed Ex her to Caplansky with an
order to immediately propose to Zane Caplansky (Chef/Owner/Raconteur). Not only
does he perform alchemy with his Montreal – style cured meats and other magical
kitchen tricks, he is cute, charming, (a little pudgy), intelligent, and just
the kind of son-in-law I deserve. Only a few months into having his “own”
68-seat restaurant (he had been borrowing space at a near-by bar), his smoked
meats, lox and eggs, chunky chopped liver, cherry pies, and other fattening,
cholesterol-laden, heart-destroying goodies grace a menu that I have memorized.
This dining spot is becoming the favored hangout for after-the-party,
before-the-theatre, holding-the-meeting, and finalizing-the-deal. Don’t leave
town without dining with Zane in Little Italy.
•360 The Restaurant @ CN Tower
Soaring high and revolving ever so slowly above the city of Toronto, this
government – owned dining destination has been pleasing corporate executives,
high ranking government VIPs, celebrities and travelers since 1997. Getting into
the restaurant means passing through a series of security blocks, and a
high-speed elevator ride that goes straight up 1151 feet in nano seconds.
High on Wine
Boasting the highest wine cellar in the world (with a 9000 bottle storage
capacity) as well as a noted Executive Chef (Peter George) and exceedingly
professional service (led by Neil C. Jones, Director of Operations) the menu
features price fixed selections (choices of appetizer, entrees, and deserts).
Finicky diners will be delighted with spoonfuls of Forest Mushroom and Parsnip
Soup accompanied with candied chestnuts and thyme crème fraiche and the Apple
Wood Smoked Atlantic Salmon with caper berries.
•Dhaba Indian Restaurant
Do not miss creating a memorable moment by enjoying a fine Indian dining
experience. If you made a reservation and ordered from the menu you would be a
happy camper; however – the best thing to do is to call in advance and chat with
Chef/Owner PK Singh.
Dialogue with the Chef
Through a series of probing questions Chef Singh unearths food desires you did
not even know you had. After a 10-minute conversation with the Chef you can be
assured that when you (and your significant others) arrive at the restaurant you
will reach nirvana, Indian-style. Chef Singh is a food artist and his
beautifully crafted cuisine will be one of your Toronto highlights.
<strong>5. In-between Eating and Sleeping: Things to See/Do </strong>
•Bonny Stern: Cooking Classes (Started 1973)
Travelers inspired to take their sophisticated palates to the next step…creating
gourmet level food at home, will have to register for the Bonny Stern classes.
Publicized as Toronto’s Martha Stewart, Ms. Stern is actually an attractive,
low-key food genius, book author and TV personality who likes to share her
enthusiasm and respect for the art and science of fine cuisine. Classes use a
demonstration format and the 2010 schedule includes A Passion for Chocolate, a
Middle Eastern take on Friday night dinners, and a Pastry Workshop (with partial
Noteworthy website: http://foodnews.bonniestern.com/. For excellent recipes and
dining recommendations beyond Toronto, visit Stern’s Internet site on a regular
•Bata Shoe Museum
Visitors do not have to have a closetful of Manolo Blahnik’s or a foot fetish to
find this museum among the best on the planet. The current exhibit On a
Pedestal: from Renaissance Chopines to Baroque Heels starts with the platform
chopines and widens the experience through the contemporary high heels. Visitors
who think seriously about the shoes they wear for winter-marathons, mountain
biking, and ice skating will be fascinated with the “Cutting-Edge Winter Sports
Footwear” on view until Mid-March, 2010.
•Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art
The Museum opened in 1984 thanks to the financial support of George and Helen
Gardiner whose personal interests in ceramics started in 1976. Noted at Canada’s
only museum devoted to ceramics, the collection exceeds 3000 historical and
contemporary pieces that span time, cultures, and styles. Contemporary Canadian
artists are currently on view .
•Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO)
If the thought of yet another museum walk makes your eyelids heavy, trust me –
you will not have this problem when you visit the world’s largest collection of
Canadian art at the AGO. The Ken Thomson collection includes 19th and 20th
century Canadian paintings with the Group of Seven, Tom Thomson, Cornelius
Krieghoff and David Milne represented.
•St. Lawrence Market & Carousel Bakery (Farmers Market since 1803)
Foodies flock to the Market for a gourmand (and gourmet) selection of meats,
seafood/fish, fresh vegetables/fruits, baked goods, teas,
coffees, salts, mustards and other premium ingredients required to make
memorable mealtimes. Travelers staying at hotels (without kitchens) will be
frustrated by not being able to purchase the goodies gloriously displayed and
Take Me Home
Thankfully take-out options are readily available from early morning to late
afternoon. Do not leave the market without sampling Pea Meal bacon-on-a-bun
(Carousel Bakery), veal or eggplant sandwiches topped with onions, tomato sauce,
lettuce, peppers (Mustachio’s), and Ukrainian-focused perogies, cabbage rolls,
latkes and lasagna (European Delight).
<strong>6. Newest Best Friends</strong>
•Bruce Bell Tours
Skip the group tours, and visit Toronto with Bruce – who instantly becomes your
newest best friend. Toronto is a walking city, and with a map and guidebook
visitors can cover the town and be happy campers. However, what a casual tourist
will not be able to do is to get “behind the scenes”…and this is where Bruce
Do you want to personally chat with the vendors at the St. Lawrence Market, see
the back-stage of the Royal York Hotel, and have a running commentary on the
history, current gossip, and future plans for everything (and everyone) of
interest in this town? You get special treatment and a fun guide when you work
with Bell who will take you along to “his” Toronto. It is really better/best to
do it with Bruce then to go it alone.
•Betty Ann Jordan
You could spend hours researching Toronto’s “underground” contemporary art /
gallery/design/boutique/music scene and invest more time attempting to meet with
the artists and designers in order to see their most recent work and even make a
purchase or two – or you can spend an afternoon with Betty Ann and, in a
corporate sense of being both efficient and effective, see the “best” that
Toronto’s art/culture/shopping scene has to offer. Working with hoteliers,
tourism professionals, and the movers/shakers that bring contemporary artists
from the background to the foreground, spend a few hours with Betty Ann for both
a pleasant and a wise investment.
•What to Wear
Toronto is a very casual city. Leave the sequins/feathers for another
time/place. Most prominent winter wear includes all-weather coats/jackets, flat
boots, wool scarves and hats with earflaps.
A relatively safe city (as compared to high crime cities like New Orleans, LA;
Detroit, MI and Washington, DC), visitors should be aware of an aggressive
homeless population. The friendliness and low-key ambiance of the city may
create a pleasant bubble through which to meander along the city streets and
shops; keeping a “heads-up” vigilance will assure that you have a lovely and
On the Web:
Anne Sportun. www.annesportun.com
Art Gallery of Ontario. www.ago.net
Betty Ann Jordan, Art Insite Tours.
Bonny Stern School of Cooking.
Bruce Bell Tours. www.brucebelltours.ca
Drake Hotel. www.thedrakehotel.ca
Gladstone Hotel. www.gladstonehotel.com
Pho Pa. www.phopa.ca
St. Lawrence Market & Carousel Bakery.
360 Restaurant @CN Tower.
Wine Bar. http://9church.com
Diamond Taxi Company. 416 366 5111
Red Tea Box. 416 203 8882
Rosedale Limousine. 800 268 4967