Nestled in the neighbourhood of Little Italy – the Woodlot Bakery & Restaurant is truly a Toronto gem. Newly opened since November 2010, Woodlot prepares classic dishes with a lot of love, and a whole lot of flavour!
While most of the restaurants in the area (including those that have better exposure to foot and street traffic) were as empty as a drunkard’s flask, Woodlot was busy – on a Wednesday?! We entered the restaurant through a set of curtains (strategically placed to ensure no heat escaped). The restaurant itself is reminiscent of a loft, with an open concept kitchen, communal table and bar on the ground floor, and a more proper sit-down dining area on the floor above. The restaurant was at full capacity, and without a reservation, they were only accepting walk-ins at the bar or at the communal table. The communal table (which is right next to the focal point – the wood oven, as well as the kitchen) was unfortunately full, so we were seated at the bar. Unlike most restaurants that try to save money by under hiring and over-serving, the Woodlot was generously staffed. I think I saw at least 8 if not more servers – and considering the cozy size of the restaurant, this was impressive.
The Woodlot has gotten a lot of buzz, so I decided to see if it lived up to all the hype.
They offer a vegetarian menu, separate from their regular one. Although their menus are not extensive – I wouldn’t say that the options were lacking.
Still trying to recover from the lunch I had at Trevor’s earlier, I decided it was best to have a 3-course meal… to share. This meant that we would have to get down and serious about the items we were going to choose, because any one bad choice could ruin the entire experience.
After thoughtful consideration, debate, and input from the bartender as to what we should choose as our main, “pork chops vs. pot pie” – followed by a confirmation from the couple next to us who chimed in unison “the pot pie!” – we placed our order.
It is worth mentioning that the bread at the Woodlot is prepared in-house; none of that store-bought nonsense! The Woodlot is also a café during the day. With no defined menu, they serve up daily pastries, quiches etc. The hostess did mention that there are plans to serve lunch come spring, however, those plans have not yet been confirmed.
We were served a sour dough and fife bread with a pot of butter. I must say, being quite a bread nazi (i.e. always wanting it served warm), I actually preferred the bread at Woodlot unheated. The first reason, is that I find that the sourness is really pronounced in sour dough bread when it is heated. The sour dough bread was crusty on the outside, and soft on the inside. The fife bread was a denser bread, but it was yummy! I usually try to ignore the bread basket, because you fill yourself up too much to enjoy much else. But at Woodlot, the bread basket was cleared, and the server automatically brought another. It took every ounce of self control to not devour the second bread basket while awaiting our meal.
I always like to start off with a salad, in preparation for the onslaught of meat and fat that ensues. We started with the Winter Arugula Salad. The portion size was a little scant, but there was mega flavour packed into this tiny dish. I guess small things do come in small packages? Hmm…
The mandolin-thin vegetables absorbed all the flavours of the vinaigrette. There was a subtle anise flavour, which I suspect came from the fennel. This dish brought together a mélange of different flavours and textures. You got the crunchiness from the carrots, fennel, and red cabbage, coupled with the crispness of the pear, the creaminess of the blue cheese, and the nuttiness from the walnuts. I am still pining to know what kind of blue cheese they use, as it is the creamiest I have ever had! In my humble opinion, if the walnuts were caramelized, it would’ve made this dish even more perfect.
The Smoked Ham Hock & Chicken Pot Pie brought comfort food to a whole new level. I will never eat a frozen, store-bought pot pie again! The chicken and pork just melt in your mouth with slow-cooker goodness. The outside crust was very buttery, and the centre was very creamy. The smoked ham hock added substance and a flavour-packed saltiness to the dish and enhanced an otherwise ordinary chicken pot pie. The vegetables used in this pie are anything short of ordinary. Rutabaga, Jerusalem artichoke, celery root, and turnip – who wants boring potatoes? It was seasoned with thyme, rosemary, parsley and chives. The serving size was enough to feed 2, and boy were we glad we didn’t order a second entrée… Otherwise, we may have been airlifted out of the restaurant! We also had the pleasure of sharing a brief conversation with the chef and co-owner, Mike, while he overheard us hypothesizing the ingredients in the pot pie. He was very friendly, and helped unmask the myth of some of the intense flavours that graced our presence.
We had also opted for a side of Gnocchi with Sage Brown Butter. No regrets on that one. Gnocchi is usually very soft, but the Woodlot added a twist by lightly searing it on the outside for an added dimension of texture. It was also dusted lightly with a mild cheese. The kale chips that accented the dish were nicely salted.
Usually at this point in the evening, if the food has been disappointing, I ask for the bill. Not so fast partner! Because I love a good cappuccino, we ordered the Soma Chocolate Pot de Crème with Hazelnut Praline to pair off with our coffees. And boy am I glad we did! The hazelnut praline topping added a nice crunch to complement the underlying smooth crème, and had a hint of citrus flavour. The bit of salt in the praline also did a great job of bringing out the sweetness of the dish. The cappuccino was nice and frothy, and although I usually don’t add sugar, it was a little too bitter and sharp for my tastebuds without it. With a spoonful of sugar, my cappuccino was heaven in a cup!
The Woodlot definitely gets 5 stars in my books. I am starting to think that all of Toronto’s best restaurants are conspiring to reside in the neighbourhoods of Palmerston Village and Trinity Bellwoods, away from all the overly-hyped, grandiose restaurants in the downtown core.