I have been wanting to try Dandylion for about the two years that it has been open, and I finally got the chance. I had heard a lot about the talented veteran chef, Jay Carter. He had spent over ten years as executive chef, cooking under Susur Lee, and two years as head chef at Centro. He finally went out on his own and opened Dandylion at 1198 Queen Street West, near the Gladstone Hotel.
I like the look of the small restaurant, it is cozy, understated and seats about 30 people. The floors are polished concrete, the walls are exposed brick and the table tops are marble. It has a casual, industrial-chic feel. The soft lighting and a wall of plants offers some warmth. The kitchen is open and it is hard to believe the artistry that comes out of such a tiny kitchen. The chef had about five staff in the kitchen, all working so well together and no one bumping into each other. It is a well-oiled machine.
It also helps that the menu is small. There are three courses offered and three options in each of those sections. Everyone receives a basket of warm homemade whole wheat sourdough bread. It is accompanied with a shallot and black pepper cheese spread, and it was delicious. Only a handful of the ingredients to each dish are mentioned, so you get a real surprise when your food comes to the table. For instance, for my starter I ordered a dish called “Corn, Tomatoes, and Cucumbers”. What came to the table looked like a colorful bouquet of flowers. It was so pretty, and included roasted peppers and edible flowers. Usually, something this attractive doesn’t taste as good as it looks, but in this case it did. Another aesthetically beautiful plate was just called “Hamachi Crudo”, but it came served under a pile of zucchini flowers and julienned zucchini. Chef Jay’s food was light and well executed. I felt I was having a healthy meal, yet it was very gourmet. It was also very vegetable-forward which was a breath of fresh air, it felt like a real change from the standard upscale fare. On his main courses, he always makes sure to offer one vegetarian dish. I decided to try that. The fresh pea, artichoke, and kale dish was bursting with flavours. My husband tried the salmon dish and it was accompanied with the sweetest of beets. He found his main to be on the small side for him. The menu changes frequently and is very seasonal. I saw the menu from the evening before and each section had a new dish.
For dessert, my husband had one of the best wild blueberry pies he has ever had. It was accompanied by ice cream made in-house. I had the cheese plate that came with a homemade cracker and macerated cherries. The three choices of cheese were from different parts of Canada. The night before there was a peach and a strawberry dessert.
I didn’t see any cocktails on the menu but there was a nice selection of local, craft beers, as well as reasonably priced whites and reds by the glass or bottle. Some tables were doing a flight of wines with their meals. The service was attentive, casual and hospitable.
The chef is definitely talented, with the restaurant consistently on top lists of places to dine in Toronto. The approach to the contemporary, yet eclectic menu seems simple, but there is a complexity to each dish. The food is truly thoughtful and creative.
The restaurant is open for dinner six days a week.