THE NEXT OSSINGTON STRIP
Geary Avenue continues its upward ascent to hipdom with Parallel, a nouvelle Israeli resto
Joanne Kates tries nouvelle Israeli on a street many think is the next big thing
Let me tell you about the next Ossington restaurant strip. Geary Avenue is what Ossington was 10 years ago: A gritty, unloved strip of town, unknown and not very nice, small scale industrial with cheap rent to attract small new restaurants.
Geary is home to a collection of auto repair shops, and it’s just starting to burst into hipster resto bloom. There are two craft beer bars, Blood Brothers and The Greater Good. That’s where you rub shoulders with uber hipsters while waiting for your table at Parallel, the newest, hottest and most wonderful Israeli restaurant in town.’Cause of course they don’t take reservations.
While uptown they’re still absorbing grease into every pore at Jerusalem, here in the new supercool west end, Parallel is dishing Israeli nouvelle.
The room, with past lives as a Portuguese restaurant and a storage space, has for its centrepiece a huge 2,000-pound stone grinder to turn sesame seeds into tahini, the mother sauce of Israeli cooking.
As evening turns to night and the room darkens, a violet light shining on this behemoth turns it more into artwork than machine. On the west wall, projected films show better in the dark, become more haunting.
Big sassy flavours govern every item. They’ve left the charred bits on the fire roasted eggplant, served oozing and smoky with mint, scallions, coriander, all topped with bright pink ribbons of house-made tahini with beets, all to be spread on their grill-kissed thick, dense challah. The fabulous fried cauliflower is strewn with herbs from the herb garden above the restaurant’s bathroom and dotted with slightly psychedelic yellow (turmeric aîoli) and fuchsia (beet tahini). Just as the giant tahini stones dominate the visual aesthetic of the restaurant, tahini is the theme running through the food. The creamy/sweet beet tahini appears again atop jazzy house salad of kale with walnuts, sweet potato, goat cheese, scallions, mint and chewy little black lentils.
The Israeli cookbooks of Yotam Ottolenghi have taken the town by storm, but to my palate if you put the Ottolenghi flavours up against Parallel, the Toronto boys would win hands down. Their flavours are bigger, bolder, their execution simpler — and easier to cook. But the Parallel boys weren’t always Torontonian. The resto is owned by three Israeli-Canadian brothers, Alon, Guy and Aharon Ozery. They started a little bakery (Ozery bakery) in 1996, and it’s done extremely well and expanded.
Their taste buds rock. Nobody in town does shawarma as well as they do. It’s long-cooked lamb shank, so tender and moist it’s erotic, with polenta made from puréed fresh corn and red peppers with smoked paprika, brussels sprouts and deep rich lamb stock. But their foundation remains tahini, which some call sesame butter. The brothers pulverize Ethiopian sesame seeds with the huge stones, add lemon juice, and shazam, the mother sauce! Made piquant with labneh, it appears in their wonderful fish shawarma made with crispy grouper and tomatoes zinged with sumac.
For dessert, tahini morphs into their justifiably adored house-made halva with various toppings. I am fond of salted chocolate on the halva, or caramelized pistachios.
But who is not fond of salted dark chocolate … or caramelized pistachios? Or deeply creamy nutty tahini? Parallel dishes dream-food, every single plate of it.
Clockwise from bottom left: Watermelon salad topped with fresh herbs, Parallel’s stylish exterior, halva with various toppings
Joanne Kates trained at the Ecole Cordon Bleu de Cuisine in Paris. She has written articles for numerous publications, including the New York Times, Maclean’s and Chatelaine.