Ursa lives up to the hype — and there's been a lot of it. Brothers Lucas and Jacob Sharkey Pearce opened up shop at the end of January in the former Bar One space and haven't had a quiet night since.
The story behind the restaurant's name can be traced back to the owners' formative years when Jacob's sister would call him "bear cub," a nickname now gestured to with the Latin-based name. Needless to say, the chef has come a long way since his cub days, now running a kitchen with the help of fellow chefs Jay Moore, Rob Hojilla, and Jonathan Lucas. The menu reflects a holistic and nourishing outlook on life, with much emphasis put on the nutritional quality of the ingredients on offer.
Appetizers: Winter Roots ($13) and House made Tofu ($12)
The display of winter roots is breathtaking. It's vegetable porn, if such a thing is possible. Taking my first bite, the pleasure slips from sight to taste. After each mouthful I experience a new flavour and texture — the brisk bite of pickled radish, the crunch of carrot, the watery relief of celery. Sprinkled lightly with walnut vinaigrette and accompanied by kefir (yogurt), this ain't your average salad.
The kefir, produced in-house, is excellent. I'm also pumped to give the tofu a try. My dining companion use to live in South Korea and has traveled throughout Asia, so he's a bit of a tofu junky. He's impressed with the authenticity of the silken and regular tofu; both versions pay homage to Japanese and Chinese cuisine respectfully. The owners and chefs all have a strong background in Asian culture and cuisine that runs from cooking to botany to the martial arts. The dish shows great attention to detail — and is once again immaculately plated — but I suspect that it'd work a bit better if the ginger was toned down a bit.
Mains: Whey brined Niagara pork loin and apple cider glazed belly ($24) and Georgian Bay Whitefish ($21)
Hello, lover! The pork loin comes cut into puck-sized portions, and the middle is a blushing brownish-pink colour while the outside is charred beautifully. The meat is supple. Served on a bed of lentils and paired with homemade bullberry mustard, the dish feels like the natural evolution of your grandmother's cooking when handled by a talented chef. The star of the plate is the glazed belly — no knife required. The meat falls apart with a slight touch of my fork and dissolves quickly in my mouth like a naughty treat. Pork and apple is a classic combination, but it reaches new heights here.
There's some delicious catch just north of Toronto. Case in point: this Georgian Bay whitefish is both meaty and flaky, and the fish taste is subtle. Matched with a white bean puree, cauliflower and green grapes, each ingredient is placed perfectly to draw out the complementary relationship between the savoury and sweet.
Dessert: Yuzu lemon curd, blueberry preserve, meringue, spruce caramel, duck fat sable ($13)
If duck fat is wrong, I never want to be right. The blueberry preserve balances the tartness of both the lemon and yuzu. Simple and sweet, this is a dessert you would introduce to your mother!
If you are one of the many Torontonians counting down the days until patio season you'll be excited to hear that Ursa plans to open both front and backyard seating that will house up to forty patrons. With a trustworthy team at the helm, the restaurant promises to become a go-to spot in the neighborhood for locals looking to fill their bellies and for out of town folks looking for the Toronto dining experience.