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Winterlicious #3: Square

Location: 692 Mt. Pleasant, south of Eglington. Toronto.

Although I knew in advance Square was likely to be our best meal, I didn't schedule it last for that reason. Well, maybe I did - that's why I had to book a later date than the others - the restaurant was in higher demand.

Square is one of Oliver Bonacini's restaurants, which comprise a local group of top fooderies. The six restaurants include Canoe, which is consistantly ranked as one of the best few restaurants in the city. At Square, the food concepts are playful. The pun on "square meal" is intentional; the full menu features such misleading items as Bangers & Mash, Braised Beef & Guiness Pudding, Soup 'n' Sandwich, and a "Piece of Cake". But this is no café or pub, despite the dishes. Not when they're surrounded by other dishes like Lobster Ravioli and Liquorice Scented Venison. None of them are what they seem. The Soup 'n' Sandwich turns out to involve foie gras, quince & white bean.

We arrived to a cool white room, pleasant, reasonably spacious, and high ceiling. The space was cool in more than one sense - saffonjan and I both kept our shawls because we were a little too cool otherwise. We had plenty of space around our table, for we were seated at a curved banquette. The restaurant had put some thought into their Winterlicious menu, for it offered us event-designed cocktails as well as the tie-in wine specials and course offerings. Nearly everything appealed: between us, we ordered every dish on the Winterlicious menu except for the caesar salad.

Including cocktails. I had a pear one in my endless weakness for fruit, composed of pear cordial, pear xante brandy, and champagne; the combination was a pleasant balance between fruit and alcohol flavors. The restaurant also offers freshly squeezed fruit drinks daily; if only there'd not been so much else to try, I might well have had the ginger lemonade instead. saffronjan warmed herself up on a hot rum and cider butterball to begin with. We nibbled on bread while waiting for our appetizers to arrived, tasty, crusty bread baked in-house with unsalted butter and Malden fleur-de-sel which added a nicely crunchy and not overly salty texture.*

John began with the celery root soup - smooth, delicate - while the rest of us had the Bangers & Mash. The dungeness crab sausages were ethereal in taste, with the strength of a meaty crab in texture. It was served on white chocolate and olive oil mash, where the distinct, rounded flavors of the olive dominated - neither of us could figure out what role the white chocolate was playing in the taste. The whole thing was topped by a piece of puffed Portugese bacon which was the taste highlight of it for me, despite the dish's other strengths.

Our mains were all gussied-up versions of comfort foods at one level, but I might only be dwelling on this since I had the least interesting main. The cod cake spheres arrived on a bed of salmon, a dabs of creamy sauce surrounded it, and with a handful of beautifully cooked crisp green beans. The cod has a rich taste on its own, but there wasn't much more than that to the flavor of the dish - that's why I traded a third of my main for a third of saffronjan's divinely comforting risotto with mascarpone. John's richly-flavored lamb pie was pretty wonderful too.

At this point, we took a detour from the appointed menu. You see, for a fair many meals in a row now, we've been discussing how nice it would be to have a cheese course and dessert wine, and every time, we've been entirely too full to deal with it when the appropriate time came. Not so this time! And saffronjan was particularly eager to try this cheese board since the entire selection was made with raw, unpasteurized milk. After impetuously considering ordered the entire 6-cheese selection, we instead opted for only four of them. The Pouligny Fermier goat's milk cheese was the most understated of the group, with a pleasantly peppery element to its taste. The Lincolnshire Poacher, our only hard cheese, was a relative of cheddar, but really a rather different creature, with a smooth, rich finish. The Epoisses de Bourgogne was the softest and smelliest of the group; it went particularly well with the sliver-thin slices of royal gala apple. But the real revelation of the course for me was the Colston Bassett Stilton, for I'd never had such a richly complicated cheese, a cheese as complicated and enticing as a really good wine.

For dessert, the women of the party opted for a marmalade pudding cake, a pleasantly understated confection which went beautifully with the ginger-infused Crown Bench Estates ice wine which saffronjan drank; it didn't go quite as well with the chocolate-inflused variety of the same, but I loved the wine too much to care too much. At least they didn't clash. But my wine went far more effectively with John's "Piece of Cake", a deconstructed chocolate cake full of intense chocolately-goodness, its crust-equivalent standing vertically in the midst of a creamy chocolate mousse, surrounded on the plate by dabs of better-than-frosting sauce.

By the time the bill came, we were pleasantly full, although I couldn't resist nibbling the cardamon-chocolate coated nuts which arrived with it. We sat for a while, already reminiscing over favorite dishes from the meal.

Happy anniversary, John and saffronjan! (It's actually next week, but they were celebrating tonight.)

* After reading Chez Pim's write up - with photos - of her birthday dinner at the French Laundry in which foie gras was served with nine different kinds of salt, I'm rather curious about all the worlds' salts. But not as curious as I still am about quince and cooking classes - those are coming first.

Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
innostrantsa
Feb. 10th, 2005 08:15 am (UTC)
heavens above, woman.

i think you're going into the wrong field-- history of timekeeping, yeahgreatwhatever-- you really, really need to go into restaurant/food reviewing. what a glorious evening of sensory and gustatory delights!
owlfish
Feb. 11th, 2005 04:41 am (UTC)
Thank you - you really made my day! From all the reading I've done on reviewing as a career, I know I could never be a professional restaurant reviewer - but that doesn't mean I couldn't be a food journalist and write about food and restaurants to my heart's content.

I'd struggled to be an effective professional restaurant reviewer for a major journal because I'd have to work very hard to be very anonymous - my hair, my laugh is too loud - things like that.

But - mmm - nice food.
chickenfeet2003
Feb. 10th, 2005 09:48 am (UTC)
Colston Bassett Stilton and Epoisses are both perennial favourites chez bear and lemur.
owlfish
Feb. 11th, 2005 04:41 am (UTC)
St. Lawrence Market?
chickenfeet2003
Feb. 11th, 2005 11:41 am (UTC)
Yes, Alex Farms
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )