BLACK HOOF (938 Dundas West, at Gore Vale, 416-551-8854) Complete dinners for $45 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Average main $14. Open Thursday to Monday 6 pm to 2 am, kitchen closes Sunday at midnight. Closed Tuesday, Wednesday, some holidays. No reservations. Licensed. Access: two steps at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN
Baloney! And smoked salmon, and duck confit and head cheese jerky: such is charcuterie, the hottest resto trend around.
It seems as if all of Hogtown's cutting-edge chefs have jumped on board and are suddenly knocking out knockwurst. Marc Thuet at Bite Me, Chris McDonald at Cava, David Lee at Nota Bene.
Add Grant van Gameren to that growing list. Van Gameren was in charge of the cold cuts under whiz kid Scot Woods at Canoe, Habitat and most recently Lucien. Together with Jennifer Agg of defunct College Street cocktail lounge Cobalt, he's just launched the Black Hoof, Toronto's first all-charcuterie bistro.
Like the Harbord Room, the kitchen stays open till 2 am, so the Hoof - as it's known by the culinary cognoscenti - has become the late-night after-work hang for some of the biggest names in the biz. Celebs like Jamie Kennedy, Cowbell's Mark Cutrara and C5's Ted Corrado have been spotted kicking back over pints of Steam Whistle lager ($5.50) and plates of van Gameren's horse pâté en croute.
That's van Gameren in the "Eat More Charcuterie" T-shirt in the tiny open kitchen behind the bar of the former Cocktail Molotov. There, he slices up house-made venison salami marbled with dried cherries, rabbit rillettes offset by dizzying dollops of pearly pork lardo back fat, and jamón ibérico de Bellota, the acorn-fed Spanish pig that gives the west-side resto its name ($16 small platter/$25 large). Why, he even offers a prosciutto tasting ($28)!
Instead, on this drizzly November eve, we focus on van Gameren's conventionally cooked card, all unconventionally cooked on an old four-burner electric stove. A bowl of Thuet's exceptional seven-grain and sourdough breads ($2/$4) gets us started alongside another of briny picholine and niçoise olives ($4) in tangy citrus chili oil.
As Curtis Mayfield's Superfly segues into the Beatles' White Album, our obliging server returns with an amuse of Cheese Boutique's outrageously creamy burrata dressed with fruity olive oil and shaved horse bresaola. It's followed by a spectacularly creamy cabbage soup dusted with nutmeg and coupled with veal marrow in the shank, Maldon sea salt and a miniature spoon ($8).
Neatly arranged rows of sweet roasted red, yellow and candy-cane beets come splashed with evo, the plate finished with pickled walnuts, truffled goat cheese and a hillock of arugula ($10). Sided with a savoury tomatillo chutney, skinny pork merguez sausages ($11) have been scented with caraway and artfully recline against slices of garlic bread topped with mild Spanish queso and more bitter greens. A 6-inch length of crusty Celestin baguette shows up cut into three for sharing tapas-style and generously stuffed with shredded duck confit, van Gameren's own cherry jam and 10-year-old Quebecois cheddar ($13).
Almost everybody does Berkshire pork belly these days, but only here does the chef brine it à la pastrami for seven days, smoke it for another, then wrap it in coriander and peppercorns before steam-braising it for five hours. After the fat has settled, he slices the gelatinous meat thickly, sears it briefly and roasts it to order. Plated with house-made gherkins, lemony sauerkraut, red grape mustard and rounds of toasted baguette draped with melted Emmenthal and ripe field tomato, this twisted take on the BLT could very well become van Gameren's signature. Only seared foie gras on brioche with onion jam ($20) could top it. Pure liquid velvet.
Draining the last of an amusingly robust - or is that robustly amusing? - Bordeaux (05 Le Menaudat Bordeaux, $8 glass/$38 bottle), we find room for Agg's dessert du jour, tonight an old-school apricot tart with peach lavender compote ($6).
"I don't know..." Agg demurs after we've assured her that her effort is really quite lovely, crumbly of crust and plentiful of pucker. "I keep thinking there's something missing."
Some salami, perhaps?