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David Peacock (left) shaves cheese onto kale and cheddar salad; Owner/chef Justin Cournoyer preps smoked trout. Photo by David Laurence.
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Roasted beet, goat cheese and endive salad is a riot of colour.
ACTINOLITE (971 Ossington, at Hallam, 416-962-8943, actinoliterestaurant.com) Complete dinners for $60 per person, including tax, tip and a glass of wine. Average main $24. Open for dinner Tuesday to Saturday 6 to 10 pm. Closed Sunday, Monday, holidays. Licensed. Access: two steps at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN
Justin Cournoyer and Claudia Bianchi's Actinolite doesn't so much reinvent the wheel as give it a shiny new hubcap.
If it's worrisome foams, unorthodox tacos or autumnal tableaux fashioned from root vegetables and a few bits of bark you're after, you've come to the wrong cantina. But if a comfortable candlelit room slightly off the beaten path where the ingredient-driven carte is often several degrees above the norm checks all your boxes, welcome to Actinolite.
The storefront resto's clearly a labour of love. When they weren't working behind the scenes of Top Chef Canada, the couple spent the last four years renovating the building, exposing the brick and even digging out the basement. Before that, Cournoyer worked under Susur Lee at his eponymous boîte on King West.
You can see it all over his plates, starters like meaty confit chicken leg ($14) finished with pickled onions and roasted Brussels sprouts in a tangy yogurt sauce peppered with mustard. Still-warm slices of rustic house-baked bread guarantee none goes to waste. At any other beanery, a kale salad tossed with sliced apple, shredded cheddar, endive and walnuts ($12) would be a heap o' greens and a bit of the rest. Here, they're equal players, their flavours enhanced with a honey lemon vinaigrette.
As for the mains, huge bespoke ravioli in buttery sage sauce ($18) comes stuffed with sweet puréed squash and dressed with a truffled black-olive tapenade and toasted pine nuts. Served over a bed of end-of season romano beans in a tomato concassé thick with porcini, a honkin' scallopini of pork tenderloin layered with house-cured pancetta ($24) gets finished with pickled cabbage and fronds of wild fennel from the kitchen's backyard. Talk about locavore!
For the meat 'n' potatoes crowd, chef grills Ontario Angus skirt ($26) blood-rare as requested, smeared with blue cheese and plated with more sprouts and a puddle of ambrosial pommes purée.
Only our steamed-to-order English pudding fails to impress: imagine a soggy white sponge muffin doused in syrup paired with a melting scoop of house-made Earl Grey ice cream. More ho-hum than hallelujah, it's not worth the 20-minute wait or the $10 price tag. Sticky toffee this ain't.
But service is accommodating, the 30-seat room's a delight, and the low-level playlist of 80s electro hits soon gives way to the animated conversation of regulars. If I didn't have to fight my way through crosstown rush-hour traffic to get here, I'd likely be one, too.