746 QUEEN ST W, TORONTO, ON
CANIS OPENED QUIETLY in 2016 on a strip of Toronto’s West Queen West known not for fine dining but rather for a concentration of boutiques dedicated to weed, doggies and eyeglasses.
At first the locals were confused: canis…cannabis…was this another dispensary, albeit a very pretty one? No. And as the accolades poured in and word of chef Jeff Kang’s brilliant cooking spread, the seats in the dark, sparse, wood-accented space began to fill. Kang came to Toronto via Vancouver, where he cooked at C and Diva at the Met, taking a job as chef de cuisine at Bosk at the Shangri-La Hotel. Viewed from the sidewalk, Canis exudes serenity in contrast with the gritty vibe of the street. While fine (or, at least, finer) dining is finally coming to the trendy Trinity Bellwoods neighbourhood, Canis stands unique, with the area’s only multi-course tasting menu and its tiniest dining room. Kang offers reasonably priced five- or eight-course menus with wine pairings from a small but global list of food-friendly wines (read: low on alcohol and wood and high on acid and nerve). Menu items change frequently, and descriptions are sparse: “tuna, maitake, snail” or “cabbage, caper, marrow broth.”
Ferments and preserves feature heavily, along with foraged treasures and goods baked or cured on-site. Dishes for cooler weather — say, braised short rib or slow-roasted lamb—might be sided with pine needles for colour and aroma, while other dishes are accented by the muted tones of dried leaves, river rocks or a swatch of burlap. Yes, very Canadian, but in an atmosphere of refined casualness (no baseball caps and flannel here). Kang’s food hits all the senses yet does so with a calming precision. With only 28 seats, one wonders how Kang and general manager Adam Ashukian keep their bank manager at bay. Diners are never rushed, wines are well-priced, and no one seems all that concerned with anything other than putting beautiful plates of food in front of happy people. It’s a formula that sure works in the diner’s favour; let’s just hope they can keep it up.