European invasion: a humble bistro, a homespun trattoria and a glam tapas bar
686 Queen St. E., 416-461-9663
The service in this small room at the edge of Leslieville is ably handled by a garrulous French woman who wears her glasses on a chain around her neck (she’s like a character from The Triplets of Belleville). The wine list is short but nice, and the menu is traditional bistro, with a few modern touches. An amuse-bouche shooter of smooth butternut squash soup dazzles with Chinese five-spice and is topped with coconut foam. Steaks are not a strength: one night’s flank is cut straight down rather than across the grain. It’s epically chewy, but the accompanying shoestring frites are addictive. Braised boar shank is brilliant: soft, moist and flavourful. Too bad it’s set on risotto that tastes like it was made long before service. The chef takes Wednesdays off, leaving the kitchen in less capable hands. Mains $17–$27.
832 Dundas St. W., 416-364-4785
The slogan for this casual, DIY-feeling space just east of the Black Hoof is “Good, Honest Home-Cooked Food,” and the young kitchen staff mostly delivers. The Italian dishes are not entirely special, but the place is still worth visiting if you’re hungry and in the neighbourhood. Meaty mains are the best bets: a boar ragoût, for instance, with soft Berkshire spareribs, a bit of tripe and light veal meatballs over tasty coarse polenta. The simplest dishes need tweaking: limp fried artichokes and lamb spiedini (humdrum meat on a stick). The tomato water caesar with cilantro and bird’s eye chili–infused vodka is a must; the wine list is teeny but decent. Mains $16–$22. Closed Monday and Tuesday.
Salt Wine Bar
225 Ossington Ave., 416-533-7258
After a brief opening and shuttering last summer (the Ossington moratorium left the wine bar sans wine), this Portuguese- and Catalonian-inspired tapas spot reopened with a liquor licence and a following of Ossington scenemakers. All the hubbub, however, has taken its toll on the kitchen. The food at Salt 2.0 is less Iberian and less accomplished than it was the first time around, with the menu now reading like that of a standard martini joint. It’s not that bad—just flat. House chorizo “boquadillos” on miniature hot dog buns lack chorizo’s spice but pass for decent tube steaks. Seared foie gras hasn’t been properly deveined or seared, so it’s stringy and nearly flavourless. Medium-rare lamb sliders are cliché but flavourful nonetheless. The room is beautiful and stylish, with knurled elmwood from floor to ceiling. Service is green, and not entirely food- or wine-savvy. Closed Sunday. Small plates $5–$15.