There was a time when Queen West was like a second home to me. Every day would find me biking up the strip in hot weather for one reason or another, and every day I passed the SWAN restaurant (892 Queen West). It's got such a good reputation it's a shock it's taken me until now, the icky cold beginnings of winter, to go and try it out. SWAN is one of those Toronto classics that survives on solid food whose goodness is passed along by word of mouth- it's come up in conversation a couple times.
I adore the old fashioned decor. This is real vintage, and though it's called SWAN restaurant, there's something of the diner feel going on here. It's that retro beveled edge on everything look, the teak wood wall detailing along one wall. It's also the small intimate booths, brought to a greater romantic height by nothing but candlelight, with the overheads so far dimmed they're nearly off. It does set this good mood. But how good is the well known food?
Even though this is only my second time properly sitting down and trying some oysters, I wound up acting like an authority on them. Amanda and Stine hadn't ever tried them. There was some nervousness! When served with a plate of slippery shells, their pink grey contents look hard to tackle. There's only one piece of advice I could impart: just suck. As anyone whose eaten oysters knows, there's no particularly classy or clean way to enjoy the fruit of the sea. I was happy with the condiment selection, which had everything from lemons, horseradish and hot sauce to more innovative dressings like plum vinegar, smoked tomato chili paste, and one other thing which was never identified. The oysters were what I would hope for: fresh, watery, tasting like the sea, a delicate vessel for light seasoning, with a hint of natural musk.
For a heartier dish betwixt courses we chose a two cheese risotto, with asiago and chevre. The fat arborio rice was studded with half moon zicchini slices. It was piping hot! Using asiago made the risotto drier than the many creamy varieties I've had in the past, and there was quite the tug of war between the two cheese for a dominant flavour. Chevre wanted to be creamy, asiago wanted to bite, and in the end I was left with a flavour impression regretably reminiscent of mac'n'cheese. From a box.
Our entree was actually very good overall, and that was a nice turn on a meal that had quickly turned bad. A plump and generous pork chop sat above sundry sides. There was a fluffy cornmeal biscuit, whose grains rolled along my tongue with an ethereal fluffiness, piqued with jalapeno nibs for spice. There was the fine puree of sweet potato, like applesauce in texture and very sweet, surely mixed with brown sugar. I was reminded of thick molasses, as well as earthy root. Veggies came in the form of buttery green beans and the fattest brussel sprout I ever ate. They were still very crunchy and fresh, only lightly steamed. The meat itself had a definite grain, and was not so succulent as to fall apart. It was firm, with a thick rind of fat, and lots of flavor. I did like the presentation, with a roast apple ring laid on top.
The best thing we had at SWAN was the oysters- from Oyster Boy, which is just next door, and probably a better place to go if you're looking for dinner near Trinity Bellwoods.