Canada’s 100 Best Editor Jacob Richler writes about the restaurants that didn’t make the 2016 list.
Picture a single crostini, built on thin dark rye, fragrant and densely flavoured, spread with fresh, sweet ricotta, topped with a paper-thin slice of Italian speck and a scattering of shredded Napa cabbage and julienned apple. Gone in three bites…
Follow with a tender fried slice of cotechino on a bed of earthy lentils, the mix lightened with ribbons of raw carrot and a brightening drizzle of vin cotto.Then a perfect raviolo with ricotta and raw egg yolk dressed with shavings of boschetto al tartufo. And raviolis of paper-thin pasta filled with mildly acidulated beet. As you start to fill up on the next course of incredibly supple pork, infused with the mild tang of the whey in which it was braised, you look down the pale wood bar and out the floor to ceiling window beyond at… Jasper Avenue in downtown Edmonton?
My job as editor does not extend to submitting my own ballot and top 10 ranking to throw into the voting pool for Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants. For as I see it, I exert more than enough influence on things by choosing the judges who do. But, that aside, I do travel about keeping tabs on what does well on the list and what’s new. And it seemed sensible to catalogue a few meals and trends that stood out—some ranked, some not.
The meal outlined above I enjoyed at Bar Bricco, and I must tip my hat to Daniel Costa and the well-judged efforts he has invested in the kitchen there, and next door at his more formal original restaurant, Corso 32. They came in respectively at number 51 and 81.
My last restaurant meal of 2015 was a long New Year’s Eve day lunch at Bosk at the Shangri-la in Toronto. From the perfectly seared Digby scallops with avocado, shimeji mushrooms, puffed rice and ginger dressing, to the exquisite sunchoke raviolis topped with truffle, an excellent flat iron steak with smoked parsnip, the lightly hot-smoked Chinook salmon with beurre noisette, and the Thai prawn and chicken soup, every course was exceptionally well executed. It seemed to me that chef Damon Campbell offers a compelling balance of West Coast thinking and European finesse. But it didn’t make the top 100.
That’s how competitive things get when you distil the best of Canada into a list of 100. Which makes it all the more remarkable that a new Toronto restaurant like Alo should make its inaugural bow ranked number 7. And equally so, that another restaurant in my hometown, Dandylion, should leapfrog 94 places—for the new restaurant that squeaked onto the 2015 list at number 100 ended up this year at spot number 6. And that delights me— because some of the best meals I had last year I enjoyed there. The setting is modest, relaxed and convivial, and the cooking is visually simple and unfussy, but discreetly rooted in very precise and sophisticated technique. And very vegetable-forward.
In other words, a style of cooking that this year the judges unanimously endorsed. In Montreal an imaginative and satisfying treatment of vegetables helped vault Le Vin Papillon up the charts from number 64 to number 5, put Hotel Herman at number 40, and in Calgary, squash and celeriac-power helped drive Pigeonhole to number 16.
I’ll be looking for more of that style of cooking next year—when, once again, dining out here will no doubt be better than ever before.