Toronto Chef Matty Matheson Misses Eating Soup Dumplings With Friends
"Dear Toronto, keep doing what you’re doing. Just keep going. No duds."
I’ve been isolating on my farm in Fort Erie for three weeks now but I’ve been living in Toronto for 19 years, and I can’t wait to get back to it when this is all over. I’ve been in LA and New York for work so much recently, but the more time I spend away from home, the more I want to come back to Toronto.
Whenever I get back there, this is how it’s going to go down, because I always do the same thing:
I usually crash on my friend Marika’s couch and wake up around 7:30 a.m., we’ll do a little morning roommate coffee sesh then I drive Marika to work at Town Moto. My breakfast spots are Pho Linh for pho ga or King's Noodle for wonton noodle soup with duck or a seafood congee. If I go to Pho Linh, I’ll get a Vietnamese iced coffee to go. If I’m in Chinatown, I’ll drive to Sam James Coffee Bar across from Trinity-Bellwoods park for more coffee.
Once lunchtime rolls around, I’ll probably go to Loga’s Corner, a momo shop in Little Tibet and slam like 10 beef momos with this spicy daikon radish kimchi thing that they make and drink a Coca-Cola. At lunch, Loga is there already steaming his momos so you can be in and out. It’s super fast. There’s no steamed greens or anything like that, so you can just slam a bunch of momos to the face and get back to work and not feel gross.
If I’m crashing at Marika’s, she’s vegetarian, so I order a cheese pizza from CiCi’s or go to Lebanon Express and get tabouli and labneh and hummus and stewed eggplant for takeout. But if I’m feeling a little fancy, there’s pretty much only three restaurants that I go to.
Buca Osteria & Bar in Yorkville is at the top of the list. It’s big and fancy and a little more expensive, but their raw seafood is insane. They debone and slice a whole sea bream crudo tableside, which is awesome. Then they put champagne, olive oil, and Italian rock salt on top. It’s the best thing ever. You have that and some mixed crudo and slam three or four pastas and you’re good to go.
Otherwise, I might go to Dreyfus to see my boy Zack from Montreal. It’s nice and small. It’s a bopping little bistro, but at the same time it’s like those old thin diners where you bump into everybody and then you sit down and you’re eating beautiful caviar or cubanos with pork belly or some kind of fish fritter. Everything they make is amazing.
Dandylion with Jay Carter is the other place I go to because the food is so fucking good. It’s a small space and it’s always a beautiful meal. The food is fire. It’s usually just like three ingredients on a plate, but it’s done perfectly. Those are my big three. No duds. If you’re eating at one of those three places you’re going to have a perfect meal.
I’m done after that. I’m sober so I don’t really go to bars anymore. Sometimes I go see my buddy Paul Mortimer, a bartender at Ronnie’s. I bring soup dumplings and eat them on the bar with Paul and have a couple club sodas and listen to the Grateful Dead and then go home. I would never be caught in a bar after midnight unless there was a band playing that I wanted to see. I miss bars sometimes, but if you sit in the barber’s chair long enough, you’re going to get a haircut. It’s kind of like going to your ex’s house who you destroyed your life with.
I think Toronto’s biggest strength as a food city is diversity. When I think about food, I don’t think about chef-driven restaurants. When I think of Toronto, I think of Chinatown, Little Jamaica, Parkdale with the momo shops, or Little India on the East Side, which is crazy good, and all of the great Vietnamese restaurants.
I just want to have roti or soup dumplings or dan dan noodles or congee. I want to eat really tasty food and not have to worry about all of the usual restaurant bullshit like the chef sending out five extra dishes to you. I’ve always eaten that way. When I first moved to Toronto, I lived off of banh mi that cost $1.50 and beef patties and coco buns that I put in my backpack. That was my food. Those restaurants were there for me when I had no money, and they’re still my favorite restaurants.
Everyone in the restaurant business is fighting for their fucking lives right now. It’s tough, but everyone’s putting on a smile and everyone’s trying to help each other, and that’s amazing. We’re getting incredibly humbled and I think this is a giant wake-up call and an opportunity for everyone in the world to take care of each other a little more.
Being away from Toronto makes me love Toronto even more. It’s my city. In my heart, Toronto is my city.
Dear Toronto, keep doing what you’re doing. You’re doing great, just keep going.