The festive season is here and the OpenTable app on my phone has been working overtime booking reservations for brunches and dinners with friends to celebrate the holidays. There is no shortage of restaurants to discover in Toronto but many just don’t have staying power. Fortunately Sidecar Bar and Grill is not one of those restaurants.
The Scene… Sidecar is named after a cocktail by the same name. It’s not easily found on many drink menus because the ingredients including cognac, Cointreau and tangerine juice, aren’t cheap. The restaurant has been part of Little Italy since 2008 in a spot formerly occupied by Versace bar. The space is warm and inviting with exposed brick walls, hanging over-sized mirrors, buttery-baige seating, and a curved sleek bar, all glowing by candlelight. None of it looks over done, giving off a classy yet non-pretencious vibe.
The Play-By-Play…Walking in, I’m greeted by Casey Bee, one of the Owners running the front of the house. My two friends who arrived a few minutes earlier were already enjoying a glass of sparkling wine, and while my coat made it’s way to the coat rack my drink order was taken by our delightful server. After all, who orders dinner without an aperitif in hand?!? The menu is not overly complicated but interesting and covers a wide range of dishes to satisfy even the most picky eaters. We began with an exceptional basket of warm house-baked sourdough focaccia deliciously dusted with fleur de sel sea salt.
Then the bufula mozzerella (14.00) which tasted exeptionally fresh and went great with the basket of focaccia…or two. While I was enjoying the bufula mozzerella, my friend was gushing over the Sidecar salad (10.00) – a delicious mix of chopped jicama, corn, red onion, cucumber, tomato and radish, sprinkled with feta and finished off with a drizzle of oregano dressing.
For the main event I ordered the Steak Frites (19.00/10oz). I know, not very adveturous, but it was that kind of a day and I’ve been to Sidecar enough times to know that these guys will not screw it up. The steak was nice and tender and the fries were crunchy and delicious. But if you’re not into red meat, there are other options – the oven roasted chicken (18.00) is simple yet crispy and tasty. The creamy risottos (18.00) are done just right and not a bit overdone. But most importantly, do NOT forget to save room for dessert, whether it’s the flourless chocolate cake (7.00) or the apple raisin cheddar fritters with cinnamon sugar and maple syrup (5.00).
I can’t talk about Sidecar without mentioning the top-shelf cocktail menu and the mixing skills of the Sidecar bartender (sorry I didn’t catch his name). Autumn Sidecar is part of the brand new fall menu, including Calvados, pear cognac and Benedictine, along with fresh lemon juice and Angostura bitters. It’s double-strained and poured into antique glassware dusted with a cinnamon-sugar rim. After many outings drinking overpriced, poorly executed drinks, it’s refreshing to order a drink knowing that it’ll be done just right. But don’t expect Cosmos or Appletinis here (do people still order those?) If you appreciate a well-made whisky sour or an old fashioned, this is the place for you.
The Wrap… There are many reasons why Sidecar is a favourite on the College Street strip like the pleasant ambiance or the excellent food, thanks to Bill Sweete, part Owner and Executive Chef. But if I had to pick one thing that stands out it would be the friendly and attentive service. Everyone there seems to enjoy what they do, which is…do I dare say?… rare these days. The service is attentive but not pushy or overbearing. They make sure your experience is enjoyable down to the last minute, and here’s a quick example: Sometimes when dining with my girlfriends, we tend to…well, linger. We have such a great time gabbing and laughing that time seems to fly by. And so it seems that while at Sidecar, time flew by so quickly that it was hovering over the next reservation of a couple waiting for our table to free up. We were finishing up our post-dinner drinks so the delay wouldn’t have been more than a few minutes, but what struck me was the fact that no one walked up with our bill indicating it was time to leave, neither did they walk over to let us know that someone was waiting for our table. Instead, the host asked the couple to wait at the bar, and (I’m assuming) assured them that the table would be ready shortly. After we realized that someone was waiting for our table we quickly asked for the bill, but the point is this: I’m sure we’ve all experienced the arrival of the bill without being offered coffee or dessert – doesn’t exactily translate to “come back soon”. It really isn’t rocket science, but a bit of class will keep customers coming back. I’m definitely going back to Sidecar…and I’ll try not to linger.