TOAST IS BACK

RESTAU­RANT RE­VIEW

The Hamilton Spectator - - GO - ALANA HUD­SON Spe­cial to The Hamil­ton Spec­ta­tor Alana Hud­son has cooked at restau­rants in­clud­ing Vong, Le Bernardin, and Avalon.

Toast Wine Bar was closed for a cou­ple of months this spring due to ren­o­va­tions but, like a piece of bread prop­erly warmed, they have popped back up.

So one evening last week, my com­pan­ion and I headed down­town and parked on King Wil­liam, then strolled south on the east side of John, al­most to King. Two women were sit­ting and chat­ting in the front win­dow with its painted on Toast logo, but the rest of the din­ing room was fair game.

We were seated to­ward the back. The room felt like part cafe, part 18th cen­tury French sa­lon. The com­fort­able old-fash­ioned couch, be­jew­elled chan­de­lier hang­ing from the cen­tre of the room, gold framed mir­rors and gold coloured coat stand are mod­ern in­ter­pre­ta­tions of a glit­ter­ing, by­gone era. Paint­ings and pho­tos clus­tered on the walls add an artsy feel.

Like the French sa­lons of the En­light­en­ment, Toast is a place where women’s voices are heard. Two in par­tic­u­lar, adding their ex­pe­ri­ence and style to Hamil­ton’s food scene: Toast own­ers Sarah Bond and Chris­tine McConville, who teamed up af­ter work­ing to­gether at Locke Street’s Bread Bar.

McConville acted as host­ess and server, walk­ing us briefly through the food and drink menus, and spe­cials. We were then left to look over the drink menu as the early evening sun streamed in through the win­dows. It was mid­week and the place was pretty quiet but the mu­sic filled in the gaps. I love jazz, but it doesn’t al­ways need to be play­ing at a wine bar. So I was pumped to hear a steady stream of in­die pop, a notch funkier than what you might hear on CBC Ra­dio 2.

We or­dered, then heard the shaker at the bar area in the other room (which has stylish stools, if you wish to nosh there). Out came their Sun­set Ruby and Cherry Bomb G & T. The Sun­set is a mix of Dil­lon’s vodka, citrus and bub­bly. With a flo­ral touch, thanks to St. Ger­main el­der­flower liqueur, bal­anced and de­li­ciously refreshing.

Fea­tur­ing a house-made tonic, the Cherry Bomb was not, as its name might sug­gest, over the top. It has more of a mod­er­ate cherry flavour, with pear bit­ters car­ry­ing all­spice and sim­i­lar flavours in the back­ground. The spices brought a quiet in­ten­sity to the drink, and the can­died orange peel was a lovely gar­nish.

Many other drinks were avail­able, in­clud­ing beer and, of course, plenty of wine. The lengthy wine list is care­fully cul­ti­vated, in­clud­ing selections from Ni­a­gara: Tawse, Malivoire and Rose­wood Es­tates. From abroad, wines from Parés Baltà in Spain, Mojo in Cal­i­for­nia, and Nals Mar­greid in Italy. The list also has some lesser known but in­ter­est­ing wines, with a lit­tle de­scrip­tion of each be­neath. If you have trou­ble choos­ing, you can get a wine flight to go with your meal. The prices do have a wide range, from $8 to $16 for a five-ounce pour so if you have a bud­get, just be sure to look first.

We started with “snacks,” and got the pickle plate as one of our selections, af­ter find­ing out that Bond has a pen­chant for pickling. The dish in­cluded de­li­cious curry pick­led car­rots, dill pick­led beets, and some pick­led cel­ery that was punchy and al­most made my lips pucker while mak­ing me want more. Then the nuts, oiled just right be­fore roast­ing to give them a crisp tex­ture to go along with the sub­tle, spicy heat. The dark choco­late bark with sea salt, our third se­lec­tion, was awe­some.

In hind­sight, I would have spread my snacks through­out the meal rather than fill­ing up at the be­gin­ning, but I was cer­tainly glad we’d cho­sen them.

We asked McConville about the cheese and meat board and she gave de­tailed de­scrip­tions, in­clud­ing pur­vey­ors. They were listed on a mir­ror, a bit dif­fi­cult to read, but our selections were a treat. Triple cream goat cheese, and a Lind­say cloth­bound (made at Mari­posa Dairy in Lind­say, Ont.) that had a beau­ti­ful, grassy un­der­tone. And the meats: Si­cil­ian salami sliced thin enough to melt in my mouth, and prosci­ut­tino, salt-cured pork that’s meatier and leaner than stan­dard pro­sciutto. Slices of fresh bread (from de la terre in Vineland) were a wor­thy ac­com­pa­ni­ment.

The mixed grain salad came next, with a va­ri­ety of grains (spelt berries, rice) float­ing amid the arugula. These gave the salad a bit of sub­stance and, along with edamame, radish and goat cheese, it was al­most a meal unto it­self. Green god­dess dress­ing added a zing of spring herb flavour.

Lamb meat­balls and zuc­chini bahji rounded out our “shared plates” (the menu doesn’t men­tion tapas but it has the “shar­ing is car­ing” kind of ethos that tapas em­braces). The meat­balls were fine but could have been cooked a bit less, as they were lean. The tzatziki served with them was fresh tast­ing and, along with pick­led onions, the dish had di­men­sion.

Bahjis are some­thing I tend to as­so­ci­ate with a lot of oil, but these were fried lightly. I found the fill­ing to be a touch gummy, though, which tells me they might have needed a lit­tle more time to cook. Once again, the sauce on the side, this time a lime and cilantro tamarind dip, took them up a notch.

McConville said book­ings had been a bit slow re­cently, pos­si­bly be­cause peo­ple weren’t aware that they have re­opened. I was sur­prised when she also told me that it’s busiest in the evening be­cause I think this would be an ideal place for a busi­ness lunch down­town. Away from the bus­tle of James Street, it has a calmer, laid back vibe. And in fact, when I in­quired later over the phone, Bond told me a pri­vate room will be avail­able around the end of the month that can be booked for events.

In the mean­time, we moved on to dessert. They had a whoopie pie on of­fer: choco­late cook­ies, filled with a raspberry cream which I felt could have been heav­ier to stand up to the thick, soft cook­ies. As it was, the fill­ing held a wisp of flavour but the cook­ies were de­li­cious.

The only thing I found my­self wish­ing was that Toast was closer to my work­place. I would love to visit them for lunch, or af­ter work.

Un­wind­ing with a flight of wine on a Fri­day af­ter­noon, along with a cou­ple of plates and some snacks, would take me right into the week­end.

JOHN RENNISON, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

The room felt like part cafe, part 18th cen­tury French sa­lon.

PHO­TOS BY ALANA HUD­SON, SPE­CIAL TO THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

The mixed grain salad man­aged to be both hearty and light. It was al­most a meal unto it­self.

The meat and cheese plate showed off an in-depth knowl­edge of char­cu­terie and de­lec­ta­ble cheeses.

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