After more than a decade in the neighbourhood, the well-loved Niagara Street Café has been reborn as Edulis. The restaurant’s Twitter bio says, “Crafted with love,” and while the whole love-as-actual-ingredient thing is surely overdone, it rings true in this case. Everything about the place, from husband-and-wife owners Michael Caballo and Tobey Nemeth, is an ode to some version of love or another: love of family, love of Europe and of course, love of mushrooms—the place takes its name from the Latin for porcini.
For chef Caballo, this is a homecoming—back to Toronto from world travels and back into a kitchen where he was executive chef from 2005 to 2008 for former owner Anton Potvin. “We’ve been stockpiling stuff—antique botanical prints of hens and mushrooms, ideas and recipes—for 15 years, all towards this dream,” says Nemeth, who, although also a chef of some renown herself (Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar), has opted to manage the front of house. Caballo’s right-hand man is sous chef Chris Sinopoli (another JK Wine Bar alum), and between the two of them, everything is made in-house, from scratch, from mostly local ingredients (except of course, the European treats that just aren’t grown here, like small-grove olive oil and fragrant black truffles).
The 33-seat room’s changes have been largely cosmetic, transforming the space from romantic, Bohemian bistro to something reminiscent of a little gem stumbled across in a Spanish fishing village: marble tabletops, white walls, beautifully scuffed leather banquettes, blue and white gingham napkins, hand-painted Spanish tiles. The second floor is reserved for private events, and the bare bones 30-seat patio is a project for next season.
The food is, as Nemeth describes it, “relaxed, but crafted with a view to fine technique and ingredients.” The menu is unlike what most Toronto diners are accustomed to, with a single page listing dishes in a free-flowing style, not broken down into courses. Some dishes are intended for sharing, like a whole roasted Chantecler chicken with alfalfa hay that’s carved table-side by Caballo ($60), while others are a little smaller, like house-made rabbit butifara sausage with porcini mushrooms on toast with a creamed pine nut vinaigrette ($12). But what they really want diners to do is trust them: order the Carte Blanche ($50), and you’ve given Caballo the green light to send you five to seven courses of whatever he’s loving that day. “We encourage that,” says Nemeth, “it’s the best way to experience the menu and it’s the way we like to eat. Just have fun, talk and the food keeps coming.”