The 2018 Contenders

1909 Kitchen, Tofino
1909 Kitchen
Tofino, BC
Aloette, Toronto
Aloette
Toronto, ON
Atlas, Toronto
Atlas
Toronto, ON
Avenue, Regina
Avenue
Regina, SK
Bar Kismet, Halifax
Bar Kismet
Halifax, NS
Biera, Edmonton
Biera
Edmonton, AB
Bistro Rosie, Montreal
Bistro Rosie
Montreal, QC
Bread & Circus Trattoria, Calgary
Bread & Circus Trattoria
Calgary, AB
Bündok, Edmonton
Bündok
Edmonton, AB
Cruz Tacos, Calgary
Cruz Tacos
Calgary, AB
Donna Mac, Calgary
Donna Mac
Calgary, AB
Elena, Montreal
Elena
Montreal, QC
Giulietta, Toronto
Giulietta
Toronto, ON
Hopkins, Montreal
Hopkins
Montreal, QC
Il Covo, Toronto
Il Covo
Toronto, ON
Kanto 98 St. Eatery, Edmonton
Kanto 98 St. Eatery
Edmonton, AB
Kiin, Toronto
Kiin
Toronto, ON
Kū-Kŭm, Toronto
Kū-Kŭm
Toronto, ON
La Cabane d’à Côté, Saint-Benoît-de-Mirabel
La Cabane d’à Côté
Saint-Benoît-de-Mirabel, QC
Omai, Toronto
Omai
Toronto, ON
Passero, Winnipeg
Passero
Winnipeg, MB
Sand and Pearl, Picton
Sand and Pearl
Picton, ON
Seedlings, Bloomfield
Seedlings
Bloomfield, ON
Skippa, Toronto
Skippa
Toronto, ON
St. Lawrence, Vancouver
St. Lawrence
Vancouver, BC
Tanto, Toronto
Tanto
Toronto, ON
The Courtney Room, Victoria
The Courtney Room
Victoria, BC
The Oxbow, Winnipeg
The Oxbow
Winnipeg, MB
The Restaurant at Pearl Morissette, Jordan Station
The Restaurant at Pearl Morissette
Jordan Station, ON
Mon Lapin, Montreal
Vin Mon Lapin
Montreal, QC

1909 Kitchen

Chef: Paul Moran
Cuisine: Seasonal
Tofino, BC


634 Campbell St.
250-726-6122
tofinoresortandmarina.com

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A harbour seal pops its head out of Clayoquot Sound as wetsuits dry on nearby balconies. Behind a porthole-window-lined space, a wunderkind chef swings between wood-fired pizza, supermarket shrimp rings gone gourmet with delicate Prince Rupert sidestripe shrimp, avocado and lemon aioli, and spongy morels (foraged by his brother and father) dressed with gooey quail eggs and herb oil. The year’s best miso-glazed black cod comes from the west coast, with a whiff of maple and crispy deep-fried tofu.
Photo: Jeremy Koreski

Aloette

Chef: Patrick Kriss
Cuisine: Contemporary
Toronto, ON


163 Spadina Ave.
416-260-3444
aloetterestaurant.com

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At this street-level spinoff of highly ranked Alo, the decor is haut mid-century diner, and the slightly tipsy buzz feels like perpetual happy hour. It’s no-reservations, so score an early table to watch rush-hour traffic crawl up Spadina as you sip a low-alcohol Tanqueray-and-pineapple-spiked Aperol spritz with a side of schadenfreude. Casual dishes reveal a serious attention to detail: wedge salad with thin slices of avocado and a sprinkle of crunchy wild rice, pumpkin seeds and soy beans; torched scallops with wasabi peas; and a burger enriched with brisket and pungent Beaufort cheese. The changing sundae is a work of ice-cream art.
Photo: Paula Wilson

Atlas

Chef: Doug Penfold
Cuisine: Moroccan
Toronto, ON


18 Dupont St.
416-546-9050
atlasrestaurant.ca

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Let one of Toronto’s most celebrated chefs lead you through his take on Morocco’s cuisine, just as he’s done with Spain (at Cava) and France (Chabrol). A glass of caramel-nosed oloroso sherry pairs well with hunks of flatbread swiped through a smoky eggplant dip, while an Agadir-style whitefish tagine with green olives, preserved lemons and sun-dried tomatoes releases the aromas of a Marrakech spice market.
Photo: Phil Babcock

Avenue

Chefs: Dale MacKay and Nathan Guggenheimer
Cuisine: Canadian
Regina, SK


2201 11th Ave.
306-525-1919
avenuerestaurantandbar.com

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The super-tight chef-bartender team behind Ayden in Saskatoon touches down in a city centre heritage building. Date-nighters and large groups of co-workers order cocktails like the eight-ingredient, pinot-noir-based I Heard It Through the Grapevine from a barman so exacting, he’s launched his own bitters company. Tender seared Diefenbaker trout preens on a creamy bed of fresh peas, asparagus and three-grain risotto; raspberry soufflé tastes of ripe fruit transformed into a passing cloud.
Photo: Bob Deutscher

Bar Kismet

Chef: Annie Brace-Lavoie
Cuisine: Seafood
Halifax, NS


2733 Agricola St.
902-487-4319
barkismet.com

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If Wes Anderson opened a restaurant and bar in Halifax’s artisanal-food-and-drink-obsessed North End, it might resemble this symmetrical room, offset by chintz accents and vintage china. The setting’s in harmony with the addictive seafood-centric menu and whimsically named cocktails (like the bracing Can’t Bay Leaf It, with tequila, bay leaf, elderflower, Suze, dry vermouth and orange bitters). Steak tartare is transposed to the key of fish with glistening cubelets of tender ahi tuna mixed with shallots, capers, parsley, Dijon aioli and raw quail egg. A shower of tiny white elderflowers on the rhubarb-and-ginger cheesecake celebrates the end of the evening.
Photo: Jessica Emin

Biera

Chef: Christine Sandford
Cuisine: Canadian
Edmonton, AB


9570 76th Ave. N.W.
587-525-8589
biera.ca

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Sit alongside Blind Enthusiasm’s steel brew tanks in a warm, industrial, glass-enclosed space and be treated to charcoal-grilled, house-fermented and pickled plates from a European-trained local chef. Tangy, elastic sourdough appears with pots of creamy kefir butter and sweet, rosemary-scented lardo (spreadable porchetta!). A server drops off savoury morels dressed with butter and lemon-geranium vinaigrette, and Berkshire pork shoulder with verjus-glazed beets and rhubarb. To match, try the menthol-laced cloudy wheat ale called Whoops!
Photo: Bri Vos Detour Photography

Bistro Rosie

Chef: Jérémy Daniel-Six
Cuisine: French
Montreal, QC


1498, rue Bélanger
514-303-2010
facebook.com/bistro-rosie

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Don’t be fooled by the casse-croûte signage advertising pizza and “tornado potatoes” on the storefront – beyond it, you’ll find a quirky neighbourhood fave led by a French-born chef who’s cooked in Michelin-starred Parisian kitchens. Low-key here, he’s turning out local, sustainable and highly original dishes: an unapologetically tart gravlax of trout with rhubarb, homegrown sorrel and confit ginger, and a rustic orecchiette dish topped with sautéed fiddleheads and a meaty lobster bisque. By the time Rhye’s romantic-wistful “The Fall” rotates through the playlist, you’ll have fallen for this spot.

Bread & Circus Trattoria

Chef: Kayle Burns
Cuisine: Italian
Calgary, AB


616 17th Ave. S.W.
403-476-3615
breadandcircusyyc.com

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This is a downtown Calgary homage to the trattorias of Rome. A meticulously plated salad of shaved cauliflower and chickpeas comes dressed in creamy yogurt and an earthy blast of cumin. A sweet-spicy bowl of housemade squid-ink spaghetti, bathed in a ’nduja emulsion and dotted with silky medallions of prawns and octopus, hews more or less to tradition. But the dessert of roasted, deep-fried parsnip, dipped in dark chocolate and filled with ricotta-orange custard, catapults you to tantalizingly uncharted territory.

Bündok

Chef: Ryan Hotchkiss
Cuisine: Seasonal
Edmonton, AB


10228 104th St. N.W.
780-420-0192
bundokyeg.com

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Catch a chef on the rise at this dark-wood-accented downtown space. Glistening slices of fruity, olive-oil-painted sea bream crudo are showered with diced apple and Thai basil, brought into vivid relief with orange flecks of bird’s eye chili. (Smart pairing: an acidic Domaine de Vedilhan viognier.) Trading potatoes for pâte à choux results in feather-soft gnocchi, while the citrus posset dessert with fennel and Earl Grey syrup hits the tongue like a tart-sweet lemon creamsicle.
Photo: Daniel Wood

Cruz Tacos

Chef: Troy Fleischhaker
Cuisine: Mexican
Calgary, AB


226034 123 St. W., Foothills No. 31
403-978-1969
cruztacos.ca

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There’s some seriously good Mexican street food going on at the edge of a 36-acre eco-park. Recipes – like chili-marinated, slow-roasted pork-shoulder tacos with fresh pineapple and pico de gallo, and tender, tomatillo-braised chicken tacos with salty smoked feta – come straight from the chef’s Veracruz-born grandma Isabel, whose picture graces the wall. Expect high-quality ingredients at fast-casual prices.
Photo: Tieran Green

Donna Mac

Chef: Justin “Tino” Longpre
Cuisine: Canadian
Calgary, AB


1002 9th St. S.W.
403-719-3622
donnamacyyc.ca

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The mood stays bright in the Beltline with double-height windows, latticed globe lamps and a yolk-coloured bathroom door. Go for the over-the-top creaminess of burrata and bacon mac ’n’ cheese, or keep it lighter with thinly sliced pork tongue in a prickly-tart salad of cabbage, pear and chilies. A pineapple-nosed Broadside Wild Ferment Chardonnay matches nicely, while the cocktails – like Cure for the Summertime Blues, with aged Flor de Caña, pineapple, coconut and cucumber – are beyond balanced.

Elena

Executive Chef and Chef: Emma Cardarelli and Janice Tiefenbach
Cuisine: Italian
Montreal, QC


5090, rue Notre-Dame O.
514-379-4883
coffeepizzawine.com

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To see what’s making Montreal buzz, step into the electric Italian-modern comfort of Elena, a pizza and pasta restaurant from the Nora Gray team. Sit between a couture-cloaked Westmount family and a tattooed mother and son and chow down on fresh-off-the-boat British Columbia spot prawns; blistered, naturally leavened pizza showered with six kinds of mushrooms, celery root and taleggio; and handmade tagliatelle with a robust pork and beef ragù. The natural and biodynamic wine list is a liquid lecture on the purity, snap and vibrant acidity these wines can achieve. This is what it’s like to see a chef and her team at the top of their game.
Photo: Dominique Lafond

Giulietta

Chef: Rob Rossi
Cuisine: Italian
Toronto, ON


972 College St. W.
416-964-0606
giu.ca

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Sipping their low-alcohol amaro spritzes amid Italian-wool-covered walls, the hip and beautiful come to this west-end outpost for its combination of painstaking technique and robust, elegant flavours. A beautiful plate of fork-tender goat undergoes a four-hour braise before appearing atop a creamy pool of polenta that tastes both of butter and chicken broth. The torta della nonna gives the Tuscan-born dessert a decidedly Canadian twist: “It’s like a butter tart with pine nuts,” one guest says.
Photo: Ali Kaufman

Hopkins

Chef: Liam Hopkins
Cuisine: French
Montreal, QC


5626, av. Monkland
514-379-1275
restauranthopkins.com

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Hopkins shines like a beacon amid the bagel and soft-serve shops of this residential west-end neighbourhood. Choose between plush banquettes and the candle-strewn bar and eye the magret prosciutto hanging in the white-tiled charcuterie room. Duck ravioli injected with egg yolk is cooked to runny perfection, the richness offset by, say, a vivid biodynamic Ottomani rosato. As Lake Street Dive’s “Mistakes” comes on the stereo, a delightfully strange frozen beet yogurt on a deep, dark chocolate shortbread brings the evening to its close – no mistakes here.
Photo: Restaurant Hopkins

Il Covo

Chef: Ryan Campbell
Cuisine: Italian
Toronto, ON


585 College St.
416-530-7585
ilcovo.ca

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An ex-Buca duo has the Little Italy speakeasy down: This dimly lit railroad-style establishment boasts intimate nooks, gilded mirrors and bartenders in Prohibition-era vests. A two-page menu of Italian small plates includes a silky, perfectly balanced coil of linguine del mare and roasted brisket with braised white asparagus and pickled spruce tips. Bulkier is the 29-page menu of amari, vermouth, wines, olive oils and balsamic vinegars, raw honeys and chocolate. Start with a Torino Antica Formula perfumed with vanilla, bitter orange and dates, and finish just as fragrantly with a Blu di Frabosa sheep’s-milk cheese and acacia honey from the Apennines, aged in French oak barrels.
Photo: Jeff Wasserman

Kanto 98 St. Eatery

Chef: Edgar Gutierrez
Cuisine: Filipino
Edmonton, AB


10636 98th St. N.W.
780-244-7388
kanto98st.com

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Amped-up Filipino family recipes jump to the sounds of rap at this cartoon-splattered ode to the adolescent comfort foods of chef Edgar Gutierrez. There’s a sweet and rich spaghetti with ground pork, sliced hot dogs and banana ketchup, topped with crackly-skinned fried chicken. Bao slathered with red-pepper mayo and deep-fried garlic are followed by red skewers of crispy, fatty barbecued pork. A squirt of suka (vinegar laced with aromatics) cuts the richness.

Kiin

Chef: Nuit Regular
Cuisine: Thai
Toronto, ON


326 Adelaide St.
647-490-5040
kiintoronto.com

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Get a lesson in the vanishing art of Royal Thai cuisine at this restaurant decorated with framed portraits of the late king Rama IX. The team that redefined Thai in Toronto goes upscale here, with labour-intensive preparations like vegetable-dyed rice and carefully deboned and reconstructed sea bream. Try the Royal Thai platter of sweet, sour and spicy dumplings, umami-rich winged bean salad and khao yum, a kaleidoscopic rice dish filled with an encyclopedia’s worth of Southeast Asian flora and inspired by a 200-year-old palace grain bowl.
Photo: Reynold Pan

Kū-Kŭm

Chef: Joseph Shawana
Cuisine: Indigenous-French
Toronto, ON


581 Mt. Pleasant Rd.
416-519-2638
kukum-kitchen.com

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There’s super-smooth jazz on the sound system and a fussy baby in the house, but no one cares – they’re too immersed in the indigenous ingredients prepared with a French technique. From a talented, Manitoulin Island-raised chef comes minerally, cognac-spiked (and sustainably sourced) seal loin and flipper pâté on dense slices of bannock, supremely tender elk loin paired with a wild-cherry reduction, and a smoky pine-needle and cedar-tea sorbet. This warm, contemporary First Nations art-filled room feels like a new milestone for Canadian cooking.
Photo: Hector Vasquez

La Cabane d’à Côté

Chef: Vincent Dion-Lavallée
Cuisine: Québécois-French
Saint-Benoît-de-Mirabel, QC


3595, montée Robillard
aupieddecochon.ca/qc/info/reservation/cabane-d-a-cote

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Amid the orchards of Mirabel, this next-door sibling to Au Pied de Cochon sugar shack marries two-fisted Québécois cuisine and old-school French classics. Start alfresco with a tart rhubarb sour wearing a stiff cap of meringue, the handiwork of a repurposed paint shaker. Inside the hemlock-panelled cabane, oil-kissed garden vegetables with ramp aioli await, while thick slices of duck, pork and beef-tongue rillette cozy up to sour and briskly acidic Pinard et Filles wine. After plates of bison tartare, pork and fermented cabbage, and duck breast and rhubarb, stagger outside for desserts and a finger of Boulard calvados as the sun sets orange over the maples.
Photo: Alison Slattery

Omai

Chef: Edward Bang
Cuisine: Korean-Japanese
Toronto, ON


3 Baldwin St.
647-341-7766
omairestaurant.ca

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At this tiny izakaya, burly bros in beards and baseball hats down yuzu beer, hand rolls and eight-spice-coated Korean fried chicken, while a trio of young South Korean women nibble on ethereal bowls of octopus and wild-shrimp sunomono. Then there’s the intensely studious concentration of the Eleven Madison Park-trained chef as he sprinkles Newfoundland sea salt on silky Hokkaido scallops, and the French house of FKJ’s “Joy” on the sound system – it’s an improbable mix that takes the izakaya concept to a more refined (yet still freewheeling) level.
Photo: Alex Tsang

Passero

Chef: Scott Bagshaw
Cuisine: French-Italian
Winnipeg, MB


125 Fort Gibraltar Trail
204-219-7300
passerowinnipeg.com

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This restaurant-within-a-food-hall at Forks Market feels a little like dining in a modernist whale belly lined with wooden ribs. It’s also a prime date spot for Winnipeg’s young professionals, who exclaim over nicely balanced beef tartare with white anchovy cream, 24-hour beef ragù tagliatelle and addictive sea-salt-topped chocolate tarts with rosemary mousse. If the Catalonian Els Bassotets natural chenin is on the wine list, grab it.
Photo: Jennifer Eaglesham

Sand and Pearl

Chef: Suzanne Barr
Cuisine: Seafood
Picton, ON


1705 County Rd. 12
613-503-0498
sandandpearloysterbar.com

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Head here after a day at the beach, freshly sunburned, with sand between your toes. Down the road from Sandbanks Provincial Park, this former diner has a party vibe that just won’t quit, between the washrooms labelled “Dudes” and “Dudettes” and a serious sound system propelled by the Clash, Bob Seger and Talking Heads. Reserve the screened-in porch for a feast of Fogo Island crab legs, buttery lobster rolls on pain au lait and Manitoulin Island trout niçoise salad that pops with pickled green beans and lemony crème fraîche. Wash them down with Parsons Hula Hoop Sour beer or a Huff Estates pinot gris.
Photo: Nicole Hynes

Seedlings

Chef: Michael Portigal
Cuisine: Seasonal
Bloomfield, ON


433 Bloomfield Main St.
613-393-3301
seedlings-pec.ca

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A visit to Seedlings is like dropping in on resourceful artist friends at their cottage in the country. Moody pop, handcrafted cabinetry and a hobo rabbit mural form the backdrop to all-day menus that range from mushroom-cassoulet poached egg to fried rabbit leg with housemade choucroute. As your enthusiastic server will probably tell you, the boring-sounding chicken is anything but: Brined, cooked sous-vide, then baked, it’s crusted on the outside and juicy inside, garnished with crispy spaetzle and woodsy mushrooms. With a glass of local Long Dog pinot, that chicken will make you want to buy the cottage next door.
Photo: Christopher Snow

Skippa

Chef: Ian Robinson
Cuisine: Japanese
Toronto, ON


379 Harbord St.
skippa.ca

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In a low-slung red-brick building, the fastest temaki maker in town serves up the savoury-sweet sushi stylings of Fukuoka, Japan, along with a delicious roster of seasonal small plates. Although its 82-year-old farmer supplier, Kuramoto-san, just retired, Skippa still sources super-fresh white asparagus and meaty morels from Leamington, Ontario. Pair yuzu-flecked wild yellowtail sushi with a fruity and floral Tenzan Shichida junmai ginjo sake, and surf the buzzing room’s wave of Japanese pop music. You’d swear it was the Port of Hakata to the south, not Lake Ontario.
Photo: Herman Optical Meal Finder

St. Lawrence

Chef: J-C Poirier
Cuisine: Québécois-French
Vancouver, BC


269 Powell St.
604-620-3800
stlawrencerestaurant.com

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Pacific Rim-, sushi- and downward-dog-oriented B.C. loves its foie-gras-filled French-Québécois cuisine. This cozy, teal-panelled spot excels at fat tranches of smoked-ham-studded pâté en croûte accompanied by two kinds of mustard and bottomless crocks of cornichons. Sautéed sweetbreads with mashed potatoes and morels are doused with a deep, savoury jus. The team weaves cheerfully between tables, bearing cocktails of fresh watermelon, pastis, gin and cherry liqueur, and brightly acidic natural wines.
Photo: Chris Giannakos

Tanto

Chef: Julian Iliopoulos
Cuisine: Argentine
Toronto, ON


74 Ossington Ave.
416-546-3022
tantorestaurant.com

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The beating heart of this Argentinian spot is its hardwood-fired grill, which imbues everything from cabbage wedges to grass-fed steaks with a smoky allure. A smart wine list filled with small European makers allows for pairings to delight any wine geek: a briny, apricot-nosed Tajinaste blanco from the Canary Islands alongside grilled squid with burnt-almond salsa, or a luscious Portuguese Fitapreta red to match those thick, juicy slices of bavette. Make room for the tender leek ñoquis (potato-less gnocchi with maitake and taleggio) and the milhojas (Spanish for millefeuille) with banana panna cotta.
Photo: Dalia Katz

The Courtney Room

Chef: Sam Harris
Cuisine: Seasonal French
Victoria, BC


619 Courtney St.
250-940-4090
thecourtneyroom.com

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Steak and seafood get dressed up at this serene Victoria sanctuary outfitted with a creative charcuterie cabinet (look to it for fennel-pollen and dulse salami or fatty nuggets of candied sablefish collar). Duck breast is aged for two weeks to deepen its flavours, then seared and nestled among Tokyo turnips and braised daikon – perfect with a plummy B.C. Lock and Worth merlot.
Photo: Leila Kwok

The Oxbow

Chef: Sean Bernard
Cuisine: Seasonal
Winnipeg, MB


557 Osborne St.
204-691-5373
oxbowwpg.ca

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Start with a gently smoky, aperitif-like Lord Roberts Athletic Club Cocktail of mezcal, Aperol, St-Germain and lime at this brick-walled watering hole, launched by five industry friends who wanted to highlight local food. Crispy-creamy pickerel croquettes shine alongside smoked-fennel aioli, as does a light and breezy Arctic char afloat in a pool of buttermilk, cucumber and salmon roe. An eclectic, decade-spanning playlist keeps the multi-generational crowd in a laid-back state of mind.

The Restaurant at Pearl Morissette

Chefs: Daniel Hadida and Eric Robertson
Cuisine: Seasonal
Jordan Station, ON


3953 Jordan Rd.
905-562-7709
pearlmorissette.com/therestaurant

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This spot heralds a great new vintage for wine-country dining. Atop a massive black barn, the restaurant glows like a landlocked lighthouse on the Niagara Peninsula. The prix-fixe menu features ingredients largely grown on or foraged from the surrounding land, with pairings drawn from the winery’s holdings and like-minded low-intervention makers across the globe. Peach-wood-grilled asparagus draped with ribbons of pork lardo welcomes a bright, earthy Zelen from Slovenia’s Burja Estate. Berkshire pork slow-cooked and topped with bitter greens is flavourful, satisfyingly fatty and a perfect match for a Pearl Morissette pinot noir from its California vineyards.
Photo: John Cullen

Vin Mon Lapin

Chefs: Marc-Olivier Frappier and Jessica Noël
Cuisine: Seasonal
Montreal, QC


150, rue Saint-Zotique E.
vinmonlapin.com

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The green of potted plants dapples the white walls of this Little Italy oasis, where stellar natural wines play off layered flavours and textures. A dazzling salad of endive, caramelized pumpkin seeds, pickled elderberries and shaved foie gras matches with the creamy minerality of a Loire Valley Domaine du Haut-Planty muscadet, while aromatic Jerusalem artichoke bread topped with sunflower crumble finds a partner in a sunflower butter. You won’t mind the no-reservations wait project from the Vin Papillon team: Servers stop by with words of encouragement and magnum pours of pet nat, making you feel like the centre of the party.
Photo: Alison Slattery Two Food Photographers

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