SILVER SPOON (390 Roncesvalles at Howard Park, 416-516-8112) Couple the former chef from Ferro with a Centro floor vet and get the hottest meal ticket on the west side. Throw in a gorgeous room, smooth service and a hip martini menu -- oh, and reasonably priced, skilfully executed, thoroughly modern mains -- and watch the lineups form. Reservations essential. Complete dinners for $40 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open for dinner Tuesday to Thursday 5 to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday 5 to 11 pm. Closed Sunday and Monday. Fully licensed. Smoke-free. Access: one step at door. Washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Forget Rain, the downtown eattery that's so exclusive nobody goes there. The new boite du jour is a low-key restaurant on far-from-fashionable Roncesvalles. Why, even mentalist Uri Geller has visited Silver Spoon. How else to explain the bent spoons wrapped around the linen napkins that perch on each table in this beautiful, flower-garlanded room?
Yes, it's dumpy old Roncey. Opened soft seven months ago, the Spoon has caught on with locals starved for a decent neighbourhood haunt. Word about the first-rate fare at wallet-friendly prices has spread beyond the nabe, and now it's next to impossible to walk in off the avenue and nab a seat on Spoon's striped banquette.
Why the fuss? Because savvy partners Tanya Reuben and chef Rocco Agostino have hit the culinary bull's eye.
Take something as usually yawn-inducing as white-wine-steamed PEI mussels ($8). Here, the generous portion could easily be split by two -- or make a solo main -- and comes liberally spiked with garlic, wilted basil and diced red onion. After dipping gorgeous multi-grain and crusty Calabrese slices into this luscious broth, you could readily stop there and be sated.
But then you'd miss out on marvellous mains like the massive eight-chop rack of tender, pink-centred New Zealand lamb ($22 and the priciest item on the short menu) slathered with Dijon and freckled with rosemary and thyme.
Chicken breast ballotine ($15) arrives crisp from the oven in a pool of yummy jus dotted with dollops of goat cheese cream. Both mains are layered over the daily starch 'n' veggie combo -- superbly flavoured sauteed-then-roasted miniature red-jacketed potatoes paired with buttery pan-fried snap-peas, Japanese eggplant threads, and shredded aspiration, a hybrid of broccoli and rapini.
A separate list details the lineup of specials that change weekly. On one visit, a sizable inch-thick, perfectly grilled swordfish steak appears topped with sweet-but-vinegary tart tomato salsa kicked with kalamata. It rides a pool of seemingly incongruous honeyed red-pepper puree that doesn't work on paper but succeeds on the tongue.
Another night, arctic char (both $20) features the same fabulous sauce, but this time comes coupled with crunchy black Japonica rice and sweet yellow squash.
Don't pass on dessert. Baked to order, Belgian chocolate ganache ($7.50) -- a flourless semi-sweet souffle -- shows up surrounded by custardy crème anglaise as well as strawberry and blueberry window dressing. Think pudding cake goes to heaven. If this fantastic finish were a religion, I'd join in a minute.
Who is this amazing kitchen magician? Digging deep, I discover that chef Agostino's expertise developed during the six years he spent at Ferro, the happening pizza 'n' pasta parlour on St. Clair West. And while his former work was well executed, it didn't hint at what he achieves at Silver Spoon.
At first glance, some of his current oeuvre does seem Ferro-esque. Only now, Agostino has really pumped up the volume. Antipasto ($8) finds a mess of arugula, basil and radicchio joined by grilled Italian eggplant, sweet potato and red pepper strips, and roasted red onion.
With these, find slices of salami and capicollo, a prosciutto-wrapped bocconcini ball, provolone cubes and black kalamata olives, all in a mustardy balsamic emulsion. Try finding that on Corso Italia.
Strozzapretti ($11) -- literally "priest strangler" -- finds the penne-like pasta coated with tomato, chili, Parmesan and smoky bacon. Imagine Beef-A-Roni taken to a level never dreamed of by Chef Boyardee. The sole disappointment is sweet sausage and red pepper risotto ($12), satisfying comfort food but a bit past al dente.
The unimaginative CD selection -- Ella Fitzgerald, Afro Cuban All-Stars, Chet Baker, Billie Holiday -- while inoffensive, could use an overhaul. And servers, though amiable enough, need to study the menu -- a question, "Is this rosemary?" gets answered with "I suppose so."
Minor details like these can easily be corrected by Reuben, who learned to work a room under Franco Prevedello at Centro.
Taking a page from Kreskin's book, I predict Silver Spoon's future to be golden.