There's something special happening in the Canadian food scene, with groundbreaking new restaurants popping up from coast to coast and redefining local cuisine.
EnRoute, Air Canada's in-flight magazine, rounded up Canada's top 10 restaurants opened in the past year in its 12th annual list released on Thursday, and this one will probably keep many critics quiet with picks from seven cities across Canada, compared with only three last year.
"I do really believe it's a special year for the list. It kind of comes down to that diversity," Ilana Weitzman, enRoute's editor-in-chief, said in an interview.
"You see everything from a Japanese-Italian wine bar mash-up in Calgary to a crazy new architecturally designed restaurant in the farthest reaches of Newfoundland. That’s really quite interesting."
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Weitzman noted that a couple of the restaurants' chefs — Murray McDonald from Fogo Island Inn in Newfoundland and Makoto Ono from Pidgin in Vancouver — have also returned to Canada from cooking abroad, a welcome sign that talent is returning to energize and evolve the food scene here.
The expat theme also played out with the choice of EnRoute's food writer and restaurant critic for the list — Andrew Braithwaite, a Harvard-educated Canadian originally from Vancouver Island. Braithwaite has family all over the Canada, but lives in San Francisco.
"He’s not linked to any one culinary scene or market, so he doesn’t have as much bias as let’s say someone coming out of a single city, and that I find exciting. And it also puts him kind beyond the tentacles of any PR, so it creates a kind of independence," added Weitzman.
For the challenge of finding the best new restaurants, Braithwaite dined at all 35 establishments on the magazine's shortlist, which was curated with the help of an eclectic mix of panelists including other critics, food producers and Canadian personalities such as the fiery CBC "Dragon" and entrepreneur Arlene Dickinson.
All this eating was done in a breathtaking (and button-popping) span of just one month.
The magazine also named a People's Choice winner, Vij’s Railway Express, a Vancouver food truck inspired by an Indian rail carriage.
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LOOK —Canada's 10 best new restaurants in Canada, according to enRoute:
1) Bar Isabel, Toronto: “looks, feels and tastes vaguely Castilian but does far more than ape a menu straight out of Madrid.”
2) Shoto, Toronto: “A storybook of a tasting menu, with all the typical annoying bits – the repetition of ingredients, the showy caprice, the monotonous pacing – smartly edited out.”
3) Fogo Island Inn, Joe Batt’s Arm, Nfld. and Labrador: “There’s a terrific survivalist spirit bursting out of Chef McDonald’s kitchen, where most everything is made from scratch.”
4) Supply and Demand, Ottawa: “ It’s not supposed to be this easy for a first-timer ... you notice all the little things that rookies Steve and Jennifer Wall are getting so right.”
5) Pidgin, Vancouver: “The cuisine of Winnipeg-born Chef Ono, who ran restaurants in Beijing and Hong Kong, draws from multiple languages.”
6) Carino Japanese Bistro, Calgary: “A Japanese-Italian wine bar that defies logic in the most wonderful ways.”
7) Maison Publique, Montreal: “A mere 250 years after the Treaty of Paris, cooking Anglo food in Montreal is cool
8) Le Bouchon du Pied Bleu, Quebec City: “One of the most convivial, playful, unabashedly fun dining experiences I’ve had anywhere in North America.”
9) The Acorn, Vancouver: “That the food is meatless is almost beside the point unless you’re a foodie vegetarian who’s long hankered for a compromise-free night on the town.”
10) Electric Mud, Toronto: “Electric Mud is a twisted hymn to the American South.”