The Canadian summer is too short to let it go by without booking a table at one of these excellent restaurants. With summer menus packed with the best seasonal ingredients, we can’t think of a better way to celebrate Canada’s 150th.
Leboe’s cooking is smart, original, well-referenced and always fun. Vegetarian dishes are a strong point. Try the aforementioned cabbage, or the smoky sweet potato, roasted in a bed of live charcoal and then spiked with ewe’s milk feta. Or the Japanese eggplant with its flavour-enhancing lashing of furikake. But don’t stop there. The omnivore’s dishes are even more interesting: say, risotto with uni and guanciale, or lamb tartare with shredded olives, or something from the off-set smoker, like beef rib or pork collar. The wine list is heavy on natural wines and other interesting choices
The menu is short, just a few choices described with only the essential words, and edited into threes—three courses, three dishes each, three primary ingredients, and always the very best available (sourcing is irreproachable). What sounds simple is in this case so much more than the sum of its parts. Poultry, fish, pork or lamb—cooking is always precisely à point, the flesh succulent, the seasoning perfect. Meat is never really the star of the plate: it’s the beautifully prepared vegetables that one’s fork tends to lunge for first.
The juxtaposition of old and new is exactly what Canoe is about. For over its 20-year, star-chef-studded run, the kitchen has been consistently preoccupied with Canadiana—and just as often, local pre-Canadiana. Whenever its historical gaze settles on something it likes, it yanks it hard into the present. For example, bannock becomes venison tartare with crispy bacon, puffed bannock, pink peppercorn, wild mustard and foraged pickles. Cured Arctic char is served with wild salmon roe and sea asparagus relish—and a decidedly non-First Nations accompaniment of puffed sushi rice and lotus flower vinegar.
Under no condition forgo the raw branzino, sliced tableside and dressed in Prosecco and lemon. The polipo e vongole—braised octopus with B.C. clams, veal bone marrow, cavolo nero and fregola sarda—is another must, as is the richly reduced zuppa di pesce, topped with a plump and succulent lobster claw. Desserts are strong, and sweets get even more play at brunch, where Castagnole—mini-doughnuts stuffed with dulce de leche crema—are not to be missed. Cocktails are intriguing and well-executed, and the wine list is predictably Italian.
Bright, distinct flavours, balance and, invariably, some crunch. Hamachi tartare is dressed with a refreshing chili-lime vinaigrette, peppery valentine radish and the crispy counterpoint of puffed rice. Luscious Wagyu carpaccio is strewn with piquillo peppers, textured with crispy beef tendon, and enriched with Manchego (an inspired stand-in for the expected Parmesan). Fish is always a high point: try meaty local white sturgeon, brightened with lemongrass and coconut, or rich sablefish, dressed with yuzu emulsion and charred leek. The kitchen is masterful with duck. Wayne Kozinko’s desserts are exceptional.
Culinary inspiration is drawn lightly from Spain, with emphasis placed on seasonal treasures sourced directly from trusted producers. Fish and seafood are top-quality and often off the beaten path: think red banded rockfish from B.C. with wild asparagus and Catalan suquet sauce, or giant Portuguese squid with ink rice and pimento stew. Raw fish dishes—ceviches, sashimis, and carpaccios—are delightfully delicate in texture and complex in flavour.
The youngest member of the Joe Beef clan could be named Joe Vegetable. For its menu—conceived by chef Marc-Olivier Frappier—is largely centered around roots and leaves and the like, cooked with all the butter, duck fat and house-smoked bacon required to turn them into something decadent, delicious—and not quite vegetarian. When the place first opened, the wood-roasted cauliflower with crispy chicken skin instantly charmed everyone. But now it’s the very fine ham, incredibly thinly sliced and served with generous quantities of beurre noisette, that gets all foodies talking.
The bag of tricks the kitchen applies to its top-quality ingredients is invariably French and old-school. Picture a big wedge of pâté en croute, luxuriously studded with moist chunks of rabbit, or Dover sole doused in celeriac cream and blanketed with Périgord truffle, and sweetbreads, seared and poached to a perfect state of succulence, wrapped in crisp bacon and dressed with lobster sauce. The patio setting beside the garden is magical.
Go at peak summer, when Quebec’s peerless bounty is showcased here like nowhere else. The truth is that all days are good days at Toqué!, where for close to a quarter-century Chef Laprise has been finessing a culinary pas de deux with the seasons that is all but unmatched in its spontaneity, range, and grace. The cooking here is modern, inventive and emphatically Québécois.
Amid all that talk about how fine dining was dead, you were really missing it badly, and waiting for someone to come along and do it right. Like intense young chef Patrick Kriss, who is on game here. Balanced sauces, foams of this, shards of that—Alo looks back, and forward. It is overdue, and all the more appreciated for it. Do the right thing by the six-course tasting menu and let the sommelier match wine to course.
For the rest of Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants 2017 list, click here.