Table Talk: Joanne Kates reviews THR & Co.
By Joanne Kates
THR & Co. is dotted with marble bistro tables
Meh. Not exactly a ringing endorsement. THR & Co. is what happened when the Harbord Room was super successful: Messis next door went on the block, and chef/co-owner Cory Vitiello of the Harbord Room just couldn’t resist.
Could they simply have given us an expanded Harbord Room? I would have liked that. When you have a formula that works, why mess around with it? Clearly because nobody wants to be a one-trick pony. And also because the hot stuff these days is one notch down from the Harbord Room, in terms of both the culinary reach and the size of the tab. It’s only logical that you make more money selling a lot of mid-priced stuff than a small number of high-priced stuff.
Hence THR & Co. Two expansive walls of windows and small marble tables. There are some comfy, but some of the tables are so close together that all but the skinniest of diners will find their tushies on the neighbouring table as they do the shimmy to (and from) the red leather banquettes.
The menu is standard bistro, but c’mon. Charging $4 for bread and butter? They still give that away in this town. The most exciting items on the small app list are scallops with serrano pepper, toasted corn, pomelo and tomato salt, and grilled romaine and chicory with crispy pig ear. Why pig ear? Is there a hope that it may turn into a silk purse?
Pig ear, in the most delicate of hands (say, Grant van Gameren) can be crispy, dangerous, seductive. This pig ear is tough. The grilled romaine and chicory were perhaps not grilled à la minute, which could account for their listless texture, kissin’ cousin to mushy.
And there’s something sad about the scallops. Here are splendid, fabulous sweet scallops. The toasted corn is nice and we also love the fragments of puckery pomelo and newborn coriander seedlings on top. But the dish is way too salty. Bad thing to do to great scallops.
The pizza is thin, crisp and pallid. The sexy-sounding one, with nettle, ricotta, egg, pancetta, porcini oil, potato, sheep milk cheddar and smoked salt, reads a lot more tasty than it eats. The mozzarella one, also with roasted eggplant, tomato, arugula sprout and ricotta salata, has less than stellar mozzarella and it, too, is kind of … blah. The only not-blah thing about the pizzas is their very friendly pricing — $14 and under — and $12 buys a small portion of braised oxtail cavatelli with tomato sauce, rapini, parsley crumb and queso seco. It’s cheap.
It’s traditional for inexpensive restaurants to make their money on the sides. Roasted cauliflower tastes yummy thanks to pistachios and raisins, but had the kitchen taken the trouble to brown it, it would be more fun. Heirloom carrots with dates, parsley and maple syrup are fun because how could carrots and maple syrup not be? And they’re nicely roasted.
Things are looking up. If one were sitting on THR & Co.’s splendid leafy terrace on a sizzling summer night and ending dinner with their chocolate cheesecake, life would be sweet. It’s not really a cheesecake, more of a cheese-inflected dark chocolate mousse scattered with small crunches of graham crust, candied hazelnuts and cherries.
On a hot summer night on the patio, life is just a bowl of those.
THR & Co., 97 Harbord St., 647-748-7199
Joanne Kates trained at the Ecole Cordon Bleu de Cuisine in Paris. She has written articles for numerous publications, including the New York Times, Maclean’s and Chatelaine, and she was the Globe and Mail’s restaurant critic for 38 years.