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How Vancouver's food scene stacks up against Toronto's

There's been much talk in recent years about Vancouver eclipsing Toronto as the culinary capital of Canada. Having recently spent three weeks observing my hometown through a Vancouver lens, I must say I was impressed to see how the things we take for granted - farm-fresh menus, local wines, sustainable seafood, organic meat - are still novel there. That said, there is still lots that we could learn from each other.

The decibels are louder on the other side

Toronto operates on a higher frequency level. And while it's fun to be part of a busy, buzzy room, it's impossible to savour food in some of the city's more chaotic noise chambers.

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At Origin, a St. Lawrence hot spot, chef Claudio Aprile warns on the website that his open-kitchen tapas restaurant is loud. Okay, I thought. My friend and I may have to shout across the table. I never imagined that we would end up bolting out of the restaurant before dessert with ears ringing and pulses racing.

Cold cuts are hotter in Hogtown

Toronto doesn't have a great commercial charcuterie purveyor on par with Vancouver's Oyama Sausage Co. And I think that forces their restaurant chefs to be more adventurous. Many of the top chefs - Marc Thuet, David Lee, Chris McDonald - cure their own.

The Italian Connection

While in Toronto, I watched as Vancouver's Pino Posteraro was inducted into the DiRoNA (Distinguished Restaurants of North of America) Hall of Fame. He is one of only three Canadian chefs - and the only Italian restaurant operator in Canada - to receive the honour. I think his installation is telling.

"The Italian in Vancouver is better," Chris Nuttall-Smith, Toronto Life's new restaurant critic and former Vancouverite, explained by e-mail. He's right - though I never would have believed it five years ago.

The truth about multiculturalism

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Whereas Toronto's middle ground is dominated by Italian, Vancouver's is more multicultural. Ask anyone in Toronto where a visitor should eat and they'll probably name a few Italian and local farm-fresh restaurants. Must-go-to restaurants that define Vancouver's culinary landscape (at least in my mind) - Vij's, Tojo's, Maenam, Hapa Izakaya and Bao Bei - have no equivalent there.

Give it another Guu

Speaking of izakayas, maybe it's time to give Guu another chance. The Vancouver-based chain restaurant helped bring the now-ubiquitous Japanese gastro-pubs into the mainstream. The franchises (there are now five in Vancouver) have always been interesting, boisterous places to dine, although they are by no means the best examples. I would rate Guu perhaps the fourth-best of Vancouver's izakayas, after Hapa, Kingyo and Gyoza King. Try telling that to Toronto diners, where the first Guu transplant is still drawing huge lineups nearly a year after opening.

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About the Author
Vancouver restaurant critic

Alexandra Gill has been The Globe and Mail’s Vancouver restaurant critic since 2005. She joined the paper as a summer intern in 1997 and was hired full-time as an entertainment columnist the following year. In 2001, she moved to Vancouver as the Western Arts Correspondent, a position she held until 2007. More

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