Dessert Trends (169 Brunswick, at Harbord, 416-916-8155) Complete meals for $20 per person, including all taxes, tip and a very good coffee. Average main $10. Open Tuesday to Friday 9 am to 7 pm, Saturday 8 am to 6 pm, Sunday 8 am to 4 pm. Closed Monday. Unlicensed. Access: four steps at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Dessert Trends has a lot going for it: a central location, a charming room and a casual card that includes quiche, pan-Asian-inspired soups 'n' sandwiches and, as the name suggests, some very impressive pastries. Launched last August, it's already become a hit with the well-heeled Annex crowd, who clamour for its tables, especially at weekend brunch.
That's where you'll find me and the posse. Sure, it's Sunday noon, the joint's jumping, and we don't have a reservation. But it's not until we've been at the head of the queue for at least five minutes that an obviously very busy server acknowledges our presence.
"Did you want something?" she asks as if a table would be out of the question.
Some 20 minutes later, we're seated on beige vinyl banquettes, where we scan a laminated menu and a shorter list of specials while taking in the scene. A seemingly serene all-white space accented with pale blue frosted glass, the resto's divided into two small rooms, separated by a takeout area lined with display cases full of drool-worthy desserts. But due to the dining rooms' hard surfaces and a continual chorus of squealing tykes scrambling up and down the stairs that lead to the basement washrooms, Trends is no sea of tranquility.
We can't help but overhear the plight of the folks at the next table. Their young server has just informed them that the kitchen has lost their order so there'll be an even longer wait ahead. She placates them with a complimentary plate of miniature cornbread muffins.
We're more than happy with our temperately spiced Thai-style seafood stew ($12.50), its delicious coconut broth swimming with shrimp, calamari and green New Zealand mussels. Brought to table à la Martha Stewart in a hollowed-out baked pumpkin, it's accompanied by two long lengths of nicely grilled sourdough.
But what to make of a daily special described as a fresh corn polenta cup ($9.50) with wild mushroom, blue cheese and tomato onion broth? Picture a mess of grilled 'shrooms in cream sauce overpowered by stinky fromage, poured over an upright polenta "cup" holding even more too-strong blue. Half as much would make a terrific starter, but without any contrasting flavours , the dish is just too relentless. Some greenery, perhaps?
We're confused by a couple of dishes listed as sandwiches. Sweet potato and pumpkin fritters paired with smoked salmon ($10.50) sounds like it doesn't come between two slices of bread, but after consulting the menu carefully, our server assures us it does.
It doesn't. Stacked like a low-rise Napoleon, lovely sheets of house-smoked fish tossed with translucent raw red onion and plump capers, dolloped with sour cream, are layered between a pair of Asiago and corn pancakes that the kitchen has substituted for the fritters. (The same pancakes accompany maple-smoked bacon in another so-called sandwich, $9.50.) Since the person who ordered this doesn't do corn, she contemplated sending it back, but life is short.
We'll definitely return for the house quiche, today a fabulously eggy custard thick with smoked chicken breast on a flaky French crust, topped with stalks of tender asparagus ($7.50 with a small tangle of mesclun dressed with raspberry balsamic vinaigrette). In comparison, a small, buttery zucchini and scallion frittata ($9.50 with salad) seems overpriced for the payoff.
Another special, beef stew with tomato, miso and romano beans ($10.50), turns out to be three or four large cubes of melt-in-your-mouth slow-cooked sirloin in a glorious Italian-style gravy rich with smoky miso, pulpy tomato and a handful of red beans. Sided only by house baguette, it's almost worth the damage. Some rice or veggies, please.
Dessert Trends may be owner/chef Donald Duong's first resto, but for years he operated a bake shop of the same name on a far-from-fashionable stretch of Dundas West, supplying the likes of Pusateri's and Holt Renfrew with his spectacular tarts and tortes.
And that's where his new spot shines - smooth tiramisu scooped into a wineglass-shaped shell made from brown and white chocolate, a rustic cookbook-correct apple galette, glorious chocolate croissant bread pudding and tarts with exquisitely poached pears (all $5.75 eat-in/$4.50 takeout).
Chef Duong, who, as part of Team Ontario, won a gold medal for pastry at the 2004 Culinary Olympics, is doing a capable job in the kitchen. But he'll have to get his inexperienced and under-informed front-of-house staff on side if he expects his winning streak to continue.