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The Winterlicious 2011 menus are out, so let’s compare them to previous years

The Winterlicious 2011 menus are out, so let's compare them to previous years

By now, Torontonians are well-seasoned winterliciousers—and at Winterlicious 2011, we will be deftly dodging the wilted arugula and heading straight for the belly of the beast (preferably pork). Looking through the newly published list of restaurants and menus, there is plenty to be pleased about this January. Our popular “Best of Winterlicious” piece is coming out next week, but we thought we’d get a jump on things and take a look at how this year’s roster compares with last year’s ’Licous lists.

Those who simply must finish every meal with crème brûlée (we’ve heard such people exist) may be disappointed by this year’s expanded dessert selection. Lentils du Puy are still showing their tiny heads on all sorts of menus (perhaps the addition of “du Puy” distances them from macrame associations), while sweet potatoes and ravioli are here to stay. Returning ‘Licious heavyweights, like Mildred’s Temple Kitchen and the whole O&B gang, are posting menus that make us sigh with happy anticipation, not despair.

Both the AGO and the ROM’s restaurants, Frank and C5 respectively, have lunch and dinner menus this year—and they don’t seem to be resting on their ambiance laurels. C5 ($25 lunch; $45 dinner) is doing a posh fish and chips nosh with “Boddingtons battered halibut cheeks”, plus a starter of “Tamworth Pork Rillette.” The lower-sticker price Frank ($20 lunch; $35 dinner) has creative vegetarian dinner options like “tomato eggplant and chana masala with basmati rice pilauo, crispy papadam and yogurt raita.” Frank and C5 are also offering gluten-free dishes: six of Frank’s fall into this category, as do four of C5’s (though C5’s are more heavily weighted to the dinner menu), including pear scone shortcake dessert.

Fresh off the downtown office Christmas party rush, Crush Wine Bar returns for another season, as does perennial wedding venue Archeo. Smaller neighbourhood favourites also making a return appearance are Seven Numbers (the Danforth location is tapped this time), Joy Bistro, Amaya’s Bread Bar, Banu and Pan on the Danforth. Staples like La Maquette, Fred’s Not Here and Noce are also back, though, as usual, two of those three are usually worth our custom.

Undistracted by opening three new restaurants this year, local empire Oliver & Bonacini is still in the game. No slouchers in the menu-writing department, the O&B Café Grill selection includes “blackened Jail Island salmon and crispy Cajun shrimp dirty rice with a black bean salsa” (dirty, dirty rice!). Diners keen on tasting Canoe’s “vanilla braised rabbit”, “chicken and  goose liver parfait” and “pear and rosemary bread pudding” are advised to get dialing the minute lines open on January 13—or January 11, if they have American Express cards.

Also in the near-impossible category is North 44, which is returning with a dinner menu ($45) that’s all the more creative than last year’s. It includes starters like  “sesame and citrus crusted ahi tuna with hearts of palm, radish sprouts and Yuzu miso sauce” and a “braised lamb neck with creamy polenta.” In the same bracket, although perhaps slightly less inventive than previous years, is Mistura. They are offering their standard butter-drenched menu of bounty, including “roasted Cornish hen garnie with mushrooms, veal bacon and butter-poached herbed potato” and “Merguez sausage and Castelluccio lentil stew”.

The Winterlicious list is again thick with Toronto’s hotels, including the Royal York’s Benihana, the Marriott Bloor’s Matisse, the Marriott Downtown’s Trios Bistro, the Drake Hotel and the Four Season’s Studio Café. Studio Café peppers its menu with bits of Canadiana—a maple glaze here, a dose of pumpkins and spiced cider vinaigrette there—while Trios is well-poised at the $20 price point to pull in an office crowd looking for something fancier than street meat. A new hotel addition is Prime, the Windsor Arms’s steakhouse. A meal offers a good way to peak at the interior of the dark wood old money hotel, without the price tag of a room. The presence of two ’Licious landmines (linguine primavera and crème brûlée) make it likely we’re going to see the inside of the building, not a true taste of the kitchen.

With the George Brown College’s culinary students’ “The Chefs’ House” participating, we can peak into the city’s future kitchens. The culinary school is a solid bet for those motivated to try something more adventurous, offering a less staid menu than most, and at the lowest price point ($15 lunch; $25 dinner). Dishes include ingredients like the “poached peewee egg”, spaetzle, sunchoke purée, and cured ox tongue.

As the influx of group-buy discount sites has taught Toronto—try to tip on the before discount price. Thank your server, and enjoy your meal.

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