A restaurant that had been put up for sale during its early days, whose first landlord complained about the smell of the cooking and which nearly shut down after only two months has risen to be the best restaurant in Canada.
Vij's in Vancouver was ranked No. 1 in the inaugural Vacay.ca Top 50 Restaurants in Canada List, a first-ever national ranking of the nation's restaurants that was published in April 2012. This survey of 15 judges who include leading food writers, industry insiders and culinary aficionados from across the country, as well as the general public. When told of the news earlier this year, Vij's proprietor, Vikram Vij, said he was "overjoyed."
Long before this accolade, Vij's was a unique Canadian success story. When it opened in September 1994, Vij served as cook, host and waiter to the handful of customers who came into the original location on West Broadway. Business was so light, the restaurant was put up for sale and Vij contemplated closing it, in part because the landlord fretted over the odour of the Indian food.
"He said it smells. It hurt my feelings. I remember thinking that I should go back to cooking French food," said Vij, who previously worked at Bishop's, one of Vancouver's landmark fine-dining spots.
Now, patrons routinely wait 90 minutes for a seat in Vij's on 11th Avenue in the city's South Granville neighbourhood. Critics around the world have lauded the restaurant, its cookbooks are bestsellers in Canada and its owner has risen to the status of celebrity chef.
VACAY.CA TOP 50 RESTAURANTS IN CANADA 2012
1. Vij's, Vancouver, British Columbia
Website: www.vijs.ca. Phone: 604-736-6664. Cuisine: Indian.
Price range: $24-$28.50 for main courses.
Steve Dolinsky says: "Seriously, can anyone in North America even come close to offering the nuance and complexity of Indian food like Vikram Vij? He does it in one of the most laid-back dining rooms, despite the seriousness with which he approaches regional Indian food, while constantly checking in on guests -- even serving snacks to those waiting outside. I have literally re-routed my flights to have enough layover time in Vancouver so I could make the pilgrimage."
Read Vacay.ca's report on Vij's and more coverage of the Top 50 Restaurants List
You must order: Wine-marinated Lamb Popsicles ($28.50).
2. Langdon Hall, Cambridge, Ontario
Website: www.langdonhall.ca. Phone: 519-740-2100. Cuisine: Canadian.
Price range: $34-$49 for main courses.
Adrian Brijbassi says: "Jonathan Gushue demonstrates that Canadian cuisine exists -- and it wouldn't look out of place at the head of an international table of dishes."
See the video and read more of the Vacay.ca report on Langdon Hall
You must order: White-tailed Ontario Deer with Chestnuts, Smoked Venison Bacon, Anjou Pear and more ($49).
3. Joe Beef, Montreal, Quebec
Website: www.joebeef.ca. Phone: 514-935-6504. Cuisine: Steak & Seafood.
Price range: $31-$50 for main courses.
Steve Dolinsky says: "One of the great things about the new wave of talent in the food industry has been the emergence of 'fuck you' restaurants. I mean that in a good way. They're the places where you dine at the chef's whim. There are no substitutions; you don't get the dressing on the side; the eggs are already jellied and the offal is already poached. If you don't like it, too bad, because there's a line of people waiting to get in who are eager to explore the menus, jam-packed with bold flavours. Joe Beef is a little like this."
You must order: Whatever is the special that night
4. The Black Hoof, Toronto, Ontario
Website: www.theblackhoof.com. Phone: 416-551-8854. Cuisine: Charcuterie.
Price range: Share plates, $8-$25
Renée Suen says: "Once a culinary mecca for the offal bits, 'The Hoof' as it's so affectionately called, has soared to new heights now that chef de cuisine Brandon Olsen is at its helm. Although the focus is still on the nasty bits (and they still don't take reservations), brilliant numbers like Blood Custard and Foie & Nutella have become new signatures beside the standard Tongue on Brioche that its ex-executive chef (Grant van Gameren) made famous."
You must order: Foie & Nutella ($25).
5. Atelier, Ottawa, Ontario -- PEOPLE'S CHOICE WINNER 2012!
Website: www.atelierrestaurant.ca. Phone: 613-321-3537. Cuisine: Avant Garde Fine Dining.
Price range: Set price for tasting menu: $95.
Vacay.ca Reader Melanie Jadore says: "What a great idea -- a top 50 list for Canadian restaurants! If I only get one vote, I have to vote for Atelier in Ottawa, the best meal of my life."
You must order: The tasting menu, of course! It's constantly changing.
See the video and read the Vacay.ca report on Atelier
Here's the complete list of the Vacay.ca Top 50 Restaurants in Canada Guide for 2012.
Report by Adrian Brijbassi, Vacay.ca Managing Editor