Story by Nicole Keck
Vacay.ca Family Travel Columnist
TORONTO, ONTARIO — Picture this familiar scene — you are relaxing in the dimly lit, quiet ambiance of a fine restaurant and preparing to indulge in someone else’s culinary triumph (which already puts it up there on the yummy scale because you didn’t have to prepare it). When the chef’s mouthwatering masterpiece finally arrives, it is plated so that it vaguely resembles a game of pick-up sticks, where the components are interwoven, resting on each other and stacked in a quasi-tower. Beautiful? Yes. Typical? Definitely — which is one reason why Tundra, the Canadian-themed restaurant at the downtown Toronto Hilton, stands out as different. According to executive chef Kevin Prendergast, who has been at the restaurant for six years, “If you look at Canada’s actual Tundra, the land itself is vast and open, which is why we decided not to stack the food, as is typically done, but to pull it across the plate to better represent the Tundra landscape.”
If it looks like Canada …
Besides the presentation, the rich diversity of the Canadian landscape is also the inspiration behind the décor and menu of the restaurant, which opened in 1999 but held a re-launching party last month to show off its new design. Calling itself “Quintessentially Canadian,” and taking its cues from mountain peaks, moss, lichen, redwood and granite, Tundra was renovated this year and is a beautiful marriage of elegance and nature, feeling more like an independent restaurant than one found in a hotel.
Its rich, warm wood tones and sail-like structures that soar into the high ceilings are the result of the design firm Lemaymichaud, and they seem to have nailed the theme without being over the top or cheesy. Rest assured, there are no moose heads or plaid flannel to be found at Tundra.
And tastes like Canada …
Prendergast and his staff toss up ideas, discuss them together and tweak recipes many times before trying them out on those outside the kitchen. If the dish passes all the tests, it ends up on the menu, which changes seasonally. That is one reason why Tundra is poised and ready to play with the big dogs in Toronto’s reinvigorated fine-dining market. And, in fact, that competition is something Prendergast welcomes, and that’s a good thing for Tundra, considering right across the street sits the new Shangri-La Hotel with dining options that includes four Momofuku establishments and Bosk, headed by a Michelin-starred chef.
“I think it’s great to have more competition,” Prendergast said. “New chefs bring new styles and that stimulates interest, so we all benefit. Not many people want to eat the same style of food all the time when they eat out. Sometimes we want Italian, sometimes Asian; at Tundra we offer people a Canadian-inspired choice.”
Responsible (and Delicious) Dining in Toronto
So what constitutes a Canadian menu? At Tundra, you will find items such as buffalo sliders, seared duck breast, Ontario lamb, arctic char and cobia, along with Ontario beef. The proteins are hormone-free and sourced as locally as possible. The restaurant also works with two Toronto fish vendors — one is associated with Ocean Wise and the other with Sea Choice, and they have been offering only sustainable seafood for the past four years. Come winter, the menu will take on a heavier style and offer entrees such as venison, elk and caribou. Prendergast also takes advantage of practices like pickling and preserving, which allows him to continue to offer Canadian produce in the winter. Among the chef’s favourite menu items is the Buffalo Mozzarella, which is a play on the Caprese salad, and is served with white balsamic, a grassy olive oil, grilled leeks, pine nut brittle and pickled fiddleheads.
Tundra rolls out its fall menu on September 21, to mark the official arrival of autumn.
More About Tundra at the Toronto Hilton
Location: 145 Richmond Street West, Toronto
Reservations: Telephone: 416-860-6800
Hours of Operation: Daily: Breakfast until 11:30 am; Lunch: 11:30 am–2 pm; Dinner: 5-10 pm.
Menu Prices: Dinner entrees range from $21-$46
Room Rates at the Hilton: Nightly rates begin at $192. Check the website for details.
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