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SAMUEL J. MOORE (1087 Queen West, at Dovercourt, 416-897-8348, @TheSamuelJMoore) Open 5 pm to 2 am Thursday (June 13) to Saturday (June 15). Weekend brunch 10 am to 4:30 pm. Licensed. Access: barrier-free, four steps to washrooms. Rating: NNNN
Conveniently located on the first floor of the Great Hall concert venue, the Samuel J. Moore bistro is bound to be packed come this weekend's NXNE, especially once word hits the street that ex-Brockton General chef Alexandra Feswick leads the kitchen brigade.
Watch them queue for happy-hour buck-a-shuck Malpeques washed down with frothy Templar Sours ($12) that taste exactly like liquid lemon meringue pies. Follow with paper-thin slices of house-cured duck carpaccio dressed with pickled red onion, grainy mustard and daikon cress ($11) and warm fingerling potatoes draped with horseradish-spiked crème fraîche and house-smoked trout as pink as salmon ($9), both shareable plates as beautiful on the eye as they are on the tongue.
Feswick cleverly transforms pearl barley into an outrageously creamy risotto tossed with crisply fried sage leaves, nutty roasted cauliflower, fat-rendered lardoons and a serious shaving of Parmesan. She next lifts a page from Mario Batali's Spotted Pig in Manhattan by poaching her ambrosial ricotta gnudi in cream before finishing them with caramelized 'shrooms and baby onions in brown butter and a final tangle of pea shoots (both $18).
"I don't think I'll ever take them off the menu," she sighs.
Chef pays tribute to Swiss Chalet by plating her super-juicy brined 'n' oven-roasted half chickens with a multiculti ramekin of gently curried cream and a heap of frilly kale sautéed in garlic and olive oil ($21). Side them with the casserole du jour - tonight an insanely delicious skillet of baked blue grits layered with cheesy egg custard ($8) - and her don't-miss combo of fennel-laced ketchup and fantab' frites dusted with fresh rosemary and deep-fried garlic ($7) and you won't need dessert. No biggie since it's only a pedestrian butterscotch pudding ($8).
At brunch, they switch out the Prince for some early Dylan, an attempt no doubt to attract the lumberjack-wannabe crowd. Shame there's no warm basket of house-baked scones and cornbread to start like there was when Feswick helmed the General, but strong Americanos ($2.50) make do.
A properly executed cheese 'n' onion omelette ($12) comes sided with organic greens in apple cider vinaigrette and slices of grilled Ace sourdough, while her terrific take on eggs Benny ($15) arrives layered with tarragon hollandaise, raw arugula and a deep-fried slab of headcheese terrine.
That skillet shows up again, this time heaped with syrupy baked beans, perfectly poached eggs and a link of spicy Luis Suarez chorizo, a dollop of tart sour cherry to counter the sweet ($14). The previous evening, the hand-chopped sirloin burger ($18) came laced with bone marrow, but by the light of day it's a more plebeian affair, 6 medium-rare ounces of brisket and chuck garnished with smoked cheddar, peameal bacon and coleslaw ($15).
But woe unto their mealy hash-browns that disintegrate on contact. Replace them with those amazing frites from dinner and we'd fight for the last of the crunchy bits at the bottom of the bowl.