When they learned anyone could cast a vote for Canada's best restaurant, Andy and Linda Tesluk didn't hesitate with their ballots. The couple both chose Toronto's Ruby Watchco -- and they had a good reason for doing so.
"We don't get out that often especially to high-end restaurants, however Ruby Watchco was a very pleasant surprise. We celebrated our 32nd anniversary there September 6, 2012...They made us feel very special and with complimentary champagne to enhance our celebration and experience," the Tesluks wrote in a letter to Vacay.ca to explain why they were voting for the restaurant that's run by chefs Lynn Crawford and Lora Kirk.
The Tesluks called their main course "amazing." On that night, Ruby Watchco -- known for changing its prix-fixe menu daily -- featured Grilled Ontario Veal Chops with Caper Sage Sauce, with red wine-braised onions and chorizo, roasted cauliflower with raisins, and sweet potato smash with bacon sour cream.
"We don't have the 'culinary' words to describe our experience, but this is from the bottom of our heart," the Tesluks said while sending the restaurant a thank you by way of their votes.
The couple are only two of the more than 3,000 Canadians who have qualified for the Foodie of the Year Award by submitting votes to Vacay.ca, publisher of the annual Top 50 Restaurants in Canada Guide. The Foodie of the Year will receive round-trip airfare, a luxury hotel stay and dinner for two at a Top 50 restaurant of his or her choice. (Voters email their pick to firstname.lastname@example.org.) The public voting wraps up on April 15, 2013, and those votes are added to the ballots submitted by the 34 Vacay.ca judges, who include acclaimed chefs, food industry professionals, and food and travel writers.
"The contest has sparked a bit of foodie March Madness," Vacay.ca Managing Editor Adrian Brijbassi said. "Canadians are enthusiastically celebrating their favourite chefs and restaurants to a degree we never could have predicted. It's fun to see -- especially since the restaurants attracting the votes tend to be run by families or small-business owners. Those restaurateurs typically show more concern for their food quality and their communities than large corporate enterprises. The fact Canadians notice and support such efforts shows how much our restaurants mean to us on a civic level."
The restaurant with the most public votes will be named the People's Choice winner among the 2013 Top 50 Restaurants in Canada. After briefly holding down second place, Ruby Watchco has slipped to fourth overall in the nation, but it is well ahead in voting within Toronto. In fact, its closest rival in the Greater Toronto Area is the Mono Cliffs Inn, located an hour away in the town of Mono.
"It has been our favourite since we moved here nine years ago," Deborah Kolody wrote when she voted for the inn, which ranked 29th in last year's Vacay.ca Top 50 Restaurants in Canada. Kolody called the food "consistently delicious" and praised owner Carol Hall and her staff. "They support the community in so many ways -- they truly deserve as much recognition as they can get."
Elaine Capes had a reason for voting for the Mono Cliffs Inn that would make any parent take notice. "Our children have been going there with us since they were four and they are now 11. If we ask them where they want to go for a dinner or light lunch, they always say the Mono Cliffs."
The Mono Cliffs Inn has rocketed into fifth place in the voting, which continues to be led by Langdon Hall, the Cambridge, Ontario country manor, and Atelier, last year's People's Choice winner.
"I have eaten there four times. It is so delicious, surprising, unusual, entertaining, fun," Lorraine Fokes of Pembroke, Ontario said in voting for Ottawa's Atelier, which won the Canadian Gold Medal Plates top prize in 2012. "Both my grandson and my granddaughter asked for me to take them there for their 12th birthday dinner and they too were in awe of the experience. That is quite the compliment coming from 12 year olds!"
"I was seriously floored by how spectacular my service was," Brenda Ulmer said as she called the staff at the Saint John Ale House among "the most passionate employees in the hospitality industry." She praised chef Jesse Vergen for a molasses panna cotta that "had the way to my heart."
Other restaurants with impressive showings in recent days have been Options Jazz Lounge in Ottawa's Brookstreet Hotel, Calgary's Q Haute Cuisine and CHARCUT, Toronto's Edulis, and Vancouver's Vij's, the No. 1 overall restaurant in last year's Top 50 Restaurants in Canada Guide.
To learn more about the Top 50 Restaurant in Canada, how you can vote and how to enter the Foodie of the Year Contest, visit Vacay.ca.
2013 Vacay.ca Top 50 Restaurants in Canada Standings by Province
(Based on public voting as of March 24; ballots of the 34 Vacay.ca judges are being compiled; public voting ends April 15; the 2013 Top 50 Restaurants are announced on April 25 via Twitter; follow #Vacay50)
1. Langdon Hall, Cambridge, Ontario
2. Atelier, Ottawa, Ontario
3. Muse Restaurant, Calgary, Alberta
4. Ruby Watchco, Toronto, Ontario
5. Mono Cliffs Inn, Mono, Ontario
6. Q Haute Cuisine, Calgary, Alberta
7. CHARCUT, Calgary, Alberta
8. Saint John Ale House, Saint John, New Brunswick
9. Vij's, Vancouver, British Columbia
10. Rouge, Calgary, Alberta
11. Memories, Regina, Saskatchewan
12. Glas Wine Bar, Toronto, Ontario
13. Options Jazz Lounge, Ottawa, Ontario
14. Joe Beef, Montreal, Quebec
15. The Blue Door, Fredericton, New Brunswick
Newfoundland & Labrador
Raymonds, St. John's
Magnum & Steins, St. John's
Aqua, St. John's
Duke of Duckworth, St. John's
Java Jack's, Rocky Harbour
Nectar Restaurant & Wine Bar, Dartmouth
Five Fishermen, Halifax
Two If By Sea, Dartmouth
Prince Edward Island
Inn at Bay Fortune, Bay Fortune
Lot 30, Charlottetown
The Pearl Cafe, North Rustico
Claddagh Oyster House, Charlottetown
Saint John Ale House, Saint John
The Blue Door, Fredericton
Splash, Saint John
Thandi's, Saint John
Urban Deli, Saint John
Joe Beef, Montreal
Panache, Quebec City
Manoir Hovey (Le Hatley), North Hatley
Langdon Hall, Cambridge
Ruby Watchco, Toronto
Mono Cliffs Inn, Mono
Glas Wine Bar, Toronto
Bistro 7 1/4, Winnipeg
Segovia Tapas & Wine Bar, Winnipeg
Pizzeria Gusto, Winnipeg
Lobby on York, Winnipeg
Willow on Wascana, Regina
The Dining Room, Regina
Muse Restaurant, Calgary
Q Haute Cuisine, Calgary
Catch & Oyster Bar, Calgary
Waterfront Wines, Kelowna