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JULIE’S (202 Dovercourt, at Argyle, 416-532-7397, juliescuban.com) Open for $35 three-course Valentine’s Day prix fixe Thursday to Saturday (February 14-16), with seatings at 5:30, 7:30 and 9:30 pm. Licensed. Access: two steps at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
You're not the only one who just realized that next Thursday is Valentine's Day and you've yet to secure a reservation at some enchanted boîte for the big day.
But unless your beloved's idea of romance is standing in line in the cold at Grand Electric in Parkdale for a taco, you might be out of luck. Sky-high Canoe's booked solid, and so's Scaramouche. Woodlot? We think not. But look beyond the beaten path and love pops up where you'd least expect it.
Places like Julie's on Dovercourt, that deliciously Cuban cantina smack dab in the middle of a quiet residential neighbourhood. Everybody knows it as the terrific patio in the middle of nowhere that nobody knows about, where the mojitos go down as slow as a summer sunset. Few venture inside.
There, they'd find a cozy 35-seat room that seems frozen in time - 1947, say. Tables topped in red-and-white gingham match the checkerboard tiles beneath. Shelves groan with old movie memorabilia and rescued tchotchkes, all illuminated by flickering fairy lights.
"It doesn't look like much, but at night it's really quite magical," says Julie's Sylvia Llewellyn.
Forgoing their usual tapas lineup, she and husband/chef Jesus Baute have created a $35 three-course prix fixe that runs February 14 to 16. It begins with salad - either hearts of palm over mixed greens tossed with strawberries and walnuts in a poppyseed vinaigrette or ruby-red beets with chèvre in a walnut oil vinaigrette - followed by whole deep-fried snapper, salmon baked en papillote or grilled 8-ounce New York steaks with Cuban sides like rice 'n' beans and sautéed yuca.
Sylvia's desserts include a gluten-free chocolate cake finished with berries sozzled in Kahlúa and a boozy take on Tres Leches sponge cake with whipped cream served in oversized martini glasses. Sounds like a love-in to me.
"In the 16 years we've been open, there hasn't been a night when somebody didn't get kissed," laughs Llewellyn.