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YOURS TRULY (229 Ossington, at Dundas West, 416-533-2243, yours-truly.ca) Complete meals for $65 per person, including tax, tip and a discount beer. Open for dinner Wednesday to Monday 5:30 to 10 pm, snack menu till 2 am. Reservations recommended. Closed Tuesday. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
The kitchen brigade at Ossington buzz bistro Yours Truly takes such pride in its avant-garde carte, it sends out one of its members with each unorthodox plate to deliver a detailed dissertation on its construction.
We're all ears this hopping Thursday night but manage to catch only a few unrelated phrases every time - cured coriander kimchee here, maltodextrin horseradish oil there - such is the racket of retro Talking Heads and Human League bouncing off the former Galaxy Donut's acoustically challenged ceiling. We'd consult the four-month-old resto's online menu on our iPhones, but "The Potato: smoked, pureed, roasted" offers few clues, reading more like poetry than supper.
"I cook what I like to eat," says Vancouver-born chef Jeff Claudio by way of explanation.
And so we get an amuse I'd describe as "cereal on a spoon" that turns out to be puffed wheat-berries mixed with pumpernickel crumbs and bitter ground coffee, while a second of mini-profiteroles stuffed with fresh house-made cheese tilts more savoury than sweet. From the late-night snack lineup, Pork Chashu ($5) finds barely seared slices of fatty pork belly in spicy Korean gochujang pepper sauce topped with shreds of almost raw scallion, four bites tops.
Claudio salutes trendy West Coast street food with his Tokyo Dog ($8), here a smoky brought-in Butcher Shoppe wiener dressed with fried onion, sweet Kewpie mayo and fishy seaweed. One bite's plenty, and that one we spit out discreetly into the provided moist towelette.
Chef's generous take on Trinidadian doubles - curried chickpeas sandwiched between two pieces of house-baked bara flatbread ($6) - is literally a mess, its filling sloppily spilling out all over the place. Definitely a knife and fork affair. We wash it down with a bottle of overly bitter Muskoka Mad Tom IPA ($6) and understand why Tom has anger issues.
Alongside the reconfigured canapes, Claudio offers two ever-evolving tasting menus, one labelled Meat ($45), the other Veg ($35). Tonight they both begin with something called Parsnip-Cucumber, Pumpernickel, Apple, Whipped honey, which has us wondering if what's about to come will be salad, soup or just plain nuts.
Seems that description translates as a jellied parsnip dumpling layered with thinly sliced raw Matsu apple tossed with cucumber juice, nasturtium and more pumpernickel crumbs, a few piped blobs of frothy whipped honey on the side.
We'd have never guessed that the veggie second course listed as Pierogi-Spinach would be a spin on saag paneer by way of Roncesvalles, a spinach-stuffed raviolo topped with melted house-made ricotta and even more bread crumbs, these fried in Hewitt Dairy's ridiculously rich goat's butter. The meat menu's second of lake trout in a classic Grenobloise sauce of lemon and capers pales in comparison.
The herbivore main finds maybe three tasty turnip gnocchi swimming in salty broth alongside a soft-boiled egg and a fine julienne of chewy cloud-ear fungus, while the meat eaters get a perfectly pink duck breast paired with roasted Jerusalem artichokes and a crumble of crispy chicken skin and toasted sesame seeds.
Both conclude with a tiered Jello-like dessert of yogurt and hibiscus compote served in a glass topped with a lid of anise-scented "ice" that breaks into shards of brittle sugar that only get stuck in your teeth.
Clearly, Claudio relishes in the unconventional. His dishes are occasionally innovative and always challenging, if only intellectually. But no amount of culinary hocus-pocus can disguise the fact that most of his customers can have no idea what it is they're eating. Postcards with diagrams, perhaps?
Some are calling Yours Truly the best new resto in town. Quirky, irreverent, overly ambitious and too clever by half, no problem. Best? Not on your life.