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EDULIS (169 Niagara, at Wellington, 416-703-4222, edulisrestaurant.com) Complete tasting menu dinners for $75 per person (Sunday lunches $60), including tax, tip and a glass of wine. Average main $20 (à la carte). Open for dinner Wednesday to Sunday 6 to 10:30 pm. Sunday lunch noon to 3 pm. Closed Monday, Tuesday, holidays. Licensed. Access: two short steps at door, small washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNNN
Most chefs cringe when asked to describe their food. Husband-and-wife team Michael Caballo and Tobey Nemeth of Edulis in the old Niagara Street Café are no different.
"We try to avoid categories," offers Caballo in explanation. "We do what we do."
From this side of the plate, that translates as expanded takes on Spanish tapas filtered through French technique, or as Caballo puts it, "contemporary but not modern." And since they change almost daily, no two cartes are ever the same.
Our $50 five-course prix fixe dinner begins with a burlap sack of warm house-baked bread and an amuse of tangy green olives stuffed with buttery anchovy paste. Raw slices of bigeye tuna come layered with rich porcini mushrooms, foie gras and a wayward nasturtium leaf, all in a gorgeous black garlic dressing laced with pumpkin seeds.
An exquisite strip of grilled mackerel and a few crunchy nuggets of morcilla blood pudding straddle a pool of velvety pumpkin soup swirled with diced smoked apple, while pan-roasted veal sweetbreads arrive glazed with caramel on a bed of meaty black trumpet mushrooms and organic greens. It's so delish, you'll wish you'd brought a bucket and a shovel.
Coming into the home stretch, duck shows up two ways, crispy of wing and rare of roasted red breast, both on wilted bitter arugula. Sponge cake doused in rum and finished with gingery house-made sesame ice cream as well as a locally grown kiwi compote bring the meal to an epic conclusion. Anyone else fancy a nap?
Suitably refreshed, we return a few days later for Edulis's $40 six-course prix fixe Sunday lunch. No eggs Benny or French toast for this bunch. Ignoring the half-price bottles of Rioja red ($20), we start with a round of Edulis Royales - sparkling cider, cassis and grape juice ($10) - and more of that marvellous bread spread with tasty chicken liver mousse.
An app-sized portion of lightly smoked albacore tuna comes paired with cute heirloom carrots and tapenade toasts. Shallow-fried in olive oil, Huevos Estrellados top a pile of freshly fried potatoes and a crumble of Caballo's spicy chorizo drizzled with garlicky parsley sauce. A plate of golden croquetas thick with nutty béchamel add creamy contrast.
An extremely generous serving of fall-from-the-bone coq au vin gets garnished with foraged cauliflower mushrooms and a clever julienne of raw celery root in Dijon vinaigrette, a mound of chicken-fat rice underneath to soak up all that fabulous jus. A relatively simple salad finished with rings of watermelon radish in a shallot 'n' sherry dressings leads to a wedge of caramel pudding cake swimming in vanilla custard with strawberries.
The candlelit room is lovelier than ever, and servers answer all our questions without pause, despite a menu that not only changes daily, but hourly. Our only complaint is that after both our visits we leave as over-stuffed as force-fed geese. Oh, but what a way to go!