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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: http://www.flickr.com/photos/64262627...).

              [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!

              2. Geez. Everyone's been in the last two days.

                Had lunch in this new space on Monday and enjoyed the surroundings. Epoxy-lacquered wood tables, white walls, patterned white tin ceiling, mis-matched dishware, and a chalkboard. This is an upscale N. American bistro with elements to make it more casual.

                Got a lovely and delicious grilled cheese. I opted for the smoked ham and thought it added a nice saltiness to things, but the ham didn't come up to the front. I'm nit-picking though. This was quite satisfying. I liked the tomato and onion chutney that gave it a bit of tang/sweet. Came with mixed greens in a light vinaigrette. All very good.

                For dessert, I got the burnt marshmallow ice cream sandwich. Nice toasty-tasting ice cream, thin chocolate cookie wafer, all sitting on a dollop of dulce de leche (yes? wasn't as sweet as caramel). Was happy to have ordered it.

                Service was amiable, but I did think it odd they'd offer a London Fog on their coffee/tea menu but not be able to offer me Earl Grey as a tea selection. Space is cozy - a max of 30ish seated, and maybe 6 at the bar. Menu includes a ploughman's, mac 'n' cheese, daily soup, and more meaty options, all comfort-food. Not extensive, but a good breadth of things.

                For lunch, I felt prices are pretty high, but so's rent in that area. With a cup of tea, lunch cost me $25ish, after tax, before tip. Mostly because of the addition of dessert which most people wouldn't necessarily have at lunch.

                I'll be back, mostly to try dinner!

                http://www.foodpr0n.com -- food. is. love.

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

                1 Reply
                1. re: jlunar

                  Ooh, yes, it was probably a dulce de leche with the ice cream sandwich. Lovely, deep burnt sugar flavour. It was yummy.

                  I think the general feeling was that it was good value for dinner. We were all stuffed and our tab came to $43/person, including tax and tip. Mind you, that didn't include the 2 mac and cheeses they took off and didn't include the bottle of cava that was paid for separately. Regardless, quite reasonable for a good dinner.

                2. Everyone's pretty much covered the food (though, a brief shout out to the meringue on the lemon meringue pie, which was kind of perfect), and I'll comment a bit on the atmosphere. I loved the brightness and airiness of the place -- it definitely doesn't feel like a Financial District restaurant. Especially with the mis-matched grandmother's china dishes, which I loved. It was nice to be served this homey, comfort food on homey, comfortable dishes. Some of the portions looked quite tiny (uh, not the pork roast) as they came out of the kitchen, but because it's such hearty food, it was actually plenty filling.

                  1. Thanks for doing the writeup TorontoJo. You've captured our evening quite well.

                    I love the space. The bar is stunning and our banquette was great. They have done a beautiful job renovating it. I enjoyed the fact that I could hear all of my table mates and I didn't have to yell to be heard so kudos for the good acoustics.

                    Highlights for me were the terrine (especially with a hint of the apple butter), the pulled pork sandwich with the spicy pickled cabbage (the pork on it's own was a little sweet but eaten with the spicy cabbage and aioli it was a lovely combination), the fries (substitute for the green salad since I wasn't a fan of the dressing - it came with the grilled cheese plate with our starters so I was able to preview it first), the "butter tart" and the lemon meringue pie. The homemade ketchup was a little on the sweet side for me (I prefer a tangier version).

                    Service was a bit spotty but good overall. Give them a few weeks and I'm sure everything will be running smoothly. I'm happy to have another option for lunch and dinner in that area and look forward to returning soon.

                    1. FYI ... though Rodney is involved, this is not his restaurant. The owners are Katherine Rodrigues and Alison Mackenna, and the chef is Graham Pratt. Credit where it is due.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: CHICKEN_SKIN_MASK

                        good to know, rod did mention graham in passing when we discussed the food. so what is bowers' association?

                        1. re: pinstripeprincess

                          Bowers is listed as the executive chef on chefdb: http://chefdb.com/pl/23106/The-Gabard...

                          I suspect he was hired as a consultant to help build the menu.

                          I went for lunch last week and had the beet risotto, it was very good. Service as reported is so-so. On a positive note one of our party had a gluten allergy and the waitress was very knowledgeable about what they could and could not order on the menu.


                          1. re: JPJ

                            Graham was a sous chef at Mildred Pierce.

                            Mildred Pierce
                            99 Sudbury St, Toronto, ON M6J, CA

                        2. re: CHICKEN_SKIN_MASK

                          Where was Graham Pratt before? The only thing google pulls up is a sous chef at a retirement home. Nothing in Chef DB.

                          1. re: JennaBean

                            not sure if you saw it but graham supposedly posted... essentially his background is working at all of bowers' past restaurants and a short term at the retirement home with another chef who had previously worked with bowers.

                            1. re: pinstripeprincess

                              That retirement home was is not your average sort of retirement home, apparently it is for well-soled retirees. (I assume they don't wear heels any longer) I know someone who worked at that retirement home also and he told me about the food they serve.

                        3. a quick update.

                          portions for the rilette and pate have nearly doubled in size. tasty stuff, not mind blowing, but good renditions.

                          trout salad was beautiful, but could have used a bit less red onion and something else to cut through the rich dressing. or conversely less dressing.

                          roasted pork was amped up with a giant pillow of the delicious rich and creamy polenta, watercress was less cooked, overall the dish visuals were all about a nice looking stack.

                          tried the burger, i quite like it a lot! the meat is nice and beefy, juicy and tender, they have a sort of prepared tomato instead of fresh slices...didn't seem roasted or stewed almost in between the two, and the portion of meat to bun is perfect for me... essentially tiny bun. could have used much less mayo, would have liked it medium/rare as requested rather than medium, and the bacon really didn't make an impact until the end because it wasn't dispersed well. for $14 including fries, it is easily in the top 5 of burgers for me in the city, especially looking at the price range it could be top 2.

                          negroni was a little thin for my liking but otherwise good balance. i do wish this place was open on weekends or at least did brunch on weekends. i feel like they'd do an excellent job. i got very full on very good food at a very reasonable price. nothing was mind-blowing or pushing the limits but it was the perfect comfortable night.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: pinstripeprincess

                            Had dinner here a couple weeks back.

                            Enjoyed the rillette.

                            I had the roasted pork with polenta. I read the reviews, above, and was totally envious of the dish others had. My pork was okay (if a little dry), but the polenta was a gummy glob -- completely inedible (exactly the same as Gina Mallett's description in the recent NP review) -- I barely touched it and the server cleared the plate without asking (I didn't say anything because I had just had a long chat with one of the owners -- knew her from her time at Mercatto -- and I didn't want to be complaining -- the entire portion on the plate should have been signal enough).
                            Will try again.

                            15 Toronto Street, Toronto, ON M5C 2E3, CA

                            1. re: EarlyDrive

                              the polenta has had a lot of cheese/cream to make it a quite wet polenta at times but i haven't had the gummy thing happen.

                              i will say though, that while i've sent out a few comments about meals i felt were disappointing or could have been tweaked... their response really indicated to me how open they are to feedback. i really appreciated that because i meant no harm and still enjoyed it enough but was worried of any moves backwards for their own sake. she even specifically said that she tries really hard to get friends to tell her the truth because it is the only way they'll really know.

                          2. I am so relieved to find a good a restaurant that is within the downtown Yonge St corridor. Dinner decisions become a 1 hour discussion in our circle of whether or not we want to go east or west of Yonge, will it be worth the trek...
                            Absolutely loved the atmosphere here. We went back in January upon the recommendation of my sister who already went there 2x for dinner that week--for her birthday and then w/ clients. We had the Ploughman's lunch to start--good portions and very tasty (enjoyed the rillettes, sour cherry nice). Mains that became repeat orders in later revisits include the steak and fries, black cod. The dessert is definitely the burnt marshmallow ice cream sandwich. I still hum an "mmmmm" (eyes closed) each time I think of it. The pool of toffee sauce makes it all the more 'mmmmm' (eyes closed again). The neighbourhood resto feel coupled with the friendly staff combined with the food and the cocktails (the garnet, my favourite)....all makes living amongst the otherwise deserted district, a cozy yummy one.

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

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: jazzng

                              While I can't agree with your "good restaurant ....Yonge St corridor" comment ( I think there are several in that area of Yonge St. ) I do agree with your feelings on the ploughman's lunch and the ice cream sandwich. Mmmmmmmmmmmmm good! Gotta go back for more. Gabardine is a good spot. I hope it does well.

                            2. Anyone know if they take dinner reservations?

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: miketoronto

                                They did when I wrote this review. Don't know if the policy has changed since then.

                                1. Went here last night for dinner with a friend who works in the area. From my first impression on the phone making reservations to cappuccino and the burnt marshmallow ice cream sandwich it was all wonderfully positive. We both have young kids and don't get out much and sometimes leave a place feeling uncool, but that was not the case at Gabardine. I really can't say enough about how great the service was, very attentive yet somehow laid back and welcoming.
                                  To start we decide to share the soup of the day, bacon and caramelized onion. Not really a sharing dish we know, but we have known each other a very long time and really wanted to try it. We mentioned that we would be sharing it, to make sure we got 2 spoons. It was delivered to the table in 2 1/2 portions, very much appreciated especially since we didn't ask.
                                  For mains I had the mac and cheese with ham after asking our waiter for advice. When I ask a server for their rec I always go with it (sometimes I will give them limits first since hubby can't have fish or seafood) and I am rarely disappointed. Last night was no exception, it was a wonderfully rich and gooey dish with the pasta still al dente. But it was a huge serving, it could easily have fed 2 adults. My friend had the beet risotto, the small taste I had was very tasty. She said it just got better and better the more of it she ate.
                                  For dessert we shared the burnt marshmallow ice cream sandwiches based on reviews from here. Honestly, I am a sucker for Greg's roasted marshmallow ice cream an just can't turn it down. I have tried to replicate it at home with very little success, which may be for the best. I would have liked the cookie wafers to have been a little softer, it was very difficult to get through them with our forks. But if that is the only complaint I can come up with then I can live with it.
                                  I'm looking forward to taking my hubby there sometime soon so I can try out more of their menu.

                                  1. I agree with everyone's comments on how the atmosphere of this place is great. It's such a refreshing contrast to some of the other "expense account" restaurants in the Financial District.

                                    I've visited the Gabardine a few times since it's opened. It's a great spot for a morning coffee date - lattes are delicious with good foam and espresso. It's also a good place for an after-work drink on their slower days (earlier on Mondays and Tuesdays from what I can tell).

                                    Dinner was satisfying if not particularly inventive. Mostly the portions are fine, but I had a plate of crostini which were laughably small. $5 for three pieces which were 2"x1" in size. Olives, however, were a great deal. We were served a generous bowl full for just $3. Their burger has a big and juicy patty in the middle, served pink as requested.

                                    The Garbardine looks like it has no trouble continuing to fill its seats as it's almost always packed full when I walk by in the evenings around 7pm.

                                    1. Another thumbs up. We tried the burger, mac and cheese, chocolate cake and sticky toffee pudding. Everything was good but what impressed the most was that we wanted to share the burger and mac and cheese and they split both for us. This meant that the mac and cheese was split into two baking dishes and then baked. Many times I've been to a "fine dining" restaurant such as Nota Bene, Splendido or Centro and they won't split the dish for you. Its akward to share a bowl of soup. It feels like Garbadine has all the bases covered; good value, decent food, good service, a nice room, and decent tunes.

                                      88 Harbord Street, Toronto, ON M5S 1G5, CA

                                      2472 Yonge Street, Toronto, ON M4P 2F5, CA

                                      Nota Bene
                                      180 Queen Street West, Toronto, ON M5V 2A1, CA

                                      1. Just came from lunch @ The Gabardine. IMO, that cheeseburger ranks higher than the ByMark burger @ half the price.

                                        Olives were served warm, which was unexpected but a nice surprise.

                                        Will def be going back, and probably going back often.