TRANSILVANIA (2579 Yonge, at Briar Hill, 416-932-9915) Blending elements of Hungarian, Turkish and Italian cuisine, this Old World Romanian resto definitely does not suck. Instead, find hearty, not too heavy grub with unexpected twists of vinegar and sweetness. Complete meals for $35 per person ($15 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a shot of Stolichnaya. Open Tuesday to Thursday noon to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday noon to midnight, Sunday noon to 10 pm. Closed Monday. Access: 18 steps at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN
Any other review of an eatery called Transilvania would begin with a reference to Bela Lugosi, followed by a series of obvious vampire gags and even worse puns about Bloody Marys and garlic. Since NOW shuns this kind of cheap shtick, we'll start by saying that we seriously dig this sucker.It's right up the street from swanky Centro and North 44, has been open only six months and is named for the home of Vlad the Impaler, the 15th-century dude who not only invented the shish kebab by skewering his enemies on spikes but also inspired the mythic Dracula.
Like other crossroads cuisines, the grub of the mountainous region of central and western Romania shows many influences, mostly from invading marauders -- or marauding invaders -- like the Romans, the odd barbarian and armies of Turks, Austrians, Germans and Russians. Proof lies on this uptown spot's prodigious plates.
At the top of a long staircase, The Literary Device and I find the antithesis of goth. Instead of Herman and Lily Munster's ghoulish digs, we enter a long, narrow space divided into several areas -- a generic skylight-lit sports bar with the game on TV, a more formal party space with a backyard rooftop deck to the rear and a bright cozy room at the front overlooking the north Toronto streetscape of designer baby boutiques and hardware outlets where locals pay up to $150 for a doorknob. In previous lives, it housed both El Cid and La Carreta.
We're introduced to Transilvania via its namesake platter ($10.95 small/$14.95), a massive communal nosh of Romanian mezes: red roe mixed with sour cream and minced pickle piped through a pastry bag onto retro Ritz crackers, scoops of smoky eggplant purée, cubes of creamy Balkan feta, black kalamata olives, chunky hot salami, ice cream scoops of sweet potato salad and raw red and green pepper strips. Hardly sophisticated stuff.
How can we not order Dracula's Grill Plate ($19.95), a massive carnivorous extravaganza of vampire proportions? But first, the Device wavers on her choice of sides. Roasted pepper and minced garlic salad in honey vinaigrette? Savoury cabbage slaw with dill? She asks our server -- owner Vasile Galata (that's wife Elena in the kitchen) -- exactly what "Sautéed vegetable," means.
"Mixed," comes the stone-faced reply.
Mixed what? Carrots? Broccoli? Brussels sprouts?
"Mixed. From the bag at Price Club," the answer.
The LD passes on the frozen veg but aces with twice-cooked deliciously meaty roasted Yukon Gold spuds. Drac's snack also includes two char-grilled mititei (pronounced meet-eetay), kebabs of mixed beef, pork and lamb, a beautiful pink-centred pork chop that wouldn't be out of place in a fancy downtown boîte and lightly breaded pork schnitzel. A mildly vinegary batch of house-made pickles -- beet-tinted cauliflower, severed green chilies, crisp sour dills -- complete the platter. She's about to dig in when Galata returns with a stake knife (sorry, couldn't help it).
Forgive me, macrobiotic guru. I know chicken livers are the foulest part of the fowl, but Transilvania's fabulous fried version ($9.95) satisfies some deep primordial urge, especially when sided with perfect Mitteleuropean mashed potatoes ladled with creamy mushroom-garlic gravy. To counteract the excessive cholesterol, I've scheduled several days of brown rice and seaweed.
Back a few days later, we sample several of Transilvania's chorbas (semi-sour Romanian soups): rice-flecked meatball ($5.95), creamy tender tripe, and white bean with smoked pork hocks (both $6.95), the last a thick multi-bean and ham-bone potage thickened Hungarian-style with sour cream and hot paprika but further soured, like Russian borscht, with vinegar and lemon. These distinctive soups gain additional tang from a garnish of pickled tarragon.
Two large Mushroom Cups ($7.95) -- button caps, really -- come stuffed with finely shredded bacon and topped with melted cascaval (sheep cheese) and roasted red pepper. Alongside, a bed of paprika sour cream adds extra calories. A quartet of dense cabbage rolls ($12.95) arrive covered in sweet tomato sauce and plated with sauerkraut and even more sour cream.
Pure anthropology Romanian-style, beef goulash ($14.95) is a Transilvanian take on the classic Magyar dish but dumps the dumplings for soft red-pepper-topped pillows of Roman-inspired mamaliga polenta ($14.95). And though several eastern European wines are available, skip the likes of a Yugoslavian Riesling ($21.75) for a fortifying shot of Stolichnaya ($5.25).for months i've been meaning to check out Ajuker Fried Chicken (796 Bloor West, at Crawford, 416-536-8292), a takeout chicken shack with a patio that overlooks Christie Pits, but it never seems to be open when I'm in the nabe. Finally, I luck out and take my place in line behind a woman who doesn't understand why, if the joint sells fried chicken and spicy chicken, it doesn't make jerk chicken.
Because the counter person only seems to know the English words "spicy," "fried" and "radish," I help the confused customer by explaining that since AFC is the KFC of Korea, its thickly battered birds are much like the Colonel's, only deep-fried and then doused with hot honey-garlic sauce. Not convinced, she heads off elsewhere to satisfy her jerk jones.
I score AFC's Spicy Chicken Special Piece ($12.99/medium), two pounds of heavily breaded drumettes, mid-sections with wing tips, a few drumsticks and unidentified fried pieces I can only guess might be necks. Joined by grease-cutting cubes of cooling daikon and recalling Pal WT's over-the-top Find Chicken From A Pile Of Chile Peppers -- though not nearly as fiery -- these random parts are just too delish to resist, especially once I realize I have no idea exactly what it is I'm eating. Anyway, who cares? It's more than likely very bad for me.
Memo à moi: buy more brown rice. firstname.lastname@example.org