Grill-pressed Cuban sandwiches may be hot items in the rest of the world, but until recently I'd found only one in this city, at Corrientes. So when I spotted a Cubano on Wood's website menu (thewoodsbistro.ca) I scooted down for lunch as soon as I could and, fortunately, it lived up to my expectations -- a classic version, stacked thick with pulled pork, ham and mozzarella, and zesty with mustard, mayo and pickles ($8).
That website, by the way, is particularly well-planned, and what's more (bless them) up to date. The restaurant has a warm and neighbourly feeling, and an understated but smart decor, with attractive black and white photographs on pale caramel walls, light oak trim and wasp-waisted black drapes on the huge windows. The napkins are black too, the tablecloths white, the handsome dark wood armchairs are particularly comfortable, and the atmosphere is tranquil.
More to the point, the food is good. The ingredients taste fresh, and the dishes made-from-scratch, and even though it's located just this side of the Perimeter, it's a welcome oasis in restaurant-shy Charleswood.
The Cubano wasn't the only lunch I tried. There's a decent steak sandwich -- not a solid steak, actually, but thin strips of saut©ed tenderloin, topped by mushrooms, Monterey jack and crisply fried slivers of onions on a kaiser roll -- which would have been even better still with more seasoning, and some sauce for moisture. Among the other possibilities are burgers, chicken in a club, or in a pita with tzatziki, or in a tortilla with cheddar, mozzarella and hot sauce (from $6.50 to $9). There are 12-inch pizzas from $16.50 for a margarita to $23 for brie with sun-dried tomatoes -- gluten-free pizzas as well, and the kitchen is also peanut- and seafood-free.
There is a limited list of pastas and two entr©es, among the latter a chicken souvlaki that was tender, moist and flavourful ($16). However, there's also a separate short menu of dinner specialties, served after 4:30 p.m., and available until Aug. 15. The previous menu emphasized Greek dishes, but the present, brand-new one lists Louisiana-style specialties.
Among them was a blackened rib-eye that was cautiously Cajun -- in a good way. In other words, it didn't taste like charcoal (like some other blackened dishes I've had), but was big, tender and tasty, and a buy at $23. There's also spicy pork tenderloin (the degree of spice optional), which is described as braised but tasted more as though it had been grilled or roasted, i.e. slightly dry, and with no braising juices, but acceptable ($21). The other two listings are chicken and sausage jambalaya ($19) and baked chicken creole topped with cheddar and mozzarella ($23).
Entr©e prices include a choice of salad or soup. Although both could have used more cheese, the caesar and Greek salads were crisp and nicely dressed, ($9 and $10 respectively for la carte portions). However I think I'd always opt for the wonderful, soul-satisfying soups du jour -- a hearty bean soup one day, a glorious cream of vegetable on another, floating several thick slices of mushroom as well veggies ($4 la carte). Both were so good I regretted not having had time to also try the French onion soup ($6.50) or the cheddar broccoli ($4).
There are also dinner specials on specific days. Friday is prime rib night, Saturday is barbecued baby back ribs (each $22) and Monday to Wednesday offers certain entr©es for $9.95. I don't know if Monday is always meatloaf night, but it was on my Monday visit -- not quite moist enough, but tasty and satisfying.
Garnishes are a choice of potatoes: regular or sweet potato fries (both terrific); a freshly-baked potato; or dirty rice (unsampled). Also included were simply prepared but fresh broccoli and carrots.
Appetizers on the regular menu run from $5 for cheese toast to $14 for saganaki, with buffalo wings, boneless dry pork, pulled pork sliders and bruschetta in between. There was one astonishing surprise on the Louisiana menu, though: the gator bites -- little croquettes of alligator, mixed with sweet potato and garnished with a light Cajun remoulade, both quite delicious. And no, there was nothing strange about the taste or texture ($14 for four patties). The other appetizer on this menu is Cajun battered fried okra with a sweet chili mayo ($10).
There are only three desserts, all specially made for the restaurant. We didn't try the cheesecake, and I'd skip the bland carrot cake, which needed a lot more spices. The sizable slab of chocolate torte, though, was delectable, and the coffee to go with it good. The wine list isn't extensive but the few that are available by the glass are well selected and moderately priced. Service is exceptionally friendly and attentive.
6500 Roblin Blvd., 204-505-1202
Three and a half stars out of five