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Hidden hideaways

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Aman and Deepa Patel offer a lunch meal of rice, dal, chicken curry, salad and roasted pappadum on their new Chai Bar patio tucked away on Howland near Dupont.

For those of us whose only option for a weekend getaway is a fire escape, patios are our retreat, especially those far from the beaten path. By STEVEN DAVEY

Charming Chai Bar

Hidden behind the Indian Rice Factory’s new Chai Bar (414 Dupont at Howland, 416-961-3472,, rating NNN) lies a bucolic garden grotto. Owner Aman Patel has not only transformed a dilapidated garage into a Subcontinental coffee bar, he’s also turned its adjacent courtyard into a lush 70-seat oasis complete with rattan furniture, burb-

ling water fountain and pond stocked with koi. Ignoring the goldfish, we start with a quartet of exceptionally executed pakoras ($4.50), their free-form chickpea batter thick with wilted spinach, onion and strips of sweet red pepper, a tart tamarind dip on the side. Mains are limited to a daily thali, one geared at vegetarians, the other carnivores, all sided with soupy lentil dal, parsley-topped basmati rice, a bit of salad and a pappadum ($10/$9 to go minus the greens and flatbread).


Playa Cabana, where Raul Rivers serves up some puzzling food, is exactly the kind of hard-to-find spot that attracts celebs.


The thali’s made-to-order meat curry is always an aggressively spiced chicken unless it’s an even more fiery lamb vindaloo, while the veggie version shifts from an aloo-gobi-style mash of potato and cauliflower to garden peas ’n’ spuds à la jalfrezi, no two ever the same. Washed down with a tall glass of rooibos-pricklypear iced tea ($3), lunch is the next best thing to a day trip to the countryside. And you don’t have to leave the Annex!

Cabana no Playa Past the velvet rope and the row of recycling bins, up a badly carpeted flight of stairs, in through a door that sticks and an anonymous dining room, down some more stairs with the washrooms to the left, and along a narrow hallway, and then… patio paradise! Little wonder Hollywood A-listers like Jake Gyllenhaal hang out in Playa Cabana’s (111 Dupont, at Davenport, 416-9293911,, rating: NN)

secluded backyard. No one will ever find them! Forgoing the $42 margarita made with Gran Patron Platinum tequila for a $9 noname mojito, we’re soon laying waste to a bowl of appropriately lumpy guacamole and a basket of crispy-thin house-made tortilla chips ($8). A pair of Dungeness crab cakes strewn with the occasional ker-

nel of corn ($9) that taste like fishy falafel arrive over-fried in a pool of muted chipotle sauce, while corn on the cob ($10 for two) rubbed with lime and dusted with chili powder lacks the sublime depth of flavour found in those served at La Carnita on College. And they’re three bucks more to boot. Talking of trendy tacos, Playa’s come

= Critics’ Pick NNNNN = Rare perfection NNNN = Outstanding, almost flawless NNN = Recommended, worthy of repeat visits NN = Adequate N = You’d do better with a TV dinner

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NOW AUGUST 9-15 2012