Five Doors North
For a fickle commitment-phobe that eats out four nights a week, trying to pick a favourite restaurant is akin to trying to pick a favourite child: it's damn near impossible. (Though, if you asked my darling pops to choose after he's guzzled a few glasses of red, he'd undoubtedly say it was me. In vino veritas , indeed.)
Five Doors North , however, has won me over. It is the joint that has tamed the capricious heart of this restaurant-hopping shrew.
What is it about the place? Where do I begin...
The food, first and foremost, is incredible. Good, no-nonsense Italian comfort food (though Terroni comes a close second in this category). Of note: these chefs know how to wield their cheeses to create out-of-this-world flavour combinations. The atmosphere is warm and welcoming--it's perfect for a date, though I've only ever been with my plutonic man-friend Chris (the two of us are equally, desperately in love with it). The wooden, low-lit room is perfect for a romantic tête-à-tête. The prices are right: entrées run from $9.95 to $20.95. What's not to love?
Upon being seated, you must immediately order the onion and gorgonzola dip ($3.95). Though actually meant as a side, it makes a great starter. The onions have been simmering for a long time, letting out its sweet, sweet flavour. It goes beautifully with the sharp gorgonzola, softening it considerably. Ask for extra bread (it's nice n' crusty, just how I like it) to sop it all up. You'll thank you later.
Of course, vino cannot be far behind. The wine list is small and favours Italian, Australian and California reds. Many bottles are also available by the glass ($6 to $7.75), which I appreciate. It's always nice to be able to try a few different wines in a night. The offerings are reasonably priced, and even the cheapest bottle (a 2004 Farnese Montepulciano d'Abruzzo) is a great choice at $28. Hearty but not heavy, and oh so smooth and juicy, this berry-flavoured Italian definitely goes down (a little too) easy. (Hiccup!)
For a starter, grilled quail ($6.95) comes highly recommended. Succulent bird, come to mamma. The honey balsamic dressing and slivers of Asiago cheese play off the smokey flavour of the meat nicely.
On our last visit, Chris wanted the involtini (grilled beef stuff with pork) with mushroom asiago sauce ($9.95, pictured). I shirked at the idea. Beef stuffed with pork? Hey, I'm a carnivore if there ever was one, but this just seemed a little over the top. Let's get the prosciutto rolls with arugula goat cheese and figs ($6.95), I protested.
"Oh come on," decried Chris, "this involtini is genius. It's like a cow sleeping with a pig! How can you say no?" I nearly choked on my wine. Such are the nature of Chris' arguments--completely absurd, but utterly hilarious. In light of his bovine-swine copulation polemic, I conceded.
And heck was I ever glad I did. The tender meat falls apart in your mouth. (The saliva production in my mouth just increased as I typed that, I kid you not). The rich Asiago sauce is an excellent complement, velvety but not too heavy. The generous morsels of mushrooms swimming within were a perfect textural contrast to the fibrous red meats.
Daily, there is a long pasta, a short pasta, and a risotto on special ($5.95 for a primi size, $10.95 if you'd like it as a main). There's also a special appy-size pasta nightly ($5.95) While on this occasion, the mushroom risotto with truffle oil seemed awfully tantalizing, but I passed in favour of the caper and herb crusted salmon with mixed greens ($11.95, see very flattering picture above). I asked for it medium-rare which, in retrospect, was probably a bad move on my part. It would have been better medium, which is how the house recommends it, as the flavour of the fish would have been more pungent. My filet, cooked to just under perfection, did not withstand the citrus vinaigrette as well. Yes, yes, serves me right for being difficult. Still, it was delicious, and the toasted pumpkin seeds tossed created a nice crunch factor.
Chris opted for the grilled lamb chops ($13.95, pictured), which are always a good bet. Four utterly perfect pieces of meat topped with whole cloves of soft, supple garlic bask gleefully in a caramelized onion jus. Hubba hubba.
What else? The BBQ baby back ribs ($16.95) are fall-off-the-bone delicious and it's easy to see why they're one of the house specialties. The meat is served with matchstick potatoes on the side, and the two go together very well.
Everything at Five Doors North is done à la carte but without the fancy à la carte prices you sometimes see in snootier joints. ( A former place of employment charged $10 for a side of bok choy. Robbery in Forest Hill, says I!) The contorti are constantly changing depending on seasonal harvest; in the past, beans and pancetta and roasted potatoes have proved excellent. They range from $2.95 to $4.95 and include grilled rapini, portobello mushrooms and green salad.
Usually, I'm far too stuffed at the end of a meal here--without fail, it's always two appetizers, one main and one side--but a girl's sweet tooth often defies logic. Especially when crème brulée is on the menu. Five Doors North's version is, unfortunately, sub-par. A too-runny custard and a too-thick crust disappoint, but, hey, you can't have 'em all.
You can get an amazing three-course meal for $50 a person, wine, tax, tip included. For the quality of food, the service (ask for Angela--she's super fun), and the atmosphere, Five Doors North really can't be beat. I'm already planning my next meal there...
Five Doors North
2088 Yonge St (between Eglinton and Davisville)
Psst: They're closed on Sundays.