Q. Why did the foodie cross the road?
A. He didn’t.
This is a dumb joke but one that reigns true when we speak of Canada’s longest street. Yonge street is a bit like the Berlin wall. On the west side a vibrant dining scene. Queen, King, College and Dundas are lined with dozens of hipster havens. The east side, however, consists of a bunch of restaurants compartmentalized into chains, fine dining and student friendly venues. It’s like there’s a force field of some kind which repels plastic-rimmed glasses. There are a few hipster oases in the otherwise barren east but for the most part there’s work to be done before the wall is torn down.
Wellington road east is proxy to a number of upscale condos which have tenants who prefer suits to plaid. It is also within walking distance of venues such as the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts. As a result, bahn mi sandwiches and pulled pork tacos aren’t an automatic go-to. Instead, restaurants in this area need to offer refined yet current fare or offer a unique enough concept whereas to not be a dreadful bore and keep people coming back. Places like Trevor Bar and Kitchen and C’est What have had longevity whereas Lucien and the Olde Towne Bistro and Oyster bar had shorter lives.
East Thirty-Six now occupies the old quarters of the above mentioned restaurants. It’s first plan of action was to name itself after its address, a witty move employed by numerous others recently. The second was to adopt a menu which focuses on innovative cocktails and small plates as opposed to the traditional three course meals the east side aristocrats are accustomed to. The focal point of the interior is a large bar which is stocked with a variety of alcohol (including house-made varieties) larger than Lindsay Lohan’s minibar. Otherwise, it is a classy and well designed east side bar and bistro.
In addition to a panoply of the most current wines (New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, German Rieslings etc.) Eat Thirty Six boasts an impressive cocktail list with emphasis on and fruit and fruit-infused liquors ranging from $12-14. I had read about the high touted E36 smoked Boulevardier, a spin on the classic yet rather unknown cocktail from the 20s. Called a cousin of the Negroni, E36’s version includes a bit of Lillet Blanc and some smoke tincture. The solution is allowed to conflate for a number of weeks to create an elixir which is as smooth as a gossamer. Frankly, it’s the best cocktail I’ve had this year. I’d equate to it any dish which is allowed to sit and marinate versus being callously put together and served immediately. There is no rawness or disjointed flavour..just a general smoothness enhanced with ethereal undertones.
To date, the menu has been classified as french tapas. I asked the owner about this and he said this wasn’t intentional. A small plate concept was definitely the intent, but the influence of chef Brent Maxwell resulted in a seeping of French influence into many of the dishes. Take, for example, the pork caillettes. E36’s version of these sausages are bite-size morsels stuffed with among other things pork and liver. Served like a hors d’oeuvre, each well seasoned bite was a pop of all things porcine. I also ordered some mixed pickles ($4) which made for a nice starter.
The scallop crudo ($14) was little Italy meets Mexico. It takes the sweetness of scallop and the richness of lardo and dresses it with tequila and lime. The rather unorthodox addition of celery added a little texture and taste that worked. It didn’t present with the intensity of a ceviche but had enough of an acidity to cut through the lardo and provide a nice reprieve from some of the heavier items on the menu.
Speaking of heavy, we went to the bottom of the menu for our dishes. My colleague and I decided on the short rib ($21), duck confit ($19) and boudin blanc ($18). That said, all three dishes were delicious choices. I think I can summarize them with one word: balance. The short rib was nicely accompanied with brussel sprouts, parmesan grits and horseradish. The duck leg was rendered down nicely and served with egg, mushroom and semolina. If anything, I would have switched the starches because I think corn/duck and beef/wheat pair better together but that may be a bit of a moot point given both dishes were rather delicious. The boudin was an modish interpretation of the sausage in that it used elegant ingredients such fois gras and tarragon. The additional of the apple and cabbage didn’t make it any less pedestrian.
For dessert I ordered the lemon custard with shortbread and macadamia ($8) while my colleague ordered another plate of caillettes. The custard was nice and tart and was served with an impressive number of (hopefully foraged nuts… AND it was served in a mason jar. Pure hipster bliss.
On the heels of the short lived Olde Towne Bistro and Oyster bar, E36 has moved into a tough spot with an attempt to fuse modern food and drink trends with the principles of upscale casual dining this area of town is accustomed to. It can best be described as small plate with french influence although there are a number of surprises on the menu. I wasn’t able to try the bone marrow (served with chicken liver pate), razor clams, sweetbreads or octopus nor one of the other 10 interesting cocktails, many of which frolic with fruit or tinker with tinctures. The decor is clean and modern with a beautiful well-stocked bar as its centrepiece. The service was great but it was a slow night so it would be interesting to see if the conversation and attention to detail continues with a busier assemblage.
East Thirty-Six has a name, a menu and a cocktail list that would appeal to any hipster. I mean, think about it. Pickled cauliflower in a mason jar? The dish alone contains three of the Huffington Post’s 22 essential hipster foods:
So, does this mean we finally have a place that would allow the tearing down of the Yonge street wall, finally allowing the two sides to dine together in harmony while eating offal pork sausage and drinking bourbon concoctions? Probably not. After all, there’s no need to worsen the carbon footprint as long as there’s kimchi, kale and PBR on the west side I suppose.