What used to be a glum furniture store has been completely transformed into The Local Company, a new swishy, spacious 2-story restaurant-lounge that feels way more King West than the Danforth.
This is a new direction for the Danforth, as Creative Director Aleksandra Jassem attests to.
"[The Local Company] is very lofty and contemporary, a big and open space. It's very different than other places on the Danforth. It's more like what's over on King Street or Montreal."
She goes on to expl
ain the appeal of the light and open feel.
"We're finding that both the local crowd as well as [those] around the city are comingâ€¦ Women like it a lot. It's aesthetically girl-friendly: the bathrooms, lighting. Girls appreciate that kind of stuff."
And indeed, the restaurant is gorgeous, and so spacious (3100 sq feet), making it stand out from the entertainment-district and family-style restaurants. U-shaped booths against the wall and 3 communal tables in the middle of the dining area allow guests to hang out cozily with friends and colleagues over drinks and shared plates.
There is a truly sexy vibe to the place even though it's just me at a table and two guys having beer at the bar, watching the Sex and the City movie, no less. (After 8 pm on any day of the week, it's jammed in here - reservations are recommended for Friday and Saturday.) Maybe it's the dark black curtains that cloak the front windows or the long streamlined bar. Or maybe it's the exposed brick wall lined with real trees and the dim lighting that softens everything.
And this is all just the front of the place. Towards the back, behind a wall of curtains is an area for private functions, corporate events, etc. Everything is modular, allowing for complete customization of the space. There is a VIP bar and lounge seating so that when the DJ rocks the joint, there's room to gather, mingle and dance. In the summer, a rooftop patio will be put in.
The food is, Aleksandra says, "all shared plates. It's Mediterranean, not [just] Greek or Italian. It's a mix of everything." Executive Chef Steve Wilson (King Edward Hotel, Trapezzi) has put together dishes that you can share with friends and adjust and create to your specifications.
Portions are small here, so that you order a lot and then share amongst the table, trying a bit of everything. An unexpected joy is that everything is made in-house - the bread, pitas, ketchup - and according to Aleksandra, "Pretty much everything is made with local ingredients."
The menu has the usual suspects in a tapas-type place - olives, wings, ribs, lamb, shrimp, calamari - but not everyone is doing everything from scratch like they are at Local.
Spicy Shrimp & Dill Dumplings in Ouzo Butter Sauce ($14.00) are crisp and chewy and delightfully packaged in a golden brown, bubbled egg roll wrap. They come out hot and light, with a refreshing fennel side dish. Char-Grilled Spiced Lamb Spareribs with Honey-Balsamic Glaze ($14.50) have soft, tender meat that pulls away from the bone upon impact and it makes for a fun, sticky messiness. The Dips Plate with Hummus, Olive Tapenade and Spicy Feta Dip ($11.75) comes with thin, delicate pitas, which are dry like falafel pitas, and are the perfect accompaniment to the thick, robust dips.
Steamed Mussels with Mastiha, Tomatoes and Garlic Confit ($10.25) has vibrant yellow and orange cherry tomatoes, quartered, whole cloves of sweet roasted garlic and fresh parsley. It is fresh and fine, but unremarkable. 3 Alberta Roast Beef Sliders with Fried Onions & Gorgonzola ($16.25) are moist and tasty accompanied by a homemade blend of mayonnaise and Dijon mustard, but the thin bun falls apart almost immediately, leaving me with a handful of beef.
The exquisitely fresh and alluring Lemon Tart ($3), however, along with the Withrow Park ($8) cocktail - Absolut Raspberry, blueberries and a touch of OJ-bring me 'round again.
The food, however is not the draw here. It's the camaraderie of friends and co-workers getting together and going out. It's the social aspect, where food plays a small part of sustaining you between the drinks and laughter.
At Local, it looks like the cast of The Hills could hang out here. There is an energy to the place, along with its good looks, so there's no doubt that the downtown crowd that is tired of the King West, Queen East/West scene could easily make this their own.