It’s been a while since my last post to Chowhound, and for that I apologize. It has been quite hectic the past couple of weeks. I have finally completed a the following review. I hope you all enjoy it.
Cheers and Happy Eating!
I have been going to Gallery Grill for a while now and it has been a consistent performer; both in quality of food and value. Located inside Hart House at the University of Toronto, Gallery Grill is a restaurant serving higher end bistro-style classics at prices affordable to students (well, not quite, but almost). I am in constant search for restaurants that provide value for my dollar. Some recent discoveries include Nota Bene and Weezie’s. I have also been a fan of Le Paradis, and Zucca (review to come). I believe that great gems deserve recognition. Personally, I’ve done my best to try and promote these types of restaurants and I know many others on CH do as well. Hopefully this will spark a trend in the Toronto dining scene and show restaurateurs that their clients desire and deserve quality & value and that those that provide it will be compensated through increased patronage. A great reputation is built one recommendation at a time.
When one enters Gallery Grill, you first walk through the lounge/bar area which is decked out in dark woods and rich colours. It’s a throwback to the olden times. The Gallery Grill room is also outfitted with rich woods and the room itself is flooded with light from the cathedral-style windows lining the length of the room. This is a perfect way to spend a lazy afternoon (Sunday), or have a nice meal during the weekdays IMO.
Photo of Room: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...
The menu is basic, but gives you a very solid selection to choose from. The menu changes daily and features whatever fresh produce they can source that day. On the day we went most recently, they featured sea bass and a rabbit confit.
Fresh bread arrives at our table while we perused the day’s menu. A selection of breads is presented including a very moist, slightly dense cheese bread, as well as the requisite plain slices and whole grain. The cheese bread was a welcome change and the saltiness of the cheese was a welcome change from the norm.
SO and I made our decisions and our excellent server took our orders. The service at Gallery Grill is amongst the best in the city IMO. Their waiters are students at the University, and they are very affable, patient and knowledgeable of the dishes offered, as well as the room itself (my server before this last trip was an Art History major). They always create a wonderful experience and many others in the business should take note.
We started with the daily soups ($5.95): A mushroom puree with lemon scented montfort dairy sheep’s milk yogurt, and a ginger-spiked parsnip root puree with crispy pepitas were being offered that day. The mushroom puree was very rich from the generous portioning of mushrooms in the blend, and the sourness of the yogurt help cut a bit of the saltiness of the broth. However, the puree was still a bit salty of SO and I, however it was a strong soup. The parsnip puree, however, was an excellent creation. The ginger was very apparent, though not overwhelming. It contrasted nicely against the slightly sweet, yet more subtle aromas of the parsnip. The ginger provided the necessary kick the parsnip just could not produce. It was dotted with a portion of toasted pumpkin seeds, which provided a nice nutty textural contrast. It was, as a result, a very sophisticated production. I would highly recommend this soup if it by chance happens to be on a future menu.
SO and I also ordered the roasted bone marrows to share ($8.95). 3 segments of bones arrived on a plate with some nice grilled crostinis: An excellent dish. I had just ordered the Neanderthalesque bone marrow ($11.95) at Le Select and was a bit disappointed in its lack of flavour. This one was offered with lavender sea salt, which provided a beautiful punch of colour on the plate. The one at Le Select was just too monochromatic and ‘Flintstone-like’. This dish was also punctuated with bright greens from a light side salad. The marrow was perfectly prepared and still a touch pink inside. The jelly-like texture was a very welcome contrast against the crusty bread it was served with. It was excellent value for only $9 (if you enjoy a side of marrow).
Onto the mains: I ordered the sea bass ($16.95) for my main, SO ordered the mushroom ‘farrotto’ with pulled rabbit confit ($15.95). Where else can you find such creative and refined dishes offered at such fabulous prices? The confit was the weaker of the two dishes, IMO, however, SO really enjoyed it (I have started to notice that our tastes oft times diverge). The rabbit was a touch bland and dry for my tastes and the ‘farrotto’ (risotto made with farro) was a bit too creamy and rich. The indulgence was appreciated by my SO though, so they gobbled it up without hesitation when I would not finish my half. The sea bass was moist, however, it was a bit overdone for my tastes (I prefer things to be closer to raw than cooked at times). The charred skin was crisp and nicely set against the oil-rich fish. The lentils were my favourite part of the dish. It also went swimmingly with the fish. They were well flavoured and had an excellent ‘al dente’ texture. The apple slaw was a sweet accompaniment to the saltier nature of the fish and lentil combination. Overall, it was a well-formulated dish. (As a side note, I wanted to interject that I sampled the octopus on an earlier occasion and was less than impressed, texturally. I noted that it was on the menu again this visit, so it just may be a ‘regular’ item.)
At this point, due to the generous servings (and the bone marrow), SO and I were quite satiated. However, because the room was just so beautiful and we had nowhere to go for a few hours (we had reservations later that evening for Nota Bene, oh my), we decided to order desserts and bask in the glow of the sun filtering in through the windows. I was prepared to use any excuse to just enjoy the room for a bit longer. I ordered the pear & elderflower float, while my SO ordered the warm bittersweet chocolate cake with brown sugar crème fraiche ice cream. The sorbet arrived atop a scoop of almond ice cream, which was a very interesting pairing. I would have never though to place such a rich ice cream in such a light finishing course, but I was not complaining either because I liked the ice cream. At the table, the dessert was finished off with a generous splash of Cava. The bubbling of the Cava added a bit of nip to the dessert, which was soothed by the coating of the ice cream on the tongue. I would have to say I didn’t understand it, nor thought they went well together, but hypocritically finished off the dessert promptly. During the summer, I think they should do off with the ice cream, and just increase the pear sorbet portioning and/or Cava to make it more refreshing. In the winter, the heaviness of the ice cream still works. SO’s warm bittersweet chocolate cake reminded me of a “4-bite” brownie. Dense and rich, the chocolate was definitely at the forefront of this dish. However, it did not compare to the uniqueness of the Cava dessert and was ranked easily a notch below. The kirsch-soaked cherries were a nice sour contrast against the bittersweet chocolate. The ice cream easily held its own and had a great texture, probably due to the introduction of the crème fraiche into the formula. Yet it was subtle and fell nicely into the background against the powerful brownie.
Gallery Grill is one of the true hidden gems of the city. The room is sumptuous and inviting, the menus enlightened and bold. The tastes are amongst the best in the city and the preparation is handled by a skilled kitchen. The service was capable, yet unobtrusive and the prices – oh the prices! Many restaurants should take a page from Gallery Grill’s book and learn what one can do with simple ingredients done well. With fresh ingredients and a paired-down menu, one can produce meals of exceptional quality. Bravo!
Cheers and Happy Eating!
Hours of operation: M-F 11:30am-1:30pm, Closed Saturdays, Sun: 11:00am-1:00pm
Hart House (U of T)
7 Hart House Circle
Phone Number (416) 800-1892
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