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Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar

Location: 9 Church St., south of Front. Toronto.

When chickenfeet2003 and lemur_catta suggested I join them at the Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar before we went to the opera on Thursday, it was very easy for me to say yes. I'd read various intriguing reviews of the place since it opened. The chef who runs the place used to run the restaurant on the ROM, and has been involved with various Toronto venues before that. The bar doesn't take reservations except for lunch, so we met there at 5:30 to err on the safe side of early. We were indeed fortunate in our arrival time: we nabbed one of the few tables! (There's plenty of additional space available at the bar itself.)

The warm, dark-wooded space is fairly compact, two bars on each side of the room, open-air cooking stations, a wall of gem-colored preserved vegetables, but fairly well lit and, at early dinner time on a Thursday, not too noisy either. We browsed the daily menu while the waiter advised us on how to order. The portions are all tapas-sized, good for sharing, or a snack. Several dishes make up enough for a meal. The menu also included suggested wines to accompany each dish, although a much larger wine menu was also provided.

We started with poutine. This was an event, because, although the three of us have lived in Canada for a fair amount of time now, none of us had ever tried any kind of poutine before. I know this was no typical poutine, for Jamie Kennedy is famous for his. Meltingly-soft pork hock, layered with fried onion tangled in a dollop of cheese, over Yukon Gold fries made for quite a tasty dish. But then, neither is it typical poutine.

We continued with a chicken and prune terrine and smoked mackerel with fingerling potato salad. The terrine was a thoughtful, low-key dish, while the mackerel was both fresh and refreshing. I was less keen on the metallic taste of the potatoes, but chickenfeet2003 suggested that that's just what potatoes do when mixed up with fish. Still hungry, we moved on to a stuffed crêpe with chicken, hazelnuts and goat cheese, which was very good, the crêpe crisp from oven-baking, but not the plural crêpes promised by the menu. Our last main dish was a trio of seafood with three sauces. A roll of white fish was uninteresting, while the highlight of a deep-fried sliver of fish was the sauce and pickled horseradish it came with. The dish was no loss, however - I finally understand why scallops are worth eating. Tender, rich, meaty, and flaky, the scallop was a revelation after my previous experiences with overcooked rubbery scallop-lumps.

lemur_catta and I forged on to dessert, a course of less interest to chickenfeet2003. (More for the rest of us!) The Grand Marnier cream with a vanilla tuile and rhubarb sauce was more subtle than we expected, and easily overwhelmed by our other, more intense and satisfying sweet, a chocolate pot de crème with pecan-orange biscotti. The accompanying mint garnish proved the best complement to the chocolate, completing it.

One of the advantages of eating at a good wine bar is that all the wines are available in a variety of sizes, the better to sampler with in the smaller servings. I had an unexpectedly sweet, late-harvest style gewürztraminer (1993 Rolly Gassman). I then moved on to a dessert wine, a 2003 Anselmi "I Capitelli". The name told me nothing about the wine, but the menu recommended it with the chocolate dessert, so I gambled. At first smell, it was strangely fungal. But that made sense after a moment's thought - it's a dessert wine made from botrytis-infected grapes, a standard way of making dessert wine. The wine was more savory than sweet, and its layers of flavor unfolded as it warmed up towards room temperature. The flavor we initially deemed shallow lingered with me for an hour afterwards. And that was a good thing.

Overall, it was a pleasant meal with good company. There were some clear high point to the meal, including the poutine, the scallop, and the wines. It's just as well we weren't hungrier and didn't have time to linger longer into the evening: we could have easily run up a very expensive bill indeed, one tempting dish at a time.