Monday, December 19, 2011

Canoe: The Height of Inspired Canadian Cuisine

Critically acclaimed as being among Canada’s best restaurants, Canoe’s unique location at the top of the TD Tower guarantees one of the most breathtaking views of the city. The design is clean and simple, yet absolutely stylish — the same style and unwavering excellence that is captured through the flavours and textures of Chef Anthony Walsh and Chef John Horne's inspired regional Canadian cuisine.

Chef Anthony Walsh photo: Naomi Finlay

At the beginning of this year, Canoe closed its doors and embarked on a month long renovation, the first major overhaul for the restaurant since its opening 15 years ago. The revitalization included full facelifts to the kitchen, dining rooms and bar. The transformation of the space has been subtle, gently shifting its refined, minimalist environment to a warmer, darker, richer palette. Upgrades included the addition of a soapstone top in Canoe's bar with two wall-carved caribou at either end, plus a glowing red semi-translucent acrylic counter along the windows of the bar, and classic Saarinen style chairs upholstered in plush mohair, new banquettes, walnut tabletops and floors in the dining area. True to Canoe's commitment to regional flavours, Canadian artists feature prominently in the restaurant with a unique bronze and copper wall by 'Unit Five' along the back wall, a custom entranceway featuring 150 vintage porcelain replicas of beaver-embossed sealer jars by Vancouver’s 'Heyday Design' and three custom-made carved walnut chandeliers by 'Brothers Dressler'.

Canoe's stylish new interior with a warmer palette and unrestrained use of natural materials

Canoe's 'Chef Rail', where diners can enjoy their meal, overlook the kitchen
 and chat with Chef John Horne

A Thursday evening just before Christmas and the kitchen was in full swing

Wines by the glass are also an option at Canoe

Canoe's post-renovation menu continues to focus on regional Canadian dishes, with new culinary offerings such as Cumbrae Farms Beef Tartare with applewood smoked bacon, pretzel toast and Forbe's wild flowers, Ontario Provimi Veal Chop with charred leeks, crispy sweetbreads and Kennebec potato gratin and Great Lakes Pickerel 'Shore Lunch Style' with dandelion, cast iron fried potatoes and Kozlik's mustard sauce. "This menu reinvention will keep Canoe pointed true north", says partner Michael Bonacini. Arriving slightly early for our 8:30pm dinner reservation, we started the evening in Canoe's stylish new bar with a cocktail and soaked up the fabulous views over the city from our 54th floor perch.

Hendrick's Gin martini with a slice of cucumber and 2 cerignola olives

Our 'art-shot' taken from Canoe's Bar at the top of the TD tower

Once seated at our table, we were brought Canoe's new dinner menu and surprisingly, a complimentary glass of champagne from the Maître D. Having decided on our entrées, we decided to try an Umbrian 2003 Sagrantino di Montefalco by Arnaldo-Caprai, but when our server couldn't provide any further clarification on our wine choice, he sent Canoe's renowned sommelier Will Predhomme to our table. Charming, affable and thoroughly knowledgeable, Will of course knew all about the wine we selected and mentioned that he'd met the vintner during a wine tasting at Aria. What a small world —  we had chatted earlier with Elena Morelli, owner of Aria, about a bottle of Passati which had been a gift to her from Arnaldo himself — a bottle which she graciously shared with our table the evening we dined at her restaurant! 

Will Predhomme, sommelier at Canoe

With our full bodied Umbrian wine in hand, we decided to start with Canoe's renowned Clover Roads Duck 'Tongue to Tail' which was a standout — the dish centred around screech-marinated foie gras au torchon. Artfully presented on a block of hewn wood, the dish included battered duck tongue, a tiny duck heart that’d been sliced in two, chunky, nicely seasoned duck rillettes, seared duck breast and buttery duck mousse. It was a stellar presentation and full of varied flavours, so not surprising it's on their most popular starters. I decided to try the Qualicum Beach Scallop Ceviche from Canoe's Tasting Menu, since I had recently visited Qualicum while on Vancouver Island in October. The scallop ceviche was served with apple cider seaweed, horseradish and both fresh and preserved apple. I'm not a big fan of foam on food, but the flavour of the scallops, the delicate texture of the seaweed and shaved apple came together nicely. 

Clover Roads Duck 'Tongue to Tail'

Qualicum Beach Scallop Ceviche from Canoe's Tasting menu

As a main course we ordered the Alberta Lamb which was served with Branston Pickle, baby turnips, spring onion and small butterball potatoes. Exquisitely tender and full of flavour, the lamb loins were cooked to perfection. Being an ardent fan of mushrooms, I also had to try Canoe's Pan Roasted Northern Woods Mushrooms which arrived in a small tureen. Perfectly roasted, the fragrant medley of these gifts from the forest included oyster, shitake, beech and cinnamon cap mushrooms, and were so delicious I could easily have doubled the order and had it as an entrée. My husband ordered the 45-Day Dry Aged Ribeye which arrived with orange glazed heirloom carrots and topped with a mouth watering beef tongue and marrow tortellini. Having not had a steak for over a month, he became almost teary eyed with each and every succulent bite of the rib-eye.

Alberta Lamb

Northern Woods grilled mushrooms

45-Day Dry Aged Ribeye

After dinner, we decided to return to the bar, drink in the view and enjoy a flight of six premium Canadian cheeses from BC, Ontario and Quebec, and of course a glass of port to finish our fabulous evening. Our server even refilled our glass on-the-house, noticing that we'd not yet finished our cheeses. He also pointed out that the cranberry scones that were part of the plate, were made from a recipe by Chef de Cuisine John Horne's mother. Nice touch.

Canoe's Cheese Plate with six premium cheeses from across Canada

The friendly Barrista in Canoe's Bar in front of the etched soapstone caribou,
and image lifted from the face of our quarter! 

Our evening at Canoe was exceptional. The meal was excellent, the new interior elegant and refined, and the staff friendly and professional. Unfortunately, as we were leaving, our server didn't even bother to thank us because he was on his cellphone. For an expensive evening and a very gracious tip, I'd have hoped for a simple "Thank you" as we left. Oh well, one small blemish on a perfect evening.