Really Fine Food

Cross-Canada tips on where to go for a great green meal. Canadian chefs are increasingly cooking with local, organic food — good for you and the environment. Here’s a cross-country selection of restaurants where you can dine in true eco style.

By Kate Zimmerman

Bishop’s: The doyen of organic cooking in Vancouver is John Bishop, the hugely influential and hospitable owner of the eponymous restaurant located in a Kitsilano split-level. With an ever-changing menu featuring dishes like roasted Cowichan Bay Farm duck cassoulet with Agassiz beans, lacinato kale, Berkshire pork sausage and pancetta, Bishop’s was the first gourmet restaurant in Vancouver to offer guests B.C. on a plate. 2183 West 4th Ave.; 604-738-2025. C: This first-class, much-awarded seafood mecca is not only organic, but what it calls “21st Century Responsible.” Among other things, executive chef Robert Clark co-founded a program called Ocean Wise that awards special recognition to British Columbia restaurants serving only sustainable species. At the False Creek boîte itself, Saltspring Island honey mussels, fresh B.C. sardines, and Vancouver Island Pacific scallops star in artfully sculpted delights. 2-1600 Howe St.; 604-681-1164. Aurora Bistro: Gifted chef Jeff Van Geest cultivates his relationships with local producers, so it’s no wonder his Main Street establishment was named Best Regional Restaurant at the 2007 Vancouver Magazine Restaurant Awards. Van Geest is a dab hand at marrying local flavours in deliciously novel ways, with mains like crisp-skinned white spring salmon with wild rice polenta, tomato bisque and cedar jelly. Better yet, his entrée prices are reasonable, with $28 the top end. 2420 Main St.; 604-873-9944. Go Fish: You can’t get much fresher than the take-out counter at Go Fish, which hauls in its ingredients on-site, at False Creek Fishermen’s Wharf. Wild, line-caught fish wrapped in feather-light batter spiked with beer from nearby Granville Island Brewing, perky slaws, crisp fries and tasty “tacones” (fish taco cones) served out of a steel shack charm the palate and the pocketbook equally. 1505 West 1st Ave. Fishermen’s Wharf; 604-730-5040.

By Nettie Cronish

Cowbell: The brocade banquettes, warm wood trim, chandeliers and daily changing chalkboard menu make this restaurant a cozy, informal place to enjoy choucroute, delicate house-made sausages and pink, moist ham, butchered and cured by Mark Cutrara (co-owner with Karin Culliton). Cowbell serves artisanal cheeses, pasture-raised meat and local Ontario produce. At seasonal Farmers Nights, you can connect with the people who grow your food. 1564 Queen St. West; 416-849-1095. Le Café Vert: This funky, mainly organic and vegetarian Leslieville eatery is presided over by chef Sasha Chan. The decor is thrift-store chic, the coffee is fair trade and there are pots of herbs dotted about. You can feast on “Eggplantatious” with organic quinoa. Or, if you want something sweet, try the vegan French cocoa brownies or passion-fruit crème brûlée — everything is baked on site — that capture the heart and soul of this eco-conscious café. You won’t want to leave. 946 Queen St. East; 416-778-1313. Big Mamma’s Boy: Chef Michael Guenther has shares in an Ontario organic farm, and that kind of quality shows in everything from the choice of pizza crusts to the veggie burger stuffed with legumes on toasted sourdough with homemade chipotle mayo. Guenther also offers dishes such as organic pulled-pork sandwiches and slow-cooked ribs. The two-floor Victorian that houses the resto has a front porch that’s great for people-watching. The main floor, with its bordello-red walls, has an equally warming wood-burning stove. Upstairs, the spacious bar has gorgeous vaulted ceilings and large mirrors. 554 Parliament St.; 416-927-1593. Live Organic Food Bar: Bright orange and mod lime-green walls define this hip, raw organic eatery. Using nuts, seeds, grains, fruits and vegetables, chef Jennifer Italiano’s menu is alive with flavour. Try the faux lasagna, uncooked zucchini noodles layered with cashew “ricotta” tomato marinara and basil pesto. There are always macrobiotic and Ayurvedic dishes on the menu. Food that stimulates your body, mind and soul. 264 Dupont St.; 416-515-2002.

By Bil Spurr

Chives Canadian Bistro: This year, Craig Flinn of Chives Canadian Bistro added farming to his busy week, planting a small vegetable garden in the Annapolis Valley. “But once I harvested, I realized I only had enough carrots for one service,” he said. “On the other hand, I grew enough zucchini, butternut squash and pumpkin to last for six months.” Flinn stopped serving salmon about six months ago, moving instead to Arctic char, sea trout and halibut, which are based in landlocked aquaculture. “I would like to see them get rid of the sea pens,” he says of the area’s salmon aquaculture industry. His favourite dish? Nova Scotia lamb shank. “It’s sort of a signature for what we do — take a lesser cut of meat and make something special of it.” 1537 Barrington St.; 902-420-9626. Tempest: An hour out of Halifax, in Wolfville, Michael Howell is the executive chef and owner of Tempest, which means he doesn’t have to compromise. “I’m committed to serving only sustainable seafood,” said Howell. “Sturgeon from St. George, New Brunswick costs $40 a kilo: I could buy salmon and pay $12 a kilo, but I buy sturgeon.” He also buys hand-harvested farmed scallops from Indian Point Marine Farms and features them in a dish with mango salsa and local organic beet beurre blanc. All his poultry is local and free range, but Howell is perhaps happiest with the finnan haddie and chorizo chowder, made from line-caught Nova Scotia haddock and locally made chorizo sausage. 117 Front St., Wolfville; 902-542-0588. The Wooden Monkey: Lil MacPherson, Christine Bower and Robie Sagar used wood from trees felled by Hurricane Juan in the trim and door frames of their environmentally friendly restaurant, The Wooden Monkey. “None of the dishes in the restaurant is processed,” says MacPherson. “We’re completely MSG free and cook with pure maple syrup and organic sugars. Our pizza is made with a hole-grain porridge crust that comes from organic grains.” Take-out items are served in biodegradable containers and the restaurant is cleaned almost solely using green products. 1685 Argyle St.; 902-444-3844.