Posts tagged ‘toronto restaurant reviews’

June 27, 2011

Pic Nic Wine Bar – a Queen Street East charmer

pic nic wine bar

Pic Nic Wine Bar has 25 wines by the glass to choose from.

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.


ian risdon and seika gray of pic nic

Ian Risdon and Seika Gray of Pic Nic keep guests smiling.

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.

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June 10, 2011

WVRST is best on King Street

Aldo Lanzillotta at WVRST

Cheerful Aldo Lanzillotta has given Toronto a reason to smile with WVRST. (Julia Pelish photo)

You’re going to love this place.

On May 26, Aldo Lanzillotta opened the doors on WVRST, serving Toronto something new and refreshingly unpretentious. It’s about sausages and beer, and is done in the sort of inclusive atmosphere that defines the best of our city.

Long communal tables that encourage touching fill the 4,000-square-foot space at 609 King Street West, just east of Bathurst. A striking bright red wall is adorned with the restaurant’s name on one side of the room and on the other is a sleek bar that pours out 16 draft beers (Weihenstephan hefeweizen and Urthel IPA among them) and 15 bottles that include Dieu du Ciel’s Corne du Diable ($7) and Derniere Volonte ($7). Strings of tiny light bulbs hang from black wires overhead, a DJ spins a mix of funky tunes, and Aldo and his cheerful staff walk around making sure empties are cleared and the tables remain uncluttered. On the far end of the room is the starring attraction: Trays of plump sausages behind a case, presented the way you might expect to see them at a butcher’s shop.

These aren’t anything like you’d find at Loblaws, Whole Foods or even the St. Lawrence Market, though. Lanzillotta has created a line of wildly interesting and delicious combinations. The Duck sausage includes foie gras and maple flavours, the Bison has blueberry and maple, the Wild Boar features mushrooms and tea. There’s also Guinea Fowl, Pheasant, Rabbit, Venison and Kangaroo sausages. All of the game meats are $9. Vegetarian Bratwurst and Kielbasa are $7 each, and so are the three poultry choices (two types of Chicken and a superb Turkey/Chicken with chilies and cilantro). Six varieties of traditional sausages are just $6. (Check the menu for the full list.)

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