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The owners of the Harbord Room reveal more tricks in their bag with this wildly popular Annex bistro. Fans rave at the start-to-finish experience that awaits, launched with warm olives and almonds for the table, exploding into a course of seabream, maybe (the catch of the day gets lots of buzz here), or a pizza pie with fresh mozzarella and white anchovies, before finishing up with lemon poppyseed cake with buttermilk ice cream and marshmallow meringue. The space is gorgeous, bright and clean. And the décor - all rich upholstery, warm wood and cool glass - is stunning.
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Review: OMG & Co.

 
By Alan A. Vernon, reviewed on June 13, 2013

Is it possible for a restaurant to go from perfect to perfecter? Apparently it is with THR & Co. First it was The Harbord Room, a glam Annex gastropub that wowed from the get-go, raising the bar with a spectacular food show to accompany your favourite pint. Years...

Is it possible for a restaurant to go from perfect to perfecter? Apparently it is with THR & Co. First it was The Harbord Room, a glam Annex gastropub that wowed from the get-go, raising the bar with a spectacular food show to accompany your favourite pint. Years later, the same guys who made Pepto-Bismol pink all the rage in restaurant decor now have a second location just a few doors west where area mainstay Messis used to be. Messis may have helped earn this strip of street its reputation as a fine dining destination, but it was never nearly as exciting as THR & Co. Here is a dining-out experience that proves these guys are still making good on what seems to be their mantra: to ensure fantastic food, provide a chic yet comfortable ambience, and hire the most knowledgeable food servers on the planet.

Stunning design details gives this Annex jewel more King West cool than boho beauty, but the real delight is thankfully the menu. The list of ingredients reads pretty much like any other trendy eatery in town, but it’s the culinary concoctions that actually arrive at your table that will seriously blow your mind and revive those tired taste buds. House bread, crackers and butter ($4) seem so laborious that charging for it, an irksome trend, is fully justified in this instance. The homemade focaccia is denser than most yet still manages to be light and fluffy. Even the crackers would pass a Real Housewife’s snob test, while whipped butter, as light as air, will have you believing and/or hoping it must be calorie free. And cheese twists escape any known descriptive.

Size queens beware: a cured meat platter ($14 for a small/$20 for a large) is deceivingly puny, but only because of the ginormous board it's served on. But with meats this table-thumping good, I'll gladly take them at any size they care to offer. A beautiful bresaola goes perfectly with pickles and beets and a malt mustard; a foie gras is like ethereal whipped cream, and the beef salami with truffle and an almost lurid orange mortadella are a mouthful of wonderful.

Grilling salad greens have become de rigueur, sigh, but few measure up to this romaine and chicory ($11) combo with cured tomatoes and crispy pig’s ear in a creamy dressing loaded with chopped capers and whole, whole, anchovies. I tend to instinctively despise anyone who bastardizes the classic Caesar recipe, but this stylized version with its coy take on croutons has me thinking it might be the right time for a re-evaluation. Much like the kitchen's beef heart tartare ($12). Where few cooks even dare to opt for an offal opener, THR's with tons of minced pickle and onion, and an espelette mayo, green olive relish, cured duck yolk, crispy beef tendon that somehow looks like pork rinds, and a sherry vinegar gastrique will have you unabashedly licking the bowl clean, manners be damned. OMG, the fact that executive chef Cory Vitiello and chef de cuisine Curt Martin (both from the original Harbord Room) were able to transform an organ meat into perhaps the best "steak" tartare in town deserves some major culinary recognition.

They may refrain from calling it a pizza ($14), but it's a pizza. But OMG again, this cross between a roman-style pie and a flatbread has the chew of a champion cornmeal crust topped with crumbled merguez sausage, romesco, cotija cheese, grilled (more people should) scallions, dried olives and chopped parsley. Come to think of it, with its intriguing flavour profiles and fascinating textures, calling it just a pizza may be a grave injustice after all.

Black spaghetti ($13 for a half order) has always fascinated-slash-disgusted me, more for its colour than the actual flavour impact from squid ink, but as clever as the combo of charred squid, poblano ash, pequin, lemon and bottarga is, it slightly derails from the meal with too little seafood and too much salt. Mercifully, a half chicken ($22) from King Capon Farms gets this meal safely back on track. A lovely poblano sofrito jus with crispy white bean and grilled lime accompanies the biggest, plumpest and juiciest fowl; it's so big you might think the kitchen got the order wrong and gave you the full bird. It's pure comfort food satisfaction with new world sophistication and a real flavour kick in the teeth. A win-win like the sides, a roasted cauliflower ($6) with sumac, pistachio and sultanas, and the crushed crispy fingerlings ($6) accompanied by an intriguing mojo rojo.

Pretty much perfect right into dessert. A tropical fruit composition ($9) is a brilliant showcase of raw, sous vide, compressed and sorbet techniques. But the lemon cake ($9) takes it one step past brilliant and into its own category of sublime: poppyseeds are scattered in a light syrup path that winds across the plate. Toasted marshmallow meringue shingles top it, completed by a buttermilk ice cream with a sourness that cleverly cuts the sweetness with its own brand of creamy richness. A dessert that really sums up the genius of THR & Co.: everything may sound so familiar, but the formula for this kind of food, that seems to evade almost everyone else, is still a well-kept secret.

Reviews are meant to describe a dining out experience at a given period in time and are the personal opinion of the writer.
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