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