Amidst the eclectic array of restaurants along the Ossington Street strip there emerges a new aurora: Borealia. This Latin word, meaning “northern”, was chosen from the short list of proposed names for our country during Confederation. (We could have been Borealians!)
There is a warm cabin feel, and the handcrafted copper chandelier glows like the northern lights. For owners Evelyn Wu and Wayne Morris going local is not just about ingredients; it’s about history. What could be more fresh and exotic than local recipes from our past? Both the décor and the menu represent an edible history of Canada’s roots, gleaned from Canada’s oldest cookbooks. In fact the numbers beside some menu items are not their price, but the year in which their recipe was established.
Every recipe has a story.
We begin with red fife levain bread and an accompanying cultured butter sparked with carmelized onion dust. Red fife was the first wheat to be harvested in Canada, and the flavour and texture of the bread is addictive. It takes all our focus to save some for the unique presentation of mussels steamed in pine ash butter. Lift the glass bell and the aromatic smoke of pine needles embraces us. This recipe is adapted from the 1605 original, and was said to be a favourite dish of Samuel de Champlain when he introduced it to the Port Royal settlement in Acadia (Nova Scotia). Clearly it was love at first bite, because no sooner had Champlain asked passing fishermen along the east coast, “Qu'est-ce que c'est?” did he make landfall in Nova Scotia to claim providence over the greatest bounty of mussels in the world.
Another item on the menu catches our attention, and then our palate. Rich custard of pumpkin and porcini is like smooth velvet, drizzled with walnut vinaigrette and decorated by little apple jewels and brown bread crisps. We are struck by the unique balance of flavours.
In 1845 the United States began negotiating its northwestern border with British North America resulting in the Oregon Treaty the following year, but even more important than that was the creation of an exciting local dish called Kedgeree. This adaptation of filleted smoked whitefish is partnered with curried mayo and parsley puree. Crowned with rice crackers the pure flavours stand out.
A generous portion of pan-seared trout with birch syrup vinaigrette sits atop luscious Iroquois popcorn grits. This is really a unique and savoury find in Toronto. A colourful arrangement of tender sliced venison with cranberry gastrique, crisp radish and burnt onion surround a whole egg encrusted in crunchy wild rice for a harmonious blend of flavour and texture. Every item on this menu piques our imagination.
For dessert we travel back to 1795. Shortly after the division of Upper and Lower Canada the recipe for the Louisbourg Hot Chocolate Beignets was conceived. French settlers had brought these fritters to Acadia over one hundred years earlier. Who knew at that time the palate-exploding potential of these beer-battered, lemon-sugared, spiced-chocolate ganache confections…served in a teacup? It is delicious! If you eat nothing else, this is not to be missed.
Some people think Canadian cuisine has yet to be defined, but those who already know have dined at Borealia.
~ Borealia, 647-351-5100, 59 Ossington Avenue ~