Kitchen24: A Delicious Blend of Entrepreneurial and Community Spirit

“When people talk about food, it just creates a warm feeling,” says co-owner Alexandra Pelts. “It’s community building; it’s an integral part of humanity. . .as the old saying goes, ‘to eat is human, to eat well is divine.”

Hopefully, it is that positive drive people will feel upon the opening of Kitchen24, a new culinary space and “food incubator” currently set to open at the end of May, located in Suite 200 at 100 Marmora Street. For those unaware, such locations exist more commonly in the United States and are used to give culinary professionals the space they may not otherwise have to work on various projects for their businesses — a very realistic problem, in the increasingly expensive Toronto market. Intrigued food enthusiasts can also experiment for their own enjoyment if the close quarters of the kitchen in their cramped apartment leaves much to be desired.

A rendering of what Kitchen24 will look like, once it is unveiled to the public

There are already businesses in Toronto offering kitchen spaces for rent, but co-owners Steve Kidron and Alexandra Pelts noticed the degree to which such an idea can be ambitiously expanded. Kitchen24 will be a 28,000 square foot, commercial-grade location that is going to take into account the different cultural, spacial, and even business needs for those willing to pay the monthly price. The initial idea was born when Pelts and Kidron, business partners since 2010, began renting out their previous considerably smaller kitchen facility for a catering company. The partners of that company eventually split, but that got their internal wheels turning. Pelts wrote an ad for their space, which she placed on Kijiji. The response was positively shocking: It received over 300 inquiries from people within the food service industry, ranging from those with small businesses to others working in offices, intrigued to try out a new lucrative interest on the side. Pelts and Kidron discovered the gap in the market and, upon doing more research, they soon found that there were other companies that were advertising kitchen spaces for rent, all of which were quite similar — to a fault.

“There is definitely a need for a space like [Kitchen24] in the city of Toronto. There are a number of companies, maybe a dozen give or take, that have advertised that they have commercial kitchens for rent, but most of them I would say are renting their kitchens similarly to the way we did a few years ago. There’s not a single food incubator that caters directly to the food service industry.”

The location will be comprised of sixty cooking stations, and among them will be thirteen convection ovens, a pizza oven, two walk-in fridges — one main fridge, and a smaller fridge for kosher requirements — and a vast array of appliances. Not only is the idea exciting for businesses owners struggling with Toronto rental costs, but the drive to take into account the needs of the small business owners first — who have a dream and perhaps, just need a little help to get off the ground — is the primary factor that Kidron and Pelts both hope will result is a thriving, passionate, and fun culinary community.

Steve Kidron wears his heart on his sleeves when it comes to his desire to give passionate individuals who are eager to learn more as much of a helping hand as he can. He is an immigrant from Israel, who once owned a food truck before the stress of working around regulations proved to be too much of a hassle, as well as a previous business — Fresh for Less — that delivered meals to the needy. As Kidron notes, one of the main issues that people with a small food business struggle with is moving their venture from their apartment or basement to an area that can be certified by the Health Department. Other rental kitchens end up having long wait times and those individuals starting out have very difficult work schedules, with some working two to three jobs to make ends meet. “The economy in Ontario is becoming so expensive. Even if they have money, it can be scary to invest — it’s a risk they don’t often need.” With both his personal experience and empathy for those in the business, he aims to operate Kitchen24 with enough flexibility to cater to clients of various economic capacities.

While the need for space and flexible scheduling for clients is on the forefront of their minds, Kidron and Pelts hope that their plans for classes and mentoring programs that give a good foundational knowledge in the industry will go the extra mile.

“What we found out were there were a lot people with start-ups, with great ideas,” says Alexandra Pelts. “Either they are people who just graduated from cooking school or they have a recipe from their grandmother that they would like to develop and want to take it to another level. All the people come in with an idea and a passion to cook, but only a few have an understanding or an education in how to run the business — how to do a business plan, how to create a brand, how to market themselves, create packaging… many businesses fail because they can only bring it to a certain level and afterwards they need help in mentoring and obtaining the right contacts.”

Such an emphasis on giving the clients the know-how to spread their wings and thrive on their own is surely an exciting aspect of Kitchen24 for potential clients, but there are of course many plans that will prove to be more fun possibilities for community members as well. Hopes for future events range from cooking competitions, teaching classes on how to preserve food for the needy, and other industry pop-up events. One would also be correct in feeling that such a space would also be a perfect location for a cookbook launch party, as echoed by Ms. Pelts. There is much enthusiasm from the owners about what Kitchen24 can bring to the surrounding community, as well as the industry at-large. It would be remiss for those in-the-know throughout Toronto not to be paying attention to its development.

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What Movies Should You Be Looking Forward To This Spring?

This year’s Oscar season is behind us: you have shed your tears, contemplated the state of race relations in America, and watched a telecast notable for its amount of politically charged speeches and a historical screw-up that will live on in the hearts and minds of viewers as one of the best embarrassing moments the Oscars has ever given us (Warren Beatty’s look of crippling embarrassment thinly hidden behind false good humour is burned in my mind forever). This was an emotional Oscar season for sure, but it is now time to look forward. Spring is the slow kick-off to that time of the year littered with more big-budgeted fare, often depicting superheroes, the destruction of cities, space exploration adventures that are both vibrant and terrifying as well as the odd indie with some intriguing film festival buzz thrown in for good measure. So put away those tissues, get the extra large bag of popcorn, and check out some of these films that are to be released in the coming months.

The Lost City of Z. April 21

It seems as though for the past few years Charlie Hunnam has been making calculated gains towards his slow ascension from “charismatic television star” to “multi-faceted film icon.” Initially making a name for himself through roles in notable dramas such as Queer as Folk, Nicholas Nickleby, and Cold Mountain, he eventually gained a higher level of mainstream success with the FX series, Sons of Anarchy. As such, by the time he appeared in Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim, it was clear that he was likely to be on a career track similar to that of Tom Hardy or Channing Tatum’s, as he is able to take on roles that illustrate an ability for physically demanding work as well as for emotional depth and gravitas behind that tough-guy exterior. In May, Hunnam will be appearing in Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, but, frankly, The Lost City of Z, based on David Grann’s 2009 book, is much more intriguing. The film, set in the 1920’s, will focus on the true story of the British explorer Percy Fawcett who set out to find the remains of an advanced civilization that supposedly once existed in the Amazon. Moments in the trailer that show Percy (Hunnam) travelling by boat with his son (Tom Holland of the new Spider-man) while battling his own unhealthy obsessions, and perhaps growing more mentality unhinged, have a certain Apocalypse Now vibe. On top of that, the director, James Gray, who is more well-known for his smaller budgeted dramas such as We Own the Night and Two lovers, will hopefully add a degree of emotional heft not usually seen in recent adventure films.

Guardians of the Galaxy Volume. May 2

Comic book fans and their classic rock-loving dads can rejoice as the clear front-runner for the biggest movie of the season is set to be released in less than a month. The first Guardians of the Galaxy seemed to be a case of capturing lightning in a bottle; it proved to be the perfect light and breezy counter-programming to the progressively convoluted Marvel’s Cinematic Universe; it introduced the world to Action Star-era Chris Pratt; it was seemingly the perfect big-budget property for director James Gunn, who made a name for himself with smaller genre-bending films like Slither (2006) and Super (2010); and it mined comedy from the idiosyncrasies of lovable characters. Even if the sequel struggles to retain the same amount of freshness, one is still just as likely to sit back and enjoy the comedic chemistry between the cast, while also being reintroduced to songs that were feared to haven been forgotten by all but the listeners of afternoon classic rock radio. And it’s science: Kurt Russell makes any movie more watchable.

Alien: Covenant. May 19

You may have thought you were done with the revival of the Alien franchise following Prometheus in 2012, but with reported plans of the Covenant being the second installment of a planned prequel trilogy, Ridley Scott is not. And be honest with yourself, you’re also cautiously curious to see what exactly he has planned out. Although Prometheus was conceptually ambitious, providing new and interesting corners into this film universe, it was pretty difficult to ignore moments of thinly-written character development and the wide ratio of questions concerning the plot to actual answers, which, combined, ultimately resulted in the film not reaching its full potential. However, there are some reasons to be hopeful this time around. From the footage already released involving facehuggers and Xenomorphs tearing through crew members’ bodies in new and exciting ways, it’s clear that this story, involving a new crew stumbling upon a seemingly ideal planet for colonization, is planted more firmly in the horror roots that made the franchise successful. Hopefully this will result in a more entertaining balance between the beloved claustrophobic, haunted house scares of the original and the philosophical musings on the nature of life and God, which were so prevalent in Prometheus; which, if successful, could make this new trilogy stand separately from the previous installments. There has also been quite the upgrade in the cast department, this time it includes Michael Fassbender (returning as another android, Walter, while also reprising his previous role), Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, James Franco, and Damian Bachir. The writing credits also are nothing to scoff at either, with a story credit to Michael Green (whose most recent credit was for Logan) and a screenplay credit to John Logan (whose other works include Gladiator, The Aviator, as well as the last two James Bond films). The television spots released have also been appropriately eerie and unsettling as well, especially those featuring Walter. Ridley Scott is clearly working towards perfecting his vision for this trilogy. Let’s hope this time around he nails the landing.

Wonder Woman. June 2

I am by no stretch of the imagination an avid watcher of any sports, but I assume being a fan of DC, in the context of an overcrowded superhero-movie landscape, is kind of like being a passionately die-hard fan of a sports team no matter how many times they let you down. But, like the good fan that I am, I will likely end up seeing Wonder Woman opening weekend, while bracing for impact if the film does not meet my already sober expectations. However, despite being burned from previous DC Comic movie outings, there is reason enough to believe that this may be primed for success. Judging from the trailers that have been released thus far, there seems to be a better marriage here between the edgier, brutal action elements that were also seen in Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice — which certainly work towards helping to establish a tone and feel to this universe that is completely separate from that of Marvel — as well as a brighter lets-not-take-ourselves-too-seriously-this-time-around sensibility to the proceedings. Charisma machine Chris Pine has some good underplayed comedic bits in the trailer. Lucy Davis, probably best known for her role in The Office, is charmingly silly. And the writers even let Gal Gadot have moments playing up her own fish-out-of-water position in the plot, as she works alongside the Americans during World War I, presumably to protect not only their world but also that of Themyscira. And thankfully, those moments poking fun at her character do no take away from how ridiculously badass she looks as she nonchalantly bats away a mortar using her shield or slides on the ground towards an adversary with her sword pointed towards his chest. For me, moments like these turn those gritting teeth into an impressed and delighted smile. With beloved Golden Age characters such as these, DC deserves a win. Here’s to hoping the Warner Bros. has gotten their act together.

The Beguiled. June 30

At the moment, this film falls into the category of “I Have No Idea What Is Happening I just Know I Want More of This.” Based on a novel by Thomas Cullinan, this is the latest feature directed by Sofia Coppola, who has not released a film since the tepidly received The Bling Ring in 2013. Also intriguing is Colin Farrell, who seems to be having a nice comeback, as he has been taking on more interesting character roles in recent years in films such as Saving Mr. Banks, The Lobster, and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, also to be released later this year (are we in the midst of a Farrelssance?). The plot revolves around a wounded Confederate soldier taken in by a group of women — among them Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, and Elle Fanning — who are sheltered from the outside world. Sexual tensions and psychologically unsettling moments quickly develop in the trailer, perhaps made to create a sense of ambiguity as to who “the beguiled” actually are. Check it out, feel uncomfortable, and mark it on your calendar.

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A Visit to the new Yorkville restaurant, Figures!

There are two sides to my personality that, for a long time, I figured would stay separate, never the ‘twain shall meet. There is the side that’s always on the lookout for a new restaurant that offers an interesting twist or a perspective on something I’ve already had before, thereby making it refreshingly different; a menu that incorporates multiple tastes, layers, and textures into a complex and delicious whole.

And then there’s the other side of me — a massive sci-fi and comic book geek, developed from very early on when I was growing up. Over time those interests have somewhat subsided. But I have found that I have become quite sentimental about that earlier period of my life, those memories that may seem insignificant to others yet played a large role in making me the person I am today. And remembering such memories or icons with a certain fondness perhaps acts as a reminder not too take oneself too seriously as one ages, and to retain a more positive and care-free attitude. It is that sentiment that clearly comes across when you enter the new Yorkville restaurant Figures, at 137 Avenue Road. The owners Nader and Patrick Marzouk have created an environment that brings a sense of laid-back and vibrant fun to the neighbourhood, — which, frankly, they note that Yorkville is in some need of — while also retaining the refined dining that the neighbourhood residents have surely come to expect. It is the interesting marriage of these sensibilities that will most likely make Figures stand out.

The concept of Figures is simple yet seems exciting and fresh. The idea behind the name points to the importance of remembering the figures in our lives that make us who we are. At Figures, they are most clearly various pop-cultural ones.

Very few images of the interior currently exist either on the main website or on their social media accounts — perhaps a calculated marketing ploy to create an air of mystery surrounding the establishment. This certainly worked for me, for when I entered the restaurant, knowing next-to-nothing as to what to expect, I was immediately overwhelmed by the creativity and intricate details of the décor. The front of the restaurant is made to look like a small comic book or a collectible shop. On various shelves sit original concept art sketches of Star Wars characters and golden and silver age comic books amongst other rare and nerdy oddities — certainly appealing to that older collector with some money to burn, as everything in this area is for sale (during my visit, I was told an original sketch of Darth Vader had sold for five thousand dollars a couple of days prior). A hostess greets you in this area, pushes a button — a Captain America Shield —, revealing the wall behind her to be a hidden, Batcave-like entrance to the main dining and bar areas, which are also quite impressive. Entering the dining area, you are met by paintings of Star Wars and DC Comic characters, a large Pac Man maze on the ceiling that also acts as mood lighting, and a large mural of various pop-cultural icons meant to evoke the stories and personalities of the owners and chef. Basically, imagine if someone hired a big pop-culture nerd to create the ultimate high-end VIP dining experience, and you will likely get something close to this. I don’t think it is a stretch of my imagination to think this will quickly become a popular destination for people wanting to check out the space. They will likely not be disappointed by that, nor from the food and drinks offered.

Currently, Figures has a two-page cocktail list, some of the names and concepts of which have a delightfully silly sense of humour to them. To start, I went for The Rarely on Target ($20). Visually speaking, this is going to be a slam-dunk crowd-pleaser. This cocktail is made with Bacardi Gran Reserva Maestro De Ron and Dillon’s Absinthe. Combined, this creates an initial spicy taste, similar to a Negroni, but slightly sweeter and with a smooth, clean finish, which makes it not too boozy and quite easy to drink. A very nice way to start the meal. Egg whites give the Rarely on Target a frothy head, which the bartenders take advantage of by stenciling an image of a stormtrooper on top with various spices. As far as I’m concerned, this drink is the perfect representation of the meticulous presentation, refined tastes, and the don’t-take-yourself-so-seriously sense of humour that Figures will hopefully be known for. A definite recommendation.

The dishes offered create a blend of casual sensibilities that nevertheless can be appreciated with by an experienced palette. There can be some slight drawbacks to that, but otherwise the menu, which is made with seasonal ingredients and is set to change on a near-weekly basis, offers dishes that from my experience are still rich in flavour. The first dish I tried was one that I was told had become a favourite over their initial first weeks of business: the Lump Crab ($24), a medium grilled crab cake sitting atop a small crab salad. The crab cake is very nice, as it has a delightfully crispy exterior, but the interior is still juicy and melts in your mouth. As much as I thoroughly enjoyed this dish, a slight criticism would be that there is not much that distinguishes the crab cake from the crab salad. Some more variation between these two components would have been appreciated but, as it stands, it is still a small dish that packs a wallop of hardiness from the crab, and will surely appease those looking some good no-nonsense seafood.

The second dish I went for was an absolute winner. The Lamb Shank ($28) did not disappoint. In keeping with the blend of casual sensibilities with rich tastes, this dish is the restaurant’s own version of a shepherd’s pie — with lamb, gravy, peas, and corn sitting atop a warm bed of mashed potatoes, which has a perfect soft and milky texture. I was told that the lamb had been braised for upwards of five hours, making it incredibly flavourful and tender as well. This is a great balance of different tastes and is incredibly filling given the relatively small portion size. Given everything I tried during this visit, future rotating menu options will likely be promising as well.

Along with the food menu, there are also plans to change the cocktail options on a seasonal basis, some of which are currently being experimented with right now focusing on some ideas inspired by literary figures, according to bar manager and mixologist James Bailey. As such, there are plenty of reasons to be enticed to check out Figures, and given it’s unique atmosphere and unpretentious fine dining options, it will hopefully spark much curiosity in the coming weeks, putting the establishment on a path for prolonged success.

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A Visit to Buca Osteria & Bar in Yorkville!

The list of Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants, as decided by an extensive panel of well-known chefs, journalists, and other in-the-know business representatives was recently announced, which no doubt caught the attention of chefs around the country and whetted the curiosities of countless foodies who want to stimulate their palates in new and exciting ways. Toronto has certainly a lot to be excited about, with the French restaurant Alo moving up to the coveted first place and the 1920’s art deco, visual styling at Lena gaining recognition with an award for Best Restaurant Design. But midst other awards and rankings, one thing continues to be undoubtedly clear: that the Buca restaurant empire, with Chef Rob Gentile at the helm, is still widely considered as the high watermark of quality for Italian cuisine nationwide. Since the list began three years ago, both Buca locations, at 604 King Street and 53 Scollard, have been regular fixtures and Bar Buca at 75 Portland also received some love. Buca Yorkville and Buca on King placed 7th and 16th respectively on this year’s Canada’s 100 Best list. With such rumblings in the culinary scene, it would be foolish not to satiate one’s craving for a traditional yet adventurous Italian dinner there.

Photo: Rick O’Brien

For those who have yet to go, the three locations vary in menu: the King West location has the most traditional selection of meat, pizza, and pasta dishes, and the Bar Buca location is of the smaller, snack-variety. The 53 Scollard location, Buca Osteria & Bar, is where you want to go for some intriguing and innovative seafood dishes. Its innovations are likely what placed the Yorkville location at the higher ranking, as my visit felt like a lesson in crafting deceptively simple but interestingly structured offerings. At the bar, waiting for the dishes to arrive, I asked one of the bartenders if they noticed a rise in business since the release of the list, to which they said they haven’t, as it’s always pretty busy there — the reason for which I was about to discover.

I started with an appetizer, the Carciofi ($11). These are large artichokes slightly braised in olive oil with parmigiano reggiano sprinkled on top — which has a taste similar to the strong, bitter flavour of a grana padano — along with a hint of lemon. A very nice way to begin the meal: the outer layer of the artichoke tastes as though it was lightly fried and seasoned; the taste from the dusting of the cheese stays constant throughout, providing a nice balance with the juicy interior of the artichoke and the citrusy tinge at the end. Now, onto the main attraction.

Photo: Chuck Ortiz

Feeling obliged to try a pasta dish, as I assume that’s what most people would gravitate towards if they’re in the mood for Italian food, I go for what looks to me like the stand-out dish — the Calamarata Al Nero Di Seppia ($26). The dish comprises of calamari rings and calamari noodles, which are covered in a black squid ink sauce and topped with a gremolota made with lemon zest, breadcrumbs, and spices. Admittedly, presentation is not something that typically sways my level of intrigue regarding food in general, but I must admit, I did find this dish surprisingly pretty — the black ink sauce gives the calamari a nice sheen, allowing the colour of the light green gremolota to really pop. But looks aren’t everything, and fortunately this dish did stimulate my palette in ways that really made me appreciate the layers of tastes. The gremolata offers a strong but not overpowering spicy kick to the dish that lingers after every bite, resulting in — similar to the carciofi — a taste that comes full circle. One gets the initial kick, followed by the pasta and calamari. The ink sauce certainly enhances the taste of the pasta and calamari very well due to the mushrooms cooked into the sauce for a robust flavour. They’re quickly followed by the second, finishing sensation of the gremolota. Also, this is a fairly light pasta dish — I suspect due to the seemingly equal-ratio of noodles to calamari — that will put your appetite at the right level of satisfied, without any unwanted carb fatigue following it — which is good for me, considering that there was a fairly new addition to the dessert menu that came with a pretty high recommendation from the bartender.

My final dish of the evening was the Torta Di Polenta ($14). This is a light sponge cake made with cornmeal, served with cranberries and a light cranberry sauce on top. Atop of the cake and cranberries also sits a light cracker made from goat cheese, and surrounding the whole thing is a trail of goat’s milk. Yet another dish that looks so meticulously presented that you kind of want to Instagram it, but you’re afraid of looking weird so, instead, you just dive right in. This dessert is interestingly layered. By cutting into it, the cranberry sauce mixes with the goat’s milk, which are both slowly absorbed by the cake, resulting in a series of ever richer bites. And I don’t know how else to describe the goat cheese cracker in any other way besides delicious.

Photo: Rick O’Brien

The menu also offers a selection of assorted fish that you can pick and choose from, which are then served on a platter, as well as caviar options. So at this point it probably goes without saying: if you’re feeling special, with a group of friends, going out to dinner with co-workers — like many of the patrons seemed to be doing — or maybe you’re just by yourself and want to see what all the fuss is about, you should have a very enjoyable stay at Buca Osteria & Bar.

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A Visit to Jen Agg’s New Wine Bar, Grey Gardens

During my time going to university in downtown Toronto, the draw of the Kensington Market was its eccentric, bohemian charm. Personally, I had felt this had always resonated most with similarly young people who looked like they were always discussing some art or photography project for school while trying to stretch their cash as much as they could for a good meal or a thrifty ensemble. But as I got older, my attention moved away from the youthful and creative community exuberance of the Kensington Market, as though I had outgrown it. When I would walk around the market with a friend, we would see the same students working on their photography projects in the streets, and half-jokingly say something to the effect of “Man, we are officially too old to be here.” When I graduated from my undergrad, I naively felt I also had to graduate into a new neighbourhood hang-out spots.

But in the past few years, the Kensington Market area saw an exciting growth-spurt, as new larger businesses began entering the community, which, fortunately, blend in very nicely with the culturally diverse and charmingly eccentric neighbourhood. Around summer of last year, Grant van Gameren, the owner of Bar Raval and Bar Isabel, opened the El Rey Mezcal Bar, where the servers are more than willing to introduce you to the more rare variations of tequila’s cooler, older sibling. And keeping up the growth is the new wine bar Grey Gardens, the famous/notorious restauranteur Jen Agg’s latest venture, which opened three weeks ago — an inclusion that will likely be the talk of the community for quite some time. I thought I was done with Kensington Market, but it is sure as hell not done with me, because I can clearly see myself going back.

Photo Credit: Renee Suen

For those unaware, Jen Agg is the owner of The Black Hoof, and the bars Rhum Corner and The Cocktail Bar, all of which are likely at the top of any Torontonian’s list of places to visit. Even when she is at one of her restaurants on a given night, her presence is undoubtedly felt by those in the food service industry all over Toronto, as her strong personality and wit are always on full-display through her twitter — @TheBlackHoof — along with her vocal feminism and her willingness to call out other restaurants for various types of misconduct. Such openness has given her a widespread reputation, which she will soon be taking advantage of in a new medium, as her appropriately-named memoir, I Hear She’s a Real Bitch, is set to be published by Doubleday later this year. As her name becomes more recognizable, it is certainly no stretch of the imagination to think she may be well on her way to becoming one of the most prominent figures in, or perhaps as Anthony Bourdain once noted, a leader of the modern restaurant scene in Toronto.

Grey Gardens seems to fill a curious void in the Toronto bar scene: that of the wine bar with an exhaustive list comprised of selections from different countries and regions. At the bar, I asked the bar manager, David Greig, what his personal favourite places to go for wine in the city are, to which he answered Archive and the Midfield Winebar & Tavern — which at this point I take to be the standard city-wide answers. With so few comparable options, Grey Gardens should have no problem carving out its own recognizable character that’s also separate from Jen Agg’s other restaurants.

The interior can be best described as a room in an 18th century English countryside-mansion repurposed for young urbanites — as evidenced by the soft colour scheme, flowery wallpaper, candlesticks along the bar, and a communal table that seats nine people at the front underneath a chandelier. The owners have gone out of their way, however, to balance the stately décor touches with the sensibilities of the neighbourhood — there are two bar areas, one for walk-ins and another that can be used for reservations. So it’s equally welcoming for a couple on a date, as well as a gent going by on his bike, looking for a snack. And while perusing the menu, the following songs were playing throughout the room: The Fairest of the Seasons by Nico, Downtown by Petula Clark and Alone Again Or by Love, giving off that signature laid-back and seemingly effortless “cool” one feels in Agg’s other establishments. Atmosphere-wise, I’m sold. But now on to the good stuff.

photo: Renee Suen

The menu has a nice selection of cocktails and ciders, but the extensive wine selection will intrigue guests upon their first visit. It features selections from various regions in Canada, the United States, France, Italy, Australia, Austria, Germany, and Spain. Being in the mood to try something new, and never having tried any before, I first went for a glass of the only selection of orange wine available, the Jorel ’14 ($12). For those unaware, orange wine is made similarly as white wine. Yet whereas the grape skins are removed from those white grapes rather quickly during the process, the orange wine procedure gives a longer exposure to those skins and seeds. The resulting effect is an interesting balance of both worlds: the tannins and fruity aromas commonly found in a light red, followed by the crisp finish of a white. Orange wines seem to be a growing curiosity given how, according to wine expert Amelia Singer, the variations in the taste, as well as continued experimentation by different wineries, allow it to go well with many different food pairings. As such, this may likely turn out to be an intriguing menu option for wine-enthusiasts keeping abreast with the latest trends. Having now dipped my feet in some interestingly layered tastes, I moved on to my first dish.

The snack menu consists of oysters, a cheese platter, bread, and a Smoked Mackerel dip accompanied with gaufrettes (crispy potato wedges, with a seasoning not all that dissimilar to barbecue), which in terms of originality, was what I considered to be the stand-out ($13). In terms of experience, it is kind of what you want — something that is small in portion size, with each bite consisting of two or three textures and sensations. The boneless mackerel is mixed with sour cream, chives, and caper powder. Taking a bite with gaufrettes, one initially feels the rich creamy texture of the sour-cream, followed by the kick from black pepper of the gaufrettes which continues to linger on your tongue. Give it a few seconds and you’re hit with the strong mackerel aftertaste, something that is not too dissimilar to tuna. If you’re not the biggest fish person in the world, I would suggest it is still a dish worth trying, given the different tastes working in tandem without overpowering one another, but still managing to make an intriguing, new whole.

The same can very well be said regarding the second dish I tried, the octopus with shrimp, beans, and peppers ($24). Described to me as being similar to a Mediterranean-style stew, the dish consists of slices of octopus, very generous sized shrimps, chick peas, red peppers, and parsley in a bowl atop a small pool of thin and spicy red pepper purée. Similar to the smoked mackerel, this dish was equally successful in granting an experience you want to remember. My initial worry after hearing it described as a stew came from thinking that one component or spice would overpower the whole dish, as though I would get a big heaping of the red pepper purée, making the parsley insignificant. My experience with stew has never been all that fruitful. But the dish has just the right amount of the purée, making it evenly distributed amongst the different components of the dish, and giving everything in the bowl its own unique spicy aftertaste. The portion size of this dish was fairly small, in my opinion, so you’re definitely paying for quality over quantity.

Along with Jen Agg, Grey Gardens is also co-owned by Mitch Bates, who previously worked at Momofuku Shoto and Momofuko Ko. As such, the dishes seem to be a nice marriage of the creatively casual feel of something from the Black Hoof and the elegant sensibilities of Momofuku.  Hopefully, after your first visit, you will be intrigued enough to return for dinner to try the larger dishes, which consists of oxtail, salmon, duck, and skate, or one of their interesting pasta options.

After leaving the restaurant, a friendly older man, who I assumed lived in the area, was standing in front of his bicycle, looking at the sign out front. “Is it the same people who own El Rey?” he asked me as I was leaving. “I know they also own Bar Raval and Bar Isabel.”

“No, it’s Jen Agg, y’know The Black Hoof, Cocktail Bar,” I said, to which the man gave a sly chuckle. After asking me about my experience and having a nice conversation, we talked about her and her career for a little bit. Needless to say, judging from what he had to say, her reputation certainly proceeds her, but when asked if he plans on checking it out some time, he laughs and says, “Oh, of course!” It would appear as though Grey Gardens will have no issues being welcomed with open arms, and it will likely have many fun and bustling nights ahead of them.

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