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SKIN + BONES (980 Queen East, at Carlaw, 416-524-5209, skinandbonesto.com) Complete dinners for $50 per person, including tax, tip and a glass of wine. Average main $22. Open Sunday to Thursday 5 to 11 pm, Friday and Saturday 5 pm to midnight. Closed some holidays. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN
Libretto and Enoteca vets Daniel Clarke and Harry Wareham's two-month-old Skin + Bones in Leslieville gets a lot of things right - stylish room, attentive service, impressive wine list - but some of it's hard to stomach.
Me? I'll eat just about anything: roasted pig snouts at the Hoof, lamb testicles at Banu, and gluten-free vegan pizza. But I draw the line at pope's noses.
Yet here they are on ex-L'Unita and Maléna toque Matthew Sullivan's tapas-style carte. Not that they're listed as such. The menu innocuously describes them as "crispy chicken tails ($8)."
"Those aren't bones, it's cartilage," says our exceptionally polished server, bringing the plate to table. "Everything's edible!"
Maybe so, but you're not going to get me to eat the nether regions of a chicken. Technically, it's known as the pygostyle, that useless flap of flesh next to the poop chute that most cooks throw away. Here, it's deep-fried, and egregiously greasy to boot.
"They're really popular, but a lot of people don't finish them," says our returning server as she whisks the barely touched butts away.
Far better to start with chef's charcuterie board ($11) of sweetly braised beef tongue, smoky rabbit liver mousse and tender pork shoulder rillettes. Only his muted Spanish morcilla blood sausage ($8) needs more spice.
He follows with a between-course amuse - a trio of trendy lettuce wraps stuffed with deep-fried baby squid, house-smoke andouille sausage and pickled fennel for crunch - before sending out the larger mains. Those who don't do butts will be relieved to learn that the beef cheeks in his bourguignon ($23) come from the opposite end of the cow, beautifully braised in red wine and plated alongside roasted cipollini onions, Perth County bacon and buttery sunchokes.
Its listing as slow-cooked chicken ($19) doesn't do the dish justice. A gorgeously seared roulade of deboned bird served over a bed of puréed rutabaga dressed with sunchoke chips and pickled red onion is far more accurate. And first-rate celeriac gnocchi ($15) in fried San Marzano tomato jam benefit greatly from a generous shaving of salty uni bottarga. Too bad the cavernous room's chill renders both entrees cold by the time they arrive. Maybe management should invest in some of those insulated pizza bags the delivery guys use?
Beets seem to show up almost everywhere these days - in tacos, ramen, cupcakes - so why not sticky toffee, especially when it's sauced with bone-marrow caramel ($6). Oenophiles will also be happy to know that all sparkling wines are half-price every day from 5 to 6 pm. Free bar snacks like baby pork riblets and buck-a-shuck Sundays, too. Just stay away from the chicken tails.