Like most people, I have to adapt to the new reality. I opened up this blog for the first time in quite a while and realized the last time I posted was about a week after the shit hit the fan with Covid-19. At the time, I thought it would be a hiccup in my continued efforts to conquest restaurants across Canada and the US. More than 4 months later, I have yet to sit inside a restaurant, stay in a hotel or travel much further than an hour’s radius for purposes other than either golf or picking up my son from university. I went through the same adaptive mechanisms as many others…I made sourdough, hunted for flour, read online cooking tutorials, gained 10 pounds and likely became an alcoholic. The latter evolved from home consumption of beer and cheap wine to cocktails and more expensive vinos ( I could justify the fact that I no longer spend 75 bucks on a bottle in a restaurant so I could drop $40 at the LCBO). Now, I relish a trip to the LCBO to invest in yet another bottle of something to patch the void once filled with $20 creative concoctions at a hipster Toronto watering hole. I’m now a member of Amazon Prime (yes…2018 called) and have made frivolous purchases including a cocktail shaker kit as well as highball and stemless martini glasses to prepare and vessel the results of my alcoholic alchemy.
I’ve also worn my dog’s nails down walking her while listening to hours of Spotify. One thing that hasn’t changed is my affinity for the Tragically Hip. Regrettably, one of the first causalities of covid for me was the Gord Sinclair concert scheduled at Massey Hall in April. Thankfully, I was able to listen Taxi Dancers on repeat for a few weeks to ease the pain.
Collectively, all of these factors got me thinking. While walking the dog yet again, I started thinking of the titles of Tragically Hip songs and realized many of them would make great cocktail names and my growing arsenal of potent potables would give me the ammunition needed to pay homage to my favorite band. With something like 150 songs to inspire me, we may have a vaccine well before I dream up all my namesake drinks and whittle my stash down to a trunk full of 20 cent returns. Let’s get started…..
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.