CAFÉ TASTE (1330 Queen West, at Brock, 416-536-7748) Complete meals for $40 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Average main $10. Open Tuesday to Sunday 5 to 10 pm. Licensed. Access: two steps at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
If you're seeking conscientiously sourced coffees and detours down the back roads of Ontario's wine and cheese map, then make haste to Taste's candlelit café and backyard patio.
Play to Taste's strengths and you'll probably be as happy as most of the regulars. But venture beyond Taste's culinary comfort zone and you may be in the soup. And that's not necessarily a good thing.
Excluding the wine and drinks list, the menu is brief and fromage-focused, offering up to 30 cheeses to pair with wine. We order two glasses of wine - one red, one white - and cheese tray #2 ($16, all prices include tax), which promises 3 ounces of "artisan" cheese. Since there's no list offered and we're newcomers to Taste, we feel there's little choice but to go along with owner Jeremy Day's calm assurance that he'll select the cheese.
The smooth tang of Quebec's La Sauvagine and the earthy funk of Niagara Gold provide fine nibbling, but Prince Edward County's Nettles Gone Wild goat cheese is surprisingly bland given its handmade appearance. The cheese is probably worth the money, unlike the plate's accompanying less-than-fresh almonds, run-of-the-mill olives and commercial flatbread crackers.
Departing from the relative order of cheese land, we venture into the menu's unpredictable backcountry. The assertive cheesy/salty flavour of the broccoli and aged-cheddar soup ($6) is tripped up by its gloopy consistency. And I will probably never understand Taste's rustico salad ($10), thinly dressed greens topped with a salami-dominated toupée of shredded cold meat. The tiramisu-like Cthulhu dessert thankfully fails to live up to its H.P. Lovecraft-inspired name. Not bad at all.
Café Taste's good-news/bad-news ethic is exemplified by the wine. Good news: they have Norman Hardie Prince Edward County Pinot Noir ($17, including tax) by the glass. Bad news: the glass is smeared and the wine is served at soupy room temperature.
For all its inconsistency and uneven culinary piousness, Taste is fighting the good fight with well-intentioned café fare and an energetic commitment to the neighbourhood.