So last year I put together a list of the five best places to picnic in and around Toronto. I listed the standards — High Park, the island — and a couple of spots outside the city — Belfountain and Kelso Park — and to round it out I had some fun and threw in Pic Nic, the Riverside/Leslieville wine bar that deserves to be recognized as one of the standout places in town.
A couple of months later, I walked in again and the little article was clipped to the restaurant’s front door on 747 Queen Street East, and owner Ian Risdon, when I met him, expressed his gratitude with real thoughtfulness and grace — which doesn’t always happen when you publish articles that praise a place.
Last Monday, I got to know Ian and his girlfriend Seika Gray, who helps run the restaurant, a lot better as I shared dinner with them, along with Sarika Sehgal, a mutual friend who happens to be a talented writer and photographer (you know her as the former CBC and Toronto 1 anchor), CBC arts reporter Jelena Adzic and photographer extraordinaire/significant other Julia Pelish.
On previous visits, I stuck to Pic Nic’s outstanding charcuterie platter, the main draw. One of the places I missed when I moved from Vancouver was Salt, the acclaimed wine bar and charcuterie restaurant that’s helped clean up Blood Alley in Gastown. Discovering Pic Nic filled that void. Like Salt, Pic Nic offers a diverse cheese selection and meat choices that range from chorizo and prosciutto to amazing pates that Seika makes. For $22, you get a large serving that can easily be split between two people.
Unlike Salt and other charcuterie restaurants, Pic Nic puts plenty of other choices on its menu besides meats and cheeses. On Monday, Ian got us tasting several of them. The crusted prawns ($10), chicken quesadillas ($9, I think) and wonderfully flavourful scallops ($11, best I’ve had in town hands-down) are all delicious. Ian buys the seafood from Daily Seafood in Riverside. He told me the restaurant, which just celebrated its third birthday, is curing more and more of its meats in-house and Seika is also trying to make her own cheese. Chef Christine Vyhnal formerly worked at the Four Seasons Whistler, recently named the only five-diamond CAA hotel in the country.
We rounded it out with two kinds of divine truffles: peppercorn and hazelnut. Plus enough bottles of wine to leave the bicycle rider among us wobbling back to the Danforth.
It was a great evening that has left my objectivity completely compromised as far as Pic Nic goes. So if you don’t believe me (or Sarika or Jelena) when it’s reported that Ian and Seika are terrific people whose wonderful restaurant you will be happy to patron, take it from Paris.
“So what places do you like in Toronto?” I asked Mel Dark when I met up with her in the Marais district of that foodie city in May.
First place she named was Pic Nic — and Mel has great taste. We talked about what makes it a favourite spot — the food, the reasonable prices and that it’s so under the radar few people living west of Bathurst seem to have discovered it.
Darlene Lim, another former CBC staffer, also named Pic Nic as one of her faves when I spoke to her in Paris and just the other day I met Irene Ngo, a food editor at Chatelaine, who called the restaurant a great place that was underrated.
That’s some outstanding praise for this little gem that doesn’t get nearly enough buzz around town. Give it a try and you’ll be the next one spreading the word, I predict.
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