Tuesday, June 19th, 2012 at 11:11 pm
Toronto Redux: Restaurants Galore!
I’ve been a delinquent blogger, always posting about things very late in the game. But hopefully some time this summer, I’ll finally catch up! That’s the hope, anyway, at this halfway point in the year…
I’m amazed Amanda and I were able to fit in so many restaurants in those six days, in between attending a conference. But a girl’s gotta eat, right?
The Stockyards was without a doubt the most disappointing experience we had, which was a shame because it was some of the best food we ate that week.
Located near the Saint Claire West station (a great example of transit-oriented development, with a grocery store right above the subway and drugstores, restaurants and other amenities within three blocks), we read about The Stockyards in Where, and a quick search online yielded an irresistible brunch menu.
The restaurant is tiny – 18 bar-style seats. When we arrived, there was already a number of people waiting for seats in the de facto lobby. While we were more than ready to wait, we weren’t prepared to be ignored by the two servers. One walked past us twice without acknowledging us, and the other proceeded to answer the phone and have a prolonged personal conversation when we approached her at the counter. After we were seated at the bar with a view of the kitchen, we were asked to move to seats on the opposite wall to make room for a larger party. The server offered us a complimentary biscuit to make up for the move, which was nice, but the service didn’t really improve from there. Coffee refills were scarce, and though Amanda had ordered the same dish as the patron next to me, he was afforded a dish of wet naps while she was not. Maybe The Stockyards is a place where only the vocal and aggressive are served well, but if that’s the case, it’s an even stronger reason for us never to return.
As I mentioned, the food really was great. What can I say about the fried chicken and waffles ($13)? I thought The Drake was the epitome of fried chicken, but I was wrong – the skin was incredibly crispy, but even better, the meat beneath it was so juicy and moist it actually made it messy to eat. We also loved the play of sweetness and heat from the chili maple molasses citrus glaze.
Fried chicken and waffles
The biscuits with sausage gravy ($11) was a monster of a dish. The biscuits, flaky and warm, were perfection, and the eggs were a creamy dream.
Biscuits with sausage gravy
A shame, because Amanda and I will never return to The Stockyards.
At some point it became a mission for Amanda and me to visit all of Olivier & Bonacini’s restaurants. We already covered Jump and Canoe last year, so this time around, Bannock and Luma were on our hit list.
Located in the Hudson’s Bay downtown, Bannock connects to this historic Canadian company by purporting a philosophy of “Canadian comfort food”. It’s also the only restaurants I’ve ever dined in to feature a fishbowl window that looks directly into the store, but without the dingy cafeteria vibe. The interior of Bannock could be described as an urban cabin, with “aged” wood beams lending a rustic but polished look. Paper placemat menus completed the playful theme.
“Wine” display at Bannock
We were seated on the banquet wall, which was spaced so narrowly that at times, it felt like a communal table. We happily chatted with the neighbours (openly gawking at their orders, and vice versa), though it did make getting in and out of the bench seating a bit of a challenge.
I couldn’t help but order their signature HBC cocktail (vodka, peach schnapps, cranberry juice and peach puree). It tasted, not surprisingly, like juice, though I have to say I expected a bit more colour homage in the drink, with layers, or at least the use of some throwback spirits.
Amanda and I split three dishes that night. The first, a Prairie grain salad ($9), was the starter equivalent of a kitchen sink, but in a good way! Delving in, we continued to unearth the different ingredients that made up the dish – from barley, lentils and sprouts, to cauliflower, mushrooms, green beans, and pickled cucumber. It was a light but filling salad, and would be a great vegetarian entrée on its own.
Prairie grain salad
My favourite of our meal was their mac and cheese ($14). At first, I thought the inclusion of wilted spinach was a bit token in nature, meant to make indulgent diners feel a little less guilty, but it actually worked quite well to add texture and a bit of colour to the bubbly pasta dish. It ended up being one of the best mac and cheeses I’ve ever tasted, with a nicely melted crust and pasta bathed in a creamy, rich sauce. Somewhere, Mack was salivating.
Mac and cheese
The duck poutine pizza ($16) was good in theory – a thin crust topped with roast duck, caramelized onions, fries, cheese curds and gravy. But I think it was all just a bit too much; the duck was overwhelmed by the poutine, and honestly, after the first few bites, Amanda and I struggled to finish the rest. It was also a dish that absolutely needed to be consumed hot – as the pizza cooled, it definitely lost its panache.
Duck poutine pizza
As a whole, I thoroughly enjoyed our experience at Bannock. Perhaps it is too soon to declare it at the top of my O & B list, but I would make it a point to return upon our next Toronto visit.
Situated on the second floor of the Toronto International Film Festival Lightbox on King Street, Luma has one of the best people-watching vantages we’d come across. It also makes an excellent first impression, with its serene, uniform-level dining room, Edison bulbs, and neutral colour palette.
For that reason, I was hoping the food would match the surroundings. The table bread had us off to a great start; the artichoke-garlic spread was a punchy alternative to butter.
Bread with delicious artichoke-garlic spread
Amanda’s croque madam ($9) was an enviable dish, a perfectly runny egg atop a layer of béchamel and toast.
My meatball sub ($15, with salad substitution) with provolone and arugula was just okay. The meatballs weren’t as tender as I would have liked, and the bread had been over-toasted to the point where it was difficult to eat. The mixed greens on the side were tasty, however, with the alfalfa sprouts an unexpected but welcome touch.
Service was low-key but friendly, and we felt well taken care of. Between that and the stellar location, I would return to Luma again, but would hope that the food would be more consistent next time.
After lunch, Amanda and I headed towards Queen Street West, and happened to stumble upon the newest Dark Horse cafe in Toronto. It had only opened the day prior, and was so new the storefront was still without a sign above the door. It was an undoubtedly eye-catching space – I loved the red brick and pressed tin ceiling.
I had wanted to try an espresso-based drink from Dark Horse, but their espresso machine wasn’t working, so they were only offering filtered coffees and milk-based drinks. Amanda and I decided on a hot chocolate and London fog, respectively.
The London fog was very smooth and balanced, and gave me confidence that their lattes would be equally tasty. Until next time, Dark Horse!