Location: 1710 Queen Street West, Toronto
Hours: 6-11pm Thurs, Fri and Sat, 6-10pm Tues, Wed and Sun
Cost: $130 two entrees, bottle of wine, salad appetizer. Includes tax and tip
Carrot’s Rating: 2 out of 5
Special Guest Omnivore’s Rating (my mom): 3 out of 5
Local Kitchen & Wine Bar opened two years ago when childhood friends Fabio Bondi and Michael Sangregio decided to go into business together. Their restaurant, perfectly described as simple, locally-grown and Italian inspired, has gone on to receive great praise from restaurant critics at the Globe and Mail, Toronto Life, Financial Post and EnRoute Magazine. Excited to see the classy little hub situated in contrast to its Parkdale location, I took my mom to test it out.
Let’s start with the restaurant’s two biggest strengths, the great service and adorable ambiance. When you first walk into the small-enclosure off of Queen Street West, the first thing you will notice is the vintage newspaper articles and photographs used as wallpaper throughout. I can see how the small quarters and no-reservation policy would turn people off from dining here, but I personally found it to be really quaint, and quiet. I could actually have a conversation with my mom without screaming “WHAT?” every five seconds. The small space also allowed for servers to really take care of their guests.
Being an Italian restaurant, it is fitting that the ingredients and menu items are listed in Italian. However, when the extent of your Italian consists of “You’re breakin’ my balls,” then choosing a dish can be a little daunting. We asked our server (and possibly the co-owner) to help us decipher the dishes. He pleasantly asked us what kind of foods we liked, described the options, then made some recommendations. This was greatly appreciated by my mom and I who were starting to feel like hillbillies in a high-end restaurant.
The extensive wine list makes for an amusing read, but doesnt describe the different wines well. We ended up going with the cheaper option ($40 but tasted like a $7 wine) so we could splurge more on our actual meal.
The main idea of this restaurant is to use local ingredients to make simple dishes. Emphasis on ‘simple.’ We ordered the Smoked Potatoe Gnocci ($10/small) and the evening’s special Tortelli Stuffed with Burrata, Basil and Sicilian Tomatos ($22). The smoked gnocci is a very popular dish at the restaurant and has received great praise from critics. I guess I will be the White Witch for a moment and say that I was not a fan of the gnocci. The smoked flavour tasted more like meat, and really distracted from the rest of the sauce. I’m also used to Italian pasta dishes over-stuffing me so I made the mistake of ordering the small size. After dinner, I really wished that I had ordered the large ($15) as I was still hungry, but more on that later.
While you could taste the high-quality cheeses in the Tortelli, the tomato sauce was too plain, without any herbs or spices. The dish was quite boring and unfullfilling. The quantity of Tortelli’s were very small, we counted 8 pieces in total. Traditionally bread is offered with pasta dishes to soak up any left over sauces. It is actually a great honour for an Italian Chef to have a cleaned-out plate, so I was really surprised when they didnt offer bread to give Chef that honour.
While Local Kitchen & Wine Bar did have some great strengths, I found the food to be quite disappointing, and made me wonder what the restaurant critics were so excited about. Perhaps the tastes of this restaurant are little too refined for me to understand, or perhaps the restaurant was just over-hyped. We ended up leaving the restaurant with empty wallets, and empty stomachs. We were so hungry afterwards that we stopped to get snacks on our way home. I would suggest skipping the hype and dining elsewhere.
Return of the Carrot