The restaurant that entered 2011 with the biggest buzz is Woodlot (293 Palmerston Ave.). The reviews were favourable, word-of-mouth is still traveling franticaly and walking in without a reservation is a high-risk affair. And once you enter, you’ll realize it’s going to live up to at least some of the hype. Take a deep inhale because the smell that hits you is a mixture of meat juices, rich sauces and butter, which is a good indicator that the restaurant has a whole lot of potential.
The space is awesomely original with the kitchen, a large table and a few random seats on the main level, while the majority of diners are ushered up a staircase. The loft-like dining area allows the “front-row” tables to stare down at the bustling action. There is little pretense at Woodlot, dishes are simply presented and quality is clearly celebrated. Tables are adorned with a single tea-light candle while seperate vegetarian and meat menus are provided.
We opt for mainly meat menu items and our server Jessica is incredibly forthcoming and honest when we ask for advice. She steers us away from the pot pie (“basically a chicken pot pie”) and recommends we order an extra pasta which turns out to be the right amount. (We do two pastas, two mains, one side and a dessert for three diners.) The meal begins two pastas. First up is Russet Potato Gnocchi ($13/19) with walnut sauce and parmesan. The dish accentuates the nuttiness but sadly isn’t memorable beyond that.
I fall in love with the Farm Fresh Egg Tagliatelle ($14/$20) that’s peppered with radicchio, speck and topped with shaved fontina cheese. The slivers of delicious fatty pork paired with the homemade noodles make this dish a standout.
Five round green balls are presented as Braised Duck Cabbage Rolls ($19). Filled with wild rice, chestnuts and prunes, these have a distinct orange flavour and are as far away from traditional cabbage rolls as you can get. I’ve been enjoying lots of duck around the city lately, but the meat gets lost in this dish. While many others have nothing but great words for this popular plate, I find the prunes and orange overpoweringly sweet.
Our other main also didn’t scream out to me. The Chop of Whey-Fed Pork ($22) with caramelized apple, black walnuts and sage falls on the sweet side as well, and the flavour of the meat plays second fiddle to the overpowering glaze from the vegetables.
I would have happily eaten the entire Potato and Bone Marrow Purée ($5) as a main. But of course I had to share this silky smooth and rich mash with my friends. This is definitely a dish I would order again on a subsequent visit.
Our server Jessica easily recommends her favourite dessert, the Lemon Tart with Roast Marshmallow and Wild Blueberry ($8). While the mains fail to achieve a desired balance, this dessert marries tart with sweet and the burst of blueberry purée, smoothness of the custard and springiness of the ‘mallow create complementary textures.
I loved the ambience, the space and the service at Woodlot, but I feel if I returned, besides the tagliatelle, potato purée and lemon tart, I would order completely different items. My meal wasn’t a rave, but I saw enough potential to make me want to give it a second try soon.
Woodlot / 293 Palmerston, Toronto
647 342 6307 / Hours: Tues-Sun 5pm-midnight