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Jacob’s Table: Canoe At 20

In Toronto, a two-decade run is an eternity for a stand-alone fine dining restaurant.

And if you can close out that twenty-year stretch just as relevant as when you started, serving food that most consider to be just as good – if not better – than it was at any other period in your history, that puts you in a very elite group indeed. So elite, in fact, that it’s actually a group of one: it’s Canoe.

Doug Penfold’s Quebec Rabbot broth with rabbot sausage and foraged mushrooms.

Doug Penfold’s Quebec Rabbit broth with rabbit sausage and foraged mushrooms.

So naturally enough the Oliver and Bonacini group flagship marked this recent milestone with a celebration, in the form of a one-night-only $250 eight-course tasting menu, with most of the individual courses conceived by Canoe alumni returned for the event. The date was November 21st, a Saturday – a day on which the restaurant opens only for private parties, like weddings.

“800 weddings since we opened,” a proud Oliver-Bonacini manager informed us from his podium as we settled in at our tables. “That means we know have 800 anniversaries at Canoe every year…”

“Well, maybe – and maybe not,” a woman at the next table could be overheard observing wryly to her date – who may have been her husband…but maybe not.
The canapés (kusshi oysters with caviar, sweetbreads sautéed with wild mushrooms, blinis with caviar, etc) had been excellent.

John Horne’s "cheesy potatoes” happily had little to do with poutine or the street food at Borough Market.

John Horne’s “cheesy potatoes” happily had little to do with poutine or the street food at Borough Market.

Now it was time for business. For our first course Canoe’s first chef Todd Clarmo (now of the Indie Ale House) sent out beer-battered cod and some exquisite Fogo island crab. Then current Canoe executive chef John Horne delivered some “cheesy spuds,” which he explained that over his cooking days in the UK, he used to buy from a stall at London’s Borough market, whenever he was homesick for poutine. That Canadian – but really, Québécois – culinary theme ran strong through the rest of meal, from the next course of Quebec rabbit (broth and sausage) all the way to Anthony Walsh’s closing dish of venison from Denis Ferrer’s farm in Boileau, in the Outaouais. It was a fine meal.

Anthony Walsh's Cerf de Boileau.

Anthony Walsh’s Cerf de Boileau.

But more important, as all those Canoe chefs past and present (Doug Penfold, Basilia Pesce, Tom Brodi, Matthew Robertson – and David Castellan, of Soma – took their collective bow, it was a good reminder that the enduring legacy of long-lasting fine restaurants is not just the food they serve.

It’s actually a whole lot of other good restaurants.


Above: Tom Brodi’s Miso-Maple Glazed Sablefish.
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