PIC NIC (747 Queen East, at Grant, 647-435-5298) Complete dinners for $40 per person (lunches $25), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Average main $20/$8. Open Monday and Tuesday 11:30 am to 11 pm, Wednesday 11:30 am to midnight, Thursday and Friday 11:30 am to 1 am, Saturday 4 pm to 1 am, Sunday and holidays 4 to 9 pm. Closed some holidays. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NN
Riverside - That stretch of Queen that runs east from the Don Valley to DeGrassi - has become quite the foodie mecca. Bistros and food shops like Pop, Citizen, Table 17 and the just-launched LPK's Culinary Groove have turned this once shabby strip (home to Jilly's and Dangerous Dan's) into one of the hottest nabes in town.
Not to be confused with the now-deceased uptown eatery of the same name, Pic Nic opened earlier this year to little fanfare. Though the new-build condo it's in sticks out among the Victorian splendour like Paris Hilton at a hayride, the resto's floor-to-ceiling glass facade offers first-rate visuals of the street's historic architecture.
The room's unusually welcoming as well, all dark exotic woods with a low-slung communal table running along one wall. There's a short card of panini and salads, but the main attraction's the "create your own picnic" charcuterie platter ($20). A large chalkboard explains the deal: pick two cheeses, two meats and three condiments. Problem is, nearly half of the 30-some options aren't available when we visit.
Our server highly recommends the olives, but they deliver little of the citrus kick she promises. The confusingly named duck cacciatore translates as plain ol' salami, and skate rillettes - not the most flavourful fish at the best of times - are impossibly bland despite a fresh lime drizzle, lacking even salt or pepper, while the house pâté could use a transfusion of cognac. A side of red onion jam manages the trick of being caramelized but not sweet, although a half-dozen gherkins deliver a clove-kissed crunch. And the soft Italian Gorgonzola is creamy perfection.
From the regular menu, vegan turnip soup ($4.50) is unexpectedly rich, a thick autumnal purée infused with apple. A Black Forest-style ham-and-asiago panini comes on sandwich-pressed baguette, its advertised pommery mustard AWOL. Saddest of all, Pic Nic's niçoise (all $8) looks the part - a great heap of arugula correctly tossed with canned tuna, al dente green beans, ripe tomato, sliced new potato and red onion, the lot topped with a runny poached egg - but is so underdressed, it could be arrested for public indecency.
Pic Nic has the makings of a terrific spot - comfortably hip room, friendly, knowledgeable service, 32 wines by the glass, Depeche Mode on the CD player - but until the kitchen discovers the spice rack, Pic Nic's no picnic.