I was pretty excited to find out that Rod Bowers (previously of Rosebud and Citizen) had just opened a new restaurant at Bay and Adelaide. So I quickly gathered a few friends and had dinner there last night. When we arrived at 7, the place was full, except for two larger tables (one being ours) that were both seated at 7. There was a really nice, happy buzz about the place. I found the space to be bright and airy, but still warm and cozy with the cream-coloured walls and red banquettes. It's a long narrow space, with a large bar at the front and the open kitchen in the back. There's a really nice nook where our party of 7 was seated -- basically a banquette inset into the wall. Cozy and semi-private, while still being open to the buzz of the room.
My expectations of his restaurants are: good, comforting bistro fare. Nothing fancy or complicated, just good ingredients, well prepared. I used to think of Rosebud and Citizen as perfect mid-week dinner spots, and I think The Gabardine follows suit nicely.
To start, we all shared:
Chicken liver pate
Terrine with pickles, apple butter and toasts
Salt cod cakes with smoked paprika aioli
Grilled cheese with sweet onion and tomato jam
Nothing in the started stood out as "wow" for me, but it was all tasty and we pretty much wiped everything out. I thought the salt cod may have been de-salted a bit too much, as it actually ended tasting more like a regular fish cake. I was probably expecting something closer to a Portugese pasteis bacalhau. The grilled cheese was made with a baguette. The jam had a nice sour edge to it, but I think I wish the cheese were a bit more piquant to balance it.
For mains we had:
Mac and cheese with the ham option
Beef stroganoff with warm buttered noodles
Pulled pork sandwich with spicy pickled cabbage with fries
Roasted brined pork with creamed polenta and vincotto
Beet risotto with goat cheese and beet greens
And another order of mac and cheese for the table. :)
I think the winners were the pulled pork sandwich and the roasted pork. The pulled pork was fairly sweet, but my friend said it was really good with the pickled cabbage/cole slaw. The fries were pretty darn tasty, too. The roasted pork was HUGE and really flavourful from the brining. It was rolled and stuffed with something quite garlicky that I missed tasting. The only drawback is that part of the pork was slightly overcooked and dry, but the majority was pink, juicy and fork tender. The polenta and vincotto it was served with was totally delicious -- creamy, unctuous, rich goodness.
The mac and cheese was cooked perfectly and had the perfect creamy texture. But we all agreed that it came across as more of a mac and cream sauce than a mac and cheese. Mine, with the ham, was just right as the ham gave it the hit of umami it needed. The breadcrumb crust was just right and added a nice texture to the dish. When Rod stopped by to ask how everything was, we told him that we'd love to see more cheese in the mac and cheese. He was incredibly friendly and receptive to the feedback, and later we were told that they took both our macs off the bill, which we thought was very generous and totally unnecessary. I mean, it's not like we didn't like it, given the fact that the dishes were empty. :)
The stroganoff was more tomato-y than I would have expected. I didn't hear any complaints, so I assume it was enjoyed by the two friends that had it. I loved the look of the noodles it came served on -- more like big spaetzle than anything else. That's actually how I prefer to serve my own stroganoff at home, and I remember loving his spaetzle in brown butter at Citizen, so I may have to get that next time.
Beet risotto was surprisingly light and very tasty. It also looked like Christmas with the sprinkle of green herbs and white goat cheese on top. It was declared "better than the one I make", which I suppose is really all we want from a bistro, isn't it? Well, not "all", but it's a good start!
For dessert, we order the whole menu, except for the cheese:
Chocolate cake with buttercream and ganache
Burnt marshmallow ice cream sandwich
Butter tart w/vanilla ice cream
Sticky toffee pudding with sweet cream and toffee sauce
Lemon meringue pie
Everything was really good, except for the chocolate cake, which was too dry. On the other hand, it was super cute, as they dress it up to look like a Hostess ding dong.
The best for me were the ice cream sandwich, the butter tart and the lemon meringue pie. The ice cream sandwich was Ed's burnt marshmallow ice cream in two really thin chocolate wafer cookies, served on top a really, really good and sticky caramel sauce. The butter tart wasn't a traditional butter tart, but rather was more like a tarte tatin without the apples. The puff pastry shell was wonderfully glazed, sticky and chewy and the filling was more of a thin caramel sauce. I loved it, though it bore little resemblance to a butter tart. The lemon meringue was delicious -- the meringue was creamy and lovely, though the lemon curd could have stood to be a bit more tart. No complaints though -- we'd all order it again.
The sticky toffee wasn't sticky enough for most of us. The cake was lighter and spongier than we would have wished for and the toffee sauce wasn't as rich as one might have hoped. The caramel sauce with the ice cream sandwich was much better!
So whew. Sorry for the lengthy post.
We all enjoyed dinner very much (well, I did, though I probably shouldn't speak for the others!). Service was friendly and casual and handled our rather boisterous table well.
Bay St. is lucky to have a new spot like this. No pretensions, already feels comfortable and worn in. And from the crowd, Bay St. is already flocking there. By 8pm, much of the restaurant had emptied out, so most of that crowd must have the post work contingent.
Current menu is on their web site:
372 Bay St, Toronto, ON M5H 3W1, CA