Our guide to Winterlicious favourites that still have space
Classic iles flottantes make an appearance in the dessert section of Café Boulud's Winterlicious menu
Image: David Ort
The last thing anyone needs is another rant about the failings of Winterlicious. It’s not perfect for diners and it’s a grind for all those who work in participating restaurants.
But done right, and if diners approach the idea with properly calibrated expectations, it can be an unusually good opportunity to try a restaurant outside your usual list at a (slightly) reduced cost.
Personally, it has been so long since I've participated in either Winter- or Summerlicious that my two most recent experiences were at restaurants that have now changed ownership, their names or their concept entirely. So, I felt it was time to check back in and update my perception of what’s worth visiting. Among the go-tos, some still have tables up for grabs but it probably makes sense to act quickly.
If you hear about an exceptionally good 'licious experience, there's a decent chance it happened at Canoe. Downtown's favourite office tower eatery has a strong reputation for not half-miling it, and that means that it's a perennial favourite, but there are still some spots up for grabs. Its uptown O&B sibling, Auberge du Pommier, is just as popular and also has a dwindling number of reservations slots. Biff's, the group's French bistro on Front Street, has plenty of room for their $43 dinner menu.
Maple Leaf Tavern, one of the pioneers for fancier restaurants on Gerrard, has plenty of spots and is also in the midrange $43-for-dinner tier. Highlights from the tavern's menu include sausage by chef Jesse Vallins and a delicious-looking striploin cheeseburger.
Speaking of taverns (and their British cousins), it's still possible to book a table at either Wickson Social or midtown's Queen & Beaver Public House and both are in the lowest price tier at $33 for dinner or $23 at lunch.
Bar Buca (also at $33 for dinner) is the only of Rob Gentile's restaurants on the list of participants and still has some availability.
The combination of cheese and puff pastry is a winning way to start lunch at Café Boulud. (IMAGE: DAVID ORT)
The photos for this article were taken at a preview of Café Boulud’s Winterlicious menu. There is still limited availability and regulars will be happy to see that menu favourites like the pike quenelle and the profiteroles made the cut for the special promotion.
Diners shouldn't expect a free meal from Winterlicious — in fact, prices have gone up $5 for every tier over last year, which means more than a 25% bump for the cheapest options — and restaurants should push themselves to deliver a good-value meal to new customers with food that represents their regular offerings. Within those boundaries, Winterlicious can be a mutually beneficial programme that benefits every one.