R-SHOP (433 King West, at Spadina, 416-351-9000) Complete meals for $15 per person, including all taxes, tip and an almond soy latte. Average main $7. Open Monday to Wednesday 9 am to 6 pm, Thursday and Friday 9 am to 7 pm; kitchen closes daily at 4 pm. Closed Saturday, Sunday. Unlicensed. Access: seven steps at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Ikea aside, apart from R-Shop, a modish Japanese café located inside the pricey King West furniture retailer of the same name, where else can you grab a bite to eat while simultaneously picking out a sectional sofa for your new condo?
Luckily, dreadful Swedish meatballs in lingonberry sauce aren't on the card at R-Shop. Instead, some of the most tastefully dressed customers I've ever encountered stylishly chow down on Tokyo-inspired meal combos that are not only health-conscious but quite tasty, too.
On two earlier visits, I had the lofty warehouse conversion virtually to myself. But having witnessed a fashionably full house the other day, I now understand why a sign by the cash advises, "Due to high demand, we kindly ask you to please be patient."
The regulars know the drill, some going as far as ordering ahead from the office; others enjoy the wait while flipping through stacks of style bibles and sipping almond soy lattes ($3.25) and hot apple cider ($1.20) as mellow Miles Davis wafts over the sound system.
Most opt for #1 Healthy Combo ($6.55 with soup or rice), an oblong tray piled with organic mesclun dressed in creamy wasabi mayo, slippery strips of seaweed tossed with green pumpkin seeds, and steamed edamame in the pod. Where I come from, it's called salad.
The same dashi-based miso soup that comes with the combo does double duty as wonton soup ($4.50) with the addition of three shrimp dumplings. Ditch the har gow and add buckwheat soba and the non-vegetarian broth becomes Newman noodle soup ($7.55).
The special's nutty brown rice option shows up again in #2 Combo ($7.99 with salad) under tender curried boneless chicken breast in sweet coconut gravy, and swims in soy milk, honey and juicy sultanas as Rice Blondie ($2.50) for dessert.
Breaded with panko and deep-fried, R-Shop's sizable Chicken Katsu sandwich on a first-rate multigrain kaiser ($6.75) sees the remarkably moist bird dribbled with sweet tonkatsu sauce and garnished with ripe tomato and more organic greens. In comparison, the house's translation of tuna salad sandwich ($5.20) misses the mark despite being served on two different types of bread: dark rye on top, cracked wheat underneath. Very Japanese in that designerly visual way.
Perhaps the best dish in the house, what the kitchen calls spring rolls, aren't even listed on the short chalkboard lineup. We're particularly impressed with the avocado and crab version ($3.75 with peanut sauce), a hefty rice-paper wrap overstuffed to bursting with pearls of sweet brown rice, adzuki sprouts, strips of seedless cuke and bell pepper as well as buttery chunks of avocado and surimi that's better described as a Japanese burrito.
And I'd be remiss without further applauding R-Shop manager Michie Yamamoto and her crew, without doubt three of the pleasantest people working in a Toronto restaurant today. Try staying in a bad mood when they greet you at the door with a sung-in-unison "Hello!"
Forget Blowfish, Atelier and the Spoke. R-Shop is the true epicentre of King West cool.