Canada’s Best New Restaurant?

Canada’s Best New Restaurant of 2009 is in Vancouver—but it ain’t one of the usual suspects. It’s Cibo, a restaurant that was nearly empty the night the new food critic for Air Canada’s enRoute ate there.

“I don’t do safe,” says Chris Nuttall-Smith, who’s off to a banging start with his number-one choice. “The raison d’etre of this project is to seek out places with great-tasting food, which are carrying new cuisine and ideas forward.” That idea, this year, is the rustic Italian cucina povera of young U.K. chef Neil Taylor, what Nuttall-Smith calls “goat herd and fisherman food…elemental and homey but made using really sophisticated technique,” like the wild oregano and toasted fennel spot prawns that tasted like they were grilled on the back of a fishing boat.

“This chef is not content to use high-end luxury ingredients that any idiot can cook well,” says Nuttall-Smith. “He’s doing delicious things with kidneys and other offal, with grains and beans, that aren’t necessarily simple to cook—they take a lot of time and you can very easily screw them up,” says he who has sauced his way through a library of gourmet cookbooks.

Nuttall-Smith also ate at Daniel Boulud’s DB Bistro, at Jean-Georges’ Market and even made a return trip to Vancouver to eat at La Quercia (which was closed during his initial visit). “They all had very good, well-executed food but it’s food you can get pretty much anywhere else,” says Nuttall-Smith, who would take the crispy lamb tongues and lardo-roasted turnips he ate at Cibo anyway.

It’s tempting to say the Toronto-based writer missed the memo on Vancouver’s hunger for local, fresh, seasonal, 100-mile-cuisine. But he was born in Surrey and raised in the Fraser Valley, where he remembers trucks selling sockeye for a buck. He waitered his way through UBC and ate one of his first transformative meals at Feenie’s Lumière.

In the enRoute article he calls Cibo “the most exciting thing to happen to the way we eat in years.” When we think comfort food we think truffled mac and cheese or lobster pot pie, but Cibo “really speaks to the times,” says Nuttall-Smith. “This is simpler food. And it’s deeply of this place.” Let the debate begin!

For complete results of Canada’s Best New Restaurants 2009, see