Oct. 15, 2009

Restaurant Reviews: Regal Heights Bistro (Toronto)

The windshield wipers of our car are attempting to slap away the pouring rain that's turned this part of Corso Italia into a place full of gravel and muck, as we make our way towards the Regal Heights Bistro on St. Clair, just east of Dufferin. The streetcar track/road improvement project on St. Clair Avenue West is still not finished, limiting the traffic to one lane. Fortunately the bad weather seems to have kept traffic light, and we're able to park just across the street from the restaurant. First we have to cross the no-man's-land of cracked pavement and orange cones, and then I can finally look at the building where I think the Regal Heights Bistro is housed. "There's no sign, there used to be a big sign, and it looks like a pub inside," I observe uneasily. "I hope this is still the right place." "Yep – Regal Heights Bistro," my partner confirms, pointing at a little hand-lettered sign inside the front window, and we see the trademark Jazz Brunch sign as well.

No sooner do we cross the threshold than a hostess is waiting to seat us, offering a choice of any table we want. At eight fifteen, most patrons are sitting near the bar, with the whole restaurant being about a third full. "Are you here for the fist time? The original sign blew down, and the new one we put out on a chalkboard was washed away by the rain." "Today you are in for a treat, we have a birthday celebration and a jazz band, it will be fun!" She reassures us that this is indeed the place we were looking for - though the interior looks more like in a pub than in an upscale bistro, and we can smell French fries in the air. Next we focus on our menus - a two-sided thing that quite disappoints my partner.

"They must've changed their menu," he remarks with a sad face. Maybe as an elitist jazz musician himself, he is just unhappy about the prospect of a live band. The name of the restaurant is written on the top of the menu. I check it again and again, just to make certain we are in the right place. Although I could find no website for the Bistro, and valuable little online information other than bare-bones positive reviews, I did dig up some posted menus: and these presented dishes like caprese salad, provencale escargots, chicken liver pate, smoked salmon crepes and black squid ink linguine. I don't need a menu to tell me that no homemade black squid ink linguine is coming out of this place. The actual offerings consist of normal pub food, perhaps gussied up a bit by special flavors and toppings, but pub food still.

Our hostess comes back to note our order and I note that the menus are very different from what we found online – what happened? Different ownership? "Oh no, same ownership," she assures us. "We haven't done anything on the website in a long time. Our menu has been this way for the last couple of years, we've just gone through a lot of different chefs. Our focus is always on fresh food; we shop every day, we cut our own meat, we make our own burgers, there’s no microwaves…we just want to have more of a casual dining feel." Although the whole pub is definitely casual, including the paper napkins, when I look at the wall signage from around the world, I would still expect a bit more sophisticated menu.

Our hostess smiles: "We shrink from that gastro-pub term," and puts us at her ease with a charming, friendly manner.

See the rest of the story at our original restaurant review

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