Joy Bistro (884 Queen East, at Booth, 416-465-8855) Complete meals for $75 per person ($25 at lunch or brunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Average main $24/$12. Open daily 8 am to 11 pm; brunch Saturday and Sunday till 4 pm. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Call me a cabbage, but if my small neighbourhood restaurant had just hired one of the hottest cooks in town to helm my kitchen, I'd be shouting the gastronomic news from the rooftops.
But Joy Bistro, an otherwise unre-markable east-side eatery famed locally for its weekend brunch, has managed to keep largely under wraps the fact that David Chrystian - the young star responsible for critically acclaimed work at Café Societa, Patriot and the Drake - is now its executive chef.
"We didn't want to make a big splash at first, so we've kept it pretty low-key," says Chrystian on the phone, while juggling the duties he took on last January after a year away from the resto scene. "We were going to tie the announcement to the opening of our second patio, but we're a bit behind schedule."
The patio in question will be located in the empty lot directly to Joy's east and promises to look, in Chrystian's words, "like an Old World ruin with the roof blown off."
Since it's still very much under construction, novelist and sometime NOW scribe Sarah Dearing and I are taking in the late afternoon sun in Joy's other outdoor dining theatre, a lovely parkside terrace that comes with a verdant view of the tennis courts and pickup basketball games across the way.
Though most of the hip after-work crowd found here knock back bottles of Heineken ($5.25) and pints of Stella ($5.50), we're here to eat, and have to ask a somewhat aloof all-in-black server to see a menu for the privilege.
We eventually begin with Chrystian's spring onion soup ($9 dinner/$6 lunch), an upside-down take on the French classic that, though tasty enough, arrives unevenly reheated, tepid at best.
A thin slice of untoasted baguette topped with freshly grated Parmesan and a few snippets of chives is the only bread we'll see all evening.
Clever in theory but a mess in practice, chef's Vertical Cobb Salad ($16/$14) may be visually stunning - a tall moulded cylinder of tomato and red onion salsa layered with cubed rare beef, chunky overdressed guacamole, crumbled blue cheese, fresh watercress and a deep-fried panko-coated soft-boiled egg - but disintegrates on first contact with a fork. A delicious mess, though.
Next, a perfectly executed pan-fried veal chop of Flintstonian proportions comes generously smeared with garlicky pesto and plated over roasted baby artichoke, peppery salsify and cipollini wild onion.
It shares its sweet demi-glace with Ontario lamb loin (both $30) coupled with al dente spring favas, string beans and a diminu-tive pair of lavender-scented green pea crepes. Sadly, the sauce has begun to congeal. Chrystian's first foray into dessert - a pleasant gelato-topped flourless chocolate cake ($8) - seems pushing it for the price.
A few days later, an augmented posse returns for Joy's celebrated brunch. Though we doubt that few of the 300 or so who pack the joint every weekend have ever heard of this celebrated Chrystian, most appear to be enjoying the spread, particularly the hollandaise-kissed Eggs Teddy ($14) topped with peameal, wilted spinach and roasted red onion, sided with exceptional home fries.
A few of Chrystian's lunch dishes also show up at brunch. Modestly listed on both cards as "a good burger and fries," said item replicates the oversized version Chrystian made famous at the Drake, right down to the skewer that's required to hold the massive beast together.
It doesn't take much imagination to guess what the gang at Jim's Best Western across the way will think when they learn that Joy's cheeseburger goes for 16 bucks, even if it does come with homemade relish. Shame about one of its garnishes, an overly thick slice of unpalatably underripe tomato.
Spicy in name only, Chrystian's lamb and curried chickpea roti ($14/$12) comes wrapped in fabulously flaky house-baked flatbread and sided with a terrific mayo-dressed salad of chopped English cuke, organic cress and green grapes but is in desperate need of some heat. A citrusy tamarind-based hot sauce would do it.
Chrystian took the Joy gig after answering a newspaper ad looking for a chef "to take our restaurant into the top 10." There's no question that since his hire the bistro has improved considerably. But, like that soon-come new patio (July? August?), Joy still has work to do.