Chef Matthew James Matheson preps food for one big communal table.
ODDFELLOWS (936 Queen West, at Shaw, 416-534-5244) Complete dinners for $45 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Average main $17. Open for dinner Tuesday to Saturday 6 to 11 pm; bar till close. Closed Sunday, Monday, holidays. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN
Part design store, part space-age cocktail lounge, recently launched OddFellows is certainly the weirdest restaurant in town. And the loudest.
The other night at dinner, so raucous is the ruckus emanating from OddFellows' sound system (bad-period Ozzie cranked to 11, followed by someone with the blues playing a guitar strung with barbed wire who keeps getting her fingers caught), conversation is next to impossible.
It's not just us. Our server, an otherwise charming and accommodating young woman, can't make out a word we're saying. But OddFellows' message is clear: though we're the only paying customers in the joint, we're are not cool enough to be here.
Which is a shame, because minus the confrontational fuck-you - dildo-shaped salt 'n' pepper shakers, potty-mouthed poetry on the walls - OddFellows has the makings of a very good resto.
There's no question that this minimally appointed fishbowl of a room is impeccably stylish. Decked out with light fixtures fashioned from recycled fluorescent tubes, the futuristic space features a proverbially roaring fireplace suspended from the ceiling and a single communal table seating 24.
I'm not a fan of communal dining; it's hard enough supping with family and friends, let alone complete strangers. But former La Palette chef Matt Matheson's first-time comfort food card is worth the minor annoyance.
It begins with a shareable ramekin of deliriously delicious fois gras pâté ($12 for two) accompanies by a stack of toasted baguette slices, the pâté dressed with fresh honeycomb, crushed cashews and port-intensified blueberries, and continues with a simple salad of butter lettuce, crumbled Quebecois bleu and fleshy quartered figs in olive oil ($7).
OddFellows' communal concept also shows up in mains like pressure-cooked leg of lamb stew with mashed potatoes ($30 for two).
Since it's no fun eating the same thing as everyone else, we opt for the Fellows' surprisingly juicy wild boar burger ($15 with chunky fries) instead. So massive that it comes jauntily speared with a chopstick, this 8-ounce-plus La Ferme patty gets layered with gooey Gruyère as well as house-made piccalilli and ketchup.
Nicely chargrilled quail arrives draped with thyme and splayed over a hash of roasted cherry tomatoes and baby fingerling spuds splashed with garlicky pesto. Our token vegetarian passes up the day's veggie pasta - pappardelle with roasted-garlic tomato sauce, sautéed artichoke, shaved fennel and Parmigiano (both $16) - for the house's herbivore stew ($14), an impossibly boring but no doubt healthy mix of pearl barley and baby beets in rosewater-scented cremini mushroom broth, served with grilled Portuguese cornbread.
But that doesn't stop him from sticking his finger in the Jack Daniel's barbecue sauce that blankets obscenely fatty cubes of pork belly, paired with an extremely meaty short rib in molasses and maple syrup ($14). It's sided only with a smear of parsnip purée; additional greens - tonight, Japanese-style Chinese broccoli - are à la carte ($6).
Desserts are as quirky as the decor and the music selection (fancy splitting a banana split made with house-made Neapolitan ice cream, $12?), and after 10 pm you can get a grilled cheese sandwich made with a slice of Kraft Velveeta and Wonder Bread for three bucks.
The beer list is equally loopy, including a strawberry Fruili ($4.35), Delirium Tremens on tap ($6.09) and Molson Golden by the bottle ($3.48). The current wine list is virtually non-existent, and the bill eventually arrives stuck between the pages of a Harlequin Romance paperback.
"Take your time," our server smiles, barely heard above the bedlam. "Enjoy your table."
Turn down the godawful racket, ratchet back the attitude, download a Stereolab comp and we just might.