Just Opened: we review the Gabardine, Parkette and Khao San Road
A laid-back Bay Street pub, real vs. backpacker Thai and our enduring love for rustic Italian
372 Bay St., 647-352-3211
This friendly and inexpensive new gastropub feels more like an antidote to Bay Street than a part of it. The room is small, with just 50 seats, and the prices aren’t for masters of the universe: you can get a Stoli and tonic for $5 and a 600 mL bottle of Beau’s All Natural beer for $7. Even the wine list has plenty of interesting bottles under $50. But the cooking, by the young chef Graham Pratt, is the clincher. On a good night, The Gabardine serves up some of the city’s best pub food. The umami bomb of a cheeseburger comes topped with intensely savoury oven-roasted tomatoes and old, stinky cheddar. The mac-and-cheese, baked with aged cheddar, provolone, chèvre and parmesan, is creamy, crunchy, salty perfection. The house-smoked trout is carefully balanced and set over celeriac that’s tossed with a just-creamy-enough rémoulade. Even on an off night, the food is well prepared (if not quite so sublime): the cod croquettes that were brilliant on one visit—chunky, meaty, soaked enough to kill the saltiness but retain the flavour—were too salty on another, and the roasted chicken is also marred by a heavy hand with the salt. Mains $13–$23.
874 Queen St. W., 416-536-3883
Just as we’re about to declare an official end to the rustic Italian trend, another trattoria opens to prove the city can never have too many thin-crust pizzas and handmade pastas. The decor—exposed heating ducts, weathered hardwood floors and Edison light bulbs—is straight out of the Queen West playbook. Leading the open kitchen is chef Kendall Collingridge, who learned a thing or two about Italian cuisine at Buca on King West. His antipasti are excellent, especially fried artichokes tossed with toasted bread crumbs and fresh mint. A terrific thin-crust pizza topped with kale, roasted fennel and lightly pickled sardines shows that pizza can be delicious without cheese. Squid ink fettuccine with pork polpette and spicy tomato-braised squid is a unique spin on surf and turf that would succeed if the pasta weren’t mushy and the meatballs weren’t dry. The wine list is tight, affordable and food-friendly. The warm, down-to-earth service makes you forget you’re in the heart of hipsterville. Mains $11–$16.
KHAO SAN ROAD
326 Adelaide St. W., 647-352-5773
The husband-and-wife team Nuit and Jeff Regular developed a loyal following when they opened the tiny restaurant Sukhothai on a grotty stretch of Parliament Street in 2008. They’ve left the spot in Jeff’s parents’ hands while they focus on Khao San Road, a larger, more central room in the club district. The cooking is very good in spots: a Massaman curry, hearty with potatoes and onions, is redolent of tamarind and has a bit of chili heat. The Sam Roas pad Thai leans on lime, peanuts and oyster sauce for flavour instead of the usual ketchupy sweetness. The beef khao soi is a house specialty, and it’s excellent. The meat is soft from slow braising and suffused with coconut milk and spice. Much of the rest is backpacker Thai: it’s nicely done, but strictly for Canadian palates. Case in point: the fish sauce in a mango salad is barely detectable, and there’s no chili heat to speak of—it’s just fruit (limp fruit at that) with lime and a cilantro sprig.
A few well-chosen wines, sweet iced tea with condensed milk, and Singha beer
to drink. Mains $12–$16.