I’ve been really, really (ok – just one more time… REALLY) excited about a new restaurant opening in the old Citizen
building on Queen East, just east of Broadview. The windows have been covered over for weeks. Word had it, it was opening Tuesday night.
The excitement? Well, the Queen East strip is really up and coming. It has lots of restaurants, but I would argue still looking for an top-tier restaurant (don’t get me wrong there are three to four I’d go to every week if I could). I was hoping (am hoping) Ruby Watchco will take Queen East to the next level in food sophistication.
And, by my judging last night, it does that.
I snagged a reservation on opening night. Everyone knows you shouldn’t judge a restaurant on its first night. But there’s a rush about an opening night — staff are excited and none of the reviewers are there so us normal people can be left in peace and quiet.
While the food and decor are sophisticated, none of it is austere or snooty. Really interesting light fixtures, very cool Ruby Watch Co sign. The guy next to me grew up in this space — his father named a clothing store after him in the same spot.
That type of comfort actually imbibes the space. The food is sophisticated but it’s still distinctly a neighbourhood place.
The interior doesn’t look anything like its predecessor. The best part is actually at the back, it’s an open galley kitchen with a massive butcher’s block, of sorts, in front. That’s where Lynn Crawford was all night, plating everything as it came out of the kitchen. All of the sides come out in Le Crueset mini red pots.
When you call to make a reservation they’ll ask you if you have any dietary restrictions — be honest. This is NOT a restaurant with a menu. It’s a prix fix ($49). You don’t pick what you’re eating. You eat what they’re making. And, frankly, I love it. The menu changes every night. At first I just said oh yes — everything is fine, but I called back to whimper out, when I realized it’d be prix fix, that I didn’t eat red meat. They totally took it in stride and accommodated, but be honest at the outset.
The servers were courteous, knew what they were serving, and were very knowledgeable about the wines, which I definitely appreciated. The wine list is impressive with quite a few options by the glass.
Dinner started with Ruby’s chicken caesar with red romaine, pulled chicken, egg, avocado, and a garlic comfit.
The main course for my friend Catharine was grilled flanked steak. I had grilled pickerel — which was good (crispy skin, not over-cooked) if slightly bland. But really, the meal was all about the sides (which came in their own small red pots).
The smoked mushrooms with caramelized onion were divine. The parsnip fries were actually hit and miss — some were undercooked (ok, they were raw) while others were nice and crunchy. But it’s opening night. I’d definitely forgive that.
The cream spinach and leeks could be my breakfast every day if I wanted to weigh 300 pounds.
The main course was followed by a really great cheese course, with 10-year-old Ottawa Valley cheddar, a home-made balsamic and onion pickle with honey and walnut bread. (The combo of pickle and honey was amazing).
The desert was a lemon tart with a lemon thyme sweet cream. The tart involved probably the best lemon curd I’ve ever tasted — and I make lemon curd myself.
I’ve got to say the two most refreshing things about this meal was nothing was overcooked (hurray!) and the seasoning was immaculate.
Lynn Crawford was chatting to everyone and as I said to her last night, I don’t think Leslieville would have been ready for this restaurant five years ago. But it is the right restaurant, at the right time, in the right place.
I’ll definitely be back.