We had been meaning to try Play Food & Wine for some time now. I think it was because like many men, Greg had some reservations with the idea of small plates. But on this rainy Saturday in May, Greg threw caution to the wind as we crossed York Street and headed over just as doors opened for lunch at noon.
With a seat beside the window, the simple décor, sky blue paint and hardwood floors, was cheery and bright on this dreary day. However, we both wondered what the ambiance would be like in the evening, would it be intimate and cozy?
Unfortunately for Greg, on this particular day there was no gas for the draughts, of which the list is disappointingly limited to only two (Beaus Lug Tread Lagered Ale and Steamwhistle Pilsner). Our server suggested a bottled lager called Czechvar (I’m sure you can guess where it’s from), which Greg had never tried before and described as “light, refreshing and tasty”.
At lunch you can order two plates for only $20, the tough part is choosing which ones from a menu that changes regularly. I knew Greg would order the grilled hanger steak with mushrooms, frites and garlic aioli, and he paired it with the roasted beets with goat cheese, pickled red onion and truffled leek.
I had a harder time deciding, everything was so tempting. I started with the local mushrooms on toast with Beaus rarebit and thyme, and my second plate was beef tartar with dijon, bacon aioli and chips.
Greg enjoyed both his dishes tremendously. The beets were firm and tangy, perfect beside the richness of the goat cheeses. He was equally pleased with his second dish; the generous portion of frites were delicious you hardly needed the aioli for dipping, and the hanger steak was grilled to a medium-rare perfection.
I loved my first dish of local mushrooms on toast. It doesn’t take much though, as I have a deep admiration for fungi, put mushrooms on anything and I’ll eat it. I don’t eat beef tartar often, I’m definitely not an expert, so for an amateur I enjoyed it, but didn’t love it and I’m not sure why. The look, the texture, the idea of eating raw meat didn’t bother me. The only thing I could really taste was the dijon.
The idea of small plates can be a little deceiving, neither one of us felt hungry after our meals, but we also didn’t feel too full. I think we would love the opportunity to come back and play, perhaps in the evening with friends. ~kM
Be sure to check out wine director and service manager at Play Food & Wine, Grayson McDiarmid’s Wine Blog.
My wife and I love to go out for dinner. Our “go to” place is the Wellington Gastropub. The food is outstanding, the service top-notch and the atmosphere is extremely casual. A former colleague of mine who was very knowledgeable about all things restaurants once told me you need three things to make it: great food, great service and buzz. The term “buzz” was his way of combining decor, atmosphere and experience into one intangible quality. In our humble opinions, the Welly has buzz to spare.
Unfortunately, business has been slow lately. Really slow. So slow in fact that we’ve had to limit where and when we’ve gone out to eat. Our anniversary was last weekend, so we were really excited to have a night out. Rather than opt for a usual suspect, we decided to try a place we’ve never been before. Our choice: Juniper Kitchen and Wine Bar.
First impressions: Juniper has buzz. You enter into a large dining room, featuring rich shades of brown, and soft lighting augmented by table candles. The floor to ceiling windows (the location used to be a BMW dealership) are impressive, giving guests a wonderful view of a renewed Wellington Village. (Not completely – the low budget motel and gas station across the road are a bit of an eyesore, but you can’t fault the restaurant for their neighbours.) The dining room was full, adding to the atmosphere and the sense that we were in for a great experience.
Unfortunately, the rest of the trifecta – great food and great service, was a little hit and miss on this night. It was our anniversary, so we opted for a pre-dinner cocktail. Our server ordered our drinks, and then returned to see if we had any questions on the menu. A few minutes later, he returned to say that our drinks were on their way, and take orders for our food. The kitchen then sent our amuse bouche (a plantain, ricotta and cashew fritter drizzled with balsamic reduction – delish), and then our drinks arrived. Our appetizers appeared almost immediately after. We would have preferred to relax with our cocktails for a few minutes, enjoying our time out and soaking in the atmosphere.
I was having trouble deciding whether to have the Quebec pork loin main and the beef tartar appetizer, or the pork belly appetizer and the Alberta beef tenderloin main. The decision was made for me – pork belly wasn’t available that night. My wife chose the apple cucumber curried salad with house made feta, along with Indian buttered chicken breast. Both of my wife’s selections were absolutely delicious – with the perfect amount of curry. The tartar was some of the best that I’ve ever had – topped with an olive tapenade to give the beef some additional flavour. The maple pork loin tasted good, if a little dry. The highlight of the plate was the sweet potato fritters – perfectly puréed on the inside and golden crispy on the outside.
Sommelier Eric Belchamber was extremely helpful navigating the extensive wine list and choosing an option that would suit both the curried butter chicken, and the sweeter maple pork. After offering his advice and a taste of two options, we settled on a 2009 Domaine St Roch chardonnay.
Dessert consisted of a banana fritter in a sesame coconut batter served with homemade peanut ice cream (to quote my wife, “heaven on a plate”) and the lemon orange crème brulé (less than satisfying).
Overall, it was a good but not great experience. Given the buzz that Juniper gets from numerous people whose opinions I value, I suspect that we caught the staff on an off night. Will we be back? Probably, after we knock a few more “must try’s” of our list.~SS