Dining alone is not for everybody. I’ll admit it’s not always my favorite thing to do but given my travels I’m up for it when necessary. Others choose to order room service, sit on the bed and get cozy with the remote. I find, however, that going out solo usually results in some adventure worth repeating. Take a recent trip to Woodlot for example. I had just finished an appointment on a Monday and was looking for an early bite which turned out to be a daunting task given the number of institutions closed on the first day of the week. I went to woodlot a few years back and enjoyed it, so I figured it was worth another shot. They take reservations but also seat walk-ins at the bar on the communal table which sits near the open kitchen. I decided to sit at the table and was soon joined by a family of four who also wandered in. I pegged the kids at 8 and 6 years old and was curious to see if the routine was the same as what I go through with younger children. For example, my son’s definition of a good restaurant is a good Caesar salad and free refills. My daughter, on the other hand, enjoys chicken anything as long as it come with a side of good people watching. Watching this family, I was quickly reminded that excursions with children to restaurants outside those with kid’s menus or clowns have the following characteristics:
- The father’s main goal is to get their kids to try something so they can later brag about the fact that their offspring has their daddy’s palate. Other than the birth itself or a hockey goal, nothing makes daddy prouder than watching their son suck back a Malpeque oyster.
- Handheld devices are a must. Whether a cell phone, Nintendo DS or an iPad, the need to kill the 10 minutes before the food comes is a must. Long gone are crayons and sheets containing mazes, word finds and words which unscramble to spell spaghetti, hamburger or soccer.
- The key is to verbally deconstruct any complicated dish in hope of fooling the child into believing that it’s not fancy. For example, “Do you want to try Gnocchi? All it is is the same pasta you are eating with a little bit of yummy mashed potato in it?”. This usually results in the child looking back at the parent with a “are you kidding me?” look on their face.
- Mom is usually more subtle by ordering something safe instead of the what they really want in the off chance their child just might want to try what they are eating. It’s a more subtle approach than dad and if he/she complies, it’s a reassurance that the child is still Mama’s little boy or girl.
The cocktail list payed homage to Game of Thrones by offering the Mother of Dragons, Clash of Kings, North of the Wall and Little Finger. Khaleesi aside, I went with the maternal choice which was campari with grapefruit tonic and pastis. It didn’t go down like dragon fire but instead tasted like a tame negroni.
Woodlot is know for it’s bread. A number of varieties are available for sale everyday starting at noon. The same bread is offered to start the meal for those who dine in. By offered I mean provided free of charge. In fact, a variety ranging from white to whole wheat to multigrain is provided with a small churn of butter. It was quite delicious and nicely complimented the rustic nature of the restaurant itself.
My starter was the ember grilled Hen-o’-the-Woods mushrooms with wild rice, black walnut, beet root and dill ($13). These are one of my favorite mushrooms so I had high expectations. Great textures and smoky, earthy flavours highlighted the dish. My expecations were met.
For the entree, I opted for a small order of hand cut sourdough spaghetti and meatballs with dry aged beef, san marzano tomatoes, basil and parmesan for $16. The meatballs were moist and flavourful, the sauce was fresh and tart and the sourdough pasta was an enjoyable twist. It was a small portion but I guess that’s what I ordered.
I also ordered the warm kale salad with currants, toasted almond and pickled shallot for $7. The kale was nicely cooked and the flavours were quite balanced and enjoyable which I thought it paired nicely with the pasta.
I wasn’t blown away by any of the desserts (in fact there are only four including a cheese plate) but I ordered the vanilla pavlova anyway. Served with blueberry and lemon curd, the pavlova itself had a crispy crust and a soft, fluffy interior. The addition of fresh tarragon was smart and the whipped cream helped to buffer the other components on the dish. That said, the extreme sweetness of the pavlova was not balanced with the minimal tartness of the curd, especially when the blueberry joined the party.
Even as College street near Palmerston becomes increasingly innodated with new and trendy eateries, Woodlot sits quietly around the corner and remains a popular dining destination. The communal table, brick oven and open kitchen make for a fun atmosphere even if though it’s at a lower decibel than nearby La Carnita and Dailo. The fact that they focus on freshly baked bread and a dedicated vegetarian menu in addition to the small but smart standard one is a reminder that the food as opposed to a wild cocktail menu, small plate snacks and loud music is the foundation for Woodlot’s success. Although I wouldn’t necessarily call it kid friendly, perhaps the parents at the communal table were smart. After all, what parent doesn’t tell their child that they have to eat everything on their plate and with the small portions at Woodlot, maybe that’s not such a daunting task.