If Canadian history lessons were this delicious, I may have taken them more seriously.Boralia restaurant at Ossington and Queen, north of Liberty Village, has offered an answer to the age-old question: what is Canadian cuisine? Boralia exposes what we may not have noticed before: that within the history we do have, of native peoples and early settlers, are foods eaten that are historically unique to Canada. With the help of Evelyn Wu and Wayne Morris from Boralia, there has been a menu developed that pays tribute to where we’ve come from combined with who we are now.
The cloth covering that is draped as you enter Boralia is reminiscent of the entrance to a traditional yurt, but once inside the painted white brick and dark table details are contemporary and classy. Artwork of forests with blues and greens guide you inside as you take in the rest of the space: long, with scattered tables turning into booths as you go deeper, and a large floor-to-ceiling bar on the left side. Wood arches decorate the ceilings, as if an interior designer was assigned a native longhouse as their latest project. A few pelts hang on the walls, thick tapestries separate booths, and an Arctic wolf guards the washroom hallway. Hammered copper hangs at the entrance like northern lights. Never has a yurt looked so chic.
The menu consists of dishes inspired by the chef’s research of historical texts made with contemporary technique. Two of their starters, for instance, are inspired by the Chinese immigrants that helped develop Canada and have the dates ‘1880’ marked on the menu to note the date referenced: deviled Chinese tea eggs ($7) and chop suey croquettes ($6). The eggs, served as a trio, are a burst of umami with flavours of tea and soy, and the croquettes are their version of arancini, combining meat and mushrooms with sticky rice and deep frying.
The mains are all dishes to share ($13 – $24). L’éclade, a dish noted from the year 1605, will become imprinted on your mind the second it gets to the table, and more so when it touches your lips. Served to you with a puff of the pine-needle smoke, it consists of mussels that are smoked in pine needles, and laid atop a puddle of pine ash butter sauce with white wine, shallots, and leeks. You’ll want an order of their red fife levain bread ($3) to dip with, but when you run out of that, a spoon will suffice. I challenge you to leave even a drop in your bowl.
The bison ‘Pemmican’ bresaola is inspired by a traditional dish eaten by North American Indians of dried meat mixed with fat and berries. Boralia has made it their own, translating the traditional dish into thin slices of meat cured in house with lardo (Italian cured pork fat) and berries scattered throughout. Their pan-roasted elk dish is served with a wild rice-crusted egg in the centre, its yolk used as sauce along with cranberry gastrique, burnt onion, and radish for dipping. Other dishes to try, because Boralia recommends ordering several to share due to the smaller portion sizes, include the pigeon pie ($24) and venison liver and foie gras parfait ($15).
For dessert, a cool rhubarb tart with caramelized white chocolate is decorated with edible flowers, although it can’t compare with the beer-battered beignets, filled with chocolate ganache and dusted with lemon sugar. Traced back to Louisbourg, a fortress on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia (c.1795), the beignets are hot and gooey with dark chocolate insides that aren’t overpowered by sweetness. It’s an indulgent way to end the meal.
The drink list includes some nicely matched beers (Beau’s Nordic Pale Ale and Bellwoods’ Farmhouse Classic Saison) and a lengthy wine list. The cocktails are worth trying: the Sea Buckthorn Caipirinha ($14) uses Leblon Cachaca, Grand Marnier, honey syrup, and lemon; the grapefruit shrub spritz ($12) has aperol, grapefruit shrub, lemon and cava. With dessert, try one of their after dinner drinks like Fernando de Castilla Antique Oloroso Sherry ($18), with hints of hazelnuts and varnished wood.
Passion for the story they’re trying to tell is palpable from those who serve you. Service was prompt, helpful, and comforting. The environment, too, was warm and inviting. Music was quiet enough to hold a conversation, although loud enough to realize it was mostly indie rock and electronic, and although enjoyable in another setting, was too much of a clash for me to appreciate. You can take your time, enjoy each dish one at a time, and leave feeling like you now have a greater understanding of the country we live in.