COLONY (153 Bloor West, at Avenue Road, 416-591-9997) A chic terrace wrapped around a lifestyle fashion mart, this often noisy people-watching paradise serves nouveau bistro-style grub at below-market prices. Above average for the area. Complete dinners for $50 per person ($25 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open daily 11:30 am to 10:30 pm, bar open till 2 am. Licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
it can't be the location. we're talkin' some of Toronto's priciest real estate, a sidewalk terrace and a gazillion-dollar view of the ROM and the Church of the Redeemer. And it can't be the non-stop fashionable boulevardiers who parade past one of the top people-watching spots in town. In this neighbourhood even street people wear last year's Lagerfeld.
No, the thing that killed the short-lived outdoor café at Club Monaco on Bloor two years ago was terrible food. That, and a noise level so loud -- siren-wailing fire trucks, colliding delivery vans -- that conversation became a shouting match.
After sitting deserted for a season, the space is now known as Colony. It looks identical -- planters overflowing with grasses and sedum, bright white tables set with wooden placemats, the same slatted seats now comfortably padded. Add extra points for playing Señor Coconut's cool Kraftwerk covers (We Are The Robots cha cha cha). But does it have to be so damned loud? Kids these days.
Management consulted New York restaurateur Jean-Pierre Duteron, the former manager of Ian Schrager's Royalton Hotel and current co-owner along with Johnny Depp, John Malkovich and Sean Penn of Man Ray, the Chelsea scenester haunt.
Together with chef Alexander Austriaco -- late of the Windsor Arms ("Somebody had to do it") -- Duteron has put in place a very straightforward lineup that leans to France with Asian accents. And the prices and portions are generally good, too. Why exactly did the last place flop again?
Austriaco's hotel background shows with croque monsieur ($12), a grilled cheese sandwich with ham, right? Our jaws drop as this absurdly plated dish arrives at our wobbly table. It looks like dessert -- birthday cake, precisely. Two large wedges of thick sourdough are layered with sugary Black Forest ham topped by melted Swiss and an ice cream scoop of runny-centred poached egg. Next to it, nicely salted hand-cut fries (no fancy frites these) form a pyramid. A family of four could live on this alone for a week. Tasty, too.
The same fries show up with steak frites ($26), a somewhat pricey presentation featuring an average 8-ounce strip loin sauced with a peppercorn demi-glace that tastes commercial (it's not).
Expecting one of those deep-fried hockey pucks they serve as sushi pizza at Crazy Sushi and the like, the version here impresses with its lovely quilted cracker crust artfully tossed with tissue-thin smoked salmon, squiggles of wasabi aioli and a tangle of pickled gari ginger and carrot julienne ($18). Leftovers be bagged.
I'm game, but Sardines In The Can ($7) is, well, a can of sardines. A very attractive can of sardines, mind, nicely sided with grill-charred rustic toast.
Here's that smoked salmon again, this time over a slightly soggy potato rosti and crowned with a petite pair of poached quail eggs, a frazzle of deep-fried leeks and pink trout roe ($10). Arugula oil and sour cream 'n' chive add counterpoint. Perfectly acceptable, grilled chicken with balsamic-dressed greens ($15) recalls spa food.
Once word gets round about Colony's bargain pasta special ($9 small/$14 large) -- today, al dente fusilli with tender smoked chicken and tiny slivers of bell pepper in cheesy cream -- every seat in the house will be full. Unlike today. And can you turn down the Marley, man? Cue ambulance.
You can't fool me: Caramelized Vanilla Risotto ($7) is rice pudding, even if its outer skin has been blow-torched. And it's odd that a Bellini -- champagne mixed with peach nectar -- costs $21 (more than it goes for at Harry's Bar in Venice, the joint that invented it) while a tall, frosty Keith's India Pale Ale sets you back four bucks.
In the fall, Colony will unveil a 60-seat tapas-style offshoot indoors, where no doubt a quieter scene will prevail.
Until then: Gucci ear plugs. firstname.lastname@example.org