Livin’ La Vida Loka: Another Example of the Evolution From Hoser Grub to Haute Cuisine

It’s been a crazy year for dining in Toronto.  At the forefront has been the sudden interest in Canadian food.  Once the bane of culinary style, Hoser food has become haute cuisine in only a couple of years.  Poutine, Molson Canadian and butter tarts have been replaced with fiddleheads, microbrews (named after every street, neighbourhood,body of water or geographical indentation across our expansive nation) and sea buckthorn sorbet.  Pickerel, boar and venison are the new proteins in town.

Loka is one of these establishments.  The website states it a an exploration of Canadian Cuisine and that the menu changes frequently depending on the patriotic preference and available ingredients of the day.  That said, once can always count on an offering of cured meats and other creations based on their zero waste butchery policy.  The rest of the menu consists of 8 or so items including a dessert.  They also have a vegetarian menu available for those who find a platter of meat far from appealing. They also invite you to try the whole menu (minus the charcuterie) in smaller portions for $100 which I thought was the ideal strategy for our group of 4 (see menu below).

loka-menu

Hoser to Haute Dictionary:

Coppa-Fancy Bologna

Red Fife- Wheat

Deer Lichen- Moss

PEI Bluda- White Cheese not in plastic

Ndujja-Fancy Klik

Potato Glass-Really Thin Chips

Haskap- A Deformed Blueberry

The booze menu/strategy is a little odd.  Instead of a vast array of shelf liquor, Loka offers a couple of cocktails (an old fashioned and a plum smash) in addition to a small wine and beer list. I tried both cocktails which were radically different but both were middle of the pack among others throughout the city.

loka-plum-smash

One of the disappointing aspects of the meal was the presentation.  Every picture of the dishes on social media looked like something the Group of Seven painted. These dishes were by no means ugly, but they were a little messy, especially the Ndujja which was served plain in a white bowl and looked far from appetizing.  Although a stated favorite of the waiter, I really didn’t like it at all.  It was greasy, especially when served with chicharron, the  gluten free but fatty alternative to bread. In order words, it really was fancy Klik.

From a taste perspective, I was probably most disenchanted by the cod tongues.  I love these delicacies and they really do need very little to compliment the flavour and the overbearing and bland tempura was not effective.

The cured meats, including the pickled char hit the mark nicely.  In particular, the shaved coppa was not only delicious on it’s own but the accompanying hazelnut mustard was brilliant.  The vegetables (spinach and mushrooms) screamed robust and earthy flavours which were highlighted by the inclusion of a few of the aforementioned  Haute ingredients.

The highlights of the night were the chowder and the dessert.  The soup had a beautiful balance of richness and sea sapidity.  The firm potatoes complimented the juicy mussels to round everything out.  The dessert was spectacular.  The otherwise earthy tones exhibited in the rest of the meal remained but a kiss of maple added just enough sweet and did not overpower the welcomed tartness of the yogurt and berries.

My Take

The concept of Canadian food is constantly being redefined, especially in an environment where a focus on local ingredients and the need for expansive creative licence is paramount.  That said, many patrons (including myself to a degree) are somewhat reluctant to rewrite the recipe book too quickly.  Although I enjoy the haute approach to the cuisine of my native land, I’m not about to embrace pemmican and lick the moss off rocks in lieu of a slice of meat pie or a steamy pot of KD.  That said, if you are fan of energetic earthy flavours, you may enjoy elements of Loka even if the dishes don’t also resemble the stunning landscapes of Lawren Harris or A.Y. Jackson every night.

Loka Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Boralia: Helping Hipsters Forage and Making Canadian History More Exciting Since Circa 2014

Among the many things I remember about my childhood growing up in Sudbury include these three: I was a forager before foraging was cool, I found Canadian history extremely boring and I love pierogies.  From a foraging perspective, I used to make money as a teen tackling the hills of the Canadian Shield and picking blueberries as a young member of my grandmother’s berry cartel, supplying her red hat friends with bad hips with enough substrate to produce jam for the long, cold, northern winters….at a premium price. Second, I’ve always been a science guy and despite my rather trivial mind, I’m not typically a fan of history. I typically scurry around a trivial pursuit board avoiding the yellow pie at all costs.  I’ll get back to the pierogies.

In 2014, Boralia opened along the Ossington strip (well it was called Borealia at the time because I guess one couldn’t avoid lawyers even in the 1600s) promising to pay homage to the new trend of classic Canadian fare.  Hipsters, many of which couldn’t put a tent together let alone provide a synonym for a gooseberry, are flocking here in numbers not to mention that Chris Nutall-Smith listed it as one the top 10 Toronto restaurants in 2015.  Since it was my turn to pick a restaurant for a few colleagues, I thought it was a good call.

The menu is meant to be a bit of a history lesson fused with modern day food trends.  For example, two of the snacks (the Deviled Chinese Tea eggs ($9 for 4) and Chop Suey Croquettes($7.50 for 4) are inspired by the mass Chinese immigration of the 1860s.  As mentioned, I’m no historian, but I can’t imagine groups getting together in Vancouver and having potlucks while passing around deviled eggs. Nonetheless, they were decent starters although nothing that stood out anything more than a good Chinese side dish made fresh at a food court in Sault Ste. Marie or my Gramma’s eggs sprinkled with paprika at Thanksgiving dinner did…and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The main menu features a number of less orthodox proteins which requires some imagination although there are some safer choices for those who don’t want to recreate 200 year old Canadiana.  After some negotiation and hints from past patrons we knew (and a bit to my chagrin), we avoided the whelk, elk and pigeon and agreed on the l’éclade (mussels) $17, mushroom salad $14, bison tartare $15 and sweetbreads $15. The mussels, smoked with pine, was a reflection of the early 1600s.  Served in a clear dome with spiraling smoke, the mussels were delicately done to perfection. It’s so hard not to overcook these fussy mollusks and these were a huge success. The mushroom salad looked like a wreath of earthy colours and the hazelnut corn cake hidden in the foliage was simply addictive.  The bison tartare was a twist on the now ubiquitous modern day classic.  Instead of traditional pickles, punchy heat and an egg as a binder, this tartare utilized garlic and ginger , pickled fennel and lardo to add some fat to the otherwise lean bison.  The grilled bread was a delicious vehicle. The sweetbreads (circa 1876) made sense from the perspective of a nose to tail concept which was necessary during pre-war times  as opposed to cool in the modern era of excess wastage that we are now accustomed to.  Even if it’s not a traditional 19th century recipe (it very well may be), the sweetbreads were extremely tendered and seasoned nicely.

After a few drinks down but with some realization we wouldn’t shut the city down, we decided to indulge in the closest thing we could find to street meat…the bane of the spelling bee…the famous pierogi.  Whether you pick up a frozen bag for a few bucks, have a church nearby or are lucky enough to have an Eastern European family member, these delicious dumplings are the ultimate comfort food. In the case of Boralia, they had some foodie flare in that they were served on a bed of red cabbage. They were good dumplings but 3 for $13 was certainly not a price from the 1800s.

boralia pierogy

Dessert was a homey pumpkin cake with corn ice cream and probably the most recognizable  and predictable Canadian dish on the menu.  It was good but not remarkable.

boralia dessert
Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Corn Ice Cream $9

My Take

The thought of foraging can take on many meanings. Traditionally, it means to live off the land.  For some, it means erecting an urban garden in a few square feet of back yard or in a flower box on a balcony. Others may perceive it as a trip to the urban Sobey’s  across the street to to buy a few kumquats. Regardless, the concept is alive and well and has trickled into Toronto’s restaurant scene.

At the same time, Canadian food has become synonymous with living on the land.  This countries vast landscapes and diverse climates makes it a cornucopia of all things land and sea.  At the same time, as Canada’s rich multicultural history continues to evolve so does its food to the point where eatables like pierogies are now considered as patriotic as maple syrup.  Put the two concepts together and anything goes. In fact, Parks Canada devotes a component of its website with an app called the Parks Canada Heritage Gourmet App which pays homage to traditional Canadian recipes.

http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/media/gourmand-gourmet/app-intro.aspx

In the end, hipsters can live vicariously as foragers through the Boralia menu. As for me, I may have payed more attention in history class in high school if it hinged on my understanding of the influence of various cultures on what we call Canadian cuisine today.

Boralia Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

State Bird Provisions: Quail More Popular than the Former Vice-President

I have a confession. Let’s set the stage.  State bird in San Francisco is known for next to impossible reservations.  At midnight pacific time, a small block of reservations open up for the date exactly two months later.   So, I crawled out of bed at 3 am eastern time, wearily opened my computer, entered the security code (the demand for reservations  forced them to implement a security measure through open table similar to the one where you buy concert tickets) which I thinks was either “goodluckbuddy” or “youareafool”  or “gobacktobed” and was shut out.  It seemed my only opportunity would be to get in line and wait it out with the rest of the lottery losers. Despite the fact that state bird has very minimal outdoor signage, it’s not hard to figure out where it is….it’s the place with the line.  Located on the not nice side of Fillmore, I arrived about 45 minutes before to find about 15 people waiting.  During the wait, I thought about other things I have waited 45 minutes for:

  • I waited 45 minutes with my daughter  to get on that swan ride at Wonderland. You know, the one where you ride a plastic bird at a quarter mile and hour in 2 feet of stagnant water for what seems like an eternity so your kid can feel like the queen of water fowl.
  • I once waited with my grandmother for 45 minutes in anticipation of the next K-mart blue light hourly special.  Elated by securing some  fancy glassware she just bought, she was more than happy to wait for the opportunity to snap up the next deal on women’s hosiery.
  •  My mother asked to me wait in line for almost an hour to get her a limited edition commemorative royal family beanie baby a number of years ago.  I stood in line with a bunch of blue hairs bragging about their collection ranging from the Princess Diana purple rose bear to some rare fish named Bubbles.

Come to think about it, I ordered a pizza in university circa 1993 that I’m still waiting for so  I guess 45 minutes isn’t that bad.  As time went on, the line got longer and it also got fatter.  I never read the memo where one person was allowed to get there early and hold two or three spots for friends showing up later.  By the time 530 rolled around, there were more like 20 or 25 ahead of me. When the doors finally opened, the line quickly funneled in to the open doors.  Group by group, patrons were seated.  I was starting to sweat a little when I finally got to the front of the line.  The two groups in front of me were still waiting for truant tablemates so they were asked to move aside until the whole party arrived.  I gladly proclaimed “Table for two and  we are both here!’.  The woman at the door (who turned out to be one of the owners), yelled out 3/4 as we entered State Bird Provisions.  It turned out 3/4 means we were seated right in the middle of the chef’s table.  Let the fun begin….

Hanging with some carrots and peppers at seat 3/4
Hanging with some carrots and peppers at seat 3/4

The concept is simple.  About half the menu is served dim sum style.  As members of the illustrious chef’s table, you not only get to witness the creation of this dishes, you also have first dibs at the eats.  As each comes up, the chef explains the dish (don’t ask before hand!), tells you the price and you decide if you want it.  My will power melts like hot butter when offered food so I had a hard time saying no.  If you agree, the chef, waiter or any other staff member checks off the number that corresponds to the cost.  The other half of the menu consists of  larger dishes which you order a la carte.  Included in this are things like trout, bone marrow and the famous pancakes. Given the fact I tried a number of dishes, it makes sense to list them in order of preference to try and bring some order to what turned out to be a night of modest gluttony:

 

1/2 dozen cast iron quail eggs $12

The best dish of the night.  Six quail eggs are flash fried in a hot skillet among a flavourful broth boasting a nice blend of heat and acid.  I asked the chef about it and he let me know the heat came from pressed jalapeno juice (not brine from a jar of picked peppers).  Brilliant! It was also served with chunks of Mt. Tam cheese, pea hummus and a few garlic chips.  I discussed this local cheese in a previous blog but as a reminder it’s a local brie-like cheese that added a wonderful silkiness to the dish.  Combined with the earthiness and freshness of the  hummus and along with peppery arugula, it was a complete dish that was a cross between a destructed omelette and having the supernatural ability to consume many components  of a tasty volcano.

1/2 Dozen Quail eggs
1/2 Dozen Quail eggs

Air-dried beef with chili juice, rice powder & garlic chips $8

I got to watch the creation of this dish from start to finish.  It’s remarkably simple.  Quality beef quickly fried on a flat top along with copious amounts of  rice flour (which i thought was salt until he added about a cup of it on the beef)  which browned nicely, keep the meat moist and added a delicious crisp coating.  It was topped with fresh scallions and garlic crisps for extra visual effects and flavour.

State Bird Beef
Bad picture of air-dried beef with chili juice, rice powder & garlic chips $8

 

State Bird with provisions $9

California has the privilege of having one of the only edible state birds.   I find it interesting that I can’t pick a trillium in Ontario but I can eat a quail in California. I’m sure this liberty isn’t granted in every state. After all, Robin au gratin  from Wisconsin or Tex-Mex Cactus Wren from Arizona certainly does not sound as appealing as a chunk of deep-fried Californian quail.The coating on the half bird was crispy and seasoned nicely.  It was a tricky but enjoyable navigation to eat the small bird in fried chicken fashion but well worth the effort. Useless trivia fact: the cardinal is the most common state bird (7 states-Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, North Carolina, Indiana and both Virginias)  followed the Western Meadowlark (6-Kansas, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, Oregon and Wyoming) and mockingbird (5- Mississippi, Arkansas, Florida, Tennessee, Texas).

State Bird "Provisions"
State Bird with provisions $9

King Salmon Tartare with Pickled cucumbers and toasted quinoa $10

A very quirky fish girl snuck up behind us offering a tartare prepared table side.  The salmon looked beautiful so it was hard to resist.  The tartare was scooped atop some modestly pickled cucumber and topped with a delicious blend of toasted quinoa and roasted seaweed. Nothing beats freshness and the salmon fit the bill.  No need for crostini..the quinoa mix gives it the perfect amount of crunch.

KIng Salmon Tartare
King Salmon Tartare with Pickled cucumbers and toasted quinoa $10

Guinea hen dumpling with aromatic broth $3

I missed the first go around of these single dumplings soaked in broth.  Thanks to one of the chefs who hunted one down for me a little later, I was able to indulge.  Dumplings are a simple creation that can be screwed up quite  easily.  The dumpling was crisp but not overcooked and the filling to dough ratio was perfect.  As promised, the broth was aromatic although a little surprising.  I’m used to salt as the predominate taste in a dumpling broth and in this case it was more sour and complex but delicious nonetheless.

state bird dumpling
Guinea hen dumpling with aromatic broth $3

Raw oyster with spicy kohlrabi kraut & sesame $3

I love oysters. They are a glorious way to begin a meal.  I have been teased by friends of mine that I look like a kid in a candy store when I order them.  I take great pride in the careful construction of the oyster including ensuring it is loosened from the shell and has the appropriate amount of horseradish, mignonette, seafood sauce etc. In other words, every mollusk is a canvas and I get to play with the paint.  Keeping that in mind, I found the oyster delicious with balanced and unique seasoning.  It’s just a shame I couldn’t play with it some more.

Oyster
Raw oyster with spicy kohlrabi kraut & sesame $3

Duck liver mousse with almond biscuit $6

Although no dish was sold to us in used car salesman style, the most boasted item was the duck liver mousse which has been a staple since State Bird opened. I took the opportunity to take a jab at the chefs but reminding them that duck liver is not as common in Canada because we can still serve fois gras in restaurants and duck liver is a weaker substitute.  The mousse was smooth, light and fresh but what impressed me the most were the almond biscuits.  In most cases, the savory and liver-bitter spread is served with a neutral crostini but the sweet biscuit brought it to a new level.

Duck Liver Mousse
Duck liver mousse with almond biscuit $6

“Caesar Salad” $5

A unique spin on the classic caesar, it had all the elements with a few surprises like pickled vegetables. It was a good salad, just not as remarkable as the other menu items.

Caesar Salad
Caesar Salad $5

Mushroom farro spezzato with smoked egg $8

I’m pretty sure I have this dish right.  I remember it describe as similar to porridge.  The flavour from the nicely cooked mushroom was front and centre but I did find the dish got boring and predictable very quickly.  It wasn’t bad put did pale in comparison the number of other dynamic and taste bud teasing dishes I ate during the night.  I loved the smoked egg yolk but it got a little overpowered by the predominant mushroom flavour.

Mushroom farro spezzato with smoked egg $8
Mushroom farro spezzato with smoked egg $8

Garlic bread with burrata $8

Although I enjoyed watching this dish being made more than any other, in the end I was a little disappointed by the flavour.  The dough is rolled with precision,dropped into hot oil and fried donut style.  It is then seasoned and finished with the new San Francisco treat and ubiquitous bay area cheese…burrata.  The underseasoned crispy bread coupled with the bland and sloppy cheese just didn’t work for me although I did enjoy the aggressive use of the black pepper.

Garlic Bread with Burrata
Garlic bread with burrata $8

 

BONUS: Shots of ‘world peace’ peanut muscovado milk! When we decided to pass on dessert (we both had other engagements to attend), the staff almost looked sad.  They take enormous pride in their dishes and would let us leave without having a shot of the world peace peanut milk.  One word: outstanding. It was a delicious nectar which collected the X-factor of the delicious legume into one delightful shot.

 

Peanut Milk
A Shot of ‘world peace’ peanut muscovado milk

My Take

There were some initial annoyances and misconceptions that I had about State Bird Provisions.  First, I found the reservation system stupid and annoying.  Second, star sightings like Ryan Gosling  and the national hype made me think the vibe would be pretentious.  My mind was changed with  the fact that when I emailed them in advance to ask a few questions, they were authentic and cordial in their responses. Once you are in the place, you are treated like royalty or a VIP member of an exclusive party.  No fewer than 6 staff members talked to us, told us their stories, explained the food and beamed with an authentic pride unlike most restaurants I have dined in.  They got to know you, asked for opinions and treated you like a human, not a credit card. In summary, it was delicious FUN.  They didn’t need gimmicks or loud music or dorks with attitude dressed like fools to create a self-serving brand.  Instead, a cool concept with great service and fantastic food with the customer as the focal point is what earned this place a Michelin star.  As for the 45 minute wait, the experience inside made it well worth it.  It’s not like I haven’t wasted an hour or two of my life before; I did watch the Place Behind the Pines after all.

 

State Bird Provisions on Urbanspoon

Review:Vancouver:Robson St:CinCin Ristorante and Bar

While in Vancouver, I had a business meeting  in the private room at Cin Cin, an old school Italian eatery on Robson Street. I was shuffled to the private room which housed hundreds of bottles of wines, some at hundreds of dollars.  Speaking of cost, expect to pay a pretty lira here; apps are $13-18, pastas start at $15 and entrees go from $30-45.   Noise was an issue even in the private room. The only thing separating us and the boisterous outside crowd was a thin sheet of glass and a thick wood door that constantly opened and closed, allowing the drone of human banter to roll in like thick fog.There was a four course set menu featuring an array of choices for the appetizers, mains and desserts with a mushroom risotto as a middle dish.
I opted for tuna tartare to start. It was a large portion on the modest side of seasoning and acidity although I got the odd big chunk of salt here and there. The radish was a nice addition to add a bit of crunch to the otherwise silky texture.

Long line caught albacore tuna tartare
Long line caught albacore tuna tartare

The risotto was well prepared and seasoned nicely. The rice had a subtle crunch and there were plenty of tender mushrooms scattered throughout. It was served hot and it held its temperature well.

Mushroom Risotto
Mushroom Risotto

The sable fish was treated with the utmost respect, its delicate integrity preserved in the cooking process. Ever bite melted like butter in my mouth. The mashed potatoes were subtle and allowed the fish to shine. The kale was simply and perfectly prepared and added great colour, texture and a punch of bitterness to the sweet filet and creamy mashed potatoes.

Sablefish
Sablefish

I strayed from my normal tendency to order tiramisu for dessert and opted for a lemon tart instead. It really wasn’t a tart; it was served cold and with a side of strawberry coulis that brought me back to days of scraping the last morsels of baby food off the side of the jar and shoveling it into my kid’s waiting mouth. The tart as a whole had that “sitting there for a bit” taste.

Lemon tart
Lemon tart

There is pride in the service, characterized but constant wine and water pours by the head waiter who is as well seasoned as the risotto was. The table’s dishes were served  by numerous waitstaff on a way that would make the Canadian synchronized swimming team envious.  I received “Sir, that’s an excellent choice!”  for each and every order I placed, an accolade I’m not sure was entirely deserved, especially in the midst of my tiramisu regret.

My Take

CinCin is a well established and expensive Italian restaurant promising good food, good service and good wine. The sablefish was spectacular and clearly the godfather of the evening. The rest of the food was more Godfather III.   The decor is old school Italian villa; respectfully cheesy while embracing the dwindling art of old school service which is as much choreography as it is  functional. However, there is no music for the dance. Instead there is plenty of noise which could become quite aggravating if you have anything important to say or hear…like how great my dinner choices were.

CinCin Ristorante + Bar on Urbanspoon

Review:Toronto:Financial District:Stock Restaurant

Any blog that has anything to do with Donald Trump means the possible insertion of jokes about getting fired, bad hair or something to do with  the apprentice.

A team function brought me to Stock, located on the 31st floor of Trump Tower. There’s a couple of things I would expect when dining at a restaurant affiliated with Donald Trump; waiters with bad hair (dammit!) and at least one staff member getting fired every night (D’oh!).  Seriously, I would hope to view a few self-entitled pretentious patrons and enjoy a dining experience with unparamount attention to detail.

For goal number one, it didn’t take long.  Upon arrival, I was handed a very good glass of what I recall was a Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc and shuffled out to the balcony for some hors d’oeuvres. It was a chilly night, so I wasn’t surprised to see a couple (ie. man and woman) enjoying a couple of  fine cigars and swirling some sort of amber potable while seated in the corner of the balcony as the waiters circulated with appetizers in hand .  Since it was a chilly eve, they were wearing matching fur shawls.  Whether supplied by the hotel or not, it’s pretty irrelevant. MATCHING FUR SHAWLS!  Awesome.  Mission accomplished (sorry no picture).

As for the hors d’oeuvres, I was offered prosciutto wrapped scallops, shucked oysters with fresh horse radish and fried portobello mushrooms with truffle aioli.  The proscitto was a delicate diversion from the usual bacon and provided enough salt to balance the buttery sweet scallop which was cooked perfectly.  The oyster was fresh and meaty.  I must digress on the mushroom as I have publicly called for the banishment of both truffle and aioli as a food trend.  Eating this simple finger food makes me want to take it all back. The mushroom was moist and the batter crispy….and yes, the aioli was good.

Scallop
Scallop
Mushroom with Truffle Aioli
Mushroom with Truffle Aioli

It was a set menu but I found the choices innovative and appealing.  My starter was the octopus. It was executed well….still tender and fired properly (ok..stopping). It was seasoned well and the tender potato added some delicate earthiness to complement this treasure from the sea.

Octopus
Octopus

For the entree, I ordered black cod with an edamame  puree and lightly fried greens. The well seasoned flesh was glistening but wasn’t raw.  The fork cut through it like butter and tasted the same.  The subtle crunch of the crispy vegetables was the perfect complement from both a taste and texture perspective. From the land side,  I  managed to secure a small portion of the filet which was served with a vibrant pink hue  indicative of a good medium rare..simple but satisfying.

Black Cod
Black Cod
8 oz filet
8 oz filet

Dessert was from the chocolate cart which circulated while peddling its house made wares to patrons like an ice cream truck in a subdivision.  A sinful array of truffles and other delicacies weaved  through the tables offering rich and artisan delicacies  which were another example of the delicious attention to detail which was evident throughout the evening.

Chocolate Cart
Chocolate Cart

The meal finished with some Niagara ice wines and a tasty Taylor Fladgate, 10 yr old tawny port which was simply delicious.

My Take 

I expected dinner at Stock to be a adventure in posh dining and a possible fulfillment of my champagne wishes and caviar dreams. Instead of white linens, candlelight and a waiter named Jeeves, the decor was casual and comfortable and the food was the  standard fare you would see at any other eatery in the area.  The concepts were simple and the execution was near flawless.

Ok….I did take a quick peak at the online dinner menu and the prices were quite acceptable and rival some of the higher end restaurants in Toronto.  The octopus is $17, the cod $34 and the filet is $42. The truffles are $3 a piece.

In the end, I got what I was looking for…my paparazzi experience, a good wine/port buzz and a well executed meal from start to finish.  Donald, thanks for making Toronto a better place to dine, one fur shawl at a time.

Stock Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Review:Toronto:King West:Wvrst

I have sausage envy.

Maybe it’s because I live in a city where my choices are limited to mild or hot italian. Maybe it’s because I still reminisce about the mustard laden monstrosity I had during Oktoberfest in Munich last year (even though it’s width that matters, not length right?)

Sausage at octoberfest
Sausage at Oktoberfest and origin of  my sausage envy

Wvrst opened a couple of years ago in an attempt to mesh the Oktoberfest experience with the downtown Toronto dining scene. Nicely polished wooden communal tables fill the second-story open space as music (don’t expect any Walter Ostanek) fills the air.  Against one wall are shelves full of beer beside 16 or so draught taps ranging from local to international, with a focus on German favorites. In the back is where you order, pay and have a seat.

The menu is like the United Nations of sausage.  With around two dozen choices, one can stick with a traditional German brat, an italian pork sausage or experience the tastes  of South Africa, Tunisia, Slovania or Mexico.  If you’re more of a Duck Dynasty fan, you can opt for Guniea fowl, pheasant or duck.  Big game like wild boar, elk, venison and bison compete for you palate with cute bunnies and kangaroos.  There are even vegetarian options for those who choose to eat what food eats. You can top your choice with peppers, sauerkraut or jalapenos or even a tomato curry sauce.

The fries are available straight up or dirty and with or without duck fat. Dirty means topping them with the same toppings available for the sausage.  If you don’t want it dirty, you can get one of about a dozen dipping sauces on the sauce.

Masked with onion and jalapenos, I suppose I could say this was any of the majestic meats, but I did opt for wild boar stuffed with mushroom and tea.  The bun was like the old lady down the street; crusty on the outside but soft in the middle. I went dirty and ducky with the fries.  They were magically filthy, like playing in the dirt and making mud pies.

Wvrst Dirty Duck Fries $6.50
Wvrst Dirty Duck Fries $6.50
Wild Boar Sausage $9
Wild Boar Sausage $9

Wvrst employees know their beer yet keep the pretension to a minimum.  I mean, they use cool words like “tap takeover” and are keen to discuss the evolution of North American hops but don’t look at you like you’re an inferior moron (unless of course you insist on a bud light or try to argue that the Keith’s Cascade Hop Ale is a real beer). Featuring a slew of Quebec taps, I had a Shawinigan Handshake, a fruity and complex IPA with tremendous balance.   Apparently it’s hitting the LCBO in the coming weeks (thanks to the informative barkeep for the tip).

My Take

I suppose I should insert the cliche comments about this phonetically challenged restaurant.  Wvsrt lacks a vowel but doesn’t lack character. There’s no u in wvest  and no i in beer (unless you’re in France or Quebec). This place is well wvrst in touting the sausage. Despite only a handful of menu items, the vast array of encased critters makes for a tough decision.  The duck fries, alone or adorned with the dirt, are highly addictive. The beer selection rivals anywhere in the Toronto.  The staff are knowledgeable, engaged and friendly.  It can get quite loud either due to the bellowing, glass clinking drunkards lining the communal tables and/or the blaring music filling the open, square dining area. Even without lederhosen and dirndls, Wvrst has all the elements to ease my aching sausage envy without having to resort to one of the numerous hot dog carts clogging the downtown core.

Wvrst on Urbanspoon