20 restaurants to eat at during Winterlicious 2013
Winterlicious, enters its 11th year on January 25th, and while the prix fix food festival doesn't cause quite the stir it used to, there's still lots to get excited about in the days leading up to the event. While much of this year's list of participants is made up of familiar faces, there is some new blood to keep things interesting.
Reservations opened back on January 10th, so there's likely a number of places that will be almost completely booked for dinner already. That said, there's no shortage of worthwhile options that will still have availability leading up to the 25th (and perhaps beyond). So here's a rundown of what to expect from Winterlicious 2013.
HOW IT WORKS
It's probably unnecessary to explain the concept at this point, but just for the sake of thoroughness, I'll review. This year sees 191 restaurants on the Winterlicious roster, all of whom will offer three-course prix fixe meals for lunch (priced at $15, $20 and $25) and dinner (which comes in at $25, $35 and $45). For popular restaurants, it's almost imperative to reserve in advance, though lunch offering are typically far easier to take advantage of on a last minute basis. Although facilitated by the City of Toronto, you need to contact the restaurants directly to make reservations.
NEW THIS YEAR
There are 16 new participants this year, of whom a few are particularly noteworthy. They include the following:
- Grace (menu) — Refined takes on country/farmhouse classics.
- Loire (menu) — A French gem on Harbord. Great service and accomplished food.
- Splendido (menu) — The pick of the litter this year (get in if you still can)
OLD FAVOURITES & HOT TICKETS
This could be a very long list, so I've prioritized 1) those places that you'll want to try to make early(ish) reservations for and 2) that offer bang for your buck considering their usual prices.
- Auberge du Pommier (menu) — Still some of the best high-end French food in the city.
- Canoe (menu) — Another Oliver and Bonacini staple. Come for the view; stay for the food.
- North 44 (menu) — Where Mark McEwan started his empire and it remains remarkably polished.
- Colborne Lane (menu) — Why not see for yourself what all the fuss over Claudio Aprile is about.
- Boehmer (menu) — Ossington hot spot with great cocktails. Try the beef cheeks.
- Centro (menu) — Still excellent Italian-inspired fare near Yonge & Eglinton.
- Célestin (menu) — A quiet and sophisticaed French spot on Mt. Pleasant.
- Lee (menu) — Susur still does small plates very well. Best coleslaw ever!
- Mistura (menu) — Celebrity chef Massimo Capra has still got it.
- Scarpetta (menu) — The buzz has died down, but the food is still generally excellent.
VEGETARIAN AND VEGAN OPTIONS
There's no reason why those who don't eat meat-derived products can't get in on the fun. Here some of the better vegetarian/vegan-friendly options.
- Frida (menu) — Meat-free Mexican eats aren't second class on this menu.
- 259 Host (menu) — Like Indian food? Go here.
- Tabülè (menu) — Excellent Middle Eastern food in a casual setting.
- Prime Steakhouse (menu) — Who would have thought a steakhouse would be your best vegan bet?
CHEAP BUT GOOD
Here are some top picks in the most reasonable Winterlicious price range of $15/$25 (for lunch and dinner, respectively.
- Midi Bistro (menu) — A tiny French bistro that gets country cooking right.
- The Wine Bar (menu) — High end fare for wallet-happy prices (that's the whole point!)
- Spice Route (menu) — Great room, good food, and not that expensive. So, +++.
Over the last few years, Winterlicious has also featured various events designed to enrich the festival experience. Most of these are indulgent as well as educational, so it's best to arrive hungry.
- Pizza Making — It's easier to make good pizza at home than you might think, so might as well learn.
- Guilty Pleasures — Fashion and food meet at the Drake.
- Four Ways Dinner You don't know what you'll get, but it probably be good.
- Culinary U Turn Claudio Aprille and Rene Rodriguez prepare the dishes that first inspired them.
Got a restaurant you think others should try out during Winterlicious? Let us know in the comments.
Photo by Jen Laceda