Sample ReviewsThe price rating shown in the heading above each entry indicates the average cost of dinner for two with a modest wine, tax and tip. The cost of dinner, bed and breakfast (if available) is given in parentheses. Where one, two or three stars also appear in the heading, this indicates that, in our opinion, the restaurant has something unusual or outstanding to offer. Restaurants that represent exceptional value for money are indicated by the presence of a pointer. The map number assigned to each city, town and village gives its location on one or more of the maps at the front of the book.
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Bryan and Trish Haber are busy. Bryan is a practising barrister as well as a storekeeper, and Trish does all the baking and preserves—chutneys, pickles, scones, sticky toffee pudding and sticky gingerbread cake. They have no time for a social life, but they close the store every four months—in January, in May and in September—and take off for foreign parts, perhaps to a food festival in California, perhaps back to Trish’s native England. Wherever they go, they look for new supplies, new ideas and new recipes for soup—Hungarian gulyassuppe for instance, or Guinness beef and barley. In 2013 the recipe for their coconut-and-carrot soup was published in Bon Appétit. The current store favourite is Thai coconut and squash. Tea is also a big feature. Fortnum and Mason worked with them on their Queen’s Blend tea. Almost as elegant is the Earl Grey cream tea that Sloane of Toronto (alone in North America) imports from Britain. Clayburn offers the only clotted cream tea this side of Victoria. Bryan is also keen on British ales, which he buys from Samuel Smith’s Yorkshire Brewery in Tadcaster (Trish’s hometown). There’s Imperial Stout, Nut Brown and Teddy Porter, and he now has an organic ale and an organic cider as well. There’s always an assortment of British candies on the candy counter, all sold from big glass jars, just the way they used to be in the nineteen-thirties. But they didn’t have a frozen-yogurt machine then. He has one now that lets him choose whatever flavour the customer fancies.
There are only two places between Banff and Kamloops where we stop to eat—the Cedar House in Golden (see below) and Truffle Pigs in Field. You won’t go wrong with either place, but you’ll have more fun at Truffle Pigs. There are only 169 permanent residents in Field, but everyone who visits here remembers it. This is what people from the East think of when they think of Western Canada—a small town with a general store and mountains on all sides. The view from Truffle Pigs is spectacular. Inside there are ten tables and a modern kitchen. Everyone seems to have come for the mussels in white wine, dijon and cream or the seafood platter of smoked BC tuna, Pacific oysters, seared wild scallops and black tiger prawns. But there are many other good things, including, of course, quite a lot of pork: pork-belly nachos, pork-nam dumplings, a ten-ounce pork rack and even rainbow trout wrapped in double-smoked bacon (this dish is unfortunately called If Pigs Could Swim). If you’ve had enough of pork, there’s a coffee-crusted striploin served on rosemary focaccia, confit of Brome Lake duck and a bouillabaisse of prawns, mussels and lobster. To drink there’s the usual selection of local craft beers and BC wines.
Pino Posteraro is still on the floor here every night, and often in the kitchen as well, which is probably why Cioppino’s remains such an excellent restaurant. Their best dish is still the cioppino itself, a medley of fresh fish in a spicy bouillabaisse topped with rouille. Lobster figures prominently on the menu: it’s served with saffron-lemon gnocchi, with a Genovese pesto risotto, with prawns and scallops and with chicken-and-lobster sausage in a light butter sauce (this dish is called Lobster Heaven). And where there’s lobster, steak can’t be far behind—triple-A Alberta rib-eye served sliced in the Tuscan style with arugula and parmigiano. There’s also wild boar, osso buco, rack of lamb and fillet of sablefish. To start you can choose between octopus, squid, prawns, carpaccio of beef and a charcuterie board—or treat yourself to Iberico ham for $88. The wine cellar is one of the best in Vancouver, and has won the Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence for the last twelve years in a row.
Surrounded by tall cottonwood poplars in the middle of the Bow River, the River Café has the prettiest setting in Calgary. Inside is a sunwashed room with bentwood chairs and a huge stone fireplace. Behind the scenes, executive chef Matthias Fong is taking the kitchen to new heights. The restaurant calls itself seasonally Canadian, and they mean business. If it’s on the menu, it has to have something seasonal and Canadian to say: roasted mussels with Granville Island sake and grilled rye sourdough; wild boar served with farro, Honeycrisp apples and rye; flatbread topped with Taber corn; maple wild-rice pudding with saskatoon-berry compote; Yukon birch-syrup cookies. They even churn their own butter. And of course the pick of the wine-list comes from the Okanagan and Niagara.
The most popular Asian restaurant in Edmonton is not just vegetarian but vegan, which is surprising in the heart of cattle country. The chef/owner Kasim Kasim came to Edmonton from Indonesia, but his menu is a blend of Indonesian, Chinese, Thai and Indian cuisines. The kitchen makes extensive use of tofu and other vegetable products to fill in for meat, even going so far as to offer “Curried Chicken,” “Curried Mutton” and “General Tso’s Chicken,” though no chickens or sheep are in the building. The restaurant’s two most popular dishes are the Chinese eggplant quartered and stir-fried in chili sauce and the ginger beef (“beef”) with sweet red peppers and julienne carrots. Kasim’s religion unfortunately prevents him from using any of the allium family—onions, garlic, shallots, leeks—in his cooking, and some things, like the spring rolls, don’t work well without them. Try the deep-fried wontons or the cauliflower bites instead. We also like the Thai yellow curry of vegetable chicken, the spicy string beans, the oyster mushroom gaylan, the spicy coconut eggplant and the extravagant Padmanadi vegetable deluxe. There is no liquor, but they have excellent fresh-squeezed juices and Asian teas.
The cooking at Arowhon Pines this year has been some of the best we’ve ever experienced. Major investments have been made in the property—a new kitchen, a new dining-room entrance and a new front office—and they’ve richly paid off. The chefs may be working from established recipes—Eugene and Helen Kates put everything into the computer—but there’s a liveliness and variety to the meals that we haven’t seen before, and the dessert buffet is more elaborate than ever. The menus are all planned a week in advance so no guest will get the same meal twice. As you enter the huge hexagonal dining-room you’re confronted by a big buffet table loaded with soups (perhaps lobster bisque with truffle cream), pâtés, salads and things like crispy duck in moo-shu pancake, shrimp dumplings and scallops with watercress. You can eat as much of any or all of these as you like. When you sit down—first come, first served—you have the choice of four entrées, one of which will be fish (baked halibut, say, in a parmesan crust) and another vegetarian. If you’re hungry, ask for a second helping (they’re free). If you’re not, ask for a half-portion. You can even get a different second entrée—if you don’t want to choose between the fish and the lamb you can just have both. The dessert bar has too many choices to list, but among them should be maple mousse, fruit salad, blueberry tart, carrot cake and the resort’s famous butter tarts. And once again, you can help yourself to as much as you like. The price in parentheses at top right is for a room for two with three meals a day, plus all the recreational facilities—like canoes—that are available.
All the Thai talk in Toronto these days is about the Regulars. Nuit Regular met her husband Jeff while he was backpacking in Thailand. They came back to Canada in 2008 to open Sukhothai, which is still run at three locations by Jeff’s parents. Jeff and Nuit moved on to Khao San Road, to Sabai Sabai and then to Pai, a crowded basement in the theatre district festively dressed in teak, brick and strings of bright pennant flags. The menu runs through a selection of the usual Thai favourites—spring-rolls, satays, pad Thai, green curry (served inside a whole coconut) and a tasty treatment of massaman beef carpeted in deep-fried shallots. But it’s the northern Thai specialties you come for (Nuit Regular grew up in north Thailand)—things like the khao soi, made with egg noodles in golden curry, or the gaeng hunglay, a sweet-and-sour ginger curry of oxtail, or the grabong, a mountain of Thai tempura made from kabocha squash. As with all of Nuit’s restaurants, everything is made for sharing, and it’s okay to eat with your hands. Last year the Regular family welcomed a new restaurant called Kiin, three blocks west at 326 Adelaide Street W (telephone (647) 490-5040), an upmarket dining-room serving the delicate and intricate Royal Thai cuisine of the country’s aristocracy, something Nuit has always wanted to learn. First reports are encouraging, but this time round you probably can’t eat with your hands.
We’ve been following Clark Day around town for a long time now—from the River Mill to Clark’s by the Bay to Clark’s on King to AquaTerra. When he left AquaTerra a few years ago, we thought he had hung up his hat and laid the legend to rest. But retirement didn’t appeal, and before long he’d decided to open Bayview Farm in his family homestead on Collins Bay. The original nineteenth-century stone house was bought by Clark Day’s grandparents, and it is where he still lives today. Day likes to say you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, and while this adage may have put Wagyu beef (at 110.00) on his menu, it has also led him to continually search for the best possible ingredients from a large network of local farmers and producers. The menu typically offers six appetizers, six main courses and three sweets. We like the elm-smoked Arctic char mousseline, the maple duck brest with garam masala in a coconut broth and the lamb rack crusted with mint and mustard. The wine list is extensive, the service—often by members of the family—is exemplary and Clark himself will be there cooking for you or talking to you, or both.
Jason Sawision was chef de cuisine at Atelier for six years—“Atelier’s secret weapon,” Marc Lepine says. Before that he worked at Canoe and for Michael Stadtländer at Eigensinn Farm. It’s an impressive resumé, and Stofa is an impressive restaurant. Really, the only thing we don’t like is the name, which is apparently Old Norse and means “hearth.” Sawision says he wanted to convey that his restaurant was comfortable and approachable in spite of its ambitious cuisine, and it is. The room is large, pale and sparsely decorated, but the tables are well-spaced, the noise level agreeable and the padded chairs soft and welcoming. Sawision has moved on from molecular gastronomy and tasting plates to a conventional kitchen and three-course menus. It is, he says, how he prefers to eat himself. What he has brought from Atelier is a gift for diverse combinations. Every ingredient on the plate can stand on its own, but Sawision mingles them together like a string quartet—you can taste each one and you can taste them all. Try the scallops with braised red cabbage, carrot-and-caraway purée, almond pudding and crispy chicken skin—an extraordinary dish—or the duck and buffalo-milk ravioli with beluga lentils and porcini foam. To start there’s beef tartar with vindaloo spices and cardamom mayonnaise, celeriac soup with fennel, apples, pickled mushrooms and confit chicken or—our favourite—roast quail with chicken stuffing, vanilla-parsnip purée, pomegranate chutney and garam masala jus. If the sumptuous passionfruit soufflé is on the sweet list, make sure to order it in advance. Many people—and we don’t disagree with them—think this is now the best restaurant in Ottawa.
Les Fougères has probably been in business longer than any other restaurant in the area. Of course, part of the reason for that is that they have never tried to stand still. The house was completely renovated a few years ago, and is now quite beautiful both inside and out. And the cooking just gets better, as if it’s trying to keep up. Their dinner menu is innovative—smoked breast of duck with jalapeno and sweet-chili vinaigrette, Thai shrimp with chips, wild Arctic char with parsnip and ginger, quail in brown butter, Grand Banks salt-cod ravioli and Prince Edward Island mussels in seaweed. To follow there’s baked Alaska, panna cotta with quince jelly and dark-chocolate terrine. On Sunday they put on a grand breakfast. Les Fougères is an easy drive from Ottawa, and there’s even a shop by the front door where you can buy many of the restaurant’s dishes to take away. Charles Part, who is in charge of the kitchen, and his wife, Jennifer Warren, who is in charge of everything else, deserve a lot of credit.
Park serves some of the best (and most expensive) sushi in Montreal. It’s a favourite with the Montreal Canadiens who, win or lose, are extremely well paid and can afford it. Antonio Park, the owner and chef, has lived in Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil, Japan, the USA and Canada, and his food is predictably eclectic. There’s sashimi, maki and nigiri (on gold-medal koshihikari short-grain rice). Park makes his own soya sauce, rice vinegar and sharkskin-grated fresh wasabi, and ferments his own kimchi. There’s a range of salads, and hot dishes such as Argentinian empanadas and a classic Korean bibimbap. As always, the best way to cover it all is to choose the omekase dinner: five courses for 95.00 or six for 115.00. Or you can come for lunch and have some miso soup and a bento box for a fraction of that.
This much-admired restaurant was established in 1991 by Daniel Vézina and his wife Suzanne Gagnon. It was named for their children, and Raphael is now the chef. A couple of years ago it went through extensive renovations that created an elegant new interior while cutting the number of tables in half, and the cooking moved to a whole new level. At noon and in the evening there are menus of three or five courses. The lunch menus cost 30.00 and 50.00, the dinner ones about three times that. A five-course evening menu might start with a superb rillette of tuna, and go on to tartar of venison, dorade, magret of duck, pastry and a sorbet. Everything is perfectly cooked and beautifully presented. The wine list is as large as the menu is small. We used to recommend the Macon Villages by Jean Thévenet. If that is still on the list, make no mistake and ask for a bottle; it costs 70.00, which is a bargain in this company.
Donna Jackson is in charge of the kitchen at Blomidon again this year, assisted by James Freiman from Fresh. And innkeeper Michael Laceby is still in charge of the wine-list, which is as remarkable as ever, featuring most of the great French and Italian labels, to say nothing of local bottlings from Grand Pré, Benjamin Bridge, Gaspereau and Luckett’s. The big news this year is that Michael’s mother Donna, the original cook in the family, has left her giftshop and become the inn’s full-time gardener. She’s even acquired a greenhouse where she grows herbs for the kitchen all winter. All the established dishes at the restaurant are still in place: the lobster, the beef tenderloin, the free-range chicken and, in summer, the tuna. And both the food and the service are still all they should be. One diner told us that his praline-apple cheesecake was “an absolute killer.”
There are restaurants that are about the food, and there are restaurants that are about the occasion. Lighthouse Picnics is about the occasion. Not that there’s anything wrong with the food, which is the sort of picnic our great-grandmothers are supposed to have made: homemade bread, homemade lemonade, salad, sweet. The bread is cut into thick sandwiches—we prefer the ham and brie, but there’s also chicken with mango and various combinations of seafood—and the lemonade is served in a vintage Mason jar. You place your order in the lighthouse, and they give you a blanket and a little flag. Where you plant the flag and spread the blanket is up to you, but it’s probably charitable not to go too far from the lighthouse, since one of the kitchen staff will have to carry your tray to you when it’s ready, and that can involve quite a bit of climbing. (For you as well, since you have to carry it back.) The view is of course remarkable—all the way to Europe—a view is one thing you can usually count on at a lighthouse. Unfortunately so is a remote location: the Ferryland lighthouse is a thirty-minute walk from its parking lot, which is itself a difficult mile or so over a very rough surface from the signpost on Highway 10. But that’s all part of the occasion—the bumpy drive, the long walk, the lighthouse looming up in front of you, the roar of the wind and the sea beyond, the climb up to the cramped parlour where you check in, the climb down to the ocean to plant your flag. And, of course, the long walk around the promontory afterward to wake yourself up for the drive home. Everyone likes Lighthouse Picnics, which is why you have to book weeks ahead (and hope for fine weather—you can eat inside if it rains but of course that’s not the same thing at all, and they won’t mind if you call and cancel).
Everyone stops at the Artisan Inn, to stay or to eat—and usually both. Trinity is easily the most beautiful spot in Newfoundland, and the inn is the first place you should visit. Once you’ve checked in, walk a short distance back along the road (the Gows will give you directions) and climb up the side of Gun Hill; from halfway up, the view of the heritage village spread out in all its varied colours against the backdrop of Trinity Bay is unforgettable. Tineke Gow came here from Holland a long time ago, and fell in love with the town, which she calls “a little bit of the Old World tucked into the New.” And indeed people have been living here for more than 500 years, which is about as far back as Canada goes. The Gows opened their first bed-and-breakfast house in 1992, and have been adding houses and guests ever since. Before long they turned an old storage building at the water’s edge into the Twine Loft restaurant, with room for about 25 people at each of two sittings. (It takes reservations from outside the inn, but only if there’s room, so you must call ahead if you’re coming in from elsewhere.) The three-course menu offers a choice of two starters, two main courses, one sweet and tea or coffee for about 50.00. The starters are usually a soup—apple and turnip perhaps, or carrot and orange or tomato and gin—and a salad, made with local greens, dried cranberries, fruits and cheese. To follow there’s a choice between meat and fish. The fish is often cod, en papillote perhaps. Salmon is another favourite, baked in a walnut-dijon crust. The meats may be pork with apple brandy and mushrooms, chicken with maple syrup and blueberries or lamb shank braised in Quidi Vidi brown beer. The inn grows its own rhubarb, which appears in a number of sweets, but there’s also an apple spice-cake with warm screech sauce, pecan tart with crème brûlée and warm cinnamon waffles with housemade blueberry ice cream. It all seems even more remarkable when you look out the window at the waves a few feet away. If the weather is warm enough you can sit with a drink before or after dinner on the small front deck over the water. And if it isn’t warm enough, the Gows will give you a blanket to wrap yourself up in. The Artisan Inn is that sort of place.