One of the city's most successful culinary programs is just around the corner. Winterlicious is back for 2013, bigger than ever. Here are some of our top restaurant picks.
Ten Years ago Winterlicious was launched by the City of Toronto to combat the tourism hit caused by the SARS epidemic. Participating restaurnats offered prix fixe menus for lunch and dinner, and diners got a chance to preview restaurants for significantly less than what it would normally cost.
Since then, the festival has grown each year, with more and more restaurants jumping on the bandwagon. In the first year, 35 restaurants participated, now there are 191 restaurants in the program—18 more than last year.
Despite criticisms (lousy tipping, bad service), the festival continues to bring in fresh diners and those seeking to eat on a budget at restaurants that they won't normally go to, due to budget and taste.
While portions might be smaller, the ingredients a little less luxurious, and the service not quite as polished, if you choose the right restaurant it's still a window into some of the finer culinary experiences Toronto has to offer. Some restaurants present little more than a limited version of the regular menu and use the promotion to pack-in as many seatings as possible. But many of the finer Toronto restaurants that participate embrace Winterlicious as a challenge and aim to craft an inspired menu that they can deliver at top-quality. So with that in mind we've perused the menus and drawn on past experience to come-up with a list of some of our top picks for this year's Winterlicious.
If this is your first Winterlicious, narrow it down to your top picks from our list and get ready to start calling on Thursday when restaurants begin accepting reservations. If it's not, you know the drill. Either way may the telephony gods shine on you.
If there's one place to get a classically prepared and plated French meal in the city it's Didier. The uptown restaurant just might be the only place left in Toronto where you can count on your vegetables being impeccably prepared with a textbook tourné. So when I say classic I mean it in the best possible way like a pair of Levi's 501s which never really go out of style. For Winterlicious the lunch menu features its popular version of the bistro classic Croque Madame (a grilled ham and cheese sandwich perfected with the addition of an egg on top), while dinner features a choice of chef Didier Leroy's skillful and traditional preparations of: duck, salmon or beef. Plus given that co-owner Tory Edwards runs the front of the house, service won't be anything short of top-notch.
There's a reason why year after year Canoe remains the most sought after reservation. Critically acclaimed as one of the country's best fine dining establishments, with a killer view of the city, and uncompromising attention to service. Canoe's 2013 menu is the best it's ever been, showcasing Canadian ingredients with a variety of modern techniques. Year after year, Canoe continues to raise the bar for Winterlicious.
66 Wellington St W,
One of the city's top Portuguese restaurants is back for another round of 'licious. Chiado on College boasts one of the best Portuguese wine lists, carefully selected to go well with a menu that primarily focuses on fish. The winterlicious menu (expanded from last year's) is a seafood lover's dream.
Winterlicious is a great time to dine out with the small group of friends that you didn't quite have enough time to catch-up with during your hectic holiday seasons. But finding a spot that can cater to everyone's different dietary preferences on a prix fixe menu can be a bit of a challenge. With four mains to chose from at lunch and five at dinner, including a pescetarian and two vegetarian options, Globe Bistro is a great spot when you are part of group with diverse tastes. Its Winterlicious menu also does a great job of being different from its regular menu while also speaking to the restaurant's local and seasonal philosophy, which carries through to a wine list featuring more than 80 Ontario wines. For lunch the Arctic Char looks like a great choice, while crispy pork belly and loin from Perth County sounds like the centerpiece of a very fine dinner.
One of the newcomers to the program, Splendido's participation to Winterlicious has been making waves among foodies that are itching to grab a seat or two at the critically celebrated restaurant.
With a swanky location and focus on making the best of top-quality ingredients Pangaea is known as a top spot to enjoy a special meal in the heart of the city's Bloor West shopping strip. For less than the average price of a main on its regular menu, Winterlicious diners can enjoy three delicious-sounding courses—put the savings toward a glass or bottle from the restaurant's extensive wine list. The Winterlicious menu is light on the seafood choices the restaurant is primarily known for, which is understandable given the $20 lunch and $35 dinner price, but it more than makes up for it in breadth, use of local seasonal ingredients and interesting combinations. The roasted heirloom beet and poached Niagara apple salad looks to be the start of a tasty lunch or dinner, while the scallops with Whitty Farms squash and smoked laughing bird shrimp reads like one of the most intriguing mains being offered at Winterlicious 2013.
One of Toronto's beloved restaurants, this Annex bisto operated by Chef Jean-Charles Dupoire and Sylvain Brissonel continues to present French influenced cuisine with local ingredients. The wine list (with many gems from the Loire valley as you can imagine) is both approachable and carefully selected to match with the cuisine.
For the full Winterlicious listing, click here. Resservations lines open tomorrow (January 10th) and the festival runs from January 25th to February 7th.
Are you planning to dine at any of the participating Winterlicious restaurants?