For anyone in the restaurant industry, this week the buzz is all about Maclean’s Magazine and their Canada’s Best Restaurants edition, in which a team of food critics led by Jacob Richler picked the Top 50 restaurants in the country.
Richler knew what he was getting into – the first line of his introduction makes it clear:
However much work goes into such things, they are seldom praised and always attacked – and gleefully.
What has been surprising is just how vehement those attacks are. I’ve seen no glee, just a level of childish pettiness that is embarrassing for the entire restaurant industry.
It would be idealistic to hope that food writers and the chefs and restaurateurs they write about would aspire to a level of maturity and professionalism in their interactions. That they would approach the work of the other with a realization that the “enemy” is just trying to do their job to the best of their ability with fairness and integrity, and that other factors (editors and readers in the case of writers; business partners and staff in the case of the restaurant owners) sometimes come into play. A restaurant review should never be personal, and should never be taken that way. At its best, a review is the perfect example of a symbiotic relationship where food writer and chef help and promote each other’s businesses (a review – good or bad – gives a restaurant publicity, and a popular review helps to sell copies or push traffic to a website).
When Chef Matt Blondin announced via Twitter that Acadia (50C Clinton Street) would be offering a $39, 7-course tasting menu, I’m pretty sure everybody’s first thought was, “How the hell is he going to pull that off??” But it turns out that Blondin is a pretty ingenious guy. Not only did he put together 7 courses for $39, they were actually really good and some, like the catfish breaded with pumpernickel with goat’s curd, pickled egg white and yolk and onion tops (above) has recently been added to the restaurant’s regular menu. Follow along for the rest of what Blondin cooked up…
“Fuck, that’s amazing!” Jacob Wharton-Shukster laughs out loud at my exclamation upon my first mouthful of Chantecler’s polenta and calls over Chef Jonathan Poon and repeats what I’ve said. Poon smiles widely, but shyly, and doesn’t miss a beat as he continues to plate dishes at Chantecler’s pass on a busy Wednesday night, their third day in business.
These guys had a fight with the city to even open their doors – the former Mangez sandwich shop didn’t have an existing liquor license and by default, in an effort to keep out clubs and bars, local councillor Gord Perks tries to block any new liquor license in his Parkdale riding. Perks has the theoretical best interest of the neighbourhood at heart, but you can’t block progress, and new restaurants and businesses, if they are small and community-minded, actually help a place like Parkdale thrive.
Three days in and Chantecler (1320 Queen Street West) is obviously thriving. The 26-seat restaurant quickly fills, with Wharton-Shukster running front of house and mixing up some killer cocktails – Chantecler even has a twist for old cranks like me who aren’t into the cocktail craze – house-made tonic to go with my gin. I like this place already. And the husband is over the moon because they’re serving cask ale.