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Jan 26, 2011 04:42 AM

The Gabardine - Rod Bowers' new spot (long)

I was pretty excited to find out that Rod Bowers (previously of Rosebud and Citizen) had just opened a new restaurant at Bay and Adelaide. So I quickly gathered a few friends and had dinner there last night. When we arrived at 7, the place was full, except for two larger tables (one being ours) that were both seated at 7. There was a really nice, happy buzz about the place. I found the space to be bright and airy, but still warm and cozy with the cream-coloured walls and red banquettes. It's a long narrow space, with a large bar at the front and the open kitchen in the back. There's a really nice nook where our party of 7 was seated -- basically a banquette inset into the wall. Cozy and semi-private, while still being open to the buzz of the room.

My expectations of his restaurants are: good, comforting bistro fare. Nothing fancy or complicated, just good ingredients, well prepared. I used to think of Rosebud and Citizen as perfect mid-week dinner spots, and I think The Gabardine follows suit nicely.

To start, we all shared:

Devilled eggs
Chicken liver pate
Rabbit rillete
Terrine with pickles, apple butter and toasts
Salt cod cakes with smoked paprika aioli
Grilled cheese with sweet onion and tomato jam

Nothing in the started stood out as "wow" for me, but it was all tasty and we pretty much wiped everything out. I thought the salt cod may have been de-salted a bit too much, as it actually ended tasting more like a regular fish cake. I was probably expecting something closer to a Portugese pasteis bacalhau. The grilled cheese was made with a baguette. The jam had a nice sour edge to it, but I think I wish the cheese were a bit more piquant to balance it.

For mains we had:

Mac and cheese with the ham option
Beef stroganoff with warm buttered noodles
Pulled pork sandwich with spicy pickled cabbage with fries
Roasted brined pork with creamed polenta and vincotto
Beet risotto with goat cheese and beet greens

And another order of mac and cheese for the table. :)

I think the winners were the pulled pork sandwich and the roasted pork. The pulled pork was fairly sweet, but my friend said it was really good with the pickled cabbage/cole slaw. The fries were pretty darn tasty, too. The roasted pork was HUGE and really flavourful from the brining. It was rolled and stuffed with something quite garlicky that I missed tasting. The only drawback is that part of the pork was slightly overcooked and dry, but the majority was pink, juicy and fork tender. The polenta and vincotto it was served with was totally delicious -- creamy, unctuous, rich goodness.

The mac and cheese was cooked perfectly and had the perfect creamy texture. But we all agreed that it came across as more of a mac and cream sauce than a mac and cheese. Mine, with the ham, was just right as the ham gave it the hit of umami it needed. The breadcrumb crust was just right and added a nice texture to the dish. When Rod stopped by to ask how everything was, we told him that we'd love to see more cheese in the mac and cheese. He was incredibly friendly and receptive to the feedback, and later we were told that they took both our macs off the bill, which we thought was very generous and totally unnecessary. I mean, it's not like we didn't like it, given the fact that the dishes were empty. :)

The stroganoff was more tomato-y than I would have expected. I didn't hear any complaints, so I assume it was enjoyed by the two friends that had it. I loved the look of the noodles it came served on -- more like big spaetzle than anything else. That's actually how I prefer to serve my own stroganoff at home, and I remember loving his spaetzle in brown butter at Citizen, so I may have to get that next time.

Beet risotto was surprisingly light and very tasty. It also looked like Christmas with the sprinkle of green herbs and white goat cheese on top. It was declared "better than the one I make", which I suppose is really all we want from a bistro, isn't it? Well, not "all", but it's a good start!

For dessert, we order the whole menu, except for the cheese:

Chocolate cake with buttercream and ganache
Burnt marshmallow ice cream sandwich
Butter tart w/vanilla ice cream
Sticky toffee pudding with sweet cream and toffee sauce
Lemon meringue pie

Everything was really good, except for the chocolate cake, which was too dry. On the other hand, it was super cute, as they dress it up to look like a Hostess ding dong.

The best for me were the ice cream sandwich, the butter tart and the lemon meringue pie. The ice cream sandwich was Ed's burnt marshmallow ice cream in two really thin chocolate wafer cookies, served on top a really, really good and sticky caramel sauce. The butter tart wasn't a traditional butter tart, but rather was more like a tarte tatin without the apples. The puff pastry shell was wonderfully glazed, sticky and chewy and the filling was more of a thin caramel sauce. I loved it, though it bore little resemblance to a butter tart. The lemon meringue was delicious -- the meringue was creamy and lovely, though the lemon curd could have stood to be a bit more tart. No complaints though -- we'd all order it again.

The sticky toffee wasn't sticky enough for most of us. The cake was lighter and spongier than we would have wished for and the toffee sauce wasn't as rich as one might have hoped. The caramel sauce with the ice cream sandwich was much better!

So whew. Sorry for the lengthy post.

We all enjoyed dinner very much (well, I did, though I probably shouldn't speak for the others!). Service was friendly and casual and handled our rather boisterous table well.

Bay St. is lucky to have a new spot like this. No pretensions, already feels comfortable and worn in. And from the crowd, Bay St. is already flocking there. By 8pm, much of the restaurant had emptied out, so most of that crowd must have the post work contingent.

Current menu is on their web site:

The Gabardine
372 Bay St, Toronto, ON M5H 3W1, CA

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  1. Great review. Burnt marshmallow ice cream sandwich...mmm...

    I also like Rodney Bowers, particularly Rosebud in its early days. My one problem with this place is the choice of neighbourhood, though - since I no longer work in the financial district, I find it one of the least tempting areas to drive to for dinner. It's why I don't get to Rodney's By Bay as often I'd like. Traffic, parking, crazy busy after work but then an emptyish room after that, etc. Maybe it's just me but I feel like this kind of a restaurant is better suited to, and more desirable in, a residential or even more of a mixed neighbourhood. Anyway, I'll look forward to checking it out at some point.

    2 Replies
    1. re: peppermint pate

      True enough, but I (who am usually very attached to my car) found it way easier to just take the Yonge line to Queen, walk through the Bay and Simpson tower. That spits you out pretty much across the street from the restaurant. Plus it let me drink more. :)

      1. re: peppermint pate

        i agree on the location. he's always struck me as your fun and friendly neighbourhood chef and the spot was pretty much full of suits. it will certainly buoy him but makes me sad i may never get to taste his breakfast offerings.

      2. Thanks for the great review. I am looking forward to lunch there Friday and will report back

        1. nice review, TorontoJo ;-)

          The Gabardine also serves espresso & cappuccino during the day, so it looks like a great place for a coffee break or a snack if you work in the area. Coffee prices are comparable to Starbucks and The Second Cup. AFAIK, they are open for breakfast M-F at 7:30 a.m., and will be featuring some of Brick St Bakery's baked goods as well as breakfast panini, oatmeal, granola.

          2 Replies
          1. re: phoenikia

            Re: breakfast -- I DO work in the Financial District, so I stopped at The Gabardine this morning on my way to work and picked up a latte and blueberry-banana muffin. Both were excellent. The muffin in particular was great: really fresh, moist, and absolutely jam-packed with blueberries, which I was told were organic.

            While I was waiting for my latte, the chef (RB himself? I don't know what he looks like, but this chef was a very friendly large man with a full beard) came out to ask how everything was and how I found the place. He also exhorted me to stop by for dinner some time. I'll try to get there for lunch, anyway!

            There were croissants and danishes too, which I'll try next time. Total cost for latte and really good muffin: $5.50. Quite reasonable, IMHO. Also, I found the ambiance and decor really soothing. It was quiet, but not dead, and there was some mellow music playing.

            1. re: AverageJo

              AverageJo, by your description, that was definitely Bowers himself!

          2. i think that reflects my sentiments quite well.

            just wanted to add some personal notes. it's a shame i didn't evaluate the pork roast better since the rest of it was quite tender and i seemed to pick the only part that was over cooked to start doling out tastes from. i do think though that it could have benefited from a bit more low temp cooking since the fat in the centre wasn't cooked as much as i would have liked. i would think about studding it with garlic rather than necessarily rolling it as the herb/garlic paste was situated squarely in the centre.

            there was a very rich creamy polenta beneath the roast pork that was very nice. it actually seemed richer than the mac and cheese sauce but i know that's something they'll be working on so no complaints. it also came with some wilted watercress.

            i did kind of wish the butter tart had a less chewy pastry shell, i didn't like how so much of it was sticking to the back of my teeth. i suspect it was because they were well drenched in the sugary filling that there was some dense caramelization.

            now all that being said.... rod... one of my favourite things about citizen were your pastas! please add another to the menu!

            oh, and i loved the atmosphere. very lovely cozy simple french bistro down to the "tin" ceilings, moulding on the walls, marble bar, etc etc etc. i think service could be tweaked but i highly suspect it is because of the new space.

            yum yum. can't wait to dig into that sandwich menu.

            wanted to add that i liked how the cava was poured into champagne saucers... very fitting for the atmosphere. i did not like that we did not get a cocktail menu! wines and beers were on the back of the food menu though.

            3 Replies
            1. re: pinstripeprincess

              Am I the only one who's gotten the burger so far? It was really good (photo here:

              [pinstripeprincess - I think we must have gone on different nights. Your niche was empty the night we were there lol. My friend and I (both Asian, but there was a blond in the group next to us) sat across from the niche (between the bar and kitchen right?)]

              1. re: ggom1

                did they ask you how you wanted it cooked? if not, what was the standard done-ness?

                it's definitely the next thing i'm going to order there and i might make a special trip for it considering it's not a bad walk for me.

                hrm... i may have mistaken the time. ah well! maybe see you next time!

                1. re: pinstripeprincess

                  They didn't ask how I wanted it cooked and I didn't have a look to check doneness, but it was definitely nice and juicy, so I'm guessing likely medium rare?

            2. I agree that the food was quite good for a restaurant that has only been open for a few days.

              There were a few interesting flavours like an unexpected hit of tangy-ness in the devilled eggs and grilled cheese sandwich. Some flavours need a little tweeking - I've concluded that Rod needs to use an older and sharper cheddar in the mac and cheese and grilled cheese sandwich.

              You can tell he's paid attention to small details that will pay off. Like the bottle of homemade ketchup that comes with the fries and a small bowl (was it chutney?) served with the pork.

              I will definitely return.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Jinks

                apple sauce with vincotto. i forgot to sample his ketchup!