Lifestyle

Restaurant meals: Oversized, epic and unapologetic

No more tiny plates: It’s epic, costs $500, feeds up to 10 and must be ordered days in advance. The ‘anti-tapas’ dining craze is here.

When John Bil was dreaming up a dish a whole table could share at Catch, his new Toronto restaurant, he wanted something that would capture the essence of his influences. “We have a bit of a Mediterranean vibe and a huge Maritime vibe,” he explains, “and I wanted to come up with a way to blend those.” The dish he created is an epic combination of smoked oysters stuffed inside a sea trout stuffed inside a goat. He calls it “the Gout.” It is massive, costs $500, feeds 10 and must be ordered at least four days in advance for Bil to get the goat.

“We wanted to have a restaurant that really focuses on things you’d never do at home,” says Bil, who also happens to be a former national oyster-shucking champion. “It’s a special thing, so if you’re going to spend some money, we’re going to give you something you’ll never forget.”


 

Photo: Reena Newman

Fittingly, Catch’s dinner menu is categorized by size rather than chronology. (The XXL section also includes a 15–25 pound wild striped bass that starts at $375.) But Catch isn’t the only Canadian restaurant serving giant dishes. Chefs at both ends of the country are eschewing small plates for supersized meals that require advance notice. Call it the anti-tapas.


 

At Toronto’s Bestellen, Top Chef Canada runner-up Rob Rossi offers a dish called the Family: a whole roast suckling pig with “all the fixin’s.” (They change with the season, but the roasted cauliflower, cabbage and apple slaw version was popular.) It feeds at least eight, must be ordered three days in advance and costs $59 per person. Likewise, Toronto’s new and much celebrated Edulis Restaurant offers a “pre-order” menu that includes an entire whole roasted foie gras, a heritage breed chicken roasted in hay and traditional Spanish paella. But as co-owner Tobey Nemeth explains, those are just the set items. The restaurant encourages diners to come up with their own requests, things that might be too labour intensive or difficult to prepare at home. “There’s a casual nature of sharing that combines with the feeling of celebration,” says Nemeth. “It’s just kind of an old-fashioned way of cooking that we love.”

In Vancouver, the Premeditated Gluttony section of the recently opened Wildebeest is devoted to large cuts like the four-person Angus beef tomahawk chop (a Flintstone-sized bone-in rib-eye, so named for its resemblance to the axe). “Our restaurant’s already based on the sharing format,” says Wildebeest’s chef David Gunawan, “and we’re just expanding the whole process into a larger format. It’s more interesting for us as well.”

So it’s fun for everyone. But is there a larger point? Bil thinks so. “You lose a sense of the scale of the animal when you get a single portion,” he says. “Presenting the whole animal to people tableside…honestly, it’s epic.”

Chris Johns is a Toronto-based food writer who, until now, knew no limit to his gluttony.