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Being a professional glutton is a tough job. Each year, I scarf my way through shameful amounts of food. By year's end my belts need extra holes and my cholesterol needs lowering. But it's not all bad news as I am privileged to have experienced some culinary inspiration not to mention tasted some mighty fine meals.
Here are my picks for the best and most memorable dishes of 2015 (in no particular order):
This combo of roast squab and parsnip will have you rethinking your aversion to the flying rodent. A gorgeous, flaky savoury crust made with both lard and butter are worth every evil calorie and gluten protein consumed. Inspired by the age-old tourtiere, this dish truly satisfies with a two part composition that utilizes the entire squab: the peerless pie's filling of leg meat with roasted root vegetables is folded into a velvety rich sauce made from squab bones. An accompanying roasted breast on the bone over roasted parsnips compounds a remarkable execution of a meat pie that all too often is too watery and runny to enjoy
A lardo's soft and silky pork back fat is fantastically rich and creamy; and a sophisticated and nicely chewy lamb prosciutto coupled with a magnificent mushroom parmesan salumi might just rival Bar Raval's own in-house curing program. And believe me that is saying something.
Just as a steak frites is the barometer for how good a French bistro is, ditto ceviche for a Peruvian restaurant. And Pisco's sashimi-grade fatty butterfish (aka escolar) is astonishingly, absolutely superior. And, no, contrary to all the fear-mongering on the blogosphere about this type of fish, I did not leak orange oil after ingesting it. Not only does it pack a wallop of lime citrus, but its delicate plating with limo chilli pepper, micro cilantro, candied sweet potato, Andean corn and red onion makes it something to see as well as savour. It's the Platonic ideal of ceviche.
Something as simple as a whole roast chicken is completely satisfying. After the theatrical presentation of the entire cooked bird stuffed with rosemary and rotisserie potatoes in a copper pot, it's swiftly whisked back to the kitchen for carving. Though the skin could have been crispier, these are the juiciest pieces of poultry you will ever taste. Sorry, Swiss Chalet.
Created by pastry chef Ghaya Oliveira from Boulud Sud in NYC, it is perhaps the most screamingly clever dessert ever. If the James Beard Foundation could give out a separate award just for dessert, this would be the one to get it. Composition alone makes it a medalist, but rarely if ever do you see such whimsical form and function coming together in such symbiotic sweetness. Served on a bed of ice with dried rose petals, yarns of sesame halva top a frozen fruit peel like a white toupee, concealing other delights like rose loukoum and a palate cleansing grapefruit sorbet. Le wow.
Jamaican venison patty
It may look like a snack food, but it's as important as any expert entree. Slipped into a white paper sleeve with the Antler logo stamped on the front (nice touch), it’s the best version of any meat patty I can recall. The house made dough is so fine it's almost translucent, making it easy to see the mound of ground meat within with as much flavour as a well-simmered stew. And the delicately spicy dipping sauce with scotch bonnet is not blow-your-head-off hot thanks to being blended mostly with red peppers. Make no mistake: this is not the meat patty you're used to seeing under a heat lamp at the corner convenience store.
How the kitchen got this dish to resemble your average plate of sweet potato fries is anyone's guess, but seasoned fish paste with a zesty Taiwanese tartar sauce is a real unexpected treat, not to mention a true original. It's mind boggling how food this inexpensive can have such culinary intrigue. All I can say is how did we do without it for so long?
If you think this is all meat, you'd be dead wrong. It's 75 per cent pork fat that cured in-house for at least two months, creating an original spread like a slightly spicy sausage sans the casing. Mark my words, this is the kind of influential food that will in time trickle down and appear on menu openers everywhere.
Looking like a prop from a horror movie set, this dish is a cross between shawarma and shish kabob, a description that barely does it justice. Essentially meat on a stick, the beautifully grilled beef is rolled around a huge wooden skewer the size of a small rolling pin with its own wood drip tray. In the Alps, it's eaten directly off the stick, but we polite and provincial locals will be tempted to use a knife. Any way you decide to eat, you'll devour the tender flank steak wrapped over pancetta and sprinkled with rosemary. And though a bit pricey for what looks like a small amount of meat with no accompaniments, it should be on everyone's bucket list for the novelty alone.
Barque made its reputation on its smoked meats and Barque Butcher Bar is no different. Thickly cut and full of meat, these ribs haven't a gram of fat on them. Its pimento paste and garlic flavour is not only addictive, it mimics the spice signature of an actual chorizo sausage. Served in a warm, small, cast iron pan, with tangy ribbons of pickled vegetables, this dish, though pricey for the portion, is worth every penny.
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