Paintbox Bistro is located at the corner of Dundas East and Sackville, and area that's recently undergone such a rapid transformation that even Google Street View is woefully out-of-date. At first glance, the new neighbourhood seems like every other homogeneous block of recently erected condos, but unlike say, Spadina and Bremner, here there is promising signs of life at street level. Case in point, the just-opened Paintbox Bistro.
After over two years in the works, Chris Klugman, the chef and George Brown instructor behind the project, has finally opened the doors to the first component of the aspiring community hub. In addition to the Bistro, there is also a soon-to-open express concept (situated on the other side of the adjacent Regent Parks Art and Cultural Centre) that will even provide a walk-up take out window to serve up street food on-the-go.
Behind the scenes, the sprawling, state-of-the-art facilities are slated to offer: event catering services, a food business incubator, and training programs (which staff the restaurant's operations) in partnership with Toronto Employment and Social Services. Klugman describes it as a "meaningful project in support of a marginalized community" and clearly there is something to it; the service is excellent, and the staff is especially attentive and enthusiastic.
Inside, the space designed by Diamond Schmitt Architects is warm and vibrant. Structural columns are painted in swaths of vivid colours and complemented by warm woods. The dining room is also outfitted with a small stage and professional acoustics suited for live entertainment.
Chef Matt Cowan (formerly of Simple Bistro and The Rosebud) has put his stamp on the menu with dishes like the Smoked Wild Salmon ($12), that draws inspiration from Nordic and Japanese cuisine. Served in a mason jar and topped with asazuke-styled pickled fennel, radishes and celery, the flavours are clean and thoughtfully chosen.
For the more adventurous, the Fried Pigs Head ($14) showcases golden, panko crusted braised meat atop harissa buttermilk ranch sauce, and arrives piled with finely shredded cabbage.
The Flank Steak ($18) is perfectly seared and pink in the centre. The accompanying smoked-milk mashed potatoes and fried artichokes are dressed in a velvety jus that is almost cause to lick the plate.
For dessert, the Lemon Curd ($7) is dolloped with poppy seed paste and topped with crumbled grapefruit streusel and candied lemon balm. My only qualm is the oh-so-literal "paint palette" plating.
The bar menu will include a select list of mostly VQA wines, bottled craft beers and signature cocktails from Morgan Ashley Davidoff, like the Sorbet with Wings ($10), a frozen vodka Red Bull concoction.
It would be easy to brush off this newly 'revitalized' neighbourhood as just another example of gentrification, but there is something happening here that was really designed with the community in mind. The Paintbox Bistro doesn't dumb things down — instead, it raises people up so that they can appreciate and contribute to their own communities. The results are delicious.
Photos by Natta Summerky