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Dining out in Toronto’s condo canyons

When you live in a 500 square-foot space, your building’s restaurant — if there is one — becomes your dining room.

Amy Pataki – Toronto Star

Under the slinky beaded chandeliers of Citta, the young and fashionable eat pizza as thin as the restaurant’s hostesses.

A pizzaiola, his black uniform dusted with flour, stretches and slaps the dough before sliding it into a wood-burning oven. He once worked at Terroni on Balmoral Avenue, from which Citta seems to have derived its menu and pizzazz. But at the three-month-old Citta, the smoky crust on the $16 Isabella pie is a welcome evolution amplified by cured speck, shaved onions and pungent fontina.

Citta is one of the newest restaurants to serve Toronto’s growing condo population. In condo developments where units can measure 500 square feet and grocery stores are an afterthought, restaurants like Citta are the public kitchens and dining rooms for a whole generation.

“The young crowd that lives downtown doesn’t have time to grocery shop. I eat out all the time,” says Sam Roozbahani, 31, who lives beside Citta in the CityPlace condo canyon, Toronto’s largest ever residential development.

Citta Toronto
The need is only growing. Roozbahani, a broker, just leased CityPlace locations for three eateries: a Caribbean spot, a branch of Etobicokes Royal Meats Barbeque and the 50-seat Roses New York that will serve Persian-style pizza.

Some of the city’s highest-priced condos even use prestige restaurants as selling points, such as Buca Yorkville on the ground floor of the Four Seasons residential tower, or Theatre Park under construction on King Street West, where it is said international celebrity chef Masaharu Morimoto will open a location. They follow the lead set by Scaramouche restaurant 35 years ago.

Yet restaurants — particularly eat-in, non-chain restaurants — are surprisingly hard to find at the base of Toronto condos, even in isolated developments. In the glass forest springing up along the Gardiner Expressway from the Humber to the Don rivers, I find less than a dozen that meet the criteria.

Comment: Because we need more public space at the bottom of condos!

Or maybe its not that surprising. Banks, dry cleaners and health clinics fill the retail level of condo buildings because they are quiet, odourless and stable. Residents of 75 Portland Street resisted Italian restaurant Bar Buca until they were reassured the noise would be manageable.

Developers, property managers and individual businesses who own the retail spaces — condo corporations don’t — have their own concerns.

“Bringing in a restaurant is usually a headache. Insurance goes up. Venting costs money,” says one development consultant.

There’s also the financial risk to consider. While artist renderings for the new Canary District in West Don Lands show a generic juice bar on the retail level, in reality chain restaurants are preferred.

“Let’s say McDonalds came to us. The likelihood of McDonalds paying the rent is dramatically different than a one-off restaurant owner,” says Marc Canale of Downing Street Group, which owns the Bohemian Embassy condos on Queen Street West.

Of the four independent condo restaurants I visit, each offers something beyond mere convenience for the residents upstairs. Some are attractive, some friendly. Some, like Il Ponte in the east-side Edge Lofts, even have food worth travelling for.

Avenue Café & Bistro, which sits beneath the secluded South Beach towers in Etobicoke, fits squarely into the pretty category. Sun streams through the south-facing windows onto white marble and contrasting black woodwork. It looks like a model suite. The cafés sandwiches are huge — the $9.40 BLT on Ace multigrain could feed two — and its juices are squeezed on site ($3.60). There’s even a patio.

Comment: Thanks. Now I’m hungry.

Avenue Cafe and Bistro
Parisco is another oasis in a condo desert, operating a small market and café in the Neptune building near Fort York. Demographics dictate why UK magazine Stylist is on hand to read while dining, including the recent sex-survey issue trumpeting: “I’m 30, dating and awesome in bed.”

The women running the place have Slavic accents and a maternal quality. You feel welcomed by the large and varied fruit plate they deliver with a smile or the homey golden crepes ($11) they wrap around creamed mushrooms and melted Swiss.

Coatless residents once accessed the nine-month-old café through the lobby but the building blocked internal access due to security concerns. About 200 residents are petitioning the condo board to install a $3,000 fob entry system. Parisco, which leases the space, is negotiating to split the cost with the board.

“We are a great selling feature for the building. Everybody wants to come downstairs in their slippers. Theres nothing in the area,” says manager Maria Vassileva.

Negotiation also helped Il Ponte to open in the same Queen Street East condo that blocked Caribbean restaurant The Real Jerk.

Il Ponte finally debuted in January after addressing residents fears by installing extra soundproofing, security cameras and closing one day a week.

“All of (the objectors) are now frequent diners. I told them from the beginning, ‘All I want to do is feed you,'” says owner Giancarlo Catalano, who handed out 500 pizzas to neighbours before opening.

Il Ponte is a condo restaurant that works, with easy Italian hospitality and an absolutely killer dessert pizza.

The marble-clad room by Seven Haus Design is well above builder-grade, the servers have big personalities and chef Sean Christie sends out organic chickpea purée to spread on focaccia at the start of every meal.

Croquettes ($13) of mozzarella and thyme-laced mashed potatoes rolled in breadcrumbs are hard to beat. Salt cod ($28) is treated properly, as are umami-rich veal bundles stuffed with prosciutto and smoked scamorza cheese ($27). Side vegetables — al dente baby carrots, French beans, rapini and radicchio — get respect.

But its the buona notte pizza ($14) that makes Il Ponte worth a detour off the nearby Don Valley Parkway. It is a simple matter of baking plain pizza dough, slathering it with mascarpone and Nutella, then folding it over and dusting it with cocoa and icing sugar. Nutty and creamy and sweet and bready, I could eat all six wedges.

Il Ponte doesnt need a captive audience to succeed but a built-in customer base at CityPlace will help the wobbly Citta. (The name, meaning “city” in Italian, is pronounced chee-TAH.)

Even on a Wednesday, the double-height room is crowded with diners wearing corporate pearls or casual ball caps. They sit at marble tables trading travel stories while sharing chef Ben Heaton’s fried artichokes showered in lemon zest ($8). Electronic Groove Armada alternates with Peter Gabriel protest songs.

The food can be as precious as the haute-rustic design; cooks use tweezers to place marjoram leaves just-so on beet crostini ($8). What the menu describes as roast cauliflower ($8) comes three belaboured ways: as raw florets, puréed and charred. Fennel salad ($12) is as pretty as a picture, artfully strewn with pomegranate seeds, lacy fennel fronds and pistachios on a folkloric dish.

Better to enjoy Citta at its simplest, as in floppy pappardelle ($18) glazed with mushrooms. Follow that with blistered cannoli shells bursting with orange ricotta ($5), and skip the salted caramel doughnut ($6), a knife-and-fork proposition no better than the one Tim Hortons serves down the street.

Condoland has enough Tims. It needs more good restaurants to build communities. Better to network with neighbours over thin-crust pizza than stare straight ahead in the elevator.

Contact Laurin Jeffrey for more information – 416-388-1960

Laurin Jeffrey is a Toronto real estate agent with Century 21 Regal Realty.
He did not write these articles, he just reproduces them here for people who
are interested in Toronto real estate. He does not work for any builders.


Dining out in Torontos condo canyons
Article Name
Dining out in Torontos condo canyons
When you live in a 500 square-foot space, your building's restaurant — if there is one — becomes your dining room.