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Canoe: What A Meal Should Be

Posted by Paul / Reviewed on June 1, 2007 / review policy

P1040824---Version-2.jpgLooking out over Toronto Island from the 54th floor of the 66 Wellington TD Tower, I am happy.

Last week my father and I indulged in a dinner at Canoe. I had high expectations for this meal but that didn't stop chef Anthony Walsh from completely surpassing them with a tasting menu that excited and entertained me just as much as it fulfilled my taste and appetitive needs.

P1040822---Version-2.jpgWe started off with the Amuse Bouche (just something small to "cleanse the palette" and get you ready for the meal ahead). This came in the form of a Shrimp Tartar with an Avocado Citrus Sauce, topped with deep fried little things that I can't remember the name of. Oh, and a Cherry Tomato.

P1040830---Version-2.jpgUp next was the Applewood Cold Smoke Salmon Plate, with Pickled Enoki Mushrooms, Granny Smith Apple, and a Horseradish Infused Creme Fraiche. Simply to die for. The sweet creme fraiche with the fresh horseradish was something I could never have thought up in a million years.

P1040835---Version-2.jpgThe second appetizer was a soup course. Ivory Oyster Mushroom Soup with Stewed Rabbit, Meyer Lemon Confit, Black Trumpet Mushrooms, all topped with Black Truffle Foam. The foam just disappears in your mouth and leaves hints of truffle and mushroom flavour behind. I am convinced part of the reason for the foam was an element of surprise. Every spoonful you took, you had no idea what you were going to get. A little rabbit maybe... a little mushroom... some crunchy celery... every bite was something new and exciting, yet somehow entirely familiar and comforting.

P1040837---Version-2.jpgThe last appetizer was a BC Side Stripe Shrimp Fricasse, with Blue Mountain Fiddleheads, Cinnamon Caps, and Bonacini Wild Leeks, finished off with Chicken Broth Foam. They left the pan fried shrimp head in tact so you could suck out all the juicy and salty insides. I know that must sound kind of gross to some people, but you seriously have to try it before you knock it.

P1040843---Version-2.jpgThis was the main event. Nunavut Caribou Hind, with Foie Gras Tourtiere (a sick and twisted take on a Canadian classic that made you feel like you were at your grandmother's house only she'd somehow been inexplicably relocated to Pluto... a truly original and deliriously delicious side to the meal). Also on the plate are Northern Beans, Honey Mushrooms, and something I have never seen before in my life; a Pickled Walnut, still crunchy, covered in a dark chocolate sauce. Truly a brand new flavour in the life of my taste buds. Oh, and of course the caribou... I think Anthony Bourdain put it best when he said that when a meal's so good, you start to run out of intellectual compliments like delicious and divine and inspiring, and you just have to revert back to simply describing what you're eating as fucking amazing. This is how the caribou made me feel. This was my first time eating caribou, and I'm still completely in the dark about how they managed to make such a lean and wild piece of meat taste so tender and not at all gamey. I could have eaten this thing quite happily and effectively without teeth if I needed to.

Oh, I should also mention that each course had a wine pairing. This was a detail I failed to take into account when I biked over to Canoe from work. Halfway through the meal I realized I was slowly but surely becoming less confident in my biking skills (especially as the sun was going down) so I opted out to leave my bike at the TD Centre. But while we're on the subject, I have to mention that the wine paired with the caribou was the darkest and richest red wine I've ever seen or tasted. Even in the sun, it appears basically black. When you smell it, you're reminded of a fresh cup of espresso (I'm not at all a wine expert, but the smells and tastes were truly obvious to me) and then you taste, and afterwards, you're left with the lingering of dark chocolate and spices. I don't usually get excited about wine at all, but this red was just insanely good (for those keeping score at home, the wine was a JL Chave Offerus Saint-Joseph Rhone VQA 04... I honestly don't know what that means. Wine's not my thing.)

P1040847---Version-2.jpgA small little wrap up to the savoury dishes was something that was listed on the menu as Thunder Oak Gouda and Friend Chicken. Chef Walsh's rather minimalist take in this dish was a bite sized slice of salty and briny gouda, sandwiched between two thin pieces of deep friend chicken skin, finished with caramel. My lord. Best single bite ever.

P1040853---Version-2.jpgThe pre-desert course (called Maria's Pre-Sweet) consisted of a small cup of lemon cream, almost like a citrus pudding, that I'm pretty sure I could have eaten an entire punch bowl of. And it was capped by a dehydrated slice of lemon that was not at all sour. Just entirely sweet.

P1040855---Version-2.jpgOh, and the "shot glass" was made of ice. How Canadian of them.

P1040859---Version-2.jpgAnd finally the desert. I think I forgot to mention that this was supposed to be my late birthday dinner (this type of meal doesn't get served to me on a regular basis... this was a once in a lifetime thing). For desert they lit a tiny candle for me, and the table beside me started singing happy birthday. A little awkward, but in that harmless "I'm too tipsy to really care so I'll just grin like an idiot" sort of way. Oh, and the desert was a Manitoba Wild Rice Pudding, with Cranberry, Kumquat Spruce Ganache, and a new favorite of mine; Goat Cheese Ice Cream. Truly a perfect end to a perfect meal.

I don't use the word perfect very lightly. Especially when it comes to food. Everything has to be taken into account; setting. time. space. sounds. people... and of course food. But in this regard, Canoe has pretty much everything going for them. Initially, I'll admit, it is a little intimidating because I tend to avoid most restaurants that require you to wear an ironed shirt (this isn't actually part of their dress code). But after the first course, you get to know the server and you can tell that they know these meals are meant to be fun and adventurous. They get it. That's very important.

P1040864---Version-2.jpgI once watched a special on the restaurant on FoodTV where the floor manager spoke about that "one thing" that you go home remembering and just loving. He said there should always be something within the course of the meal that just makes you say, "I can't believe that just happened." For me, it was a moment at around 7pm, when a row of 6 servers walked casually together to the west wall of windows, and all at once hoisted the blinds (and they made sure everyone heard and saw this) as if they were raising a marble pillar of some holy temple. It was as though they were "announcing" the sunset. Everyone looked over in amazement, as if they had forgotten for a moment that the sun was still there, and that as they ate, time still passed.

The meal itself took just over 3 hours. It was well paced and constantly entertaining and delicious. But it's not the time, or the pace that really matters here. It's the thinking that a meal isn't just something that you eat because it keeps you going. A meal is something meant to be enjoyed and remembered. Whether it's a 3 hour marathon of flavours on the 54th floor of an architectural landmark in Toronto, or a 10 minute slurping of a spicy bowl of pho at a street vendor in Hanoi, it should be something precious and wonderful and comforting and exciting and inspiring... and yes, sometimes simply fucking amazing.



frank / June 1, 2007 at 02:02 pm
Great review paul and those pix are outstanding!
Jerrold / June 1, 2007 at 02:03 pm
Lovely photos, Paul. :) The food looks gooood.
megan / June 1, 2007 at 02:14 pm
And, are you willing to disclose how much the divine experience cost?
paul / June 1, 2007 at 02:50 pm
this once in a lifetime meal had a wine pairing with every course... so for one person, it was about $160... it looks even more ridiculous when i write it down.
Adam / June 1, 2007 at 03:41 pm
Outstanding! I've always wanted to give Canoe a try, but the price has always been an intimidating factor. Good call on doing it for your birthday! They were a part of Winterlicious earlier this year but I couldn't get a reservation (or even a call through without a busy tone) for the life of me. Hopefully they go for Summerlicious again soon.
Anita / June 1, 2007 at 05:15 pm
Paul, your meal was only $160. That's pretty good, remember people this is Canoe and there are 40 dollar entrees. I would have expected it to be more.
Gloria / June 1, 2007 at 07:21 pm
I'm also surprised it only cost $160, considering the number of dishes and the inclusion of wine. Brilliant! Happy birthday.
megan / June 6, 2007 at 09:45 pm
i actually think that for a divine experience that's reasonable. some people pay that to go to a concert. this is just a different form of entertainment.
khalid / July 9, 2008 at 12:28 pm
great pics!
julie / August 1, 2009 at 08:33 am
View was outstanding. Service was good....not amazing, but acceptable. For two people was 210.00 - and walked away hungry. All was had was a middle of the road red wine and 4 scallops each in addition to the amuse bouche. I appreciate the finer things..and understand quality ingredients....however I feel let down that I was not directed by the server to consider the tasting menu if he knew that my entree would be disappointingly small and that I would have recieved more value for my money and a much more satisfying meal.
Would not return.
johan / December 10, 2009 at 09:41 am

had the tasting menu with wine paring. Hefty pours on very well pared wines. Excellent dishes. Best Octopus salad I have ever had. All around great experience. But be prepared to spend some $$.

Would definitely go back... for an occasion
James / January 27, 2010 at 02:49 am
Actually the $160 is on par with other "upscale" restos in Toronto doing tastings with pairings. I've never been to Canoe...have reservations for tomorrow. The past few months I've done the tasting at George and Colborne Lane a few times, but I am very much looking forward to the tasting tomorrow. I have my doubts about the octopus salad...but we'll see, lol.
carlos / December 21, 2010 at 02:12 pm
Dinner at Canoe is an experience. From the moment you are greeted to the last bite, everything is perfect.
Four of us sat at the Chef’s Rail overlooking the kitchen last Friday night and the meal was spectacular.
We started with fresh shucked oysters, each of us then had an appetizer: cured pickerel, smoked salmon, a coddled egg and beef tartare. This was followed by a salad and finally our mains, one each of: duck, lamb, veal chop and Foie Gras. We ended the meal with one shared desert with 4 spoons.
The food was inspired. Chef de Cuisine, John Horne and the 25 or so people in the kitchen do an amazing job with every ingredient.
Expensive? Yes.
Return soon? Absolutely.
Worth it? Defiantly, fifth visit this year.
opensource1111 / November 6, 2012 at 09:59 am
Hands down, the best dining experience I have had in Toronto. I've been twice now, and each time the food and service did not dissapoint. The first time was the best, however - wife and I left thinking, "what just happened? Was that for real?" Everyone from front staff to servers were gracious, knowledgeable. No attitude, which you find in some less expensive restaurants. I guess they realize everyone's money looks and spends the same, so treat everyone equally with respect. Good job.
JD / January 12, 2013 at 09:07 pm
Sounds like a wonderful experience. On another note, BlogTO should maybe just get rid of user review scores. I don't know if competitors get employees to rate down establishments, or people are super picky, but even the most exquisite of restaurants (like this one) struggle to get three stars. Kinda pointless as a reference.
Michael Snapper / April 9, 2013 at 05:15 am
You are all a bunch of losers who right in to these.
LenoraBooth / November 28, 2013 at 03:26 am
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toronto dude / June 18, 2014 at 06:15 pm
Canoe has been a fav treat of mine for a long time and never disappoints. However, the last time sat at the Chef's Rail and oh boy was that a mistake....watched dirty rags and aprons be used to wipe knives, hands and cleaning surfaces etc over and over....I think the worst offence of all was sweeping the floor while others were preparing food in the kitchen...While none of this is uncommon I'm sure....watching it was not fun. Needless to say we were put off our meal and haven't been able to bring ourselves to go back since. Next time, a table looking out to the island or the Gardner will do quite nicely thanks.
Jak / August 13, 2014 at 12:04 am
@toronto dude: Seriously, the worst offence is someone sweeping the floor while food is being prepared? Personally, I'd rather have someone keeping the place clean throughout as opposed to leaving it messy. I mean, did you expect that kitchens shut down every time someone wants to sweep the floor?
Karma Speaking / January 17, 2015 at 10:24 am
This is where greedy people eat

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