I have keen to go to the Good Son since it opened. It’s on the fringes of the Ossington strip which means by geographical location they are mandated to incorporate some of the hipster doctrine into their existence ( in other words “embracing the local Queen street culture” as stated on their website). Good Son is a project of Vittorio Colacitti who gained national attention for his appearance on Top Chef Canada 4. His also has a biography page which, designed a bit like a dating site, outlines his many culinary achievements as well as telling us he is a rooster according to the Chinese Zodiac.
The restaurant’s website presents Good Son as a surrogate for an old time family experience. The landing page depicts three generations of a family sitting around the table for dinner which brings back my own family members for very different reasons. Since my family resembles the Lamberts from Jonathan Franzen’s “The Corrections” more than the Cleavers, I think my mom disguised this dysfunction by hanging Norman Rockwell pictures all over the wall to create the illusion that we all sat down and ate mashed potatoes together. Mr. Rockwell was a 20th century American painter who best described his own art by saying “without thinking too much about it in specific terms, I was showing the America I knew and observed to others who might not have noticed”. Quite often this involved very normal families in very normal situations which was a far cry from my life. The closest I got to a Rockwell painting were the shards of glass in the back of my neck after a sibling spat. My sister narrowly missed hitting me in the head with a stuffed animal and smashing the glass in the frame of “The Doctor and the Doll” painting instead. I don’t think he ever painted that.
The name of the restaurant itself also stirs up a few memories. Macaulay Culkin took the world by storm as the cute kid in “Home Alone”. He further stole the hearts of America by starring in the tearjerker “My Girl” followed by a Home Alone sequel. Things went downhill from there. Perhaps in a effort to expand his acting range, he teamed up with Elijah Wood (who at the age of 12 had the same impish look as he does now) in “The Good Son”, a so called psychological thriller which currently sits at 24% on rotten tomatoes. Culkin plays a disturbed child who some would argue was a foreshadowing of some of his woes to come. Wood, on the other hand, went on to fight spiders, orcs and other middle earth creatures to great fanfare in Lord of the Rings. In the end, I couldn’t help thinking that the creepy looking kid at the table on the Good Son’s homepage would eventually take the Macaulay versus Wood path and would likely ponder a “skating accident” as a fate for some loved ones a couple of years down the road.
Despite this irrational fear of the website, I was keen to go because of the fanfare over the food and drink menu. I got to experience the latter at a Lucky Rice event I attended a few weeks before. I remember the well dressed bartenders slinging gin filled concoctions garnished with things like pickled dragon fruit and other foodie furbelows. I took a seat at the bar and scanned the cocktail menu. I have no idea who Tony is but I went with “That Thing for Tony” which featured gin, citrus fruit, Campari and some fresh basil. My issue is always the fact that a gin and fruit drink shows up looking like something Mary Poppins would make. This drink didn’t have the umbrella but did rock the orange slice which served as a vessel to hold up the straw and combined with the pink was a bit of a kick in the nuts. Nonetheless, gin and campari is always a great combination and a whole lot of fresh basil added a garden vibrancy.
I started with the sweet pea tortellini ($18) and it didn’t disappoint. The pasta was as tender as the peas themselves and stuffed with a tasty filling which paid homage to this great summer legume. The tortellini sat atop a sauce laced with citrus and butter flavours and was finished with some grated cheese. At first the portion size looked a little dainty but it was deceptively filling. Overall, it was a smart and suave dish which honoured fresh and available ingredients.
At this point I needed another drink and since they take as much pride in their bar program as they do their food, I challenged the barkeep to do some alcoholic improv. He gladly accepted the challenge and began the alchemy. After a pinch of this and a dash of that he tasted, adjusted and presented his take on a basil smash while profusely apologizing for the brownish appearance but he promised it would taste good. I wasn’t at all offended and in my head quickly named the drink “Look at my Divot” to reflect the fact it looked like busted up sod after a pathetic attempt with my five iron. That said, it was a little more manly than drinking through a straw wedged in an orange slice.
For the main, the barkeep suggested the bulgogi short ribs served with kim chee fried rice and a quail egg ($18). Unlike the smallish pasta portion, this dish was huge. Although the ribs were a little tough, they were flavourful. The rice was equally tasty but a little greasy. I loved the chucks of kimchi (or kim chee). The quail egg was cooked perfectly..I just wish there was more of it. Both the hot and the garlic sauce smeared on the plate were fantastic and removed any monotony of repeated bites of meat and rice. I also liked the abundance of the scallions on the dish from both a taste and appearance perspective. All in all, a very satisfying (and large) dish in which I could only finish about a third.
The Good Son succeeds in offering high quality food and drink in a fashionable environment. Given the creepy family on landing page, horror movie buffs may fear that many of the plates hanging on the wall may become projectiles in a poltergeist rage. In fact, I credit the web designers whose family dinner masterly predicted the movie “The Visit” in which old people finally become the homicidal leads as opposed to the first victims in most other horror movies (just ask Mrs. Deagle in the Gremlins). It is welcoming with a partially open kitchen and a very visible prep area. As described on the site, the Good Son’s menu is “a reflection of the melting pot of cultures that has gentrified the Queen West neighbourhood in Toronto”. I agree….I had a little Korean, a little Italian and a little hipster. One of the questions I always ask myself after a dining experience is “Would I come back?”. I think this place has one of the most intriguing menus in the city and I felt I only scratched the surface meaning I’d definitely come back in a second to try something like the steak tartare (which I have heard is incredible), jerk shrimp or the burger. In the end, it’s much better than a Macaulay Culkin movie and as inviting as a Norman Rockwell painting not to mention it’s oddly dreamy that Vittorio’s Chinese astrological sign is compatible with an ox.