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Introducing: Ursa, a new Queen West restaurant serving modern Canadian cuisine (that’s secretly good for you too)

Inside the sleek space that used to house Bar One (Image: Meaghan Binstock)

Back in July, the owners of Trinity-Bellwoods staple Bar One announced they were shutting its doors after an 11-year run. Six months and one gut job later, the dramatically transformed space, complete with sleek burned wood panelling and constellations of bare hanging bulbs, has reopened as Ursa, with brothers and first-time owners Jacob and Lucas Sharkey-Pearce at the helm. Jacob, the executive chef, is no stranger to the industry, with a pedigree that includes Thuet Bistro, Centro and the Windsor Arms Hotel. And while Cosimo Mammoliti of Terroni fame is the restaurant’s third (and mostly silent) partner, the menu is almost the exact opposite of that chain’s carb-heavy Southern Italian comfort food (the brothers started off as teenage employees at the Queen Street location).

Ursa serves contemporary Canadian cuisine, but bucking the trend toward meaty comfort food, the kitchen emphasizes techniques that preserve the food’s nutritional value as much as possible. Greens are compressed in a vacuum to create the texture and feel of blanching, without the nutrient-harming boiling water. Cultured probiotic kefirs, yogurts, tofu and butter are made in-house. It’s an approach that’s informed by the brothers’ background in diet and nutritional consultation for athletes. “It’s like something you do as a mother,” explains Lucas. “You don’t necessary tell someone you’re taking care of them, it’s just something you do.” Still, this is far from stereotypically bland raw vegan food, and meat still makes the cut—it’s just served in smaller portions with unusual cooking methods, unusual ingredients and—you guessed it—nary a deep fryer in sight.

A pretty display of shaved root vegetables like burdock, parsnip and various types of radish comes with kefir, pickled walnuts and walnut vinaigrette ($13). The pork loin and cider-glazed belly are accompanied by lentils, kale and Jerusalem artichoke ($24). A mixture of wild mushrooms and tiny chestnut agnolotti are bathed in a kombucha-sherry broth poured tableside ($13). Desserts include a raw chocolate mousse with pumpkin kefir cream and hibiscus syrup ($9). Ursa may disapprove of greasy deep-fried indulgence, but thankfully the health-conscious ethos doesn’t go as far as banning alcohol. Bar manager and sommelier Clayton Cooper offers a list of mainly Canadian, Italian and French wines, plus a selection of boozy cocktails like the Vast Improvement: gin, Aperol, Lillet Blanc, white wine and orange bitters ($13).

Ursa, 924 Queen St. W., 416-536-8963, ursa-restaurant.com

Our Introducing series explores newly opened restaurants, bars and shops throughout the GTA
This is not a review.
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  • Maria

    It wouldn’t be “bland” raw vegan food if there is yogurt and butter. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be bland either.

  • jon

    GREAT OBSERVATION MARIA, LOOKING FORWARD TO READING MORE OF YOUR INSIGHTFUL COMMENTS. KEEP EM COMING.

  • Mia

    I ate here last night and can honestly say that it was one of the best meals I’ve had in Toronto! The service was incredible as was the atmosphere and wine. I will definitely be returning and would recommend everyone give it a try – you will not be disappointed!

  • Rob

    If you’re looking for a dinner spot this is not the place, the food is good but the portions are pricey and very small, when i mean small the dinner is done in 3 bites, the entrees are the size of most higher end resto appetizers. I would suggest this place for drinks and nothing more.

  • Wanda

    I agree with Mia. Absolutely!
    Don’t go there if you are hungry!
    We researched through the enRoute Dining Guide 2012 – and unfortunately picked Ursa as the first one to try out. We went there last night around 8:15 pm. Not sure if they were busy, my husband dropped me off to check. The bartender there closest to the door simply ignore me. However I waited and the very nice lady waitress came up to greet me with a big smile and said no problem – there were many empty seats at the bar. So I told my husband to park and we sat at the bar. Usually we have fun sitting at bars, chatting with the bartender(s), and other patrons, etc. However, this bartender was totally unfriendly, (in our receipt, it says his name was David). We already ate and drank quite a bit at our friend’s place, we only my husband ordered a glass of red wine. We shared a started and then we ordered two main courses. David was most disinterested in our well-being, it’s the attitude that “he doesn’t care, and he doesn’t give a damn”. The starter was tiny, and the so-called chicken pate (worth more to them than foie groie) – was only a smear of a very thin layer on the plate, you can’t see any of it, you can only taste a very small amount of it!) When I commented these facts to David, he was further annoyed …
    Main courses were not bad, but nothing to phone home about, and very greasy. When we wanted the bill, it took David a long time to even look our way! No thank-you from him and when he took the machine back, no thank-you again, and immediately he took the machine to his computer and quickly entered, maybe his portion of the tips or something. We left, and we didn’t expect a good-bye or good-night from David, and there was none! No matter how good the food is (which it wasn’t) – restaurants of this attitude will never last. Service to us, is of utmost importance, food, next. By the way, the entire decor was simply COLD, COLD, COLD! No color to it, and all drab, dark, black, grey. We will definitely not return. There are thousands of other restaurant around town!

  • Wanda

    I made a mistake! I didn’t agree with Mia! I agreed with Rob!
    Sorry!

 

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