By Lois Abraham, The Canadian Press
TORONTO - A restaurant in tiny Tofino, B.C., on the edge of the Pacific Ocean has been named the best new restaurant in Canada in enRoute's annual top 10 list.
Wolf in the Fog took top honours while Ayden in Saskatoon, opened by "Top Chef Canada" season 1 winner Dale MacKay, was the people's choice winner in an online poll at eatandvote.com.
Chef Nick Nutting, who leads the pack at Wolf in the Fog with his locally sourced and ingredient-driven menu, said "coming from probably the smallest town of any of the places nominated to be No. 1 is mind-blowing really."
He was in Toronto after being informed Tuesday that his restaurant, which opened at the end of June, had won.
"We definitely have a bold style when it comes to what we do," he said by telephone. "We have a lot of beautiful ingredients that we get out there and we just try to bring the flavours through in a way that's fun and exciting. There's a lot of people serving a lot of salmon dishes on the West Coast and all the standards, but the stuff we have to work with in Tofino is just that much fresher.
"We get all our fish from a dock that's one block away from the restaurant. ... You can literally see the boats coming in ... This time of year we have lots of foragers coming through with wild mushrooms."
The menu varies at Wolf in the Fog although there are a few constants, says the Victoria-raised Nutting, who apprenticed at Catch Restaurant in Calgary and helmed the Pointe Restaurant at Tofino's Wickaninnish Inn for five years. The best-selling dish is lightly smoked oysters wrapped in potato and fried till crispy and served with a seasonal garnish. Making the oysters approachable for those who think they don't like the bivalves has created converts out of many, added Nutting, who has also worked in New York and Montreal.
Nutting hopes the recognition achieved by his restaurant will benefit Tofino too, encouraging travellers who visit Vancouver Island to make the effort to get to the remote place.
"The culinary community has always been good out there. There's a lot of great restaurants. It's such an amazing part of Canada and to help make people aware we're out there and that we're making this incredible food on the edge of the country is pretty cool."
A panel of food professionals across the country made recommendations on the most interesting restaurant openings in their area between June 2013 and June 2014 (along with a few from late spring 2013 that missed the cut for last year's list).
International food and wine writer Andrew Braithwaite chose the 10 finalists from a short list of 30, spending a month crisscrossing the country to dine anonymously at each one.
The remaining top nine restaurants, with Braithwaite's comments, are:
2. The Farmer's Apprentice (Vancouver): "Each small plate â€” more often, a bowl â€” conjured by owner David Gunawan is a precise jumble of textures and flavours. Digging in is a sort of black magic."
3. Le Vin Papillon (Montreal): "Long-time Joe Beef guru Vanya Filipovic fills massive chalkboards with organic wines to run with a vegetable-focused cuisine from boyfriend and chef Marc-Olivier Frappier."
4. RGE RD (Edmonton): "The heart of Blair Lebsack's kitchen is a wood-burning oven that consumes birch and maple at 700 F, curing honey ham and smoking Salt Spring Island mussels or even dehydrated local milk during the off-hours."
5. Mallard Cottage (St. John's, N.L.): "Todd Perrin spent two years restoring a heritage property in Quidi Vidi Harbour for this brilliant mash-up of fine dining and comfort cuisine on the outskirts of St. John's."
6. Bar Buca (Toronto): "Rob Gentile's restaurant likes to pretend it's a simple bar for sipping Barolo. You're here to drink, sure, but you're also here to eat things like tiny fried smelt dusted with fennel salt."
7. The Chase (Toronto): "Chef Michael Steh doesn't lean on molecular trickery or audacious ingredients to wow. His food is more direct and more delightful than that, in an atmosphere that makes you want to say yes to things."
8. Ayden (Saskatoon): "'Top Chef Canada' winner Dale MacKay gambled that Saskatoon was ready for lime- and lemongrass- and ginger-dusted chicken wings. Ayden isn't about showing off Prairie cooking to the world â€” it's about bringing the world home."
9. Legende (Quebec City): "Northern Quebec is the culinary hunting ground that Frederic Laplante mythologizes at his capital-city bistro. Cornish hen gets a boreal accent from balsam fir fleur de sel."
10. Edna (Halifax): "Jenna Mooers' North End bistro digs up treasure from the fertile soils of Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley and hauls it out of the brisk Atlantic waters."
Winners will be profiled in the November issue of Air Canada's enRoute magazine and at enroute.aircanada.com.
The top 10 restaurants will receive their awards Nov. 20 in Toronto.