9 Toronto restaurants that serve (great) game meat
Game meat is a divisive subject in Toronto. We're a progressive city comprised of all manner of food activists, so vegetarians of Toronto: you might want to skip this one. I was once like you before a flawlessly-spiced home-seared steak brought me over to the dark (and bloody) side. My descent was lightning fast - soon followed by chicken wings, bison burgers and ribs. My body forgot how to subsist on lettuce and chickpeas alone, craving braised beef brisket and porchetta instead.
Then the situation worsened: I intentionally chose restaurants that boasted bone marrow, foie gras, and venison tartare. It's politically incorrect, I know, but once in a rare while, decadent indulgence needs to win out.
Here are some of my favourite game-meat-slinging restaurants in Toronto.
This, in my opinion, is one of the finer restaurants in this city. Their winter tasting menu featured a wide variety of game items, including an excellent venison tartare, but regular menu staples include rabbit saddle - somewhat ironically paired with heirloom carrots - and mustard greens as well as a melt-in-your-mouth foie gras with black truffle coulis.
Scaramouche's fowl offerings include foie gras terrine paired with duck breast pastrami, and roasted breast of partridge with crispy leg confit. For fans of land animals, their bacon-wrapped elk loin packs a meaty punch, paired with turnips and brussel sprouts.
George has two game dishes on offer: pheasant with apple slaw, and rack of venison sweetened by medjool dates, pan-seared water buffalo (with potato and goat cheese or cauliflower) as well as foie gras.
With a name like Beast, a meat-heavy menu's a given. Last week's game features were squab (or pigeon) breast, with lentils and blackberries, and a braised water buffalo poutine. Chef Scott Vivian tries to get red deer venison and elk on a regular basis, and says the appeal of game meat is showing "people that there's things out there other than beef and pork." Beast also runs their popular whole animal dinners - choose an animal, from wild boar to reindeer and in-between - and he'll create a tasting menu using the whole animal. A previous stand-out dinner: deep-fried squab where as a final course, guests bit the head and sucked the brains out.
The Black Hoof
The Black Hoof has been providing Torontonians with innovative presentations of meats to rave reviews for years. While game meat doesn't figure heavily on their menu, they're a worthy inclusion in my books for their charcuterie platter (which typically includes bison) as well as some of the softest bone marrow I've ever tasted, and their multitudinous duck and fore gras dishes.
Cowbell's rotating menu has seen many incarnations of duck (simply grilled or corned gizzards thereof, for example) or baked into a quiche for brunch. Venison also frequents the daily chalkboard. Chef and master butcher Mark Cutrara handpicks his providers and hand-cuts the meat to ensure that meat isn't wasted.
Persian kebobs often afford carnivores a concentrated dose of meat, and at Banu, you'll find cornish hen, cow's heart, and even lamb testicles skewered and cooked to perfection.
Byzantium is the only restaurant on this list to serve kangaroo, which comes with Yukon gold potatoes and brussel sprouts. They also offer up boneless rabbit baked into a puff pastry wellington-style. "We just wanted to try something different," says Stephanie, "and the response has been great."
And then, of course, there's La Palette, much-maligned in the press for serving meat reportedly culled from malnourished and mistreated horses following the U.S. horse slaughter ban in 2007 (they don't, by the way). Look beyond the controversy and you'll find a French bistro that expertly serves lean venison tenderloin from Quebec, Alberta-sourced bison ribeye available as a "luxury" steak frites, and wild boar tenderloin. In the past, they've served caribou, and continue to offer up musk ox three ways: in a ragout, as a pan-seared tenderloin, and cedar-smoked in sausage form. Co-owner Shamez Amlani speaks passionately about the musk ox, pointing out that it's not farmed, and therefore a "truly wild game" sourced from the Northwest Territories.
All of this is to say, if you give it a chance game and unusual meat, in their many elegantly prepared forms, might seduce you. You'll notice bison's exclusion from this list due to its increasing ubiquity in Toronto restaurants, although Keriwa Cafe's brisket easily deserves a mention. There are of course other restaurants that occasionally serve up game meat, but this list is a compilation of some favorites.
Do you have any stand-out dishes you'd like to share? Add your suggestions to the comments below.
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