Weekend eating: May 31 – June 1



Beech Tree

924 Kingston Rd, at Lawlor, 416-699-4444, thebeechtree.ca, @TheBeechTreePub Taking his culinary cues from UK gastro-pub heavyweights Heston Blumenthal and Marco Pierre White, first-time restaurateur Robert Maxwell’s 34-seat upper Beach bistro isn’t out to reinvent the wheel. Those who value substance over surface flash are bound to be impressed. Best: to start, ex-Opus sous Jamie Newman’s Pringle-like fingerling potato crisps with buttermilk dip sausage rolls made with artisanal pork shoulder from Sanagan’s in proper puff-pastry shells with fruity house-made HP sauce creamed cauliflower and stinky Stilton on toast dressed with curly English parsley grilled double-thick Mennonite pork chops with flageolet beans and roasted Brussels sprouts halves of roasted Moroccan-style chicken with spicy du Puys lentils and red harissa 8-ounce burgers of shredded brisket topped with aged cheddar and pickled onion on house-baked brioche to finish, flourless chocolate cake with Maldon sea salt and unsweetened crème fraîche. Complete dinners for $45 per person, including tax, tip and a glass of wine. Average main $20/$13 brunch. Open dinner Saturday 5 to 11 pm. Reservations accepted. Licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN


1211 Bloor W, at Margueretta, 647-348-4500, littledrunkbird.com Although they don’t serve the illegal roasted French bird drowned in Armagnac that gives this Bloordale bistro its name, owner/chefs Damon Clements and Daniel Usher’s unusually short contemporary card is just as extraordinary. Low tax-inclusive prices, only 26 seats and a no-reservations policy mean the chances of snagging one of them is nigh on impossible come prime time. NOW’s resto of the year 2011! Best: shareable starters like rabbit rillettes scented with fresh rosemary and spread on chewy slices of Thuet baguette, sided with mild Taggiasche olives grilled green onions – and one organic purple spring onion – paired with garlicky Catalan almond-chili sauce red radish and kohlrabi salad in lemony cumin-yogurt dressing finished with dill and slivered scallion mains like house-made gnocchi in mascarpone cream with foraged hen of the woods mushrooms and shaved parmigiano sliced rare skirt steak in spicy harissa piled with wilted ribbons of celery for dessert, lavender panna cotta with stewed Ontario strawberries to drink rhubarb spritzers. Complete dinners for $45 per person, including tax, tip and a glass of wine. Average main $16. Open for dinner Saturday 5 to 10:30 pm. Licensed. Access: slight bump at door, tight tables, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNNN

Le Sélect

432 Wellington W, at Spadina, 416-596-6405, leselect.com After nearly three decades on Queen West, Jean-Jacques Quinsac and Frederic Geisweller’s intimate French bistro relocates to more spacious digs four blocks south. Almost every detail, from the original’s art nouveau facade to the welcoming zinc bar and the posters plastered to its pale faux-nicotine-stained walls, has been duplicated. But who forgot those legendary hanging bread baskets? Best: to begin, an assortment of Alsatian charcuterie or puff pastry vol-au-vents with escargots mains like the house bavette – an aged 8-ounce flat-iron – topped with shallots and sided with fabulously skinny house frites braised white bean cassoulet with lamb, pork belly, Toulouse sausage and duck confit daily specials like oxtail ravioli with salsify, sweetbreads braised in Madeira, or lamb shank and marrow bone in risotto mussels steamed in Quebec Maudite ale with smoked pork belly and frites gently beer-braised Tripes à la Tripelle oreille de cochon, strips of crispy sow’s ears sided with lentils du Puy and watercress crêtes de coq, braised cockscombs with mushrooms, pine nuts and artichoke-stuffed tortellino $19.95 two-course steak frites prix fixe. Complete prix fixe dinners for $35 per person (à la carte $55/lunches or brunches $30), including tax, tip and a glass of wine. Average main $21/$13. Open for dinner Saturday 5 pm to midnight. Reservations accepted. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN


Barrio Coreano

642 Bloor W, at Manning, 416-901-5188, playacabana.ca, @barriocoreano After three tries at bat with Playa Cabana, owner/executive chef Dave Sidhu finally gets the formula right with this surprisingly unpretentious taqueria in Korea-town. Friendly, informed service, an innovative East-meets-Southwest carte and a Latin-accented playlist that fits the neon-lit room like a glove transform first-timers into repeat customers. Best: to start, what Sidhu calls “watermelon sashimi,” thin slices of melon dressed with kumquats, unseeded jalapeños, toasted pine nuts and a toss of pomegranate seeds in tart ponzu vinaigrette grilled calamari in smoky árbol chili sided with sweet ‘n’ salty pineapple kimchee salsa South Korean fried chicken tacos in sweet ‘n’ sour kampungki sauce on blue corn tortillas the built-to-share 32-ounce Cowboy aged rib-eye steak to finish, flourless chocolate cake in jars topped with green tea ice cream to drink, kimchee sours with Jack Daniel’s, fresh lime and pickle syrup. Complete meals for $40 per person, including tax, tip and an imported beer. Open Sunday noon to 11 pm. Reservations accepted. Licensed. Access: two steps at door, three steps to washrooms. Rating: NNNN

Beverley Hotel

335 Queen W, at Beverley, 416-493-2786, thebeverleyhotel.ca, @beverleyhotelTO Former Fabarnak and Hawthorne chef Eric Wood brings his updated comfort carte to downtown’s latest boutique hotel. Those who fondly remember the once-nearby Beverley Tavern are in for a shock. Best: to start, baskets of cinnamon-dusted doughnuts, cheesy biscuits and wedges of warm cornbread shareable starters like a Caesar salad with kale and dehydrated tomato instead of romaine and bacon the Breakfast Bone, a halved veal shin with marrow topped with poached quail eggs over toasted bread salad with grilled pork belly the house burger, 6 ounces of grass-fed chuck on an eggy Fred’s bun dressed with tomato jam, sautéed wild mushrooms and a wedge of deep-fried cheese, sided with correctly skinny frites southern-fried chicken ‘n’ Eggo waffle sandwich with maple syrup to drink, $4 Caesars made with bacon-infused bourbon. Complete brunches for $30 per person, including tax, tip and a Caesar. Average main $13. Open for Sunday brunch 10 am to 4 pm. Reservations accepted. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNNN

Seven Lives

69 Kensington, at Baldwin, 416-803-1086, sevenlives.ca, @sevenlivesTO Forget the Lilliputian Schnitzel Queen. Based solely on most bodies squeezed into smallest space, Sean Riehl’s Cal-Mex taqueria is hands-down the most popular restaurant in town, let alone Kensington Market. Pedestrian Sundays? Try getting in on a Thursday afternoon in the dead of February. Frankly, we don’t get the attraction. The calling-card Gobernador taco is a shotgun wedding of smoked marlin, flat-topped shrimp and shredded cheddar cheese and tastes of way too much chipotle. Now that every sports bar in the GTA does them, breaded Baja-style fish tacos aren’t much of a draw. The mushroom and cactus taco is greasy. In the tacos’ defence, they’re enormous! Maybe that’s why each one comes wrapped in a doubled-up shell. Average main $5. Open Sunday noon to 7 pm. No reservations. Unlicensed. Access: one step at door, no washrooms. Rating: NN



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