Epicure Cafe (502 Queen West, at Ryerson, 416-504-8942) Complete meals for $35 per person ($18 at lunch or brunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Average main $14/$9. Open Monday 11 am to 1 am, Tuesday to Friday 11 am to 2 am, Saturday 11:30 am to 2 am, Sunday 11:30 am to 1 am. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Le Select isn't the only long-run ning Queen West bistro making a move. That francophone spot famous for its hanging bread baskets will shortly relocate to new digs on Wellington West.
Another - Epicure - has recently packed up and shifted five doors east after two decades at Queen and Portland. Not that you'd notice. The three-storey space is virtually a replica of the previous rooms, right down to the posters and paintings hung on exposed brick and deep burgundy walls and the chairs now ringing a row of partitioned-off semi-private tables lining the long, dimly lit first floor.
Up a long flight of white-painted stairs, there's a second dining area and a recreation of Epicure's breezy rooftop deck. Even the storefront's identical: red paint and gold letters that spell out the resto's name above French doors that open to the street.
The menu - helmed by 15-year vet S. Sri - hasn't changed a bit either. But while it might read like the same old same old of pasta, pizza and panini, the card is consistently competent, and good value, too.
Witness a starter of mussels Provençale ($6), a prodigious portion of 27 (!) bivalves in the shell steamed in a superbly garlicky tomato sauce flecked with sweet onion and basil. Sadly, the mussels themselves are some of the smallest I've ever encountered. A baby species, perhaps?
That same marvellously pulpy sauce beefed up with ground chuck to morph into a Bolognese reappears liberally ladled over Epicure's Old World lasagna ($13), its several layers of pasta peppered with more minced hamburger and another tier of creamy ricotta.
At first, Epicure's Italiano pizza ($12) appears unpromising. But closer inspection reveals unexpectedly choice toppings evenly spread over a delightfully thin cracker crust: shaved prosciutto, whole cloves of roasted garlic, sun-dried tomato and sliced artichoke hearts that taste remarkably free of the tin.
Chef Sri's assured take on steak frites ($18) is another keeper. This triple-A black Angus 10-ouncer comes to table unabashedly untrimmed of fat (it adds flavour, but you're not required to eat the stuff) and sauced with a rich demi-glaze thick with black peppercorns. A nice touch, a spoonful of spicy chimichurri adds unpredictable punch. Correctly steamed broccoli and a more than passable passel of skinny double-fried frites complete the plate.
We also love his pumpkin ravioli ($14), a dozen or so wonton-like packets plump with puréed fruit nipped with ginger and nutmeg in a Parmesan cream littered with button 'shrooms, spinach strands and roasted kernels of corn. Bravo!
But we're unable to applaud the view from the rooftop terrace of the restaurant's dumpster full of garbage.
Not only does the trash give off a distinctively ripe odour, but it's also attracted a swarm of kamikaze wasps who do their best to re-enact Pearl Harbor by dive-bombing non-stop into our drinks during dinner.
But insect invasion or no, the new Epicure still has a buzz.