Ruby Watchco, Toronto.

March 2017.

This little Queen Street bistro looked interesting and is located near our daughter’s place at The Beaches. Somehow perusing the website we didn’t notice the peculiar menu setup: only one fixed meal is available each night. If you show up you get what’s going, although there are a couple of add-ons but in the end that was no problem. Regulars like the people sitting next to us simply access the website in the morning and see if they like what’s on offer. It turned out we liked it not badly at all.

It’s a long thin room with a well-stocked bar along one side in the centre, the bartender/sommelier presiding in relatively formal dress and doing a bit of a show of mixing and shaking drinks. A young upbeat crowd gathers, and although there are two sittings as though they are oversubscribed there were a few empty tables by the time we left. Predictably and unavoidably it was noisy and got noisier. One of the diners who came in evoked a minor stir and I was told she is a local media celebrity.

The dinner this night was panfried sole, but some buratta and lamb meatballs were available as extras. One orders for the whole table (no impediment since everybody gets the same thing anyway). First came a simple mixed salad with what I would call a transparent vinaigrette. The overall effect was just delicious. Definite but slight mustard predominance in the dressing, but a really nice unassuming mix of chopped lettuce, radishes, and other firm greens. I’m not a salad person but I really enjoyed this and made sure we cleaned up the serving plate.

Along with the salad came baking powder biscuits, nicely seasoned and with coarse salt on top and not quite enough (unfortunately, as always, salt-free) butter. They brought salt and pepper when we requested it.

Dinner was the panfried cod, and the greatest disappointment of the meal was its being slightly overdone. With it there were beautifully seasoned and garnished roasted potatoes, slightly but not offensively underdone, squash which was sweet, nicely-seasoned and fully-cooked and delicious, and then (normally one of my least-favourite things) kale, but wilted with nuts which was surprisingly palatable. Dessert was an inadequately-sweet mélange of yogurt and fruit, which again although it didn’t add up in detail was tasty and satisfying in overall impact.

An obscure southern French white was reasonably-priced and pleasantly inoffensive without any of the offputting sidetrack smells and mouth emphasis commonly found these days: just fine at $78. Our server was hurried but charming and willing to engage in some fun. As I’ve said the place was deafening with shrieking, clatter, and loud music. We were out the door for just over $300 for three of us, not rushed, fairly happy.

One of my companions commented, “This is just like having a really wonderful home-cooked dinner prepared by somebody capable” which was exactly right. I’m sure a proportion of this restaurant’s survival is savvy business smarts on the part of the owner/chef (if she owns it) for keeping the kitchen staff down because the menu is simple. Too bad the fish was a bit overdone, but I suspect other mains would be a bit better. I’d go back, but there are dozens of great little places along Queen Street and although we are in town often one can only try a few. The fixed menu thing is, however, paradoxically alluring.

Food 8.8, service 8.4, ambience 7.9, value 7.9, peace and quiet 4.6.

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 40 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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