VERITAS (234 King East, at Sherbourne, 416-363-8447) Complete dinners for $60 per person (lunches $35), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Average main $23/$14. Open Monday to Thursday 11:30 am to 10 pm, Friday 11:30 am to 11 pm, Saturday 5 to 11 pm. Closed Sunday, holidays. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NN
If truth is in the eye of the beholder, then Veritas, the latest venture from boldface chefs Brad Long and Deron Engbers, looks like a sports bar to me. A very attractive sports bar, mind, but a sports bar nonetheless.
Though Long (Air Canada Centre, 360, Pronto) and Engbers (Mirabelle, the Savoy) consider Veritas (the Latin word for truth) a bistro lounge, most would recognize their swanky King East cantina as a gastro-pub. That's the current resto-biz buzzword used to describe the former working-class pubs now serving gourmet grub that are all the rage in the UK.
Veritas's menu may say edgy eco-conscious supper club with dishes like seared Ontario-raised ostrich and Saltspring Dairy's goat cheese on warm bean ragout ($16), but the room's decor is strictly Wayne Gretzky's.
Pleasant in a generic New York loft way, the multi-level beanery sports a large bar area complete with a pair of plasma TVs permanently tuned to the game ("Brad and I are big Leafs fans," says Engbers), a second slightly more secluded seating section up a few stairs and a cute enclosed courtyard out back. A swell place to catch up on the scores and knock back a couple of pints of Niagara Gritstone lager ($5.39) after work, but somewhere to drop upwards of 150 bucks for dinner?
Two years ago, Eggplant tried a similar concept in this exact same room. In fact, it is the same room right down to napkins, knives and forks. Eggplant flopped. But, judging by the relish with which the ad exec at the next table during Friday lunch inhales his Steam Whistle lager-battered yellow perch sided with baby fennel slaw ($14), Veritas has found its audience.
We've begun with the house's take on Plowman's Board ($13 lunch/$15 dinner), a locally sourced selection of thinly sliced prosciutto, salami and gamy elk sausage. Served with buttered Brick Street Bakery baguette as well as two Cohlmeyer cherry tomatoes and a chunk of aged cheddar cheese, it amounts to a small sandwich at best.
Jus-bursting house-made lamb sausage bedded over creamy shiitake mushroom ($11) tastes more like a pasta course that's lost its noodle than a starter, while another of scalloped Kawartha summer squash ($8) works better as a side alongside Engbers' leg of lamb ($21) at dinner.
It's encouraging to see locally fished pickerel on any card, but Veritas's version ($16 lunch/$19 dinner) arrives overcooked and dry, plated over fingerling spuds, a squiggle of minty tomato puree and more of that damned summer squash.
But there's no faulting the hefty Kerr Farms burger ($12), a pink-centred patty dolloped with yogurt, dressed with mesclun, tomato and red onion and innovatively wrapped in a thin flour tortilla. Shame its side of quite good Yukon Gold frites grew cold before we could finish them.
At dinner, the scene's somewhat more sedate. Oh, the TVs are still tuned to TSN, but votive candles scattered about the room give it a cozy, romantic glow. The room's about a third full not bad for a Monday night but we're the only table eating.
Like a lot of new restaurants, Veritas fetisizes its use of local ingredients, going so far as to state on its menu that "our philosophy and geography bring us to consider all things from sources outward in concentric circles from our front door," among them "precious foraged treasures."
And so we get Fisher Farm sweet onion soup ($8), a robust port-fuelled potage dolloped with mild, crumbly sheep's milk cheese, and a tasty if diminutive salad of Cookstown Greens dressed with sprigs of silver thyme and creamy brown butter vinaigrette ($8).
Cumbrae's supplies the pig for the pork platter ($23), a few tender cubes of sinfully fatty braised belly, a seared slab of Berkshire loin and a trio of ravioli stuffed with shredded shoulder, all sided with roasted parsley root that resembles parsnip but tastes like zucchini.
Crispy-skinned guinea fowl ($26) comes partially boned and stuffed with mellow Niagara chorizo and fresh Portuguese ricotta-style cheese. It's plated artfully over a handful of al dente haricots verts and a half-dozen tomato-infused gnocchi.
I'm still sitting on the fence about Veritas overall when the kitchen hits it out of the park with dessert. We can't resist ordering what the menu describes as all-Ontario carrot cake ($7), and for once the payoff lives up to the hype. Frosted in cream-cheese icing and drizzled with a crème anglaise spiked with basil (!), this impressive multi-level marvel has us converted. That is, until we learn that it's baked off-site by Circles & Squares in Liberty Village. Well, at least it's from within a 100-mile concentric circle of the front door.
This will likely be interpreted as a typical NOW hatchet job, but honestly, considering its pedigree, we came hoping to praise Veritas, not bury it. However, fairly appetizing food at these price points in an unsympathetic space doesn't warrant a recommendation in our books.
Sorry, guys, but sometimes the truth hurts.