New Reviews: Grand Electric, Ascari Enoteca and The Westerly
A trashy taqueria, a civilized trattoria and a cozy neighbourhood bistro
1330 Queen St. W., 416-627-3459
Colin Tooke and Ian McGrenaghan—both alumni of The Black Hoof—don’t give a rat’s ass if you like their new Parkdale taqueria and bourbon bar. The only decoration in the rundown room is a wall of premium brown booze and a sagging string of Christmas lights. There’s hard-core ’90s rap blaring from a record player, which may bring to mind all the aspiring gangsters you knew in high school who thought pumping Easy-E from their Honda Civics inspired fear and respect. And there’s a no-reservations policy, so securing a table takes about an hour on weeknights. But once you do, the beautifully bedraggled staff treat you like good friends. The tacos are three for $10, and you can mix and match pork belly–pineapple, Baja fish, arbol chicken and beef cheek. Dressed simply with cilantro, onion and lime, they roll up into superb, spicy, chin-dribbling bundles. Other Mexican dishes, like the tuna ceviche and pozole, are a bit too salty but good all the same when paired with a frothy bourbon sour. Wee Mason jars of key lime vaso (graham cracker crumbs, lime curd and a pile of whipped cream) encapsulate the mood of the place—sweet-tart, a little trashy and totally enjoyable.
1111 Queen St. E., 416-792-4157
Done up in subdued grey-on-grey and offering not a single pizza, Ascari is a grown-up trattoria in an area known for stroller-friendly dining. The proprietors, John Sinopoli and Erik Joyal, also own Table 17 down the street, and a loyal fan base from the first spot is now colonizing the second. Sinopoli celebrates his Italian roots with an inspired card of antipasti and scratch-made pastas. Baccala fritters are divine, their thin, crisp exteriors yielding to gooey centres of salt cod, potato and béchamel. Casarecce in a spicy-sweet sauce of stewed peppers, house-made sausage, fennel and tomatoes makes a terrific main. Poised servers pour esoteric Italian wines. Closed Monday. Mains $15–$23.
413 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-551-6660
Roncesvalles’s latest restaurant is the prototypical neighourhood bistro: a white marble bar, subway tiles, a shelf of Alice Waters cookbooks and a menu of not-quite-French, not-quite-Italian dishes. The owners, Beth Davyduke and Tom Earl, are from B.C., and they greet Roncey’s young couples and families with a kind of chatty, West Coasty familiarity (they ask your name and use it). Chef Geoff Kitt makes everything in-house,
and much of it works out nicely. The focaccia has that toothsome chew you only get from the freshest bread, and the smoked trout arrives in silky cubes on crispy potato latkes. The well-balanced ravioli is zinged with lemon zest and smothered in a rich mushroom-cream sauce. The entrées can be disappointing, though. The house-ground burger is rubbery and under-salted. The arctic char, while perfectly seared, comes on stodgy couscous that tastes like bouillon cubes and contains only a few sad peas (instead of lobster, as listed on the menu). The fluffy banana bread pudding in coconut crème anglaise, however, will have grown adults forking off for the last bite. Mains $12–$24.