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Winterlicious 2013: our food editor picks 10 ideal meals from this year’s list

The clafoutis from last year’s Summerlicious menu at Canoe (Image: Renée Suen)

Winterlicious is upon us again, with restaurants serving three-course prix fixe dinners for $25, $35 or $45. The roster doesn’t change much from year to year—the buzziest new restaurants generally don’t participate because they’re already besieged and or/managing their brands on Twitter—and there’s usually enough chicken, salmon and short ribs to throw a city-wide wedding buffet. However, there are always some top-notch standbys and even a few surprises (huzzah, Splendido!) mixed in. We sifted through the 191-restaurant list to find the most creative dishes—no rubbery chicken—for the best value in this year’s fest, which runs from January 25 to February 7. Here, the top 10 Winterlicious 2013 restaurants, ranked in the order you should call for reservations—which, by the way, they’re taking starting January 10.


Splendido
Read our review | See the menu
Chef Victor Barry’s Harbord Street institution is the unicorn of Winterlicious—a posh, pricey restaurant that consistently ranks among the city’s best, with a genuinely interesting prix fixe menu for far less than you’d normally pay for a full meal. Stop scrolling through this list and call now.

Ideal meal ($45)
To start: Porchetta carpaccio with grilled bread and gribiche
To follow: Peking duck confit
To finish: Stilton with Tobasco meringue and celery (if you go for this weird-sounding concoction, we expect a full recap in the comments)
Approximate savings: $16


Auberge du Pommier
Read our review | See the menu
The 25-year-old Hogg’s Hollow restaurant, where couples go to be pampered by tuxedo-clad staff and where the ethics of foie gras are blessedly lost in the romance of old-school French cooking, recently acquired a talented new chef. Marc St. Jacques is a Belgian by way of Montreal, and knows his fancy French food.

Ideal meal ($45)
To start: Smoked salmon with watercress, capers, and horseradish crème fraîche on rye crostini
To follow: Beef pot au feu with dashi bouillon
To finish: Chèvre parfait with sweet and sour fruit
Approximate savings: $28


Canoe
Read our review | See the menu
If you haven’t been for a ’licious lunch at Canoe yet (we recommend it every year), just go. Seriously, $25 is less than the price of two fancy cocktails at a faux dive bar on Dundas West, and the servers treat you like you’re Kate Middleton carrying the royal heir. Plus, the view of the islands, even in its mottled greyness this time of year, is a happy reminder that summer will come back soon.

Ideal meal ($25)
To start: Roasted squash and parsnip soup with birch yogurt
To follow: Maple-braised Ontario pork with orecchiette (the ear-shaped pasta), crackling, kale and gouda
To finish: Maple-gingerbread pudding with scorched citrus crème anglaise and cranberry jam
Appromixate savings: $21


Colborne Lane
Read our review | See the menu
Claudio Aprile, known for his complex food and perfectionist plating, joined in the ’licious fun for the first time last summer with an underwhelming menu. His winter lineup shows more of the unusual ingredients and inventive Asian fusion flourishes for which the chef is known. Plus, $45 is a great deal for a Colborne Lane meal, even without the molecular hijinks and nitrogen smoke.

Ideal meal ($45)
To start: Tom yum soup with chestnuts, shiitakes, crispy chicken wings and prawns
To follow: Braised pork belly with fermented black beans, lily bulbs, maitake mushrooms and chicharrón (glorified pork rinds)
To finish: Chocolate bar with caramelized peanuts, black cherries, hazelnuts and banana sorbet
Approximate savings: $15


Grace 
Read our review | See the menu
Since it opened in 2008, Grace has maintained a kind of easy, elegant charm that makes you want linger over milk and cookies (they’ve been on the menu for all five years) long after the bill has arrived. The new chef, Colin Moïse, livened up the country comfort menu this year, and is particularly adept with red meat.

Ideal meal
($35)
To start: Bison carpaccio with apple-celery root slaw and truffle dressing
To follow: Braised Ontario beef cheek with smashed potatoes and glazed carrots
To finish: Sticky date square with lemon pastry cream
Approximate savings: $13


Aria
Read our review | See the menu
Everything about Aria—from the lavish room to the powerbrokers swirling grappa at the bar, to the prices on the menu—radiates ambition. The Winterlicious savings total only $5, but we’ll give Aria a pass because the prix fixe options are fairly close to their regular menu, and not sad knock-offs, as is often the case.

Ideal meal ($45)
To start: Beef carpaccio with pickled mushrooms, horseradish cream and three-year-old parmigiano-reggiano
To follow: Hand-formed gnocchi with venison ragoût and pecorino toscano
To finish: Flourless walnut cake with Frangelico and espresso gelato
Approximate savings: $5


Frida
Read our review | See the menu
Despite the recent onslaught of hipster taco joints, some of the city’s best Mexican food can still be found in this square midtown room. Chef Jose Hadad’s dishes are huge and hearty—five pork tacos come as a starter—so pace yourself.

Ideal meal ($35)
To start: The aforementioned quintet of mini pork tacos with fresh guacamole
To follow: Pollo pibil, a quarter chicken slow-baked in banana leaves with annatto seeds (our sole chicken exception on this list)
To finish: Churros filled with goat’s milk dulce de leche and topped with berries and lemon zest
Approximate savings: $11


Luma
Read our review | See the menu
The TIFF Bell Lightbox’s Canadian-Italian-French-ish dining room is the most culinarily accomplished restaurant on the King West Theatre District strip, and the servers are effortlessly nimble. You can also catch a movie upstairs with the money saved on dinner.

Ideal meal ($35)
To start: Root veggie soup with smoked bacon, maple cream and fried brioche
To follow: Seared trout with roasted pumpkin, sage brown butter and almonds
To finish: Citrus budino (Italian custard) with marmalade
Approximate savings: $10


North 44°
Read our review | See the menu
This uptown mainstay makes our top 10 because, like Bymark (another Mark McEwan restaurant and perennial Winterlicious pick), the food is luxurious and well done, but cartoonishly expensive any other time of year—mains average out at $43. For $45, you get two extra courses that may not be dripping with foie gras and truffles, in the usual McEwan fashion, but will still give you a taste of early-oughties excess.

Ideal meal ($45)
To start: Seared ahi tuna with Japanese pear, cucumber, yuzu and chili
To follow: Braised short ribs with chanterelle risotto
To finish: Ice cream sandwich with warm caramel sauce
Approximate savings: $33


Estiatorio Volos
Read our review | See the menu
When it opened last year, Volos was a revelation for fans of Greek food. A year in, the place is still impressive. The room is airy and posh, the wine list shows that Greece has plenty to offer beyond retsina and ouzo and the seafood-centric menu serves up unadulterated yet refined Greek classics. Its Richmond location makes it a good option for ’licious lunch.

Ideal meal ($20)
To start: Soutzoukakia, cinnamon- and cumin-spiced beef meatballs in tomato sauce
To follow: Grilled Moroccan octopus with baked lima beans
To finish: Baklava
Approximate savings: $25

 

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