This article has been five months in the making. In mid-April, I was supposed to meet friend and fellow Spotlight writer Pauline Dong for lunch at The Gabardine. When we arrived, shortly after noon, we were told that there would be a 45-minute wait. That was just slightly over my allotted lunch hour (my boss is only so lenient) so we opted to go elsewhere. The stars aligned and last week I finally walked through those hallowed doors.
Taking no chance, we (Pauline, Jason Poynton and Michelle Edgar) agreed to arrive at 11:30–the moment they opened. I was the first to arrive, and the second in the restaurant. I wondered briefly if their popularity had, over the past five months, waned – but by 11:45 the place was packed, there was a line forming, and we were happily ensconced at a comfortable table and dictating our order to the waiter.
The interior is small yet cozy, with clean white walls and rows of leather banquettes lining one side of the restaurant. While modern, there are hints that allude to easier, bygone days. One of my favourite whimsical touches is the mismatched china that is used as tableware, carrying me back to fond memories of dinners with the family at my grandmother’s. At the back is a semi-open kitchen (a large, sans-glass window allows curious voyeurs to gaze at the kitchen staff), while at the opposite end, directly across from the floor-to-ceiling windows and entrance, is a massive bar providing additional seating.
We perused the menu (the same menu is used for both lunch and dinner) of a mix of “snacks” and salads, eight sandwich options (one which includes Caplansky’s smoked meat), and a handful of mains. We opted to share a couple of starters (Rabbit Rillettes with Sour Cherry Preserves & Toasts and Sweet Corn Hush Puppies with Buttermilk Poppyseed Dressing – $9 each). The rabbit was rich, smooth and decadent, and was the perfect schmear across the crisp toasts. Alone, the hush puppies were a tad on the dense side, but the corn flavour popped, and with a dribble of the dressing, made for a delicious, comforting start to the meal.
For our mains, Jason ordered the burger (a huge portion, about the size of my head, with an overflowing side of slightly too al dente fries – $17), both Pauline and Michelle ordered the daily, always vegetarian risotto (today’s was a squash/goat cheese risotto, nearly spilling over the sides of the bowl – $16), and I went with the Kolapore Springs Smoked Trout with Green Beans ($13).
If you look below, you will see the sadness of my plate compared with my dining companions’. Not that it wasn’t beautifully presented–it was–but it was just so…small. Putting that aside, however, it was delicious. There were two chunks of beautifully smoked trout, the green beans were crispy, and the remoulade had bright citrusy notes. My companions enjoyed their dishes, as well, although the consensus from the ladies was that there was a bit too much goat cheese in the risotto, overpowering the subtleness of the squash.
I will certainly return again, and I hereby bequeath the following bits of knowledge to you, fellow readers: a) you really need to arrive early, as they don’t take reservations, and b) if you’re hungry, don’t order the salad as your main.
372 Bay Street, Toronto
Bay Street and Richmond Street