On November 20, I was fortunate to attend the food lover’s dream event – Air Canada‘s enRoute magazine‘s announcement of Canada’s best new restaurants for 2014. This gala brought together restaurants from coast to coast to the Gardiner Museum, where guests met the chefs and sampled some of their restaurant’s signature dishes.
The Top 10 restaurants in order (with descriptions by enRoute magazine) are:
1. Wolf in the Fog (Tofino): “On the extreme west coast of Vancouver Island, where rainforest meets ocean, you stumble up a flight of stairs and into a soaring cedar-clad room above a surf shop where chef Nick Nutting leads a crew trained in the precise details of fine dining.”
2. The Farmer’s Apprentice (Vancouver): “Each small plate – more often, a bowl – conjured by owner David Gunawan is a precise jumble of textures and flavours. Digging in is a sort of black magic.”
3. Le Vin Papillon (Montreal): “Long-time Joe Beef guru Vanya Filipovic fills massive chalkboards with organic wines to run with a vegetable-focused cuisine from boyfriend and chef Marc-Olivier Frappier.”
4. RGE RD (Edmonton): “The heart of Blair Lebsack’s kitchen is a wood-burning oven that consumes birch and maple at 700° F, curing honey ham and smoking Salt Spring Island mussels or even dehydrated local milk during the off-hours.”
5. Mallard Cottage (St.John’s): “Todd Perrin spent two years restoring a heritage property in Quidi Vidi Harbour for this brilliant mash-up of fine dining and comfort cuisine on the outskirts of St. John’s.”
6. Bar Buca (Toronto): “Rob Gentile’s restaurant likes to pretend it’s a simple bar for sipping Barolo. You’re here to drink, sure, but you’re also here to eat things like tiny fried smelt dusted with fennel salt.”
7. The Chase (Toronto): Chef Michael Steh doesn’t lean on molecular trickery or audacious ingredients to wow. His food is more direct and more delightful than that, in an atmosphere that makes you want to say yes to things.
8. Ayden (Saskatoon): Top Chef Canada winner Dale MacKay gambled that Saskatoon was ready for lime- and lemongrass- and ginger-dusted chicken wings. Ayden isn’t about showing off Prairie cooking to the world – it’s about bringing the world home.”
9. Légende (Quebec City): Northern Quebec is the culinary hunting ground that Frédéric Laplante mythologizes at his capital-city bistro. Cornish hen gets a boreal accent from balsam fir fleur de sel.”
10. Edna (Halifax): Jenna Mooers’ North End bistro digs up treasure from the fertile soils of Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley and hauls it out of the brisk Atlantic waters.”
It was a great privilege getting to taste all the delicious dishes that these amazing chefs prepared, all in one night no less. Among my favourites were Wolf in the Fog‘s smoked Vancouver Island steelhead trout with sunchoke, quince, and cress and Mallard Cottage‘s head cheese, beer jam, crispy pork fat, and pickles. The steelhead trout was melt-in-your-mouth soft, and its lightness balanced well with the richness of the sauce. Meanwhile, the head cheese provided a range in textures from soft to crispy and everything in between, and the pickles added even more punch to the already strong flavour of the head cheese.
Two Toronto restaurants made this year’s list – Bar Buca, headed by Chef Rob Gentile, and The Chase, headed by Chef Michael Steh, coming in at number 6 and 7, respectively. The Chase’s seared scallop was cooked perfectly, and the cauliflower puree was delicious. I absolutely loved Bar Buca’s smoked bone marrow with lampredotto (made from cow stomach), and their cannoli was an elevated version of the classic. I’ve dined at both of these restaurants in the last year, and am proud to see them representing Toronto in the top 10.
Canadians were also able to vote for their favourite in the top 10. Together with lead sponsor Jaguar Land Rover Canada, Canadians were encouraged to select their favourite restaurant by voting online. In the end, Ayden, headed by Top Chef Canada winner Dale McKay, emerged as the people’s choice, in addition to landing in the number 8 spot in the list.
It was an enjoyable evening had by all. It was great to see restaurants representing every region in Canada, producing innovative and delicious cuisine using local ingredients. Just based on a small taste of what these restaurants have to offer, they are well worth visiting in their home cities. Congratulations to all the restaurants on this year list! We look forward to seeing what next year has to bring, as the new crop of restaurants is sure to raise the bar even higher.
Photos by John Tan
Also check out our coverage from last year:
enRoute magazine’s Canada’s best restaurants for 2013