The Rosebud ( 669 Queen West, at Bathurst, 416-703-8810) Complete dinners for $75 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Average main $22. Open for dinner Monday to Wednesday 6 to 10 pm, Thursday to Saturday 6 to 11 pm. Bar till close. Closed Sunday and holidays. Licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN
In my decades on Toronto's culinary front lines, I have criticized cutlery, nitpicked napkins and even commented on the colour of a server's socks. But until reviewing the Rosebud, the new west-side bistro at Queen and Bathurst, I have never found fault with a menu.
Sure, I've condemned the contents of many, but not the actual piece of paper (or vellum, the slippery translucent skin that architects use, in the this case) on which one is written.
This menu's well-fingered, too.
So much so that in the short two months since the Rosebud replaced Mr. Pong's the already difficult-to-read small print is smudged beyond recognition.
A helpful - and seemingly sockless - server suggests we hold the see-through card up to the candle that's burning away romantically centre stage on our linen-covered table to get a better look.
"Jicawia und dit 3?" we inquire, squinting.
"Focaccia and dip, three bucks," she offers.
The card deciphered, we sink back into our comfortable booth surrounded by wooden wainscotting, worlds away, though really only mere feet, from one of Toronto's grimmest corners. For an early and drearily wet Monday evening, the former home of the jumbo egg roll is remarkably full.
Soon, delivered amusingly in a demitasse on a saucer, an amuse arrives - a wonderfully smooth and swoonsomely rich potato and leek cream dressed with chive chiffonade, shaved truffle and a shot of truffled oil ($8 à la carte). To accompany, Led Zeppelin rattle through Dazed And Confused over the in-house sound system.
Less discordant, a starter of citrusy house-cured gravlax-style salmon reposes on a tangle of frissée and a petite crème-fraiche-squiggled potato rosti that's gone room temperature but must have been spectacular straight from the pan.
As the Doobie Brothers lament over Old Black Water, the Rosebud's riff on Caesar salad (both $11) sees full lengths of bitter inner leaves draped with pink Spanish anchovy, thickly cut pancetta and shards of Grana Padano topped with a runny poached egg.
Co-owner and chef Rod Bowers, who's worked his way up through the classical kitchens of North 44 and Auberge du Pommier, demonstrates his East Coast roots with mains like pan-fried cod with rendered fatback scrunchions ($19), while his dry-aged double-cut 12-ounce veal chop ($27) references his stint at Massimo Capra's Mistura. Massive, it's impressively plated on a pool of sauce Diablo next to a heap of juniper-braised red cabbage.
Slow-cooked in root beer (!), Bowers's comfort-food pork ribs ($19) literally fall from the bone, their meat disintegrating into a delicious mess once skewered with a fork. Old-school napa coleslaw sweetened with apple and Japanese rice wine vinegar completes the retro package.
Chef's utter disdain for those afraid of butter and sea salt becomes obvious with the terrific shredded oxtail braised in veal jus that accompanies his fabulously rich potato gnocchi in basil-scented tomato sauce ($17). We concur with George Harrison's rip of the Chiffons. My Sweet Lord, indeed!
Sides come separately. The house greens ($5) comprise baby bok choy, Chinese cabbage and snappy green beans in a sweet soy bath, while luxurious grilled rapini ($7) comes done Italian-style with roasted garlic and lemon.
We're particularly taken with Bowers's mustardy German-style potato salad dusted with fresh dill. Only his French-toast-like lemon bread pudding (both $5) falters. Made from Ace Bakery baguette and finished with black Amorini cherries, it's more brunch than dessert. (As opposed to a desert, which is where America are lost at the moment with A Horse With No Name.)
As we drain the last of our Patagonian Malbec (2004 Bodega Humberto Canale Black River, $32 bottle/$8 glass), Terry Jacks recalls his Seasons In The Sun. The evening's confounding soundtrack, which seems more like an exercise in bad taste than good business sense, now hits rock bottom: Alice Cooper's sanguine asservation that Only Women Bleed.
Squeezing past on our way to the door minutes later, we bump into Bowers rocking out at the bar to Johnny Cash. Call me square, but outside of a tacky taqueria or a proctologist's office, is Ring Of Fire ever appropriate?