Every style-monger worth his or her Prada parka knows that the minute something falls out of fashion, its revival is right around the corner. Following this rule, expect the imminent return of shoulder pads, shag hairdos and schnitzel.
Hungarian grub, once the staple of the student-friendly taverns of the Annex, has nearly disappeared along Bloor West. Only Country Style carries on the tradition of hearty soups, platters and fricassees. True, most of that fare hasn't been missed. What those plates loaded with deep-fried meat and frozen or canned veggies made up for in quantity, they sorely lacked in quality.
Anyone wanting to take a culinary trip back in time need only trek up Yonge to Richmond Hill. The Hill isn't exactly known as a hotbed of cutting-edge cuisine. But modest Rhapsody, a 15-month-old spot on the town's main drag, does something no other eatery in the GTA accomplishes - it makes goulash groovy again.
It's been described elsewhere as Richmond Hill's most romantic resto - and it certainly looks the part, its ceiling tented with sheer fabric, walls glossy paprika-red and tables covered with embroidered linen. On the stereo, violins sob emotionally. Service is swift and all smiles.
To start, a bowl of liver-dumpling soup ($3.95), a flavoursome chicken broth dotted with parsley and serrated carrots. A baseball-sized orb of minced chicken liver and breadcrumbs seasoned with salt, pepper and marjoram sits in it. Our obliging server doesn't blink when we ask for two spoons so we can share.
We also split another appetizer, a thin chicken crepe (the menu calls it Hortobagyi palacsinta, $4.95) swimming in a sea of marvellous paprika cream. The sauce is so sop-worthy, we get halfway through a second basket of light rye before the main courses arrive.
Chicken breasts come several ways, but the two most exceptional are Dyoneseus ($14.95) and Almondine ($15.25). The former is a boneless breast stuffed with feta, wrapped in briny pickled grape leaves and sauced with a 'shroomy white-wine sauce. Napped with a lovely port-infused cranberry relish, the latter comes stuffed with brie and coated with crushed almonds.
Both get sided with crisp, oven-roasted home fries and a choice of veggies - tonight, perfectly al dente steamed green and yellow string beans or fabulously caramelized red cabbage.
For dessert, we polish off another crepe - Gundel ($5.25) - this one filled with pulverized walnuts and raisins and accompanied by a pool of chocolate, all flambeed in a shot of rum.
Bringing back memories of legendary hangovers from the 70s, glasses of Hungarian red - 1997 Szekszardi Voros ($4.95/$26) - make a fine complement to Rhapsody's repasts.
Another evening, we go trad. While there's nothing wrong with such Magyar mains as veal paprikash ($10.95), beef goulash ($9.95) or stroganoff ($11.95), all with spaetzel, compared to the finesse shown in the execution of the previous evening's dishes, these are somewhat less inspired.
But it's Rhapsody's house platter ($16) that will surely spark the appetite of any big meat-eater. Way back when, we used to laugh that at most Hungarian joints - places like the long-gone Goulash Party Haus on Queen West - you had to eat through the top stratum of food to get to the second underneath. Here, you get three layers.
Piled high, a trio of different schnitzels - Weiner, Parisian and, er, plain - are tiered over a grilled Debreszeni sausage and a fantastically tasty cabbage roll dolloped with sour cream. Next come home fries, red cabbage, some zucchini and, finally, dill pickles, cucumber and red-pepper slices and a wedge of orange. Almost everyone takes home leftovers, enough for several days of pigging out.
(10152 Yonge, 905-884-0305)
Stuck for a spot to take conservative friends or family? This intimate Old World restaurant rescues Hungarian grub from its image as heavy stodge and delivers fresh ingredients, expert preparation and generous portions. Retro becomes cutting-edge once again. Weekend reservations essential. Complete dinners for $35 per person ($15 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open for dinner nightly from 5 to 10 pm, for lunch Tuesday to Friday 11:30 am to 3 pm, and for brunch Sunday 11:30 am to 4 pm. Fully licensed. Access: two steps at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN