Masters of pocket-sized restos strike again
Plus Greek eats in Yorkville and a Midtown gastropub
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).
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