Familiar chef opens kitchen on Mt. Pleasant

Dinner_With_Liz_columnWho’s cooking? That’s my first thought when Chris Boland amiably greets us at our table. This is, after all, Boland’s Open Kitchen. But he’s here to tell us about what’s really good on the menu tonight, and he begins with an apology.

“I’m sorry we’ve run out of the char we had on special, but everyone seems to have ordered it,” he explains chattily. “I go to the fish market every day so when it’s gone, it’s gone. I do have one order of scallops left. There’s also rainbow trout in coconut almond dust. And we have a beautiful rib eye steak with your choice of sauces.”

He had me at scallops. He had my guest at rib-eye steak.

It remains only to choose starters: tonight’s special sun-dried tomato and leek soup for me, and roasted beet and orange salad for my guest. A glass of Valpolicella Ripasso and life is complete.

Not quite.

A pretty amuse-bouche arrives — a taster spoon of sweet and tangy pulled pork and one of trout with capers for each of us. It’s a nice touch.

This is followed with slices of hot baguette and a dipping bowl of olive oil and balsamic.

The answer to who’s under the chef’s hat becomes evident. Shuqui Yang, Boland’s co-chef pops out, plates in hand. This spot has a unique approach to service but it fits with Boland’s avowed ethos — the comfort of being at dinner in his home.

My soup ($9) is thick and very rich, like a bowl of pureed sun-dried tomatoes with a hint of leek. Its flavour brings the warmth of Sicily to a chilly winter evening. Lovely.

My guest’s salad ($10.50) is liberally dotted with orange slices and wedges of roasted red and yellow beets. A walnut-crusted disc of goat cheese completes the dish. The greens have been tossed in a light citrus dressing which doesn’t overpower the beets and cheese. It’s a very appealing start.

My scallops ($24) are dusted with pistachio crumbs, seared quickly and served on the most extraordinary blend of fruit and vegetables I have ever encountered on a dinner plate. Lightly browned Brussels sprouts, fresh red and green grapes, and tiny cherry tomatoes have all been halved and tossed with small pieces of pineapple, baby beet greens and frisee.

At first blush it might seem as if it can’t decide whether to be a fruit salad or vegetable dish, but it works! The tart grapes, the slight bitterness of sprouts and frisee, the sweetness of pineapple all seem to enhance the delicate flavour of the scallops. I’m going to try this at home.

My guest’s steak ($30) is medium rare and smothered in a mild peppercorn sauce (horseradish was another option). He approves, but to my palate, it’s not peppery enough. Asparagus spears, mashed potatoes and frisee complete the plate. “It’s good, but not extraordinary,” comments my guest.

The dessert menu offers fruit salad, a cheese board, and warm Bailey’s cream profiteroles. But we have seen a prettily heaped martini glass whiz by a few times. So we decide to share this sweet — lemon curd with crumbled brown sugar and cream ($10). The cream offers a nice foil to the citrus, which is tangy and delicious. The brown sugar crumbs offer little pops of sweetness. I wouldn’t have thought of serving curd minus the pastry crust, but this is yummy.

Boland’s Open Kitchen is another feather in the cap of a chef who has proven his mettle with Telfer’s, Trappers and The Tasting Rooms. The food is good, staff is friendly, and the atmosphere casual and homey. And it’s fun chatting ingredients with the executive chef. But it’s very small so reservations are recommended.

Boland’s Open Kitchen, 575 Mt. Pleasant Rd., 416-482-2424. www.bolandsopen kitchen.com