Monday, April 16, 2012

TRC does Keriwa Café

My first experience with Keriwa Cafe as at Picnic at Brickworks in October of 2011. I'd heard good things of this Aboriginal-inspired restaurant, so was delighted when I happened upon their table at Brickworks. Their single morsel of bear meat with blueberry compote (I don't recall the specifics of the amuse bouche beyond these 2 ingredients) had me swooning, and eager to get out to give them a try. Fast-forward almost 5 months later, at the friendly nudging of friend and TRC'er Rob, The Restaurant Club gathered once again, this time at 1690 Queen Street West - aka, home of Keriwa Cafe.

Upon entering the smallish restaurant, you immediately get a feeling of the outdoors - but in a slightly polished, art directed way. It's a warm and welcoming space, where wood is the hero and the staff are happy to see you. 

Our group of 5 started off strong with appetizers of mushroom salad with poached egg, confit of pork belly, and bison pemmican pasta. The mushroom salad was served cold - not exactly what I expected - and though I personally didn't love the pickled flavour of the mushrooms with the cold poached egg, two other TRC'ers had the dish and both loved it (one couldn't have eggs so didn't have the experience of cold yolk on the plate to react to), enjoying how the flavours came together, and particularly appreciating the red fife croutons. Side note: the red fife bread that came to the table prior to our meal was excellent, as was the cinnamon bun our server provided us to take home at the end of the night ... a delicious treat and a very nice touch. 
Mushroom Salad with Poached Egg
The pork belly was a real hit, too - the pork was perfectly cooked; crisp but moist, the fat rendered just enough, warm and melty (what? it's a word) in your mouth. Though you wouldn't expect a carrier to be the star, the bread 'pocket' in which you assemble the pork was incredible ... soft on the inside a touch crispy and salty on the outside. The accompanying coleslaw pulled it all together and brought the crunch and acidity this dish needed.

The bison pasta (which I had as a main; another had as a starter) was a perfect balance of ingredients. The pasta was silky and light, the bison tender, moist and flavourful. It was a rich dish, but the portion size was perfect to have you feeling satisfied without being stuffed. 
Bison Pemmican Pasta
Next came our mains: pork shoulder with beets, venison, braised bison, smoked whitefish, plus another round of bison pemmican pasta and pork belly. First main review: the pork shoulder. According to fellow TRC'er, "freakin delicious" and "rocked my world" were used to describe the dish. I have to concur. The pork was incredibly tender and flavourful; the molasses and beets worked very well together, and the crunch of walnuts made the dish texturally sing.
Pork Shoulder with Beets
The venison was the evening's special - and special it was. It was perfectly cooked to medium rare making it meltingly tender - no small feat for this lean game. The veg accompaniments paled in comparison to the meat, however were [somewhat] forgiven on account of the magnificent meat (side note: I believe the berries were bullberry but I can't recall - either way, they were a lovely punctuation to the dish). 
The smoked whitefish - which looked much prettier than my sorry photo below - was not only a beautiful presentation, but a beautiful compilation of flavours. The pickled beets were a nice complement to the delicately smoked fish. Our TRC'er loved the caviar crackling, likening it to 'little meringues'. The harmony of sweet, acid, crunch, acidy and creaminess made this a real hit, and the envy of those who failed to order it. 
Smoked Whitefish
Last main of the group: the bison brisket. It was cooked just right - again, not easy given it's also a lean meat; the sunchoke puree was a pleasant accompaniment, however the barley 'risotto' left something to be desired - perhaps better seasoning or another ingredient to juxtapose it from the rapini and the bullberry sauce.
Bison Brisket
Finally, two brave souls had room in their bellies for the chocolate cake dessert. Both enjoyed the dish, but found the cake to be on the dry side (I concur). The fruit-chocolate mousse center to the cake was a nice surprise; more clever than the typical coulis topping. Beyond the moistness, the dish could have been improved by serving the cake warm, however overall everyone agreed: lovely presentation, good flavour combinations, and for chocolate lovers – total satisfaction. 
Chocolate Cake
All in all, it was unanimous: TRC'ers voted Keriwa Cafe an excellent restaurant they'd recommend to friends and visit again. The service wasn't overly speedy or attentive, but our server was uber-friendly and the food superb. Oh, and on top of the surprise free Red Fife cinnamon bun to take home, we also received some complimentary chocolate truffles - OMG is all I have to say. Their menu changes monthly and all the food is seasonal ... all the more reason to frequent it often. Happy dining, friends!
Keriwa Cafe | 1690 Queen Street West
Toronto, Ontario, Canada. M6R 1B3
T: 416.533.2552