Guild is a cool and near forgotten word in the English language. It was once a medieval term used to describe a a pseudo-union of artisan specialists who unified to protect their trade. Secrecy was a prominent component necessary to protect things like unique trade secrets. Since then, the word has become a bit dormant. Today, we do see it used in Hollywood. The Screen Actor’s Guild, a group formed in the 1930s to combat deplorable working conditions in the film industry and has now evolved to over 105000 thousand numbers when it merged to form SAG-AFTRA a few years back. The modern quilt guild (MQG) is another organization which uses this term. With over 150 worldwide chapters devoted to the art of making quilts, it appears to be a bit more than it seems. A quick check of their blog (http://themodernquiltguild.wordpress.com/) shows members sporting bad ass tattoos and racy pictures from the Quiltcon conference’s 80′s night. It makes you think they might do more than make pretty blankets. Needless to say, I was intrigued when a somewhat secretive restaurant aptly named “The Guild” opened its doors recent in the Dundas/Davenport area. I guess my question was “Would this eatery be like every other trendy restaurant or might it have some unique attributes like cool menu items you could only consume if you executed a secret handshake that you learned from a MQG creation? Let’s start with the set. It’s a large space with a window front which opens to the street and an open kitchen in the back. There are centrepieces on the solid wood tables, funky hippie murals painted on the walls and shiny gold ceilings. Think of it as Casino Royale meets Austin Power’s shag pad. There is a large bar stocking all sorts of sinful potables. There is an abundant drink list with everything from the standards (eg. old-fashioned) to funkier choices (e.g. cider sours) to non-alcoholic shakes made from almond milk. The cider sour was a special drink they made for a private function the week before and it stayed on the secret menu. It was tasty although I would have liked it a little more sour. The shake was refreshing as well; a good example of a grown-up non-alcoholic cocktail other than a virgin daiquiri.
The staff seem to be made up of SAG actors themselves, sporting nice coifs and good looks. They knew their lines as well, reciting the menu with expertise and confidence. In fact, my waiter looked like Zachary Quinto. Even the kitchen staff look the part, wearing mechanic uniforms in the garage-like open kitchen and moving fluidly while adding pinches of salt during food preparation. There is a bit of secrecy around the menu. The website posts a sample menu but it changes frequently given the availability of local ingredients. The bits and bites menu is like a series of movie trailers. It offers a morsel of entertainment instead of a whole dish for just a couple of bucks. I opted for a trailer trio; the white cheddar croquette, the guanciale wrapped cherries and rabbit haunches (a secret menu item available to members of the guild). The cherry was a delectable little treat and the croquette was ok. The rabbit, which I equate to a dark meat version of a chicken wing, was spiced nicely and cooked well.
With the trailers consumed, it was time for feature presentation: . The beet salad was kind of like Scream 5… pretty predictable. Despite the use of the trendy sous vide cooking method , it was a nicely dressed but still a standard salad.
The local mushrooms, pine nut puree and egg emulsion was like a remake of a classic flick. It was a twist on a classic mushroom omelette except it was deconstructed so that the mushroom was the prominent ingredient. It was a pleasant starter as it strongly resembled the taste of the original it was based on.
Unfortunately, the octopus was sold out (kind of like trying to get a ticket for a marvel comic film on opening night), so I opted for the quail and scallop dish. It was a tale of two proteins. The scallops were cooked wonderfully and seasoned well. The quail, on the other hand, was overcooked and rather dry. I’d equate it to seeing a movie with a great and no so great actor (eg. any Lethal Weapon, Good Will Hunting or Rush Hour).
I’m always intrigued as to whether or not a place with a small menu can accommodate various food requirements including vegetarian options. In this case, a “not on the menu” gnocchi with a tomato sauce was the offering. Like the beet salad, it was fairly routine and fairly predictable but tasty nonetheless.
The dessert menu offers a half dozen reasonable priced options. I opted for the bruleed fennel, rum kumquat ice cream and coffee panna cotta. I expected the brulee to be a fennel flavored custard, but instead it was a knife and fork requiring caramelized piece of fennel . The apple and chocolate accompaniments were perfect although the kumquat was a bit odd. The oddity of the kumquat continued in its matching with the rum in the main flavouring of the ice cream which in itself had a great texture. The coffee panna cotta had an intense, almost overwhelming flavour that was somewhat offset by the condensed milk ice cream. The hazelnut crumble was pretty chewy and a bit too sticky, making for difficult eating from a dental perspective.
My Take The Guild follows most of the rules, but offers some uniqueness in the bits and bites and relatively inexpensive dessert menu. There is a good, diverse cocktail menu and the decor is funky and current. In general, the food is predictable and gets one thumb up and one thumb down. It’s still early in production, but I can see the potential of this place. Fixing the simple problems, removing their infatuation of kumquats and promoting their uniqueness will no doubt make me a guild member moving forward. Speaking of guilds…I think I’ll approach SAG with an idea. I’m going to propose a spinoff called “Daughters of Anarchy” starring Charlize Theron. The premise is that the MQG is no doubt a secret organization with the intention of sending messages on behalf of the Illuminati via the fabrication of Hello Kitty and Holly Hobbie quilts. In episode one, Toronto calls on the Cleveland MQG chapter to complete the patch over of rival quilters the Sassy Scarborough Stitchers, lead by Mabel MacKinnon (played by Betty White). After succeeding, the group is on “pins and needles” and must devise a “cover-up” to stay out of the limelight. Then again, maybe I’ll just stick to stuffing my face and blogging about it.