05/10/11 – By Dino Pasalic
With its doors open for just over a month, the owners of Bloordale’s Ortolan are looking forward to giving the neighborhood a flavourful dose of culinary sophistication and a serving of refreshing cuisine.
Long-time friends, Damon Clements and Daniel Usher decided to pool their culinary expertise in the art of French and Italian cuisine; a concoction of experience and ability that would become the foundation for Ortolan.
“We both just sort of came to the point where we were – you know – running out of people’s restaurants and dealing with the headaches of not getting to make the final decisions, but being on the hook for making decisions,” said Clements.
The chef-owners set out to invigorate and educate their visitor’s pallets, but, by making good authentic food – rather than overwhelming customers with rare dishes that would only satisfy a niche of the most hardcore food connoisseurs. It isn’t intimidating cuisine, just new and authentic.
“It’s about the way that people eat. And I think that’s what we’re trying to achieve here. Things are not small portions necessarily. It’s not like we’re fine dining where you get like some tiny little thing and pay a lot of money,” said Clements. “It’s just that we’ve tried to break food down and like really focus on tastes and an idea of flavour, like a certain concept [where] you eat a bunch of things separately, not like this one thing all together.”
Friends since high school, Clements and Usher took quite different paths when their passion for food turned into a serious profession. Clements became more influenced by French cuisine while spending time in France and Switzerland, while Usher traveled to Italy to explore his appetite for the culinary arts.
“I would say, more than where I’ve worked in the past, it’s where I’ve traveled in my life that’s had an influence on how to eat and just ideas about food. Those would be bigger influences for me than restaurants in Toronto that I happen to work at,” said Usher.
Located on Bloor St. W. between Lansdowne and Dufferin, the small eatery seats around 20 to 25 customers. A stained exposed-wood bar and simplistic old-world lighting create a rustic atmosphere, while white walls contrast the restaurant’s dark wood furniture and chalkboard menus.
“The area seems to be one to have people that are hoping for a little bit more of culture to grow,” said Usher. “There aren’t as many places around here that are doing you know – sort of more serious food, it’s a lot more fast food based stuff.”
Although taking its name from France’s most notorious delicacy, adventurous foodies should know that the restaurant does not serve the illegal and rare dish. Visitors can expect a collection of options reminiscent of French-Italian cooking such as the French inspired artichoke and clam soup ($10) or the more Italian gnocchi with gorgonzola and radicchio ($12). Other notable choices include veneto style radicchio ($7) and flat iron steak with salsa verde ($16). Desserts are all conveniently priced at $8 such as the chocolate mousse and panna cotta with cassis.
Ortolan’s wine selection consists of a variety of French and domestic bottles including the Bordeaux Blanc ($9 per glass), Corbieres ‘Le Signal’ ($11 per glass), and the more local Zweigelt ($8 per glass) and Chardonnay Nyarai ($9 per glass). Two Mill Street beers are also available on tap.
Ortolan is open from Tuesday to Saturday, 4pm to 10pm.