By Mandy Simon
Late last month, Spencer and I went to Toronto for a quick trip to see a band I adored during my high school and college years. While we were there we had what I’m counting as one of my favorite meals of all time at Cowbell.
Cowbell is run by Mark Cutrara and Karin Culliton and is situated in an area of Toronto called Parkdale not far from where we stayed at the Gladstone Hotel (best. hotel. ever.). Cutrara and Culliton work only with local and organic ingredients and have an ever-changing menu that highlights the best of what’s around at the time.
We had attempted to go try Cowbell while we were in town in December 2008 (to see another band, naturally) but it didn’t work out. Our night there last month was so fantastic that I’m kind of glad it didn’t. We made our reservation for 8:30 which happened to mark the beginning of the restauranant’s observation of Earth Hour. We ended up spending much of our dinner by candlelight with candles lit in mason jars throughout the dining room.
Cowbell’s menu is written on a chalk board daily and Cutrara delivers much of the food to the tables, offering as much information as he can about them. We received a mouth-watering tour of the charcuterie plate and, man, was that thing amazing. Pâté with apple and horseradish chutney, fresh mustard and sausage and cured meats to die for, including a selection made of venison and chocolate that was delicate enough to melt in my mouth.
For our next course, I opted for a sunchoke soup with herb oil and Spencer had the lobster tortellini. Both were delicious. My dish was creamy as all get out, perfectly spiced and much more complex than you’d expect. Definitely not a one-note soup.
For his main course Spencer chose the deconstructed cassoulet and I opted for the goat cheese and celeriac ravioli with mushroom sauce. Neither disappointed. My ravioli tasted incredibly fresh and the filling was decadent but bright – one of the reasons I love goat cheese. The mushroom sauce was a pleasant departure from the usual mushroom sauce, packed with whole, wild varieites instead of the usual chopped button or crimini. Not too heavy but not a broth, it really added an element of earthiness to the ravioli.
Our only disappointment that night was being told the kitchen was out of crème brulée. Given that we’d eaten more than our fair share and had split a bottle of wine, though, it was probably for the best.
Overall the staff, food and atmosphere made our dinner a really wonderful experience. The candlelight didn’t hurt much, either.
Cowbell and restaurants like it are my favorite places to eat. Chefs who use the best fresh ingredients and are so attached to what the restaurant is turning out, they want to deliver it themselves. Highly, highly recommended.