It’s undeniable that I travel more than the average person and dine out more than the average person. This, of course, lends itself to plenty of adventures and many memorable food and drink experiences, but remember: just because something is memorable does not mean it was great.
One of the reasons why I have come to love travelling across Canada so much is that I am constantly learning about new (to me) ingredients, techniques and elements of different cultures’ histories throughout many meals. Of course, I love checking out that “hot new” spot as much as every other food-loving person, but there is no shame in returning to old favourites again and again as well as visiting long-standing restaurants for the first time.
I have always toyed with the idea of doing a (humorous) roundup of the least enjoyable things I’ve put in my mouth in a year (one of them pictured above), but 2022 has been a wild enough ride for most of us, hasn’t it? Best wrap things up on a happier note.
From a dreamy offering of soft shell crab at a pop-up in Whistler to perfectly-golden-and-crispy chicken strips in Calgary to beautiful natural wine being made in Winnipeg (yes, you read that right) and Halifax’s famed vegan donair, I reminisce of the past 12 months very fondly.
Here, in alphabetical order because I am never quite sure how else to list ‘em all, are the 30 best things I ate and drank during my Canadian travels throughout 2022.
Archer - Smoked Oysters (Vancouver)
Occasional overuse of pinecone, moss and other forest-related garnish aside, chef Clement Chan certainly does right by oysters at Vancouver’s new, luxurious restaurant Archer.
Served in a spherical glass bowl, encased in smoke, removing the lid will unveil four perfect oysters on the halfshell, topped with cucumber, diced green apple, roe, miso mayo and bread crumbs.
Who doesn’t love dinner and a show?
Bacaro - Amberjack Crudo (Vancouver)
While the fish used in this crudo application changes throughout the year, the amberjack version from early 2022 remains ingrained in my mind thanks to a punchy sea buckthorn vinaigrette and plenty of fresh herbs.
Business & Pleasure - Slow Burn cocktail (Calgary)
If you haven’t had the pleasure (see what I did there?) of sipping one of Kaitlyn Alonday’s cocktail creations at Business & Pleasure just yet, then make it your New Year’s resolution.
This teeny IYKYK bar tucked behind a coffee shop on Inglewood’s 9th Avenue boasts a great cocktail program and a concise food menu to go along with it.
The Slow Burn is a crowd pleaser with its well-balanced mix of Courvoisier, Giffard Crème de Peche, Lillet and basil bitters and lemon peel garnish for a little aromatic touch.
Café Hanoi - Bun Cha (Victoria, BC)
I love being able to have one bite of a dish and instantly be transported back to place and time.
Stumbling upon a traditional bun cha offering at Victoria’s Café Hanoi had me beyond excited. Grilled Vietnamese pork meatballs sitting in a hot fish-sauce-leaning broth alongside plates of fresh herbs and noodles made me feel like I was back in Vietnam’s capital city.
Dredging up this memory linked to another memory reminds me that I’ve really got to book a trip back to Vietnam in 2023.
Caffé La Tana - Whipped Ricotta Crostini (Vancouver)
The day after the Vancouver Michelin Guide unveiling event, I felt more energized than ever to dine around the city. My friend and I took to eating and drinking at four restaurants in one night with Caffé La Tana being our final stop for food.
A thick piece of airy focaccia topped with a generous pipping of whipped ricotta, truffle honey, salt and an even more generous amount of shaved black truffles was near perfection. Beauty in indulgent simplicity.
Calgary Momo House - Tandoori Momos (Calgary)
Momos have become a must-try Nepalese dish in Alberta this year and, while momos could be found prior, I feel sound in saying that chef Prakash Magar has led the journey to popularity.
The dumplings can come in many styles when it comes to fillings and presentations, but Calgary Momo House’s signature is its tandoori momos—deep-fried, goat-meat-stuffed momos, tossed in a tandoori spice blend.
The Courtney Room - Kampachi Tartare (Victoria, BC)
A descriptor of “tartare” may feel a touch misleading for a dish that’s more deep-fried squares of rice than tartare itself, but all qualms melt away after a bite or two of this flavourful dish at The Courtney Room inside Victoria’s Magnolia Hotel.
Like Bacaro’s crudo mentioned at the beginning of this list, this kampachi (also known as amberjack) dish will change throughout the year, its fundamental textural components (diced fish tossed in yuzu mayo and fried squares of formed sushi rice) remain the same.
EPOCH Bar - Children of the Corn cocktail (Toronto)
Made with a corn simple syrup, Sazerac rye, yellow chartreuse, ginger beer, it’s easily crushable and speaks to the high level cocktail program this lobby bar executes year-round, with frequent nods to the cinematic world thanks to its proximity to TIFF’s headquarters.
Faifo Concept - House Special Banh Mi (Saskatoon)
It’s not that I need another reason to opt for Vietnamese food when I’m back in my hometown (there’s a large amount of Vietnamese restaurants in Saskatoon for its population), but I always look for one anyway.
The city’s newest restaurant Faifo Concept is putting its best foot forward with a fun menu and equally fun decor. The House Special Banh Mi is an exemplar of a traditional banh mi and should be devoured as quickly as possible.
Fortuna’s Row - Scallop (Calgary)
A lovely two-bite dish at Fortuna's Row—arguably Calgary’s most stunning restaurant—comes in the form of a lightly torched scallop with cauliflower pudding, sunchoke chips, garlic and guajillo chili oil and a little salsa verde.
The subtle heat from the oil coupled with the mildly nutty, savoury pudding and oh-so-tender scallop is an especially great trifecta.
Fu’s Repair Garage - Peachy Shrimp (Edmonton)
Until this year, I had no idea that (most of) Edmonton’s Chinese-Canadian restaurants have a regional specialty consisting of canned peaches, lightly battered-and-fried prawns and a tangy cream sauce. Learn something new every day!
Leave it to chef Winnie Chen of spirited Fu’s Repair Garage to do a slightly elevated version of the unique Edmonton signature dish by way of using sustainable prawns along with shrimp crackers and crispy lotus chips dusted with dehydrated scallop for extra texture and umami.
G.O.A. pop-up at Four Seasons Whistler - Fried Soft Shell Crab (Whistler)
I can’t recall the last time I enjoyed soft shell crab in such a captivating way as chef Sajish Kumar Das has been doing since his pop-up G.O.A. launched on December 9.
Aromas and textures abound makes this South Asian seafood dish—with warming coconut masala, house-made paratha and mint raita—an absolute must-try, but it is available only until January 9, 2023. Make haste to Four Seasons Whistler to enjoy it before G.O.A. disappears (for now, anyway).
Hoagie Boyz - The Evil Morty sandwich (Winnipeg)
Equal parts fun and delicious, you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone in Winnipeg that hasn’t been charmed by the quirky sandwich purveyor Hoagie Boyz this year.
A soft sub bun is packed to the brim with shaved mortadella, Calabrian chili and olive spread, pepperoncini, shaved onions, pecorino, shredded iceberg, mayo and sub sauce. One bite and you’ll be hooked.
In fact, it’s so tasty that you may want to order a second one..and would that be so wrong?
Last Best Brewing and Distilling - Fried Mortadella Sandwich (Calgary)
The alphabetical list approach has resulted in my two mortadella sandwiches being back to back. The jury in my mind is still out in terms of which one was best, but Last Best Brewing & Distilling makes a very strong case with this creation that was both very messy and very delicious.
Pan-fried mortadella, cheddar sauce, beer-caramelized onions, pumpkin seed and pistachio “dukkah” and pepper aioli on a toasted brioche bun. Napkins required!
Sadly, it’s no longer on the menu, so here's hoping it was a 2022 summer seasonal sensation that will make a triumphant return in May or June 2023.
Low Life Barrel House - Natural wines (Winnipeg)
In what is surely a first for Manitoba, Low Life Barrel House sees winemaker (and cidermaker) Jesse Oberman releasing limited batches of pet nat and other types of natural wines. He sources grapes from a variety of Ontario growers, most of which lean to organic or biodynamic growing practices.
The result is something out-of-the-box and helps to encourage the notion that quality, interesting wines don’t necessarily need to be created in their place of origin.
The Monolith - Mixed-fermentation beers (Edmonton)
In a similar vein to what Low Life Barrel House is doing with their beer program in Winnipeg, Blind Enthusiasm Brewing’s micro-brewery The Monolith is making waves in provincial craft beer scene.
Creating beers and beer-and-cider hybrids (called graf) using spontaneous fermentation and mixed-fermentation, sitting down for a flight of samples here will truly expand your beer horizons.
Một Tô - Pho Grilled Cheese (Calgary)
Nola - Parsnip and Black Sesame Cheesecake (Winnipeg)
I wasn’t sure I’d have another opportunity to express just how much I love chef Emily Butcher’s cheesecake before the end of the year, but here we are.
There is much to love about this duo-tone cheesecake at Nola, with its balance of earthy, sweet parsnips and umami-leaning black sesame. Couple that with a little miso caramel, some tuile for texture and you’ve got yourself one hell of a cheesecake.
As Riley Chervinski wrote in her 2022 year-in-review feature: “[This cake] lives rent-free in the minds (and stomachs) of virtually everyone who has tried it.”
Northern Bars - Traditional Nanaimo Bars
If I hadn’t tried Nola’s cheesecake this year, I’d award these well-designed and well-made dessert squares my favourite sweet treat of 2022.
Trust me when I say you have never had Nanaimo Bars that look or taste like these gorgeous squares being made in Vancouver by Northern Bars. The use of high quality chocolate and great sweet-to-salty balance are two reasons why these are so clearly a cut above the standard bake sale variety.
With new flavours coming some time soon, I think it’s safe to bet that Northern Bars are going to have a booming 2023.
Pop Wine Bar - Pop Pizza Pop (Saskatoon)
Saskatoon’s new-ish Pop Wine Bar has become a popular spot for Saskatoonians thanks to its diverse wine program (a la general manager Adrian Chappell), but its food menu holds its own too with freshly made pastas, caviar, rabbit schnitzel and more.
Typically ordered off the late night menu, chef Christie Peters’ version of a classic pizza pop does a remarkable job of mimicking that elasticky texture the mass-produced version is known for, but with a filling of Primal’s backyard tomato sauce and plenty of mozzarella.
Real Fake Meats - Vegan Halifax Donair (Halifax)
Her plant-based version of Halifax’s most famous fast-casual dish is nothing to baulk at, consisting of a freshly-made pita, brimming with her well-spiced shaved donair “meat” and a coconut sweet sauce.
It hits the spot just right.
Richards Fresh Seafood - Lobster Roll (Victoria by the Sea, PEI)
My father now resides in Prince Edward Island, so I think it’s fair to assume that I am going to be spending more time in the Maritimes throughout 2023.
A late 2022 spring visit to the island had me hopping around in search of the best lobster roll I could get my hands on. Richards Fresh Seafood in the picturesque village Victoria By The Sea delivered (not literally) with a no-frills roll that’s pleasantly overflowing with lobster meat.
Ryuko - Tobiko Bibimbap (Calgary)
A true textural and visual delight, one cannot experience more savoury snap-crackle-and-pop than by way of Ryuko’s Japanese-Korean bibimbap.
A stellar (and perfectly seasoned) combination of crispy quinoa, fried Japanese yam, kimchi, nori, diced salmon (though type of fish can differ) and tomatoes with a fried egg and four colourful types of tobiko is gorgeous to look at, but release the silky yolk from the fried egg, give everything a good stir and eat to your heart's content.
The Tallest Poppy - Breakfast Sandwich (Winnipeg)
I have loved The Tallest Poppy in Winnipeg for many years for many reasons, but this year’s reason shall be its breakfast sandwich.
Its contents (fried egg, tomato, lettuce and plenty of mayo, and you should definitely add bacon) are tried, tested and proven by yours truly to cure a hangover. The toasted Gunn’s Bakery Fergassa bread that Tallest Poppy uses for their sandwich is studded with salty cheddar cheese and green onions and helps to take things to the next level.