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

 

A Blind Date with THR & Co…Harbord Room’s Little Sister

Ever since I went to Harbord room, I’ve been interested in trying THR & Co, their sister restaurant. Eating out can be like a blind date. Sometimes, all you  had to go on is a picture of the menu and an online testimony or two.   I  showed up early given I was on another dinner mission  in an attempt to avoid outgoing Toronto traffic.  As a result of this, I was offered  a seat on the comfy side of the bar (there are four or 5 padded stools instead of the regular ones which graced the remaining perimeter.  One of the first surprises was the limited bar menu.  My tainted recollection of Harbord Room (which involved a few drinks with the Food Network’s Kevin Brauch) was an innovative and expansive cocktail menu so I was a little surprised to see a limited selection here.  In fact, another gentleman came in and ordered an amaretto and after a 5 minute search concluded they didn’t have any. Of the four, yes four cocktails, I ordered The Pisco Sour (pisco, pear, egg white, ginger and sage syrup and fresh lemon).  She was certainly playful but was anything but sour. In the end, I was impartial.  She was neither naughty or nice.

Cocktail $13
Pisco Sour $13

For the appetizer, I went with the compressed carrot salad for $13.  She was one of the prettier salads I’ve been served. The  had carrots which were roasted, pickled and cut into attractive ribbons. The apple vinaigrette was subtle but appropriate.  The sunflower granola was less appealing and a little abundant.  All in all, she looked better than she tasted (hmm…that sounds wrong)  but was a very acceptable starter.

Compressed Carrot Salad $13
Compressed Carrot Salad $13

For the main I ordered the Oxtail Bucatini for $21. Wow, she had really small…..pasta.  I recently complained about the price of the pasta at SPQR in San Francisco but that was a value compared to this portion.  Although the pasta itself was delicious and nicely cooked the oxtail was scarce and there was no unity in the sauce.  Instead of a marriage of  flavours, it was more  like a breakup.

Bucatoni with Oxtail Ragu
Bucatini with Oxtail Ragu $21

For a side, I ordered marinated mushrooms which was served with pickled onions, fresh bay and salsa verde.  I enjoyed this dish. Although a little greasy, the unlikely combination of ingredients really worked. I was surprised by the potpourri of mushrooms which  filled the bowl. She would have been a perfect match with the rib eye steak on the menu.

Marinated Mushrooms $7
Marinated Mushrooms $7

None of the desserts appealed to me so I juts decided to end the date and get the hell home.

My Take

Harbord room is like a hot date. It has one the best burgers in Toronto and an extravagant bar menu.  On the other hand, THR & Co is luke warm. I was a little disappointed by the small (although firm) pasta and rather dismal cocktail list.  The carrot salad was stunning and almost as delicious. The pasta was saved somewhat by a nice side of marinated mushrooms.  If Harbord Room and THR & Co are in fact sisters, the latter is the one that probably doesn’t get a date.  She has a really nice salad though.

THR & Co. on Urbanspoon

Fabbrica; Fizzy Wine and Free Parking

There are many reasons to choose a restaurant.    In most cases, I have an extravagant formula that combines a number of factors including who I’m with, what’s trending, what my friends or websites suggest, how much I want to eat and whether or not booze will be involved.  Others are less calculating. I’ve had guests who have requested vegetarian, clean and/or gluten free food. I have one who avoids garlic and onions  and pork can be a sore spot. One of my most recent requests was simple:a place uptown with easy parking. Oddly, this proved to be a daunting task.  I could hope for the best and  try a place along Bayview or Yonge but parking availability is so random.  Knowing my guest liked Italian food, Fabricca immediately came to mind.  Located in the shops on Don Mills plaza, this member of Mark McEwan empire offers complimentary valet parking in addition to a parkade only a short distance away.

The spacious restaurant is complete with an outdoor patio, a full bar and a dining area with a view of an open kitchen which includes a wood fired pizza oven.  Despite the pseudo-casual atmosphere,  Fabbrica has all the components of a fine dining experience.  The waitstaff are classically trained and a nicely dressed expediter quarterbacks the kitchen team, ensuring that a salad is neither under- or overdressed or that a parsley leaf is not out of place.  I felt a bit like I was on an episode of Top Chef Canada for a second.

Picking a wine is always a bone of contention for me, especially when a table’s worth of palates are on the line.  I wouldn’t classify myself as a connoisseur but I can tell the difference between a Merlot and a Cabernet Sauvignon so I could get by in a pinch.  However, I’m not the guy to go to as a spokesperson when it comes to the dreaded taste test.  Sure, I can speak in front of a room of 200 people but having to take the inaugural sip of pinot gris in front of a half dozen people is a daunting task.  That said, I have never seen a bottle sent back.  In fact, I was thinking it was more of a formality.  Not tonight though.  We order a bottle of Conundrum from California.  My guest took the honours and had a sip.  A perplexed look was followed by a second sip and an exclamation that the wine was fizzy. The waiter carried it away and returned shortly with a fresh bottle and an agreement that his call on the wine was correct. In the end, the conundrum was a great choice.

On this night I was in the mood for a salad and pasta.  I started with the misticanza salad consisting of  seasonal lettuce, fennel, celery, herbs and house dressing ($11).  It was delicious in it’s simplicity.  The dressing was refreshing and a perfect compliment to the fresh ingredients in the salad.

Salad
Misticanza Salad $11

For the main I ordered the fettuccine with sweet peas, artichoke, pancetta, and crotonese ($20).  The pasta was nicely cooked but the dish was too oily and the artichoke pieces were rather large and took away from the taste of the rest of the dish.

Pasta
Fettuccine (Partially eaten) $20

For dessert I couldn’t resist the rice pudding  with arborio rice, strawberry rhubarb compote and aged balsamic ($11).  Oddly enough, I’m not a rice fan but put it in a pudding and I’m a happy camper. In fact, it would likely be one of the five foods I would choose as a desert island choice.   The rice maintained its firmness among the creamy base.  The compote was hidden in the bottom but once accessible added a nice tartness to the sweet pudding. I thought the addition of the balsamic was brilliant and something I will do when I make rice pudding at home.

Rice Pudding $11
Rice Pudding $11

 

My Take 

Fabbrica is set up to appeal to the masses.  It has a bit of the old school Italian eatery mixed with a modern day spin, so it wasn’t  surprising to see an array of patrons filling the tables.  There was a delightful older couple who may have been celebrating an anniversary, a large table of businessmen laughing incessantly at their own jokes, a table of younger mothers (one of which began breastfeeding her child which raised a few eyebrows among the traditionalists) and even a suave young guy hoping to get to third base by treating his date to dinner including the sundae designed for two.   Then again, maybe the other patrons looked at our table as the pretentious one which actually had the nerve to send back a bottle of wine because it was fizzy. In the end, the Fabbrica experience was pretty decent although I was a little disappointed given Mark “Mercurial” McEwan’s high standards on Top Chef Canada.  The salad and dessert  were fresh and vibrant although the oily pasta was average at best. In the end, I think there are better options in the city for fine Italian fare but if the thought of parallel parking on a busy downtown street or dishing out $20 to jam into a makeshift lot makes you cringe then this may be your place.  Plus, you can mingle with “the haves” and get that Coach bag, Solomon jacket or go to across the way to McEwan for that expensive olive oil you always wanted.

Fabbrica on Urbanspoon

Chopping the Dynamic Duo at the Tavern by Trevor

Tavern by Trevor is another example of the cross-pollination that is occurring in Toronto.  Partly a way to jump on the small plate phenomenon that has taken the city by storm and partly a means of dealing with the inertia of local foodies to try surrounding neighborhoods, the tavern recently opened at the corner of Spadina and Richmond.  I was impressed by the small yet inventive and reasonably priced menu. Chef Trevor Wilkinson teams up with restaurateur Mike Yaworski in an odd couple type collaboration.   Chef Trevor is the owner of Trevor Bar and Kitchen which has sustained the volatile Toronto dining scene while watching others come and go along the Wellington Street stretch. He also recently appeared as a contestant on Chopped Canada this past year.

I arrived and decided to sit at the makeshift patio (a few tables plus a number of stools beneath a counter made of 2x4s which looked like an inventive RONA project) which took over part of the wide sidewalk along Spadina Avenue.   The waitress was quick to arrive with the food and drink menus.  Boozewise, there are three tap beer from the local Amsterdam brewery plus an array of bottles, big bottles and cans.  The wine list has around 10 bottles of both red and white wine with most in the $40-60 range.  There is also a half a dozen or so bourbons plus a small list of cocktails priced at $11/each. I started with an old-fashioned served with bourbon, sugar cube, angostura bitters and a lemon twist.  It was a decent drink but was served with too much ice making it difficult to disperse the sugar which had settled at the bottom of the glass.

Old-Fashioned $11
Old-Fashioned $11

For the most part, the food menu is structured by price points.  All “Bar food” is $11, salads are $10, “from the stove” is $15 and  entrees are $21. There are also a few sandwiches ($12-14) and sides are $5. There is also the ability to add a number of proteins to the salad.  I ordered the  green pea & lettuce with feta & mint salad and added ginger and garlic fried chicken. For the entree, I went with the bbq octopus, prawns & chorizo with fennel & radish in wild leek vinaigrette.  That’s when things got bad. The salad arrived in a large white bowl and presentation was far from remarkable. The only lettuce was romaine  and it was cut ribbon style with a knife (one of my pet peeves).  I don’t know if the lettuce was warmed first or just not fresh because I found myself pulling out  brown and wilted pieces. From what I could salvage, it was a good flavour combination but I certainly wasn’t enjoying the pea and feta hunting through a jungle of limp romaine. Turning my attention to the chicken, I was equally disappointed.  It was boneless and served with an aioli.  The pieces varied in size and thickness.  I cut into the first thick piece and it was pink. A second thick piece was also pink.  I cut into a third thinner piece and found it cooked properly and found the coating to  be very tasty.  When bringing this to the attention of the waitress, I was told that she just ordered it and it looked like that so it’s fine.  She left only to return a few minutes later to tell me that she checked with the kitchen and in fact the chicken was cooked and it looked like that because it was dark meat.  Then she proceeded to tell me that they were out of the octopus and asked  if I would like anything else instead.  I politely and thankfully said no.

Green Pea with lettuce with feta and mint $10 with a side of ginger and garlic fried chicken $7
Green Pea with lettuce with feta and mint $10 with a side of ginger and garlic fried chicken $7
"Cooked" chicken
“Cooked” chicken

 

Select Lettuce from Salad
Select Lettuce from Salad

My Take

This is one of the worst dining experiences I have had in Toronto in a long time. First, serve a cocktail that can be consumed properly.  Second, either use fresh romaine or don’t prepare it so it wilts. I thought the reason you used romaine was for the vibrant crunch.   Third, if the chicken is pink it is undercooked and the fact that I didn’t eat it should be a hint that despite the reassurances from the waitress and the kitchen (who actually didn’t look at the chicken), I was not happy with the dish.  As a footnote, I have asked 5 people since if the chicken looked undercooked based on the picture and all agreed unanimously.  Fourth, it you are only going to offer three entrees on a menu, you shouldn’t run out of one.  Furthermore, you shouldn’t wait until the   customer orders it before you realize it’s not available.  Fifth, if a customer is clearly unhappy with the experience, perhaps something should be done.  Even an apology would have been sufficient.  Instead, I left paying my bill having eaten only a few bites of salad and a couple of small, thin pieces of chicken. All I can say is this meal is a far cry from the Coq au Vin I had at Trevor Bar and Kitchen a few years ago.

For serving wilted lettuce, raw chicken and not having octopus….Chef Wilkinson..you’ve been chopped.

(I’m aware that in fact Chef Wilkinson did not in fact cook the food I attempted to eat but it is his name on the place!).

 

The Tavern by Trevor on Urbanspoon

Review:Toronto:George

The name George has been able to withstand the test of time.   A popular name in the first half of the 20th century, it has still remained popular post world war II and even in the last 5 years, at a time in which names like Apple, Bacon, North and Wisdom reign the headlines. Even William and Kate named the future aire to the British Throne George (although I am convinced Elizabeth will live to 200 and shut out three generations of potentials kings).

There have been a number of influential and important George’s in history:

  • George Washington was the first president of the United States of America.
  • George Orwell was one of the most prolific writers of the 20th century.
  • George Carlin was a visionary in stand-up comedy.
  • George Harrison was a Beatle.
  • George was the star of a short lived early 70’s series about a loveable St. Bernard.
  • George Lucas created Star Wars.

Even in the world of food, the name has been synonymous with success:

  • George Washington Carver was considered a pioneer in the development of a number of food related products.
  • George Weston became one of the most successful food entrepreneurs in Canadian history.
  • George Foreman turned starving students into gourmet chefs.

So, any restaurant that calls itself  George has some big boots, or pans to fill.  First, it doesn’t hurt that it has a number of awards and accolades from Zagat, open table and numerous Toronto magazines.   Second, chef Lorenzo Loseto uses words like “émigré traditions” in his bio on the about page of the website, so it’s gotta be good.

I had two opportunities to eat there in the span of a couple of weeks.  The first was a small planning dinner and second was a group dinner with about 30 people. I apologize in advance for the qualities of the pics during the group dinner.  The use of flash photography is not recommended when somebody is doing trying to explain the nuances of bone metabolism.

As far as drinks go, George has a fantastic wine list with a heavy focus on France and Italy.  In particular, they had a special  feature in which 4 unique Beaujolais wines were offered by the glass.  In addition, they offer a number of artisanal and traditional cocktails.  I opted for the George and Tonic.  It was served with a cute side bottle of Fever Tree tonic water (a premium UK brand which beat’s the hell out of Schwepp’s). The main flavours were grapefruit and lemongrass.  In fact, it was recommended that I chomp on the lemongrass after each sip to enhance the taste of the gin.  Although I felt a bit like a panda bear, it was one of the better gin and tonics I have had.

George and Tonic $9 (Half Size)
George and Tonic $9 (Half Size)

I would define the waitstaff as modestly pretentious which doesn’t surprise me given the clientele and vibe of the restaurant itself.  The waiter we had the first night seemed quite impatient and unimpressed by our speed in ordering and remained stonefaced throughout the evening. Even the  bartender and hostess on night one seemed to be trying hard to fit the mold of a George Segal sculpture. The service for the group dinner was much better.

George Segal's The Diner (and some waitstaff)
George Segal’s The Diner (which is eerily to  some of the waitstaff at George)

At both dinners I had a starter salad. The first was a spring mix with grilled peaches.  I chose this since it was the beginning of season and I don’t think anything beats a fresh Ontario peach.  The dressing was abundant (maybe too abundant)  and had a distinct acidity.  Although the pine nuts were abundant, I was a bit disappointed to only find two small peach slices amongst the jungle of greens on the plate, The boccachini cheese was also scarce but didn’t make much sense in the salad to begin with.

George Salad $10
George Salad $10

The second salad had the same greens, the same dressing but this time had avocado and quinoa. Although it was a little heavy on the ginger, the taste and texture of each component blended to create a surprisingly hearty starter (no pic).

The first plate courses included the soft shell crab with watermelon and avocado quinoa and black cod with a cashew crust and roasted beets.  Each were executed well. The crab maintained it’s moisture but I thought the coating was pretty average. There is a notion right now that watermelon goes with everything but I’m not sure it worked on this plate.  It was sweet on sweet, so the dish just didn’t have enough contrast.

Soft Shell Crab $24
Soft Shell Crab $24

The black cod, on the other hand, was divine.  The fish itself could not have been cooked better. It had a delicate, buttery taste that was complemented by the nuttiness of the cashews.  The roasted beets contained enough earthiness to offset the sweetness so the dish worked well.

Black Cod (bad pic) Part of Group Meal
Black Cod (bad pic) Part of Group Meal

Mains included the wild boar with almond potato croquettes and veg plus beef tenderloin with mushrooms and sweet potatoes.  The boar was incredible.  It was grilled to the perfect doneness and was served on a bed of fantastic vegetables which included pearled carrots and some tender legumes.  I was like inhaling and swallowing the savannah winds themselves. If necessary, I would have wrestled a lion  over this chop but would have been happy with the vegetables in the event he won.

Wild Boar $29
Wild Boar $29

The tenderloin was pretty standard, complemented with mushroom and sweet potato.  The meat was not nearly as succulent as the cod or boar but it was a noble attempt in an effort to feed 30 people at once. It had a subtle anise or fennel flavour in the vegetables which, depending on your taste, could be a good or bad thing.

Beef Tenderloin (really bad pic). Part of group dinner
Beef Tenderloin (really bad pic). Part of group dinner

Desserts were a coconut custard and blueberry cheesecake.  Although the custard was beautifully presented, it wasn’t as mind blowing as it looked.  It’s sort of like that guy or girl you like to look at until they open their mouth and start talking.  I could say the same about the cheesecake.  I just didn’t want to lick either one all over when all was said and done.

Coconut Custard
Coconut Custard $14
Blueberry Cheesecake (Group Dinner)
Blueberry Cheesecake (Group Dinner)

My Take

One might suggest that George could be a namesake for a number of famous Georges, past or present.  The innovative food preparation techniques and drink menu is reminiscent of a modern day George Washington Carver.  The lovely appearance of each dish  could be synonymous with the face of George Clooney.  On that note, even the prettiest stars don’t always make great movies.  The black cod and the boar were like the descendants, the Ides of March, Three Kings  or even Dusk Till Dawn (yes, I love that movie), while the tenderloin and the desserts are a bit more like  Out of Sight, Spy Kids 3: Game Over, Solaris or Return of the Killer Tomatoes.   The salads were like Batman and Robin, decent but nowhere near  the best in the series.

George is current  and innovative and understands the importance of visually appealing food. The dishes look like Georges Seurat paintings. However, some of the waitstaff are as friendly as Georges St. Pierre during a pre-match weigh-in.   Like a stunning work of art, an MMA pay per view fight or a good movie, you want to get what you pay for.  If you follow their suggestions and go with the tasting menu or the three courses, plus dessert and a cocktail or glass of wine, your George Costanza wallet better be stuffed because it will run you over $100, but you will be treated to at least one or two memorable and stunning  dishes, both from a visual and taste perspective. So pony up because after all….

“There is no sincerer love than the love of food”

George Bernard Shaw- Man and Superman (1903)

George on Urbanspoon

Review:Toronto:Corktown:Gilead Cafe

I have been trying to get to one of the evening events at Gilead for a while and finally had the chance back in June. It was one of the Friday night wine bars that are periodically run throughout the year,

I was a bit surprised by both the location and the decor at 4 Gilead in Corktown. It’s certainly not your typical wine bar environment, probably because it’s mainly only open for breakfast and lunch.   That said, you can’t judge a place by it’s decor, so I forked up ready to indulge on the Jamie Kennedy inspired menu.

After the decor, my second surprise were the clientele. I was easily the youngest patron in the place, maybe because it was 6 pm.  I felt like I was at an early bird dinner.  Even later, however, there was not the crowd I would have expected for an almost underground  one night wine bar experience. Well, except maybe for one jackass who showed up with his date and demanded the door be shut despite the fact it was 35 degrees and subsequently complained about every one of the  6 or 8 drinks he had in a span of an hour.

It only made sense to start with the featured drink, a Fragolina cocktail (wine, strawberry beer and a bit of lime) for $7.  It was very average.  The featured wines were a couple of Ontario red and whites for $7 a glass.

As I was waiting for a colleague, I ordered the poutine with braised beef and cheddar.  The fries were great.  The gravy was a bit salty which ended up being a theme for the evening.  The beef was tender, the cheese was scarce.  In the end, it was decent but not great.

Braised Beef Poutine $9
Braised Beef Poutine $9

I have an issue paying for bread but I was interested in the highly touted red fife sour dough, so I ordered some with two vegetarian dips for $5.   I think they were beet and some kind of hummus.   It was also served with a side of a spice mix which was not explained to me.  Not clear on the intent of this mix, I used liberally on a piece of bread only to find out it was 90% salt.  When I brought this up with the waitress, she scoffed and pointed out “It’s a french thing” and “it should be used sparingly ” on top of the butter.  After pointing out there was no butter at the table, I was told I shouldn’t have got it anyway since it’s only served with lunch.

On the heels of asparagus season, I wasn’t surprised to see it on the menu, simply served with a honey vinaigrette. For $7, it was too simple..9 boiled pieces painted with a mediocre dressing.  I found the green salad with sorrel dressing a bit better (it had a few radishes and sorrel thrown in)  for $7  but the dressing looked and tasted similar to the one used on the asparagus. The beet salad with lentils and feta looked great on the menu but once again has a taste profile not much different than the others.

Asparagus with Honey-Mustard Vinaigrette  $7
Asparagus with Honey-Mustard Vinaigrette $7
Green Salad with Sorrel Vinaigrette $7
Green Salad with Sorrel Vinaigrette $7
Beet salad with lentils and Feta $9
Beet salad with lentils and Feta $9

I was excited to try the pristine poached halibut with curried lobster sauce.  Once again it was a disappointment.  The halibut has the consistency of that piece of poached egg white that escapes and floats to the top of the pan.  It was rather bland and seasoned with large chunks of salt scattered among the bottom of the filet.  The lobster curry and bitter greens made the dish salvageable. At least if wasn’t ridiculously priced at $16.

Pristine Poached Halibut with Lobster Curry $16
Pristine Poached Halibut with Lobster Curry $16

I’m not really a flourless chocolate cake fan but decided to try it since it was served with a rhubarb reduction and cardamom ice cream, two flavours I happen to love in a dessert. I thought it was well done, especially if you incorporated the sweet ice cream, the bitter sweet cake and the sour reduction all in one bite.

Flourless chocolate cake $9
Flourless chocolate cake $9

My Take

I was excited to experience this drop-in wine bar, especially with an attractive online menu that featured a nice array of fresh and creative foods developed by one of Toronto’s iconic chefs.  Instead, I was treated to an experience that felt like a dinner at an old age home.  Each of the three veggie dishes  tasted almost exactly the same, the fish was overdone and salt was the predominant seasoning (don’t you know us old people can’t have too much salt).  I felt I was treated a bit like a nursing home resident as well, especially after being scolded about my shallow knowledge regarding  the use of salted herbs on butterless bread in much the same way one would after stepping off the property without permission. Maybe it’s better at breakfast or lunch but mention the word hip at this place during dinner  and most would immediately think it’s a high risk area for a fracture.

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