February 10, 2017
The Gist: One of the most outstanding restaurants in Toronto is this newcomer at Gerrard and Coxwell.
Think that’s too far east? You’re seriously missing out.
Grub: Shared plates of Asian street and comfort fare are inspired by Chef Robbie Hojilla’s Filipino background, and "food that I have tasted through my travels and cuisines that I enjoy in general." He isn’t just jumping on a trend either. "I needed to do this type of food. It’s my heart right now."
"Using a mix of traditional Asian techniques mixed with the Western fine dining techniques I have learned working in the industry," he says, the food covers options for meat lovers, vegetarians, and pescatarians.
A few dishes are cooked on a Japanese grill using binchotan charcoal, infusing the food with a delicate smokiness.
Hojilla makes most everything from scratch including noodles, rotis, desserts, sauces and marinades. Often dishes take days to make all the components, including the Pan Seared Duck Leg ($24) – a twist on congee that Hojilla debuted at a pop-up a few years ago, and Beef Short Ribs ($28).
And get ready for "east side portions." You won’t go home hungry.
This neighbourhood resto isn’t just for special occasions either. Come and enjoy beers at the bar. Share snacks while catching up with friends. It doesn’t have to be a full night out for dinner every week, but once you try the food and soak up the ambiance, you’ll be back for dinner on the regular.
Libations: 18 Ontario craft beers have been carefully selected and curated with varieties from both the west and east end. They’re listed on a long, tall blackboard on the wall near the bar, so mosey on up for a closer look at what’s on offer.
GM Zac Schwartz and Nick Watson of The Oakwood Hardware Food & Drink created four enticing custom cocktails: Thai Gin Fizz, Borocay Sunset (made with calamansi, a Filipino citrus), Tokyo Hotel Bar, and La Fumadora.
Featured wines include 16 Mile Wine Cellar in the Escarpment.
Fixtures & Fittings: The space took 18 months to come together, with the three owners doing all the design and labour. Zac Schwartz did the stunning 120 sq. ft. glass mosaic of Kate Bush and Virginia Woolf along the back all (it took two months/16 hr. days to complete) as well as the wall of graduated mauve stained glass windows.
Dennis Kimeda installed the herringbone floors in white oak and did all of the carpentry including building the shelves and wainscoting. Big planks were brought in from the forest.
Take a moment to notice the little things too – vintage finds on the shelf, reworked bureau behind the bar, decorated in white fairy lights, framed butterflies on the wall (ethically sourced and presented), antique chandeliers and two speakers placed so that music is dispersed equally throughout the room, allowing you to chat without raising your voice.
Off the Menu:
Chicken Liver Mousse ($11) Rich and decadent, it’s also imaginative. With a nod to The Harbord Room’s original recipe, this version comes equipped with five spice powder and mirin in the mix, and is served with a fiery, invigorating Sichuan chili oil, fascinating clementine marmalade, and challah toast soldiers from Harbord Bakery.
Dry-Aged Beef Lumpia ($8) Filipino-style meat spring rolls are rolled so tight, it’s often hard to discern the meat. But there’s no missing the luscious grind here, a mix of the same type of cuts Hojilla used for the famous Harbord Room Burger. The recipe, inspired by his Mom, includes onion, garlic, celery, water chestnut, carrot, premium soy sauce, and sesame oil and is served on banana leaves with a pickled banana blossom, scallions, and a side of smoky housemade banana ketchup.
Spicy Charred Brussels Sprouts ($13) with chili jam, oyster sauce, lime and crisy anchovy. If you’re a Brussels fan, you’ve just found your favourite version ever. Can’t stand the veg? This is the one dish that will sway you to the other side.
BC Snapper Kinilaw ($15) Ceviche is too often a quiet dish. This Filipino-style ceviche with coconut vinegar, lime, serrano, avocado and cilantro packs a serious citrus punch, resulting in the ultimate winter remedy. And for once, there are enough chips (cassava) to scoop up all the ingredients.
Head Honchos: Dennis Kimeda (owner of The Wren), Patrick Ciappara, and Zac Schwartz
FOH: GM Zac Schwartz, Maitre D' Patrick Ciappara
Map It: 1471 Gerrard St. E. (at Coxwell)
Visiting Hours: Tues & Wed 5pm-12am
Fri & Sat 5pm-2am
Phone It In: (416) 792-1590
Deets: There’s room for 54 guests in the dining room, with 18 in the bar area.
How Cool is This?! Get ready to have your mind blown. This elevated, fine dining Asian fare is anything but predictable. Served unpretentiously in a fun, comfortable setting, it’s as exciting as it is addictive.
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