Surviving Winterlicious 2009

Surviving Winterlicious 2009

Célestin 

The paper menus. Getting a cramp in your redial finger. Booking first, choosing dining companions after. Eating at Winterlicious is fun, but it’s just not the same as dining out. Instead of being frustrated by the comparisons, we recommend treating it less like a relaxing evening and more like a two-week sport with such events as “spot the regular dish on the Winterlicious menus” and “dodge the filler.” The winner gets great food at a steal; the loser gets a plate full of resentment.

We recall how, at Winterlicious a few years ago, roasted garlic took over vegetarian dishes across the city, like a tiny tuber mafia. In 2008, crème brûlée smothered the dessert options, while mesclun mix reigned supreme over starters. This year, the sport will be more challenging since the menus are much more diverse and promising—possibly in an attempt to justify the higher prices. Take, for example, Truffles’s “pistachio mousse pyramid: cinnamon-pistachio crumble and Grand Marnier plumped apricots” and La Maquette’s “beef tartare with Armenian flatbread, horseradish mayonnaise and wasabi, garnished with greens” or Célestin’s “foie gras cardamom parfait with condiments and toast.”

A savvy tactic if you’re competing in this year’s Winterlicious-a-thon is to try the lesser-known and smaller places. Prevailing wisdom is that they try harder than the big guns and can be the better outings. Below, some promising additions we will be sure to check out:

Cajú at Queen and Shaw is offering a $25 dinner that includes “seared pork tenderloin served with feijão tropeiro (a sauté of beans, diced chouriço and vegetables, with cassava flour and pork crackling) and diced tomatoes in a salsa verde with cassava chips.”

• Over on Charles Street, Wish will be hitting on Toronto’s currently insatiable burger appetite with a $15 lunch that includes an “open-face black Angus burger on grilled batard with blue cheese mousse, sautéed mushrooms, caramelized onions and chipotle mayo served with an orzo-chickpea or old fashioned potato salad.”

• Then there’s the new(er) incarnation of the tried and true, like the $20 lunch at Mildred’s Temple Kitchen, starting with “roast cauliflower purée with curry oil and pine nuts,” followed by “chickpea-lentil curry with goat’s milk yogurt and parsley root pakora.”

It all looks delicious, but we wonder, Are chickpeas this year’s crème brûlée?