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Doug Ford receives backlash for plan to cut city council

After Premier Doug Ford announced that he would be introducing a bill to slash Toronto’s city council from 47 members to 25, NDP leader Andrea Horwath and Mayor John Tory are criticizing the decision.

On Monday Ford introduced the Better Local Government Act at the provincial legislature. The plan would be to cut city council nearly in half, a move that brought forth criticism from city council, John Tory, and opposing leader Andrea Horwath.

The Premier’s office released further information last Friday on why they’re choosing to introduce such a controversial bill. “At 44 seats, growing to 47 seats, Toronto City Council has become increasingly dysfunctional and inefficient through a combination of entrenched incumbency and established special interests,” they wrote. A streamlined Toronto City Council would empower Toronto’s mayor and help ensure that Toronto taxpayers can count on an efficient and effective municipal government.” They added that the bill could help save Toronto taxpayers over $25.5 million over the next four years but didn’t provide any specifics.

The bill will also extend the nomination period for city council candidates to September 14, 2018, though the deadline for Mayor would remain the same.

Mayor John Tory told reporters that the bill was “absolutely not right” to introduce without consulting with Torontonians. “I’m angry at the process because I think it is disrespectful of the people, most of all, in that I think people, when there’s a major change being made to their civic democracy, deserve to be consulted in one way, shape or form,” he said. “It wasn’t put on the basis that he was planning to do it. He said that he’s talked about it before and I actually sort of dismissed it on the basis of saying, ‘Well, that’s not something that could be done. We’re in the middle of an election campaign,’” he added. “The matter dropped at that stage because I didn’t have the sense he was pursuing it, either.”

Tory also called for a referendum, which was approved by city council. “I will continue to advocate that the province pushes the pause button on this process and let the municipal election already underway proceed,” he added in a Twitter thread on July 30.

Ford received further criticism from opposing leader Andrea Horwath, who released a statement about the bill, saying that he didn’t announce these plans on the campaign trail or consult people. “It’s clear that Mr. Ford wants a smaller number of councillors to have more power, fewer checks and balances, and less accountability. This is obviously a move to make it easier for the premier to control Toronto City Hall. The actions we hear Mr. Ford plans to take not only mean less accountability and transparency at City Hall, but that each Torontonian will have less help and less access to their city councillor,” she said.

Horwath also tweeted about the bill, calling it something Ford “cooked up in a backroom.”

Ford is defending his decision at City Hall and on social media since July 27. “I promised to reduce the size and cost of government, and end the culture of waste and mismanagement. More politicians are not the answer. These changes will dramatically improve the decision making process, and help restore accountability and trust in local governments,” he wrote on Friday.

Ford posted a video of him yesterday addressing the concerns of his bill. “We’re gonna create jobs. We’re gonna create transit. We’re gonna fix the infrastructure and we’re gonna take care of the billion dollars backlogged of housing. People are sleeping on the streets cause too much money’s going to politicians,” he said. He accompanied the 0: 15-second clip with a tweet saying, “We’re going to make government work for the people. We can’t allow political gridlock and dysfunction at City Hall to keep delaying progress on critical issues. By streamlining City Council, we will help Toronto move forward on transit, infrastructure and housing.”

Progress Toronto, an advocacy group supporting democracy, started a petition to stop Ford’s bill called “Stop Ford’s takeover of Toronto politics.” They wrote that Ford is “abusing his power as premier and he is messing with our political system in the middle of an election to try to control Toronto City Hall from Queen’s Park.”

Ontario minister wears bulletproof vest to Jane & Finch, causing backlash

Michael Tibollo, the Ontario PC Party’s minister of community safety and correctional services, said that he wore a bulletproof vest while visiting Jane and Finch, prompting leaders to call his remarks racist and ask for a comment withdrawal.

Ontario’s PC minister of community safety and correctional services visited the Jane and Finch area on July 7. He tweeted about the experience, saying, “I had the opportunity to travel around 31 Division and learn about the great work of our police force. We are committed to work with our Police to ensure safe neighborhoods free of guns and gang violence. Glad to have Premier Ford join me and hear his concerns as well.”

Premier Doug Ford also tweeted about the experience. “Enjoyed meeting with the great community members in the Driftwood neighbourhood yesterday along with Minister @MichaelTibollo and officers from 31 Division. We are focused on building strong connections between communities and our police services,” he wrote.

During a question period in Queen’s Park on July 18, Tibollo said that he wore a bulletproof vest before entering the Jane and Finch area in response to a question about carding (incidents where people – often minorities – are stopped by police for no reason). The question came from Brampton North NDP MPP Kevin Yarde.

Yarde asked, “Mr. Speaker. I personally have been carded. […] New Democrats have long been advocating for the end of carding as a first step in addressing systemic racism. […] Will you be making changes to allow even more carding to take place on Ontario streets or will you work to stamp out carding?”

Tibollo responded, “I went out to Jane and Finch, put on a bulletproof vest and spent 7:00 to 1:00 in the morning visiting sites that had previously had bullet-ridden people killed in the middle of the night.”

During a question period later in the day, Tibollo added, “They’re surrounded by drug deals, one of which I saw take place while I was there. It was absolutely horrifying.”

“The police need tools to work with, they are doing an incredible job ensuring that our streets are safe. And it’s our job — I’m not a police officer — but what I can tell you is they need skills, they need tools to work with,” he added. “Our work will be to ensure working with the communities to make sure we build trust and that we have those tools provided to them to be able to do their jobs properly.”

Opposing party leader, Andrea Horwath, tweeted about Tibollo’s comments, calling them racist. “Conservative minister Michael Tibollo’s comment this morning about wearing a bulletproof vest at Jane and Finch is inexcusably racist. Anyone who would say something so divisive has no credibility to continue to oversee Ontario’s Anti-Racism Directorate.”

Tibollo responded about an hour later writing, “Any attempt to spin my comments this morning, is petty partisan politics. I am proud to support our police, and I will continue to work with communities and front line officers to make sure our neighbourhoods are safe.”

However, Horwath isn’t the only opposing Ontario leader who criticized Tibollo’s actions. Yarde also called for a retraction of the comment. In response to reporters, he drew on personal experience, saying that he was pulled over seven years ago in Mississauga for no reason. “Depending on who you’re asking and as an African-Canadian, I thought it was a racist comment,” Yarde said. “It was a surprise to hear comments such as that coming from the minister of community safety and correctional services.”

Alok Mukherjee, the former chair of the Toronto Police Services Board also tweeted out that wearing a bulletproof vest during a ride-along is not standard. “Since when is this a standard procedure? I did not wear a vest in my ridealongs all over the city,” he tweeted.

Deputy Premier Christine Elliot defended Tibollo, saying that she didn’t think Tibollo intended on an offensive comment. “I think what he is speaking about is needing to go to communities to understand what’s happening, to understand how people have been hit by violence, gun violence in their neighbourhood,” she told reporters.

Ford’s sex-ed decision will hurt students

So, Ford officially nixed Ontario’s sexual education curriculum so he could appease pro-life, Christian groups and conservative parents who don’t want children to know about basic things. Big surprise.

When Ford was discussing his idiotic plans for the city on the campaign trail I already knew that I wasn’t going to vote for him. He was too quick to yank decisions out of thin air that only placated a small amount of misinformed, bigoted people. It’s obvious that this is what the next four years will look like now that he’s literally setting the province back 20 years.

In case you missed it, Ford announced on July 11 that he would be reverting the Liberal party’s curriculum and replacing it with the 1998 version. The reason for this was essentially so he could consult with parents on what they wanted their kids to learn at home versus the classroom.

There are many problems with this decision. The 1998 curriculum didn’t include things that matter today like transgender people, same-sex marriage, consent, masturbation, homophobia, online bullying, and sexting. Back then these things were pretty much unheard of, so it wasn’t a big deal to sweep them under the rug.

But when students started entering a technology-driven society, things drastically changed. Kids were getting more open about their sex lives, sending photos to their partners, and had a new platform to bully other kids into suicide or changing schools. The internet is great for a lot of things, but it’s also a dangerous aid to children who weren’t educated in how to behave or protect themselves.

For those parents or conservatives out there who think this is a good move, let me tell you something. I went to high school in a Catholic school. Learning about Jesus for four years when you’re an atheist was already hell enough (please control your applause at these puns), but my class learned nothing about sex. Nothing. The teacher spent half a class once talking about how girls have a vagina and boys have a penis, everyone needs to refrain from having sex until couples were in love, and that everyone has to be safe. The end. But, what does safe mean? Ah, yes, my Catholic high school wanted to cover their butts by saying they technically told students to be safe, but they worked around it by not showing students what that meant. Kids in my school were never taught how to put on condoms or what diseases could be contracted through unprotected sex. This kind of “education” led to the school shutting down hallways because students were having sex too often in them and grade-10 girls walking around the cafeteria pregnant. So, maybe education is a good thing?

Though, it’s not just the Catholic groups out there who wanted Ontario’s sex-ed curriculum repealed. Enter Campaign Life Coalition. Let me stop sighing long enough to express my distaste in their backward views. They published an article talking about graphic lessons on body parts. Words like “penis” (oh no!), “vagina” (the horror!), “testicles” (the travesty!), and “vulva” (sound the alarm!) were all present.

I think I can understand where they were coming from. They don’t want little kids in grade one learning about their genitals because they’re much too young and need to be making macaroni art. However, kids get curious. It’s not unheard of for children that young to start exploring with other kids or even their own siblings. Look at the whole Lena Dunham debacle that happened a few years ago. Tons of people were quick to call her disgusting and a rapist, whereas several therapists actually stated that they didn’t think Dunham abused her sister at all. What happened was a case of curious children who weren’t properly educated by their parents or in schools.

It’s not just the genitals thing that irks me. It’s how the Coalition’s article also demonized same-sex households. A line from their article on grade 3 lessons reads: “Will normalize homosexual family structures and homosexual ‘marriage’ in the minds of 8-year-olds, without regard for the religious/moral beliefs of families.” What about the regard for the children coming from same-sex homes? That means they can be left out entirely so a homophobic agenda can continue being taught?

The article continues by saying, “It would be one thing to teach the fact that such alternative family structures exist, if the plan were to teach it at older ages, and if it were done in a way that respected the deeply held religious and moral beliefs of traditionally-principled families. However, the Kathleen Wynne government will certainly take an activist approach to these lessons and show no respect nor tolerance for traditionally-principled families.” Correct me if I’m wrong but it sounds like you’re upset that “traditional” homophobic, belittling views won’t see the light of day. Forgive me for not shedding tears.

I already knew that Ford promising to rid the new curriculum was going to be trouble. I believed him, and if you want to applaud him for keeping true to his promises then I guess I can give him that as well. I can’t deny that he did what he said he would. It just turns out that what he did was stupid, damaging, ill-informed, and not half as big a win as he thinks.

Regardless of whether or not Ford or the conservative parents out there believe it, kids masturbate. They’re going to have sex. Girls will get their periods. Boys will ask girls to send photos of their breasts. Girls will ask for photos of a boy’s genitals. Your kids are going to experiment. They’re most likely going to have sex in high school and be curious as children, so the least you could do for them is keep them educated.

Public art at St. Clair breathes life into intersection

A month ago, the corner of Yonge St. and St. Clair Ave. was adorned with large and colourful portraits. The intriguing part of the art instillation is that it wasn’t on a building or a billboard, and it wasn’t placed in a park. The portraits were all hung on the hoarding covering construction of a new podium.

The buildings on the corner of Yonge and St. Clair are owned by Slate Asset Management, who have a total of 10 properties in the area. The company saw an opportunity to engage with the community during the revitalization process, and chose public art as its catalyst.

“One of our first moves at Yonge + St. Clair was to collaborate on the eight-storey mural by acclaimed street artist, Phlegm,” said Katie Fong of Slate Asset Management. “The reaction to the mural confirmed our assumption that there’s an enormous appetite for public art in this city. Incorporating public art at Yonge + St. Clair allows us to add meaning and value to what has traditionally been an overlooked area. It’s our goal to shift this perception and we see art as one of our major avenues for doing so.”

Part of the construction includes the creation of a two-storey podium at 2 St. Clair W., which will feature a new BUCA concept. Fong said it didn’t make sense to keep a blank canvas up for a few months at such a well-walked intersection.

“The art adds a splash of colour and vibrancy. We’re working towards re-establishing the neighbourhood as a destination with our investment in art and prominent tenants like BUCA. The mural sparks a sense of curiosity, and a conversation of what’s to come and it’s helping us continue to build buzz.”

The artwork was created by Daniel Mazzone, a local artisan described by the Toronto Star as the next Andy Warhol. Each portrait is made of a collage of different images, with various colours and textures, coming together to create the face of one of his icons. Each piece took roughly 200 hours to make.

“What we liked about Daniel’s work is the colour and vibrancy that it brings. We really wanted to brighten up the corner. Also, his subject matter is relatable. Everyone can look up and recognize the various personalities. We wanted something that was going to be accessible.”

In August 2016, Slate partnered with StreetARToronto, a city program that finances public art in an effort to revitalize and engage neighbourhoods. They fund a single international project a year and chose to invest in the Yonge and St. Clair community. The mural was designed and painted by international street artist PHLEGM, whose work can be found throughout Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States.

Slate said there are plans for more public art at St. Clair and Yonge, but they are waiting to perfect opportunity to implement them. It will be interesting to see this neighbourhood grow.

Expanding urban revitalization across the GTA

In the last couple of years, Toronto has begun to transform the downtown core into a more liveable and walkable city. Beyond the King St. Pilot, which has increased transit use along the corridor, the city has also approved a bike lane pilot project, the revitalization of the Waterfront, the creation of a new skating trail under the Gardiner Expressway, the proposal of a rail deck park, and the expansion of smart cities with Sidewalk Labs and (hopefully) Amazon.

And now, North York and Scarborough want in.

Residents and city councillors of North York have put together a plan called “REimagine Yonge” – now “Transform Yonge” – that would see the six-lane strip between Sheppard Ave. and Finch transform into a more walkable community. The original proposal approved by city staff suggests the removal of two lanes, the creation of a raised bike lane, and the widening of sidewalks for more public space and foliage, essentially copying the King Street vibe following the pilot study. The plan has the support of staff, local councillors, and residents who are looking forward to being able to safely walk in their neighbourhood; however, it does not have the support of the mayor.

Toronto mayor John Tory announced earlier this week an alternative plan that would include bike lanes on Beecroft Rd., which is parallel to Yonge. In this scenario, there would be no need to remove a lane of traffic on Yonge. According to reports, this “enhanced” plan will cost an extra $20 million. Tory told reporters he believes the area can be beautified without removing lanes in such a well-trafficked area.

“Transform Yonge” (City of Toronto)

North York isn’t the only neighbourhood that wants change. City councillor Paul Ainslie wants to expand the Bike Share program into Scarborough, as the 270 stations in Toronto are currently situated in the downtown core. With potential partners in GO Transit and the University of Toronto campus, Ainslie believes the program could thrive in that region.

It’s not surprising that these two areas want to change alongside downtown Toronto. Too often, the outskirt neighbourhoods are ignored when it comes to growth and development. Residents have indicated that they want connectivity. They want to live in a walkable city where commuters have the choice of walking or cycling safely, or where a sense of community exists beyond the household. They want the same level of investment as those who live in the downtown core.

No one wants to live in an area that doesn’t feel like a community — and if city hall is dedicated to this new transformation towards a sustainable and smart Toronto, it should be for all of it.

GM launches car-sharing service in Toronto

General Motors announced this week it will launch Maven, a car-sharing service, in Toronto. Maven is a mobility app that provides on-demand vehicle access, allowing members to enjoy the benefits of car ownership without actually needing to own a car.

Using your smartphone, a customer can choose a location or a car type, and then unlock the vehicle upon arrival. Vehicles are available by the hour and all reservations include gas and insurance (minus a deductable. Rates start as low as $9 per hour and users can choose from one of 40 vehicles, including Chevrolet Cruze, Malibu, Tahoe, Trax and Volt; GMC Acadia and Yukon; and Cadillac ATS and XT5. Each vehicle is equipped with OnStar, Wi-Fi, Apple Carplay, Android Auto, and SeriusXM Radio. There is no preliminary fee for renting a vehicle.

 

“Toronto has a unique spirit. Residents are constantly on the go and want more sharing and mobility options,” said Julia Steyn, vice president, General Motors Urban Mobility and Maven, in a statement. “Maven offers cars Torontonians want to drive to help them be there for the moments that matter.”

Toronto will be the first city outside of the U.S. to host Maven.

General Motors recently opened up a campus in Markham, something it is calling ” the largest automotive technology development centre of its kind in Canada” and will focus on innovation in mobility. “Bringing Maven car sharing to Toronto not only reduces congestion, but also represents the latest step in the development of General Motors’ mobility footprint in Canada,” said Steve Carlisle, president and managing director, General Motors of Canada. “…[it] furthers our ability to bring new solutions to existing problems and redefine the future of mobility in Toronto and beyond.”

The most challenging part of the launch will be the parking, in terms of Maven’s park and pick-up model. Toronto city council voted to delay debate on a pilot that would have granted residential parking permits to car-sharing companies like Car2Go and Zipcar. Finding places to leave the cars during off-peak hours may prove problematic.

What do you think? Is there room for another car-sharing service in Toronto? Let us know in the comments below!

Toronto approves 2018 budget, with extra funding for transit

City Council approved the Toronto 2018 budget Monday 33-11, with a special interest in transit. Included in the $11-billion operating budget budget is over $50 million for the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) to help in new investments and maintenance, as well as provide discounts for low-income riders and the hop-on-hop-off transfer.

There will also be a fare freeze for the next year.

The city is planning on investing in transit, shelters, recreational spaces, and the Vision Zero plan, among others. The revenue for this budget is being collected from various sources, including taxes, TTC fares, provincial grants, and reserve funds.

“This is a good news budget. It invests in key areas while spending low and keeping tax increases low,” said budget chief Gary Crawford in a statement. “Toronto residents want City Hall to build the city but they also appreciate that we strike the right balance, that we tighten spending, find efficiencies and don’t hike taxes sky-high. For the fourth year in a row, I’m confident we have struck the right, responsible balance that people expect.”

Residential property taxes are set to increase 2.1 per cent along with the rate of inflation, while commercial taxes will only increase by one per cent. City staff say this will equal an increase of about $82 on average for homeowners with property valued at $624,418. Residents will pay an additional 0.5 per cent for the City Building Fund, which supports infrastructure projects such as transit and housing. The city will be relying on approximately $800 million collected from the municipal land transfer tax to fund services, something city manager Peter Wallace says is dangerous considering the real estate market.

Prior to budget approval, mayor John Tory announced $3 million (included in the $50 million investment) earmarked to help overcrowding on Line 1, including the prioritization of the relief line. The 10-point plan includes the addition of more subway cars during peak hours, overnight maintenance schedules, hiring of platform staff for the Bloor/Yonge station, and the use of express busses to alleviate overcrowding.

“I know delays and crowding can be frustrating. I know people want an expanded transit system as soon as possible. I know how maddening it can be when transit and traffic don’t move in this city,” said Tory in a statement. “I want Toronto residents to know that I am dedicated to getting transit and traffic moving. I’m dedicated to building our entire transit network plan. I’m dedicated to making sure the TTC is doing everything possible to minimize delays and ease crowding.”

Council also voted to approve a 50 per cent reduction in property taxes for culture hubs like 401 Richmond. To be eligible, a hub must prove their tenants produce cultural goods and services, charge tenants below market rent, and have a minimum rentable space of 10,000 square feet (5,000 if owned by the city).

Doug Ford: King of cover up

Today, the worst candidate I can think of for leadership of the Ontario PC party – Doug Ford – has announced he is running. And I realize now why he didn’t come rushing to Patrick Brown’s side to defend him. Doug Ford is an overly ambitious man who would use his brother’s coffin to vault himself into the limelight.  Harsh words, but never have any truer words been written about the man.

Let me tell you about some of the secrets I’ve learned that happened in 2013, when I came out on Mayor Rob Ford’s drug induced grope.  Apparently, when the news hit social media, Doug Ford immediately started making phone calls to his “buddies” in the press. His strategy was to control and manipulate public opinion. He fed the press questions that cast doubt on me, he pulled the shadiest councillors he could find (from Vaughn) to twist the narrative, and finally he went on the Fords Newstalk 1010 radio show and made me out to be just another “crazy” woman.  Doug Ford knew that taking things out of context, and controlling the court of public opinion was the only way he could hide the truth. And for a while he managed to do it. 

But hiding the truth is a bit like trying to hold water in a broken bucket – it eventually leaks out. 

Doug succeeded in manipulating the public and hiding the truth about his brother and  his friends in the media made quick work of degrading me and making me out to be an opportunist.  They questioned my intentions and Newstalk 1010 in particular did some nasty public shaming. But that came to an end pretty quickly when the truth about Mayor Ford’s drug use finally came out.  That was when Doug Ford began claiming that he didn’t know anything about his brother’s drug use. By then most of the media realized they’d been used as his pawns. The Ford’s show on Newstalk1010 was cancelled and their power over the media went spiralling.  

When I learned about Mayor Ford’s drug dependency and the demons he was fighting, I forgave the Mayor. But I will never forgive Doug Ford for using his position of power to influence the media to demean and humiliate me.  I wonder how many women will actually support a man who demonstrated that he didn’t care about sexual assault, or that his brother was a drug addict?

I’ve always believed that Doug Ford’s lies put more stress on his brother than the truth ever did. Instead of encouraging the Mayor to tell the truth, I wonder if Doug counselled him to deny it?  When I think of the weeks that Mayor Ford had to carry the lie, and the pressure it must have put on him, I don’t understand how Doug couldn’t see what it was doing to him.

And make no mistake, there was a cost. Mayor Ford paid it. I paid it. But Doug Ford walked away relatively unscathed.  It is men like Doug Ford, men who abuse their power to twist and distort the truth, who need to be held accountable. He is a man so desperate for power he’s now decided that instead of running for mayor of Toronto, he’ll run for leadership of the Ontario PC party. 

The #MeToo campaign and #TimesUp campaign are a sign the world is changing, and women are no longer staying silent about corrupt men who abuse their power. It won’t be an easy road for men like Doug Ford.

Doug Ford is an example of a man who worked to hide sexual assault, drug use, and anything that might hinder his future ambitions. The world he once thrived in is changing and women are coming together to speak out.  Here at the Women’s Post we encourage women to step forward. To tell their story. If you have suffered, like I did, from the actions of Doug Ford please reach out to me. Let’s talk. Your identity will be protected.  

PC leader Patrick Brown resigns after sexual misconduct allegations

Around 1:30 a.m. Thursday, Patrick Brown stepped down as leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives amid allegations of sexual misconduct by two young women.

This decision came as a shock, as hours earlier Brown called reporters to a press conference to vehemently deny the allegations, and to say he will not be resigning.

“I want to say: These allegations are false. Every one of them,” he said to reporters at the 9 p.m. press conference. “I will defend myself as hard as I can, with all the means at my disposal…I know that the court of public opinion moves fast. I have instructed my attorneys to ensure that these allegations are addressed where they should be: in a court of law.”

Following this statement, Brown’s top three staff campaigners quit. An emergency caucus meeting saw a number of Member’s of Provincial Parliament call for his resignation. Ontario PC deputy leaders Sylvia Jones and Steve Clark released a statement on Twitter, saying that “In the interest of the Ontario PC Party we unanimously agree that Mr. Brown cannot continue serving as the Leader. Mr. Brown is entitled to a legal defense and due process, but he cannot lead us into an election as a result of these allegations.

“The Ontario PC Party unequivocally upholds the principle that a safe and respectful society is what we expect and deserve. We need to move forward to eradicate sexual violence and harassment across the province.”

Brown will still sit as a MPP while he fights these allegations.

More to come.

Sneak Peek: Café Boulud and getting the most of Winterlicious

I love the concept of Winterlicious. For a couple of weeks in the dead of winter, over 200 restaurants across Toronto offer three-course prix fixe lunch and dinner menus at cheaper than usual price points. You’ll find lunches at $23, $28 and $33, and dinners at $33, $43 and $53.

It’s a great reason to finally pry yourself out of the couch, perhaps consider wearing something other than pyjamas, and go have a delicious meal at that place you’ve always wanted to check out.

The problem with Winterlicious, and a common refrain I hear from some disgruntled licious-goers, is that it can be really hit and miss.

At the best of times, it can be the ideal way to try one of the city’s top restaurants that might typically be outside your budget. At the worst of times, it can be a human zoo stirred to frenzy at feeding time with unmanageable crowds and noise levels, seriously sub-par food, and dismal service, and a somewhat traumatic aftertaste.

Café Boulud is one place to find the former this January: a best-of-times Winterlicious experience.

Café Boulud’s Winterlicious lunch menu

While at other places I’ve found the pick of menu options to maximize value yields a fairly obvious choice of starter, main, and dessert (skip the pastas and salads; go for the fish, unless you’re vegetarian obviously), at Café Boulud I had a harder time deciding.

The choice of starter is between a meaty coq au vin terrine, a delightful comfort food staple — French onion soup — and a perfectly light and fresh smoked salmon salad with julienned apples. Uh, I’ll have one of each, please??

The pike quenelle I ordered for the main course surpassed my expectations. For the uninitiated, a quenelle is like a savoury sponge made with a combination of creamed fish, breadcrumbs, and egg to bind it. It’s much better than it sounds. It was huge; not common for a fish dish, especially not a Winterlicious one, and came surrounded by a rich and buttery bright yellow sauce with some firm mushrooms for a nice flavour and texture balance, plus rice pilaf on the side.

Chef Daniel Boulud has said this is his favourite dish on the menu, because it offers a slightly more adventurous, yet still accessible, foray into French cooking for diners who are keen to explore the cuisine further.

But the ile flottante for dessert really — excuse the eye-rolling cliche — took the cake (I know, sorry). That fluffy meringue resting delicately on a creamy pool of crème anglaise, dotted with a couple of raspberries and topped with a paper-thin maple sugar crisp, could be the best ile flottante I’ve had.

This is all orchestrated in a bright yet cozy upstairs dining area inside the elegance of the Four Seasons. It’s full of dark greens, rusty oranges, comfy leather banquettes and warm brass accents.

You can find Café Boulud’s full Winterlicious menus for lunch and dinner here.

How to get the best Winterlicious experience

Start by choosing your restaurant wisely. The cheapest options aren’t always the best value. I’ve found that it’s often better to “splurge” on a higher end restaurant, and at $33 for lunch it’s not that much more of a financial stretch. Look for places that have some prior years’ experience delivering Winterlicious menus so you won’t face any first-timer kinks. It can be wise to choose a smaller place with fewer seats to avoid the fall-flat catered feel of mass-produced menu items.

Finally, check out menus online first so you can be confidant there’s something on there you’ll love, and try to book during off-peak days (early in the week) and times (lunches are often less hectic).

Winterlicious runs January 26 to February 8, and bookings are already open. Seats can go pretty fast depending on the restaurant so make sure to book as soon as possible to get the table you want.

Do you plan on trying out a new restaurant this year? Let us know how it goes in the comments below!