FOXLEY (207 Ossington, at Dundas, 415-534-8520) Complete dinners for $40 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Average main $10. Open for dinner Monday to Saturday 6 to 11 pm, bar till close. Closed Sunday, holidays. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Ossington hasn't always been on the cutting edge of the downtown culinary scene. Why, not too long ago on that sleepy avenue, yellow crime-scene ribbons were more common outside restaurants than lineups of slavering foodies.
Any minute now the hordes will descend on Foxley. Named for a nearby side street and open less than three weeks, this low-key bistro is the work of Tom Thai. You probably know his name from Tempo on College, where he made quite the splash with his avant-garde sushi. Before that he worked with Andrew Chase at quirky Youki following stints as the sushi chef at Canoe and as Hiro Yoshida's sous at Tidal Wave.
Naturally, you would expect Foxley to serve raw fish on rice. And you would be wrong.
"I'm tired of sushi," laughs Thai. "I don't know why, but I always seemed to get stuck with it. Now that I have my own kitchen, forget it!"
In its place, Thai's card at Foxley offers an intriguing mix of Portuguese-inspired seafood filtered through an Asian sensibility. It reads like tapas to me.
"Not really," insists Thai. "Some plates are big, some plates are small, that's all."
Ignoring the advice of our more than personable server to order a couple of dishes to see what we think, we three go whole hog and order three plates apiece, a mistake we will later regret. But first, we fall in love with Thai's lamb and air-dried duck prosciutto potstickers ($7), a quintet of delicate gyoza pan-seared in olive oil and sided with a chili-spiked dip of tangy ponzu unexpectedly kicked with kaffir lime.
Next up, two brontosaurus-sized slabs of grilled side ribs ($7.50) have us swooning, their tender meat virtually dissolving from the bone. And we would have soaked up every exceptional drop of the ribs' caramelized shallot glaze if there'd been bread.
One of only two remotely vegetarian items on Thai's meaty menu, spring rolls ($7) turns out to be a plump pair of diagonally cut rice-paper wraps stuffed with rice-stick, grilled portobello, fresh vine leaf and powdered chipotle, the dip a gingery take on traditionally fishy Vietnamese nam pla.
Everyone seems to be doing pork belly these days, and Thai is no exception, his an obscenely fatty chunk of muscatel-braised pig that could convert herbivores. But what's with the side of stale cornbread?
"I originally served it with a steamed Chinese bun," says Thai. "But a customer suggested that since this is a Portuguese neighbourhood, cornbread would be better."
Good idea, but cornbread is too dense to suck up every delicious drop of these gorgeous sauces. If you want to keep it local, try porous pada buns instead. They would be the perfect sop for the tangy Argentinian chimichurri that accompanies skewers of deliciously grilled beef heart ($10). And could we get some knives and forks? Chopsticks literally don't cut it.
A sea bream ceviche with shiso leaf ($14) does little to impress the taste buds (and looks like something the cat chucked up), but the kitchen is soon back on track with Szechuan frogs' legs ($9). Sautéed with a smart ratatouille of poblano pepper and red onion, they taste just like chicken, though their webbed feet might be a bit much for some.
Four plates earlier, a side of Asian greens chopped Chinese broccoli showered with minced garlic in a light soy bath ($6) would have been a welcome reprieve from all that meat. But this late in the meal, it comes across as an afterthought. Thinking of which, what ever happened to our veal sweetbreads ($14)?
"Are you sure you still want them?" our server asks, observing that we've clearly hit the wall. "I can easily cancel the order."
Since we're unabashed fans of the thymus gland, we press ahead. But after a mouthful each, we leave the plate unfinished, finding their accompanying pomegranate sauce much too overpowering for the subtle 'breads. Discreetly, the server places a paper napkin over the offending offal and removes them from the table, though not from the bill.
Despite this one dud, there's much to applaud about Foxley. The 30-seat room's a delight, all tall exposed brick walls, gleaming wooden floors and sprays of gladioli, just the type of intimate space big-name chefs dream of. Better still, most of Thai's well-trained Tempo team have made the move to Ossington as well. No clueless newbies, this crew.
"I'm so lucky," says the modest Thai.
No, Chef, the luck's all ours.