Alternalicious: a roundup of this year’s Winterlicious rebels
Few subjects are as divisive among Toronto diners and industry people as the merits of Summer- and Winterlicious. While the biannual culinary event may help restaurants fill empty tables during an otherwise slow season, as we’ve explored before, participation in the city-run festival can have its limitations (dining rooms filled with stingy tippers, owners bound by the city’s rules). As in previous years, a number of restaurants have decided to strike out on their own with prix fixe specials.
Graham Culp, the owner of Simple Bistro, introduced the Simple Comforts menu last year after missing the registration deadline (six months earlier). The deal was so well received that the restaurant ended up incorporating a prix fixe option into its regular menu. “Not only does the program raise the profile of the restaurant,” he told us, “but it gives us more latitude to improve on the promotion. If we were part of Winterlicious, we would be obliged to carry certain wines and serve a limited menu. This way, we are able to offer the full menu instead of constraining customers to what is essentially wedding food.”
From January 28 to February 10, Simple’s $35 dinner gives patrons three options from the restaurant’s regular menu and features everything from tiger shrimp and Nagano pork loin to braised beef tongue and sticky whiskey toffee pudding.
Il Fornello has been serving up its Winterdelicious menu for the past six years, after the city’s rules initially excluded chains. This year, it’s offering a $20 two-course dinner instead of the traditional three for the month of February at its six Toronto locations. “We were noticing that diners weren’t always interested in dessert,” said company president Ian Sorbie, “so we’re giving them the choice of just the appetizer and main in addition to the full menu.”
Winterlicious itself starts this Friday (check out our chief critic’s 12 best bets and our longer list of favourites), but here’s a roundup of some rebel menus:
• Cava is hosting the second annual Ground Hog Invitational challenge on February 2 for $85. Eight participants—including Ted Corrado (C5), Matt Demille (Parts and Labour) and Geoff O’Connor (Nota Bene)—will be putting their best hoof forward to dethrone defending champion Michael Steh (Reds) by creating the best pig-based dish.
• Grace is offering a $35 three-course Winter Fixe, which resurrects old favourites from its modern farmhouse menu starting January 28 (Tuesdays to Saturdays).
• Linda, Salad King’s upscale cousin, is running Lindalicious until February 28. The three-course menu starts at $24 and features modern Thai cuisine.
• Pizzeria Libretto is bringing back its $25 four-course prix fixe, which will run from February 1 until March 31.
• Scaramouche’s Lobsterlicious returns for $62. The popular three-course menu is available from Monday to Thursday until March 31 (with the wise exception of February 14).
• Starfish is hosting Oysterlicious until February 10. The two- or three-course prix fixe is $15 to $20 at lunch and $25 to $30 at dinner.