EDULIS: Western Europeish on Niagara

416 703 4222   |   $9-$32 sharing plates

 

Niagara Street Cafe occupied this same spot just off King West for years, but as of about a month ago, it was reborn as Edulis. What does Edulis mean you ask? It’s a type of porcini mushroom. Who knew? Learn something every day!

The new menu caught my eye, so I decided to bring eight friends to descend upon the restaurant and chow down. Here’s how it went.


Photo Credit: Facebook Page

Food

The changing menu not only features some great shrooms, but offers an eclectic mix of Spanish, French, Italian and more that I’ve yet to find downtown. You’ll see things like paella, sweetbreads, foie gras torchon, lamb neck, ceviche and veal belly among other things, which really makes this menu stand out. Generally, I’m wary of too many cuisines on one menu, but everything just sounded so good.

We were graciously presented with a couple servings of this traditional ‘pintxos’ (spanish amuse-bouche/snack if you will) of olives stuffed with anchovies and spicy guindillo peppers (above). Very traditional salty, spicy, fishy combo with some bread to balance it out. Perfect little bites.

Had some fresh greens (above) to start off with. Not much to say here other than the menu reads ‘Soiled Reputation Greens’, which is just a reference to the name of the farm in Stratford where the greens come from. You won’t get any soil =P

Next up was the foie gras torchon with fresh oregon porcinis stacked with toasts and a pinenut vinaigrette (above). I stay away from foie personally, but my friends quite enjoyed the dish. Fresh, earthy, and nutty are words they uttered along with ‘mmm’. So far so good.

The next dish we ordered was the BC spot prawn ceviche with aji amarillo and cripsy corn. I was an idiot, and mistakenly deleted the picture of my favourite dish of the night. The juicy chunks of prawn were great, but the star was the really bright spicy peruvian chile pepper along the bottom of the plate that brought the dish to life. I’m also a sucker for corn nuts, so the cripsy corn was a great touch for taste and texture. Excellent dish.

Next up was the lamb neck with chickpeas (pieces and puree) and a simple carrot, onion and parsley salad (above). I quite enjoyed the lamb neck and the accompaniments. I’m not sure if it was too simple or I’m just being picky, but I feel like one more element (acid? extra seasoning of some kind?) could have made it just a bit better.

Then came the veal belly that many folks around the table quite enjoyed. I’d never had it before, but it’s like your pork belly texturally, but remove the bacon quotient from it. This dish was also clean, fresh, and straightforward.

A friend of mine wanted a healthy fish dish, so we got her the salmon cooked in cedar leaves with butter poached radishes, wheatberries and pea shoots. The preparation of the salmon was rare and you could really pick out the cedar flavour. That said, she was really hoping for crispy-seared skin on the top. Thought $24 for this portion size was also a tad pricey.

A new item on the menu that night was the soft shell crab ‘schnitzel’ with a fried egg and a bacon salsa verde…how can you not order that? All the combos made sense: deep fried, egg, bacon, seafood, fresh. The bacon flavour wasn’t quite as forward though, so if that’s what caught your attention on the menu, don’t expect tons of bacon. The portion overall is generous though, so you should get your fill of crab.

Another must order on the menu seemed to be the baby octopus paella for two. The chef clearly likes his Spanish food, and I’ve been longing for a great paella in Toronto to bring back memories of Valencia and Barcelona. Unfortunately, two critical things that make paella great were missing: (1) the soccarat and (2) perfectly cooked seafood (found the octopus to be chewy). The soccarat is the carmelized, crispy rice layer on the bottom that forms to give paella its trademark texture. It wasn’t there on arrival, so we let it sit for a while in the hopes it would develop - still no dice. Maybe it’s the pan or something, but it was disappointing for sure.

Next were the sweetbreads with porcini, asparagus and nettle-parsley pesto (above). I enjoyed the deep-woodsy green flavours in this, but found my sweetbreads chewier than I’d like. In my experience, great sweetbreads are juicy, tender, and taste reminiscent of a chicken’s dark meat. Didn’t quite get that here.

While the savoury part of the meal ended on a bit of sour note, I had faith some sweets could resurrect it. Our first order was baba au rhum. I’d never heard of it, but the description of fluffy, semi-rum-saturated cake with whipped cream was enough for me to order it. I’ve read reviews saying they didn’t ‘get it right’, but I really enjoyed it. Nice punchy, deep rum flavour with light cake and cream was just swell for me.

The last bites of the night were taken from a lemon tart with a brunoise of rhubarb and some crunchy crumble (above). Pastry was well done, lemon tart was clean and bright, and the little juicy rhubarb cubes and crumble provided the ideal textural mix for the topping.

Service and Ambience

I love how it feels to sit in this place. It’s homey, comfortable, and looks distinctly like a rustic french cafe/bistro. The polished stone tables give it a bit of class as well that you could say bridge into the somewhat less rustic food preparations.


Photo Credit: Facebook Page

I thought service was great. This was the night of the Union flood, so a lot of our party arrived sporadically late. Thankfully, our server had no problem explaining the menu items and concepts to everyone multiple times, and kept our courses coming out at a pleasant pace. I was also particularly pleased that upon our arrival, we were offered some wines by the glass that are usually only available by the bottle. I happily ordered a spicy Hungarian red on the server’s recommendation and thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Reco?

I think it needs to be said this menu is ambitious; the scope and depth of European cuisines presented here aren’t easy to pull off. The place is also just a month old, and with more feedback, I believe you’ll see more and more home run dishes being put out of the kitchen. While you might get a miss, you’re also sure to be wowed and I think that’s a real reason to come back. I sure will.

Other reviews:
 National Post  |    dine.TO   |    Cookbook Store Blog

 Posted by: Jacob, Visited June 1, 2012

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BIFF’S BISTRO: Another O&B spot disappoints

416-860 0086   |    $16 - $36 mains

 

I’ve talked a bit about being disappointed with O&B restaurants because my first time at each of them always seems to be underwhelming. I find the service is always good, the selection seems appealing and the spaces are beautiful…the only problem is I never really like the food. Luma had changed my mind a bit after returning recently, so I decided to give Biff’s on Front a shot. 

Food

Honestly, this menu looked certifiably appealing to me. There were tons of classic french dishes from the starters, to mains and bistro specialties. Biff’s even serves cheval (horse!). I was pretty excited to get tasting.

The picture of butter you see above was an odd way to start the night. The bread came out as usual (a decent sliced baguette) accompanied by a ramekin of regular, spreadable butter by all appearances. Weird thing was I could have sworn there was a noticeable aftertaste of oysters. The other two at the table conveyed similar sentiments. I kinda liked it. Unfortunately, our server said that it shouldn’t have any aftertaste. Weird.

The chef also sent out some house-made grainy mustard that had a pleasant - and intentional - bitter aftertaste. That along with some house-made pickles were a nice start.

Our first main was the pork belly with spaetzle and fennel (above). The pork belly piece itself was the largest I’ve seen in a main. Unfortunately, it was a big miss: chewy on the outside (not crispy), meat wasn’t tender, and the melt-in-your-mouth fatty part was barely there. Also, the spaetzle looked, felt, and tasted like soft breadsticks, which definitely wasn’t we were expecting. I just didn’t get this dish at all.

Next had another large portion, this time of smoked sweetbreads with potatoes, wild mushrooms and a creamed leek sauce. My first bite of everything was decent, but this got bland from the second taste onward. I couldn’t pick out the green-coloured oil/sauce, which I wish had imparted a stronger herb flavour to keep the dish interesting. I understood the concept, but I just didn’t think it delivered on it.

We finished with a crowd-pleasing trio of profiteroles stuffed with vanilla ice cream, covered in chocolate, caramel and almonds. This was undoubtedly an extra-safe choice to end the meal and it paid off. The chocolate was darker than I expected which I found made the topping of almonds more complimentary and the caramel more contrasting. 

Service and Ambience

Despite the food not being great, Biff’s lived up to the positives of O&B restaurants: the service is awesome and the spaces are beautiful. 

Our server was super friendly, knowledgeable about the menu, and checked up on us the perfect amount. Probably one of the better servers I’ve had across all my restaurant visits in the city.

The Reco?

I’m giving this two stars because the only things I enjoyed were the pickles, profiteroles and unintentionally oyster-kissed butter. Neither of the mains were very good in our opinion, despite their size, and that just doesn’t make me want to come back and sample anything else. On the bright side, I hear Auberge du Pommier is O&B’s best. Perhaps that should be next…

Other reviews:
  Toronto Life   |     Chu on This

 Posted by: Jacob, Visited Mar 30, 2012

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BUCA: Maybe my best meal of the year

416-865-1600    |    $21 -$70+ mains

I’d be very surprised if you haven’t heard of Buca yet. The Jamie Oliver tweet, the constant praise, the mysterious alleyway on King West. I’m embarrassed to say yesterday was my first time, but having lost my Buca virginity, here’s my lengthy take on the experience.


Right side photo credit: Ian Mile Design

Food

You’ll notice that there’s no menu link in its usual spot, that’s because it changes daily (and gets stamped to prove it) and is not published online. It’s too bad the lighting wasn’t better because it’s a beautiful menu: unique snacks, fried goods (fritti), starters, salads, pasta, carne, pesce, pizza. It’s not a small menu and it’s kind of bewildering at first.

We started our meal with four plates to get the variety the menu merited:

  • Nodini (below): A suggestion from our server, these little freshly made bread knots with a strong garlic and rosemary flavour are just awesome. Mildly crunchy outside, soft inside, really addictive.
    Photo Credit: Sifu Renka 

  • Lamb brains alla saltimbocca with caper agliata (below): Texturally, a very unique dish with the creamy lamb and crispy pork wrapping. We found the agliata to have much more parsley flavour than any hint of caper. Overall a nice snack of something very different for only $8.

    Photo Credit: Joseph Mallozzi 

  • Mixed kale salad with ripe persimmon, chocolate red wine reduction, macerated almonds and a lardo vinaigrette: This was a beautifully balanced salad. Kale gave it great texture, persimmon a unique sweetness, light dressing of chocolate wine reduction added the unusual, and the lardo vinaigrette gave you that meaty flavour without the meat. Can’t find any mention of this online, not a usual menu item.

  • Eggplant parmigiana (below): A staple on the menu, this small stack is classic and the very fresh basil on top sets it off. It’s tough to wow with this dish, and I don’t think it did. That said, it’s still good.

We had a difficult choice with the mains, especially turning down the pizza (served with pizza-cutting scissors), but we decided other things on the menu were more compelling.

An orecchiette dish was my favourite of the night (a different variation with scallops below). The subtly sweet brininess of BC mussels, the bitter green of brussel sprouts, the texture of al dente cannellini beans, and the salty,crisp pancetta make this a fantastic dish. One of the better pasta dishes I’ve ever had.
Photo Credit: Foodies Inc.

The other main was cripsy prosciutto-wrapped sweetbreads over lentils with poached duck egg, and marjoram agliata (above). Nicely balanced dish with rich, earthy flavours, crispy pork, and some fresh agliata to cut it all. 
Photo Credit: Buca Twitter Feed

To finish, naturally we needed to sample some desserts. The first we selected was an olive oil cake, topped olive oil gelato, quince, and a beautiful pouring of olive oil over top. Despite all this all olive oil, the only time it really came through was when you got some of what was poured on top. The gelato was nice and creamy, and cake moist, but neither really conveyed olive oil. I think less cake would have prevented muting of the other elements.

The second desert I labeled a “mindfuck” when reading. A chocolate…and pork blood…tart topped with espresso soaked figs, macerated almonds and a creme anglaise (below). Unfortunately, I didn’t get the use of pork blood; it seemed to be used as a thickener, but I don’t think it added anything and I felt kind of tricked into ordering it. I thought the fig and espresso flavours dominated the dish.


Photo Credit: Globe and Mail

Service and Ambience

From an ambience perspective, Buca is impressive. The height of the room, the amount of exposed brick, the displays of Italian fare - all of it makes the experience special. The only thing that threw it off a bit was the classical orchestral tunes. Is it purposefully pretentious? Maybe so, but it didn’t fit for us.


Photo Credit: Fashion Magazine

On the service side, everyone was friendly and food came out of the kitchen at a pleasant pace given the number of dishes we ordered. I’d say the dishes were slightly ‘over-explained’ sometimes. I don’t mind some table-side romancing, but I think it gets excessive when there’s an agliata in a dipping bowl and two separate servers remind you to use the agliata for dipping. We get it.

The Reco?

On the merit of some particularly exceptional dishes, it’s impossible to give this less than 3.5 stars. The orecchiette and kale salad were perfect, and we really enjoyed most of the other dishes. There’s an uncommon level of precision and thoughtfulness here that blends with authentic Italian flavours, and I’d be crazy not to return here for more.

Other reviews:
 Globe and Mail    |    Toronto Life |    Food Junkie Chronicles

 Posted by: Jacob, Visited Dec 18, 2011

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