No store sign, no sandwich board, with a front door a few steps in from the cobbled sidewalk. I hardly notice the restaurant at first pass. They led with the patio and the entrance got lost in the jumble. Even my taxi driver missed it by a block and I walked past it twice.
Walking in, it felt like I was visiting a friend’s for dinner. A narrow, open space; similar to a tiny studio loft with wooden floors and large glass windows. The only thing separating the kitchen and the lone chef behind it from the dining room, was the wooden partition built up at waist height. This made things a lot more intimate. Especially with the chef watching you eat just a few feet away. Not to mention the chairs being backed up from one table to the next in order to maximize space. The chef was friendly enough. I saw him engaging with guests, and heard him humming along to the blusey tunes playing overhead. During cooking lulls he even stepped out from behind his barricade to season food, crack pepper, and sprinkle on Parmesan.
Everything felt as casual as it looked. The brick wall backing the kitchen gave things a rustic homey feel. Bottles of wine sat in makeshift shelves, crafted from old crates. And candles in weathered bird cages and giant metal utensils were used as unique decor pieces. Indoors there were five two tops and two booths that sat four. Limited seating ensured the setting would remain quite and romantic. When we started the only other two parties were on dates. They whispered and softy ate to the tea light at each table. By dessert the restaurant was completely seated. Large groups in the booths, couples across from one another, and patrons in gloves and scarves, with jackets zipped all the way up on the heated patio. The outdoor patio looked as romantic as it did indoors, even with the use of a plastic tarp to keep things dry. Same dark wood tables and chairs. And unique lighting features created from cutting off the bottoms of green glass bottles and stringing long cylindrical bulbs through. These were bound in groups of three to give things a pop of interest.
No matter where we sat I was cold. A constant chill from the un-insulated windows, and lingering draft from the opening and closing of the patio screen door. A crack was left open to ventilate a room that was quickly steaming up. Heat from the hot food being prepared and from the stove top fan that was out of commission. The server and her manager would pass utensils, beverages and plates through the door and onto the patio via a side table. This was done before walking around and out the front door to serve said dishes to their guests. They also kept all their menus on a podium just outside and beside the front door. So each party required the door to be opened coming in and once again in order to grab a menu. As I was dressed fully and forced to keep my winter coat on all through dinner, this was a point of contention with me. What’s worse was the need to put on your cold weather wear before trekking to the shared building’s washrooms, outside our restaurant. Though with all my complaining of the cold, the place did get a lot warmer with the increase in cooking that needed to be done, due to the volume of patrons after 8pm. Though I don’t know how the one chef kept on top of it all, including serving a group of 12 that came in all at once.
We needed some additional time before placing our order. Our server, the only server at the time stood in the corner behind us, she waited for us to be ready. I guess there wasn’t much more room to linger and no where else to wait at. It just put an awkward rush on things. With our table in this corner we were also privy to the conversation of the staff whispering. As this happened our chairs were being kicked and our arms accidentally nudged. I guess we chose the worst table in the house, we just wanted something furtherest from the opening and shutting door. Mid way through our appetizers a guy walks in. With no introductions he tops up our water and my wine. His uncommunicative reaction abruptly caught us off guard.
I asked for the recommendation of a sweet wine. Our server mentioned what she thought was the best and the sweetest. Only to say she ran out of it, repeatedly. I jokingly told her to stop mentioning what I can’t have and jested that she recommend something that I can. She cleverly reply that it would give me reason to come back. I was disappointed that it took a while for her to come up with a back up, second choice given their impressive wine listing. I settled on her pick of the “Pfaffenheim”. Gewürztraminer” from France. Light and easy to drink, this white was just what I had in mind. When I ordered my second glass from the man, in a rush he poured more straight into my current glass. A glass that was already filled with drink. I felt cheated out of an exact measurement and a new glass.
“Lemon Lemonata”. This was one of their signature cocktails made with Lemoncello, freshly squeezed lemon juice, vodka, and sparkling water. As refreshing as this was, this is more a recommendation for the dog days of summer.
“Beef tenderloin carpaccio”. AAA Alberta beef, slightly seasoned and drizzled over with a white alba truffle infused olive oil. It is served alongside traditional antipasti vegetables. I recommend not adding on too much of the greens per bite or else you can’t taste any of the mild beef. The chips had a crisp garlic flavour. They were the perfect vessel for the toppings. Each morsel an easy to wield baguette slice. Though the edges of the crunchy bread did end up scratching the roof of your mouths. This was a solid dish and a great light start to the meal. Though we wouldn’t have seen much of a difference had there been no meat present.
“Gigli alla primavera”. Organic tomato sauce and basil combined with a lily shaped pasta from Florence, draped with creamy burrata mozzarella imported from Puglia. This was the same dish my guest has during her last visit, and the reason she wanted to come back today. Everything about this plate was unlike any pasta I have ever had. The cheese had a light lemony quality to go with its creamy and stringy texture. And the unique shape of the pasta made things fun to eat. Each shell was cooked perfectly, chewy and firm. The sauce was not heavy, it gently coated everything with a little sour kick. Not salty, but enough seasoning to be flavourful.
“Pappardelle rosse”. Thick ribbon egg noodles in an organic tomato sauce with braised boneless short rib, beef tenderloin, chicken breast, and Italian fennel sausage. As hard as I tried, I was unable to make out the distinct varieties of meats. The sauce was however very meaty and savory. They all pulled apart and fell off whatever bone they once were on. The lighter coloured meat I identified as chicken. This was harder and a little cold, perhaps it was reheated before added into the mix? The eggy flavour in the noodles were noticeable. It lent a slip and slide texture with a buttery taste. This was definitely more complex than the dish before, though just as well seasoned with the right amount of salt despite its many layers. It reminded me of similar dishes I have tried before.
We did not order any desserts, but my guest informed me that on previous visits she has seen the staff enter the hall way to retrieve desserts from their sister restaurant.
When asked, our bill came came in a small box. Its lid was dripped over with a red wax candle and stamped with a seal. Inside were two dark chocolate squares on top of what we owed.
Would I come back? – No.
I found the setting took away from the quality of food. I had an unenjoyable eating experience. It came from the cold and drafty restaurant; and the tight corners that forced us to be bumped and jostled throughout the night. As I always say, a large part of dining out has to do with the setting in which eating takes place in. You pay for the food, the ambience, and the experience. If all of them are not just right, it takes away from that which is. Though I sincerely question how fresh the food actual was. Everything came out relatively quick, from one chef and one pot on the single stove top. I question if the noodles and sauce were made on the spot, if even daily. And found the chicken in my pasta to be cold.
Would I recommend it? – Yes. The food was good and the setting can be enjoyable. Great presentation and large portions. Plus the fact that it got so busy on what many would consider a slow weekday. Guests were even willing to brave the cold in down jackets and wool gloves to eat here. This certainly says something about the place. Don’t deny your cravings.