For some strange reason, Ossington street in Toronto does not get as much love as it wholly deserves. Many reasons for this come to mind, including the lack of direct transportation to get there, the height of my heels, and just the plain fact that me and my friends may not be hipster enough to survive a Friday night on Oss. What’s upsetting about this is that Ossington has some pretty killer restaurants including the original Rock Lobster Company, and for all you Thai food fanatics, the absolute best Thai restaurant in Toronto lives on Ossington (Golden Turtle). Weekends may not be my time to shine, but weeknights on Ossington are A OK by me.
This past Monday, I had tickets to a private 6- course tavern style meal created by the self- proclaimed “Group of Seven Chefs” at the Saint Tavern on, you guessed it, Ossington. Of course i had never been to the Saint before, and to top that off, i had absolutely no idea what a Tavern dinner consisted of. To be entirely honest, i couldn’t get the image of Medieval Times out of my head, and to some extent i was right.
The restaurant was packed with fired up foodies preparing to indulge in a 5- star meal. Once N and I were seated, we ordered a beautiful bottle of Valpolicelli wine. Our server praised our wine choice, informing us that it cannot be found in LCBO’s, and that the Saint is one of the few restaurants that carries it on its menu. Score. Apparantly the Saint is known for having very rare wines and beers to enjoy, and that we did.
The first plate of food came out as a high- class, family- style bowl of snacks. This wasn’t your ordinary beer nuts and salty kettle chips, there was so much love put into the creation. The popcorn was cooked in pig fat, the corn nuts were sweet and salty, the chips had dill and cumin sprinkled on top. They had poached whole baseball game style peanuts in some sort of gravy, and finally the puffed pull away bread was so buttery and soft i could have literally taken a nap in it. The perfect start.
We shortly learnt that each dish was being created by one of the chefs, and that the snack plate was a collective effort by all of them. The first dish was created by Bertrand Alepee from The Tempered Chef catering company. His dish was buffalo style sweet breads on top of a bed of not too creamy, not too tangy coleslaw, a little bit of pesto and some pickled grapes. From my addiction with Food Network, i knew right away that sweetbreads would not be something i would be putting in my mouth, and at this point i really regretted knowing what they were. N didn’t care, she has always been a big fan of the idea “if you put food in front of me, i will eat it”. I on the other hand have only had steak 5 times in my life, so my relationship with food is still in its flourishing stage. Maybe next time throat meat (sweetbreads), but not tonight.
I was starting to see a trend in the dishes by the time the next dish came out. Dish #2 was created by Chef Chris Brown (not the wife beater) who works at the Stop Community Food Centre. I have a love/ hate relationship with this dish. When the server described my plate, i swear to you i heard “corn fritter”, so lets roll with that. Chef Brown prepared a beautifully poached piece of halibut, on top of a crispy corn fritter, in the most amazing white sauce and sprinkled with a little something something.
As you can see, this was my favourite dish. I enjoy seafood and fish more than game and meat, so as the only fish dish of the evening this was a treat. Sitting beside us was the sous chef of The Saint Tavern, and after a few minutes of conversation, i was informed that my delicious corn fritter (which now that i think of it tasted absolutely nothing like corn) was in fact a prairie oyster.
What’s a prairie oyster? It is a bull testicle. A BULL TESTICLE. I ate a bull testicle.
I don’t know if this chef was trying to show people that properly cooked and deep fried balls are truly delicious, or if he is simply sick and twisted, and found true humour in making innocent young women like myself classily slice pieces of steaming hot testicle and stuff my face with it. This gives entirely new meaning to “don’t talk with your mouth full.” I have a huge rant swirling in my mind, but the jist of it comes down to this : women assumingly put enough of that area in our mouths already, and thus cooking it up and daintily placing it underneath my halibut does NOT make the experience any more worthwhile. I needed a smoke.
Next up was a dish done by Chef Matty Matheson from Parts & Labor, and he absolutely killed it. Keeping with the theme of ‘tavern,’ he had a beautiful crispy fried quail on top of savoury barley porridge, pickled onion, dill oil and a house- made dill pickle. From the moment this dish was in my range of sight, there was a beautifully pungent dill scent floating off of it. It was truly wonderful, and as my first quail experience i really enjoyed it. Although, i’m not quite sure why anyone would put the time and effort into cooking quail. It is so f*cking small, just cook a chicken. Am i being naive? Probably. But come on, it is so teeny! I probably go 2-3 satisfying bites of meat off of the little guy. Regardless, those few bites were stunning.
Next up was done by Chef Jesse Vallins who was the head chef of the Saint Tavern. We thankfully ordered our second bottle of ‘exclusive’ red to help down the heartiness of the next meal. Our semi- snooty neighbor sitting beside us (the sous chef and his wife) were so insanely excited about this dish since Chef Vallins was through and through a huge lover of pork. So, as expected, he created the most beautiful plate of pork and beans for us to enjoy. The pork medallion was large and fatty, on top of not too salty beans, pickled brussel sprouts, a crispy pigs ear and a crispy fritter of something not from the genitalia area. It was savoury, sweet and homey; the perfect winter meal.
Last on the menu was dessert created by Chef Scott Vivian from Beast restaurant. Before i get into his dessert i must say, if you have not been to Beast on Tecumseth street yet, YOU NEED TO GO. Chef Vivian is a master with meat, and every time i’ve been there (which is usually for brunch) i leave feeling so satisfied. And to top it off, casears and mimosa’s are only $5, how can you say no?
His dish was a sticky toffee pudding on top of a sweet doughnut, all cooked in bone marrow fat. Of course, you can’t have dessert without some bone marrow. Duh.
The final course was mind- blowing, and could almost be considered my most memorable dish of the evening (besides the you know what).
N and I were one of the last tables to leave. Understandably so though. I mean, if we are going to venture to Ossington, we better make the most of it right?
Two bottles of wine later, and two extremely full tummies, N and I called it a night, got into our cab and giggled our whole way home.
Such an eye- opening experience, especially since i had the opportunity to try things i would never have voluntarily done so before.
(Please note the man to the far right. He is beardless. He cooked balls)
So yes, in the world of the tavern – style dinner, ignorance is bliss. Prairie oysters and all.