If I had written this post last week, I would be telling you about how Borealia (Latin for “We the North”, basically) was one of the proposed names for Canada during the early stirrings of our nation’s confederacy, and also the name of this hip new Ossington joint. But this week, the restaurant has rebranded as Boralia, citing a trademark conflict as the reason for change.

Much ado about dropping the “e” aside, Boralia is a great excuse for a history lesson. The last time I felt as Canadian walking into anything was when I fell through the cardboard partition of my Grade Four school play dressed as a fur trader. Needless to say, this past weekend’s experience was infinitely more enjoyable and far less embarrassing. I didn’t have to put on an offensively bad Samuel de Champlain accent either!

The concept for this intimate woodsy resto-bar draws inspiration from historical Canadian dishes present during the 1700’s-1800’s, with “inspiration” being the key word. No doubt serving “pemmican” (the survival-based combination of fat and protein created by the Cree and popularized by the European settlers) would have been less than appetizing/inedible. The Bison “Pemmican” Bresaola ($15) on the other hand, was a delight. The juniper berries were the perfect complement to this smooth and gamey charcuterie appetizer. For something a little more familiar, the Roasted Trout ($17) is a neat and orderly main dish, with a bed of “Iroquois Popcorn Grits” as a surprise element. The Caramelized Onion and Potato Pierogies ($13) fall into the same line of familiar-but-different.

You will also find an Asian twist on some of these items, though it falls far from typical “fusion”. You’ll find it in the Braised Whelk ($14), served with a beurre blanc on a bed of sautéed carrots prepared with flavours that transported me to the harbours of Taiwan. You’ll also find it in other dishes such as the Chopsuey Croquettes ($6) and the Devilled Chinese Tea Eggs ($7).

If I had to choose a single item as a “must order”, I’m giving it to the mussels. Traditionally, “l’Éclade” ($15) is prepared by burying and smoking mussels under a bed of pine needles out in the woods, but these guys have found a way to make it indoors. After being simmered in a “pine ash butter”, the plate is covered with a “Beauty and the Beast Rose”-like glass dome and opened at the last minute to emit the most wonderful woodsy aroma.

As for the service, it was charmingly Canadian as well (read: slow, but friendly). But once they get their musical chairs coat rack situation sorted out (you’ll know what I’m talking about if you experience it), there will be few flaws left at this place.

Final Note: One of the main reasons I wanted to go to Boralia that night was to offer an American friend a really Canadian experience. After all, “Contemporary Canadian” cuisine really is just another side of the “New American” coin, and I didn’t want another farm-to-table burger. With its unique and exciting menu, Boralia certainly gave me what I was looking for. You won’t find a celebration of our nation’s history done this way anywhere else.

Location: 59 Ossington Avenue, Toronto, ON (Trinity Bellwoods)

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