Last night, we met up with “Jer Bear” and “Mel’s Bell’s” to check out the new fitness club she just opened. It’s called Elements for Women [2532 Yonge Street, (416) 482-4900] and is right in the heart of the Yonge/Eglington area. They did a fantastic job on the renos and if I were a woman, looking for a place to work out, this would be the place. It’s no ordinary gym, there is just so much more to it than a place to go for spin class or to clock some time on the elliptical, so for my Toronto followers, give them a call, ask for “Mel’s Bells” or “Grasshopper” and someone will take good care of you. “Jer Bear” and I were roommates back in our University of Toronto days and “Mel’s Bells” is his lovely wife. How he ever settled down with someone as great as her is astounding to me. Mind you, people continually say that about “Monk” and me, so I figure him and I are floating in rather similar boats and should be grateful for the exceptional women in our lives. “Jer Bear” is a gastronomic anomaly and I could go on for days telling stories about his strange eating habits. Back in our Vic days, he used to survive on Harvey’s burgers (lettuce, tomato, nothing else), Kraft dinner, english muffins, cheeze wiz, grilled steaks, Pizza Pizza (pepperoni and cheese, nothing else) and Swiss Chalet. Word of advice, don’t ever be a pizza delivery man dropping off at his place and don’t ever let a pickle touch his burger. He’ll make Gordon Ramsay seem like a pussy cat and Joan Rivers seem like a sane person.
After we checked out the gym, we walked a block and a half and ended up at Grazie. [2373 Yonge Street, Toronto, (416)488-0822] It was frickin’ cold out and “Monk” had “Jazzy” all bundled up, snug as a bug in a rug, in her hybrid stroller. When we got there, there was a huge lineup, at least 20 people ahead of us and a full restaurant. I was obviously concerned, not wanting my daughter to be cold and my wife to get overly hungry. I was prepared to go to Mars Diner, a few doors down, to have a burger for dinner, but something magical happened. At first I thought “Jer Bear” was uber-soigne or knew the owner, but instead it was “Monk” and the stroller that sealed the deal. Within minutes, we were skipping ahead of the 20 people and were seated in a corner of the overly full restaurant. I’ve never experienced this before, I felt bad for the people still waiting, but was so relieved we did not have to subject “Jazzy” or I to early lessons in patience. The table next to us even asked us to pull our table towards theirs to give “Jazzy’s” stroller a little more room.
Baby stuff aside, I was concerned about this restaurant from the get go. First of all, “Jer Bear” suggested it, which usually means culinary wasteland. His relationship with food is awkward to say the least; just don’t get him started about his theory of “absorption”. Secondly, I used to work in the neighborhood about 8 years ago and not once did I think about trying this place out. Pizza and pasta restaurants in this category make me think of bad value, mediocre food, plonk wine and crappy service. Well, I’m happy to admit that my prejudices were incorrect and we had a very enjoyable meal.
We started out with a 1/2 litre of Chianti, which was actually quite appropriate and enjoyable. I ordered the Stefania pizza which had a creamy porcini sauce, young arugula, Parmigiano and prosciutto. “Monk” ordered the Nonna Franca which was spaghetti with broccoli, anchovy, pinenuts and raisins. “Jer Bear” ordered the Nato pizza, a pepperoni, mushroom and green pepper pizza sub arugula instead of mushrooms. When the food arrived, I was pleasantly surprised. “Monk’s” pasta was
tasty. The noodles were housemade, there was way too much sauce and not enough pasta, but the sauce was tasty. I’ve always liked the pinenut/raisin combination and have an arugula salad at Tapenade with a warm pinenut/sultana vinaigrette. My pizza was under-seasoned and lacked the porcini flavor that was promised, but overall the pizza was good. The ultra fresh arugula and the prosciutto combined very well with the hot pizza. Quite smart, what they did; they sliced the pizza and folded the middle part of the slices in, making a hole for the arugula and prosciutto to go. This way, you don’t get limp, sweaty leaves with cooked prosciutto on your pizza slices. “Jer Bear’s” pizza was boring, but fine and we ordered another pasta to bring back to the hard working and driven “Mel’s Bells.”
We ordered another carafe of Chianti; it was so nice to catch up with the “Jer Bear” and a great opportunity to re-tell some stories of simpler times. Issues and concerns; not fine food by any means and definitely a turn and burn operation. The pasta though tasty needed more depth and balance and the pizzas need more flavorful sauces and seasoning. The service was friendly, extremely hospitable and I would definitely return if in the neighborhood. Though the food is not excellent, there is something to be said about a restaurant which is continually busy.
On my chef’s night out scale, Grazie receives 3/5 SOB(slices of bacon).