R & D
R&D is now open in Chinatown where Strada 241 used to be. It's a new 85-seat restaurant from MasterChef Canada season one winner, Eric Chong and Michelin-starred chef and MasterChef judge, Alvin Leung, who connected over their shared heritage, previous careers in engineering and enthusiasm for food.
Upon entering you'll find loungy furniture and the bar upfront, while further back you'll encounter tufted leather banquettes wrapping the perimeter of a dining room that overlooks a grand open concept kitchen complete with chef's rail. Design studio Commute filled the cavernous space with dramatic drum lighting and sprawling murals inspired by Chinese street art.
At the bar, Robin Wynn is mixing Asian-inspired twists on classic cocktails. Lightweights should proceed with caution (these are strong 2-3oz drinks), as should vegetarians: these libations may contain shrimp paste, oyster sauce or even poultry.
The Sichuan Maple Old Fashioned ($15) for instance is made of Lot 40 Whisky infused with the roasted remnants and crispy caramelized bits left behind when the kitchen carves up a Peking duck. It's mixed with sichuan maple syrup and shishito bitters and is garnished with orange zest and a pickled plum.
Chef Leung describes the menu as "a tribute to Canadian and Asian cuisine". The selection of dim sum, skewers, small plates and shareable platters playfully melds pan-Asian dishes with the current requisites on every vogue Toronto menu. Kale and brussel sprout Caesar salad? Check. Roasted beets with goat cheese? Check. Poutine? Check.
The roasted beets ($9) set over creamy goat cheese is subtly inflected with Asian flavours - the pat chun vinaigrette offers sweet Christmasy notes, while the five spice candied walnuts and crumbled gingerbread contribute.
Twice-fried sweetbreads ($18) glisten with house-made oyster sauce. The crispy morsels of meat are deliciously plump and plated along with crispy seaweed, dots of sweet potato puree and brown beech mushrooms. Every component is packed with umami, imparted with salt, sugar and/or MSG, it's borderline too salty for me but it certainly fuels my thirst for another cocktail.
The main event on the menu is the selection of platters including sharable options like Peking duck ($68) for self assembly with steamed buns and slaws, General Sanders' fried chicken ($25) with Hong Kong waffles, and Sweet and Sour Ribs ($13/half rack, $25/full rack) with compressed pineapple and slaw.
The ribs are great - brined with lemongrass and ginger, sous-vide, then lightly dredged in cornstarch and fried to a crisp - they're finished with a candy glaze made of hawthorne berries, lemongrass and cane sugar. The meat perfectly peels off the bone and the accompanying chili-spiked pineapple and kohlrabi slaw adds a cold, refreshing component with a little lingering heat.
Lunch served Thursday to Sunday obliges brunch cravings with dishes like a Taiwanese oyster frittata and a Chinese sweet potato hash with poached eggs and lap cheung sausage. Cocktails like the 510 Caesar with hoisin Worcestershire sauce and the house hot sauce are strong but certainly suitable for day drinking.
Photos by Jesse Milns