In Orson Welles' 1941 masterpiece, the reporter shadowing the life of media mogul Charles Foster Kane, musing on what exactly Kane's enigmatic last words meant, says: "Maybe Rosebud was something he couldn't get, or something he lost".
In a city with a robotically single-minded preoccupation for churning out culinary virtuosity and sleek, high concept rooms, dining at The Rosebud hints at something getting lost faster than ashtrays from the bar and trans-fats from the fryer, namely a sense of culinary elan. With his queen street bistro, Rod Bowers and his congenially competent staff joyfully explode the myths of Toronto sophistry and replace them with, well executed cuisine bringing a little soul and some much needed delight back to Toronto tables.
Prepare to sweep through a circa 50s stainless steel door into the buttery dark brown light of this narrow, low-key space--famously re-purposed from a former life as a humble chain Chinese take-way-- and leave your attitude at the door since there simply isn't room in this compact but welcoming space.
Complete with high wood panels stained the tobacco tan colour of Gauloises brunettes, The Rosebud could be any friendly Parisian neighbourhood bistro either real or imagined; and the best part of this elegantly charming room is that it embodies bistro-ness without being overly self-conscious. In fact, if one the attentive staff quickly apologizes for the boisterous conversation of people enjoying a little post desert banter at the next table, it's probably the chef's booming, jocular voice providing the clever turn of phrase. Bowers is clearly proud of his restaurant and proudly works the room clearly enjoying himself as much as the evening's patrons.
That same warm, unpretentious style extends across the seasonally changing Mediterranean card comprised of equal parts classic continental fare and cheekily re-imagined standards.
Far from tapas, Rosebud 'small plates' are literally that--smaller than an appetizer and priced to match--providing a nice start to the meal or accompaniment to drinks whether your bent is for marinated olives ($4) to go with your martini or chicken liver and cognac pate with toasts ($5) to provide a pleasant start to the meal.
Typical entrees include textbook creamy, saffron-robed risotto Milanese ($11/$22) which does double duty as a 'first plate' or a main though considering the generous size of the starter you'd probably have to loosen your pants for the dinner- sized portion. The saffron is once again enlisted in the rich tomato-ey broth of fantastic, traditional Provencal bouillabaisse teeming with fresh razor clams, mussels, crayfish claws and crunchy garlic toasts.
Meat eaters are well looked after with the substantial portions on a card weighted towards game (elk and bison) and the Flintsone inspired and much discussed menu stalwart Alberta beef short ribs ($25)
Cheek comes in the form of a slightly 'deconstructed' Caesar: hearts of romaine with crispy granny smith apple; salty gruyere; wonderfully crisp, meaty pieces of bacon all topped with a perfectly poached egg ($12). Equally imaginative and a menu highlight is the outstanding vegetarian pasta seeing narrow strands of perfectly toothy 'linguette' dressed with sweet butternut squash a roasted garlic cream sauce and smoky wild mushrooms ($24).
Finishing a meal this classy is easy with such a well thought-out dessert and digestif selection like a silky creme brule ($6) freckled with vanilla bean and a perfect burnt sugar crunch or the apple spice of a hand warmed glass of calvados ($7.50).
A meal at The Rosebud is a mnemonic device, reminding amnesiac diners that delight, along with classic cuisine at a good price never goes out of style even in a city as ironically detached as this one.
Oh, and if you didn't have enough reasons to hate Leslieville, those queen east inclined'll get a taste of Bowers' & Co. without the pesky streetcar ride as the chef has a sister bistro called 'The Citizen' opening "soon" Queen-wise, east of the river. Lucky bastards.
The Rosebud 669 Queen Street West (at Bathurst) - 416.703.8810