Dining in the ‘burbs always seems to be limited to big box chains (Jack Astor’s, Milestones) so it’s always exciting when I find a local restaurant that isn’t a chain – this time in Scarborough. Tucked away in an unassuming strip plaza at Morningside/Kingston Road is The West Hill Wine Bar, with Top Chef Canada Season One contestant Christopher Kanka “in the kitchen.”
You don’t come here for the décor, though the Dr. Seuss quotes on the wall are quirky and fun. Service can be a hit and miss depending on who your server is – luckily we were blessed with a server who was a food enthusiast as he took the time to explain each dish and even quizzed me on what fruit I thought the palate cleanser was constructed of. He also nodded in glee when I told him what my food choices were. That’s the kind of server that every food lover hopes to have.
Our meal is had with live music (Friday and Saturday nights from 7-9PM) as the solo guitarist/singer played Pearl Jam and Oasis at just the right volume. We were probably the youngest ones in the restaurant as the crowd seems to be mostly 40+, or as my best friend points out “it’s where all the rich white people in Scarborough eat.”
The wine list is import-heavy though you can BYOW for parties of 4 or less (calling ahead is mandatory). Prices are quite reasonable and don’t leave you feeling ripped off like at some downtown establishments that seem to be charging ridiculous markups.
There are two food menus, one being a two-pager of their pizzas and pastas which are 50% off on Monday nights with the purchase of an appetizer.
The bread basket is void of the usual butter offering and instead comes with a hard-to-spread roasted garlic (better to push it aside if you’re on a date, unless you have a stick of gum handy) because it is totally unforgiving (read, extremely garlicky).
The Sweet Potato Tower ($9) makes me want to break into a game of Jenga, after all we’re adults now and mom won’t be around to nag us about playing with our food. The freshly squeezed lime & smoky chipotle aioli is a great dipping sauce, the acidity from the lime is a great grease-cutter (or at least I tell myself it is).
The Deconstructed Caesar Salad ($11) is a classic with a twist with quail eggs and figs wrapped in prosciutto and a crispy herb tuile. And the presentation isn’t just for show as the salad is equally delicious with just the right amount of dressing and a whole head of romaine packs in more crunch.
The bittersweet intermezzo is made from one of my favorite fruits – pomelo. I could’ve easily had this as a light dessert.
For dinner, I opt for a bolder dish and find solace in the Oven Roasted Duck ($28); control freaks will be glad to know that the chef won’t dictate your level of doneness and picky eaters won’t mind the heirloom carrots or baby green beans thrown into a mix of Ontario peaches and cream corn with a double-smoked bacon fricassée and Saskatoon berry Merlot reduction. The dish was well put-together and doesn’t leave you feeling heavy or weighed down like most dishes. The slight tartness from the berries in the reduction help ease the richness of the dish without detracting from flavor.
My best friend (who normally is the burgers and fries type) surprises me and goes outside his comfort zone by ordering the Seared Scallops ($30); giant diver scallops atop a crisp lump crab & potato “galette” with West Coast sea asparagus, lotus root crisps in a light white soy and bonito broth. The “galette” to me was more of a crab cake, but not the usual potato-packed-barely-any-crab kind. My favorite part of the dish (apart from the perfectly seared scallops), are the lotus root crisps and the Asian broth adds to the dish without overwhelming the natural flavors of the scallops.
Having doggy-bagged half of my entrée I find room for dessert and opt for the Caramel & Fall Apple Package ($11); you should order ahead of time as it is baked to order and takes roughly 15 minutes. The flaky sheets of phyllo blanket my favorite Gala apples with chunks of Bourbon butterscotch anglaise and a Fresh Vanilla Bean ice cream. Definitely no regrets here.
Bestie seeks some Southern comfort in the form of the Crusted Pecan Pie ($11) which doesn’t skimp on the nuts and is served with a Frangelico chocolate ganache and caramel gelato. The filling is not as gooey as I like and I think I would’ve swooned more if it were served warm. I liked that it wasn’t overly sweet.
The damage at the end of the day (including a beer and a glass of wine) was about $160 including tax and tip which is steep considering the locale but then again it saves me the drive downtown and also the cost of parking. Menu items err on the side of classic but I would hardly call them dated and the execution in the kitchen coupled with the stellar service has turned me into a fan.
 Chef Kanka was not in the kitchen when I went, and my CEO (who was the one who told me about the West Hill Wine Bar) has also stated that he hasn’t seen the chef in the kitchen the last few times he’s been (and he’s a regular).