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Karelia Kitchen

Posted by Alexandra Grigorescu / Reviewed on December 14, 2012 / review policy

karelia kitchen torontoKarelia Kitchen opened up several days ago in Bloordale Village. The name presumably draws from Karelia, an area of Northern Europe that's split between the Russian and Finnish people. The food draws from this as well, with significant Scandinavian influences.

karelia kitchen torontoIt has to be said: IKEA this isn't. Although the blonde wood accents and recessed ceiling lights are instantly reminiscent of the superchain's clean, modern design, the dark wood chairs and bright white tables break from the look. I'm greeted by a display case of elegant cakes and pastries such as creme caramel, trifles, and cookies (around $0.75 each), and instantly make a mental note not to leave without dessert.

karelia kitchen torontoBeyond this, you'll find the shop's selection of 9 Smorrebrod, which are traditional open-faced sandwiches, topped with gourmet offerings. I balk a bit at the price ($8-$12 for a single slice of bread), but they come with a side of simply dressed greens, or a small soup or salad for $1.99. They also have a hot table, offering oxtail stew and pork loin stuffed with rose and apricot, but we're looking for something a bit lighter--although we might've been tempted by the promise of meatballs (which weren't yet available).

karelia kitchen torontoWe start with a paradigm-shifting soup. I've never loved chicken noodle soup, but this soup sees organic chicken and vegetables come together in a smoked chicken stock that has me sitting glaze-eyed with pleasure and dumbly sniffing at it. Fortunately, it tastes just as good--the chicken is moist, the vegetables lend texture and a bit of freshness, but the stock itself is surprisingly delicate, and not salty in the least.

karelia kitchen torontoI'm told that they have a smokehouse of sorts on the premises, so the smoked salmon sandwich ($12) is a no-brainer. Several thin slices of smoked salmon, topped with a generous dollop of cream cheese, dill, what was probably a slice of quail egg, and large, orange fish roe. I pick off the egg (not a fan), and my complaints are few. I would've preferred a choice of bread, as dark rye is drier than I'd like, and I find myself daintily chewing around the heap of cream cheese--it's quite rich. The salmon was beautifully smoked, and the unexpected touch of fish roe lent an unusual flavour combination.

karelia kitchen torontoNext is the roast organic chicken with smoked bacon ($8) , which unfortunately falls flat for me. My dining companion liked it, praising the admittedly well-smoked strip of bacon that crowns the sandwich, but I found the chicken strangely flavorless--although it might've been lost beneath the large helping of mayo. Greens round out the sandwich, and here especially a warm slice of focaccia might've improved the dish.

We both opted for side salads, which come in small portions to accompany your sandwich ($1.99 each as a side, or $4.50 for a small). The golden beet salad sees small chunks of lightly dressed golden beets tossed with raisins and grains. It's satisfying and fresh-tasting, if not particularly flavorful--which is to say, it's not slathered in sauce, but rather lets the subtle zest of the beet shine through. We also try the root vegetable salad--an assortment of root vegetables among which the carrot, strangely, is the standout. It's rare that a restarant-prepared root vegetable ever evokes the taste of the actual garden, but this one did.

karelia kitchen torontoThen, there's dessert. Cookies are available individually or in bulk, but it's the custard trifle (presented in a white ceramic cup, and topped with a flurry of fruit) and the "drunk" fruit cake ($4) that catch my eye. The former is rich, but not cloyingly sweet and arrives in a small enough portion ($2) that you don't feel over-the-top decadent. The latter, however, is amazing in my opinion, although my dining partner laments the fact that they're both "Christmas cake"--bah humbug. The "drunk" misnomer comes from a soak of maraschino liquor, which keeps it somewhat moist, but every other forkful yields a fruit and the cake itself is subtle and light.

karelia kitchen torontoAside from what was tried above, you'll also find coffee, tea, and fresh fruit juices, as well as a good selection of tipple such as wine, spirits, and beer. And if you love their house-smoked goods, Karelia Kitchen even has some available for take-away.



CB / December 14, 2012 at 02:58 pm
LOVE Swedish cuisine!
johnsonstarfish / December 14, 2012 at 03:14 pm
The interior is a fail for me. The opportunity to create something very clean, minimal and nicely designed in a scandanavian style was completely thrown out the window it seems. Looks like this was designed in the mid 90's.

Too bad.
Nicole / December 14, 2012 at 04:25 pm
That soup looks like puke. So does the decor.
smicole replying to a comment from Nicole / December 14, 2012 at 06:46 pm
You look like puke.
kaijyuu_m / December 14, 2012 at 07:11 pm
All I want to know is if they're serving Karelian pie.
Baffled replying to a comment from johnsonstarfish / December 14, 2012 at 07:31 pm
What are you even talking about?

I don't care that much what a restaurant looks like, as long as the food is delicious. That being said, your comment is absurd. The decor is simple and clean.
steve / December 14, 2012 at 11:06 pm
I worked as a smørrebrød chef in Nyhavn, and other traditional Danish restaurants for 9 years. Let me know if you need help. I'm in the neighbourhood
ST / December 14, 2012 at 11:19 pm
I came here for dinner and really enjoyed the food. I thought the prices were reasonable and the bread/salad was light, refreshing, yet flavourful.
Ben / December 15, 2012 at 08:41 am
Det ser god ud!
Mikey / December 15, 2012 at 05:06 pm
Yeah, needs a bigger hit of Artek furniture.
Mikey / December 15, 2012 at 05:07 pm
Or anything to do with Alvar Aalto.
Peter / December 15, 2012 at 05:12 pm
Dropped by today and had smoked pork smorrebrod with the side of greens. It was very tasty. Also had the creme caramel and a latte. Yum! Will definitely be back to try the smoked fish and the beautiful-looking salads.

The owners are very friendly and laid-back. I like the spartan interiors, though I can see how it wouldn't be to everyone's taste. The sign out front does not give the impression of the high calibre of food served here. It was a pleasant surprise.

I highly recommend trying it. I will definitely be back.
aojohnson / December 15, 2012 at 05:54 pm
Can't wait to try the foods of one of my ancestral homelands!
Kat / December 16, 2012 at 11:37 pm
Since the full menu wasn't shown, I'm just hoping that the reviewers chose non-representative family originates from Karjala (Karelia) and although there are similarities, this is much more Swedish than Karelian. I'll eat any sort of cured salmon any day, but it's much more traditional in that region to do it in a salt/sugar/allspice cure than it is to smoke it (I think outside of Finland it's called gravlax?) At least the bread, which the reviewer did not like, looks PERFECT. And the interior design looks just like the homes of relatives I still have in the area.

I'm sure that this kitchen makes some delicious food, and I hope that the broader menu holds more information. I had just heard about the opening and was SO EXCITED that I could have food like my Mummo's without making it myself. This, so far, does not look Karelian, and so I'll have to temper my excitement. If I could get some karjalan piirakka with munavoi and a decent riisipuuro/kiiseli dessert...I'd be so happy!
Miss Kriss / December 17, 2012 at 11:37 am
Had lunch here on Sunday and the food was excellent(!), not to mention the hospitality of the owners was extremely welcoming. Smörgåsbord is as much a pastime as it is a meal and Karelia seems to really get that. Loved the soup and the smoked salmon was just perfect. The cookies were great but we were too full to get cake! Obviously we'll need to go back.

Just to comment, I can't imagine how anyone could say the decor is lacking. If your sense of Scandinavian style is wrapped in Jysk or Ikea maybe it will surprise you, but this is far more true to authentic Scandinavian design of today. It's minimal and it's very functional (note the pot lighting, coat hooks, and speaker system all built in).
Erin / December 17, 2012 at 04:17 pm
This would be a GREAT addition to the Scandinavian Guide to Toronto I wrote for BlogTO back in August (!)
picalily / February 22, 2013 at 10:08 am
Foccacia? It's a Finnish restaurant, not an Italian restaurant...
R / March 29, 2013 at 06:28 pm
the reviewer reaaaaaaaaaaaaallllly needs to switch up her camera. ALL the pictures on her reviews look like shit. i wouldn't want to go anywhere she reviewed just because it looks so god damn unappealing.
Alex replying to a comment from R / March 29, 2013 at 06:55 pm
Thanks for the suuuuppppeeeerrr helpful feedback. You're a peach.
LInda / April 15, 2013 at 10:22 am
Will you be serving karjalan piirakka in the near future? Do you have take-out too. I was in Toronto on Sunday to see the exhibit at the Textile Museum and saw the name of yoru place on the acknowledgement poster so I googled you. You need more advertising because we all would have dropped by for a meal if we had seen your address at the exhibit.
Krupo replying to a comment from Miss Kriss / July 4, 2013 at 11:39 pm
Agreed, decor is fantastic. See it in person to truly appreciate it. And food is even better. Just did a party of 15 people for a surprise birthday and had a fantastic time.

The menu is massive, the review doesn't do it justice - then again, it was recently expanded too. Go check it out. Bring friends so you can try as many dishes as you can. :)
Chris / July 14, 2013 at 12:47 am
If you're stuck on the minimal decor then you need to get out more and travel. The restaurant is perfect for what it is and tries to be, and the food brings back Scandinavian nostalgia unlike anything in Toronto. The shrimp salad was just like what I had in Copenhagen, the smoked salmon was incredible, and their selection of Scandinavian salads and smoked meats and fish is unmatched. I've wanted to move back to Denmark since I visited, but this restaurant makes it that much easier to stay in Toronto. A definite two thumbs up and a must visit for anyone who truly appreciates good international cuisine.
Pat / April 18, 2014 at 06:36 pm
This is a nice place and simply because the Scandinavian food and culture is a great one. However, Karelia Kitchen's reservation system has a problem and is more like a prop or filler for their website, or just putting it on there just because restaurants "do that". Very recently, I had reserved for three on a Sunday afternoon. That Sunday on our way there, the worthless TTC had a subway delay so I called to let them know about it and how we might be a bit late. In that phone call, they basically outed themselves by showing that they had no idea about my reservation and that it was not noted despite my reservation call. The employee on the phone tried to cover up their mess-up but it was too obvious. She said it'll be fine to come and that they'd have a table for us.

Then when we arrived at Karelia, we saw a zoo of an atmosphere, crowded, and that the "host" said the complete opposite of what the woman on the phone said earlier to me when I let her know about the subway delay. This other employee (miserable looking) told us at the door walkway that there is no table for us and it would be a 45 minute wait. Well, Karelia lost a group of customers that day, myself included - a RETURNING customer who just wanted to introduce Karelia to others and support local businesses. The other issue around this case is how that atmosphere at Karelia (and many other places here) proves that Toronto lacks too much for the population it has and let's in. It's too suburban, too residential, and little to offer in resources such as real shopping and dining. Toronto, my hometown, was meant to be a larger town or smaller main city, tops. NOT the mindset and message we have today.

I don't think I'll be going back to Karelia, and it is strongly recommended not to go there on the later weekdays, and certainly not on the weekends. Do not even pay any attention to the reservation portion of their website or services.

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