THE PATIO @ BRASSAII (461 King West, at Spadina, 416-598-4730) Complete meals for $70 per person ($40 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and an $8 glass of wine. Open Monday to Friday 7 am to midnight and Saturday 5 pm to midnight. Closed Sunday, holidays. Licensed. Access: barrier-free, 10 steps to washroom. Rating: NN Rating: NN
Although no longer the hive of foodie activity it was when it first opened 20 some months ago, modish downtown bistro Brassaii still generates a buzz. Sadly, this sunny summer afternoon, it's of an insect variety, namely a swarm of kamikaze wasps who infest our otherwise idyllic lunch on Brassaii's South Beach-style courtyard terrace.
From the start, we haven't been impressed with the upscale eatery's extensive but uneven card. Management must have felt the same way. They brought in esteemed former Splendido honcho Arpi Magyar to oversee the operation about a year ago and installed his sous, Adam Foley, to helm the kitchen. And while their results are spectacular to look at, they still fall short.
Other than the winged intruders, the patio gets full marks for comfort. Quickly seated at a communal bench-type table across from the barbecue, we soon have the attention of a very professional server who reels off the day's specials with such enthusiasm that he elicits a congratulatory golf clap. We're also impressed by a frosty, tall cylindrical bottle of Voss sparkling mineral water ($8/800 ml) that's so attractive, we're tempted to take the empty home.
A straightforward starter of cold red pepper purée ($7) splashed with pea-shoot-flavoured oil is pleasant but a tad saccharine. We're more than delighted to discover that the kitchen can compose a Caesar salad ($8 lunch/$10 dinner) correctly. Slightly bitter uncut inner leaves of romaine, generous shavings of grano padano, a crumble of double-smoked bacon and pesto-smeared croutons made from thin slices of house-baked baguette certainly look authentic. But the cheese may as well be Velveeta for its lack of bite, and the anchovy-challenged dressing could be a stand-in for Miracle Whip.
The lunchtime patio mains fare better. Menu-described as Miami ribs ($16), three massive but thinly crosscut beef short rib strips would be more accurately labelled Korean bulgogi, right down to their sweet soy glaze. Their side of jicama slaw mixed with pickled gari ginger is lovely to look at, but again, puzzlingly devoid of flavour. Another attractively plated entree, Piri-Piri Chicken ($15) delivers on its promise, its moist, partially deboned breast accented with one-alarm pepper sauce and a tasty near-relish of sweet roasted red pepper threads and tangy stoned black olive.