Saturday, December 13, 2014

What we two six {ate}

Duck nuggets.

Duck. Nuggets.

Just think about that for a moment. If you like duck, and you also have a quietly-held affinity for a trashy chicken nugget once in a while, then that phrase might inspire some salivation. I know it did for me, when I saw them on the sharing plates menu at Two six {ate}, a very happening sort of small-plates-and-drinks joint on Preston Street (three guesses as to the street address).

We met another couple there for a snacky dinner last Saturday evening, and I have to say, we loved everything except the noise level, which went from "loud" to "intolerable cruelty" over the course of two and a half hours. Otherwise, it's a delightful place: tasty and creative food, well-mixed cocktails, and friendly service. The fundamental issue is with the decor: it's a long narrow space and there are no soft surfaces whatsoever. Hard wooden chairs and tables, devoid of linen. Rough plank-covered walls. Flat painted ceiling. Many windows. Bare wood floors. It's dark and cozy, but any sound just bounces around and around and gets amplified to near-screaming. Fill the room with a party of 16 celebrating a birthday, as well as five other four-tops, and it's cacophony after everyone's had two drinks.

And drink you should, because they do them very well here: a list of ten inventive cocktails with ingredients like black walnut bitters, Cynar, and Broker's gin makes it hard not to find something you'll enjoy sipping on. I loved my gin and juice, with its layers of grapefruit flavours, and Chris was thrilled with his Cherry Pop 2.Ohh, a decidedly grown-up riff on soda. Our friends asked for classic cocktails and their request, while met with a sort of confused "but... house cocktail list..." response, was fulfilled to their liking.

Now on to the sharing plates. The kitchen suggests two to three per person; I'd say two is best unless you're very hungry, mainly because this is rich food, mainly meaty and a lot of it fried. Even the vegetable dishes (green tomatoes, brussels sprouts) are fried. It was all extremely tasty and very creative, but it's clear this is also food designed to soak up alcohol.

Chris and I split five plates, more or less (some were more evenly shared than others) and the first three were all what I'd term upscale pub snacks. The aforementioned duck nuggets were a bit different from what I'd envisioned - their filling, beneath excellent tempura batter, was textured like a sausage rather than the meaty chunk of duck leg meat I was hoping for, and the promised ginger-chili-kohlrabi salad was nowhere to be seen on the plate. That said, they were very flavourful and an interesting twist on the usual.

The ball park pogos were sort of a similar feel - three house-made mini hot dogs in excellent cornmeal batter, with harissa ketchup and Beau's beer mustard. A few bread and butter pickles adorned the plate - we could have eaten a couple more of those for sure. The arancini (fried risotto balls) were a delight, with their hot pink interior thanks to roasted beets in the risotto, luscious with cheese and paired with roasted and raw beets and a few chewy cubes of smoky ham.

After round one, we chilled out with our friends (who enjoyed a meat and cheese board and some steak tartare) until round two arrived along with a delicious glass of Lailey Riesling from Niagara for me. Chris inhaled his fried brussels sprout salad, with sunflower seeds, jalapeno-herb vinaigrette and parmigiano cheese. I tried a few sprouts and they were absolutely delicious. That said, he felt like it would have been nice to have them served alongside some of the meatier dishes, to alternate a bit. Our mistake - we'll ask next time.

My "scallops and bacon" dish did indeed include three perfectly seared scallops, which I adored. the "bacon" part was slices of cured and smoked duck heart, again with that sausage-y, sponge-y texture. I don't mind a little, but I felt that there was a lot of it on this menu. However, in the context of the rest of the dish, it worked well - celeriac and pickled eggplant hash and a velvety sunchoke puree - yum. Best dish of the night, for me.

Dessert menus were proffered, and several options did look lovely, but in the end we needed quiet, so we settled our very reasonable bills and headed down the street for pastries and coffees. We truly enjoyed the food and drink on offer, but we might go back on a quieter night. I think the experience would improve tenfold for me. Or maybe they just need some acoustic tile stapled to the bottoms of the chairs (like they do at the Farmhouse in Burlington VT, to keep the look clean but dull the noise).

We will be back, though - there are at least two more cocktails I have to try, and I could eat those scallops all night long.

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