There's been much talk in recent years about Vancouver eclipsing Toronto as the culinary capital of Canada. Having recently spent three weeks observing my hometown through a Vancouver lens, I must say I was impressed to see how the things we take for granted - farm-fresh menus, local wines, sustainable seafood, organic meat - are still novel there. That said, there is still lots that we could learn from each other.
The decibels are louder on the other side
Toronto operates on a higher frequency level. And while it's fun to be part of a busy, buzzy room, it's impossible to savour food in some of the city's more chaotic noise chambers.
At Origin, a St. Lawrence hot spot, chef Claudio Aprile warns on the website that his open-kitchen tapas restaurant is loud. Okay, I thought. My friend and I may have to shout across the table. I never imagined that we would end up bolting out of the restaurant before dessert with ears ringing and pulses racing.
Cold cuts are hotter in Hogtown
Toronto doesn't have a great commercial charcuterie purveyor on par with Vancouver's Oyama Sausage Co. And I think that forces their restaurant chefs to be more adventurous. Many of the top chefs - Marc Thuet, David Lee, Chris McDonald - cure their own.
The Italian Connection
While in Toronto, I watched as Vancouver's Pino Posteraro was inducted into the DiRoNA (Distinguished Restaurants of North of America) Hall of Fame. He is one of only three Canadian chefs - and the only Italian restaurant operator in Canada - to receive the honour. I think his installation is telling.
"The Italian in Vancouver is better," Chris Nuttall-Smith, Toronto Life's new restaurant critic and former Vancouverite, explained by e-mail. He's right - though I never would have believed it five years ago.
The truth about multiculturalism
Whereas Toronto's middle ground is dominated by Italian, Vancouver's is more multicultural. Ask anyone in Toronto where a visitor should eat and they'll probably name a few Italian and local farm-fresh restaurants. Must-go-to restaurants that define Vancouver's culinary landscape (at least in my mind) - Vij's, Tojo's, Maenam, Hapa Izakaya and Bao Bei - have no equivalent there.
Give it another Guu
Speaking of izakayas, maybe it's time to give Guu another chance. The Vancouver-based chain restaurant helped bring the now-ubiquitous Japanese gastro-pubs into the mainstream. The franchises (there are now five in Vancouver) have always been interesting, boisterous places to dine, although they are by no means the best examples. I would rate Guu perhaps the fourth-best of Vancouver's izakayas, after Hapa, Kingyo and Gyoza King. Try telling that to Toronto diners, where the first Guu transplant is still drawing huge lineups nearly a year after opening.