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SPLENDIDO (88 Harbord, at Spadina, 416-929-7788, splendido.ca) Complete brunches for $60 per person, including tax, tip and unlimited Q water. Open for brunch Sunday 11 am to 2 pm. Reservations recommended. Dinner Tuesday to Saturday 5 to 10 pm. Closed Monday, holidays. Licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
If pounding $3.75 shots of Wild Turkey while bellowing along to the Humpty Hump over nuevo tacos at Grand Electric is more your style, Sunday brunch at Splendido will seem a tad sedate.
Truth is, we haven't often ventured inside the front door of the 21-year-old boîte. Let's just say we run with a slightly more down-market demographic. But when co-owner/chef Victor Barry introduced something as plebeian as brunch two weekends back, we were at the front of the line. Literally.
He doesn't know it, but we're his very first customers. We're met at the door by the first of several servers better dressed than we are, who apologizes verbosely for the lack of valet parking. Not a problem! (We're on our bikes.) Seated at the back of the resto, we feel like we've stepped back in time - 1997 to be exact, if the room's somewhat dated, if pleasant, decor is any indication. On the low-level sound system, the Andrews Sisters advise us not to sit under the apple tree and Artie Shaw begins the beguine. It's like V-E Day all over again!
Though we're in a celebratory mood, splurging on champagne (1996 R&L Legras Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru $375/750 ml) is a bit beyond our budget, so we settle for fizzy house-carbonated Q water ($4 per person). We also skip the whole-roasted Quebec foie gras ($225) and whatever the "three waves of seafood ($185)" may be, opting for the relatively inexpensive $35 prix fixe Spread instead.
It begins with a basket of warm, buttery croissants and slices of crusty bread and a wooden platter heaped with tissue-thin Westphalia ham, Spanish Manchego cheese and tasty terrine-like trout rillettes. The board also includes pots of garlicky whipped cream cheese and a terrific foie gras pâté topped with tart rhubarb compote. Sadly, the bread refill we request takes forever to arrive, strange in a then half-empty room.
After another lengthy interval, an à la carte starter of split-roasted veal shank ($6) shows up, its precious marrow almost impossible to extract with the espresso spoons provided. Tweezers, perhaps?
The Spread continues with a choice of some 10 mains, though we can't imagine anyone going for granola at these prices. Our inevitable eggs Benny on a house-baked English muffin optionally dressed with avocado rather than smoked salmon forgoes its traditional hollandaise for a paprika-spiked Béarnaise.
After informing us that the Splendido burger - 8 alleged ounces of grilled-to-order Cumbrae ground beef dressed with shredded short rib, sweet red-pepper relish and creamy Fontina cheese - doesn't come with frites, we ask for them as a side (all $6). Turns out it does come with fries and we end up with an extra order. It's quickly removed from our tab. The 5-buck surcharge for chef Barry's unorthodox lobster roll finished with celery leaves and sided with house-made Pringles scented with lime is worth every penny.
Stuffed as Russian ballot boxes, we pass on communal dessert ("a seasonal fruit pie for four to six people, $60" - we think not), get the attention of a schmoozing-elsewhere staffer, pay the bill and make our exit. Will we be back? Not unless it's a special occasion, like Mother's Day, say. Mom's bound to be impressed.