Our review of Karelia Kitchen, the new Scandinavian bistro in Toronto

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Before coming to Karelia Kitchen, we didn’t know what to expect. After reading stellar reviews of the place and the background of the owners, we were a little skeptical. Can a couple with no Scandinavian roots cook really good “Scandinavian” food? The answer is an astounding YES! After a lengthy discussion with Leif Kravis and Donna Ashley, we were convinced by their passion, understanding and cookery skills. Leif’s interest in the New Nordic Cuisine Movement by Danish restauranteur Claus Meyer who owns the legendary Noma in Copenhagen (which won the World’s Best Restaurant for 3 years now) is thoughtful and honest with a real knowledge of what Nordic cooking is all about. With the likes of Swedish food pioneer and chef guru Mathias Dahlgren, everyone seems to be following the New Nordic Cuisine Movement Manifesto, which entails cooking with local and seasonal ingredients that bring out the best flavors in the food and not overdoing the dish, but keeping it simple. Scandinavian cooking is perfectly suited to Canada since many of the ingredients are also local to Canadians. Several of the countries, such as Sweden and Finland, are also quite similar in climate and landscape. If you travel, for instance, to New Foundland, you can find cloudberries, lingonberries and wild mushrooms that are typical of Scandinavian forests.

We decided to try a sample of everything and Donna was more than happy to fix us a sample of what they had to offer. To those unfamiliar, Nordic cooking typically has a lot of smoked, pickled and sauced dishes that capitalize on wild meat, seafood and pork. Add the mandatory potatoes, and you’ve got a typical Scandinavian meal. We decided to try the Smoked Platter sampler and were delighted to try the smoked trout, smoked organic chicken and smoked pork loin, which were accompanied by piquant and mouthwatering pickles and chutney. Among the pickled assortment, there was pickled pumpkin, pickled red and yellow beets, and fig chutney which married very well with the smoked meat and seafood. As I closed my eyes, I was brought back to some of the restaurants I ate at in Stockholm, where small tapas-style plates are quite popular nowadays.
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I also wanted to try one of their array of open-faced sandwiches. Contrary to when sandwiches are eaten in Canada, they are commonly consumed as a mid-afternoon meal in Sweden during the infamous “fika” or as a light dinner. I wanted to pick the sandwich closest to a Swedish open-faced sandwich, so I chose the Shrimp Salad Sandwich, which had a bit of a twist. Donna explained that the mayonnaise was made with duck yolk and had a bit of lemon and dill added to it. It is topped on rye bread spiced with caraway seed and was a true flavor explosion. All the sandwiches come with salad and there were quite a few different, unique salad combinations incorporating veggies such as rutabaga and beets. It’s a definite must-try!

The place had very minimalist decor, but very cozy as there are only about two dozen seats. Leif undoubtedly got his influence from his architect father’s (Janis Kravis) design sensibilities, as Janis once owned a Scandinavian design store called Karelia back in the 70s. I was particularly amused by the washroom decor and its inventive “his” and “her” signs. Outfitted with a large basement baking area and huge, customized smoker, they smoke and bake all their food in-house. As chefs for many years, they believe in quality food, but keeping the prices accessible to most. We were definitely impressed by the high end food, beautiful presentation and modest prices, but especially the charm and grace of its owners.
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Photo Credits: Megan Leahy

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Categories: Swedish Food

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