We ordered the 3-course Downtown Dining Week special. The first course was a small caesar salad, with sundried tomato and pine nuts, both of which added nicely to an otherwise usual salad. The second course was a flank steak pinwheel, duck perogies, and asian slaw with Earl Grey sauce. I have to say I was disappointed with what might have been a great dish, but it was absolutely saturated in black pepper. Overwhelmingly so, it drowned out all other flavours that might have been there (and to think they offered us more fresh ground pepper when they brought our dishes out – good thing we declined). The duck perogies were good at least and not too peppery, but even their flavour was lost after a few bites of the steak and slaw. The third course – dessert – was a mint and chocolate brulee and a scoop of chocolate gelato. I enjoyed the brulee, though the mint was maybe too subtle. Jenn definitely thought it should have been mintier, and and also wished the chocolate layer had been thinner and easier to break. I personally thought the chocolate gelato was good, but it wasn’t anything special. Jenn wasn’t even sure it was actually gelato.
I like the selection of wines at Moriarty’s, I like the decor (bunny lamps included), and our Downtown Dining Week experience last year was much better. The service was also pretty reasonably good. I’m likely to return for at least these reasons (unlike our experience at Madison’s), and I hope the next food experience there will be better.
This evening (Friday), we went to Niche. We hadn’t given Niche much thought before, but we were the lucky winners of a $25 gift certificate from a contest by The Journal. I got nervous when I first called to make the reservation on Thursday, when they had told me they were already booked up. This is when I found out how small the place really was (ergo the name I guess). I was able to book a reservation at the bar, though, which was apparently wide and still comfortable enough for dining.
When we arrived (15 mins early for our reservation even), we were told they could actually accommodate us at a table instead of the bar, which was a nice surprise. It was quiet when we first arrived, but we could hear behind us the staff were busy taking calls and declining reservations due to being booked up for the evening. I ordered a glass of White Wire, and Jenn ordered a Spiced Cherry Ginger (Sailor Jerry and ginger ale, with some fresh shredded ginger and a cherry. Both drinks were very tasty. It looked like the only menu offering was the Downtown Dining Week menu, with a choice between a 5-course meal or a 3-course, both with several options. We both opted for the 3-course with the same options, starting with the quinoa salad with roasted veggies, spinach, and goat cheese, tossed in a lemon tahini vinagerette. The salad is probably one of the best I’ve had; the spinach was fresh and soft, the goat cheese was mild and tasty, and the flavour and texture of the quinoa was excellent.
For the second course we both ordered the duck confit with golden mashed potatoes and lemon thyme gravy. The duck was excellent and flavourful, and fell right off the bone. Jenn commented that she wished the skin had been a bit crispier. The mashed potatoes had an excellent texture and tasted great, and the gravy worked well with both. Dessert was a salted brownie with a lemon honey whipped cream and a caramel sauce. I actually found the brownie slightly too salty, and would have preferred the salt be a little more subtle. It was still very good, though, the sauce and the whipped cream did subdue the saltiness somewhat. Jenn didn’t find it was too salty at all, so it’s entirely possible I’m just more sensitive to it.
By the time we left the place was almost full, and they were turning away people at the door who were hoping to drop in without a reservation.
Niche has interesting decor (including an interesting concept for the washrooms), great food, and great service, and excellent wine and cocktails as well. We are very likely to come back here (with a reservation made well in advance of course).
I’d like to close with a little mostly related anecdote: After dinner at Niche, we walked to 104 St. hoping to stop in at the new Queen of Tarts shop (here’s a link to a review on another blog, since they apparently don’t have a website or even so much as a Facebook page – and there’s really not much excuse for not having these things in this day and age) to check them out and maybe pick up something for breakfast tomorrow. We arrived at about 6:45, opened the door and started downstairs into their shop when a woman behind the counter informed us that they were closed. We stood on the stairs for a minute, a little bit dumbfounded given that a) the door was open, and b) there was no sign indicating whether or not they were open and c) there were no hours posted anywhere to be seen. We asked why their door was open and informed that they were receiving a delivery (though we didn’t see any delivery vehicles). They simply apologized and suggested we come back tomorrow. Not even that politely, either.
Take heed, local businesses, especially those just starting up: If you are closed, please put out a sign. Post your hours on the door. Get a Facebook page at the least, or a website on which you can also list your hours. And if – with none of the above criteria having been met – you leave your doors open after closing time and a couple of new potential customers happens through your door, don’t just turn them away! At least offer to let them in, have a look around, and maybe – if at all possible – offer to make a sale anyway if they want to buy something. That can make the different between a glowing review and a regular customer, or a disgruntled blogger who is already disappointed in your shop and unlikely to return now.