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Just Opened: LAB, another jolt of life for College Street

Rumours of College Street’s death have been greatly exaggerated. Just when it seemed like the west-end strip was hopelessly cluttered with mediocre Italian trattorias, generic pan-Asian takeouts and busloads of barely legals from the burbs, along came a few culinary jewels: Sidecar, Negroni, Grace, Cinq 01 and now LAB.

“I liked the vibrancy of the neighbourhood, and being about 90 per cent Italian, I thought it could use something different,” says co-chef and owner Howard Dubrovsky. Once located (there’s no signage yet), the two-week old boîte proves to be a welcoming setting with a soundtrack of indie and down-tempo electro more common to Queen West than College. Formerly Bite Noodles and Rice, the 32-seat room feels like a collision of urban street and Victorian apothecary, with graffiti tags by artist Darcy Obokata, exposed brick, rustic wood and sleek black granite.

Though it stands for “living and breathing,” LAB may be a more apt name for a new restaurant that has a laboratory-like kitchen. The menu lists cigar-smoked gnocchi, exploding brussels sprouts and curry ice cream, yet Dubrovsky insists that this isn’t molecular gastronomy. Yes, the ingredients—local and organic—are bent, shaped, broken down and rebuilt. And yes, the presentation is precise (pickled watermelon rind is diced into tiny identical cubes). “But this isn’t MG in the strict sense,” says Dubrovsky. “We just happen to employ a repertoire of kitchen techniques and tools that are more visibly scientific. We make use of new techniques while giving the classics their due, but our food is modern and playful.”

Dubrovsky is a vegetarian and a pastry chef, which helps explain the presence of co-chef and creative partner Chris Scott. Scott—a confirmed carnivore—has cooked in Italy, the U.K. and across North America as celeb chef David Adjey’s right-hand man, in the kitchen and behind the camera of Adjey’s new show, The Opener. Scott deals with the meaty half of the menu, while Dubrovsky tackles many of the vegetarian dishes (which also come with vegan and gluten-free options).

LAB, 651 College St. (at Grace St.), 416-551-5025.

(Images: Signe Langford)

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