TOMI-KRO (1214 Queen East, at Leslie, 416-463-6677) Complete meals for $65 per person, including all taxes, tip and a $10 glass of wine. Average main: $22. Open for dinner Tuesday to Thursday 6 to 11 pm, Friday and Saturday 6 pm to midnight. Bar till close. Closed Sunday and Monday. Licensed. Access: bump at door, tight space, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Leslieville already calls it Tommy Crow. But ask John Coronios how to pronounce the name of his just-launched east-meets-west-side eatery and you'll get a different answer. "It's actually Tomikro, 'the little place' in Greek," says the burly restaurateur. "I added the hyphen to make it look Japanese."
However pronounced (hint: it rhymes with Etobicoke), Tomi-Kro is the best thing to hit the east side since Edward Levesque's Kitchen.
Though upscale Mediterranean-style dishes predominate, as you'd expect from the former co-owner of Lolita's Lust on the Danforth, the assured and often remarkable card executed by emerging chef Martin Brooks points to Japan as well.
See it in starters like mushroom terrine, a terrific triangular pâté made of layers of shiitake, cremini and oyster 'shrooms interwoven with ambrosial aged goat cheese, sweet eggplant jam and wide ribbons of wonton noodle.
Wontons reappear as the pasta pouches for Game Tortellini (both $9), a slippery free-form septet of thyme-scented ravioli stuffed with minced venison, duck and game hen sauced with tomato 'n' herb concassé in sharp citrusy blood orange and licorice-y fennel broth.
Almost anywhere else, beef carpaccio ($10) means thin slices of raw beef doused with olive oil and a handful of capers. Here, Brooks turns the Ital starter into a sushi-style hand roll, the tender filet wrapped into a cone around a slew of raw pea shoots - snow, garden, golden - dressed with a perfectly considered apple balsamic vinaigrette, the dish's creamy tarragon celeriac slaw adding tart contrast.
Informed that venison osso buco ($21) with truffled cream-cheese and candied pecans isn't available tonight, we settle for the house filet of beef ($22), a miraculously tender 6-ounce mignonette tossed with black nigella onion seeds. Brooks, who previously worked the grill at Pangea in Yorkville, pairs it with a superbly subtle unpasteurized Stilton-cream yin-yang swirled with white miso and a rumaki-esque skewer of buttery roasted garlic tied with a rasher of double-smoked Speck bacon.
Another astounding genre-jumping main, five-spice-marinated Muscovy duck ($25) gets quickly seared skin down, then oven-roasted and finally rested so that the juices can deglaze into a kaffir lime pan sauce. The boneless breast comes thickly sliced and splayed over the divine jus, its thin skin crisp, a tasty ribbon of fat separating it from the near-pink flesh. Popcorn shoots, a tiny slaw of Asian pear flecked with parsley and a final toss of pine garnish the plate.
Less appealing to the eye but just as delicious as everything else we try, roast Quebec game hen ($18) finds two sizable legs and thighs plated over a smoky near-succotash of shiitake and sweet corn. A substantial splash of heavy cream and bourbon doesn't hurt things either.
Like Lolita's, Tomi-kro's menu is strictly à la carte, meaning when you order organic salmon ($22), you get just that. Starches - herbed potato and feta cake, black sticky rice with Speck and scallop sauce - are five bucks extra, something anyone on a low-carb regime or tired of garlic mashed potatoes will appreciate. Of the lot, we fancy soy bean hash ($5), steamed and shelled edamame with buttery shallot and roasted garlic.
We finish with a wedge of intensely flavoured flourless chocolate torte ($7), a dessert that's fast approaching tiramisu overkill across the GTA. But here it's a delightfully dense cheesecake-style mousse dolloped with strawberry compote and crème fraiche.
Coronios obviously knows the recipe for success. Create a comfortable room (even if it's an anonymous storefront hidden behind cheap bamboo blinds), assemble a first-rate kitchen team that dares to be different in these conservative times, and hire floor staff who smile and offer to take your coat.
And give it back.