Breaking the Monotony of Winterlicious with a Real Barn Burner

With early April’s reminder that winter wasn’t quite over, it opened the door for me to rewind the clock a little and talk about Winterlicious. I’ve always been on the fence about this beloved annual event.  On one hand, it allows the masses to have a taste (literally) of one or more of the hundreds of restaurants that make up Toronto’s proud and diverse culinary culture.  On the other hand, it is a little artificial and contrived. Some the city’s restaurants stay at arms length from this festival and those that do participate often offer menus that are far from representative of their everyday vibe.

I figured I’d bring my dad out for dinner during Winterlicious.  I chose Barnsteiner’s ($35 set menu) for three reasons.  First, it’s located outside the downtown core. Two, it was relatively new on the scene. Thirdly, it actually had a menu that actually bordered on the side of creativity, offering both 5 appetizers and entrees as well as three desserts.  Barnsteiner’s is named after chef and owner Herbert Barnsteiner who, with his wife Michelle, ran the Corner House with great success for a decade and a half.  After a short break, they took over the old John and Sons’ oyster house just south of Yonge and St. Clair.

The vibe is a busy European bistro  feel.  The actual floor plan is a bit of a maze with lots of twists and turns and awkwardly placed tables.  Memories of the old oyster house exist, especially the ceiling mirrors which used to reflect visions of staff shucking oysters on the prep stations but now have benign angles that just miss most of the kitchen’s angles.

I started with a paper plane, a cocktail with  bourbon, montenegro, aperol and lemon. I’d put it at mid-range in terms of bourbon cocktails available throughout the city.

1273
Paper Plane Cocktail $12.5

Among the starters, we decided to split the smoked chicken salad with
grilled oyster mushrooms, arugula, fois gras croutons and finished with a raspberry-sherry dressing and the garlic and chili grill shrimps with crusty bread, and salsa verde.  The salad was a smart blend of colours, textures and flavours.  The sweet berries and dressing was dumbed down by the smoky chicken and the peppery arugula was a smart medium.  The shrimp were cooked to perfection and simply but nicely seasoned with the salsa verde.

From among the entrees, we opted for the  whole roasted black angus striploin with
crushed fingerling potatoes, crimini mushrooms, red-wine jus and the venison stew
braised in juniper red wine sauce with spaetzle and brussel sprouts. I don’t often order steak in a restaurant but I quite enjoy a good roast.  It was a simple dish but very well executed from the beef itself to the flavourful au jus.  The stew was the perfect winter dish; hearty yet refined.  The meat was super tender and the spaetzle was reminiscent of the chef’s proud German heritage.

For dessert, we chose from both ends of the spectrum, opting for the comforting apple and cranberry crumble and the more delicate lemon panacotta with toasted coconut. Once again, no complaints with either one as they were both well executed and exactly what I expected.

My Take

Although the Winterlicious experience is not always a fair representation of the essence of a restaurant, Barnsteiner’s succeeded in making me want to come back. There was good variety as far as a winterlicious menu goes and all the offerings I tried were well executed.  I plan to return to try one of the numerous menus offers such a the many flatbreads, seafood options and chef’s homeland dishes.  In fact, I was asked by a colleague for a last minute dinner suggestion for her team and I suggested here.  I called and they were able to accommodate 8 people with a little shuffling.  Although I didn’t go myself, the feedback from my colleague was a quick  twitterlike …”it was really good! And lots of fun.  Very good price wise.” I nodded in agreement as I thought $35 for a solid winterlicious meal wasn’t bad either.

Barnsteiner's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

 

Bono: Two Degrees from Kevin Bacon but Only “One” from Mark McEwen

I have a love/hate relationship with U2. One can’t help but appreciate the talent of the four Irish boys even if it at times their music is clouded with political mumbo jumbo and the haze of enormous egos.  Perhaps my opinion in this regard  was somewhat softened when it was revealed in 2014 that Bono wears blue-blockers in front of the world’s dignitaries not to look like an assclown or in public in order to qualify for  the Senior rate at the movies but because he suffers from glaucoma which he has for years. That said, it  still doesn’t forgive the fact that they were found guilty of pure arrogance for their “Songs of Innocence” iTunes  fiasco where they made the assumption that the entire world wanted their new album.

If one were to ask me my favorite U2 song from their vast library of music which spans a number of musical decades, I would have to say the live version of “Bullet the Blue Sky” off of the Rattle and Hum album. As far as bad songs, I’d say anything off the Zooropa album.

So what do Mark McEwan and Bono have in common?  Probably nothing.  One’s a singer and one’s a chef.  One is moderately tall and one is moderately short. I imagine the two of them would interpret the word “edge” very differently.  Maybe I can make a case by saying that the title “One” is not only one of  U2’s biggest hits but also the  name of  Yorkville’s contribution to the  McEwan eatery empire and that in fact Bono has been seen dining there during one  of his many stops in Toronto.

I was there with a larger group and the night got started with a cocktail. In my case, it was the paper plane. Made with bourbon, amaro nonino,  aperol and lemon juice and with a staggering price tag of $20, it was supposed named after the song (paper plane by MIA) the creator was listening to at the time. It certainly met my cocktail criteria in that it was pink ( a running joke regarding my normal choices). It came with a small fruit fly as well which I wasn’t overly concerned about given the warm weather.  The waiter took it back with an apology and promptly replaced it.

For my starter I chose the Heirloom carrot salad, pomegranate yogurt, cauliflower, avocado, orange, pistachios, raisin chutney and cilantro vinaigrette.  Despite a mishmash of ingredients you normally wouldn’t expect together on a plate, it has a predominately middle eastern taste and was beautifully presented for a reasonable $16.  The cauliflower was seasoned nicely and the raisin chutney and yogurt were fantastic. The orange and avocado were a little odd but added a nice dimension of texture and flavour.  

one salad
Heirloom Carrot Salad $16

For the main I decided on the Ravioli Duo heirloom squash and ricotta raviolis, short rib ragu and Pecorino Romano for $26.  The pasta was tender and fully stuffed with a nicely seasoned filling.  The short rib, in addition to the pecorino, added a welcomed saltiness to the dish.  I can argue it was a little chintzy for the price but it was reasonably filling and allowed some room for dessert.

one pasta
Ravioli Duo $26

Dessert was banana cream pie with peanut shortbread crust, malted chocolate pastry cream, butterscotch and vanilla chantilly and was a steal at $9.   It was elegant and filthy at the same time. The fresh bananas were a smart addition as was the thin, crispy brittle on top.I also snagged a bite of the white chocolate cheesecake served with a sour cherry compote.  It too was a bit bipolar; the comfort of Sara Lee on one side and a whimsy delicateness on the other.

one dessert
Banana Cream Pie $9

I finished the night with one of the worst americanos I have ever had.  If I’m paying $6 for a coffee, it better be mind blowing and not something that tasted like it came out of a Keurig.

My Take

I couldn’t help but hum a few U2 songs along with the lepers in my had while dining at One.  From the clean and crisp decor to the pristine presentation and premium pricing, it’s a piece that fits perfectly into the Yorkville puzzle where the streets have names although  it can take me a while to find what I’m looking for.  The food and service was quite good highlighted by a really pleasant salad and the sinful dessert which was the sweetest thing. The coffee was bad. Although I couldn’t help but sing “One”  when I got there, after a couple of sips of the paper plane I couldn’t help humming “The Fly” until the appetizer came.

One Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato