My Tuesday in Toronto was a good one, starting off with lunch with a university buddy at diner called Fran's Restaurant, going to a live taping of CBC's The Hour with my sister, and ending the night with a dinner with her at Bar Mercurio, an Italian restaurant previously discovered by my sister, as explained in her review in her food blog (you'll notice we both have the same pictures, as my camera was used). Located on Bloor Street West just west of the St. George subway station it's in the midst of the University of Toronto (according to my sister, it's actually in UofT's English building) and in close proximity to the ROM and Queen's Park. I'll admit we really wanted to try Nota Bene first that evening, but we couldn't get a table for the time we wanted there; considering En Route ranked it the best new restaurant in Canada this year, I'm looking forward to my next return to Toronto to try this joint.
Two things I noticed right away when I entered Bar Mercurio were the following: first, it was a small, packed house, and second, there was an open kitchen further up the bar counter, allowing the aromas of the dishes being prepared to permeate and mingle in the air with the babble of various conversations amongst diners. One thing I began to feel a bit disappointed about after we sat at our table was the wait for service at times. Perhaps since we were in a small corner of the restaurant away from where most of the tables are we weren't attended as quick as I expected, especially when it came to the serving of our dishes. That gave us some more time though at least to enjoy the bread basket offered to us. The focaccia was chewier than what I expected (and especially chewier than my sister's version), but the tuscan bean dip was a nice touch, a departure from butter or even the more stereotyipcally Italian oilve oil/balsamic vinegar dip. As I chewed I also noticed how this place covers the linen tablecloths with large sheets of paper; if the paper can actually keep the tablecloths clean, I don't know which has the more detrimental environmental effect, the constant use and replace of the paper or the daily washing of tablecloths.
For starters I had the salad of the day, a baby spinach salad with seared chicken breast, red grape tomatoes, mushrooms and a warm gorgonzola dressing. Historically I have not been a fan of blue cheese, but I actually enjoyed and appreciated how the flavouring was not too strong for me. The raw grape tomatoes added a sweet dimension to the salad countering the saltiness of the dressing, but the chicken breast itself could have perhaps been cut into smaller, more bite-size pieces.
For my main course, at the suggestion of my server I had the pappardelle with duck ragu. Bonita suggested I try one of the pizzas at this place, but since they were apparently big pizzas (large enough to be easily shared between two people), that would have meant leftovers for sure, a bit of a problem if I'm leaving in a few days; she would not like me to leave stuff in her fridge, I'm sure! To be honest with you, this was the first time I've had pappardelle as well as a ragu on pasta. I had an amusing time trying to "twirl" the pasta around my fork (easier said than done compared to fettucine and spaghetti), and I noticed that ragus are heartier and have considerably less liquid than pasta sauces. The duck ragu was nicely flavoured, the meat all shredded up to better coat the pasta, and the sprinkle of grape tomatoes were actually cooked, allowing bursts of tangier sweetness to come forth between bites of pasta.
Aside from the unexpectedly slow service (my sister assured me that it wasn't like that the last time she was here), I enjoyed this place. Being small means tighter spaces (not to mention reservations being highly recommended), but it also means a warmer and more intimate atmosphere. Food can be seen prepared right before your eyes, and the wait staff were friendly and helpful. I can see why my sister was eager for me to try this place as well.
Name: Bar Mercurio
Address: 270 Bloor Street West, Toronto, ON
Price Range: Dinner Entrées $15-$26