Report by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
Joe Beef is the best restaurant in Canada for 2013.
That’s according to Vacay.ca judges — including elite chefs, food professionals, and travel and food journalists — and votes from the Canadian public, who took part in a national survey to discover the finest places to dine in the nation.
“I am thrilled and honoured,” co-owner David McMillan said after learning that his Montreal establishment known for its irreverent style and try-anything cuisine had placed atop the 2013 Vacay.ca Top 50 Restaurants in Canada Guide.
Only two restaurants — Joe Beef and Vij’s — on the judges’ ballots received more than 500 weighted points, but Langdon Hall had so much public support that it overtook Vij’s for second place. A graceful country manor in Cambridge, Ontario, Langdon Hall has come to epitomize luxury dining in this nation under executive chef Jonathan Gushue. Its supporters were eager to show their admiration, too, sending in notes of praise as they voted for Langdon Hall to be Canada’s favourite. Langdon Hall finished second to the Mono Cliffs Inn of rural Ontario in the People’s Choice voting. (Public votes make up 25% of the total outcome of the Top 50 list.)
Vij’s, last year’s overall winner, just missed retaining its title. Still, the sophisticated Indian restaurant remains one of the most celebrated dining experiences in Canada and a triumphant example of the nation’s multicultural fabric.
Atelier, last year’s People’s Choice winner, also received hundreds of votes from the public and was able to move into the top five because of that support from its diners. The judges had Atelier — an Ottawa restaurant known for its multi-course tasting menu featuring chef Marc Lepine’s inventive creations — listed as the nation’s seventh-best restaurant. Calgary’s CHARCUT also moved into the top five on the strength of public voting, finishing ahead of Toronto’s Acadia, which has earned high praise under chef Patrick Kriss.
Here are the Top 5 Restaurants in Canada:
1. JOE BEEF , Montreal, Quebec
Chefs/Owners: David McMillan and Frédéric Morin
Website: www.joebeef.ca. Cuisine: Steak, Seafood, French
Telephone: 514-935-6504. Twitter: @joebeef
2012 Rank: 3
Price Range: $31-$50 for main courses.
You Must Order: Anything and everything — even if it says it’s made with SPAM. But if the Double Down foie gras is on the menu, go for it.
Need to Know … from Judge Dustin Gilman of Food Guy Montreal: Can’t remember if I’ve ever had anything Dave and Fred made that I didn’t like. There’s a reason why a reservation at Joe Beef is one of the hardest to get in the city.
2. LANGDON HALL, Cambridge, Ontario
Chef: Jonathan Gushue
Website: www.langdonhall.ca. Cuisine: Contemporary, Canadian
Telephone: 519-740-2100. Twitter: @Langdon_Hall
2012 Rank: 2
Price range: $29-$44
You’ll love: Butter Poached Nova Scotia Lobster Double Smoked Bacon, Chanterelles, Turnip, Truffle Nage-$42
Need to Know … from Ontario Regional Chair Rebecca LeHeup of Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance: The ultimate taste of Canada is showcased with fresh, seasonal ingredients by the culinary team at Langdon Hall. From pub fare to their tasting menus and seasonal BBQ series — every dining experience there is a delight. Pair the culinary experiences with their fabulous rooms and other amenities and this is the perfect culinary vacation destination.
Vacay.ca Managing Editor Adrian Brijbassi says: One of the nation’s most accomplished and dedicated chefs, Jonathan Gushue champions Canadian cuisine and leads an extraordinary kitchen staff at this gem of an establishment.
Judge John Placko of Modern Culinary Academy says: The consistency of the offerings here is a testament to the long-term leadership of Jonathan Gushue. Taking the location and surroundings out of the equation, the food here is world class. Delicate flavours, locally foraged ingredients and home-made preserves make for a memorable taste experience every time. The clever creations is artfully plated and the most important part, taste, is always there.
3. VIJ’S, Vancouver, British Columbia
Chefs/Owners: Vikram Vij, Meeru Dhalwala
Website: www.vijs.ca. Cuisine: Indian, Fusion
Telephone: 604-736-6664. Twitter: @Vijs_restaurant
2012 Rank: 1
Price range: $24-$28.50 for main courses.
You Must Order: The famous lamb popsicles, which are a rack of lamb served with curry and meant for eating with your hands using the rib bone as a stick. ($28)
Need to Know … from Judge Renée Suen of Toronto Life: Unquestionably an institution that is quintessentially Canadian in ideology, hospitality, embrace of ingredients and sensibility. The cuisine is refined, yet highly approachable. Musts: lamb popsicle or, even better, the curry goat, and the complimentary chai.
Ontario Regional Chair Rebecca LeHeup of Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance says: Hospitality at it’s finest. Chef Vij is often onsite greeting guests at the door. Waiting for your table is a treat as staff bring around pakoras, samosas and other bites in their lounge. The room seems to be constantly busy yet you feel like you are in your own little world once your meal arrives- this is hands down the best Indian food I’ve ever had!
Judge Sarah Bancroft says: Yes the bar is filled with tourists, yes the wait for a table is two hours, but more than a decade after opening, Vij’s is still Vancouver’s most original and internationally noteworthy restaurant. The décor is still exotic, sexy and contemporary, the food is inventive, modern and healthy, and the service (with orders taken on an iPhone by rotating servers) is as well-orchestrated as Swan Lake.
4. ATELIER, Ottawa, Ontario
Chef: Marc Lepine
Website: www.atelierrestaurant.ca. Cuisine: Molecular gastronomy, Modern
Telephone: 613-321-3537. Twitter: @MarcLepine
2012 Rank: 5
Price Range: $110
You Must Order: The menu changes daily. Dinner usually averages around three hours in length; there is a wine pairing available every evening ($60) of nine or 10 wines. The pairing is optional, and an extensive list of wines by the bottle and glass, as well as other drinks. Need to Know … from Vacay.ca Managing Editor Adrian Brijbassi: The service is first rate; the kitchen is smaller than what you’d find in some Toronto condominiums yet it turns out plate after plate of mind-blowing dishes. The other aspect of Atelier you will remember is that the imaginativeness doesn’t stop with the food. Each dish has a name that attempts to be clever. A cold pea soup puree is called Give Peas a Chance (and you should, it’s delicious), a crab-and-lobster dish is named after characters in both the “Little Mermaid” (Sebastian the Crab) and “The Simpsons” (Pinchy the Lobster), and a peach dessert gets tagged with the title Impeachment. The servers appear chagrined and apologetic when they pronounce some of the names, which only adds to Atelier’s lack of pretentiousness.
Judge John Placko of Modern Culinary Academy says: I’ve dined here three times and each time the multi-course menu keeps improving in terms of sophistication, presentation and flavour combinations. Marc’s use of modernist techniques to create unique textures puts his food on the top of my list. No surprise then that the small, oddly located restaurant has been full on all three occasions. He masters the unique modernist techniques and weaves them into the local and seasonally inspired ingredients, while having fun with his menu descriptions.
Judges Don and Jenn Chow of Foodie Prints say: Diners have seen the rise and fall of molecular food. Almost clichéd plates of spheres in foam no longer excite. The techniques remain. Stalwart proponents of modernist cuisine apply them to create dishes that celebrate ingredients and convey ideas. One practitioner of what he deems “hyper modern ‘new Canadian'” is award-winning chef Marc Lepine. At celebrated Atelier, he and his team assemble thoughtful multi-course menus that represent the “now” of food. Plates appeal to every kind of diner. They are also feasts for the senses. Imagine creative dishes with ahi tuna, elk, smoked avocado, parsnip, and beet.
5. CHARCUT ROAST HOUSE , Calgary, AB (Winner of Best Female Chef in Canada)
Chefs/Owners: Connie DeSousa, John Jackson
Website: www.charcut.com. Cuisine: Charcuterie
Telephone: 403-984-2180. Twitter: @CHARCUT
2012 Rank: New entry
Price Range: $19-$26
You Must Order: Rotisserie Chicken Salad Sandwich. With pancetta, arugula, DeSousa family piri piri aioli-$15
Need to Know … from Ontario Regional Chair Rebecca LeHeup of Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance: The dynamic duo of Connie DeSousa and John Jackson work their culinary wonders in their open kitchen — exposing customers to their craft, which is primarily focused on all things meat. From the house-made charcuturie to the bone marrow with escargot, every dish is delicious. The attention to customer service and calling out their favoured growers and producers makes this a great place to “taste Alberta.”
Judge Julie Van Rosendaal of Dinner with Julie says: CHARCUT has become a destination restaurant in Calgary — a place people bring out-of-town visitors for a unique and memorable experience. From creative cocktails to house-cured charcuterie and preserves, the cuisine is innovative, with a focus on locally sourced ingredients.
More About the Vacay.ca Top 50 Restaurants in Canada 2013
Restaurants 6-10: See the video covering Toronto’s favourite and others
Restaurants 11-15: See the video covering 5 great chefs
Restaurants 16-20: See the video covering the 2013 People’s Choice winner
Restaurants 21-25: See the video featuring Araxi in Whistler, B.C.
Restaurants 26-30: See the video showing Brooklyn Warehouse in Halifax
Restaurants 31-35: See the video featuring Momofuku in Toronto
Restaurants 36-40: See the video and read about the top restaurant in New Brunswick
Restaurants 41-45: See the video for these restaurants
Restaurants 46-50: See the video covering the beginning of the countdown
2012 results, judging and more information: Visit the Top 50 Restaurants webpage for full details
Foodie of the Year Contest: Vacay.ca is giving away a luxury getaway that includes airfare, hotel accommodations and dinner to the Top 50 restaurant of the winners choice. See details here.