This weekend for a very special occasion ten of my family members gathered around the communal table at Toronto’s Woodlot Restaurant. This was my first visit since the very early days in mid-November so I had an opportunity to see how the food and service are evolving. As in-house baker Jeff Connnell told Kelly Jones for an article in Good Food Revolution the menu at Woodlot ebbs and flows with the seasons and availability of ingredients instead of resetting on a predetermined timeline.
The porchetta, lamb tart, and lasagna are gone for now and the venison in the pie has been replaced by chicken and ham hock. Luckily, the size of our group meant that we ate family-style and I got to try many of the new dishes.
In the starter category both the oxtail and ox tongue terrine and the pickled, ember-roasted beet (standing in for pickled cauliflower) and white bean salad were table-pleasers that competed ably with the old favourite of smoked whitefish potato salad.
It was during the pasta course that I think we were most impressed. The wiser side of the table favourably compared the wild boar pappardelle to the same dish they had on a walking wine tour of Tuscany a few years ago. The sauce is complex and hints at warm spices and I feel like the chunks of boar of been up-sized. I really like walnuts and tellingly still have a bag of chestnuts that I bought before Christmas and still haven’t cooked so I may be biased but I am pleased to see that the former has replaced the latter in the gnocchi dish.
The cabbage rolls that the kitchen sent out to start our main course continue to distill Woodlot’s modus operandi neatly. These are local flavours, earnestly delivered with a view only to what is most delicious. The roast haddock gratin and chicken pie were good examples of this concept but the whey-fed pork chop stole this round. Cooked medium and complemented with caramelised apple that foreshadowed my favourite dessert the three porcine platters were scraped clean. I enjoyed both the honey-glazed winter roots and the potato-gruyere gratin.
Desserts haven’t changed much and still hit all the right notes: for those craving tartness there is the lemon and blueberry tart; chocoholics were pleased to find their drug of choice in its pure essence concentrated in the SOMA chocolate pots de creme; and I’m still thinking about how the apple tart tatin balances the sweet-tart apples with the sweet-bitter flavour of caramelised sugar.
There are some chef’s tables that have been carefully placed in a serene and established kitchen. This is not the case at Woodlot. Not that the kitchen is distractingly hectic but chef David Haman’s calls for “four tempeh pies all day” (they are a popular seller) or “gentlemen, ordering two French onion soups” give the strong impression that this is a kitchen team led by a chef who has a determined plan for establishing his restaurant’s place high in the Toronto’s rankings.
When he came around to our side of the Creuset-stocked shelves he is just as friendly and self-effacing as he is in control on his side of the kitchen’s border. That good nature fits nicely with the rest of the service team that has taken a bump up from the early days. From the gracious offer to take back our second-favourite red–behind the Pinot Noir from The Old Third in PEC–for the by-the-glass pool, to offering to pack leftovers (pictured at the top of the post) before we asked, we were in expert hands all night. The wine list has grown but kept it’s remarkably strong Prince Edward County representation. We enjoyed a Pinot Gris from Norm Hardie and next time I’ll have to try the wine offering from Geoff Heinricks’ Keint-He Winery.
Woodlot is still growing and changing. They’ve received great reviews (5/5 from Eye Weekly, 4/5 from Now Magazine, 2/3 stars from the National Post, and 3.5/4 stars from The Toronto Star) but also a review from Toronto Life that was only a “good-very good” 1.5/5 stars. I will be interested to see where this restaurant finds itself once it has been given the chance to fully mature.