GUS (1033 Bay, at Irwin, 416-923-8159) Lolita's Lust duo Johnny Katsuras and Laura Prentice bring their upscale take on Greek grub back downtown to digs that are downright swelegant. Savvy service, a chic but unpretentious vibe, cool tunes on the sound system and a well-drilled kitchen crew make Gus a hit from the get-go. Complete meals for $65 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open for dinner Monday to Wednesday 5 to 11 pm, Thursday and Friday 5 pm to midnight, and Saturday 6 pm to midnight. Bar stays open till 2 am. Closed Sunday and some holidays. Fully licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNNN
who says irony is dead? even Alanis Morissette would find this game of restaurant roulette ironic. Lily, a popular Riverdale sushi spot on Broadview just north of the Danforth, has to find new digs. It moves downtown to a large space on the first floor of a Bay Street condo. That room's previous tenant, Mr. Greek -- another Danforth denizen -- has just gone belly up. Lily doesn't last long either and hightails it back to the Broadview storefront vacated by its former next-door neighbour, Café Brussel, which has just relocated around the corner in the building that formerly housed Ballroom on the Danforth.
Enter Johnny Katsuras and Laura Prentice, the team responsible for the Danforth's ultra-hip Lolita's Lust. They snap up the empty (some say failure-prone) 130-seat Bay Street boite and transform it into something downtown's never seen before -- a way-upscale Greek cantina.
If the restaurant biz is all about location, location, location, then Gus has got all three. A few blocks south of Yorkville, a short walk from Church Street, and a $5 cab ride from College, Gus has positioned itself perfectly to become the hottest spot in town. Considering all this, Gus has opened soft -- so soft that we're the only ones here.
By we, I'm referring to myself and gastro-guests Oscar Calibre and the Thespian, who've apologized in advance for dragging along the Teenager. Sample dinner conversation: who's cooler -- Buffy or Eminem?
Not lustful for Lolita's, Oscar and the Thespian think that Danforth eatery borders on pretentious, especially its "if you don't know where it is, you don't know where it is" vibe. But the fussy pair love Gus's casual, California-style decor -- walls of glass, blond wood, white-on-white linen over linen. They're also impressed by Gus's CD soundtrack -- neither annoying background Muzak nor ear-splitting house -- which mixes rat-packers Dean, Frank and Marilyn with smooth 70s soul (the Stylistics, Shuggie Otis) through louche Serge Gainsbourg and campy Shirley Bassey.
An affable server dressed in jeans and sweater proffers a plate piled with grilled pita and an intoxicating mound of lemony chickpea hummus dressed in olive oil and dusted with paprika.
We decide to share a slew of starters, and they soon arrive on a huge platter. Large cubes of sugary roasted beet ($6) ride a bed of wilted dandelion greens doused with yogurt dressing. Ultra-ripe, blistered roasted vine tomatoes ($8) lie next to grilled slices of mozzarella-like Haloumi cheese and crusty house-baked feta scones. Glorious grilled fresh purple figs ($10) contrast with the tartness of arugula leaves and chunks of creamy marinated Dadoni feta. A dollop of garlicky pressed yogurt ($5) completes the plate.
The Teenager -- who unenthusiastically mutters "salad" when he sees the first course -- virtually inhales his main, a 16-ounce grilled T-bone ($24) brushed with olive oil, garlic and lemon. He sides it with delicate baby new potatoes ($5). Oscar raves about his deftly prepared seared chicken breast ($16), juicy tender flesh wrapped in crispy skin. Even better, his chosen side, coarse-cracked-wheat bulgar pilaf with figs and apricots ($5), seems to have an unexpected but delicious Thai twist to it.
The Thespian's whole baked red snapper ($23) measures more than 15 inches long and nearly 2 inches thick, again skilfully grilled, and offset by the tang of al dente rapini ($6). I go for the five-chop half rack of lamb ($18), a spectacular dish I combine with feta scalloped potatoes ($7), easily the best spuds I've ever tasted. As if there weren't enough lemon involved already, the mains come with grilled whole lemons whose tops have beenlopped off for easy drizzling.
The Literary Device and I return a week later. We start with Village Salad ($7), plum tomato, onion, peppers, black olives and cucumber tossed with a lemony ladolemono (a melding of lemon and emulsified olive oil) vinaigrette. Also from the ap' list, meaty gigantic lima beans ($7) swim in oregano-scented tomato purée pooled alongside frisée, radicchio and more Dadoni feta.
The Device zeroes in on pan-seared tuna ($17), a fantastic slab of pink-centred fish crusted with sea salt and crushed fennel seeds and ladled with near-hollandaise avgolemono. She sides it with crunchy cauliflower ($4) sauced with Kasseri cheese. I luck out again with smoked double pork chop ($15), a fabulous 3-inch-thick cut accompanied by bell pepper strips and an encore of those scalloped potatoes. We finish with ethereal passion fruit Pavlova and equally wondrous rice pudding (both $6) studded with apricot and toasted pistachio and served in a martini glass complete with cinnamon swizzle stick.
Too cool or what?
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