After a long, arduous winter, our taste buds are clamouring for bright, fresh flavours and glorious pops of green. Working with individual small suppliers across the country, Executive Chef Ron McKinlay has sourced the best of the season’s harvest to deliver eight intricate courses celebrating our country’s diverse landscape and the uniquely Canadian ingredients that grow right here at home.
Leading diners to new discoveries, Chef McKinlay’s detailed menu declares a deep appreciation for the farmers, craftspeople and culinary artists that share his passion for quality and care. From sea lettuce foraged by Fred Dardenne of FD Wild Foods to pawpaw verjus, an all-new creation from third-generation family-owned vineyard Minus 8 Vinegar, and microgreens from Jacob Goldfarb of family-run vertical farm Goldfarm Canada, world class product abounds.
Featuring foraged finds, sustainable seafood, and Canada’s top cuts, Chef McKinlay’s menu offers a taste of place, serving up adaptations and brand new creations that both indulge and refresh. From wild onions and ramps to morel mushrooms, pea shoots, cabbage, and strawberries, he pairs familiar ingredients with less common elements and classic techniques to deliver a symphony of summery tastes and aromas. An extension of the savoury menu, Executive Pastry Chef Raffaele Stea’s masterful desserts gracefully transition diners to their final bites of the evening, filled with nostalgic flavours perfect for blue sky days and warm summer evenings.
We sat down with Chef McKinlay and Chef Stea, who walked us through what diners can expect from each thoughtfully crafted course.
The journey begins with an undeniably dynamic duo: Canoe’s signature crispy oyster paired with a pancetta-adorned morel grissini. Oozing with seasonality and bursts of punchy green, Chef McKinlay wraps the oyster in cabbage brushed with bacon fat. Sat atop sea truffle custard, a drizzle of sweet and sour vinaigrette made from pickled seaweeds and the juice of peas and lettuce helps to cut the fatiness. It’s accompanied by an Italian-style grissini breadstick made from freshly harvested morel mushrooms, dipped in foie gras parfait and wrapped in house-cured pancetta. Together, the oyster and grissini form a prologue for the culinary revelations about to unfold.
Delivering a dose of vibrant green, a surge of sour pickle, and a satisfying crunch, Chef McKinlay’s scallop course refreshes on all fronts. Pan-roasted in butter until nutty brown, each scallop is sliced in three and brushed with Minus 8 Vinegar’s sharp pawpaw verjus, a tart creation made from the vineyard’s very own crop of pawpaw trees, a species unique to Lake Erie and the Niagara Region. A disc of pickled apple is carefully stacked between each layer, while a vinaigrette made from the remaining scallop butter and parsley oil — along with pickled kohlrabi, toasted hazelnuts, pawpaw verjus, and celtuce (a hybrid of celery and lettuce) — joins the mollusk in its shell. A pair of East Coast-inspired emulsions are added, while brown butter powder transforms to fat on the tongue for an innovative final flourish.
Inspired by a love of eating Chinese food on his days off, and a desire to showcase West Coast spot prawns and East Coast wild shrimp, Chef McKinlay offers a fanciful play on hot and cold as the tasting menu progresses. At the bottom of the bowl sits a play on a prawn cocktail, seasoned with chives, chervil, tarragon emulsion, and pear pickled in ginger beer. Braised overnight in veal stock and port, pig’s trotter skin is transformed into a casing for a farce of roasted veal sweetbreads, morel mushrooms, Chinese lap cheong sausage, and wild Atlantic shrimp. Bound up and wrapped tight, each meaty nugget delivers a powerful flavour bomb underneath a frothy blanket of spot prawn and caramelized cauliflower bisque. A tasty interlude of refreshing shrimp and pickled pear together with unctuous and soft pig’s trotter, a crispy fried pig’s ear sits to the side as an added bite, a further nod to nose-to-tail cooking.
Using sustainably caught seafood from Vancouver-based Organic Ocean, a simply treated smoked sablefish is next to delight the palate. Carefully roasted, it is served with a lettuce and pea purée as well as a rich vermouth sauce. Crafted in the same style as a crème anglaise, savoury pasteurized egg yolks finish the vermouth sauce before it’s heated to order, ensuring a perfectly thick viscosity. Finished with foraged Nova Scotia sea lettuce, local morels from Marc’s Mushrooms, last season’s pickled Saskatoon chanterelles from Pacific Wild Pick, peas, and sea lettuce oil, each bite offers a delicate smokiness enveloped in the fresh, green flavours of summer.
Using buttery P.E.I. beef from potato-grazing cattle, Chef McKinlay’s fifth course delivers an exceptionally delicious filet. Curing lardo in wild Québec blueberries and green alder until set, the mixture is then sliced thin and placed down the middle of a butterflied filet. Offering diners the best of both worlds, lean beef and fatty pork join forces for a perfectly balanced, meaty mouthful. Next, a carefully folded envelope of blanched Savoy cabbage stuffed with braised short rib, bone marrow, and birch syrup braised shallots is grilled on the flat top, joining aubergine and miso purée on the plate. Finally, a burnt birch syrup Bordelaise delivers deep, rich intensity, complementing the bone marrow and brown butter. A delicate potato lattice offers an artful touch, decorated in spring herbs. Lastly, julienned bits of crispy fried cabbage and smoked beef heart close out the meticulously crafted masterpiece.
An ode to drinks on the terrace and the classic gin and tonic cocktail, Executive Pastry Chef Raffaele Stea’s pre-sweet course is the perfect palate cleanser. Its refreshing kick is highlighted by local ingredients and impeccable technique. Eaten with a spoon, yet reminiscent of a gin and basil smash, the dish’s foundation is Pernod gel with slight notes of anise. Next, Chef Stea’s gin and tonic granité made using Ungava gin from northern Québec, is infused with juniper and basil, and complemented by pickled fennel and cucumber. A creamy yoghurt espuma mimics the foam on a summery beverage, offering another punch of basil and a final dusting of basil powder. The addition of a fried beer noodle, inspired by crunchy tableside bar snacks, finishes the intricately layered segue to dessert.
Closing out the exquisite menu is Chef Stea’s nostalgic strawberry creation, which transports diners to the Canadian summers of his childhood. A grown-up, deconstructed version of strawberry shortcake, his twist features acidic tarragon gelée, crème fraîche mousse, and crunchy caramelized white chocolate crumble. Doubling down on strawberry flavour by marinating the fruit in a strawberry juice reduction, he swaps pound cake for fudgy blondies, adding crystalized tarragon for earthy notes. A cream soda sorbet inspired by Chef Stea’s love of white Mr. Freeze freezies joins the plate, along with carefully placed sheets of strawberry paper. Additional coulis made from strawberry reduction split with tarragon oil is the final touch to this dreamy summer dessert.
As diners finish their final sips of wine and take one last moment to appreciate the city views, a trio of handcrafted petit fours offer a final taste of Canada’s incredible bounty. With a picture-perfect black lime and rum canelé, a seabuckthorn macaron, and a hazelnut marshmallow that defies all expectations, Chef Stea closes out the coursed affair with three decadent delights.
Recently recognized as the 18th best restaurant in Canada by Canada’s 100 best, we invite you to sample the riches of our nation’s warm weather harvest as we celebrate Canada’s deliciously diverse bounty. Join us in the dining room this summer or take a seat at the chef’s rail for an in-depth exploration of the incredible treasures that grow in our very own backyard.
Book online today to make your reservation for Taste Canoe, available now through fall.