Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bar Mercurio

Everyone has their one favourite hangout that really speaks to them. My recent fave hangout ever since I’ve moved to Toronto is Bar Mercurio, a really cute and quaint café right in the St. George campus of University of Toronto. I was first introduced to the place by my former professor, and we always meet up for coffee at this joint. Furthermore, it’s located right in the English building, so it’s definitely a restaurant made just for a literary nerd like myself.

What I love about the place is how small it is. Granted, some may think it’s cramped, with the tables pushed very close together. Noise level skyrockets when the dinner rush is in full swing. Despite all that, it still gives off a warm, cozy, intimate feel, reminiscent of those European cafés and bistros. The décor harkens back to European bars and bistros of the ‘40s and ‘50s, with a slight Old-World feel. The biggest highlight though is the open kitchen, situated at the back of the restaurant. Patrons have a full view of the two chefs at work, and the minute you walk into the door, you’re greeted with delicious smells wafting over from the kitchen.

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After a lovely evening spent with George, I was absolutely famished. Dinner started off a bit slow. The appetizers took forever to get to our table (perhaps I was just really hungry, but even my brother agreed that the appetizers longer than normal), and I ended up stuffing my face with foccaccia (a bad idea). The bread was a bit on the chewy side, but the accompanying tuscan bean dip was quite nice. Finally our appetizers came after much waiting and anticipating. I ordered the purée of sweet potato soup. It wasn’t completely pureed; some of the sweet potatoes were left in small pieces, along with bits of shredded chicken, adding a nice textural element to the soup. The soup was nicely balanced in flavour as well (not too sweet!) with a little kick to it from the cayenne pepper. My brother, meanwhile, ordered the baby spinach salad with seared chicken breast, red grapes, mushrooms and gorgonzola dressing.

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Not long afterwards, our main courses arrived. Despite my suggestions for him to try Mercurio’s ginormous pizza, he opted for the pappardelle with duck ragu, while I ended up with the roasted crispy & honey-glazed capon breast, served on top of a mixed bean and vegetable salad, and house fries with a smoky chipotle aioli. The capon was beautifully cooked; juicy and tender on the inside, with an incredibly crispy skin. The honey glaze adds just enough sweetness to the dish to get the taste buds excited.

I was a little disappointed with the service last night though. Usually the wait-staff (and you do get to know them over time) is pretty attentive. I can’t put all the blame on them for the slow service; the kitchen was slow in dishing out our appetizers. And perhaps because we were tucked away in the corner, we were out of their radar. But on the whole, the food was delicious, the waiters are really friendly, and you just can’t beat the atmosphere in the restaurant. If you go, be sure to make reservations. The restaurant gets packed on most nights, and it’s impossible to get a table on the weekends without one (unless you want to dine at the bar). Lastly, please do try their amaretto cheesecake. It is a slice of heaven. I always order it whenever I come to Mercurio, along with a cup of americano (one of the best coffee you’ll find in town). I ended up taking my piece of cake home with me last night so that I can have a little midnight indulgence.

Name: Bar Mercurio
Address: 270 Bloor St. W.
Cuisine: Italian
Price Rating: Entrees $15-26
Accessible: No


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