Owner/chef David Haman pulls out a tray of wood-fired apple and ricotta galettes.
WOODLOT (293 Palmerston, at College, 647-342-6307, woodlotrestaurant.com). Complete meals for $50 per person, including all taxes, tip and a pint of Duggan's #9 IPA. Average main $19. Open for dinner Tuesday to Sunday 5 to 10:30 pm; café weekdays 7:30 am to 5 pm, weekends 8:30 am to 5 pm. Closed Mondays till 2011 and some holidays. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN
Back in the days when Twitter was the sound made by twits, newly opened restaurants took several weeks - if not months - to catch on with the culinary cognoscenti. Now that we're all permanently wired to our BlackBerrys, the process happens overnight.
Witness Woodlot, the barely two-week-old beanery in the one-time Octapus Lounge. All it takes is a couple of strategically placed tweets on opening night and there are lineups out the door. No wonder so many start-ups hire social network coordinators before cooks. Build that buzz, baby!
That's not to imply that Woodlot is purely an exercise in hype. Simply put in 140 characters or less, Woodlot is one of the most innovative nosheries to open locally since the Black Hoof made loving offal lawful.
But first, the gorgeous two-storey space itself, a one-time garage transformed into a sophisticated supper club by night, a more casual bakery and coffee bar by day.
From the upper-level dining room, a dozen or so coveted candlelit tables overlook a ragtag kitchen and a wood-burning stove the size of a small igloo that not only warms the room but also cooks virtually everything on co-owner chef David Haman's two four-course cards, one vegetarian, the other unashamedly carnivore. And, no, he doesn't do pizza.
Haman first made a splash along with the Atlantic's Nathan Isberg at the original Czehoski, where his whimsical dishes - a sundae of duck confit parfait with wild rice sprinkles - were too avant-garde for punters expecting a burger and a pint. After the heave-ho, Haman took a low-profile gig with Claudio Aprile at Colborne Lane before moving on to Lucien, Noce and a two-year stint at Cookstown Greens.
But just because Haman also took a stage at Ferran Adrià's elBulli in Spain, don't come to Woodlot looking for molecular gastronomy. Instead, find comfort food of the highest order.
It starts with ex-St. John's house baker Jeff Connell's Red Fife baguette spread with saltily whipped Stirling Creamery butter and bowls of sweetly caramelized French onion soup ($8).
"They say it's impossible to make a good veggie version," says Haman. "But I beg to differ."
So do we, but we could do without the too-thick caraway rye crouton that renders the Gruyère-topped potage a soggy grilled cheese sandwich. A fantastic one, mind you.
Braised in a white wine brodo, shreds of tender lamb tossed with a handful of bitter arugula and Toscano cheese tumble from a flaky tart layered with wilted kale and creamed cauliflower ($12), the same smooth purée that makes its way into pastry chef Stephanie Bishop's savoury croissants ($2.65). Wide sheets of house-made Red Fife pappardelle come deliciously dressed with tomato-braised wild boar or wild mushrooms and boozy shallots (both $13 small/$19 large).
Complaining that Haman's oven-fired porchetta with baked beans is too fatty misses the point. It's supposed to be that way, and there's lots of it to boot.
Another winter chill killer, Savoy cabbage rolls (both $19) get laced with braised duck, chestnuts, barley and prunes. Filling stuff!
Since plates are exceptionally generous, opting for à la carte sides - unnecessary add-ons like mashed potatoes with bone marrow, buttery Brussels sprouts, an odd cauliflower and chickpea gratin (all $5) - means there likely won't be room for blueberry lemon tarts dolloped with roasted marshmallow merengue ($8).
Chef's epic venison pie ($19) alone could feed a family of four.
"We've had a few manage to finish it by themselves," laughs Haman before adding that servers now warn customers not to order a starter, a middle course and a main unless they want leftovers.
"I want people going home with takeout containers. It's part of our strategy, a ‘fuck you' to everybody who serves tiny portions."