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Nov 5, 2012 11:56 AM

Ursa Restaurant

I'm wondering if people are liking Ursa these days. I saw an older thread with a fair bit of positive feed back, then there were some staff changes, and some bad experiences being discussed. They made it to the Enroute list this year so I thought it was time to look into them again. I am taking a out of town friend out and want the experience to be fun and with great food! Reso's are a must, I'm really sick of line ups, so several of the other Enroute selections are off my list. Thanks!

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  1. 2 visits - severe issues both times. The food was good, but clearly, for me, the issues outweighed the good parts. I won't be going back unless I get several personal recommendations from people I trust.
    From the En Route list, I'd pick Hopgood's Foodliner, which takes reservations. But I'm not sure I'd put it in the 'fun' category - but that depends what you mean by 'fun'!

    1 Reply
    1. re: estufarian

      we had a great meal at ursa a week ago. sat at the bar and shared the fried tofu, which was done with a much softer tofu than usual and coated in potato starch to really crisp up the outside. the elk tartare was great. little hokey with the bit about the added "antler fur" and how healthy it was, but it still tasted great.

      we weren't starving so we shared a main. simple grilled beef with roasted brussel sprouts and a cauliflower and bone marrow sauce. amazing flavours, great presentation...very impressed

      cocktails were also excellent

    2. The food is delicious, but the portions are significantly small.

      2 Replies
      1. re: justxpete

        very tasty food, nice presentation, but i walked away hungry. after spending $100 or so on a 3 course meal + cocktail, i would hope to not be hungry, if not full! i won't be going back for this very reason.

        also, i had the vegetarian main which was tasty but not worth the price. it was mostly just a lot of kale and vegetables that were cooked very tastily, but was not something i couldn't make at home, to be honest. not very creative vegetarian option, and to this vegetarian, it felt like while they tour themselves as being about vegetables, they still treat non-meat items as a side dish type of thing, rather than a creative main (unlike woodlot that has wonderful veg mains). it's okay though as they don't pretend to be anything other than a restaurant for meat eaters, but if you are vegetarian, don't expect this place to be different from any other fancy place that has very few interesting veg options for you.

        1. re: justxpete

          agree the portions were not large. we weren't starving as i mentioned so it worked well for us, but i could see it being an issue if we went there hungry

        2. Thanks for all the comments, I think I will delay my visit to Ursa.

          1. Hi all,
            I'm heading to Ursa for dinner friday, has anyone been lately? I don't know how often they switch up the menu, but any stand outs you can recommend?


            12 Replies
            1. re: hungryabbey

              I found the savory food challenging and interesting but the thing that really stood out for me was the dessert, specifically the deconstructed lemon meringue pie.

              1. re: bytepusher

                that sounds great! Dessert is my favourite course, anyways. When were you there?

                1. re: hungryabbey

                  It's been a while but I believe they never take that off their menu

              2. re: hungryabbey

                Please let me know if they've returned to serving bread & butter (and the origin of the butter, which was, at one time, my favourite in Toronto - churned in-house).
                Also if you have wine, check the vintage carefully. Last time (for me) they were out-of-stock on first wine and different vintage on the second selection.

                1. re: estufarian

                  Will do! I will report back.
                  It sounds like portions are a problem. Would you recommend ordering 3 apps between 2 people ( plus 2 mains and 2 desserts) or would 2 be enough for most people?

                  1. re: hungryabbey

                    When we went our group of 4 shared 6 apps and each person had a main and a dessert, we left satisfied but not stuffed

                    1. re: bytepusher

                      Okay. Excellent. I will do that. Thanks!

                      1. re: hungryabbey

                        So we checked it out last night for an 830 reservation.
                        The room in Ursa is eclectic, and hip, but much too loud for me. Call me an oldie, but when a restaurant is only about 60-70% full, and I have to yell at my partner across the table and still not make out every word, there is an issue with acoustics. I don't know what can be done about that, but it was a bit uncomfortable. Also a little awkward was the no coat rack situation. I was a bit surprised that no one offered to take my jacket when we arrived, and by the time I got to my seat, I noticed that everyone was in the same boat. Big puffy jackets slung over everyone's chairs. Mine, of course, got stomped on a few times by the end of the night. Otherwise, I appreciated the spacing in Ursa, where there was enough room between tables to not overhear every detail of the neighbours conversation (it was too loud for that, anyways), while still feeling like you were part of a scene.
                        Service was friendly and informed, though maybe a bit distracted. Everyone was gracious enough to go into detail on the menu (and I did not encounter a single food runner who could not explain every ingredient and it's preparation), but there were a few times I had to ask for my water to be re-filled. A minor issue, especially seeing how fast paced the meal proved to be. See, I had read online that the meals at Ursa tend to be of the lengthy, leisurely variety, which we don't like so much. Not that I want to feel rushed, but I don't want to wait more than 25 minutes between courses, and for cocktails that take just as long. In preparation, I asked my server that we be finished in 2 hours (we had evening plans with a friend) and she did a great job making it happen. Actually, it might have been a bit TOO great, as we were in and out in 1 hour and 15 minutes. Now, I know, I'm sounding like, "this porridge is too cold, this porridge is too hot", so I will say that I would always prefer a speedier meal (as long as dishes are not being cleared before we finish!), than a painfully long one.
                        Cocktail list was extensive and creative. We went for a Hopewell (Bourbon, House Vanilla Brandy, Crab Apple Shrub) and the not-on-the-menu Giftbox (Gin, Egg White, Rosewater Syrup, Cucumber). The former was heavy hitting but gorgeously aromatic, while the latter (my servers great suggestion) was tart, but refreshingly smooth with just enough floral sweetness.
                        The menu was sophisticated, yet inviting. There was a generous spread of different protein and accompaniment offerings, without any duplications of flavours. I really appreciate how challenging this must be, particularly for a menu that changes often. I had read that the portions at Ursa were small for the price, and I can't say I disagree. However, keeping with Ursa's theme of celebrating the inherent healthful qualities of good quality ingredients, I felt it was appropriate. The two of us left satisfied, but certainly not "full" or uncomfortable, ideal for going out afterwards to continue a night of fun. This is what we had:

                        Raw Bread with House made Cultured Butter- This was a light and delicious starter, my only complaint was that it was maybe a bit too dainty (aka. I wanted more). We received a few lovely beet and sumac crackers, and a few fennel peanut ones, served with two selections of deliciously luscious butter (sea salt and roasted garlic). The star for me was the beet, which had a mild sweet and deep spice flavour, and paired beautifully with the sea salt butter.

                        House made Tofu- Radish Bonito, Nori, Seedlings, Dashi- I was skeptical of this at first, but it turned out to be the winner of the two first courses. The tofu was moist, creamy and sumptuous, which was a perfect accompaniment to the crispy fried radish cakes. What really tied everything together was the flawless dashi broth, which had a defined umami flavour, and a perfect level of salt.

                        Duck Egg- Sunchoke, Nigella, Bitter Greens, Sauce Gribiche- Unlike the tofu, which was perfectly seasoned, we both found this one a bit bland, surprising for all of the fatty elements on the plate. I also found everything to be luke warm, perhaps as a result of careful (and beautiful) plating and the dish sitting too long. The wait may also have something to do with the fact that my duck egg yolk was not nearly as runny as I had hoped, so my beautiful brioche toasts didn't have much purpose. Having said that, from a texture and flavour perspective (aside from the seasoning situation), this was very well balanced. The sunchoke hash, speckled with spicy bitter nigella seed, was a beautiful accompaniment, and the gribiche (a mayo-like sauce usually with pickles, tarragon and capers) brought a bit of relief from the bitter dandelion greens.

                        Wild Boar- Toasted Barley, Turnip, Kohlrabi, Quince Mostarda, Huckleberry- This was the star dish of the day. The boar was moist, flavourful, and perfectly seasoned, and it's richness was balanced out beautifully by the tangy sweet mostarda condiment. The barley was cooked perfectly, and had a deep nuttiness that was lovely with the mildly sulfurous flavour of the turnip and kohlrabi. What was truly impressive, however, was the huckleberry leather, which lent a satisfying chew that melted delicately on the tongue. Stunning composition.

                        Georgian Bay Whitefish- Sea Urchin, Black Truffle, Pickle Juniper Berry, Rapini- Another really solid dish. The whitefish was perfectly cooked, with a moist flesh and a wickedly crispy crust. The sea urchin sauce was rich, but refreshing, and the black truffle lent a delicate level of umami aromatics. While I loved the idea of a pickled juniper berry, biting into it really overwhelmed my palate so that it was all I could taste. This would probably work much better for a heartier red meat dish than a dainty whitefish.

                        Date & Carob Cake, Scotch, CO2 Apple, Quince, Clove- A very interesting dessert, with both sweet and savoury elements. The cakes were dense and hearty, and took on a smoky flavour from the scotch. The apple and quince had been compressed to a texture similar to a thick fruit leather, but without the sticky sweetness. I really liked the concept, and all of the elements, I just wish there was a bit more sweetness and something creamy to balance everything out.

                        Fresh Mozzarella Curd, Lemon Pudding, Lemon Confit, Gaspe Honey- Another beautiful presentation, and a delicious light end to a good meal. The curd had a satisfying chew, similar to cottage cheese curds, but with more fat. This was a perfect carrier for the tangy sweet lemon pudding and confit.
                        So for 2 cocktails, 3 starters (including the crackers/bread which is not complementary), 2 mains, 2 desserts and 1 cappuccino, the bill was $192 including tax and tip, definitely a pricey meal considering the quantity. However, I truly did appreciate the attention to detail and plating, and the use of beautiful wholesome ingredients, and for that reason, it was definitely a worthy meal. I am really looking forward to seeing how Ursa does with a summer palate of flavours, so I will try to get a return visit in then.

                        Photos here:

                        1. re: hungryabbey

                          That sounds much more inviting than my last experience.
                          Maybe worth another try (especially for that butter). But the cost (WITHOUT wine, but 2 cocktails) pushing $200 does concern me. With wine that would be about $250, and there aren't too many places that I'm willing to drop that much at. For example Acadia would be about the same price - which is quieter, has excellent service and superior food.
                          But I'm pleased you enjoyed it, and it's back on my 'possible' list.

                          1. re: estufarian

                            Yes, I know its definitely more pricey than most others at that price, and I think other restaurants I have visited lately (ie. hopgoods, Acadia, Edulis etc) are much better value. However, it was a good meal and having eaten at almost all the "noteworthy" restaurants in the city, a bit of creativity and well prepared/seasoned food goes a long way with me, so I am willing to pay the price. Having said that, it was definitely not the best meal I have had in the city lately, and now having been to all of the enroute selections for 2012 (in Toronto), I definitely did not feel it deserved to be ahead of some of the others.

                  2. re: estufarian

                    As of a few days ago, they served bread and butter ($5), but I'd hesitate to call what they bring out "bread". It's more of a health food cracker (but still quite tasty). There were two kinds of butter: one rather skinny and stringy and the other churned in a small dish (along with some fleur de sel). I can't say either butter was tremendous, but I'm not sure if either were the same that you've previously enjoyed.

                    1. re: vidkid

                      Indeed they did charge $5 for the bread & butter (it was the churned one) - the only 'bad thing' was that the charge wasn't shown anywhere on the menu - it just 'appeared'. I'm sure they'll make sure one knows it's churned in-house (if indeed it is the same one).

                2. Any more recent reviews? I'm thinking of taking a friend to Ursa for her birthday, so I want it to be a good experience.