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National Post Restaurant Review – Boland’s Open Kitchen

Boland’s Open Kitchen sank its roots into the Leaside bourgeoisie almost before it had served its first amuse- bouche last year. Located on the Mount Pleasant shopping strip a couple of blocks above Davisville, Boland’s is the epitome of a successful neighbourhood joint, jolly, idiosyncratic if not rather rum, driven by the gregarious personality of owner-chef Christopher Boland. On a recent snowy Thursday night, Boland, a veteran North Toronto restaurateur, Trapper’s, The Tasting Room, is bustling through the restaurant, a shoebox with cut-outs for open kitchen and bar, gladhanding regulars.. When he stops beside my table at the back of the restaurant he looks a bit stumped. What does a lone diner signify? I am in fact waiting for a guest. Have been for twenty minutes. My cellphone’s not working in the restaurant and Boland urges me to use his phone. I navigate my way to the front of the restaurant only to discover my guest is sitting at a table building a modest head of frustration. The reservation was in my companion’s name, referred to by both of us, and even so we were taken to different tables.

No big deal I quickly say. On the other hand, the gaffe has thrown us and the meal out. In this comfort restaurant we are discomfited. The oldfashioned three-course meal, the staple of the neighbourhood restaurant, is unlike tapas, little plates served simultaneously like baked meats at an upscale wake. The three-course meal has a beginning, a middle and an end, each with its own properties. The hors d’oeuvres are like the overture to a musical, the first act sets up the plot, the main course develops the emotionally engaging themes, while the dessert is a piquant wrap up.

Thing is – without the form, the meal loses its mojo. One of us didn’t get the hors d’oeuvre, so we just dive cold into the first courses. They’re AOK. Nothing much wrong l with bone marrow gratinee with garlic, parsley and Madeira $9, and the crab salad with citrus, avocado and cherry tomato salsa $8 is crisply refreshing.

We dither over the main course. We’ve started well. Now we need to be really impressed. We like the recession proof prices – the most expensive dish is a New York striploin with crispy potato cake and Bearnaise sauce $25, and $21 isn’t too much to pay for braised lamb shank, a goodly taste of meat fallen off the bone into a mess of depuy lentils, oyster mushrooms, preserved lemon and harissa lamb-spiced reduction. But the course doesn’t have heft. It doesn’t fulfil its role as the main event. Maybe it’s the tapas’ influence, but so many second courses today are eclipsed by the liveliness of the first courses. The lamb needs much bolder Harissa for my taste. Steamed salmon $21 is similarly flavour-challenged, chunky and bland despite cream leeks, veal and salmon reduction, orange zest and tarragon.

However we’re mellowing out now with a N.Z. Pinot Noir $46. The wine list is drinker-friendly, bottles start at $38 – for a South African Shiraz, although there aren’t many wines by the glass. Surveying the room, we’re impressed by customer fervour. I think everyone must be a regular, they seem so happily at home and quite accepting of the friendly service, even if it is a bit erratic.

Boland’s Open Kitchen 575 Mt Pleasant 416-482 2424 Wheelchair accessible. Three-course dinner: food plus tax $62

Mystery of the Week. If you live in the West End and pine for the taste of Jacques Bistro du Parc, the longtime Cumberland eyrie and go-to eyrie for those going to and fro the Cumberland multiplex — well, Beau Lieu Bistro is just for you. Chef Lon and Sarah Gireau, members of Jacques’ staff for the past eight years, have opened this Jacques branch on Ossington, just north of Queen, a darkly intimate storefront. We enjoy the Jacques’ menu, smoked trout, veal sweet breads in green and red sauces, duck a l’orange, oeuf at la neige, and creme caramel, made however with coffee. And we think Gireau’s service is both friendly and admirable. Question now is whether the food and service at Jacques have changed in the wake of Lon and Gireau’s departure?

Beau Lieu Bistro 59 Ossington 647 345 5525 Not wheelchair accessible. Dinner for Two, food plus tax $108.