Winterlicious: A chance to explore Toronto's cuisine
Winterlicious offers Torontonians a chance to try new restaurants at a reasonable price.
Published Monday, January 16, 2012 3:26PM EST
Toronto's foodies have just a few weeks to wait until the 10th edition of the Winterlicious promotion provides a prix fixe entry to some of the city's finest restaurants.
With prices ranging from a low of $15 for a three-course lunch to a maximum of $45 for a three-course dinner, there's something for almost every budget and taste.
"It’s a wonderful opportunity to explore the culinary and restaurant industry that we have here in Toronto," said Eirine Papaioannou, special events supervisor for the City of Toronto.
"It’s an opportunity to try a restaurant that you might not normally go to because you can’t afford to eat that way … or you may be a bit intimidated by its cuisine. So it’s a great way to explore new cuisine or explore neighbourhoods and find real hidden gems."
Although Winterlicious begins Jan. 27, restaurants begin accepting reservations on Jan. 12. They aren't necessary, but Papaioannou strongly recommends them.
There are 175 participating restaurants, including 21 new to the program. When the program first started in 2003, there were 36. Ten of those originals are still participating.
Papaioannou suggests two ways to pick a restaurant: scan the menu for unique dishes or by geography.
The quickest way to do both is with this City of Toronto web tool.
A list of icons on the website indicates the following:
- which restaurants use locally-sourced ingredients
- which have a vegetarian option
- which are barrier-free
- which were part of the original Winterlicious lineup
A useful feature on the website is the 'sort' option, which can organize results by meal time, price, neighbourhood and cuisine. But remember, the narrower your criteria, the fewer results.
The website also has a 'share' function, so you can easily send information to friends if you’re co-ordinating a group, Papaioannou said.
Because some restaurants fill up quickly with reservations (with American Express as a sponsor, its cardholders get first choice), she suggests calling the restaurant if you have to cancel.
It also pays to keep trying for that same reason if your heart is set on a particular restaurant as new openings can materialize throughout Wnterlicious, which ends Feb. 9, she said.
Papaioannou said another tip to land a reservation is to be as flexible as possible. "If you can have a late lunch, or an early dinner or a late dinner, that’s when you’re able to find more availability in some of these restaurants," she said.
"But if you can’t get your first choice … try something new."
The prices for the Winterlicious meals are fixed. However, "beverages, taxes and gratuity are additional," Papaioannou said, adding that a tip in the 15 to 20 per cent is suggested.
If you go as part of a large group, a gratuity might be automatically added to your bill, depending on the restaurant.
Papaioannou said it depends on the restaurant as to whether you can order off its regular menu or specific Winterlicious offerings.
A sample $15 lunch. from Amaya's Bread Bar, 3305 Yonge St.:
- Desi fish fingers with tamarind chutney
- Shrimptease: Shrimp in green mango curry, black eyed beans, kachumber salasa, lime
wedge, biryani rice, salt & pepper paneer
- saffron rice pudding with berries
A sample $20 lunch from Barootes casual fine dining, 220 King St. W.:
- Crispy duck spring rolls: Bamboo shoots, bean Sprouts, mushroom and duck meat, five-spice dip
- Two Louisiana crab cakes and caesar salad, panko-crusted and served with jalapeno mayonnaise,
- Mississippi pecan flan, chocolate drizzle
A sample $25 dinner from 7 Numbers, 307 Danforth Ave.:
- Cosce D'Anatra: King Cole sexy duck leg, roasted with rosemary and white wine and served over sautéed spaghetti squash plus a choice of sides
- fried nutella ravioli
A sample $35 dinner from Edward Levesque's Kitchen, 1290 Queen St. E.:
- Crispy baked saganaki
- 12-hour beef ribs with Dijon mash potato, golden beets, deep, dark red wine/beef reduction, gremolata
- wildflower honey-maple walnut baked brioche cake
A sample $45 dinner from North 44, 2537 Yonge St.:
- Cauliflower puree with sherry infused foie gras croutons and golden butter
- Soy scented organic Irish salmon with bok-choi risotto, gai-lan and citrus butte
- Classic vanilla crème brulee with toasted coconut
In addition, don't forget the culinary events of Winterlicious. "These are one-of-a-kind ticketed experiences that are anywhere from cooking to dining," Papaioannou said.
"The ingredients range from chocolate to fish. They draw inspiration from art and fashion."
The events are much more hands-on and experiential than simply sitting down to dine, she said.
The Chocolate Lover’s Feast at George Brown College will have chocolate in every part of the meal.
"You get to learn the nuances and the flavours of that," she said.
At Casa Loma, the Decanting the Castle is a communal dining experience that allows you to taste various wines and select what you like best, Papaioannou said.
The most expensive event is Pasta Making with Mama Rosa at $125 plus tax and tip. "It’s a four-course meal, and it’s a small, interactive workshop, so you actually get to get your hands dirty and make pasta."
A sommelier will be there to discuss wine pairings. Despite the price, it’s been a very popular event, she said.