BLOOM (2315 Bloor West, at Windermere, 416-767-1315) Complete meals for $65 per person, including all taxes, tip and a $9 glass of wine. Average main: $24. Open for dinner Tuesday to Saturday 5:30 to 10 pm. Closed Sunda and Monday. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Booking a table for three under an assumed name at Bloom, the Bloor West Village spot just opened by acclaimed chef Sam Gassira, the Literary Device asks the reservationist to describe the menu. After checking with the kitchen, he reports that "I'm told to say retro Italian." Spaghetti and meatballs from the Greg Couillard acolyte who received universal raves at Focaccia for his progressive post-fusion lineup? Come on! But even though Gassira disagrees with the description, the synopsis fits. Forget southern rustic and think late-80s haute northern Italian instead. Yes, folks, tall food is back, but this time with an ironic cross-cultural wink.
Arriving for an early supper last week, we discover a dimly lit boîte handsomely decked out in chocolate browns and frosted glass. As Charlie Parker emotes on the CD player, we grab one of two semicircular booths separated from the rest of the room by metallic gauze curtains à la Ultra. We're presented with a basket of baguette ordinaire that immediately makes us pine for the terrific jalapeño-laced cornbread Gassira baked at Focaccia.
Told the chèvre and onion tart with charred radicchio in pomegranate syrup ($10) isn't available and after considering the possibility of a three-way with sea scallops ($12), we opt for Gassira's skewered take on shrimp cocktail. Here, he sears a 2-inch square of sushi-grade tuna, then encrusts it with black and white sesame seeds and garnishes with cabbage cress.
Teamed with iced, chili-kicked baby shrimp in ripe mango salad, a second side of raw tuna 'n' sticky rice maki gets its extra crunch from Rice Crispies (!). A diminutive pair of succulent semi-boned quail drumsticks go continental with their dissolvingly delicious oxtail pot-au-feu counterpoint (both $14).
Wrapped like har gow in wonton wrappers and dressed with lemon balm, a six-pack of duck liver ravioli ($9) is almost too rich for the three of us to finish, a remarkable fusion - there's that dreaded f-word again - of classic Italian and unexpected Cantonese.
Mains like thickly sliced salt-crackled guinea hen ($20) arrive perfectly à point in a smallish pool of Roquefort-fortified cauliflower fondue. It's piled high with an ingenious egg-roll loaded with ambrosial palm heart purée that sports a crown of peppery purple-stemmed radish cress.
The Device announces she's died and gone to heaven after a single bite of slow-cooked veal ossobuco in gorgeous cremini mushroom and sage gravy ($24). Impressively plated with poached baby Roma tomato, the shank reveals a treasure of sweet, awesome marrow.
Another towering entree begins with a sizable medallion of pan-seared pork striploin pooled with tart cider reduction and stacked with a flaky galette of five-spiced apple in puff pastry and a final tangle of fresh arugula leaf ($20).
To finish, we order three forks and two desserts. Chocolate almond torte finds a nutty near-cupcake riding an intense puddle of blueberry-compote pool festooned with candied walnut, while saffron and vanilla crème brûlée baked in a Japanese teacup (both $7) goes beyond culinary cliché.