Borealia: Bringing historical foods into the new world

[Edit: The restaurant name has changed from “Borealia” to “Boralia” due to trademark issues and this article has been modified to reflect that.]

I’m such a home body these days – often declining invitations that aren’t close enough to home – that I tend to forget how much fun media launches can be. I probably miss out on a lot of good stuff.

The recent media dinner at Boralia was a lot of fun and provided me with one of the best restaurant experiences I’d had in awhile.

“Boralia” is a take on the word “Northern” from the time of Confederation. “Borealia” was one of the alternative names proposed for Canada during confederation. The food is modern interpretations of native recipes that date back to the 1600s using ingredients and that people of our time will eat. Many items on the menu have a year printed next to them to show the origins of the recipe. The owners spent two and a half years researching recipes.

You could stop reading this after the next sentence if you want:

The food was freakin’ fantastic, the atmosphere warm, and the restaurant is worth a return.

Keep reading for details.

The devil is in the details

My first tweet of the evening:

and I’m not even generally a big fan of devilled eggs! Look at them:

Borealia's Devilled Chinese Tea Eggs

Boralia’s Devilled Chinese Tea Eggs

These devilled eggs, circa 1855, are made with Chinese 5 spice blend (brought to Canada by railway workers in 1855), black tea and soy marinade. There was a touch of smokey bacon on top.

Bison “Pemmican” Bresaola

The Bison “Pemmican” Bresaola is an interesting dish.

History lesson: Pemmican is a high-calorie staple for First Nations people and, later, Arctic explorers. Sometimes you hear about it in “paleo”/”primal” circles because it’s mostly protein and fat, and what peope ate in “the olden days”. In other words, the stereotypical “paleo” food. Mark Sisson of Mark’s Daily Apple says this about pemmican:

Pemmican consists of lean, dried meat (usually beef nowadays, but bison, deer, and elk were common then) which is crushed to a powder and mixed with an equal amount of hot, rendered fat (usually beef tallow). Sometimes crushed, dried berries are added as well. A man could subsist entirely on pemmican, drawing on the fat for energy and the protein for strength (and glucose, when needed).

(See How to Make Pemmican)

Dehydrating meat makes it portable without refrigeration necessary (think jerky). Boralia updates it to a bison bresaola that is house-cured and air-dried, and topped with shaved lardo (cured strips of fat) and a wild blueberry juniper vinaigrette.

bison pemmican bresaola, Borealia

Boralia’s bison pemmican bresaola


My next tweet:

It was whelk, actually, a type of mollusk similar to conch. Boralia’s whelk is braised, sliced, lightly grilled, coated in a kombu seaweed beurre blanc, and served in its own shell with a seaweed and burdock salad. The beurre blanc was garlicky. If you need an analogy, the whelp reminded me of scallop.

A history lesson: Native tribes caught whelk for food, and the shells were considered a valuable trade good and used to make tools and beads. Burdock, a plant native to the Old World and Asia, has historically been used for medicinal purposes. When the European colonists imported the plant, the Natives quickly incorporated burdock into their diet. These whelp are found in Newfoundland and Labrador, the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Bay of Fundy.

A health lesson: Burdock root (aka gobo root), which I first learned about from my naturopath, is used in medicine. As a folk remedy it’s used as a blood purifier and diuretic. My naturopath recommended it for dandruff/psoriasis. Burdock root contains mucilage which soothes inflamed tissues in the throat and digestive tract. It’s a source of zinc, commonly known to help fight colds and flu, and has antibacterial and antifungal properties. Some sources say that it can help fight gout.

I’m not saying that eating Boralia’s braised whelk will do all this, but it’s neat that they’re using these native roots and native foods were often considered medicinal. Being conscious of this helps with mindful eating, I think.

Cool fact: Burdock root inspired Velcro. When I read that my reaction was, “Whaaat? You can’t believe everything you read on the internet.” Then I googled it and found the information in enough places that I believe it.

The presentation was gorgeous. After the media dinner ended and regular paying customers in I saw a couple eating the whelk dish and felt a pang of jealousy that they were experiencing it for the first time.

L’éclade (pine smoked mussels)

Circa 1605, this is a take on Samuel de Champlain’s pine needle-smoked mussels cooked in pine ash butter. Recently I reviewed a menu that had fishy-tasting mussels. I ate Boralia’s mussels the following week and it wasn’t just the fact that they were prepared differently that made them better. They WERE better.

Pine needle-smoked food isn’t like the food that I smoke. You can’t put pine in a smoker and expect it to work. It would taste horrible. In the original version, mussels were buried under a pile of pine needles that were lit on fire. In this version pine needles are put on top of butter. Right before service a smoking gun is used to light the butter and pine needles and the plate is covered with a cloche that is then removed in front of the customer at the table. It’s sort of a magical moment. The “ta da!” flourish. The result is smokey, sweet and delicate. Done improperly it would be bitter or acrid. I highly recommend this dish.

Update: They showed Toronto Life how it’s done for a “how to” featured published on January 7, 2015.

Image credit: Nick Lee, Best of Toronto

Image credit: Nick Lee, Best of Toronto

Nick got a great photo of the “uncloching”.

Pigeon Pie (c. 1611)

Boralia’s Pigeon Pie was developed after researching the origins of the classic tourtière. No, they don’t go outside and hunt pigeons off the window. This pigeon pie is updated to replace the pigeon in the pie with squab and roasted root vegetables in the filling. Accompanying the pie is pan roasted squab breast, parsnip and microgreens.

My image:

Borealia's pigeon pie

Boralia’s pigeon pie

BlogTO’s image:

Photo credit: Jesse Milns, BlogTO

Photo credit: Jesse Milns, BlogTO.

Louisbourg Hot Chocolate Beignets (c.1795)

These spiced chocolate ganache beignets are Boralia’s take on the historic Louisbourg Hot Chocolate.

History lesson: In the 1700s, Louisbourg was the site of the French fortress built in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. It was a military base that grew to be a colonial capital and well-connected trade port that saw merchants from France mingle with the Mi’kmaw, and traders from New England and Acadia deal with visitors from Quebec and the Caribbean. Chocolate was a new colonial food from the West Indies; hot chocolate was a fashionable drink with medicinal purposes. It came in a hard chocolate ball melted over the fire, added to milk or water, sugar, spices and egg yolk. Boralia spices their ganache with cinnamon, nutmeg and a bit of clove, coated in beer batter and fried before being dusted liberally with lemon icing sugar. The result is the bitter-sweetness that I like so much. The hint of citrus is there.

Louisbourg Hot Chocolate Beignets

Boralia’s Louisbourg Hot Chocolate Beignets

Northern Lights

The decor at Boralia is beautiful. There’s a story behind every piece.

For example, interior designers Qanūk Interiors Inc. found local artists to design light fixtures. Boralia’s copper light fixtures were inspired by the Aurora Borealis (Northern lights), and done as affordably as possible with a sheet of copper

Borealia copper light fixture

Boralia copper light fixture

Boralia had their soft opening in late November. Owners Chef Wayne Morris and his partner and wife, Evelyn Wu worked together for a long time to make this happen. It’s evident that the two of them put a lot of love into the restaurants. I look forward to returning, and yes, Evelyn, I might even walk there.

Boralia details

59 Ossington Ave., Toronto
Hours: Open from 5:30 pm, Wednesday through Sunday. | Facebook: Borealia | Twitter: Boralia_TO
| Instagram: boralia_to

More photos

  • Borealia menu

    Borealia launch event menu

  • borealia menu

    borealia menu

Other Borealia reviews

I couldn’t include all the information I had. Here are some other reviews and articles.

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