My friend and colleague Yuzhu and I booked a Winterlicious dinner date at Cantine Bar & Grill (138 Avenue Road) on a Wednesday night around 6pm. The restaurant is a 10-15 minute walk north from St. George subway station. I would assume it’s not usually so busy, but it was also the second last night of Winterlicious, so by around 6:30pm, the restaurant was at full capacity.
The atmosphere and lighting of the place are gorgeous! Upon entering, there’s a self-serve coat check immediately to the left and the stairs to the bathrooms to the right. The front area had couches, which made things seem very homely. We were greeted by the host all the way over at the bar, and invited to take a seat.
Yuzhu and I decided to share our dishes with each other. After ordering, we started off with some nice soft bread. Not warm, but still good to start. We were given butter though no olive oil or balsamic vinegar.
FIRE GRILLED CALAMARI
drizzled with lemon, olive oil, tomato, tomato, Italian parsley, and caper salsa
I love grilled calamari but find it can be a risk to order because it might come out too rubbery/chewy and charred-tasting for my liking. This was actually really good though and the seasonings were great.
HERB BAKED POLENTA, QUEBEC BLUE CHEESE AND ROASTED PORTOBELLO
with a light thyme cream sauce (vegetarian)
Yuzhu ordered this dish with no preconceptions of it. This was actually both our first time trying polenta, a cornmeal boiled into a porridge, and we were surprised to find how much we enjoyed it! Delicious flavour.
PAN SEARED CALVES’ LIVER
with caramelized onions, port reduction, baked herb and cheese polenta
Also loved this! I’m an unusually big fan of liver and asked it to be cooked medium. It’s not like liver I’ve had before, but richer in taste. The cheese polenta in this dish was different from the herb-baked one Yuzhu and I shared in the appetizer particularly in terms of texture, but both were great. The port wine reduction sauce was good, and in terms of the vegetables, I was happy to see the inclusion of brussel sprouts. While eating, I think it would have been nice to have come with some actual meat, too – not to say that this dish was lacking in portion size though! It was pretty filling and I had one of the entire livers, the cheese polenta, and some veggies packed to go.
HERB CRUSTED OVER ROASTED ATLANTIC COD
served with roasted fennel, sautéed garlic, capers, red peppers, tomatoes, black olives, lemon, herbs and steamed potatoes
The fish of the day was Atlantic cod, which Yuzhu decided to order. The first thing I noticed about it was how small it looked compared to my plate of calves’ liver. The cod and assorted veggies were good, though not a particular stand out. A lot of restaurants in Toronto offer this dish of similar quality. The inclusion of steamed potatoes made this dish heavier, so Yuzhu did feel pretty stuffed by the end of it.
COCONUT CREAM CUSTARD
with banana, graham crumbs, toasted coconut and warm chocolate sauce
A good dessert, though not quite as decadent and creamy as I was imagining it to be in my head! Maybe that’s a good thing though after an already satisfying meal. The crust was a little dry and hard, but the filling was good.
STRAWBERRIES & BLUEBERRIES
with mango sorbet
I think Yuzhu ordered a better choice for dessert! The strawberries and blueberries were sweet and fresh, and the mango sorbet offered a great sour contrast. The presentation and colours are also simple but pleasing.
I really enjoyed the food and ambiance of this restaurant! I did notice, however, that service could have been better. We were welcomed fine, but later throughout the meal, were made to feel pretty rushed and ignored. Our server removed our plates so quickly that he spilled the olive oil from my calamari plate on the table and didn’t even notice. We would have a hard time flagging him down too, and I overheard the table next to us complain of the same thing. Our main food runner would also hurriedly place our dishes in front of us and run off. I guess I could chalk this service up to being pretty busy and/or understaffed, but none of this was communicated to us and it made us feel more of a nuisance than welcome guest when we would ask for water to be re-filled or for a container for leftovers. Having said that, Yuzhu and I came here for the $25 Winterlicious prix-fixe meals, and overall feel like we really got our money’s worth with the food.