Midfield Wine Bar & Tavern
Midfield Wine Bar and Tavern is the type of place that Toronto wine lovers have been hoping would open for a long time. With a few exceptions, this city just hasn't embraced what many would consider the true ethos of the wine bar. The majority of our establishments that go by this name would be better described as restaurants that offer unique or extensive wine programs with ample by-the-glass options. Places like Enoteca Sociale, Crush and Reds fit this bill, as does the Local to a lesser extent. They're great places to drink wine, just not at midnight on a Saturday.
When Midfield opened back in 2012, the food consisted primarily of charcuterie boards, which put the focus very firmly on the wine. In the time that's intervened, the food has become a crucial part of the experience, though somehow not at the expense of the wine bar feeling. There are no table cloths or cutlery on the tables when you arrive, and the bar is often as busy after the kitchen closes as it is when the food is rolling out.
The current menu, created by Leah Marshall Hannon (formerly of La Cubana), features an eclectic range of dishes that could broadly be described as bistro fare. The snack menu has an international vibe, highlighted by deep-fried cauliflower with za'atar, piquillo aioli, and goat's milk lebneh. Picture onion rings, but more refined, less greasy, and surprisingly satisfying for $6.
Arepas stuffed with chili shrimp($8) are a great little accompaniment to a couple glasses of wine when one doesn't feel like a full dinner. Topped with salsa verde and green mango, they're light and refreshing, but just filling enough so that you feel as though you've eaten a little meal, which is exactly the point.
On the winter menu, the star of the mains is the braised short rib, a sumptuous dish that falls off the bone in layers of tender beef. The root beer-based sauce would fool most into thinking it was a wine reduction, but it's the combination of the taro root crisps and the beef that makes this such a comforting dish. It's also easy to pair with the one of the bigger red wines on the list, though I find it works best with the Campi Nuovi Sangiovese that makes a regular appearance.
So what about the wine list in general? As good as everything else is — and the warmly lit, unfussy room is pitch perfect — the wine is the pillar upon which this whole operation is perched. Toward that end, I'd say Midfield hits all the right notes as well. Along with more popular wines like Tuscan reds, you'll find that the main focus is on a variety of small producers from Greece, Protugal, and the Languedoc region in France. On the white side, you'll find apparent oddities like New Zealand Rieslings.
When it comes to cost, the list is broken down into three main price points — $35/$9, $45/$12 and $55/$14 (glass prices approximate) — with featured wines thrown into the mix on a nightly basis. There's also some reserve stuff hanging around, but there's no dedicated menu for these yet, and they make up a fraction of what's on site. Everything is available by the glass, so the menu beckons for exploration without asking for a full-bottle of commitment.
Midfield manages to do something that very few wine-focused establishments have in Toronto. It is a legitimate wine bar, a place to go drink and ignore the food. But it's also become a restaurant for those that want to treat it that way. It's rare in Toronto to see a place ride the line so well, but it works here. And that makes it one of my favourite bars at which to eat in the city.
Midfield is open Tuesday to Sunday form 5:30 p.m.