|Location||293 Palmerston Avenue|
|Dinner for four with wine and dessert||$400|
Located in Little Italy, Woodlot is a cozy restaurant tucked away from the hustle and bustle of College Street. Chef and co-owner David Haman has created a popular spot that embraces the nose-to-tail movement in a building that was formerly a garage.
When Bar Raval opened its doors around the corner, Woodlot attracted the restaurant’s overflow traffic, inevitably helping elevate its profile. While a starkly different approach to dining than Bar Raval, Woodlot’s rustic interior, unique vibe, attentive service and hearty but refined food sets it apart from most other restaurants in the city.
Having dined at Woodlot a few times over the years (including once at the main floor table with a prime view of the kitchen), I’ve been fortunate to watch it evolve. While reviews have been mixed since it opened in late 2010, Woodlot’s reputation is burning bright, much like its wood oven—the restaurant’s motif. Très à propos.
What Woodlot achieves in its look and feel is impressive—with candles galore, exposed brick and dark wood. It’s authentically Canadian, and has a casual elegance that is removed from the everyday rumble of downtown Toronto.
On a nippy fall night, I dined there again with three of my closest amies. We were seated on the second floor—a quaint, loft-like space that screams romance (hint, hint to les mecs. This isn’t a spot for Tinder dates—save it for the one you’d bring home pour rencontrer la famille). The soft light that radiated from the votive candles brought warmth to the dark, high-ceilinged space—but not in a kitschy way. Like many other elements about the restaurant, Woodlot is confident in what it is. And the food was further evidence.
A tempting cocktail list, local small-batch brews and an impressive selection of organic and biodynamic wines were available. The Louis-Antoine Luyt “Pipeño” (2016) from Maule Chile ($10 per glass) called my name. Although it was a bit flat and savoury for my palate (I prefer cheery fruit notes) was still a glass worth having due to its uniqueness.
The homemade bread arrived next, and its freshly baked, yeasty-boozy scent overtook the space (in a good way, of course). With delicate crust, slightly sour flavour and sporadic bubbles that are oh-so-true to any sourdough, it was memorable in both taste and texture.
As for the food, Woodlot had two distinct menus: one for meat lovers and one for vegetarians. Most dishes were prepared in the wood-fired oven with local ingredients that were cooked to mouth-watering perfection.
The server was knowledgeable with emotional intelligence to match. She was a skilled mind reader, knowing when we needed a refill on our wine and when we just needed a little more time to gab. She recommended I start with one of Woodlot’s signature dishes, Ember Grilled Hen-o’-the-Woods Mushrooms ($15). Delicate, but meaty mushrooms with slightly crispy wild rice, black walnut, beet root and dill. The beet offered a sweet balance to the earthy mushrooms, and the dill added a slightly bitter undertone. The presentation was like nothing I’ve seen in quite some time—it was intricately plated and I savoured every last bite! Woodlot transformed this mushroom-of-the-moment into a staple dish that will stand the test of time.
Next up was the Woodfired Caramelized Onion Soup ($15)—another popular item. Instead of a traditional French onion soup, carmelization was key when it came to Woodlot’s variety. A slightly charred flavour came through in the finished product, giving it a taste Haman described as “sweet ambrosia.” The homemade sourdough was masked under a thick cloak of Quebec gruyere and parmesan.
While many of the entrées stood out—from the Oven Roasted Leg of Confit ($30) to the VG Farms Bavette Steak ($30)—I chose the Crispy Pan Seared Sea Bass ($28). Served with potato confit, cauliflower and roast lemon puree, it was blissful. The generous portion of fish, which was served skin-side up, was highlighted by black olives and a subtle hint of vanilla. The only critique I’ll give this dish is that its monochromatic appearance could have benefited from a garnish of fresh microgreens. The taste was praise-worthy.
Two desserts rounded out the meal: Dark Chocolate and Espresso Pot De Crème ($12) and Japanese Cheesecake ($13). No one can go wrong with un peu de chocolat. Consistent with the look and feel of Woodlot, the pot de crème arrived in a small Mason jar with near-perfect dollops of milky meringue. One bite and I was ready for more. The Japansese cheesecake was no different. Woodlot’s light and refreshing Japanese cheesecake made me question the snaking lineups at Uncle Tetsu. The crustless slice was sweet and eggy. The texture was a mélange of sponge cake and soufflé instead of being overly dense and cream-cheesy. Paired appropriately with rhubarb curd, strawberries and black sesame wafer, it was both delicious and colourful. Every bite was a unique combination of flavours and textures. Between the four of us, both desserts were polished off (merci, les filles).
Woodlot’s food is unabashedly honest, mouth-watering and true to its dining philosophy: “In such a fast-paced world, we like to slow things down a little. Every plate is cooked from scratch to order and this takes time. We hope you enjoy your time with us. But more importantly—each other.”
If you’re looking for the perfect escape, where you’ll eat to your stomach’s content and be cared for in a genuine way, this is the place for you. In the Toronto dining scene, Woodlot is a microcosm that doesn’t know the meaning of frenetic. Much like a spa experience for the stomach and the soul, you’ll come back for more. C’est promis!
Mme M. xoxo
Le rubrique de Madame Marie
1 étoile – Run. Before you get the runs.
2 étoiles – Mediocre, but nothing you couldn’t make at home.
3 étoiles – C’est bon, with some standout qualities.
4 étoiles – Many memorable qualities and excellent execution. Compliments to the chef.
5 étoiles – Formidable! Michelin Star quality. Book a reservation immediately.