Review: Woodlot

11 Aug

Summers are busy around here as the majority of birthdays in our family occur within four weeks of each other. This tends to lead to lots of dinners out on the town. In soliciting suggestions from friends, one restaurant came up frequently: Woodlot. I’d read much about Woodlot in the last couple of months: about the fantastic bakery, the locally-sourced ingredients, the simplicity of the food and decor. Between the personal recommendations and the fawning of the print and online food community, the decision wasn’t too hard to make. (The fact that it was voted one of the best new restaurants of 2011 by Toronto Life definitely didn’t hurt.)

We popped into Kalendar for a drink beforehand (check out the rojo martini if you go. Most excellent.) and watched the world go by, including the chef of Grace, Top Chef Canada contestant Dustin Gallagher. Mental note: must get to Grace! We wandered over to Woodlot and as soon as we opened the door, the aroma from that spectacular wood-burning oven wafted over us. Figuring that was a good sign, we inhaled deeply and sat down at our cozy table. The restaurant looks like it seats about 50 on the upper floor with room for another 10 or so downstairs at the chef’s table. The exposed brick walls are adorned with native Canadian art as well as knickknacks that lend a cottage-like vibe to the place. The waiters are dressed casually and it is explained to us that there is a standard menu, plus a separate vegetarian menu. I perused it quickly and was impressed to find a nice selection that didn’t fit into the standard roast-veg-or-pasta options.

We ordered a bottle of cabernet franc and eventually settled on three courses: the scallop ceviche with black quinoa, whipped avocado and julienned red cabbage; Red Fife whole wheat papardelle with wood mushrooms and hazeluts; whey-fed pork chop with grilled treviso,  tri-tip steak with caramelized onions and side of Jerusalem artichokes. I quickly texted to my girlfriend that we had ordered “an onslaught” of food, knowing that the dish sizes are not exactly skimpy.

When the bread basket arrived at the table after placing our order, we jumped right in. J loves bread and watching his face light up after taking that first bite of the gorgeous Red Fife bread was wonderful! I’d read about this particular grain in Sara Elton’s book, Locavore, and was excited to check it out. It kind of makes regular bread taste entirely pathetic. We both had a couple of pieces of the various kinds when the appetizer arrived. The scallops were soft, the avocado was whipped into a lovely, airy bubble and these textures were complimented well with the crunchy quinoa and cabbage. I wish there’d been more of it, but we weren’t exactly going to starve.

Next up was the papardelle which was out of this world. Again, the Red Fife makes a huge difference in terms of flavour. The wide, handmade noodles were cooked perfectly and provided much more dimension to the dish than you’d have otherwise. It was a very earthy plate, one that you wanted to hunker down with in front of a fire and never stop eating. I hope that’s on the menu year ’round, because I would have it again and again. It was hard enough to share it with the birthday boy.

The service at Woodlot is quite good, if not entirely exceptional. Importantly, however, they let you enjoy your meal in peace and the timing  in between courses is well paced. We needed a little time between the hearty pasta and giant slabs of meat that would imminently arrive at our table. And giant slabs of meat they were: delicious, juicy, perfectly-cooked pieces of meat. My pork chops had that little layer of fat around the outside that you know you probably shouldn’t eat, but can’t help yourself because you know how good it is. The grilled treviso was a perfect compliment, too. J’s steak was exactly medium-rare as he’d ordered it and was incredibly tender. The caramelized onions were an excellent accompaniment – in fact, I’d eat a whole bowl of those if they sold them. Even the Jerusalem artichokes were great – caramelized and not overcooked.

To say that we savoured every bite is not an understatement. Nothing was complicated (though I have a spot in my heart for complex food) or overwrought: in fact, we saw several dishes come out on wooden cutting boards. Dessert was very tempting, but we passed this time. I’d like to go back in the cooler months as I’m dying to try the marrow-infused whipped potatoes.  Of course, I also want to go back so I can eat ALL the bread that’s there. I neglected to take my camera on this trip, but for a feel of the restaurant and its amazing bread, check out this website: http://mellymadeit.com/2011/02/27/at-woodlot/.

So there you have it. Great food, cozy and welcoming atmosphere. It’s tough to get reservations on a weekend, but the hostess with whom I spoke to make our reservations was gracious and as accommodating as could be. I will definitely be making return trips here!

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