New Reviews: Pizzeria Defina, Diana’s Oyster Bar and the Hoof Cocktail Bar
Thin-crust lust in Roncey, impeccable seafood in Scarborough and double-digit cocktails on Dundas West
321 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-534-4414
The newest pizza parlour on the Roncesvalles strip isn’t world changing, but it’s a welcome addition to a neighbourhood brimming with families looking for quick, crowd-pleasing food. There are plenty of oddities on the menu: pizza salads and even a lasagna pizza (a margherita with ground beef and fior di latte). The baked pies, flash-cooked in a wood-fired brick oven, are tasty, though not Libretto, Queen Margherita or Terroni calibre. The crusts one night were a touch underdone, where they should have been blistered black. The tomato sauce is fine but doesn’t have the zip of a great San Marzano. The caesar salad is phoned in: the lettuce is still damp from washing, the dressing lacks punch, and the croutons are AWOL. Green bean “fritti” are tasty from lots of salt and pepper but floppy from deep-frying. Friendly service and a perfunctory wine list.
DIANA’S OYSTER BAR
2105 Lawrence Ave. E., 416-288-1588
The family behind Diana’s Seafood, a long-standing Scarborough favourite, spent the last two years converting a Baker’s Dozen Donuts shop and gas station into an upscale oyster bar and restaurant. The revamped space is sterile with tiles, steel and a black, blue and white nautical decor scheme, but chef Jason Kennedy, who worked for the catering arm of Pusateri’s from 2004 to 2009, makes up for the interior design with excellent cooking. He respects quality ingredients, has a judicious hand with the salt and knows when to pull seafood off the heat. Oysters Rockefeller are creamy, and the bread crumb topping is golden and crisp. The raw ones, served on ice with lemon, are beyond fresh. The surf and turf brings a rare Angus strip loin with a huge, tender, butter-poached lobster claw on top. A stack of sweet, raw yellowfin tuna cubes comes with diced ripe mango, saffron-scented radishes and a dash of sesame oil. Smoked black cod is rich and made even more so by a poached egg and buttery potatoes lyonnaise. Northeast-enders who used to drive downtown to Rodney’s or Starfish for their oyster fix will be thrilled to save the trip. Mains $15–$33.
923 Dundas St. W., 416-792-7511
Black Hoof partners Jen Agg and Grant van Gameren announced their professional split last August (creative differences, mutual respect, yada yada), and the diminutive Trinity Bellwoods space that used to be the Hoof Café, their insanely popular brunch spot, has been converted into a charming speakeasy. Agg and her team of bar hands are serving expertly made vintage concoctions with ingenious 21st-century twists. The manhattan—made with smooth 10-year-old rye and red vermouth for a tinge of cherry sweetness—is the city’s best, and worth all $16. The pisco sour finishes with a whisper of lavender that compels you to take another sip immediately (pacing yourself can be difficult at Cocktail Bar), and the cumin-infused mojito is simultaneously refreshing and savoury. Slow-burning ’40s jazz and a crowd of chicly scarved and toqued 20-somethings give the place a cozy, bohemian feel. A second manhattan helps, too.