Masters of pocket-sized restos strike again

Plus Greek eats in Yorkville and a Mid­town gas­tropub

Midtown Post - - Food - by Yvonne Tsui

SPICE IS NICE

Toronto’s sea­soned res­tau­rant duo of chef Doug Pen­fold and Niall McCot­ter (Cava, Chabrol) have a new ad­di­tion to their fam­ily. At­las is a French-Moroc­can res­tau­rant at the cor­ner of Av­enue and Dupont. The pair’s suc­cess seems to stem from the fact that each of their restau­rants is an ex­plo­ration and jour­ney. “We don’t get bored, we’re hun­gry guys and we’ll keep ex­plor­ing,” says Pen­fold.

In keep­ing with their ethos of small, char­ac­ter-driven spa­ces, the spot seats 24 and has tall ceil­ings and big win­dows that open up the room to pre­vent a feel­ing of claus­tro­pho­bia. The res­tau­rant con­cept grew from Pen­fold’s many jaunts to Morocco over the years. He hopes to lead Toronto din­ers “off the path” a bit. “The coun­try is re­ally de­li­cious,” he says, not­ing there is “a lot of vari­a­tion from town to town — ev­ery­one is fiercely ter­ri­to­rial and proud of their own recipes.”

The menu skips over dif­fer­ent re­gions of the coun­try. The sar­dine kefta is spiced with ras el hanout, the famed North African spice mix. Al­though tagine is of­ten as­so­ci­ated with lamb and chicken, Pen­fold of­fers a lesser­known style made with white­fish, potato, zuc­chini and pep­pers. A spiced leg of chicken ar­rives on a bed of apri­cots, pine nuts and creamed spinach. As for dessert, tuck into a laven­der and se­same roulade served on a bed of silky black­berry purée and poached pear (At­las Res­tau­rant, 18 Dupont St., 416546-9050).

GET YOUR GREEK ON

Yorkville’s Nao Steak­house is no more. Step­ping into its shoes is Es­tia, the lat­est res­tau­rant in the Iconink col­lec­tion. With a moniker that ref­er­ences the Greek god­dess of the hearth, the res­tau­rant is dish­ing out food that looks to the Mediter­ranean for in­spi­ra­tion, with a no­tice­able fo­cus on Greece.

“Lifestyles are chang­ing,” notes di­rec­tor of op­er­a­tions Christina Kuypers. “Peo­ple are eat­ing out more fre­quently at places with more di­verse of­fer­ings.” Ex­ec­u­tive chef Ben­jamin Heaton has cre­ated a menu that is more re­flec­tive of cur­rent eat­ing habits in Toronto. It’s also food that he’s “re­ally into — re­ally sim­ple but good in­gre­di­ents.”

The menu reaches from sal­ads to seafood to meat and back again, with ev­ery­thing, save for the olives, made in-house. Those look­ing for lighter bites can tuck into one of the six salad op­tions (it is Yorkville, af­ter all). Think fen­nel and radic­chio with green olives and pro­volone in a honey vinai­grette. Pasta op­tions in­clude seafood lin­guine stud­ded with clams, mus­sels, shrimp and squid. Mean­while, meatier op­tions in­clude the wild oregano–rubbed wood-oven chicken or the 14-ounce bone-in steak, a nod to the days of Nao. For dessert, yo­gurt cake ar­rives with Meyer lemon mar­malade and a dol­lop of tangy yo­gurt.

Es­tia’s bev­er­age pro­gram is de­signed to com­ple­ment the food, with plenty of Mediter­ranean wines, in­clud­ing the Xi­no­mavro, which Kuypers calls a “Pinot Noir in black jeans.” Crush­able cock­tails, like the sig­na­ture rosé-based Es­tia Spritz, are des­tined for sip­ping on the 80-seat pa­tio (Es­tia, 90 Av­enue Rd., 416-367-4141).

DRINKS O’CLOCK

Queen East’s beloved neigh­bour­hood gas­tropub, Pro­hi­bi­tion Gastrohouse, has a brand new out­post at Yonge and Eglin­ton. Sit­ting pretty in a for­mer Bos­ton Pizza space, the wa­ter­ing hole took a cool eight months to build. Fans of the Riverdale eatery are likely fa­mil­iar with their so-called Hooch Hour, a twice daily oc­cur­rence marked by clocks hang­ing over the bar.

When asked what dif­fer­en­ti­ates Pro­hi­bi­tion from the many other gas­trop­ubs in the city, owner Michael Sum­mer­field says, “Our worst is ev­ery­body’s best,” re­fer­ring to their “ul­tra pre­mium bar rail.” It fea­tures brands such as Lot No. 40 rye, Los Azule­jos te­quila, Tan­queray No. Ten gin and Grey Goose vodka. Both im­port and lo­cal craft brews are found on tap.

But it’s not only about the hooch. Serv­ing brunch, lunch and din­ner, Pro­hi­bi­tion dishes out el­e­vated com­fort food. Items that don’t show up on your ev­ery­day pub menu in­clude a whole sec­tion of con­ser­vas — pro­vi­sions served in their cans in­spired by the pop­u­lar trend in Spain. Or­der these just to get the im­pres­sive ac­cou­trements that come on the side. Other of­fer­ings in­clude the flam­ing Greek burger, which ar­rives topped with a healthy slab of fried Ke­falo­tyri cheese, is doused with a shot of brandy and lit on fire ta­ble­side. The truf­fle mac ’n’ cheese is a star item, ooz­ing with a mix­ture of Gruyère, Em­men­thal and Bleu Er­mite and capped with a jalapeno- Ched­dar bis­cuit crust.

A back pa­tio is cur­rently in the works and will seat 80 once opened. Al­though some may think that open­ing a sec­ond 100-seat res­tau­rant is a lofty goal, it pales com­pared to Sum­mer­field’s goals for ex­pan­sion. “Wher­ever there’s a Keg, we want to be right be­side them,” he says (Pro­hi­bi­tion Gastrohouse Mid­town, 40 Eglin­ton Ave. E., 416-406-2669).

Clock­wise from left: a Moroc­can spread at Dupont new­bie At­las; one of Es­tia’s salad of­fer­ings; the flam­ing Greek burger with Ke­falo­tyri cheese at Pro­hi­bi­tion

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