Greatest Hits: Chris Nuttall-Smith picks the 25 most delicious dishes of the last year
The 25 most delicious dishestasted this year, ranging from lowbrow comforts (potato puffballs) to high-minded masterpieces (tea-smoked duck)*
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*Availability of dishes varies according to season and changing menus
Nota Bene’s soft-shell crab
David Lee’s perfect tempura soft-shell crab, served on a slaw of green mango, coriander, scallions, chili, mint and lime—accompanied by cheekily cheapo wooden chopsticks—is classic South Asian street food executed by an all-star chef. $16. 180 Queen St. W., 416-977-6400.
Chiado’s quail with piri piri
Frango piri piri, the chili-and-vinegar-kicked rotisserie staple, was begging for a makeover. Here chef Manny Vilela uses quail—moist, brooding and just a little pink—set over meaty shiitake risotto and drizzled with sour, spicy, smoky house-made sauce. $15. 864 College St., 416-538-1910.
Langdon Hall’s fennel cappuccino
Chef Jonathan Gushue surrounds a quenelle of confited summer tomatoes in a chilled pool of earthy, anise-edged roasted fennel broth. There are cherry tomatoes, too, orange and red and ripened to near-bursting, and a dusting of crunchy, licorice-y powder made from sumac pollen and foraged autumn olive berries (they’re from a wild local plant; nothing to do with olives). The best soup of the year by a country mile. $14. 1 Langdon Dr., Cambridge, 800-268-1898.
Buca’s fried zucchini flowers
Zucchini flowers are among the most ephemeral ingredients: mid-summer sun salutations that are alive with flavour, but delicate as tissue and challenging to cook. Rob Gentile washes the blooms in sparkling water and stuffs them with delicate buffalo milk ricotta, mint and just enough lemon zest, before battering and frying them ultra-light. They’re finished with crunchy sea salt. Summer can’t come soon enough. $7. 604 King St. W., 416-865-1600.
Ame’s coconut and figs
Pastry king Robert Gonsalves’s extraordinary riff on breakfast is more complicated than particle physics: ice cream that’s made from Grand Marnier–soaked coconut pound cake French toast, layered with tapioca pearls, a tuile that crunches like breakfast cereal, and a swish of hot banana foam (among many, many other things). Together they add up to the most delicious dessert of the year. $11. 19 Mercer St., 416-599-7246.
Osteria Ciceri e Tria’s espresso zabaglione
One part perfect espresso: round, rich, tropical, spuming with synapse-snapping volatile oils. Two parts frothy, yolky zabaglione that’s spiked with marsala wine for cask-aged depth. It’s the most delicious coffee dessert in town. $3.50. 106 Victoria St., 416-955-0258.
Black Hoof’s uni carbonara
Spaghetti carbonara was the most ubiquitous dish of the year, and this marine-minded version was easily the best. Chef de cuisine Colin Tooke added delicate, gently minerally sea urchin to the mix, plus bonito flakes and ribbons of shaved Spanish ham, elevating a usual suspect into something sublime. $16. 928 Dundas St. W., 416-551-8854.
Fabbrica’s crab pappardelle
Cream, guanciale, garlic, Alaskan king crab, fresh pasta and a soft-cooked egg—they’re the culinary world’s equivalent of T&A. And this is one indisputably sexy-pants dish. $27. 49 Karl Fraser Rd., 416-391-0307.
Origin’s tuna hand rolls
Every element—the two types of radish, the green and purple shiso leaves, the puffed amaranth, the side of kewpie miso-mayo (one of the greatest condiments ever conceived) and even the wooden plank it’s served on (recovered during the building’s reno)—is deliberate, exquisite, and totally essential to the whole. Most Japanese chefs don’t make sushi anywhere near this good. $7. 107 King St. E., 416-603-8009.
Cho Dang Soon Tofu’s soon tofu
The base is long-simmered kimchee that sweetens and mellows as it cooks; the tofu, made in-house daily, is custardy and cirocumulus-light. Crack in the egg, let it cook for a second, then inhale the stew with rice. $9. 5130 Dundas St. W., 416-234-1161.
Luma’s roast chicken
Moist, well-seasoned chicken, perfectly roasted and set over creamy polenta, sweet braised cippollinis, cherry-red chard stalks and a spiced date jus that tastes like twilight in a Moroccan souk. Who orders chicken in a fancy restaurant? You should. $28. 330 King St. W., 647-288-4715.
Enoteca Sociale’s octopus and fava beans
A salad of meaty, tender, flavour-packed, flame-bussed octopus, tossed with firm, creamy new potatoes, good olive oil, herbs and a handful of local fava beans. It’s as bright and inspiring as new spring leaves. $12. 1288 Dundas St. W., 416-534-1200.
Aravind’s Dungeness crab biryani
Fragrant basmati rice layered with cashews and seasonal vegetables (tomato, potato and green beans), bold aromatics (cardamom, coriander) and buttery B.C. crab, then slow-baked and served with cucumber raita. You’d be hard-pressed to find a biryani this good, even in southern India. $21. 596 Danforth Ave., 647-346-2766.
Local Kitchen and Wine Bar’s lollo rosso and acorn squash salad
Chef Fabio Bondi roasts chunks of acorn squash with maple syrup until they’re auburn and irresistible, then tosses them with lollo rosso lettuce and perfectly judged gorgonzola vinaigrette. Earthy, sweet, bitter, creamy, brilliant. $9. 1710 Queen St. W., 416-534-6700.
Brockton General’s Cape Vessey crostino
It’s just stuff on toast, sort of like your grandmother would make, but also not at all. There’s a wodge of warm, sweet, gently tangy Cape Vessey sheep’s cheese, wine-soaked golden raisins, toasted walnuts, a gentle depth from walnut-anchovy paste, and an oozy, soft-cooked egg. My table fought over one for a while, semi-civilized-like, then just gave in and ordered more. $15. 1321 Dundas St. W., 647-342-6104.
The Hoof Café’s love letters
In a city suddenly awash in scratch-made pastas, chef Geoff Hopgood’s brassy, brown butter–slicked, sweet and sour beef tongue and pork belly pastrami packets were amazing enough to bring tears to my eyes (seriously, I actually teared up a little). Like real love letters, but with zero possibility of heartache. $11. 923 Dundas St. W., 416-792-7511.
Scarpetta’s polenta with mushroom fricassee
The best sautéed mushrooms you’ll ever taste, spooned with their truffle-spiked pan juices over the creamiest, butteriest, most corn-y polenta imaginable. I’d eat this every night if I could. $15. 550 Wellington St. W., 416-601-3590.
Cava’s eggplant with tomatillo sauce
You notice the bonito flakes first, waving in the uprush of heat; the thermals smell like seaweed on a salt-rimed beach. Then the candy crunch of deep-fried eggplant that’s molten in the middle, and a jab from roasted tomatillo sauce at the bottom of the bowl. Your brain shuts down after a dish this great—you just sit back, stoner-like, and grin. $9. 1560 Yonge St., 416-979-9918.
Treadwell’s red-pepper amuse-bouche
This is glorified lobster bisque, really: rich, meaty, just touched with vanilla bean and a slip of star anise. But there’s also red pepper, roasted and smoky, and a buoy of sheep’s milk ice cream that delivers tightrope acid tension, and tastes like cream, cut grass and lime. It’s genius, and just the amuse delivered before the real cooking even starts. 61 Lakeport Rd., St. Catharines, 905-934-9797.
Sushi Kaji’s simmered pork belly and vinegared eel
A highlight of chef Kaji’s omakase menu, the slow braised belly trembles when touched with the tip of a chopstick. The eel is brushed with taré (the salty, wildly savory, almost molasses-y sauce). They arrive in a seductively sour pool of sugar, vinegar, lemon and cucumber. It’s surf and turf, Japanese style. 860 The Queensway, 416-252-2166.
Frank’s kouign amann tarte tatin
Chef Anne Yarymowich blankets deeply caramelized russet apples with puffy, crunchy, softly yeasty, butter-layered kouign amann pastry for a totally over-the-top take on France’s beloved tarte tatin. The side: a jolt of sour-cream ice cream. You pucker, you swoon, then you quietly consider the optics of ordering a second. $9. 317 Dundas St. W., 416-979-6688.
Scaramouche’s lobster ravioli
Keith Froggett’s lobster ravioli are stuffed with juicy, buttery sweet meat and tarragon, then dusted with lobster roe and olive oil–baked bread crumbs for a guilty crunch. Oh, and the sauce is parmesan and butter. The dish, like the restaurant, is a classic, and for good reason. $22. 1 Benvenuto Pl., 416-961-8011.
Ici’s whipped potato quenelles
The quenelles aren’t the actual dish. They come as a side to beef tartare, and the tartare is very good, but it’s not what you remember—not even close. J. P. Challet’s “little puffballs,” as our server called them, are atomized potato: pure, concentrated, golden, deep-fried flavour in a package that’s almost light enough to float away. $24. 538 Manning Ave., 416-536-0079.
Canoe’s tea-smoked duck breast
Rounds of Quebec duck breast, as red on their insides as old Amarone, fringed with fat that tastes of tea and joss sticks and mahjong. Nutty, beautifully chewy, creamy wheat berries; seared foie gras and fiddleheads, green and sharp with chlorophyll. Totally enchanting. $44. 66 Wellington St. W., 416-364-0054.
Noce’s rabbit pappardelle
This is peasant food at its finest: wide, hand-cut noodles; dark, bright-tasting olives; a few stewed cherry tomatoes; and a handful of shredded rabbit meat—slicked with a simple but addictive jus that amplifies it all. $18. 875 Queen St. W., 416-504-3463.