It's a heavenly site -- a long wall of windows and an equally long balcony overlooking a meandering pond (partially drained at present, for construction purposes), and beyond, a luxuriant growth of majestic trees. Some Warhol prints are displayed on the earth-toned inside wall; the chairs, with leather-like seats and lovely fabric upholstery, are not only exceptionally attractive but exceptionally comfortable as well, and, apart from a fireplace, set in a massive central pillar, that's about all there is for decor. And that's all it needs.
The kitchen, under the direction of Wow! Hospitality's executive chef, Michael Dacquisto, and chef Beau Schell, lives up to the setting, offering relatively high-end food at less than high-end prices. At least they do at dinner, which, although not labelled as such, is the only menu shown on the restaurant's website. It was why a first visit for lunch seemed reasonable, especially for a restaurant in a major park.
Not that my lunch was poor -- au contraire. What I did have was good, but there just wasn't enough to choose from (more about that later).
The star rating is for the dinners, which are served from 5 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday. The menu (which may still be a work in progress) isn't very long either, and is somewhat lopsided, listing as many starters as there are entrées (nine each). Moreover, one of the entrées is a sandwich -- a glorious one, as it happens, of house-made smoked beef, steamed, sliced thin and piled high on City Bread rye, and served with five house-made mustards ($13, including soup or fries). Another entrée, which I saw on its way to another table -- house-made pretzels with house-smoked salmon and greens -- looked more like a sizable appetizer ($13).
The menu may lack balance, but not the cooking, most of which was impeccable, starting with the superb complimentary buttermilk biscuits -- incredibly light, flaky marvels, so addictive (there's more for the asking) the danger lies in filling up on them. But two of the starter salads were light and delicious: delicate, pink slices of smoked duck breast with tiny cubes of pears and Trappist cheese, candied pecans and butter lettuce ($16); and a colourful combination of cubes of beets, Metro Meats' kielbasa (one of the city's best), and fontina cheese with hazelnuts and arugula ($7). A more substantial starter was the duo of a dense country paté and a smooth chicken liver mousse, with lingonberry jam and the proper (French-style) vinegar-brined gherkins, although I'd have preferred a crusty baguette to the toast points ($10).
There are also down-to-earth, meaty wings in a crunchy and slightly curried, honey-sweet coating, accompanied by battered deep fried pickled green beans -- so good you may never again be satisfied with deep-fried dill pickles ($7). There are soups du jour -- the soup of my jour was thick with pineapple and pulled pork, a description that sounded Asian, but had a rich, East European sweet-and-sour flavour ($6). Other appetizers include free-range devilled eggs with three different fillings -- traditional, smoked salmon and curried ($4), beet fritters with dandelion greens and creme fraiche ($9), a mixed green salad ($6) and a potato salad ($7).
Most of the entrées are classic comfort foods, with occasional modern twists. The top price of $25 buys tender, flavourful slices of filet mignon in a mushroom cream sauce (but not quite enough of it), with tiny roasted potatoes and asparagus spears. Pork schnitzel comes in light, crunchy breading, topped by a dab of mild sauerkraut and garnished with nicely chewy spaetzle and a coriander-seasoned pear compote ($18).
The fish fry of pickerel -- with capers, mashed potatoes and tiny fried brussels sprouts with bits of bacon -- was sweet-fleshed, moist and wonderful ($21). The fish and chips not so much -- the chips (i.e. fries) were good and the coleslaw decent, but the haddock was decidedly dry ($16). There's always a vegetarian pasta of the day ($16), and the confusingly labelled Seasonal Foraged Mushrooms -- I had expected, and hoped for, a dish of wild mushrooms but on my visit it turned out to be a shepherd's pie containing mushrooms ($16).
The lunch menu (11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesday to Saturday) lists a few panini ($10 with salad), a burger and sandwiches, among them unexceptional egg or tuna salad, but also that fabulous smoked beef ($7 to $9.50, including either soup or fries). The haddock fish and chips is one of the few dinner entrées served at lunch -- half the size of the dinner portion, but almost half the price ($8.99). Sunday brunch has just been added, featuring egg dishes, pancakes, French toast and a few sandwiches, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Prices range from $7.99 for two eggs, breakfast meat, hash browns and toast, to $19 for filet mignon, two eggs, garlic toast and smashed hash.
Desserts are few, but the dense fudge brownie, paired with a marshmallow, walnuts and vanilla bean ice cream, was delicious. I can't say it was an improvement on a conventional baked cake (and the cappuccino foam was just flavourless fluff), but the light and fluffy-textured microwave sponge cake with chocolate ganache was intriguing ($6 each). There's also a frozen fruit-salad sorbet ($7) and three others one assumes are meant for the kiddies -- a crackerjack snack pack with nuts and bacon, milk and cookies, and a Red River float made with root beer ($5 each). Grown-ups can have their float with Guinness vanilla ice cream ($8).
Service is attentive, enthusiastic and knowledgeable. The wine list is relatively short but has some interesting selections, with 10 available by the glass.