Spice Route

DINE and Destinations - - COSMOPOLITAN CUISINE -

Aquiet re­nais­sance has arisen along Toronto’s Har­bord Street, a new van­guard of bou­tique restau­rants. At the fore­front is the pride of the neigh­bor­hood, chef Cory Vi­tiello. A Strat­ford Chefs School grad­u­ate, Vi­tiello worked as a sous chef for 14 years be­fore seiz­ing an op­por­tu­nity.

“There weren’t a lot of small restau­rants open­ing at that point,” he says. “I saw my­self ap­proach­ing a wall in the in­dus­try, and I loved the idea of cook­ing be­hind the stove at my own pace, and be­ing sur­rounded by peo­ple I love work­ing with. It hap­pened serendip­i­tously that I was con­nected with the right part­ners, and the right space be­came avail­able. Ev­ery­thing hap­pened at the right time.”

The Har­bord Room, with its pink eraser coloured walls is invit­ing. Vi­tiello com­mands the room, hand­some, calm and in his el­e­ment. The room, menu and ser­vice all em­brace an un­pre­ten­tious whim­si­cal style of din­ing. “How our guests are treated and the over­all feel of the room is just as im­por­tant as what we put on the plate.” He adds, “We want to cre­ate a space that is as much fun to be in as the food and the drink is to en­joy.” In this he has suc­ceeded.

Very much a char­ac­ter-driven es­tab­lish­ment, their loyal clien­tele of lo­cals, food­ies and celebri­ties know and trust who is on the floor, be­hind the bar, and in the kitchen. “We’ve cre­ated a fam­ily, and that plays a big part in our suc­cess.”

After six years, a sec­ond op­por­tu­nity knocked. The restau­rant next door be­came avail­able. “We wanted to cre­ate this net­work along Har­bord Street that could grow out­side the walls of The Har­bord Room. We knew if we didn’t do it some­one else would, and we’d be re­gret­ting it for as long as we lived.” Now, chef Curt Martin heads the kitchen at THR & Co., while mixol­o­gist Liz Camp­bell and som­me­lier Mike Logue man­age and “keep the fam­ily in­tact.”

Like a the­atri­cal pro­duc­tion aimed at break­ing the fourth wall, The Har­bord Room and THR & Co. have cre­ated a dy­namic of buzz and in­trigue in which pa­trons can flow be­tween the two, en­abling the din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence at one to in­clude the other.

One need only look at the menus of The Har­bord Room and THR & Co. to rec­og­nize Vi­tiello and his part­ners share an hon­est, sim­ple and play­ful love for cre­at­ing dishes that are as thought­ful and art­ful in their con­cep­tion as they are truly in­ter­est­ing and de­serv­ing of ap­pre­ci­a­tion. No or­di­nary pizza at THR & Co. Try grilled eg­g­plant and sum­mer squash with sting­ing net­tle pesto, wal­nuts, sheep’s milk fresco, ten­der greens,

Turk­ish olive oil and a fresh farm egg. At The Har­bord Room, we are lov­ing a porcini mush­room-filled chicken leg with ri­cotta gnudi, and a bavette of beef with crispy onion rings, each with a stun­ning ar­ray of edibles on the plate.

Com­bined with his own per­sonal style, Vi­tiello knows that any good dish starts with the raw in­gre­di­ents. At both The Har­bord Room and THR & Co., the food phi­los­o­phy is al­ways “un­der prom­ise and over de­liver.” “We start with sim­ple beau­ti­ful in­gre­di­ents and let them speak for them­selves,” he ex­plains. “As much as pos­si­ble we try not to ma­nip­u­late in­gre­di­ents, cover them up or mask flavours with ex­tra­ne­ous gar­nishes and sauces. We like the in­gre­di­ents to shine through on the plate.” He refers to his beef burger with sharp ched­dar, caramelized onions on an egg bun with fries and slaw, con­sis­tently rated as among the best in the city. “We take the best meat we can, grind it in-house daily, bake the best bun we can, and pre­pare all our condi­ments in-house. On pa­per, it’s just a stan­dard ham­burger, but there are a lot of steps in­volved be­hind the scenes.”

THR & Co. shares this ap­proach, but there is a North African, Mediter­ranean flavour pro­file, with a core fo­cus on pizza and pasta, both of which are made from scratch in-house daily. While the Har­bord Room’s menu ranges from Mex­i­can to Asian to French and Ital­ian, guided only by the imag­i­na­tion of the kitchen and the avail­abil­ity of fresh in­gre­di­ents.

“Get­ting back to a neigh­bour­hood restau­rant is what we’re re­ally try­ing to in­still in the com­mu­nity,” he as­serts. “We very much em­brace a fam­ily and com­mu­nity en­vi­ron­ment. That goes along with the amaz­ing staff that we’ve cul­ti­vated over the years—a lot of our orig­i­nal staff after seven years are still here. It breeds this pos­i­tive work place that is trans­lated into the din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. I think peo­ple re­ally pick up on the fact that we’re a small busi­ness, we care about the com­mu­nity, and give back to the neigh­bour­hood. It is es­sen­tial for us to be in­volved in the com­mu­nity out­side of the restau­rant as much as we can.”

Chef Cory Vi­tiello has staked his claim, and de­clares, “This is my lo­cal.”

THR & Co.

The Har­bord Room

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.