I have read a lot about The Black Hoof (BlogTo review, Chowhound discussion) and have had this restaurant on my to-try list for a while. Kat and I finally made it to the The Black Hoof this weekend. They don’t take reservations so we left our number and retired to the nearby Press Club. Definitely a neighbourhood dive bar but the beer selection by the bottle is better than average and the live music is good (without being oppressively loud). We were pleasantly surprised when Black Hoof called back within forty minutes (less than the hour we were quoted). It helped expedite things that we agreed to share a table that could have fit five or six with another couple. Shared table dining is something that we don’t do nearly enough of in Toronto and looking at what your neighbour is having is an especially useful method of performing a background check on unfamiliar menu options.
The menu–chalkboard only so that it can evolve without wasting paper–is straight to the point and brief. Meat rules here, especially when it has been cured or even better if it comes from unusual parts of the beef or pork animal. Bones, heads, and tongues aplenty. Also represented are duck (a confit “sammy” and foie gras on brioche) and octopus (with chorizo and arugula in a salad).
The service was spot-on in an efficient and friendly manner without being overly personal. Our server thankfully talked us down from the large charcuterie plate when she heard the rest of our order. The owner does double-duty as hostess and was pleasantly friendly throughout the evening.
Our meal started with the small charcuterie platter ($16; picture above). The commenter on the BlogTO post who thinks that the Drake has a better charcuterie plate must have inadvertently gnawed on the wood board at the Black Hoof instead of the glorious meat on top. This is definitely not the type of appetizer that should be consumed absentmindedly. The eight selections we were offered deserve full attention. Arranged from mildest to strongest our favourites were the rillettes (Kat usually leaves the rillettes to me), cured and thinly sliced pork fat, a horse bresaola, and the stronger flavoured of the two dry sausages. Most of all the liver mousse pate was the perfect, concentrated essence of meaty goodness. I wish they sold this by the tub for takeout. Olives are an option as a standalone appetizer and I’d like to see them do the same with the pickled vegetables that come with the charcuterie.
The testina ($13), our first of three mains, is a pork preparation that makes great use of the jowl of a pig. It sounds unusual but actually this is the dish I would recommend to diners most squeamish about their adventure in pork heaven. The flavour and texture of the testina will probably be most familiar (but “porkier”) to those who already enjoy bacon–just with the lean and fat reconfigured into a shape a bit like a chicken breast. The accompanying lentils were excellently cooked so that they maintained their individual texture. Lentils, cabbage, and beans (to be found in the a la minute cassoulet that we didn’t try) are all great friends with pork but the menu omits that other pig-buddy: the potato. Maybe chef would consider a pig’s head version of champvallon?
With the bone marrow and cabbage soup dish ($8) I managed to cross another to do from my list (try bone marrow). The chalkboard lists an additional bone marrow as an option and I think I will make the words “add a bone marrow” one of my personal tests for great menus. It is now obvious to me why this preparation is fetishized by carnivores. The purest distillation of the essential beef flavours. The cabbage soup is uncomplicated and perhaps because it comes served in a straight sided crock it can exhibit a pleasant flavour gradient–herb and spice flavours float to the top while the complex dairy settles to the bottom.
Our tour through this meat hall of fame came to an impressive close with the night’s special: pig snouts stuffed with 24-hour roasted pig’s head and served on a bed of “Happy Cabbage” ($25). Certainly not over the top but be warned that if you order this dish your plate will come bearing the very recognisable front-end of the barnyard’s most intelligent (and delicious) animal. I recently read that the Spanish believe that pig’s head has twenty-four separate flavours. I don’t know if I can taste all two dozen but this dish captures many of them. The meat portion of this dish tastes at once of every pork flavour I have experienced. The snout’s skin is beguilingly crispy and sticky at the same time. The cabbage has a sweet richness that perfectly complements the pork’s salty meatiness. My only complaint here is that chef needs to find an easier way of letting diners get these snouts into their mouths. The skin is difficult to cut so we either need a steak knife or it should be sliced smaller and reassembled for presentation by the kitchen.
We were much too full to even consider dessert but I understand from the couple with whom we shared our table that it was some sort of tart and was very good.
I get why small and very popular places like the Black Hoof don’t want to take reservations in the usual way but they need to find a better option than sending patrons wandering through one of Toronto’s sketchiest neighbourhoods while they wait for their table. Maybe eventually allow returning diners to join a list with a one-strike policy (for no-shows) that allows reservations and save a certain number of other seats for newcomers?
An incredible dining experience. I’m sure I speak for Kat as well when I say we can’t wait to return to The Black Hoof with friends. Until then we’ll be reading about what’s going on behind the scenes through the chef’s blog.
The Black Hoof Charcuterie Restaurant – 928 Dundas St. W. - Open Thursday to Monday (until 2 AM on weekends)
Update: Here’s Kat’s take on our meal.