At his intimate midtown kitchen, Odawa chef Joseph Shawana merges the techniques he learned over 10 years in Toronto restaurants (from pubs to fine dining to a corporate gig at Rogers Centre) with the cuisine of his heritage, putting locally sourced ingredients and game meats front and centre. First things first: Yes, this may be the only place in town to serve seal, bringing Ku-Kum the kind of free publicity that only overblown, myopic protests can provide. The much-ballyhooed seal tartare didn’t really turn my crank – it was akin to an aquatic Vegemite, musky and bitter. But seal loin, waved over a flame? Delicate as a rare steak, with a slight steely tang – and a fine foil to sweet beets and maple syrup. Other highlights: Killer smoked trout, pâté with bannock, and a rich chocolate mousse dotted with flowers and gold leaf. Not everything was note-perfect – an underdone parsnip here, a just-okay caribou hamburger steak there – but Shawana’s skill and singular approach make Ku-Kum a truly unique dining experience in a city that’s seemingly seen it all. 581 Mount Pleasant, at Manor, 416-519-2638, kukum-kitchen.com
The “Arctic trio” of seal tartare, salmon and smoked trout at Ku-Kum.