Actinolite has been in the works for a long time. Finally opening at the end of March, the neighbourhood bistro at Ossington and Hallam has been packed most nights since the garbage bags formerly covering its floor-to-ceiling windows were mercifully removed to reveal the airy and minimalist space. The work of Justin Cournoyer and wife Claudia Bianchi, their respective backgrounds as a chef and food stylist make for a formidable ownership team.
Actinolite is named after the quaint mining town where Cournoyer spent his youth falling in love with food in the most natural ways — he grew it, fished it, and hunted it. This deep-rooted appreciation for food at its most basic level is quickly apparent on the menu, which puts fresh ingredients at the forefront without much by way of pretension or forced fussiness.
We start the meal with the artichoke, sunchoke salad ($12) and the sautéed shrimp brandade ($14). The salad is composed of pickled artichokes, steamed sunchokes, pan fried confit shiitake mushrooms, romaine lettuce, canola aioli, broiled asparagus and is dressed ever so lightly with a shiitake, radish and black olive vinaigrette. The salad is next level - served noticeably cold and offering fresh, crisp satisfaction with each bite.
As good as the salad is, the shrimp brandade is a show-stopper. Brandade is a salt cod puree that has the consistency of mashed potatoes. Here it's paired with a basil, black olive, and red pepper sauce, which gives the dish is given a welcome kick. Marinated with orange and basil, the shrimp's subtle diversity on the palate brings the dish together perfectly.
The appetizers are a home run, and the mains look equally as inviting. The roast chicken breast and red wine braised leg ($22, lead photo) is coated in a romesco, sunchoke, sweet garlic and black olive sauce. The meat is coupled with roasted sunchokes and spring onion. The dish is homey but not particularly exciting — nevertheless the chicken is cooked flawlessly, holding a moist texture that's enhanced by the wine-based sauce.
The grilled grass fed veal T-bone ($26) is more exciting on paper, but the dish doesn't quite deliver on my excitement. The aged veal has a charred fat characteristic and the asparagus is overcooked. The panko-crusted onion and creamed spinach, however, is delectable.
The steamed Georgian Bay white fish ($24) is the hot ticket item tonight. The meat is juicy and flakes onto my fork. The black lentils and spring leeks make for just enough food to make you satisfied but not stuffed. Topped with a black trumpet morel paste and lemon carrot sauce, the flavours are invigorating.
Concluding the meal we order the pavlova with grapefruit ($9) and the olive oil cake ($9). Hello sour town, the pavlova is made with grapefruit cream, grapefruit confit, fresh grapefruit segments and pink peppercorns. Whisked to perfection, the crunchy outer layer of the pavlova melts in my mouth.
The olive oil cake is matched with roasted rhubarb, homemade strawberry ice cream and lavender syrup. This slice of heaven will have dessert naysayers biting their tongues. The cake is thick with a slight olive oil taste while the rhubarb is tart and the ice cream is sweet.
Actinolite is still working out a few of the kinks that come along with a new restaurant, but this spot is obviously a star in the making. If you are in the market for a wholesome meal, Actinolite is a must-try.