HARBORD ROOM (89 Harbord, at Spadina, 416-962-8989) Complete dinners for $50 per person, including all taxes, tip and a pint of microbrew. Average main $20. Open nightly 6 pm to close. Bar till 2 am. Licensed. Access: three steps at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN
The buzz about the Harbord Room, that smart new supper club lighting up the south Annex resto strip, is so major, it’s virtually electric. Just try booking a table – that is, if someone bothers to answer the phone.
It helps to have the involvement of industry players like former Drake and Scaramouche sous Corey Vitiello as chef, Czehoski co-founder Dave Mitton as partner, Curt Martin (who last worked under David Chrystian at Chez Victor) as sous and the Niagara Street Café’s Anton Potvin as sommelier. Across-the-board raves in the dailies haven’t hurt either, which explains why we’re lucky to get a deuce on a Tuesday night at quarter past 6.
The 35-seat Room has changed considerably since its days as Eduardo’s and Latitude. Gone are the sombreros and serapes of yore, replaced with musty pink walls, tall marble-topped tables and a long bar lined with leather-upholstered chairs, all the design of Czehoski’s Brad Denton. Dinner music runs from early Cure (Love Cats) to 60s Stones (Ruby Tuesday) to Frank Black (Headache). As expected with the pedigree, servers are pros, surprisingly friendly and attitude-free.
Vitiello’s polished card comes di-vided into small plates like jerked ’n’ braised oxtail soup with scallion dumplings ($9), and large like steak frites ($18). From the former, we start with garlicky grilled calamari paired Mediterranean-style with clams on the shell and Spanish chorizo ($13). It’s almost an entree, and its beefy stewed tomato sauce receives an additional kick in the pants from fresh basil and tangy green olives.
Another ap, a rustically rough terrine of Berkshire pork and rabbit laced with pistachio and apricot ($12), arrives accompanied by Moroccan-spiced cornichons, a Reisling and red currant gelée and toasts made with Fred’s awesome walnut loaf. Of the mains, vegetarians should make a beeline for Harbord’s insanely rich risotto ($17), thick with pumpkin, pine nuts, crispy sage leaf and chèvre-esque pecorino fresco. Carnivores will insist the same is far tastier with the addition of super-moist duck confit ($24).
Fresh papardelle could be Vitiello’s playful take on Mom’s noodle casserole, a delicious collision of pasta, roasted squash and slow-cooked beef cheeks so tender they melt on the tongue like marshmallows. Tossed with toasted sourdough breadcrumbs and crumbled queso seco, it’s cold-weather comfort food in excelsis ($18).
There’s no faulting thick pink-centred slices of pan-roasted lamb leg from Dingo Farms ($23), marinated in citrusy olive tapenade and sided with braised Swiss chard and a buttery cauliflower-potato purée that’s so astonishingly tasty, you’ll want to shovel it down by the bucket. Even the late-night menu’s 7-ounce burger ($13) deserves applause. Dressed with sharp cheddar and ripe plum and served on an eggy Fred’s bun, it comes backed up with skin-on fries, house-made ketchup and what Vitiello calls “a little salad,” an Asian arugula slaw doused in a tarragon-sherry vinaigrette.
And make sure to save room for Room’s desserts, especially the baked-to-order chocolate cake paired with caramelized bananas and peanut brittle, or the Key lime tart in chocolate graham cracker crust with tart diced mango, mint and coconut ice cream (both $8).
Comfortable space, cool tunes, engaging staff and knockout grub from an up-and-coming chef with movie-star good looks. Want one more reason why the Harbord Room is currently the hottest boîte in town? Since it’s open seven nights a week till 2 in the morning, after midnight it’s become the de facto after-work clubhouse for downtown’s restaurant crowd. But they don’t come for the hype – they’re here to party!