To create our Top 10 list, we send one writer on an anonymous month-long eating excursion across the country. All tables are booked under a fake name (sorry chefs, we change it each year) and enRoute pays for all bills. It’s a full schedule that often involves two dinners a night – the critic’s trick: skip at least one meal a day – but the job has its perks, not the least of which was getting to drive around Vancouver Island in the all-new 2014 Jaguar F-Type, courtesy of our sponsor. Thirty-five worthy restaurants made it onto this year’s itinerary, based on tips gleaned from our food panel, which includes many of the country’s leading culinary professionals. Restaurants that opened between June 2012 and June 2013 were considered for this year’s survey, along with a couple from late spring 2012 that missed the cut-off for last year’s list.
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Chef Brian Skinner can finally eat every dish on his own menu – his modern vegetarian spot on Main Street caters to Vancouverites who, like Skinner, refuse to equate meatless cooking with second-class cuisine. The anchovy-less kale Caesar salad draws on the umami power of dried nori, while an orecchiette-truffle mac ’n’ cheese is livened up by a topping of crisp grilled asparagus spears. The lavender crème brûlée never needed meat to begin with.
3995 Main St., Vancouver
Turkish-born chef Fisun Ercan doesn’t wander too far from her native land’s culinary roots in this lively Outremont room. Her spin on Mediterranean tapas includes a sweet, expertly spiced lamb tartare, or two delicate white-fish fillets – from a red mullet, known in Turkey as the eponymous barbounya – pan-fried and served with an olive relish atop the original fried carcass. The wine list includes surprising bottles from Turkey and Greece, providing an exciting stage for such underexposed grapes as narince, kalecik karasi and xinomavro.
234, av. Laurier O., Montréal
Bar Isabel only feels like it’s been inhabiting this same moody Spanish tavern on College Street for 75 years. But chef Grant van Gameren fills the bellies of itinerant paisanos with Castilian country cooking that is very much of-the-moment: The mojama – slices of cured tuna topped with blood orange and Marcona almonds – is what you’d expect if jamón and gravlax had a baby. Sit down to a whole grilled octopus and marvel at how the vaulted ceiling, sexy green-and-orange lighting and colourful Spanish floor tiling create Isabel’s moody, furtive atmosphere.
797 College St., Toronto
Le Bouchon du Pied Bleu
Husband-and-wife team Louis Bouchard Trudeau and Thania Goyette bring the spirit of the Lyonnais bouchon – a convivial dining phenomenon driven by pork and Beaujolais, boisterous laughter and red-checkered tablecloths – to the quartier Saint-Sauveur. Dinner begins with a flight of a half-dozen-plus simple but imaginative salads – serve yourself from large bowls – and continues with hearty cocottes of rabbit confit that pair perfectly with a stubby glass of Régnié. Desserts from the sweets table are both self-serve and sublime.
181, rue Saint-Vallier O., Québec
Burdock & Co.
2702 Main St., Vancouver
Organic, vegetable-driven cuisine is chef Andrea Carlson’s thing, but the fare here is far beyond just simple-and-healthy. Well-sourced market ingredients yield complex flavours in such dishes as an heirloom-bean cassoulet, which Carlson gives a Vancouver spin with the addition of smoked tofu and kale. In a hip 30-seat room that mixes rough edges and classy touches, the buzz of the crowd intensifies with each Lauren Mote-crafted cocktail. Share one of your rhubarb-gin popsicles with the next table over to blow their minds, too.
Best use of Shakespeare by a waitress to describe small plates: “Brevity is the soul of wit.”
This fellow Daniel Boulud just might know his way around a kitchen. In a slinky lofted space within Toronto’s Four Seasons Hotel, and aided by a top-shelf service staff, the French mastermind rolls out a roster of smart, composed dishes in four menu categories: classic French; seasonal; vegetable-driven; and exotic world cuisines. A duck egg is barely cooked in its shell, peeled and then quickly fried before being set atop a bed of jambon de Paris and asparagus, which makes for the most astounding soft-cooked egg you’ve ever eaten.
60 Yorkville Ave., Toronto
1919 4th St. S.W., Calgary
In a swish lounge space in Calgary’s Mission district – think plush leather seats, attractive carpet and generous space between tables – comes a tapas menu driven by Spanish classics but filtered through North Africa and South America, among other globe-hopping notes. Fill your table with such small plates as an expertly fried calamari, dusted with lime salt and topped with shaved coconut. Skewers of panko prawns make friends with the more tropical mango coleslaw and an irresistible passion fruit coulis.
Best calamari in a world where everybody’s got calamari on their menu.
Working a room that manages to pull off both industrial and wholly inviting in one swoop, Frank and Andrea Olson – long-time proprietors of Edmonton’s Red Ox Inn – have created a warm neighbourhood spot for High Street. Your new neighbours at Canteen are smoking their own maple syrup and frying up a batch of dense corn fritters that become the perfect vehicle for ecstasy-by-maple. Wide pasta noodles alternate layers with thin slices of butternut squash, and the resultant lasagna is topped with shredded duck confit.
10522 124 St. N.W., Edmonton
Carino Japanese Bistro
Toshi Karino is the sort of owner-sommelier who justifies your total faith: Whichever bottle he carries to the table is exactly the right one, every time. And the cooking of his chef, Kazu Kawashima – the pair worked together at Calgary’s Italian standard-bearer, Teatro – is equal parts ingenious and precise. A dish called Duck! Duck!! Duck!!! (hint: It’s a play off the obscure but fancily punctuated Italian wine region, Est! Est!! Est!!!) is a perfect example of Carino’s East-meets-West fusion: seared foie gras sits atop a dashi-poached daikon radish, swimming in a duck consommé and accompanied by a confit duck leg.
709 Edmonton Trail N.E., Calgary
922 Queen St. W., Toronto
The red leather benches and warm yellow wood of this Queen West room suggest the rojigualda flag of Spain, native source of this lively tapas joint’s Castilian energy. Tangy, fatty pickled PEI mussels arrive in a metal tin, convenient if you’re the type to spoon the delicious brine onto toasted bread rounds. Paella is served from its own handsome cooking pan – the de montaña, or mountain paella, features tender rabbit and lovely snails-in-their-shells.
Best high/low plating: smoked mussels, served in an adorable pull-top tin brimming with tangy, salty brine.
Ça Va Bistro Moderne
On one of the funkiest streets in Victoria, local girl Fauna Martin makes good on the talent she cultivated at some of Australia’s top restaurants. The chalkboard menu stays true to its Vancouver Island roots – Qualicum Bay scallops sit atop chorizo rounds and grilled slices of baby onion. Even the classic bistro interior, all muted tones and tile floor and metal chairs, shows off its West Coast vibe with one brick wall that’s painted an electric lime green.
1296 Gladstone Ave., Victoria
At Daishō, the family-style-dining domain of David Chang’s Momofuku empire in Toronto, more is always merrier. Rustle up as many friends and family as you can to sample such large-format meals as the bo ssäm, a whole Kunan Farms pork butt slow-roasted and designed for six to 10 people to enjoy assembling into Korean-style lettuce wraps. A lively buzz permeates this glass cube on University Avenue, with its view of the opera house, and the shared platters also encourage diners to roll up their sleeves and throw formal pageantry to the wind.
Third Floor – 190 University Ave., Toronto
Electric Mud BBQ
Toronto taco impresarios Colin Tooke and Ian McGrenaghan have set their sights just north of the Mexican border – and just around the corner from their Grand Electric taco bar – with this not-quite-authentic hymn to the American South. The room is tiny; the soundtrack is Delta blues on vinyl; the decor feels like the work of a crazed set dresser from HBO’s True Blood. And the food is outstanding, from smoky pork ribs topped with peanuts and scallions to a dense, custardy banana cream pie served in a tiny Mason jar.
5 Brock Ave., Toronto
British chef Neil Taylor takes on the Spanish vernacular in this narrow, buzzy West End room, with its dark wood ceiling beams and cinematic pendant lighting. Begin with a bracing glass of fino sherry from the all-Spanish wine list, then move through a progression of tapas featuring cured anchovies, meaty chorizo, paprika-spiked octopus and a brilliant frito mixto of local ling cod, baby artichokes and anchovy-stuffed olives. Finish up with crispy churros dipped in a bowl of thick, rich hot chocolate.
1118 Denman St., Vancouver
Fogo Island Inn
From the dining room of the remote Fogo Island Inn, set atop stilts off the coast of Newfoundland by architect Todd Saunders, you can see the rugged, rocky shore of the North Atlantic. Chef Murray McDonald’s cuisine is assuredly of this place, playing with New Nordic practices, like plating pickled vegetables with a hickory-and-cocoa “dirt,” but also reimagining such classic Newfoundland dishes as lobscouse and pease pudding.
210 Main Rd., Joe Batt’s Arm, Newfoundland and Labrador
Inspired by the Dutch word for cozy, this neighbourhood joint transforms a high-ceilinged TD Bank branch into a low-stress dining room. Ottawa players Stephen Beckta and Michael Moffatt delight Westboro Village with a menu of what can only be called international comfort food: beef tartare, rabbit pasta, devilled eggs. Snuggle into your Hans Wegner chair and tuck into the shrimp and popcorn grits – buttered popcorn is soaked in cream, and the movie-theatre flavour elevates those homey grits.
337 Richmond Rd., Ottawa
The walls of this bright dining room are laden with hanging garden tools – pitchforks, spades, a metal scythe – offering a big clue that Heirloom loves it some vegetables. Start at the bar with a cocktail like the As Thyme Goes By – yes, it’s a riff off the Casablanca theme song – and dunk away at housemade ketchup with your crispy avocado fries. A tempeh-and-portobello burger on brioche pleases your more health-minded vegetarians, who linger over a raw chocolate tart as bouncy jazz plays on the stereo.
1509 W. 12th Ave., Vancouver
If there’s such a thing as hipster elegance, then Hôtel Herman exemplifies it. In a handsome Mile End room organized around a central U-shaped bar, a young and talented staff presents beautifully composed small plates, like a long strip of marinated trout topped with fried rye bread, trout roe, pickled onions and smoked crème fraîche. In other words, the greatest deconstructed bagel-and-lox you’ve ever eaten after 8 p.m. A smartly sourced wine list trends toward natural and biodynamic wines, with plenty to excite even the most experienced palate.
5171, rue Saint-Laurent, Montréal
Hudson’s on First
In a repurposed old minister’s house on Vancouver Island, young British import Daniel Hudson is putting his avant-garde spin on Mediterranean cuisine. Drawing on the resources of the Cowichan Valley – everything from crabs and clams to venison and Pinot Gris is sourced locally – Hudson shrouds a braised, Maghreb-spiced lamb shoulder in a Swiss chard leaf wrapper, and pairs it with a smoky baba ghanouj. The meal’s dénouement ought always to feature a baked-to-order bucket of madeleines that would make Proust swoon.
163 1st St., Duncan
When chefs are having as much fun as this – chanting and singing and dancing as they shake out steaming wire baskets of housemade noodles – you can’t help but get swept up in the call-and-response, even if you don’t speak a lick of Japanese. Crisped karaage fried chicken is slathered in a spicy, electric-red sauce, but Kinton’s ramen is the thing, swimming in a rich and complex broth (the base is pork, chicken AND fish) and topped with a melt-in-your-mouth strip of pork belly. Try the ramen with fresh garlic and Swiss cheese, and be thankful for the mouthwash in the bathrooms.
51 Baldwin St., Toronto
In a town where French cuisine typically reigns supreme, chef Derek Dammann proves that there’s no shame in reaching back into the Anglo culinary tradition. Dammann’s haute pub grub features such classics as Welsh rarebit, a meaty, stout-soaked, very umami dish of hearty bread topped with cheese and broiled – no rabbit involved. The wine list, too, eschews France to focus exclusively on such Upper Canada producers as Lailey and Pearl Morissette. Loyal punters know that any good night here ends with soft-serve.
4720, rue Marquette, Montréal
This stylishly minimalist black and white space on 17th Avenue is a hipster salvo against meat-and-potatoes Calgary. The menu relies on local products and housemade bread and cheeses – but no fare is more homespun than the herbs and micro-greens grown in Market’s Urban Cultivator indoor garden. This being Calgary, there’s Alberta beef, too, butchered and ground in-house for a burger, while a hanger steak is accompanied by a seed-to-sauce herb emulsion.
718 17th Ave. S.W., Calgary
In a low-lit bistro space that’s not afraid of a nice tablecloth, Peruvian chef Marcel Larrea pays homage to his home continent with Nuevo Latino cuisine. French technique is in evidence in dishes like beef-cheek bourguignon, but a slate of thin-sliced octopus beneath a dramatic drizzle of black-olive emulsion keeps Mezcla rooted firmly in the land of pisco sours. The South American wines on the list share space in the cellar with a strong contingent of their Spanish ancestors, like a red-grape Graciano from Finca Los Alijares in Castilla.
1251, rue de Champlain, Montréal
Momofuku Noodle Bar
Sure, the ramen is sublime: One version features smoked chicken with crispy skin and marinated shiitake mushrooms in a rich chicken broth, all complementing that familiar tangle of chewy yellow noodles. But there’s a lot more to David Chang’s high-ceilinged, haute-casual noodle bar: that bracing sour-plum slushy from one of those spinning, convenience-store machines; a moist slice of chicken terrine wrapped in the bosom of a pillowy steamed bun; a condensed-milk chocolate pudding that will leave your knees trembling as you rise from your communal table, grinning.
Ground floor – 190 University Ave., Toronto
Korean cuisine filtered through Philadelphia comfort classics: That’s the game at Oddseoul, and the genesis for a dish like the bulgogi cheesesteak sandwich. The odd party of grilled rib-eye, onions, cheese, kimchi and mustard has never been such good company, crammed into a toasty banh mi bun. The menu can play beyond three-bite snack foods, too (share a large, steaming plate of cumin lamb, wrapped in lettuce leaves with kimchi fried rice, between two). But the stripped-down room – fuelled by a sharp collection of infused soju – remains fun and well-fed deep into the night.
90 Ossington Ave., Toronto
This temple to tapas from Charles Khabouth and Hanif Harji brings in the beautiful set with such design touches as soaring modernist chandeliers and a colourful tapestry wall of fabric and metal mesh, and keeps the party going with plates of tender, paprika-spiked octopus and fishbowl-size glasses of red and white sangria. Patria’s extensive list of imported Denominación de Origen cheeses, from a hard Roncal to a crumbly Cabrales blue, is a queso-head’s dream.
480 King St. W., Toronto
The most prominent of the disparate cuisines that converge in this Gastown kitchen are Japanese, Korean and French, but chef Makoto Ono’s cooking is truly its own thing. In a spare white and black dining room that still manages to feel cozy, sharp servers in barman vests and crisply pressed shirts carry a fleet of small plates – dishes like a rice bowl with seared foie gras, soy-poached daikon and a sweet unagi glaze hit an impressive range of textures and flavours. The drinks list is notable for featuring artisanal soju and sake on tap.
350 Carrall St., Vancouver
From Guillaume St-Pierre, a winner of the Quebec TV cooking competition Les Chefs, comes this long and lively temple to inventive tastes. The city’s chic set descend on this Limoilou hotspot to catch a glimpse of St-Pierre working in the open kitchen, sure, but also to revel in cocktails like the kiwi-and-litchi-driven C’tété and such novel combinations of flavours as carpaccioed lobster with coconut and artichoke.
1027, 3e av., Québec
In a stylish room on Toronto’s hip West Side – the pendant lights hanging above the bar are antique Smith & Wesson flashlights – chef Basilio Pesce pursues a more polished version of Italian country cooking. (Imagine your Italian nonna, dressed up in Missoni.) The chicken liver agnolotti – ravioli whose stuffing is made light as a cloud by a Swiss kitchen toy traditionally used to make ice cream – grows even more mesmerizing alongside a smartly paired glass of Lacrima, a pungent and unmistakably floral red from Piedmont.
1314 Queen St. W., Toronto
In Toronto’s financial district, Top Chef Canada winner Carl Heinrich works his culinary magic – a particular talent for elevating classics like coq au vin or a modest hamburger into something… more – from inside an open kitchen. Framed by a long wall cut-out that evokes a billboard along a subway track, the action in the kitchen is fast-paced, but the room is relaxed and comfortable. An ice cream sandwich topped with pipe-tobacco-infused apples is as comforting as a snuggle with grandpa in his old smoking jacket.
1 Richmond St. W., Toronto
Five chefs work like mad, right before your eyes, to serve 10 courses to some 22 diners seated around this intimate tasting bar. You might think you have Shōtō, tucked away on the top floor of David Chang’s Momofuku palace, figured out – Oh, hoisin and XO sauce and beef tendon, it’s Asian fusion! – until an Ontario trout with toasted almonds and jalapeño comes along and changes the game. The beverage pairings by sommelier Jonathan Gonsenhauser tend toward the ingenious – spicy spot prawns served with a sake called the “Demon Slayer” is a killer.
Third floor –190 University Ave., Toronto
Supply and Demand
The first restaurant by husband-and-wife duo Steve and Jennifer Wall focuses squarely on surf, with a bit of turf on the side (consider Supply and Demand’s logo/mascot, a seahorse being ridden by a jockey). The composed space feels like a century-old bistro on the oyster-loving west coast of France: hexagonal tile, black and white wallpaper, frosted pendant lamps. Chef Wall’s one-page menu moves from oysters on the half-shell and razor clam crudo to squid-ink rigatoni with tuna-and-prosciutto meatballs.
1335 Wellington St. W., Ottawa
Union Local 613
A self-proclaimed “brotherhood of growers, cookers and eaters” attracts some of Ottawa’s top kitchen talent – as customers. Stalking chefs to see where they dine is a tried-and-true approach, and here you’ll rub elbows at communal tables over Southern-inspired cuisine like juicy fried chicken cooked sous-vide and served on a metal cafeteria tray with killer bird’s-eye pepper sauce. The vibe is down-and-dirty – overhead light fixtures are made from empty bottles of Miller beer – but the grub is top shelf, and matched by a smart list of bourbon-driven cocktails.
315 Somerset St. W., Ottawa
Vij’s Railway Express
Trailblazing Vancouver chef Vikram Vij hits the road – literally – to prove that his particular school of Indian-via-the-Pacific-Northwest cuisine is perfectly suited to take the food truck game to its logical next level. A team of serious young talents in button-up chef jackets has fun cranking out food that comes fast (in compostable containers), but is miles from fast food: Flaky, perfectly cooked halibut retains grill marks – actual grill marks, from a truck! – beneath a rich coconut curry, while a chickpea salad with green peas, puffed rice and mint vinaigrette explodes with tang and crunch.
1075 W. Georgia St., Vancouver
Are you a meat lover? The kitchen at Wildebeest has your yearnings covered with all manner of it, embracing as they do the prime slabs but not ignoring those off-cuts that are harvested with care from well-raised animals. Preparations range from the low-impact (a simple elk tartare with pickled mushrooms and blackberry jelly) to the long-game (the hay-stuffed quail is aged seven days before cooking). Family-style feasts, designed for large groups of carnivores, include an entire hay-baked leg of lamb that serves you and nine of your closest meatitarian friends.
120 W. Hastings St., Vancouver
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