When there's a buzz about a restaurant, it's usually about some celebrity chef - sometimes even the food. In the case of The Saint, this tavern was infamous even before it swung open its doors.
Originally slated to open sometime in 2009, The Saint's debut was marred by a moratorium on new restaurants and bars along Ossington Ave. Thankfully that draconian measure was lifted at the end of 2010, but the damage was done. It's rumoured that it cost the abutting Salt Wine Bar half a million in lost
revenue. Who knows how much it cost The Saint? But better late than never for this gastro pub, probably the first real "Establishment" restaurant since this stretch of street became the de facto destination for fickle foodies and famished hipsters alike.
Combining French bistro with English pub appeal, The Saint's sink-in comfort lacks the quirky charm and funkiness that makes this area so freaking popular. And its slick image should come as no shock: owners Gus Giazitzidis and Peter Tsebelis are known for crowning King West with their glam culinary makeovers with haunts like Jacobs & Co. Steakhouse, Buca and Brassaii (which they've since sold).
Chef Andrew Bradford's menu tries to be everything for everyone, which could be a teensy little problem-ette. In addition to being a little bit bistro/tavern, The Saint is also a little bit steakhouse, offering everything from a 40-ounce porterhouse ($75) and roasted bone marrow ($15) to savoury pies, fish and chips and even a daily signature sandwich. Nestled into our oxblood-coloured booth, with oddly too-low-hanging globe lights (ouch!), we start in on a half dozen Cockonoe and Valley Beach oysters ($18/6) with a beautifully tangy red mignonette along with house made Parker rolls ($1.50 each). Kudos for making the bread from scratch, but it's the butter with honey and black pepper that makes this a brilliant start. Steak tartar ($14) is equally impressive with a classic pickle and onion blend. Now if only they hadn't emptied an entire pepper mill on this fantastic mound of raw meat: Water, water, gasp, water.
But a house made pickled mix of ($5) of teensy carrots, cauliflower and ramps display a sweet and sour equilibrium that even Strub's would envy. Potted herbed and oiled goat cheese with crostini ($7) is certainly a nice departure from the typical hummus-y dip and flatbread offering. A duck and bacon sausage ($19) served with a blackberry and foie gras sauce sounds too decadent to pass up, but let's just say it's far more impressive on paper.
It appears that our faith is restored when a chicken pot pie ($20) arrives, one of the daily specials. Served in a huge cast iron pan, the exquisite smoked Gouda crust (mmm...cheese) is beautifully baked over brontosaurus-sized chunks of chicken along with nicely turned carrots and celery; a perfect presentation of a dish that could easily feed a rugby team. But why is the fowl overcooked to an almost boiled, mushy consistency that even a sprinkling of herbs and salt couldn't resuscitate. Thankfully, there is nothing to improve upon with a lobster and corned beef hash ($22), tender and succulent seafood served alongside cubed potatoes and corned beef topped with three poached eggs. The only quibble here is that this dish might be more suited for brunch than dinner.
The evening wraps up with a stellar five-layer Valrhona chocolate cake ($8) topped with a soft kirsch meringue, an experience matched only by the service, perhaps the most heavenly thing about The Saint. The butlers on Downton Abbey aren't this good at what they do. Really, when was the last time someone shielded you with a coaster while refilling your water glass? God forbid some droplet should splash on our un-gloved hands. And I won't even get into how many times crumbs were removed between courses. And the added bonus of a female sommelier who doesn't intimidate makes this one very enjoyable evening. I don't know how many bottles she opened just so we could settle on a glass.
The team behind The Saint is not used to failure. So making it a mainstay is more a matter of when, not if. And despite relatively minor, easily fixable food flaws, their track record pretty much predicts success. Still, could The Saint be deemed to be just too polished for Ossington habituÃ©s? If so, residents could opt to boycott its big-money mood for fear that this could set an area trend and further displace the 'hood's dÃ©cor-on-a-dime cachet not to mention the struggling artists who gave Ossington a new lease on life in the first place.