While there is currently a clear awareness of young chefs capturing the attention of both paper and public within the city core, there is one young executive chef who has virtually skipped under the radar. Blacksmith's Bistro, a Unionville staple since 1995, may be considered too "out of the way" to be of note, but the food by Executive Chef Thomas Shanoff, is light, bright and wonderfully uncomplicated.
Blacksmith's Bistro is a two level, stone building that I was eager to write off as a popu
lar tourist pub in the middle of an adorable Victorian strip. However, it wasn't so eager to oblige.
The historic stone facade reveals a bright & intimate interior. The space is as cozy as a cottage with leaded windows and an interesting ceiling opening that provides an exchange of views between the lower and upper floors. All I can think is that this restaurant is so damn likable!
Shanoff opens that his time as a professional chef is brief. "I graduated from George Brown at the top of my class about three years ago," he shared before stunning me with an impressive history of cooking for pop acts that include, Nelly Furtado, Sloan and Ben Harper. No amount of research was able to prepare me for the collection of industry nods that Shanoff has received. Modestly, he revealed awards from Where magazine and personal recommendations from George Brown College's Director, Brian DiPalma.
His history in kitchens begins at the age of 16 with the famous clichÃƒÂ© of starting in restaurants and working his way from the bottom up. Interestingly enough, Blacksmith's notes the return of the prodigal son to head their kitchen. Shanoff originally began at this cozy Unionville bistro back when he was 18, then left for school and positions at Nectar, Alto Basso, Reds, etc. - I can barely keep up with Shanoff's resume.
"I change the menu every four months," said Shanoff, "I'm trying to do something more avante-guard. I like clean flavours. I want to make the main ingredients shine."
While many of the appetizers I sampled arrived with fruit filled slaws, salads and salsas, they do nothing to distract from the main ingredients. Notably, the specialties revolve around seafood. Soft Shell Crab ($13) alongside spicy mayo, hearts of palm and orange cannot overshadow the crisp and buttery texture of the crab. Grilled Shortribs ($10) is an enjoyable Korean interpretation with a mango, carrot slaw, made better by the lack of bones. Bacon Wrapped Scallops ($14) deserve a special mention for being perfectly cooked. Regardless of the pineapple salsa and orange beurre blanc that accompanies the scallops, the tops and bottoms of each mollusk were uniformly seared, providing a golden crust and sliced like a hot knife through butter. Rare that an Upper Canadian can cook seafood so well.
With an enjoyable redundancy, Rigatoni ($19) in a Bolognese sauce is light and lively. Dill, parsley, rosemary, peppercorns and carrot add levity and elevate the dish to a comfortable middle ground. While it still carries enough weight to be suitable for a cooler weather, the freshness added by the fresh herbs would not make it uncomfortable to enjoy on a Spring day.
Dessert was a slice of homemade cheesecake ($9), and while it is heavier than what I look for, there is no denying that it is house made. Come part way, that dense slice had a character that wasn't all together unpleasant. Although, I did leave a portion behind.
The wine list at Blacksmith's is pretty decent, well priced and it boasts all the right years. In all, for a meal that would cost about $65 per person, including drink, dessert, tax and tip, the entire experience is nothing to offend.
Blacksmith's Bistro throws a number of culinary events throughout the year, from wine tastings, lobster festivals and monthly three-course prix fixe menus. If you don't live in the area, the best way to become better acquainted is through their online listings or by simply calling them up. With the bright summer months on the horizon, a day trip, only 20-minutes outside of the downtown, is well worth the excursion, if only to sample Shanoff's work.
Like many of his peers, he has worked under some of the most revered names in the business including MacEwan and Adjey which only proves that the existing "up-and-coming" list are far from definitive. So as many new faces are heralded as chef's in waiting, poised to inherit the thrones established by those synonymous with haute cuisine, Blacksmith's Bistro's Shanoff reminds us that celebrity ought to be based upon talent. Because the cuisine at Blacksmith's is a shining testament to a classic, well-trained reverence for each dish's central ingredients.