This past Fall I had the pleasure of dining at Chiado, one of Toronto’s top restaurants and ambassador of Portuguese haute cuisine. The restaurants gracious and ever so entertaining owner Albino had mentioned he owned a sister property, Salt Wine Bar on Ossington which he encouraged me to visit. With a busy last few months adventuring in South Africa, relaxing at home during the holidays and on press trips across Ontario and Quebec I finally found the time take him up on his generous offer in late January.
Salt Wine Bar and I actually share a special history. It was three years ago when I first arrived back in Canada after traveling around the globe on a shoestring. I was living with my parents in Oakville during the week but would hop on the Go Train to visit my cousin who lived in the apartment directly above the restaurant. Their windows were covered in brown paper and I remember trying to peak in to see the interior which was under construction. At the time Pizzeria Libretto was being lauded as the best slice and Ossington was really just starting to bloom.
So when I found myself marching up Ossington from Queen Street in the bitter cold of winter I couldn’t help but reflect on how the strip has flourished in three short years. The street glows throughout the week with a happening bar and restaurant scene as well as a potpourri of vintage shops and design studios. Ossington had grown up and at the same time I couldn’t help but smirk at the way my own life had evolved since first touching down in T dot.
I arrived shortly before 6pm shivering at the door. I was greeted by resident mixologist Nick Kennedy who encouraged me to sit at his bar to warm up. Moments later Ivy Knight twirled through the front door ready to join me at the table. I had been meaning to connect with Ivy for what seemed like months now so was pleased we were able to find the time to sip on cocktails, nibble on a few plates and connect over our passion and penchant for culinary inspirations.
We were seated at a two top in a dimly lit dining room, walls covered in wine bottles. Petite chandeliers hovered from the ceiling casting light on our menus as we perused with the tip of our fingers. Ivy started off the evening with a charred cedar manhattan which forced the air around our table into a bit of an aromatic forest. I happily sipped on a hot buttered rum cider, the ultimate comfort cocktail on a cold winters night.
Highlights of the evening included Ontario Buffalo Mozzarella paired with avocado, coriander and lime. The restaurants taco duo offered us the perfect opportunity to get a bit messy with our hands. The “Carbonara Iberica” offered an addictive Spanish twist on this savoury Italian classic. My sweet tooth got the best of me when the Five Spice Duck Confit Ravioli steamed under my nose: a plump package sitting atop peking duck consomme complimented by sweet hoisin, scallions and crispy duck skin.
At the end of our evening Nick popped by to chit chat with Ivy about her upcoming 86d Party at the Drake Hotel. Mark your calendars for “TO’s Hottest Bartender Competition” on February 25th. Mr. Kennedy may or may not be competing that evening in a bath robe…show up to cheer on your favourites! In the mean time, check out the list of competitors HERE and have your say by voting in the first round.
As I plopped my last spoonful of warm sticky toffee pudding into my mouth I couldn’t help but feel a bit romanced by this place. Salt Wine Bar does an excellent job at showcasing a playful take on Portugese flavours. And in the dead of winter when all you want to be doing is relaxing on a beach in The Algarve, a charming dinner with Ivy Knight is certainly the next best thing.
We sampled (* notes my favourites):
Charred Cedar Manhattan
maker’s mark bourbon, dry vermouth, house over spiced sweet vermouth, house charred cedar bitters, king cube
Butter Rum Cider *
spiced rum, hot apple cider, maple syrup, butter, house spiced apple bitters
After the Rain
muddled green peas, thumb rubbed glass, tequila, chartreuse and fresh lime juice
Ontario Buffalo Mozzarella *
avocado, coriander, tomato, chili, lime, olive oil
Diver Scallop Ceviche
tangerine, jicama, cucumber, mint, chili, Meyer lemon zest
Baja Style Tempura Grouper Taco
guacamole, southern slaw, coriander, mango salsa, ancho chili crema
Chipotle Wild Boar Taco *
grilled pineapple, coriander, tomatillo-guacamole, lime crema
Hand Cut Tagliatelle “Carbonara Iberica” *
manchego cream, house cured pancetta Iberico, soft egg yolk, chives, truffle
Five Spice Duck Confit Ravioli *
peking duck consommé, hoisin, scallions, crispy duck skin
Warm Sticky Toffee Pudding *
bourbon caramel, vanilla gelato