You know the old adage...good things come in small packages. Well that certainly applies to one of central Toronto's hottest new restaurants, The Harbord Room,.
Hot pink walls poke fun at the whole designer concept and an elegantly cheeky painting of Sid Vicious swaggeringly winks at me from the wall opposite the bar. Co-owner Dave Mitton (Chehoski fame) mans the bar; Cory Vitiello and Curt Martin command the kitchen with flair.
I've arrived early enough to see the room fill up. Harry Bela
fonte croons and the lights go down. A glass of Prosecco is the perfect choice to accompany my Salt Cod Fritters ($11).The crisp shell of the fritter opens up to the creamy cod filling, contrasting the rich fennel and celery remoulade. The finishing touch is the vinaigrette with parsley, capers and chopped egg. This all sounds like a lot of ingredients, but the combination works texturally and the vinaigrette gives that zingy final touch.
Another order from the 'small plates' section of the menu is a must. Why? Because I've never seen a braised lamb shank soup on a menu anywhere ($10). The steamy bowl that arrives is quite easily the most dead sexy soup ever. Heady, perfumed lamb and earthy Du Puy lentils in a tomato base with a sprinkle of goat cheese and gremolata have me swooning. This is aphrodisiac material.
Left to my own devices, I would order the Charcuterie Plate ($17) but I've had it at each previous visit. (I actually dream about the chicken liver mousse.) The creativity of the selection is complemented by all of the house made condiments; grainy Guinness spiked mustard, spicy green bean pickles and sensational currant-Riesling jelly. Therefore, I've decided to let the chefs choose my next dish, which soon reveals itself as the pan seared Divers Scallops amongst a bevy of mussels in a delicate, lemon grass broth ($26).
For dessert, a slice of a luscious Bittersweet Chocolate Tart ($9) with a refreshing tangerine sorbet scooped right beside it finishes me off. I ask Dave what I should have to drink and opt for a glass of Carmenere instead of port. The flavours of mocha and dark, rich berry fruit lift the chocolate flavor of the tart.
A recent brunch visit had my birthday guest, Jacquie, enjoying the decadent Poutine for Breakfast ($15).Instead of frites, the chunks of potato were topped with fried eggs, applewood smoked cheddar, bathed with hollandaise AND double smoked bacon gravy. Did I say dead sexy? Huevos Rancheros ($15) are for the spice lover in me. Tender strips of steak coupled with cheesy eggs, salsa roja and frijole refritos would cure any hangover. Mitty's Morning After Cocktail ($9) adds to the cure potential. Campari and grapefruit juice with brown sugar and the zest of an orange is a great 'corpse reviver' in my books. Speaking of cocktails, I'm a big fan of the return to classics like what I see on the bar list. Like all the food condiments, the cocktail syrups, cherries and bitters are all made in house which makes for great drinks
At The Harbord Room, it's the great things in the small package that add up for big satisfaction. Now can I get some chicken liver mousse to go? And did I say dead sexy yet?
FIVE STARS: (Extraordinary) A one-of-a-kind, world-class experience.
FOUR STARS: (Excellent) Superior. Memorable, high-quality menus and/or savvy service.
THREE STARS: (Good) Solid places that beckon with generally appealing cooking.
TWO STAR: (Fair) Just OK. A place not worth rushing back to. But, it might have something worth recommending.
ONE STAR: (Poor) Below-average restaurant.
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