Knaves Kitchen

The closed door restaurant trend arrives in Toronto

Naco Gallery led a bit of a quirky double life on Dundas West--cafe by day and event venue/bar by night. Situated in an old row house, there was sitting space beyond the open front and into the house proper, and frequently played host to a vast and diverse roster of artists--from poets, to visual artists, to musicians.

When the venue closed its doors in December of last year, owner Julian took a sabbatical down to Mexico, and was then joined by partner Marc. While there, they "got to thinking about the food and how people eat there," Marc tells me. Enter Knaves Kitchen, an intimate dining experience run out of Julian's home.

Knaves Kitchen seems to be capitalizing (albeit unintentionally) on the notion of closed-door restaurants, which is particularly popular in Buenos Aires, and a brilliant idea to boot (not to mention a long-standing fantasy of mine). You do away with the overhead associated with launching and maintaining a restaurant, and instead invite people directly into your home for a home-cooked meal.

I imagine there's a bit of social contract involved--you keep your fingers crossed that nobody will pilfer your silverware or drop off a clandestine kitten in a basket--but for Marc and Julian, the response so far has been great. "We can seat 25," Marc tells me, "and we've been averaging at least 15."

For $17 (graciously termed a 'gift'), you're treated to a Mexican-inspired spread that typically includes four courses (including dessert and a home-brewed beer). Additional beers are $3, and you must RSVP in advance to let them know you're coming, and whether you'd prefer a meat or veggie spread. There are two settings--the first at 7pm, the second at 9pm--and Julian provides tables that can accomodate between 2-5 people, both in the living room and on the second-floor patio.

Funny story about that patio: Julian and Marc may be accidentally evoking closed-door dining, but they were actually inspired by San Francisco's food truck culture. Not quite knowing how to go about securing and manning a food truck of their own, Julian piped up. "He volunteered his house," Marc tells me. "He has a great patio."

While it's not quite private salon dining--there's no secret password and the menu can be viewed ahead of time (thanks, Facebook)--it still maintains the closed-door restaurants' sense of intimacy. When asked whether they planned to expand beyond a Mexican menu, Marc laughingly answered that they're not even sure if it'll last past summer, considering that the patio provides a portion of their seating availability.

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