Winterlicious 2009

Winterlicious is back for its seventh year in our fair city, being held as part of the annual WinterCity festival.

150 local restaurants are participating in the two week Prix-Fixe culinary event, giving Toronto foodies the opportunity to dine their way across the city.

Among the usual suspects are all of the Oliver & Bonacini restaurants (Canoe, Jump, Auberge de Pommier, Biff's Bistro and the Oliver & Bonacini Cafe Grill), Chef Mark McEwan's North 44 and Bymark (but not his newest Yorkville resto One), Chef Marc Thuet's Atelier Thuet, and of course West Queen West mainstays like The Drake and Czehoski.

New additions to the Toronto food scene like The Citizen in Leslieville (from Rodney Bowers Chef/owner of the Rosebud), and Bite Me! (the reinvention of Marc Thuet's original restaurant on King West) are also participating, a perfect way to sample what these spots have to offer.

Unfortunately new additions also include chains like Alice Fazooli's Italian Grill and Lone Star Texas Grill; however eligibility criteria set by the city only allow one location to participate.

Also new this year is an updated pricing structure - lunch price points are now $15, $20, or $30 (from $15 or $20 last year) and dinner price points are now $25, $35, or $45 (from $25 or $35 last year). The prices charged are up to the individual restaurant.

The new pricing structure is coupled with a requirement for each restaurant to prove that a three course meal at their establishment is more expensive than the Winterlicious prix-fixe promotional price, but interestingly this rule doesn't apply to restaurants that have participated in any Winterlicous before 2009.

And for those of us looking to do more than eat ourselves silly, in recent years the Winterlicious franchise has expanded to include food centric events including cooking classes, art exhibitions, charity fundraisers and fashion shows. Many of these events, though, are far more expensive than even the highest Winterlicious price point of $45.

Among the more affordable options are: a fashion brunch at the Drake called "Guilty Pleasures V: Fashion + Food = Fabulous!" ($35); Spice Route's culinary journey along the ancient Spice Route "Travel the Spice Route Brunch" ($40); a meal featuring pairings of 8 artisanal beers with cuisine from local Toronto Restaurants "Artisanal Brewers at Todmorden Mills Museum" ($50); and a spectacular brunch "Five Senses Brunch" at Rosewater Supper Club ($50).

The rest of the events range from $60-$200+, leaving me wondering what the criteria are to become a "Winterlicious Culinary Event."

So yes, Winterlicious has expanded to become a more robust culinary happening for the city, with higher prices to match. And yes, I may occasionally feel like cattle being herded through the pasture when owners/operators have a less enlightened view on hospitality.

But for me its all about the food, and all in all Winterlicious still offers some good value.

Winterlicious runs from January 30 to February 12, 2009. Photo by IndieYuppie on Flickr

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